Monday, April 09, 2007

CD REVIEW: Sons of Perdition's "The Kingdom Is On Fire"

Label: Gravewax Records

Satan is among us tonight, friends! In this world and these times of darkness, who shall save us from ultimate damnation? Well, Zebulon Whatley seems pretty determined to try his best. Whatley is the mastermind behind the gothic-western folk outfit The Sons of Perdition, and he has just delivered their debut album The Kingdom Is On Fire to the world. Appropriately released on Easter Sunday, it does not take listeners long to realize that even though the album tells several tales of the End Times, this is no ordinary contemporary Christian record. No rainbows here… just pure final judgment, in all its hellish glory.

So how does the record sound? Well… it sounds like it was recorded decades ago, in the desperate Wild West. Whatley plays an outstanding western guitar, which sets the mood immediately from the beginning intro track “This Land is Cursed” all the way to the end of the record. And if his guitar sets the mood, his deep, gloomy vocals completely establish it. Like Nick Cave at his absolute creepiest, Whatley’s vocals are perfect for this kind of music. Combined, the musicianship and vocals make The Kingdom Is On Fire a pure sonic treat for fans of gothic country music.

The album is an interesting, satisfying experience. It seems as though it is divided into two halves for a “darkest before the dawn” type of effect. And wow is the first half dark. The Sons of Perdition are not just prepared to tell tales of death and hell to us… they are prepared to pound them into our pitiful skulls. First, we get “The Party”… a heartwarming tale of madness as a man murders his entire family with an axe. Then, we have “Anhelo,” a story about a man whose wife has been killed. Even though he knows the Lord will condemn him to the flames, he is hell-bent on gaining revenge on her murderer. “There is a Judgment” follows. In it, a condemned soul warns another not to commit a similar suicidal sin. Next, in “Blood in the Valley,” the Sons provide a warning to hypocritical Christians that they will meet a fiery fate. Fans of Those Poor Bastards will be particularly interested in this track, for Lonesome Wyatt lends his talent by delivering a passionate hellfire sermon at its midpoint. Finally, we are given perhaps the most interesting track in this pitch-black first half. “Burial at Sea” features an outstanding string arrangement, and is a story, taking place in 1693, about a man who builds a prosperous life away from his homeland across the sea. However when he sends for his loved ones to join him, their ship is mercilessly attacked by the legendary sea monsters Kraken and Leviathan. Whatley has an incredible knack for telling these creepy, religious gothic tales, and it is made evident during the first half of The Kingdom Is On Fire.

Then, all of a sudden, something happens. After the delicious “intermission’ track “Cannibals of Rotenburg,” the mood of the music seems to change. Much of the dark imagery remains… blood, death, and judgment… but still, things seem to lighten up a bit. Gone is the constant funeral dirge sound, and in its place, the Sons start to explore other traditional country and folk sounds. “All He Wants (Is My Blood)” is a country/bluegrass gospel type number with a gothic twist, where Whatley states that he is confident that the Lord will bring him salvation in exchange for his blood. Next is a mandolin-fused, dark Carter Family-esque prayer for the end of the world called “An End to All Flesh.” The interesting story of “Death of a Shuckster” follows, in which a rainmaker promises a downpour to a drought-stricken town. When the rain doesn’t come, the town folk murder him, which leads the angels in heaven to flood the town… killing everyone because of their sin. Then we get “The Legend of Saw Jones.” This Frankenstein-meets-Civil War South story is the one song that doesn’t seem to belong on The Kingdom Is On Fire, but is so entertaining, we’ll forgive Zeb and the boys. Finally, the album ends with two solid tracks. “Fall to Your Knees” finds the Sons giving a final plea to sinners to repent before it’s too late to be part of Heaven’s glory, while “I Wanna Go to Heaven” is a straight-up traditional country number in which Whatley makes his preferred destination clear to listeners. The song ends what is an absolutely phenomenal album from start to finish.

Thanks to their “Pills I Took” partnership with Hank Williams III, Those Poor Bastards have brought life to the gothic country scene. Still, several fans of this sound have been waiting for another band or artist to step up and give the scene its second major star. With this outstanding debut, Zebulon Whatley and the Sons of Perdition seem ready to do just that. Putting their own original western spin on gothic country music, the Sons have delivered a beautiful brimstone masterpiece with The Kingdom Is On Fire. Glory to us all!

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