It’s easy to mimic the surface level vibe of what heavy rock music was in the 70s: there’s a couple dozen bands trying to bring back flared jeans and boogie as we speak. It’s another thing to get under the skin of the period, to take the freak and experimentation and truly inhabit it as more than just a fashion to be hung around the neck. Black Salvation inhabit this dark crevice of creativity on sophomore album Uncertainty is Bliss, reveling in a dark and twisted psychedelic rock that’s not afraid to meander and slither even as it engages in deep hooks and a solid song structure that other bands try in vain to capture.
Founded in 2009 by guitarist/vocalist Paul Schlesier, the German outfit (rounded out by bassist Birger Schwidop and new drummer Uno Bruniusson) jammed for years honing their attack before self releasing debut In Deep Circles in 2014. Tracks like “The Devil Sent Us An Angel” build with layers of repetitive sequences, washing over you as it slowly twists in upon itself. Burying its bricks in a foundation of blues and psychedelic doom, each song takes its time traversing the musical landscape. There’s a patience as the riffs in “Silent Magic Spring” find their way back to the main, and part of the joy in that is hearing the excursions Schwidop’s bass takes. If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s that after a few tracks you start to look for a little more intensity in the journey.
Uncertainty is Bliss seems to feel the same way, because from the outset there’s a focus and stripped down feel that brings a sense of urgency to even the more laid back tracks without sacrificing any of the exploratory facets of the band. The seven minutes of opener “In A Casket’s Ride” feels shorter than many of the shortest tracks from In Deep Circles, and gets a huge lift from Bruniusson’s drumming. Schlesier’s voice has a penetrating baritone that can soar to the higher registers to carry wordless melodies, and his guitar tone nails this creamy, haze of distortion that stays just on the verge of breaking. “Floating Torpid” takes that tone and perfectly matches it against Schwidop’s bass in a rocker with a touch of Eastern flair.
It’s this second track where the real trick of Black Salvation comes to light. This is the sound of three people wondrously in sync with each other, playing off of each other’s impulses. It embodies that uncanny feeling of unity which is even more impressive considering the nature of the songwriting: their previous drummer having departed, Schlesier and Schwidop wrote the album without a drummer, necessitating a more stripped down approach to the songs. When Bruniusson entered the picture everything clicked into place.
That click is readily apparent in every song on Uncertainty is Bliss. “Breathing Hands” buries rippling shoe gaze chords behind the wash of feedback, with keys and bass achieving a wide separation in the mix. “The Eye That Breathes” initially comes off as a quick interlude before the second half of the album, but a closer listen reveals all these little details, like the subtle de-tuning of the instruments that induce a slight queasiness. “Leair” has a pomp and stomp that recalls vintage Iggy Pop. “A Direction is Futile” revels in the comparisons press releases have made to Can and their landmark album Tago Mago, again without grandly calling attention to itself. At over nine minutes it’s the epic of Uncertainty is Bliss and the one I’ve been coming back to again and again since first hearing the record.
Black Salvation are here to embody the sense of adventure and analog groove the best bands of the late 60s and early 70s were able to conjure in their prime. Uncertainty is Bliss is a loud and very certain statement that the current glut of stoner and retro bands are really going to have to up their game and their sincerity (not to mention their psychic communication with each other) if they hope to be able to achieve what Black Salvation do on only their second album. Whatever happens, I’ll have this batch of songs to turn on, tune in, and drop out to in the meantime.