I remember the hype and acclaim around The Oath and their brand of Sabbath acid rock doom not doing all that much for me, so when singer Johanna Sadonis took the band’s demise to form Lucifer with ex-Cathedral’s Gaz Jennings as a musical partner it felt like more of the same. Three years on from their debut and a serious switch in collaborators brings forth a more sun-drenched Lucifer II, and the result is a truly memorable rock album that slithers in the darkness and the light, putting the focus on hooks and head nods instead of wallowing gauze and doom.
To be fair to those who savored the more Coven meets early Sabbath aspects of the band, those moments rear their head through Lucifer II, although in more subtle ways. The Rolling Stones cover “Dancing With Mr D.” has an undercurrent of dread even as it boogies with its chorus of repeated “Dancing!” refrains. And both “Phoenix” and “Eyes in the Sky” have a sinister stomp that channels Iommi worship as much as it does the spirit of Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks in Sadonis’s perfect delivery in the vocal department.
Much of this can be attributed to Nicke Andersson from Entombed and Hellacopters who stepped in on drums, guitars, and songwriting collaboration, and the songs have a pomp and glamour to them that instantly stand out from both the debut and the myriad of bands attempting to cash in on the sounds of the 70s. Opener “California Son” feels positively bleached in the sun with its arena rock riff and intro solo before chugging into a galloping verse. Keyboards drench the songs, giving a thickness to the overall sound as the bass moves all over the place, never content to support the bottom end as much as wrestle around it, constantly trying to get out from under the drums. It’s frolicking and fun, and the weight that’s left allows the songs on Lucifer II to have a breath and life the debut couldn’t manage.
Elsewhere second single “Dreamer” is a gorgeous hybrid of acid pop/rock that has a classic chorus hook that’s an instant ear worm. Sadonis’s voice has always been a standout, but on “Dreamer” when she weaves in and out of the acoustic guitars in the verses you understand how essential the voice is to music like this. It’s all breath and sinew, getting in between and under your skin. When the music steps back a bit, as it does on the verses for “Before the Sun” her power feels overwhelming; when it’s paired against the band’s full throttled pulse on the louder moments, particularly the crush of final track “Faux Pharaoh” it’s absolutely mesmerizing.
It might be the heat of the summer, but Lucifer II feels like one of the perfect albums for blasting at top volume as you’re moving along the highway, trying to beat the heat and find a small piece of sanity. Your brain moves with each solo, your head nods to every downbeat and within moments you find yourself chanting and singing along to the power of the songs, of the band, of the voice and you realize you’re going to be coming back to this album a lot over the coming months.