The Los Angeles-based dark roots and gothic country band Heathen Apostles continue their (very dark) interpretation of Bluegrass, Country and Blues. They have just compiled Volumes 3 and 4 of their collection of songs together under the title Bloodgrass.
Occasionally I’ll start a review along the lines of “not technically not a Celtic-Punk band” which usually means that that the band that I go on to review are not a Celtic-Punk band but are utterly brilliant and have a fiddle /accordion / banjo in them. Well welcome to the Heathen Apostles. A dark (very dark) Country-ish band with their very own genre’s – ‘Doombilly’ and ‘Bloodgrass’. Heathen Apostles do to Country / Bluegrass music what the bands we all love here do to Celtic music but they also add on a dash of Goth as well. They may be based in LA but they sound like they’re from the Appalachian’s harkening back to a bygone chapter of American history while firmly keeping one foot planted in the present-day. The band features ex-members of Radio Noir (Mather Louth), The Cramps (Chopper Franklin), Kings of Nuthin’ (Thomas Lorioux), and Christian Death (Stevyn Grey) in their ranks. In fact it’s amazing the sound that only four folks can wring out. They have already started their biggest (yet!) European tour (mainly Germany) so be sure to check out the tour dates squeezed in here somewhere and move heaven and earth to get to one of their shows and then let me know how it was!
We have already reviewed Bloodgrass Volume 3 last September but here it comes with an extra five songs labelled as Volume 4 and in an attempt to tie in with the Euro tour we are more than happy to re-visit the whole album. The album begins with ‘Bad Patch’ and fiddle, banjo and mandolin accompany Mather’s beautiful voice as she sings of the tragedy of the 1930s Dust Bowl. Severe dust storms wreaked havoc on the mid-west prairies during the 1930’s causing untold misery to those poor unfortunates. Trying to survive through those times “by the skin of their teeth”. Great lyrics and one hell of a catchy tune with the bands dark side kept at arms length.. at least musically anyway.
The next song is much more Apostles at heart. ‘Careful What You Pray For’ tells of the danger of religious dogma and while not dissimilar to the opening track it has that much darker feel to it. Mather’s amazing voice is put to great use here. What we must beware is that people don’t replace the dogmatism and fanaticism of some religions with divisive ideologies. These days notions such as original sin, atonement, ritual and excommunication are as likely to come from secular groups as they are from religious institutions. ‘Black Hawk’ was the lead single for the EP and I’ll not pretend to have any idea what the lyrics are about except the band say it tells “of transformation by shedding the darkness in order to welcome in the light” so there.
One band we always sneak a mention in when we review the Heathen Apostles is the fantastic The Phantom Of the Black Hills. Along with sharing many similarities music wise, they also share a record label (Ratchet Blade Records), a producer, the Apostles, Chopper Franklin and a love for telling entire stories in their intricate videos. So if you like what you hear go back settle down and check on their older videos. ‘Demi Monde’ is a slow song shrouded in occult imagery paying homage to the fires of Beltane while ‘Tall Rider’ brings down the curtain down on what was Volume 3. Catchy as hell and a reminder of the possibility of healing through love. With their roots in the ‘Folk tradition’ the music mangles up several genres while all the time adding much to the final sound.
What follows are the five songs that make up Volume 4 that begins with the catchy ‘Roots Run Deep’ and not unexpectedly continues in the same vein. The best of this side of the album is ‘Into The Wild’ where moments of Mather’s primal snarl and swagger run parallel along some of her most beautiful singing on the whole album. A beast of a song that sees them at their thigh slapping foot stomping best. ‘No Peace’ was written in response to recent cases of police brutality. Despite the subject matter the song bounces along rather nicely. ‘Solitary’ speaks of following one’s own path in life, no matter how lonely the road it may seem at times. Meaningful words given even more meaning through Mather. The album closes with the amazing ‘Shadow Of The Crows’ with it’s hybrid of several genres, mixing Middle Eastern and borderline psychedelic sounds with the band’s distinctly gloomy bloodgrass. The CD which comes out at any time contains an extra song I’ve not heard yet. A cover of the late Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan’s song ‘The Gravedigger’s Song’.
(Full live set from a gig at La Brasserie De Framont in France 8/9/2021 from last years European tour. If anyone knows of any promoters or venues able to help get them over to the UK please get in touch. PLEASE!)
The music here is exemplary throughout. Catchy as hell and heading there very happily! The various elements are once again handled expertly through the excellent production of master producer Chopper Franklin. With their roots in the ‘Folk tradition’ they mangle up several genres while adding much to the final sound and as you can imagine a band with their own genre it is virtually impossible to compare them to anyone else! The excellent artwork was done by their good friend Stephanie Inagaki, who also did the cover art for the previous Bloodgrass Vol. 1 & 2 album and EPs.