Black Angels keeps its eyes open wide on menacing 'Death Song'

Death Song, the latest long player from Austin, Texas-based heavy-psych masters the Black Angels, embraces a dual nature.

It's a characteristic that stretches from the album's title, which is a reference to both the Velvet Underground track “The Black Angel's Death Song” and Native American “death songs” that were chanted courageously to carry the tribe through troubled times, to the layered meaning in singer Alex Maas' lyrics. Witness “I'd Kill for Her,” which, on the surface, appears to be about a duplicitous woman, but on deeper inspection paints a portrait of the destruction that can be wrought by blind loyalty to country.

“She took us to the killing field,” Maas sings, buzzed by guitars that roar overhead like passing fighter jets.

Musically, the album, recorded alongside producer Phil Ek, is crisper than earlier efforts, though a similar menace creeps into thundering tracks like “Comanche Moon” and the prowling “Hunt Me Down,” which builds around a bassline that moves like an expert tracker.

“I feel like that's always a good go-to spot for us. We always say if you can rob a bank to it, then it's a good song,” said Maas, who joins his bandmates for a concert at Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, May 10. “We're trying to makes sense of everything, and I think [that sound] is a reflection of how we see the world.”

In that sense, darkness reigns on Death Song, with the band confronting everything from rampant consumerism — “Currency, carry me, everyone is held hostage,” Maas sings on “Currency” — to the displacement of indigenous populations. “They've stolen the land we've been roaming,” the frontman sings, addressing a pattern that's repeated itself from the first landing at Plymouth Rock through the more recent Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock.

Though the mood feels reflective of the current social and political climate, Maas said most of the songs actually date as far back as 2014, and he wonders if the record would have received the same level of attention had it come out at the time, when the planet felt less as though it were on the verge of implosion. Regardless, the singer expressed satisfaction that his words might make for “interesting conversation,” as he termed it, in these challenging times.

“In day-to-day life it's so easy to keep your eyes closed, but I think music gives you a real platform,” he said. “And at the end of the day it's like, ‘What are you going to do with that power you have?'”