I couldn’t have been a method actor, that’s for damn sure. Research isn’t a strong suit of mine. Everything I was good at came naturally. The rest didn’t matter.
Which is why, reading the He Is Legend bio that came with “White Bat” caused me to smile.
Singer Schuylar Croomm, it said, “was Inspired by Michelle McNamara’s true crime classic I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, he wandered around the shadiest and most shadowy corners of the city of angels. Getting into a menacing mindset for the concept, he visited the grave of Walt Disney, canvased mausoleums, went to the Museum of Death, and “sat in crazy seedy little bars, wrote, and got into this headspace—like preparing for an acting role.”
Fair play to the fella, it’s a level of commitment I don’t have. And in fairness, it has worked. Different strokes, and all that.
“White Bat” is a fictional serial killer, this is basically a concept album around some depraved spree. As I always say, though (and I don’t even care if this makes me look like a simpleton) the story is secondary to the only thing I really care about: are the songs any good?
It does need saying first off that – for all the talk that this is He Is Legend being “ready to rock” again – is not easy listening. Pantera is a reference point, not one, I imagine, that the band will be upset with, but it’s all over the place sonically. And as much as the disparate sounds shouldn’t work, this does. It is one of the more interesting metal (and that’s what I am calling it, no matter what the bands say) records I’ve heard in 2019.
There are big old southern grooves, beatdowns, quiet bits, loud bits, and modern sounds all over the place – and that’s just the opening song.
It gets weirder from there too.
“Burn All Your Rock Records” is a brilliant highlight. This one even adds a bit of punk, a na-na-na thing and guttural bits of genuine heaviness. And if that’s not enough, its got a chorus that will wedge itself in your head and isn’t going to leave.
“When The Woods Were Young” is another that dares you to compare it to anything else. There are many bands that it sounds a bit like, but no one that really fits. What I can say for certain is that Adam Tanbouz on guitar plays a blinder throughout all of this, but especially on this song.
Whatever this does – and the lyrics here are shocking in their matter of fact brutality, particularly on “Eye Teeth” – it is never less than compelling. “Talking Stalker” is much more nuanced in its attack. There this some brilliant blues lead guitar here, before this too, descends into the maelstrom that this exists in – there’s a pulsing bass thing here, that comes out of nowhere.
Possibly because it was recorded all over the place – it seems that they weren’t actually together in the studio much – the whole record comes over like four separate parts. It is staggering that “White Bat” still manages to be coherent.
“Bent” has an Alice In Chains thing going on, “Resister, Resist Her” which even for this record is thrillingly unsettling, similarly lurks (aptly, considering it is narrated by the killer as he chooses a victim) in some waters you could peg as “grunge” if you liked. “Uncanny Valley” is perhaps best of all and might possibly be a ballad – if a record like this can have one?
It is a mark of this album – not just on “The Interloper” although it is prevalent here – that it never flinches from telling the tale, and it never does the expected thing. Whatever “rules” apply, usually, don’t here and it is genuinely exciting because of that.
There is something unhinged in the music to match the concept. “Skins So Soft” finds a magnificent guitar sound and lush harmonies. “Boogiewoman” finishes it, partly with a dry as dust riff straight out of the desert and partly with the air of Pepper Keenan really letting himself go, and everyone goes into the “Badlands” this is like some TV show that you’d like to have a second series.
“White Bat” is a grower. It requires you to invest your time in it, just as it took so much to come up with it in the first place. I also suspect that there won’t be many grey areas with it. You’ll either love it or hate it, but you’ll have a reaction either way.
Whatever else this is, it is not bland.