|Welcome to the very dark world of Hangman's Chair; if you don't mind staring into that kind of abyss, that album is well worth a listen.|
Welcome to a very dark world. Hangman's Chair, and their previous incarnation Es La Guerilla, have been grinding out their particularly grimy form of Sludge/Stoner Doom on the outskirts of Paris for some fifteen years now, and they've got it down to a fine art. Since 2005, when the band took its current name, they have released two split and two full-length albums, all through Bones Brigade. 2012's ' Hope///Dope///Rope' is their third full-length take on a path that has seen the music shift a little more towards the Stoner end of the spectrum.
There aren't many clues in the initially innocuous-looking pencil artwork of the cover, but take a closer look at the gaunt features and sunken eyes of the protagonist for a hint that there's something not quite right. And so it proves: here is an album haunted by the invisible spectres of depression, suicide, self-mutilation and drugs and alcohol abuse. Content-wise, it is one of the most pervasively miserable glimpses into the nihilistic capacities of the human condition imaginable; amplified rather than reduced by a soundtrack that is both tuneful and beguiling.
Beguiling, in this case, indicates a serious catchiness rather than any sort of fey beauty. The hooklines are well-crafted, based around heavily fuzzed psych-blues guitar riffs with added flourishes, backed by hefty, funky, distorted bass lines and poundingly heavy drumming. With nods to both major subgenre influences, it's reminiscent of both Kyuss and Crowbar in places, sometimes veering towards an almost Post-Rock vibe (and obviously carrying the inevitable Black Sabbath influence). The vocals, however, are very much on the cleaner, Stoner side of the fence, delivered with a quite distinctively emotional edge that matters more to the material than precise tunefulness. They carry a sort of painful honesty which makes it easy to believe they're delivering words fashioned from bitter experience.
Opening with the sound of children singing, 'The Saddest Call' swiftly drops into quirky riffing which returns for each chorus after the quiet weariness of verses wishing for the death of a despised lover. 'Open Veins' is a heavy, saturated trip through the wreckage of heroin, replete with closing sample of someone shooting up – presumably deliberately followed by the similarly chugging riffs of drug paean 'Ain't Living Long Like That'. 'December' swaps to an acoustic melancholy, redolent with regrets and wasted chances, so poignantly frail it is almost beautiful.
The second half of the album kicks off with the slow, very 70s-sounding 'A Scar To Remember' which twists, over another bleak vocal sample about suicide, into a mighty, crashing instrumental finale and the alternately hook-filled and sadly bluesy 'Alley's End'. Both are, naturally, nowhere near as cheerful as they sound, but they are massively overshadowed by the introduction to 'Hope///Dope///Rope', with its Godspeed You! Black Emperor-style lunatic street sermon - credited to the artist Joe Coleman - and the subsequent 10-minute powerhouse instrumental that closes the album.
In some respects, I'm not really sure what to make of this. It's quite raw and personal stuff: a series of looks into the disturbing and seedy underbelly of someone else's life. Most disturbingly, it feels genuine, making it an uncomfortably voyeuristic experience. I can't deny that it has an impact, something like the audio equivalent of watching, say, Last Exit To Brooklyn – powerful and moving, without necessarily being in the least bit enjoyable. Paradoxically, in the case of Hangman's Chair, the music itself is infectiously excellent – but I can't easily separate it from the imagery of the lyrics. If you don't mind staring into that particular abyss, it's well worth a listen.
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1. The Saddest Call
2. Open Veins
3. Ain't Living Long Like That
5. A Scar To Remember
6. Alley's End
Duration : Approx. 52 minutes
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