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Mark Lanegan Band - Gargoyle
Mark Lanegan Band Gargoyle
Released 28 April 2017
Producer Alain Johannes
Label Heavenly
Length 41:00

Alternative rock, blues rock
Website marklanegan.com

Though it’s only been two and a half years since Phantom Radio was released, the wait for a new Mark Lanegan fronted album has felt like an age, considering how prolific he tends to be. We’ve had to make do with a contribution to Ten Commandos debut, a nice cover of Bert Jansch’s 'Needle of Death' for the Heavenly 25 compilation album and a cover of 'Cat People (Putting Out Fire)' with Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, all great songs but not enough to keep us sated. Thankfully Gargoyle has arrived to give us something to sink our teeth into.

Recorded under the Mark Lanegan Band moniker, he is joined by regular collaborators Alain Johannes, Duke Garwood, Jack Irons, Martyn LeNoble and Aldo Struyf who appear in various combinations throughout the album. Rob Marshall, guitarist for recently disbanded Exit Calm, also features heavily on the album, the two having met in 2008 while touring. Marshall receives writing credits and plays a number of instruments throughout in what could be a promising collaboration moving forward. The line-up is rounded out with backing vocal cameos by Greg Dulli, Shelley Brien and Josh Homme.

Lanegan’s trademark dark imagery is in full swing from the off, 'Death’s Head Tattoo' opens the album in typically bleak fashion, with visions of devils, loaded guns, and hanging bodies permeating a Depeche Mode-esque soundtrack. 'Nocturne' continues the desolate scene setting; heroin use and longing set to drum loops and arpeggiators, the electronic influence that has remained part of Lanegan’s sound since Blues Funeral.

Despite a relentless opening salvo, the album does offer respite by easing off the tempo or stripping back instrumentation on songs like 'Beehive', 'Emperor' or 'Goodbye to Beauty' all of which display a softening of the stone monster. Suddenly Gargoyle feels like it’s plotting a story of redemption; the opening is Lanegan at his lowest ebb and the middle section is a coming to terms with his demons or a lessening of the anger at the very least. If that is the case then 'Old Swan' is the somewhat happy ending. It’s an uplifting end to the album concentrating on nature and religion, his decision to have 'Clean' as the final lyric of the album provides a redemptive counterpoint to the earlier themes explored.

If ever an album title suited the artist and the content, Gargoyle is it; dark and brooding but also a weather beaten survivor. Musically the album is sharp and concise, both Johannes and Marshall expertly tapping into the mood created by Lanegan’s lyrics. Thematically this is an intense journey, the struggles depicted are real but so is the recovery. Lanegan continues to amass one of the most consistently strong music catalogues and Gargoyle sounds as fresh and necessary as anything he has released to date.

- Brian Kinsella