Special Features: Black vinyl. Gatefold jacket.
- Sword of Hakim
- The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim
- Ballad of Zeta Brown
- Black Hawk
- Mola Momad Djam
- The Peace Within
- Danse Nomade
Release Date: April 15, 2016
Label: Tee Pee Records
Even unto their moniker, Blaak Heat remain somewhat amorphous. The band that got their start as Blaak Heat Shujaa with a 2010 self-titled debut (review here) in Paris and linked up with Tee Pee Records after moving to New York en route to eventually settling in Los Angeles for the release of the 2012 The Storm Generation EP (review here) and subsequent 2013 sophomore full-length, The Edge of an Era (review here), continues to change in approach and to progress on their third outing, Shifting Mirrors, issued through Tee Pee and Svart Records. In some ways, the 10-track/44-minute album is a direct follow-up to what Blaak Heat, as they’re now properly known, accomplished on prior outings in blending desert tonality and heavy psychedelic rock with Middle Eastern scales and folk influence, but particularly in playing up the latter and in working with producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Monster Magnet), the trio of guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier, new bassist Henry Evans (ex-Spindrift) and drummer Mike Amster have pushed well beyond even the grander scope of The Edge of an Era in their latest offering’s complexity and rhythmic insistence.
While cuts on Shifting Mirrors like “The Peace Within” and “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” make sense in the context of the last album and the one before it with Bellier‘s songcraft at the fore, the flow that Blaak Heatcreate and the clarity of their purpose in doing so are emblematic of a maturity in their processes that, by its very nature, couldn’t have been on the prior releases. In many ways, it’s appropriate that they’d finish this album with a song called “Danse Nomade” (I’m going to assume no translation necessary), since even though it’s instrumental, it tells the band’s story: Always moving, always changing.
One of the things that makes Shifting Mirrors exciting is that the listener can’t quite be sure where Blaak Heat are headed next, but there are consistencies from their past work. Their focus remains instrumental. They start with “Anatolia” and through “Ballad of Zeta Brown,” “Mola Mamad Djan,” the aforementioned “Danse Nomade” and the shorter interludes “Taqsim” and “Tamazgha,” nearly half of the album’s runtime is dedicated to instrumental tracks, and that’s to say nothing of the extended passages in “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” and “The Peace Within,” but where and when vocals do arrive, they do show progression. Part of that may be due to working with Hyde, but Bellier‘s vocals even on “Sword of Hakim,” which chugs into high gear immediately and only grows more insistent as it moves through its four minutes, are compressed, laden with effects and have clearly been carefully treated.
This avoids some of the Om-style patterning of Blaak Heat‘s past work, and helps further distinguish the bass and percussion-led “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim,” its blend of desert psych and Middle Eastern rhythms and vibes playing out with a sense of motion that Bellier directs in a way that emphasizes the growth of his control over putting these parts together to create a fluid whole from them. In addition, Amster‘s drumming throughout is no less creatively broad, and though sometimes tasked with holding together an exploration of guitar, bass and/or keys, Shifting Mirrors is equally rhythmically than melodically expressive. That’s true from the turns of “Anatolia” onward, but especially so in “The Approach to Al-Mu-tasim” and “Ballad of Zeta Brown,” which follows the spacious string interlude “Taqsim” and wraps the first half of the album with a wordless thrust that highlights Blaak Heat‘s ability to play up one side or another within the context of their sound — in this case, leaning more toward classic psychedelia.
They continue that molten methodology — shifting, if you’d like — through side B. Though less frenetic than “Sword of Hakim,” “Black Hawk” features a relatively straightforward heavy psych take, and hits its stride with a gallop beneath a dual-layered lead from Bellier that hits into a nodding bridge groove; something more grounded than Blaak Heat will very often allow in their material. Fuller fuzz rounds out as well, and lest the listener get worried they’re settling on more of a rock feel, the repurposed Afghan folk song “Mola Mamad Djan” moves more back toward traditionalism even if it is a fuzzed out guitar playing those scales. Percussion, bass, keys, drums and guitar, and other elements come together for a final apex that speaks more to a rock mindset, but clearly the the band are indulging other influences, even if working them into their own context. There are debates to be had about cultural appropriation, the history of European and American colonialism in the Middle East, and so on, but Blaak Heat‘s material, whether it’s “Mola Mamad Djan” or the 2:41 thudding/lead interlude “Tamazgha” that follows, is less about exoticizing an “other” outside of Western rock tradition than about bringing different sides together.
By way of an example, with underlying organ and fleet twists of groove, “The Peace Within” drives toward a penultimate start-stop apex that’s basically the peak of the album, and it does so with a mixture of elements from both sides, letting the real serenity come with “Danse Nomade” as Evans‘ bass holds sway and the guitar and keys push outward in desert style backed by bells and drums as they make their way toward a last, open-feeling solo and final crashes, organ scratch and shaker rounding out. One can’t help but wonder if Shifting Mirrors, as a title, is referring to the idea of a changing picture of the self — that is, the self as something unrecognizable over time. If so, it is fitting with the stylistic nuance Blaak Heat make their own throughout, since it’s something that half a decade ago would’ve been unfathomable to come from them. Among the greatest appeals of their work to-date, though, has always been that they come across as being completely unwilling to settle in terms of their progression. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if their next outing takes yet another step forward from here, since they don’t seem to know how to move any other way, despite their songs’ head-spinning twists and turns. - The Obelisk (http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/2016/04/07/blaak-heat-shifting-mirrors-review-stream/)