Having given birth to the first and second waves; Europe has always had a leg up on the US when it comes to producing the dark, apocalyptic, misanthropic sounds of Black Metal. It’s been 25+ years since the black metal scene in Norway exploded, and the US is still struggling to claw its way up from the bottom of the Black Metal hierarchy. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of an outsider to the Black Metal scene, but with the exceptions of Absu and Nachtmystium, I would be hard pressed to name any major players in the Black Metal world that have come from the US. Some from the US might refute this claim, but USBM has never truly been able to step out from the shadow of their Scandinavian counterparts with its own identity.
I’m not here to say that Old Whiskey Funeral will be the band to establish that identity, but there is something inherently American about the band’s particular brand of “Black and Roll”. Hailing from Chicago, Old Whiskey Funeral was formed in 2015 by the dynamic duo of Jacek Leja on vocals, and instrumentalist Joel Leonard (ex-Eve of Mourning, Ghost of Mendea, and the legendary Avernus), the band released a self-titled EP in 2017. Two years later, they have returned with their debut full length, “Bury Me In Leather”, an album that covers a lot of ground stylistically.
What makes OWF stand apart from their American Black Metal peers is how the band incorporates a wide range of genres within the traditional black metal framework. Album single “Far Beyond The Grace Of God” flaunts some heavy gothic undertones, commencing with a dark, yet laid back drum and bass groove, anchored by haunting keyboards; reminiscent of 80’s Goth-Rock à la Sisters of Mercy, or Fields of Nephilim; before the guitars and vocals take the song in a more black and sinister direction. This Gothic flair returns during the chorus, with Jacek implementing deep chanting vocals, while Joel’s guitars wobble (best word I could think of to describe it) in the back. The 80’s is a place that the band continually reaches back to for inspiration. “Pull The Trigger” is a stomping rocker that anyone alive during the early 80’s will instantly connect to. Elsewhere, the band wears its Thrash Metal influence on their spiked sleeves. “Live Fast – Die Hard” is bursting with blistering riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on “Kill ‘Em All”.
Still, there is plenty of black-ness on display here. Even when the band explores other genres, they manage to keep one foot firmly in the black. The aptly named “Pitch Black” is as close to conventional Black Metal as the album gets. Title Track “Bury Me In Leather” has First Wave of Black Metal written all over it, sounding like the best song Venom never wrote, and even goes a bit doomy towards the end.
Despite the bleak and extreme nature of the songs, the lyrics give a sense that the band is not taking themselves too seriously, which is where I believe many USBM bands go wrong. There aren’t many modern extreme metal bands willing to proclaim “MOTHERFUCKER, I’M GOING TO MOTHERFUCKING KILL YOU!” in a song, but OWF does just that on “Pull the Trigger”. And therein lies the charm of the album…a dark sense of humor. US bands wanting to emulate the Norwegian bands they grew up on is fine; but doing so runs the risk of coming off as parody, or revealing a lack of self-awareness. Alas, the set of circumstances that led to the Norwegian scene are unique to that time, place, and the individuals involved. OWF evades such silliness by knowing who they are, and what they are about; which according to the band themselves is, “Sleazy, dirty, alcohol-fused Black and Roll.” In “Let Me Sleep”, Jacek consumes copious amounts of beer, whiskey, weed, speed, and cocaine; as well as the occasional woman, in an effort to calm down the inner beast and get some shut eye. While he slumbers, Joel Leonard seizes the opportunity for an extended guitar solo. There’s no excessive showboating here; just well-placed soaring high notes, bends, and taps, that will seep into your brain.
These days you can find a lot of bands that are taking Black Metal into uncharted territories, and making uncompromising, extreme art. But almost none do it with the same character and personality found on “Bury Me In Leather”. There is a little bit for everyone here; and combined with the band’s dark sense of humor, makes this a very fun and enjoyable listen. There’s still a lot of time left in the year, but as of now, this one is going to be pretty high on my end of year list.
Get this one here!