Sound — 4
"Songs of Darkness and Despair" is the debut album by collaborative project Bill & Phil, made up of Bill Moseley and Phil Anselmo. One is a veteran horror actor, the other is the vocalist of Pantera, a not so unlikely combination that brings us somewhat of a passion project between two good friends.
Now, given the history of both artists, this particular project does feel like a reasonably expected outcome: a kind of dirty homage to their two fields of work, grimy New Orleans rock 'n' roll and American horror.
Immediately, one might spot a credential conflict. Anselmo is, needless to say, a legend in the metal world for multiple reasons. In recent times, maybe for some more than others but that's besides the point. Bill Moseley though, what's he done? He's an actor.
However, many might not know of his sojourn with enigmatic maestro Buckethead in the band Cornbugs. Here, he brings his vocal ability to bear upon a mishmash of signature driven songs. I'd say the overall writing direction is inspired by Superjoint Ritual with a nod to the implied spookiness of Electric Wizard.
The album itself is somewhat of a perplexing tail of what I call being "nearly there." By that, it's apparent that there's a certain anti-polish (as in, cleaning product) that defines these tracks, both in terms of composition, mix and production. The riffs are altogether cohesive, the arrangements seem to be all that they need to be and in general, it feels pretty thematic.
Quite what the themes are meant to be is somewhat obscured. Running the gamut from meaty southern metal, acoustic ballads and semi-epics, the tone also shifts from a kind of loose comedy ("Corpus Crispy"? Honestly?) and unintentionally goofy dose of horror references.
Naturally, this kind of "throw it at a wall" mentality is a great way to generate prototypes. Most music before the early '90s had a similar certain feel. However, translating this kind of ethos into a modern recording style makes everything feel rough, ill-prepared or even a bit sloppy. Sloppy is certainly more of a feature than a feeling, especially in the first two tracks on the album. It's the "loose" kind of sloppy of say early Sabbath records but it's still somewhat off-putting.
Some moments are just downright weird. "Catastrophic" is a kind of Frank Zappa meth-trip split between another more standard song but the main riff coupled with the rambling of Moseley's character is a jarring whole-tone nightmare of nonsense.
"Bad Donut" and "Widder Woman" feel like drunk-talking in-jokes that somehow went through the duos collective green light. "Bad Donut" is a kind of slow-punk jam that features more spoken-word dialogue from Moseley that isn't that conceptually for from Metallica's "Lulu." It kind of ends the same way as well: just not knowing how to explain itself thus petering out into the recesses of the listeners awkward silence. "Widder Woman" is basically drunk-talk personified, a 30 second blurb of "stuff" over an oddly child friendly but also disjointed backing track.
Even with a few instances of substance such as "Tonights the Night We Die," there is not a good case for recommending this album. Either you want to laugh with or at it, two men putting a few ideas through a recording process and having fun with it.
Just do not go in expecting anything but that.
Lyrics — 5
Vocals are primarily handled by Moseley and despite previous admonitions for the spoken word direction on some of the tracks, his actual singing voice isn't bad. There's a certain vintage quality to it, one that evokes the likes of the late Rick Parfit or the equally late Greg Lake. Again, at certain points his rhythmic flow is not precise, leading to certain effects such as vocal layering to not produce the effect that they're usually designed for.
Despite statements made in media, Phil himself doesn't seem to make a distinguishable appearance on the album. A voice as recognisable as his would certainly stick out but it just does not seem to be there.
Lyrically, the album title might not be accurately representing what these themes could be. Six tracks in total and the themes feel more like parodies of serious topics, not badly written in the prosaic sense but certainly so in the actual content and narrative.
It's almost baseless trying to critique this aspect of the album because of the wink-wink style of humour, it's the same way trying to critique South Park is fruitless because some of the voices used might be a bit dumb.
Overall Impression — 4
This album is not one that seemed to have expectations, hence its relatively low circulation and promotion. One can see why: aside from the general appeal of Anselmo's song writing or maybe Moseley's vocal styles, most of this album feels like a passion project being thrown to the wind without much thought to where it lands.
It's a passion that might seem obscured to most listeners as the weird rambling drone of both instrument and spoken word does all the eye-glazing for you.
Songs to look out for: "Tonight's the Night We Die."