Review of "Scorched Earth - Black Heart"

Giving My Bones to the Western LandsGuess who's back? Back again. Not Slim Shady. Just Slim. Tell a friend. Slackeye Slim is a villain inspired from crappy old western movies and the alter ego of Joe Frankland. An alter ego means an alternate self, which is believed to be distinct from a person's normal or true original personality. Finding one's alter ego will require finding one's other self, one with a different personality. Enough of the psychology. Slackeye Slim is back with a new album "Scorched Earth, Black Heart". Well, the album will not be released until June 23, 2023. The preorders for the limited edition of 100 vinyls and 50 cassettes opened on April 10. No cds. The preorders are exclusively available through his website (see below). I ordered the next best thing, a digital copy (24 BIT/24 KHZ WAV high-resolution source audio). I didn't have to wait for it. A new album is a surprise. I thought that Slackeye Slim/Joe Frankland had turned his back to the world and shifted his full attention to hiking in mountains of Colorado, work and family. In fact, it's been over eight years since "Giving My Bones to the Western Lands" was released. This magnificent album could be the dignified final chapter after the criticallly acclaimed album ”El Santo Grial: La Pistola Piadosa. Apparently, everything isn't said and done. According to previous information the new album "Scorched Earth, Black Heart" is a concept album written from the perspective of a circular firing squad. However, the press release (see below) reveals that Frankland "takes a difficult look at his family, his relationship with his brothers, and his frequently nihilistic and unforgiving relationship with himself. Realizing that he's spent half of his life running from a variety of untreated mental illnesses, painful memories, a seemingly genetic predilection for finding conflict, and all manner of proud, chest-pounding shitbaggery, Frankland stops and asks the simple question, “Why?” His search for an answer to this question results in the eleven tracks on “Scorched Earth - Black Heart.” But instead of finding closure or peace, he finds more questions, more ugliness in humanity, and more confusion and isolation. While he may be a couple thousand miles away from the old farmhouse in Columbiana County, Ohio where he grew up, the journey to get away from himself has just begun." Well folks, have Slackeye Slim anything new to bring to the table? 

Slackeye Slim 2Let me start by saying that there's no holding back here. In fact, there's enough darkness on this album to attract the whole community of black hole researchers. But, not without a glimmer of hope. The album starts off with ”Everything Follows This”. The opening song seems to allude to the themes in the press release. It starts minimalistic with strings and vocals. The soundscape is then expanded with drums, guitar and bass, yet restrained. The vocals follow the harmony. ”Crawl into my skin for a couple of days / No end, no beginning, it’s always the same / When he’s shedding his skin, a rattlesnake is / Exactly the same way that he’s always been”. The songs ends with the title ”And everything else follows this / Everything else follows this”. A reassuring opening song. The second song ”Crooked Teeth” could be characterized as upbeat and twangy gothic western, if it wasn't for the contrasting lyrics. "I never cared if it was nature or nurture / That made me out this way / ‘Cause either way I looked at it / I found someone to blame". The captivating rhythm is in sharp contrast to the lyrics. You don't really know which foot to stand on or where to set your sights. But, this is probably what the artist intended. Again, the lyrics is very personal. The same is true for the third song ”Somebody Else's Name”. Brute force, simple song construction, dark lyrics and sung with emphasis. "When they were never on your side at home / They raised you up to be alone / They taught you with a balled up fist and said / Go and figure this shit out on your own". The fourth song ”Mama's Favorite Son” is one of the highlights on the album. This is gothic western at its best. Slackeye Slim excels in the genre, with sparse arrangements and deep baritone vocals. Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. There is nothing to take away here. The fifth song ”I Took You Up the Mountain" is catchy, but doesn't stand out like the rest of the songs on the album. The sixth song ”Old Farmhouse” seems to deal with his childhood and upbringing in Ohio. Sounds like a report to the social services expressing concern set to music. It's slow traditional country and a saw. Saw is underused in the gothic western genre and gives the song a spooky vibe. The song content makes me think of Dandelion children, which is used to describe children who will do well no matter what their upbringing or environment is like. If you purchased the vinyl or the cassette this is where you would have to flip over to the B-side to continue listening.   

Slackeye Slim 1The complicated family theme continues on the seventh song ”We Were Lurkers”. The arrangement consists of a cerebral cortex-sticking formula of pounding drums, percussion and saw. "We were in it together / Now we are in it apart". The eight song is called ”The Worst Part of Me”. This is beautiful gothic western where Slackeye Slim settles the scores with his parents. "Let’s go piss on the graves in the cemetery"..."My father was a joyless piece of shit and so am I"..."The worst part of you is the worst part of me". This is one of the absolute best songs on the album. The interlude with guitar is just brilliant in its simplicity. The ninth song is called ”Goddamnit, It's Christmas”. More dysfunctional family drama set to music. This time traditional country and piano. One would expect that Slackeye Slim, by now, would have exhausted himself emotionally and artistically. But the pause between the ninth and tenth song has the same function as a short breather for the mountaineer before he or she makes the top attack. The last two songs, which together form the album title, gives the album a formidable setting and splendid ending. The tenth song "Scorched Earth" is just a beautiful piece of music. A minimalistic banjo is introduced about one minute into the song. Slackeye Slim is known for his care in details. And such a little thing makes such a big difference. This is gothic western of the highest carat. "I just need some time / To empty out my mind / And start all over somewhere far away". And there's a seamless transition to the last and eleventh song, barely noticeable. As I stated many times, the last song on an album is both difficult and important. It concludes what the artist wants to say with the album. The song ”Black Heart” is an epic ending. "And so the canyon walls stand high above me / Where the mountains the desert meet as one / The tumbleweeds blow in and go on their way again / And for a moment I am right where I belong". When the songs fades out, you will find yourself with blank expression on your face and left with the feeling of being dejected. And a small glimmer of hope. Music can have that effect.

Yes, Slackeye Slim has something new to bring to the table. "Scorched Earth, Black Heart" is a deeply personal album, almost therapeutical. As always, filled with well-written, well-crafted and well-produced songs. I particularly like the dark gothic western streak that runs throughout the album. The sound quality is crystal clear. The arrangements and performance are, as always, exquisite. The album is filled to the brim with energy and progress. But, this is not just another new album from the artist. The story of his life, as he perceive it, has to come out. The lyrics are overly sincere and truffled with profanities. I don't mind. Slackeye Slim is older, perhaps wiser and definitely more open and vulnerable. Whatever it is that he has been harbouring inside him it should be out by now. The new aibum will go down in history as Slackeye Slim's catharsis album.

If you click on the icons below they will open in a new window, from left to right: Slackeye Slim's Bandcamp page, complete lyrics for "Scorched Earth, Black Hearts", Slackeye Slim's website and press release for "Scorched Earth, Black Heart".

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