It’s a simple and undeniable fact that I’ve had the privilege and joy of reviewing Dee Calhoun’s last two albums, ‘ Rotgut’ (2016) and ‘Go To The Devil’ (2018) for Ave Noctum (see reviews passim), and each time I’ve been massively impressed by the solo work of the former Iron Man vocalist. As such, jump forward the apparently mandated two years, and when this album came around, you’ll be unsurprised, should you for reasons unknown have followed my inane meanderings, to learn I metaphorically leapt at the chance to review his latest offering, ‘Godless’.
‘Here Under Protest’ commences the musical bile, angrily strummed chords accentuating Dee’s ire. Be it the politics of modern America (my personal bet), or the nation’s opioid crisis that has faded into the background of the news media is up to the listener. The simple fact is that Mr Calhoun is as angry as fuck, and has chosen this album as his platform to display that all too justified emotion. The almost uplifting organ voluntary opening of title track ‘Godless’ fades within seconds to a musical polemic, the contempt of dollar worshipping modern religion firing through every note of the guitar as much as every one of Dee’s angry screams. Frankly I could stop listening to the album now, and it would have earned its high score by track two, but that would not be fair to the work that was put in to the recording. ‘The Moon Says Goodbye’ paints the bleak picture of the collapsed hopes of the American West; just imagine 2016’s excellent film ‘Hell or High Water’ distilled from two hours to 5 minutes and you will have an idea of the context of the song. By contrast ‘To My Boy’ is almost upbeat, a spiritual successor mayhaps to 2016’s tear-jerking ‘Little Houn’. However, this light, personal reverie does not last long, swept away by the bile and ire of ‘Spite Fuck’; the contrast between the two tracks is the contrast between light and day, coming up, and coming down, and to have them next to each other in the one album is a bold move.
To my mind, Neil Young gets a respectful nod, not just in the plaintive ‘No Justice’, but in the harsher thud of ‘Ebenezer’; if ‘Neil Young’ is a reference unfamiliar to the true metal warrior fans of Ave Noctum, let me invite you to spread your horizons, and learn that dark music does not require corpse paint and unintelligibly screamed lyrics to Satan. Indeed, come ‘The Greater Evil’, whereby the opening samples paint a picture of an Exorcist movie, it should be apparent to all that what is required to create darkness is the minimalism of an accomplished artist, and Dee Calhoun is such an artist. Hell, if you want atmosphere and darkness, the album moves on to such grim tracks as ‘The Day Salvation Went Away’ and ‘Prudes Puritanical Puddles of Piss’, either of which could provide the soundtrack to Lee Van Cleef staring down his foes through slitted eyelids as his hand hovered over his .45 Colt Peacemaker, or maybe in a more modern context, a machete toting Danny Trejo crossing desert roads on his Harley-Davidson to meet his enemies.
Dee Calhoun has taken full advantage of the current isolationist rules of 2020 to create an album of just his feelings, voice, and guitar, with minimal embellishment, and frankly, his work is better for it. As much as I have banged my head and punched the air to his work with Iron Man, the band of the late and much lamented Alfred Morris III, in that context it sometimes sounded like his vocals were a bridge between crushing riff after riff. On his solo work, he lays his emotions bare, and screams them forth, defying anyone to challenge them. The editor of this site was worried that after the recent offerings of Wino, Brant Bjork, and Witchcraft, I might be reviewing too much of the same acoustic minimalism. In answer to that challenge, all I can say is that regardless of what I get sent, be it down-tuned through a stack of Marshall amps, or as stripped back as this offering, I know what I like in music, and Dee Calhoun will be riding high in my “Top 20” list of the year.