Black Heart Procession – The Spell

Four years after the release of Amore Del Tropico, San Diego’s darkest sons return with album number five. Aptly titled, The Spell had me under its sway from the first notes. After waiting so long for this record to come out, I was pleasantly surprised that time had not taken its toll on the group. The results are just as good as any previous Black Heart Procession release. Just as Amore Del Tropico succeeded in bringing new life to the group’s dreary country style with those tropical murder ballads, The Spell also takes another surprising turn, one towards rock.

Much of the Black Heart sound is retained on this record. You’ll still hear the minor-key piano ballads, the descriptive storytelling, and another “Waiter” song. The most striking addition to the Black Heart repretoire would be all the post-prog guitar noodling found on tracks like “Gps” and “The Fix.” Other than that, there is a warm, hollow distortion to many of the guitars themselves not seen since the days of Pall Jenkins’ old band Three Mile Pilot. In fact, those familiar with that group would be quick to point out the similarities in overall tonal quality between Another Desert, Another Sea and this album.

After Jenkins donated some vocal tracks to the Album Leaf’s In a Safe Place last year, it seems that Album Leaf main man Jimmy Lavelle has jumped aboard the good ship Black Heart, as he plays bass in this incarnation of the band. Joining him along with Black Heart mainstays Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel are Album Leaf violinist Matt Resovich and ex-Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer (who also played on Amore Del Tropico). The addition of these talents adds more texture to the group and a strong, rhythmic backbone.

“Tangled” begins the record with a signature piano line much like other Black Heart Procession releases. “The Spell” moves itself along with some of the best drumming in the band’s catalog. “Not Just Words” is slightly pastoral in its unfolding beauty. Near the end of the record, “Places” reminds me of driving at night with the lines “we come crashing through the dark, we don’t know where we are, and something is just not the same.” Despite the relative excellency of these tracks, the real stand outs are the rockers that I mentioned previously.

As a long-time Black Heart Procession fan, it’s difficult to try and offer perspective when critically assessing this record. As much as I loved Amore Del Tropico, The Spell comes across even more striking. I place it along with Three as the best album so far in a long-winding career. With the addition of Lavelle and Resovich, nearly making the band a super group, The Black Heart Procession has delivered another exceptional album that might even win over any previous naysayers.