I grew up in a ridiculously heavy metal part of Queens, New York. You could be mercifully teased for wearing a Guns n’ Roses t-shirt to junior high, since they “weren’t metal” (and somehow explaining they didn’t claim to be metal just made things worse). A special dispensation was given for the band Danzig, though, which was considered metal due to singer Glenn Danzig’s pedigree fronting the Misfits and Samhain, which were actually punk groups. Avoiding the insane metal logic of 12-year-old boys for a moment, Danizg, the band’s 1988 debut album, was and is a beloved record for me. Which is why I flipped out upon hearing The Shape of Blues to Come, by The Apocalypse Blues Revue. It’s very reminiscent of that first Danzig album, while also standing just fine on its own.
There’s always been a weird relationship between metal and the blues. A lot of metal comes from Led Zeppelin which came, pretty much directly, from the blues. And Black Sabbath famously began as a blues band. One has the sense lots of metal guitarists enjoy and appreciate the blues, but the appreciation usually doesn’t translate into their music. Danzig, however, folded in metal, punk, rock, and blues (it even featured a cover of Albert King’s “The Hunter.” I didn’t realize the song was a blues cover until decades after purchasing the cassette) in a surprisingly authentic and accessible way. Danzig, the band, fused all of those elements in a way that pleased everybody. The Apocalypse Blues Revue also wears its blues love on its metal, tattooed, sleeves, and is similarly impressive at weaving diverse musical styles and an atypical lead singer into a wonderfully captivating album.
The band is made up of drummer Shannon Larkin and guitarist Tony Rombola of the metal band Godsmack. But The Apocalypse Blues Review is all about lead singer Ray “Rafer John” Cerbone, discovered by Larkin singing in a bar. The music can best be described as creepy blues. The beats are slow, the guitar tones are disturbingly distorted, and Cerbone’s voice is scary and demonic, much like Danzig’s. Imagine if Jim Morrison had still died, but was somehow resurrected a decade later. The album features traditional blues elements, like slide guitar, but for the most part, the album feels unnatural, like overhearing ghosts performing in an abandoned house. And this, of course, is what makes it such a delightful album.
Tracks vary in terms of scariness. “Open Spaces,” the leadoff track, with its alarming slide guitar, dirge of a beat, and intense Cerbone vocals, is probably not the one to jog to alone in the woods at night. “Hell to Pay” is a little peppier, with a more traditional rock beat and blues rock guitar solos. “What a Way to Go,” which clocks in at over eight minutes, features more bluesy guitar, but incredibly creepy background vocals that sound like they’re coming from a cult of evil, murder-y monks. The band covers a lot of ground stylistically, which makes for an enjoyable listen.
Fans of that first Danzig album should grab The Shape of Blues to Come as soon as they finish reading this review. For anyone else, this is a great album for blues-loving metal fans who want to hear dark tunes performed by a positively compelling lead singer.
The Review: 9.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Open Spaces
– What a Way to Go
– Have You Heard?
– Nobody Rides for Free
– Hell to Pay
The Big Hit
– Hell to Pay
Review by Steven Ovadia