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Warlocks, 'Skull Worship' review

Greg Kot

10:59 AM EST, November 26, 2013

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3 stars (out of 4)

The Los Angeles quintet has changed lineups almost as often as Lady Gaga changes outfits in concert, with Bobby Hecksher the sole constant. Yet the approach has remained consistent over six albums in 12 years, a measure of the singer-guitarist’s obsession with certain sinister sounds.

“Skull Worship” (Zap Banana/Cargo) revels in slow-build dynamics: guitars strumming hypnotically over a droning foundation while tribal drums pound and Hecksher sings like he’s just barely survived a car crash. “Dead Generation” lifts off on its mission to derange the senses, then crashes to a close in a squall of feedback. The steady, distortion-saturated churn of “Chameleon” and “Endless Drops” sets up the beautiful dirge, “Silver & Plastic,” which drifts into the shadows alongside a mournful cello. Its companion, “He Looks Good in Space,” builds its otherworldly beauty around a handful of long, sustained organ tones.

Though the thundering doomsday drive of early Warlocks classics such as “Shake the Dope Out” and “It’s Just Like Surgery” is largely missing, Hecksher and his bandmates sound just as heavy at more deliberate tempos. When the guitars finally crash through in “You’ve Changed,” it feels like a dam busting open. Unfortunately, the album limps to a close with the dirgy “It’s a Hard Fall” and the reverberating backward guitars of “Eyes Jam.” It’s the sound of the Warlocks finally burning out on the most inward-looking album of the band’s career.

greg@gregkot.com