Bill + Phil – Songs of Darkness and Despair Review

“Bill” is Bill Mosely, noted horror movie icon. Bill is no stranger to music, having previously collaborated with Buckethead on a project called Cornbugs; he also has a solo album entitled Spider Mountain. He wrote all of the lyrics for this EP, too, so he’s not just some glory-seeking parasite doing it the easy way by latching on to larger hosts.

“Phil” is Phil Anselmo, vocalist/guitarist of several bands and known to some as “Uncle Fun”. Phil has seemingly never found a musical project he can say no to (and as a horror movie fanatic, he certainly wasn’t about to start now.) He wrote the music in the studio along with trusty engineer Stephen Berrigan and a few members of La Housecore Familia over the course of three days.

Simon & Garfunkel, they are not.

The title Songs of Darkness & Despair writes a pretty hefty check, which I’m not sure the duo can cash. You expect to hear anguish, pain, maybe even a little torment in addition to the darkness and despair, things in line with at least three of Phil’s other notable projects. It’s not a bad thing that you don’t; it just means you may need to adjust your expectations before diving in. Hell, you’ll probably have to change them from track-to-track, too.

“Dirty Eye” starts things off and is the closest thing you’re going to hear to Phil’s body of work, in turn making it the closest thing to the anguish and pain I spoke of above. The riffs plod along just north of a dirge and cut a nice, almost hypnotic groove. Bill really sounds like he’s hurting, and that delivery combined with the music creates the sort of thing I like to hear most when *I* am suffering from anguish and despair.

So of course now that you’ve started to settle in, the whole thing does a complete 180. “Corpus Crispy” holds down a steady rhythm while spinning a campfire tale of warning. There are also bongos in this track. Or maybe they’re congos. I can never tell the difference. I only know that if you told me 20 years ago that Phil would one day perform on an album that included that kid of percussion, I would have punched you dead in the face; or I may have just laughed, depending on your tone. You may not even notice that it clocks in at over 7 minutes, as all the sonic elements come together into a flowing, engaging piece. Adding a whole other flavor to the proceedings, “Catastrophic” shows Bill spiraling into madness as he rants over guitars that go from mind-wrenching to mind-bending and points in between from verse to chorus and back, before he returns to sanity (probably just before being killed) to plead “Save our fucking children.”

To write anything more about “Widder Woman” than this sentence here mentioning that it exists would be to spend more time talking about it not only than it lasts, but more time than they spent on it. Note to Bill: not everything you write needs to be recorded. Note to Phil: not everything Bill writes needs to be recorded, especially with unconventional instrumentation.

“Tonight’s the Night We Die” would be an almost perfect bit of dark country were it not for the mournful electric guitar doing its thing (albeit tastefully) in the background. I mean, it’s still pretty damn good; I’ve just never heard country with that type of guitar. This is the one time Bill really shows his range as a vocalist, actually singing the lyrics as opposed to his usual rhythmic spoken or shouting style. This is also the one of the few times you can actually hear Phil providing vocals, bringing to mind his anguished work on “Suicide Note Part 1”.

“Bad Donut” is an interesting piece. It’s less a song than Bill doing some spoken word over some mid-tempo riffing. It sounds a lot like Black Flag’s The Process of Weeding Out might have sounded with Henry Rollins doing his thing over the music. It’s a fun jam that feels a bit shallow despite adding a new cliché to our lexicon in the form of “You’re the bad donut at the bottom of the box.”

Songs of Darkness & Despair, then, is a bit of a schizophrenic mess. Whether that is good or bad depends on your personal taste. It’s a nice little EP free of creative boundaries that all involved clearly enjoyed making. For me, this sort of diversity (four unique styles across six tracks) works in this format but is likely to grow tiresome over the course of a full-length.  The primaries have both alluded to collaborating again in the future, and if they decide to go the route of the latter, I’d like to see them build upon what they’ve already done rather than try to cram even more styles into it.

Posted by Dave Pirtle

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