Saturnalia – Santa Fe New Mexican

Terrell’s Tune-Up – SantaFeNewMexican.com
Gloomy tunes from two

Rarely have gloom and damnation sounded so attractive.

Under the collective name of The Gutter Twins, Mark Lanegan — former lead moaner of Screaming Trees — and Greg Dulli — best known as the main voice of The Afghan Whigs and, more recently, The Twilight Singers — have teamed up to create Saturnalia, a foreboding serenade for a dark night of the soul, a morose masterpiece that captures the strengths of each of the Twins. It’s full of themes of deteriorating love, impending doom, spiritual apocalypse, guilt, and sorrow — the feel-good hit of the season.

This isn’t the first time Lanegan and Dulli have collaborated. Lanegan is basically an honorary Twilight Singer, having appeared on several tracks on various TS albums. I was first exposed to the music of these guys back in 1991, on a compilation album from the Sub Pop label sardonically titled The Grunge Years. The Afghan Whigs had a song on it called “Retarded.” Lanegan — whose solo work is far more impressive than his stuff with Screaming Trees — had a tune there called “Ugly Sunday.”

Saturnalia is a Sub Pop product too, though the Seattle record company that epitomized independent rock during the grunge years of the late ’80s and early ’90s is now part of the Warner Music empire (Warner owns 49 percent of the company). The good news is that this album sounds like a Sub Pop record of yore. With the first ominous strums of the opening tune, “The Stations,” a listener realizes that it’s going to be an intense excursion. Lanegan’s baritone is out front at the outset; the tempo picks up, and Dulli takes over the refrain. “I hear the rapture’s coming/They say he’ll be here soon/Right now there’s demons crawling all around my room.”

This is followed by a song called “God’s Children,” which starts out with a creep-show organ over a thumping beat. The melody that emerges (over trademark Whigs/Twilight swirling guitars) is classic Dulli.

One highlight here is “Idle Hands,” which happens to be an actual rocker, with Dulli playing a Mellotron to provide a “Kashmir”-like hook as Lanegan sings about devilish things: “I suffer you/You suffer me/We are the devil’s plaything.” And speaking of classic rock, check out the “Dear Prudence” guitar on “I Was in Love With You.”

Lanegan gets downright frightening on “All Misery/Flowers.” As the guitars grow thicker and thicker and some instrument sounds as if it’s screaming, Lanegan intones, “I woke up, I was crying/I saw an animal with eyes like mine on fire/I saw my own true love/She was a solid flower.”

No, it’s not easy listening. But Saturnalia is a midnight ride worth making.

– Steve Terrell

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