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Saturnalia – Harp (Full Review)

Greg Dulli is a hot dog, a fast-talking soul boy whose giddy literate lyricism made his dippy punkish Afghan Whigs the oddball toast of Sub Pop’s early-’90s label establishment. By the time Dulli got to the harder, groovier stuff (literally, in regard to his addiction-addled chatter) of the Twilight Singers, he couldn’t shut the speed rapping even when slowing down for his best effort, 2006’s Powder Burns. Mark Lanegan is a slower-burning ember. But it’s a measuredly wordy brushblaze Lanegan’s tossed gasoline onto so far: raging across the SST (and, later, Epic) landscape for the grueling grunge of Screaming Trees, then submitting a series of immensely wrenching emotional vocals to everyone from Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell and Soulsavers to his own efforts (notably 2004’s Bubblegum, his warmest solo work).

In full possession of his goods and his ghosts, then, Lanegan also sung on his best bud Dulli’s Twilight Singers’ 2006 EP A Stitch in Time. But Gutter Twins is the rich impressionistic meeting and melding of the wronged and wronging minds in real time. Fire, meet ice; cocaine, meet heroin.

Like a searing cross between “Gimme Shelter” and “Kashmir,” a song like “The Stations” rises as it rings, its singed guitars and rolling rhythms epically bolstering down and at once lifting their talk of the godly and the pleading. It’s a bountiful, prayerful beginning and a gorgeous portent of what’s to come as their voices, scuffed and silvery, blend often as one. While “Who Will Lead Us?” does its ethereally bluesy and (mostly) acoustic best to mumble out loud about where the chariot will park and how much the fee might be, “Seven Stories Underground” uses its dense electronic pucker and percussive clack to match the might of a woman’s mouth to that of Heaven above. From the high-pitched magical mystery whirr and mumbled romanticism of Dulli’s “I Was in Love With You” to Lanegan’s holy dread, strum and thud of “All Misery/Flowers,” Saturnalia is as if conjoined twins, once separated, had been—corny, but true—united at the soul.

Their menacing solo voices may seem plucked and struck from the same, sometimes sentimental, center. But when they sing at once in rancid harmony, it’s as if the Everlys had died and gone to Purgatory to play out their darkest days before the big decision.
By A. D. Amorosi

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