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Saturnalia – Junk Media

Rating: 4/5

Has Greg Dulli found religion? Its hard not to think so after hearing Saturnalia, the debut record from his long-in-gestation collaboration with Mark Lanegan, where the two dark lords of alt-rock sing of regret, redemption and, well, God. Practically every song is filled with religious and Biblical imagery, some literal album-opener “The Stations,” where lyrics about the Rapture butt up against the title itself, a reference to the Catholic Stations of the Cross and others, like the gorgeous “The Body,” more metaphorical.

But Dulli, late of the Afghan Whigs and taking a busmans holiday from his current band, The Twilight Singers, and ex-Screaming Trees frontman Lanegan — himself involved in projects as diverse as Queens Of The Stone Age and two records of ballads with with Belle and Sebastians Isobel Campbell — are looking at the Pearly Gates from a spot way down below. Sufjan Stevens or Pedro The Lion this aint. For ever note about resurrection and spiritual redemption, were reminded that “Heaven is quite a climb/From seven stories underground.” Dullis feral soul stud is outgunned here by Lanegans grim reaper persona— when the latter sings in the apocalyptic “All Misery/Flowers,” “little girls might twitch at the way I itch/But when I burn its a son of a bitch… I did it all just to get through to Heaven,” you pretty much expect the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse to add a fifth rider to their posse.

Dulli and Lanegan play off well together, with Dullis expressive soul-man crooning bashing up against Lanegans sandpaper growl; the songs are structured that, when the two trade off vocals mid-song in “The Stations” and in the records strongest track, the soaring “Circle The Fringes,” the shift in tone only amps up the songs dramatic quotient — its like hearing The Righteous Brothers by way of early Alice Cooper.

Saturnalia works best when the duo arent trying to hard to impress — the busy-sounding, electronica-tinged “Each To Each” leaves Lanegans bark sticking out like a sore thumb. But stripped-down numbers like Lanegans surprisingly soulful “Who Will Lead Us?” and Dullis harrowing, acoustic “Front Street” show the two at their most relaxed Dulli has thankfully ditched the vocal processing that got in the way of the power of his pipes on the last couple of Twilight Singers records. Rocker “Idle Hands” — with Arabic-sounding strings gliding over a thudding, hellbent-for-leather rhythm track — puts the two at maximum comfort level with a sound that hearkens back to both the Screaming Trees and early Whigs songs like “Hated” or “Conjure Me.”

Dulli and Lanegan may see God ahead of them, but they still have hellhounds on their trail: “With my idle hands/Theres nothing I can do,” Lanegan snarls, “But be the Devils plaything, baby/And know that Ive been used.” Dark and bracing, Saturnalia is the perfect record for that lapsed Catholic in your life.

Mark Cappelletty

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