Jamie Saft - Black Shabbis
Death/Doom/Drone Metal
9 songs (66:08)
Release year: 2009
Reviewed by James

Jamie Saft has been working in various genres ranging from dub to jazz throughout his musical career, so I suppose his foray into heavy metal is both a complete left turn, and somehow totally expected. Black Shabbis is something of a mixed bag stylistically, from the warp-speed death-thrash of Blood, to the traditional doom of Army Girl, and even a fair amount of drone mixed in there for good measure. As you might expect from a release on Tzadik, Black Shabbis is heavily influenced by Saft's Jewish heritage, the lyrics dealing with anti-semitism throughout the ages. Not that you can make head or tail of the lyrics, seeing as Saft's vocals are generally a heavily-processed, pitch-shifted growl. Further nods to Saft's roots turn up in his keyboard work, throwing in the sort of klezmery melodies you'd expect from a man linked to the work of John Zorn. This is particularly noticeable on the titular intro track, sounding like a lost cut from Zorn's recent Book Of Angels series.

Black Shabbis takes in a range of styles, and taking into account the previous works of its creator it's difficult to know whether Black Shabbis is a serious attempt at making a metal record, or more a pastiche of the genre as a whole. Indeed, the opening riff of Serpent Seed is that kind of metal that only really exists in the entrance music of professional wrestlers. Elsewhere, however, Saft manages to craft material that is utterly and completely convincing. Blood is an absolute stormer of a tune, worthy of any death metal band worth their salt, proving that Jamie Saft genuinely does have a knack for neck-snapping thrash riffs. With Remember, he actually manages to make something genuinely novel, dreamy, dub-influenced vocals floating above a mid-paced death metal backdrop. It really is unlike anything I've ever heard, and it's a path Saft would do well to follow in the future rather than messing about with low-quality drone-metal.

Ah yes, the drone tracks, and how they drag the album down. Der Judenstein (The Jewry Stone), Kielce and The Ballad Of Leo Frank taking up over half-an-hour of the record's total runtime (indeed, that's nearly half the album, folks). And to put it mildly, they're not very good. On face value, they're not that different from the likes of Sunn O))), yet there's a crucial lack of atmosphere here, the reason Sunn O))) can pull this sort of thing off and Jamie Saft well, can't. Maybe it's the production, but you just don't get those big bassy frequencies integral to making drone metal actually work, no matter how loud you turn it up. Kielce sort of halfway works, with it's buried howls and skittery, free-form drumming actually managing to create something semi-interesting.

Black Shabbis has some good ideas, but it's an awkward, bitty album. Saft clearly has talent, but he's effectively crippled by a weird, overly dry production and a steadfast refusal to stick to any one idea. Still, there's hope here, and if Jamie Saft ever raises his game and makes a Black Shabbis II he might be on to a good thing. As it is, Black Shabbis is an interesting idea with a rather messy execution.

Killing Songs :
Blood, Remember
James quoted 58 / 100
Goat quoted 63 / 100
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