King Dude

Fear

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    7
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Seattle-based peddler of gloomy darkness and devilish rock music TJ Cowgill's albums as King Dude channel some of Nick Cave's Birthday Party-era intensity and sprawl it out over gritty, ugly blasts of rock with country inflections hidden underneath. It's a strange and often demonic combination, and one that quickly evokes scenes of the untold horrors fabled to lurk in America's silent backwoods and deserted highways. Somewhere between Hasil Adkins, the Gun Club, and Death in June, King Dude's husky growl spins tales of death, desertion, and general bleakness over the course of Fear's 13 tunes, warping something horrific out of traditional blues elements, hard rock attitudes, and the most desolate breed of Americana. After a buzzing sound collage, the album kicks into high gear with the barnstorming "Fear Is All You Know," a burning rant fueled by gothic backing vocals, metal guitars, and semi-industrial drum pulsations. Production on Fear is handled by Bill Rieflin, known for work with mavens of heaviness such as Swans and Ministry, and Rieflin's touch may account for the muscular, sometimes metallic feel that graces many of the album's heavier songs. Cowgill's softer side shows itself on songs like the dirgey ballad "Maria" and the demented folk-country of "Bloody Mirror." The similarly soft-hearted "Never Run" finds the King in a decidedly more vulnerable place, sounding a lot more like Bright Eyes warbler Conor Oberst than was probably intended. The black-hearted villains and monsters in the songs of Fear are kept from falling over the edge into complete hellishness and overstated hateful sentiments by a surefooted songwriting sensibility that wins out over the often overly theatrical horrors of many of the songs' subject matter and delivery. Even when he's screaming laughably about demon lovers and being swallowed into the bottomless pit of despair, Cowgill seems to have a meticulous eye on his songwriting skills first and foremost, keeping Fear more interesting than heavy-handed.

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