Gargoyle, Mark Lanegan's fourth album under the moniker the Mark Lanegan Band, opens with a song called "Death's Head Tattoo," and given the singer's chronically gloomy outlook on the world around him, that title sounds like it could be the height of cliché in Lanegan's hands. But thanks to his intelligence as a songwriter and his gifts as a vocalist, even under the worst circumstances Lanegan would deliver something worth hearing, and "Death's Head Tattoo" turns out to be more perceptive than one might have feared. Similarly, Gargoyle turns out to be a more satisfying listen than the previous Mark Lanegan Band albums. In addition to his usual collaborator, producer and multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes, most of the tracks also feature guitars, bass, and other instruments from Rob Marshall, guitarist with the band Exit Calm. Having Marshall on board has given most of these tracks a welcome dose of muscle and rock action, and if electronics still dominate the sonic horizons of Gargoyle, the results feel more organic, and Lanegan appears to be more invested in this material. "Beehive" is a testimony to the pleasures and perils of addiction, "Emperor" is a meditation on loneliness that could have been an outtake from Iggy Pop's Post Pop Depression (and features guest vocals from Iggy and Mark's mutual friend Josh Homme), "Drunk on Destruction" is a powerful fusion of six-string howl and drum loops, and "Old Swan" brings the album to a suitably epochal conclusion. Lanegan's vocals are in fine form throughout; quieter numbers such as "Sister" and "First Day of Winter" allow him to deliver more nuanced performances that show how well he makes use of the nooks and crannies of his instrument, and the album's best rockers are full of liberating power. At first glance, Gargoyle doesn't feel like an album full of surprises, but after the second or third spin, the fuller and bolder sound of the arrangements and production becomes clear, and it all serves Lanegan's talents in a way his last few Mark Lanegan Band albums have not.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming