Nearly 25 years into their existence as one of the more intense and imaginative noise rock bands of their era, Providence, Rhode Island duo Lightning Bolt have very rarely produced anything even remotely resembling a catchy pop melody. Much of the group's wooly discography has been made up of Brian Gibson's mutant bass sounds and Brian Chippendale's immaculate drumming, occupying an otherworldly territory somewhere between grindcore tempos, tribal ecstasy, and high-level technical excellence. Only with their 2015 album Fantasy Empire did the band lean into all that an upscale studio could offer their sound. Seventh album Sonic Citadel continues the upped production values, but surprises with more diversity and even an extremely uncharacteristic melody or two rising above the clamor. Still not quite an about-face in terms of style, the album begins with the unrelenting bombast of "Blow to the Head," a song with roots in the sinister energy of '80s metal. The band puts second wave Black Sabbath riffs through a blender on this song as well as "USA Is a Psycho" and high-energy blast "Air Conditioning." Chippendale's never-ending tom rolls and cymbal crashes tenderize Gibson's gnarled hard rock bass figures. When "Hüsker Dön't" arrives, however, Chippendale's usually unintelligible vocalizations take the form of a light and even singsongy melody that strides lightly over a surprisingly straightforward chord structure. In the time between the band's last album and this one, Chippendale became a parent, and the song's lyrics address his child directly, giving his son life advice for a day when he's not around. It's a progression from anything Lightning Bolt has done before, and it still manages to rock enormously. Where the band toyed with loops and ambient textures on their last album, "Don Henley in the Park" begins in an almost pastoral folk mode. It ends in a cluster of drum explosions and garbled noise but still finds a softer inroad to the band's usual noise language. A multi-faceted and especially curious collection of Lightning Bolt material, Sonic Citadel shows the band still growing and developing nearly a quarter century in.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas