Music review

Welcome to Blackgrass: “Blood & Banjos” Demo Pioneers Folk/Metal Mix

Banjos haven’t had their place in metal yet. Sure, there was that one Mastodon song, but how often do you hear acoustic instruments like the banjo among gritty guitar licks and thunderous vocal shouts? Blood & Banjos aim to change that. The band’s distinctive sound (dubbed “blackgrass”) is making motions to blend the fury of black metal with the acoustic sensibilities of bluegrass. On their way to releasing a full 10-song studio concept album, Blood & Banjos have released a 3-song demo demonstrating an eclectic genre blend that takes many of the best parts of their favorite musical fields and puts them together in shocking combinations that work out better than anyone could’ve expected.

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The demo has humble beginnings. Opening track “The Binding” is a steady, folksy jam with plenty of twang from the band’s namesake instrument. Siren vocals and steady croons glide along a banjo theme well. It’s lighter, brisker, but could easily pass as your typical country/folk tune. “The Binding” is a decent track, but one that does nothing to cement the band’s creativity in mixing otherwise incongruent genres. You won’t find much “blackgrass” here.

The way that Blood & Banjos jump between genres like nobody’s business comes across as rough at times, smoother at others. “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” begins with a slick banjo groove only to shockingly enter the world of metal, with screaming vocals similar to that of Dir en Grey and heavily distorted guitars. Right when you get used to the furious blitzkrieg of black metal, Blood & Banjos suppress and return to a folksy, fiddle-driven jam with vocals that echo the work of Glenn Danzig. Right after that settles, it’s back to the metal and screaming. The transition is more startling than consistent, and it can make for some slightly uneven pacing, but it’s a unique step, one that could move to influence other ambitious compositions in the band’s future.

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“Sons of Darkness” proves to be a much better flowing piece than “Judge, Jury, and Executioner.” The transitions have better buildup, the guitar solos get to shine a bit brighter, and the vocals are furious and powerful without being grating. It’s with “Sons of Darkness” that the band takes the better pieces of cinematic metal like Dream Theater while mixing in that folksy groove that they solidify in the other two songs on the demo. You can see the band’s vision, their emphasis on epic scores among almost intimate sounds from the acoustic instruments; it’s a promising one. If the band’s upcoming album focuses more on the climactic motions of “Sons of Darkness”, prepare for one hell of a ride.

Blood & Banjos mix metal, folk and bluegrass into one of the most bizarrely satisfying purees of genres in recent memory. From the band’s very concept, Blood & Banjos are pushing musical boundaries in bizarre ways. “Sons of Darkness” is a fantastic experimental track, one that indicates a bright future for these banjo-twanging brainiacs. Though the transitions in the other tracks could’ve been tighter and a bit more ambitious, Blood & Banjos are resolute in their sound and they will be one to watch in the coming months.

You will be headbanging. To banjos. Just think about that.

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