The phrase “death alley” in itself certainly has some pedigree. Sure, a cheeky little bit of Googling will tell you first it’s a more than notorious moniker for a particularly shooty-shooty neighbourhood in LA, but it’s also the title of the sixth album from the criminally underrated Seattle underground punk-rock stars Zeke. Many will also recall the lead single Death Alley Driver, complete with the horrendously early-‘80s-all-over video, from UK rock legends Rainbow off the Straight Between The Eyes record from Blackmore and co way back when. But did you know that the title in itself is rumoured to originally stem from Jeff Beck’s description of Jimi Hendrix to Blackmore himself? No, neither did I.
Flipping the coin back to heads for just two slices of edam however, and I very much doubt that the Netherlands’ Death Alley give a flying fuck where the hell the phrase originates from. It sounds cool goddammit and as the denim and black-clad four-piece come smashing out of Amsterdam and into sticky-floored venues across Europe and beyond, it’s clear from front to back that so too does their debut record Black Magic Boogieland.
Somehow managing to combine that modern take on the long-perfected classic rock template a la bands like The Datsuns or The Atomic Bitchwax with the less-than-well-hinged punkish bawl of Bad Brains, Death Alley are far from your average newcomers to the scene. Singer Douwe Truijens, guitarist Oeds Beydals and drummer Ming Boyer previously stomped the boards at the core of hardcore punksters Gewapend Beton, while Beydals also featured behind the axe of The Devil’s Blood and bass-player Dennis Duijnhouwer kept the grooves fast and loose in the superb psych-rockers Mühr. And so, armed with the foundations of their Over Under/Dead Man’s Bones 7” and some heavy touring experience alongside retro-heavy rockers The Shrine and Dirty Fences, Death Alley took aim with their first full-length and fired straight and true into the bullseye of what heavy rock is really all about.
I’m delighted to report that every single track on the outrageously, yet righteously-named Black Magic Boogieland is a bona fide banger. As the awesome foursome take-off from mission control with the tried and tested opener Over Under and the gloriously bouncy title track, it would be easy to quickly conclude that they’d spunked every last ounce of their credentials, riffs and pure rock fury all in the first eight minutes. But if you did choose to imagine that sorry, messy soggy-rockin’ fate, you’d be wrong. So wrong in fact that the driving, AC/DC-tinged stomper Bewildered Eyes and the turbo-enraptured Stalk Eyed would kick the dust right in your, err, eyes for even thinking that this is anything less than a solid as shit eight-track affair. Such are the quality of Duijnhouwer’s twanging basslines, Boyer’s relentless, fist-pummelling drumwork and Beydals’ intricate, yet more fun than anything this side of the Atlantic riffage, that I for one feel stumped to select a standout moment. And believe me, I’ve tried.
Truijens isn’t the strongest, clearest or most soulful singer out there in the scene, but the passion and rigour pores from his throat right down to his snot-crusted sleeves. It’s impossible to imagine the powerhouse opener Over Under, the jumping, thumping anthem that is The Fever or the reinvigorated crackle of Dead Man’s Bones without his cultured yelp, which sits somewhere in the middle of Iggy Pop’s snarl and Bon Scott’s drawl. Having been fortunate enough myself to have seen these crazy cats in the flesh, I can only confirm that he manages to bring that leather-clad energy along for the ride in every second of their live show too.
On the other side of the studio, the shadow of Beydals’ immense talent looms large over this album. Sure, it’s inexplicably hidden inside his squirming guitar lines, his pant-splitting leads and those deliciously Michael Schenker-by-way-of-Hawkwind squealing solos, but really he is the solid brick wall of the Death Alley. On the likes of the truly mammoth and jaw-droppingly good space-rock closer Supernatural Predator his innovative and progressive chords hook you in to believing it’s a piece of well-structured hard rock, a prog masterpiece and a stadium sing-along anthem all at once. Meanwhile, the frankly outstanding midway cut Golden Fields Of Love manages to be a scintillating, lighters-in-the-air, semi-ballad power moment in one section and a chugging, Saviours-esque heavy metal riot by its close. Yet the most unique aspect to his playing to me arises from the almost “Toot toot! Train’s a-coming!” wah-wah riffage towards the close of both Bewildered Eyes and the rollocking, proto-tempo title track. These are generous slices of toe-tapping, hair-flailing joy both of which are reminiscent of The Jimi Hendrix Experience in their dazzling ability to catapult your dull daily mood towards somewhere in a widely more positive direction, no matter how shitty your day/week/month at the office is proving to be.
Speaking of steam trains, I’m running out of superlatives to continue to toss in this record’s general direction. Just go out and fucking buy it and you’ll feel good about your life, your soul and yourself. I promise. For a band called Death Alley, it was almost inevitable that this slam from the ‘Dam would prove to be the missing link between Rainbow and Zeke, but quite how the Dutch destroyers themselves have managed to nail that implicit brief simply has to be heard to be believed. Black Magick Boogieland you say? Now that certainly sounds like something worth walking down an alley in the shadow of death for to me.
Scribed by: Pete Green