Madison, Wisconsin’s Jex Thoth pride themselves on mystique, preferring relative anonymity to (well deserved) fame; 7 short years has seen them amass a cult following of ‘initiates’ with a culture and aesthetic having more in common with religious communal worship than the traditional (bland) band/fan experience. On ‘Blood Moon Rise’, the always charismatic Jessica Toth (vocals) is backed by a new cast of stellar musicians, making their classic line “you think you know me, but you won’t believe your eyes…” (from 2008’s “Nothing Left to Die“) particularly relevant. This latest collection of tracks shows a dramatic progression in songwriting, where influences are simply nuances of a distinct “Jex Thoth sound” rather than the guiding blueprint; there’s a synthesis of mood, music, and metaphor that makes this album stick with you like an unshakeable depression…but oddly, despair never felt so good.
A darker, heavier take on Amon Duul II’s classic folk/rock has been one of the band’s reliable recipes; decidedly retro, but always forward thinking. Indeed, hearing each Jex Thoth release is like unearthing some highly coveted ancient alien relic. Where the band comes from on paper, however, is irrelevant because they seem to speak from a world between realities, tapping into our frequency just long enough to tell their latest tale. Intro ‘To Bury’ sees this tale as one of survival, both in the literal and theoretical sense, as tribal rhythms, droning guitars and keys lay the structure for Toth’s warning: “…dare not shut your eyes, don’t trust yourself to sleep…hold on to the bones, it’s all we get to keep…” She makes a point that life is fluid and ever changing and nothing remains the same; learning from the past is crucial, but clinging to it is futile and inevitably cripples: “…remember this my friend, the less you’ll have to bury, the more we keep collecting, the more we have to carry…”
The band has no problems letting go with the cool, ‘devil may care‘ blues rock drive of ‘The Places We Walk’; although Toth’s voice remains the focus, the instrumental arrangements are solid and easily stand on their own. Slick melodic (guitar) accents feed a deceptively simple mid tempo main riff and this morsel of give and take has lasting rewards. The song just feels easy and familiar, as if programmed into every dark rock lover’s DNA at conception. Previous hard hitters like 2008’s ‘Obsidian Night’ only scratched at the surface of greatness, never quite moving beyond being mere platforms for Toth’s crooning. Modern crushers like ‘The Divide’ and ‘The Four Of Us Are Dying’ excel in their ability to complement Toth’s voice and compel by arrangements alone.
The “warhammer” percussive pound that kick starts ‘The Divide’ is unconventional at least, but makes sense in the context of the song’s theme. The lyrics suggest a kind of ‘hunter’s lament’ where the art of the ambush (literally or metaphorically) is on display. At the core, the song is pure Sabbathian doom, not uncharacteristic for the band, but the new standard is elevation and transformation; on this front, they succeed in every way. There’s a massive build and release of tension with each bridge; the chorus hits just as hard as it should and the vocal harmonizing decimates. Although ‘Blood Moon Rise’ shows less free form ‘jamming‘ (those of you who loved the ‘Equinox Suite’ series from the self titled full length may be a bit disappointed), the album benefits from its inherent focus and concision.
Despite its narrower scope, ‘Blood Moon Rise’ is no less ambitious than anything else in Jex Thoth‘s catalogue; it’s arguably superior in every aspect. The album successfully merges gothic rock, blues, doom, and folk experimentation, flirting with the same formula that gave Tiamat’s ‘Wildhoney’ (1994) classic album status.
There’s an infusion of Floydian blues in the current Jex Thoth sound that gives tracks like ‘Psyar’ and the lounging, jazzy ‘Into A Sleep’ depth and dimension. With this the band hits their stride and delivers what could be considered the pinnacle of their career in ‘Ehja’; Toth commands a full on melancholic doom procession, notes bend with a sultry drawl, descending chord progressions dominate, and the song cuts deep like a 20-ton hatchet. The chilling blues solo strike at the 3:20 mark is powerfully emotive in its crawl towards climax. The track has an uncontainable momentum, and like the album it soars in vision, broods in atmosphere, builds and devolves, ascends and crashes, and you’re left with the aftermath. Toth states, “…you haven’t figured it out, your heart doesn’t yearn, you’ll feel the fire, let it burn.”
Jex Thoth‘s brand of ‘pain as art‘ indelibly scars, soothes and destroys, and ‘Blood Moon Rise’ is the definitive statement to that effect. The band should be proud of what they’ve accomplished here because this album will undoubtedly be a highlight of their career. My parting words for the listeners: don’t fuck with the warrior woman. Highly Recommended.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore