Bland's primary goal, besides pumping out song after song of psychedelia, is education. "We're trying to teach people to learn from our history," he says. "Sometimes it seems like it's in vain, because we're in this cycle of repeating the exact same transgressions as before. My hope is that we can stop that cycle in some small way."
Largest transgression? War. "From the dawn of man, it's war -- we just continuously fight each other," Bland laments. On their debut LP, Passover, the Black Angels penned a song entitled "The First Vietnamese War," implying a repeat performance -- one that Bland claims is the current conflict in Iraq.
Accordingly, the Black Angels believe in reporting about violence both in their lyrics and in the throbbing menace of their droning guitars. Bland notes, "We depict things as they are, and death and paranoia and sadness happen to be part of it. I would say that if you were to meet each of us in our daily lives, we [wouldn't be] sad, morose people dressed in black, but it's our outlet for the way we feel. We're not dissatisfied with life, we're just observing."
Like their historical predecessors, the band members fuel part of that observation by the use of recreational drugs. "Acid [is a] way to open everyone's mind -- used in proportion and not overindulged, I think it's still a tool of creativity," Bland says, though he's quick to warn about the dangers of LSD as well, saying that it's not the smartest thing to take every day in your tea. Given the Black Angels' frequent nods to the holy trinity of Lou Reed, Jim Morrison and Roky Erickson (of the 13th Floor Elevators), noted users of various substances all, it doesn't seem out of place. And the Angels' choice of drug -- regardless of how you feel about narcotics -- seems appropriate to the time they're attempting to recreate.
Bland believes that the shedding of ego (whether through consciousness-altering drugs or not) is a way of eliminating violence and petty squabbles. "One of the reasons we've been successful is that when all of us come together as a group, it's a democracy," he says. Though conflict may be inevitable, for the Black Angels, it seems to work out all right -- four of the band's five members live together. There's an obvious camaraderie, in large part because they all loved the '60s even before they'd ever met.
While the Black Angels aim to evoke the flavor of that psychedelic age, they're particularly smitten with the Velvet Underground. With a name, a logo and practically a philosophy taken from Reed and Co., there's some evident idolatry going on. Bland readily admits to it, saying, "Something that attracted me to the Velvet Underground is the drone style, the simplicity and the minimalism of the way they play. They weren't technically trained musicians; they just picked up their instruments and played. To me, they were a tribal, minimal band." The Underground, along with Lou Reed, are the Black Angels' ancestor spirits.
This concept, somehow both progressive and regressive, seeps into the live show as well, Bland says. "Something that we take from the Doors is the ceremonial event of each of their shows -- I think that our shows are like that as well." The multimedia experience of their performance, replete with strobe lights and projector reels, is like a ritual of the kind lost with the disappearance of shamans and medicine men.
As with ceremonies of old, human sacrifice is common -- though instead of placing your heart upon the altar, expect to offer up your eardrums. Playing with like-minded locals Oil of Angels, a band whose fascination with psychedelic drone is only matched by their love of volume, a Black Angels night is certainly a night to wear earplugs. And also revel in the primeval hum of one of the best psychedelic bands still in existence. But mostly: earplugs.
The Black Angels play with the Strange Boys and Oil of Angels at the Big Dipper on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 7 pm. $12; $15 at the door. Call 747-8036.