Consider this review an exercise in expectation management. Although I don’t think I was ridiculous for expecting a band not to veer too far from an established sound or approach to their music, one must always consider that a band may want to deviate and make alterations in order to stay dynamic or simply explore new territory. That said, I did not expect Lucifer to change from a lightly stoned, doom metal sound to full-blown retro rock within the span of one album. Simply titled Lucifer II, the follow-up to their bewitching debut doesn’t necessarily suffer from sequelitis, but rather it falls victim to the unpredictability of artistic freedom.
This isn’t to say that artistic freedom is bad, but the band’s pivot left some work to do on my part. After about one listen, I accepted what this album was: a retro rock set piece dredged up from the 70s, complete with tambourine, cowbell, backing choirs, and the occasional organ. Gone were the days of “Purple Pyramid” and its slow, cursed guitars. Now we have the “California Son” to admire with its comparatively sunny disposition and notable drive. This track itself evokes visions of black leather clad riders upon motorcycles defiantly tearing up the Pacific Coast Highway in search of invigoration in a way that only wayward travel and the warming vibration of a chopper underneath you can offer, or at least I assume. Funnily enough, that’s exactly what the video for “California Son” goes with for a visual aesthetic (something I wasn’t privy to when I wrote this down).
Lucifer II has a lot of uptempo moments, something that took me a while to contend with. Guitar solos and fretwork overall is bright and catchy with some pop leanings. “Dreamer” and “Before The Sun” are slower approaches to this sound, but still come off like classic rock staples; an alternate reality Fleetwood Mac perhaps. I sometimes refer to this as ‘kaleidoscope rock’; while it doesn’t have to be explicitly trippy as the name would imply, you can see this music soundtracking vivid videos of technicolor shapes and transformations, or maybe a gritty grindhouse film trailer with a Free Love era backdrop and setting.
Lucifer hasn’t completely repented from flirting with darker influences though. Songs like “Dancing With Mr. D” and “Reaper On Your Heels” enact a devilish mood. Rising, kinky guitar riffs entwine with Johanna Sadonis’ sultry vocals. Her singing has remained the one great constant between the band’s two albums, her voice like an old friend in a new world bringing comfort and security where none may otherwise exist. The latter of the two aforementioned songs could very well be a Blue Öyster Cult B-side with its scale-intense melodies where the guitars and bass meet and stay hand-in-hand for much of the track (plus, they both have a relationship with the Reaper).
I think when all is said and done, I just plain didn’t enjoy this album as much as I was anticipating. After I shed myself of my expectations, I definitely opened up to the sound – which the band undertook very well, to be fair. I think the worst part of the album for me was hearing little flashes of the their older, firmly Sabbathian influence, only to have it chased away by the light provided by a catchy melody or the cleaner production. In those regards specifically, it’s hard to complain as it seems I’ve only traded one good thing for another. Still, I can’t shake my prejudices and assumptions of what I thought Lucifer was and what they would be. In the future, I’d like to see the band bring just a bit more of their roots back into play, but we’ll see!
My journey with this album may as well be subtitled ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Devil’. After my initial apprehension and surprise at the change in sound, I was able to enjoy what was on offer here by Lucifer. It’s fun and spirited, and I appreciate their contribution to great summer music that’s unabashed in its emulation of days gone by. Plus, it’s music your parents might like, so keep it handy for those seasonal road trips if you find yourself sharing a stereo with your elders.
Notable Tracks: “Dancing With Mr. D”; “Reaper On Your Heels”; “Faux Pharaoh”
FFO: Electric Wizard, Ruby the Hatchet, Mount Salem