There's really no topping the intro track to Silver Mt. Zion's last release. "God Bless Our Dead Marines" featured not only several musical suites of orchestrated post-rock that were as damning as they were insistent and revitalizing, but also an exquisitely sad and hopeful refrain, "When the world is sick can no one be well?/But I dreamt we was all beautiful and strong."
With 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, the seven-piece group dials down the arrangements, opting for symphonic stoner rock, with thudding riffs and string flourishes providing a steady formula for groove where there was once a genre-spanning progressive slant from noise to classical. Sadly, singer Efrim's vocals haven't refined themselves to make up for the musical shortcomings. They'll likely remain the band's most divisive element — he still wheezes like he's just finished running a marathon, to say nothing of his mush-mouthed delivery. On the title track, he belts out heavy-handed lines like "The hangman's got a hard-on ... The banker rapes a" what? Maid? Maze? It turns out it's the former, but does that really lend the lyrics a stronger bite?
The band's politicizing works much better when it's unified around hope and free of such ludicrous evil caricatures. This release is a definite regression for a band whose catalogue has been growing a greater disparity between their "hits" and misses. It might be time for them to take the "Memorial Orchestra" portion of their name seriously, pack it in and eulogize themselves in future, more innovative projects.
Aaron Shaul writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.