Well, what did you expect – Adele? Putting former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan – not so much human as a walking medicine cabinet – and ex-Afghan Whigs toxic avenger Greg Dulli into a studio was never going to result in a feel-good hit of the summer, was it? Such is the brooding menace throughout ‘Saturnalia’ – a debauched Roman ceremony where slaves swapped places with their masters, since you ask – you can almost hear Scott Weiland ripping up his SS cap in envy at the sheer creepiness of it all.
Opener ‘The Stations’ is so eerie it sounds like bats are flying through the studio and goth-grunge anthem ‘God’s Children’ makes gloom junkies Earth sound like the soundtrack to a foam party round Lovefoxxx’s place. Lend an ear to murder ballad ‘All Misery/Flowers’ and you’ll hear Lanegan babbling “Let’s ride/Suicide!” over diabolic blues that could tip The Mars Volta into the abyss forever.
All of which makes for one hell of a ride. ‘Idle Hands’ is the sound of Tinariwen and U2 playing a black mass, sublime Creole boogie ‘Seven Stories Underground’ finds Dulli crooning “Black dog keeps following me”
while ‘Bête Noire’ sees Lanegan as a cosmic preacher, casting his eye over the freaks on the trail to a hymnal meeting; all fire’n’brimstone and groovy Fender Rhodes.
However, what gives ‘Saturnalia’ its real kick is the way it emotionally engages. After decades spent battling their personal demons on the road to excess, the Palace Of Wisdom is finally within sight. On the clicking noir of ‘Each To Each’ they croon, “Come down slow and easy/You’ll find a way”, aware the darkest hour is always just before dawn, while the Dulli-helmed ‘Who Will Lead Us?’ sees him plea for redemption, his “wretched soul” stranded outside the pearly gates. Proof the devil really does have all the best tunes.