After a four year hiatus, the noise rock duo Lightning Bolt return with their seventh full-length album and second under Thrill Jockey Records. Sonic Citadel sees the band try their hand with some new experimentation, but sadly fall short of their previous projects due to some glaring issues.
The first and most notable thing any Lightning Bolt fan will pickup on is how clear the vocals are compared to other albums. Brian Chippendale’s vocals are still being projected through an old telephone talk box, but unlike all other projects you can actually understand *most* of what he is saying. This new experimentation is a step in the right direction for the band since I often found not only the riffs memorable, but the vocals as well. Tracks like, USA Is A Psycho, Air Conditioning, Hüsker Dön’t, Halloween 3, Don Henley In The Park, Tom Thump, Bouncy House, and All Insane are all great examples of Chippendale’s catchy vocal performance.
Similarly to Lightning Bolt’s 2015 album, Fantasy Empire, the duo recorded this newest album in a studio. Previously, all of their albums had been recorded live while both played their respective instruments over one another. By recording separately in studio the band does a great job properly mixing the vocals, but drastically misses the mark when it comes to percussion mixing.
Even though the band is well known for their incredibly abrasive percussion play from Chippendale, the snare drum mixing on USA Is A Psycho and Van Halen 2049 makes the songs almost unbearable to listen to in their entirety. Both songs have a consistent snare note I found so loud that my head started pounding after only a minute into each song. Even though their early albums were recorded live, I never had an issue with getting a headache while listening to the band. The fact that they underutilized the mixing is a real disappointment when it comes to these two songs, especially when the vocals of USA Is A Psycho are so good and the closing track Van Halen 2049 is nine minutes long.
The faults of this album sadly don’t end there. Tracks like Don Henley In The Park and Bouncy House are faintly similar to previous Lightning Bolt tracks Wonderful Rainbow and The Metal East when it comes to bass riffs and pacing. Thankfully, the album sticks the landing because the songs that are done well, are done REALLY well. Their previous albums’ flaws of stagnating pace and memorability are almost nonexistent when it comes to the good tracks on this album.
Even though the issues of Sonic Citadel are far more blatant than most of Lightning Bolt’s past albums, the saving grace to their latest project is that the majority of songs are some of the band’s best stuff.
Favorite Tracks: Blow To The Head, Air Conditioning, Hüsker Dön’t, Big Banger, Halloween 3, Tom Thump, Bouncy House, All Insane