Two Gallants have always seemed like they're from some other time, or rather, some time that has never existed. Playing songs that border on country, rock, and metal, with gothic and folklore themes, it's as if the band grew up in Civil War-era Appalachia before they took a time machine to the 21st century to discover metal music. Imagine The White Stripes scoring the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. Two Gallants' odd mix of styles has historically produced varied results -- some profound sense of timelessness, and some indecipherable mush. The Bloom and the Blight is an overall harder album, but the same highs and lows remain.
The song "Winter's Youth" might explain the goal of this album best. Introduced by a folksy, rolling acoustic guitar lick, lead singer Adam Stephens swoons cautiously for a minute before crunchy electric guitars explode into a wailing chorus. And then that acoustic guitar riff seamlessly returns. This balance of an old-time aesthetic and a mission for metal, is when Two Gallants are at their best. Unfortunately, the whole album isn't as well-balanced as this one song.
Five years since their last full-length release, Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel made a decision to come back in a big (read: louder) way. The well-crafted guitar riffs that define Two Gallants are still here, as well as Vogel's irreverent, banging percussion. And lyrically, Stephens continues to construct interesting narratives about loss and dismal times with Biblical and mythical spins -- another Two Gallants component contributing to their era-bending sound. But the album skews to their metal tendencies -- no song is safe from the distortion treatment, or the hard rock breakdown. And this makes for a difficult listening experience. Like watching an episode of Breaking Bad (season finale I'm looking at you!), you're always biting your nails, afraid of what's about to happen. It works for television, it doesn't really work for music.
The Bloom and the Blight is a decent album with some misguided execution. I may be alone in thinking this -- but I want to hear those guitar riffs; I want to feel (and understand) Stephens' voice instead of being deafened by it. The album's best songs -- "Winter's Youth," "Ride Away," "Willie," and "Sunday Souvenirs" -- are the ones that feel natural; harder only when they need to be. It's when it feels like the band is consciously trying to be heavy metal that their sound gets muddled.