I first stumbled across King Dude in 2013 through his collaboration with the ethereal Chelsea Wolfe, Sing Songs Together… I appreciated the mix of rugged Americana sounds and creeping occultic darkness in “Satan’s Ghost,” and decided to hunt down some of TJ Cowgill’s work. The biggest problem with Burning Daylight was that it was incredibly inconsistent. The followup, Fear, which tried an entirely different tone, was even more so. So despite hearing the excellent “Deal with the Devil” leading up to Songs of Flesh & Blood — In the Key of Light, I didn’t allow myself to hope for more than a few good songs.
As it turns out, I should have had more faith. Songs of Flesh & Blood… is by far King Dude’s most consistent work yet, and it has converted me into an unashamed fan. For those of you not in the know, King Dude is often still listed as “neofolk” despite now having a sound that has evolved well beyond his days of Death in June worship, which basically means that he makes music that sounds extremely American but nobody can really categorize it. There’s blues, there’s gospel, there’s jazz, there’s country, there’s a little bit of what might be traditionally considered “folk,” and there’s a whole lot of creepy atmosphere. Imagine if a bit of Nick Cave with the raw country of Those Poor Bastards and some gospel music from one of those secretly Satanic churches that horror movies have convinced us are scattered all around the Deep South came together for the soundtrack to a Sergio Leone film, and you’ll be about right. King Dude hails from Seattle, but his music sounds more like New Mexico.
One of the great strengths of the songwriting on Songs of Flesh & Blood… is the ambiguity of the lyrics. Often when writing Satanic lyrics, a lyricist is tempted to go completely over the top (you see this particularly in black metal), resulting in some exceptionally cheesy moments (e.g. Behemoth’s latest album). Cowgill manages to take the more difficult path here, resulting in an album that you could probably play in front of your Baptist church-going mother-in-law, and she’d later ask you about the eerie gospel album you played her. Like any good religious album, half of the songs seem like love songs and the other half seem like praise songs, but you’re never sure from listen to listen which are which.
The span of genres on display here is fairly broad, but again, done with consistent production and panache that ties them all together into an album. The rock ‘n’ roll “Black Butterfly” sits just as easily alongside the pure folk of “A Little Bit of Baby Gonna Make Me Wanna Live Again” as the Tom Waits lounge style of “The Heavy Curtain.” “Holy Water” preps you for a showdown at high-noon, while “You Know My Lord” would be appropriate for passing the offering plate.
The album isn’t perfect, as the ballad “I Don’t Wanna Dream Anymore,” with its warbly old-time church organ just feels too drawn out and melodramatic. Still, this is only a minor mishap. In contrast, both “Silver Crucifix” and the previously mentioned “You Know My Lord” handle melancholy with a much more deft touch. Whether experiencing love or loss, opulence or oppression, there’s something on Songs of Flesh & Blood… to speak to your experience, regardless of whether you see Luciferianism as light or darkness. One hopes that this album speaks of a bright future for Cowgill. I know I’ll be listening.
01) Black Butterfly
02) Deal with the Devil
03) Death Won’t Take Me
05) A Little Bit of Baby Gonna Make Me Wanna Live Again
06) The Heavy Curtain
07) Desolate Hour
08) I Don’t Wanna Dream Anymore
09) Holy Water
10) You Know My Lord
11) Silver Crucifix