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Drown Yourself in Whiskey and Sin with Bain Wolfkind’s “Hand of Death”

by Michael Zolotov


Some music should be served with alcohol, not for the sake of getting a buzz, but because the act of drinking corresponds with the art.

To be more accurate, it’s not about drinking per se. What I am referring to here are those kinds of albums that come with their own sort of personal ceremony—the kinds of albums you only play in the dark or those you only listen to in your car while driving alone. Speaking for myself, the ceremony that best accompanies Bain Wolfkind‘s music falls under the category of drinking. Hand of Death, his most recent album, should have been sold as a deluxe edition with a hand-crafted bottle of Whiskey.

When you hear something like the phrase “drinking music,” some people might think of bands such as Tankard or Tom Angelripper; yet, nothing can be farther from my definition of the phrase. Personally, listening to a band like Tankard is a sobering experience. The last thing that is on my mind is ‘having a beer’, like they so obsessively and repeatedly suggest. No, I’m talking about the few albums that have this very specific shade of nostalgia and melancholy—not too much of it, of course, but just enough (and trust me, it’s still a heavy dose).

When I listen to Jeffrey Luck Lucas‘s ‎ first album, Hell then Divine, or A Two Steps Promenade by the Healthy Boy, I just want to disappear slowly into my couch, taking little sips from a tall glass of Jack Daniel’s. Hand of Death has just that kind of an effect on me; it has that flavor, aroma, and texture. The main ingredient in Wolfkind’s music that gives it these qualities is his vocals. He has a unique singing voice that sounds familiar yet not exactly like anyone else.

Bain Wolfkind

Nick Cave, David Tibet, even good ol’ Frank Sinatra all have this very singular sound-signature in their vocals—a quality that sets them apart from the rest, which you can recognize in a heartbeat the very moment you hear it. Bain Wolfkind (which, of course, doesn’t really sound like any of them, which is sort of the point) defiantly belongs on this rather exclusive list as well.

Wolfkind’s vocals are deep and penetrating, somewhere between soft, smooth, rugged, and passionate, and are always fluid within this spectrum. They are powerful without being loud and add a massive amount of vibrancy and mood to his music. In fact, to my ears, the vocals are Wolfkind’s primary instrument, and they are the chief reason ‘the magic happens’ at all in his music. In a way, Wolfkind’s voice itself is intoxicating, and if you’ve ever had the privilege of catching one of his live performances, you can see perhaps how he has molded this singing style as he tends to soak his vocal cords with at least half a bottle of Scotch during each performance.

The fact that his voice is both distinct and peculiar rings true not only for this album, but throughout Wolfkind’s career, and is perhaps the primary reason for his popularity in post-industrial circles. What’s different about Hand of Death, however—what sets it aside from the rest of his work—is the music that accompanies him.

While the style hasn’t really changed a lot from Music for Lovers & Gangsters (2005) or The Swamp Angel (2008), it is still as distant and cold (yet catchy) as it was before, with parts that sound a bit like if the Bad Seeds were playing an Americana\Blues mixture with a touch of minimal synth. This is an unusual combination that really gives the album an original sound through the lens of a dark eighties new wave/pop sensibility.

It’s true that keyboards were used previously in Wolfkind’s solo project, but never before on this level; they were usually much more minimalist and scarce. On Hand of Death, the electronics go hand-in-hand with the rest of the instruments. Never since the beating Novo Homo years have I heard so much electronic influence in Bain Wolfkind’s music, and the truth is that it adds a lot of additional character to the sound. It makes the music a bit more ‘approachable’—like I said, almost pop-esque. More than that, it is simply very pleasant to the ear. The synthesizers seem to be drenched in dopamine, making the bitterness easier to swallow.

The lyrics and themes on Hand of Death also remain similar to those that appeared in his previous work, which is great because they were always nothing short of brilliant. Wolfkind’s lyrics are dark, twisted, and descriptive to the point of feeling cinematic. I’ve often likened each of Wolfkind’s tracks to being a slice of life, if life were a sick adaptation of a film noir movie. They tell short stories of love, religion, crime, loss, perversion, and addiction. These stories take place in shady, smoke-filled bars, in the back allies of neighborhoods located on the ‘wrong side of town’, in the back seats of big American cars, in sleazy clubs with sticky floors, and in cheap motel rooms where the lights are constantly flickering on and off.

All of this urban blight is packed into one CD with a total playing time of only thirty-seven minutes, spread throughout ten tracks. This release was brought to you by Hau Ruck!, the legendary label of Albin Julius, who used to play with him in the past in Der Blutharsch and Fragola Nera. As usual with Hau Ruck’s releases, Hand of Deathis being distributed through the exceedingly important Tesco Distribution, and comes in a black digipak featuring artwork designed by Patrick Kavanagh.  Sadly, the album comes without a lyrics sheet … and without a bottle of Whiskey.  What a shame.

Hau Ruck! | Tesco Distribution