Release Date: Mar 24, 2015
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Noise-Rock
There's nothing quite like the bone-rattling immediacy of a Lightning Bolt show: the audience literally face-to-face with the duo, set up on the floor of a venue and pushing the sonic possibility of a drum kit and massive bass rig far beyond the limits of sensible volume levels. On disc, Lightning Bolt have approximated that intensity with a crusty, lo-fi approach to recording, where the wash of bass distortion and hyperactive beats blur into a crackling surge of pure energy that sound best when cranked way up. On their seventh full-length, Fantasy Empire, Brians Gibson and Chippendale have dared to capture their audio airstrike in high(er) definition, recording at Machines With Magnets.
The 20-year anniversary of Providence, Rhode Island noise rock institution Lightning Bolt arrived in 2015. Though their inception was as a trio with Hisham Bharoocha, his leaving the band in the late '90s to begin similarly minded freak unit Black Dice left behind the duo of bassist Brian Gibson and drummer Brian Chippendale, both insanely powerful and unique players who formed a terrifying and magical whole much larger than the sum of its parts when coming together as Lightning Bolt. While the band only grew stronger through countless international shows and recordings, the thick layers of noise that emanated from home-crafted speaker cabinets and feedback-spewing contact mikes were replicated in the band's albums through their often lo-fi recording means.
Working largely in an industrial-sized art space-cum-printing factory on Rhode Island since the mid-90s, the duo of Lightning Bolt – two Brians – might not register on everyone’s radar. But their influence, particularly in the live setting, is hard to equal. Disguised by masks and playing with an unrivalled intensity, often amid the audience in the centre of a venue’s dancefloor, the pair make a relentless, pounding wall of noise that’s so unbridled it woozily shifts between abstract and heavily motorik, making the listener feel as if they might pass out.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. When Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson formed Lightning Bolt as an improv-noise project twenty years ago at Rhode Island School of Design, I wonder did they envisage that they would still be assaulting us with their coruscating music so many years later. Their sixth album after a five year break - and their first release for Thrill Jockey - Fantasy Empire sees some subtle changes to their style.
Rhode island’s Lightning Bolt are rightly renowned for their chaotic live sets, that generally see them set up not on the stage but in the centre of the dancefloor, mobbed by their crowd. Even so, while their albums have always been well-received, it’s debatable whether their recorded output has truly captured the unique energy of the gig experience. With Fantasy Empire, the band are hoping to settle any doubt.
It’s been six years since Lightning Bolt’s last proper album, Earthly Delights, which has been time enough for the band to have had three attempts at recording a follow up, and for drummer Brian Chippendale to release several solo albums under the name Black Pus. Fantasy Empire finds the band at a time in their career where they seem to be making steps towards what some might consider a more “professional” approach. For their live shows they’re playing on a stage, rather than on the floor, as has been traditional over the years.
Lightning Bolt have been around for close to two decades. In that time, they haven't really changed their basic formula: Brian Chippendale still bashes his drums with chaotic precision and bassist Brian Gibson manages to make four strings sound like many more. From the beginning, their mix of mayhem and heaviness brought to mind Harry Pussy and Black Sabbath playing at the same time.
It’s been six years since the last new Lightning Bolt material, so let’s recap. Two shy comic-book obsessives from Rhode Island shun the stage, set up in the thick of the crowd, and make a drums-and-bass racket that sounds like a Neanderthal punch-up. ‘Fantasy Empire’ is the first album the pair have made in a conventional studio, although if it polishes their sound, it’s by a small increment.
The two Brians of noise rock mainstays Lightning Bolt — bassist Gibson and drummer Chippendale — have played the majority of their shows over the past 20 years in the middle of the crowd, on the floor rather than on a stage. Up until now, their albums have always felt like standing in the sixth or seventh wave out from the duo: The music was still powerful as hell (and loud), but the surrounding frenzy pushed in on the edges. But there was a sweet spot, something more metaphysical than a spot amid the throng, where the method to the madness crystallized, where the intricate details of every massive riff, jigsaw rhythm, and, yes, even sometimes Chippendale’s heavily affected vocals grew illuminated and clear.
As a teenager first exploring the depths of indie and underground rock after regulation exposure to Nirvana and Sonic Youth, Lightning Bolt were hardly the first band I’d come across to present themselves as “anti-rock star. ” They were, however, the first band I’d found that felt so truly subversive that listening to them actually made me physically uncomfortable (I hadn’t quite gotten to G. G.
There is something to be said for a band that knows what they do and sticks to it. It is all well and good for bands to continuously challenge themselves and their audiences, but fixing something that is not broken is not always a good thing. How many bands can each of us think of off the top of our heads who have abandoned a great sound in favor of self-indulgence and needless wheel reinventing? On the other side of the coin, you have a band like Lightning Bolt, who keep to a consistent path of stripped down bashing and crashing, year in and year out, without mixing things up much.
Think you can play bass and drums like the maniacal duo of Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale? Think again. With more than 20 years under their weightlifting belts, these hardboiled refugees of punk hailing from Providence, Rhode Island have refined their unique sonic battery to a majestic and spellbinding art. Now, Fantasy Empire catches the mischievous band at the absolute peak of their powers, finally merging their precision with power, panache with punch.
The Providence, R.I., duo Lightning Bolt defies category and even personal identification – drummer Brian Chippendale is prone to wearing serial-killer masks in concert. Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson have built a formidable reputation as a live act, frequently setting up in the middle of the audience and spraying mayhem in all directions. But up till now, the band hasn't quite been able to match that jaw-dropping sense of spectacle and fury on album.
Brutal clarity sets off the fractured, splatter-paint drums, the sawed off buzzing riffs on this sixth Lightning Bolt album. Recorded at Pawtucket’s Machines with Magnets studio, this latest effort from the long-running noise rockers encases chaos with brilliant white space. Fantasy Empire is as viscerally overwhelming as any Lightning Bolt recording but this time, you can hear everything at once.
After two decades of do-it-yourself recording, Providence avant-garde assault team Lightning Bolt has finally made a proper studio album — and it’s the duo’s most adventurous recording to date. Recorded at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, “Fantasy Empire” is a huge evolutionary leap for one of underground music’s most challenging outfits. Lightning Bolt’s subversive sense of songcraft flourishes in these new recording environs, creating their most accessible record yet from tones and concepts as challenging as any in their catalog.
Lightning Bolt — Fantasy Empire (Thrill Jockey)The way that Lightning Bolt albums are recorded has always been an integral part of the band’s sound. Their self-titled debut was buried so deep in the sludge that it was hard to make out what was going on, but the Providence duo hit the mark on 2001’s Ride the Lightning and upped the ante two years later with Wonderful Rainbow. The gnarly snarl of the distortion, the baroque peals of feedback that threatened to burst forth from any increment of silence, and the boom and clatter of the percussion made the albums’ low fidelity an asset and buoyed a band that was always best live if seen in (or, unless you were in the first few rows, heard coming from) an unexpected corner of a crowded room.