Guy Blakeslee returns with more 21st-century blues. This time, however, the music of Prayer of Death is filtered through ‘60s psychedelia rather than ‘80s alternative and is augmented by World Music rhythms.
The expansion of Entrance’s sound is the reason why Jimi Hendrix and Malian singer/guitarist Ali Farka Toure are among the more obvious dedicatees of Charley Patton & Bertha Lee. Paz Lenchantin of Zwan and A Perfect Circle helps Blakeslee with arrangements and provides violin and bass. The songs deal with subjects and themes usually documented at the end of a lifetime rather than the beginning.
“Grim Reaper Blues” opens with Blakeslee’s eerie, wailing guitar combined with otherworldly noises, which is sure to scare the old folks just like the Grim Reaper himself would. He screams the lyrics into an echo-effected mike, sounding like a banshee off in the distance.
“24 years old now, baby/ and I don’t mind dyin’” isn’t a glorification of death, but a rational acceptance of it being the price of admission. The beat is definitely rocking, and if you don’t find yourself moving, the Grim Reaper might have already taken you.
The violins on “Silence On A Crowded Train” play a Middle Eastern rhythm, around which Blakeslee works his guitar and vocals. He sings of “a dead end game everyone plays though all are unaware.” People pass through this life, not understanding it nor making real contact with those around us. “Only illusions can calm their distress” while they “step over the body of a suffering man.”
“Requiem For Sandy Bull (R.I.P)” is an instrumental track paying tribute to a man who was one of the first Western musicians and who added World rhythms to his musical palette. Blakeslee plays on the electric sitar, bringing to mind India and, in this context, different ideas of death that other cultures have.
“Prayer of Death” is a stripped-down tune, just vocal and a lone acoustic guitar, that can’t be an original because it surely sounds like an African-American spiritual Alan Lomax would have recorded and preserved. The narrator wants “to die without no fear,” but this stems from his unhappiness with life.
He finds “this world so full of sorrow” and “could not bear to be left alone” in it. He wants “to live in freedom now,” and “will not wait for heaven,” but finds brief solace that “the wicked men who rule this land, with all their wealth and power/ are bound to die like you and I, and none can tell the hour.”
The song is so simple in execution, yet so powerful. A great reminder when life is treating you rough about how bad it can be.
“Never Be Afraid!” is a group lament that repeatedly suggests, “WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT DEATH EVERY MORNING, DON'T YOU EVER BE AFRAID!” and ends with screams and Hendrixesque guitar effects, sounding like the soundtrack to the “Hell” portion of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.
Entrance's Prayer of Death is a wonderfully refreshing album, both in its subject matter and its sound. Life is all the more precious because we are “bound for eternal slumber,” yet some listeners won’t want to be reminded, making the artist’s commitment to his ideas more impressive.
It’s not solely a cerebral album, as the blues-based music and Blakeslee’s vocals pack a visceral impact.