Early on in Chapel Perilous, the third psyched-out full-length album from Milwaukee’s Calliope, things slow down. “The Dunes” is a three-minute-plus drone of noise and feedback, with wisps of riffs and hints of rhythm fading in and out of the ether. Not that the album up to that point has been a breakneck dash—the tempo throughout skews heavily towards “lumbering”—but it’s a remarkable rest stop nonetheless. Forget what you’re doing, Calliope says, put on a pair of headphones, dim the lights, and let Chapel wash over you. Some further mood enhancers wouldn’t hurt, either.
Speaking of mood, Calliope seems to be in a dark one this time around. The group’s ascension to a Milwaukee psychedelic mainstay has been an interesting one. Beginning with a self-titled record in 2013 and culminating in the excellent ORBIS the following year, the band has forged a sometimes bluesy, always trippy and swirling sound all its own. “Miller City Blues” (from the self-titled album) is all Cowboy Bebop harmonica and hip-swiveling strut, while standout ORBIS track “Casino” wins big on sparkling organs and frontman Al Kraemer’s Jim Morrison-esque swagger. But in the years following ORBIS‘ release, Kraemer has spent more time on his stoner-biker side project Moonrats (and toned down his Morrison-isms) while the country has been left grappling with its own preoccupations. Thus, while Chapel Perilous is filled with plenty of tried-and-true Calliope signifiers (like ORBIS, it was recorded in the Wisconsin north woods), its overall tone is decidedly more doom-and-gloom.
Opener “Astral Hands” kicks things off with images of “septic suns” and “evil rights.” The thundering “Carry Me Home” finds Kraemer howling about the “end of [his] life.” “Creep No More” is an apocalyptic atom bomb, while “Evil As You” opens with a screeching freakout before settling into a mile-wide battle cry. Similarly, the excellent title track layers in some mysterious narration about “lost worlds” (shades of the creepy-ass video messages in John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness) before blasting into a smoked-out stomper. The sleazy “Sea Of Red,” meanwhile, comes complete with an apt, grindhouse-inspired video:
And in the end, it all comes back to that drone. Album closer “Little Smoke” picks up where “The Dunes” left off and offers up another wordless wash of noise and feedback. But something’s different: there’s more direction, more shape, and more purpose to be found in the swirling cacophony. Things may be dark, Calliope says, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. On Chapel Perilous, Calliope invites listeners to enter in one state of mind, and leave in another.
Calliope will celebrate the release of Chapel PerilousSaturday, March 31 at Company Brewing. Space Raft and Shogun will play in support. Limited edition custom records (via Romanus Records) will be available at the show. Until then, listen to the album now, only at Milwaukee Record.