Something almost no one knows about me as that I’m obsessed with murder ballads. Songs of darkness, bloodshed and mayhem under the comforting guise of acoustic melodies or traditional bluesy riffs are as close as I get to the Kirk, Picard or stereotypical comic book geeking. Well, murder ballads and Tom Waits.
As a result, hearing that apocalyptic, cabin dweller Jackson Phibes teamed up with members of my favorite Canadian pre-WWII blues and mountain music outfit to deliver a collection of brand new original murder ballads (and other twisted tales) was the best news I heard in 2011… and then again in early 2012. There were delays, but when you have a witches cauldron mixing and bubbling some of the darkest elements you’ll ever hear, it’s best to let that brew steep until it’s ready.
Campfire Tales is one of the most innovative and cohesive collaborations I’ve heard in years. Agnostic Phibes aim to take back the night from the hippie guitar circles and psychedelics (ironically, the project will most certainly help Phibes find a home with more earthy/folky fans). These songs pay tribute to the chilling tales that have been shared for generations, but they go past “the killer was in the backseat” and “the call was coming from inside the house” as the band tries to strike fear into the masses with unsettling tales of serial killers and savage slayings. Somehow they do this with a smirk.
But what makes this project work is the symbiosis Jackson and the Agnostics discovered. The frantic energy and tormented guitar work on “Respected” actually makes you feel like you are listening to a man running for his life, but for the most part The Agnostics use their mountain madness (Bob’s guitar pairs with Jackson’s surprisingly well) to set mood and soften the booming garage rock sound we’ve come to expect from Phibes and Forbidden Dimension. There are hints of both bands in every song, but nothing you hear on Campfire Tales would fit seamlessly into either act’s catalog.
This record won’t be for everyone, but god damn, it’s for me. Songs like “Windingo Song” and “Neckin’ Party” smoke thanks to ramshackle percussion and heavy stand up bass lines, but even the slow burners bring the heat. Bob and Jackson both have a unique ability to craft stompy melodies, but the subject matter they came up with on Campfire Tales takes the classic blues into the black. I for one, couldn’t be happier.
MP3:: Agnostic Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy - Wolfman Franz