Local Albums: May 2010 – The fact that you can hold this album in your hands is astounding. From the Privilege of the Grave faced nearly every hurdle imaginable–from technical and logistical issues to legal and financial difficulties. That it was worth the wait, is still more astounding.
Samuel Locke Ward (Miracles of God) and Darren Brown (Violent Femmes/Boy Dirt Car) have collaborated on nine Ward-composed tracks. The partnership has given Ward’s songs a moody depth I have never heard from him before. Ward’s gotten sad and even introspective, however, his usually lo-fi approach puts most of the emotion on a gut level. His distinctive whine and shambling guitar licks are all intact. But rather than muddling his tried and true formula, Brown and Ward’s additions, including creepy scrapes of a slide guitar, field samples and heaps of hiss and distortion, actually imbue and strengthen the songs. From the Privilege of the Grave is dense; sadness, fear and anger are heightened, especially on the record’s striking second half.
Album-closer “Freeze” will be counted among Ward’s best material. He mumbles threats over a tom-heavy plod with a minor-key guitar line stumbling alongside, but the foggy layer of feedback and reverb wafting around the bottom of the mix make the song that much more eerie. “Freeze” and a couple other cuts feature Brown and Ward going off into great, noisy breakdowns and outros; drums careen off beat as whistles and hisses swell and guitar lines swing violently into Metal Machine workouts before righting themselves to regain track of the song or fade into another piece. Ward’s compositions lend themselves well to these diversions, the sprawling musical meanderings serving as palate cleansers for the playful and almost frightening songs at the heart of the pieces.
Only the snot-nosed anthem “Hold onto Your Hatred” seems to shun the sheet-metal percussion and ambient touches. It may have had a more comfortable home on another Ward release.