It's worth noting that the cover of On the Wings of Time features a gray sky, and not a black one. The album is the first full-length effort from sludgy Carrboro hard-rock trio Black Skies, and it features a hawk soaring above trees in soft black and white. It's their first CD in six years of existence, and the high-flying imagery makes sense when you consider the largely rhythmic setbacks that have kept them from this benchmark.
Bassist Michelle Temple and singer/guitarist Kevin Clark had been playing together in a garage-punk band called The Man. Clark only sang in that group, but after various shifts at the guitar position, the two decided to form a new group where he would handle the riffs. They recruited a drummer and set sights on a bigger, more metal sound. In their first three years, they managed two EPs, but the constantly road-bound group could never hold a drummer for too long. By 2010, five different guys had manned the kit at one time or another. It was a frustrating rut, and it kept the band from solidifying its chemistry.
“We’ve had so many lineup changes,” Temple says. “We would just start feeling comfortable with a lineup and get in the groove with songs that were already written or even write songs together, and then one thing or another might happen and the drummer would leave the band. It was just hard to schedule recording time because we’ve had a lot of lineup changes. We wanted to do it right and feel good about what we’re putting out.”
Temple and Clark talk over the phone outside the Carrboro rock club Cat's Cradle, where Clark has long worked the door. They're an audibly close couple, finishing each others' sentences and laughing past the band's struggles. Right now, they have every reason to be happy. Current drummer Tim Herzog has been with the band for more than a year, and they're about to hit the road with two self-released editions of their new album — one, a download code paired with a silk-screened poster, the other, a traditional CD. In Clark's mind, Black Skies have never sounded better.
“I feel like we’re getting back to the focus that we initially intended for the band, which was to kind of create music in a way that’s more a vehicle into for the songs than forcing them into doing something,” he says. “Being OK with a song being nine-minutes long if it feels right, just going with whatever, just letting the music progress naturally, It think that’s something we did in the beginning. We kind of got away from that at one point.”
Leaving behind the quick, punchy numbers of 2008's Hexagon, On the Wings of Time settles into large, lumbering assaults that pile on weighty guitar sludge without sacrificing momentum. The trio recorded the album with Harvey Milk drummer Kyle Spence, and their songs move with weighty tones that are strikingly similar to those of the Athens outfit. The combo of bass and guitar that propels “Rebirth” is thick and heavy, oppressive as the humidity on a Southern summer day. The nine-minute offering is “The Sleeping Prophet,” which builds from a tangling, Middle-Eastern-flavored riff and slowly builds before culminating in a serpentine dual of piercing keys and searing feedback.
It's one of many Middle-Eastern inspired moments on the album, a trait that points back to Clark's childhood. From age 8 to age 12, he lived with his family on a military base in Turkey. He was there during the 1986 bombing of Libya. For weeks, they couldn't leave the base for fear of retaliation. The experience informs his socially charged lyrics, a form of expression that he says is necessary for him to process the world around him.
Still, Black Skies is more to its members than just a necessary release. It has become a way of life. Last year, Temple gave up a full-time job at UNC-Chapel Hill to focus her energy on the band. For her and Clark, making music and then touring behind it is the only life that makes sense.
“When you get to your mid-to-late ‘30s, you get to a point where a lot of your friends are having kids, or a lot of your friends are getting married, buying houses,” Clark says. “Family members are dying, but other people are having kids. The cycle life that goes on at that age feels very obvious. For us, we don’t have kids, we have a band. All the time and money that a lot of people spend focusing on having their family — this is our family.”
— Jordan Lawrence is assistant editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: Black Skies, with MAKE!, SLAW and Judas Horse
where: The Get Down
when: Monday, Nov. 14 (getdownasheville.com)