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His Name is Alive - “Black Wings” (2018) review


His Name is Alive - Black Wings (HHBTM Records, 2018)

Between the late 1980s and the present, Michigan’s His Name is Alive has unleashed a dizzying number of releases in an impressively vast array of musical styles. The band, with its ever-revolving cast of members who have always been grounded by founder and mainstay Warren Defever, has done eerie dream pop, pop-soul hybrids, straight soul, free jazz, noise experiments, spacey heavy rock, and more. Put together a compilation of their material that’s pulled from various eras and albums and play it for someone who’s not familiar with them, then watch that person’s jaw drop when you tell them it’s all one band.

2016’s Patterns of Light is one of HNIA’s most pleasing releases to date. It’s a sonically-charged collection of songs with an exploratory hard rock foundation. It also contains proggy soundscapes, captivating vocal melodies, the occasional pretty acoustic track, etc. It’s a monster. Black Wings is a 30-track sound collage that’s largely comprised of various kinds of offshoots of the Patterns of Light songs. Originally included as some gravy in special editions of Patterns of Light, Black Wings is now getting its own formal release in a double vinyl package. 
Some of the Patterns of Light songs that appear in alternate versions on Black Wings are presented in ways that accentuate the sublime vocals by the band’s current lead singer, Andrea Morici. Those are some of the more affecting tracks on the set, and they give the listener cause to zone in on the engagingly cosmic lyrics, which sometimes get overshadowed by the heady instrumental playing on Patterns of Light. There are other Black Wings tracks that are instrumental for the most part or in full; those give the band a chance to show off its innovative astral workouts. 
Several Black Wings inclusions are brief instrumental snippets and interludes. While a few of these exhibit some playing that’s worth a listen, it has to be said that some of these bits and pieces could have been left off without the album losing any quality. Other odds and ends include moments such as a sludgy take on America’s “Sister Golden Hair,” a track where the band segues from a bit of early ‘70s Stevie Wonder feel into an instrumental part of a Patterns of Light song, a melodious pop tune sung in French, a dissonant sonic noise foray, some heaven-approaching soundscapes, etc.
If you haven’t heard Patterns of Light, it’s recommended that you get a hold of that and get to know it, and then add Black Wings to your aural life after you do. It’ll be like seeing your new favorite movie, then indulging in a bonus features DVD that takes you a few layers inside the film and the sensibilities of the people who put it together. 

- Brian Greene
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