Sevens :: Catherine Wheel, Black Metallic


(Sevens, a new feature on Aquarium Drunkard, pays tribute to the art of the individual song.)

ferment-wheel.jpgAs if designed to end all question about shoegaze as a genre, Catherine Wheel’s “Black Metallic” was the shoegaze song to end all shoegaze songs. It was the first single from their debut album, 1992’s Ferment, which was itself an album-length expression of the limits of the genre. 1991 had seen the release of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, and where “Black Metallic” trumps anything on Loveless is in the fact that it’s a single song that is instantly recognizable. This, to me, is where you can argue for Ferment being a better album than Loveless – the mere fact that I can name and hum and sing individual songs from the former and I would be ridiculously hard pressed to do the same for the latter. “Black Metallic” is merely the purest manifestation of Catherine Wheel’s sound on this first album.

Having specifically recruited Talk Talk’s producer/unofficial member Tim Friese-Greene to produce the album, the swirling, dusky roar of “Black Metallic,” all seven minutes and eighteen seconds of it, is a sonic hurricane. From its opening, plaintive strum to lazy drumbeat to murky, cavernous vocals – from its bridge which shreds and shrouds to its soothing and surging waves that return crashing – it’s a hypnotic and entrancing song.

Catherine Wheel would almost immediately begin shifting their sound on subsequent records, and while their merit is debatable, this moment, their introduction to most of the music world, is still mocking anyone who has attempted to follow in its wake. words/ j. neas


MP3: Catherine Wheel :: Black Metallic
Amazon: Catherine Wheel – Ferment

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11 thoughts on “Sevens :: Catherine Wheel, Black Metallic

  1. although i think your criteria (‘instantly recognizable’) is an unreliable way to assess such music, you really should listen to ‘loveless’ again

  2. I love Loveless. I just find it hard to remember any single song as opposed to the album as a whole, even right after I’ve listened to it. That’s just me. Honestly, I always assumed that was sort of the point and that has its own artistic plusses to it.

  3. I must agree that Ferment is highly underrated. But I think that most people will agree that the critical acclaim bestowed upon Loveless is highly deserved. It was a groundbreaking album that continues to awe and inspire, and influence music today.

    Catherine Wheel and My Bloody Valentine created very different music, and I think one of the key differences is in their approaches to melody, and its place within the sonic space. The two bands did share one thing: a love for all things dense, lush and thick. Each band perfected its own dreamy sonic guitar wash.

    Ferment is a great album. The follow-up, Chrome, is a different album by a different band, sliding from shoegaze into more bombastic, cinematic, riff-driven rock. And another great album!

  4. catherine wheel is a very underrated band. i saw rob dickinson perform for a solo album last year and did an acoustic version of black metallic that was absolutely amazing.

  5. “Loveless” is one of my favorite whole pieces of music in terms of the album as a whole work of art to be experienced as such. That’s the point, whereas, as J Neas, comments, “Black Mettalic” is a a song with its merits intact in its timeframe.

  6. As Rob Dickinson told me when I interviewed him a couple years ago, he remains amazed that a song he wrote in 15 minutes in his bedroom has had such staying power. It’s a classic, and I too have heard the “acoustic” version of it — at the Hotel Cafe and at Coachella — and it’s something to behold, mainly because of a custom pedal setup he has that allows him to play over his own loops. It’s big.

  7. yeah i get where ya coming from and this is a good track (thanks!) but it isn’t in the same card game let alone a trump

  8. Ferment was one of those albums, for me, that changed my focus in music — esp. “Black Metallic.” While CW was uneven over the years, they were, for me, an important mile marker on my musical journey.

  9. This album is still amazing. Black Metallic is amazing. I can’t help but miss 90 to 93. Mezcal Head by Swervedriver is another underrated gem!

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