The Entrance Band The Entrance Band

[Ecstatic Peace!/Universal; 2009]

Styles:  groove-rock
Others: Sugar Ray, Lenny Kravitz

Entrance, best known for releasing Prayer of Death in 2007, is not the same group as The Entrance Band. The latter is the result of cutting the guts, heart, and soul out of the former. It’s the same shell, but the insides are all gone. The band still looks like three heads -- or like those soldiers who everybody failed to notify that the war was lost and who are still attempting to pass the acid test -- but their insides have been swapped: the dirty, heavy, colossal, dark-nastiness has been replaced with arena-rock aspirations and fresh-white, paper-thin production.

Opening track “Lookout!” first appeared on Entrance’s 2003 release, Honey Moan. The first version is stripped down, like the album as a whole, featuring Blakeslee alone on acoustic guitar. Here, his Bolan-esque ode is a haunted warning sung on dangerous urban streets, acting as a microcosmic picture for a hopeless world where spiritual redemption and healthy human contact have been rendered impossible. The new version, however, swaps this Adornoean tone for the colorful swirl and celebration of an iPod commercial. The lone and individuated figure, dressed in black and attentively navigating war-like streets, has become the blank, universal silhouette that can hold any content, dancing atop a shifting backdrop of screaming neon colors. The latter character -- the true victim whose shadow has vanished -- has been absorbed by the forces that the former character struggled so hard to resist. We were originally “hoping that the night will never end” because daylight signifies a return to the visible brutality of a social world gone wrong, but on this album, it comes across as if we don’t want the night to end so we might perpetuate a night of merriment and dancing provoked by Paz Lenchantin’s bouncy bass line.

Unfortunately, two of the standout tracks from Prayer of Death, “Grim Reaper Blues” and “Silence on a Crowded Train,” also get reworked into the band’s new sound. “Grim Reaper Blues (pt. 2)” lacks all of the black wonder of its original, substituting thick rawness for transparent tones and ending up becoming some sort of love song. The lyric “When the road gets dark, turn your lights up high” from the first version becomes “I love my baby, tell the world I do” on the new one. This, in fact, represents the band’s transition well, mirroring their aesthetic and attitude as it shifts from heavy to light. The heroic stance towards death becomes a generic declaration of love.

The new version of “Stranger on a Crowded Train” doesn't fare any better. Originally one of the most terrifying songs I had heard in years, the track now assumes a more pop-friendly attitude, bouncing along almost merrily beneath a much more reserved Blakeslee. The existential urgency of the original -- in which Blakeslee howls out a timely tale of complete alienation, moral fragmentation, hopelessness, and societal collapse -- has been replaced with long guitar solos, evoking images of festival dancing rather than the absolute terror of the first version.

“M.L.K.” perfectly exemplifies the historical crisis that pervades the album. Had the song been released in 1969 or the early 70s, it might be less trite and naïve. As is, this shout-out to Dr. King’s memory is just puzzling. In the liner notes from Prayer of Death, Blakeslee dedicates the album to, among others, Black Panther Fred Hampton. On “M.L.K.,” however, Blakeslee suggests that we “find peace and love in our hearts because that’s where revolution starts,” which is diametrically opposed to the Maoism that fueled Hampton’s more radical approach to political activity. Indeed, The Entrance Band seem to be putting aside the revolutionary spirit of Hampton for the liberal, inclusionary, and institutionalizing political ethos of King.

Clearly, this self-titled album is a transitional one. It represents an aesthetic transition from a dark world where death and terror lurk around every corner to a more optimistic and sunny world in which redemption is possible. But it also represents a transition from radical politics to a more liberal and optimistic political mode. Rather than disgruntled and angry, the character’s mood is enjoying incremental improvements. The character is seeing that crossing over can be rewarding. It is possible to find a higher paying job, move into a loft in the center of the city, let yourself be absorbed, and leave behind those dark memories of distress and despair. The Entrance Band looks back at Prayer of Death and celebrates, since those hard times are over. Now we can all sit back, forget our past troubles, and listen to freedom ringing from universal balconies. The silence on the train has been replaced with idle chatter and hearts full of love. Sure, there are some wrinkles that need smoothing, but The Entrance Band suggest we work on them in isolation and in the comfort of our new homes.

1. Lookout!
2. M.L.K.
3. Still Be There
4. Sing For The One
5. You’re So Fine
6. Grim Reaper Blues (pt. 2)
7. That Is Why
8. Lives
9. You Must Turn
10. Hourglass
11. Silence On A Crowded Train

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