Florida swamp rats The Ukiah Drag have risen out of hell with their second record, In The Reaper’s Quarters, with bloody hands. After a long run touring dank clubs, collaborating with fellow musical conspirators and recording bewitching songs, including a memorable “Poison Ivy” cover, the Wharf Cat imprint is a startling release for the young band. Thank the devil they did: these seven deadly songs throttle and give a well-deserved kick to your eardrums.
In The Reaper’s Quarters was recorded in a decrepit Lutheran temple near upstate New York’s Hudson River, with The Men’s Ben Greenberg helming production. Whispers of hymns and sinners’ lingering souls lurk in the album’s corners, trickling into the light on songs like “Final Prayer”, a meditative romp through hell. The result is a record that’s immediate and spellbinding, the exorcism rock music—and the world—needs.
That said, In The Reaper’s Quarters takes a hands-on approach to discovery and drags the listener straight to the depths with it. Try not to be terrified as vocalist ZZ Ramirez spits: “You’re going nowhere, cause there’s nowhere to go but down!” on the excruciating “Her Royal Grip”. You believe him, especially since he frames the innocent question “so won’t you take a walk with me?” with both honey and venom.
“Her Royal Grip” is the album’s most memorable tune, oozing traces of The Stooges’ throbbing zombie incantations. But in the album The Ukiah Drag tastefully thread psychedelia into the squalor, especially with the final opus “Night of Immaculacy”, which crawls into your ear the way late ‘60s sing-speak incantations by Ultimate Spinach were so terrifyingly effective, not to mention seductive. “Let us not forget evils are subjective,” Ramirez suggests, edging the track with occultist perspective. And while vampire tales rarely translate well onto the screen, the slow curl of “Drip From the Fang” seeps an apt score for nights of evil dead encounters.
The lore of evil dead and creatures of the night have become increasingly tough to isolate in fantasy, because what’s happening before us in this world is stuff that seems plucked from Ingmar Bergman’s nightmares and manifested onto life. This unnerving past summer of ours was darkened by death. The news cycle choked itself with reports of violent political conflict, brutality, and human-inflicted tragedy. If the year’s warmest time seemed unseasonably cold, that’s because it was. More than any other time, it seems humans live in fear of each other.
Perhaps The Ukiah Drag are speaking to this anxiety with In The Reaper’s Quarters. Maybe they’re not. But it’s difficult to listen to the album without grappling with questions of decay. And if us mortals can’t cheat death nor confront our fears, we might as well try to understand them. Thus In The Reaper’s Quarters looks at death in the eye and tries to makes its peace.
Seeing how few of us are witches and will eventually turn to dust someday, that’s all any of us can do besides attempting to coexist with our fellow weirdos. But at least more people now have a means to make noise and discuss how strange it is to be anything at all. Yes, we are lucky to have if but one shoulder to rest on and have thrashing albums to be enlightened and challenged by, In The Reapers’ Quarters among them. “It’s gonna be alright,” Ramirez croons on the album’s stunning Lee Hazelwood cover. “Wait and see.”