The Steady as She Goes - Monoliths 12 - inch
It’s fascinating to go back and listen to Tal Wallace’s development across the small discography of his southern-gothic experiment, The Steady As She Goes. I really did not realise just how far things had sunk. On Dangerous & Dead I remember him crooning like Chris Isaak, slowly losing his mind to some voodoo cult, deep in the bayou. At the time, for some reason, I wasn’t picking up on the hints of something even more unsettlingly inhuman, lurking in the offing. His return on Monoliths heralds the emergence of that thing, a metamorphosis into something...darker.
It’s almost too seductive to indulge the same HP Lovecraft-style mythology as Wallace himself is now, much more obviously embracing. The cover of the new EP features a leering skull vomiting a jawful of tentacles, through a background of alien geometry. Many bands have toyed with the Cthulhu mythos, but in Monoliths, The Steady As She Goes does so more believably than most.
It’s not in the lyrics -which can be lost in the dark morass of the music- so much as it’s the evolution of Wallace’s style. The gothic blues of before remains, but is treated with a ghostly reverb and slowed to the point of becoming a drone. A shuffle-rock beat, like on Wall Of Yig, drags like the relentless, club-footed gait of some shambling horror, hunting the listener down.
It’s not just slow, it’s low too. Wallace abandons the sweet, upper register of his baritone, flowing like tar, down, as far as he can reach. His voice twines with the quietly growling guitar in an almost seamless darkness. There’s a danger in trying to pull that off; there are plenty of baritones who want to be basses: Nick Cave for instance, who used to try quite hard to be Andrew Eldritch from Sisters Of Mercy, because otherwise it just isn’t gothic enough, but always failed to pull it off. Tal isn’t Jack Ladder, but the clever use of reverb and complementary harmonies more than gets him over the line. The vocals on Monoliths are actually a significant breakthrough, Tal previously struggled with his tuning, but a much greater proficiency as a singer dovetails neatly with his developing artistic vision.
Wallace is a fan of Chelsea Wolfe (it’d be a bit hard to make this kind of music and not like her) and on Monoliths the arc of his style more effectively echoes elements of hers. Yet, even as Wolfe’s own sound has mutated into new and fearsome things, so Tal Wallace’s drone-blues has come into its own. The Steady As She Goes has staked out a patch of midnight darkness and it infects the imagination with its grim possibilities.