King Tuff – Black Moon Spell

When I gave this album its first truly loud listen, I’d just put on my leather jacket that, because of a sore arm, I decided I’d have to live in forever. Got in the car, rolled the windows down and, with Black Moon Spell blaring, I kinda felt like a badass. Maybe I was also stoned, but that’s irrelevant. King Tuff’s third LP is so rock ‘n’ roll it could replace AC/DC’s Back in Black as the record that makes my retired dad feel just as badass.

It actually relies so heavily on ripping riffs, searing solos and things you’d imagine a caricature of a biker would say that it’s almost campy. But King Tuff – aka Vermont native Kyle Thomas – has always been gifted in making goofy sound fun and cool. Instead of feeling trite or like it’s trying-too-hard, Black Moon Spell reclaims all the rock ‘n’ roll cliches to present them in a new but authentic way.

Fittingly, KT’s pal Ty Segall played drums on the title track. Both called Burger Records home in the late 2000s, and it’s probably the heaviest cut on the record, which isn’t much of a stretch from Segall’s own MO. All the near-whispered vocals about witchery and deep, growling guitar make for a spooky but intense introduction. The grating distortion on the guitar on numbers like “Sick Mind” and “Headbanger” scorch the ears, and KT’s melodic mastery smooths their choruses.

On “Madness,” KT declares over a hand-clap beat, “King Tuff is my name/ I got madness in my brain/ Please to meet ya/ I’m gonna eat ya/ ‘Cause I’m bat-shit insane.” Single-string plucks rip in before a stomp-worthy chorus, and the whole thing feels like a sports anthem for a ramshackle team of degenerates. “Demon From Hell” stands out against the rest for its blues touches that circle the track like a supersonic drag race. There are lighter numbers, too. “Eyes of the Muse” employs a sunny strum not unlike “Just Strut” from …Was Dead, his first album. And “Staircase of Diamonds” dishes out ballad feelings on par with “Swamp of Love” from his preceding LP.

Someone who cherishes the gleeful helium pop of his debut and appreciated the slightly-more-rockin’ self-titled follow-up a little bit less might not be as keen on this significantly tougher third album. King Tuff was championing classic rock ‘n’ roll all along, though – it’s just this time he’s gotten a little fonder of its heavier pioneers.

King Tuff
Black Moon Spell
[Sub Pop]