Album Review(s) – Hellbound Glory’s “The Black Mass / “The Excavators”
Let’s level with ourselves folks. Right now the whole Hellbound Glory/ Leroy Virgil thing is kind of a mess. You don’t need a timeline to keep up with Leroy Virgil’s career anymore, you need a map and a glossary. The last time we heard from him, Hellbound Glory was dead, killed off, and Leroy was flying solo under his given name “Leon Virgil Bowers.” He went on an extended tour opening for Blackberry Smoke as a one man band, and this looked to be the flag he would be marching under until kingdom come. Then Leroy pronounced Hellbound Glory was back (and that he was Leroy Virgil again). . . but he’d be releasing a new record under the name The Excavators, for a subspecies of Hellbound Glory that existed for a while with Leroy sitting on a bass drum playing it backwards, and a guy named Rico playing lap steel. Oh, but he’s also releasing a three-song set from Hellbound Glory called The Black Mass on the same day.
Thoroughly confused? Well especially if you’ve never heard of Leroy Virgil or Hellbound Glory, go back and dig up their first two records Scumbag Country and Old Highs and New Lows, and later Damaged Goods, and soon you’ll figure out why it’s worth it to many fans to fight through all the name changes and band turnover to try and hear more of the magic captured on those early records. No matter what happens or what you call it, Hellbound Glory and Leon Virgil’s legacy will be cemented into country music history as crucial and groundbreaking in the underground sector, even though the commercial and industry success that has recently spring boarded other once obscure songwriters like Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Jason Isbell to the top has thus far alluded the Reno, NV-based Virgil.
READ: Hellbound Glory Is Back An Interview with Leroy Virgil
But we all know “success” is not always synonymous with the names of those who deserve it the most, and no matter how sloppy the Hellbound Glory experience has been ever since Kid Rock booked the band as the opener on an arena tour, Leroy Virgil still remains one of the greatest songwriters in country music living today. These couple of projects released on Black Friday speak to that, if you’re willing to approach them with some adventurousness and an open mind.
Leroy Virgil has the tragic grandeur that many songwriters only wish they could capture, and some attempt to emulate, but few have the authenticity to truly live down. Virgil has no need to cut an ear off for inspiration. Whatever troubled demons that get stirred up when the most brilliant wordsmiths go searching their innermost depths for inspiration, they are alive and well in the Hellbound Glory frontman. Nonetheless, as a father and someone who tries to make his way in this world as a songwriter and performer, Leroy has to try and keep things at least somewhat managed and rolling down the road to survive.
The first of the two Black Friday releases, annotated in long form as The Black Mass (the Ballad of Bohemian Grove), is a set of three songs taken from studio sessions conducted in rust belt Detroit a couple of years ago that die hard Hellbound fans were hoping would have resulted in a new album by now. Similar to sessions even years before produced by Shooter Jennings, the entirety of the recordings are still sitting on the shelf, even though Leroy has hinted they might come to light someday. Leroy told Saving Country Music recently, “I’m just picky about what I put out.” These Black Friday releases should be taken as addendums to Leroy’s careers, not full-length, featured releases.
The Back Mass captures Leroy and Hellbound Glory at a time when he had recently toured with the Supersuckers, was re-connecting with his Aberdeen, Washington roots (Leroy’s true hometown), and listening to a lot of Cobain. The result is not necessarily the Gothic experience the title and cover may seem to hint at, but it is a hard rock version of Hellbound for sure. All three songs will be familiar to many fans who’ve seen Leroy or Hellbound live over the last few years. The arrangements are tight, the electric guitar is heavy, and the 3-song set will encapsulate a little era in Hellbound that had the band stretching its sonic palette into the rock realm like never before. “Sun Valley Blues #2 (Showin’ Off)” is especially evil, with the genius line “I like to party with Republicans,” and a scream by Leroy that is other-worldly.
The Excavators might be best described as something in the exact opposite direction of The Black Mass. Super stripped down with just Leroy, his acoustic guitar, a bass drum, and Rico on lap steel, these are Leroy songs in their most primitive state. His voice is rough in spots, and downright shot in others, including at the very start of the first song. The recordings weren’t meant to be of release quality. Again, some of these songs have been heard before, either live, on small little single or video releases Leroy has done over the years, or in the case of “Repo Man” and “Black Mass,” they are alternate versions of songs found on The Black Mass.
However there are some pretty rare morsels on The Excavators that make acquiring the album worth the trouble for Leroy fans. “World Coming To An End,” though an older song and including some dated references, still comes across as incredibly topical due to the current political season and recent world events. “Another Dead Friend” is a song that shows off why Leroy’s perspective is singular in the country songwriting space in how he can encapsulate things with such aching realism that it elevates it into poetry. And “If The Good Lord’s A Good Ol’ Boy” evokes the sort of everyman hero of Hank Jr.’s high flying days that Leroy also includes in his widely cast songwriting array.
These records are probably not the best place to start for fresh blood to the Hellbound Glory experience, but for folks following Leroy for years, they’re must haves to keep up with this man’s songwriting output.
1 1/2 of Two Guns Up
(for both The Black Mass & The Excavators)
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Purchase The Black Mass from Amazon
Purchase The Excavators from Rusty Knuckles
Purchase The Excavators from Amazon
November 28, 2015 @ 11:23 am
I got to met him and hangout a bit before one of his first sets Post hellbound glory (and I guess also pre-hellbound glory), and he still introduced himself as Leroy. Pretty cool guy, hell of a songwriter.
November 28, 2015 @ 1:32 pm
I can’t wait to check out both. Probably buy em next check. Great raspy rough voice. He did that Garth cover for that shooter Jennings show pilot l. Probably would have been a cool show, maybe too cool.
November 28, 2015 @ 1:37 pm
Sounds intriguing. A hard rocking, almost heavy metal type of country might have been able to ensnare those head banging Goth types, but the songs sound too deep for the typical mainstream country fan to get behind. As my man Luke said, nobody wants to think, they just want to party. Keep in mind, I’m just going off of what Trigger said. They don’t pay me to review independent albums. Leroy, go talk to Scott Borchetta. Maybe he’ll hook you up with Max Martin, then we can get started.
1 1/2 of Two Guns Down
Six String Richie
November 28, 2015 @ 3:48 pm
Hey could somebody help me?
There was an artist covered on this website maybe a year or two ago and I think his first name may have been “Moog” or “Mookie.” He had a very Bakersfield/Dwight Yoakam sound and he is current. He was listed in either a best albums this year so far list or most underrated albums. He is a small independent artist. He wears a cowboy hat.
I wish I remembered his name because I remembered liking him but have no clue what his name was. Any ideas?
November 28, 2015 @ 4:00 pm
That must be Moot Davis.
November 28, 2015 @ 4:32 pm
That’s what I was thinking.
Six String Richie
November 29, 2015 @ 1:42 pm
Yes that’s him! I’ve been trying to find him for weeks! Thank you!
November 28, 2015 @ 4:31 pm
Looking forward to listening more to the “Excavators” album. I listened to the previews of the “Black Mass” album and have to admit I didnt care for the heavier, muddier sound. I like my Rock and Southern Rock as much as the next guy, but Leroy is generally such a good songwriter it can detract from his lyrics.
Glad to see some new Virgil/Hellbound Glory/whatever material out though, hopefully the releases become a bit more frequent from here on out.
November 28, 2015 @ 4:40 pm
Leroy might agree with you about the “Black Mass” album. Seen a few folks complain that they don’t like the “new direction,” but that may be one of the reasons Leroy’s only releases three songs from those sessions as opposed to an entire album. I think it’s fun to hear them do something a little different, but an entire album like that may be a little too much.
November 28, 2015 @ 5:14 pm
I enjoyed the Black Mass release. Personally I like the heavier riffing. Think it works great in small doses. Dig what I have bought so far of the Excavators. Waiting for another payday to complete the purchase. Always dig Leroy’s stuff. Thanks for reviewing, Trig.
This reminds me to ask if you have considered reviewing the Moonbow release?
November 28, 2015 @ 7:53 pm
Definitely a pleasant surprise. I agree that it isn’t the best place to start if you aren’t already familiar with Leroy’s work, but “Sun Valley Blues #2” may be one of my Hellbound Glory songs. It’s just downright cool and really appeals to the rock/metal fan in me.
November 28, 2015 @ 8:29 pm
Awesome! I’ve been starving for new music. Has this been the most meager 4th quarter, ever? What was a strong year in new releases ended in a whimper.
November 28, 2015 @ 8:42 pm
I don’t know, the new Turnpike Troubadors album is damn, damn good. The new Jason Boland and Corb Lund albums aren’t my favorite stuff they have done, but are still solid efforts. The Damn Quails put out a really solid sophomore album and the same can be said for Shane Smith and the Saints. Hell, the new Eric Church album is probably the best mainstream Country album put out this year (and that includes the rather mediocre King George “Cold Beer Conversation” album).
I think what you are starting to see if more and more “indie” artists trying to put out their music earlier in the year in hopes of avoiding being overshadowed by the bigger mainstream artists putting out new stuff for the holidays. You see this even in mainstream music where a lot of record companies pushed out albums before or delayed albums to avoid having to go up against Adele’s new album. The same may be true on a smaller level for Country music artists, where independent artists may try to avoid going up against a new Luke Bryan, FGL, Aldean, etc. album. While their audiences are vastly different (in general), getting any sort of mainstream attention is probably going to be tough when reviewers are focused on tearing apart (or being paid to praise) a new pop-country album from Luke Bryan or whomever.
November 28, 2015 @ 9:10 pm
I think your right. Most of the albums I really loved from 2015 were released in the first half of the year. And I’m already looking forward to new music being released in early 2016.
By the way, I love the new Turnpike Troubadours! I will check out Damn Quails. Thanks!
November 28, 2015 @ 9:28 pm
I think overall 2015 has been a very down year for good music, and I would put that on every quarter of the year. What I have noticed in the 4th quarter is that releases for the year were incredibly backloaded to late October and November. I’ve never seen a November this busy, and it’s not necessarily a good thing because the recording industry went on a 6-week vacation three days ago. Many outlets have already published their “Best of 2015” lists, yet some of the year’s best albums are just now hitting the street. I’m emailing publicists to get liner notes and getting “Out of Office” return emails telling me to try back the 2nd week of January. Usually November and December are the months to catch up on what you missed, but this year it’s been the busiest season for releases. The industry has no clue what it’s doing and people can’t find the good music, if there is any to be found. 2015 was a mess in my opinion, with a few bright spots.
November 29, 2015 @ 5:11 pm
Trig, The Yawpers just released an album called “American Man” that in my opinion is 2015’s best release.
I was a little disappointed with the Bottle Rocjets release…
November 29, 2015 @ 9:34 pm
I like the new Yawpers album, but I’m struggling to find the narrative with it for Saving Country Music.
November 28, 2015 @ 10:16 pm
Not sure how much relevance this comment contains to the music, but if you buy this (BLACK MASS) from Amazon, currently the only place its for sale, its on the fourth page of browsing, because its listed as Hellbound Glory featuring Virgil Hellbound. So what. He Changed his name again! So what what the first one was good enough, and then that wasnt good enough anymore…. So what if he has a direct follow up to Damaged Goods already recorded with “Merica” , and “Cliche Country Singer” , both great songs that fans were demanding back then. He doesnt want to release them. IDK, Ive met Leroy, he is a great guy to hang out with, but as a fan, its getting old….. also to Rusty Knuckles, I pre ordered the cd a while back, most independant pre orders arrive by or before release date, I will not buy digital for something I paid for physical, get you shit together Rusty Knuckles.
November 29, 2015 @ 5:46 pm
Nathan38401 we all appreciate the order and thank you for the candid response. The cds have already shipped out and some orders are still processing as we chose to spend time with our family this Thanksgiving holiday. Now with the album out, we also send a download code to the folks that ordered the album in advance. Generally the albums are available as a download code as soon as anyone orders, but only after the initial release date.
December 5, 2015 @ 1:35 pm
You may be right about the name thing. That might have been a bad idea. I got some legal issues with the hbg name and want to establish something that’s my own free and clear. Thanks for listening.
November 29, 2015 @ 7:57 pm
I’m a Hellhound fan from waaaaay back, and I admit to having had a little trepidation about these releases. Boy was I wrong – great, high quality stuff. Leon, Leroy, Virgil, or whoever – I don’t care what he calls himself – the dude is seriously talented.
December 5, 2015 @ 1:31 pm
Thanks for the good review triggerman.
February 4, 2017 @ 6:58 pm
New Hellbound Glory album produced by Shooter Jennings in the works !!! Whatever this guy does under whatever name I’m on board.