2008 was a happening year for gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards: they released not only one, but two albums, both of which are absolute highlights in their career. It was also around this time that the cult following of the band was truly taking root. And, sadly, also the time around which the creative star of the band slowly started to wane.
However, on the first of the two albums from 2008, The Plague, there are no signs of waning creativity. None whatsoever: the album is a veritable monument of darkness, defying pigeonholing and borrowing freely from many genres.
The two opening tracks set the mood and approach of the album. Sick & Alone is a dreary and dark lament of eternal solitude, a track that fits in nicely with Those Poor Bastards’ previous discography. It is followed by Black Lightning, which takes a deep plunge into an abyss of doom, blackness, evil and utter, utter hopelessness. There’s more than a passing nod towards doomy metal that reeks of funeral, and wailing saw played by Slackeye Slim lends the haunting track a definite ghostly aura. Both tracks are nothing short of superb.
From there, Lonesome Wyatt and The Minister proceed to explore visions of haunted apocalypse, rural armageddon and redneck disaster, combining familiar elements with new, strange ones. Urged on by plummeting percussion, eerie organs, pounding pianos, haunting guitars and the at times subdued, at times malicious and at times fiercely proclaiming vocals of Lonesome Wyatt, The Plague is a 35-minute slab of doom and gloom. Calling it a country or folk record – even with a prefix such as “gothic” or “dark” – is to stretch things to the point of breaking; this is the kind of music that defies genres.
Whilst not all tracks on The Plague are of the same high calibre as the two opening tracks, there really aren’t any weak moments on the album. Some other highlights include the haunting Nightmare Lullaby, the hopeless and wretched I Cannot Escape The Darkness, the pounding nightmare title track, and perhaps the most demented love song ever, You Belong To Me.
In a genre that has always remained, and will always remain, in the fringes of the underground itself, Those Poor Bastards have with The Plague carved an album that is both one of the absolute essentials but also an outlier, an oddity that transcends the genre whose 2010’s incarnation it helped to establish – “gothic country” or “doom folk” or whatever you want to call it.
If you like music that’s scary, gothic, filled with eerie doom and suffocating horror, look no further. This is it.