Amongst the bands that skirted success with major labels The Afghan Whigs seemed better suited than most of their contemporaries from the nineties independent scene. The Cincinnati band had a mature sound that set them apart, incorporating R&B, soul and classic rock alongside grunge, alternate rock and early emo. The group released a run of critically acclaimed albums over ten years, including 1993's Gentleman, a dark exploration of modern masculinity, examined in depth as part of the 33 1/3 series.
Greg Dulli served as frontman, guitarist and producer for many of The Afghan Whigs records and has spent the time since the groups split in 2001 working on several albums under his Twilight Singers project as well as a collaborative album with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins. Since reforming in 2012 the band played a number of live shows, including a performance with R&B singer Usher at SXSW last year (yes, really). Now the band are back to where they released many of they early records on Sub Pop with a new album Do To The Beast, the first since the soulful 1965 sixteen years ago.
Parked Outside lumbers forward with a mid-tempo, bluesy stomp letting you know that despite the time that's passed it's business as usual for the band. It makes for an assertive start reintroduction as drums pound out a 6/4 groove and walls of impressively heavy guitars engulf Dulli's familiar strained vocals. Matamoros pack a different kind of punch, with it's dark funk guitar line and a torn up string melody that rips its way into the song. A little quieter than the songs before it, first single Algiers is still one of the stand out tracks on Do To The Beast. As the electric guitars twang over an acoustic strumming like the theme to a Morricone western Greg Dulli proves his voice is as strong as it's ever been switching between a soft falsetto croon and a cool-headed lower register, singing 'I'm not too proud to roll/On the bad streets'.
It doesn't sound like they picked up where they left off, instead it's more like the album they'd have made if they'd never split. It's touches on moments throughout the band's past discography. The riffs are bold and loud, the instrumentation tight and Dulli's lyrics are still sharp and astute. In the internet age The Afghan Whigs genre blurring songs aren't such a unique proposition which may help their music reach a bigger audience than they saw in the nineties. It may not match up to their best, like Gentleman and 1965, but in an era in which every other band is reuniting for a quick buck Do To The Beast does more than enough to justify The Afghan Whigs' return.
Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk