It's a retro world. That's not a value judgment, just a statement of fact. Some lament this fact as if its a permanent turn of events – rather than a blip in time made inevitable by a generation of MP3-trading kids suddenly having carte blanche to the entirety of music history – but, either way, there are some damn fine bands around in 2012 that could easily stand next to the acts of yore which they are either paying tribute to or blatantly ripping off, depending on the level of cynicism one brings to the table.
Graveyard are one of those bands, treading comfortably within the confines of 70s blues rock without ever fully committing to heavy metal in the modern sense, but until last year's release of breakthrough Hisengen Blues these guys mostly lived in the shadow of countrymen (and fellow prog blues enthusiasts) Witchcraft.
Hisengen made my own Best of 2011 list as it did many others'. The element of surprise can work wonders in elevating one's profile – 2007's Graveyard went largely unnoticed unless for many of us – but you've gotta keep knocking 'em out of the park if you want to maintain that uptick in fan base; which is what makes Lights Out a clutch album for these Gothenburg upstarts.
Graveyard had four full years to work on Hisengen Blues, whereas Lights Out emerges a mere 18 months later on the back of heavy touring, so the big question mark this time around is whether the album would sound rushed. There's a bit of that, granted, but at a mere 35 minutes Lights Out is roughly 20% shorter than its predecessor, so there's no reason to believe this to be a compromised work, nor does it sound like it.
For the most part the nine tracks here work a straight line on from Hisengen Blues, so there's plenty of built in encouragement for direct comparisons (Hisengen also had nine tracks; the difference in running time is simply due to that album's songs being longer on average).
Ultimately I think the primary deficiency with Lights Out – perhaps the only noteworthy one – is that, while the best songs here ("Goliath", "Slow Motion Countdown") easily reach the same heady peaks of Hisingen's highlights ("Uncomfortably Numb", "Ain't Fit to Live Here", "The Siren"), the lesser entries ("Seven Seven", "Fool in the End") seem far more ordinary, more perfunctory, than the pretty much filler-free Hisengen Blues.
Lights Out is still a solid effort (far from being an indicator of decline) but this deep into 2012 I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I'm going to have a harder time finding room for it on my best of list this year.