On paper, the alliance of former WHITE ZOMBIE bassist Sean Yseult and ex-CYCLE SLUTS FROM HELL guitarist Dava She Wolf appears to be a lethal combination. Esteemed journalist (and PATTI SMITH band figurehead) Lenny Kaye thought so. He suggested they collaborate in what would become STAR & DAGGER, a self-stylized blues and grit rock hybrid that includes saucy vocalist, Marci Von Hesseling. Added to the group's recently expanded lineup is Dave Catching, one-time EAGLES OF DEATH METAL guitarist, and former QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE drummer Gene Trautmann in place of Dustin Crops. Thus there's a serious coalition now fortifying STAR & DAGGER and hopefully they will record as a full unit. Then we can see beyond the mere potential of this band that's touch and go on their debut effort, "Tomorrowland Blues".
Already opening for sludge lords HIGH ON FIRE, SAINT VITUS, DOWN and HELMET, STAR & DAGGER have quickly generated their own cult audience. Metal plays a hand in this group, but only in increments. The blues is certainly there, but not in such brazen fashion unless you count the campy "Your Mama Was a Grifter", which boasts an amusing video shadowing the gender-empowering exploitation film "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"
It's evident by "Tomorrowland Blues" that STAR & DAGGER has high ambition, if low-key execution. The album largely throbs on the chunky bass drives of Sean Yseult, while Dava She Wolf's guitar parts play cloak and dagger games throughout the album. Sometimes she peels off juicy riffs and static echoes that get on top of Yseult, while other times, her parts are like estranged ghosts. On "Freak Train", both Yseult and Dava She Wolf get into gear with dirty boogie slides giving proper fang to the closing lyric, "High enough to just say what the fuck."
As that line suggests lazy ambivalence, this becomes the prevailing mojo to "Tomorrowland Blues". "Selling My Things" treads close to doom as it does Willie Dixon. Its swamped-down feel projects a sluggishness that carries into the rambling "Sidewinding" and the downright depressive "Before It's a Crime". Even while stepping up the pace a click on "Your Money", there's still a slow-cooked ZEPPELIN tinge that likely sounds even nastier live with the expanded lineup. "Your Money" does writhe on a cool groove that Sean and Dava decorate more than some of the other songs.
Yet most of what they accomplish together on this album sounds like something in the making versus a straight-up punch-out you just know is lurking inside of them. The SABBATH and DOWN-kissed opener "In My Blood" is the catchiest track of the album outside of "End of Days" and the downright raunchy "Your Mama Was a Grifter". In-between are songs that have good pieces swarming about yet feel like they're gradually molding.
It's Marci Von Hesseling who steals the show on this thing. She rings part Cherie Currie and part Glenn Danzig, a simmering and sinister Vampira-a-Go-Go. From the skin tight spandex and Eighties-kissed, fox-on-the-run blonde weave with sometimes low-swinging, always woofing vocal arcs, Von Hesseling is an estrogen-testosterone spliced caricature. She knows when to drag and when to go full-frontal with her vocals. Once her band mates catch up to her, the combined projection should be something to behold.
If STAR & DAGGER hadn't recruited Dave Catching, the next logical choice could've been Ruys Suyter of NASHVILLE PUSSY, who knows how to tighten up a ship with razor-bled riffs and hyperactive shredding, two elements that would put this band on a higher level. For now, we'll have to wait and see what the new lineup cooks up after "Tomorrowland Blues". This album seems like a mere primer for something potentially bombastic on the next round.