Long-running rockers Black Tractor have returned to spread some new gospel to the masses. Since the early ’00s, the Cincinnati band has been thrilling regional audiences with an over-the-top live show and a hard ’n’ heavy Rock & Roll sound that’s spiked with enough kitschy, outlandish humor to put them in the wheelhouse of fans of like-minded acts like GWAR and Green Jellÿ.
There’s been a bit of a lull since the release of Black Tractor’s 2011 album, Applaud My Friends...The Comedy Is Over: A Potboiler By Black Tractor, which they say was “a concept album so local critics thought it was arty but local drunk metal guys in battle vests thought it was just another pretty cool Black Tractor record.” The band’s bio reveals that, in 2017, they received their first-ever negative review, from someone who saw them open for Jackyl in Dayton. The potential fan sent them a grammatically-mystifying message calling them “soul crushing trash.”
The cutting critique caused Black Tractor to step back and reflect, ultimately devising what they call their “masterstroke,” an overt attempt to please that displeased Dayton listener’s “lofty musical palette.” The Wonders of The Invisible World, the resulting album project, is the group’s most ambitious — and, dare we say, “arty” — yet.
The Wonders of The Invisible World is a theatrical, multimedia affair that includes an accompanying comic book created to look like those religious pamphlets left in public bathrooms to convert lost souls, as well as eye-popping packaging (for both the vinyl and CD versions) designed to look like an’80s VHS horror movie tape. The pseudonymous band members star in the comic, which unspools a tale involving Black Tractor solving their cash-flow problems by signing up to become traveling missionary troubadours. The Black Tractor New Judgment Ministries set out to rake in as much money as possible, by any means necessary, which is the basis of the band’s current fire-and-brimstone live show in support of The Wonders of The Invisible World.
The album is like a real-time musical reaction to Black Tractor’s scheme, with lyrics that mix wool-pulling evangelization with blunt confessionals that boast of the debauchery and money-grubbing behind the proselyting. “What God Made Pockets For” best represents that duality. “Put your handle on the Bible, son/And tell the good Lord what you’ve done,” frontman Johnny Potatoes coaxes, while also plainly stating, “I steal from the rich, I steal from the poor/’Til there’s none to steal no more.” On the same track, there’s also a callback to some other dark-hued musical mythology, with some one-upmanship in play: “I’ll steal Robert Johnson’s cursed soul/Back from the Devil’s cold fiery hold.” Black Tractor, you see, isn’t Satanic — they’re more evil than the Devil himself.
Musically, the bulk of the tracks grind away on thunderous grooves, lightning-strike Hard Rock/Metal riffing (think Pantera late-night sword-fighting Rob Zombie in a truckstop bathroom) and a chest-puffed Punk swagger, but there are also pleasantly surprising curveballs, like the dusky, dusty “Hosanna,” an acoustic-based slow-burner that seethes menace and sounds like the soundtrack for a scene from a Post-Apocalyptic Horror/Spaghetti Western film.
Despite the jokey nature of Black Tractor, the musicianship is seriously good — as much as they want to play up their “drunk lunkhead” image, the writing is sharp and smart and the playing is tight and impeccable. And even as cartoony as it all is, the overall concept functions as shrewd and timely satire, a clever takedown of religious phonies who use faith to bamboozle for profit and power. Sound like a certain presidential administration you may have heard about in the news lately?
Fans can catch Black Tractor’s revival show on Saturday, Aug. 3 as they celebrate the release of the vinyl and CD versions of Wonders (it’s available to stream/download at blacktractor.bandcamp.com) at the Southgate House Revival (111 E. Sixth St., Newport, southgatehouse.com). The show will take place in the venue's Revival Room. Admission is $5 and music begins at 9 p.m.