Heaven’s Jail plays a hungry, no-frills style of hard rock that makes an unexpected case for the genre’s continuing relevance. The blazing “Widow’s Work,” the title track from their new album, recalls a thousand fist-pumps and sing-alongs — satisfying enough, until you sense that something’s off. Is it the absence of an obvious chorus, a middle finger to the genre’s rituals of form? Or chief Jailer Francesco Ferorelli’s narration of a devastating hidden truth hinted at in the title (and imagined disturbingly in the video, below)?
Waving off studio trickery and creative neurosis, Ferorelli presents his band as a classic hard rock group of the kind familiar from decades past. However, the intelligence evident in this record suggests Widow’s Work can also be understood as a knowing reinterpretation of the hard rock aesthetic that saturated North America around, say, the years 1979-80. The late period in the genre’s cultural dominance, hard rock had grown mature, even decadent by this time. Exemplary albums like Black Rose: A Rock Legend, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School and Against the Wind (to cite three precedents for Widow’s Work) voiced romantic sensitivity and cultural commentary, but nonetheless they, like more pedestrian AOR fodder, failed to acknowledge challenges swirling in the ether — to hard rock’s bombast and phallocentrism by new wave and punk, to its populism and bloat by heavy metal. This peculiar moment in hard rock, the last “great” days for today’s aged-out rockers, is compelling for how it was pregnant with the contradictions of masculinity and empire — contradictions that have over-ripened in our time of Trump. Heaven’s Jail picks up this urgent thread, articulating the human savagery and (on the track “Heart To Love”) tragedy that are among its legacies.
It can’t be easy to slug it out with no-BS, straight-ahead rock while based in hipster Brooklyn for the past seven years, which may be why Heaven’s Jail sounds like they’re playing for their lives on Widow’s Work. See for yourself why ears as broad as podcasting comedian Marc Maron and psych-folk diehards Six Organs of Admittance throw down for this band.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.