03.11.13 — “Black Metallic” by Catherine Wheel

Catherine Wheel

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Black Metallic” by Catherine Wheel (1992, from the album Ferment).

Catherine Wheel was a shoegaze/indie rock/brit-pop quartet from some small town in the East of England. Between 1990 and 2000, they released five studio albums and a ton of singles. Included among those singles was a very different cover of the Scott Walker song “30 Century Man”. That was included in a remastered version of Ferment, but not on the copy that I have. More on that in a bit.

It’s been a long time since I’ve dipped into the “nostalgia” bag. Lately, I’ve been writing about a lot of 2012 and 2013 releases. Tonight, I’m going way back to 1992. I’ll admit that part of my inspiration for this post is that I ran across another music blog recently where the author posted about a different Catherine Wheel song from a different album. I was reminded of how much I used to love Catherine Wheel, and specifically their first album Ferment. Unfortunately, at some point in the mid-late 1990s, I traded in my Catherine Wheel CDs for store credit towards the purchase of something that I probably don’t even listen to anymore. When I ran across that blog post the other day, I promised to replace at least the first two records. I started with Ferment.

“Black Metallic” was released as a 7″ single in the autumn (I think) of 1991, and later released as an extended 12″ and CD single. It wasn’t the “lead single” from the album, and it wasn’t their highest-charting single, but it’s the one that I remember the most.

If you’re really interested, the “official video” featured the 7″ version of the song. In my opinion, it’s grossly inferior to the 12″ version, and I don’t really like the video, but if you want to, you can watch it here. I’ll offer you something better, though.

First, check out the album/12″ version of the song:
“Black Metallic” by Catherine Wheel

This is just the right proportions of brit-pop, shoegaze, and “alternative rock”. Noisy, super-melodic, and pretty big. And it’s even got the loud/quiet/loud thing working for it. In the 7″/video version, that loud/quiet/loud aspect is seriously minimalized, and I think that it suffers because of it.

My favorite thing about the song is the extended instrumental break starting about 3:12. It’s all loud and fast and chaotic for a bit. There’s a lot of flange on one of the guitars, and at that point it’s pretty unmistakably early-nineties. Anyway, after that burst of chaos, it suddenly slows down and quiets down considerably at about 4:32. Just the tumble of drums, a much more subdued guitar, and the hushed “It’s the color of your skin/Your skin is black metallic” refrain over and over. It seems like that’s the coda right there. However, at about 6:04, the “loud” part resurfaces, and carries on that way for the rest of the song. It’s the bit when those drums come barging in at the end. That’s what I love.

For extra credit, I highly recommend this live performance of the song, when they stopped by the set of MTV’s 120 Minutes.

Everything about it is enhanced. It’s way fuzzier than the album version. It’s way more bass-heavy than the album version. It’s longer and blacker and more metallic. The middle section with the loud/quiet/loud bit is more intense, louder/quieter/louder than the album version. The second guitar is especially nice in that section. As far as MTV studio performances go, this is pretty amazing. I might like it more than I like the album version.

You can get Ferment from the amazon store here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

2 responses to “03.11.13 — “Black Metallic” by Catherine Wheel

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