It’s been 16 years since Greg Dulli released an album under his outfit The Afghan Whigs. It’s almost baffling to consider peripherally that the last album dropped in the late 90s. Dulli has remained active under his other groups, The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins, but with the former starting to blur stylistic lines with his original group, Dulli felt it was time to come full circle and return to his roots with Do to the Beast, which mostly delivers exactly what Dulli followers are looking for—more dynamic, elaborate instrumentation and smoky.
Fans of The Afghan Whigs will be right at home with opener “Parked Outside,” which maintains the wicked, satisfying grunge of 1996’s Black Love, an aggressive opener that hits like a sledgehammer. The subsequent “Matamoros” completes Do to the Beast’s transformation from a 90’s Whigs album into a contemporary Dulli product.
For that reason, Do to the Beast will be received in one of a couple of ways depending on the preferences of listeners. In line with Dulli’s creative trajectory, this album has very definite Twilight Singers vibes here and there, and certainly departs from the more rock-oriented Whigs mainstays here and there. On the other hand, it’s mostly not worse for it. The most Twilight Singers-esque track, “It Kills,” is by far one of the best songs on the album. The last couple of songs at the end of the album, however, are lackluster and feel like Dulli ran out of energy by the time he got to these. Despite a strong percussive influence, “I Am Fire” is downright boring and “These Sticks” is simply decent.
That said, the rest of the album is stellar. While it’s true that there are overt similarities to past Dulli work, it’s more accurate to examine the piece as a supplement to his experience and a rich cumulative work. “Lost in the Woods” is a fine marriage of all of Dulli’s influences and sounds, a bleak, insomniac cut that simply melts away before exploding into the energetic “The Lottery.”
Music takes center stage in Do to the Beast, as Dulli saved the actual lyricism for last, opting to slot the words into the music rather than vice versa. The lyrics don’t necessarily suffer, though they’re hardly straightforward in a way that will be satisfying to connoisseurs of Dulli’s mystique, and frustrating for listeners that want something to easily digest and sing along to.
Also interesting is the absence of Whigs co-founder Rock McCollum, who departed the band shortly before the recording of Do to the Beast and prompted Dulli to call in an army of guitarists ranging from Usher’s musical director Johnny Najera and multiple Twilight Singers members to fill in the gaps from track to track. It gives the album a much more dynamic feel, with each song getting its own vibe. One difference is felt most palpably on “Algiers,” an awesome Western-flavored track with a wicked, grinding solo nestled in the second half.
Do to the Beast gets significantly better with headphones. It’s richly layered in a way that cannot be completely picked up through standard speakers. This has been mixed and mastered with expert precision, and makes the complexity of the tracks even more noticeable.
Like most of Dulli’s work, Do to the Beast will be an acquired taste for some. Drawing unapologetically from R&B influences and featuring Dulli once again performing with bizarre and occasionally off-kilter vocalization, the album is unmistakably his product, and despite not really sounding like a true Afghan Whigs reunion, it’s no less dynamic and exciting.