The Gutter Twins: Separated at Birth 0

The artwork gracing the back cover of The Gutter Twins’ “Saturnalia” shows an X-ray image of Siamese twins. It’s an appropriate illustration, given that the duo is a union of two pivotal figures in early 1990s rock – the Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan and Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli. The moniker is appropriate, as “Saturnalia” is an audial descent into the dark emotions that often lurk beneath the surface.

“Everybody has their own demons,” Dulli explains in the album’s press release. “But when two people form a common thread, it merges two disparate personalities into one.”

Taking that into account, perhaps “Saturnalia” can be viewed as an exorcism of sorts (Dulli, after all, has christened the pair “the Satanic Everly Brothers”). The overall gloomy tone of the record certainly fits into that mold. It’s particularly amplified on tracks like despondent opener “Stations,” and the equally melancholy final track, “Front Street.” First single “Idle Hands” offers a taste of arena rock backed by moody orchestration, while the haunting “God’s Children” sounds like it was penned by U2′s long-lost cousin from Seattle.

Lanegan and Dulli’s long-rumored partnership was officially born at a live performance in September 2005, but three years later, “Saturnalia” is the pair’s first official release. Half of the record’s 12 tracks are credited to both musicians, and on these especially, the album capitalizes on each performer’s strengths. “Circle the Fringes,” for instance, sounds like vintage Screaming Trees, even though Dulli handles vocal duties for most of the song.

The individually-penned tracks sprinkled in between these collaborations solidify “Saturnalia”‘s sound. Lanegan’s trademark husky baritone is at its strongest on “All Misery/Flowers,” while Dulli lends his touch to the electronically-tinged “Each to Each” and “The Body.”

On “Idle Hands,” Lanegan mumbles, “This is an occupation to stand alone.” But if “Saturnalia” is any indication, it appears that he and Dulli do their best work together. The album certainly isn’t going to change the modern musical landscape. But it’s an invigorating indication that these two rock veterans’ passion for making music has not been diminished by time.

Genre: Rock

Label: SubPop

Release Date: March 4, 2008

★★★☆☆