Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Black River, "Black 'n' Roll"

In recent years, a few hard rock efforts from members of black metal groups have crossed my desk. I’m not really sure what the connection between black metal and old school hard rock is, but apparently there is one. The latest is Black ‘n’ Roll from Black River, featuring members of Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Neolithic and Rootwater.

There’s one problem that I’ve come across with most of these offerings – the vocals. One of the reasons that I’m very choosy about the extreme metal that I listen to is that in so much of it, the vocals seem to be almost an afterthought.
With a few notable exceptions, there isn’t much expressiveness or variation, and after a few songs, at least to my ears, they usually get quite monotonous. On the other hand, vocals are very important to this style of hard rock. The vocals should have attitude and emotion. They should drip with a certain cool. I’m not saying that you need a young Steven Tyler (though I welcome any vocalist that reminds me of that). Lemmy has certainly done pretty well for himself with limited vocal chops and a ton of attitude.

On first listen, I felt that Black River singer Taff’s vocals had the same problem – they were toned-down versions of extreme metal gruntings. With a few more spins, though, I found myself getting into the gruff groove of his voice, which made Black ‘n’ Roll infinitely more enjoyable for me. In the process, the record evolved from an average effort to something I consider pretty good.

The first song to really catch my attention was third track, “Lucky in Hell,” where the band really hits that groove for the first time. The song has just a little bit of Southern rock twanginess to it, and Taff’s vocals begin to stretch a little more. That’s followed up by the title track, a punk-influenced jaunt that reminds me of Volbeat. In fact, Taff’s verse vocals are almost a dead-on match for Michael Poulsen. Grooves are the order of the day throughout the record, with another big one coming on “Breaking the Wall,” and one of my favorites being the great southern rawk-meets-Danzig riff of “Like a Bitch.”

You’ll hear a lot of influences through the 11 tracks on this album, ranging from Misfits-style punk to a morose Sentenced influence to the goth rock of The Cult. Their more metallic leanings come out on songs like “Loaded Weapon,” but then they offer up a nice bluesy number with some tasty guitar work in “Morphine.” It’s reminiscent of Monster Magnet in places, and someone delivers a serious Klaus Meine impression toward the middle. I’m not sure if it’s Taff or another singer because it’s much different from the other vocals on the record. In the end, it turns into a ballsy modern hard rock song, and is one of the best numbers. “Young ‘n’ Drunk” is also a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a fun and maybe slightly stupid upbeat rocker. Instead it’s kind of a dark piece with shades of Sentenced and The Cult, but a great song nonetheless.

While it took me a little while to come around to Taff’s vocals, the band won me over right away. For a bunch of extreme metal guys, they definitely know how to fall into a solid hard rock groove. Bassist Orion and drummer Daray lay down a solid bottom end for the cool and collected riffing of guitarists Kay and Art. Pulling the vocals out, you’d think you were listening to a group that’s been playing groove-oriented rock for generations. Some fans, particularly of the more extreme, might not care for some of the more commercial overtones on some of the choruses, but they’re not a big turn-off for me.

Though there are still a few things the band could work on in the area of vocals and hooks, Black ‘n’ Roll is a far better record than I expected when I first popped it into the CD player. In fact, I find myself enjoying it more with each listen. All I can say is long live Black ‘n’ Roll.

Get Black N Roll

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