Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stuck in my Head: Sevendust, "Black"

It’s so rare for me these days to hear a song that blows me away out of the gate and makes me run out and pick up an album.

I guess it’s part of aging, having more experience with music and being more jaded. When you’re younger, everything sounds awesome. When you get older, you get much harder to impress. To be honest, I miss those days.

After hearing a promising track from Sevendust’s upcoming release Black Out the Sun, I was reminded of one of those times. I was living in Arkansas in 1997, and occasionally, if I was covering a sports event in an outlying area, I could pick up a rock station (I don’t remember which one) out of Little Rock that had a heavy music show some nights. It was during one of these shows that “Black” first came blaring out of my speakers. As soon as I got home that night, I ordered the CD online (there were no music stores in the town I was living in at the time — just one of the reasons I’m not living there anymore).

The percussive, pummeling riff at the beginning of the song got my attention, then vocalist Lajon Witherspoon comes in roaring like a lion. His voice had a the edge of a hardcore shout with plenty of power, but also maintained just a little bit of soulfulness. It was a potent mix that helped set Sevendust apart.

Lyrically, the song was interesting, too. Witherspoon kept it open enough that fans could interpret it in their own way. Obviously, the name of the song combined with Witherspoon being black, which was still enough of a rarity in hard rock and metal in those days to be noteworthy, would lead the conversation down the path of race. And indeed, it could be interpreted as being about a young black man who is harassed even though “I’m minding my own business, I ain’t doing nothing wrong.” That’s not a subject that had been hit on very often in metal at the time.

It could also be about segregation of other groups of people. Some of the lyrics would seem to indicate that, perhaps, the subject of the song had chosen part of the path that had him feeling trapped.

Or, you could even interpret it as a person battling his own inner demons.

However you interpret it, the song rocks, as does most of the band’s self-titled debut album, which held more anger and fire than some of their subsequent releases.

Over the next few years, the style of music here would become known as nu-metal and, as happens with most subgenres that experience a little commercial success, along came a glut of bands without the creativity and talent of Sevendust that led to it being ridiculed by many metal fans and eventually fading away. As with the hard rock of the 1980s and countless other music trends, people tend to forget there were good bands out there doing it, and regardless of what you label it, this is a great pure metal record.

Sadly, I never thought Sevendust lived up to the promise of this album. Though I like a good bit of what came later as they explored more melodic paths and don’t really dislike anything they’ve ever done, none of it had the impact on me that “Black” or their debut did.

"Till Death,” a song off the new album that they’ve been playing live lately, though, does seem to have a little bit of the vibe of this record. It certainly has the mix of heavy and melodic working in its favor. Here’s hoping that Black Out the Sun will be the record that brings me back into the fold.

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