Sunday, 8 June 2014

Black Stone Cherry's 'Magic Mountain' - Album Review

Black Stone Cherry have been one of the most consistent and enjoyable hard rock bands of the past decade, and are arguably the torchbearers for modern southern rock. They mix traditional blues rock and big southern grooves to make melodic and catchy rock music that is enjoyed by many around the world. Magic Mountain is the band's fourth album, and their first in three years following Between  the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea in 2011. While I enjoyed that album a lot (and still do), there was something lacking about it, especially when you compared it to their previous two albums: 2006's self-titled debut and 2008's Folklore and Superstition. There are plenty of great songs on that album, but it pandered a little too much to the post-grunge sound of bands like Creed and Nickelback, which made it lack the charm of its predecessors. There were too many radio-friendly, middle-of-the-road songs; but songs like the excellent Such a Shame still make it a good album. Magic Mountain seems to be a concerted effort by the band to get back to their roots a little and rock hard again. New producer 'Evil' Joe Barresi, who has worked with many bands from Queens of the Stone Age and Wolfmother to Clutch and Coheed and Cambria, has done a great job getting a raw rock sound out of the band. The crunchy riffs are back in force, and frontman Chris Robertson's drawling vocals are powerful and in-your-face. The band's songwriting is just as strong as always, and the move away from outside collaborations is a good one in my opinion. The band have still collaborated with outside writers on some of the songs, but they can write good enough material on their own without too much help anyway. They must be respected songwriters, as a song of theirs ended up on Lynyrd Skynyrd's most recent album Last of a Dyin' Breed, in fact I would like to hear a Black Stone Cherry version of that song, Life's Twisted, some day! I think this album might impress those who thought Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea was a little lightweight compared to their previous albums. Although, with a UK arena tour booked for later on this year, it seems the band are bigger than ever, which can only be a good thing for rock as a genre.

Holding On...To Letting Go is the album's first song, and it opens with monster riff that has all the energy and urgency of the material on their debut album. The guitar work of Robertson and fellow guitarist Ben Wells is nice during the verses. It has quite a sludgy sound and their playing mixes well together to make a dirty sound. Robertson, who plays the majority of the band's lead guitar work as well as singing, unleashes a wah-drenched solo later on in the song, that has become a trademark of the band over the years. Peace Pipe is a little more laid back and more reminiscent of the band's previous album. The verses still are backed up by a nice, meaty riff though - but the chorus is a bit more atmospheric with some effects on Robertson's vocals to make him sound distant, which fits the relaxed mood of the song. There is a really good guitar solo in this song too, that sounds like both Robertson and Wells are taking it in turns to trade licks, which brings to mind the closing moments from the excellent Devil's Queen. Bad Luck & Hard Love is another southern-fried riff-based number that evokes the band's early days. The chorus is the catchiest on the album yet, and is sure to go down a storm when it is played live. The main riff is also very memorable, and is a good air guitaring moment for all you enthusiasts out there! The album's first single Me and Mary Jane is up next and it is another winner. Drummer John Fred Young's shuffle beats really drive the song, and the wah-wah guitar work throughout is the icing on the cake. Young is a fantastic drummer, and I have always admired his skills and style since seeing the band live in 2009. Robertson gets another solo spot, but bassist Jonathan Lawhon steals his thunder with some very inventive playing underneath it. The album's title track is the next highlight. It has another excellent riff that leads into a up-beat verse with some nice staccato guitar stabs, which gives it an unusual rhythm. The chorus is another melodic one that reminds you of the band's early days. Is a non-nonsense, heads down rock number that just hits you like a steamroller and never lets go. It was songs like this that made the band popular in the first place, so it is good to see them keeping up the tradition in writing catchy hard rocking songs.

Never Surrender continues on with the hard rock of the album's title track. The verse however, as a very circusy rhythm with some inventive off-beat drumming from Young. It is over as quickly as it begins, but it is heavy with a urgent chorus which sees Robertson use a more agressive side of his voice than previously. It works well though, and is a nice addition to the album. Blow My Mind is more of a mid-paced number with some more big guitar grooves straight out of the southern rock school. The guitar work on this song is excellent and Robertson really lets rip with an excellent solo towards the end of the song. The chorus is another memorable one that really sticks in the brain. The next highlight is Fiesta del Fuego, which is probably my favourite song on the album. It has the biggest grooves on the album, and all the riffs are excellent. Lawhon's big basslines help to drive the song, and tortured leads cut across the heavy riffs to create some distant melodies. Robertson's solo here is probably his best on the album. It soars in places and is fast and fluid in other places, and it shows that he is an excellent guitarist as well as a singer. Towards the song, it speeds up and we get a tight jam from the band with yet more excellent riffs and some great kit work from Young, showing what he can do with a single bass pedal. After the ploddingly average Dance Girl, we reach the final two songs on the album. Hollywood in Kentucky is a humorous look at life in both of those places, and it has a strong country rock feel to it. It is a light-hearted song, I like the message it conveys. It is catchy, and almost anthemic in places with some sing-a-long 'lalala' lyrics. Bits of the song have some nice slide guitar lines that, although slightly burried, enhance the country/blues feel of the piece. Towards the end of the song, there is a real rockabilly workout which is good fun. Remember Me is the album's final song, and it is the longest the album at over 6 minutes long. It is a good song, that reminds me a little of Alter Bridge in places, but sill retaining Black Stone Cherry's signature sound. It is larger in scope for the band, and might be something the band want to explore more in the future. Either way, this is a good song to end the album on, and plenty of excellent guitar breaks leave a good impression on me. Overall, this is another solid album from the band that have brought southern rock back and to a large new audience. They are showing no signs of slowing down yet, and that can only be a good thing.

The album was released on 5th May 2014 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Me and Mary Jane.

No comments:

Post a Comment