Magic Mountain review by Black Stone Cherry

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  • Released: May 6, 2014
  • Sound: 6
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 6.3 Neat
  • Users' score: 6.9 (25 votes)
Black Stone Cherry: Magic Mountain

Sound — 6
Black Stone Cherry have basically been playing together since they were young teenagers, though they didn't officially form as a band until 2001. As one of their members is the son of The Kentucky Headhunters member Richard Young, they "inherited" the Kentucky Headhunters' practice space and began some of their earliest recordings from this space. While the band's earliest recordings could more accurately be described as "heavy" metal (oddly enough, the lighter side of metal is what I identify as "heavy" metal), and stoner rock - but their sound quickly morphed into a more radio-friendly brand of hard rock. While they self-released a few odd tracks and a demo during this time, their first full length release didn't happen until 2006. From there the band has been fairly successful, going on tour with bands like Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Alter Bridge, Cavo, Theory Of A Deadman, Nickelback (on the "Dark Horse" tour) and Chickenfoot. "Magic Mountain" is the band's fourth full-length studio release, which contains 13 tracks and is being released by Roadrunner Records. 

I normally go through a track by track summary, but I'm not feeling that format on this release. Instead, I'd like to talk about this album in more general terms, though I will touch on a few tracks as examples to make my point. One of the tracks I do want to talk about specifically is "Holding On… To Letting Go," which is the opening track. What this track does that is interesting is seems to blend together, at least in the main riff, the band's earlier stoner rock sound with the more modern generic hard rock riffage. I get some mixed feelings from this. The song also has a guitar solo different than what I'm used to hearing with modern hard rock, and this carries over to most of the songs on the album - an actual solo with some character on pretty much every track. "Me and Mary Jane" on the other hand is one of those songs that sounds familiar the first time you hear it because it is one of those formulas that are becoming over-used in the world of hard rock. The song does have an interesting solo section, with the bass player grooving hard and the guitarists taking turns with a few quick licks of a solo and swapping back and forth…can you really call that a "solo"? Either way, it was a standout portion of that track, to me. They even have the obligatory dancing/stripping girl song, "Dance Girl" but at this point in the album I was having a hard time staying with the album, but I pushed through. 

So, here is my conclusion: Black Stone Cherry tries to inject elements of stoner rock, "heavy" metal, and southern rock into the formulaic hard rock they're creating. They do succeed better than most bands in the genre of displaying something of their own character into the music. The solos stood out as they don't sound like the solos I've been hearing in most modern hard rock lately. At the end of the day, I think the band's half-hearted defiance of the formula is going to hinder them more than help them - they need to ditch it completely or embrace it, depending on if their goal is to be artistically genuine or if they want to play stadium shows. The modern music culture only allows for one of the two, most of the time. Interestingly enough, there is a quote I've picked up somewhere recently that seems relevant. I can't quote it exactly, but it seems to go something like this: "Because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth." That basically says it all. Black Stone Cherry is having some kind of internal struggle and ended in the "lukewarm" territory for this album.

Lyrics — 6
Chris Robertson has always done a good job as the vocalist for the band and that hasn't changed. The rest of the band provides backing vocals, giving us a little bit of harmony in the chorus. Nothing exceptional or negative about what they provide vocally. The lyrics on the album are pretty much standard hard rock fare, and here is a sample from "Fiesta Del Fuego": "We can't pretend there was no intent/ to do just what we did/ you can't deny/ we damn sure tried/ to smoke the evidence/ I think I'm going to need a wake-up call/ don't know if I'll remember this at all/ one, two, the three before I hit the floor/ girl what you got I gotta have some more/ fiesta del fuego is the place that the girls go/ hot damn it's hot/ they passing shots/ this party ain't gonna stop/ they showing skin/ it's sinking in/ the senorita is playing to win." So, yeah, pretty much standard hard rock lyrics.

Overall Impression — 7
Yes, there is something horribly wrong with the "hard rock" genre in general, and its effects can definitely be felt in this release as well as the release of the vast majority of Black Stone Cherry's contemporaries. What exactly is this malady affecting hard rock? It seems that at some point the "average consumer" decided they like a very homogenous type of sound in their rock music. They like a sound that is formulaic and will settle for nothing else. Honestly, I see never-ending complaints about this, and even my friends (some of whom have a bit of an elitist/hipster attitude when it comes to hard rock and metal) complain endlessly but they still buy the albums… even if it is just to complain in more detail about the music. Well, as much as everybody seems to hate what's happened to hard rock it seems the bands that are the most deeply entrenched in creating generic formulaic music are the ones having the big stadium tours and actually making money. I just wanted to share that observation. On the flip side, while Black Stone Cherry definitely has a fat dollop of that hard rock formula culture in their sound, there are elements of their sound that are identifiable as their own. Their solos tend to have a lot of the character of the band, and occasionally the lyrics can get pretty honest for hard rock, reaching back to their earlier days. The band does manage to have a few fleeting moments on the album that remind the listener of what they could be if they broke from pack and did their own thing. Also, what's up with all the wah pedal on this album? Not complaining necessarily, just a question.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    TTP Penguin
    This is their worst album IMO, not a bad album by any stretch, just the weakest put out by BSC.
    Lee Makky
    For the record, their previous albums were miles better. It's sort of like they are selling out slowly
    This album isn't as good as their last efforts. For one thing, I don't hear nearly as many RIFFS on this album that attracted me to them in the first place. The first two albums were mint when it came to awesome, rock n roll, ACDC inspired, sorta riffs. This current stuff just sounds like radio dribble. Colour me unimpressed. I always knew they'd get more and more famous with each release, I just didn't expect them to change their sound in order to do it.
    I haven't heard this album in full yet, but after "Between the Devil.." , I can't say I'm in a rush to hear it either. I have a bad feeling that "Magic Mountain" will be a continuation of the bland, uninspired sound of it's predecessor. That being said, I was a big fan of the band's first two releases and I've seen this band live around 7 times or so dating back to '06. What really disappoints me about BSC is that they've seemingly "dumbed" down their music as part of a blatant effort to become more accessible to the Red-State Rock (aka buttrawk) crowd. I find this to be especially true in the lyrical department of the band. Gone are more thought out, well written lyrics, and lazy, meaningless, cheesy and cliched lyrics have taken their place. At this point, I feel like I'm at a crossroads as a fan of Black Stone Cherry, and likewise I feel they're at a crossroads of their own as well. A part of me still likes this band, probably because of how much I enjoyed their first two releases. In addition, I've nearly always been impressed with their live performance and they're all very respectable musicians to boot. In the brief amount of time that I've been around them (I work in radio), they've always came off as good people to me. However, it's hard as a fan of BSC to stand by and support them when they're churning out material that quite frankly falls short of what they've proven they're capable of. I also can't help but to question their motives as a band. It should be expected that a band that's nearly a handful of albums into their career will evolve, shedding some aspects of their sound and developing new ones. With BSC, this evolution feels like a very forced one, and honestly could arguably be classified as more of a devolution. The crossroads BSC is quickly approaching has two road sings. One reads "Integrity", the other reads "Commercialism". A few short years ago, I thought this band was on a fast track to become one of the few A-List "Active Rock" (radio friendly modern rock) acts to have both commercial success and pack large venues while also garnering the respect of the musical community. I felt that BSC had all the elements a standout hard rock act needed: a memorable voice, solid instrumentation, a great live show, and perhaps most importantly a collection of songs that, while not re-inventing the wheel, had a feeling of authenticity to them. They weren't forced. They weren't targeted at any certain audience. They weren't cheesy. It was damn fine heavy, guitar driven southern rock that could be enjoyed by both younger modern rock fans as well as older fans who were alive when Southern Rock was at it's peak. In a nutshell, I thought they were poised to be a “diamond in the rough” of sorts in a modern rock landscape that's full of pretentious, formulaic, and thoughtless drivel such as Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman, and a number of their contemporaries. With their last two releases, Black Stone Cherry seem to have taken steps toward becoming part of that dreadful “Nickelback and Friends” club. Instead of rising above the sea of mediocrity, they appear more and more like they're trying to dive in headfirst. The disheartening part about this is that they're capable of so much more. They're selling themselves short and driving away fans, like myself, who supported them since they first broke around '05-'06. I hope that Black Stone Cherry rights the ship in time before they're written off as just another cookie-cutter modern rock band churning out meaningless dumpster fire-after-meaningless dumpster-fire. They're certainly on that path, and for their sake I hope they get back to doing what they do best: making damn good heavy Southern Rock.
    im glad im not the only one that thinks this. i first heard them at the kentucky state fair in 07 opening for saliva. they blew saliva right out of that old baseball field. their music was different.. heartfelt.. and friggin heavy. i enjoyed their 3 albums(the devil and the deep blue sea is commericialized yes.. but i still enjoy it).. but after hearing the stream for this album im really really disappointed.
    Quite the opposite I think. The last album was horribly commercial and not a patch on the first two. Of course that was an intentional gamble and it paid of in terms of public awareness, radio play and swelling the fanbase but this album is a deliberate return to their earlier sound. Read the article in last months Classic Rock magazine and you will see what the intent was with this album.
    I am embarrassed for them. They are just another radio band now. The first two albums were masterpieces. This album is a big let down.
    Lee Makky
    I have to say, this is actually a really good album, BSC have still got it. Keep it up!
    Couldn't agree more. I think its always hard for bands that hit the ground running with excellent first albums (I would include The Answer in that category)to do anything different without upsetting the fans. This album is a real return to earlier glories.
    Reading these comments, I'm confused. This is 100% BSC. Same sound from their debut. Southern fried guitar driven rock n roll. You guys are looking for something not to like. This is fun rock n roll, just like all their other releases! In fact I will even say this album has far fewer hit material than their previous albums!
    the lyrics in "hollywood in kentucky" are down right ridiculous and make little to no sense. "You'd open up a trunk door taking out your lover, She might be your cousin but she wouldn't be your brother" it comes off a little incoherent and utterly stupid. dont get me wrong.. the music is phenomenal and chris is a great vocalist.. but the lyrics are horrendous.
    I enjoyed it! Played it on a long drive and it plodded on nicely. Ok, it's a little "radio" but I am a sucker for radio-hard rock bands! If it's catchy, I'm happy! Great effort!
    I enjoyed it! Played it on a long drive and it plodded on nicely. Ok, it's a little "radio" but I am a sucker for radio-hard rock bands! If it's catchy, I'm happy! Great effort!