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.