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Released: May 6, 2014
Genre: Hard Rock, Southern Rock, Stoner Rock
Number Of Tracks: 13
The new album by Black Stone Cherry reaches back to their earlier sound in some small ways, adding touches of the stoner rock and generally heavier guitars from back in the beginning of their career.
Magic MountainFeatured review by: UG Team, on may 05, 2014 3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: 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. // 6
Lyrics: 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. // 6
Overall Impression: 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. // 7
bluesrocker137, on may 13, 2014 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: When Black Stone Cherry came onto the music scene, they brought with them a Southern rock sound that was unique to the modern rock scene. This sound was continued throughout "Black Stone Cherry" and "Folklore and Superstition, "but the band seemingly abandoned it for a radio friendly, run of the mill hard rock sound on "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." My hope was that Magic Mountain would go back to their old sound, but this is sadly not the case. "Magic Mountain" is an attempt to get back Black Stone Cherry's signature sound, but it falls short. The general trend on this album is unique and creative verses which are often overshadowed but uninspiring choruses. Many of the songs have catchy and well thought out guitar solos, something which most modern hard rock music does not. While I won't give an in depth description of every song's sound, the album can be grouped into a few sub categories of sound:
The radio hard rock song; "Holding On... To Letting Go," "Bad Luck and Hard Love," "Me and Mary Jane," "Never Surrender," and "Fiesta Del Fuego" can all be put in this categories. Drop tuned guitars playing 3 or 4 chords choruses to watered down lyrical content.
The less radio friendly hard rock; "Peace Pipe," "Magic Mountain," "Blow My Mind," "Dance Girl," and "Remember Me" all fall into this category. Less mundane, less unique, but for the most part nothing too special. The exception here is "Peace Pipe," which to me may be one of the best songs BSC have ever written.
The ballads; "Runaway" and "Sometimes" are both ballads, with "Runaway" being a bit more poppy and "Sometimes" following a very Pearl Jam-esque sound.
The country song; "Hollywood in Kentucky" is a typical modern country song. Something about this song does feel heartfelt though, it's a very solid, fun song.
To sum things up, one would have a hard time finding a bad song on this album, however one would also have a very difficult time finding something new, original, or groundbreaking as well. // 7
Lyrics: While the lyrics might be better on "Magic Mountain" than on "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," they cannot compare to "Black Stone Cherry" or "Folklore and Superstition." Rather than talking about American folklore and legends, the band decides to talk mainly about the rockstar life of women and drugs on this album. The topic of drug use is one disappointing venture from past Black Stone Cherry albums. From the entire song "Me and Mary Jane" to "Fiesta Del Fuego"'s "We damn sure tried to smoke the evidence." to "Peace Pipe"'s "We should just be getting high." drug references abound. "Dance Girl" is a typical song about strippers which seems to be a must for today's rock bands. The most heartfelt lyrics on the album come from the ballad "Sometimes" which covers the topic of depression, loneliness, and failure in a relationship. For the most part though Chris Robertson is an extraordinary singer delivering ordinary lyrics, which is a shame to say the least. // 5
Overall Impression: "Magic Mountain" is not the worst album Black Stone Cherry has ever made, but it certainly is not the best. The band has been stuck in a conundrum many of today's rock acts find themselves in; whether to be creative and unique artists who play for smaller crowds and achieve less success or to sell out and follow the industry standard, play huge venues, receive much more recognition, but all at the cost of their artistic creativity. Black Stone Cherry tries to please everyone with this album by blending a southern rock vibe with a radio rock sound. It's a noble idea which turns out less great. The trippy '70s sounding intros to songs like "Remember Me" and the bass fuzz on "Fiesta Del Fuego" just eventually lead to radio rock choruses. If the band would've continued those sounds throughout the entire song, they could have made something truly special which would conjure memories of such great artists as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Molly Hatchet, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hopefully in the future they will carry these sounds throughout every song, because then they will have something truly great. // 7