Released: 2015, Inverse Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Stoner metal has come a long way since Black Sabbath basically invented both it and heavy metal in one fell swoop back in the Sixties. The dilemma facing modern stoner metal bands is whether to remain strictly faithful to the original sound or to incorporate other nuances, magpie-like, and create music that is more multi-faceted.
Finland's Black .44 have decided on the latter strategy, adding melody, Southern groove and a touch more blues. Forming in 2011, releasing their self-titled debut EP in 2012 but not playing their first gig until two years later means that their sound had time to distil and bed down,
which can be heard on their debut full length 'No Blanks', released in August this year. The album incorporates the three songs from their 2012 EP, presumably because the theme stayed the same: death, darkness and murder. The result is an album full of morbid lyrics as the songs are largely told from the perspective of the killers.
Opening track 'Overcome' starts with a roar worthy of Phil Anselmo before sliding into a sludgy Southern groove. Then curiously, the verses take on a faster, almost nu metal feel before relaxing back into that slower groove. It's a disconcerting mix, one that is repeated during second track 'Hometown Murderer' – ballsy, bubbling riffs outside of the verses and nu metal quirkiness inside. Puzzling...
Just when you begin to doubt the entire album, 'The Red Saint' rears its Mastodon-y head with a real ass-shaking beat, lyrics full of pure malevolence and a mid-paced tempo throughout – phew!
The real strength of this album is the riffs present in virtually every song. From the sinuous chug of 'Into the Grace' to the simple yet effective 'Born Wrong', containing a riff you could drown in, to the Southern swagger of lead single 'The Outlaw', there is some real quality songwriting (riff-writing!) present throughout.
Their influences are clear but not overly relied on: there's the slink and slither of modern rockers Velvet Revolver, the doom of Sabbath and the Southern thump of Down – even the groove-love of Pantera. These all combine to perfection in 'Shit Hits the Fan', which is simply modern stoner metal perfection from its ominous intro to its kick ass outro. That and the rather trippy, sludgy-yet-pacy 'Right To Wrong' close out the album with flair and gusto.
In truth, subgenres can be both a blessing and a curse: combined, they can create exciting new sounds, but they can also dilute the authenticity of modern music. 'No Blanks' sees Black .44 strike the balance almost perfectly, retaining that original stoner metal sound but adding a pinch of extras here and there to create an interesting and lively album. Modern stoner metal to a 'T'.
Review by Melanie Brehaut