Black Skies: On the Wings of Time

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Black Skies: On the Wings of Time
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Black Skies: On the Wings of Time
Sludge Metal
Self-released
December 7th, 2011
Release length: 52:56
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Hailing from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Black Skies formed back in 2005, and since then has been recording a decent amount of material on their own. After a demo and two EPs, the group left a nearly three year gap of silence in their wake before returning to the studio to issue their self-released debut full-length effort, On the Wings of Time. The Sludge Metal act, who are known by fans to incorporate a darker atmosphere and a bit of a Blues influence, have released their first major offering since forming, but is it a strong enough album that it will win over any fans?

With Black Skies, one of the main features towards the group’s darker sound is that the audio sounds rather raw. This allows the louder bass to come through against the deeper guitar distortion, all coming through pretty heavy with the muddy audio quality. This also allows the material to tackle more of a passionate Blues influence when need be, making it all feel more like it comes from the soul, as well as allows the groove from the Sludge Metal to really shine through. The bass kicks are almost indescernable from the snares, both sharing a general lower tone, though the snares are obviously louder while the other part is just a little deeper, and also masked by them due to the volume levels. The cymbols do ring through nicely though, though still feeling a bit further in the mix with the snares really overpowering them, and even the guitar. The vocals here vary from male to female, though the latter are being shouted in the background and are more supporting against the deeper, rhaspy male leads that, at times, can also be clean singing in the most uninspired, out of tune way you can hope for, such as during “Earth Choker.” At least, that’s how they seem to come through, and it could be the latter as the more dominant performance since it’s so hard to tell with how low they are in the mix. Unfortunately, while the muddy sound works well, the raw approach doesn’t really help out too much. It does make On the Wings of Time feel a little bleaker, but it causes the recording to sound like it’s missing something despite how rich it all does end up at times.

And that’s something you’ll pick up on right away. “Rebirth” kicks the album off with a somewhat empty sounding start that tackles a mid-tempo pace and rougher audio sound. Unfortunately that leaves the song to feel rather bland at the start, not really having much of an impact on the listener. The track does gradually build up as you progress through it, allowing the music to become a little faster, as well as richer and just all around heavier. “Darkness & Disguise” starts off the way “Rebirth” ends though, and it works in the band’s favor. There are plenty of moments where the drums and bass fill the music, but also lay off a bit for passages that work to bridge the richer moments. This allows some of the stronger guitar work to become more out in the open, allowing the listener to appreciate that aspect more then anything else here. There’s a good amount of songs that hit around the five, five and a half minute mark, but there’s something that really push the track length concept well past that. Surprisingly, some of these are executed well. “The Other Side of the Mountain” does have a strong atmosphere to it that you cannot deny feels like it wanders along an epic story-telling approach of some early Heavy Metal acts mixed with the Sludge environment and muddy sound. Acts like High on Fire, or even some early Mastodon would be a good reference point to some of the ideas with this track, as well as others that have longer lengths.

However, after a while, some of the songs can feel drug out beyond their means. This is pretty obvious with “Technologicon,” which isn’t a bad song in itself, but features a long solo that seems to be more a random jam session that goes on forever and clearly was performed that way to extend the life of the song. While somewhat impressive, it gets old early and feels like it’s starting to recycle ideas by the end of it, leaving the listener to mentally scream that they got the point and for the music to go on. This similar thing happens again towards the end after ushering in a small verse, finding chugging Sludge and another solo. This one feels a little fresher with the guitar contributions here. There’s also the nine and a half minute cut “Valley of the Kings,” which really just start hammering away with the same repetitive chords after a while and, by the time you get half way through, you can easily find yourself over the skip button. The track itself isn’t bad, but it’s more Stoner Rock kind of performance against Sludge Metal just gradually builds to a big letdown, even when the solo kicks in at the two thirds mark. This track, mych like “Darkness & Disguise” and “Technologicon,” also suffers from some hollow guitar solos. Once that kicks in, the music is stuck working with just the bass and drums to back it up, and in the end the performances don’t quite sound as good, though some parts of the solo do end up matching the tone of that supporting music well while still being mid-solo, allowing some portions to feel richer then the rest. Considering how long some of these can be, having a secondary guitarist for rhythm wouldn’t be such a bad element to invest consideration in.

On the Wings of Time closes with the song “The Sleeping Prophet,” the longest track off the release, clocking in at nearly ten minutes in length. We again find the band really pushing out longer bridges of just instrumental material and guitar solos, which actually ends up working well in this instance. While the band’s slight Blues influence has appeared through the release, this is where a lot of it all comes together well. The larger chunks don’t really fall into the filler category, and there’s a decent Blues input into these segments for this song that work with the rawer, muddier quality of the album, giving it a genuine Southern vibe. Of course, that additional style input is not what completely makes the song, as there are plenty of times where distortions play a factor and can actually set up a bit of a psychadelic experience that adds more to the song in Stoner Rock territory, something the band seemed to play with here and there through the release.

While On the Wings of Time isn’t really a bad album, it definitely suffers from it’s share of issues. The audio quality leaves a little to be desired at times, the solos end up suffering a bit from it, the snares are definitely too loud through most of the release, the vocals are way too low and either sound deep and rhaspy or clean and terribly off pitch with little to no enthusiasm behind them, and there are times where the songs just seem to take forever to end and could have had a couple minutes shaved off to make them flow better and drop a good deal of repetition. But amid all these faults, the songs are still good when you take it as a raw, independent release by the band, and look at the additional styles they do incorporate in, sometimes rather effectively. With the shorter tracks being the most interesting of them all, and “The Sleeping Prophet” showing off what the band is capable of better then any other song here, as well as closing out the album better then how it starts, Black Skies becomes a band that is worth keeping an eye on, even if just to check up on them from time to time and see if they have made any advancements in their music and the combinations of styles they use. There’s potential here, but for now there’s still some growth needed, and a bit of a stronger audio quality for future releases required, raw and muddy or not.

01. Rebirth – 5:21
02. Darkness & Disguise – 5:06
03. The Other Side of the Mountain – 7:33
04. Technologicon – 6:44
05. Valley of the Kings – 9:31
06. Weightless – 2:58
07. Earth Choker – 5:25
08. The Sleeping Prophet – 9:49
Overall Score: 6.5/10

Digital review copy of this release provided by Black Skies via Earsplit PR.