Blackwater: Blackwater

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Blackwater: Blackwater
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Blackwater: Blackwater
Doom Metal, Hard Rock, Stoner Rock
Self-release, The Path Less Traveled Records (Reissue)
January 17th, 2014 / April 15th, 2014 (Reissue)
Release length: 33:51
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Blackwater is a relatively new group based out of Normal, Illinois. They are a five-piece Hard Rock and Stoner Rock group, splashed with a hint of Doom Metal. Its ranks include the likes of Masterfister drummer Gary B. Hopkins and former Act of God guitarist Shayson V. Clay. On January 17th of this year, the band issued their debut self-titled full-length album themselves, finding mixed reception, though mostly positive. Eventually the band caught the attention of The Path Less Traveled Records, who picked up the recording for an April release. But is this an album that deserves some additional exposure, or is Blackwater a release destined to float along the sea of growing similar groups?

For the most part, Blackwater has a loud, slightly raw audio quality. The vocals often carry a watery effect to them that sounds like something you might find on early Ozzy-era Black Sabbath albums, though there are times where it seems to be dropped, or at least well masked. The music itself finds moderately lower tuning with somewhat crisp drums that carry a slight echo to them as well. The end result: An album that sounds like a mix between Alice in Chains and Danzig with a hint of modern Alternative Rock influence. This clearly isn’t a high budget offering, which is to be expected for an unsigned band who probably has limited funds to begin with, and in a way it works for what Blackwater is trying to achieve musically, even if it does make them sound like the definition of a bar band sans the cover songs.

“Final Solution” kicks off Blackwater with some solid chugging that actually screams more Death Metal than anything, though it doesn’t last, giving way to upbeat drums and Stoner Rock influence to the guitars. There are plenty of held notes to be found, filling the gaps in the main verses nicely to kind of drown out the impact of the effect on the somewhat enthusiastic singing, a sensation matched by the solid guitar solo towards the end that remains between the lines of energetic and slower hostility. While a great track, what follows rarely lives up to the expectations it bestows upon the listener, not even the cover of Judas Priest‘s “Deceiver.”

“Opposite Sides of Glass” is one of the more laid back Rock oriented offerings of the release. It’s not the most amazing, and it’s clear the band is going for a subtle epic touch to the music itself that shows through well enough. What sticks out the most of this simpler track is the near minimalistic melodic hooks of the chorus that add just enough emotion to compliment the hollow audio quality. Then there’s “Blackwater,” which is essentially the polar opposite. The song trudges along with loud, dismal sounding riffs throughout. The drums maintain the overall depressing tone of a funeral march, an environment reflected in the lyrics as well, though the voice performing those words is still on the enthusiastic side. It sounds like it would clash, especially given the vocal effect and the layering that hits from time to time, but it ends up a nice contrast to the misery.

Sadly it’s around the time of “Killing Fields” that this album starts to not only get a little on the unoriginal side, but also treads into mainstream Rock territory. The performance ushers in some Alice in Chains influence all around. The main verses chug along once more, but the chorus tries to be a bit more dynamic with singing that puts as much enthusiasm into the mix as possible. It’s not a bad song overall, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before either, as if trying to recreate some early gritty Southern Rock material to kick a few shots back and relax to. For that reason it’s hard to not at least appreciate this one for what it is. And then there’s the immediately recognizable Pearl Jam influence during “Cruxification.” The catchy chugging throws back to “Final Solution” in speed, the chorus shows a more upbeat and light-hearted Rock approach, and the bridge that follows adds a little more substance by including some layered riffs that turn into a guitar solo around the two minute mark.

The biggest drawback to Blackwater has to be the guitars and what little variety they present. It just sounds like the same notes played in a chugging manner at different speeds. The chorus is where a little variety comes into play, but they’re largely restricted to even more basic held notes or hooks. It’s usually the slower tracks that this works the best with, but there’s no arguing “Revenant” is one of the strongest tracks of this release. The main verses really rely on the louder bass guitar to sell it instead of simple chugging like usual, and the gradual increase in speed towards the chorus shows a little more range in the notes played with restrained vocals that work perfectly.

Aside a couple songs that show enough variety, Blackwater just doesn’t really deliver. This easily could have been remedied had the guitars shown a little more range instead of staying that flat, deeper chugging that litters nearly every song, and even laid off the watery vocal effects a bit, or at the very least held back on the enthusiasm more often. Blackwater just sounds like a bar band geared towards the twenty to thirty year old demographic that grew up on the bands already mentioned in this review and then some. And that’s fine if it’s what they are going for. Unfortunately it does lead to Blackwater being a largely uninspiring, bland, and incredibly boring experience.

01. Final Solution – 3:05
02. Opposite Sides of Glass – 4:25
03. Killing Fields – 4:42
04. Cruxification – 3:05
05. Bone Crusher – 4:21
06. Revenant – 3:51
07. Marching Back – 4:03
08. Blackwater – 3:29
09. Deceiver (Judas Priest cover) – 2:48
Initial Pressing Score: 4/10

Blackwater
Blackwater

Digital review copy of this release provided by The Path Less Traveled Records.