Monday 15 August 2022

Black Rose - WTF (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jun 2022
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Here's another band I didn't expect to see new product from. Black Rose hail from Middlesbrough and were part of the NWOBHM era, though they didn't release an album until 1984's Boys Will Be Boys. I have a couple of their albums but remember them mostly for the session they recorded for the Friday Rock Show in 1986, during the era when I was recording that show religiously. It's good to see them back with what's their fourth album rather than the third I expected, as Curse for Your Disease was released in 2010 when I wasn't paying attention.

What's immediately obvious here is that this is a much heavier album than I remember them ever being. That's not a bad thing, of course, but it doesn't seem like a Tokyo Blade situation where the labels pushed them in musical directions they shouldn't have taken and, now that they're playing for the sake of the music rather than the money, they're doing what they want. Black Rose were a lot more consistent in style back in the day, but have chosen to heavy up, even though three of the four current members were in the band back in the eighties. This isn't a hard and heavy album. It's heavy metal pure and simple.

To be fair, the heaviness is initially most obvious in the bass, which was contributed by the newest member of the band, Kiko Rivers, who joined in 2003 when the band officially reformed after over a decade out. That bass fits very well with the drums of Paul Fowler, the newest recruit, though he was there at the tail end of their original run, and it fits pretty well with the guitars too, which I'd say are downtuned quite a bit from their old days. Steve Bardsley's vocals remain clean though, as Black Rose aren't going extreme here, just heavy.

How heavy you might ask? Well, they flirt with doom on Devils Candy, but it's too lively otherwise to warrant that categorisation. Under My Skin opens up in the vein of Anthrax's Medusa, which is not remotely as fast as I remember it. That feel's there on the title track too, though the tone of the guitars as the song goes into the middle solo, reminds more of One by Metallica, albeit not as frantic. Detonator, which sounds like a speed metal song just from its title, has an urgency to it I'd associate with speed metal, though it never ramps up to that sort of pace.

So there's the new Black Rose sound, for the most part. It's heavier than it used to be, still rooted in the NWOBHM era but with at least a toe in doom and with firm acknowledgement of speed and thrash, if not actually venturing into those genres. I say for "the most part" because it's easily the majority of the album, but there's a bit more here that diversifies their sound. I wouldn't say that they're really just winding back the clock to 1985 anyway, even if so much of what they're doing is a fair estimate of what they could have done back then. But it's a couple of songs that feature much more modern elements that highlight how deliberate that approach is and how it's not absolute.

The easiest to grasp is Tattoos and Lipstick, which is pretty consistent with earlier songs but finds a fascinating cross between a Shout at the Devil-era Mötley Crüe vibe and a heads down Pantera riff assault. The riffs are a bit more groove oriented, the solos and melodies are a bit more flashy and the result is a bit more American party than British pub. It's a departure but it's not a big one and it plays well alongside the earlier stuff.

The harder to figure out is Pain, which comes right after the title track early in the album, as we're getting used to this new Black Rose sound. And Pain has a very different approach, reminding of a band as utterly unlike every comparison I've mentioned thus far as Creed. This isn't that different from a Creed single, merely using a mix that has the instruments turned up and the vocals down. I have to admit that the recognition took me aback, but it sounds good, perhaps because the song is far perkier than Creed ever were and it really is a song, not a therapy session dumped on a crowd.

I like this new Black Rose. They were a good hard rock band back in the day and, while I can't recall the last time I listened to Walk It Like You Talk It, I actually played the repeat of their Friday Rock Show session recently, preferring it to the new one that week by the Alliance. I wondered, as I do a great deal listening to those shows forty years on, whatever happened to them. Well, they got the band back together and they're arguably better now than they've ever been. That's my good news for the day. And that's got nothing to do with the fact that my next book will also be called WTF!?

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