Apparently River Black is yet another so called “supergroup”. It holds guitarist John Adubato and drummer David Witte (Municipal Waste) as the creators of the band after they ended Burnt By The Sun. The duo recruited bassist Brett Bamberger (Revocation) and former Burnt By The Sun collaborator Mike Olender for the vocals. With their self-titled debut album they intend to keep the spirit and energy from their old project going, but taking a heavier approach. Their style is a blend of thrash metal, death metal, hardcore and other influences, creating a damn groovy and relentless fist straight in the face.
Since I wasn’t too familiar with their old project Burnt By The Sun, I checked some of their work out. And compared to that band it’s easily surmised that for River Black they took a much more straightforward style of music. While in earlier work they put down a complex sounding mix of metalcore and mathcore with hints in sound to the groove masters Mastodon, this time you just get blasted with an onslaught of heavy riffs and angry hardcore attitude. They definitely know their riffs and are packing a shitload of them in every single track. Personally I’m actually a bit of a bigger fan of this kind of simple bombshell of a sound. One thing that is maybe a bit of a letdown are the drums: hearing what lays within the capabilities of Witte, I feel that in quite some of the songs his talent is a bit unused. But hey, maybe that’s just part of the overall plan/idea for the band… no bullshit, just blowing up your eardrums.
One thing is sure: straight from the start you get a kind of energy thrown at you that grabs you by the throat, smacks you against the wall and doesn’t let you go until a bit over half an hour later. On opener Jaws Mike immediately starts shouting his lungs out with some hardcore/thrash metal vocals that with times sound as if you’re listening to some vicious barking dog. Those kind of vocals combined with groovy mix of thrash and death metal riffs creates the kind of music that is sure to bring slaughter and destruction to a moshpit live. And that’s basically what you get the whole album throughout. There are some tempo changes within the songs and some of them turn towards more of a mid-tempo instead of a constant obliterating fastness, but overall there aren’t big differences between the tracks. Luckily the raw energy of River Black brings enough to the table to keep it interesting enough to hold your attention until the very end.
Stand-out songs besides Jaws (just because it was the first introduction to their sound, I hold this one dear) are to start with definitely the partnership between the instrumental interlude of River Black and South x South. The interlude comes as a surprise after 4 tracks of heavy music but is a welcome “palate cleanser”. What makes these 2 tracks so interesting together is that they take the melody of River Black‘s string quartet and infuse it into South x South. You can hear it in the guitar, you can hear it in the basslines and you can find the sound of the strings in the background on regular occasions, a subtle and interesting touch. River Black is basically the intro for South x South, but if you don’t feel for 45 seconds of strings first, you can just skip straight to the heavy bit.
But the most surprising (and my favorite) track of the album has to be Haunt. Like I mentioned earlier their old project Burnt By The Sun often had a lot of similarities in sound with Mastodon. On River Black‘s album I can find that back quite much as well, it just sounds maybe a tad bit less complicated. I guess it can’t be much of a surprise then that one of the guys of Mastodon ended up contributing some guest vocals on these guys’ debut. The combination of the harsh hardcore vocals and more “haunting” clean vocals by Brann Dailor just works flawlessly and confirms to me that River Black is a great addition to the metal community.
River Black delivered with their self-titled debut album half an hour of guitar riff onslaught and raw power that isn’t for the fainthearted. If you like what these guys were doing in Burnt By The Sun, there’s a good chance you’ll find some qualities in this release that you’ll like. Just don’t expect it to be too complicated, they’ve gone for heaviness and darkness here. Fans of the older more harsh/heavy work of Mastodon, will definitely find themselves liking these guys. I’m already looking forward what more might be coming from these guys!
Release Date: July 7th, 2017
Label: Season of Mist
5. River Black
6. South x South
10. Haunt (ft. Brann Dailor)