River Black, ‘River Black’ – Album Review
New Jersey metallic hardcore bruisers Burnt By the Sun released their final album Heart of Darkness in 2009 and went their separate ways. Nearly a decade later, three of their members have reunited to form River Black. Vocalist Mike Olender, guitarist John Adubato and drummer Dave Witte (Municipal Waste, Discordance Axis) are joined by Revocation bassist Brett Bamberger on their self-titled debut.
As to why they chose a different moniker, Olender says, “River Black is much more rhythm oriented and relatively straight forward and so forth. I think it's just got a very different feel to it. Plus, with Brett in the band, he has a very different style and energy than Ted Patterson from Burnt By the Sun did. Some people, they may hear similarities in it, but to us it sounds totally different.”
That rhythm is evident on the opener “Jaws,” with giant grooves and aggressive barks from Olender. They increase the tempo at the start of “Honor,” dial it back in the middle and crank it back up for the duration. Like all good metallic hardcore albums, there's plenty of angst and anger throughout the album, and now that the guys are older, are able to focus and hone those emotions into a razor sharp weapon.
Slow, deliberate chugging on tracks like “Low” is contrasted by more frantic riffing on songs such as “Boat” and “Move.” Producer Eric Rachel (Hatebreed, Every Time I Die) gives the low end plenty of volume, displaying Bamberger and Witte's rhythmic chops. Adubato's guitar tone is spot on, and for having been away from the industry for a while, Olender doesn't miss a beat, delivering a passionate and powerful performance.
Being a parent helped shape Olender's lyrical approach, as he says when he became a parent a lot of instincts he didn't know existed were suddenly there front and center: “It made it much more personal; more personal and more of a primal response to things, more instinctual as opposed to intellectual or academic, which is kind of what I tried to aim for with other records I've done over the years.”
You'll hear some melodic vocals on “Haunt,” but it isn't Olender. They brought in Mastodon's Brann Dailor to lend his dulcet tones to the track. The mix of brutality and melody makes it one of the album's more compelling songs.
Burnt By the Sun's DNA is evident in River Black and fans of that band will definitely dig the new album, but River Black carves its own path. It's an apt name, twisting and turning as it carries you along through both raging rapids and calmer waters.