Review Summary: The sound of a band becoming an actual band..
With the release of Just Like Vinyl’s debut LP, lead singer/guitarist Thomas Erak proclaimed to the masses to expect “explosive guitar wild rock” and delivered on two of those adjectives. While there were indeed guitars and they did play rock, the album was by and large a boring and tame effort from a band obviously feeling themselves out. With the exception of the song “Death of the Sheep” there was nothing that could be called explosive or wild. Two years later, in a startling display of self-awareness, Erak (at no small amount of prodding from his band mates no doubt) and company realized that they needed to deliver on this promise and with “Black Mass”, did so amazingly.
The name of the game this go around is aggressiveness. One can feel the stark difference in the amount of effort put into making these songs feel punching and immediate. In the making of the self-titled, it was fairly evident that Erak had some weird infatuation with his own voice. Too many times were the instruments toned down to make room for his singing and as any fan of The Fall of Troy knows, and as strange as it sounds, Erak got his fame letting his guitar chops do the talking, not his voice. “Black Mass” is a record where the instruments shine, and they shine brightly. Frantic but controlled guitar work takes center stage with the riffs and progressions all making humongous leaps forward both in terms of writing and execution. The drumming also leveled-up and gives the package much of the added punch mentioned earlier.
The biggest accolade that can be given to “Black Mass” is it seems to have been written by a band way more so than the self-titled did. The self-titled gave off the feeling that Erak was trying too hard to write something different than what he did in the Fall of Troy and the result came off as largely contrived. The feel and direction of “Black Mass” in contrast, is loftier than one man’s ego. The increase in screaming (even after Erak was noted as saying screaming music is dead), the pedal-to-the-metal pacing, the simple fact that you can tell there are two guitarists in the band, hell, even the fact that the album is loosely poking fun at organized religion are all indicative of a band working as a band and the listener is much better off because of it.
Another interesting observation is how the album picks up as it goes along, with the wildest songs on the album being 4 of the last 5 on the album. That is not to say the front half of the album is slow or boring, but it is quite refreshing to hear an album that doesn’t die down near the end of it. One thing some people will notice and that so far has been ever present in Erak’s career is the vocal and lyrical quality. Erak’s vocals have always been firmly seated in the good-but-not-great category and while his voice has improved with age, his high notes and screams are still shrill enough to turn off some listeners. The lyrics are another occupant of the good-but-not-great group. The whole poking fun at organized religion is a tired shtick and while the lyrics aren’t so obvious about it as to induce eye-rolling, there are parts that show some obvious lack of ideas.
The idea in enjoying this album is not to think about all the stuff that Erak can or should’ve done. Has he shown he can write more technical songs than those on “Black Mass” in the past? Yes, much more so too, and while it seems he’s learned to play nicely with his band mates for now, this is Just Like Vinyl and with “Black Mass”, they finally delivered what was promised, some “explosive guitar wild rock.”