Review Summary: About as normal as it gets.
To a laymen of Wes Borland’s work, yet accustomed to the frivolous antics of Limp Bizkit there’s a common assumption made. A backhanded comment of sorts that goes along the lines of “the guitarist in Limp Bizkit is a bit eccentric with all that crazy stuff he wears on stage, isn’t he" Still, he’s definitely the most talented member of the band.”
It’s this type of remark that gives Wes credit, yet diminishes its validity when it comes from someone who enjoys “Rollin’” and not much else or hates the band altogether. It’s like saying “he’s good, but it doesn’t say much, does it"”
Indeed, Borland’s talent extends and elevates Limp Bizkit to the nth degree but to dismiss or undermine any of his work outside of Bizkit would be a fatal mistake. In 2007 Black Light Burns critical debut proved two things. 1: Borland could create a grounded album that didn’t rely on anomalous ideas and gimmicks to alienate a mainstream audience like Big Dumb Face did; and 2: it solidified his status as an exceptionally diverse writer and musician.
Picture it for a second: you’ve heard Significant Other
and a track from Big Dumb Face, not your jam, right" Now imagine the atmospheric axe-wielding wizardry of Limp Bizkit integrated with burly grooves, crunchy industrial resonance and authoritative guitar solos. It’s the kind of sound you’d hear if Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle entered a triple-threat, bare-knuckle brawl with each other. Tracks are deep, multifaceted pieces where you can spend hours listening and peeling away at them to reveal new dimensions. But just hearing the record at face-value you’ll still be getting an unassailable rhythm section, great guitar work that delivers grooving rock tunes and a punctuation of skin-peeling metal influence to bring a sharp edge to the sound. “The Mark” and “Coward” share the same characteristics and would sell the entire project to a fan of frenetic, Titanic sized riffs that fluctuate synergistically with Wes’ excellent vocals. Which brings me onto another crucial aspect to this LP’s success, which is the lyric and vocal work.
For a first attempt at singing, Borland grabs the bull by the horns. Going all out to make sure songs like “Animal” or “Lie” become undeniably enticing. Hooks and ear pleasing melodies are in abundance while his lyrical style helps the music become even more engrossing; well-placed word arrangements and metaphors are paramount to his approach and result in a balance that is both surprisingly concise and smart.
Lyrics on “The Mark”:
“If hate is a fist and love is a flame, I’m gonna smash it and burn it ‘cause it’s all the same.”
"I’ve gotta focus my attention, ‘cause confidence is key, when violating trust. I’m making sure that I believe I’m doing what I must, which is attempting to kill the little boy inside, but as hard as I try… The child will not die.”
These are just two examples of songs that talk about pretty clear-cut subjects but have a clever word placement or hidden message, a running theme throughout. Subject matter on “Lie” touches on Wes’ contempt for the music industry and his childlike naivety as being weakness against the cigar-chewing sharks up top; “Coward” and “The Mark” go into detail on his inability to love properly, having people get hurt when they come into contact with him; while the latter section of songs goes into a more cryptic and ambiguous writing style.
The vocal work here is a renowned success, but it’s undoubtedly the music that takes the prize. The body of Cruel Melody
’s sound is centred around a riff-groove mindset, which is dominating in the first half of the album. But this is far from a one-trick pony and the second side of the LP serves up a wealth of elegant colours and textures to support the standard bass, drums, guitar setup. The sombre strings and doleful performances from Johnette and Wes on “I Am Where It Takes Me” is an excellently leftfield track that brings further depth and emotion to the tracklist; while closing track “Iodine Sky” continues to lower the heartrate with a whirl of Floydian guitar effects and ice-pick attacking keyboard notes that pierce the beautiful soundscape on offer. All-in-all a surprising yet elating way to finish the album off. The progression of Cruel Melody
is also worth a mention; starting off heavy, the album works its way to sending you into the skies with “Iodine Sky” at the end. The tracklist feels consciously crafted: abrasive at the start before gradually working on implementing these washy electronics and effects. “Stop A Bullet” is the apogee for its concept, mixing pulsating drums, heavy swinging rhythms and a crescendo building finish, while using up an equal part of space for experimentation, creating a weirdly unique vibe to the song at hand. Honestly, Black Light Burns has an immaculate track record and even though things get a little more experimental and weird hereafter, this is the conventional starting point to an excellent journey. If you’re a fan of alt-rock or any one of the many sub-genres this album has to offer, you need to check it out.
PACKAGING: The European edition is an 8-panel digi-pack.
SPECIAL EDITION: European edition comes with 4 bonus tracks, two remixes and two additional songs. “Kill the Queen” being a real highlight.