Black Sites – Exile

Nostalgia can often be treated with cynicism and suspicion. Oftentimes heralding the past can be seen to be a cheap way of living of someone else’s glory through pale imitation, or can equally be seen as a pointless endeavour that does nothing to progress the state of artistry. For those who are not naysayers of throwback music, it can provide a comfort and a safety net; the points of reference are starkly apparent and it does nothing to rock the boat leaving the listener with a warm sense of familiarity.

‘The Night They Came For You’ begins with a flurry of hammer-on bass notes and sets a deceptively Progressive framework for Exile (Hoove Child), before muscular power chords bring about the song’s true beginning. The song centres around a rotating riff that is at once jagged and off kilter, yet pleasing to the ear and infectious. The dual guitar harmonies in the later bridge section hark back to Thin Lizzy, the more progressive end of Iron Maiden’s oeuvre, and most of all Queensrÿche. The byzantine solo that heralds this string section gives an Eastern flavour that just about fits with the songs’ stylistic trappings, and helps to keep things fresh as a segue between the verse/chorus template.

From here on out the album takes a turn for the less overtly progressive, and nods towards the anthemic end of NWOBHM. ‘To The Fire’ is a standard Power Rock song that ambles its way through a basic template with a reasonable amount of vigour, but lacks the explosive passion of its predecessor, as well as the intrigue. Once again the twin lead guitars provide that nod to the band’s undeniable influences of days gone by, and it becomes harder to believe that this album is from 2019 and not 1989. This style is echoed in ‘Feral Child’, once again a Rock song with a little too much Queensrÿche worship to it. The song utilises worn metaphors and clichés for its lyrical content, and attempts to gain some Prog credibility by playing in a discordant manner, as do the odd time signature changes on ‘Dream Long Dead’. It’s a clash of styles that don’t coalesce into anything more than a song to sing along to. There’s a lack of passion or sincerity to Black Sites‘ music that is hard to ignore.

The album’s production speaks of a desperate willingness to return to the 1980s. For the most part, the guitars are dry and thin, with bass so low in the mix that all the punch is missing from the songs that should be stadium ready. The performances themselves are proficient enough, but hardly inspiring, particularly on ballad ‘Coal City’, a song that could speak wonders of the band’s craftsmanship with soaring dynamism, but instead plods through a template handed down by their forefathers. The entire album has a sense that there is something far more interesting being stifled by mundanity and an unrelenting desire for a time machine.

Exile is a remarkably average album. With uninspired yet adept performances, there is little for the listener to latch on to; the album floats by inoffensively and lacks memorability. The most grating and detrimental aspect of the record is its unapologetic need to trade on other bands’ former glories; there’s a hint of modernity in the opening track but for the remainder of the album both feet are firmly planted in the past.

6 / 10