Wednesday 15 October 2014

Black Map - …And We Explode (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 28/10/2014
Label: Minus Head Records

‘…And We Explode’ CD/DD track listing:

1). Code
2). And We Explode, Pt. 1
3). I’m Just The Driver
4). Gold
5). Eyes On The Prize
6). Chinaski
7). Melee
8). Head For The Hills
9). Gemini
10). Stranger
11). Ropes
12). And We Explode, Pt. 2

The Band:

Ben Flanagan | vocals/guitars (The Trophy Fire)
Mark Engles | Guitar (Dredg)
Chris Robyn | Drums (Far)


Black Map are a surprising package. Comprising of three already established musicians, they each imprint their own level of individuality to this record. Guitarist and vocalist Ben Flanagan [The Trophy Fire] constructs songs that wouldn’t sound out of place in the waiting room at the pearly gates – they have that dreamy, celestial quality to them that evokes the feeling that good times are ahead. Add to that second guitarist Mark Engles’ [Dredg] heavier cutting edge and Chris Robyn’s [Far] rock solid back beats that really help to accentuate their dreamy qualities and the result is decidedly massive. There are, at times, hints of Queen of the Stone Age’s arena selling sound that bridges the gap between groovy heavy stoner rock and radio friendly, accessible rock. You can imagine cavernous venues singing along united by these anthemic tracks, if only the world would listen.

Aptly, the band often explode into the most surging of riffs, designed to shake the floor and rattle ear drums, but it’s Ben Flanagan’s vocal melodies, dispersed across the record like a dandelion floating in the wind, that have you returning to the album.

It took a mere month for Black Map to make the transition from that first jam session to Hellam Sound studio in Oakland. As such, there’s a pleasing sense of unclutteredness about the songs on offer here. They sound natural, free and it’s that sense of free spirit that gives ‘…And We Explode’ it’s encapsulating glow. 

A whirl of ambient feedback preludes the opening explosion of the record on ‘Code’; a spinning, aperture riff drenched in groove and tom heavy, pounding drums. It flows wistfully into a ricocheting verse and towering chorus where Flanagan first unleashes his windpipes to great effect.  

‘Chinaski’ and ‘Gold’ descend into glorious riffs that launch themselves every which way like shrapnel from a hand grenade. Their sky-scraper choruses and deft emphasis on infectious melodicism help reign in the craziness, widening the appeal of the band for many. While I would personally prefer an orientation more towards the heavy, freak-out jams this band are founded upon, you have to admire the way they merge the paradox of soft interludes, hazy vocal hooks and the all-round elegance of it all with those iron-wrought riffs.  

Where they burst into more punk like rhythms, there’s a real driving energy to them. ‘Gemini’ is a voracious, wham-bam-thank-you-mam of a song at just 2:24. ‘Gold’s’ occasional forays into punk acceleration meanwhile give the song a real multi-faceted charisma.

‘Ropes’ delivers a fast paced, catchier-than-the-plague slab of rock n’ roll. Chord driven, the two guitarists complement each other nicely, weaving in and out of one another’s playing. Then ‘And We Explode Pt 2’ closes the curtain on the record with a soft, soul-revealing hymn like track in a rather unexpected but thoroughly welcome fashion.

While you could accuse the record of being somewhat formulaic – it never really strays too far from the triad of heavy yet easy on the ear riffs, emotive earworm vocals and the occasional dip in dynamics to more wistful passages – it is, in all, inoffensive and fun. The band formed, wrote and recorded the album in no time at all and so we can’t expect a masterpiece. It wasn’t supposed to be a record to labour over. This is the raw, unbridled sound of three dudes making music that comes naturally to them. ‘Ropes’ aside, they may find they’ve put all their strongest tracks at the forefront of the record, but when they fire on all cylinders within that aforementioned triad; then you have something to delight in.          

Words: Phil Weller

You can pick up a copy here

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