Graded on a Curve: Blackout, Blackout

The Brooklyn trio Blackout specializes in a particularly heavy form of metal. Additional adjectives applying to their self-titled 7-song long-playing debut: sludgy, dense, thick, doomy. Few will describe them as original, though that’s hardly the objective. Rather, the aim is the inspired exploration of an esteemed style, and to this end Blackout succeeds. It’s out now on RidingEasy Records.

Blackout’s new LP first came to my attention while checking messages on my laptop. In so doing, the thumbnail image of the cover glimpsed above was reduced to roughly the size of, well, a thumbnail, and my immediate reaction before reading any clarifying text was that the email in question was promoting a mid-‘70s-vintage reissue.

It’s likely I would’ve thought the same had I stumbled over the record as I perused the B bin at my local wax shack. For starters, it’s a flat fact that the utilization of band photographs as cover art is far less common than it used to be, and by extension Blackout’s B&W portraiture, and the abundant locks and facial hair it captures, are the focal point of an undeniably retro design motif.

It reinforces the differences in Blackout’s approach, though Sabbath-roots aside the group doesn’t sound like they escaped from the ‘70s. No, part of their distinctiveness comes down to an undisguised sense of humor, which certainly stands apart in a field known for a high ratio of solemnity. This comic facet is healthy but not obnoxious, for no yuk-meisters are they; once the amps are plugged in and the picks and sticks are in hand, Blackout is a decidedly serious proposition.

Serious yet not grave; spurred to life at a 4th of July cookout back in 2011, they do wield a pronounced freaky side, a reality enhanced by another band picture that’s made the rounds, this one in full color. A partial inventory of the snap’s contents: a dashiki, a stars-and-stripes bikini top, cutoff camouflage shorts, a rifle, a prosthetic leg, a smoldering cigar, a nautical hat, and a tall tumbler emblazoned with the letters TCB.

Blackout was formed by guitarist-vocalist and “one-legged bartender/artist/BBQ enthusiast” Christian Gordy in tandem with drummer and “former Hooter’s waitress turned big time commercial film editor” (no exaggeration; she worked on Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha) Taryn Waldman, the two joining forces at the above-cited holiday shindig; given the tags found at their Bandcamp it’s safe to say meat was on the grill.

The duo’s good friend Justin Sherrell entered the equation on bass shortly thereafter and in early 2013 the self-released 6-song EP “We Are Here” emerged. Effective as a statement of purpose, it also placed Blackout’s influences right out in the open; in metallic terms this isn’t a bit unusual. While in numerous other genres outfits gravitate toward diversity and inspirations at least somewhat hidden, Blackout (like many of their stylistic peers) eschews range for the attempted perfection of a well-established sound.

“We Are Here” made it apparent that two of Blackout’s models were Melvins and Sleep, though it bears mentioning the result is no carbon copy. I definitely wouldn’t confuse them with either predecessor, and the Melvins example, while surely sonically relevant, has seemingly been absorbed by Blackout as a lesson in doing whatever they want regardless of outside expectations; and so, their respectful transmogrification of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Grind,” taped last year at Converse Studio (and if this tidbit mentally links Blackout’s cover with Buckingham Nicks, rest easy for you’re not alone).

The EP was satisfactory as an introductory salvo, but Blackout is a tangible step forward. Only a few minutes longer than “We Are Here,” it unwinds like a well-considered full-length, and places one of its strongest entries in the opening spot; “Lost” begins with about a minute of feedback, a fitting prelude to the heaviness to follow and a gesture underscoring Blackout’s occasional nods to psychedelia.

Where a fair share of contempo sludge/doom hovers at a plodding pace to intermittently connect with gut-punches, the muscle harnessed in “Lost” methodically grows into a bludgeoning groove. There’s swagger in Waldman’s beats and Sherrell’s distorted tones, and Gordy’s axe impressively roars and splatters in tandem with his forcefulness at the microphone.

His voice is aggressively raw but not so guttural that it seems as if he’s been summoned from the depths of Hades for the purpose of nefarious bidding. Mostly he just sounds severely pissed-off, a quality lending a punk aspect to the title track and much of the LP. Indeed, Gordy’s flat-out rage in “Blackout” is accompanied by a punishingly dense velocity, and it gives way to a midsection of explored riff-thud that builds back up and briefly returns to the prior momentum for the finale.

All of the album’s selections reach or exceed the four-minute mark, the durations allowing for structural changes amongst the wallop. This assists in the avoidance of monotony, though they maintain a firm grasp upon sustained power; “Nightmare” contains a number of adjustments, but Blackout never squander the intensity. Furthermore, it provides the members room to shine from within the trio dynamic.

Waldman and Sherrell are in peak form here, as are the spots where Gordy’s layered vocals undertake an appealingly psych tangent. “Nightmare” is followed by “Sprites” (Blackout retains the use of one-word titles they began on “We Are Here”), the side closer opening with a gnarly guitar progression accented by the thump of Waldman’s kick drum.

It’s an appropriate beginning to a solid if unsurprising excursion into doom-laden territory, and the riff thunder of “Cross” continues the journey on the flip as Blackout throw a crafty false ending into the cut. However, “Cross” mainly sets the stage for the combo punch of the disc’s two best (and longest) tracks, the assault of “Tannered” becoming especially bruising around mid-way through.

Shrewdly, Gordy saves his wickedest lick for last; it begins the sludge-beast of “Human” as Waldman batters the sweet hell out of her kit and Sherrell conjures some brutally low tones. Deftly the pace quickens, Gordy’s throat now in the fray, the tempo rising and falling as an outbound solo arises, the colossal triangle pummeling to the finish.

They aren’t missteps, but “Sprites” and “Cross” are a tad lesser, and they slightly reduce the heft of Blackout’s whole. This LP does lend the suspicion that these three have the combined moxie to create a masterfully ass-beating record, and I can’t imagine an active sludge/doom fan wouldn’t want to get in on the ground floor. Collectors take note: RidingEasy is offering Blackout in a limited (to 75 copies) Die Hard edition; specifically, that’s clear vinyl in a velvet cover with foil-stamped text for a mere 40 smackers.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text