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Album Review : Black Stone Cherry – Screamin’ At The Sky

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Review by Andy Hawes for MPM

Hold onto your hats, people, for Black Stone Cherry, purveyors of some of the best and most thunderous Post-Grunge modern Hard Rock come storming back into action with their new masterwork, Screamin’ At The Sky, their eighth album and what a corker of an album it is too!

The press biog that accompanies the review copy of this album informs us that this is the first recorded album with new bassist Steve Jewel Jr. It features songs written on tour and drums recorded at the Plaza Theatre in Glasgow, Kentucky and is pretty much business as usual for a band whose career has been remarkably consistent and remarkably good.

Fans of the band will be delighted to hear that the signature Black Stone Cherry approach of thunderous down-tuned Hard-Rock riffery combined with wickedly catchy melodic hooks and soulfully powerful vocals is fully intact here. The album roars into life with the truly glorious and rifftastic title track ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’ which powers along like an out of control juggernaut, annihilating everything in its path and showing no mercy.

‘Nervous’ follows and demonstrates that’s everything great about the band as they pile on huge riffs, quieter and more subtle verses, well-constructed bridge sections and a monstrous chorus with some quite stunning layers of guitar: colossal power chords and gorgeous guitar counterpoint melodies backing up the insanely catchy melodies.

‘When The Pain Comes’ starts off like a 70s classic rock track with strummed clean chords before a monstrous riff bounces in – it really does bounce – just listen to the way the low pedal note rhythmically ‘bounces’ against the rest of the riff: Brilliant! The track boasts another monumentally huge chorus and an almost Thrash Metal style middle 8 riff under the solo. What a track! It’s at this point that I truly notice the drums for the first time: they really have an unearthly power about them, with the kick and snare snapping through the mix beautifully. Clearly the Plaza Theatre’s legendary acoustics have had a big impact on the sound!

‘Out Of Pocket’ is another track big on the down-tuned riffs, but once again the band play the dynamics card with a beautifully subtle verse section, all delicate melodies and harmony vocals before the big guitars scythe in like a nuclear missile on yet another massive chorus. The bass is particularly fine on this track, with a quite wicked tone – imagine a slightly more polite Lemmy – style tone and you’re not far from the ballpark! The guitar harmonies that sneak in and out of the chorus riffery are superb and the brief solo, laden with octave effects is really cool – simple but oh, so effective!

‘Show Me What It Feel Like’ has a cool stop-start intro riff and more fabulous layers of guitar all driven along by those glorious drums. Not quite as heavy as its predecessors, this track has an almost funky groove in the stunningly catchy chorus and proves (if we needed proof) that the boys are not just a heavy riff one-trick pony. It even has a slight element of early Iron Maiden in the chorus riff, where the guitars harmonise like in days of old! It’s an absolutely brilliant track and its place in the running order is just perfect, giving us a momentary breather from all the thunderous heaviosity that has gone before.

‘Raindrops On A Rose’ continues the Classic Rock themes with more quite brilliant songwriting and wonderful production and arrangements. I love the way the bass drives the verses and the way the chorus powers in with massive slabs of guitar behind an almost Pop melody. Chuck in a wonderful wah-wah drenched solo and this piece of Classic Rock influenced brilliance is complete! This could be my favourite song so far, which is a tough call to make as everything has been stunning thus far!

The monster riffery returns on ‘Smile, World’ which is an awesome slab of grooving Hard Rock magnificence with the usual wonderfully melodic vocals and an achingly soulful guitar solo to break up those explosive riffs.

‘The Mess You Made’ is next. Opening with some very Lemmy-esque bass, it slams in with another planet-levelling riff before a really interestingly produced verse section where guitars and bass alternate in driving the song along. The chorus on this one really is crazily catchy; all major key melodies and very ‘Pop’ in its melodic choices, but the huge slabs of guitar behind it destroy any lingering Pop vibes. Add another very Metal riff solo section and closing riff and we’ve got another winner on our hands. I love the way that Black Stone Cherry combine all these influences and come out with tracks that just sound like them. Quite brilliant!

The same themes are evident on ‘Who Are You’ which once again is produced ad arranged quite brilliantly, with clever use of guitar layers to add dymanics or power and to break up the track. The time changes in the solo section and the immensity of the riff behind the solo are hard to categorize, but are absolutely brilliant.

Moving on we get ‘Not Afraid’ which has another of those typical Black Stone Cherry riffs. The intensity of the guitar sounds throughout the album have been quite something and in particular I do love the way that lead guitar counter-melodies kick in behind some of the choruses – this one being case in point. It really lifts the choruses, especially when added to wickedly catchy vocal melodies and those superb harmony vocals.

We’re heading for home now and we’ve not had a ballad yet. ‘Here’s To The Hopeless’ starts off all slow and quite delicate with a beautifully subtle verse section – all clean guitars and gentle melodies. But then the chorus kicks in! It’s not quite a ballad, but it does bring the crushing Hard Rock energy down a just little. That said, it’s a bloody fabulous, highly melodic and wonderfully emotive track. The melodies are beautiful and the guitar solo fits like a charm. The lightest track on the album, it’s an absolute gem and one I always look forward to when playing the album.

The final track ‘You Can Have It All’ takes us back to the Hard Rock majesty of most of the album, with more crushing slabs of guitar, driving distorted bass and wickedly catchy melody, ending proceedings with the same planet-destroying power we started with.

Phew!! What. An. Album!!

I’m the first to admit that heavy stuff like this is not my usual go-to. I’m an AOR fan first and foremost, but I do have a massive soft-spot for Black Stone Cherry and this album is an absolutely awesome addition to their already mightily impressive back-catalogue. Fans of the band must pick this up on release as it’ll be an essential listen for them for sure. But for Rock fans in general it’s similarly essential: Like colossal riffery? You’ll find it here! Like catchy melodies? Here in spades, mate! A fan of soulful, Southern-Rock influenced power vocals? Yup, here by the bucketload! Basically, whatever you want out of your Rock music you’ll find it here. Each and every band member plays and sings out of their skin on this and the quality of the writing and production is second to none.

I’ve reviewed some bloody great music this year so far for Metal Planet, and honestly, this album is up there with the very best of them. You’ll not hear many better this year, of that I am certain. Absolutely classic stuff from a band who can do no wrong. Catch them when they tour over here because these songs will absolutely SLAY in the live arena. Totally and utterly brilliant and absolutely essential!

Screamin’ At The Sky’ tracklisting:

  1. Out Of Pocket
  2. Screamin’ At The Sky
  3. Nervous
  4. When The Pain Comes
  5. Show Me What It Feels Like
  6. R.O.A.R
  7. Smile, World
  8. The Mess You Made
  9. Who Are You Today?
  10.  Not Afraid
  11.  Here’s To The Hopeless
  12.  You Can Have It All 

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