Music review

Just Rock – Black Water Rising’s Nameless Riffs

Brooklyn’s Black Water Rising’s second effort capitalizes on the band’s self-proclaimed moniker: “No frills riff rock.” At that explanation, the band’s image is already settled onto a plane riddled with derivative radio butt rockers like Pop Evil and Saliva. But let’s not count out their second album, Pissed and Driven just yet, because it’s not a bad record. On the other hand, it’s not great either. It’s a rock record. What kind of rock? Grinding rhythmic rock? Intricate speed rock? Neither. Pissed and Driven is just a rock record and that’s its biggest problem.

The tones on Pissed and Driven vary considerably throughout the album. “Pissed N Driven” is a revving adrenaline-soaked joyride, while lead single “Dance with the Devil” brings on the Alice in Chains-inspired sludge with steady paces and singer Rob Traynor’s snarling croon. “Last Man Standing” is a song that bursts with personality, something that the album doesn’t necessarily flaunt. The guitars are usually downtuned extremely low throughout the album (like in the sludgy “All Gone”), which makes for a rough and grindy sound reminiscent of groove metal like Pantera and early nu-metal like Deftones. This kind of rhythmic guitar aesthetic is something that could make the band’s sound blossom, but it isn’t utilized in a personal manner and is introduced in a pedestrian and unneeded way. It doesn’t have an accurate focus, it doesn’t sound cohesive: it wanders aimlessly.

Guitarist Dennis Kimak’s Zakk Wylde/Dimebag Darrel inspired solos are revving examples of great shredding (especially during the solos of songs like “Pissed N Driven”), while vocalist/guitarist Traynor brings on the downtuned grinds. While rhythm becomes the key element on a majority of the songs, the parts of the album that sound the most exciting are the faster, more energized ones like “The Allure of Self Destruction,” a fantastically composed song that manages to bring up enthusiastic vibes despite its clear metal roots. There’s a virtuosity in the musicians’ bones that begs to be free; it’s clearly there, but only for a short moment.

Some songs, however, don’t demonstrate enough creativity or fluidity in their sound. “Along for the Ride” aims for a smoother groove, but ends up sounding boring with uninspired lyrics and a tempo that doesn’t sound as tight as it should. “Fire it Up” has some fantastic guitar solos, but once again, the boring vocals and nu-metal-sounding rhythms tend to overstay their welcome. The whole album’s sense of indirection is really what makes it so underwhelming. The metal sides of the musicianship are great and some of the more traditional hard rock bits are good at times too, but just as you’re beginning to see a vision in one great song, the entire picture shifts and you’re listening to something different and generally less appealing.

In that regard, it’s tough to see the kind of direction that Black Water Rising is trying to achieve with this album. The variety throughout the album is surprisingly well-done, but at the same time, it’s scatterbrained and unfocused. You just can’t tell what kind of rock band Black Water Rising wants to be. The use of rhythmic grinding guitars in addition to faster, speed-metal influenced guitar solos make the album’s otherwise honed rock fundamentals disperse into something formless and difficult to identify. Black Water Rising’s already ambiguous description of themselves is a sign that they need to develop their personality beyond just “riff rock.” Pissed and Driven isn’t a terrible record at all, but at the same time, it’s not great at all either. It’s just rock. Riff rock. And right now, I’m not entirely sure that anyone can really say what that means.

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