Album Review: BLACK MAP In Droves
Formed from members of Dredg, Far, and The Trophy Fire, this trio caught my attention a few years ago. I'll admit to not being fully knowledgeable on their past bands, yet I definitely feel that I am a fan of what Black Map has released thus far. As the group has slowly garnered acclaim from jumping on tours as the opener for larger hard rock acts, they seemed to have pigeonholed themselves as such. While Black Map and Chevelle seem to be constant tour mates lately, I would argue there is much more substance to their music to be simply tied down to an opening act.
Back in 2014, I became hooked to their debut LP, …And We Explode, frequently revisiting the record. While it was soaked in the typical tones and structures of hard rock contemporaries, I found each song to have a compelling and intelligent hook. "Run Rabbit Run," the lead single off their new album, would fit right into the track listing of their last record. As the LP continues on though, the songs become less straight-forward and conventional to the alternative and hard rock genre. For example, "No Color" provides an eccentric rhythm for the riff in an almost proggy style. "Ruin" and "Coma Phase" are also other highlight heavy pieces that show off interesting composition techniques.
With twelve songs presented, there is a healthy variety of tempo and style. Although dynamic diversity is essential for an enjoyable album, some of the low energy tracks like "Dead Ringer," "White Fence," and "Cash for the Fears" turn out being duds for the most part. The emphasis on the vocal melodies and the guitar being pushed back in the mix was a bit of a downer. Regardless, the band proves they are still capable of writing low key, yet powerful tunes such as "Foxglove" or "Heavy Waves."
It's difficult to argue that Black Map holds a sense of originality when influences like Chevelle, Bush, or Deftones are easily heard on these tracks. I suppose the characteristic that allows the band to stand out is their skill in songwriting. They may possess stylistic patterns alike the aforementioned groups, but they can still write a damn catchy piece extremely consistently. I would blame this success on the talent of the individuals colliding. Each member in Black Map functions as their own musical entity and then perfectly mesh in cohesion together.
In terms of progress from their last release, In Droves possess more intelligence and experimentation. The blatant and in-your-face hard rock riffs of …And We Explode are transitioning to a focus on atmosphere and vocal dynamics. While I miss the constant inclusion of guitar hooks, the material presented here has a balance between heaviness, commercial appeal, and maturity. I sense more influence from a space rock band like Failure rather than their previous straight forward rock comparisons. Of course, the radio-friendly catchiness is still present, but presented in a less blatant light.
In Droves won't be a breakthrough, however their foundation is both strengthened and expanded. I think it's also important to note that this album is a grower, where each song will hit you deeper after several listens. Like I mentioned in the intro paragraph, I worry that Black Map will be glued to the reputation of a Chevelle opener, but this album alone is evidence that the group could get an entire venue moving and singing along on their own.