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BLACKRAIN Untamed

By Terry Martinson, Contributor
Wednesday, January 11, 2023 @ 1:07 PM


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BLACKRAIN
Untamed

Steamhammer/SPV




It boggles the mind that as I type this review that the release of Untamed is BLACKRAIN’s seventh studio album. I know, right? Now for some, this is a non topic, a fine thing for those fans, but for this writer, I can’t tell you anything about this band. Can’t name 1 album, or 1 song and that’s not for lack of scene engagement, I’ve been a rock 'n roll fan, supporter, musician and writer for 50 years. Seems a travesty that a band with such a pedigree and back catalog could be so unknown. Underground? One wonders if it is a disconnect for us US markets? I can’t fathom that in the age of the internet, but it certainly would be worth figuring out. Maybe it just is. Certainly not a rub to the band, but shame on the labels, management and industry as a whole for not cracking the code and getting these fellas the attention they seem to deserve. Or at a minimum getting some more ears on the scene that we love and needs our ears.

For others not familiar with this French 4 piece sleaze rock band that have been together since high school and inked their first deal in 2006, they are 2/3rds original members with just Frank being the outlier. They consist of Swan Hellion – vocals, guitar, Max 2 – lead guitar, Matthieu de la Roche – bass, and Frank F - drums.

As we tuck into Untamed it seems that we have a mixed bag of influences or at least a more eclectic and sometimes modern approach to what Steamhammer proclaims as a “sleaze rock” band. Now maybe BLACKRAIN’s foundation is in sleaze and their image certainly lends itself to that, but within this slab they seem to be a bit more genre-less. Here we go.

“Untamed”, the title track, starts things off promising with a nice, heavy at times, simple, but catchy rock 'n roll riff that is for a moment liking itself to PRETTY BOY FLOYD's “Set The Night On Fire” but that is fleeting as BLACKRAIN gets after a real harmonic and heavy driven title track. Gang vocals abound during the chorus and I must say the chants throughout are a real nice touch. The first solo is nice enough (the outro solo is a ripper for sure), but what really tickled me was the off meter drumming, of which is mixed right where it needs to be, in your face. Looks like Frank may be a good addition, promising start fellas. "Kiss The Sky" starts with a feeling of dread washing over the listener in the opening bars, but thank the gods this is crushed when the verse falls in, it's heavy and in your face. The band resurrects the interesting intro in the chorus, but here it works much better than it did on its own. As with the opener the layered gang vocals and chants are mixed to perfection, as is the entire band's contribution. This one is more of an arena anthem rocker than a sleazy number but it still sits well. "Dawn of Hell" brings in the BON JOVI-abused (overused) Talk Box and it is smattered throughout the song and although the entirety of the number is a mid tempo galloping arena rocker, there are more detriments herein. That said, I am quite certain there are many that would appreciate this Frontiers (label) staple AOR. "All The Darkness" keeps this new tangent going with a movie soundtrack, keyboard driven, arena rocker, anthem that, although well played and written with a pretty tasty guitar solo, just seems real safe, almost sterile presentation. Not my favorite, but I am fully aware this style is a popular one with some. "Demon" comes in very, very MOR, almost modern, think MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, which holds into the verse, not bad, just another variant and not a sleazy one. The gang vocals and chants are back in the chorus, which is quite powerful and infectious, as is the nice use of double bass drumming and creative snare tempo’ing. The solo is befitting to the song, nicely layered, with 2 handfuls of squeals and dives. Although this one is akin to a more radio friendly audience, it is a well crafted song and could be a fine single. "Summer Jesus" is an almost note for note tip of BON JOVI’s "Blaze of Glory", sure it's tweaked a bit but once you hear it it can’t be unheard. The use of the pitch shifter in the guitar solo is nice, but really doesn’t fit the tune. Hhhhm.

Moving into the B side, fingers crossed we revert back to the title track, which was more inline to this “sleazy rock” band we are promised, fingers crossed… "Set The World On Fire" starts us off and oh dear, the first minute is a mess, introducing a guitar lick/riff that carries throughout and oof. The chorus is huge and crunchy and almost brings the song around, but then that riff comes back with that guitar lick that is just disorientating, the 2nd verse drops it and that works much better. Not sure why the band liked that lick, but it rears its ugly head throughout the number, just trash canning the majority of the song. Again, the solo is presented over a nice melodic bed and it is played with speed and proficiency. Not a good start. "Neon Drift" starts off like another previous song with an 80’s movie keyboard riff that falls into a safe, but heavy-ish verse, but then this tin can computerized vocal comes in just derailing the song. Otherwise it's a cookie cutter not-so-memorable arena rock song that gets a goose in the solo (once again) as then it gets crunchy, heavy and those drums get all doubly and off tempo’d, really nice and one only wishes they stayed in that zone.

"Blade of Love" ditches some of the previously not-so-enjoyable elements, holding onto a nice crunchy double bassed verse, keeps some keys, and has a fine chorus. This one is reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s “Poison”. The NIN pre-solo breakdown can get lost on the cutting room floor, but I guess it was necessary to pad the solos runtime as this song's solo is clipped and instantly forgettable. The outro is fire with Swan holding LOVE for what seems an eternity while the crunchy uptempo guitars and double bass drumming pair nicely. A miss I’m afraid, maybe a remix could salvage it? "Raise Your Glass" is finally a return to the opener and grabs those good elements from "Blade of Love" and takes the listener on a powerhouse, simple hard rock track, complete with an emotional chorus, one ripe with angst and power. It has another real nice double bass driven guitar solo, although the pre-solo verse is a bit lackluster, but overall "Raise Your Glass" is a solid hard rock song, kudos fellas. "Shut Down" comes sneaking in real quiet like, and low and behold the presentation is a nice, sleazy hard rocker, although it slips a little with the inclusion of the keys in the second part of the verse, which kind of takes the wind out of the song's crunchy sails. Overall pretty forgetful, sigh. "The End", all jokes aside, starts us off with an acoustic guitar and Swan’s vocal, leading into a crunchy arena rock chorus. The second verse holds the crunchier guitar and what unfolds is a pretty simple, cigarette lighter arena rock song that wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings, just real plain, safe and unfortunately incredibly forgettable.

So to surmise, BLACKRAIN has skills. They sound like proficient musicians, monster nods to Frank who sounds like a beast behind the drumkit and there are numerous elements that are very intriguing in Untamed. If I was producing this I would have had to make this album an EP and remixed/edited 3 or 4 salvageable songs to be more appropriate to the sleaze rock mantra, keeping the title track and "Raise Your Glass" as they are. But maybe the inclusions of what felt like meme riffs and soundbites are purposeful for that prepubescent audience that I’d assume will never know BLACKRAIN. Unfortunately Untamed is a miss, a nice try, but a miss as outside of a couple solid rockers the lion's share of the album is absolute filler, BUT maybe said filler will tickle the Frontiers crowd?

2.0 Out Of 5.0

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