Black Sites

I’m not much of a traditional metal sort of guy. Of course plenty of exceptions have popped up over the years, but generally my tastes are aligned in different directions. However, Chicago’s Black Sites impressed with their deft mix of old school values and modern sensibilities with classic heavy metal and prog influences on their solid debut LP, 2017’s In Monochrome. Honing their craft in the interim, Black Sites make a welcome return on their latest platter, Exile. A change in rhythm section from the debut line-up hasn’t hindered or dulled the band’s feisty attack and if anything Exile feels and sounds like a tighter, more confident album than its predecessor.

The major hurdle for bands plying their trade in the old school realms of metal, is the over-reliance on nostalgia and unwillingness to move with the times. This can be all good and well, but it isn’t exactly a sound blueprint for creating something with a bit of uniqueness and identity, pushing beyond the constricting boundaries of being a throwback blast from the past. Black Sites successfully navigate this pitfall, deftly crafting hook-laden, traditional metal anthems with vibrant old school metal riffs, oodles of headbanging groove, and a smidgen of doom and prog to flesh things out. Exile is also a darker, doomier beast compared to its predecessor, without eschewing the upbeat, glorious hooks embedded into the band’s sound. Yet through the layers of old school appreciation and nods to the past, Black Sites still possess a sound and vibe that plants them in the here and now, a freshness and exuberance that separates the band from the retro pack.

Songwriting variety is present in spades, making for a diverse, though cohesive experience. The opening trio of tunes kicks the album into high gear, creating an energetic, sprightly start to the album. From the epic chorus, soaring melodies and chunky riffs of “The Night They Came for You,” riff-driven rock crunch of “Into the Fire,” to the rousing hooks and classic metal vibe of “Feral Child,” Exile’s early tracks crank the album into barnstorming motion. Don’t be fooled however, as Exile is certainly not a front-loaded album. Quality is well dispersed and there are no real missteps or pacing issues. “Coal City” pushes vocal limits to breaking point during the slightly drawn out slow burn opening, before developing into an emotive, doomy slab of progressive rock. Meanwhile the infectious chorus, slick guitar work and hooky riffs of hard-hitting rocker “Focused Totality – The Psychic Knife” gets the adrenaline pumping. Epic closer “Dwell Upon the End” channels the mighty Sabbath, with a doomy swagger, powerhouse riffs and wonderful musicianship. It’s a truly imaginative and memorable composition to close out the album on a soaring high note.

Singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Mark Sugar (ex-Trials) has upped his game and is well supported by his band mates. The musicianship is excellent across the board, but the guitar work from Sugar and Ryan Bruchert (ex-Trials) forms a particularly potent combination. Whether ripping out sleek dual guitar harmonies, bruising riffage or more delicate melodic passages, the duo deliver ripping performances. Sugar’s clean vocals also sound more confident and assured. He knows his away around an infectious vocal hook and his emotive, no-frills style has a rougher edge that adds to the grittier feel of Exile. Not to be outdone, the combination of bassist José Salazar and drummer Garry Naples (Wolvhammer and Novembers Doom) hold their own, combining to create a crafty and cushioning rhythmic backbone. The production job, courtesy of the band and boosted by a stellar Sanford Parker mix, sounds great, featuring balance, clarity and punchy organic tones without ever sounding overly clean or polished.

Raising the stakes from their solid debut, Black Sites return with a triumphant platter of old school progressive and traditional metal bravado imbued with modern crunch and loaded with memorable hooks, killer riffs and tightly written and performed tunes. They’ve created a confident sophomore album that builds upon the solid platform of In Monochrome in fresh and exciting ways, resulting in an immensely addictive and accomplished album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
May 9th, 2019


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