Black Sites

Chicago’s Black Sites make a welcome return with third LP Untrue, the follow-up to 2019’s impressive sophomore album, Exile. Since their inception in 2016, Black Sites have been on a steady upward trajectory, bringing their old school trad metal sound into the here and now, adding modern crunch and progressive elements into the mix. Now functioning as a trio, Black Sites continue their development, pushing their musical skills to the limits and flexing their proggy muscles in delivering polished chops and hooky anthems. Black Sites clearly possess a deep appreciation of metal’s classic past, from Sabbath and Priest to the wildly inventive works of Voivod, yet their skilled writing and distinctive qualities elevate them above the retro pack. Old school values aside, Black Sites sound fresh and modern.

Untrue does not feature drastic changes or retooling of a sound they continue to refine, increasing the complexities and prog influence to shape accomplished songs, high on memorability. Black Sites bolster their attitude-fueled old school metal anthems with progressive smarts, outstanding musicianship, and rousing hooks, encased within clever song arrangements. Belting choruses are a sure thing, but never for cheap thrills to mask weak writing. Musically Untrue is the band’s most accomplished album yet. Mark Sugar (ex-Trials, Bear Mace) and Ryan Bruchert (ex-Trials) up their game throughout an album heavy on killer riffs, dueling harmonies, and inventive solos. The duo is a formidable combination, serving up a smorgasbord of intricate, livewire fretwork, while dispensing ample loads of chunkier riffage. Drummer Garry Naples (Wolvhammer) compliments the excellent axework with an energetic, nuanced, and grooving performance. Quality musicianship and intricate layers aside, Unreal’s greatest strength is the sheer potency and craftmanship of the songs themselves.

Opener “Sword of Orion” storms the gates with an ominous introduction, featuring hypnotic percussive patterns, before unloading with a hooky, galloping anthem to set the album into motion. From here onwards Black Sites power through a slick set of tunes, at once proggy, melodic, intricate, and jacked with enough steely punch to match the intelligent craftsmanship. “Lost Tribes” fits the role perfectly as the lead-off single, encapsulating the Black Sites sound superbly, featuring instantly headbangable grooves, burly riffs, and scorching lead work, topped with earworm vocal hooks. It is more straightforward compared to its counterparts but is an insanely addictive ride.

There are no obvious weak links, though Untrue’s mid-section is especially potent. “Echo of a Lie” has a slightly off-tilt progressive swagger. The opening salvo, revisited during the song, reminds me of Deliverance-era Opeth. It is a cracking tune, with the beguiling, more exploratory instrumental sections contrasting well against the song’s punchier elements and harder edges. Razor sharp riffs, soaring hooks, and Voivod-isms emblazon the driving “The Worst of Us,” while slow-burning doomy closer ”White Ashes,” ends the album on a powerfully somber note.

Perhaps a sign of turbulent times, Sugar’s lyrics, and overall tone of the album, is noticeably darker, lending Unreal a strong emotional pull, contrasting against songs that overcome the melancholic underbelly to reveal infectious, almost uplifting anthems that worm their way into your brain. Sugar’s vocals become more assured and refined with each release and his performance throughout Untrue is no exception. It would be cool to hear the odd harsher vocal, but his performance is impressive.

Black Sites leave the fat and gristle on the cutting room floor, ensuring a focused listen, minus unnecessary filler or wanky self-indulgence. The eight songs feature their own identifiable traits and distinctive hooks, marking the most infectious, complex, and consistent batch of tunes Black Sites are yet to craft.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
October 8th, 2021


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