Black Sites – Untrue (2021) – Review

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This is the review I almost didn’t write. Call it writer’s block, if you will. But it ain’t. It’s just that some records flow by effortlessly. Smooth metal that kinda roars something in the background whilst you do other chores. And it’s not that they’re bad or anything. They just – happen. And once you’re ready to pick up the pen, the record just finished.

This turns them into some sort of luxury background music. Not the stuff you hear at the grocery store, more the material they may play at yer local CD joint that somehow continues to exist by the grace of a nerdy few. Or the stuff they feed you at the ubiquitous rock café, after lunch hours are over and before happy hour starts in earnest. Or again, the guys you would hear playing at the metal festival1) at 5 pm for cocktails, just before the bloodthirsty action of the unkempt hairy beasts starts.

This so happened with Black Sites and their newest record Untrue. And I’m almost embarrassed2) to have to tell them Chicago boyz this news. Because, the record by itself is pristine, spiffy to a point, without a single styled hair out of joint in its neo-metallic splendor.

You’ll find loads of artfully arranged tracks on the album. And with that I mean true precision done with a savoir-faire that probably will surpass the abilities of most savvy songwriters out there. And this is what endlessly pulled me back to the record, again – and again.

Untrue sports a quiet brand of retro-leaning Heavy Metal and strangely thoughtful prog. Traditional stuff, with a modern twist that at times almost errs into alternative terrain. Or in starker terms, Black Sites often sound like Judas Priest in futuristic cyborg mode with a weakness for early Black Sabbath.

And again, outstanding musicianship notwithstanding, their metal rumbles on with a certain power, but always on an even keel. No rust, no sharp edges that will draw blood in sight anywhere. Even Mark Sugar‘s proficient vocals sound measured to a point with no wild emotion anywhere on the horizon.

And that saddles them with a style that comes across as overly cerebral. But it fails to convey that gut-wrenching dirty passion that many metalheads crave out there. And so they should. So, do we have ourselves a case of metal for the refined? Perhaps. And in a way, Untrue packs a lot of sturdy metal in its own subdued way. Only there’s no visceral connection, no unholy pull towards metal you should never visit. It just is.

Or, how else would I explain that the only two tracks with some real juice are Echo of a Lie and The Worst of Us? Both of those carry that specific spice that made our ears prick. They sport that special oomph, that mix between groove and power that will drag you along. If only we could have had more of that. Even if tracks like White Ashes and Sword of Orion sail pretty close to the latter two.

So, in desperation, we browsed through the opinion pieces that start to seriously pile up. First of all, Untrue is pretty popular. And you get the full spectrum of subjective views.3) From the utterly biased fanboy account to the more critical, serious, or emotionally afflicted adept, everything is there. But did we find that wisdom to change our minds? Some venue we didn’t quite test that would allow us to feel the music better? Nope.

So, the time has come to grudgingly admit that Untrue is just that. A slab of metal, neither hot nor cold, expertly pieced together and smartly executed. A metal record with boundaries that is somehow reminiscent of the American dream of abject political correctness. Not too loud, and no pop piece either. A neatly trimmed piece of alloy polished to a fine shine. You’ll only ever look at the surface, though. And the RMR crew here so wanted to peek underneath the paint, find the dirty, the ugly, and the uneasy. But it wasn’t to be.

In other words, we found a good metal record, no doubt about it. But nothing that warranted to elevate the offering to greater levels. Maybe next time we’ll find some scratches in that unblemished veneer. But we don’t have our hopes up.

Record Rating: 6/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Facebook (band)
Release Date: 08 October 2021


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