JOHN TRON DAVIDSON
Any band that draws on myriad influences should produce something special. After all, if you’re a carpenter and can only carve a spoon, that wouldn’t be very interesting would it? Reading’s Black Emerald have taken heed of this advice, and produced the multi-faceted Hell Can’t Handle All Of Us.
Their first full length, coming as it does after 2012’s Isolation, ...Us is the sound of a band genuinely spreading its wings. A monumental step up from their first 5-tracker - though two tracks join us here - this album proper is infinitely more confident and composed than anything the band have chucked out previously.
Opening with a 6-minute number is bold, but while this writer read a lot online about how Black Emerald are southern this and southern that, there’s a lot more going on. With the sneering shroud of Cathedral hanging over tracks like ‘B.O.D.’ and the opening riff to ‘Voodoo Princess’ sounding for all the world like first-album Rage Against The Machine, the lazy might think that this is some grab-bag of influences, but there’s a real character to it. Your writer would never have thought that the band that recorded Isolation would nail bits of Alice Cooper’s heavier moments to vocals from Amebix’s Sonic Temple, dip this mixture in Black Label Society’s ugly moonshine and sneak in a track like ‘Revelations’ which wouldn’t be out of place on Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land. That would never happen.
And yet it has. Older tracks like ‘Drown In The River’ are given a meatier, tighter workout than on previous releases, and the fabulously morbid ‘Dr. Stein’ makes its’ second recorded appearance. Everything else heaves with a curiously grim feeling, something that doesn’t appear on first listen. The lyrics detail a life without much hope or light in it, and lead single ‘On The Road’ talks with almost sinister abandon about the protagonist’s struggle with drink.
This is something that permeates nearly all of Hell Can’t Handle All Of Us. The destruction of the self laid out on ‘B.O.D.’ is delivered in such an aggressive manner as to make it harrowing rather than informative, something that’s at odds with the occasionally boogie-ing parts of this album. Though some of this is pretty straight-ahead, tracks like ‘Sculptures To The Sky’ are confusing. Not because the band aren’t committed, but because the ideas are so widely spread.
Black Emerald, it seems, are a bit of an anomaly. The long tracks aren’t one riff being lashed into nothingness - every bit of space is being used, but the number of sounds and feels touched on over the course of this record leaves your writer in a curious position. The over-arching themes of mental illness, depression and spiralling addiction paint a bleak picture indeed, devoid of the romance often presented in heavier styles. The genuinely hateful portrayal of the mass cult suicide in ‘Jonestown’ shows a real, heartfelt contempt for the idolatry that stems from the worship of charisma, and the whole feel is one of a palpable anger that can no longer be denied.
Ordinarily this sort of review could be closed out by saying ‘band need to figure out who they are’; that isn’t enough here. It’s inspiring to hear how far Black Emerald have come from their first recording, and at the core of this album is something worth more than any accolade or any score - a genuine passion, a venting, a humanity. Boys, if you’re reading this, you’ve done well, and I know you’ve got a properly different album in you. I’ll be watching.
The band comprises of founding member guitarist and vocalist Edd Higgs, bassist and lead vocalist Simon Hall and drummer Connor Shortt.
Hell Can't Handle All Of Us
Life Of Anxiety
One For The Road
Drown In The River
Sculptures To The Sky
Figure On A Barbed Wire Cross
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