Album Review: COLD BLACK RIVER Tales Of Death And The Devil
The stoner and desert rock scene is oversaturated. There is a wealth of bands whose songs are too long, their riffs unoriginal, and lyrics stale. Cold Black River, while they certainly have some interesting ideas, aren't doing much to combat this scourge. These Wisconsin natives constructed something that shows their passion for groups like Kyuss and Nebula. Yet, diving into their new record, Tales Of Death And The Devil, became a game of patience and wanting.
When the band is on then they are on. However it requires a certain patience to slug through prolonged intros and spaced out bridges. None of the ideas are inherently bad, it just feels like it takes a lot of time to get from point A to point B. At the end of the day, it’s hard to find the value in what so often feels, quite frankly, masturbatory. Though they certainly play into genre tropes, seventeen minute long tracks require a certain level of songwriting magic to pull off that Cold Black River frankly haven't quite attained.
This all being said, there are some truly enjoyable moments on Tales Of Death And The Devil. The guitar tone is rich and easy to get lost in. The songs that embrace a more traditional verse/chorus structure rip too. The bonus track, “Android's Embrace,” comes out swinging with a chorus of "These aren't the droids you're looking for!" These are the sort of tongue in cheek moments that make this type of music so addictive. What doesn't work though is repetitive pentatonic riffs with the dispassionate vocals of bassist Eric Cobb layered on top. Here, Cold Black River fall flat on their collective face. Stoner rock as a genre falls apart when the song loses its sense of drive.
Even the spaciest moments in a Hawkwind or Yawning Man song have some sense of sonic progression. Unfortunately, jam-oriented songwriting frequently leads to browbeaten ideas. One need look no further than a track like “Among The Stars” to find this. Again, there are a lot of cool things being done here. I love every riff guitarist Jeremy Roseland wrote on "Oh My Goddess" for instance. The issue is just that I don't love them enough to hear them for seven minutes.
There is a ton of potential in this band. Cold Black River clearly understand their core influences and on “Keep Rollin’” for instance, they invoke some really powerful sounds. The thundering guitars and dynamic pattern of the drums inspire curiosity. The breadth of the mix on “Keep Rollin’” is truly potent. The drum performance of Aaron Kanitz, in particular, is highly stimulating. However, that only gets a band so far.
Tales Of Death And The Devil has a strong chance of appealing to more traditional fans of stoner doom, however, don't expect it to be getting much traction beyond that. With some truly talented musicians forming the core of this band, a more traditionally based songwriting approach would take this band to the next level. Cold Black River have put together something that proves the band understand the core of stoner rock. What it doesn't prove is that they can put it into practice. There are a lot of places Cold Black River can take the foundation they have laid here. Now to sit back and see if they evolve.