Black Peaks are a rock/metal band from Brighton, England. In 2016 they released their major label debut via Sony. How did they end up on my radar? Jamie Lenman.
The former Reuben frontman wrote an article for Kerrang, “10 songs that changed my life”. Sitting on that list were Black Peaks, in particular, a live video of the track “Say You Will” and “Saviour“.
Lenman writes: “…you do sometimes happen upon a fantastic little gem, and that’s what happened when I first saw Black Peaks. Everyone was chatting away, pretty good band, you know, interesting technical stuff, and then the singer belts out this incredible note and I think everyone turned into stone (I may be exaggerating) and I’d found my new favourite band.”
So I watched the clip. He is right, the video shows a restless crowd in waiting for the headline band… until that note. More on that later.
While the performance is a little sloppy, it’s forgivable for a support slot and it warranted a deeper dive into their music. Down the rabbit hole we go.
Structures is well produced, it leaves the band plenty of room to shine and bring some of the energy shown in the live clip into the recordings. The songs and performances are the focus rather than production trickery. It works. I have nothing against building a complex colossus in the studio, but I can’t help but feel that with Black Peaks less is more.
The first minute of Glass Built Castles contains enough of the DNA of the album to give you an understanding of what is to come and what this band is capable of. Hors d’oeuvres of busy, driving drums, guitars that sway between textural pieces and big open dirty riffs. Anger and beauty in equal measure. The best part for me is the hooks. The chorus starts with a straightforward crash-laden 6/8 beat leaving plenty of room for the vocals, adding additional elements or variations on each repeat of the refrain.
The last minute of Glass Built Castles (the last minute or so) demonstrates a band capable of nuance. The riffs and melodies you’ve already heard earlier in the song are repeated, this time at a slower tempo. The guitars are palm muted leaving more room for the drums, no longer crash-laden, now featuring different accents. Everything has been straightened up and it feels heavy. It feels good. Plus, vocalist Will Gardner is on point with this song. His voice balances perfectly with the backing vocals and he transitions brilliantly between clean and dirty.
Crooks is a shorter sharper number. The bass groove in the verse weaves between the textural guitar and the drums until before you know it, we’re at the first chorus. Vocal harmonies provide the interest for me in the chorus. I can’t help but hear elements of Armenian-American rockers Mt. Helium (formerly Apex Theory) in the vocals and drumming in this track. There is a certain hyperactivity to some of the drumming, the ghost notes on the snare in the bridge and final chorus for example. For a band with one guitarist, these additional drumming elements that most bands would cut, help to fill out the sound.
I have a theory that there is no such thing as a good band in this genre without a masterful drummer. Black Peaks are another example of how vital the drumming is to having a big, powerful and interesting sound.
Say You Will. We meet again.
Having heard the live version of this song first, I know that before too long the tom-heavy groove and bass will be punctuated by that scream of “SAY YOU WIIIIIIIILL”.
Whenever you have a dirty bass and tom-heavy drumming comparisons to Tool come up among musicians I know. Say You Will provides a foundation for Will Gardner to belt out that refrain, building towards it for nearly two minutes before it happens. The band then kicks it up a notch instrumentally to close the song out.
Hang ’em High.
This song feels like the sequel to Glass Built Castles. The interplay between the guitars and bass in the verses provide some of the more playful moments of the first album. The second half of the song sees the refrain stripped down to clean guitars and vocals before being reassembled into a dissonant punctuation. Eventually, the dissonance moves from being notes into noise, this feels like it is for the sake of the album as a whole.
Set in Stone starts with arpeggiated clean guitars and leads the listener down the path of thinking that this is the breather song. It’s not. The screams in Set in Stone are amongst the most abrasive on the album. Guitarist Joe Gosney channels some recent Mastodon records with his playing in the second half of the song with some psychedelic production tricks being thrown in for good measure.
Saviour is one of the other songs from the album that got its own video. It’s understandable, Saviour is one of the more accessible songs on the album. It’s more melodic and even features a glockenspiel at one point, though as is the nature of the album, it doesn’t last long. Saviour is built on some solid grooves and features some very solid guitar work throughout. The guitar solo is a particular highlight. (Bonus points for being British and spelling Saviour correctly too).
Statues of Shame is the rollicking song most likely to have audience members link arms and sing along when played live. Another example of how well 6/8 time signatures can work in rock music, laying the foundation for a raw sounding vocal performance. Adding to the rollicking feel of the song are the gang vocals, again sure to go down well live.
Drones delivers the breathing room that Set in Stone felt like it was going to be. It’s a necessary piece of the puzzle when listening to the album straight through. Not only does Drones provide some respite dynamically, it provides an opportunity for one of the memorable parts of the album. The distorted harmonics on the guitar below the vocals feels like it doesn’t last long enough, which probably means it’s done just right.
It is unfortunate that after the excellent pre-chorus or verse riff, that the “Yeaaaaaaaaah” chorus is so underwhelming. I think the song would have been stronger from introducing the outro chorus theme earlier, but then the pre-chorus/verse riff may not have the same impact. Decisions, decisions.
White Eyes starts with one of the most memorable parts of the album. The gang vocal refrain of “Cards, come tumbling down….” is an earworm that I found myself singing days later.
Vocally this song shows a wider range than some of the other offerings, with a falsetto verse adding another tool to the Black Peaks toolkit. There are big sections of this song that could be mistaken for Arcane Roots or other post-hardcore bands. That tight cohesion between all the instruments playing quite complex rhythmic and melodic elements. Drummers will be salivating at this track as there are large sections that feel like 20-second fills.
For Those That Sleep For A Thousand Years is an instrumental filler before the final barrage of…
To Take The First Turn.
Hello Jamie Lenman. Hello to another musically restrained verse, leaving plenty of room for a catchy clean vocal line. Pairing clean vocals with falsetto in a call and response section before building back towards the chorus. Despite the chorus being built around various ways of saying “Halo” it retains the listener’s interest. The call and response theme of the vocals continues after the falsetto has gone, being replaced with different scream intensities. The second half of the song channels sludge metal, happily chugging along on a note for a while and maximising the palm-muted heaviness of the guitars.
It’s a bit of a shame the end of a great album isn’t more expansive, but by no means is it bad, just not as grand as I’d have hoped.
This is the first I’d heard of Black Peaks, I’ve already imported a physical copy of the album into Australia. It’s not enough to stream it, I want to support the band and physically own it, it has brought me that much enjoyment.
Check them out, I’ve already shared Glass Built Castles with a few friends and the consensus so far is that it is brilliant. Start with it and see how you go. The rest of the album is similar enough that if you like one, you’ll like the other.
After writing this review I’ve since read that Crooks, Hang ’em High, Glass Built Castles and Statues of Shame are part of a story concept. While there are definite music threads through them I hadn’t quite caught on to a tale of a man called Ivan who accidentally incites a riot. For more context on the story, check out the review/interview/preview from the independent.co.uk website. I don’t think this extra info has changed how I listen to the album, the songs work just as well on their own as part of a larger arc. Perhaps on future listens when I dive deeper into the lyrical content the themes will become more apparent.