Blacklisters are strong when their brand of noise rock resembles sludge metal. They aren't nearly so good when they do hardcore.
Blacklisters’ new album is a potent burst of noise rock that pulls in sounds from hardcore, post-hardcore, and sludge metal. Vocalist Billy Mason-Wood is typically abrasive for this style of music, which doesn’t make the band an easy listen for the layperson. But the rest of the band is tight and interesting enough that Adult starts to work as an album after a few listens, even if Mason-Wood is an acquired taste.
If nothing else, Blacklisters have a sense of humor about them, which is a rare thing in the hardcore world. “I Knock Myself Out” is a furious two-minute burst of chunky riffing and nearly unintelligible shouting anchored by a much slower refrain where Mason-Wood repeats “I knock myself out” in a sort of whining moan. While calling the song “jokey” would be a stretch, Mason-Wood’s delivery of the refrain is definitely amusing. Similarly, it’s the vocal delivery that sells the ironically named punk assault of “Power Ballad". Mason-Wood delivers pathetic statements in a drunken-style slur like, “I can barely lift my weight when I go to walk” and “I should maybe take a load off just to rest". Helpfully, the guitar drops out during these spoken bits, leaving just the pounding rhythm section for support. While these little sprinkles of humor aren’t particularly clever, anything that passes for a lighter moment in the usually deadly serious and righteously angry subgenres the Blacklisters work in is appreciated.
For much of the album, though, it’s the instrumental work from guitarist Dan Beelsey, bassist Owen Griffiths, and drummer Alistair Stobbart that really shines. Opening song “Shirts” finds a hypnotic, rolling groove where the guitar and bass are locked into the same riff while Stobbart just plays a simple pattern. The band changes it up here and there in the song, but mostly they stick right in the pocket and hit that groove hard while Mason-Wood shouts over the top. Similarly, “Big Ticker” builds up from a tom-heavy drum part, through an ominously rumbling bassline, and into a feedback-laden noise guitar performance. The fact that the song stays stubbornly mid-tempo enhances its heaviness. It also helps that the rhythm section is so solid that Beelsey can be weird and creepy with his guitar, not finding anything resembling a traditional riff or even chord until the final minute of the four-minute song.
The instrumental trio is on full display at several different points on Adult. “Weasel Bastard” finds them locked in on another mid-tempo groove from the rhythm section, while Beelsey brings in the feedback noise again before backing off and eventually joining Griffiths’s bassline when the song needs to really rock out near the end. Mason-Wood comes in past the halfway point of the song with a subdued singing voice that’s yet another different sound for him. Then there’s “Dream Boat”, which features nothing but low, muttered speaking for vocals. Beelsey’s simple guitar riffs buzz over the top of Griffiths surprisingly melodic basslines to make for a potent hard rocker. There’s just enough melody in the simple song construction to make it compelling.
The album closes with “Downbeat”, which begins with an apocalyptic detuned guitar sound, employing it as the base for another slow, incredibly heavy groove from the rhythm section. Mason-Wood uses his best shout-singing voice here, providing the song with an actual vocal melody while the rest of the band sits on the groove. Although there are a couple of short breaks during the song, for the most part the band pushes the repetition as far as it will go, and it’s absolutely compelling. After the song proper ends with this intensity, the album finishes out with three minutes of calming, relaxed, minor key solo guitar arpeggios. It’s a nice release from the previous aggression.
Blacklisters are at their best when they slow it down and find a strong rhythm to repeat. More traditional hardcore tracks on Adult aren’t nearly as distinctive. Songs like “Cash Cow” and “Seas Make Ships” find the band playing fast and hard but becoming much less interesting in the process. And the aforementioned “I Knock Myself Out” only works because of Mason-Wood’s wry delivery on the refrain. In short, the band is better when their brand of noise rock resembles sludge metal than when they focus on hardcore.