Black Sites - In MonochromeMetal is rife with nostalgiacore. There’s no shortage of retro ’70s bands with embarrassing mustaches or thrash kids with bullet belts putting out records that hearken back to the days of yore. Such yearnings come from a legitimate place, of course. As technology has improved, the sounds of the moment stopped defining modern music and technology started allowing musicians to sound however they want. If you want to write a tribute to 1980s Yes, you can do that. If you want to write songs about Dungeons & Dragons™ while sounding like Thin Lizzy? Have at it! But looking back is also a side effect of the metal scene crawling up its own ass. Now that long songs are a virtue in themselves and melody is for poseurs bands become increasingly inaccessible and, I assume, for many, uninteresting. But you know what Black SabbathMetallica, and Iron Maiden all had1 in spades? Great songs, great hooks, and songs that united friends in drunken head-banging.

Black Sites is not nostalgiacore. Former Trials singer, guitarist and writer Mark Sugar’s newest project—signed to Mascot Records likely because I made his album #2 last year—is not an intentional statement of nostalgia for better times in metal. In Monochrome isn’t an album populated by scooped Crate amps and copious overdrive or Marshall stacks and Fender Strats. It doesn’t feature a vocalist who wants to be Bruce Dickinson, nor is there a single backward sample of a bong hit to let you know how high anyone was in the studio. Like the Trials album which preceded it, however, In Monochrome is unapologetically modern, but it has two feet firmly planted in the feel(s) of yesteryear. And it is the feeling of being a traditional metal album—without being remotely derivative—which makes In Monochrome an excellent album.

First and foremost, In Monochrome will be remembered for its riffs and songs. The opening salvo of “M Fisto Waltz,” which merges into the album’s first single “Dead Languages,” makes clear that Mark hasn’t lost a step when it comes to knocking out classic, hooky metal riffs. But rather the full bore thrash attack that characterized This Ruined World—with its trashy, tinny sound and harsh screams—In Monochrome is a groovier, mid-paced album where Sugar’s cleans float over the chunky riffs or a ’90s style tom driven chorus (like in “Dead Languages”).  Still, the album is replete with excellent, heavy riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a heavier record.

Black Sites 2017

What separates Black Sites from its predecessor2 is the old school feel and the traditional sound which resonates without feeling nostalgic. My favorite track—”Burning Away the Day”—alternates between heavy Rainbow and Maiden influences and the kind of jagged riffing which sounds pinched from Morbid Angel and features Sugar’s raspy screams. This juxtaposition of the old school and late thrash characterizes a lot of the songs on In Monochrome and is some of the most effective material. The verse in “Hunter Gatherer” is decidedly traditional, while the song escalates in extremity. “Watching You Fall” sounds like a Sentenced track with a early ’90s Testament chorus. All these different influences and impressions combine to create something which is familiar but unique.

I have two reservations about In Monochrome. First, since Sugar sticks almost entirely to clean vocals, the lyrics come into focus in a way that they never do with extreme music. Since I’m singing along with the lyrics, then I start to chafe a bit. Sugar’s lyrics are certainly not of Kakko quality, but they’re not exactly Gildenlöw, either. This is a weird contradiction on a record where everything else is so polished and well-written. The second reservation comes in the tone of the album and its production. In a way, I’m torn about how it’s produced. I like the sound, but I could have gone for something more stripped down and a master that gave more room to the rhythm section. The old school writing is definitely contrasted with a modern production sound, but things like Picillo’s subtonal bass would work better when not squashed up against Chris Avgerin’s bass drum in the mix.

But these are genuinely minor complaints and Black Sites is impressive. The band is slick, smart, and heavy and In Monochrome is a great record without a weak song on it. Picillo and Avgerin both deliver great performances, while the guitarists Sugar and Bruchert are obviously comfortable with each other and sound great. It’s true that there are no solos quite like ‘tango and thrash’ from “Truth Defiled” on here, but the guitar work is polished and slick and the riffing is second-to-few. Taken as a whole, it’s hard to find fault with In Monochrome, and I don’t think that these guys have gotten anywhere close to their potential yet. I’ll be coming back to In Monochrome all year.

Rating: Great!
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3s
Label: Mascot Records
Released Worldwide: February 17th, 2017

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Note the use of past tense
  2. Sort of. One of the things that I loved about Trials was a similar feel of being simultaneously old school and unapologetically modern.
  • Eldritch Elitist

    Great album, great review. Trials never really “clicked” with me, but I’m loving this. It’s maybe the best thing I’ve heard so far this year.

    • Diego Molero

      Please go back and listen to This Ruined World again if you love music, trust me!

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    I like that there isn’t a huge overlap between this and Trials. I can enjoy them both for what they do.

    • Shiny Metal Object

      Yes, quite different than Trials. I’m hoping this one will grow on me. (especially the vocals).

  • Sounds okay. It’s almost like a pop punk band that’s gone heavy. I think the vocals sound a bit weak for the music and I don’t like the production, especially the drums which are a bit too clacky and transient-y. The rest I find to be pretty standard, but this is of course based off one song.

  • Dr_Fisting

    This is poser shit.

    • GardensTale

      You’re one to talk.

      • Dr_Fisting

        I am, actually.

        • GardensTale

          That’s what I said.

          • The Unicorn

            That’s what she said!

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Dr. “Mark Sugar” Fisting, I presume?

      • Dr_Fisting

        Mark Sugar only wishes he was a doctor.

      • [not a Dr]

        Will you be writing “How I Found Fisting; travels, adventures, and discoveries in [edited because I’m at work]”?

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Yes. Forthcoming this Summer from Oxford University Press. Four volumes with special gilt binding.

  • Prostidude

    Nice to see the mighty AMG still crawls out of his cave now and then to review truly interesting new albums.

    I really like all of the Black Sites songs I’ve heard so far, there’s a mellow (toned down) Mastodon vibe to this material that seems to complete resonate with me when I’m in a relaxed state of mind. Suppose this is one of those bands that you can enjoy/embrace for the ‘feel’.

    • contenderizer

      “there’s a mellow (toned down) Mastodon vibe to this material”

      Yeah, that’s the biggest influence not mentioned in the review that I hear in the featured track.

  • GardensTale

    Really good album, I’m digging this one front to back. The riffs are, as you say, classic without becoming derivative. Great review as usual boss! And only 10 hyperlinks!

    • [not a Dr]

      I like the hyperlinks: it’s like reading Manowar lyrics.

  • Planex

    AMG, would you have given Wilderun’s 2015 album a 5/5? I noticed there haven’t been any 5s in years.

    • GardensTale

      The more I hear that one, the more I feel it deserves it. But you know us, we are goddamn strict with scoring, and the trouble with 5s is that it usually takes longer to reveal itself as such than we generally have for reviews (we typically have about a week unless we pick ’em up way way ahead of time)

      • This feels like a chance for a retrospective of albums that deserve a 5/5, a year or two after release. Like a short review round-up, with links to the original longer reviews?

        • Reese Burns

          I think this is actually a fantastic idea, I’m sure it’d be good publicity for the bands as well.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          I like the idea, but a year would be too short of a time. Make it at least 2 years.

    • Philip Pledger

      To be fair, there has been at least one 5/5 every year since 2009, so that’s not completely accurate.

      • One of them we don’t count.


          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Or mention… One of them we don’t count or mention.

          • You’re supposed to forget!!

    • Reese Burns

      I remember Killing Joke getting a five just last year, and I believe there was a record called King Apathy last year that got a five as well. Neither were reviewed by AMG himself, but there’s still perfect fives out in the wilds of the AMG archives.

      • Planex

        My mistake, I think I saw some cached version of the 5.0 tag that had White Whizzard as the last one.

        • Reese Burns

          Aha, fair enough. The only 5.0 they’ve ever given out here that I can really get behind is for In Mourning’s Monolith. But AMG retroactively said he overrated it, so I suppose I’m in the minority.

    • El_Cuervo

      I wrote the review and I would unquestioningly give it a 5 now. I don’t want to put words in AMG’s mouth but based on his writing and conversation I believe he would too.

      • Reese Burns

        I feel that as much as I loved it on release, I’m enjoying it now more than I have before. It’s definitely a grower that already starts off fantastic, and I’m sure my opinion on it won’t change even a decade from now.

        • Diego Molero

          You know, when I first heard it, I didn’t found it to be particulary good, but for some reason I kept coming back to it, again and again. On listened number 4 or 5 it clicked and I was shocked at how good it actually was (and is).
          Now is definitely one of my favorite records of all time.

    • Yeah, I’d give it a 5.

    • True, but dodecahedron returns next month…

  • Luke_22

    Yeah, this is top notch stuff, really good balance of trad and modern influences. The songs are so catchy and the riffs are very addictive and hit hard.

  • Ferrous Beuller

    Christ, what kind of monster recorded this…?

  • Frost15

    I would have put Voivod as an influence for these guys for sure…

    • [not a Dr]

      EVERYONE should have Voivod as an influence.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Sounded great on first listen! Doesn’t happen much with me these days, but when it does, it’s a feeling like finding a $20 bill on the side of the road. Can’t wait to get this one.

  • Wilhelm

    I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, I can’t say what genre it belongs to, but that’s probably a good thing. I dig the vocals, they compliment the music well, reminds me of Only Living Witness.

    • Grymm

      I came here to say exactly this.

      Well, this, and I miss Only Living Witness.

      • Berit Dogg

        This opinion is correct.

  • The Unicorn

    Time to review the new Immolation. FFFFUUUUUUUUCCCCCKKKK

    • Reese Burns

      Have Immolation ever put out a bad record? I mean, ever??

      • The Unicorn

        Sir, if you were lying, it would be wrong. And you aren’t lying, good sir.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        Kingdom and Harnessing were pretty meh, and maybe bad by Immo’s standards, but I guess they weren’t terrible.

        Not that it’s even a problem when you look at the rest of their glorious discography.

        • Reese Burns

          Oh but I disagree good sir! I will agree that their discography is glorious though. ;)

  • Monsterth Goatom

    My, all those links! Reminds me what one prof said about looking at the footnotes one comes across when reading Shakespeare: it’s like answering the doorbell on your wedding night.

    • [not a Dr]

      Once, I tried reading El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (that’s Don Quixote, for the Castellano-challenged) in 17th century Spanish. Some pages had up to 80% of the space dedicated to footnotes. And none had less that 10

      • Dethjesta

        Reading The Iliad is much like this. Very footnote heavy.

      • Kronos

        I’m making my way through an English translated version right now and sorely feel the need for footnotes at times. Though that many would be pretty frightening.

        • [not a Dr]

          I had the advantage of having, as a kid, read dumbed-down versions and watched cartoons about it. Even then, having a glossary on the same page as the archaisms was essential.

  • Thatguy

    Good riffs but the vocals really bring it down for me, so I’d have to call it ‘mixed’.

  • Sure AMG give more credit to dynamics than heaviness these days. I’m not saying this is bad but how ever this is called Heavy metal after all and want it to headbang with it not to sing with it as a pop love song!

  • herrschobel

    great Riffs, but man those Vocals…not digging´´s a shame…

    • ElectricEye

      You are right, the vocals aren’t helping…sounds like Avenged Sevenfold vocals.

      • tomasjacobi

        That’s way harsh! These vocals are nowhere near as bad as A7X…

    • Tofu muncher

      True. The vocals kill this. Though the guitar does sound pretty repetitive after a while (talking abt the embedded track)

  • antitayyip

    which albums were rated as ‘perfect’??

    • TminusEight

      Not many, and not without controversy. And the occasional staff firings.

  • dblbass

    So….what’s the rating? Gimme a number…..damn. Those descriptive words in the rating slot always fuck me up. ESPECIALLY before 6am. Help me out here. Or do I have to listen for myself?

    • DrewMusic

      Rating System

      5.0 – Perfect
      4.5 – Excellent
      4.0 – Great
      3.5 – Very Good
      3.0 – Good
      2.5 – Mixed
      2.0 – Disappointing
      1.5 – Bad
      1.0 – Embarrassing
      0.5 – Pathetic
      0.0 – Amaranthe

      • Tofu muncher

        Does this mean I had to delete all of the Amaranthe songs I dowloaded from iTune with my hard earned Lilangenis? My kids will disown me.

        • DrewMusic

          You could try turning the tables and disown them first, but that seems like a slippery slope. Maybe tell them that deleting Amaranthe is the only way to bring back Agalloch.

  • dblbass

    And one more thing….that Trials album kicked mucho ass. It also had a numbered rating….

  • Bas

    This sound great! I wasnt a big fan of Trials (too modern for my thrash taste) but the embedded sound got me excited. I have a big smile on my face… Love the progress in the song. Cant wait to hear more!!!!

  • Ta2dlam

    The intro and the riff at 4:25 are really the pieces that stuck out to me. I was excited by the intro and then much of it turned to ‘meh’ for me. My attention came back for the riff at 4:25 yet the rest isn’t enough to keep me coming back.

  • Pedro Morini Mietto

    Anyway… I smell Soen review in the oven?

    • naoto

      Same thing here. F5 all day long since last week.

  • Kronos Sr.

    I thought I recognized this album. I know someone who played a small part on the first track and he sent me a copy about 3 months ago. The album is definitely not for hard core but I would agree with the rating.

  • HairyToeKnuckles

    Listening to the embedded track, I was digging it; bobbing my head a little. And then, the singing began…

  • Norfair Legend

    I feel like somebody put a shot of Voivod in there as well, I like it. I’ve been super lazy this winter and don’t feel like travelling far so let me know when the next Cobra/Bottom/Reggies date is.

    • Dr_Fisting

      Livewire Lounge was too much of a commute for ya?

  • contenderizer

    Linked track gots nothing on This Ruined World.

  • KilledByDeath

    Kind of like Mastodon with Corey Taylor on vocals. I dig it.

  • jersey devil

    good stuff. this song “burning away the day”, which i’ve listened to 4 times in a row now, starts to remind me of Bad Religion, at least in spots. anyway, great album. but one thing confused me regarding this review–i do not hear ANY maiden or morbid angel at all. where does that comparison come from?

    • Rich

      Totally getting the Bad Religion vibe on this also. Thumbs up!

  • Does anyone else get a mild, Machine Head vibe from this album? Maybe it’s the Robb Flynn/Corey Taylor quality to the vocals. It’s good, but I think there were other discs more worthy of the ROTM crown.