Supergroups are so common in today’s metal market that it’s hard for me to get excited about them. Sure, every once in a blue moon I’ll stumble upon something like Vhol which arguably outshines its impressive pedigree, but one is far more likely to find a group that’s merely “okay.” This isn’t surprising; great bands are defined by a cohesive unit, and there’s little guarantee that a new joining of previously successful yet disparate musicians will yield something as special as its members’ origins. River Black, a new project featuring members of Revocation, Municipal Waste, and the long-defunct Burnt by the Sun, doesn’t feel like an attempt at outclassing those bands so much as spruced up recordings of jam session spitballing. It’s not a sophisticated approach, but RB’s self-titled debut is a decently fun. Yet like many supergroups, it’s just that: decent.

River Black is an interesting concoction in that it possesses traces of every genre relatable to its members’ respective histories, yet doesn’t really sound like any of their specific bands. Stylistically speaking, River Black is a tough record to nail down; there’s a heavy dose of stomping, macho hardcore riffs as well as an injection of thrash and down-tuned death metal viciousness, all wrapped in a grooving, largely mid-paced package. There are a lot of elements at work to be sure, and River Black’s greatest strength lies in their ability to compile these influences into a simple, identifiable sound without coming across as overstuffed. Their focus is refreshingly straightforward as well, showcasing an impressive diligence towards stuffing as many riffs into each concise composition as possible. The final product is knuckleheaded to be sure, but there’s something charming about River Black’s singular approach that leaves me relatively warm towards repeated listens.

Those return listens, however, quickly reveal the cracks in River Black’s foundation, especially in their songwriting chops. The band’s riff playbook is certainly impressive in sheer number and execution, but leave little room for pesky nuances such as complex constructions or subtle instrumentation. Sure, that’s kinda the whole point of River Black, but for a band that relies so heavily on heavy, grooving riffs, they can never quite get an infectious rhythm going. Drummer Dave Witte (Burnt by the Sun, Municipal Waste) is undeniably talented, but his chops aren’t properly utilized, the guitars leaving his routine patterns in the dust whenever he’s not performing at full throttle. Indeed, all extraneous elements fall by the wayside in the name of the Riff God, and this means that the song structures suffer as well. Tracks like “#Victim” start strong yet quickly veer into slower territory that feels strangely disconnected from what came before. While this is certainly a worst case scenario, most songs play out like a collection of guitar ideas that don’t feel arranged in a logical order.

The only instances where River Black displays genuine regard towards song construction are in the one-two punch of the string quartet interlude “River Black” and follow-up “South x South,” with the latter anchoring itself on the melody of the former, and the clean vocals (courtesy of Mastodon’s Brann Dailor) and Amorphis-esque leads in the mid-section of “Haunt.” These are uncharacteristically thoughtful additions to the record, but for the first few spins, at least, it’s difficult to care about compositional inconsistencies through the riff onslaught. River Black derives a respectable level of fretboard mileage from their largely low-end approach, tinkering with unconventional note progressions and light prog touches in impressive riffcraft that’s almost always interesting to listen to. The production sure makes the listening process difficult at times, though; it’s overly loud, yes, but even more concerning is the way the guitars and vocals push the snare and bass drums down in the mix while the cymbals remain strangely afloat. I can’t shake the feeling that punchier drum presence could have greatly bolstered River Black’s simple rhythms.

River Black displays an impressive dedication to riffs which provide the creative muscle expected from a band of its pedigree, but aside from the guitar work, there’s not much to say for it. It’s a fun, testosterone-driven listen on a purely surface level, but its lack of proper song structuring and rhythms that provide consistent momentum will make it a hard sell to many listeners, especially as it doesn’t fully cater to fans of any of the genres it explores. If you love its members’ main projects, go ahead and give River Black a go – just know that it traverses murkier waters.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Releases Worldwide: July 7th, 2017

  • Wes Allen

    You reminded me that I’ve been meaning to pick up some Vhol, and I thank you for that.

    • Brutalist_Receptacle


      • /b I, too, enjoy a balanced diet of various rodents /

    • Planex

      Someone recommended Vhöl to me describing them only as “prog metal”. I was pleasantly surprised when I spun through Deeper Than Sky for the first time.

  • rumour_control

    Forgive my latest enthusiastic response to an enjoyable read. Early on, some pure Steel GOLD:
    “…spruced up recordings of jam session spitballing.”

    • Whoops, Eldritch Elitist actually wrote this one. I just loaded it on and forgot to change the author tags.

      • rumour_control

        Indeed. A simple fix. You’re sort of good at that turn of a phrase, too. ;-)

        • Eldritch Elitist

          Thanks for the (indirect) complement. Big ups to Steel for uploading this for me while I was without internet access for a few days.

          • You can pay me back with metalcore reviews.

          • rumour_control

            Please don’t punish us all.

          • rumour_control

            Solid wordplay, Eld. You’re welcome (directly).

    • Drew Music

      Random and off-topic but for the greater good (the greater good…)
      R_C, are you the Cole who recently followed me on Bandcamp? You were saying you couldn’t find Ire Wolves, if that’s you I should be able to gift it to you where it was a free download.

      • rumour_control

        I’m RMR, or rmr_company, on Bandcamp. I have been hunting for the Wolves, and would love a gift! I’m not sure who Cole is, but, yes, I have followed you.

        • Drew Music

          Word, lemme hop on down to ‘Camp and see what I can do.

        • Drew Music

          Hmmm. Having a hard time finding you on Bandcamp, is yours the one with the Jedi meme for an avatar? I don’t use Disqus (the profile you’re following) for anything other than here, I just need to find you on the campgrounds but there’s RMR’s all over the pace there and I’m not trying to send some random e-person an album they didn’t ask for.

          • rumour_control

            NOT a Jedi. A sith, mang. Two, actually, But, yes, that is me.

          • Drew Music

            Fair enough haha ok lemme see if I can make some magic happen.

          • Drew Music

            Holy fuck this is getting ridiculous. They need an e-mail address, but I don’t wanna have you throw your info up for the world at large and I don’t have other social media to be reached at privately, nor do I wish to post my e-mail address here. Unless you have any thoughts, I guess I’d say just go to my collection – I followed you so I should be easy to find – and scroll toward the bottom, if it doesn’t let you download it from there you should at least be able to stream it. After all this, I really hope you can find it and end up really digging the album.

          • rumour_control

            Got it, and will donate some needed fundage to the Wolves’s crew. Thanks for the recommendation, Drew. Much appreciated.

          • Drew Music

            No problem, that’s what it’s all about, plus it was annoying the shit out of me that I was recommending something that people couldn’t find. Enjoy!

          • Freelance scribe? Why aren’t you freelancing for us? At AMG you’ll always work for free!

          • rumour_control

            I am humbled by your comment, but I am not at the knowledge or wit caliber of you, or your esteemed team. Wrote for a decade on music I eventually burned out on, and returned to my first and true love–metal. I come to AMG to see how constructive criticism, subject knowledge, and humor should really happen. Never disappointed. Always satisfied.

          • Fair enough. If you ever want a try out, we’re always happy to run folks through the gauntlet.

          • rumour_control

            I e-mailed you last year during the annual Gathering of the Scribes, but felt that I didn’t have what it takes right about now to give you a 3.0 dude.

          • Well, if things change let us know.

          • rumour_control

            I think I just wrote myself into a fresh challenge. I’ll hit you up via e-mail.

          • Doo eeeet!

          • rumour_control

            Done. Used the Contact form enclosed up yonder. Hope that is all right.

          • Forward a copy to [email protected] as well please.

          • rumour_control


          • Got it!

  • Planex

    Great cover art. Reminds me of Terese Neilsen of Magic:The Gathering fame.

    • Damn you! Now I am going to spend the entire weekend looking through all my old MTG cards.

  • Thatguy

    This is so dull that I zoned out and forgot the embedded song was playing. Then it stopped and I read the review, or actually I just skimmed the first and last paragraphs and the rating because reading about this music was dull too.

  • Hall Awaits

    This album is good, especially if you’re an old school BBTS fan.

  • Captain Heavy

    Bought it, was extremely disappointed. Its had 2/3 spins and I nearly fall asleep each time I hear it; damn shame.

    The new Integrity album though…

  • xengineofdeathx

    There is literally nothing here not to like if you like Burnt By the Sun. This is just Burnt By the Sun with a different bass player.