Black Sites – Untrue Review

I’ve never known someone with such an instinct for perfection as Black Sites‘ progenitor and front man, Mark Sugar. I’m fortunate that I’ve seen how the he works, being that he and I have a project together.1 When he sends you a demo, it’s about as well thought out and executed as a demo can get. One might say it’s not a demo at all, but the finished product. By comparison, I received the special re-release of Metallica‘s self-titled record from Steel on a drunken afternoon at a record store in the Big Apple, and not even the Mighty Met has as good of demos as Mark. How one man can write complex, fully-stacked songs that don’t overstay their welcome and that never leave listeners feeling cheated is beyond me.

Like his Chicago compatriot, Chris Black, Mark is a musical mathematician. And this can clearly be heard on Black SitesUntrue. Every riff, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, transition, and guitar tone is there for a reason. While some musicians find a mood, slap on the blinders, and go, Mark sees the completed album from 30,000 feet. His songwriting is also a celebration of metal. What you hear from him isn’t anything new. (And he’d be the first to say it.) Black Sites has taken Mark’s entire collection of musical influences, synthesized it, and presented it to you. What makes it unique is how he absorbs his love for bands like Van Halen, Judas Priest, Trouble, Black Sabbath, and Bay-area thrash (to name a few) and puts himself into them.2 We love Mark in these parts,3 but that doesn’t shadow the truth that he’s one of the best songwriters in metal today.

Untrue feels more focused and controlled than the band’s previous albums. With 2019’s experiment Exile, Black Sites put together a playlist of their favorite metal songs and recreated them in Black Sites fashion. For Untrue, you hear the authentic Mark Sugar; the Mark Sugar of Black Sites, the Mark Sugar of Bear Mace, the Mark Sugar of Trials. With the equally talented Ryan Bruchert (guitarist and inspired namer of guitar solos, ex-Trials) and Garry Naples (drums, also of Novembers Doom, Wolvhammer) still in his corner, the result is better than it’s ever been before. Don’t let the word “controlled” fool you into thinking Untrue isn’t stacked to the brim with riffs. Take opener “Sword of Orion” as an example. It combines an old-school intro and thrashy pre-chorus to help build a massive chorus. And the twin-guitar work at the end will make any heavy metal fan smile. Like Exile, the fantastic backing vocals are also present, though subtle—leaving you wanting more.

The songs to scratch that itch are “Call It by Its Name” and “Echo of a Lie.” The first opens with an addictive, doomy lick and a pre-chorus that has lots of Trials vibes. With each passing moment, the song gets better. There’s the gorgeous chorus, some clever guitar work, and a soothing acoustic outro. But before you get to the end, the band pairs astonishing harmonized vocals with perfectly-executed instrumentation. And, goddamn, does it feel good. “Echo of a Lie” uses its backing vocals and atmosphere to give the song a windy character. But, like “Call It by Its Name,” this is only the first layer of the cake. The piece cools the tension with a single, charging guitar. But it increases once again and erupts into more of those heart-stopping harmonies, a killer solo, and a Trials-inspired pummeling.

Other tracks worth mentioning are “Nocturne/Everything Went Black” and closer “White Ashes.” Both begin in ballady form, drawing you in with clean guitars and soft vocals. The former, though, makes a drastic shift in mood (presumably as “Nocturne” turns into “Everything Went Black”). The melody the bass creates remains as the distortion kicks in. Then, the song settles into a groovy Blue Öyster Cult lick with a thrashy Trials kick. It gallops and builds to the bitter end, lending strength to the taffy-sticky chorus. But my favorite track on the album is the closer, “White Ashes.” It mixes the depressing moodiness of Trials and Machine Head perfectly. The song starts somber but never releases its grip—even when it gets heavier. If anything, the mood only heightens as the repetitious chorus matches the growing strength of the instrumentation.

As with both In Monochrome and Exile, Black Sites’ genius is that they feel modern and classic simultaneously. This is accomplished with production. In the era of Industry Standard DR6 Mastering Jobs™, the ability to make bass and drums pop is a real talent that Sanford Parker and Sugar have mastered. Untrue is driven, in part, by the feel of the drums and bass performances (“Call It by Its Name,” “Lost Tribes”). And the rhythm section never feels like it’s relegated in the production. Just like in classic metal albums, when Bruchert and Sugar break out the guitar harmonies, the bass rumbles alone with the drums (“White Ashes,” “Echo of a Lie”). This gives Untrue an undeniably classic sound. It’s this classic sensibility that helps to aesthetically integrate Untrue‘s disparate parts; to balance rollicking bass lines (the end of “They Eat Their Young”) with Opethisms (“Nocturne/Everything Went Black”) and fully modern dad thrash riffs (“The Worst of Us”).4

Untrue is a damn-near-perfect album. It represents all the different aspects of the man behind the music. While Exile was a remarkable exploration of metal, this album feels far more personal. Much like how TrialsThis Ruined World felt. I know fans are split on which is better: Exile or Untrue.5 But, they really are different albums. Each provides different moods and perspectives. But, the passion that slithers through Untrue speaks to me. Pick and choose as you wish, but the fact is that both of these Black Sites albums are 4.0+ material. And that in itself is pretty amazing.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Self-Release
Websites: blacksites.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/blacksites
Releases Worldwide: October 8th, 2021

Show 5 footnotes

  1. A project that will see the light of day as soon as my lazy ass does its part.
  2. I would also say that you can clearly hear his love of Hammers of Misfortune. – AMG
  3. For those unaware, Mark was an active writer at AngryMetalGuy.com for years before he took all the “if you’re so good, where’s YOUR new album!?!?!?!1″ criticisms to heart and started releasing RotY contenders.
  4. This paragraph courtesy of AMG.
  5. I really like the first album, honestly. – AMG
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