Blackballed – Elephant in the Room Review

I have a soft spot in my heart for blues. From the first time I picked up a guitar in ’99, blues riffs and chord progressions have been a passion. When in no mood to play or learn an actual song, I fall back on slides, bends, hammer-ons, and other doodlings in whichever key my heart desires. Alternating between single-string plucks to power and traditional chords, I find peace in the simplistic groove. Standing on my shelf next to other “non-metal” records, like Captain Beyond, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Waylon Jennings, Blue Öyster Cult, and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, you’ll find albums from B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Johnson, and John Lee Hooker. Am I trying to say I’m an expert in the field? Heavens, no. But this would explain my odd selection of (typically) straight-forward, go-nowhere blues/hard rock promos for review. And here’s yet another.

Manchester‘s Blackballed (not to be confused with the unlistenable punk band Black Balled) is the side-project of New Model Army‘s guitarist Marshall Gill. As you look up NMA for the hundredth time because you know you’ve heard them before, take note that Blackballed sounds nothing like them. Initially formed with his brother Leon—releasing LPs Colossus and Fultons PointElephant in the Room is the first without the duo. But that hasn’t slowed Marshall Gill down one bit. With bassist Tom Wibberley at his side and Alex Whitehead behind him on the kit, Gill pushes on to give their catchy Fultons Point a run for its money.

Unfortunately, it takes a few songs for the Room to find the Elephant. After forgettable opener “When the Devil Calls,” all I can think about when I hear the Blue Öyster Culty “Someone Else’s Shoes” is that these guys have a thing for shoes. But it’s the Queens of the Stone Age groove of the title track that begins to pull everything together. Like “Another Lonely Day” and “Break the Chains,” this song has one of the catchiest choruses on the album. While “Elephant in the Room” is a mid-paced number, “Break These Chains” is an upbeat plodder; doing its part to guide the remainder of the album to its crushing closer. On the other hand, “Another Lonely Day” is a slower piece with bluesy guitar leads and vocal arrangements that remind me of Amigo the Devil.

Following the footsteps of 2017’s Fultons Point, Elephant in the Room pushes against the barriers that enclose it in hopes of finding diversity and originality in this simplistic style. The piano-driven cheesefest that is “Flesh and Bone” is such an example. I can’t quite put my finger on what the repetitious keystrokes remind me of but it’s the sappiest thing the band has ever written. A couple of tracks later, the band picks up the pace with a song straight out of Dave Grohl’s book on How to Write Another Foo Fighters Song. Yet, it’s a fun piece and Wibberley shows off his Steve Harris solo skills. Variation being the goal, “Show Me the Light” and closer “Mother Earth” even sport some Mercyful Fate-inspired licks. The latter blows the album out of the water with the most killer riff of the lot. Including an outro taken from Michael Poulsen’s book,1 How to Write Yet Another Volbeat Song.

Coming off 2014’s Colossus—a one-dimensional BOC blues-rock release—the band has done well to explore what they can do as songwriters. Elephant is unarguably their most diverse release to date. It’s also their first on a major record label and their most dynamic yet. Not only that, but the dynamics are the best I’ve ever heard. They give it an old-school bluesy, hard rock sound, even if some of the songwriting is more modern. All that said, there’s nothing new here and it doesn’t all work. I’ve spent a long time with this album in hopes that I’d find something remarkable. Instead, it’s nothing more than a solid slab of hard rock. But, with dynamics like this, an extra 0.5 is in order.

[Editor’s Note: I know the video is unavailable. Go watch it on the band’s Facebook page.]


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 16!! | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Metalville Records
Websites: blackballedband.org | facebook.com/blackballeduk2
Releases Worldwide: July 24th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. The companion pamphlet to Grohl’s enormous three-volume set.
  2. Check out the video to “Another Lonely Day” here.
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