Led by former Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner, Blackfinger made quite an impression with their self-titled debut back in 2014. Since that time, Wagner has vacated his hometown of Chicago, enlisting an entirely new cast of musicians in Pittsburgh. I had my doubts that Blackfinger would even make a 2nd album, given Wagner’s relocation as well as his increased involvement with The Skull. But much to my pleasant surprise, here we are with a new lineup and a new record, When Colors Fade Away.
The opening title track reveals the new-and-improved Blackfinger to be a surprisingly agile and live-sounding band. Bassist Matthew Cross takes the spotlight on several occasions with some melodic and upfront playing, while drummer David Snyder avoids typical doom plodding in favor of jazzy Bill Ward-isms. And having Terry Weston and Matthew Tuite (both ex-Penance) on board certainly can’t hurt. The two of them deal in fuzzier, more classic territory than what went down on Blackfinger‘s debut, inching somewhat closer to The Skull‘s wheelhouse.
As for Wagner himself? If the album title didn’t tip you off, he’s still not in a particularly uplifting mood. The music on Colors may or may not qualify as doom metal, but the lyrical outlook is about as dark as it gets. He seems to have mostly retired his trademark higher range, spending most of the record speak-singing in a chillingly detached baritone. “All My Sorrow” seems to hang a lampshade on Wagner’s current mood: “Hush little babies, don’t you cry/You know your daddy was born to die/All my troubles will soon be gone.” Also of note is the chorus of “Crossing The River Turmoil,” in which Wagner seems to be reading the opening of a last will and testament. Happy music, this is not.
Luckily, there are a few rays of light amongst all this darkness. “Can I Get A Witness” packs a slightly harder punch than the other tracks, with a grooving cowbell riff and a brief return of Wagner’s screeching higher register. “Waiting For The Sun” (no, not the Doors tune) is a mellow, somewhat psychedelic love song, somewhere between Trouble‘s Manic Frustration era and perhaps early Soundgarden. There seems to be more then a little sarcasm in the lyrics to closing track “Till We Meet Again,” as well. And don’t even get me started on “My Old Soul,” which repurposes the nursery rhyme “Old King Cole” to bizarre effect.
With the exception of perhaps one or two tracks, Colors is a pretty lethargic affair even by doom standards. Aside from Wagner’s aforementioned vocal approach, he has also recycled quite a few lyrics from earlier albums of his, although that’s par for the course on his last few projects. And while the band seem to be more at home with slower tempos, I do think this album could have used just one or two faster, more energetic tracks for variety’s sake. For what it’s worth, though, Colors is more consistent in tone than Blackfinger‘s debut, which had 2-3 rock songs scattered awkwardly amongst a lot of ballads.
In the grand scheme of things, Blackfinger Mach II manages to expand on the promise of the debut, while feeling like a different band entirely (because, y’know…it is). The new lineup is a significant improvement, and the songs themselves are memorable enough to worm their way into your brain after repeated listens. While it’s more of a “doom” record in mood than in actual musical style, When Colors Fade Away is still a worthy addition to Eric Wagner’s lengthy discography.