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Friday, December 3, 2010

Album Review - Burn Blue Sky: Celebrate the Decline


Somewhere in the middle of America’s rust belt, an area of our great country that has been stranded in its own modern day depression for over thirty years, there are five guys doing their damndest to drown out the dwindling population’s collective frustration armed with nothing but noise. Kent, Ohio’s Burn Blue Sky have been kicking around this dusty landscape for ten years and on their latest release, the oh so appropriately titled Celebrate the Decline, that experience shows. Laying down eight tracks of blues inflected, heavy ass rock n roll, vocalist Ben Bivens, guitarists Jason Stone and Mike Carlton and the brothers McGranahan (Gabe on bass, Beau on drums) have created a soundtrack to blue collar America’s unified feeling of dissatisfaction.

The album opens with a healthy dose of guitar driven feedback accompanied by a nice bass line that ultimately collapses into a frenetic guitar solo before Bivens unleashes a vocal flurry that volleys back and forth between a low end clean style and a throat shredding screech. The song is “Neo Cortez” and let me tell you, it is one hell of an introduction to Burn Blue Sky. In fact, if you don’t like it…and I can almost guarantee that will NOT be the case, then I suggest you walk away now, because this song goes a long way towards defining the band’s sound. When the dust settles on the blistering opening track, that same feedback returns, only this time we hear a woman’s fading voice warning us…“You know that ringing in your ears…that beeeep…that’s the sound of the ear cells dying, like their swan song…once it’s gone, you’ll never hear that frequency again…enjoy it while it lasts”.

So with such a frightening health advisory, you’d think I’d heed the warning and adjust that volume knob slightly to the left, but when the band launches into track number two, “All Fade Away”, I find myself turning it in the opposite direction as Bivens pleads in his throaty rasp, “when I die I wonder…will you remember my name”. The album’s third track “The City Streets” takes a page from Clutch’s From Beale Street to Oblivion with its bluesy swagger, a trend that continues right on into “Cigarettes & Friends Long Dead”…I mean c’mon, can you hear that organ lurking in the background? And it’s this song that begins to define Burn Blue Sky’s influences and their style becomes more apparent. These guys sound like the love child of 90’s era alt-metal bands like Life of Agony and Southern tinged stoner rock, ala Sixty Watt Shaman.

The next song “Heathen” drives this point home with its chunky breakdown and Life of Agony-esque guitar work. However, the styles incorporated in Celebrate the Decline don’t stop there as I can hear some Pantera sprinkled throughout the album and (the band will probably hate this) there seems to even be a Godsmack-ish, nu-metal component hiding just under the surface. But you know what? It works and I fucking dig it! I mean shit man; “Burning Blue” sounds like it could have been an outtake from a Spineshank album with its sensitive guy/angry guy vocals and down-tuned, chugga-chugga guitar riffs. But that’s the thing about Burn Blue Sky…they aren’t afraid to combine powerful, emotive vocals with bluesy, Southern hard rock and sledgehammer riffs. The formula just flat out works…and frankly, it’s refreshing.

Celebrate the Decline hits the home stretch with “(Life in) Quarantine”, an epic number that starts off subtly but transforms into a high tempo, yet bitter lament that finds Bivens again echoing the frustrations of his neighbors, as he sings “I need a way out…from here”. The final bullet in this gun is the title track, a song that finds Burn Blue Sky mining Alice in Chains territory as we’re left with what could certainly be the band’s signature line…”the blue sky is burning red”.

This is a very cohesive album, the songs are memorable and because there are only eight of them, there are no throwaways on Celebrate the Decline. I’d hesitate to call it stoner rock, but some of the elements are definitely there. It’s just that those elements only make up one piece of the puzzle that is Burn Blue Sky. Bottom line…this is good, heavy rock n roll and it deserves to be heard.

Track Listing:

01 Neo Cortez
02 All Fade Away
03 The City Streets
04 Cigarettes and Friends Long Dead
05 Heathen
06 Burning Blue
07 (Life in) Quarantine
08 Celebrate the Decline

Band Members:

Jason Stone - Guitar
Ben Bivens - Vocals
Beau McGranahan - Drums
Gabe McGranahan - Bass
Mike Carlton - Guitar

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