Artist: Just Like Vinyl
Album: Black Mass
Genre: Rock, progressive, experimental
Label: Superball Music
I made a mental note as I was listening to this that perchance this is what Avenged Sevenfold sounded like to people who didn’t like them. You know: a certain throwback element and lots of greasy solos combined with gravelly vocals. Yes, I recognise that this is a needless comparison. But that’s what Black Mass makes me think of, and I can’t quite figure out whether I like this record or not. It has a great many wonderful things going for it – the sheer brazen lunacy of the music, unhinged and wild and visceral. The clustering styles. The glitz and unapologetic boldness of yesteryear. Spontaneity in droves. And yet, that self-same spontaneity and rhythmic excess is what’s off-putting about this album. For each time it sounds impossibly cool, there are other moments when it seems muddled and strange. Deliberately strange too, without there being any real reason for it. It’s as if it can’t quite figure out what direction it wants to go in, or what impact it’d like to have (aside from a mixture of brute force and shock factor). I realise that this may be the point and great music need not necessarily stick to a rigid structure, but it makes a great deal of Black Mass incomprehensible.
Perhaps the problem is that at first, it all seems quite novel and exciting and different, but after a time this wears off and it just becomes annoying. Even on only a second listen, there’s something so grating that by the time you reach track seven you’ll wonder how on earth it isn’t over yet. In small doses though, Just Like Vinyl are certainly onto something. “Safety Word” is an interesting clash of styles – the vocals are frenzied, while the music mixes in almost mathcore-type hijinks with more straightforward riffs. Its irreverence and showiness is quite appealing, and they take it up a notch with “Bitches Get Stitches.” This has a hint of nostalgia about it in the hair-raising theatricality, but it’s more brutal than it seems at first. It’s rough, but composed enough not to overstep the mark. Further along, “Happiness is a Hole” is demented, but with a curiously liberated streak – it seems less forced, with a more natural structure and rhythm to it. “Lucky Stars” benefits from its placing amid a series of primeval meltdowns. It has a creeping momentum that sneaks up on you, although the guitars and singing are uncontained as ever.
These are all well-executed, ably written songs and hugely enjoyable. However, there’s just too much going on in Black Mass for the effect to be sustained. On an album such as this, the maxim ‘quality over quantity’ fits perfectly, because there are so many other songs where the seeds of brilliance are evident but it all comes apart in the excess. “First Born” (the aforementioned track seven) is a fine example – a bemusing, loony track, stained with various undercurrents of violence and aggression but only managing to sound quite silly. It’s screaming for the sake of screaming, interspersed with some gratuitous solos. “Sucks to be You” abandons clarity for severity, scaling the tempo up considerably and yet miring itself in so many sludgy, awkward interludes that it has no momentum whatsoever. Other songs then have a manufactured element to them, such as “Hours and Whiskey Sours.” Even with the harebrained vocals and shrieking guitars, there’s nothing actually spectacular about it.
Just Like Vinyl’s sophomore effort comes across as a furious mixture of 80s hair metal, screamo, theatrical posturing, and then just…randomness. It’s deranged and feral, but this can only go so far until it seems to mask any actual ideas or sensibility. Its anarchic tendencies will most likely appeal to a certain following, but otherwise this is to be enjoyed in small doses.
Review written by Grace Duffy