A look at California’s Black Map and the sophomore album In Droves.
2017 is a time where rock consists of digital instruments and electronic midi effects layered under auto tuned vocals. It’s a sign of the times for musicians now to jump on the electronic bandwagon in the rock scene and for many bands it works. There are great bands and albums that are coming from this. But outside of that, there is something to be said about a band that just hooks up their instruments and microphones and relies solely on natural performance. Black Map, a trio coming from North California are that specific band that delivers solely with the standards that have made rock what it is through ability and creativity. In the press release given from eOne, Black Map’s style is being described as a combination of big names like Tool, A Perfect Circle, Deftones and Baroness. Along with those comparisons they have also been on tour with Chevelle, Bush, and Highly Suspect. All good names to be associated with.
The next question is if Black Map sounds similar to such big names, then how do they have their own identity? This isn’t the first band to have that question posed. Fortunately for the case of these three they have a lot to offer in original ideas. In Droves has over 15 tracks with progressive elements that make you feel like you are getting something for your time and money. Throughout the 15 tracks on this album including three tying “Transit” interludes, you can clearly tell the light prog and connecting elements that Black Map use. When hearing a single song from a band like this however it can sometimes be a hard sell. Describing a band like this to someone who hasn’t heard it before can be even more difficult outside of saying “A band that doesn’t rely on effects and synthetic instruments”.
My first experience with Black Map was hearing “Run Rabbit Run” on Sirius XM Octane several months ago. When I first heard the song, they reminded me a bit of Chevelle and the song stuck with me due to the main chorus and delivery of the title. Now hearing this song along with the rest of the album helps to get a better perspective of the band and In Droves. What I like about “Run Rabbit Run” is the build in Ben Flanagan’s vocal delivery as the song goes on. His singing sounds clean in the first verse and then goes into a good shout during the chorus. The guitar opening and high chords from Mark Engles drive this song and pair well with Flanagan’s octave and the song moves quickly at just over three minutes. “Run Rabbit Run” also has a distinction in that it is definitely one of the harder and louder songs on In Droves. Right after “Run Rabbit Run” ends, songs like “Foxglove”, “Ruin” and “Dead Ringer” set the tone of the album as slower paced and deep with plenty of rhythm. It’s this flow that is the selling point of In Droves and distinguishes their sound as a band – also making a claim as to why they are being compared to names like Tool and Chevelle.
While “Run Rabbit Run” definitely will get the attention of rock fans, it’s these melodic deep catchy tracks that will hook many listeners. Many of theses songs will require some growing time for sure, but after hearing songs like “Dead Ringer”, “White Fence” and the album closer “Coma Phase” you’ll come around on In Droves altogether.
I feel like Black Map has a knack for writing lines in a song that are unique enough to remember without completely reinventing the wheel. The lyric “Dead Ringer for the living” makes you think about living life as a shell and a mindless cog in the machine. This writing combined with some great riffs and bends from Engles create an atmospheric rock track. There are definitely spaces of time and tracks that won’t hold your interests as others. In the second half of the album after “Transit II” you’ll start feel a bit of repetition as that slower but rhythmic pace is kept at cruise control. Some songs will stand out for one listener more than the other, but in the positive light there isn’t one track on the album that didn’t at least impress me a little at the talent involved.
These types of bands with a focus on instrumental creativity and creating an atmosphere without the help of a macbook pro-player live on stage is becoming less common. It’s a shame because when a band like Black Map comes around with solid music and the ability to create something memorable, it takes that much more effort for their music to get attention. Overall, In Droves delivers a lot of music with a thick connection between songs in a deep and rich rhythm. This is the type of album that could help propel a band like Black Map to a good audience if it’s heard by enough people. And now with radio play and touring alongside other big names, Black Map could be onto something great if this direction continues.