Formed in 2001, Black Stone Cherry’s ascent has been the stuff of legend, with the band signing to Roadrunner early on in their career before moving to Mascot in 2015. Their eponymous debut was well received and each subsequent release has bought the band to new fans and ever-larger venues with the band’s most recent outing, ‘magic mountain’ proving to be a particular high point in the band’s storied career. It is the trajectory of which every young band dreams, but it is one that has been built on hard work and a sense of commitment that has proved irresistible to audiences the world over. Thus the band return with a fair degree of expectation heaped upon their shoulders. Maintaining an upward trajectory in an ever-more cynical world is no easy task, and yet it should come as no surprise that the band have responded with what is, arguably, their most aggressive and potent work to date, ‘Kentucky’.
Kicking off as they mean to go on, Black Stone Cherry unleash the Metallica-esque riffage of ‘the way of the future’ and immediately it’s obvious they have upped the ante considerably since the far more mellow ‘Magic mountain’. With layers of chrome plated guitar, blistering solos and a politically charged vocal that shoots outs sparks of electricity, ‘the way of the future’ is BSC drawing upon the monstrous metallic bite of early Soundgarden, and proving themselves more than worthy of the comparison. Opening in singer-songwriter mode BSC wrong-foot the listener, suddenly smearing the canvass with yet another almighty riff, and sending the listener staggering back as singer Chris Robertson once again leads the band into their darkest territory yet. With no sign of wishing to slow the pace, ‘Shakin my cage’ sees the band combining southern elements and heavy-ass riffs in the vein of the Zakk Wylde project Pride and Glory, and the staccato riff that powers the chorus lets you know the band mean business like never before. With so much firepower on display it’s easy to forget the swing that sits at the heart of so much BSC material and so it’s a relief when ‘Soul machine’ swaggers into view with a lascivious grin and arrogant strut that puts groove firmly back on the agenda. In contrast ‘Long Ride’ is the album’s big ballad and it’s a huge, soppy (yet endearing) example of the genre that throws massive riffs, an impossible-to-ignore melody and a Guns ‘n’ Roses-aping solo into the mix. However, anyone worried that the band are heading too far down that path will soon get a rude awakening as the band charge headlong into an absolutely ludicrous (and quite unexpected) cover of Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ filtered through the brutal riffage of ‘Paradise City’. A great track, and a huge amount of fun to boot, you can only imagine the smiles that must have abounded in the studio as the band laid this one down.
The second half of the album kicks off with the distorted riff of ‘Hangman’, a brutal rocker that stands as an album highlight before the gritty ‘cheaper to drink alone’ sends the band even further off the deep end with its rich southern drawl and taut beat. Another surprise moment, ‘Rescue me’ kicks off with a gospel choir only to explode into metallic life as a scything riff appears from nowhere ready to tear the song to pieces. A vital, heart pounding mix of metal and melody that recalls Fozzy, ‘rescue me’ is a surprising entry into the band’s canon, but a powerful one. ‘Feelin’ fuzzy’ does pretty much what it says on the tin, a woozy beat powering a riff with a suspiciously herbal scent only for the chorus to venture into pure pop rock territory, the mighty guitars tempered with a devastating melody that wedges itself in your brain for days. Like many of the tracks here, ‘Darkest secret’ starts out slow before the band tear into their instruments for all their worth, unleashing riff after riff until the listener finds themselves shaken and exhausted at the record’s conclusion. Another melodic monster, ‘born to die’ has a strong classic rock feel to it, and it’s easy to imagine the track being a radio hit with its easy charm, pounding beat and impassioned vocals. The record closes with the one moment of calm on offer, the acoustic (and rather beautiful) ‘the rambler’ which sees the band stripped bare in the wake of so much bluster. A heartfelt piece that draws the curtain down upon the album in fine style, ‘the rambler’ is a lovely piece of music indeed.
Black Stone Cherry may have already had one of a career, but happily they show no sign of slowing down yet. A full-throttle record with a fistful of memorable melodies, ‘Kentucky’ may well be BSC’s best record to date, and it is certainly their most energetic. What strikes home most, however, is not the vim and vigour of the record, but rather the restless creativity and variety that makes the album so continuously interesting. From the manic cover of ‘war’, via the brutal groove of ‘shakin’ my cage’, to the punishing ‘hangman’, BSC have challenged themselves to produce an album that will have listeners returning again and again. With ‘Kentucky’, Black Stone Cherry’s continued ascent seems assured.