aaron riffle

Album review: Black on Black - Firebrand (EP)

Black on Black is one of those rare bands that shocked, surprised, bewildered, confused, and straight knocked me out when I first heard its debut EP Help Yourself. Blending Fugazi, Rites of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, Converge, and a miles deep well of anger and aggression, Wade Kelly, Aaron Riffel, and John Benda tapped into something that has sadly been missing in rock today: honesty.
Through three EPs (Help Yourself, Let’s Get Cynical, Get On With It), Black on Black has bludgeoned listeners with truth, building an ever-growing following not through gimmicks or recycled, hackneyed riffs but through in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n roll and live performances that reportedly leave attendees drained and wanting more. There seems to be no end to the fire, force, and boiling hostility within Black on Black. With four EPs in the two years, the band is on a creative explosion that does not ever seem to stumble.
The band’s latest release Firebrand walks tall, continuing where Get On With It left off.
Blowing out the starting blocks with “I Dreamt I Died,” a song of gnashed teeth and crushed dreams; “we can borrow a mock civility” lead man and chief lyricist Wade Kelly screams, “but we’ll hang the righteous at dawn.” There is definitely a tone to Firebrand and the motivation of Black on Black.
“Getting signed to a deal, to a label is not what we’re trying for,” Kelly told me. “We just hope people like the music we make.” With Firebrand, Black on Black does not merely tap a vein to get in touch with their audience; they have hacksawed and ice picked their way through a major artery.
“Butcher’s Block” sounds like the world would if Springsteen and The Hold Steady would have been punk rockers. Like Springsteen and Craig Finn, Kelly paints vivid pictures with his lyrics: “when my body breaks like a shell dissolving in the rain / you’re gonna taste my angry love.” While Kelly spits bile out to the world, drummer Benda and bassist Riffel (formerly of Lawrence punk stalwarts Unknown Stuntman) push the songs along like a rocket-fueled muscle car with no brakes, no seatbelts, and a trunk packed to the brim with nitroglycerin.
Black on Black is becoming an expert in blending its influences and anxiety to make a style that is all its own. No regurgitated Misfits riffs, no banjos, no rehashed 1970s bombast, no gimmicks, no angles to appease the cool kids; Black on Black does what it wants and it shows on Firebrand. It shows in everything the band does. Many bands claim to live within the DIY philosophy but few in today’s world do it as well as Black on Black and—thanks to an unflinching approach to everything—fans get great albums like Firebrand. Keep up the anger-filled work my friends, it’s definitely working in your favor.
--Danny R. Phillips
Danny has been reporting on music of all types and covering the St. Joseph music scene for well over a decade. He is a regular contributor to the nationally circulated BLURT Magazine and his work has appeared in The Pitch, The Omaha Reader, Missouri Life, The Regular Joe, Skyscraper Magazine, Popshifter, Hybrid Magazine, the websites Vocals on Top and Tuning Fork TV, Perfect Sound Forever, The Fader, and many others.
Check out Black on Black at KC’s first Zombie Pub Crawl this weekend. They will open up the Vandals stage at 9 pm on Saturday. Facebook event page.

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