I’ve been accused of some things in my life, but only once has a band stopped a gig to suggest that I was watching porn while they played.
I wasn’t. I never have (honest….in case anyone I know is reading this ….ahem!), but I was reviewing a Black Whiskey gig back in 2015 one Friday night, just before their debut record came out.
“Heavy Train” was a cracker too. Then it all went quiet. Naively, I assumed that they’d gone the way of so many other bands. The truth was somewhat worse. Kev Ingles, the bands guitarist, had been battling cancer it turned out.
Happily, Kev has recovered and is absolutely in-situ for “Dry Bones”. A record that, as singer Simon Gordon puts it: “just showcases our development as a band but primarily it is also a big “FUCK YOU CANCER!”
And maybe it is those travails that give this collection a different sound. Not radically altered, but sufficiently darker to set them apart from the rucks of bands that have come along doing this stuff since 2015.
The opening title track is thicker in the groove, chunkier in the bass (and it doesn’t go unnoticed that Ingles supplies a piercing lead either) that sort of recalls an English version of Black Label Society.
The bass is interesting too, given that Craig Nabbs has arrived since the first record, and it is on one of his riffs that “King Of The Blind” is built, and this one doesn’t half have a hint or three of Alice In Chains about it.
Black Whiskey seem to have pulled out all the stops here. Best of all – and maybe it means a little more given what they’ve been through? – is “Cheat The Hangman” a slice of classic rock, but with a modern edge, if you like that immediately lifts this above the morass of retro.
“Bitter Pill” crushes, but has an accessibility, while “Baptise Me” is faster, more straight-ahead metal maybe and “Here To Stay” has real blues credentials, but an enormous solo that Ingles no doubt enjoyed.
This really isn’t the sort of album that wants to do balladry, but “Timebomb” is as close as it gets. As if to prove they knew it was a change of pace, “The Mirror Lies” slams its way back in. “Burning Bridges” has a touch of mid-period Corrosion Of Conformity about it – never a bad thing – but it is interesting that they seem not to want to get too bogged down here and there are plenty of disparate textures.
“Ends Of The Earth” is the sort of thing that Phil Campbell has been doing post-Motorhead, that is to say, metal tinged rock with a melody and a crunch and “Black Water” finishes the record off with something a little heavier (Gordon was the singer in thrash band Xentrix at one point, and there is a feel of that in the drums here) but still manages to tie the loose ends as they stay true to their vision.
It would be tempting to conclude this review with something trite like “a great album, but in the great scheme of things its not important”, which on one hand is true, but Black Whiskey deserve more than platitudes.
The fact is that music means more than that anyway. I can remember the songs I listened to when my mum was dying of cancer back in 2009, so you’d best be in no doubt that I know that this band, these songs and this album would have driven Ingles on.
“Dry Bones” is the sound of that being realised, by a band that maybe can do now what they always seemed capable of.