I’ve reviewed my fair share of supergroups this year, and I don’t want to use that term too loosely. There were some groups that were able to mold their different influences in a fluid motion and some, not so much. Black Map is comprised of guitarist Mark Engles (Dredg), drummer Chris Robyn (Far), and vocalist/bassist Ben Flanagan (Trophy Fire). When I first heard of the lineup, I thought it was going to be on the experimental side, especially with members of Far and Dredg in tow. If you were to start at the last track on this album, “…And We Explode, Part 2”, one would agree. It’s an atmospheric, drum-driven track with Flanagan’s airy vocals mixed in that gives a dreamy experience. Perhaps an addition of a song such as “Part 2” won’t have a mainstream impact that will accept Black Map in droves, but the actual result of this album is one that is very guitar-driven. Black Map has toured with bands such as Chevelle and Crosses; while the album is not a mere emulation of those bands, it’s a interpretation of alternative music from the band’s standpoint.
The opening tracks “Code” and “Chinaski” really set the mark for where the band wants to take you sonically. Engles’ guitar parts are hard-lined and creative for the most part. In particular “Chinaski” has a guitar part that has no particular chord paired together, matched with percussion that is fast in the beginning and slower with the breakdown in the middle of the song. It will get your feet stomping. I can picture one of those live moments where the guitarist goes toward the drum rig to crank it out. “Head For The Hills” could be a alternative radio hit. There are many songs that have a similar structure to them, but instrumentally, there’s enough variation that kept me interested.
Flanagan’s vocal boarder on a cross between Maynard James Keenan and Pete Loeffer. The coarseness of his delivery accents the guitar and percussion from Engles and Robyn. Any of these songs could be radio singles, they just have that type of adaptability. “Ropes” may be the hardest song of the album and also one of the most inviting. I know that is kind of an oxymoron, but if you give it a listen, I think you will agree. It’s that juxtaposing nature that will keep the band’s debut fresh. “Ropes” features that hard percussion and searing guitar format. It also features some harder vocals from Flanagan sandwiched with a catchy chorus underneath. “Let’s tie our ropes together/So tight they never sever”.
With the likes of bands like Royal Blood ushering the “no bells and whistles” rock formula back in the mainstream, it’s also a relief to hear another band add some fire to that torch as well. …And We Explode takes what has worked in the rock world and made a compilation of that. In their sophomore effort, I would like to hear a little bit more experimentation simply because I know these guys are great musicians. It would be great for them to explore that side further. Rock as a genre can definitely use that. For their debut however, they make a good statement. While the road may already be paved, there’s a pathway for Black Map to carve their own place in the echelon of rock music.