THE NEW BLACK, II – Better In Black (2011, AFM)
So, what, this flaming skull was stenciled onto a shed or something? Painted on some random hunk of wood, or maybe, yeah maybe the sign above the swinging doors of a dangerous biker bar? The New Black Saloon, enter if you dare! Art like this, trying as it does to evoke the grit and recklessness of some half-remembered or imagined motorcycle culture, is a sure sign that the band it’s advertising is not particularly rowdy. I basically believe that there’s really no such thing as a dangerous musician, and if there is, he probably isn’t signed and definitely isn’t making albums that look like this. Practicing your instrument, writing songs, posing for promotional photos: these are not activities willingly undertaken by the genuine badass. At most you’ll get the likes of Zakk Wylde, spoiled alcoholics with beer muscles and unkempt beards. An album cover like this is supposed to say, “I don’t give a fuck!” Instead, it loudly broadcasts, “I give quite a few fucks, actually, and I’m deeply invested in your believing that I am really tough. Please feel threatened by me, and maybe just a little aroused.”
I guess you could call this radio metal, or something? I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe these new pop metal styles, stuff made for the mass market in the post-nu-metal era. There are tons of bands like this out there – you hear them on the radio in the rental car when you forgot to bring a CD, or maybe at sports bars or something. I guess Alter Bridge and Stone Sour are the pacesetters in the genre, a sort of ubiquitous, low-grade quasi-metal that sounds edgy if don’t pay attention, but won’t offend if you do. These guys would probably recoil at the notion that they’re basically the same as Papa Roach, but really there’s no great distinction. As metal, this shit barely passes: there are almost no real riffs, the songwriting is barely a step up from pop punk, and everything is polished to a plastic shine. With a band like The New Black, you might actually imagine their favorite Metallica album is Load. When I hear this sort of music, I immediately assume the entire enterprise is a cynical grab for rock stardom, but when you notice all the little ways they stray from the top 40 path, like a guitar harmony here or a solo there, you have to consider the possibility that these guys just have atrociously bad taste and honestly just want to make exactly the sort of bland dad metal they’re making. And that’s how a band like this ends up on AFM, I guess. If they were just in if for the money, they wouldn’t even bother slogging it out for three albums with an indie; they’d either land that Roadrunner deal or they’d give up, each dude reappearing a year later in some new band that wants to be the next big thing. I don’t know what’s more depressing: making music like this in a mercenary effort to underestimate the taste of the public, or making it because this is where your sad-sack muse led you.
— Friar Johnsen