October 02, 2008 Digital & Physical Release
Riffs 'R' Us
Conway's Black Suit Karma delivers dose of heavy rockby Shea Stewart | December 2, 2008 at 12:00 p.m.
LITTLE ROCK — The riffs on Conway heavy rock act Black Suit Karma's Negative White can be described as skull-crushing, grinding, churning, dive-bombing, galloping, chainsawing, roaring and stabbing. And that's just a starter in describing the heavy riff rock guitars that pepper the 10-track album. At full speed, the tracks of Black Suit Karma's debut album march into the ring like a rabid prize fighter showing little restraint: full of piss and vinegar, brawling, swarming and jabbing, and delivering riffs in the vein of Alice in Chains, Black Sabbath, Black Label Society and Soundgarden. The album's 39 minutes are deliberately brutal, offering solid, intense, tough rock with a dark charm. Just formed in April, the band - Norman Wilkerson on vocals, Tommy Johnson on guitars, Rus on bass and backing vocals, and Jeremy Parker on drums - entered Blue Chair Studio in Austin in July where they produced the band-written Negative White. Johnson and Wilkerson were acquaintances from central Arkansas' strong heavy rock scene, enlisting Parker and luring Rus from a self-imposed musical sabbatical. Deriving their name from the karma built up in black suits worn at funerals, the group played its first sold-out gig at Conway's Soundstage before entering the Little Rock market with shows at Vino's, Downtown Music and the Revolution Music Room, and receiving airplay on 100.3 The Edge. Sometimes music makes you think. Sometimes it makes you happy. Sometimes it makes you sad. And sometimes you just want music to punch you in the face. Black Suit Karma's music is the latter, for the most part, and sounds so good in the process.
Good: Black Suit Karma understands heavy rock is dependent on music that's brutish but melodic, and the band delivers it on four of the opening five tracks. With doom-and-gloom bass lines, thundering, pummeling drums, Four-Horsemen-of-the-Apocalypse guitar riffs and howling vocals, the tracks "Sludge in the Well," "Sick Junkie (Anthem for the Karma Army)," "Agony of Solitude" and "Omega Horse (Shadows May Come)" are a musical blitzkrieg. "Sludge in the Well" possesses a distorted, grungy guitar riff that would make Jerry Cantrell proud with Johnson's guitar screaming and squealing its notes in the choruses as Wilkerson sings: "Your black sunshine/Poisons the well/Swallow you down/Stomach aches/I'm not well." "Sick Junkie (Anthem for the Karma Army)" combines a slow-marching guitar riff and a military rhythm on snare to grind out its tale of an abusive relationship, and "Agony of Solitude" kicks off with tribal drums and Rus' dark-cloud rumbling bass line before Johnson's B-52 bombing run of a guitar riff drops. The blistering "Omega Horse (Shadows May Come)" pounds the landscape with an ominous riff that erupts as Wilkerson indicts the military-industrial complex for using soldiers as just another bullet in the barrel: "You may be just a boy/But we'll make you a man/As you learn to kill gods and devils/I am war."
Bad: After the apocalyptic riffing at the beginning of Negative White, the album's second half features a few slower numbers, mostly lacking Johnson's signature riffing. "In Between the Space of Things" kicks off with a guttural bass line and a cymbal-heavy beat. It questions authority but does so with a few abstract guitar brushes. It growls but never barks. "Feverish" is a brooding ballad, again heavy on bass and drums, but exchanging a soul-shattering riff for guitar harmonics and a spoken-word intermission. It dances around the ring without ever delivering its promised blow. Black Suit Karma is a better band when delivering a landslide of ruthless guitar riffs, but "In Between the Space of Things" and "Feverish" lack teeth.
The band does a better job with the light and shadow of music making on the excellent "Lovers or Leeches." It's slower in its delivery in the verses before exploding in a torrent of raging guitars and growling vocals in the chorus as Wilkerson states, "I don't want to let you down," before delivering the hammer in the next stanza, riding a cascade of guitars and drum fills.
Must haves: "Sludge in the Well," "Sick Junkie (Anthem for the Karma Army)," "Agony of Solitude," "Omega Horse (Shadows May Come)," "Lovers or Leeches," "Tank Land"
Rating (out of five): 4
Original Post: December 2, 2008 Arkansas Democrat Gazette: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2008/dec/02/riffs-r-us/
1. Sludge In the Well 2. Sick Junkie (Anthem for the Karma Army) 3. Agony of Solitude 4. In Between the Space of Things 5. Omega Horse (Shadows May Come) 6. Mosh, Fight or Fuck (MMF) 7. Feverish 8. Lovers or Leeches? 9. Tankland 10. A Hole Inside
Musicians (Recording & Live)
Thomas Johnson - Guitars • Jeremy Parker - Drums • James "Rus" Russell III - Bass | Backing Vocals • Norman Wilkerson - Lead Vocals
Music written by: Thomas Johnson • James "Rus" Russell III Lyrics written by: Norman Wilkerson Produced By: Thomas Johnson, Jeremy Parker, James "Rus" Russell III, and Norman Wilkerson. Recording Engineers: Darian Stribling and Jordan Trotter. Recorded at: Blue Chair Recording Studio, Austin, Arkansas. Mixed & Mastered at: Blue Chair Recording Studio, Austin, Arkansas by Darian Stribling. Album Concept by: Norman Wilkerson Album Art by: Jeremy Vestal Photography & Editing by: Jeremy Vestal Layout Design & Art Direction by: Norman Wilkerson