(2020) Black Stone Cherry: The Human Condition

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Artist: Black Stone Cherry
Album: The Human Condition
Release: 30.10.2020
Label: Mascot Label Group

 

On March 11th, 2020, The World Health Organization declared that the outbreak of a viral disease, with a name similar to a certain brand of Mexican light beer, had reached the level of a global pandemic. In the panic reaction that ensued, the mass demand for toilet paper and instant noodles skyrocketed. As I reflect back upon that time, it becomes increasingly clear that not even the best of stand-up comedians could have made that shit up. The world literally went batshit crazy, almost overnight. During those weird months when the first lockdown measures were imposed upon us, Kentucky-based hard-rockers Black Stone Cherry were completing their seventh studio album. As such, it was quite inevitable that some of those vibes rubbed off on the album – namely, the sense of urgency and fear of the unknown. That time of chaos and tumult provided a perfect breeding ground for crafting a song or two in order to contemplate on how we humans go on about our lives when our dailiness gets destroyed.

Although the aptly titled album, The Human Condition, is by no means a concept album with an all-encompassing theme, each song tells a story of the experiences we go through when our lives turn upside down, whether the reason was an invisible viral enemy or something more personal. The album will be released on October 30th, 2020, via Mascot Label Group and – despite the grim reality surrounding the time of its conception – the new Black Stone Cherry album stands tall as a monument of triumph, raising a toast to the swamp-metal brotherhood of the band as well as the human spirit in general. Let’s face it, there probably isn’t any better way to encourage us to prevail in the face of uncertainty than by cranking up a pair of guitar amps to the max.

 

The album opens with a song that was written 4 years ago, according to the band. By the sheer power of coincidence, ”Ringin’ in My Head” captures the sentiment of the hysterical response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring quite magnificently. It would fit the soundtrack of any dystopian road movie perfectly. The song would do particular justice to that scene where the protagonist rides across the incinerated lands in search of hope for a new life. The album track, ”Ride,” further enhances such an impression, what with lyrical lines such as ”ride straight on through the flames,” suggesting, ”it’s the only way we can survive.” The doomsday biker connotations surely derive from the hard rock paradigm and Mad Max movies that I’ve been exposed to from a very young age.

As it happens, the new Black Stone Cherry songs drop quite a few thought-provoking one-liners that resonate with the air of oriental philosophy rather than the casual chit-chat at the local Hell’s Angels’ hangout. The video single, ”Again,” which was released in August, echoes the sentiment of the famous line attributed to the brilliant poet, Charles Bukowski: ”You have to die a few times before you can really live.” It has a good pinch of Buddhist views on life at its deep core – and that’s not something you’d expect to be served at you offhand from a modern hard-rock album. Deeper into the album, you’ll come across a few more gems of oriental wisdom with lines such as, ”let go of all that you can’t control.” That’s sound advice, given that we live in a world where we need to adapt to an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic reality on an ongoing basis.

Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats. In the middle of a global pandemic, we’re faced with such an unprecedented uncertainty that it’s prone to wreak havoc on our mental well-being. With an almost Zen master -level use of space, Black Stone Cherry charges the track, ”Push Down & Turn,” with crushing swamp-metal dynamics that bring the lyrics to the forefront. The song touches on the subject of mental issues, stating that there is no shame or stigma in asking for help when one’s own mind is being a real bitch. The band’s guitarist, Chris Robertson, admits that he suffers from manic depression and severe anxiety, so the lyrics carry some actual weight on the subject instead of being an exercise in idle word-salad.

 

The new Black Stone Cherry album was self-produced by the band and tracked in the recording facility, Monocle Studios, owned by bassist Jon Lawhon. The press release claims that they went in with just four songs, tuned into the collective studio mindset, and delivered some epic performances – and I cannot argue here. The Human Condition is a stunning collection of organic grooves and a mountain of visceral riffs and hooks – a piece of hard-rock brilliance, in short. In addition to the traditional biker romanticism, the album hands out a bit of oriental wisdom, a nice rendition of the vintage Electric Light Orchestra classic, ”Don’t Bring Me Down,” while capturing the zeitgeist of a global pandemic rather poignantly. As the band shares in the press release, ”After 19 years and 7 albums, we wanted to prove that we still kick ass. This album feels like a rebirth.” While it’s worth noting that there is nothing wrong with the band’s previous efforts, such as 2018’s Family Tree, this new album could very well mark a rebirth of sorts – the rebirth of cool, to snatch a handy expression from Miles Davis. As bassist Lawhon muses, ”We started when we were teens and life has taken its course, especially now. Through it all, your heart and your perspectives change, but one thing that hasn’t changed is our connection as friends.” In the age of narcissism, witnessing all those easily perceived divides between us, what could possibly be cooler than that?

Rating: 8/10, 4 stars

Tracklist:
1. Ringin’ in My Head
2. Again
3. Push Down & Turn
4. When Angels Learn to Fly
5. Live This Way
6. In Love with the Pain
7. The Chain
8. Ride
9. If My Heart Had Wings
10. Don’t Bring Me Down
11. Some Stories
12. The Devil in Your Eyes
13. Keep On Keepin’ On

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