Castle’s Blacklands is an interesting album, to be kind. This is the second record from the Bay Area-based group and their American label debut. In Witch Order was released in spring of 2011 in Germany and wound up getting the trio some recognition.
With Blacklands, the band merges a love for old school metal with flimsy gothic sensibility to come up with a formula that doesn’t really work. There are elements of Black Sabbath and Danzig at work, sure, but Castle’s own sound doesn’t carve anything into the tree and the album falls flat.
Elizabeth Blackwell (vocals, bass), Mat Davis (vocals, guitar) and Al McCartney (drums) comprise the band. Blackwell seems to handle most of the vocals, but her style leaves a lot to be desired. At times, she strains to hit the notes. She also lacks muscle, fading into a tedious tone that does little to bring the music to life. Davis is the archetypal growler of the group.
Coupled with Blackwell’s vocal droopiness is Castle’s sense for riffing and jamming. This method, straight from the 1970’s recovery program that pervades nearly everything in metal at the moment, fits in the right circumstances but can get downright dull in a hurry.
“Ever Hunter” opens Blacklands with the sort of woozy and cluttered routine one might anticipate from a high school Battle of the Bands. Blackwell sings like an exhausted adolescent, while the band gulps away until they run out of time and the next act staggers up to take the stage.
“Corpse Candles” keeps things on the same page, rumbling with the same grind. To spice things up, Davis sprinkles a repeating riff in the sauce while Blackwell shows a touch more emotion and even stretches her voice somewhat. McCartney’s drums do very little and the song mostly goes nowhere until a break at about the four-minute mark finally injects some life.
Most of Blacklands follows this strand, with cuts like the title track and “Dying Breed” effectively sinking into the same grooves. On the latter, Blackwell attempts a few shouts but the lack of power in her voice simply sounds silly.
While Castle may be piling up accolades and earning acclaim for some critics, Blacklands just didn’t do it for this writer. The album is careless, lethargic and monotonous, projecting little innovation and showcasing a trio that sounds more and more bored with each passing song.