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After the somewhat disappointment and inconsistency of Poisonblack's 3rd CD, 'A Dead Heavy Day', Ville Laihiala and company have certainly shifted gears since, releasing in my opinion their best effort to date with 'Of Rust and Bones'. Trying to move away from underneath Sentenced's dead shadow, 'Of Rust and Bones' was a bold statement that Laihiala still had what it takes in terms of song-writing skills and fresh ideas; making Poisonblack's 4th venture one hell of a CD.
Now Poisonblack has returned after a short 13-month absence to deliver their 5th full-length release, entitled 'Drive'. Of a departure of sorts from previous dark and depressive album titles, 'Drive' also contains a slight change of sound. Poisonblack have introduced a southern dirty rock style in their gothic metal genre, containing more of a catchy and free flowing gothic metal/bluesy groove feel that really packs a punch and keeps the head nodding and the fist pumping in approval. The riffs throughout the CD at times have a strong resemblance to that of 90s Metallica, and though I kind of heard it in patches on the previous release, it is much more prominent on 'Drive'. Despite the influx of the dirty rock style, the album is still very typically Poisonblack from 'Lust Stained Despair' onwards.
Continuing with the trend Poisonblack introduced on the 'Bones' release, with the slower, melancholic and ballad-esque tracks with lengthy track times ("Invisible", "Down the Drain" and "The Last Song"), 'Driven' again contains a few of these dark and depressive songs as a change up to their more spirited and catchy ones dominating the CD. In short, 'Drive' is just as brilliant as their previous release, maybe even slightly better, containing so many infectious hits that it's almost like a "best of" compilation. Try to imagine all of Poisonblack's best songs from previous releases, the riffs, the way they stood out, the reasons why they were so good in the first place; this is the quality of the tracks on offer here on the latest album. A big statement I know, but one that certainly warrants it.
Check out the CD opener "Piston Head" as an example. The main riff is exhilarating to the ears, while the catchy chorus, Ville's raspy vocals and a dynamite solo adds that extra touch to make the track stand out as one of the best. "Mercury Falling" (of which the video for can be seen on YouTube) follows and is yet another catchy and kick ass track that you just can help wanting to play over and over again. It's by this stage that it would seem that Laihiala has finally realised Poisonblack's niche in the gothic metal genre, as these tracks flow so smoothly and easily despite the simplicity of the somewhat recycled guitar riffs and melodies. Overall - it just works and works extremely well.
The Metallica appreciation reaches its peak through the track "A Good Day for the Crows", of which the song in general is reminiscent of the 'Loads' CDs, and even Ville has a touch of James Hetfield in his vocal delivery. Needless to say, the track itself is another standout, with striking riffs to keep your head banging and a memorable chorus and a bluesy instrumental passage in the middle of the track for extra measure. The more typical dark and self-loathing lyrics come out with "Maggot Song", which again keeps the trend of excellent tracks going on the album. This one is more like the Poisonblack of old and could have easily been included on 'Lust Stained Despair' or 'A Dead Heavy Day'.
The first of the slower and lengthier tracks begin here with "From Now-here to Nowhere". With down tuned guitars and heavy amounts of bass, there is a slight Nick Cave similarity in the song-writing, as the song trundles on in its depressive state, giving off vast amount of emotion. "Futile Man" is the 2nd of the slower tracks, are while not completely capturing the essence that the other slower had, it is still a decent and emotional filled track. The back end of the album picks back up again with more kick-ass tracks such as "The Dead-end Stream" (traditional Poisonblack bleakness in the lyrics), "Scars" (the only song on the CD similar to Sentenced) and "Driftwood" (fast-paced, catchy and groove-filled).
I stated in a review for Poisonblack's previous release, that 'Of Rust and Bones' was their most consistent and best release to date. I must say that in my opinion, 'Drive' has now taken the crown of that title, due to the fact of the immense quality of exceptional tracks to be found within the album. Fans of Poisonblack should be jumping out of their shoes with excitement for this new CD (particularly if you enjoyed 'Of Rust and Bones'), and for good reason, while gothic rock/metal fans and Sentenced fans alike should also find 'Drive' to be of interest.
'Drive' surprised me in more ways than one and I really like the southern dirty rock element that they have incorporated in their gothic metal style. While it is still the typical Poisonblack you've come to know, this time round there is added groove and an exciting vibe that tended to be somewhat missing from tracks in previous releases. It also goes to show that Ville can still write excellent songs after all these years and is not just a one-trick pony as some people have labeled him. The I's have been dotted and the T's have been crossed and 'Drive' is absolutely kick ass and one of the best releases for 2011. Buy or die.
Poisonblack is a band I listen to purely because Sentenced is one of my all-time favourites. The Sentenced albums with Laihiala on vocals were essentially a pre-runner for what Poisonblack became on Lust Stained Despair and have continued since. This latest, with the cautious (for want of a more damning word too early in the review) title of Drive, is neither a progression nor a step back from PB's last few albums. It simply exists next to them - depending on your opinion, for better or worse.
It's pretty safe to say that Laihiala has used all his tricks by this point in his career; his instantly-recognisable voice is that of a man who spends his time in smoke-filled bars, with rarely a sober moment - as has been the case for the last 10 years. The James Hetfield worship isn't exactly subtle, although there is a Nick Cave influence that's less obvious but perhaps more prominent in places. He'll never win an award for his singing, but he's good at what he does.
Lyrically, with the exception of Piston Head (and let's not mention it), this album is exactly what you'd expect. Laihiala foists his own personal brand of depression on you; most would argue that it's largely fabricated, or at least perpetuated so as not to drift from the Ville persona too much. The majority of his lyrics come across more as drunken ramblings than pit-of-hell philosophies. Thankfully we're spared the last album's "I hate you / I hate myself / I am a piece of shit" stupidity, but he's still not on par with the songs Tenkula penned for him. On songs like Futile Man, the Nick Cave comparisons can be made fairly easily... or is he imitating James Hetfield imitating Cave?
Laihiala's lead style is a mish-mash of southern blues-rock played by the likes of Pepper Keenan, the pentatonic scale and wah-wah pedal as abused by Kirk Hammett, and licks he lifted from Miika Tenkula. Which places him somewhere in between fantastic and shithouse; excepting a few innovative sparks, he's forgettable. He has the chops, but not the talent. Also by this point in his career, many of the melodies here are rehashes, and the few piano notes on the album have all been sampled before.
Continuing with the Metallica comparisons, the album on the whole bears an uncanny resemblance to Reload. It's a gnat's wing heavier, and the atmosphere is darker, but that's all that separates the two albums. Songs like A Good Day For The Crows really drive this point home; I'm sure this song was on Reload. There's something about hearing Sabbath riffs come via mid-90s Metallica that unnerves me. The groove-laden riffs are a combination of 90s-and-beyond Metallica and the last 3 Poisonblack albums - essentially, it's a second-rate rehash of Sentenced's Funeral Album. Unfortunately, where that had Laihiala in third place to Tenkula and Lopakka, here there's no one to really rein him in when needed. The groove-riff choruses separated by start-stop verses get old quickly. And the ballads are no better: From Now-Here to Nowhere has already been done - terrible pun aside - down to the last note. It was called Only You Can Tear Me Apart, and it happened two albums ago.
That's this album's biggest downfall: EVERYTHING here has already been done. The riffs, the licks, the vocals, the lyrics, the song structures, the production, the entire package. And this is also what has me undecided on whether I like the album or not. While none of these songs are bad per se, after three albums this is old hat.
So in summary, if you liked Poisonblack's last two albums you'll enjoy this one. At best, the songs are well-written and it's simply the third installment in what's been the norm since A Dead Heavy Day. But at worst, it's yet another poor attempt by Laihiala to reclaim the glory of his days in Sentenced, with no regard for ideas that were still fresh on Escapextacy and Lust Stained Despair.