When I opened the email with the press release from The Blackwater Fever, I thought they’d made a mistake.
An act with over 100k monthly listeners and more than 20 million streams on Spotify surely wouldn’t submit their music for a review to a humble blogger like me. But then, I listened to the album. And it instantly hit me.
The band did their research well. Their raw alt-rock sound is right up my alley.
PART 126 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE / THE SILLY & GREEN PROJECT
I don’t know how it’s even possible that I’d never heard of The Blackwater Fever before. Temptator! is the band’s 6th (!!!) studio album, released on October 27th.
Reading further into their impressive bio makes me feel like I’d been living on a different music planet in the last two decades.
Since the group’s inception in 2005, the line-up has been changing over the years. Currently, it’s made up of “three unassuming dudes”: Shane Hicks (vocals, guitar), Trevor Gee (drums) and Sean Thomas (keyboards, bass guitar, vocals).
Regardless of those personnel shifts, however, the band has quite a few things to be proud of.
The Blackwater Fever has supported some big names over the years, like the American band The Black Keys, or their Aussie counterparts, Violent Soho and Birds of Tokyo. The Brisbane trio has also performed at both the iconic Blues Fest and legendary Big Day Out festivals.
Their music has been featured on HBO, CBS, SYFY, Australian ABC and Discovery Channel networks. The hip fashion brands Benetton and Quiksilver have also used their tracks in their campaigns.
And – despite all that success – they’re still an independent act doing all their PR and press mailouts in-house.
It’s an interesting thing to jump on the bandwagon for album no. 6, not knowing the group’s previous releases. So I can only speak to my impressions of this particular record. But I’m liking what I’m hearing, so let me give you a few pointers as to what to expect.
The press release for Temptator! states, “This is an album packed tight with creative hooks, sharp turns and dynamism.” And it’s true. This is not your typical record, with a homogeneous narration, faithful to one obvious genre and boasting a meticulously analysed track order.
If you were to hear all the tracks from this record separately, you’d probably never guess they form a part of the same “period” in the band’s history, though. To the extent that you don’t even have to put Temptator! on shuffle to get the whole spectrum of what The Blackwater Fever has in store.
The first thing that stopped me in my tracks was the stoner rock/Kyuss/QOTSA reminiscence. The bluesy vibe combined with heavy-laden guitars and contrasting melodic vocals is instantly recognisable. And that’s exactly the sound I vibe with the most in rock music, to be honest.
JB Hi-Fi called The Blackwater Fever’s sound “an authentic slap of grime, mud & hopeless regret.” And that grungy feeling will accompany you (but in a different intensity) through all the 10 songs on the new album, from start to finish.
That’s why I’m also assuming at least one member of The Blackwater Fever is from my generation. There are definitely more influences from the bands I listened to when I was a teenager. “Everything Always” makes me think of Nirvana. And the vocals on “The Highway” remind me of Stone Temple Pilots. Again, that scores The Blackwater Fever some more points on my merit list.
The second distinctive thing about this record is the rollercoaster ride you’re in for when you press play on Temptator! for the first time.
One minute you’re listening to a perfect rock anthem, like the opening “Love Is Strange”. Right after that, you’re thrown into a blues-driven track “My Weakness”. That, in turn, is followed by a totally playful “The Woogie Boogie”. And if that wasn’t enough of mood changes, “The Hurt” will break your heart with its wailing vocals, shifting again to a simple classic ballad, “Ode To Ol’ John Doe.”
Mind you – by that point, you’ve only reached half of the songs. But make no mistake – this apparent chaos is not random at all. And if you’re a newly converted fan, like me, it’s the best thing you can ask for in the 40+ minutes you spend with the band.
Themes of love, lust, longing, anger, sadness and reflection reign on this record. Shane’s lyrics are sharp and direct, perfectly complementing the band’s sound. I reckon my favourite, and the most vivid story, is the last song, “If You Only Knew”:
I haul my shadow down
Into the woods
And I head to the end of the line
By light of the moon
Now I’ve dug this hole so deep
That it’s caving in on me
And it tears my insides out lying to you
You don’t know what a desperate man can do
My dear lover
If you only knew
And speaking of the sonic aesthetic, it’s funny how such a haunting atmosphere can be created using so very few instruments. It’s mostly the tortured guitars and church organ-like keyboards that create this uneasy feeling. “Like some wicked preacher summoning his devilish church”, as the band claims in their press release.
Through this album, the Brisbane trio manages to sneakily draw you into their “Blackwater Fever” cult. That trance-like state is also particularly noticeable in the hypnotic slow-burning opus, “Angler”, towards the end of the record. By the time you get to the finish line, you’re completely immersed in this dark, ominous realm.
Plus, the blurry red, black and white imagery on the cover art only adds to this mysticism.
And if I was to be picky and find one thing to complain about, it would be the notion of somehow being left insatiable. Like I was missing a closure of some sort. But maybe that was the whole point of this release.
Nevertheless, Temptator! has unquestionably served its purpose in my case. Hopefully, you’ll also feel tempted to give it a listen after this review.
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