Review by Dr. Martin M. Jacobsen
The German power metal quintet The New Black has a winner in their third effort III: Cut Loose. In a small way, the title describes the outcome of this album: They occasionally cut loose from the style of their second effort, II: Better in Black. While they borrow from obvious influences such as Motörhead and the Black Label Society, glimmers of greater self-sufficiency exist on this album.
Overall, the album has a bit of a modern metal sheen to it. It sounds like radio metal. Some of it, as I’ve noted above, is a little derivative. And while some may find the marginally inspired and occasionally profane lyrics amusing, others may see the lyrical approach as part of an overall gimmicky approach to that element of the album. Still others may say it an attempt to compensate for a less than entirely developed skill set. They seem to default to profanity when they don’t know what else to write. Since it affects about half the songs, it suggests an area of potential improvement.
However, the album’s virtues far outweigh its drawbacks. One of the true strengths of the album rests in its getting heavier as it goes. There are occasional acoustic touches here and there, but in the main this album starts out rocking and gets heavier and better as it goes along. The reason for this appears to be that the band works as a team, occasionally to their detriment. Perhaps the most obvious standout performance rests with drummer Chris Weiss. He often carries the overall structure of the songs with his solid and occasionally brilliant work. Guenter Auschrat proves an able bassist and adequately compliments Weiss. Marcus Hammer’s clear, clean vocals center the band’s sound, but he doesn’t take any risks as the genre they inhabit doesn’t require vocal virtuosity.
Perhaps the most underexploited element of the band’s sound lies in the guitar work of Fabian Schwarz and Christof Leim. They prove time and again that they have real talent hiding underneath the overall sound. More than once, a solo or instrumental break is cut short and pulled back into the song just so it can end within what seems to be a four-minute limit. It would have been interesting to have a couple of longer songs in exchange for a couple of the twelve short ones they have here. It would have been really great to hear them cut loose.
The opening track, Innocence & Time, pays homage to Motörhead. It’s a bit of speed metal polished up and reissued as a radio-friendly opener with predictable guitar work and occasionally intense drumming. Overall, the song offers what it should: an up-tempo greeting.
The second song, Count Me In, offers a tongue-in-cheek comment about the rock and roll lifestyle, and while the lyrics for the album overall are not overwhelmingly inspirational, they really get it right here. For instance, the end of the first verse observes “Yeah, remember what Jesus said / No wearing black, singing songs about making love to the dead.” Then the chorus says it all with “I don’t care; I don’t care what happens. / As long as you count me in.” The drumming is again quite good, the main riff catchy (if not exactly new), and the guitar break marvelous, featuring twin leads and taking the time to deliver the nicely structured solos before returning to the chorus.
Muzzle & Blinkers, a filler song, pretends to be wry or sarcastic like Dire Straits or Ian Anderson before an ungainly entry into a gimmicky and uninspired main verse. The fine guitar work (actually reminiscent of Night Ranger) saves the song, but even that emerges as tried and true and almost out of place in this. The time this song takes up could have been added to another song (or two) as an extended instrumental break.
Superhuman Mission sounds a little like a heavier version of newer UFO, and it’s the heaviest song up to this point. Weiss teases sounds out of his drum kit that really add depth to this song. The overall guitar work is the best on the album so far, and the solos sizzle (until cut short). This stands as one of the highlights of the album. Actually, this song and the next two or three function a bit like a suite of songs.
The excellent title track, Cut Loose, reiterates the speed metal approach used earlier but with more originality. Again, we see shades of newer UFO, but the song takes on an identity that seems to grow from this band. Then from out of the middle of this heavy, up-tempo tune comes an unexpected, southern-rock style harmonica solo that really works. It’s a touch of originality again and surely one of the better songs offered here.
That chorus and title of Any Colour You Like (As Long As It’s Black) tie this song into the group’s name, a clever motif they use across their oeuvre. This excellent song boasts a couple of movements that gives it some character. The acoustic opening lends a brief respite from the intensity of the album’s growing progressively heavier. When they go heavy again after this break, it almost increases the intensity they’ve been building. The main riff is a little more complex than the others have been (again, nothing new, perhaps, but right for the song and the moment in the album). A marvellous guitar break (reminiscent of Iron Maiden) in the latter half of the song really brings the entire tune together until the amazing closing riff.
Burning D might be seen as part four of the mid-album suite of songs. The lyrics are rather weak, even puerile, but the music rises above. Weiss outdoes himself, and the entire song sounds super heavy. As in the preceding song, the fairly complex riffing drives the song forward and a blistering solo keeps it interesting. While it may be fair to say nothing really new happens here, this song’s nice placement carries the intensity to yet a new level.
Not Quite That Simple lacks the quality of the four songs before it. The lyrics disappoint again, and nothing else really stands out. The song sustains the heaviness that has been characteristic of the songs before it, and the solo spices things up a little, but ultimately this song fails to earn a spot in the suite of songs preceding it.
Sharkpool has a gimmicky opening sound effect, but a pure metal opening riff follows it. The song leans heavy, with touches of Black Sabbath to it. It sounds a bit like something the Black Label Society might do. The guitar break again suggests Iron Maiden and proves remarkable enough to disappoint the listener when it once again ends too soon.
The Unexpected Truth drops in intensity a bit and ultimately serves as filler. Though a creditable effort with great drumming, the lyrics seem trite and gratuitously profane. We find admirable guitar work again subordinated to the overall sound in a way that probably ends up diminishing rather than enhancing the song.
The lyrics in One Thing I Know work much better. The song maintains adequate intensity with excellent guitar work in places. The song has great structure, and in concert with the lyrical depth this song more than carries the album’s intensity forward.
The closing song, Antidote, reprises the sound of the album very well. Again, we hear a touch of Speed Metal in this heavy tune. The guitar work excels, especially the solo. It’s really a great ending to a good album.
Rating: ***½ /5