Immersive, intelligent and dramatic – Black Lakes unleash a masterful universe of sound that well and truly gets 2022 underway in the most emphatic fashion.

For any rocker more comfortable with a slice of Chris Rea or some Twisting by the Pool action, the move to the darkside can be a challenge. Even matron finds she needs to readjust her seating position when preparing for the brooding gothic onslaught of the metal world.

Jesting aside, this is an album that makes a nonsense of genre silos. This album needs to be seen as great music – without the need for labels and partisan genre loyalties that actually can do so much harm and hold artists back. Too many press releases and reviews nowadays cite who new artists sound like whereas, in truth, great albums need to been appreciated on their own terms – and this is one of those albums.

Black Lakes is a band I have enjoyed getting to know during the protracted Covid era. They had a major run with us in 2020, were voted Band of the Month and shortlisted as one of the Bands of the Year. Their redux session for our Spirit of Wildfire radio festival in 2020 was one of the double-take music highlights not just of the event – but of the year. A band that was unable to record a full electric set for an online festival, they adapted, they innovated and, through it, created something very different and special – and perhaps also learned something about their hidden talents as a result. Aside from the good music and fun interviews, I have come to respect this band greatly for their belief, their integrity and their warm human engagement. This album has been a long time coming but, oh boy, the result makes the wait fully worthwhile.

Rather than a track by track, my view with this album is to reflect on it as a cohesive body of work.

Songs with legacy

In many respects the music on this album is already proven. A number of tracks have already been released as singles, and on my Friday rock show a number of these tracks have become more events than songs. ‘Break the Silence’ had a 16-week run for us, earning Black Lakes a Band of the Month vote from listeners around the UK, and ‘The Divide’ grew to become a go-to song after our summer festivals. This trusty old fave – the redux version of ‘The Divide’ was one of the head-turning moments of summer 2020. This electric version here captures the true essence of the band. Heavy intense moods, depth in the guitar arrangements and vocals that have striking personality. The band’s eye for melody, anthemic choruses and majestic riffs combine masterfully.

Best til last

Usually with reviews I get excited about the opening tracks and there’s brevity towards the end. This probably mirrors the fact that some albums start with the stand-out tracks and sometimes the wheels fall off by track five. What makes this album special is it is a cohesive experience from start to finish. And, for me, the best two songs are the last two on the album. Everyone’s take will be different, but the tail-enders on this album really grabbed be. The title track ‘For All We’ve Left Behind’ I possibly would have had earlier in the track listing. A break from wall-to-wall the intensity, this song is richly atmospheric and then builds naturally, delivering a wonderful interplay between tenderness and power cords, light and dark. The control in the song’s build is excellent and the intensity is almost three-dimensional. The album closer ‘Black Days Come’ is quite stunning and my choice track from this fine album; the soaring choruses make this a song fit for arenas. Nothing over-baked or over-clever – the song just works, and naturally so. As the album closes, the grey and black soundscape moods are replaced by bright shards of colour.

Widescreen metal

The richness of this album is the songs paint pictures in your mind, like a great gothic novel or poem. ‘Verity in Flames,’ ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Landslide’ are all worthy of mention here. Two crucial points are worthy of note for the album at large. First, the richness of the music is the result of clever arrangement. The songs here should not classed in terms of how well they ‘bang’ (an over-used and rather two-dimensional term). No, the richness of the music here is it conjures up visual landscapes, you can feel and see visual stories evoked by how the music makes you feel – a quality that reminded be of some of the great Anathema albums. A second notable point is the power of the vocal performances. Will has a great vocal range, but in emotional terms – not just technical terms. Enormous expression, light and shade and the vocal expression seamlessly marries with the music. This album is a great example of the symbiotic relationship between the music and the vocals as an instrument. The sum of these points is I would class this music as cinematic. It’s emotional intensity, narrative depth and rich textures gives the music an added dimension – widescreen music. And this is music that would sit comfortably as music for film.

So, in summary, an album of rich sensory contrasts: a sense of rebellion that empowers, a symphony of melody that inspires and a metal edge that cuts deep. Not being a metal-head myself (the black eye liner never did it for me), I find this album something different to what I would have usually expected from the black-clad gothic world of blackness and doom guitar ferocity. Metal like rock is entering a new era where evolution and invention is the future. Too many people in rock, call for guitar music to be re-established in the mainstream. In truth, it never went away. Within rock today, some music is forward looking and some is retrospective and nostalgic. Architects and Badflower are shining examples of modern guitar music filling arenas and topping the charts both sides of the Atlantic. Along with new UK talents such as Amongst Liars, As Sirens Fall, The Virginmarys, it’s all about culture and mindset. Bands that create original music that is relevant to the issues in today’s world, that take down genre walls and celebrate influences from all genres will grow to thrive and prosper in the mainstream. And based on the compelling evidence from ‘From All We’ve Left Behind,’ Black Lakes have the potential to be at the forefront of this new, modern era that takes guitar music to a new generation of adoring fans.

‘For All We’ve Left Behind’ is released on 22 February 2022

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