Don’t you just love it when artists take notes that don’t belong in a key and create passing dissonance? I like drums, gritty guitar, distorted bass, quiet bits with piano, soft harmonised backing vocals against a building riff. I like tension from pentatonic escalations… Heavy music is cathartic. Done well, it is a visceral safety valve on the pressure cooker of life and safer than blowing something up or (allegedly) burning something down. The band Blacklist does that heavy stuff.
You might say it has been done before. You might say it’s tried and tested. But if Blacklist’s songs have some components that have been used before, then is it derivative? Should I frown upon it? Shouldn’t I be slagging this band off as sound-alikes? I should, shouldn’t I? Well, look here, you… you can’t tell me what to do. You’re not even my real Dad!
Thing is, that’s music, that is. As consumers, we want an element of reassurance that what we’re listening to isn’t too much of a leap into the unknown. We gravitate to new music that has a certain familiarity, and when we find it, we are willing to forgive any similarity to stuff we already know. Artists have to tip the balance of originality and familiarity toward creativity. The real question is: Do Blacklist tip that balance?
Besides, if all I had to do was say “yeah, I’ve heard stuff like this before”, then that would make this a short and not particularly accurate review! No, what you want is comparisons. You might also want me to slot the music into a genre, though I don’t believe in labelling bands in that way. That’s why I’m trying to avoid comparisons, only hinting at the components that make this “industrial” or “alt rock” (oops). But then I spoke to Saul Blease, the bass and vocals man fronting Blacklist, and he makes no attempt to deny his influences.
Have I given you reason enough to listen to Superpredator yet? Possibly not. You could simply go along to the Bandcamp page and give it a listen! If this review is to help you do that, I need to flesh it out, don’t I?
I’m very conscious these days of the rather over-used adage attributed to Frank Zappa:
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
As artists are probably way more qualified to talk about their music than anyone else, and being the cheeky chappie I am, I decided to contact Saul Blease. You may remember him from such reviews as The Great War, which I reviewed back in 2018. You can read it here.
Saul was incredibly forthcoming and didn’t stop at giving me the rundown on Superpredetor, he gave a fascinating insight into what it’s like for new bands, especially in the context of this last year or so. He also makes no attempt to deny his influences, so I may as well have just come out and said:
“Some of this reminds me of Nine Inch Nails”.
Here’s what Saul had to say:
PHIL: I’ve just bought the Blacklist Superpredator EP. I Like it! I’m looking to give reasons to our readers, who usually like prog but are a pretty open-minded bunch, why they should give it a go. There’s not much information on the Bandcamp page and you’re way more qualified to talk about the band than I am!
SAUL: Hey Phil! Glad you like it. Yeah, it’s definitely not prog and we’ve deliberately tried steer away from that in marketing because it’s a bloody death sentence unless you slap ‘metal’ on the end of it. People [who aren’t into prog]’s perception of bands that get tagged as Prog is God damn weird and prejudiced.
PHIL: Can you give us some extra insight that I can’t glean from Bandcamp?
SAUL: The EP itself was recorded in two days at Factory Studios in a sort of ‘live’ set up. Joe Webb would drum, and I would play the bass in the same room, with a line going to two mic’d up amps in the vocal booth, whilst Elliott Tottle would play his guitar directly into the mixing desk. My Bass setup itself is unique because it combines the rhythm guitar and bass roles by using the Royal Blood / Death From Above inspired Dual-Amp and Octaver method. The vocals themselves were recorded at home in the same way I’ve always done them – just because it allows me enough time to really do as many takes as I need whilst feeling comfortable, and after all I’m probably my biggest critic.
PHIL: What inspired the songs?
SAUL: Husk and Everything are reworks from my solo material. Both of those are pretty Nine Inch Nails inspired, as I was going through a massive Reznor phase during my university years, whilst struggling with a massive number of assignments. The Replacer was written when I initially formed that band back in 2017. I had a song written at the time called Cry Wolf, which everyone assured me was great. I played it to my Dad [Progzilla Radio presenter Steve Blease]. He concluded it was really three different songs combined. I realised I needed something that was more of a ‘single’ idea and wrote it that night. I go through a lot of song ideas that many people will never hear. Control and Superpredator are two songs I wrote when we started to develop the sound of the band and I was getting used to playing bass.
Lyrically I don’t like to delve into definitively stating what a song is about. I don’t like to take away ideas or feelings that people get when listening to a song of mine – unless I specifically write a song about a historical event, it’s open to interpretation, even if it differs from mine. That being said, the title track itself is inspired by an answer to Fermi’s Paradox – it has other meanings in its writing but that was an influence.
PHIL: How long were you working on the album for?
SAUL: We recorded it back in December 2019. We were going through the mixing process when the first lockdown suddenly hit, and we weren’t able to go to the studio. Fortunately, Nathan Long continued mixing in his own home studio. It was then sent off to be mastered by Tom Peters, whose speciality is in making loud aggressive songs keep their punch. After this I was then initially worried about releasing our debut music during a period of zero gigs and the entire industry adapting, going crazy and the general mental state of most people during a really monotonous and stressful time.
Once I decided to go ahead with it, we approached the PR angle. Having recorded the songs in the studio and had them properly mixed and mastered, costs had already begun to add up. We wanted to try and make a big a splash as possible, because it felt like the tracks deserved it. Unfortunately, most of who we contacted were either disorganised, way too expensive for a new band, or just not interested because we were fresh.
Over the past year we not only had to rebuild our Facebook page from scratch because of a stupid automation error, but we also got permanently locked out of our Instagram page due to an admin error on the day we released our single! So having to rebuild both of those during a global pandemic probably didn’t help our cause!
Deciding to do it ourselves we have finally released the EP.
PHIL (knowing full well that they had – 😉 ): Did you manage to gig any of it before the lockdown?
SAUL: Yeah, so the band’s been going for about two years before lockdown. I kept writing material for it whilst finding the right members for the band and we’d done a bunch of gigs in Bristol over that time.
It’s actually an exhausting process trying to find committed people who are the right fit. Elliott and I were in it right from the get-go, as he was sat across from me at a pub when we were talking about starting up a band.
We went through various drummers. We had a cool bassist lined up who dug the music but had to go to live in Barcelona for a bartending job.
There’s been multiple times when I’ve actually had to go, “Right, I like this person, I think they’re lovely. But it’s not going to work out with them”, which resulted in myself taking up the bass whilst saying, “well if Mike Kerr and Jesse F. Keeler can do it then so can I”! So that ended up radically changing the sound and direction for the band. Hell, we even had a keyboard player at one point!
When you’re in charge of the band and its direction, all of sudden when stuff like this happens you have to take on a more managerial/boss type role. And whilst it sucks and can make you feel incredibly depressed and horrible at the time, it’s been the absolute best decision for the band going forward and has resulted in a very cohesive line-up.
PHIL: You can hear the DNA of some of The Great War material in this new material.
SAUL: I’d say that’s probably down to my writing style. Most of the songs I’ll write the same way I did War Machine, If I Were God and Hellfighter. I get an idea in my head. I try to emulate that by recording it with my voice on my phone. I flesh out the scope of the song more in my head and if it works and I’ve got some of the lyrics going I’ll create a demo. For my solo work, the result is then endless tweaking. For the band, I send the demos to everyone, the TAB to Elliott. Joe will build on the foundations of the drum parts and create some stuff way out of my ability. Elliott will personalise his parts and offer creative bits of inspiration to add when we rehearse – you can actually hear this at the outro of Husk with that crazy feedback pedal he uses.
It’s been a big learning curve, knowing when to be the boss and when to shut the hell up and realise it’s not just about you. I started thinking: “Damn I wouldn’t do this/this isn’t being played like I would”. There are quirks, there are mistakes, there are guitar parts played completely differently to how it was written – Then I had a sort of epiphany during the recording which concluded, “you have to step back and just listen to how the puzzle now fits together.” It’s not about me, this is the band’s sound! It sounds good, and it’s musically correct!
PHIL: Was leaving out writing credits on the Bandcamp site a way to de-emphasise your solo persona – make it more a band effort?
SAUL: To be honest I hadn’t given it much thought. I think technically the songwriting credits for what counts as the actual songs go to me for this EP, but there’s so many cool things that have been added (by Elliott and Joe) that just accentuate parts of the songs so much. Going forward, there’s a few songwriting styles I want to experiment with, including having Joe send me some drum parts for me to write riffs to, and build from there.
I’m not a big fan on standing around in rehearsals and ‘jamming’, because I’ve done that before, I’ve done that with other bands and nothing really great ever seems to come at a prompt enough pace – unless everyone’s a fantastic, well-accomplished, musically talented, cohesive unit. It’s magically rare. Usually what happens in bands is someone needs to take charge and write a song, or the foundations for one to build upon, so that’s what has been happening so far and it works.
I wanted this to sound distinctly different from my solo stuff, so I didn’t mix this one myself. We made the effort to record it at a studio so it would sound new.
PHIL: Anything else you want to say?
SAUL: This is going to get a bit deep – but I just want to add that I don’t think a lot of people understand how much work, effort and money new bands must expend. It’s actually insane. For the equipment to sound decent, the software and technology for recording or for hiring a place to record, you can try to be cost effective and do as much as you can yourselves, but hell, DAWs and what they need to work on aren’t cheap! Neither is any of the rest of the equipment you’ll need. If it sounds audibly rubbish then nobody is going to listen to you for more than 10 seconds, even if there’s some good stuff in there. On top of that you’ve then got the mixing, the mastering, artwork, distribution, publicity, paying for facilities and/or people.
We ended up doing it in the best way we could without just recording it in my bedroom – aided in trying to push as much as possible into as little time as possible (Husk was a single take). I did almost all of the artwork – the single, the cover variations for each song on the EP and all the art for promotional material. Oliver Pringle generously did the EP cover for free. PR was too expensive, so we had to do that ourselves with as little money as possible (because even that still costs). We are friends with another band who told us what we spent was “…nothing! We had to spend £2k on recording alone”!
When someone is generous enough to buy it, at less than a Wicked Zinger meal at KFC, it’s further chipped away by fees. It seems like support roles get the majority of the money whilst the band and the musicians are told that, hopefully, it’ll be better… someday. I thought the music industry doesn’t like the whole “pay for exposure” mentality, but it seems that for small bands trying to get their music out there, that’s the hand you’re dealt. The industry is in a constant state of flux over the past decade. The dos and do nots of releasing new music change on an almost six month basis. I’ve been advised to look into getting grants in the future. I’m upbeat about my own situation, but for many artists out there it’s fucking insanity.
Please support your friends, and the bands you like. Buy/share their music, buy their merch and go to their gigs, because music releases are supposed to be celebration-like events, but unless they’re backed by a label, the majority of bands that you like are facing a serious amount of financial cost that they’re struggling to recoup behind the scenes.
PHIL: Good luck with the EP and take care, Saul.
SAUL: Cheers, thank you for always being so supportive 🙂 It’s really appreciated!
There you go, that’s fleshy, isn’t it! I asked the question: do Blacklist tip the balance between originality and familiarity toward creativity? Clearly, from what Saul says, recording this music has been a struggle.
So, did they? Was it worth the struggle?
I say yes on both counts. Give it a go! I hope that sparked your interest and made you want to navigate off to the Bandcamp website and buy the album.
Coz that’s my job.
01. Control (4:31)
02. The Replacer (4:17)
03. Everything (4:00)
04. Superpredator (4:35)
05. Husk (5:31)
Total Time – 22:36
Saul Blease – Bass, Vocals
Elliott Tottle – Guitar
Joe Webb – Drums
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 16th April 2021