I'm no huge fan of the "modern rock" sound, but I can appreciate that there are varying degrees of artistic viability when it comes to post-grunge bands, ranging from “Nickelback” to “listen-worthy.” Chicago rockers Black Arrow rank somewhere in the high end of that spectrum.
Blood Calls, the band's first album, kicks off with an instrumental (as so many loose concept albums seem to do nowadays) before launching into nine tracks of straightforward but not expendable metal-influenced hard rock. There's a lot here to satisfy purists, but very little transcendence into other genres. The songs are generally on the long side due to a surplus of instrumental turnarounds and bridges, many with Metallica-inspired guitar solos. The four-piece is as tight on record as the best of bands, which is partly because of the thick yet radio-friendly production. The guitar work ranges from “standard” to “excellent” and ends up being the album's main redeeming feature; there is a good mix of technical skill with pop sensibilities and almost every song is bursting with guitar hooks. The absolute standout track is “Deadford” for its unrelenting catchiness and guitar riffs.
Frontman Daniel Larson is not the most technical singer and often ends up sounding like Adam Gontier with a cold, but his vocals are by no means bad, and they work well with the sound that the band is going for. Robert Novara's drums suit the songs well and have their moments, but ultimately have little room to shine, and Matt Shotick's bass, when audible, seldom leaves rhythm territory. The rhythm section is tight, but nothing to write home about as the band's songwriting calls for them to mainly serve as a backdrop for the guitar work and vocals.
While the lyrics can be hard to discern, it is very clear that Blood Calls is meant to be some form of concept album. I can't speak for the story behind it, but I will say that the record's artwork by Stephanie Brown is fantastic and fits with the musical style very well.
Blood Calls' main weakness is its lack of variety, but hopefully Black Arrow will have a career long enough to grow and evolve to their full potential. It's clear the band have musical talent and ambition, and for fans of hard rock or modern rock, this debut is worth checking out.
Check out more record reviews:Yourself and the Air - Who's Who in the Zoo
Bailiff - Red Balloon
White Mystery - Blood & Venom
Company of Theives - Running From a Gamble