Review & Track Premiere: Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away

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[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Can I Get a Witness’ by Blackfinger. When Colors Fade Away is out Sept. 15 via M-Theory Audio and up for preorder now.]

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They were a side-project that, without much heavy touring behind it, went somewhat underrated for the quality of their original output on the first record and the blend of melancholic classic rock and doom there elicited. The chief question going into the second¬† Blackfinger full-length,¬†When Colors Fade Away (on¬†M-Theory Audio), is what the identity of the group will be. Will they have the somber moodiness of the debut intact? A heavier edge¬†√† la¬†The Skull‘s built-from-Trouble ethic of doomed songcraft? What role will the affinity for ’60s rock that once led¬†Blackfinger to produce the Mamas and the Papas-referencing¬†single “All the Leaves are Brown” play in the new material?

With the acknowledgement that those weren’t all yes or no questions, the answer to all of them is yes. Comprised of nine tracks for a total of 38 minutes of original material,¬†Blackfinger‘s sophomore offering brings forth doomed vibes on cuts like the opening title-track and “Crossing the River Turmoil,” moody mid-paced melodicism on “Beside Still Water,” chugging, rocking hooks (and a Dr. Seuss reference in the lyrics) on “Can I Get a Witness” and the cowbell-inclusive centerpiece “Afternow,” a softer touch on the penultimate “Waiting for the Sun” and even references nursery rhymes in the chorus of “My Old Soul,” which reworks¬†“Old King Cole was a very old soul/A very old soul was he/He called for his pipe, he called for his bowl/A very fine bowl it was indeed,” as a kind of self-examination on the part of¬†Wagner, who seems to put himself in that role via the title and his delivery. As a result of all this,¬†the answer to¬†Blackfinger‘s identity is that they’ve become a multifaceted unit, rich in sound and variety of songwriting, and that while¬†Wagner is of course still a focal point, they sound even more like a full band than on the self-titled.

Also a completely different one.¬†Of the players on that first record, only the vocalist has returned for the follow-up, and having since moved from his longtime home in the Chicago area to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,¬†Wagner has completely revamped the lineup of¬†Blackfinger around himself, notably bringing in Terry Weston of¬†Dream Death — who released the righteously churning Dissemination (review here)¬†last year — and¬†Penance to handle guitar alongside¬†Matthew Tuite,¬†Matthew Cross to play bass and¬†David Snyder for drums as a new incarnation of the five-piece. Particularly when one considers the drastic nature of these changes in the band — changing, quite actually,¬†the band — it becomes all the more remarkable that¬†When Colors Fade Away has anything in common with the preceding¬†Blackfinger at all, let alone seems to be so effectively constructed with a consistency of intent and influence.

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The memorable craft behind songs like “All My Sorrow” and the aforementioned “Can I Get a Witness” and “Beside Still Water” has to be mentioned as a factor in this — as well as the quality of the other tracks around them; it’s a pretty high and pretty steady level throughout — but even so,¬†When Colors Fade Away not only shows development from the self-titled, it marks a moment of arrival for¬†Blackfinger as a unit distinct in its purpose and clear-headed about what it wants to accomplish. Any concerns as regards what¬†Blackfinger would become in the wake of¬†The Skull‘s rise to prominence should be duly answered by the shredding solo of “Afternow” as well as the morose rolling groove of “Crossing the River Turmoil,” on which¬†Wagner bequeaths worldly goods over a highlight bassline and lumbering riff, or the uptempo and somewhat hopeful finish brought out through closer “Till We Meet Again.”

Varied material is brought together by¬†Wagner‘s voice — pushed to a higher register on “Afternow” and in layers on “Till We Meet Again” and “When Colors Fade Away” — and by a straightforwardness of structure that finds individual pieces standing out from each other while still flowing smoothly one into the next, and with a full, tonally rich recording sound,¬†Blackfinger‘s¬†When Colors Fade Away should have no problem making its case to those among a new generation of listeners who caught wind of¬†Wagner‘s work via¬†The Skull as well as to those who’ve followed him since his time in¬†Trouble.

It is also, however, more than simply a showcase for¬†Wagner to the converted new or old. There’s a reaching out in these tracks and a creative progression that’s not to be understated, and as much as the vocals are a defining presence, the basic fact that¬†Blackfinger has been able to put together a completely new band while still forging an identity of its own and releasing a second album just three years after the debut is more than slightly impressive. Even if it works mostly in shades of blue sonically in accordance with its cover art, the fullness of realization across¬†When Colors Fade Away¬†brims with not-to-be-missed vitality, and whether it’s the new collaboration between¬†Wagner and¬†Weston or the cohesion of the group as a whole around them, one hopes¬†Blackfinger continue to grow, mature and press forward as brazenly as they do here.

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