It seems like Bury Tomorrow have been on the verge of producing something truly remarkable for some time now, which makes Black Flame a bit of a double-edged sword. For, while it perhaps constitutes the Southampton quintet’s most fully-realized effort to date, their fifth full-length also only adds to the mounting suspicion that they may never quite cross the mark.
Black Flame is the most complete Bury tomorrow record to date. It’s great to see the band returning to more melodic and varied textures after what seemed like a more straightforward release in 2016’s Earthbound, while still incorporating the enhanced aggression that that record brought to the table. Late highlights “Knife of Gold” and “Stormbringer” are some of the heaviest material the band have put their name to so far, with the opening blast and screech of the former recalling Killswitch Engage‘s most ferocious moment in “Darkness Falls”. Likewise, whereas previous Bury Tomorrow outings have regularly been characterized by a few undeniable highlights scattered in between waves of less remarkable material, their fifth offering constitutes a more concise and cohesive package. Thoughtful additions, such as the electronic interlude that rounds out the title-track add to an overall sense of cohesion not found elsewhere in the band’s discography, while also adding to the overall flow of the record. Yet, for all its consistency and vigor, the record is ultimately held back by a few significant flaws.
Perhaps Black Flame‘s greatest weakness is that it fails to put its strongest foot forward. “My Revenge” is an outright banger, which leads with an instantaneous, uplifting chorus that shows just how powerful Bury Tomorrow can be when they’re at the top of their game. The run from there through “Stormbringer” constitutes the most consistent block of songs the band can lay claim to throughout any of their five releases. However, in order to hit this hot streak, listeners must wade through an opening three-track salvo that does more to exhaust than they do to elate. Opener, “No Less Violent” is your standard fourth-wave metalcore fare, built around a fifth-hand In Flames riff accentuated by tacked-on electronics and the same beatdown rhythm you’ve heard a thousand times before; “Adrenaline” is a would-be rager whose impact is dampened by its smothering chorus; while the title-track inverts the formula—doing away with the drop in momentum by never allowing it to wholly build until its final, climactic moments. A lot of the issues with these first few tracks stem from guitarist Jason Cameron’s clean vocals but “My Revenge” and what follows go to show just how effective they can be when put to better use. Unfortunately, due to the album’s sequencing, it’s likely that the more skeptical of listeners will never make it through to these more convincing numbers.
More broadly detrimental, however, is the album’s controversial production. Black Flame sees Bury Tomorrow reuniting with SikTh guitarist Dan Weller, who produced their debut and has since become known for his production work with Enter Shikari. However, when “Black Flame” was first released as a single, it was met with a plethora of complaints and criticism regarding the track’s mix, which eventually saw the band pull the track from streaming services—including YouTube, where it had already racked up over 160,000 views—and replaced with an improved version of the song. This specific instance was primarily focused around a hissing sound that could be heard in the background of Cameron’s cleans. However, while the rectified version of the song and the rest of the album are absent of any such obvious perfections, their presentation remains sub-optimal. Even in their cleaned-up state, Cameron’s vocals seem excessively compressed, and both he and harsh vocalist Daniel Winter-Bates sound as though they’re being recorded from behind a barrier or around a mouthful of cotton wool, with neither particularly committed to their enunciation; while the low end is also boosted to a point that, while not entirely detrimental to the other frequencies, is certainly distracting. Somewhat conversely, the album also seems to be lacking in dynamics, with every instrument seemingly jostling for the same position in the mix rather than bursting out of it in either direction. The issue is perhaps a subtle one, but it is noticeable when compared with the band’s previous releases. Again, the issue centers around the clean vocals, but every aspect of the band’s sound simply sounds more powerful, and the transitions pack more of a punch on those previous releases—especially 2012’s Union of Crowns.
Although ultimately minor, these issues hold Black Flame back from properly showcasing the improved songwriting and consistency contained within. The album is certainly a grower, and it’s impossible to deny the enthusiasm and commitment Bury Tomorrow bring to their craft. However, the record’s weaker beginnings and imperfect production may prevent the record from reaching and impacting the audience it deserves.
Black Flame is out now through Music for Nations and can be ordered via Bury Tomorrow’s official website.