Black Stone Cherry

Magic Mountain

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When Florida Georgia Line covered Black Stone Cherry's "Stay," the single went straight to the top of the country music charts and provided some exposure for the Kentucky hard rockers outside heavy metal circles. The band's first two records -- 2006's self-titled album and 2008's Folklore and Superstition -- both possessed killer riffs and raw intensity but lacked songwriting finesse, while 2011's Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea went too far in the other direction. Magic Mountain assembles BSC's strengths cohesively with only a few missteps. Produced, engineered, and mixed by Joe Barresi (Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age, Chevelle), this 13-song set unabashedly reflects the band's biggest influences -- Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and vintage Whitesnake -- but places them in a 21st century post-grunge, hard rock context. The swaggering blues-metal of opener "Holding on... to Letting Go" possesses a mighty hook with sweeping guitar fills from vocalist/guitarist Chris Robertson and Ben Wells. The wah-wah guitar strut in "Bad Luck & Hard Love" is equaled only by the four-part vocal harmonies. While the single "Me and Mary Jane" may be overly obvious, the tune is irresistible because of its massive hook and its boogie quotient. Speaking of boogie, check the title track. Its twin leads, propulsive drum attack, and handclaps in the bridge make it the set's party jam. "Never Surrender" is crunchy death metal with low-tuned guitars run amok, tempered by a catchy chorus. The introductory bass throb in "Fiesta del Fuego" and its snarling vocal effects keep the nearly unhinged six-string rage inside the realm of chaos, while closer "Remember Me" is swaggering Southern hard rock tempered by flanged guitars and a pop-metal chorus. There are a couple of duds. The ballad "Sometimes" is pure filler. "Hollywood in Kentucky" sounds like it was recorded to appeal to either contemporary country radio or to be covered by other artists from the genre (its lyrics reference pickup trucks, boots, mom, good ol' boys, etc.). It doesn't belong here. These clunkers aside, Magic Mountain comes closer than any previous offering in providing the kind of excitement Black Stone Cherry generate live, and showcases their most refined songwriting to date.

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