Blackgate – Ronin (Self-Released)

Tuesday, 19th July 2016
Rating: 8.5/10

The underground surges forward – morphing from pen pal letters and tape trading in 1980’s into social media outreach and digital downloads today. From said earthly roots in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Blackgate made an impressive mark on this scribe with their self-titled EP in the fall of 2014, displaying a smart blend of thrashy-oriented power metal. Switching out second guitarists last year (exit Roger Victorius accordingly, enter Jeff Kollnot), the band ardently worked up songs for the follow-up and as a result we have Ronin – a full-length follow up that intertwines re-recordings of a few of those older songs with this current lineup along with newer tracks that maintain the power, finesse, and sophistication previously noted while showcasing more growth as they gain seasoning at their craft.

Newer material front loads the fourteen cuts on Ronin, the quintet exploring different shades of their power and thrash horizons. “Dying Age” for instance is a mid-tempo pounder featuring a number of lead break harmonies and back and forth axe play that puts the aforementioned Kollnot and compatriot Matt Cremeans in a favorable, heroic light – Priest and Maiden fans will rejoice at the lightning taps and fluid harmony action from beginning to end on this barnburner. “Caesar” features a number of thrash-oriented riffs and double bass maneuvers that should make this a pit-favorite live, as drummer Ryan Lunsford comfortably rotates between heads down groove and swift double bass/ tom-fill that has a Metallica/“Creeping Death” feel. Another favorite is the semi-progressive “The Soldier”, a lot of the guitar/bass fusion giving us an Iron Maiden/Iced Earth feel, allowing vocalist David Cuffman to explore more of his vicious mid-range as well as belt out the occasional high note when necessary a la Matt Barlow or Sean Peck.

Blackgate keeps most of the material around a familiar four to five-minute timeframe, but when they choose to get a little more exploratory or epic, the results can be stunning. “The Veil” mutates from a clean ballad into a triplet heavy power number, former bassist Zach Flora even gaining a bit of Steve Harris forwardness during certain instrumental sections, while “Last Son” creeps deep into that American power mold, David using multi-octave pipes to soar against the ever-changing riff barrage. Performing in a style that doesn’t necessarily pull down the accolades like tech-death or progressive metal, Ronin nonetheless exudes professionalism in that US power mold that hasn’t really been heard much as of late. All the more reason for Blackgate to move up the ranks as preferences never fall out of fashion, trends be damned.

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