Light from Above
More young rock bands in the early 2000s are looking toward rock from the '70s and '80s for musical inspiration, and while it's nice to hear the genre's legends influencing a new generation, there's always the danger that young new bands will mistake appreciation for appropriation. Happily, that's not the case with Black Tide. On their debut, Light from Above, Black Tide manage to incorporate sounds from Iron Maiden, early Metallica, Guns N' Roses, and numerous others in a way that makes them sound contemporaneous with their idols, not derivative of them. This is impressive enough, but it's nothing when compared with a musical prowess that is, quite frankly, stunning. All of the members -- Gabriel Garcia on vocals and guitar, fellow guitarist Alexander Nunez, bassist Zachary Sandler, and drummer Steven Spence -- display amazing proficiency, especially when their ages are taken into account. (All four were still in their teens when Light from Above was recorded.) There are numerous examples throughout the album, such as during the opening of "Warriors," when Garcia and Nunez rattle off an extended acoustic guitar opening that is layered and complex but executed so naturally by the duo that it sounds effortless. Black Tide's rhythm section is also tight throughout Light from Above, with some particularly impressive work on the part of Spence. The percussionist turns in a solid performance that contains few frills but provides an unerring foundation for the rest of the band, no matter what the speed; when Garcia and Nunez take flight on their solos, Spence is right there with them. That's not to discount the contributions of Sandler, who underpins the proceedings with the same blend of precision and flair that drives the guitarists, particularly during the solos of "Shockwave."
With all of that said, the youth of Black Tide is evident from the very beginning, and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is certainly something to note. Those who like their metal with a healthy dose of low growling vocals, for example, may find the band unappealing despite the prodigious abilities on display. However, this is a function of the bandmembers' age, not their ability, and it's hard to fault the group for "flaws" that could be outgrown later. Their lyrics are a case in point -- while they aren't necessarily weak, they aren't particularly deep, either. It could be argued that since Light from Above depends heavily on complex instrumentals, Black Tide simply made their words an afterthought. A more likely explanation is that Spence, Sandler, Garcia, and Nunez simply don't have the life experience between them at this stage to craft anything particularly resonant. (Not that this leaves them completely blameless for an occasional over-reliance on repeated choruses. Some songs, like "Let Me" and "Live Fast Die Young," lose their effectiveness through excessive repetition.) Still, if these are the only complaints that can be leveled at Light from Above, it's quite an achievement -- with Black Tide performing at this level on their debut, there's little doubt that the band will have talent to burn on further releases. [Light from Above was also released in a clean version, with all profanity removed.]