Often, it’s only through multiple listens that you can fully comprehend what a band are trying to say. Metal can be a varied and complex genre that requires you, the listener, to delve into the creator’s world and scratch below the surface before you really discover hidden depths and meanings. And if it’s true of the art, so too can it be true of the artists.
Sitting in the pristine bar of an upmarket East London photo studio, surrounded by fruit teas and frothy cups of coffee and with Stevie Wonder blaring over the stereo, are the four members of Black Peaks. To someone observing the band nonchalantly, this could be any group of casually clothed, unassuming young men as they quietly and politely introduce themselves to Metal Hammer. Vocalist Will Gardner is the most openly chatty of the bunch, smiling and warmly shaking our hand as he sits down to talk about his band. From this scene alone, you’d never be able to comprehend the depth of the music these men have created.
“Outside of music, the outside world affected us and inspired us,” begins guitarist Joe Gosney. “I think if there was one thing that we can say fuelled us and we used as a catalyst for our music, it was the desperation to get out of Brighton and spread… I mean… most of it is in the lyrics…”
Joe tails off and he and his bandmates look at their vocalist. “I’ve always been interested in bigger themes than just the standard insular ideas that most bands – most people, actually – think about,” Will picks up with an unflinching gaze. “Society, the status quo, the problems we have in the Western world with our thinking… we’re just so happy to accept… things that are so detrimental to us.”
You’ll know the name Black Peaks by now if you keep a keen ear to the UK underground scene. It’s a name that has been spoken about in hushed tones and with babbling excitement for some time now, as the Brighton-based four-piece have spent the last four years taking their classy, distinctive, heavy post-rock around the country to anyone who would listen. And, after 2014’s debut EP Closer To The Sun hinted that the promise shown at live shows supporting acts as disparate as everyone from Lonely The Brave to Krokodil was not a case of hype over substance, Black Peaks are now armed with their debut album, Statues. A record with a grandiose scope and an enveloping, bewitching pull, it’s one of the best releases, debut or otherwise, that 2016 will surely see. But even though that would be enough, there is more to Statues than just great music.
“There is a lot of me and my personal opinions on this record,” says Will, with every retina in the room focused on him. “Most of it is just observations… observations on the banks and the political system that completely failed us. I just thought… ‘What the fuck?’ We bailed out the entire central banking system and now everyone has to pay the price! And everyone just sat there and went, ‘Oh well, back to work’… I mean… what the fuck?! Can we just talk about this for a second? And now they’re doing it again! So a lot of the lyrics on this album are based on a story I wrote where people didn’t just go, ‘Oh, OK. Carry on.’ What if those things did affect people and their disability benefits and child support because of a similar crash? Then what? Are we just going to sit here and take it forever? It can’t go on like that. It just can’t.”
These ideas are told throughout Statues from the viewpoint of a protagonist named Ivan, who decides to go to the banks and take what he believes is rightfully his after another crash, and whose actions unwittingly inspire a massive violent reaction. The songs are certainly far more thought-provoking than a lot of music today, although Black Peaks are quick to step away from the idea that this approach makes them a ‘political’ band.
“I’ve always expressed what I think in my writing,” Will tells us. “These are just ideas and observations about what happened. I don’t want us to get tarred with the brush of being a political band. Because once you do, you’re fucked. This is just one opinion from one member.”
Are we going to just sit here and take it?
“I just stay out of it,” says drummer Liam Kearley. “The political stuff isn’t a big deal to the rest of us. There was no big meeting – it was just what Will wanted to express at that time. And the themes did work with the music we wrote.”
Which is another facet of what makes Black Peaks so special. Musically, Statues is instantaneously gripping, but through repeated listens its complex rhythms reveal themselves more and more. It’s partly due to the way the music is composed, and partly due to Will’s singing style.
“I actually play jazz saxophone – session playing and weddings and things like that – and I always think of that as my day job,” smiles Will. “But it’s helped me with this band. The music these guys have written for me is very dense and challenging, and sometimes I wonder how I can put vocal lines to it, but my training within jazz has really helped me to find the pockets of space and exploit them. To find the melody in amongst all this chaos. It really shouldn’t work if you take the individual parts, but I’m glad it does. That kind of ethos, where you record an actual album, is our biggest inspiration. Mastodon, Tool, Pink Floyd – all those bands make a piece of work that flows with cohesion. And, weirdly, this band is now becoming as much of a day job as playing the sax. Which is quite funny, really. Things keep building and it’s lovely to be a part of that.”
Which leads us to ask: just how far can Black Peaks go? For music as difficult as this to get the attention it has so far is impressive, but to step up further would be astounding.
“We aren’t afraid to say that we want to be one of the biggest bands in the world,” says Will. “Why not aim for that? What’s the point of having all these big ideas and hiding them? Maybe we’re being overly ambitious, but we’ve only got one shot. Why wouldn’t we dream?”
Like everything Black Peaks do, that dream is lurking beneath the surface, waiting for you to unleash it. Don’t delay.
STATUES IS OUT NOW VIA EASY LIFE / SONY RED. BLACK PEAKS WILL PLAY DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL ON JUNE 11