Track By Tracks: Black Sites - Exile (2019)

1. The Night They Came For You:

The working title for this one was “The Butthole Rages On,” in reference to the similarly-named Deep Purple album from the ‘90s. Several of the riffs existed during the writing for In Monochrome back in 2016, but I held onto it because it seemed like an obvious album opener, and that position was already reserved for “M Fisto Waltz.” 

The music during the chorus goes back even further, probably to the early 2000s. I’ve had that riff and vocal melody pop into my brain occasionally over the years, and I finally found a place for them in this song.  Most of the lyrics predate the Trump administration — I was going for more of a dystopian future vibe, but the resemblance to the current scenario is not lost on me.

2. To The Fire:

I keep saying I’m going to stop writing songs about religion, and then something happens that inspires more songs. In this case, it was Billy Graham’s death. As a non-Christian, I could never understand why anyone cared about this guy at all or made such a big deal over his passing. He struck me as little more than a con man, and his influence in U.S. politics over the years was absurd. 

Anyways, this song went through a LOT of revisions musically and lyrically before assuming its ultimate form. It changed keys at least twice, and several riffs got cut from the final arrangement. At one point, I even bought a keyboard just to work out some of the chord progressions, because I couldn’t figure it out on guitar. The end result is a straightforward and relatively short song, which is harder to do than it looks. Hammers of Misfortune were a big influence here, and the barbershop vocals in the chorus are clearly a King’s X move.

3. Feral Child:

I had written half a song that sounded kind of like Thin Lizzy and half of another song that sounded like Voivod. Eventually, I realized they were in the same key and tempo, so I smashed them together. The title and subject matter were somewhat inspired by the feral kid in Mad Max 2. The lyrics are pretty abstract, but the song is generally about keeping your head down and taking care of your own, instead of getting caught up in other people’s issues. I think the entire band sounds furious on this song, with our bassist José Salazar doing some especially tasty stuff.

Concerning the “guest vocalist:” That’s my son Lucas, who was about 2-3 months old at the time. He had started crying, and instead of being a decent father and actually tending to his needs, I just put a microphone in front of him and hit record. Later, we slowed the track down about 300% (I got the idea from Black Sabbath’s “The Writ”). This is the only instance of “harsh” vocals on the entire album, and they’re performed by a baby. This sums up my feelings about harsh vocals these days.

4. Coal City: 

Coal City is a small suburb in rural Illinois. I’ve personally never been there, but I used to know someone who lived there. The late Bill Bumgardener, the drummer for Lord Mantis, was also from Coal City, although I didn’t know that at the time. I was writing about living in a shitty small town and feeling this panicked need to escape from it, and “Coal City” seemed like an evocative name for that place.

Vocally, I was trying to sound like John Bush (Armored Saint/Anthrax), who is one of my all-time favorite singers. He has this great bluesy voice that works well on slow jams, and that’s what I was going for.

5. Dream Long Dead:

Obvious Killing Joke influence here, although the initial idea sounded much closer to Crimson Idol-era W.A.S.P.  Trust me, it’s better the way it is now. In contrast to most of Ryan’s solos on the album, I play a lead on this song that could have been executed by a 14-year-old.

The song’s about people who constantly complain about how hard it is to “make it” in music (or anything else) while not putting in the prerequisite work. Everyone knows that one guy who just sits at home and creates a bunch of subpar music plays a handful of half-assed shows, but thinks the world is unfair because no one’s kicked down his door to give him a record deal yet. That’s the “dream,” and if it ever existed, it’s most certainly dead by now.

6. Focused Totality/The Psychic Knife:

The title is an obscure reference from the old X-Men comics. It’s become my metaphor for people who are all talk and no action, and the lyrics could certainly be interpreted that way.

As several people have pointed out, this is pretty much a Voivod song, although, in my defense, the 2nd half of it rips off Ray Alder-era Fates Warning as well. In the solo tradeoff, both solos were played by Ryan, and they’re both awesome. If I’m not mistaken, this is the only song in the Black Sites catalog with any double kick drumming on it.

7. Prolonging:

The files indicate that this track’s working title was “The Oregon Betrayal,” which is pretty good as working titles go. I recall nothing about writing this song except being in an extraordinarily bad mood for some reason, and that it was written very quickly.

Baroness and Sahg were definite points of reference rhythmically, and the vocal lines are a lot like late-80s Ozzy. Somewhere, I have a fake mix of this song where the drums and bass sound exactly like “Shot In The Dark,” and it works surprisingly well.

Garry helped refine a lot of the drum parts from what I originally brought in. What he’s doing is unexpectedly simple, but it works perfectly, which makes it brilliant. Also, the last 90 seconds of this song are just guitar solos and Thin Lizzy harmonies, which makes it a lot of fun to play live.

8. Dwell Upon The End:

The giant album-closing epic. Complete and blatant Dio-era Sabbath worship here, with maybe a nod to Steven Wilson during the soft part.

Contrary to appearances, the song is not about death — it’s about closure. I’m the type of person who will read the ending of a book first, or watch the last 10 minutes of a movie to see how it ends. It’s about the destination, not the journey.

I’ve been in bands with Ryan Bruchert for many years, and out of everything I’ve heard him play, this song contains what I consider to be his greatest achievement on lead guitar. Not to be outdone, Garry Naples also delivers some tasty drum work, especially towards the end of the song. Out of everything I’ve ever recorded, this song is one of the very few where I feel like I came close to achieving what I was going for.

9. BONUS TRACK: “En Force" (Queensryche cover on CD version):

I always wanted to do a Queensryche song, mostly out of spite, but also because I genuinely love that band. Most of their material is far beyond my abilities vocally, but “En Force” seemed like something I could execute reasonably well if we tuned low enough. Garry hated the song passionately, but I still think he came up with a really cool take on the drum parts. I recorded the vocals while reading the lyrics right off the jacket from the Warning LP because I had no idea what the words were. I feel bad that we forgot the church bells at the beginning and ending. Too late now, I guess. 

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