The mastermind behind the music of Blackburner, Skyla Talon, originally came not from the world of sample boards and turntables, but from the harsh underworld of metal music. The artist was born in Michigan but made a name for himself in Los Angeles with the modern metal band Killingbird, of which he was one of the original members. After touring with his band as well as making onstage appearances with metal bands HATEBREED and TYPE O NEGATIVE, Talon began exploring the world of EDM. Thus, Blackburner was born, combining aggressive dubstep bass beats with wildly distorted guitar lines. His debut release, “FEEL THE BURN,” was well-received over the internet and was even featured on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” His newest release, “Planet Earth Attack,” is testament to the fact that Talon is still thriving on the same seething energy that made his metal music possible, but does it translate well into the EDM genre?
The opener, “Planet Earth Attack” begins with waves of ambient synths, orchestral and brooding, continuously building in volume and tension, until two minutes when the suspense releases into an intense, over-the-top wall of noise, using metallic synth tones to beat listeners over the head with sound. Eventually, the music returns to its former ambience, rebuilding intensity through a march-like drum beat. The final bassdrop brings to mind images of an apocalyptic battle between humans and aliens, with its fierce synth melodies and grungy bass line.
So, I can tell right away, this isn’t exactly my type of music, but, I will say that from a critical standpoint, I can appreciate the content thus far, as there’s a great deal of effort put into the composition of the music. It does border on being overly dramatic and thus a bit cheesy, but in a way, I’m kind of digging it.
Track two, “Burn Burn Burn!,” uses the developing sci-fi theme and takes it to the extreme. The tracks heavy drumbeat is dragged across the coals by fiery synth melodies. Meanwhile, a rock vocalist screams “burn baby burn!” in the background. The breakdown features an improvised squelch tone solo backed by an unsettling industrial drone.
From a personal standpoint, I feel like the high school version of myself would have liked this song a lot, but now, I’d say that it didn’t really do much for me. I’m curious as to what adult will listen to this music and really resonate with it directly. Who is the intended audience? On the other hand, Talon does the cheesy, overly dramatic, end of a Dragonball Z episode thing pretty well. And who am I to say he’s wrong?
I’m glad, however, that Talon has the ability to change his style, as I don’t think I could have handled an entire album of music like track two. Track four, “Play This World (Feat. FC STOKES),” takes more of a hip-hop approach. There’s still heavy dubstep influence, as seen by the melody thrashing about in back, but the beat is more subdued, often not more than a clap track or bass drum. There are many instrumental breaks in this track, and they’re done tastefully, featuring well-mixed melodies and a sample of a cheering crowd.
This track shows some restraint, which I felt made the music more enjoyable. I would’ve liked to hear more of Stokes, as he disappears in the middle of the track, but on the whole, this track demonstrates that Talon has the ability to diversify his sound.
He continues to show off his ability to change styles in track five, “I’m in love with this city (Feat. Geri X).” This track is more indie pop than EDM. It features a light, bubbly synth and a simplistic drum beat. X’s voice is calm and dreamy, keeping the music on a leash. There’s one dubstep break halfway in, but all the “wah wah wahs” are surprisingly quiet and well placed.
It’s clear to me now that Blackburner is a decent artist, but need’s to be restrained by other artists’ vocals or musical styles. When he takes it down a notch, his music is nuanced and enjoyable. Not that I didn’t enjoy the harder tracks, but as mentioned earlier, they’re so dramatic that I found myself wanting to write it off without listening.
I was initially drawn to track nine from its title, “Electric Flesh,” but what I heard was another track where Talon is operating without any restraint. The dubstep bass lines are played up to the point where the frantic melody and metal drumming are nearly forgotten. There’s a nice break featuring an acoustic piano line, but it leads back into the same predictable intensity.
This is somewhat tangential, but why has dubstep become the go-to for so many EDM artists? I feel like the genre became cliché almost immediately after its introduction. There’s only so much to be done with the same palette of sounds. And when every artist uses the palette for the same purposes (to make their music intense!!!) then the music becomes empty and useless.
For some reason, Blackburner considers himself comparable to Pink Floyd. That’s right, track twelve is a cover of “Comfortably Numb,” and I admit I’m biased in writing a review of this track. Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands, and I hold their music very dear to me. So when any artist, EDM or not, feels they can pull off a Floyd song, especially “Comfortably Numb,” I feel a pang of “who do you think you are?” But I gave the track a shot anyway.
The intro is ominous and atmospheric, sounding closer to a Nine Inch Nails track than PF. The vocals enter round thirty seconds sounding processed and superficial, lacking the same angst and emotion as Roger Waters. The music itself is overcompensating for lack of any true understanding of the song. Its ridiculous collage of wails and moans and grinds, the overly wordy triplet melody in back, and the airy industrial drone for texture overdone and completely butchers the song.
I’ll keep this rant short. Pink Floyd is, in my opinion, one of the greatest bands of all time, and if any artist decides to take on their material, the least they can do is keep the integrity of the song in mind. Attempting to convert “Comfortably Numb” into a dubstep tune is utterly moronic. I only hope that those who listen to this track know where it came from initially.
Bouncing back, I’ll admit that maybe I was wrong about Blackburner not being able to write an instrumental track without going overboard. Track thirteen, “Alien Death Bunny” exudes a certain quiet, remorseful quality to it that I found intriguing. The majority of the song rests within a light, fuzzy drone grounded by a steady drum beat. Throughout the track, instruments sounding similar to flutes or clarinets emerge from the ambience. There is one bassdrop, which I didn’t think necessary, but on the whole, this track confirmed for me that Talon can be a successful artist if he trusted his own ingenuity rather than conformed to what was popular. If he dropped the dubstep element completely, he’d actually have some interesting content leftover.
Track seventeen, “Set this fire (Burn Burn Burn! Part II),” the final track after a very long album, is more of a poppy dance tune than an epic dubstep closer. It features a catchy synth melody above a buoyant dance beat, featuring a plethora of instrumental breaks in which it sounds like Talon is dumping all his sounds into a chaotic, noisy pile. While the track has its redeeming qualities, it ends up falling back onto larger than life synth tones and glissandos. Admittedly, I got tired of the track pretty quick, as it didn’t feel like anything was being done that hadn’t been heard previously.
I feel I have a lot to say about this album, both good and bad. On the positive side, Talon is willing to alter his style to better mesh with his guest artists, and, from time to time, demonstrates the ability to take risks outside his comfort zone. On the other hand, there is a lot of cliché nonsense throughout the album. I found his tendency to resort to dubstep bassdrops something of an excuse, as Talon has the ability to make more creative music than that. I feel like the true value of this album is found in its notable exceptions, the points when Talon restrains his teenage-like desire for extremes. If these tracks were dug out of the massive seventeen-track mountain that is “Planet Earth Attack,” he could build a pretty decent collection of music. Because seventeen tracks is just too long. It’s incredibly difficult to keep anyone listening for an hour and twenty minutes straight. So I’d say cut the crap, reside in the risk zone, drop the dubstep, and use a leash.