PROFESSOR BLACK You Bastard!
By now, Chris Black should require no introduction. The Chicago native is perhaps best known these days as the creative genius behind High Spirits; however, he was an integral part (indeed, the driving force) of a pair of other highly regarded underground bands, Dawnbringer and Superchrist, both of which are sadly defunct. Black’s resume runs much deeper, including the likes of Pharaoh, Metalusafer, and Aktor, but let’s stop there because Superchrist is the focal point of our story. For the uninitiated, Superchrist were a dirty rock’n’roll band heavily influenced by Motorhead, but also acts such as Tank and Venom. Superchrist released six full-length albums before calling it quits in September 2013. At the time of the split, Chris Black had written seven songs for the band’s next album. Upon Superchrist’s demise, Black shelved those tunes, with the exception of one that he repurposed for a different project (would be great trivia to know which cut that was). Now, Chris Black is an extremely prolific songwriter, with hundreds of compositions to his name. Yet somehow he never forgot about these unused Superchrist songs. In 2017, Black finally exhumed and completed these six “lost” songs by writing new lyrics (some of them never had lyrics and, besides, Superchrist was notorious for Tipper Gore-unfriendly lyrical content) and recording them, singing and playing nearly everything himself, as is his wont. The result is the You Bastard! EP, which was released under the Professor Black moniker.
After logging some quality time with You Bastard!, I understand why Chris Black was so hellbent on unearthing and shining a light on these songs. They’re excellent. Initially, I was surprised to observe the extent to which this material correlates to High Spirits. The riffs, melodies and arrangements in “When the Devil Walks Again,” “Act Alone,” or “Last Call” would not have sounded out of place on a High Spirits record; indeed, “Act Alone” with its almost 70s KISS-type riff would have fit brilliantly on Another Night (although I’m sure Chris would disagree with me). Musically speaking, these are the kind of infectious, high-energy rock songs that are High Spirits’ stock in trade, albeit with darker, perhaps more cynical lyrical content dipped in the punk ethos, as was one of Superchrist’s trademarks. By contrast, “Stuck in the USA” ventures more into the bluesier Motorhead side of things, that Lemmy-esque bass guitar driving the song forward and smacking you in the head. The greasy main riff in the stomping “I’ve Had Enough” sounds like something Lemmy and Malcolm Young could have co-written. But then the laid-back “Closer to the Blade” draws comparisons to High Spirits’ 2014 album, You Are Here. The point isn’t to classify these songs as sounding more or less like High Spirits or Superchrist or anybody else. The point is that these are fine songs that are fully consistent with and commensurate to Black’s style and quality control standards. In no way, shape or form do these feel like “leftovers” or reclamation projects languishing on the scrap heap. As Black explains in the liner notes, these songs “were only dropped because the band broke up, not because they were no good.”
For me, it’s a straightforward calculus: Chris Black’s music makes me happy. The material on You Bastard! is no exception to the rule. In my estimation, every song is at least good, but the pick of the litter is closer “Last Call,” which rides a simple, spartan, midtempo drum beat and crashing power chords, delivers a few mighty High Spirits-style chord changes, and contains a hook of pure gold and a top-shelf vocal performance from Black singing lines like “Last rites to the unbelievers / Drive on til you die insane / Goodbye.”
In case you haven’t heard, You Bastard! is just the tip of the iceberg for Professor Black. Sometime in the next few months (September, I’m guessing), High Roller Records will simultaneously release three full-length Professor Black albums, entitled Lvpvs, Sunrise and I Am the Rock, each showcasing a different aspect of Chris Black’s sound and style, with cover artwork to offer clues as to the stylistic bent of the contents of each. He is opening the vaults and unleashing dozens of previously unheard tracks on the world. You Bastard! is a great start, certain to please fans of the man’s work while whetting appetites for the treasure trove of goodies in the pipeline. This EP will tide us over nicely.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~