Black Map

BLACK MAP chose to call their new album Melodoria because, while its themes are rich with dystopian dread and postmodern chaos, this music relentlessly energizes and inspires. It’s a collection of ten diverse songs that are ambitious, expansive, and altogether mesmerizing.

The band defines “Melodoria” as the phenomenon of something arising from nothing; the way new art is willed into existence. A void gives way to an emergent state of being, seemingly from out of nowhere, and suddenly offers strength and resilience to those it touches.

Bassist/vocalist Ben Flanagan, guitarist Mark Engles, and drummer Chris Robyn sound captivatingly explosive and meditative in equal measure, widening Black Map’s sonic horizons with boundless urgency and fearless determination. “Music and art, to me, has always been a kind of human binding agent,” Flanagan explains. “Even amidst the pure chaos of our world, here is this thing that’s there to excite us, to comfort us, and to help us get through it.”

The band actually wrote the songs before the pandemic turned the world upside down. “Watching the last 20 months unfold, the themes we touch upon with this album seem uniquely prescient to the times,” Flanagan observes. “We’ve always avoided locking our music into a singular event or period, so there isn’t anything directly inspired by COVID. But we hope our fans find Melodoria both timely and timeless, like so many of the albums that inspire us.”

The trio Metal Hammer described as a “progressive supergroup,” delivers a defining work. Produced by Black Map with Zach Ohren (Machine Head, The Ghost Inside, Set Your Goals), mixed by Beau Burchell (Saosin, Senses Fail, The Bronx), and recorded at various studios in the band’s native Bay Area, Melodoria is a rich offering that’s heavy in both sound and spirit.

As Flanagan sings in the album’s breathtaking title track:

“There’s some light, you could never find
An infinite design; mazes stretching miles
And right when you were deep in the fire
A melody transpired and brought you right to life”

The music of Black Map carries an old-school honesty, introspection, and sincerity that’s absent from much of the current rock landscape. The albums they’ve made are both massive and well-produced, but never sound as though programmed algorithms crafted them.

Black Map began armed with the kind of catchy riffs and passionate personal outpouring that earned dedicated fans for each of their former bands, including dredg, Far, and The Trophy Fire. The trio’s shared chemistry conjured both hooks and atmosphere from their first assemblage, in a San Francisco rehearsal room, and grows exponentially with each release.

“The band formed out of being fans and admirers of each other’s art,” says Robyn. “The natural progression of growth in this setting is easy in that it is comfortable, due to honesty and respect, and continually challenging to bring your own identity, for which the band sought from its outset.”

Black Map is reminiscent of trailblazers like Deftones, Quicksand, and Helmet, who adeptly straddle the line between cerebral and accessible, without overthinking that balance as they collaboratively compose. “I like songs, not rambling musical expeditions to parts unknown, and songs are inherently accessible,” Robyn points out. “The challenge is to trust ourselves, as far as what moves us creatively, rather than consciously directing that creative energy with any end goal in mind.”

“We make the music that we like,” adds Engles. “It’s an amalgamation of all of our influences and styles. We let every member contribute equally and do what they do best. We listen to each other. We stand by the approach that no idea is a bad idea…” He pauses, then laughs. “Until it is bad!”

The strong reception to Black Map’s debut full-length album, …And We Explode (2014), which delivered on the anticipation the trio summoned with the same year’s initial EP, Driver, rewarded the trio’s shared commitment to authentic artistry and purity of intention.

New fans steadily joined the Black Map faithful’s ranks via powerhouse performances on tours with Chevelle, Bush, Circa Survive, and Highly Suspect. As one Philadelphia radio station remarked, “Black Map strikes a unique sonic balance of ambiance and aggression.”

“We take pride in sounding like more than just three people live,” says Engles. “It’s always a big compliment when people are impressed by the fullness of our live sound as a trio. We want to replicate the recordings, while simultaneously bringing a spontaneous edge to it.”

After the 2017 release of In Droves, a sophomore slump-defying set which furthered the group’s incursion into rock radio without sacrificing an ounce of musical integrity, Black Map married themselves to the road. Major festivals extended invitations, resulting in head-turning sets at Chicago Open Air, Aftershock, Rock Allegiance, and Louder Than Life, plus a “Best New Artist” nomination at the first-ever Loudwire Music Awards in Los Angeles.

Black Map released a surprise EP, Trace the Path, in time for their 2018 tour with Pop Evil, co-billed as support with Palaye Royale. Three songs recorded in Long Island, New York, with producer Mike Watts (The Dear Hunter, Story Of The Year, Glassjaw) and another tracked in Oakland with longtime Black Map collaborator Aaron Hellam, comprised the EP.

In Droves songs like “No Color” and “Ruin” took their place alongside earlier anthems like “I’m Just the Driver” and “Gold” in the trio’s rousing catalog. “Run Rabbit Run” streamed more than 3.2 million times on Spotify alone. “Let Me Out,” from the 2018 EP, quickly became another favorite. Melodoria builds upon the strength of Black Map’s established sound, further evolving both inward and outward, as they discover new shades of vibe and energy.

The first song they wrote for the album was “Madness,” which arose from riffs Flanagan and Engles wrote on tour, thanks to the acoustic sessions the pair did for select fans at VIP events. “It was a fitting first song for the album, given its lyrical themes,” Flanagan says, with a bit of reflection.

“We went for a very direct approach early on with the tunes on the first album,” says Engles. “The natural progression into In Droves was to branch out into other areas of our influences and music we enjoy. Melodoria is yet another step out onto different limbs of our tastes and abilities.”

The material that arose from the album sessions was nothing short of transcendent. “When we started the band, there was an emphasis on being a particular kind of ‘heavy.’ This is definitely the largest dichotomy of songs that we’ve had on any record,” says Flanagan. “We threw out any rules.”

“Chasms” addresses the distance between people. “Capture the Flag” raises the specters of angst and distress, “but with an element of hope,” points out Flanagan, the band’s sole lyricist. “Wait here with me / just dream that it’s a dream,” he sings. “And soon they’ll yell out, ‘Olly Olly oxen free.'”

Like the best of artistic expression, creating and performing with the band serves as a form of personal exorcism, an outlet for each member’s anxiety and frustration, just as it is for the audience. “Playing in Black Map is always a release,” says Engles. “Even the mellower tunes have power. It’s invaluable to have that release in your life, and hopefully, it only positively affects others.”

Tightly wound rhythms, crisply defined melodies, and mind-bending detours result from Black Map’s chemical combination of post-hardcore, thick groove, and ambient meditations. Hints of shoegaze that give way to full-on barnburners. Black Map continues to defy easy categorization.

Even as it’s another step on the collective journey, Melodoria is sure to resonate for a long time. Black Map makes honest and inviting rock music for those who long to connect or to escape.