By The Great Sun Jester

  For those familiar with Eric Wagner's musical history, it became apparent with Trouble's seminal classic "The Skull" that pigeonholing Wagner's talents wasn't possible. He didn't remain content with being a distinctive singer ably filling the front-man role with a rising metal band. Wagner's lyrics embraced an increasingly personal touch and wide-ranging intelligence fused with a poetic flair. Instead of wallowing in overripe metal clichés, Wagner's intense vocals belted out vivid tales of loss, addiction, fear, anger, and love. Often within a single song. The songs on Blackfinger's debut represent those efforts at their absolute peak. This is mature, deeply felt, and challenging music that blasts open a door to the future for the band while solidifying Wagner's legacy as one of the finest talents of his generation.

 The opener, "I Am John", strikes a stately smolder. The instrumental space and shifting dynamics weaves an atmosphere of ancient weariness around Wagner's mournful, almost half-whispered vocal. The softer moments give long-time fans a chance to hear Wagner's superb phrasing in ways more aggressive songs don't offer. The lyrics are full of vulnerability and open to a wide range of interpretations, but the same longing for transcendence is present that informs many of Wagner's lyrics.

The riff driving "Yellowood" grinds its way into the listener's memory from the first bar. Another highlight is the blistering guitar solo erupting after the bridge. Wagner's poetic flair is in full force with lines like "Here I am where I said I'd be/Standing in a place I think you ought to see/And I will always be here if you need/Some protection in case we fall asleep/Yellowood, like fields of sun". An absolute scorcher.

"Why God?" astonished me and hits me hard on every level. It is impossible to be a thinking, feeling adult over thirty-five and not feel intense identification with the sentiments expressed. This is a singer dropping all pretenses, deeply reflective, and confronting the central questions of his life without flinching. 

 I don't even know how to write about "On Tuesday Morning". A little reminiscent of the opener in its use of light and shade, Wagner delivers a fantastic vocal. His lyrics about maintaining perspective and abiding fidelity to what matters in life moved me. There is simply no one else in this genre writing songs like this. A song as complete as this exists in another world from heavy metal's classic tropes and touches on what it means to be a decent human being sharing life with those you love. 

 The stark piano and drums that drive "As Long As I'm With You" is another grasp at something new. Strings even! There is nothing off limits for this band and they are intent at dispelling any preconceived notions about what you think they should be doing. The bravery is breathtaking.

"Keep Fallin' Down" finds the band slipping into a mellow, acoustic mode. The lyrics revisit themes of personal vulnerability and surviving life's challenges. This is an album where the music, vocals, and lyrical content complement each other with extraordinary dramatic results. Wagner's world-weary voice weaves through the aural landscape inhabiting every word while the guitars, bass, and percussion never overplay their hand. If it isn't recorded live, this album faithfully reproduces the live experience. Each tune feels like the organic result of a collaboration between sympatric artists and never like a recording project where ideas are shoehorned into vehicles for solos.

 The album's final song, "Till Death Do Us Part", is probably the most traditional song on the album and reminds me more of Trouble than any other. It's an entertaining kiss-off song with an intense guitar solo.

An instant album of the year candidate for me. Blackfinger isn't merely a vehicle for Eric Wagner - even the most jaded listener will come away from this album utterly convinced by this band. It is the best work that Wagner has been associated with in 20+ years, far outdistancing his superb contributions to recent Trouble albums, Lid, and Dave Grohl. Highly recommended.