The Reinvention of a band

Black Oak County (DK) was predicted great success by yours truly, when their self titled debut album came out in early 2017, and everyone was blown over by leadsinger/guitarist Niels Beier’s poweful vocals, adding that southern flavour. As the year progressed, and the band seeing their star rise steadily, Beier chose to leave the band, due to personal issues, leaving fans and, not least, the rest of the band, in a void. Now what? Would they split up? Leadguitarist Jack Svendsen and his brother Mike on drums teamed up with their dad, and went ahead with the band Volt, which carried on some of the raunchiness from BOC.

Fast forward to late summer 2018, and Black Oak County had spent the summer searching for a new singer. Profiles from the US, and of course Denmark, was on trial, but they ended up pointing on an internal force: Bassplayer René Hjelm. Having singing experience from earlier/other bands, Hjelm quickly found his home behind the mic, and the band started writing new material. But the big question remained: As ex-front man Beier was missing, how could the possibly carry that torch further? The answer was, that they wouldn’t. A complete change of style – which we also heard when the first single “Pretty Pistol” and its video came out. That is a very risky move for any band.

Black Oak County captured by yours-truly in downtown Copenhagen, late summer 2018.

Now – here are the new Black Oak County. With their new album and style. A new singer. And let’s just get it out of the way right now: Black Oak County has transformed themselves, redesigned, redefined, into a beast of truly international format! They were not slouches before – one of my absolute favourite bands – but these two incarnations might as well be two completely different bands. Where Beier’s voice was deep and raw and punchy, Hjelm adds clearer and more mainstream texture, completely without sounding like everyone else. You hear elements of Myles Kennedy and Corey Taylor, and this is by no means by purpose, although Hjelm has stated earlier that he finds his inspirations in bands like Alter Bridge and Velvet Revolver. This also completes the circle – Black Oak County’s new sound and style, could easily have been something from the hands of Slash, Kennedy and the likes.

The band has presented a well selected track list. No long list of “see how many tunes we have written”, but instead ten well-written heavy rock songs, all of them ready for mainstream airplay around the world. They have managed to hit that sweet spot, without doing stuff they didn’t want to do. Clear hits are tracks like “Pretty Pistol”, probably the strongest track on the album, but the first song “Watch Your Back” follows VERY close behind it, with its elements of 70’s and 80’s heavy metal – this one is a true head banger, and something many people will sing along to this summer. “Since You’ve Been Gone” throws me the same bone as “Watch Your Back”, without sounding the same. “Stick To My Guns” pushes the pace up further, with excellent drum work from Mike Svendsen, and bridges with awesome vocal harmonies. The title track, the last on the list, is a real party track, but is perhaps not as strong as the other songs.

To sum up, Black Oak County shows their format, by overcoming a crisis that breaks up most bands, and reinventing themselves. Even though BOC before and after Beier’s exit, sound like two different bands, you should definitely check out both albums, if you’re into heavy rock, and the likes of Stone Sour, Alter Bridge and Velvet Revolver. Hjelm is still somewhat unpolished when it comes to his vocal style and sound, but for someone who became the lead singer less than a year ago, and has to play bass at the same time, this is truly remarkable.

We rate:
4.0 rating

Release: April 26
Label: Target Records
Produced by: Jacob Hansen, Hansen Studio (Amaranthe, Pretty Maids, Dissy Mizz Lizzy and Volbeat)

1. Watch Your Back
2. Just Another Psycho
3. My Change To Change
4. Since You’ve Been Gone 5. Pretty Pistol
6. Sycophanic
7. Wasted Life
8. I Know You’re Lonely
9. Stick To My Guns
10. Theatre Of The Mind 

Jack Svendsen – Guitar
René Hjelm – Bass/Vocal
Mike Svendsen – Drums