Album of the Week 02-2013: Channel Zero – Black Fuel

While the commercial underperformance of ‘Black Fuel’ reportedly directly influenced Channel Zero’s split in the mid-nineties, it also shows the band at their most inspired and creative. Belgium’s biggest Metal band really is on fire here. ‘Black Fuel’ is a surprisingly varied, energetic batch of songs that emphasizes on all the strengths of the band: the incredible grooves courtesy of bassist Tino DeMartino and drummer Phil Baheux, the unconventional riffs of Xavier Carion and the powerful vocals of Franky de Smet van Damme. All are at the top of their game here.

Channel Zero was somewhat of an oddity in the post-Pantera world of Metal. Many of the nineties Groove Metal bands fully concentrated on the groove-part of the genre and though the Belgians did fit that description, they never fully let their Thrash roots behind them. De Smet van Damme’s vocals did go well with the tough machismo of the Hardcore-influenced Metal of the nineties, but it was an edge in his case; he had a much stronger melodic sensibility to it at times. And then there’s Carion, whose riffs were one of a kind. And his sound sets the band apart as well: the distortion on ‘Black Fuel’ appears to come from his amplifier rather than from a wide range of pedals, giving his guitar a surprisingly dynamic sound. But then again: producer Attie Bauw has yet to work on an album that doesn’t have a good sound.

But despite that all, the main reason why ‘Black Fuel’ is Channel Zero’s best album is because the songs are very strong. The opening title track became the band’s show opener and it’s not hard to see why: it’s built up incredibly powerfully, the riffs stomp aggressively and the rhythms really push the song. What follows covers every area of Channel Zero’s repertoire expertly. From the Hardcore-tinged Thrash of ‘Mastermind’, ‘Wasted’ and ‘Love/Hate Satellite’ to the almost Hardrock groove of ‘Fool’s Parade’ and from the midtempo anger of ‘Misery’ to the slow, atmospheric Black Sabbath references of ‘Call On Me’ and ‘Self Control’. My special mention would go out to the amazing ‘The Hill’, a dark, creeping monster of a track not unlike, but much better than what Loudness was doing at the time. The guitar work is nothing sort of magnificent, De Smet van Damme’s vocals grow with the increasing intensity of the song and its epic quality make this the single most underrated song in Channel Zero’s canon. It’s too bad no one made a song out of the great riffs in the outro.

About three years ago, Channel Zero reunited with Mikey Doling replacing the ear damaged Carion and released the more than decent ‘Feed ‘Em With A Brick’. Everyone who needs an introduction to the Belgian band in their prime, however, would find a great starting place in ‘Black Fuel’. Channel Zero was a glimmer of hope in a time when everybody trying to act like Pantera or Machine Head was making the scene a disgrace. ‘Black Fuel’ was the brightest glimmer.

Recommended tracks: ‘Black Fuel’, ‘The Hill’, ‘Self Control’, ‘Love/Hate Satellite’

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