A Hit From The Tar Pit: An Interview with Joshua Murphy of Blessed Black

My first contribution to BlessedAltarZine was in early 2020 with a review of Beyond The Crimson Throne a solid independently released debut by, ahem, Blessed Black. On that record the Ohio quartet’s doom and stoner metal sound glistens with some elements of power and grunge.

Cut to one year later and the band progresses a bit as you’ll hear on their new single, “La Brea.” Translated from Spanish, la brea means “tar” or “tar pit,” and the 6-minute song’s lyrics suggest someone struggling to rise due to some Atlas-like burden over a slow Sabbath-inspired rhythm.

Available on Bandcamp for a buck (see the link below), “La Brea” is direct, with a bit of necessary repetition – harkening to the imagery of being caught in a tar pit where you’d need perseverance to overcome the indiscriminate black goop. The solo at the midpoint begins with a cool, bluesy tinge that gives way to a more distorted and traditional metal lead. The duality of the solos becomes a song within itself and one of Blessed Black’s best traits.

Vocalist, guitarist and founder Joshua Murphy, who also plays guitar for War Curse – a thrash metal band also out of Ohio – took some time to talk with Blessed Altar Zine about the local scene, the positive feedback to “Beyond The Crimson Throne”, what “La Brea” indicates for Blessed Black and when we can expect the next LP.  

An Interview with Joshua Murphy

BAZ: How does being from and recording in Cincinnati have an impact on the Blessed Black sound? 

JM:  I think that coming from a city like Cincinnati, where we have such a rich and diverse group of extremely talented bands and musicians, has forced us to really make sure we are remaining focused on putting out the best possible material and putting forth the strongest live performances that we are capable of. It’s a tough place to stand out, so you really have to put in the work and spend time thinking about things in an objectively critical manner. 

What is the scene like in the greater Cincinnati area for local and new metal bands? 

The scene in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area is packed with extremely talented bands in all genres – metal is definitely included. The fans still manage to stay hungry for new quality music though, and we were extremely well received from our very first show, and have continued to receive an exponential amount of support and love from our local crowds. It’s something we are very grateful for. 

Beyond has a clear sonic quality without sacrificing any rawness or heaviness. What steps did you take to capture that sound?

Honestly, most of the praise for that is owed to our studio engineer, Brian Thorburn at Threshold Studios. He is one of the most skilled people I’ve ever worked with, and he really brought that record to life. 

How did the two singles, “The Black Gate” and “Stormbringer,” change in the remix?

The two songs we dropped had very little mix and master to them. We just needed to get some music out so we could build some sort of hype for our debut show. Once we got that out of the way, the single were mixed and mastered to the album standard, and we also re-amped them to give them new, and more appropriate guitar tones. 

“Heavy Is The Crown” is a prime example of that clear sound – it’s a great song and also the longest. There’s a terrific jam and solo section in there and it’s one of the things I feel you do best. How did that song come about? Were there riffs and themes from two songs or demos that you were able to meld together?

“Heavy Is The Crown” started with the main intro riff, which our guitarist Chris Emerson wrote and brought to practice. From there the song came together quickly, with us all bouncing ideas back and forth about where it should go next. That tends to be our process, and the loose structure for most of our songs usually comes together within one or two practice sessions. 

How might Beyond be a concept album?

Beyond is 100% a concept album. The album is written based on the Elric of Melnibonè books by Michael Morecock, and also some of my own experiences that connected to situations in those books. 

Let’s talk a bit about “La Brea.” How is this single a preview of the next album? How does it mark a change or a progression?

“La Brea” is the first song to come out of an entire new crop of songs where we finally found our sound as band. The progression in the sound is just us having time to jam for a while now and get down to being a bit more selective about what direction we let things go.

Our first album was just a mad dash to get something written and recorded as a band so we could get out and play some live shows. With these new songs, we are taking time to flesh out a ton of new material and then sort through it for what fits best for us.  

It has resulted in a new batch of songs that I feel are much stronger than those on our debut, and far more representative of what we set out to do when the band was formed. 

The doom/stoner subgenre has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years, highlighted by some promising new bands like yourselves. How do you like being referred to in that subgenre?

We don’t mind being put into that genre. We definitely fit some aspects of it with our sound. We tend to branch beyond that though. Especially the new album we have in the works. You’ll hear a lot of grunge, psychedelic rock, traditional metal, and other influences running through it. I think we are a bit more complex than any one genre tag might define, but also listenable to fans of most genres of rock and metal music. 

Is it safe to assume you were inspired by latter-day metal bands like COC, the Sword and Monster Magnet? Who else might be an inspiration that might surprise listeners and fans?

I don’t honestly think that any of us listen to a lot of COC or Monster Magnet. We draw from a pretty vast pool of music that we all love. Some common ground that we usually always agree on are bands like Black Sabbath, Alice In Chains, Danzig, High on Fire, Soundgarden, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, The Sword, White Zombie, and Baroness. 

What challenges do you experience being in a metal band today?  

There are endless challenges with being in a band these days, and the more ambitious you are as a band or musician, the larger the challenges become. 

The biggest of all of them all is finding a way to stand out amongst a seemingly infinite supply of new music and bands that listeners are introduced to on a near constant basis. 

Add on top of that creating new and interesting content for your fans, writing new music that maintains the standard of quality you want to put out, juggling the schedules of four adults, and finding time to just enjoy playing in a band with your friends so you don’t burn out – it can definitely be a challenge at times.  

How do you feel the underground metal scene fared in 2020?

Obviously, 2020 was hard on the entire music and entertainment industry. The loss of live music and the uncertainty that came with COVID was not something anyone was ready for. I think we all adapted as well as possible.

What were some positive takeaways?  

Bandcamp Fridays were definitely a cool thing to see happen, and I think it marked a bit of a return for some people to buying physical media. I also think it was cool to see some of the live stream collaborations between bands, and bands also doing full set live streams and finding ways to make that fun and interesting for fans to watch. 

What more can we expect from Blessed Black in 2021?

Right now our goal is to finish a new full-length and get into the studio this spring. With COVID still raging, it’s hard to think about playing live. We might do something live stream oriented though. 

I think that is entirely dependent on how things with COVID protocols grow and change. One thing you will absolutely see is a music video for “La Brea,” a new full length album later this year, some great new merch designs, and maybe some live streams in the near future. 

Is there anything you would like to say to your underground metal audiences and Blessed Black fans?

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, and we want to say thank you to everyone who continues to support us and follow what we do as a band. 

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