Primitive Origins: Blackwater Park’s ‘Dirt Box’

Alright, this one isn’t wildly obscure thanks to the obvious extreme metal connection: Opeth, as we all know, named their 2001 album after this German hard rock/prog band. Blackwater Park only released one album, 1972’s Dirt Box, but clearly it was enough to leave a lasting impression on one Mikael Åkerfeldt. Is it enough for you?

Thing is, we’ve been hearing this band referred to as “prog” for years, but upon deeper inspection of the songs on Dirt Box, we’ve found that there’s more to this than meets the eye.

“Mental Block” is a concise 3:18 stomper to kick things off, the band immediately grooving and rocking hard, this tune not so much prog as it is a bombastic, fun rocker, with obvious skills from the players but a big focus on the forward momentum. It’s memorable, it’s bouncy, it’s a great way to start the album. It’s worth noting there are only six originals on this record (rounded off with a Beatles cover), so, as good as an opener as this is, it wasn’t life-changing, and we’ve only got five left to go.

“Roundabout” is next, and at 5:27 and that labyrinthine opening riff, it’s clear the band is gonna get their prog on here… or are they? Once the vocals come in, it’s more ’70s arena hard rock than it is prog, but with way more smarts than arena rock should have. That’s the beauty of this band, Blackwater Park rockin’ hard but with brains, drummer Norbert Kagelmann in particular really going for it here, “Roundabout” having both the bounce that “Mental Block” has and also an increased sense of instrumentation and brainier songwriting. Approved.

Then we’ve got “One’s Life,” another short one at 3:09 (well, short because I went into this fully expecting a detailed prog album), the band laying down some killer riffs and licks here as they work for the weekend, this song rocking hardest of all of the cuts so far, a very raucous affair, Blackwater Park totally laying to waste my perceptions of what this album is going to be fast and furious here, and I like it. Approved!

“Indian Summer” clocks in at 6:16 and proceeds to absolutely rip through that runtime, the band getting damn near funky here, things positively upbeat and fun, Blackwater park totally racing through this whole song, by this point in the album basically tossing the “prog” label aside and just being a good arena rock band who are great on their instruments. Love this song, and it flies past in the blink of an eye.

“Dirty Face” lays down prime-era KISS riffs (years before prime-era KISS existed, of course) and a boogie vibe, a bit too boogie for my liking, but it does show Blackwater Park’s ability to easily navigate between various rock subgenres, the players all immediate pros at whatever they attempt here. Goes on a bit too long, but this is a fun late-album cut regardless.

The originals end with “Rock Song,” an 8:46 rager that indeed rocks pretty hard, the band using the time to spread things out to a slower crawl, to lay down some killer soloing, to get, sure, slightly progressive but more in an experimental and considerate manner, not in a technical or flashy sense. Still, it must be said that Blackwater Park is indeed at their flashiest on the album three-quarters of the way through this song. If anything, I hear Opeth in the quieter and more sprawling parts of this tune, if nowhere else on this album.

The record ends off with Blackwater Park’s version of “For No One.” I seriously never need to hear anyone cover The Beatles, and my thoughts on contemporary-era covers on these old records have been documented here before so I don’t need to go on about it again today. It’s a decent enough cover (and song), but, pass.

Dirt Box isn’t at all what I expected, and I must say, I like it quite a bit. The band’s ability to play tough but decision to play fun resonates, and some of the songs on the album show there was much more depth under the surface than there was with the big rock bands of the day. It ain’t the prog mind-melter I was expecting, which was a nice surprise, Blackwater Park rockin’ me pretty hard for most of this energetic record.

Blackwater Park’s Dirt Box The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No.

Heaviness factor: Not incredibly heavy, but solidly in the realm of hard rock.

Obscura Triviuma: This was released on BASF, the record label division of the company you probably best know for making blank cassettes on the cheap end of the spectrum in the ’80s.

Other albums: This is it.

Related bands: Murphy Blend, The Cryin’ Shames

Alright, fine, if you must: Whatever your substance of choice is for prog-tinged German hard rock from the early ’70s, man.