Following a long, frustrating stint on hip-hop superstar Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella label as half of the talented R&B duo Christion, vocalist Allen Richardson turned his attentions to creating a more personal music project. He formed A Band Called Pain as a studio-only effort in 2001 with his cousin Shaun Bivens (a guitarist who had an aborted hip-hop project with MCA Records in the early 1990s). The group first came to international attention when their blistering single “Holy” was featured on the soundtrack of the horror film Saw II in 2006. The success led to extensive radio play and touring slots with numerous major label bands.
Though seemingly anomalous as a Black heavy metal quartet, A Band Called Pain has produced Broken Dreams, which offers 17 tracks that belie simple racialized aesthetic or sonic categorization. Richardson’s growling, mellifluous, blues-drenched tenor bends and shakes around his pointed lyrics, from the internal strife of the title track to the anti-militarism sentiment of “The War Song” and “Freedom Ain’t Free.” Bivens’s crisp production is the foreground for drummer Tony Providence’s impossibly complex polyrhythms and Bryan Dean’s rumbling bass lines, without overwhelming or leadening the tracks.
Having made inroads into an extremely competitive indie rock scene in a relatively short time, Richardson and Bivens seem to have found their groove despite their respective false starts. Intentionally or not, they are serving as an example of creative possibility.