Today’s Song: Anger and Regret Meet Explosively in Black Pistol Fire’s “Level”

Black Pistol Fire © 2019
What separates Black Pistol Fire from other soundalike duos such as The White Stripes or the Japandroids is that their big, arena-rock choruses are only surpassed by their ability to sit comfortably in a repetitive, chugging blues-inspired riff.

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Only after the glow of the chorus passes and the steady rhythm of the verse settles back in does it hit you: Black Pistol Fire are as much Buddy Guy as The Black Keys. The Toronto-born, Austin-based duo have been going from strength-to-strength since their eponymous debut in 2011, and their newest single, “Level,” really shows off their ability to dance along the line between rock and blues.

Stream: “Level” – Black Pistol Fire


A song about vengeful exes, singer Kevin McKeown delivers his tale of breakup woes with a mixture of poise and pain best exemplified by Alabama Shakes’ lead singer Brittany Howard. The lyrics are equal part sadness over the split and anger at each person’s reaction to it:

Take what you can get or just settle for the rest
Worn out your welcome, babe,
don’t take this the wrong way

Working awful hard to
keep me right where you want

Soft and sweet, it cuts you like
a whisper in the dark, singing

You know you got a secret
You know I couldn’t keep it
You know you got the best of me
And you know all that’s left of me

However, it’s the music that really makes this song stand out. The duo’s penchant for slowing down — usually when you expect the song to take off — creates an interesting experience which leaves the listener craving more.

Level - Black Pistol Fire

Level – Black Pistol Fire

In interviews, the two often cite Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters as major influences, which only feels contrived until you listen: Their rock is dripping with the two legend’s influence. This is what separates Black Pistol Fire from other soundalike duos such as The White Stripes or the Japandroids: Their big, arena-rock choruses are only surpassed by their ability to sit comfortably in a repetitive, chugging blues-inspired riff. This slow and steady approach makes the heavier parts hit even harder, especially with the distortion kicked into overdrive and the anger dripping off lyrics about navigating the post-breakup minefield:

It couldn’t come at a worst time, used up all my lifelines
Seems like such a far cry, put me on the front lines
Too far gone, gimme one more for the road
Cheap shots, low blows, what do you take me for?
Keep on trying to bring me down
Down on your level, baby, down on your level
Keep on trying to bring me down
Down on your level, baby, down on your level
Black Pistol Fire © 2019

Black Pistol Fire © 2019

This brash and brazen track — complete with screaming guitars, powerful drums, and multiple tempo changes — perfectly captures that moment when you just want to move on but your former partner is holding you back. The angst, the frustration, and the lashing out are apparent, very real, and nearly as relentless as the driving guitars.

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Level - Black Pistol Fire

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Oliver Crook

Oliver Crook is a Canada-based journalist who has been playing guitar and deciphering lyrics since he first heard Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” blasting through his older brother’s bedroom walls. Although his taste has (somewhat) developed since then, his passion is just as strong as ever. When not writing about music, he can be found drinking too much coffee, complaining about the finickiness of avocados, and being disappointed by all of his favourite sports teams.