Wednesday 11 January 2023

Sons of Cult - Back to the Beginning (2023)

Country: Spain
Style: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 5 Jan 2023
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The New Wave of Classic Rock has made such headway over the past few years that it's come close to completely overshadowing the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal. Here's an example of the latter, a band who's looking back to the heavy metal of the seventies and eighties as the template they should follow. They're from the Balearic Islands of Spain and, if it wasn't for the slight accent of singer Jaume Vilanova, who otherwise sings in perfectly capable English, I'd have assumed that this was a British album from 1984 or 1985, a little late for the NWOBHM era but not yet ready for the extremes that followed.

And it's a solid album, consistent and reliable, if a little subdued. My immediate impression was a nostalgic one. I liked it—and it's inherently likable stuff—but it reminded me of so many bands in the eighties that didn't make it because they didn't have that extra something that would launch them to the big leagues. I enjoyed a lot of those bands on record, not that they tended to have the best production, and enjoyed some of them even more live. Listening to that style in 2023 is a little awkward because it often feels like they're playing in slow motion, but without ever feeling doomy.

It's surely slow and steady stuff. The guitars of Vicente Payá and Dan Garcia are clean and have an impressive tone. Vicky Offidani's bass is easy to pick out in the mix and it's reliable, especially on a more hard rock focused song like Fake. Jordi Segura delivers a solid beat too, regardless of tempo: he's slow on Fake but ramps up when Evil Trail opens with plenty of bite, slowing down in verses but speeding back up after they're done. Most of all, Vilanova's voice is almost deliberately trying not to do anything fancy. The voice of 1985 was Bruce Dickinson's but Vilanova is very deliberate to avoid that horns ablaze operatic siren style.

So how much you like this will depend on how much you're OK with that slow and steady approach. I'm certainly more fond of Sons of Cult when they speed up a little, as on Evil Trail, but I also found that they're so consistent that I kind of fell into this album as it ran on. I'm aware that's a little like comfort food for me, because this is the sort of thing I heard first and most often when I found the rock and metal genres in 1984. It's my musical safe place, when I've been exploring so many sounds that I need to centre myself, and this album feels very comfortable in that context.

None of that should suggest that this is average. It's a good album, albeit not a great one and it's clear that the band are holding themselves back more than they should. However, Evil Trail set the bar a little higher and other songs join in. The Farewell Song opens with a solid Black Sabbath riff, not to mention a little Ozzy in Vilanova's voice all of a sudden. The Power of Music boasts a whole slew of good riffs and Desert Song closes out the album with many nods to UFO; I'd call that intro the best part of this album. None of these are going to set the world on fire but they sound good and they're almost old friends on a first listen.

And that's the most telling thing for me. It doesn't grow on a second listen at all, though the best songs become a little more defined, but it doesn't fade anyway. It just underlines itself as the sort of decent album we either didn't hear back in the mid eighties and are happy to finally track down now or the sort we absolutely heard back then but forgot about and are happy to rediscover. We'll dust off the vinyl and slap it onto the deck and suddenly feel forty years younger. It's a time portal of an album and then we bounce back to the present and move on.

I'd like to see how Sons of Cult develop, because this is unsurprisingly a debut album. I'd like more pace, not ramping up to speed metal because that's not who they are, but to maintain the sort of emphasis that's there outside the verses of Evil Trail and on The Power of Music already. I'd like a bit more of the bite that's there in the guitar and the drums in the up tempo parts of Evil Trail or on songs like I Wanna Go Out. And I'd like Vilanova to push for more emphasis too. He has a decent voice, but it often feels a little reluctant as if he's following the band rather than leading it.

So, best of luck to them with this debut album and I'd love to hear the next one, after a few years of solid gigging.

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