Wednesday 21 June 2023

Rival Sons - Darkfighter (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 2 Jun 2023
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It's been four years since Feral Roots, the sixth Rival Sons studio release, which was also my second Album of the Month here at Apocalypse Later, way back in February 2019. However, we do not have to wait four more years for the next one, because that'll be a companion piece to this one due late this year. This one's Darkfighter and that one will be Lightbringer, so a pair of Rival Sons albums in the same year. We're in for a treat and that's exactly what this feels like. While it's trivial to boil a sound like this into that pervasive New Wave of Classic Rock banner, there's a heck of a lot more in what Rival Sons do.

For instance, Mirrors opens the album with a very seventies organ vibe as if the band are warming up in church. Then they kick into an in your face riff that's all energy and soulful vocals, only to fall away from loud to quiet and add some country vibes. It's kind of like Bad Company in Nashville with a modern day punk attitude to temper the older sounds. By the way that drop from loud to quiet is a signature move for Rival Sons and there are few bands who can match their ability. Just listen to the closer, Darkside, for a perfect example.

It's when they're quiet that Jay Buchanan shines the brightest, though he can also bellow and soar with the best of them. He's actually quite fun on Nobody Wants to Die, the most urgent song here, on which he even cuts off some syllables for effect. However, he's at his best when everything's at its quietest and there's nothing whatsoever to distract from him showcasing the subtleties of his voice. Many of these songs play with dynamics but none so much as Darkside, which is a fantastic closer.

In between Mirrors and Darkside are six other tracks and, while I'd call out the huge anthem that's Bright Light as an easy highlight for me, nothing else lags far behind it. Never mind that there are no filler tracks, there aren't any songs that languish so low that nobody will call them a favourite. I may see Bright Light as well above the similarly anthemic Guillotine, but both are standouts and it may be you that you see them the other way around.

Similarly I'd go for Rapture, which shifts so far into country at points that it's close to being gospel, over Bird in the Hand, which slows things down and adds a jaunty beat that has some Beatles in it. I only have one Rival Sons album behind me but I'm expecting the usual set of seventies rock bands as obvious influences, the Bad Companies and Led Zeppelins and Lynyrd Skynyrds of the world, but there's a surprising amount of the Beatles here, most overtly in the melodies. I heard Lennon and McCartney's fingerprints on Bright Light too.

And that leaves the hyper-energetic Nobody Wants to Die over Horses Breath, which kicks off in a psychedelic swirl that doesn't come from any band I've named thus far. What Rival Sons do is distil down decades of music, though the seventies most of all, into their essences and flick them into an immense melting pot to brew up their songs. There's folk in Horses Breath, but the guitars remind of Neil Young at his most raucous. It breathes a lot more than Nobody Wants to Die but I know the one I'd pick. As with each of these pairings, though, you might pick the other and neither of us would be wrong.

The line-up remains the same as last time out and the two albums before that, the only change in personnel thus far Dave Beste replacing Robin Everhart on bass after their third album. They're all excellent musicians who deserve individual credit for their work here—especially Scott Holiday on guitars, with a whole slew of riffs to choose favourites from, but also Beste heavying up everything on bass and Mike Miley keeping some glorious beats. For all the swirl behind Horses Breath, it may well be that they just sat down in the studio and jammed all these songs. It certainly feels like they did and on something like a four track setup too like bands used to do way back in the day. It's clear as a bell but it's simple and thoroughly effective.

The question is whether this deserves an 8/10 like Feral Roots or whether I spring for another 9/10. I haven't done that much this year, only for Megaton Sword and Smokey Mirror, but I think it's time for a third. I've had this on repeat for a couple of days now and it doesn't just seem as strong as on a first listen, songs like Darkside and Bright Light capture me all over again every time through. It probably means that I should go back to Feral Roots to see how it compares to that, but then I have five earlier albums still to check out too. Too many albums, too little time. I just wish they were all as good as this one.

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