Monday 11 December 2023

Rival Sons - Lightbringer (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 20 Oct 2023
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Damn, Rival Sons are on a tear this year. I gave Darkfighter a 9/10 in June and I simply can't not do the same here only six months later. Oddly, Lightbringer starts out with Darkfighter, even though the Darkfighter album did not feature a song called Lightbringer, and it's the most epic piece of music they've ever recorded, running to a breath under nine minutes. It has a couple of minutes of intro before a textbook Rival Sons ramp up in intensity. Nobody does change of intensity like this band, whether they're going up or down, and this is another peach.

There's a lot in this song. It sounds great on a first listen but it also sounds like a lot. It takes time to get used to what it's doing and, while they're still clearly a hard rock band working from exactly the influences you might expect, this has to be labelled prog rock because of what it does. There's as much in here that they've taken from Yes as from Led Zeppelin, just in the way that it twists and turns, but the moments come from all over. This bit's right out of Focus, that one's surely Santana and that one over there is probably someone I haven't heard yet.

It's also acutely visual but in a different way to usual. Sometimes a song is so evocative that I see a sort of film when listening to it, because I can picture the forest or the meadow or the trip through space. I didn't get that here. What I got instead was a sort of fractal animation, the sort of thing a Winamp visualisation might have generated back in the day. I saw lines and circles and fireworks to reflect where the music was going, as if the way it flows is as much a work of art as the music itself. But hey, that's just me.

By comparison, Mercy is a straightforward song and it kicks off like quintessential Zeppelin. That's a pristine Jimmy Page riff from Scott Holiday that leads back into itself, like The Ocean, even if it's burdened by a layer of fuzz on it. Mike Miley's drumming echo John Bonham and there even swells here that Zep did. The most obvious difference is that Jay Buchanan's vocals are far more Ronnie van Zandt than Robert Plant and the instrumentation during the chorus joins him. Redemption is a country-infused Lynyrd Skynyrd type of song too, often a ballad but not always.

That's three great songs out of three and the three still to come are just as good. In fact, I believe, after a bunch of times through this album over a few days, I think I'd call out Mosaic as my personal favourite and that's the closer. This is a real grower of a track, starting out like a singer/songwriter track, something that maybe James Taylor might have written but given a serious build so that it's the Joe Cocker cover that we're hearing. Except, of course, Buchanan's voice is as crystal clear as Cocker's was rough, and he has a lot of fun playing with his dynamic range. He has a truly glorious escalation late in the song, a showcase moment that would make TV talent show judges orgasm.

Mosaic is almost an antidote to Darkfighter, the opener taking us on a dozen journeys all at once but the closer sticking to its core principles, showcasing Buchanan's voice but reserving moments for Holiday's guitar too. It's a song, pure and simple, rather than a complex piece of music. That's an approach that Zep took, of course, mixing up their albums between groove oriented songs and complex layered epics and whatever else sprang to mind at any point in time, and that's the same approach that Rival Sons have been taking.

I've skipped two tracks and should cover them too, because they're both gems. Sweet Life is funky and full of life, with another textbook ramp up in intensity and some tasty seventies organ. I could put it halfway between Mercy and Mosaic in style. And that leaves Before the Fire, which is folkier and subtler, a good lead into Mosaic, with some tasty guitarwork to set it up, whether acoustic or slide. It finds its groove soon enough, of course, which is a delicious lazy drive that gradually shifts up in intensity.

And yeah, that's six gems out of six. This is a peach of an album, even better than Darkfighter from earlier in the year and I don't regret giving that a 9/10. This is another one and that makes three out of three for the Rival Sons albums I've reviewed. I just talked up how consistent Ronnie Atkins has been with his solo releases, with a 9/10 and two 8/10s. Rival Sons promptly trump him with the perfect trio of 9/10s. Remember that I don't give out 10/10s because I firmly believe that the best of the best have to do more than sound amazing now; they have to stand up to posterity from the standpoint of five or ten years down the road. These have every chance of doing that.

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