It isn't easy to make good classic rock music these days without sounding like an exercise in nostalgia. However Long Beach, California act Rival Sons have once again remained consistent in creating an album that ticks all the right boxes without sounding like shameless hero worship.This albums starts as it means to continue with the up-tempo rocker "Keep On Swinging" Reminiscent of Free and 60's era Led Zeppelin. "You Want To" continues this, and both tracks would not be out of place on their first album Pressure & Time, both good groove based rock songs. But on "Wild Animal" and "Until The Sun Comes", the band takes a different direction entirely and pay homage to the Who with simple tracks based on a steady beat.
Track 5, "Run From Revelation", is the track that affirms my belief Rival sons have not only matched but quite possibly exceeded all their previous work. A slow, soulful blues tune is what we're treated to and it sounds wonderful, vocalist Jay Buchanan once again gets the chance to really show his incredible vocal talents off. And thankfully there are several more songs in this style, in much the same vein as "Face Of Light" from Pressure & Time, or "Soul" (a personal favourite of mine) from their eponymous EP. The following track "Jordan", is simple, sweet, sorrowful and completely beautiful, with lyrical themes of reuniting with a loved one in the afterlife. A wonderful 6 minute ballad to prove why Rival Sons are one of, if not possibly the best new classic rock bands around.
"All The Way" is another medium paced rocker with lyrics in the form of an amusing narrative about growing up. "The Heist" is, in my opinion, one of the only slightly mediocre moments on the album, still a well made track but nothing on any of the rest. After a slight dip things pick up again with the intense energy and swagger of "Three Fingers", an instant classic.
One thing that is definitely apparent is that this album is very well constructed and flows in a decent manner. Every song has its own merit, but it's definitely the slower tracks that shine here, which is why the final 4 tracks and "Jordan" are what caused me to fall in love with this album.
Everything starts off nicely with mellow acoustic interlude "Nava" showcasing guitarist Scott Holliday's fingerpicking skills which intertwine beautifully with the sounds of birds chirping in the background.
Which leads us fantastically into "Manifest Destiny (Part 1)" a titanic, unstoppable monster of a blues jam. Over 8 minutes each member has a chance to show their impeccable raw talent, particularly drummer Michael Miley, and once again Scott Holliday, who exceeds all expectations based on his previous guitar solos by offering up a bittersweet, drawn out and quite frankly spectacular solo lasting nearly 5 minutes. Swiftly followed by Jay Buchanan closing the first part of this gargantuan epic with the refrain "you know we're dealing with godless men", referring of course to the colonisation of America and skirmishes with the native Americans, resulting in their land being annexed and their people being enslaved.
Part 2 of "Manifest Destiny" tells the story from the opposite perspective, retelling the tale of a tribe of native Americans orchestrating and carrying out an attack on US soldiers. While being a total contrast with part 1, this track somehow still fits perfectly. An excellent bass line from Robin Everhart and some soulful harmonica playing really sets the track off, altogether making this 2 part, 12 minute monster almost too perfect for words.
Finally, album closer "True" once again allows Buchanan to flex his vocal cords, wailing mournfully about his true love over a gorgeous piece of guitar playing, a perfect mellow way to end such a diverse and fantastic album.
In summary, I have very few bad things to say about this album, only that the ballads outshine the the rest of the album by a mile, and that Scott Holliday should definitely write more solos like his magnum opus from "Manifest Part 1". This will probably be my favourite non-metal album of the year, or if somehow something else does come along to challenge this then it will undoubtedly be in my end of year top 10, this is a near perfect album from a band who has yet to hit their stride.
Check this out it: You like bluesy/classic rock with plenty of attitude, if you want to hear a new band play vintage rock and roll well, or you've always wondered what it would sound like if Led Zeppelin and Free had a threeway with The Black Keys.
For fans of: Led Zeppelin, Free, The Black Crowes, The Black Keys
Head Down is out now on Earache Records