Rival Sons – “Pressure & Time” (Earache Records)
3.7 out of 5
People certainly get uppity when it comes to late 60’s, early 70’s classic rock. Contemporary artists are free to reinterpret 80’s new wave, synth-pop, lo-fi, and now even early 90’s alternative, but set foot upon holy ground originally ploughed by Zeppelin, The Who, or Sabbath, you better be prepared to burn at the stake. There are a few reasons for this: 1) those who lived through this era of music will never let anyone forget just how awesome it was. Whether through anecdotal stories: “It was about the music, man”, countless Hollywood films: “It’s about the music, man”, or political/social documentaries: “It was about the music, man”. Arguably, more than most, it was an era of change that is inextricably linked to its music. 2) Several of the era’s artists (Ozzy, The Who, Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones, Eric Burdon, etc., etc., etc.) continue to tour, ensuring the music remains not only on people’s stereos but in their collective consciousness. 3) Anyone who sets out to explore R&B, southern blues, soul and metal will inevitably stumble upon at least one of the aforementioned artists, and therefore has an opinion on them. Thus, it goes without saying, if you intend to emulate such legendary artists, you better have done your homework.
Following their 2009 self-released debut LP Before the Fire, L.A. based four-piece, Rival Sons, made the curious choice of signing with British independent label Earache Records, a label who’s roster was founded on death metal and early grind core bands such as Napalm Death and Carcass. Written, recorded and mixed in a mere 20 days, the band’s sophomore effort, Pressure & Time is a lean, mean bombardment of bluesy-hard rock. While the album cover, designed by graphic artist Storm Thorgerson (best known for designing Pink Floyd’s iconic cover of Dark Side of the Moon) hints at something proggy and pretentious, don’t be fooled. At 10 tracks, running just under 30 minutes, Rival Sons doesn’t over-think it; they get right down to business.
Straight from the get-go, listeners will undoubtedly recognize the Page & Plant homage of frontman Jay Buchanan’s bluesy howl and guitarist Scott Holiday’s rock solid riffs. Lead-off track “All Over The Road” takes Holiday’s back-to basics riff while Buchanan drops blunt-as-nails lyrical gems that Plant himself would be proud of: “We make the rules, and we both know what’s got to be done. So pull up your dress, I’m going to show you how the west was won.” AND… “I’ve got a big appetite and you know a man has got to eat, well you like your candy, open-up for something twice as sweet.” Yup, real subtle. On the Eric Burdon and The Animals inspired “Young Love”, Holiday’s guitar riff perfectly complements Buchanan’s vocals, which initially drop an octave before taking off for the call-and-response chorus, with a nice little guitar solo added in for spice. Speaking of solos, there’s hardly an extended guitar solo to be found here. Yet, this feels more like a tool to keep the record moving rather than a lack of guitar chops. And from what I understand, Holiday doesn’t hesitate to let loose when playing live.
Delve a little deeper and one will quickly realize that the life force of Rival Sons is their ironclad rhythm section. Drummer Mike Miley and bassist Robin Everhart bring a bottom-end to Pressure & Time worthy of all of the golden era hard rock comparisons. While the guitar riff on the massive title track is pulled straight from Zeppelin III’s “Out on the Tiles”, it’s Miley’s huge kick drum and Everhart’s bass work that steal the show. When the band switches gears for the fuzzed-out “White Noise”, so does the bottom end. Though the majority of Miley’s drumming is decidedly huge and Bonham-esque, here he unleashes pure psychedelic mayhem playing like late Hendrix drummer, Mitch Mitchell.
Rival Sons work best when they keep things heavy, and with the exception of the bluesy mid-tempo “Only One” and album closer “Face of Light”, that’s exactly what they do. Suffice it to say there’s nothing here you haven’t heard a million times before and arguably done better. But the same gripe can be made for the countless artists currently rehashing 80’s synth-pop. Rival Sons aren’t looking to innovate; rather, they’re attempting to reinvigorate a style of music that’s grossly under-represented in contemporary pop music. They may not out-gun their forefathers, but they certainly deserve their respect.
Read previous Spin Doctor reviews here