17 September 2012
by David Keevill
Bands who rely on retrospection as the main thrust to their music often sound tired, contrived and all out-of-ideas. There is a certain charm to recycling and incorporating a sound into your own musical framework, but overuse it and you betray any chance at your own invention. Yet whilst bands might throw a flirty wink to Led Zeppelin, or snaffle a couple of riffs off Black Sabbath, there are only a few like Rival Sons who can transport you back forty years and still manage not to be a museum piece.
With 2011’s Pressure & Time, Rival Sons stood out for the simplicity of their music, the honesty of the message within their lyrics (as on the beautiful ‘Face of Light’) and a minimalist production. Yet, often they felt a little lost; the album mostly never really lived up to its notable highlights like the dastardly groovy title track or the haunting ‘Only One.’ Yet there is a sense with Pressure & Time, as there is running throughout Head Down that their music captures the kind of idealism and fresh-faced perspective that you might find locked within Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ or Led Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You.’
Without any distinct lyrical direction or any contrived attempts at malevolence – something which rock and metal acts are guilty of time and time again – the music is allowed to speak for itself. The real, enduring strength of Rival Sons comes from applying tentative touches as opposed to vast strokes; ‘The Heist’, for example, resembles ‘Pressure & Time’ for its sauntering and sparse blasts of guitar, as well as the mid-range vocals that lead into a chorus that flourishes the kind of high-end grandiose fare so reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge. Jay Buchanan’s voice is an instrument in itself, as it wanders between the brooding verse lyrics of ‘Wild Animal’ and ‘Until the Sun Comes’, and the soothing Jeff Buckley-like tones of ‘True.’
Watch Thrash Hits TV – Rival Sons at Download Festival 2012:
However, the topping on this increasingly heaped cake is the tracks. ‘Three Fingers’ is just magnificent in the way that it canters, forcing the listener to hang on to the razor-sharp vocals and the thrusting and posturing of Rival Sons’ distinguished backline. Alternatively, ‘Manifest Destiny Pt. 1′ and ‘…Pt. 2’ brood in a way that is absent from their previous releases, and paint a picture of liturgical mishap and festering superstitions. These tracks once again give space for an ample display of the marriage of the tentative and the volatile; the screams of Scott Holiday’s guitar explode over the tightly lethargic rhythm section.
Without hyperbole, Head Down embodies why rock music should be continually visited and revisited. Rival Sons aren’t burdened by being retrospective in their sound or their themes, rather they’re let loose from the overarching obligations of countless of their contemporaries. There’s a deft touch to everything on Head Down that makes Rival Sons seem wise beyond their years, and as a result, this is a refreshing listen.
Sounds Like: Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix.
Standout tracks: The Heist, Three Fingers, Manifest Destiny Pt. 1.