Wags will tell you that the return of Mick, Keef, & Ronnie with a brand new Rolling Stones album is the most important thing to happen to Rock music this year. Or AC/DC returning to the live stage for a gazillion-dollar paycheck. Or U2 going all-in with their 360-degree residency at The Sphere in Las Vegas, a show that admittedly does look stunning. If you look at it from a purely business point of view, then yes, these are all important. However, if you look at it from an artistic output point, then there are more important things that have happened in Rock music this year: the rise of Maneskin for one, and Creeper, and Skindred (finally) being accepted by the mainstream is another. Rival Sons delivering not one but two incredible pieces of work in the same year is crucial though. Simply because it thrusts a pointy stick into the eyes of the “They don’t make them like this anymore” mob as they sit at the bar watching a Led Zeppelin tribute act.
Coming 5 months after ‘DARKFIGHTER’, ‘LIGHTBRINGER’ is something special. Equally as strong as a standalone album as it is as part of a monstrous double album, ‘LIGHTBRINGER’ is Rival Sons’ masterpiece. 2019’s ‘Feral Roots’ was perfection of the highest order, ‘DARKFIGHTER’, topped that, and ‘LIGHTBRINGER’ tops its older brother.
Two of the Californian quartet’s finest moments bookend the album; opening track ‘Darkfighter’ sneaks up on the listener with a gentle, false beginning that constantly hints at a sudden change of pace, and when it does arrive, it arrives in some style. The howl from Jay Buchanan melds perfectly with the push and pull between the engine room team of Mike Miley (drums) and Dave Beste (bass), but it is the freedom that guitarist Scott Holiday has that raises the neck hairs. Effortlessly changing from full-on electric to Spanish acoustic guitar, and back again, all within a staggering few minutes midsong (the track clocks in an impressive 9 minutes) this is Holiday’s finest moment. Epic-sounding, and grandiose in its execution, it could be 2023’s defining song. Could be, simply because the album-closing track ‘Mosaic’ is just as good. The polar opposite of ‘Darkfighter’, ‘Mosaic’ is shorter, and simpler, and whereas Holiday ruled the roost on ‘Darkfighter’, here, Jay Buchanan is King and highlights perfectly why he is the one to beat in the new breed of Rock vocalists.
In between these two juggernauts, are 4 more examples of a band conjuring pure magic from the basic ingredients. If there is such a thing as a traditional Rival Sons song then perhaps ‘Mercy’ is that; fuzzy guitar licks, impassioned vocals, big-ass rhythms (and even some handclapping) – the uplifting vocals from Buchanan before the fadeout are alone worthy of the price of admission. ‘Redemption’ is as reflective as the title suggests; ‘Sweet Life’, the shortest of the 6 tracks, is a slow-burning, groovy piece of shimmering psychedelic rock with heaps of hooks; and the songcraft on ‘Before the Fire’ can only be marvelled at, along with the gorgeous tones that Holiday consistently coaxes out of his guitar.
Having earned a few GRAMMY nominations in the past, perhaps this time Rival Sons will go home with the trophy. If they lose out – are Jethro Tull nominated? – then it won’t matter at all, because with their incredible body of work, Rival Sons are the most successful band out there today.
Review – Dave
Photo Credit: Patrik Skoglöw
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