When Rival sons unveiled their follow-up to the massive hit ‘pressure and time’, the marvellous ‘head down’, I wondered what they could do to top that album. A frantic, joyous blast of rock ‘n’ roll mayhem from start to finish, ‘head down’ boasted the truly stunning ‘Manifest destiny’ at its heart and the album remains a firm favourite some two years on. After much time on the road, laying waste to festivals and individual venues along the way, Rival Sons are back with ‘Great Western Valkyrie’, a full-blooded beast that must surely be paving the way for Rival Sons to become the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet.
Clearly fired up and ready to go, Rival Sons don’t so much walk up unannounced as leap, screaming from the shadows with the stunning ‘Electric man’, a storming mix of skull-pounding rhythms, fuzz-laden guitar and, at the heart of the maelstrom, stands Jay Buchanan, a singer who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite vocalists on the planet. He wails, he roars, he shivers and shakes and all the while he mesmerises you, whilst Scott Holiday deploys riffs of such innovative ferocity it’s a wonder the speakers don’t melt under their intensity. Capitalising on the momentum, ‘good luck’ similarly revels in Mike Miley’s cacophonous drumming and a chorus custom-built to be sung by festival audiences around the world. It’s here that it hits you, Rival Sons have always sounded big, but here they sound simply massive. It’s hard to define exactly, but it seems that here the band have perfectly captured the stage presence that makes them such a thrilling live act and translated it to the recorded medium, making ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ arguably the best Rival Sons effort yet. With Scott channelling Jimi Hendrix, the band are on fire on ‘secret’, a track that sees Jay push himself beyond all rational limits, delivering a vocal that would challenge even that master of excess Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and as the riffs pile up, Jay begins to sound like an unhinged preacher of the apocalypse, his raw-throated vocals simply bursting forth from the heart of the recording.
Showing no inclination of slowing down, ‘play the fool’ offers up huge riffs and even bigger choruses, whilst ‘good things’ finally takes things down a notch with a taut, soulful feel given extra power by Scott’s wailing leads and Jay’s stunning vocal performance. By the time you reach ‘open my eyes’ you’ll be convinced that Rival Sons have somehow bottled the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll, Mike’s phased drums perfectly providing the backing for the sort of grinding riff that makes you want to bow low before the altar of Les Paul, whilst the melody is so addictive you’re likely to suffer withdrawal when you finally stop listening to the album on endless repeat. Laden with distortion and richly dynamic, ‘rich and the poor’ sounds like the Doors jamming with the Rolling Stones, an air of wild-eyed psychedelia hanging over it and then ‘Belle star’ comes charging in from out of nowhere, mixing up rich seventies feel with brutal hard rock power, only to wrong-foot the listener and drift into something altogether more unworldly. It’s a perfect display of the wild spirit that lurks at the heart of Rival Sons and you’re once again reminded that this is a band who have not only fully deserve their success, but who have achieved it entirely on their own terms.
The final two tracks of the album are amongst the most lengthy on display. The six minute ‘where I’ve been’ is a rather beautiful piece of song writing that harks back to Led Zeppelin III with its rich melody and soulful sense of purpose, only to build to a massive crescendo that makes you want to scream out in joy. The final track is the seven-minute epic, ‘destination on course’, which closes the album on a progressive note that recalls Jeff Buckley’s stunning debut (and tragically sole) album ‘Grace’ as Jay unleashes what may be his finest and most nuanced performance yet. It closes the album on an epic high and leaves you wanting only to hit play once more.
‘Head down’ was marked by the remarkable, earth-shattering ‘Manifest destiny’, a song that marked out Rival Sons as possessors of a unique talent. The album as a whole was great, but that song was unassailably wonderful and remains a personal favourite of mine. In contrast ‘great Western Valkyrie’ has no such peaks simply because the band’s song-writing has now reached a point where the music is consistently stunning. Listening to the album for the first time, I gave up even trying to jot down thoughts and simply sat back, absorbing the sounds washing over me with a huge smile upon my face. Further listens revealed more of the intricate layers built into the album and my respect for the band has reached a whole new level. Once again recorded by the incomparable Dave Cobb (who recently helmed the California Breed album), the production is simply perfect, capturing the band’s raw energy and impulsive fits of in-the-moment jamming. The result is an album that surely sits at the head of Rival Sons not inconsiderable achievements and marks them out as one of the best bands currently active. Rival Sons are not the next anything; they are a force of nature, a band united by pattern and led by the spirited and indomitable force that is Jay Buchanan and ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ is a masterpiece that will stand the tests of time as surely as the earth will continue to orbit the sun. Life affirming, thrilling and soulful, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ is set to take the world by storm, and Rival Sons deserve every inch of success this wonderful, joyous record brings them.