Photo Credit: Pamela Littky
On Darkfighter, their (hopefully) lucky seventh album, Rival Sons continue to present themselves musically as the offspring of both ’70s arena bands like Bad Company and Grand Funk Railroad and ’90s alternative rock artists like Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. What comes of their effort works, for the most part. Rival Sons seem determined to list many of the ingredients right on the box with the opening cut ‘Mirrors.” This includes starting right out with a Jon Lord-style organ intro which then gives way to rocking like the aforementioned Soundgarden. They then throw in yet another musical twist with an acoustic guitar section (be reminded that this is still the same song). All in all it’s a bit of an overreach, but for the most part, they do successfully grab what they were trying to.
This is just one of several cuts on the album that attempts to balance varying rock styles. “Bird in the Hand” first flies out sounding like an early Kinks mid-tempo hit (i.e. “Sunny Afternoon”) before giving way to a stomping beat closer to the Foo Fighters. “Bright Light” is another good – slightly more focused – classic-rock-sounding mid-tempo. Despite the obvious musical effort, which the band puts into everything they do, lyrics are often the band’s strongest asset, as this one song also illustrates (“Hanging out on the line // I was a victim of a victimless crime”).
Strong lyrics actually save a couple of tracks that are otherwise just so-so musically, such as “Nobody Wants to Die” (which, to its credit, is still pretty tight), “Rapture” (not the Blondie song), and “Guillotine.” Darkfighter begins the home stretch with “Horses Breath,” a rocker with a ¼ drum beat that somehow misplaced the ’80s movie sports montage that was clearly meant to go with it, right down to the lyrics (“To be greater than you think you are… // Through toil and trade… // It still burns bright inside you”). “Darkside,” which closes the album, is another interesting musical hodge-podge of Hozier-like chant pop and more full-out rocking.
At a modest eight cuts, Darkfighter comes off like it’s only part of the story, and that may indeed end up being the case, as Rival Sons already have another full-length release due this year, and the title of that one – Lightbringer – suggests it will be a musical sequel of sorts, or at least a companion piece to this one (stay tuned). At least a couple of members of Rival Sons apparently are devout followers of different religions, and that does make sense as far as some of what they’re trying to convey here goes. Trying to say too much at once can often result in saying nothing, but here it’s more a question of having to weed through it. Given their obvious influences, Rival Sons could have simply re-written fifty-year-old Led Zeppelin lyrics but instead chose to make a unique (if not always clear) statement, for which they do deserve credit. That praise, in fact, extends to most of the record. Trying to avoid enjoying Darkfigher will be a fight that few rock fans will be able to win.