Rival Sons // Head Down
Rating: 2.0/5.0 — You can’t go home… but you can sure as fuck steal Jimmy Page riffs.
Label: Earache Records
Websites: rivalsons.com  |  myspace.com
Release Dates:  Out worldwide on 09.17.2012

Alright kids, it’s time for an Angry Metal History Lesson. Long ago, before we had the subtle differences between things like “melodic death metal,” “funeral doom,” and “porno grind”, there was simply Heavy Metal. In the early ’70s, Heavy Metal was merely a small subcategory of a genre known as Rock & Roll (which had itself recently splintered off from blues music). Heavy rock was brand new and unknown, still capable of scaring old people and making young girls’ panties moist. Also at this point in time, acid was still legal and AIDS hadn’t been invented yet, so you can’t really blame someone for wanting to revisit that golden era. Which brings me to L.A.-based blues rockers Rival Sons, and their new album Head Down. 

From the first note of the first track, Head Down is about as retro as humanly possible. It’s basically straight-up Zeppelin worship, with a bit of Black Crowes thrown in for taste [as was their last album Steel Druhm]. The guitar work sounds like a commercial for all the amps & effects that Jimi Hendrix’s estate put his name on. The drums sound like “When The Levee Breaks” on every song. Vocalist Jay Buchanan has got the Robert Plant/David Coverdale thing going on, with just a hint of maybe that guy from Alter Bridge, to sound more palatable to the kids. Make no mistake, this album was meticulously crafted and calculated to clone those vintage sounds of yesteryear. You couldn’t get closer to the ’70s without a Delorean and a flux capacitor.

But if the music on Head Down is England circa ’69, the lyrics bring it right back down to present-day ‘Merica. Several of the songs take a somewhat capitaliststance lyrically. The 2nd verse of “Keep On Swinging” describes Buchanan’s finances in almost Scrooge McDuck-like terms (considering the band is signed to Earache Records, I doubt this is actually the case). “The Heist” takes it a step further, with Buchanan singing in the first person about literally robbing a bank (chorus: “I’m coming home with the money!”). Credit where credit is due, though: “Manifest Destiny pt. 1” might have the greatest chorus ever. I’m pretty sure Buchanan is singing “You know we did it with your best friends.” If he’s not, he should enunciate better. If he is, he should get to a clinic, pronto.

The rest of the band is rock-solid, if predictable. Guitarist Scott Holiday does a dead-on Jimmy Page impression, not just on the riffs and leads, but also the acoustic parts, all of which sound like “Goin’ To California.” The rhythm section of Robin Everhart and Michael Miley is pretty formidable, and take cues from even earlier forms of rock music. I hear a Kinks drum fill here, a Four Tops bassline there. These guys all play their asses off, for whatever that’s worth.

In their own band bio on Facebook, the band mentions the lack of “danger” among younger rock bands. These guys might want to look up what that word means. Seriously, this is the least threatening kind of rock album you could possibly own. It will make babies giggle, and if your parents are under 70 they’ll be OK with it. These songs already had their turn to be dangerous 4 decades ago, when they were on Led Zeppelin IV. Re-writing classic rock songs is a decent marketing strategy, but ascribing some kind of “edginess” to it is pretty some seriously flawed logic.

You know who’d really enjoy this, though? That one guy who thinks that all music has sucked since Bonham/Bon Scott/Hendrix/whoever died, and that these “kids these days” just don’t get it. If you played him Head Down, he would probably jump up and exclaim, “Now THAT’s how it’s done!” Unfortunately, he’d only be half-right, at best.

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  • Great review – really enjoyed reading that. I don’t see the point of Rival Sons’ approach. Surely if anyone wants to listen to a particular type of music you go straight to the best at it – which of course is Led Zeppelin. It’s pointless trying to ape Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd or for that matter Celtic Frost. Rival Sons need to find their own groove or just come flat out and become a Led Zep tribute band and play Jimmy and Robert’s songs.

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Exactly. Also, I forgot to mention in the review that if you want to hear ’70s rock done well, and without ripping off any one person, check out the Night Flight Orchestra record that came out earlier this year.

  • hubcapiv

    I picked up their last one, Pressure & Time. It was OK but it didn’t make we want to pick up this one. It left me feeling a little 2.5ish. I don’t really mind bands aping old styles as long as they bring good songs along for the ride. But Rival Sons didn’t.

  • Since I loved both ‘Pressure & TIme’ and the EP I can’t say I enjoyed reading this review. Then again, I was a bit skeptical after hearing the first single. If it’s on par with P&T I’ll be content because that album channeled the right attitude and had its own sound despite the retro touch.

  • User Name

    lol fag

  • I actually find this album very enjoyable to listen to, be it Led Zeppelin clone or not. That said, it pretty obviously is LZ/Jimi sounding and that’s not a secret. Therefore I think it’s way too easy to critisize this album on nearly only that. Everyone could have written that, so this review didn’t actually stated anything I didn’t know or think of. Also, Pressure and Time got a 4.5 score just because of this LZ/Jimi mix. That’s a bit contradictive, although that was reviewed by SD.

    About the ‘danger’ part i got to agree with you that the ‘dangerfactor’ is highly exagerated here and a bit pussy. On the other hand, I think this is mostly aimed at bands like Kings of Leon, Radiohead, Editors and other soft (and more famous) rockbands.

    This is about the first time I got mainly disappointed by a review here in a few years, by finding it a little narrowminded. Most other reviews are nice, please keep that good work coming! :)

    • I don’t think its inconsistent. I didn’t mind their less than original Zepplin style, but F.A.G. doesn’t appreciate it. Different reviewers have different tastes. You need to find the ones you tend to agree with most and figure out the ones you don’t agree with so you can give proper weight to their opinions.

  • First of all I really think that a review of a record is a very personal thing, we all have our own music preferences and so if the reviewer doesn’t like the record that doesn’t mean it’s a bad record, it just means that he doesn’t like it. What I find odd is that the reviewer seems to dislike the record because it’s not original and it’s basicalley a LZ/JH ripoff, not because he doesn’t like the music. Regarding the comment made by Harry Neary and the reviewer’s answer to it I must say I cannot agree: if that’s the point we should for instance also bash all the Doom Metal bands because we’d better listen to Black Sabbath … Just my 2 cents (p.s.: apologies in advance for my poor English)

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Interestingly, in my very first review for AMG I said something along the lines of “why listen to all these doom metal bands when you can listen to Black Sabbath?” (i think it was a review of Exhumed)
      There’s nothing “wrong” with Rival Sons or what they do. I personally value originality a lot. Metal music has been around for over 40 years, and if it’s going to continue, bands need to start figuring out where to go next, instead of looking backwards.

  • Lenboy

    Angry indeed.

    This is a review of contradictions and doesn’t do justice to what will be surely one of the albums of the year. For starters the heavy Zep influences were on the last album Pressure and Time. This album will take a few listens to get into but hey, same for Maiden, Metallica et al.
    Yes there are nods to the 60’s and 70’s but why not?
    Ritchie Blackmore was influenced by music as far back as Tchaikovsky – does that make Purple and Rainbow a waste of time?
    If you follow the reviewer’s logic:
    Metallica shouldn’t have bothered because Diamond Head riffed it better
    Forget Megadeth – listen to Metallica
    Avoid the Stone Roses – too much like Zep..
    Oasis …pure Beatles rip off
    Perhaps the real issue here is that Rival Sons are not a metal band so the reviewer had no business critiquing them in the first place.

  • BurningBeard

    This is a shallow, vapid review which does no real service to a music fan with a desire to be informed. There’s precious little evaluation of the band as compared to their contemporaries, which is what really matters for the sake of relevance. Not every band needs to reinvent the wheel. In fact, most won’t. I can count the number of bands I’d consider truly innovative in metal on one hand. If you want innovative, listen to Meshuggah. There’s nothing wrong with comfort music. Honestly, if you want solid, revivalist-style tunes these days, you’re spoiled for choice, some more innovative than others. See Royal Thunder, Graveyard, Witch Mountain. This review does a disservice to the band because it fails to recognize their intent. There will never be another Zeppelin. That doesn’t mean those particular musical avenues shouldn’t be ttrod in service of sounds that rock. Get your head out of your ass and try to approach reviewing with something resembling objectivity next time. Oh, and LSD was illegalized in 1967. Try a history lesson as well before you attempt to be edgie or inflamatory.