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.