Ah, the 70’s. I remember them well. Ok, I don’t so much remember them as I have yellowed photos of a tiny squalling Cherd with “1978” scrawled on the back. It’s more accurate to say I remember the aesthetic influence the 70’s had on my early life, from the brown shag carpet in our living room to the hair style my father, having reached the age of “don’t give a shit anymore,” continued sporting for decades. His record collection suffered a similar fate, freezing in time somewhere around 1980 with only one or two exceptions. Now, if you assume I’m about to recount righteously headbanging with my old man to Black Sabbath LPs, you’re hilariously mistaken. Rock and roll was frowned upon in my house, and metal was absolutely verboten.1 Indeed, my indirect memories of the era feature objects and trends grown shabby from age and eventually replaced by neon colors, Reaganomics and synth pop. Raleigh, North Carolina’s Lightning Born, on the other hand, remember the 70’s in living detail and have preserved them in pristine amber on their full-length eponymous debut.
Lightning Born play doom metal/blues rock with breezy choruses delivered with clarity and conviction by vocalist Brenna Leath. Earthy riffs heavy with groove flow from guitarist Eric Sugg (also of Demon Eye) and bassist Mike Dean (Corrosion of Conformity, notably). Influences from Sabbath to Deep Purple are immediately evident, as are parallels to other contemporary retro acts like Lucifer and Octopus. Leath and crew do set themselves apart, if ever so slightly, by forgoing keyboards, echo effects or any other vestige of psych rock, instead opting for a stripped down, muscular sound that is more leather jackets and cigarettes than bead curtains and round sunglasses. Doom-y dirges “Shifting Winds” and “Godless” bookend the album, while riff-centric blues rockers like “Renegade” and “Magnetic” make up the bulk of the album’s core. That said, there is minimal range of style across Lightning Born, meaning if the first minute or so of the album doesn’t do it for you, that’s unlikely to change.
Assuming you come to Lightning Born seeking retro rock comfort food, you’ll find a lot to satisfy your cravings. The guitar tone is righteous and no two riffs repeat themselves across all 50 minutes. The driving gallop of “Salvation” followed by the mid-paced groove of “Magnetic” make that stretch of album the ideal soundtrack for rumbling into a remote motel parking lot in a desolate landscape late at night somewhere near Sturgis, South Dakota. Leath provides a dynamic vocal presence throughout, singing with force and character without ever lapsing into the kind of breathy, sultry affect that has become so cliche in this particular sub-genre. Lyrically, she cuts a world-weary figure with choruses like “If you must suffer in silence, then I will suffer with you” and “I run like hell, ’cause I cannot fight, I run like hell, I run myself into the ground.”
The great trick of Lightning Born is its pitch perfect retro pastiche, which is also its limiting factor. In structure, tone and feel, these songs are of a different time. They sound great, but they don’t sound fresh. For contrast, a band like Messa can pull blues rock and doom metal influences from the 70’s and spin them in a way you haven’t quite heard before. To be fair, they also dabble in drone and jazz, but their DNA is a close match to Lightning Born. The difference in the latter is an orthodox adherence to the blueprint. It’s an approach that limits all potential creative paths to a single lane desert highway. Romantic, yes, but also sometimes monotonous.
Of course a band like Lightning Born, however good they are—and they are good—will draw a bulk of their audience based on nostalgia. They may be nostalgic because they lived through the sound’s golden days, or because they were far enough removed from them that the sound becomes a novelty. As noted above, I’m one of those who fall into neither category. This has hindered my connection with Lightning Born, and I know I won’t be alone. Still, if it’s thick bluesy riffs and catchy choruses wrapped in fuzzy earth tones you’re after, Lightning Born definitely have the goods.