The Rods have been kicking rocks around the metal scene’s parking lot forever. Formed in upstate New York by Dio’s first cousin, David “Rock” Feinstein,1 they’ve been playing a simplistic, Neanderthal version of proto-metal since 1980 with a sound that’s approximately 45% Manowar, 35% Anvil and 20% KISS. I recall always seeing their albums like Let Them Eat Metal and Heavier Than Thou in record stores as a kid, but I never bought them and none of my friends seemed to either. It wasn’t until they were headlining a night of the 2015 Defenders of the Old festival that I was inspired to sample their catalog. What I found was mostly generic, by-the-numbers proto-metal, not horrible but not especially memorable either. Brotherhood of Metal, their ninth platter, delivers the same kind of old school, early 80s metal. The kind where you’re required to use the term “metal” in every other sentence. If you got a dime for every time you heard the word “metal” here, you’d end up with an ass-ton of dimes. The Rods clearly aren’t changing their stripes, but has age improved the execution of these well seasoned rockers? Well….
As the opening title track got under way and Mr. Feinstein’s vocals arrived to deliver the most Mano-challenged intro since the “may your sword stay wet” fiasco, I’ll admit to wondering why I took on this review. It’s so bad, so tongue-in-cheeks, so cringe-inducing. How bad? It’s eighth-rate Manowar with some drunk guy from the crowd standing in on vocals bad. Then the meaty guitars kicked in and things improved enough to give faint hope. It’s far from a great tune, but the sincere effort to keep the early sounds of metal alive teamed with surprisingly heavy moments and a semi-respectable chorus eventually won me over somewhat. The modest good will wrung from me was then squandered immediately on the Anvil-meets-Kiss cheese rock of “Everybody’s Rockin’.” Everybody doesn’t include me however, and this one is pretty tough to love. Elsewhere, “Louder Than Loud” feels like it was written for the Spinal Tap mockumentary and may actually be funnier than what the movie came up with. “Smoke on the Horizon” is better, borrowing all the essential elements of the Deep Purple sound, along with most of the title of their iconic hit. The Hammond organ is appreciated, but the song is too close to the source material. I’d respect them more if they just called it “Smoke on the Water” and waited for the inevitable lawsuit.
There are a few decent though nonessential moments scattered across the excessive 52-minute runtime. The best is “Tyrant King,” which sounds like a drunken version of Thor‘s recent output. “Tonight We Ride” sounds like Saxon after two divorces, a restraining order and a stint in rehab, but it’s tolerable. There’s far more pedestrian and outright bad stuff unfortunately, like the execrable “Party All Night,” where guys likely 20 years my senior sing about partying all night. Look, I can’t party all night anymore, and neither can you, so stop this madness. “1982” is their take on the classic Manowar trademark—the anthem all about themselves, and the chorus of “The Rods were born in 1982″ is amusing considering they released two albums prior to 82. I guess that formative era is frowned upon at Camp Rod.
The band isn’t without musical ability. Though Mr. Feinstein isn’t a particularly gifted vocalist, his guitar-work is solid enough. There are some respectable leads and solos and he knows the classic metal sound inside and out. Likewise, Carl Canedy is a solid if workmanlike drummer.2 The big problem is that the songs here just aren’t very good. If this was 1980, they might have impact or shock factor, but in 2019, retro metal better be slick or it’ll fall flat. This isn’t slick, though it is clunky and hamfisted.
I came to Brotherhood of Metal looking for mindless throwback fun, but I shant be staying for The Rods, as this was tough sledding even for an old school throwback gorilla like me. These gents never got much traction back in the day and they won’t get it now either. This makes me respect their moxie and determination all the more. They’ve got a ton of metal in their hearts and they’re devoted to the genre, but without better songs, there’s only so much support I can offer. Fare thee well, vintage Rods.