Rival Sons

Atlantic, 2023

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Okay, follow me closely here. Rival Sons released two albums in a span of five months in 2023. The first was called Darkfighter and had a supposedly different mood among its eight songs than the follow-up, Lightbringer, which only has six songs, one of which is called “Darkfighter.” Got all that?

After hearing Lightbringer, one wonders why the band didn’t just release one epic 74-minute album, as it surely would have been their best one yet. The six songs on the new release aren’t all that different; despite all the pre-album talk about the different vibes, it’s hard to notice much of a difference, though I guess one could say this new album is a little less intense. I almost wondered if putting “Darkfighter” on the follow-up album was a nod to Led Zeppelin doing the same with “Houses Of The Holy” and for really no other reason.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Speaking of Zep: The six songs here were recorded at the same time as Darkfighter, so they are all of a piece, showcasing the band’s ambition and growth in ways only hinted at previously. There are and will always be traces of Zep, the Black Keys and bits of Soundgarden and Sabbath in in their sound, but these two albums together show how the Sons have coalesced those into their own approach. They sound like themselves now.

Lightbringer never really functions as its own album; it sounds like songs from the other album, so you can listen to them both as a piece or mix and match the best to make your own playlist (kind of like GnR’s Use Your Illusion, but better). Or think of it as an EP. “Before The Fire” is the clear highlight, a psychedelic rocker with some great Jay Buchanon vocal work. “Redemption” and “Mosaic” are slower pieces, not terribly memorable, though the latter has a bit of uplift befitting of the album title.

“Sweet Life” is an efficient, bluesy rocker, spacious yet catchy, while “Mercy” is the only track that doesn’t really work for me; as such, it is of course the first single selected. It hews closely to established Rival Sons tropes and therefore is less than the more ambitious pieces on both albums. Speaking of which, “Darkfighter” is the opening track and, at nine minutes, packs a wild ride from rustic folk to arena rock to a truly strange instrumental section that’s mostly flamenco guitar over drums, followed by a keyboard solo.

As I noted in the Darkfighter review, Rival Sons are one of the great American rock bands working today, and this two-album punch stands as some of their best work, certainly their most original and ambitious. One hopes a live album will soon follow, and if you haven’t been on board the Sons’ train before now, it’s time to hitch a ride.

Rating: B+

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