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Rival Sons – Darkfighter


Album Review: RIVAL SONS Darkfighter

7.5 Reviewer

California hard rockers Rival Sons moved to the so-called “next level” in the U.S. with 2019’s Feral Roots, their sixth studio album. While they had several Canadian rock hits over the years including a couple number ones, Feral Roots was their first major American success. It spawned three top 20 rock singles, including the chart topping “Do Your Worst.” It also garnered them Grammy nominations for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance.

Four years after that breakthrough, they return with Darkfighter, the first of two albums set to be released this year (Lightbringer is the other). With their momentum from the last record and the extra time for this one, expectations for Rival Sons are high.

Vocalist Jay Buchanan explains why they decided to release them this way: "2022 was like an eight-stage rocket of life-changing events, so every time I thought I was finished writing, a new bull would come tearing through the clothesline and I’d have to illustrate it in some way. By the end, there were really two different sides to the same story being told. On one side, you’re fighting the darkness and, on the other, you’re bringing your own light to where there is none. One side in a corner, on the ropes, and the other advancing, cleaning the ring. Without an intermission, a refractory period, the collection would be too big a bite, so splitting it in two was the only way to do it.”

Lead single “Nobody Wants To Die” is a rousing, uptempo number with catchy riffs and memorable melodies. There’s a reason it garnered considerable radio airplay. The album’s second track, to me it would have been an ideal opener. The bluesy “Mirrors” is a good, groovy song, though more reserved than the aforementioned “Nobody Wants To Die.”

Throughout their career Rival Sons have balanced focused, straightforward songs with longer, more complex compositions. That’s also the case with Darkfighter. There are numerous radio-ready bangers, such as “Bird in the Hand,” whose twangy beginning morphs into a singalong chorus. “Rapture” (not a Blondie cover) is partly a soaring ballad, partly introspective and acoustic.

The album’s longest songs are the final three. “Guillotine” also incorporates acoustic sections alongside heavy and fuzzy riffs, though it doesn’t have the impact of some of the previous songs. Darkfighter finishes strong with the airy “Horses Breath” and the six-plus-minute closer “Darkside,” whose sludgy intro eases back into a sparse section before kicking in a couple minutes in. It’s one of the record’s most dynamic songs and also wields a lot of emotional heft.

Rival Sons are a potent live band, and several songs from this album should become staples of their set list. Darkfighter mostly lives up to the hype, and it will be interesting to see the path they take on Lightbringer when we have the chance to hear it sometime later in 2023.

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