Every Rival Sons album ranked from worst to best

Rival Sons sitting in the street
(Image credit: Press)

Formed in Long Beach, California as the latest roll of the dice for guitarist and career nearlyman Scott Holiday, the ascent of Rival Sons since 2009 has been one of post-millennium rock’s most emphatic success stories. At first glance, there was nothing unique about the blues-rock shapes and banshee-frequency Plant-isms of frontman Jay Buchanan. But by the time things swung into gear with 2011’s Pressure & Time, the Sons were an undeniable prospect, in command of whipsmart songcraft and modern bite, quotable at interview and seismic on the stage. The poison chalice of the ‘next Zeppelin’ tag has broken a few bright young things, but seven albums into their career, Rival Sons have risen to the plaudits – with caveats. Here’s how their discography stacks up.


7. Before The Fire (2009)

If it’s a revelation to fairweather fans that Pressure & Time isn’t, in fact, Rival Sons’ debut, then even after exhuming Before The Fire, many of these songs refuse to settle in the memory. Already, the components are in place – Holiday’s golden-era riffing exemplified by I Want More, Buchanan’s lung-flaying vocal somersaulting across the unashamedly Zep-tooler opener Tell Me Something. The latter song was an early classic, while the haunted chime of The Man Who Wasn’t There and Flames Of Lanka’s trippy psychedelia hinted at bigger ideas. But measured against what came next, Before The Fire is aptly titled: this album now feels like a warm-up.

6. Hollow Bones (2016)

Across their seven album streak, Rival Sons have never dropped a clanger, but there’s a reason why Hollow Bones resides at the dusty end of your record collection. Running on critical fumes from 2014’s career peak, Great Western Valkyrie, this fifth release was garlanded upon arrival, and the highlights are indeed five-star: revisit the alternately fragile and feisty soul-rock of Fade Out, the scalded route-one riffing of Thundering Voices, or the two-part title track that swerves from hefty dino-blues to a glowering mood piece. Yet elsewhere, while there’s plenty of superficially thrilling speaker-rattlers, Hollow Bones is light on prime cuts that truly resonate.      

5. Feral Roots (2019)

Perhaps stung by the notion they were all about the riff-and-shriek, the Sons made us work a little harder for our rock ‘n’ roll dopamine on this sixth release. Holiday himself has cited Feral Roots as his favourite, and at its best, you see his point. Take the epic title track: nudging six minutes, with open-tuned acoustics decorating Buchanan’s portending vocal, it’s the sound of a band in an unhurried swagger, confident we’ll stick around. In a similar vein, Look Away and All Directions unfold like psych-folk fever dreams, the latter suddenly gearshifting to a red-blooded stomp that wilts the flower power. And to anyone who felt the Sons had lost ground to Greta Van Fleet, there was jaw-breaking opener Do Your Worst, the best riff that Page never wrote.

4. Darkfighter (2023)

A global shutdown allowed the band to step off the treadmill, dig out a little headspace and judiciously test the limits of their template on a seventh album that arguably reasserts them as the scene’s top dog. Long-standing fans found familiar catharsis on burners like Nobody Wants To Die, while the jangle-crunch chorus of Bright Light was as immediate as anything they’ve done. But with Holiday citing “cinematic” and “textural” as the keywords for Darkfighter, there was a depth here, too, evidenced from the cascading church organ that opens the album on Mirrors to the stormy alt-country finale Darkside. It’ll be fascinating to see how Darkfighter segues into forthcoming companion piece Lightbringer, which Holiday says will feel like “you’re still watching the same film”.

3. Head Down (2012)

“The third album,” Buchanan told this writer of in 2011, “is gonna sound like a hammer and a buzzsaw getting in a fight”. Head Down lived up to the promise on songs such as pugnacious fan-favourite opener Keep On Swinging, but this album was no blunt instrument, with Wild Animal and The Heist sounding more like a great lost 60s beat combo on a long-forgotten Cavern Club bill than the later longhairs to whom they were increasingly tired of comparison. Most ambitious was the two-part Manifest Destiny (twelve minutes in total), which rattled and throbbed with the foreboding of a spaghetti western, before the heaven-scraping falsetto of True left you in a state of permanent goosebumps.        

2. Pressure & Time (2011)

The album that changed everything. On paper, Pressure & Time dredged the same raw materials as a thousand wetback blues-rock pub sloggers – a healthy slug each of Cream, Free, The Who and, of course, Led Zeppelin – but nobody else made this stuff feel so fresh and potent. Get Mine raced by with a maximum R&B momentum that left you breathless, and Burn Down Los Angeles was a rabble-rousing anthem with a jackboot bounce, but the title track remains perhaps the best distillation of everything that made early Rival Sons so irresistible, sounding fit to burst with its chippy riff and shout-it-back chorus. Toasted as Breakthrough Artist Of The Year at the 2012 Classic Rock Awards, you couldn’t have stopped them if you tried.         

1. Great Western Valkyrie (2014)

“We get put in a very small box,” Holiday told this writer in 2014, “and the only way we’re gonna get out is to prove it. Great Western Valkyrie was about creating an album with a little more sophistication”. Mission accomplished: having blown off the doors with the carnival-crazed, organ-bolstered opener Electric Man, the band worked up a perfect collision of brute force and musical brain, with Good Things serving up the sweetest white-boy soul this side of the millennium and Rich And The Poor’s woozy western stylings conjuring dust-blown atmosphere. Amongst these highlights, it was Open My Eyes that called loudest: a song that felt like part of the fabric of rock‘n’roll from the moment you heard it. Against stiff competition, it’s their masterpiece to date.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.