Rival Sons are sharper, deeper and more intense than ever on seventh album Darkfighter

American rock’n’rollers Rival Sons return with renewed focus on Darkfighter, the first of two albums this year

Rival Sons: Darkfighter cover art
(Image: © Low Country Sound/Atlantic)

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Different bands dealt with the pandemic in different ways. For most it involved hitting the panic button hard and wondering how the hell they were going to make it through with careers and/or minds intact. For Rival Sons, the past few years appear to have been a time of looking inwards and taking stock. 

The Long Beach band’s last album pre-pandemic was 2019’s exhilarating Feral Roots. It was a great record, but it felt like they were stuck in a holding pattern – albums were released, the needle flickered, but things never truly kicked to the next level, while they were overtaken in the public’s imagination by Greta Van Fleet.

Four years after Feral Roots, and with the pandemic thankfully vanishing in the rearview mirror, Rival Sons return with Darkfighter, their seventh album. It’s not so much the sound of a reinvention as that of a band recalibrated and revitalised. All the parts that were there before remain – singer Jay Buchanan’s high-wire vocal acrobatics, Scott Holiday’s shape-shifting guitar, a rhythm section that hits hard but supple – but they sound simultaneously sharper, deeper and more intense. 

Opening track Mirrors begins with the sound of a slow escalating series of church organ notes that give way to a writhing, elastic riff. But just when it sounds like it’s going to explode into a massive chorus, it all drops away and things drop off into a few seconds of acoustic guitar and swirling keyboards. Tension builds. And then we’re into a massive chorus. It’s a little trick, but an effective one.

Past Rival Sons albums have placed vibe and feel and energy over stick-in-the-headand-don’t-shift melodies, but here, the shimmering Bright Light and Bird In The Hand with its glam-rock hand-claps offer an embarrassment of riches in that department. Even when they take things down a notch, as on the gospel-edged slow-burner Rapture, there’s still a sense that the furnace that powers it could become an inferno at any point. Elsewhere, Buchanan’s vocal on Horses Breath is measured but powerful, while Holiday serves up an immense riff to open final track Darkside, before they bring it right back in for a song that addresses the struggle to keep afloat in a sea of adversity and loss. 

At a fat-free eight tracks, Darkfighter does what all great albums should do: get in, do its thing, get out. And it is a great album. The last few years have been tough, but on this showing Rival Sons have emerged stronger than ever.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.