[16th April 2013]
01. Old Blood
02. Acid Overload
03. Graveyard Blues
04. Hellfire Rodeo
06. Bite the Dust (And Bleed)
07. At the Bitter End
08. Mississippi Queen
09. Hangman’s Friend
Though my real passion for metal lies in the post-metal and sludge genres, I have always had a soft spot for stoner rock and southern metal. As such, I was excited to get stuck into Ruralizer, the debut full length release by Italian rockers Tombstone Highway. A quick glance at the album cover, band name, and tracklist allowed me to pretty accurately ascertain what I was getting into with Ruralizer and, if nothing else, it certainly matched many of my expectations. It can be a challenge to write on something with less obvious depth or complexity but in this case that is arguably a central element of the band’s sound.
On their Facebook page, Tombstone Highway categorise themselves as southern hard rock, and this feels like a pretty accurate description with the heavy southern rock influences showing through stylistic nods to old school greats like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the more modern and heavier sound of bands like Corrosion of Conformity and Down. Elements of stoner doom also shine through on slower tracks and the guitar work is at times strongly reminiscent of Black Sabbath. Despite the clear influence of psychedelic doom on areas of the band’s sound, the feel as a whole is overall light-hearted and upbeat with only a scarce few slower tracks. This is very much party metal and forgoes subtlety and complexity for hard hitting riffs, powerful choruses, and a general sense of light-hearted fun. It’s an album which provides exactly what it feels like it promises and your patience for this will likely vary depending on your interest in this style.
In terms of instrumentation, Ruralizer is exactly what it needs to be with powerful and varied guitar riffs and a solid rhythm section. For me, the strongest tracks are those that commit to the heavier and faster elements of the band’s sound and focus on chunky, high tempo riffing to maintain momentum throughout. Examples include highlight “Hellfire Rodeo”, with a great catchy opening riff and upbeat feel, and “Missippi Queen”, a cover of a track by classic american rockers Mountain. The stylistic comparison that most struck me about the guitar work in the album is definitely that of Zakk Wylde and his heavier Black Label Society tracks. With this in mind, anyone lacking a fondness for excessive use of pinch harmonics may start to find the album grating just a few songs in. As would be expected, almost all tracks on Ruralizer include lengthy guitar solos which are all solidly performed, if a little lacking in originality and variety.
Lyrically, Tombstone Highway once again provide no surprises. A heavy focus on partying, heavy alcohol consumption, women, and the USA fits in perfectly well with the apparent intended feel and theme of Ruralizer. You don’t listen to an album like this looking for deep emotional insight and so I am loathe to be critical about a lyrical style that served classic rock for decades with no real objection. The performance of vocalist HM Outlaw certainly doesn’t lack for power and, despite the relatively facile lyrical content, succeeds in giving the impression of conviction and in doing so greatly augments the impact of the record as a whole. The lack of variety in the vocal delivery does begin to drag towards the tail end of Ruralizer but is sufficiently distinct for this not to be a major pitfall.
Where Tombstone Highway come into their own on the album is in the songs that make use of Outlaw’s multi-instrumental talents and heavily include a banjo, and at times a cowbell, to give a more overtly country feel. Usage is spread throughout the album, including on the title track, but is best utilised in opener “Old Blood” where it is incorporated cleanly with the pounding rhythm guitar and the effect, though a little unusual at first, really adds another dimension to the track as a whole. Sadly, this intriguing inclusion of a more explicitly country vibe to the band’s sounds is not really explored much further than this and doesn’t feel sufficient to truly differentiate the album from others in the genre. The album’s greatest pitfalls are in the two longer, stoner doom influenced tracks “Graveyard Blues” and “At the Bitter End”. With the light-hearted elements of their sound stripped away, Tombstone Highway simply failed to keep my attention with these more ponderous and atmospheric tracks and they fall short of many of their contemporaries when channeling this sound.
Your enjoyment of Ruralizer will vary wildly with your interest in light-hearted cock-rock and fun and energetic driving music and seems unlikely to bring any converts to the genre. The band settled on a very defined sound and, for the most part, have executed it well but, save for a few stylistic tweaks, they simply fail to define themselves as particularly distinct among their peers. I enjoyed Ruralizer more than I had expected after my first listen but something so safe seems unlikely to catch the imagination of many and I am tentative to recommend the album to anyone who doesn’t already know that this is what they are looking for.