Tag-team collaborators Rick Ritzler and Paul Jones have been knocking duffs around the underground with a MOTORHEAD-meets-eighties power metal attack under the guise of ROBOT LORDS OF TOKYO. Primarily a two-man operation, Ritzler (drums and guitar) and Neil Fallon acolyte, Jones (vocals and guitar) have supplemented their albums with loads of guests to host a couple of cheery metal parties in the past. Stand by, though, because their latest romp, "Virtue & Vice", changes rules of thumb.
Their goofball hijacking of KISS' "Love Gun" cover art on "Virtue & Vice" would lead most to believe an old school knuckle-drag mentality serves as the new album's principal theme. To some extent, yes, but this time, ROBOT LORDS OF TOKYO swings a bit more of PANTERA and DOWN and in spots, METALLICA into their swampy, CLUTCH-grooved motif. Even the title "Virtue & Vice" is nicked in tribute to CLUTCH's "10001110101" from the latter's "Robot Hive/Exodus" album. Straight down to a little cowbell rapping on "Great Escape", there's going to be a lion's share of CLUTCH mirroring ("Chicken Little" might as well be one of the elephant riders' B-sides), even though Ritzler and Jones shift enough gears to avoid becoming wholesale carbon copy.
On "Virtue & Vice", the ROBOT LORDS bring aboard former MEGADETH shredder Chris Poland for a guest lead on "Hell Will Have to Wait", DIO's Tracy G on "Great Escape" and "Broken", Wayne Findlay from the MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP on "Voice Inside", plus other guests. As on past ROBOT LORDS projects, Joe Viers (BOBAFLEX) handles bass throughout the album, while DEFLAGRATION's Beau Vanbibber and AMERICAN DOG's Steve Theado lay six string down on many of the tracks.
Without their talented guest list, Ritzler and Jones would be left to make do with archetype riffing and sledgehammer beat structures, which they have down pat. Rick Ritzler is an animal on the kit, wielding some of the underground's sturdiest licks and crashes. While Jones has more to his repertoire than mere shades of Fallon (Jones' growls are totally badass), there's no denying Jones has been completely moved and morphed by the man. Still, the undeniable fact is the palettes and touches graced by the duo's guests make all the difference in the end product.
For the most part, "Virtue & Vice" steps forward from the days of rad, even when taking time to light a torch for the old guard on a chunky cover of CINDERELLA's "Night Songs". There's not a lot of propulsion beyond mid-tempo unlike the cagey self-titled debut from 2006 as well as 2008's "Whiskey, Blood & Napalm". "Virtue & Vice" caters less to the group's stoner, power metal and fuzz rock origins, seeking instead to court the agro metal and heavy blues rock sanctions with scores of decorative solos. The best of these comes from ORDER OF NINE's Steve Pollick on the nine-minute prog-punched closing number, "Through Perdition's Flames".
Obviously a case of saving the best for last. By the time this stellar and detailed track arrives, the rest of the album has maintained a largely settled feel to it that "Through Perdition's Flames" sounds off like an alienated stepchild. Why ROBOT LORDS OF TOKYO put so much effort into this track while simply letting the rest of them ride is a bit befuddling. If held to the same standard through the rest of the album, then "Virtue & Vice" would've been with the reaches of magnum opus. Unfortunately, the SABBATH and DOWN-touched "Hell Will Have to Wait" sets a tone of ordinary that seems beyond these guys if we're to judge "Through Perdition's Flames" accordingly. "Hell Will Have to Wait" is a dependable headbanger, sure, and "Keepers of the Night" is gnarly in its own right. Yet the explosive complexity of "Through Perdition's Flames" is a one shot of outstanding craftsmanship that makes this album more of a tease than a flat-out payoff.