All the generic, mediocre, and sub-par bands that get signed to labels based on MySpace hits and here's a band with an album that is one of the best hard rock releases of 2009 and lo and behold it's a self-release. Then again, maybe Columbus, Ohio's ROBOT LORDS OF TOKYO prefer to do things on their own terms, making the music sewn from their influences and letting the masses come to them. And come to them you should, as "Whiskey, Blood & Napalm" is a classic slice of American hard rock and metal with riff power, passionate delivery, and enormously catchy songwriting.
The follow-up to the well-received self-titled debut is once again the brainchild of Rick Ritzler (drums, guitar) and Paul Jones (lead/harmony vocals, guitar), a duo that makes no bones about writing an album heavily influenced by their heroes (as in BLACK SABBATH, COC, CLUTCH, and a range of both NWOBHM and classic rock bands). The band's self-described "PROBOT-like" approach involves the utilization of a multitude of guest musicians, including "very special guests" rhythm guitarist/vocalist Beau Vanbibber and co-producer/engineer/bassist/backing vocalist Joe Viers, the latter having done session work with Jake E. Lee (OZZY OSBOURNE), Steve Smith (JOURNEY), and Gilby Clarke (GUNS N' ROSES). Viers' engineering work on the album is flawless — thick, clear, and crunchy. Additionally, the album's special guests (primarily lead guitarists) include players like Steve Theado (AMERICAN DOG), Rob Johnson (MAGNITUDE 9), and Steve Pollick (ex-ICARUS WITCH, ORDER OF NINE). But enough about the players, let's talk tunes.
One of the many qualities of "Whiskey, Blood & Napalm" is that it is such a complete album. Every song is an ace and that includes the grand cover of KISS' "Larger than Life" (the diehards may remember that as one of the "new" cuts on side 4 of "Alive II"), while the overall flow is impeccable, making one-sitting listens mandatory. I suppose one could complain about the lack of up-tempo numbers, yet it is hard to find much fault with the largely mid-paced approach, especially when the songwriting is this solid.
The blueprint for this style of music may have been created long ago, but too many bands seem to have difficulty reading it. This is an example of an album that finds success by sticking to the basics; monster riffs and big hooks. And that's the case from opening highlight (a relative term, as there is no filler here) "The Mergatroid" to the strutting "Bring it on Down" (featuring Nate Hollman's Hammond Organ and Theado's slide licks) to the soulful "Fear" (great harmony vocals), and the southern rock burn of "Shakedown". But it is the album's last track, "Comes Eternal Night", that is a riff-lover's dream. We're talking hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck-straightening/chills-running-down-the-spine riffs that recall a seemingly odd, yet wholly effective, combination of TED NUGENT (think "Dog Eat Dog"), classic KISS and MOUNTAIN (check out the stop-start riff and cowbell on the verse), and "Symbol of Salvation"-era ARMORED SAINT (those John Bush-style vocals are brought to the fore). I caught myself hitting the repeat button over and over again as I was cruising down the highway the other day.
Sometimes we get so overwhelmed with mundane acts that we forget what great songwriting is all about, not to mention hard rock balls and heavy metal fire. "Whiskey, Blood & Napalm" just plain nails it on all counts. It is the kick in the ass that the rock world sorely needs.