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Agonia (2013)
Rating: 7/10

For those of you metalheads who think you’ve heard and know everything about the metal scene, then I think you need to check out Italy’s Tombstone Highway. Believe me, when I heard that an Italian band was inspired by Southern rock I was all ready to reach for the sick bowl and dismiss another revivalist band.

Thankfully, like I always do, I gave this debut opus a few spins before judging, and was immediately blown away by its blues-soaked quality and doom-laden strut, that reminded me of so many bands ranging from ZZ Top to Black Sabbath, with dashes of Black Label Society, White Zombie, Four Horseman, Spiritual Beggars, Masters Of Reality, Corrosion Of Conformity and Down.

I just didn’t think a band with so many influences could really work. After all, there’s a lot of this retro metal floating about which has the appeal of a swarm of shit-infected flies, but not only is Ruralizer a weighty record, it has boogie in all the right places without sounding cheesy, although it is a tad on the derivative side.

Tombstone Highway emerged in 2006 and a year later they released a three-track EP entitled Padus River Graveyard Blues. I’m unsure why there was such a lengthy gap between that opus and this one, but the wait was more than worth it. The band consists of H.M. Outlaw on vocals, guitars and banjo (yes, I said banjo!) and drummer Emilio “S.O.B.” Sobacchi, and the music they create, although you would’ve heard so much of it before elsewhere, has the ability to kick like a mule in the heat of the noonday sun.

This is very much Southern rock as it says on the tin, but it has an effective, dusty twang, particularly in the banjo which, shock horror, sits quite comfortably alongside the groovy guitar sound. Yeah, the Black Sabbath-styled guitars are a touch formulaic, but hey, nowadays if you’re going to call yourselves Southern rock with a doom influence then it’s quite difficult to not sound like Sabbath; after all, Tony Iommi had already used up all of the metal riff book by the time he reached puberty.

But Tombstone Highway are not just another dreary rip-off, despite wearing their influences on their tasselled shirts. Behind the shades and cowboy hats there is a real barroom swagger that comes to the fore on the booming groove of the title track and the doomy banjo mutation of ‘Old Blood’.

Corrosion Of Conformity circa America’s Volume Dealer (2000) constantly springs to mind, especially with those flaming hot burger guitars, but the lack of invention can be forgiven at times simply because the energy is so sizzling. I’m guessing that bands of this ilk will no doubt prove to be popular over the next few years, especially with new music fans who haven’t been exposed to some of the bands I mentioned earlier in the review, but if you’re a stickler for vintage stuff, whether it’s Cathedral or countless other doom-laden, stoned, doomed-up rockers – especially Corrosion Of Conformity – then you’ll probably turn your nose up at such a record.

And I can certainly understand the scepticism towards Tombstone Highway. After all, ‘Acid Overlord’ does seem to merely ape the cosmic creations of Cathedral, while ‘Bite The Dust (And Bleed)’ reeks of Deep Purple.

I’m not sure how long Tombstone Highway can make a career out of this sort of rock, especially when you consider that the doom genre is already jam-packed with bands lacking imagination. I’m guessing that if they are to last then they might need an injection of originality and try experimenting with other instruments, but as it stands Ruralizer is a colourful sun-bleached debut that is bold in its blues. However, these guys need to be wary of drying up like a rotten carcass in the not too distant future.

Neil Arnold

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