For the second time this year, Rival Sons have returned with new, explosive material that seems to reinforce what fans discovered through their first release of 2023: The band has entered a new era.
Due out on October 20, the Dave Cobb-produced Lightbringer arrives as a companion album to Darkfighter, the eight-track album that dropped in June as Rival Sons’ first release since 2019’s Feral Roots. Darkfighter emerged as an exploration of and challenge to earlier limits as the band sought to redefine what a Rival Sons album is. For all its merits—and there are many—Darkfighter is at times prickly and unrelentingly honest as it gives voice to the kinds of emotions people often try to avoid feeling. Lightbringer has some of this, too, but the album sounds less like it’s wrestling with a heavy weight and more like it’s gearing up to lift off the ground.
The new album opens with “Darkfighter,” a nearly 9-minute-long powerhouse that serves as an excellent bridge between Darkfighter and Lightbringer’s six-track collection. Guitarist Scott Holiday alluded to the song earlier this year while speaking with Blues Rock Review about the companion albums. Holiday mentioned there was a song Rival Sons began working on years ago, unrelated to the companion albums. Once the band began writing the music for the two albums, they discovered the song “belonged” on Lightbringer. Though Holiday didn’t name the song at the time, he offered the information when asked if there was any track on either companion album that was long in the making, much like Holiday once told Blues Rock Review the writing of Great Western Valkyrie’s “Destination on Course” began years before Rival Sons recorded it.
“It was something that we came up with while we were just beginning to write stuff for Feral Roots, and it was a big piece,” Holiday said at the time of Lightbringer’s opener, adding that the song just seemed to “fit” on the album. “It’s a big, epic tune that goes through a lot of emotional and dynamic twists and turns, and I think everyone’s going to enjoy it.”
“Mercy” and “Redemption” follow, both giving the album a strong turn into the light as singer Jay Buchanan issues reminders that “mercy never let you down” and “redemption comes in unfamiliar ways.” Lightbringer picks up again on “Sweet Life,” a song that brims with rollicking speed and strong rhythms. The tone of “Sweet Life” makes it sound like it could have fit in with the tracks on Feral Roots; it has a wild pace that simultaneously feels like it is expertly in control and on the verge of going off the rails.
Rival Sons wrap the album with “Before the Fire” and “Mosaic,” the former a callback to their 2009 debut Before the Fire and the latter a testament to how far they’ve come. There are moments on “Before the Fire” when the song’s shimmering guitar and grand crescendos bring to mind U2 epics, but it’s also reminiscent of Rival Sons’ own “Look Away” from Feral Roots, with Buchanan’s soaring vocals keeping the new track distinctly Rival Sons. As the lyrics paint differences between past and present, it feels like Rival Sons are, in a way, documenting their own history and opening the door to a new future. On “Mosaic,” the band steps through that opening and into the light, embracing what’s waiting for them in an explosion of hope and positivity.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Before the Fire
The Big Hit