Label: Self Released
Buy album: Riding With The Kings
Band line up:
The Grudge are a UK five piece band who will immediately be familiar to those who have spent time in London’s live metal scene.
With a committed nod to the old school, they have spent the last few years purposefully building their profile with regular gigs and a clear-cut mission statement to deliver some top drawer rock & roll to the riff-hungry hordes.
Their tireless approach has earned them inclusion on some significant stoner metal line-ups. Not least, Camden’s Desertfest, but also with heavyweight, international visitors like The Skull, Truckfighters, Black Wizard and The Obsessed, who have all experienced the benefit of having The Grudge’s stomping, swampy groove on hand to warm up a crowd and get the atmosphere booming.
Add into the mix the 2016 release of their The Effect of Transylvania EP and it becomes an indisputable truth that The Grudge’s reputation for delivering the goods is built on a great deal of hard graft and a lot of time spent diligently paying their dues.
The inevitable outcome of all this blood, sweat and devotion to the riff is that the band have locked in their performance and honed their sound to the point where a full length album of original material is now a highly anticipated and completely appropriate move.
Earlier this year, they drafted in the recording skills of Slabdragger’s Sam Thredder and set up at The Cro’s Nest studios in Surrey to capture what would become their self released, debut album…
Riding With The Kings
From the start, it is clear that there is a lot more going on here than the heads down, horns up, riff and roll that we might have been expecting.
War Cry is essentially an intro track; deceptively simple, it draws the listener in, with an atmospheric, soulful drift that stands as a presage for what lies ahead. It features an early guest appearance from Vodun’s Chantal Brown, who delivers a powerful but seductive siren’s song, beckoning your attention, before a spoken confirmation of the album’s title and a few bars of preemptive bass ushers in the first monstrous riff and allows Long Live The Peel to kick things off properly.
The first full song is a riotous, rolling bounce that the band have released as the album’s lead single. It’s an immediate headbanger that establishes The Grudge as a heavy but swinging, riff laden, good time rock and roll band. This is emphasised by a lyrical throwback that pays its respects to The Peel in Kingston. A venue that certainly saw the sort of booze-fuelled madness this tune would’ve soundtracked perfectly. Sad to say, The Peel has long since been knocked down and redeveloped, but let’s rejoice in the fact that its demise has resulted in this cowbell-peppered anthem to the good times. Also, notable for its particularly breath-taking guitar outro from Silvervoid’s Oz Wright. Raise a glass, people. This is a celebration among friends.
Next up, The Effect Of Transylvania rattles in with the bold intention of ensuring that anyone who has yet to give themselves over to some full moon behaviour is scooped up and pushed unceremoniously into the mosh pit. This is an irresistible, hardcore boogie that thunders along at full tilt. There is a compulsive energy contained in vocalist Keith Barker’s delivery of the verses. It leaves the listener in no doubt he has complete conviction in his words and his grizzled potency is demonstrated to wonderful effect on the next song, which is an absorbing tale of a rowdy, Irish monkey with a string of previous offences. No spoilers here, but the implausible tale of Ding Ding The Monkey is played with such a straight face you will find yourself completely rooting for the little guy while you snap your neck to the song’s galloping, Iommi chug, and holler out the infectious chorus, “Ding Ding the Monkey, cause the monkey goes Ding!”
Barker is not alone in his ability to deliver a convincing performance. Speedfreak (Delusion Of Old Sheene) is built on some impressive guitar work from both Davy Moulster and Javier Amaya. They bring their tight harmonies together for the song’s hook before swinging into some of the grooviest rhythm guitar playing this side of Appetite for Destruction. The song is then taken into the stratosphere with an impeccably played, melodic solo that soars over the music and reminds us of what sets The Grudge apart from their peers. Whereas other desert-baked, sludge metal bands wallow in the low end, without straying too far from the repeating phrases that get us moving, The Grudge are pulling on some wider influences and weaving in a variety of tones and melodic ideas that ensure Riding With the Kings is a musically rich and well-rounded record.
At one end of the spectrum, songs like The Cover Up give us a heads down, rock and roll experience reminiscent of Corrosion of Conformity; but elsewhere, songs like Viking Queen and Mutiny From A Distant Earth clearly demonstrate The Grudge are much more than the greasy, bar-room band they have built their reputation on.
Viking Queen sits as a majestic centrepiece on the album. Built on a slow, emphatic riff that reminds this listener of Dimebag Darrell at his most robust. Thoughts of Pantera give way to a recognition that this could also be the heaviest Fu Manchu song you’ve never heard.
The rhythm section are digging in hard and drive everything along with some serious muscle. The song settles into a weighty throb and Barker recounts the legend of a formidable, raven haired young huntress with a talent for bloody conquest. It’s easy to imagine the song’s steady tempo being used to keep a crew of heavy oarsmen up to pace as their Viking longboat cuts its path through the icy sea.
It’s at this point The Grudge reveal an arrangement that takes an already impressive song and turns it into a panoramic vista that confirms the band as a creative force to be admired. Vodun’s Chantel Brown is brought in for a second time to provide her sweeping vocals across a redolent soundscape that evokes the ghosts of ancient battle. The effect is to take the listener and briefly place them into the world of mythology and folklore; a world where the Viking Queen proves her supremacy. It is a complete sonic triumph, and for a band that have earned their reputation in the “real world” environment of sweaty stages and booze soaked clubs, it is a revelation how transcendent some of the music on Riding With the Kings is.
Mutiny From A Distant Earth quite literally leaves the planet behind and takes the listener on “two thousand years of interstellar travel.” Davy and Javier evoke this epic journey with some tightly woven guitar work. It is one of the many examples of how the six stringers demonstrate an intuitive ability to twist their sparring riffs into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Being quite plain about it, the guitar playing on Riding With The Kings is astounding. Rhythm-wise, there are enough chunky riffs on this record to keep you head banging for months. Think of Black Label Society and Down and you’ll have a good idea of where The Grudge are pitching their sound, but this really doesn’t give enough credit to their ability to keep things fresh and interesting. A great deal of effort has gone into ensuring the guitars have texture and depth across the entire record. The strongest example of this occurs during On Mutiny From A Distant Earth, when the guitars crescendo into a breath-taking symphony of layered melodies and harmonies that get the hairs on this listener’s arms standing up, and confirms my opinion that The Grudge are playing at a level that is quite simply world class.
In Javier Amaya they have a lead player who is able to rip out some astonishing fretwork. His dexterity shines and marks him out as a player who is clearly as familiar with the whammy bar mischief of Eddie Van Halen as he is with the melodic flair of Randy Rhoades. What he has in common with both of these players is an ability use a good ear for what works within the song. There are no pretentious wig outs, no unnecessary posturing, just excellent guitar playing that adds a thrilling edge to these songs.
Credit, at this point, should also go to Sam Thredder for his contribution to the production. On Riding With The Kings, he has achieved something significant and proved his ability to capture an intricate set of performances and present them with a clarity that retains all of the detail and breadth of the music. More than that, he does it without diminishing The Grudge’s vibrant, energetic live feel. These songs are as in-your-face as they would be if you were clad in your double denims and pushed up against the barrier at Hammersmith Odeon. A song like Bongload Charlie positively crackles with a hedonistic sense of argy bargy as it simultaneously channels the golden era of Motörhead and Iron Maiden.
The band maintain this level of ferocity for the heavy, High On Fire-esque rumble of Rise Of The Deathrates. Initially constructed on a crushing guitar riff, it is an epic, eight minute sprawl with such a dark lyrical outlook it seems inevitable that it should resolve itself into slow, mournful blues over which Barker croons his addiction to murder in the adopted and anguished voice of another of his troubled cast of miscreants. It’s a moment of grisly noir and represents The Grudge at their darkest and most solemn.
But, if there were any doubts about The Grudge’s ability to pull things back from such a bleak narrative, they are quickly swept away by the upbeat jolt of Souldragger. A distinct contrast to the song before it, this is a percussive bounce that has its top rolled down and a full tank of gasoline. Adam Connell provides the acceleration and has a firm grip on the wheel. His drumming shifts and syncopates through the changing tempos, chopping and stabbing through the chicanes until he shifts things into a completely different gear for the album’s weightiest riff and an affirming wah-wah guitar solo that sets the tone for the penultimate song on the record.
A long-standing live favourite, Runnin’ On Fumes strides in as a familiar, steady headbanger built on another of Davy’s heaving riffs. In a lot of ways, having it placed towards the end of the album is the perfect way for it to summarise everything The Grudge represent. Not just in the music, with it’s hefty, swaggering lilt and spirited, squawling guitar over a muscular half time, but also within the lyrics, as Keith Barker offers his most defiantly poignant set of words:
“Just do it your own way, ’til the day they stick you in the ground. Enjoy your life, and everything you hold dear, one day your time is up, the only thing that is clear.”
It is an evocative chorus that ruminates as the song ends and Box Of Broken Heads creeps in to begin it’s ascent towards a pulverising payoff.
Essentially an instrumental piece to play us out to the album’s conclusion, Sam Thredder is invited to join the performance and he contributes his mighty Slabdragger tone to the record’s final, monolithic conclusion. Here, bassist Julian Palmer, who has matched each riff throughout Riding With The Kings with a gritty low end, provides a beautiful backdrop of shifting notes and gives a melodic foothold for the music to churn and smash like an angry ocean.
It’s as heavy as it gets, but perhaps more powerful than any of the sonic turmoil seething from the speakers is the revelation that the brief, spoken set of words, delivered here by Barker, originate from a surreal lyric written by Davy’s childhood friend. Words intended to be used by the teenagers in a band they never started. Intentions that were cut down when Charles (Chaz) Hawthorne didn’t make it to the end of his fifteenth year.
There is a plaintive fulfilment in knowing that a fallen brother has not been left behind. Instead he is posthumously given the final, climactic moment on what has proved to be a triumphant effort from a band deserving of great success.
After over an hour of thoughtfully created and passionately performed heavy metal, Riding With The Kings satisfyingly implodes under a crackle of guitar feedback.
The Grudge have aimed high and hit the target. This is an excellent album.