Tombstone Highway


Written by: AP on 18/04/2013 21:44:28

One of the most rewarding experiences for myself as a critic must be to discover treasure in the unlikeliest corners of this world, and dear reader, tonight it is my distinct pleasure to invite you to Piacenza in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy; the birthplace of one of the most essential artists to unearth this year, if my humble opinion matters. Tombstone Highway is the quartet's moniker, and stoner rock/metal is their genre of preference if their debut LP "Ruralizer" is to be believed. In a sense, it is no surprise that an Italian outfit should pursue this path; after all, the fact that retrospection has cemented itself as the new black over the past few years has precipitated enormous growth in the popularity of this legacy of Mississippi blues we call stoner rock (and metal). And what wiser way to garner fans beyond your own borders than to follow a current fad - especially as, in all likelihood, Tombstone Highway are one of a kind in their native Italy?

As is the case with every in-genre of course, it is becoming maddeningly difficult to claw your way through the saturated mass and encounter the bands that actually matter, and in this regard Tombstone Highway certainly belong in the upper caste. As much is clear already from the first 25 seconds-or-so of "Old Blood", the fusion of vocalist H.M. Outlaw's rural banjo with the searing low end crunch of Daniele Zoncheddu's guitar laying the groundwork for an album that strokes my ears so sweetly and begs to be heard at deafening volume. It is the sort of heavy, groove laden heritage rock that many a band before these Italians have professed, and yet with their sense of adventure they graciously avoid sounding exactly like the rest. This sense of adventure is evident in nearly every facet of the band's music, whether it be the aforementioned banjo antics (heard on the title track also to equally pleasing results); the Hammond organ carousing in the latter half of "At the Bitter End" like the bastard son of Pink Floyd and Helhorse; or simply the fact that Tombstone Highway boldly try their hand at pretty much every imaginable approach to the genre, from the sizzling doom of "Graveyard Blues" to the classic hard rock stylings of "Hellfire Rodeo".

Not since Down's "NOLA" and Entombed's "Wolverine Blues" have I felt so instantly drawn to an album of this style, though like every other piece of music "Ruralizer" cannot sustain the momentum on all of its nine songs. There are lapses in quality to be sure: "Hellfire Rodeo" doesn't come off quite as striking as the tracks before and after it, and "Graveyard Blues" emerges as a little too long-winding with respect to how much actually happens within its 7-minute running length. Still, these are minor hick ups on a record, which, for me, plays like a summary of the best aspects of stoner rock and metal; a record that finds itself more than sufficiently buoyed by the strength of the remaining tracks. Another such blooming proposition is "Bite the Dust (and Bleed)", which sports a slide guitar riff not unlike what you will have heard on Pet the Preacher's excellent track "The Devil's Door"; another the monstrously heavy, Corrosion of Conformity-nodding "Acid Overlord"; and yet another the already name-dropped progressive colossus "At the Bitter End", clocking in at no less than 9 minutes.

In thinking how best to condense the sound and feel of "Ruralizer" into words, the most apt image that my mind could cook up was that the record sounds like fiery hot wings and spare ribs roasting on a barbecue grill and feels like a mixture of the the oaken flavour and warm tingle of a glass of bourbon lingering on your tongue, and the thick, decaying scent of a Georgian marsh. It is the sort of music best experienced clad in a soiled wifebeater and blue jeans, drinking cheap Bud from cans and - if that's your thing - smoking doobie. In all seriousness, "Ruralizer" offers top-shelf stoner rock/metal of the heaviest, grooviest kind - and in rather modest packaging still, so should they venture into a venue nearby in the imminent future, you probably won't have to surrender more than a few pennies to lap it up live as well.

Download: Old Blood, Acid Overlord, Ruralizer, Bite the Dust (and Bleed), At the Bitter End
For the fans of: Corrosion of Conformity, Down, Helhorse, Pet the Preacher
Listen: Facebook

Release date 26.02.2013
Agonia Records

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