Being a Texan, born and raised, southern rock is a genre I’ve grown up hearing my whole life. If you’re inclined to listen to rock music in the southern parts of the United States, you’re probably pretty familiar with bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and .38 Special. The southern rock genre saw its golden years in the 60’s and 70’s, and represented a return to the roots of rock and roll, mixing country and blues with bare-bones rock.
Riot Horse are a band from Skåne, Sweden that was formed by guitarist Nille Schuttman (formerly of Sons of Tomorrow) in 2011, with the desire to create classic sounding hard rock band with influences like Black Sabbath and Mountain. Their debut album, This Is Who We Are, is chock full of retro-sounding southern rock riffs, big drums, thumping bass, and vocals that are simultaneously gruff and soulful. “Get Your Hands Up” starts things off with some slide guitar work that could have easily turned Duane Allman’s head; unfortunately things really fall apart as soon as the rest of the band comes in. It’s one thing to wear your influences on your sleeve, there’s a whole lot of bands that are playing classic sounding heavy metal (looking at you Graveyard and Orchid), but it’s another to sound completely derivative of the artists you look up to. The riffs throughout This Is Who We Are sound like complete re-workings of songs that already exist; “Miss Mississippi,” for instance, sounds like a somewhat updated “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, with a little saloon-style piano added in the background. Southern rock has been aped for a long time, typically with the same formula that Riot Horse puts forth here: a few bluesy guitar licks, boogie style bass, swinging drums, and a vocalist singing with an affected twang. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those types that thinks southern rock can only be performed by southerners, but if the music isn’t trying to push the sound into new territory, don’t bother, it’s all been done (and better, back in the 70’s). Another frustrating aspect to this album is the faux party atmosphere it tries to create; on “Get Your Hands Up,” the music stops for a second so vocalist Andreas Sydow can call out each instruments as the song begins building back up, which literally made me grind my teeth. If that isn’t bad enough, before the song goes back into full swing, Andreas calls out the band’s name and the album title in the same line. Unless you’re a hype man like Flava Flav in a hip hop group, or you’re in a hardcore band like Trapped Under Ice, don’t do that, it sounds ridiculous.
The production on This Is Who We Are is the best part of the album; it captures all the grit and swagger that Riot Horse are going for in their sound. There are volume swells, reverb on vocals and guitar lines, drums are big but not overwhelming, and the bass gives the riffs some real heft at times; all of those combine for a pretty dynamic album, which is a redeeming factor, to be sure. There’s a grainy texture to the tone, almost like you’re listening to an old vinyl LP from your Dad’s collection, which gives the songs a cool vibe. If only the music itself was as exciting as the production, this would be a pretty killer record; Riot Horse definitely have a lot of energy, and it’s captured pretty well on this recording.
If you are looking for an album in the vein of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mountain, or The Allman Brothers, This Is Who We Are might be worth checking out; just don’t expect anything new. Riot Horse are excellent musicians, I just wish they would have focused their skill on writing something exciting and original; bands like Nashville Pussy and Alabama Thunderpussy (notice a theme here?) have taken the blueprints of southern rock and expanded on them. It’s a shame that Riot Horse didn’t. In the end, when it comes to This Is Who We Are, it’s a case of “I’ve heard it all before”, sadly, then it was played better and with more earnestness.