Mascot Records has carved a niche in the world of hard-thumping country rock. Their association with Joe Bonamassa only scratches the surface. Adding Gov’t Mule and Volbeat to the itinerary rounded out the edges. And it was only the recent signing of prog-metal act Gojira that brought them a whole new insular sound of heavy metal mayhem.
Vandenberg’s Moonkings is a culmination of all these various sounds, a spiritual successor to the hard rock country brethren of the past, exaggerated through a sound of soaring vocals and lead guitars.
The group released their debut album Moonkings in 2014. The album touches on war. It touches on deceit, anger, fury, and seeing the silver lining in the upside down world where you are losing ground and have no where to turn to.
There are a few characteristics of the band that instantly stuck out. Firstly, we have the vocal work of Adrian Vandenberg. It channels Chris Cornell’s big vocal wail that retains that ferocity. You can hear the Soundgarden qualities best in the big-rock ‘Steal Away,” where Vandenberg wails away with uproarious aplomb.
The band also has this knack for lead guitar propulsion. The rhythm guitar is really subdued and quiet. This definitely does not lead towards a very full guitar sound, which is p[art of their appeal. Many bands will texture the guitars through the verse and chorus, and rely on even four guitars total to create that density. Vandenberg’s Moonkings keeps things streamlined. You have a guitar solo there, where the rhythm part is obviously expressive against the lead. But for the most part, it is one big hook- one unifying lead that brings Vandenberg weaving in and out of the instrumental lines like a bat out of hell- like a fast car careening down the highway navigating between taxis and trucks.
The band does get a little sappy here and there. “Breathing” is an eruptive Shinedown styled ballad that begins quiet and builds to a crescendo of melodramatic melancholy. It is not the group’s strongest suit, but it works for pacing. “Out of Reach” sounds like a classic rock ballad staple. There is this Lynyrd Skynyrd gushing going on that is welcoming in this musical climate where over processed and manufactured indie pop dominates every chart- even the rock ones. The band also seems to be having an absolute blast in “Leeches,” where that drumming coincides perfectly with the “jangly” guitar that drops in through the verse. This is where the fun music went.
The band is most successful when they are ripping into Led Zeppelin styled badassery, like in “Close to You’s” chaotic introduction and absurdly fun guitar work. The band knows its influences well. Just when you think you got a pulse on its post-grunge big rock sound, the band imitates classic hard rock for a totally different energy.
I am not sure about reaching the moon, but the band definitely gazes at it with admiration. The moon has the musical elites, and the band has enough sense to admire it longingly and captivate audiences with their own influenced concoction of riffing leads, wailing vocals, and enticing imagery.