The only thing that’s ever been guaranteed when it comes to Texas-based classic heavy rockers Blood of the Sun is quality. Granted, if you have to make a guarantee, that’s a good place to start, but throughout the band’s decade-long tenure, they’ve been through lineup changes enough for three bands, the only constants being the obvious love of ‘70s heavy that bleeds through the work of founders Henry Vasquez (drums) and Dave Gryder (keys). Some will no doubt recognize Vasquez from his role as drummer for the ongoing Saint Vitus revival, but Blood of the Sun is his band, and Gryder’s as well. The two have previously joined forces with a number of players – including Derek St. Holmes from Ted Nugent’s band – and on their first album in four years, Burning on the Wings of Desire (also their Listenable Records debut), it’s vocalist John O’Daniel and guitarist Rusty Burns of ‘70s Southern rockers Point Blank who’ve come aboard, as well as Mos Generator/Stone Axe/HeavyPink (ahem) guitarist, vocalist and producer Tony Reed, who contributed to the songwriting here, played guitar and bass, and recorded. Reed’s stamp on songs like “Rock Your Station” and “Can’t Stop My Heart” makes Burning on the Wings of Desire something of an upbeat companion to Mos Generator’s recently-released Nomads, also their first studio outing after a number of years spent focusing on other projects. With the added profile of Vasquez’s time in Vitus – Scott “Wino” Weinrich also makes a guest appearance here on vocals and guitar for closer “Good and Evil” – as well as their having signed to Listenable, no doubt Burning on the Wings of Desire will be the most resoundingly received Blood of the Sun yet, but in truth, it’s just the latest in a string of underrated albums, be it 2008’s Death Ride, the previous year’s In Blood We Rock or 2004’s self-titled debut, all of which saw their initial release through Brainticket Records, the imprint helmed by John Perez of Solitude Aeturnus. Whether all of this is enough for their boogie to get the recognition it has long deserved remains to be seen. More importantly from a listening standpoint, Burning on the Wings of Desire is a collection of top notch American-style classic heavy rock that modernizes its influences rather than trying to duplicate their production and never sacrifices its good-time feel for pretense.
As one might expect, the list of influences reads like thumbing through a collection of kickass vinyl: Humble Pie, ZZ Top, Nugent, Cactus, Mountain, probably 30 or 35 others. Prominent as it is, Gryder’s organ work invariably leads to Deep Purple comparisons, but Blood of the Sun’s riffs are bluesier in their construction than the bulk of Richie Blackmore’s, and follow the shuffle of “Good and Evil” and the earlier title-track with a fluid, natural feel. But for the closer, all of Burning on the Wings of Desire’s tracks fall into the 4:00 to 4:30 range, chorus-based and ready for a radio scene that’s no longer ready for them. It’s a work of genre in the sense that there are musical references and methods at play that heavy rockers will pick up on and others simply won’t, but taken at their own level, the tracks make for accessible listening, rife with friendly motion and enough of an edge and variety of mood to keep monotony at bay. Curiously, they don’t seem to be purposefully locked into a vinyl structure. Even at the album’s midway point, as the slower “Brings Me Down” leads into the burst of energy that arrives with “Rock Your Station,” one could see a break there to switch LP sides, but the contrast between the two works better in a linear – i.e. CD or digital – medium, so that there’s no interruption to the overall flow. It’s splitting hairs after a point, because a catchy song is a catchy song, and Blood of the Sun are full of them. Nonetheless, aesthetically, the band are entirely geared toward that era, and the performances on the album are strong, from O’Daniel’s verses over shuffle of opener “Let it Roll” to the building tension in “The Snitch,” in which Vasquez’s double-kick provides another surprisingly modern element. “Burning on the Wings of Desire” boasts some of the album’s best guitar work from Burns, and some of Burns’ best interplay with Gryder, but really, these guys know who they are musically, know what their mission is and know what the band is all about, and the results aren’t so much old man rock as what old man rock is trying to be when its energy level so often falls too short. After a riotous beginning with “Let it Roll” and the title-track, “Can’t Stop My Heart” keeps the momentum forward and forceful with some head-down chugging in its second half, and if the brash grooving and memorable choruses have you hooked, there’s little in the remainder of the album to be called a let up.
Flourishes like Elf-style honky-tonk in “Brings Me Down” or the cowbell on “Good Feeling” (a track which actually reminds me more of Clutch than anything particular from the ‘70s) are welcome amid Blood of the Sun’s straightforward rocking, though the crux of Burning on the Wings of Desire and the bulk of its success comes from its flawless execution and stylistic efficiency, and so they rightly keep these to a minimum in favor of the boozy swagger, O’Daniel’s unflinching vocal performance and a sense of motion that continues straight through to “The Snitch” and “Good and Evil” as they round out the album. The singularity of purpose – to rock – continues through the final two tracks, the first of which has the guitar and organ once more working well together and the latter of which could probably also have been in the same range time-wise as the rest but for the fact that it breaks around 4:40 to the instrumental/solo jam that ends the album after 7:22. Wino’s guest contributions to his Saint Vitus bandmate’s record probably wouldn’t have worked anywhere else on the tracklisting but in the finale position, both because the jam at the end is so raucous before its final deconstruction and because the vocal switch would’ve interrupted the momentum that Blood of the Sun maintained so well from song to song with O’Daniel up front. Nonetheless, “Good and Evil” is easily the most upbeat track to feature Weinrich’s voice in the three years since his Wino trio put out Punctuated Equilibrium. Immediately recognizable from the start, his gruff shouts carry a positive message of not selling yourself out that’s in line with a lot of the lyrical familiarity across the album, and some of the cadence is awkward in the prechorus, but in the context of The Obsessed’s major label experience, when the man sings the line, “Never sign your life away,” just before the last chorus, his authority seems well earned. Solos are ripped, boogie is had, the organ is as much a lead as it is a rhythm factor, and Blood of the Sun gradually let “Good and Evil” come apart at the seams, as though they could’ve faded out but wanted to savor every second of the last guitar solo. Can’t blame them. Their fourth album is explosive where it wants to be and a masterful take on the heavy ‘70s, but it’s also intricately composed and not at all bogged down by the weight of its influences. If you’ve never encountered Blood of the Sun, the partnership with Reed and the manic push of this material makes it a great place to start, and if Vasquez’s drumming in a legendary doom band has slowed his approach at all, you’d never know it listening to Burning on the Wings of Desire.Blood of the Sun, Blood of the Sun Burning on the Wings of Desire, Listenable Records, Texas