In May 2017, a young and idealistically naïve London hard rock band released their debut album. Wrapped up in an obsession with the old west, and more specifically in the legend of Wild Bill Hickock, the youngsters named their band Dead Man’s Whiskey and their album, Under The Gun. In common with a lot of young and hungry bands though, the assumption was more or less along the lines that huge swathes of the record-buying public would discover their superior take on classic metal and would turn up and buy the CD by the barrowload. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and the set, excellent though it was, flew completely under the radar as far as the general public was concerned.
No worries though, lessons learned and all that, and the boys came back strong in 2019 – they remastered, added a couple more tracks and a TV western-styled spoken intro, had artist Finn Jordan’s original artwork subtly tweaked, and perhaps most importantly, changed the front cover font to something a bit more readable. This was followed by a properly marketed re-release in April 2019, and this time it soared, gaining some great reviews. By that time they had already started writing and rehearsing new material, and they looked set to fly – until, of course, the Covid lockdown shot them down along with the rest of the industry.
At last the boys are back, albeit it in short format, with a 21-minute five-track EP named Breakout. The cover of their original album featured Wild Bill’s killer, Jack McCall, as a grinning, skeletal figure reminiscent of the grim reaper. The front cover of the new EP spoofs the Covid situation, with the same grisly guy, this time in the guise of a politician, with suit and tie plus a cowboy Stetson hat, addressing the nation from a public podium. The dais bears the words Outbreak -> Stay Home -> BREAKOUT on the front, and we get the impression that this is a band on the rampage, having been shackled too long. Of course, it all seems to be adding up to a cowboy-rock concept piece, maybe with a southern boogie vibe. Nevertheless, for all the Wild Bill references, the metal is pure classic rock, with an urban twist and no country element at all.
The opening track is a corker too – Sleep When I’m Dead fades in on a mellow guitar arpeggio before launching into a mid-tempo, crunching riff. This is pure New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and although it actually has a decent tune, Nico Rogers’ voice is nicely gravelly, while hitting some clean high notes too. The guitar solo is reminiscent (to me at least), of UFO-era Michael Schenker – fluent and aggressive, but in a classic vein without the high-compression super-shredding style that goes with most modern metal. I Am Here is an ode to fame and fortune, and starts with more of a rhythmic, funky riff. It rocks for a bit, then morphs into a rhythm-heavy, staccato section for a sweet guitar solo with deep wah-wah. It seems to be building to one of those token, short and succinct solos so beloved of ‘80s glam metal, but no, they sustain it for a decent length, I’m glad to say.
The title track, Breakout, is more of an upbeat, good-time rocker, with occasional cowbell rhythm and massed vocals on the ‘breakout’ bit. Quite clearly AC/DC-influenced in the riffage and the vocal phrasing, it’s individual enough to avoid dropping into impersonation territory, and the soloing harks back more to classic Iron Maiden than anything by Angus Young. Never Ever features some vocoder in the intro, and answering solos from the two guitarists, the first with slower, voice-boxed riffage, the second going for a faster, more Gary Moore vibe.
That’s it for the new material for now, although we are also treated to a tremendous ballad, with a piano cover of their own songs, Make You Proud, from the first album. Rogers says, “We had played this track with a guest pianist live before and, with all that sadness about being away from the people we care about, poured that into a new take on one of our most beloved songs.” Clearly it wasn’t written about the pandemic lockdown, but that situation certainly gives it some added texture, and this may well be the highlight of the EP for me.
In any case, it’s great to see the guys back, and hopefully rootin’ and tootin’ in a venue near you soon. Look over your shoulders people; Jack McCall is comin’ to get ya.
Dead Man’s Whiskey release their new EP ‘Breakout’ on Friday 1st October. You can pre-order it here – https://deadmanswhiskey.co.uk/merch