August 20, 2023

The opener Day Of Reckoning was enough to make me strap myself in for all four tracks and forget any thoughts of bailing early, but the following The Strange Door raised the stakes and kicked over the card table. 

I have to admit that I don’t always review EPs when they come my way – there are a lot of them, and they are often a taster of an imminent full album, so unless there is something of particular interest, an EP will often get shelved while waiting for the next album to come along. Sometimes, however, there is just something which catches the ear, and the attention, so strongly as to make an exception. Such is the case with this offering from Scottish outfit Sin Dogs (regularly stylised as /sin’dogs/, though I’m not sure why as ‘Sin Dogs’ is a fine name), both owing to its clear quality, but also for another reason. Namely, it is forcing me to admit that I was wrong (yes, I will admit to this on occasion!). The reason for this admission is that I prejudged this line-up of the band, and have been forced to eat my words by writing these words, if that tortured metaphorical mangling can be excused.

You see, when Sin Dogs came into being, they were formed and fronted by ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Nazareth guitarist Zal Cleminson (you remember, the guy in the green outfit and face paint), and as a long time fan of both of those bands, my interest was piqued. Obviously, like any other musicians of 50-odd years pedigree, Zal has been involved in some less than stellar acts (I once encountered the short-lived Tandoori Cassette live, and it was not an occasion to savour), but overall his CV is one which draws me to his work. So, I made a mental note to check out Sin Dogs, but somehow things always got in the way, and their debut album passed me by unheard. The next thing I heard was that Zal had split from the band, who had recruited a new vocalist and guitarist (Peter Scallan and Andy McLaughlan respectively) and elected to carry on as a five-piece. That, I foolishly and judgementally thought, was where my curiosity ended, and I half forgot about the band. Fast forward to this month when this EP arrived, and I decided to check it out and see whether I had been correct to write them off. And I was effectively, as they say across the pond, ‘schooled’. The four tracks here absolutely leapt from the speakers at me, got me in a headlock, and dared me to underestimate them again. Put bluntly, this is a cracker!

Musically this is heavy, bludgeoning Classic Rock. It doesn’t threaten a new ‘jazz direction’ or anything like that, of that you may be assured. But there is real depth here which lifts it above the pack (of other ‘Dogs’, as you might say) which is crowding this particular niche of the market. The opener Day Of Reckoning is a blistering statement of intent, its riff grinding along like prime early Black Sabbath, but with a neat propulsive element aided by Nelson MacFarlane’s sprightly bass. It was enough to make me strap myself in for all four tracks and forget any thoughts of bailing early, but the following The Strange Door raised the stakes and kicked over the card table. This time the crushing anvil-heavy guitar is leavened by the keyboards of David Gowan, giving it a slightly ‘epic’ feel, a little akin to Metallica’s Wherever I May Roam married to Deep Purple’s Perfect Strangers. This is the track which most carries an air of Alex Harvey about it, with the way Scallan intones it in his rich brogue making it easy to imagine the late great Alex delivering it himself and relishing every syllable. A soaring chorus puts the final touch to what, to these ears is nothing less than a modern heavy rock classic.

Knock Em Dead comes up next, and proceeds to accept that mission and carry it out. Another riff so heavy that it sounds positively primordial is again given a boost by sympathetic keyboards, and ends up a little like a slightly slower and down-tuned late-period Iron Maiden. Three up, and three winners, but are things all going to have the same sort of feel to them? Not a bit of it, as things are changed for the soulful rock balladry of Dark Side Of Your Soul, which meanders in a smokily beautiful manner for about three of its five minutes before the full band kick in behind a magnificent guitar solo from McLaughlan, Think of that part of November Rain when Slash goes all ‘guitar hero’ on us, and emotes as if his life depends on it. Well, match that feeling to a better, and less overwrought song, and you have this lighter-waving piece of class.

The title of the EP, Renascence, incidentally, is a particularly apt and well chosen one. Often incorrectly cited as a synonym for ‘renaissance’, there is in fact a crucial difference – whereas a renaissance refers to a revival of something, a renascence is a rebirth, pointing to a similar second coming of sorts, but in a new way as opposed to a revival of the same. You can’t get a better definition of the Sin Dogs situation than that. Four tracks, and it has to be said, not a trace of a dip in form among them, let alone a dud. If their second album ends up being an extension of this quality, it’s going to be some release. I came into this thinking that Zal Cleminson was likely to be my main focus of interest in this band. Having heard this, I’m revising my opinion that he wouldn’t get his place back as he simply couldn’t top this. Sorry Zal, but your old team have played an absolute blinder here! Check this out, you won’t regret it.