Emerging from the muddy shores of the Po River in Piacenza, Italy, Tombstone Highway are here to prove that the dirty southern stoner sound is no longer solely dominated by whiskey swilling Americans. Tombstone Highway is a project of Herr Morbid (listed here as H.M. Outlaw) of bleak doomsters Forgotten Tomb, and whilst this retains a doom element to the music, the two bands could not really be much further apart in their approach. With subject matter that covers the expected areas of the four D’s, drink, drugs, depression and death, they also pay heed to local folklore.
Kicking off with a solid southern riff punctuated by a banjo accompaniment, they waste no time in marking out their musical territory, and immediately the influences start pouring forth. Opener ‘Old Blood’ mixes the guitar style of Zakk Wylde’s Pride & Glory with the song structures of popular era Corrosion of Conformity, with hints of Black Sabbath and even Lynyrd Skynyrd. The sound is 100% southern metal, with the only possibly hint that this is not native coming from the slight accent in H.M. Outlaw’s vocals. ‘Acid Overlord’ picks up the pace slightly, sounding like a song our own Orange Goblin would be proud of, with an infectious driving riff that is all but impossible to resist nodding along to. It’s on ‘Graveyard Blues’ where the doom riffs shine through as the pace is slowed down and the main riff has a classic Tony Iommi quality about it.
From the long, slow and slightly ponderous nature of the ‘Graveyard Blues’, the pace picks up with the short blast of the ‘Hellfire Rodeo’, before moving into the catchy title track. Whilst you could argue that there is nothing especially innovative about the guitars on this album, you really cannot argue with the catchiness of the whole thing, and much like Orange Goblin they manage to effortlessly grab your attention with some seriously bloody groovy riffs that stick in the brain long after you’ve finished listening to the album. ‘Ruralizer’ is another fine example on that front with the brilliant guitar interplay being accompanied by the sparing use of the banjo to give this an inherently catchy and identifiable sound. The awesome ‘Bite the Dust (and Bleed)’ maintains the overall sound but with the unmistakeable influence of early ZZ Top added to the mix, and this just put a great big smile on my inner hick. Add in the awesome cover of Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’ and the grin just grows ever wider.
That it took so long for this project to come to fruition is a shame, because there is massive potential here. I’m a huge fan of Forgotten Tomb, so to hear this and try to get my head around the concept that this is Herr Morbid at work again is a real stretch for the imagination. This is an excellent example of the southern stoner doom sound and it sounds as natural as bands that have been turning this stuff out their whole careers. This is one of my favourite albums of the year so far without a shadow of a doubt as is evident by the amount of time I have spent listening to it. Fans of the sound should check this out immediately. In fact if you are a metal fan at all and appreciate the beauty of a simple and catchy riff, this should be on your playlist, plain and simple.
(8.5/10 Lee Kimber)