Australian bands - or the ones that make it over to Britain at least - are largely unafraid to wear their influences on their sleeves. See Airbourne’s AC/DC homage or the Nirvana-lite sounds of early Silverchair for example. And on first listen, Melbourne-based newcomers The Ugly Kings seem to follow that tradition. It would be easy to write off their particular brand of blues-rock as another in a long line of bands treading in the footsteps of Jack White and The Black Keys. But then neither of those bands could exactly claim their sound was original in the first place, and while The Ugly Kings share common ground it soon becomes apparent that they are simply influenced by those bands rather than attempting to imitate them.
Being a four piece fleshes out their sound, the rumbling bass adds depth, the bass drum hits you like a gut punch. The strong rhythm section, provided by Nicolas Dumont and Andy Alkemade allows Christos Athanasias’ guitar work a freedom that the two-man-band format does not. It can be up front and centre, a squealing, wailing lead but equally it can step back to allow the songs to build up ominously before punctuating them with a scuzzy riff or an understated solo. All of which provides a perfect backdrop for singer Russel Clark’s intense vocals to shine. There is something of the preacher to his voice that lend a dark, southern-gothic vibe to the songs, never more prevalent than on ‘Promised Land’, the opening track and in truth the album’s high watermark. The songs that follow are hardly a disappointment - in fact the next two tracks ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Raging Bull’ are two of the strongest on the album - but there is a nagging doubt that a few tweaks to the order might have stopped the album feeling a little top-loaded and perhaps would have allowed some of the later tracks to stand out more. Individually there isn’t anything you’d class as a weak track but taken as a whole they often aren’t distinctive enough to stop the songs from blending into each other.
That said the overall sound has a timeless cool to it, described by the band as ‘power blues’ it has all the touchstones of bands who play the blues through a rock filter; there’s a touch of Sabbath, a hint of Led Zep, a smattering of Rival Sons, but it feels classic rather than derivative and within a few listens songs like ‘You & Me’ and ‘Lazarus’ come to the fore.
Ultimately this is an assured, confident album, full of excellently executed music and brimming with promise that even finer things are to come. In Australia they have earned some high profile support slots and it can only be a matter of time before someone brings them over to the UK. You could do a lot worse than checking them out when they do, because all the ingredients are there for The Ugly Kings to only get bigger and better, and their debut album has already set the bar pretty high.
Darkness Is My Home is due for release on 13th April. Pre order it from here: https://theuglykings.bandcamp.com/
The Ugly Kings are:
Russel Clark (Vocals)
Christos Athanasias (Guitar)
Nicolas Dumont (Bass)
Andy Alkemade (Drums)
You & Me
Little Birdy Told Me
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