The guys in Tombstone Highway have figured out a truth that has eluded most of us: heavy metal is improved with the addition of banjo. “Old Blood”, the opening track from the band’s debut full-length, Ruralizer, opens with a satisfying squall of distorted guitar and thrumming rhythms, along with…something else. It’s not till a few bars in that the listener realizes, yep, that’s a banjo plucking away in the mix. It sounds fantastic.
That’s not even the weirdest thing: the weirdest thing is that Tombstone Highway is a band from Italy, meaning that the musicians are, y’know, Italian — even though play a southern-fried version of metal that sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd on a lot of steroids. The tunes are straight-ahead, full-bore metal — nothing too subtle or flashy, with plenty of power chords and six-string wankery — but the southern flavor lends a bit of off-kilter charm to what could be otherwise forgettable compositions. Emphasis is on uptempo, high-energy songs, with only occasional slower tunes like “At the Bitter End” and the epically sinister, seven-minute “Graveyard Blues” to lend variety. The performances are adequate and sometimes inspired. Ironically, the weakest link is the regrettably lame cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen”, a barn-burner of a song that ends up getting the generic hard-rock treatment. Other than that, this is a strong set of tunes. Viva Italia!