My name, you know, could never sound rock n roll. Andy Thorley just sounds dull (it’s cool, I am). Tony Rombola on the other hand sounds like one of two things. He’s either a character in The Sopranos, or he’s a rock star.
Luckily for Tony really, he’s the latter. He’s the guitarist in million sellers Godsmack, and when he’s not casually supplying the riffs that fill that arenas they play in, he’s in this blues band with his Godsmack bandmate Shannon Larkin, who is as good a drummer as there is (and he writes the lyrics too).
The pair formed The Apocalypse Blues Revue a few years back completing the line up with bass player Brian Carpenter and a vocalist. Crucially, they found the singer Ray “Rafer John” Cerbone in a biker bar (Cerbone apparently had no idea the chap he was making friends with was Larkin and Larkin had no idea that his new bestie could sing).
“Shape Of Blues To Come” is their second record, and the self-titled debut was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2016. Make no mistake, this is not a side-project for anyone here. This is gifted musicians playing some music they love.
It also helps, possibly that Larkin and Rombola came to blues – by their own admission – late in life, so it doesn’t have any preconceptions of what should and should not be. And like the key line for the whole record says in “Have You Heard”: The apocalypse is coming and it ain’t your daddy’s blues.
Instead, this particular strange brew sounds like, from the off, it only wants to do nefarious things and on “Open Spaces” Rafer John sounds exactly like the sort of singer you’d find in a biker bar – or a meth lab in the desert, your choice.
It’s heavy, dark and sprawling, but it all works. And like the follow up, “We Are One” it takes its time to investigate, meandering, wandering and never having much to do with the well-trodden path. This is blues, yeah, but it’s the blues of The Doors and the like.
“Hell To Pay” sounds a little less oppressive, opening out a touch, and Cerbone’s delivery is perfect for the alchemy that exists in Rombola’s lead. The aforementioned “Have you Heard” casts the frontman in full on preacher mode, which together, with some righteously filthy bass from Carpenter and a classic air makes this a real highlight.
It is one of the more viscerally exciting cuts on here too, the rest – deliberately – don’t have that vibe. Instead, there is a more soulful air to “Hell To Pay”, a menace in “Nobody Rides for Free” (together with a brilliant solo) and one of the lines of the year so far in “Sincere”. “Some say I worship the devil,” spits Cerbone. “I say he worships me.”
A couple of these nine tracks top eight minutes. One of them, “What A Way To Go” takes its sweet time to build, but crikey, when it does, then this is as good a blues song as there is.
As if to emphasise the fact that TABR do things in their own way, no one else’s, the closing “Noumenal Blues” has the unsettling air of a 1960s flower-cult about to go wrong and ands with 30 seconds or so that might actually be apocalyptic.
If the debut hinted at great things, then The Shape Of Blues To Come” delivers. It possibly isn’t as immediate. in fact it revels in its darkness, but given that it seems to be them finding their own voice, it might actually be a more authentic experience of what The Apocalypse Blues Revue are about.