Atomic Highway is the fifth and possibly heaviest offering from Los Angeles mega-rockers DC4, a quartet of metal veterans, including Armored Saint guitarist Jeff Duncan. Released Sept. 14 on the High Vol Music label, there are some similarities between the two groups, but with Duncan as frontman and on the axe attack, DC4 employs a more straightforward style that should please fans of vinyl-inspired classic metal and hard rock.
The entrance to Atomic Highway is the instrumental “Progeny,” perhaps paying homage to rock operas of the late 1960s and early 1970s, before segueing into nine energized tracks. Amped rock and metal dominate; standouts include “Queen of Angeles,” the seemingly autobiographical story about a young tough’s LA upbringing and “Something in My Head,” a fast-paced tale of angst. Despite the ferocity emitted by most of the tracks, the lyrics remain clear and the choruses are concise and catchy.
Duncan has a snarl in his voice while carrying a tune, reminiscent of the way David Lee Roth can transition from playful to nasty. This is best demonstrated on the title cut, essentially a metallized tribute to early Van Halen, from the subject of speed racing down to the catchy vocal harmonizing between Duncan and his brother Matt, who also plays bass. The Highway is laced with complementary harmonization, one of the album’s best qualities.
Clocking in at six minutes, “One and Only,” the longest track on the album, begins with faint plucking and despondent vocals about a soured relationship, before whispering lines, like “The way you look at me is not the way it used to be, it’s okay, I’ve come to accept it,” then launching a full-on rock assault: “A lover that can never be a friend – the fire burned us in the end. We built ourselves a pretty house of cards. I’m your lonely one and only.”
DC4’s cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” might seem unnecessary, since the renowned song has already been covered by so many bands, but actually is a highlight. Aside from the fact that Armored Saint’s John Bush lends his vocal talent for shared duty, the guitars more-than-adequately replace the renowned keyboard intro and theme.
Previous DC4 albums laid the foundation for Atomic Highway – taking everything great about LA metal, including riff-led anthems, masterful solos, dangerous lyrics and dominant vocals – and modernizing those qualities with crisp production. The charm lies in that the music sounds produced live and in a garage but could easily blow away a stadium audience. Rock and metal fans will enjoy the ride on the Atomic Highway.
Watch for a follow-up interview with Jeff Duncan soon.
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