One listen to ‘Take Me Higher’, the opening track on “Army of Three”, is all you need to get hooked on this band and there are two reasons for that – one is that the album was produced by Chris Tsangarides, the producer of the mighty “Painkiller” – still Judas Priest‘s greatest studio achievement – and a man who has worked with the likes of Black Sabbath, Bruce Dickinson, Anvil and Gary Moore to name a few others, so immediately there’s a depth and clarity to this album’s sound that most other blues rock bands don’t have. The second thing that’ll draw you in is that Virgil & The Accelerators sound like a band who have lived a life and have some tales to tell, all drenched in the attitude of the Delta blues and even a touch of Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s spirit.
So it may surprise you to know that the band are a trio of plucky youngsters from Bromsgrove, a small town just south of Birmingham, UK. Birmingham, of course, has its own musical heritage and hopefully Virgil & The Accelerators will become another name to add to the Brummie(ish) Hall of Fame (if there was one)… oh, you know what I mean!
Anyway, ‘Take Me Higher’ brings the band in on a melodic mid-paced thump that, musically, could give Black Label Society some competition for chugging guitar work but the rich blues vocals take the song away from greasy biker rock territory and off into another place entirely. ‘Blow to the Head’ follows with a dirty main riff not a million miles from the previous track but it is a heavier beast altogether, the stop-start guitars wrapped up in a huge vocal hook that is only bettered by the catchy chorus of ‘All Night Long’.
After a strong start, however, the band take what could be called a side-step rather than a misstep with ‘Love Aggression’, a power-pop ballad disguised as hard rock that veers close to Nickleback territory; a little too close, if truth be told. But things are redeemed after that with the pacy ‘Give It Up’ and the album highlight of ‘It Burns’, a slippery rocker built on a filthy groove that swaggers to-and-fro, its roots in the soulful, funk-driven hard rock of Coverdale/Hughes-era Deep Purple, only with a bit more bite. The album slows down a bit for the final run, ending on the Skynyrd-esque ‘Free’, a perfect closer for an album that takes you from whiskey-soaked bar room blues through to self-reflective melodic rock via some heavy-ass guitar slinging and a toe-dipping excercise into radio-friendly pop territory (but only the once!).
“Army of Three” may not be the most original album of the year in terms of style but it is one of the best examples of modern blues rock to have been released recently, and there’s been some competition. What’s most intriguing about Virgil & The Accelerators – made up of Virgil McMahon (guitar/vocals), his brother Gabriel McMahon (drums, vocals) and Jack Alexander Timmis (bass/vocals) – is that they are so young and if they can produce an album this heartfelt and powerful so early in their career then we have some even more stunning work to come. Naturally, a lot of what makes the album work is down to Chris Tsangarides‘ production, which bulks up the drums and gives Virgil‘s brilliant guitar solos the spotlight they deserve, but the level of musicianship is already way above what you would expect from a band only a few years old, making “Army of Three” one of the year’s biggest surprises and Virgil & The Accelerators a band with a very bright future.