Back in 2014 ex-L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns played at a Keith Moon and Jon Entwistle tribute show alongside Poison drummer Rikki Rocket and Cinderella bassist Eric Brittingham. The three had great chemistry and decided to start a band together. Rikki suggests they check out his singer friend Brandon Gibbs, who Eric previously played with in a band called Cheap Thrill. Next thing you know, Brandon is officially their singer and less than a month later they’re at Southern California’s Patagonia Studios, which features a five-acre ranch, giving the guys a pleasant sense of isolation, allowing them to focus on the album. In no time they found their unique sound and completed their self-titled debut. Soon after Brittingham amicably split with the guys, who recruited legendary bassist Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Dio and Whitesnake fame. (Eric is the bass player on the album, since it was already recorded before he parted ways with the guys.)
It just so happens that Devil City Angels is Tracii Guns third all-star band following Contraband and Brides of Destruction. Both of those bands were, shall we say, killer. So, I had little doubt that Devil City Angels were going to be a force to be reckoned with. The only reason I had a tad bit of doubt was because I’d never heard Brandon Gibbs sing before. Well, that doubt vanished about halfway through the first verse of the opening track “Numb” the very first time I played the album; it’s quite the ass kicker and Brandon’s vocals are better than most of the singers the guys have been in bands with before.
When I first heard about Devil City Angels a month or so ago I wondered what their sound would be like. With quote unquote hair bands (I hate that term) regaining some popularity during recent years I definitely thought they might sound like a band straight off of the Sunset Strip circa 1986. But I hoped they wouldn’t go that way. I just hate it when bands try to re-make their earlier albums instead of making new records that actually feel new. Although there are certainly people who’d disagree with me if the success of Frontiers Records means anything. (Practically every hair band ever is signed to them now.) Lucky for me, Devil City Angels didn’t sound like a hair band. There might be a little bit of that flair here and there throughout the album, but it’s much more in the hard rock vein, more Guns N’ Roses or Skid Row than, say, Warrant or, well, Poison. There’s also a classic rock feel to the Angels. It’s obvious that they’ve been heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones and Zeppelin.
There’s one hair band era band that the Angels do remind me of and that’s Lynch Mob, George Lynch’s post-Dokken band (currently putting out new albums on Frontiers). They had a very tight, serious sound. Not so serious that it wasn’t fun to listen to them, but serious in the sense that everyone in the band pulled their weight and their albums were fantastic (I like the Oni Logan and Robert Mason albums equally; they had two different vocalists). To that end, Brandon’s vibrant vocals remind me of Robert Mason’s. Both have power and range and know how to use it just right, whereas some guys with their abilities would constantly be trying to hit high notes or sound tough.
Everyone in the Angels more than pulls their weight. Tracii’s guitars have never sounded better and Rikki’s drums sound much heavier than they do in Poison, more like Tommy Lee’s. Meanwhile, Eric’s bass playing has more flavor than it did in Cinderella. It’s thicker and slicker. And we’ve already discussed Brandon’s impressive pipes. The album’s production — I believe they produced it themselves — is pristine, too. Everything sounds wonderful. And the mix is great. I especially love the level the bass is at, which is louder than you get from a lot of bands who bury it off in the background. Here, it’s almost as loud as the lead guitar and that’s the way I prefer it.
All ten tracks on this album rule, as we used to say when I was a teenager circa 1988. There’s not a single one that I would call filler. They could take any of these songs and make them singles. Some of the highlights are “All My People,” “Boneyard,” “No Angels,” and “Ride With Me.” But you should start with that first track, “Numb,” because once you hear that you’re going to want to hear the whole album anyway. Seriously, this album is like nice and salty potato chips. You might think you can eat just one but once you get your hand in the bag you lose control and need to have more and more. One listen to “Numb” and you’ll be compelled to devour the Angels’ whole bag. Trust me.