In a world of heavy metal gone mad with technical proficiency and absolute mandatory perfection of style, craft and cadence, there survives the Texas Hippie Coalition. Thriving in the far too often overlooked splinter genre of southern metal, THC has spent the last few years dropping one record of feel-good, high octane metal after another. Defying trend by surviving on notes that go for a roll in a pile of distortion hay, Texas Hippie Coalition proves that grit and swagger can be just as effective as technique. Thus, their new record, “Peacemaker.”
What "Peacemaker" offers is a slightly different experience than the previous Texas Hippie Coalition efforts. Unlike "Rollin'" and "Pride of Texas," this effort isn't as moment-to-moment punchy, eschewing the full-throttle Pantera approach in favor of something slightly more akin to a different kind of southern metal act, Saliva. There is more rhythm, more rock influence and a smoother ride that still is capable of putting the hammer down in bursts.
Axe-man Randy Cooper lights up his bridge time and again, carrying over his drop of a hat intense soloing into this new record. He and bassist John Exall play well in tandem, especially settling into their rubber-machine-gun chug for the album's second cut, "Damn You to Hell." Not just the verse riff, but the breakdown launches home runs into the night sky, followed by Cooper’s blistering, if short, solo. When he and Exall are on the same page, which happens more often than not, THC does not disappoint.
To listen to “Paw Paw Hill” is to hear the heart of Texas music put to metal, with banjo-esque strumming, a strong blues bass and that characteristic Texas swing, for lack of a better term. Much like most of the band’s musical catalogue, “Paw Paw Hill” and by extension, “Peacemaker,” is a chronicle of life as the (mostly) noble country outlaw.
That is, when the band isn’t singing about strippers. Which happens more than once on “Peacemaker,” but none better than “Turn it Up,” a song that blends elements from bands like Viking Skull with the down-tuned insistence of Alice in Chains’ “Godsmack.” It’s inevitable that one hears ghosts of other bands during this song, particularly as Big Dad Ritch goes into a rhythmic sing-speak akin to Phil Anselmo, Ivan Moody and piles of others. Nevertheless, Ritch’s characteristic bellowing helps to make “Turn it Up” one of the album’s better offerings.
Each of the previous THC albums has made itself memorable through possessing at least one or two incredible, unforgettable riffs by Cooper and Exall. “Texas Tags,” “Clenched Fist,” “Pissed Off and Mad About It” and “Intervention” all immediately jump to mind. With the possible exception of “Damn You To Hell” and maybe “Wicked,” “Peacemaker” doesn’t have those same crush-you-over-the-head-with-power moments. “8 Seconds” (a song that I think is euphemistically about sex, but might actually be about bull riding after all,) has a great country speed riff, but doesn’t punch the listener in the mouth like the previous classics.
Both prior Texas Hippie Coalition albums presented a landscape of similar pieces marked by a few majestic, towering mountains. "Peacemaker," by contrast, is a series of rolling hills, bringing many high-quality tracks to the table, but few transcendent ones. It's up to the fan which style of effort they prefer, but ultimately the band's trademark swagger and heavy metal sensibility are perfectly intact for this effort, and the Texas Hippie Coalition is here to stay. No matter what, make sure to grab some barbecue and feast on the red dirt metal.