originally written by Erik Highter
You’d have to be some sort of cretin not to dig the Athenian band Planet of Zeus. On their two prior albums, the Greek band has shown that Clutch translates well from the mid-Atlantic to the Mediterranean. With Vigilante, Planet of Zeus have given us a further 45 minutes of BF-ORs and shout-along choruses, all with a serious helping of Southern rock boogie. That last bit is what sets them apart from the legions of Clutch worshiping, cowboy hat wearing, Confederate flag waving choads who prowl the States from Dallas to Dothan. Planet of Zeus can’t get by with simply the right props and the right accent. Unable to stake a claim by birth, they’ve had to listen to what the music actually sounds like; to do Southern rock-inflected stoner metal right, these Greeks had to learn what makes it work.
The thing so many stoners seem to misunderstand is that what set Southern rock apart from other forms of hard rock is deep roots in R&B. Whether talking about the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Black Oak Arkansas, those were guys steeped in soul music. Even if they didn’t play it, it was part of their cultural DNA. You can’t say that anymore, whether you’re in the South, North, East, or on top of Mount Olympos.
Southern rock starts with the rhythm section, and Planet of Zeus has a swinging one in drummer Syke and bassist JayVee. From the first moments of album opener “The Great Dandolos”, it’s clear that Syke has the touch. Whether it’s the delicate cymbal work, the precision stops, or the laid-back rolling fills, his choice of attack is the right one time and again. JayVee is equally understated in his support, bridging riffs and drums with a steady hand. Neither ever seems to overplay, and when it comes time to boogie, they’re right there to pull the strings to your hips right through your ears.
Yet when most folks think of Southern rock, it’s guitar greats like Duane Allman and Dickey Betts that spring to mind. Again, these are men known for their soulful style, the emotion and expression they brought to every main riff, every bent note solo. I’m not saying Planet of Zeus’ Yog and Babis are Allman and Betts; I like these guys work but I’m not insane. But they do understand how to get soulful while still being heavy. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do, but the vast number of bands I see and hear that call themselves Southern/stoner rock hybrids haven’t a clue. There’s more heart in the opening riff of “Tornado” than in the collected works of the Texas Hippie Coalition.
While Babis is never going to be my favorite vocalist, his Neil Fallon-esque clean style works well, and he bellows his choruses with aplomb. I’m most impressed by his ability to shout clearly and with some hint of tunefulness; again, an art sadly lacking in the post-Anselmo South. However, there is one glaring misstep I lay squarely at his feet. “Burn This City Down” finds Babis speak-singing the verses, and the result is an Anthony Kiedis-like mess. The chorus is a burner, but it can’t wash away the taste of stale Chili Peppers.
Planet of Zeus is still deeply in debt to Clutch, but Vigilante finds them adding a dollop of Southern rock that’s giving them a sound more their own. It’s a big step in the right direction.