Rival, or Rock in Virtually Atomic Levels, are a Montreal rock band here with their latest release Down the Rabbit Hole. This album is sixty minutes of heavy, prog-adjacent rock tunes with a bit of a Rush-meets-Led Zeppelin feel to it. Unfortunately, despite the obvious musical talent that the four members hold, this album feels like pure fluff to me.
Down the Rabbit Hole starts with “Love to Hate,” bluesy, proggy hard rock tune that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Rival are at their best on songs like “Call Me Crazy” or “Way Over Time” and, at least to my ears, are at their worst on songs like “Brimstone,” “Ghost,” or “Crooked Road.” The former flirt with genre bending and slightly odd timing in a meaningful way. “Way Over Time” especially shows off the band’s ability to soften things up without getting too bland or cheesy. The latter, however, come across as meandering, masturbatory, and some other m-word that I can’t think of right now. “Brimstone” is an ambitious track and I do give the band credit for trying, but the transitions between hard rock, reggae, power metal, and folk-ish passages really epitomizes style over substance. Rival aren’t a bad band, but they aren’t doing a whole lot to keep my interest.
In a word, Down the Rabbit Hole feels bloated. Rival are fine at what they do; the band’s not reinventing the wheel or anything like that, but they’ve got a solid hard rock foundation to work from. What they don’t have, apparently, is any sense of restraint. I can get behind a band getting weird with things, but I don’t think Rival is doing anything interesting enough to justify an hour-long album.
Written by Justin Bruce
*Edited by Dominic Abate