Exactly a year ago, mid-Ulster hard rockers Trucker Diablo shocked fans by announcing that they were putting the brakes on and going on an indefinite hiatus. Guitarist Simon Haddock had already announced his intention to quit the band, due to family commitments: a show at a small social club on the outskirts of Belfast, on Saturday March 1, was supposed to be his farewell performance – but, within hours, it emerged that it was, in fact, the band’s last hurrah, at least for the foreseeable future. The Big Truck was no longer rolling…
However, you can’t keep a good band down. Within weeks, frontman Tom Harte was writing songs again, and collaborating on a number of projects: then late in the summer, hints were being dropped online that the boys might just be warming up their collective engines again – hints which resulted in the mid-October release of a new single, ‘Party Like They Started The End Of The World’. Shortly afterwards, developments shifted up a gear when they launched a PledgeMusic campaign for the recording of a new album – and now, exactly one year to the day after that “farewell” show, the Big Truck is back on the road with the release of the aforesaid third opus!
The engine roars into life with the punching fury of ‘Fight Life’, the opening of which delivers a quick one-two of head and body shots as accurate and powerful as those with which Carl Frampton annihilated that Californian show off down the street from PM’s Belfast HQ last night. It’s a traditional Trucker hard rocker, with a huge hook and massive melody, combined with a crunching riff, tight drumming and a rumbling bass line from new recruit Jim McGurk (original four string plucker Glenn Harrison stepped back from the band upon their renaissance). Lead single ‘Party Like…’ will be instantly recognisable to Trucker fans as well: an anthem very much in the mould of their breakthrough ‘Drink Beer, Destroy’, with a hard-as-nails dual guitar riff and a typically rambunctious vocal from Harte.
However, it soon becomes obvious that Trucker are not resting on their ‘party rock’ reputation, and this re-invigorated line up is prepared to explore new musical avenues. ‘Somebody Save Me’ is the first of the tracks to introduce a slightly darker, mellower feel to album: the crunch and grit is still there, but – very much in the way ‘Maybe You’re The One’ did on previous album ‘Songs Of Iron’ – it possesses a deep and elegiacally melancholic vibe. ‘We Stand Strong’ shifts back up through the gears again, as the quartet put the pedal to the medal with a fast-paced hard rocker, characterized by another punchy main riff, accentuated once again by McGurk’s understatedly solid bass work, before ‘Where Angels Fly’ totally changes the mood. Led by Keith (The Quireboys) Weir’s plaintive piano, it’s a deeply personal lament, with Harte delivering a surprisingly heart wrenching vocal, with the result being a thoroughly beautiful, soulful ballad guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts (well, it got The Dark Queen gurning her lamps out on first listen) and get lighters waving high when played live.
‘Girl In A Photograph’ very much echoes the band’s adoration of Thin Lizzy (but then what Irish rock band is not influenced by Lynott and co?), with its rolling double guitar melody: however, where Lizzy legacists Black Star Riders continue to regurgitate the riffs to ‘Emerald’, ‘Jailbreak’, etc. almost ad infinitum, Trucker take it as a starting point and positively stamp their own identity on it, adding melodic and progressive tangents. The Truckers have always had a big southern rock influence to their sound as well, and this comes to the fore in the appropriately monickered ‘Take Me To The River’, which slides across the tarmac with the grace of an alligator preying the Bayou, counterpointing NOLA-esque heaviness with deep, dense melodies and neat vocal harmonies.
The album slips into its final third with silky smoothness of ‘Murder Ballad’ – another tune which demonstrates the rich depth and variety of this “new” Trucker sound, with its combination of thumping riffs and rich, lush melodies; it also subtly underpins the deeply personal nature of this album, summarizing a band emerging from the darkness of personal circumstance to use their music to build a bright and re-energised future. It’s a theme continued on ‘Sun Deprives The Day’, another southern boogie-tinged offering which combines the subtlety of the Allman Brothers with the bravado of BLS, but once again in Trucker’s own individual style. Closer ‘Don’t Cry’ is an appropriate choice of final track, built on a sweeping melody and another gorgeous and deeply personal lyric/vocal from Harte, which epitomises the spirit of rebirth which ‘Rise Above The Noise’ evokes and personifies.
If having to clear the decks and switch off the noise for a while produces an album of this verve, this vibrancy and this clarity, then maybe more bands should try the formula. Certainly, in terms of the Northern Ireland scene – with Million Dollar Reload, Screaming Eagles and Stormzone all in the studio as you read this, and new offerings due from the likes of Gasoline Outlaws and The Irontown Diehards – Trucker Diablo have set down a marker of the highest standards.
Fight Life / Party Like They Started The End Of The World / Somebody Save Me / We Stand Strong / Where Angels Fly / Girl In A Photograph / Take Me To The River / Murder Ballad / Sun Deprives The Day / Don’t Cry
Recommended listening: We Stand Strong
The official release show for ‘Rise Above The Noise’ is this coming Saturday (March 7) at the Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill. Support comes from Gasoline Outlaws. A limited number of tickets will be available on the door.
Trucker Diablo will headline the main stage at the Pentrich Rock and Blues Festival in Derbyshire on Friday July 24. They also play the Steelhouse Festival (with UFO, Dee Snider, Y&T, Tyketto, No Hot Ashes, Massive Wagons, Skam, Florence Black and more to be announced) on July 25/26, and HRH House Of Horrors at Pwllheli (with Saxon, UFO, Black Spiders, Rock Goddess, Toseland, Screaming Eagles and many more) from November 12-15.
Band photographs by Paul Wharton