Situated in middle-class Surrey, Guildford is hardly the epicentre of British rock. Aside from The Stranglers, few bands have ever put that town on the map. It was the location for Carter USM’s final show first time around – a show succinctly described as “shit” by frontman Jim Bob – and is only a few miles away from where Paul Weller began his illustrious career with The Jam, but even so, it could hardly hold a candle to Camden, Newcastle or Coventry for historic musical thrills. In this respect, Nine Miles South are possibly the best thing associated with Guildford since fictional character Ford Prefect decided to call it home after his relocation from Betelgeuse.
Presenting three superb hard rock numbers, their debut EP ‘Nine Miles South’ is the perfect primer. With ‘The Reckoning’s distorted twang and a stomping bass drum, the band waste no time in showing off their southern style, with frontman Seb Mikkelsen curling his voice in a manner that combines the technique of his seventies heroes with a more modern crunch in the guitar department from Jon Anthony. Never a million miles away from the sounds created by the brilliant Black Stone Cherry, the riff comes hard and slow, setting up a solid foundation, but it’s with the last minute things really catch fire. As the band hammer a hard ‘n’ fast riff, allowing the rhythm section to really motor, it suggests they could perhaps sound as uncompromising as parts of Tremonti’s debut, should they follow a heavier route. Overall, this tune strikes a perfect balance between hard rock and accessible melodies – and if the southern style does it for you, there’s a guarantee you’ll want to keep listening.
With a slightly more melodic slant, ‘Leave Me Be’ begins with some quiet and reflective guitar noodles; sounds that subsequently fills the beginning of each verse, allowing the crying edge to Seb’s voice to be heard at its fullest and it’s more obvious here that he has a great voice. During the louder moments, the rhythm guitars have a strong presence, asa slightly grubby rhythm taps into a sharp staccato sound. The lead breaks, meanwhile, are terrific – loud and bluesy, with a nineties edge and the way they bridge the gap between verse and chorus are essential in making this number so memorable. The chorus isn’t as instant as some, but the overall arrangement – largely thanks to those bridging guitars – is superb. With a huge attitude, ‘Fingernails’ rounds things off with four minutes’ worth of a big swaggering riff, combining the already signature dirty but melodic tones, while Seb intones “I’d rather see you dead” with the dry style of a man who sounds as if he’s really been wronged. Given the hard stomp that kicks everything off and the instantly classic approach to a riff, it all works rather well. The hook is one you’ll remember quickly – just two listens and it’ll stick – while the musicianship is first class. Anthony really ups his game on this track: in addition to the great riff, he drops a superb solo, all grit and whammy bar which, combined with a strong melody and chorus, brings everything you’d want from the chosen style.
There are no weak links within these three tracks. With big riffs and the attitude of latter day Skynyrd in steel toe-caps, this EP is pretty much guaranteed to please those who wish Black Label Society would indulge in a bit more (ie: some) melody from time to time, or are finding themselves in need of a quick fix between Black Stone Cherry releases.