Drinking beer and raising hell will never go out of style… just ask the 100 Watt Vipers, the stalwarts of roadhouse blues and garage rock from Jacksonville, Florida. While many modern bluesmen are chasing the ghosts of Hendrix, SRV, and the Three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie), this gritty twosome follow their own musical code, loyal to the teachings of Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and George Thorogood. They are not your typical pretty-boy rock band… they don’t play cute little diddies you can sing to your sweetheart, they don’t want to come to your high school and play your prom, and they damn sure don’t use autotune. They might be the last of a dying breed, but they ain’t dead, and their new album, Holy Water, is a lesson in the art of whiskey-soaked, sweat-stained, fever-pitched blues rock.
Holy Water might as well have been called Firewater, because that’s exactly what it is… a stout shot of White Lightning that burns the whole way down, warming the bones and rattling your brain until you see double. Come to think of it, 100 Watt Vipers is a hell of a name. They’re vicious, they’re loud, and they pack a hell of a bite! The raunchy, slinking guitar of Paul Joseph can be an angel singing, a devil screaming, or a gospel choir testifying on a hot summer Sunday morning in the Deep South. While he’s laying down the groove, singer DJ Riddick is pounding the pulpit (actually, the drums), and his raspy voice washes over their raw sonic fury, muddier than the Mississippi, but twice as deep. What his voice lacks in versatility, it more than makes up for in authenticity… the man means every damn word he’s singing. “Aces High”, the opening track, has a Nugent-esque guitar riff that transforms into what could easily be a forgotten John Lee Hooker boogie. It’s got that roadhouse mojo, and if you listen closely, you can hear someone breaking the rack on the pool table and the empty shotglasses being slammed down on the bar… it’s all there. “Penny in the Well” is very much in the vein of a Delta Blues standard, and its bottleneck slide riffs are thick and rich, musical molasses for the ears. “You Ain’t Gonna Take Me Down” and “The Bell Tolls Heavy” show that there’s not much in the way of innovation or diversity on this record, but playing either one at high volumes could easily start a streetfight in front of your house. The Vipers do shift gears at times, though. “The Thunder Cries” and “We Ride On” have a proto-metal feel to them, sometimes tapping into a Black Sabbath or Deep Purple vibe that spices things up. The slow, hauntingly beautiful acoustic intro of “I Am the Traveler” breaks the monotony of the record with a striking contrast between acoustic verses and snarling electric choruses. The band isn’t afraid to hone in and get creative at times, and it’s extremely rewarding to the listener.
The second half of the album isn’t quite as well-balanced as the first. “Holy Water” is slide guitar noodling that feels a little stale, and further down on the tracklist, “After the Storm Comes Peace” fails to stand out among the better tracks. “My Old Bible” is an AC/DC-inspired classic rocker that features the unmistakable snarl of a Gibson SG. It sounds heavy and full, no easy task for a two man band. They actually do classic rock quite well, and “My Old Bible” is surely a hell of a song to catch live. One of the best written songs of the album, possibly of their entire catalogue, is “No Salvation in These Fields”. They again use an acoustic guitar to shift gears, and their masterful use of dynamics and lyricism make for a real masterpiece. The album remains consistent, if unexciting, throughout its final tracks, finishing with a spacey instrumental called “Ain’t Got No Golden Cup” that stays true to the spirit of Holy Water.
You won’t see 100 Watt Vipers on a stadium tour anytime soon, and they might not win any awards at the Grammy’s this year, but you’d be a fool to think any of those things matter… They’re a rare find that any blues or classic rock fan will instantly appreciate. They’re real, they’re loud, and they don’t give a shit… they’re the spirit of rock and roll, but they’re still apostles of the blues. They don’t need to play Madison Square Garden, because they can come to your favorite beer joint and rock it down to smokin’ ashes, and that’s exactly where you need to see them. This album caters to the working man by being unsophisticated and honest, and even if it isn’t always what you want it to be, it never pretends to be something it isn’t. Holy Water will show you a good time and leave you with a hangover the next day, even if you didn’t drink. Check it out, it might just surprise the hell out of you.