God bless American Dog! For fifteen years, a bunch of blue-collar working stiffs from Columbus, Ohio have been churning out their brand of greasy, grimy redneck metal, and doing it all themselves. You gotta respect a band with American Dog's tenacity, toiling away in obscurity while other, much lesser bands soak up the major-label success. Oh yeah, and the tunes are consistently great, too!
For their seventh full-length album, Neanderthal, the guys find room at the pound for another canine compadre, guitarist Vinnie Salvatore. After existing as a trio for so long, and with Steve Theado's guitar tone being so thick and beefy, you almost wonder what they need with a second guitarist, or if you'd even be able to tell. On listening to the record, you can tell all right, even though Salvatore's style matches the band perfectly. There's lots of left-channel/right-channel interplay that you just didn't hear when Theado was handling all the guitar duties. Otherwise, the band's sound has remained essentially the same: a thick, gloopy stew of '70's metal influences, with a few dashes of dirty punk and psychobilly. Throw Motorhead, Ted Nugent, Molly Hatchet and Thin Lizzy in a barrel, and mash it all up with the Supersuckers and Nashville Pussy, and you get American Dog. And we wouldn't have it any other way.
There are no real surprises on Neanderthal beyond the extra guitars, but the quality of the songs is better than on their somewhat-average last album, 2012's Poison Smile. "Carnivore" stomps right out of the gate with a heavy guitar grind and Michael Hannon's best bass sound yet. This isn't the band's fastest album, as much of the record follows suit in a similar mid-paced thump. But there is, as always, some amped-up boogie, a couple punk blasts reminiscent of the band's first two albums, one and a half slow blues numbers, a cover tune, and a drinking song. Everything you want from American Dog, all bases expertly covered. This time out, the cover is of Ted Nugent's "Dog Eat Dog." The band puts their own stamp on it, and it feels completely at home among their own songs, but really, the original is so nasty to begin with, what more could you add to it? 2014's addition to the band's repertoire of songs in praise of alcohol is the low-down, countrified sneer of "We Ain't Gonna Not Get Drunk Tonight." George Thorogood would be proud.
The band's performance is, as usual, top-notch. Enough can't be said about Steve Theado's effortless, unpretentious shredding and instantly-recognizable tone, and Vinnie Salvatore fits right in. Hannon's bass-playing rumbles throughout, and his bouncy string-popping elevates a song like "Stuck In The Mud," one of the faster songs that I usually find to be American Dog's least interesting. His vocals are still the snarly mess they've always been, but that's part of the band's ragged charm from the beginning, and his attempts at real singing get better with each album. Relatively new drummer Michael "Hazard" Harris is a monster on the kit, easily filling the shoes of his predecessor, Keith Pickens, as spotlighted on the long jam at the end of "Sun Won't Shine."
PITRIFF RATING - 90/100 - Neanderthal is one of the band's bluesier releases, but also one of its heavier ones. I would put it close in line behind 2007's Hard and 2009's Mean in a ranking of their best albums. It's the same old reassuring bag of tricks from American Dog. They're all tricks the band does very well, and the disc's relative brevity, at just ten songs, keeps things varied and interesting. And one of the things the band does best is making the working-class existence, lived in dive bars after shitty jobs and where the rewards don't extend much beyond getting drunk and chasing questionable women, actually seem FUN.