"Wipe the powder from the nose, you know how that story goes." That's one of the more subtle moments on White Rhino's three-song opus, a cheerfully humid affair that doesn't wander too far off the beaten path for song subjects (drugs) or guitar tunings (drop D). The vibe may not be new, but the trio's surprisingly ecumenical take on hard rock leads to three winning songs, each of which draws upon multiple rhythms and influences and all of which are memorably distinct.
"Burn the Candle" tackles the Bo Diddley beat and forces it to submit with steady application of Josh Homme-derived guitar fuzz. "Heroin Thunder" begins as an amphetamine boogie and backs off the gas for a sludgy jam crossbreeding Soundgarden with a glam-rock ascending vocal. "Certain Death" qualifies as the EP's progressive epic. Here there's squalling slide guitars, then a driving Maiden drumbeat, a pure 70's chorus, a compound meter break that sounds like less technical Mastodon, then an acoustic interlude that wittily alludes to Jethro Tull. I'm not usually one to spend a lot of time spotting influences when I'm reviewing something, but for White Rhino, the ability to grasp and interpret what makes rock rock, regardless of its decade or country of origin, is the chief point in the band's favor. Purists they ain't; they mix some new ideas in with the obvious dusty starting points. And they have a level of humorous detachment too: When they riff on Motörhead, they sound more like one of Ween's numerous Lemmy salutes than the genuine article. They reference so much stuff, and they shuffle through styles so quickly. It's all linked together with a theme of life-lived-in-the-red that might not be monstrously imaginative, but they never seem like less than a vital original band.
Even though the recording fidelity leaves a lot to be desired, the songwriting on Heroin Thunder makes the band sound above-average. The guitars don't crunch as much as they could, and the drums are pretty clipped, but the musicians know their business. Sometimes you have to listen closely to pick out good ideas from a lo-fi recording, but not in this case: the strength and the variety of the riffing powers right through the murk, as do the well-composed bass and drums. The garbled sound of the vocals actually flatters the vocalists, although I think the band could stand to work a little harder on their lyrics. That small quibble aside, this is the most ass-kicking local hard rock band I've heard this year and I'm making plans to see White Rhino as soon as possible.