From whammy bar magic to explosive riffs with true grit: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Nova Twins' Amy Love
Nova Twins' Amy Love (Image credit: Fender)

The days might be getting shorter, but our weekly list of unmissable guitar-driven new releases sure isn’t. 

This week, we’ve got some whammy bar magic from none other than Limp Bizkit's Wes Borland, a nostalgic rocker from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, an anarchic genre-fusing bop from Nova Twins, another helping of tough dual-guitar magic from Smith/Kotzen, and a whole lot more.

So take a look, 2021 sure isn't done producing awesome new music yet.

Nova Twins – Antagonist

Hotly tipped by Tom Morello and featured artists in Fender’s recent Player Plus launch, Nova Twins are rapidly becoming one of the UK’s most exciting riff-rock exports.

Tracks like Antagonist are precisely why: not content with packing one of the biggest riffs of the year, it fuses punk aggression with nu-metal hooks and deft electronic touches for a molotov cocktail aimed at any modern guitar music that plays things a little too safe.

The duo’s pedalboards remain a closely guarded secret, so we may never know what exactly is producing the anarchic dirt that’s coating Amy Love’s serrated riffs here, but there’s more to Antagonist than pure grit. The attitude and energy are palpable, amplified to arena levels by a huge production. All of which seems appropriate given the duo’s recent signing to Marshall Records, surely the loudest record label on the planet. (MAB)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Heading West

Neil Young’s documented those who set out for a better life in distant lands in his songs before, from more than one perspective too. 

The reverence Young showed for the six gun-carrying Western Hero (from 1994’s Sleeps with Angels) stands alongside the earnest documentation of the atrocities of the Spanish conquistadors on Cortez the Killer, which – even if it’s not without its flaws – remains one of Young’s most towering achievements. 

The stakes aren’t anywhere near as high in Heading West, which tells the tale of Young’s own teenage journey West, to Winnipeg, Canada from Ontario after his parents’ divorce. Despite the fact that it’s well-trodden territory, or maybe because of it, the song – the second single from his upcoming album, Barn – will be as comforting and warm to Young fans as a warm cup of coffee on a clear, crisp fall Sunday morning.

For all of his many collaborations, there’s no greater home for Young’s gnarled, overdriven riffing than the ramshackle but always faithful accompaniment of Crazy Horse’s long-tenured rhythm section – bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina.

There are no extended lead guitar excursions here, no feedback-soaked left turns – heck, there isn’t even a solo to be found at all. Setting his loose, limber and deep-in-the-red rhythm work against Nils Lofgren’s saloon piano though, Young paints a picture that both bears the weight of decades of history, but is still completely timeless. It’s a skill that few other songwriters possess. (JM)

Smith/Kotzen – Better Days 

It’s only been eight months since Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith and The Winery Dogs’ Richie Kotzen joined forces for their scorching self-titled debut studio album, though the pair are already back with new music following the surprise announcement they’ll be releasing a four-track EP later this month.

Better Days – the effort’s title track – bursts out the gate with some infectious riffing, and soon gives way to a boatload of awe-inspiring fretboard navigation. Kotzen is on top form with his rapid-fire fingerpicking-driven runs, as is Smith, who offers up a monstrously melodic interlude around the halfway mark.

The pierce de resistance is undeniably the back-and-forth exchange that occurs between the two in the latter half of the track, with the guitarists going toe-to-toe with each other by way of some breathless licks and scale runs.

If Better Days has whetted your appetite, do not fear: the rest of the EP is only three weeks away. (MO)

Limp Bizkit – Out Of Style

It’s been 10 long years, but Limp Bizkit are back, and they’re back swinging. Out of Style – the opener of the nu-metal juggernaut’s new and totally inaccurately titled new album Still Sucks – contains possibly one of the greatest guitar riffs ever laid down on record by body paint-happy six-string slinger Wes Borland.

Upon frontman Fred Durst’s instruction to “hit it!”, the guitarist calls upon his tried and tested whammy bar skills for one of the most inventive electric guitar riffs we’ve heard in quite some time.

But reminding us that they’re also underrated masters of dynamics, the verse sections see drummer John Otto and bassist Sam Rivers drop out of the mix temporarily, making way for a series of crystalline-sounding clean guitar licks to set the stage for the chaotic riff’s reprise a few seconds later. What a return for one of nu-metal’s biggest names. (SR)

Porcupine Tree – Harridan

Given Steven Wilson’s assertion that “rock music – particularly the guitar – hasn’t really managed to reinvent itself” at the start of the year, the last thing we expected was new Porcupine Tree material to close out 2021.

Floydian in its progressive scope, Harridan is the first new material from the band in 12 years, and it sounds as if they haven’t skipped a beat.

While Wilson’s clean electric and acoustic rhythms take a more textural role for the song’s first half, he drops a colossal, almost boneheaded pentatonic riff partway through, contrasted with heavily effected electrics.

There are some beautiful phased lines, and an emotive acoustic outro to see out the eight-minute run time, which leaves no sonic tone left unturned. All told, it’s a breathtaking comeback. (MAB)

Hana Vu – Gutter

LA-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Hana Vu is set to release Public Storage – her latest album, and first for Ghostly International Records – tomorrow, November 5.

The album’s final single is Gutter, a serrated, magical piece of guitar-pop that glides blissfully thanks to the force of multiple orchestras – an orchestra of guitars and, well, a regular old orchestra.

The riffs and bend-heavy leads toward the song’s end are brawny, chiseled and refined, and stand in perfect contrast to the dissonant buzz of guitar feedback that hums omnipresently for the song’s full duration.

A lot of folks, including us, are already starting to assemble their best-of-2021 lists. Something tells us we’ll need to leave some room for Public Storage after we hear it tomorrow. (JM)

Ad Infinitum – Inferno

Symphonic metallers Ad Infinitum last week released their second full-length album, Chapter II – Legacy, and its third track, Inferno, plays host to some immense guitar work from Adrian Thessenvitz. From the delicate acoustic guitar arpeggios of the intro to the djenty electric guitar riffs to the slide-driven solos, Thessenvitz here establishes himself as a guitarist to watch in the symphonic metal scene.

He explains: “That's what I love about Ad Infinitum's second album in general: We combined all our strengths, the sounds we like and our favorite genres. And this song is, from a guitarist's point of view, the most versatile and most interesting tune.” (SR)

 Kris Barras Band – My Parade 

Kris Barras and his band recently announced their fourth studio album, Death Valley Paradise, and shared their first new music since 2019’s Light It Up in the form of My Parade – a four-minute thrill ride that is equal parts sway-inducing guitar work and infectious oversized vocal hooks.

It’s a no-frills, rock ‘n’ roll-fueled “call-to-arms” for which Barras has employed an entirely new rhythm section featuring drummer Billy Hammett and bassist Kelpie Mackenzie, who have helped contribute to the band’s “heavier and more angsty” sonic direction. 

With all the infectious aggression and authoritative playing you’d expect from a former cage fighter, Barras serves up a tantalizing teaser of the upcoming album, which he assembled after the pandemic pushed him to the point of “anything goes”. 

There are some storming powerchords, swampy licks, wailing bends and just about everything you’d want from a motivational get-up-and-go anthem. A worthy addition to any pre-weekend playlist. (MO)

Venom Prison – Judges of the Underworld

Rapidly ascending UK quintet Venom Prison have just released Judges of the Underworld, the cacophonous debut single from their forthcoming fourth studio album, Erebos.

A metalcore masterclass, the track sees guitarists Ash Gray and Ben Thomas serve up a clutch of rapid-fire alternate picked riffs and squealing pinch harmonics, which underpin the frenetic drum work of Joe Bills and guttural vocals of frontwoman Larissa Stupar.

There's also a killer dueling guitar moment at the 2:47 mark, which introduces a refreshing sense of melody to what's an otherwise crushing mosh pit spinner. Whether you're a fan of astonishingly heavy breakdowns or guitar solos, this track has something for you. (SR)

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Sam Roche

Sam was Staff Writer at from 2019 to 2023, and also created content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.