Friday, August 17, 2018

Album Review: Mob Rules - Beast Reborn

Sometimes a band drifts in a direction, or does something specifically, that makes you scratch your head. That happened to me with the previous Mob Rules album, where they went from power metal stalwarts to being almost a clone of later Iron Maiden. I didn't mind that, since I like that era of Maiden quite a bit, and the songs Mob Rules came up with were pretty good. But in the time since then, I haven't gone back to that record at all, because if I want to hear something that sounds like Maiden, I'll just listen to Maiden. Their shift in that direction sapped their own identity away, and I'm not sure how they wound up cloning someone else, since they have been around for long enough to have figured themselves out. Anyway, a new album could change that up, or it could continue them down that path. Let's find out.

After the obligatory intro, the record starts off with "Ghost Of A Chance", which has hints of Maiden again in the guitars, especially the harmonies, but retains more of Mob Rules' own identity. They're able to fuse some of those classic guitar parts with a chorus that is bigger and hookier than what they would come up with if they were pulling too heavily from the playbook.

Thankfully, they are able to stick to their own guns through most of the record. There are moments here and there when the guitar runs are a bit too obvious where they got their inspiration, but largely the band sounds like themselves again. There's a hint of pompous, symphonic flair to the tracks, as they try to make the choruses sound as grand and epic as they possibly can. There are times when that works exceedingly well, and other times when they might be trying a hair too hard.

Ironically, it's in the tracks with the heaviest Maiden influence that the music hits hardest. Those are the songs where they hit on something more interesting than the traditional power metal instrumentation. When they can combine that with a bigger chorus, that is when they are at their best. There are some of those moments on this record, but maybe not quite as many as I would have hoped for.

What is a bit difficult about this record is that it makes me of two minds; on the one hand, I want to commend the band on making a solid record that is much more their own this time out, but on the other hand, I want to say the previous album was a better overall effort. I'm not sure what it means for me to be saying an album I thought was a bit too heavy-handed with its influence was a better one than this effort. I wouldn't read to much into it, since I can't tell if I'm intending anything other than the obvious comparison.

So, "Beast Reborn" is a solid Mob Rules album. It sounds more like the band used to than when we last heard them, which is probably a good thing, even if they have to take a slight step back before they can move forward again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Album Review: Lola Black - Nothing's Gonna Be Alright

I'm not sure what the word 'buzz' means anymore. As I was reading the preamble to this album, I was informed about the growing profile of Lola Black, and the buzz she has been generating. Granted, I am not plugged into the mainstream of rock where I catch everything, but I had never heard her name, which leaves me wondering just what level of attention is enough to start bragging about. I know PR departments need to do what they need to do, but at some point we begin to tune out when the claims become too outrageous. I laugh when I get a press release about a 'legendary' band who never sold more than a handful of records, and while this isn't that bad, it shares the exaggeration.

On to the record. Lola Black is making her first big swing with this record, teaming up with well-known producer Bob Marlette for an album of slick and modern rock that fits in perfectly with where the charts are right now. The opening title track is the first single, and it draws you in to wanting to hear what else Lola is going to have to offer. With verses that dip into electronic atmospheres, you might get complacent, but then the chorus has a punch and a big hook that are pure radio rock. Lola's voice is strong and clear, and she has plenty of personality to carry the proceedings.

She follows that up with "How To Say Goodbye", which isn't fully a ballad, but is a softer-tinged approach that relies heavier on the emotions Lola can pull out of the melody. It's a beautiful track, and I love seeing rock artist who aren't tricked into believing they have to be heavy and 'tough' all the time. The genre can be so much more than that, and it works very well for an artist like Lola to embrace the entire spectrum of what rock can be.

A couple months ago, Letters From The Fire released a new album, and that brings a comparison to mind. While that band leaned more into the punk and aggressive sides of modern rock, what Lola Black is doing with this record is more in line with that band's first album, which is one that I have grown to love. Filling the void that Letters From The Fire created is exactly what modern rock needs. There is often a dearth of true hooks and emotional resonance in the genre, so hearing Lola Black give us both is a refreshing experience.

Another great track is "All In", which is a good metaphor. I don't know if Lola has indeed gone 'all in' with this record, but if she has the bet has clearly paid off. "Nothing's Gonna Be Alright" is a great mainstream rock album in a time when those are hard to come by. Some people might complain it isn't always heavy enough, but that misses the point. If everything is heavy, it fades into noise. What we get here is a well-balanced album that does exactly what it's supposed to.

The only problem is how the record finishes, with a cover of The Weeknd's "Starboy". It is so completely out of place on an album like this, and it pisses me off. Not only does it stand out because of the rapping feature, but I would be embarrassed to be listening to it when the racial language in the song starts to appear. It's something I want no part of. Thankfully, the song is last so it's easier to skip, but I still don't want a record where I have to remember to hit the 'stop' button so I don't get angry.

Lola Black is saying "nothing's gonna be alright", but I don't agree. With this album, we're mostly on the right track, and it sounds like everything will work out just fine.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Album Review: Doro - Forever Warriors/Forever United

When Doro first made her appearance on the scene, she was a rarity; a woman front and center in heavy metal. The culture has evolved over the years for the better, and it is no longer highly of note when a band has less y chromosomes than members. Everyone in metal now, whether they know the history or not, owes a debt of gratitude to Doro for helping to open the door and make it acceptable for women to show that they can rock. But, paying our respects doesn't mean giving someone a free pass, and for all the good Doro has done, she also has more than her share of underwhelming music.

That was made all too clear when "All For Metal" was released as the first single from these two records. It was a song written for the sake of the video potential, a brag track that touts how metal Doro has always been. There were two major problems with it. 1) Anytime you have to tell people you're metal, it sort of makes the case you really aren't, and 2) The song wasn't metal! There was barely a guitar to be heard in the track. It was a complete farce to release a non-rocking song to tell people how your life is dedicated to rocking. I felt sorry for her after listening to that song. But we soldier on.

With two albums to digest, Doro is trying our patience. While I'm not a fan of the two releases spaced out by a couple of months trick, I'm also not a fan of two albums being dumped on us at the same time. It's really too much music to take in at once. I can't say with any certainty it does, but I imagine my opinion of these releases may very well subtract a few points because of this.

The records are not helped by a sub-standard production job. "Forever United" opens with "Resistance", where the guitars are so far back in the mix they are hard to hear, then goes to "Lift Me Up", where the chorus is overwhelmed by guitars that sound like they were pushed so far up they are clipping. Surely, after three decades in music, Doro should have a better handle on the music than to allow a producer to hamper her in this way. It can be difficult to get a shiny, slick mix that highlights everything, but getting a rough balance isn't hard at all. This production isn't good enough, sorry.

All of that is a shame, because Doro has charm. On softer numbers like "Lift Me Up" and "It Cuts So Deep", she delivers sultry vocals that stand out from what you usually hear, and make the songs rather compelling. They are, sadly, the minority here. We get eighty minutes of music across nineteen songs, and if I was pressed to say, there might barely be one full album of quality material here. Between the tepid rockers, the non-melodic ballads, and the inclusion of some truly awful gargling vocals on "If I Can't Have You - No One Will", these records are filled with bad ideas.

Truly, I don't know why Doro felt the need to release two records right now. There is no way to say both of these albums are good enough to warrant not cutting a bunch of songs from the run-time. If the best songs made up one forty minute record, it would be a fine enough Doro record to give it a passing grade. But trying to get through both of these records is a chore, and someone along the line was supposed to realize that. I hate to say it, but Doro got let down here by everyone, including herself. These records, combined, are simply not good enough.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Album Review: Van Canto - Trust In Rust

We use the word 'gimmick' as a pejorative, when we really shouldn't. Gimmicks are easy ways to stand apart, and not necessarily something to be ashamed of. Ghost is the foremost gimmick band out there right now, but does their image and the rotating 'cast' of singers who have fronted them have any impact on the music? Of course not. Music is music, regardless of what else is going on around it. So the fact that Van Canto was able to find an untapped niche should not be considered a point to ding them on. Whether you like what they do or not, chances are if you've heard them you can't forget who they are. That's the whole point.

Van Canto's gimmick, for the uninitiated, is that they are a heavy metal band whose only musician is a drummer. All of the guitars and bass are provided by the singers, who stand in for the instruments. It's the sort of thing that sound like it couldn't possibly work, and yet they have a way of pulling it off (sometimes) in a way that makes you forget what you're listening to. They do not, however, always make great records. While they are great at doing what they do, songwriting is a different skill, one they sometimes struggle with.

The opening track "Back In The Lead", explicitly welcomes us back to the show, and immediately runs into trouble. Some of the lead vocals are mixed too low, muffling them. Plus, the lyrics are in that line where they tell us how they are going to rock us. I've said it for years, and I'll say it for years ahead; if you have to tell me you rock, you don't.

Furthermore, some of the lead vocals are weaker than I remember. One voice, in particular, is so rough around the edges he sounds like he has damaged vocal cords. It's a bit uncomfortable to listen to, given how often he is put to the forefront. It is also harder to overlook the vocals flaws, because the songs themselves don't give us a lot to sink our teeth into other than those vocals. The main melodies to the songs are rather flat and weak, with none of them sticking out as a memorable hook. The imitated riffs don't have a lot to them either, mostly trying to chug like the most generic parts of power metal.

This isn't my first foray into Van Canto's wacky metal world, but I don't remember my past experiences being this disappointing. I don't know if the band is going through a slump, but there's something about this album that is lacking a spark of energy. It is supposed to be a power metal record, but it is a chore to get through. The songs slog their way through, and there isn't anything particularly fun or enjoyable to listening to them. It's quite a disappointing listen, really.

I want to like Van canto, I really do. I find their gimmick entertaining, and I've heard them pull it off before in ways that are startlingly effective. This record, however, is not that. This is them going through the motions, without the songs to back up their gimmick. That word only becomes an insult when it's all a band has to offer. If you have the songs, you're colorful. If you don't, you're tricking us. Sadly, this album is closer to the latter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Album Review: King Company - Queen Of Hearts

I'll be honest with you; with the amount of melodic rock records I get to hear, there's a point at which everything but the very best records blend together into a haze. It's not the fault of the bands, but like a sponge getting drenched, a mind can only hold so much music before it needs to be wrung out. I remember King Company from their debut album, in part because Pasi from Thunderstone was the singer, and I remember thinking it was a very solid record. I also, though, don't remember a single song from it anymore. That's what happens when there are at least five melodic rock albums every month coming out, all playing within the same range of sound. You can't remember everything vividly.

For album number two, the group is different, as Pasi was having vocal issues, resulting in a new singer handling this material. Those sorts of changes are never easy to handle, especially when a group is just trying to get themselves started. They haven't established an identity yet, and it's already changing.

It takes a bit of time to figure out what Leonard Guillan sounds like, as the vocals through much of the opening title track sound like there are multiple filters and effects on his voice, which gives them an alien feeling I can't say I'm fond of. He sits uncomfortably in the mix, where a drier recording would have more bite to it, and would be a more respectful way of showing how well he can sing. In time, he is revealed to be a fine singer, albeit he has the slight misfortune to sound similar to Ronnie Romero, who frequent readers might know I have been complaining about with regularity, given how often I have had to review his various projects these last couple of years. While Leonard is good, he has a tone I'm simply tired of.

But let's get down to business and talk about the music. As I remember from their first album, King Company is indeed a very capable melodic rock band. They are heavy enough to not be AOR, but melodic enough they don't fall into that 80s 'songwriting doesn't matter' style. They fit right in the sweet spot, where there is enough balance that both everyone and no one can complain about what they do. Couple that with a knack for writing solid hooks, and that leaves us with an album that is right in line with their first one, and sits comfortably among the solid melodic rock records this year has already given us.

"Stars" is the highlight of the record, to my ears. It is the most obvious throwback to the 80s, with a synth leading the main riff, while the pianos and big hook make for a delicious combination. The bar has been set by W.E.T., and this song matches their best efforts. The rest of the album can't match that lofty height, but it seldom dips from being a good record. I will say, though, that I can't help but think it would have come across a bit better if Pasi had been able to sing well enough to record these songs. His voice simply has something more 'it' than Leonard does.

So overall, King Company takes their second step towards establishing who they are, and it leads them in the right direction. There are tweaks here and there to how the recording was put together that can be made, but their songwriting has certainly stepped up since the first record. I can say this is easily a better record than that one, which again, I liked when it came out. However, there's so much competition I can't say if this is a record that will stick with me down the line, but it's a good record for the here and now.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Album Review: Primal Fear - Apocalypse

When Primal Fear started, there was a need for their existence. Judas Priest was falling off a cliff, and Ralph Scheepers used the notoriety from his audition to start a band to fill the void of classic Priest. For most of the last twenty years, there has been plenty of room for both bands, because the bigger name was wallowing in late-career ennui. But now that they have roared back to form with an album that most are calling their best since "Painkiller" (to me one of the most overrated albums of all time), what is the point of Primal Fear? Do we still need a copy when the original is in good shape?

The other thing regarding Primal Fear is that, other than one album where they ventured very slightly outside their comfort zone, every album delivers exactly the same thing. We get pounding traditional heavy metal with soaring vocals... exactly like people remember from Judas Priest. It is consistency for the fans, but tedious for those of us who never thought Maiden vs Priest was even a discussion. Frankly, after having gone through the last three or four Primal Fear albums in this role, I'm desperate to be surprised by the band.

Unfortunately, they aren't capable of delivering what I was looking for. The album kicks off with a string of songs that pound and blister, while Scheepers wails away. His voice has always sounded a bit odd to me, and when he strains to sound as heavy as the band wants to be, it gets worse. "The Ritual" is where they fall into the abyss, with a plodding riff that isn't particularly interesting, and the chorus is Scheepers struggling to make a flat and boring melody sound tough. It doesn't, and it comes across as complete filler.

If they could stick to material like "King Of Madness", there is plenty of potential to do good work. That song, which was a single, establishes a groove and has one of the most melodic choruses on the record. It still isn't what I would classify as 'hooky', but the sound is refreshing after the first two tracks offer nothing but stereotypical metal.

Then we get "Blood Sweat & Fear", which is the most blatant Priest song on an album of them. It's of similar quality to "Firepower", but it does the exact same thing, which makes it harder to take Primal Fear seriously. Two decades into their run, we still can't listen to one of their records without the comparison hitting us in the face like a bug splattering on a windshield. Frankly, I find it a bit sad they have never established their own identity.

There are hints of what could be in "Supernova", where some strings and extra guitar harmonies make their sound bigger and more lush. That is the same divergence I mentioned earlier that they tried during their "Seven Seals" phase. I enjoyed those twists, and I like them here too. But when we only get one of them on a record, it's a false tease that makes the rest of the pastiche harder to swallow.

So what we wind up with is another mixed bag album, which is what you get from a band with several distinctive songwriters all contributing. In addition to the aforementioned good tracks, there is also "Hounds Of Justice" delivering quality melodic heavy metal, but there is half of the record which is tired and dull, and doesn't play at all to Scheepers ability to sing. Ever since Rob Halford started shrieking in place of singing a real melody, metal bands have been following suit, to painful results. Primal Fear has never been able to resist that urge, and it hurts them.

"Apocalypse" is a Primal Fear album as they all are; flawed. The band has the potential to do great things, and if you love Judas Priest like gods, they already do. But for the rest of us, they fall into the same category that Greta Van Fleet does in the mainstream now; a copy that claims not to be a copy, when we all know they're a copy. And good as they might be at recreating a sound, that is always less interesting than being original.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Album Review: The Temperance Movement - A Deeper Cut

One of the genres I've never gotten much into is southern rock. Both sonically and culturally, there is something about the music I have never been able to connect with. Every so often a band comes along that makes me think I can change that, but it never seems to last. The last time that happened was with Blackberry Smoke's album "The Whippoorwill". I had encountered them briefly, and so gave that album a chance. It was largely enjoyable, and I certainly liked their sound, but they quickly fizzled for me, with their subsequent work making no impact at all.

I say that because this new album from The Temperance Movement sounds quite a bit like Blackberry Smoke. They have tapped into the blues roots of American southern rock, which is funny, as the band is British. You could try to say they are bluesy in the way The Rolling Stones were, but I hear so much of the American south in their sound that I don't think it would be an accurate claim. And since this is an album made in the aftermath of a lapse of sobriety, the southern connections ring even louder (what is that genre if not about drinking?).

I started my preface talking about my distance from this style, in part to make it clear what The Temperance Movement has done here. This is not music I am naturally drawn to loving, and yet I find this record to be engaging and enjoyable in a way that old-school rock sometimes struggles to be. There are two tracks these bands can take. One is to be like Graveyard, and use the weight and power of the blues to propel their rock and roll. The other is to lean into emotion and try to add plaintive melody into the mix. That's the approach The Temperance Movement has taken, and it pays off in spades.

"A Deeper Cut" is an album of bluesy vintage rock and roll, but we seldom hear it (new or old) with so many lush melodies carrying the songs. This is less an album of big bluesy riffs than it is a songwriter's album. You get the swagger of rock and roll, the gritty power that comes from that old-school Marshall sound, but you also get beautiful moments of melody that classic rock never offered up. Mick Jagger might have had charisma (I don't see it, but everyone else does), but no Stones songs I've ever heard were constructed like this, nor do I think he could have sung them.

It's odd how we associate certain sounds with places, and become amazed when the geography doesn't match our ears. The Temperance Movement doesn't sound like a British band at all, but I think that's one of the things that makes this album work. They are filtering their perspective through the sound of someone else, which gives a different take on it than from those you would expect. As outsiders, they can bring something new.

Maybe the people who grew up loving Lynyrd Skynyrd would find sacrilege to the changes made to the sound, but I find The Temperance Movement to be refreshing. "A Deeper Cut" is the kind of album that works across genres and borders. They've done a damn good job with this one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Album Review: Nookie - Exceptions

In all the years I've been writing about music, I have covered just about everything. I've reviewed the spectrum from pop to black metal, from mainstream rock to jazzy instrumentals. But sitting down to write about this record, I believe it's the first time I've ever covered a record in another language, where whether or not I can make them out, I can't connect whatsoever to the lyrics. Considering that I'm both a writer and a songwriter, it's an odd distance to have between myself and the music. While there are many, especially in the metal world, who write off lyrics as being completely unimportant, I am not one of them. The message of a song can certainly detract from what might otherwise be a good composition. It happens all the time, so it's odd thinking these songs could be something I would hate, if I understood them.

Nookie is a Russian alternative singer, and leaving geopolitics behind, has an album that sounds a lot like the Western alternative female-fronted scene, just with Cyrillic syllables in the melodies. Her voice sits in that comfortable zone between pop and punk, where she has enough of a shout to it that the music comes across as aggressive, but she's able to keep enough melody when it's time for a hook. Hers is a style like a rougher version of early Paramore.

The upside of the record is Nookie herself. Even with the language barrier, she has a charisma that carries into the music where I can feel what she's going for. She's energetic, angry, and easily the selling point of the whole experience.

The downside of the record is, as I thought it might be, the fact that I can't connect to the music on more than a glossy surface level. Simply trying to talk about what songs work the best is difficult, as the language forms strings of letters I struggle to make sense of. Conveying thoughts about things that aren't anchored to my own reality is one of those philosophical puzzles that isn't easy to solve. So rather than pick out songs to highlight little things, let's stick with overall impressions.

"Exceptions" is fascinating for what it teaches me. It is a record firmly in a style I have a soft spot for, but the language barrier makes it impossible for me to say how much I do or don't like it. I relate to songs both melodically and lyrically (trust me, plenty of songs have been ruined by posturing about how much someone rocks, parties, or drinks), and half of the experience has been removed here. I like what I do hear, but I'm missing the human connection. It's part of the reason I've rarely enjoyed extreme metal. I like the poetry of music, and it's missing here.

That said, "Exceptions" is a solid record for the style, and it's an interesting thought experiement for me. I don't know if you will get the same thing out of it, but at least for the sake of opening my eyes, it was worth listening to.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Singles Roundup: Elvis Costello, Pale Waves, Blues Traveler, & Greta Van Fleet

We are currently in the summer doldrums, where the release schedule is pretty sparse as far as big releases to look forward to, but the fall has a lot of potentially huge albums (for me) lined up. Let's take a look at the new singles from three of them, plus the one that will be the biggest thing in rock.

Elvis Costello - Under Lime, Unwanted Number

Few musicians have been as important to me as Elvis Costello, who not only occupies a lot of space in my collection, but who taught me many valuable lessons about songwriting. He is preparing for his first 'traditional' Elvis Costello album in a decade, and these two songs show that he's..... once again playing with genre. These songs are hinting at an album like "Imperial Bedroom", where there is all manner of details and orchestrations being bolted to the songs, creating a sonic quilt. These are both solid songs that recall that era, but I think the melodies could have used some more of the time spent on the arrangements. These songs sound more like altered "Momofuku" (a good album, by the way) than a full-on return to the past. They are interesting, and curious.

Pale Waves - Eighteen, Noises

I don't listen to a lot of what gets classified as pop anymore, but Pale Waves has caught my attention, and this album is one of my most anticipated for the rest of the year. These new songs are the forth and fifth from the record to be heard, and they continue to do exactly what I would have expected. On their own, they are very solid and slyly catchy depressive pop songs. The only concern is that so far everything they have released sounds remarkably similar, so will a fourteen song album be too much of one thing? Maybe, but for now, they haven't hit the saturation point yet. Pale Waves is delivering great pop nuggets, and they do so again here.

Blues Traveler - Accelerated Nation

I'm still not sure what I make of Blues Traveler's last album, which was a collaborative effort between them and a host of pop musicians. It was interesting, but something I rarely return to, because it doesn't feel or sound much like them. The first single for their new album returns us squarely to where they were before that experiment. This song continues the band's fascination with pop music, continuing in the mold that was first started with "Truth Be Told". This one is a good effort, falling somewhere in between "Most Precarious" and "You Don't Have To Love Me". I have a feeling it won't represent the album as a whole, but it's a reassuring way to be introduced to the next chapter.

Greta Van Fleet - When The Curtain Falls

And now the big one. The entire rock world will be flipping out, one way or the other, when their first album finally drops, but we got the first taste of it. And..... it still sounds like Led f'n Zeppelin. I wrote about their similarities last week, so let's focus on this song instead. Yes, the guitar tone and vocals still sound exactly like Page and Plant, but they also manage to write a song that infuses more melody than their influence usually did. That's what makes them so puzzling to me. They write songs I like as much if not more than most Zeppelin, but it comes with so much baggage it's hard to enjoy. That is also the case here. By staying so far inside the box, the band hasn't let the light shine on them.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Album Review: Halestorm - Vicious

Here's the thing about Halestorm; they are a mediocre band who happen to be graced by one of the best rock vocalists in the world. Lzzy Hale is an utterly remarkable talent as a singer, but she and her band have so far failed to prove themselves capable as a rock band. Their first two albums are great ("The Strange Case Of..." shared Album Of The Year honors from me), but that's due to the army of outside songwriters who contributed to them. Those hit-makers gave the band a melodic sheen that let them be a perfect balance between pop and rock, between beauty and the beast. When they went on their own for album number three, we saw in full effect they didn't have the writing chops to keep it up, instead writing flabby riffs and relying on Lzzy's power to carry them through. Even she couldn't lift that record up past mediocrity.

I completely understand why they have taken the course they have. The band is big enough now that they can sell records and concert tickets on their name alone. They don't need to release anything to prove themselves anymore. Halestorm is a brand, and it will take a long time before that stops being enough. In the meantime, why would they give up a large percentage of the publishing to their songs if they don't have to? From a business perspective, it makes complete sense for them to keep everything in house, whether the results are good enough or not. Music is a business, and for Halestorm business is good.

That brings us to their second effort mostly on their own. My expectations were set rather low, given that narrative leading in to the record. The first single released, "Uncomfortable", didn't make me feel any better. It's a rough and tumble song that is short on melody, doesn't capture much through the riffs, and leaves Lzzy being too blunt for her own good. "Black Vultures", though, started to get my mind turning. That's a song that is slightly darker, a bit slower, and finally sees Halestorm figuring out how to write their own music without falling into cliche. For once, I thought there was hope for "Vicious".

But hope is dangerous. As soon as you get teased with something beautiful, you get a song like "Do Not Disturb", which goes down as one of the most uncomfortable Halestorm songs yet. It's a slow burn that never ignites, devoid of a riff or melody to create a spark, and finished off with lyrics where Lzzy talks about kinky sex in a hotel room, complete with the painful lyric about wondering what her partner's accent sounds like when they cum. There is sexy, and there is crude. This falls on the latter side.

Lzzy may not be a very good lyricist, but she has upped her game on this record, as the remainder of the album is worlds better than their last outing, and is a pretty good facsimile of "The Strange Case Of...". The guitars are too dark without any top end, and they settle a few too many times into Nickelback grooves, but Lzzy manages to steer things in the right direction more often than not. Songs like "White Dress" and "Vicious" rock with catchy melodies, while the ballads "Heart Of Novocaine" and "The Silence" continue their tradition of writing very strong softer moments.

I knew we weren't going to get a record with the polish of their early days, but my pessimism turns out to be unfounded. It took Halestorm a record under their belts before they were able to stand on their own, but they have found their own voice now. Their messaging could use a bit more poetry to it, but they are developing as songwriters on their own, and are clearly growing as we move forward. That is the most encouraging sign I could see, given what my cynical nature was thinking. Halestorm is not resting on their laurels whatsoever. We might disagree on exactly what the right path to take is, but we're headed in the same direction now.

"Vicious", once you get past the singles and the blunt talk, is a record that has a lot to offer. I was rooting for the band to pull this off, because Lzzy is someone I can't help but love. She's done us proud enough this time. I'm happy with "Vicious", which I didn't think I was going to say when I started writing about this record.