Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Album Review: Halestorm - Into The Wild Life
As you can guess by the title of this review, that band was Halestorm, and that record was "The Strange Case Of..." which was not only a record that blew me away as I listened to it that first time, but it is one that has continued to grow on me, to the point where it shared my award for Album Of The Year then, and has not faded in the slightest since. It is a collection of songs that has help up over the course of two and a half years as being nearly flawless. Needless to say, that raises the stakes for this new effort.
I knew from everything the band has been saying in interviews, and from the singles released before the record, that this was going to be a very different album. And it certainly is. What Halestorm has done this time around is strip down their sound, sanding away the polished gleam that made "The Strange Case Of..." a pop record, going all-in on being a raucous live rock and roll band.
That approach makes comparing this record to the previous ones pointless. This is a very different beast, so it should be judged on its own terms. As an out-and-out rock record, I have to say that I'm underwhelmed by what I'm hearing. There are moments that are just as good as anything from the first two records, but they aren't as common as I would like them to be. The decision to record as a live unit, and leave the sound more raw, is one that I think does the band a disservice. With fewer layers of guitars, the booming power the songs need isn't quite there.
Moreover, the problem lies in the songwriting. Lzzy has tempered down the pop hooks, but that only shows how valuable they were to begin with. Yes, songs like "Apocalyptic" and "Sick Individual" get caught in your head, but it takes many more listens before that happens, and even when it does, the hooks aren't quite as sharply embedded. The songs that are most focused on rocking, namely "Mayhem" and "I Like It Heavy", are so aggressive there is little melody at all, which makes them sound like loud excuses to get drunk, not actual songs.
The softer numbers are actually where the band excels. "Dear Daughter" shows that a piano might be Lzzy's most effective instrument, while "What Sober Couldn't Say" might be the best pure song they've ever written. When Halestorm focuses on writing a captivating hook, they are an amazing band. But when they decide they want to rock, and the pull back on their pop tendencies, we're reminded that their instrumental side is seldom very interesting. They don't write the kinds of riffs that demand your attention, so Lzzy's melodies need to carry the day. There just aren't enough great ones here.
I had high hopes for "Into The Wild Life", and I think that's a big factor to my disappointment. It's not that this is a bad record, because it isn't. It is good, but coming off what was one of the best records of the last five years, this one can't hold its own. I was expecting Halestorm to make a solid showing for Album Of The Year again, and even though it's April, "Into The Wild Life" is a back end of the Top Ten type of record. It's still worth listening to, but it won't change your life the way "The Strange Case Of..." could have.