Monday, January 4, 2016

Album Review: Forever Still - Tied Down

Let's be honest for a moment; mainstream rock is usually flaccid and boring, because it's meant for the mainstream. That word does carry with it connotations of the lowest common denominator, and the vast majority of bands that aim for that kind of success are more than happy to live down to the reputation. That makes it that much sweeter when we find bands that are making music that can appeal to the masses, but still contains an artistic heart. It might be difficult, but mainstream music can surely be enjoyable as more than background music, if the musicians know what they're doing.

I had that feeling last year, when I listened to the most recent EP from the Danish band Forever Still. Led by the stirring vocals of Maja Shining, those songs were a small dose of music that was all that's good with mainstream rock. I went back and listened to their earlier EPs, and found that with the songs they've been putting out, there was the core of a good album waiting to get greater exposure. That message has been received, as those EPs are gathered together, and augmented with a couple new tracks to make "Tied Down", the conceptual debut album that lives up to my expectations.

The first six tracks are the "Scars" and "Save Me" EPs, presented in order. If you've listened to those EPs already, you already know and enjoy these songs. If you haven't, what you get are six tracks that show the varied facets that Forever Still is able to present through their music. You get "Scars", which opens the album with a stomping riff, the occasional scream to pump up the angst, and a chorus that shows Maja's plentiful vocal talents. There's moodier fare in "Miss Madness" which features somber pianos through the verses, but comes back to basics with one of Maja's rousing choruses.

We repeat the process over the next few songs, with the energetic "Awake The Fire" positioning itself to be a live favorite, "Breathe In" dipping a toe into electronic waters to balance the heavier riffs, and "Save Me" once again stirring up emotion with a slower pace and darker theme. These are all quality tracks that only suffer from the fact that I've already been listening to them. The quasi-ballads are my favorite tracks here, and they're still just as effective as the first time I heard them, and Maja's voice resonates just as hard.

The material that's new for the album closes out the track listing. "Your Light" is another solid rocker, but there's more interesting fare ahead. "Alone" marries a deep and heavy riff with hints of keyboards and electronics adding texture, which makes Maja's massive chorus hit even harder. By playing with the dynamics just a bit, they do an excellent job of manipulating the song for its greatest impact.

I don't want to short-change the rest of the band, who do a commendable job with their instruments, but this variety of music is centered on the vocal delivery, which makes Maja the main reason the album succeeds. Her voice is phenomenal, able to be harsh, powerful, or tender and emotional depending on what the song calls for. Coupled with her ability to craft melodies that fit her voice, and capture your attention, she is the unquestioned star of the album.

"Tied Down" only has one real flaw; its length. These ten tracks are all very good, but they add up to a quick thirty-five minutes. I do admire that they're careful not to give us a record that wears out its welcome, I have to say I wouldn't mind an extra song to push it a few minutes longer. This is also one of the rare cases where I'm not bothered by the usual dark tone of the guitars, because it fits the album's theme of exploring life's darker moments. It fits together properly.

It's hard to make grand pronouncements at the start of a year, and I'm not going to try to assess where this album is going to sit come the end of the year. What I can say is that Forever Still has gotten 2016 off to a rocking start, and "Tied Down" is the kind of debut album that raises expectations for the future. There's no reason, after hearing this record, that Forever Still can't be the next big thing.

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