Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Album Review: Lordi - Monstereophonic

It seems like it's been ages since Lordi bust onto the scene thanks to Eurovision, giving us that previously unbelievable sight of a hard rock band in full monster costume taking part in a pop song contest. When they came out, I was a full believer that they were going to make great headway, since "Hark Rock Hallelujah" was about as good a pop song as a rock band can write. Unfortunately, ever since then Lordi has struggled to live up to the hype. Their albums are inconsistent, and they haven't managed to score another song that blew up and captured rock fans they way they did right at the start. I think I completely lost track of their last two albums, since I don't even remember listening to them. But this time is supposed to be different, so I'm back to give them another chance.

The conceit this time is that we're getting a psuedo-double album. While it only clocks in at just over an hour, we have half of a record that is good ol' Lordi, while the back half is a conceptual suite of songs that stretches the band beyond their normal four minute routine. After all this time, there is a serious question to ask whether or not they're capable of making such a change.

Let's start with the traditional side of the record. Lordi's love of the 80s shines through on "Let's Go Slaughter He-Man", which features keyboards straight out of "Flashdance", as well as subject matter that will bring a nostalgic smile to people of a certain age (yes, I'm of that age). But what's better is that Lordi has recaptured their sing-along fun in a way I haven't heard in a while. Nothing they write will top their masterpiece of bubblegum rock, but Skeletor would rightly raise his horns to this track. It's a far better track than the actual single, "Hug You Hardcore", which has too much modern heaviness, and not enough of the campy fun Lordi needs in order for the joke to work.

The rest of these tracks fall into the category of being pleasantly bland. There's nothing wrong with any of them, but they lack the propulsive hooks that make a band like Lordi so much fun. "Mary Is Dead", in particular, never feels like it gets going at all. It's a song stuck in first gear, when it's begging for something bigger to come along. This half of the record reinforces the complaints I've had about Lordi all these years. They can write one or two great songs, but they rarely follow through with entire albums that deliver that quality.

The second half of the album is markedly different. "Demonarchy" announces this with a thrashy riff, more aggressive vocals, and even a guitar tone that is far harsher than what we had already heard. I don't think that was a good idea, as the more 'metallic' guitar sound here is scratchy and brittle, and doesn't sound any heavier than their normal sound. It just sounds more annoying.

These six tracks are certainly a new Lordi, one that is not confined by pop song constructions, one that is decidedly more modern in their sound. The campy 80s feeling is completely stripped away, which is interesting, and also questionable. The band's entire career has been spent working within that framework, so to so radically shift, in the middle of an album no less, is a jarring decision. I'm not sure what the make of it, but what I can say is that I think this half of the album is more successful in doing what it aims to. These songs aren't as concerned with being fun and catchy, which makes the job of songwriting that much easier. I don't know if "The Unholy Gathering" would have worked as a pop song, but in this context, the hook sounds like a massive metal hymnal.

What I'm a bit confused by is the decision to split the album like this. It sounds to me like the band wanted to try this new approach, but weren't fully committed to putting out an entire record they didn't know fans would accept. So rather than tack one single onto a concept album to keep people happy, they've given us this duality, which I'm not sure is successful. The two sides appeal to such different tastes (for a single band, I mean) that one is surely going to come out the victor by a large margin.

For me, the second half of this album reigns supreme by a substantial amount. That half of the record is not just good music, but it makes for an interesting change of pace from Lordi. I would have liked to hear an entire record committed to exploring that new style. Instead, we have the record as it currently exists, which I really don't know how to judge. It doesn't really hold together as one album, since everything about it is split down the middle. I'll certainly give a recommendation to the conceptual side, but the traditional Lordi material is a bit disappointing here. I don't know what the future holds for Lordi, but I would advise them to settle on one style or the other before making another record. This experiment leaves me as confused as entertained.

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