Thursday, September 21, 2017

Album Review: H.E.A.T. - Into The Great Unknown

I make no excuses for the fact that much of my favorite music has an unabashed love for pop melodies. Even when I'm listening to rock and metal, I prefer an approach that puts the emphasis on vocals, and especially with big, sticky hooks. There's nothing better in music, and I find that rock music that ignores this fact is a bit like putting handcuffs on yourself. In recent years, one of my favorite albums that hits all the right marks was H.E.A.T.'s "Tearing Down The Walls". It was the perfect balance of crunchy hard rock and catchy-as-all-hell hooks. It's an album I still listen to, and one where just reading through the track listing, I can hear the songs playing in my head. That's not something I can say all that often these days.

Now it's time for H.E.A.T. to return and try to follow that magnificent record, and they do so in slightly altered form. In the time since we last saw the band, they have lost their guitar player, and replaced him with a familiar face from the past. Does this make a difference?

Not on opener "Bastard Of Society". It's the same high-octane sugar rock that H.E.A.T. is known for. Crunching guitars, big harmonies, and a slick hook all combine for a track that delivers on all levels. Erik Gronwall continues to be a star, with a voice that is better than 90% of the melodic rock singers in the world. He's what made the last H.E.A.T. album so special.

Things change as soon as the second track, "Redefined". There's a different sound and energy to that song, a more laid-back 80s sound that isn't at all like the previous number. There's a solid melody running through the second half of the song, but it takes quite a while to get going, and it's so unlike what I was expecting that it was tricky to wrap my head around. Likewise, "Shit City" is a head-scratcher. The backing vocals give it a modern pop feeling, but it's the lyrics that have me frustrated. The band is better than writing material like that. It's too juvenile and simplistic for them. As listeners, we deserve better writing.

That modern pop feeling is what resonates throughout this album. If you listen to bands like Fun or Imagine Dragons, that's the influence running through these songs, and it's one that I can't say was a good choice. H.E.A.T. does that sound as well or better than those radio bands do, but it's a far cry from the sound they've previously been known for. In fact, the prevailing thought I have through this album is that it doesn't really rock much at all. While they were previously a band that was undeniably a rock band, now it's not so clear. There are still guitars, and loud ones at times, but the focus of the music has shifted towards feelings and rhythms, and away from riffs and chords. That alters the way the melodies are written, and because of that, they are far less engaging.

This simply isn't as heavy, melodic, or catchy an album as the last time we heard from H.E.A.T. There are little hints of that band, especially on "Blind Leads The Blind", but they are few and far between. I don't know if the change in guitarists was a cause or a correlation, but there has been a big shift in what kind of band H.E.A.T. is now, and I can't say I like it.

"Tearing Down The Walls" was a phenomenal album that I admit I was too slow in raving about. "Into The Great Unknown" does venture into those promised new areas, but sometimes change isn't for the best. I consider this one of those times. H.E.A.T. has taken a definite step backwards with this album.

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