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Music Review: Halestorm – Halestorm

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In the last few years, female-fronted hard rock bands have been staging quite a comeback. From gothic-metal bands like Nightwish and Lacuna Coil to more mainstream bands like Evanescence and Paramore, these frontwomen are building on the legacies of Pat Benatar, Lita Ford, and Doro Pesch.

A recent addition to the pantheon, Halestorm, has been making serious waves. Their self-titled debut CD landed at #40 on the Billboard® charts bringing press coverage and visibility that bands with this sound don’t always get in this day and age of manufactured filler material masquerading as music.

The CD is something more than your typical hard rock-fest. Things start off slow, though. Opener “Bet U Wish U Had Me Back” sounds like a Kelly Clarkson song, especially the chorus and the stupid “U” instead of “You” in the title. Not necessarily bad in the context of the modern radio environment, but definitely a somewhat ominous sign for originality. Fortunately things start to turn by track 2, “Better Sorry Than Safe,” another slow-tempo chugger with a decently filling chorus.

The band’s first single is “I Get Off,” a mid-range rocker that slinks through an atmospheric intro into a bombastic and heavily memorable chorus. And what is that I hear? Can it be a tried and true guitar solo? This is borderline AOR music that just doesn’t show up on mainstream rock radio anymore, relegated to niche markets. But Halestorm has found a way to break through.

“Dirty Work” is straight ahead hard rock, punctuated by nice vocal interplay with the guitars. Singer Lizzy Hale has a strong middle-of-the-road vocal sound that is more Lita than Tarja. “I’m Not An Angel” has the potential to be little more than a weepy power ballad, but a fresh melodic line gives it some weight and enough gravitas to stand out.

“It’s Not You” has an 80’s AOR vibe with its catchy chorus. One of the CD’s strongest tracks is “What Were You Expecting,” with tinges of Blondie marked through a fleshed-out chorus that rises out of the verse unexpectedly. While “Familiar Taste of Poison” definitely sounds 25 years out of date, it’s to the point where it’s so retro as to be new. Speaking of retro, the CD cover is pure 80’s awesomeness. The band is painted in futuristic Mad Max outfits, coupled with a killer logo design.

All retro references aside, Halestorm do not take the music lightly. This is not some band goofing on the worst aspects of old music. And sure the Pitchfork –bowing music snobs will invariably sneer, but they can fawn over the latest Animal Collective CD (which is great), and leave this to hard rock fans.

Halestorm’s marriage of tight, heavy rhythms and catchy melodies remind me of last year’s excellent Black Sun by Ra. The sound is also refreshingly well-produced. It’s devoid of the “hot tracked’ over-produced pablum that record companies are churning out to satisfy the indiscriminate masses. Instead you can actually hear the individual instruments and even when you things crank up, ‘clipping’ is not heard.

Halestorm’s debut is crunching, dirty hard rock that’s as retro in spirit as it is fresh and modern in delivery. This is THE debut rock CD of the year.

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About Scott Deitche