Thursday, June 27, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1747: Halestorm

It has been a busy week and while I meant to review this record yesterday, fate conspired to prevent that from happening. I got an extra listen in the meantime, which was just fine with me.

Disc 1747 is…Back from the Dead

Artist: Halestorm

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  Giant Head Cover alert! Here we have lead singer and band leader Lzzy Hale’s Giant Head looking fiercely serious.

This is the deluxe edition of the album. The original version has Hale engaged in a scream and a red filter rather than this silvery gray treatment. The red version looks way cooler, but has less songs so…there’s that. Make your own choice.

How I Came To Know It: I recently got into Halestorm and was on the lookout for four of their albums (basically everything except 2012’s “The Strange Case Of…”, which I already had.

I was all prepared to patiently wait for them to show up when three weeks ago I went to the mall. Yes, dear reader, the mall. While there I went into a uninspiring mall record store where, against all logic, I found the entire Halestorm discography sitting there waiting for me.

I promptly bought everything they had with the exception of “The Strange Case Of…” (see above). And here we are.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Halestorm albums, which is all of them. I like them all, but the truth is I bought four of them just three weeks ago, and I’m not yet sure how they are going to stack up. I’ll start with this record in…fourth. I may be wrong, but for now I’ll assume it is good enough to beat out one “album to be named later” and all the others are even better, giving me something to look forward to!

Rating: 3 stars

Is “Back From the Dead” a true metal album, or is it just a rock record dressed up with a bit of extra oomph in the arrangement and production? I thought this often while I got to know it better, and while I landed on “classic metal” in the end, that wasn’t terribly important. I had a good time, and that’s what matters.

There are many kinds of metal. There’s the kind that pounds relentlessly on you as you sway in the mosh pit. There’s the kind that makes dread vibrate through your bones. These other forms are lots of fun, but in the case of “Back From the Dead” you get anthemic metal. This is the kind of metal that is for singing along to, for throwing your horns in the air knowing that everyone else in the crowd is going to do exactly the same thing, at exactly the same time. It is anticipatory participatory metal – the kind of community we metal heads love the most; the community of free thinking iconoclasts.

One thing you should know right up front though. You can sing along with Lzzy Hale, but you will never sing as good as Lzzy Hale. She is one of metal’s greatest voices. Instantly recognizable, bigger and bolder than life, and yet tender and emotionally evocative even when she’s in full throat. So sing along, just realize you are the backup here. It’s Lzzy’s world and until the last note dies, your job is to celebrate living in it.

Sometimes it is just raw crunch accompanying Hale, and she rises to the occasion. The title track and “Brightside” are great examples where the band digs in deep and heavy and Hale somehow manages to add to the crunch and also soar above.

There are plenty of “stand with me” kind of anthems. “The Steeple” is a fine example, one of many songs from Halestorm over the years the celebrates the band’s community of fans. It reminded me favourably of Judas Priest songs like “Take On the World” and “United.”

Other songs are sparser in the production, and Hale does not disappoint. “Terrible Things” and “Raise Your Horns” are somber and affecting experiences. Many of the songs are written during COVID lockdown, and while “Terrible Things” could refer to COVID, it is more powerful for me as a song about the horrors of drug addiction.

As for “Raise Your Horns” this song gets me every time I hear it. It is an anthem for being different, a reassuring call to keep going even in dark times, and a shared moment of personal rebellion for anyone finding themselves in a black moment:

“Burn every fear, every doubt like a funeral fire
Scream every anthem and follow your reckless desires
Take back the crown that hangs at the gate
Ready your march, steady your aim
For the heart is a soldier that never loses its way

“So raise your horns - Raise 'em high
Let 'em soar - Let 'em fly
Up through the heavens - Forevermore
Let 'em reign down - Raise your horns”

Whew. The heart is a soldier that never loses its way. Indeed. This is one of Hale’s finest vocal performances on any Halestorm record, which is saying a lot. Also, the way she sings the line “up through the heavens” had me fondly remembering Chris Cornell singing “say hello 2 heaven” in Temple of the Dog. Gave me an extra bit of the feels. (Rare biographical note – Hale started a #raiseyourhorns movement in support of mental health after the suicide of fellow singer Jill Janus of Huntress fame).

So, with all these good things, why only three stars?

First of all, this is the special edition record, lifting the album from a respectable 11 songs to a bloated 18. Of the extra seven tracks only one – “Heavy Mental (Fuck Yeah)” is worth the effort. Worst of all, it moves the perfection of “Raise Your Horns” from the triumphant conclusion of the record and moves it to the mushy middle.

Finally, the songs are a bit emotionally manipulative, but that’s OK – the line between evocative and manipulative in art is a fuzzy one. Most of the time, even when it felt overly obvious, Hale’s honest delivery lands things on the right side of that line.

Best tracks: Back From the Dead, Brightside, The Steeple, Terrible Things, Bombshell, Raise Your Horns, Heavy Mental (Fuck Yeah)

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