Review by Greg Maki
Ladies and gentlemen, Halestorm is back.
Technically, the band fronted by Lzzy Hale never went away, releasing its third album, “Into the Wild Life,” in 2015, touring heavily ever since and building its fan base all the while. But that record took a sharp detour from the ballsy hard rock sound established on the first two albums, with large doses of modern pop influences and even a few tastes of pop country. It was one of the bigger musical disappointments I’ve ever experienced in recent years.
I’m happy to report the rock has returned in a big way on album number four, “Vicious.” This is what I wanted to hear as the follow-up to “The Strange Case of …,” which was my favorite rock album of 2012. It’s the sound of a band being itself—while still pushing itself in new directions—instead of straining to chase the current trends.
More than anything, this record grooves. It’s a return to the sound of four musicians with obvious chemistry getting into a room and just locking in with each other as they crank out the tunes. Drummer Arejay Hale sounds particularly reinvigorated after being marginalized more than anyone by the pop leanings of “Into the Wild LIfe.” But the whole band sounds energized; it’s as if the previous album was just a dream—or nightmare, depending on how you feel about it.
Though I’m clearly not a fan of “Into the Wild Life,” I did appreciate the band’s willingness to explore on that record, and that spirit has carried over a bit onto “Vicious.” But it’s done largely without leaving a hard rock sound with a lot of meat on its bones. There are only two songs—”Heart of Novocaine” and “The Silence”—that qualify as ballads. The other 10 tracks are burners yet still dynamic and distinct.
The lead single “Uncomfortable” is an up-tempo number that builds off the Grammy-winning “Love Bites (So Do I)” from “The Strange Case of …” Other highlights include “Buzz,” featuring a talk box that would make Bon Jovi proud; “Do Not Disturb,” with its sleazy, hypnotic groove; “Killing Ourselves to Live,” powered by a metallic riff leading into a big, ‘80s-like chorus and featuring a searing solo by lead guitarist Joe Hottinger; and the even heavier “Painkiller.”
Working with producer Nick Raskulinecz—whose long list of credits includes Alice in Chains, Ghost, Stone Sour, Trivium, Korn, Mastodon, even Rush—Halestorm has honed in on what it does best on “Vicious,” regaining its place as one of the most exciting modern hard rock bands.
(Atlantic Records, July 27, 2018)