By Carl Begai
When Halestorm surfaced in 2009 with their self-titled major league debut – after a decade in the trenches creating a buzz – they hit a home run with fans of modern day radio rock. The band was immediately lumped into the Nickelback / Shinedown section of the bus and rewarded with a legion of fans for their trouble. Safe, predictable and formulaic, they became a success through a mix of pushing the right commercial buttons, good looks, and touring their collective asses off on some big-name road trips. For all the accolades, however, Halestorm was considered by those listening from the sidelines as a solid act but not worth writing home about. The release of the ReAniMate covers EP in 2011 punched a king-sized hole in the “safe and predictable” tag-line, scaring the hell out of the naysayers (and some fans) with wonderfully obnoxious covers of anthems ‘Slave To The Grind’ (Skid Row) and ‘Out Ta Get Me’ (Guns N’ Roses), and a ballsy rendition of The Beatles’ classic ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’. The live shows around the release sent a clear message that in spite of popular fluff in their repertoire, Halestorm is a tooth and nail rock band capable of bringing the roof down around your ears.
For anyone that didn’t jump on board at the beginning of the Halestorm trip, new outing The Strange Case Of… is exactly that: strange. It kicks off with a tip of the hat to the fans of all things heavy with ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’, essentially daring rivet-heads everywhere not to get roped in by the up-tempo shred and vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale’s rant-tastic delivery. Second track ‘Mz. Hyde’ is just as much of a surprise thanks to a chugging Stray Cats groove (!), followed by the soaring crush of ‘I Miss The Misery’ and the too-Papa-Roach-for-its-own-good rocker, ‘Freak Like Me’. Only four songs in, it’s clear as to why Lzzy is considered to be one of, if not the best female vocalist on the scene today. Her delivery is classic Joan Jett attitude mixed with Corey Taylor intensity (as needed) and a young Sebastian Bach’s insane vocal range. Everything you hear has been and can be pulled off live, with interest.
The weirdness of The Strange Case Of… strolls in with the delivery of three (!!) back-to-back-to-back mid-album ballads (‘Beautiful With You’, ‘In Your Room’, ‘Break In’), effectively stopping the freight train momentum cold. Wading through the sap, it feels as if someone in a suit ham-fisted the running order while muttering “There’s gotta be hit around here somewhere…” The band would have been better off shelving two of the songs for bonus material at a later date, particularly since the country-rock closing track ‘Here’s To Us’ (coming to a cover band near you, mark my words) is a monster ballad with “HIT” scrawled all over it. Credit where it’s due, they recover nicely with the brilliant ‘You Call Me A Bitch Like It’s A Bad Thing’ and ‘Daughters Of Darkness’, featuring Lzzy doing a bang-up job as a satanic cheerleader on the latter.
Now, here’s the kicker…
In spite of the complaints above, the damn thing works as a complete package. No bloody idea how or why, but in spite of my claims to being Metal To The Core, the Lord Of Eternal Grimness and the dood who puts anger in the word “dangerous” Halestorm have won me over. The ballads remain annoying considering how they’re placed, but it’s possible to listen with half-an-ear and not want to reach for the “skip” button. And admittedly, ‘In Your Room’ is a solid interlude and will remain that way so long as Glee leaves it the fuck alone.
One more album of this quality with the trademark on-stage fireworks to match and Halestorm will be headlining the big, big rooms, because in the end this is full-on bad-ass arena rock, even in the quietest moments.