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Halestorm - Into The Wild Life (Album Review)

Monday, 13 April 2015 Written by Simon Ramsay

It takes balls to perform a volte face after the success of a hit record. Pennsylvania's Halestorm are nothing if not a fiercely unapologetic and adventurous outfit, so - following 2012's much-loved 'Strange Case Of…' - they've applied a razor to the notion of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', crafting this more experimental, and potentially divisive, third album in the process.

The song Mz Hyde sums up Halestorm perfectly.  A powerhouse track that graced their last record, its narrative reflects the band's love of light and dark while revelling in being unpredictable. That mindset fuels every note of 'Into The Wild Life' as the quartet's wide range of influences, and desire to explore new avenues, delivers a more alternative aesthetic that may shock fans.  

Gone is the super-polished rock-radio sheen of Howard Benson's production. Instead, alt-rock and country producer Jay Joyce recorded them playing live in the studio, resulting in a more organic assault that captures the rawness of their live performances.

That's not to say it's a stripped back affair, as the band wilfully utilise a more expansive palette of textures throughout. Scream exemplifies this and, although initially a head-scratching opener compared with the pulverising Love Bites, its skull-bludgeoning drums, electro touches and anthem-for-outsiders status gets under the skin and sets the tone.

Dear Daughter, meanwhile, is a beautiful hymn for bullied youth with lush backing vocals, the dramatic piano balladry of The Reckoning recalls early Tori Amos and Bad Girl's World could even be on Taylor Swift's slick pop opus '1989'.

Peer beneath the sonic decoration, however, and Halestorm's fingerprints are still all over this record.  The sensational I Am The Fire – where Lzzy Hale reinforces her credentials as the finest female rock singer around – features an erupting metal-charged chorus, Gonna Get Mine and Apocalyptic are thumping fist-flingers and Mayhem's thrashy freak-out chorus will melt your face.

There's a strong melodic core too as Sick Individual – with its doomy Black Sabbath intro, odd time signatures, funky Daft Punk chorus  - and Amen typify an album whose anthemic hooks don't so much throw you to the ground as subtly woo you.

All the while, Lzzy remains the voice of society's disenfranchised souls, with the country twang of New Modern Love preaching pride in your sexuality when faced with bigots, and What Sober Couldn't Say a lounge-lizard jazz lament about a broken relationship.

For all the positives, closing track I Like It Heavy -  an incendiary rock ‘n' roll stormer powered by Lzzy's stentorian battle cry - confirms the nagging suspicion that something is missing here. Where the majority of the album is too one-paced, with a few explosive moments, this thrilling cut gets pulses racing, reminding us exactly what Halestorm do best and what this record needs more of.

'Into The Wild Life' is certainly the black sheep in the band's catalogue, but it's also their most interesting, accomplished and creative work. You suspect it will be appreciated more in the fullness of time. Halestorm should be applauded for not playing safe and trying new things, but let's perhaps hope it's a one off rather than a permanent new direction.  

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