Last time out, the lukewarm critical response afforded to their third album Into The Wild Life (Atlantic) did little to dampen the enthusiasm with which Halestorm continued to be met, as the behemoth rolled on, gathering even more supporters. The album topped the rock charts both sides of the pond, and Halestorm jumped higher up festival bills, embarking on raucously received live tours of increasing profile. Yet the album is, despite a couple of additions to the live set, one that has raised not just a question mark, but serious questions as to whether the band had already reached their pinnacle with sophomore effort The Strange Case Of… (Atlantic), and whether the rock n’ roll free-spirited approach to the start of their career had been blunted by a more polished pop leaning.
Vicious (Atlantic) launches with vim and vigour, as if the sole intention of the opening salvo is to prove those doubts wrong. The initial four tracks burst at the seams with attitude and with raw rock energy barely harnessed. Lzzy Hale’s sensational voice takes you by the throat and leads you over hard rock terrain to choruses that need arenas to house them. ‘Black Vultures’ is rampant and aggro, ‘Skulls’ (great title, by the way) adds an attitudinal groove, and ‘Uncomfortable’ and ‘Buzz’ are steroid-injected rock anthems and all four tracks will proudly take their place in what is now becoming a very strong festival best of set that the ‘storm boast in their arsenal (and maybe now they can leave the extended drum solos at home…)
So far, so furious… But stamina is key in the album game, and the foot comes off the pedal both in terms of intensity and quality for the juvenile ‘Do Not Disturb’ and the stop-start ‘Conflicted’. Unfortunately it is a loss of momentum that isn’t fully restored until the penultimate track, as ‘Vicious’ boasts a cool and interesting chorus hook not too far removed from the sort of melody P!nk excels at on her harder songs that rides in after a staccato electro-tinged verse riff borrowed from the John 5 playbook.
What Vicious does do to a great extent is to further highlight the talents of Hale, whose vocals rip from rock power, to emotive – in particular on the powerful closer ‘The Silence’, – to sleazy, to vulnerable. All the while, she is fully in control, dominating each song as her riffs and chords power underneath and her Kirk Hammett inspired solos spiral and enhance.
All in, there are some really strong songs on Halestorm’s fourth album, and its peaks mean this is absolutely a worthwhile addition to the canon, even if the mid-section and back-straight hang out in stock central.