Halestorm the strange case of“That bitch can eat her heart out!”  That sums up nicely what Lzzy Hale is going for throughout her band’s new offering, The Strange Case of…Halestorm.   She seems to be saying “don’t you wish you were me, girls?  I completely rock and am still totally a chick about the whole thing.   Keep reading Cosmo, but you’ll never get your hands on this secret sauce.”

And chances are good that they never will.  Many girl-fronted rock acts fall quickly into self-parody (as do many fronted by guys), but Lzzy is straight-up legit.  It’s obvious when she sings that – she – absolutely – fucking – means it.  All of it.  All of the time.

What’s interesting about Halestorm is that they’re usually labeled as a metal band, and, while there are certainly heavy riffs throughout their material, they’re more of a hard rock act than today’s usual definition of metal.  The metal category would be accurate if it were 1987, when metal meant cross-dressing, makeup-wearing dudes in leather barking out tunes about sex and motorcycles.  And really, Halestorm’s sound fits into this sort of category; it’s more updated, for certain, and there’s more obvious profanity, but what it really embodies is the up-tempo, heavy guitar rock of the late eighties.  I intend that as a compliment, as Halestorm play with a technical proficiency that was worshipped a couple of decades back that is often today lost in favor of just being heavier and more angry.  Halestorm are able to package up all of that same aggression and still create something singable.  It’s an interesting recipe in today’s musical landscape and grants them a largely unfilled niche: girl-led-radio-friendly-only-on-the-edited-version-hard-ass-guitar-rock.  Take Whitesnake, put them in a blender with Lita Ford, Buckcherry, and Disturbed, and you end up with Halestorm.

This formula produces super-heavy rockers like “Mz. Hyde” and “Daughters of Darkness”, alongside technical wailers like “Loves Bites (So Do I)”.  Next thing you know you’re listening to sleaze-rock such as “Freak Like Me” and “You Call Me A Bitch Like It’s A Bad Thing”, or a straight-up ballad like “Beautiful With You” or “In Your Room”.  This again hails to the eighties influence when hard rock and metal bands were expected to deliver ballads in the middle of all of the big guitars and never intend for any of it to be ironic (like the piano ballad “Break In”).  Same goes for all of the swing-beat rockers, largely abandoned today for all straight beats, perhaps because it doesn’t seem as aggressive or because there’s something inherently sexually feminine about it; regardless of theory, it’s nice to see the variety of timbre and playing styles that bounce around The Strange Case of….

Lyrically and effects-wise, Halestorm also hearkens back to the eighties as well.  Phrases like “wave your lighter in the air” and the entirety of the lyrics to “Rock Show” are the sort of straight-up, obvious references found in that era’s music, but as much as they should feel terribly cliché, they’re instead just completely damned earnest.  Lzzy and the band just love rock, and they’re unashamed to embrace it.  “You know you’ll never be the same again/power chord/you see the light/you found your place in the world tonight” go lyrics to “Rock Show”, and if you’ve never had that moment, then you’re never been to a proper rock concert.   I can remember that exact transformative moment that I had as a kid, when I knew I’d want to be part of this rock thing for the rest of my life, and that’s tapped in several places on the album.  The listener is also privy to all sort of extra seasoning like big gang vocals on the choruses, hand claps, and inversed lyrics in intros and outros…all of those things that made kids in the eighties hit the “rewind” button to listen to that section again.

Despite all of the retro goodness, there are some pacing issues. Out of the twelve tracks of the “regular” edition of the album (I have the deluxe edition – more on that in a minute), four of them are ballads. Now, the last of these is the potty-mouthed (and fun) “Here’s To Us”, and it makes for a good closer, but the other three, despite being good ballads, are all stacked back-to-back in the middle of the collection.  That really takes the steam out of things, and for far too long.

The riffing isn’t always magical, either.  It’s never bad, mind you, but sometimes the rest of the band ends up acting more like a pure backing band for Lzzy, rather than the talented, shred-worthy, tight outfit that they are.  This is evident most on “You Call Me A Bitch Like It’s A Bad Thing”, where there just really isn’t much going on outside of the (admittedly catchy) vocal part and the ascending riff in the intro and a couple of other spots.  Lots of straight-eighth-note repeated chords chugging along, especially in the chorus.

One final gripe is that the tune “I Miss the Misery” is almost a straight-up rip-off of Hinder’s “Get Stoned”, except with slightly less violent lyrics.  Seriously, when I heard this song the first time, I thought that they were doing a cover until I heard the words…then I skipped back to the beginning and sang through most of the Hinder tune right over the top of it.  I’m aware that it’s easy to create rock riffs that sound a lot alike, but the similarities here are just too pervasive. “I Miss the Misery” simply has no identity of its own, and I can’t hear it without hearing someone else’s song in my head.

Small complaints aside, my gut tells me that Halestorm achieved what they wanted to with this collection, and that’s to put out a really good rock album that’s at least one stepHalestorm up from their last one.  The band is solid throughout, solos are interesting and played with precision, and the rhythm section is tight as hell.  Production is good across the board.  And Lzzy’s vocals…well, they just destroy everything in her path.  She can sing, she can scream, and hit everything in between, with no transitional flaws.  And let’s not forget that she’s more than easy on the eyes.  If Lzzy were standing in front of me, she could probably scream out the words to freakin’ Winnie The Pooh, and I’d be defenseless.  Next thing you know, I’d be doing her laundry and cooking her breakfast.  It’s a good thing that I’m already married to a good-looking brunette, or else I might have to become Lzzy’s personal stalker.  That’s a hell of a rock girl right there, and she’s delivered for the second time in a row.  I expect that the next round will only get better.

Grade: B

File under: strong wailing chick retro rock from hell

[Complete side commentary as it has to do purely with the deluxe edition (and thus not considered for the final rating, merely included for interest’s sake):  Halestorm delayed the release of this album by, depending upon who you ask, months or even a year.  My assumption is that most of the bonus material on the deluxe edition represents tracks originally recorded for the album.  Based upon that assumption, the delay was a smart choice.  The bonus material sounds exactly like what it’s called: bonus.  Worthy of a b-side, but no more.  "Don’t Know How To Stop" is really way too by-the-numbers in terms of lyrics, music, etc.  It’s an ok song, but certainly not of the quality they wanted to go for on this album.  The second of these tracks, "Private Parts", is lyrically cringe-worthy as it belts out “Show me your private paaaaaarrrrtttsss” over and over again.  I understand the metaphor, but it seriously sounds like a sixteen-year-old wrote this.  Leave that lyric in the spiral notebook and move on.  Yikes.  "Hate It When You See Me Cry" delivers largely the same mail-it-in feel as the first bonus track.  They’re all great to spin as extras if you’re a fan, but the decision to wait until there was more really strong material for the core album before releasing it was wise all around.  Big props to Halestorm for having the patience to wait until they collected the best stuff.]

 

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