Heavy metal music as a category can be somewhat confusing nowadays, particularly if you come at it as a more... seasoned fan. For those of us who grew up listening to the likes of Judas Priest, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, and Sammy Hagar, modern offerings in the category can be somewhat perplexing. Frequently exploration of the category in the modern era results in encountering indiscernible vocals that suggest a singer trying to clear a decade’s backlog worth of phlegm, backed by guitars crunching in a non-melodic pattern that are reminiscent of sandpaper being run across the strings.
Halestorm stands in distinct contrast to that trend. All of their albums are excellent, and their newest release - Vicious - scratches the heavy metal itch in all the right places.
Vicious - which came out July 27th, 2018 - is a vocal tour de force, with Lzzy Hale front and center. She is the force.
I’ve been listening to Vicious for the better part of two months now and, while the band absolutely has its own distinct sound and character, 30-plus years worth of listening to music makes my brain inevitably draw comparisons. And with respect to that, the comparison I keep coming back to is Ronnie James Dio.
Heavy metal, new and old, is full of singers who can wail or put that low, gravelly timbre into their voices. But few vocalists have demonstrated the range of Ronnie James Dio - that ability to put all of that range on display in a single song - Don’t Talk to Strangers being a prime example of that:
Black Vultures - the opener on the new album - is the song that most makes me think of this comparison.
They are very different songs, to be sure, but the range within, from relatively soft and quiet to rasping scream, is there in both. Listening to the album, but especially this song, made me want to cue up Holy Diver and give that a listen thru as well.
What’s clear, with all of this, is that Lzzy Hale is a vocal powerhouse. I first encountered her as a guest for the title track on Linsey Sterling’s Shatter Me - a standout song on an excellent album that made me determined to find out out more about the vocalist. As is often the case, I discovered that, while she was new to me, the band has been active for a while, with an existing catalog. What’s delightful within that is that the catalog includes three other albums of original work - Halestorm, The Strange Case of..., and Into the Wild Life; and it includes three EP’s of covers, all under the title Reanimate (e.g. Reanimate, Reanimate 2.0, etc).
It’s that vocal flexibility that makes this so magnificent - Lzzy and crew’s love for the songs they are covering is clear and true on each of these. What’s more, they show her ability to sing virtually anything across the hard rock/heavy metal spectrum. One might expect that, for example, when seeing that Heart’s All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You is on one of these EP’s (Reanimate). One might be more dubious when one sees Whitesnake’s Still of the Night show up (on Reanimate 3.0 ). One would be wrong:
And lest one think that these covers sit only in safe, hard rock territory, realize that artists as diverse as Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga, and Twenty One Pilots also get the Halestorm cover treatment on these EP’s.
This shines within the new album as the songs range from relatively soft and reflective (The Silence), to funky (Do Not Disturb, Conflicted) to solid hard rock/heavy metal (Buzz, and the aforementioned Black Vultures). And while Lzzy clearly enjoys that heavy metal edge to her voice, she also brings out the baby doll range where appropriate (e.g. on the aforementioned Conflicted).
Of course, a vocalist is not an entire band, and the albums would not be convincing if it weren’t for the rest of the crew as well. The guitar and bass work here is excellent, giving that crunch and funk where needed, in just the right measure. Drum work, handled by Arejay Hale - yes, Lzzy’s brother - is both supportive and complex. Drum work can take many forms, of course, but in heavy metal it often seems relegated to timekeeping with occasional accents for punch and fills. Here you get something different. Arejay‘s drum work has an expected heavy edge, but interesting, lighter rhythms fill in the spaces in-between, and often mirror and add to vocal lines. If you enjoy music where the drummer takes an active role you’ll find things to enjoy here.
While I’m drawing comparisons to Ronnie James Dio, the comparisons vary when we get to lyrical content. You won’t find songs full of angels and demons here. Halestorm‘s topic areas are quite different. Black Vultures opens the album with an anthem about rising up against, or in spite of, others trying to bring you down:
I don’t give in, I don’t give up I won’t ever let it break me I’m on fire, I’m a fighter I’ll forever be the last one standing
This leads into Skulls, which shifts gears into metaphor for people uncritically taking in the information they are fed, along with Lzzy’s inability to simply sit by and let that go:
Leave the TV on Believe what you want If you can’t see right or wrong...
And the songs continue, with a real-life and wonderfully earthy tone - Halestorm embraces the topic of sexuality openly and directly, and this is reflected in songs like Buzz and Conflicted, and more than directly in Do Not Disturb...:
I’m on the very top floor, room 1334 There’s a king size bed, but we can do it on the floor Turn your cell phone off, I’ll put a sign on the door That says "do not disturb" And if I were you I’d bring your girlfriend too Two is better than one, three is better than two...
And further on into relationships gone wrong and the subsequent pain - the album covers a gamut of experiences and emotions. It works excellently as a cohesive piece - in an era where some artists have set aside the album format in favor of serial singles, this is a coherent album true to the name, without a bad moment in the set.
If you have been looking for heavy metal music in the classic style and have been struggling to find it, you need look no further - it’s alive and well, right here in this album and in this band.