Saturday, 1 March 2014

Reckless Love "Spirit" Review

Considering how dull the last album I reviewed was, I figured it might be a good idea to ensure my next review was of an album that was easy to talk about, genuinely enjoyable to listen to and not by a completely unknown band.

...Well, two out of three ain't bad!

Yes, we're digging in to some glam metal this time, specifically from Finland. Now, Finland has a history for glam metal from Finland in the original era of the glam scene thanks to Hanoi Rocks, but it's probably best known today for Nightwish. However, Finland has given one of the best vocalists in the glam metal revival at the minute and one of the forerunners of the scene in one fell swoop, thanks to Reckless Love. While frontman Olli Herman (who has a wide range, but mostly sing in a high tenor) is probably better known by Crashdiet fans for replacing Dave Lepard after the latter's suicide, Reckless Love have been around since 2001 (originally forming as a Guns N Roses tribute band, incidentally enough), yet only got to make their debut self-titled album in 2010. Since then, they released their second album (Animal Attraction) in 2011, an EP of unreleased material in 2012 (which included a pretty cool acoustic cover of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town") and, in 2013, their third album, Spirit.

Well, the first thing you'll probably notice is the artwork. And, I have to say, when I first saw it, I wasn't impressed. I mean, does this really inspire confidence in a good album?

Yeah...bit too colourful to really expect it to be a metal album, isn't it? I mean, colourful face paint creating the imagine of a skeleton is more likely to bring up the image of a younger, more cheerful Meat Loaf (or Meat Loaf if he was a brony) than it is to bring up images of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Or, hey, maybe a more cheerful My Chemical Romance! Anyway, before this blog turns into a message board for bronies and My Chemical Romance fans (which seems like a terrible idea...although I don't mind My Chemical Romance and have seen (and enjoyed) a few episodes of the show recently!), back to the artwork. While I don't think it really brings metal music to mind, I don't mind it now! It's not the most creative artwork you could find out there by any measure, but it's very different from what you'd expect from a metal band (whether in a good way or not is ultimately down to personal opinion) and is still well executed from a technical level. I do have to wonder whether the guys have vaguely heard of the Mexican holiday Dia de Muertos (translates to Day of the Dead) and were wanting to do a more cheerful take on the usual skeleton representations that you see during that time, but I might be reading too much into that. If they did want to do that, however, then I have to say it was a nice touch! If they didn't...then I have no idea what was the brainchild behind this idea beyond a thought that it would look cool.

Anyway, the first track is the first single from the album, "Night On Fire". And it starts with what sounds a bit like synthesised African music. Before you start wondering whether you've accidentally picked up Now That's What I Call Modern African Music or something weird like that, the actual song starts. And, well, it's a solid track, with a catchy chorus and some neat verses. There's a cool guitar solo as well and is all built upon a strong riff. I suppose the lyrics could have done with some work, but Reckless Love aren't a band known for the quality of their lyrics and, well, if you're looking for deep lyrics in a glam metal song, you're not really looking in the right place (seriously, about the deepest lyrics I've seen in glam come from Styper...and that's because they try to make it ambiguous as to whether they're singing about God or the more typical topics of glam metal, so that's still not saying much!). Good stuff, overall, and gets the album off on a pretty good note (pun not intended)!

The next track is "Bad Lovin". This track has a chorus that you'll be singing for a good while once you've heard it (assuming you can reach as high as Olli can, of course!) and a really solo main riff holding the song together. While it might be a bit of a stretch to say that this song is reaching out to the LGB community (they don't mention transgender or asexual people in the song...which leaves me vaguely wondering why they next to never get mentioned in music in general, let alone in glam metal, but hey, back to the topic at hand!) due to the fact it's mostly subtly talking about how everyone feels the desire to have sex (to which I again point back to asexuality...), it's certainly a nice gesture, as it says it doesn't matter what your sexuality is (to which I...oh, never mind, I'm starting to sound like a broken record now!). It's just a song that's a lot of fun to sing along to, not to mention it's got a really neat guitar solo that will vaguely bring to mind Eddie Van Halen (which makes sense when you consider that Van Halen (specifically, David Lee Roth's outfits and bits of the band's music) had a big influence on glam metal...).

We continue with the rather unsubtly titled "I Love Heavy Metal". I gotta be honest, this song has always struck me as a bit of a dud for some reason. It's got some great guitar playing and the vocals are good, but it just doesn't seem to blend together to make a strong song to me. The lyrics are also in the same camp as Sabaton's songs about referencing heavy metal, with the end result that it feels like a fusion of "Metal Machine" and "Metal Crue"(with a bit of "Metal Ripper" thrown in at points) with none of the subtlety and mostly including glam metal bands, most of which are likely to be familiar to anyone who has a bit of knowledge of the original glam metal scene of the 80's. There are a few references which will require being familiar with more than glam metal to really get, but, for the most part, you'll probably recognise most of the bands being referenced if you've ever looked up glam metal on wikipedia. I also have to ask why they didn't mention Hanoi Rocks, as it feels like a serious omission when you remember that both bands are Finnish! Anyway, while this is still a serviceable song (and the chorus is still pretty strong), I do have to say that this song is probably going to get skipped by quite a few people. There's enough to it that it could still be enjoyed by people, but I don't see this being a highlight for anyone unless you think that more metal references equals a better song (in which case, you might want to rethink your criteria for how to judge metal songs, as more metal doesn't equal better...see Manowar.).

Next up is "Favorite Flavor" (which is the annoying American spelling of it, for some reason...why do you Americans have to insist on spelling things wrong and driving on the wrong side of the road, anyway? Just kidding, love you really!) and...well, I don't think it's a complete dud, but it's never come together to form a complete song for me, like with "I Love Heavy Metal". That said, it does provide more than a few surprises, such as Olli's rather low voice during one part of the second verse and a (possibly unintentional) reference to Ratt's album from 2010, Infestation (the wording and melody of "Eat you up alive" brings to mind "Eat Me Up Alive" from the Ratt album I mentioned...although most people probably don't care about Ratt, so that might just be me talking!). I also think I pick up a faint musical similarity at one point to something from a Good Charlotte album, although I can't quite place which song it reminds me of...anyway! The chorus is rather good (although, considering it's glam metal, expecting anything less would be an insult!) and the riff is still very solid, but I just don't think it comes together enough to really recommend it when you put it under a microscope. When you don't, it's still an enjoyable song, but I can't not do that when I'm criticising the album, can I?

The first ballad and next track is "Edge Of Our Dreams". Now, I gotta be honest, I have a soft spot for ballads in my cold, cynical heart (...I'm not fooling anyone there, am I?), so you're probably not getting the most neutral opinion on this track. That said, I'll try my best. Well, it has a very nice chorus, some emotional singing and some very solid guitar playing, but I have to say that the drummer and the bassist seem to be on autopilot on this song. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting them to do something on the technical level of Dream Theater in a glam ballad, as it would be ridiculously out of place, but they don't really do anything that exceptional on this track. Guitar solo is pretty neat and surprisingly fits the mood of the song very well, although I do wish it had had some space to shine without fighting against Olli's voice at the end. It's not the best glam ballad by any measure (it certainly doesn't top Warrant's "Sometimes She Cries", Cinderella's "Don't Know What You Got", Skid Row's "I Remember You: or Stryper's "Honestly"...all of which are locked in a long and protracted fight to be my favourite glam metal ballads, if you're wondering!), but it's a very enjoyable one.

Next up is "Sex, Drugs & Reckless Love", which opens with a riff that will have all Judas Priest fans going "Hey, that sounds very familiar!" Yes, the main riff to the song bears more than a resemblance to "You Got Another Thing Coming", which will annoy people familiar with the Priest song (and does have me wondering how the guys could have missed how similar it sounds: it's not like we're talking about an under-appreciated Judas Priest classic like "Hard As Iron" here, we're talking about Priest's biggest chart success here!), but doesn't detract from the fact that, as a song in it's own right, it's still very enjoyable! I tend to find that the song picks me up when I'm feeling down (and often inspires some dancing that even the 80's would laugh at...I'm pretty confident at ceilidh (basically, traditional Northumbrian dancing with bits of Scottish (not highland) dancing thrown in for good measure. And it's pronounced KAY-lee, for the benefit of those looking at that and thinking "How the fuck do you pronounce that?") dancing, but me free-styling is a recipe for disaster and maybe some comedy, depending on how much I've had to drink!), so, again, another song that you're probably not going to get a completely neutral viewpoint on. But, it's got a strong chorus, some excellent singing and, despite the unoriginality of the main riff, it's still a great song that's really worth a listen if you can ignore that elephant in the room.

Next up is ballad number two, "Dying To Live" (which, from the title, sounds like it should be a lost Linkin Park song...). This song, to me, is a bit dull. The chorus is really nice, but most of the song seems to built upon a bass riff (which isn't really that exciting, but is still pretty nice) and some fairly uninteresting drumming. The guitar solo is very nice, but I think saying this song feels a bit underwritten is not too far removed from the truth. It's nice to have a good focus on Olli's vocals, but it feels like the rest of the song got ignored in favour of that, which really drags the song down. I'd probably recommend skipping this track, but, if you like Olli's voice, it's worth a listen at least.

Next up is what I'm already calling Reckless Love's version of "Slave To The Grind", the bit of impressiveness called "Metal Ass" (yes, that is the actual title of the can tell English isn't their first language, can't you?). This is probably the fastest song that Reckless Love have done to date and certainly takes more than a bit of influence from speed metal. I have to be honest, this is probably the highlight of the album for me, despite the title sounding like it should be on a Steel Panther album (seriously, would you expect a song titled "Metal Ass" to be a song with any seriousness to it?). Some impressive guitar playing, some enjoyable drumming, Olli's impressive vocals (and one of the most falsetto happy songs Reckless Love have done to date)...if you like your metal fast and loud, this should be right up your alley!

...Which makes the placement of third ballad "Runaway Love" right after it feel like you're getting whiplash. I mean, why place a very fast song between two mid paced ballads? That's a horrible bit of track placing for quite a few reasons! Anyway, moving to the song itself and my personal rant about the track list aside for now, this is another very enjoyable ballad. The chorus is very strong, the guitar is very tastefully played (although the guitar solo gets covered by Olli's voice again, so it's hard to really get a chance to appreciate it), the drumming suits the song and Olli gives the song a nice bit of vulnerability that is greatly appreciated. Still not a real highlight of the album, but a nice listen nonetheless.

...And we get hit with another bit of whiplash by the start of "So Happy I Could Die", as we again get hit by a solid dose of speed that bears more than a slight resemblance to Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart". Honestly, I think that cutting "Dying To Live" and putting this where it was might have been a better choice for the track list, but that's me nitpicking about the track list again. Anyway, the song itself is very good, despite the fact it will remind you a bit of "Kickstart My Heart" if you get bothered by that kind of thing. It's full of adrenaline, has a very strong guitar solo and a neat riff to keep the song together (and the drumming sounds very inspired here: was Hessu Maxx hyped up on coffee when they recorded the drums for this track?). I have to say, however, that the star of this song is definitely Olli. His vocals on this are brilliant and yet, at the same time, he doesn't let his vocals dominate what everyone else is doing, like he has done on some of the other tracks. Another highlight of the album, for definite. It was also the second single and there should be a video out there which includes the guys getting covered in paint...

And thus we reach the final track on the main album (there is a bonus track on the UK version which I have on my copy of the album which I will still review, but I'm not counting it for the purpose of judging the final album's score), "Hot Rain". I have to be honest, I think this is the best ballad on the album, yet I can't really find words to describe just WHY I think this is the strongest ballad on the album. The guitar is very understated (outside of the guitar solo), like with "Dying To Live", but I think it works nicely on this one. Olli's vocals are the main aspect of this song, like with "Dying To Live", but he manages to sell it in a way that he didn't quite succeed with on "Dying To Live" (although he does put have a more emotional tone to his voice for this one, so it might be that...). The chorus is just wonderful on this track, which probably gives it a slight advantage over "Dying To Live", yet the verses are also very strong on this track. Is this my favourite song on the whole album? No, it isn't. However, I'd still recommend checking this one out, especially if you want to know how to write a strong glam ballad in this day and age!

So, for the main album, we're done. But what about the UK bonus track? Well, it's a nice song and certainly worth looking out, but it feels like a weaker closer to the album after "Hot Rain". The chorus is pretty solid and the guitar solo and main riff is very nice, but, after "Hot Rain", it feels out of place to close the album. It does feature Olli doing his best Alice Cooper (or Axl Rose singing in his lower voice, which is probably closer, but not the immediate first thought when you bring up his name in reference to singing voices, hence why I didn't go for it...) impression, though!

The production on this album is very solid. You can hear the bass fairly well a lot of the time (although it doesn't really do much across the album, which is why I didn't bring it up...) and the drumming, while maybe a tiny bit on the loud side, is not overbearing. Olli's vocals are also a tiny bit higher in the mix than they probably need to be, but, really, the guy's such a good vocalist that it's hard to really complain about that! The guitar is also fairly well mixed. In terms of the loudness war (which is not something I'm normally hugely interested in, but I figured it'd be interesting to examine it for once), I've given it a quick test in comparison to Hell's Curse And Chapter (which was released about about two months after this was) and Death Angel's The Dream Calls For Blood (which was released about a month after this was) and I'd say it's a bit louder than Curse And Chapter, but is a bit quieter than The Dream Calls For Blood. While I don't know how loud that means it is in terms of dynamic range and whatnot, it would be fair to say that this might be a bit on the loud side of things if you're not used to metal music (and will certainly feel loud if you compare this to the originally released 80's glam albums: the loudness war is something that really started after Oasis released What's The Story (Morning Glory)). If you are used to it, this will feel fine to your ears.

So, overall, this is a solid listen. Nothing that'll really win over anyone with a low tolerance for glam metal, but will get glam fans grinning! A few weaker tracks drag this down a bit, but there's enough strong stuff on here to keep you interested. The production does suffer from the typical volume issues you get with albums involved with the loudness war, but it's not the worst example you can find from an album released in 2013. Give a listen to the two singles ("Night On Fire" and "So Happy I Could Die") and decide whether this is likely to be your kind of thing. Even if it isn't your kind of thing, you gave it a shot and, well, I commend you for giving it a go!

Final Rating: 7 out of 10

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