Release Date: April 10, 2012
Three years ago I heard Halestorm‘s first single, “I Get Off”, and without much thought I picked up the CD. To my surprise the disc didn’t leave my CD player for the better part of a month. That’s how sonically impressive that self-titled debut was, and still is. Now the band returns with its second full length effort, The Strange Case Of…
Most bands struggle to match the success of a highly acclaimed first album, and Halestorm set its own bar remarkably high. Still, in an era of throw-away bands pumping out forgettable albums, Halestorm took the heart of its songwriting back to an era where melody, nuance, and substance mattered. Each song has its own voice, and they stick with you. You wait for that certain note to be hit, that odd guitar fill, that certain drum roll or that tasty bass groove . You hang on those moments.
For The Strange Case Of…, the Pennsylvania quartet once again tapped fellow statesman Howard Benson (Saliva, Seether, Theory of A Deadman, Daughtry) to produce. The band wrote some 56 songs for the album, of which they recorded 17, 11 of which made the standard edition. Of course it’s strongly recommended you invest in the deluxe edition.
Throughout the album, frontwoman Lzzy Hale tries to explain, via song, her split persona. From the tough as nails rocker, to the avalanche inducing voice, to the sultry siren luring hearts upon the rocks, to the introspective and vulnerable girl next door. So strap in for the entrancing journey.
The album kicks off with the first single, the sleazy headbanger “Love Bites (So Do I)”. The song has that Skid Row – “Slave To The Grind” feel to it: Fast, punchy and aggressive, with rampaging guitar work from Joe Hottinger and maniacal drumming from Arejay Hale. As she often does, Lzzy Hale makes good use of sexual innuendo. The band’s years on the road pay obvious dividends with excellent musicianship all around. Lzzy’s vocals, which are already among the best of any genre, really flex here, soaring to new heights we haven’t yet heard.
On “Mz. Hyde”, the band takes us in with a crunchy rolling lick. An atmospheric backdrop sets the stage as Lzzy sings of the darkness within her. Heavy riffage and swagger that recalls Avenged Sevenfold with a Stray Cats pre-chorus.
Next up is “I Miss The Misery”, a hard-boiled modern rocker full of swing. I’m not yet sold on the lyrical message here as it seems to run contrary to Mz. Hale’s voice of self-empowerment. Then again we all have our moments when we enjoy our anger and pain. As the song’s last line says, “I don’t miss you, I miss the misery.”
Halestorm seem poised to move from clubs to arenas in 2012, and “Freak Like Me” is the perfect anthem for the cause. A ballsy, raucous, rallying cry; the band may have penned a signature song here.
While Lzzy sometimes has that look of vulnerability which brings out the male need to protect, we’ve never really heard it in her music. On The Strange Case Of… she shows off her softer side. Starting on “Beautiful With You”, we get a trio of songs that could well be hits for the likes of Kelly Clarkson (who Benson also produces). Expect “Beautiful With You” to be one of the album’s monster hit singles. Lyrically we can all relate to the message of overcoming our own impaired self-image when someone else’s perception of who we are help’s us blossom with new self-awareness.
On “In Your Room”, Lzzy returns the favor by opening her heart to the misunderstood and troubled boy. We were all teenagers once, so this is a tale we all understand, packaged in a a poignant ballad full of memorable melody.
Perhaps the most unusual of these tracks is the piano and vocal only ballad, “Break In.” The roles reverse again with Lzzy telling her would be suitor to push through the walls of bricks she’s built up around her and “Break In”. Her voice is breathy and plaintive, soaked in angst and longing. The album is worth owning if only for the beauty and breadth of Lzzy’s vocals on this track.
“Rock Show” taps into Lzzy’s personal side. The track is both auto-biographical, and a statement to the fans. She’s immensely in-tune with, and empathetic to, the feelings of the band’s fans. The song is packed with great hooks that latch on and hang with you for days. The song is framed by a very simple but sweet guitar riff. Lzzy’s vocals are very emotive throughout, but there is even a moment of semi-rap on the breakdown that flows brilliantly.
“Daughters Of Darkness” is another arena anthem. Lzzy’s at her ballsy best, and like many of the tracks on the record this one is fan-friendly and built for live performance. Lzzy sends this one out to her sisterhood-of-the-storm. Lyrically, she is again quick with a turn of phrase. “We can turn you on, or we can turn on you.” Arejay, as always, has that about-to-come-unhinged feel to his playing, and Joe’s guitar fills add to the memorable aspects of the song.
For those thrown for a loop with the album’s softer elements the band slams the door on any lingering concerns with “You Call Me A Bitch, Like It’s A Bad Thing”, the anthemic bookend to “Freak Like Me.” This is a rousing finger in the air to those who won’t take you for who you are. A reminder that regardless of the softness inside Mz. Hyde she still has a bigger set than most men. She can rock as hard as anyone, and she is model of self-assuredness any woman or man can admire.
The southern rock tinged “American Boys” opens up with a nice boogie-and-roll riff. This is arguably the album’s weakest link.It’s by no means a bad song, simply not as powerful as the rest of the album. Still it grows on you with each listen.
To wrap it all up the band kicks back with the friends and family jam, “Here’s To Us.” This is another of the album’s potential hit singles. It’s already been covered by Glee which means the band has made it, right? As sweet and sentimental as it feels, the band keeps it very real and down to earth. This track is purely infectious. Another great breakdown, and another arm-waving, lighters and cellphones to the sky, arena-built anthem.
While Mz. Hyde’s stunning vocal prowess often overshadows the rest of the band, it’s important to note how impressive the boys are. Guitarist Joe Hottinger plays with explosiveness, passion, and a keen ear for melody and tasty riffage. Bassist Josh Smith remains the band’s quietest member, but his grooves are the glue binding Halestorm‘s sonic havoc. Lastly is younger brother, Arejay, who does with a drumstick what his sibling does with a microphone. One of the most over-the-top and fun to watch drummers since Keith Moon. But infinitely more skilled and rhythmic.
Those fearing a sophomore slump can rest easy. For The Strange Case Of… is merely further proof of the band’s immense future. Where the band’s self-titled album was a near perfect debut, The Strange Case Of… finds Halestorm taking risks, diversifying its signature, and expanding its sonic palette. This is a good thing. Though broader in scope than its predecessor it never strays so far as to lose continuity.
Overall, The Strange Case Of… is not quite the masterpiece the first album was. However, what it lacks as a collective whole is made up for by the album’s high points and the risks the band took this time around. An infinitely more personal album which brings us closer to the band, thus making it perhaps a more important album than the first. Songs like “Here’s To Us”, “Love Bites (So Do I)”, “I Miss The Misery”, “Beautiful In You” and “Freak Like Me” are all poised to take Halestorm to the next level…or three.
Pre-Order The Strange Case Of… HERE