Burn Halo – Up From The Ashes (2011)

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Music

James Hart has been around the block a few times. As frontman for Orange County, California’s Eighteen Visions, Hart led the metalcore scene to new heights during the turn of the century. In fact, 18V not only commandeered the scene into modern-rock radio and acceptance, but also spawned other great bands led by departed members of the group. Dave Peters went on to form straight-edged hardcore legends Throwdown, and former guitarist Brendan Schieppati left the group to create Bleeding Through.

James persevered through all these departures and kept Eighteen Visions on track, releasing 5 studio albums (and one “Greatest Hits” collection) between 1998-2006. Yet somehow – at the apex of their success in 2007 – the band broke up amidst rumors of riffs between band mates and being dropped by their label, Epic Records.

Hart dispelled these rumors with class, stating simply that “18V had been a band for 10+ years, It just got to the point where we all had different goals and ideas for the band on a musical and touring basis. We all felt it was time to move on to something fresh and new.” For Hart, fresh and new came in the form of his latest project Burn Halo.

Originally, Hart’s thoughts were to work as a solo artist, but through the writing and recording of the first album (with Zac Maloy of The Nixons), it became apparent that the music would best be served as group effort – thus the birth of Burn Halo. The self-titled debut was recorded with members of Nickelback, Jane’s Addiction, and Avenged Sevenfold all taking turns on the instruments before the album was completed in early 2008.

Ready to reclaim his place in the metalcore world with album in hand, Hart had his world drop right on top of him. For undisclosed reasons, his new label – Island Records – decided they were not going to release the album. This presented Hart with some difficult choices: either scrap the project completely, or shop the album to other labels in hope of finding a suitable partner to get the album released. Hart couldn’t get the “feel” he needed from any other labels, so his manager Bret Bair started his own label – Rawkhead Rekords (through Warner) and got the album released. In the meantime, Hart had solidified Burn Halo’s lineup, and finally, in March 2009, the album was released.

The album did well, cracking a few rock charts along the way and collecting decent critical acclaim, but left Hart wanting more. After all, he actually had a solid new band now and felt like a “group effort” was calling (as the entire first album was written completely by himself). The band returned to the studio in late 2010 to begin work on the next album which Hart cited as “…even more rockin’ than the first. Heavier, faster, more metal and more in your face.”

Talk is talk, though, and any good rock album should be like a good cocktail. A perfect balance of all its elements that make you want another, and another, and another…

But first we have to figure out how to put this drink together. The ice cubes are bar-perfect in Hart’s band mates, guitarists Joey Cuhna and Brandon Lynn, bassist Aaron Boehler, and newcomer Dillon Ray handling drums. All skilled musicians, it’s obvious that Hart has the right surrounding characters this time around.

The opening track “Tear It Down,” with its cowboy/Bon Jovi flavored intro and raucous guitars tells us we’re drinking hard, and provides the rocks glass to fill up.

The tight sound of production of “Up From The Ashes” tells us the liquor needs to be strong – say whiskey – and is a powerful, personal track. But more on that in a bit. For now, it’s a solid rocker with the atmospheric appeal that should open every album.

The whiskey keeps pouring in the form of “Stranded”, “Alone”, and “Dakota,” all genuine hard rock A+ material. Burn Halo makes this drink a double, with additional chest-pounders “I Won’t Back Down” and “Give Me A Sign”, which was the most groove-laden track on the album.

But this isn’t the band for just knocking down shot after shot. We need a mixer to smooth it out, and that comes in the form of the ballads “Threw It All Away” and the amazing “Stuck In A Rut” – which showcases Hart’s vocals as strong as they’ve ever been.

Normally, that would be enough for a good spirit, but this drink has even more to offer. “Rest My Soul” is a bit of a departure for the band, and has a light, poppy feel to it. We’ll call it the cocktail cherry. It’s far more than a garnish, and adds a touch of sweetness to the drink that expands the flavor of the harder stuff at the same time. This track will find itself to rock radio soon, and should have a lengthy visit on the charts as well.

So we’ve ended up with a pretty stiff-yet-enjoyable drink with this album, but really want that lingering taste to make us take notice. That comes in the form of the album’s (pre-bonus track) closer “Shine.” With its strong bass, epic structure, and soft orchestral background, it’s that shot of 100-proof liquor – added at the very end to light on fire – that really makes the drink – or in this case, album – memorable and special. It teems of perfect writing, great musicianship, and flawless production. A credit to everyone in the band.

So I knocked this drink back – a couple of times for good measure – and felt its effects long after finishing the last of the bottle. What really came to light for me in this state of “inebriation” was the sincere personality this album oozes from start to finish. The trials and tribulations of James Hart are written about with deep, honest emotion. You get his history, as a man and an artist, through each and every track of this album. I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for the guy – after all, the rug of superstardom was literally pulled out from under him.

The album doesn’t tell the story of a guy who’s down and out, though. Quite the opposite. It speaks of a level-headed man who has been humbled, but has the eagerness and confidence to climb the mountain again and go as far as his band and talent will take him.

I hope he brought a flag to perch atop the mountain, as “Up From The Ashes” just might take him all the way back to the top. If you’re looking for a heavier rock album that flirts with metal but stays a little more grounded, this is the album for you.

9/10

Tracklist:
01 – Tear It Down
02 – Up From The Ashes
03 – Stranded
04 – Threw It All Away
05 – Alone
06 – Stuck In A Rut
07 – Give Me A Sign
08 – Dakota
09 – Rest My Soul
10 – I Wont Back Down
11 – Shine
12 – Bonus Track

http://www.amazon.com/Up-Ashes-Burn-Halo/dp/B004YKB4SY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1309214764&sr=8-2

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Editor’s Note: It’s not by accident that the references to alcohol were presented here, even though Mr. Hart is straight-edge and abstains from drugs and hard drink. The message was that music can be just as intoxicating as booze, and the parallels are not to be taken offense to.

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