Halestorm – The Strange Case Of… (2012)

Posted: April 4, 2012 in Music

Over the last ten years or so, it seems that hard rock and heavy metal have always had that “one” band. You know the one – the band with the super hot female lead singer that wears the sexiest thing she can find on stage and makes guest appearances on a ton of other albums. Most of the time, the extreme talent matches up to the extreme boners they give teenage rock fans. Nightwish, In This Moment, Arch Enemy, Evanescence, Within Temptation and others have all taken their turn as the “it” band at one point or another over the last decade with their gorgeous front women, but it’s time for all of them to move over…

Lzzy Hale has arrived, and she’s ready to knock your teeth down your throat.

Halestorm gained tons of notoriety after their self-titled debut back in 2009, but the band has been hard at work for a lot longer than that. Officially, the band formed around 2000, with Lzzy and brother/drummer Arejay Hale and released a few EPs over the years before getting their break. In the early days, the sibling’s dad played bass for the band in a modern-day Partridge Family scenario, but left the band in 2003 (probably because being in a band with your son and daughter is kind of weak). Filling out the roster was Joe Hottinger on guitar and Josh Smith on bass, both of whom which are still with the band.

When the debut album was released, Halestorm quickly rose to the top of the modern hard rock scene. Their opening slot gigs make for a virtual who’s who of today’s top metal and hard rock artists. Avenged Sevenfold, Megadeth, Buckcherry and Papa Roach have all shared the stage with little miss thing and her band mates, so it’s no surprise to find one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2012 would be the groups sophomore release The Strange Case Of…

The band teased the release with a 4-song EP titled Mz. Hyde a couple of months ago, but we don’t review EPs here – my readers have proven to me that they want the whole meal, not just the appetizer. So the wait was on – until today. We finally got a chance to preview the new album (as well as a few new band photos), and found we have a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it.

The album opens with the ever-popular “One.. Two… One, two, three, four!” and jumps head first into a mammoth of a track titled “Love Bites (So Do I).” It’s heavy and sexy, and has Hale trading off between her unmatchable singing style, some spoken word, and some gritty, gutteral screams that actaally had my ears at attention (instead of – well – the “other” parts). A powerful opener for sure.

“Mz. Hyde” is a more even-tempoed jaunt that is supposed to be scary, but the only frightening here is how eerily similar this sounds like a Pink song. Now I’ve known all along that Halestorm isn’t a real metal band, despite what people think. Hard rock is a better term, but this song is something different. It’s really a pop song in wolf’s clothing. The guitar crunches are going to trick you into thinking this is hard rock, but after dissecting it over and over I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply well-disguised pop radio food. It doesn’t sound bad, but for someone who just lent her vocals to Mike Portnoy’s Adrenaline Mob project, it felt a little safe…

This magic trick continues with “I Miss The Misery.” Another top-40 track sneaking around the metal scene wearing a leather jacket and heavy black eye-liner. This one is, fortunately, a little rougher around the edges at times and the guitar parts and Hale straining her vocals a bit kept me from skipping ahead.

“Freak Like Me” returns to the level of rock I was expecting with complex drums and good ol’ fashioned rawk guitar. Hale’s vocals are as strong as they’ve been on the album here, and the sexual overtones were the perfect answer to getting the album back on course. Hottinger’s solo wasn’t too complex, but filled the space nicely on one of the CD’s stronger efforts.

I hate ballads. I’ve proclaimed that a million times. That said, it was nice to hear “Beautiful With You” which features Hale’s “soft” voice, as it truly is one of the best in the business. Its non-operatic realness only adds to it’s beauty. For me it sounds like a mix of Pat Benetar’s brash with Shania Twain’s perfection – and it echoes and resonates throughout.

“In Your Room” is another softie – and honestly was misplaced on the album. If you think I’m going to sit through two ballads in a row on what was supposed to be a rock album, you’re wrong. Maybe if the song was a few songs from now I’d pay it more attention, but for now we are clicking ahead…

…to “Break In,” which made me want to break the CD case. Yes, Lzzy – you have a great voice, but three ballads in a row is too many. It took ever bit of stomach I had, but I did take this track from start to finish – and it probably is the best of the three due to its stripped-down nature (it’s essentially just Hale and piano throughout).

If I didn’t get a guitar rip or maniacal drum fill to start the next song, this review was probably over. Thankfully, we get back to what we paid for with “Rock Show.” The lyrics are a bit mundane and simple, but at this point I was ready for anything that had a heart/drum beat. It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser, as it was written for them, but lyrics such as “getting high on the solo” or “when a bitchin’ riff comes” are a little beneath Hale, I thought. I’m not sure what inspired this track, but it didn’t inspire me much…

“Daughters of Darkness” opens with an interesting tribal drum and “na-na-na” combination, and suddenly I’m back into giving this record a chance. The song is good – and the lyrics are passable – so it’s a step back in the right direction. I think it’s about witches or vampires or something – it doesn’t matter – the strength of the track lies within its structure and violin highlights. Too bad the track was buried under four tracks of yuck, as it is one of the highlights of a CD a lot of people would have turned off by now.

Continuing the resurrection is “You Call Me A Bitch Like It’s A Bad Thing.” The title really says it all, as it is filled with attitude and swagger and stomps along with beefy bass strikes and pounding drums. I’ve just about forgotten about the middle part of this album by now, and am keeping the fingers (and toes) crossed for a strong finish that has been set up by the last two selections.

“American Boys” is one of those types of tracks that Kid Rock perfected. A slice of Americana, a slice of redneck, a slice of country, and a slice of good old fashioned guitar rock. I can see this being the most successful single off of the album as it has all the right things in place for a long run on the charts. It’s a beer-drinking, barbecuing good time, and worth many repeat listens.

For an album that already had one or two too many slow songs, the fact that it closes on yet another – “Here’s To Us” – was a let down. The record was just starting to pick up some steam, and a rocking finish would have seemed fitting, but it was not to be. Again, Hale’s voice is on target – but the rest is just normal rock radio filler.

Fortunately, the deluxe version (which I would recommend) had three more tracks to finish off the listen. “Don’t Know How To Stop” is better than at least four of the songs on the regular version, “Private Parts” features Sixx:AM vocalist James Michael in a softer but powerful track (which, ironically, is the best ballad on the disc), and finishes with the upbeat “Hate It When You See Me Cry”.

All in all, I think Halestorm are having a bit of difficulty honing in on their identity. It’s as if they can’t decide if they want to be AOR, pop, hard rock, or metal. I’ll tell you from the listen that you can scratch metal off the list. I doubt you’ll be seeing them at Mayhem Festival or Ozzfest anytime soon. In their current state, they seemed more fit for a stint with Skillet or Shinedown or another of those radio rock bands – and that is a bummer.

When Lzzy flashes her shark-toothed grin she has all the moxie to be the next Lita Ford. She’s an aggressive soul cursed with a beautiful voice, and The Strange Case Of… shows too much of the latter and not enough of the former. It’s going to sell, and is bound to be a financial success for the band, but for me the magic trick wasn’t all that impressive. It’s too simple, too safe, and too generic to keep me coming back. Well, I’ll probably come back for the pictures, at least…

5.5/10

Tracklist:
01. Love Bites (So Do I)
02. Mz. Hyde
03. I Miss The Misery
04. Freak Like Me
05. Beautiful With You
06. In Your Room
07. Break In
08. Rock Show
09. Daughters Of Darkness
10. You Call Me a Bitch Like It’s a Bad Thing
11. American Boys
12. Here’s To Us
13. Don’t Know How To Stop (Bonus Track)
14. Private Parts (Feat. James Michael Of Sixx:A.M. / Bonus Track)
15. Hate It When You See Me Cry (Bonus Track) (3:11)

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