Halestorm is an American hardrock/metal band from Pennsylvania, mostly notable for their backbreaking tour schedule, often playing as many as 250 shows in a single year, and joining forces with the likes of Alter Bridge, Chevelle, Stone Sour, and Three Days Grace, to name a few. They seem to have firmly established themselves as one of the hardest working members of the modern alt-rock scene.
Their studio work, for that matter, is one of the more under-appreciated discographies in modern rock music. Their 2009, self-titled debut remains one of my favorite albums of that year, filling one track after another with a tight blend of heavy guitars, grooving drums, and Lizzy Hale’s undeniable vocal. The follow ups, first in 2012 and again in 2015, sport much of the same, each with their own highs and lows, but consistently impressive throughout. With such a strong early catalog, I found myself quite excited for the upcoming fourth installment, and on July 27th, the group gave us Vicious.
The first thing that longtime listeners may notice about this album is the maturity in the melodies. The guitar distortion is used much more sparingly, and the group even includes a few vocal-only tags to add a layer of dynamics when the heavier instrumentation returns. This is used to great effect on on the opener, “Black Vultures,” which also benefits from an excellent intro, but with diminishing returns on tracks like “Do Not Disturb.”
Joe Hottinger’s guitar work is a real highlight as well. While much of his work tends to fade into the mix, his ability to toy with harmonic minors on tracks like “Skulls,” and “Painkiller,” shouldn’t go unnoticed by more focused listeners.
Lyrically, the record is something of a mixed bag. Lizzy writes well on “White Dress,” and “Conflicted,” when focusing on her bad-girl persona, and penchant for partying and one night stands. She’s even passable on “Buzz,” which focuses on a similar topic, though her vocal performance certainly covers a few weak and repetitive lines. However, tracks “Killing Ourselves to Live,” or the title track, “Vicious,” simply string together one cliche after another to form a few almost unbearable verses.
Undoubtedly the worst sound the band attempts on this album is their flirtations with the classic, acoustic guitar driven, rock ballad. The closer, “The Silence,” is somewhat listenable, especially in the early going, before becoming simply by the end. The other attempt at this sound, however, comes earlier in the track-listing with the “Heart of Novocaine.” This is easily the worst track on the record, mixing a cheesy, Nickleback-esque chord progression with overly dramatic lyrics and a rare bad performance from Lizzy. It’s truly the only track on this project which is without a redeeming quality.
Above all, though, virtually any mistake made on this project is easily painted over by Lizzy Hale’s ability to turn in one genuinely incredible vocal performance after another. A quick listen to “Uncomfortable,” likely the best track on entire release, will easily prove my point. Her voice is violent, powerful, and commanding. She has solid control over her runs, as well as an ability to wail like few in the rock world can today.
The Alt-Rock/Metal of the mid-2000’s has been slowly drained of heart for several years now, but Vicious sees one of the genre’s hardest working, and most underrated acts doing their best to breathe a new life and passion into the sound. It may not top every chart, but it’s nothing if not a supremely enjoyable listen.
HEAR VICIOUS: https://open.spotify.com/album/6hIMdrqgLXY73T9411Y7Ux