|Musical Style: Epic Metal||Produced By: Hedda|
|Record Label: No Remorse||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website: Hedda|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 85%|
The Storm, the independently released spring of 2013 full length debut from Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Hedda, is one of those albums whose artwork perfectly telegraphs the character of the listening experience. In this case, a sword wielding warrior angel in medieval armor over a backdrop of flashing lightning and threatening skies speaks accurately of the lyrical and musical direction at hand: A concept based around a fictional war between various factions of angels with power/progressive metal employed as the vehicle to get said storyline across.
Hedda got its start in 2007 as a result of a joining between former Dimension X member’s guitarist Kent Herman and bassist Jamie Mac. Rounding out its line-up the following year with vocalist John Swenson and drummer Jef Jaeger (the latter also previously of Dimension X), Hedda released its appropriately entitled four song debut EP The Calm Before… in 2009. “See The Light”, a new song the group recorded in 2011, was later chosen as the opening track to the ProgPower USA compilation CD.
Hedda describes itself as “provocative metal” and lists Queensryche, Rush, Iron Maiden, Kansas, Saga, Dream Theater, Asia, Kamelot, Masterplan, Styx, Firewind, Nocturnal Rites, Fates Warning and Dokken as its influences. Yes, a wide array of styles, but all rightly serve to depict the musical trajectory of The Storm, which is a foundation of melodic power metal with a penchant for the European, symphonic, neo-classical and epic genres. Mix in occasional touches of the progressive (both rock and metal) with some decidedly melodic metal overtones and the upshot is the well-rounded Hedda sound.
Mid-paced pieces “Never Yield” (with its militant facets) and “Gypsy’s Kiss” (bottom heavy capacity) and up-tempo tracks “See The Light” (bringing an anthem-like focus) and “Heaven’s Gate” (victorious and triumphant in form) best reflect the groups power metal leanings. When branching out, Hedda also explores symphonic and epic territory (“Thirteen Angels”) in addition to some neo-classical moments (“Full Circle”) and others coming across slower and weightier in form (“Dance With Fire”). A progressive side to the group can be found in the furious torrents to “Cataclysm” and dramatic hints on “The Gates”, two lengthier tracks noted for their intricate arrangements.
The Storm is an album that grew on me with subsequent listens, precisely four or five before its accessible hooks started to draw me in. But once The Storm grabbed my attention it refused to let go in that Hedda proves expert at weaving its material with the type of melodies and catchy choruses certain to have you returning time and again. Consistency is the first word that comes to mind in that the album presents with nine worthy full length tracks with the depth to stand on their own and complement the storyline at the same time.
The Storm successfully steers clear of the pitfalls often inherit to concept albums. You will not find, for instance, any cheesy narration; rather Hedda relies on the strength to the music and lyrics to convey the concept in question. An overabundance of “interlude” pieces will not be encountered either. Some concept albums come across cluttered from this standpoint; not so The Storm in featuring only two such tracks: Introductory piece “The War” and instrumental “Or Be Forever Fallen”.
The concept behind The Storm is the classic battle between good and evil (and the temptation, moral dilemmas and sacrifice, tough choices, and hope of redemption that go hand in hand) in depicting the prelude and culmination of a second war between the angels of light and dark and those in between. Further enhancing the plot is a main character that also happens to be a highly trained former member of Delta Force.
While the concept draws inspiration from (but is not limited to) The Holy Bible, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Angelic lore, Hollywood and the band imagination, do not confuse Hedda with being a Christian band or The Storm a Christian album. Yes, all four Hedda members are believers and The Storm does included spiritual concepts; however, the album, in the groups own words, “is by no means designed to be a religious commentary” but rather is a “fictitious chapter (that focuses on) the oldest and best story every told”. So take The Storm for what it is: An interesting story backed by every bit as interesting music.
Front man John Swenson proves expert in getting the story across with a vocal approach that walks a fine line between Bruce Dickinson and D.C. Cooper. He stays mostly in mid-ranged territory but can also have some soaring moments not unlike Geoff Tate or let loose with a falsetto reminiscent to Michael Sweet. Guitars are ably done by Kent Herman, lending to both the groups heaviness (from brazen as it gets riffing) and melodic aspects (a plethora of tight harmonies abound). Plenty of room is allowed for soloing as well, as his work on “Never Yield” (stately side to his playing) and “Cataclysm” (more fiery aspect) attests. Strong performances are also put in by Jamie Mac (with his intricate bass lines) and Jef Jaeger (powerful drumming).
Production and packaging are capably done, two areas that at times get overlooked on independent releases (and often prove the fine line dividing a great album from one that is merely good).
Lyrics need to be taken within context of the storyline in that each song is made up of dialogue between the cast of characters. Hence, to understand the meaning of an individual song one first needs to know where it falls within said story (and the songs before and following it). As a result, I decided not to include lyrics with the track by track to avoid things either being taken out of context or giving away the plot in the process. Lyrics are available at the bands website for those interested.
Track By Track
“Never Yield” starts to crushing walls of guitars prior to descending into its mid-paced verses underscored by a pumping bass line. Tapering ever further, the song evens out for a catchy chorus in which a militant flair is upheld. Majestic lead guitar (sort of like Blind Guardian) that transitions to churning rhythm guitars carries thing instrumentally.
“Thirteen Angels” gives rise to a symphonic feel. Glorious and stately, the song places guitars at a slightly reduced position while highlighting a forward keyboard mix in the process. Chorus moves at the more advanced tempo in giving rise to a majestic - almost worshipful - milieu. I am somewhat reminded of Theocracy.
The gently played guitars at the start of “See The Light” soon give way to riffs of a galloping capacity. The song sets an upbeat tempo the rest of the way, driven and settled in focus with Swenson singing in a complementary lower register. A perfectly placed chorus gives rise to an anthem-like mentality. Guitars and chorus dominate this one.
“Dance With Fire” ranks with the albums best. The song stands out with its heavy set harmonies, almost seething for its darker and ominous verses prior to moving on to a granulating chorus in which impetus slows to a near stopping point. The end result is a pointed piece that comes across in the form of a warning. Also of note is how keyboards carry the instrumental moments.
“Cataclysm” introduces some progressive underpinnings. The song is up-tempo all the way, tempestuous almost to the point of speed metal while bursting of every bit as much passion and angst. Technical underpinnings abound, as the non-stop momentum propels the listening through a decisive pre-chorus, even more striking chorus and extended instrumental section in which Herman showcases his flashy soloing abilities.
“The Gates” maintains the intricate focus. The song starts its first minute hauntingly quiet to a melding of acoustic guitars and orchestration. Impetus picks up at once, as forceful guitars and rollicking drums kick in to create a tumultuous scene in which catchy interplay takes placed between the lead characters with the overall effect coming across dramatic in capacity.
“Full Circle” highlights some neo-classical influences, particularly during its instrumental moments at the start and stretch at the halfway point carried by radiant soloing. Symphonic keyboards help polish the backdrop while pristine vocal melodies touch up the stunning chorus. Emotional but striking is the feel at hand.
Short instrumental “Or Be Forever Fallen” (2:18) starts to a drum solo that gives way to fusion based riffing. The song comes across upbeat in form, with an uplifting tempo and tight melodies and harmonies to match. In the end it proves this one proves segue to the final tracks serving to close the storyline.
“Gypsy’s Kiss” smoothly flows ahead to double bass driven riffing at once, playing up an unfathomable low-end in which faint traces of organ can be heard but also reinforcing a momentous chorus supporting the multifarious complexities involved. Impetus slows even further for a grinding instrumental section.
“Heaven’s Fate”, the albums choice track, stands out with its victorious aura. A heaviness bringing to mind Symphony X can be found here, with guitars full and weighty in the mix, albeit briefly fading to the background for verses in which a pumping bass line holds sway. A triumphant chorus bringing every bit as much passion and verve finds guitars returning in full force. In the end this one represents the musical culmination to the storyline in question.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The War” (:51), “Never Yield” (4:51), “Thirteen Angels” (5:22), “See The Light” (5:36), “Dance With Fire” (4:57), “Dance With Fire” (4:57), “Cataclysm” (6:51), “The Gates” (5:51), “Full Circle” (5:08), “Or Be Forever Fallen” (2:18), “Gypsy’s Kiss” (5:01), “Heaven’s Fate” (5:40)
John Swenson - Lead Vocals
Kent Herman – Guitars & Keyboards
Jamie Mac – Bass, Guitars & Keyboards
Jef Jaeger – Drums
Jeff Konkol - Keyboards
Paul Moore - Keyboards
Carter Hunnicutt - Keyboards