|Musical Style: Groovy Hard Rock||Produced By: Bjorn Sundstrom|
|Record Label: Good News Music||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2006||Artist Website: Hero|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 45%|
|Running Time: 35:25|
Sweden’s Hero came together in 2003 as a result of a partnership that formed between Sons Of Thunder lead vocalist/guitarist and bass guitarist Bjorn Sundstrom. The two began work on new material and headed into the studio shortly thereafter, but when the time came to perform live, Veni Domine brothers Torbjorn (guitars) and Thomas (drums) Weinesjo were brought in to round out the bands line up. What we have in Hero is a joining of two bands that literally bring a melting pot of styles to the project: Sons Of Thunder moves in a power metal direction with an occasional thrash influence, while Veni Domine combines elements of doom, goth and progressive metal. So what does this all add up to in the end? Well, not exactly what you would expect in that on its full length debut Bless This Nation Hero plays a groove flavored style of hard rock with an occasional funk or blues based tendency. While in no way am I implying this to be a bad thing, it is the music I find disappointing in that, with a few notable exceptions, the songwriting here is quite average and leaves a lot to be desired. After repeated listening, for example, it was my experience that the albums compositions flow quite well during their verse portions only to hit a wall upon reaching choruses bereft of hooks strong enough to keep your full and undivided attention. This is best exhibited on tracks such as “Deo Gloria”, “Forever” and “Heart Of Gold” all of which have the potential to be good but do not quite make the grade.
As with Sons Of Thunder, Michael Hero handles lead vocal duties and his performance only serves to stand in support of my opinion that he is a marginal vocal talent at best- at least when it comes to performing this type of music. I cannot help but think that someone with the charisma of Jamie Rowe (Guardian, AdrianGale) or power of Dale Thompson (Bride) would better complement the groovy hard rock found here. In the end, Michael, with his low key and mid-octave ranged vocal style, would probably be better off sticking with the power metal of Sons Of Thunder. To gain a better understanding of my point, give tracks such as “Superior” – where he sings way off key – and “Bless This Nation” – in which his vocal delivery comes across quite strained – several spins.
Michael’s talents, on the other hand, are best displayed as a guitarist. Anyone reading this who owns either of Sons Of Thunder’s albums, Load, Aim, Fire and Circus Of Power, knows that he is a first class talent on rhythm guitar (kind of reminds me of Jimmy Brown) and proves no slouch on lead guitar, either. And when taking into account the abundant abilities of Torbjorn Weinesjo, a rock solid foundation of guitar driven talent is put in place to build the project upon. I really enjoy the edgy hard rocking sounds of “All On Fire”, “Battery” and “Heroes Place” - three of the albums better tracks – in which the two showcase their talents in no uncertain terms.
One of the more annoying aspects to the project – and I really hate to be overly critical here – is the cheese-ball narration found throughout it. Do not get me wrong, narration certainly has its place, such as to support the storyline of a concept album (Pyramaze’s excellent Legend Of The Bone Carver comes to mind), but otherwise more often than not only serves to get in the way. And such is the case here.
Production values are quite good, coming across in a crisp and clean sounding manner and with no overriding elements of muddiness. The only complaint worth mentioning, however, is that Michael’s lead vocals end up placed way too forward in the mix.
“All On Fire” gets the album off to a very fine start. The crunchy rhythm guitar introducing the song drops from the mix upon reaching its first verse. As “All On Fire” picks up in pace, the rhythm guitar returns with just the right amount of edge to lead the way to a chorus with a good catchy hook.
“Holy” begins at a guitar driven upbeat tempo prior to slowing upon reaching its first verse. Tapering off even further, the song culminates upon attaining a smooth sounding chorus in which vocal harmonies help create an atmosphere with a worshipful feel:
Holy, holy – I will lift You’re name up on high, You’re holy
This one also ranks with the albums better compositions.
“Deo Gloria” opens strongly to a near perfect blend of piano and rhythm guitar, proceeding through its first verse as the rhythm guitar bounces in and out of the mix. Once the rhythm guitar establishes itself for the songs pre-chorus, it shores up a chorus buttressed by a forward mix of backing vocals that come across sounding way too awkward.
Getting underway to an upfront mix of rhythm guitar, “Forever” evenly flows through its verse portions at an upbeat tempo. The song hits a dead end, however, as it attains chorus in which the bands vocal harmonies again end up placed way too high in the mix. Torbjorn adds a blistering guitar solo but it is not enough to put things over the top.
After “Battery” starts in a laid back manner with a piano opening its first verse, the rhythm guitar crashes to the front of the mix in time to hold sway over a cool groove-flavored chorus. The piano returns at the start of an instrumental passage carried by several seconds of rhythm guitar.
Opening to several seconds of grit-laden rhythm guitar, “Heart Of Gold” is urged through its verse portions by a punchy bass line until it reaches a chorus conveying a worshipful message:
Oh how I long to be
In Your presence Lord
Oh how I long to be in Your light
The song falls flat on its face, on the other hand, when, upon reaching its second chorus, a plethora of female backing vocals puts in place an environment with way too much of a slick CCM-ish feel to it. This one does not quite make it for me. Good message, though.
The lackluster “Superior” represents the albums lowest point, a more laid back number carried its distance by a restrained mix of rhythm guitar. A chorus that, for a lack of better words, is completely forgettable only compounds the problem. It does not help matters that Michael signs horribly out of key. Next.
“Heroes Place”? Now this is a terrific example of hard rock! The song fades in until a crunchy rhythm guitar takes over and drives it forward in good catchy fashion. Maintaining its energy-laden momentum during its verse portions, “Heroes Place” culminates for a hook filled chorus in which backing vocals are put to effective use (unlike “Deo Gloria” and “Forever”). Michael steps to the plate and graces the scene with his blistering lead guitar work. Guys- this is the way it is supposed to be done! Next time give us ten more like this one! “Heroes Place” talks about victory in the life of a Christian:
Land of the heroes
Home of the brave
Shelter for the warriors
Washed in the streams of life
And we shall overcome
Time will come
We will be there all saved by grace
“Hero” is a brief (:37) track in which a piano stands in support of narration from Psalm 33:11-12. Yawn.
“Bless This Nation”, appropriately, follows and again showcases a very shaky vocal performance from Michael. Taking off as a muscular bass line underscores a driving guitar riff, the two push the song forward until it achieves an up-tempo chorus held back by Michael’s strained vocal delivery.
To sum up, I find myself liking only four songs on Bless This Nation - “All On Fire”, “Holy”, “Battery” and “Heroes Place”. The remainder of the albums material, I regret, fails to hold up under repeated play. An average lead vocal performance only serves to further detract from the project. A certain amount of consistency and continuity is needed if any future projects recorded by Hero are going to achieve a greater degree of success.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “All On Fire” (4:35), “Holy” (3:18), “Deo Gloria” (3:52), “Forever” (3:59), “Battery” (4:07), ‘Heart Of Gold” (4:09), “Superior” (3:01), “Heroes Place” (3:50), “Hero” (:37), “Bless This Nation” (3:53)
Michael Hero – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Torbjorn Weinesjo – Guitars
Bjorn Sundstrom – Bass
Thomas Weinesjo – Drums