|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Hero & Ola Norman|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website: Hero|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 48:07|
Some metal bands defy easy classification. The multifarious ability of Stockholm, Sweden’s Hero proves no exception. Consider how the group emphasizes a darker and melancholic Gothic foundation while also giving rise to the occasional extreme element. Further amalgamate the heaviness and symphonic aspects of power metal with the accessible hooks to melodic metal and the upshot is the third Hero’s third album (and second on Retroactive Records) from the summer of 2013 in Afterlife.
Hero represents a partnership between vocalist and guitarist Michael Hero and bassist Bjorn Sundstrom. The two got off to a shaky start in that the 2006 Hero debut Bless This Nation (45% Angelic Warlord review) - despite its joining of “groove flavored hard rock with funk and blues tendencies” - was held back by “songwriting (that) is quite average and leaves a lot to be desired”. On the 2009 follow up Immortal (80% review), Hero hit its stride by producing a “standout release” that showcased “maturity, consistency and musical depth” while touching upon “power metal and melodic metal with occasional Gothic overtones”.
Hero makes a seamless transition to Afterlife by maintaining the consistent and diverse approach. It starts with how Afterlife features some of the group’s finest songs to date, including the moody semi-progressiveness to “Left Behind” and “The Dark” (with their low-key Veni Domine underpinnings and periodic extreme vocals) and “My Heroic” and “When We Die” (maintaining the swarthy penchant but with prodigious melody structures). Also very good are the up-tempo hooks to “Now Tears Are Falling” and “My Heart Is Bleeding” and joining of the somber and sublime that is the albums impassioned title track. “Destination Graceland” delivers a ton of class in a mid-paced package and “Beautiful” a spirited joining of striking guitars and lush vocal melodies.
Helping to set Hero apart are the wonderful baritone vocals of Michael Hero, who lends to the groups Gothic edge with his lower-register and darker flavorings. Everything I said about his performance on Immortal holds true here: “(He) performs flawlessly throughout the project” and that “it is obvious that the artist has worked extremely hard to refine and smooth out his approach”. If anything the heavier and opaque nature to the Afterlife material fits his moody style and helps set him apart as one of the finer baritone vocalists this reviewer has heard.
The artist also joins with Sundstrom (now handling guitar duties) for some mean lead guitar (check out their work on “Now Tears Are Falling” and “My Heroic”) while proving every bit adept from a riff and melody standpoint (Afterlife exudes more than adequate heaviness but not to the point of overbearing). Providing solid support are Henrik Deleskog’s trenchant bass lines and vigorous drumming of Daniel Mouton.
Lone complaint to Afterlife revolves around production, which highlights a slight thinness in terms of a low-end lacking presence and over-exaggerated high end. Listen to Afterlife side by side with Immortal (featuring the brusquer low-end and weightier guitar tones) and you will notice the difference at once. I found that adjusting treble (upward) and bass (downward) helps even things out.
A measure of the problem potentially revolves around the fact producer Ola Norman also mixed and mastered the project. It is my understanding that you want your mixing and mastering technician(s) to be separate from the producer (in order to allow a different set of ears to scrutinize things in the more objective manner). Hence, it might have made better sense to allow J Powell at Steinhaus (a Retroactive staple) to handle mastering duties instead. I cannot help but thinks the results would have been better.
Without a doubt Afterlife proves a challenging album to pigeonhole. Yes, it brings a wide array of styles - again, ranging from the Gothic to the melodic to the extreme - but stands out as a versatile work certain to appeal to those into more than one form of metal. In the end I rate Afterlife the equal to Immoral. Whereas Afterlife might be a bit stronger musically, Immortal excels in the area of production. My advice would be to obtain both albums in order to best experience the unique Hero sound.
“Now Tears Are Falling” shines with its melodic sensibilities. The song starts calmly before building into a full bore rocker, pummeling ahead with keyboards backing stern guitars until giving way to the unyielding feel of its anthem-like chorus. The blistering lead guitar helps tie the rollicking scene together. Lyric snippet:
Death and greed
And hungry hearts
We search for faith
And we find hope
It’ll bring out love
And peace of mind
“My Heart Is Bleeding” maintains the upbeat penchant but with the richer and warmer texturing. Slicing guitar edges and battering drums set the front to back tone, contrasting with the occasional acoustic (just past the halfway point) and piano (at the end) based moments. Somber but melodic are the first words that come to mind.
The albums title track proves darker with its mid-paced focus. The song comes across smooth and flowing, playing up symphonic keyboards and layered vocal melodies in presenting with the all around greater laid back setting. The upshot is a piece not quite as heavy as some but no less notable with its emotional flavorings. Lyric snippet:
I can see you there in the light
Now you’re free and now you see
But I must say you left
Empty spaces down here
The drugs brought you down
But now you have the victory crown
I’ll see you there and I’ll met you there
Rise and alive
Hero remains in top form on the Gothic influenced “Left Behind”. This one draws heavily from Veni Domine (think The Album Of Labour) with its hauntingly eerie elements joined with a profound melody basis. Appropriately, verses creep and crawl until things explode at once for a resounding chorus intermingled with extreme vocals. A high energy aptitude, as a result, aligns with the ethereal scene. Great song.
“Destination Graceland” takes a hook driven mid-paced heading. Piano and orchestration uphold the songs verses - almost semi-ballad in form - until impetus breaks out for the unwavering chorus taking the more forthright heading. Crunchy guitars give rise to a stauncher feel and Michael Hero’s stark vocal presence some poignant underpinnings. Lyrics snippet:
On the road, destination Graceland
To see the beauty, the land of grace
Going home to the freedom city
Where death and pain is no more
Streets of gold and streets of jasper
And every tear wiped away
No goodbyes and no more sadness
Enjoy the ride it is time
A return to an up-tempo direction can be found in “Beautiful”. Abundant full-on energy can be found here, with edge-laden guitars setting the tone and more of the group’s pristine vocal melodies shouldering the spirited chorus. Symphonic keyboards can be found throughout, while impetus briefly tapers for the bluesy guitar solo.
“The Dark” takes an approach not unlike “Left Behind” with its leanings towards the Gothic and periodic use of extreme vocals. The outcome is a powerful a track as you will find, merging some of the albums heaviest guitars with piano but not forsaking melody in the process (the staunchly done chorus will remain with you for some time). Front to back this is as classy a track as you will find. Lyric snippet:
You’re false and you are lying
I don’t like the fact that you are here
And I reject you, you’re painful
Like the scars of a vampires kiss
I don’t like your presence
So get out and step out of my way
The light will kill you
From dusk to dawn
Shining light will conquer
Unyielding melody defines “My Heroic”. Mid-paced is the focal point here, with an intermingling of unremitting guitars (the heavier aspect is maintained throughout) with a surprisingly delicate chorus (gently done in lavish fashion). Swirling keyboards can also be found along with an instrumental interlude that calmly slows to a standstill before giving way to a lead guitar and keyboard duel.
“When We Die” picks up the tempo (if only slightly), maintaining a lush and verdant atmosphere with a big as it gets melody (chorus is of a near commercial capacity) and the trademark Hero crunch driven focus. The stop and start time signatures play up some progressive overtones (which come across quite refreshing I might add). Also of note is the big bass guitar that gives way to a ripping guitar solo. Lyrics snippet:
When we die, we still live
Risen and glorious
When we die, we’ll do on
We are like the wind at sea
And the pointer shows the way
We are like the wind at sea
We follow the master plan
Closing things is two minute interlude piece “When Afterlife Begins” carried by keyboards and quietly done guitar harmonies.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Now Tears Are Falling” (4:48), “My Heart Is Bleeding” (4:40), “Afterlife” (6:13), “Left Behind” (5:07), “Destination Graceland” (4:51), “Beautiful” (4:52), “The Dark” (5:28), “My Heroic” (5:06), “When We Die” (5:00), “When Afterlife Begins” (1:57)
Michael Hero - Guitars & Lead Vocals
Bjorn Sundstrom - Guitars
Henrik Deleskog - Bass
Daniel Mouton - Drums & Percussion