|Musical Style: Gothic Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Roxx Records||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: The Hero|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 75%|
Taking inspiration from its Gothic metal and hard rock past, Stockholm, Sweden’s based Hero has centered its new album, the fall of 2016 Roxx Records release Miracles, around a darker, swarthier and more brooding sound. This could not contrast further with the groups 2006 debut Bless This Nation, which despite amalgamating elements of hard rock, groove, funk and the blues came across inconsistent from songwriting that (as taken from the 45% Angelic Warlord review) “proves to be quite average and leaves a lot to be desired”. Noting how I liked only four songs on the album. Hero started to come into its own on follow up release Immortal from three years later due to “showcasing the maturity, consistency and musical depth that guitarist and vocalist Michael Hero hinted at in the past but could not quite deliver” (80% Angelic Warlord review). Musically, the album touched upon “heavier territory in combining aspects of power metal and melodic metal with occasional Gothic overtones”. Afterlife, the third Hero full length released in 2013, represents a seamless transition from Immortal by “(emphasizing) a melancholic Gothic foundation (and) the occasional extreme element” while “(further amalgamating) the heaviness of power metal with the accessible hooks to melodic metal” (80% review).
Where does Miracles factor within this equation? A whole lot different and a whole lot the same. In terms of the former, Hero (actually now officially known as ‘The Hero’, but for the purpose of this review we will continue to refer to as simply Hero) has forsaken the occasional ‘extreme elements’ that made their way onto Afterlife while correspondingly downplaying much of the power metal influences that characterized its past work. From the latter standpoint, what we have is a new and improved Hero whom pursues a musical direction rooted further in Gothic territory, noting that previously referenced ‘darker, swarthier and more brooding sound’. That being said the same signature Hero heaviness comes into play but is more of the straightforward hard rock and melodic metal type as opposed to the power metal variety. In the same way that Afterlife represents a seamless transition from Immortal, Miracles proves the next logical musical step for Hero as it progresses in the wake of Afterlife.
A good measure of the change to the Hero sound resides in production. Whereas Immortal featured near perfect production with a brusque low end and weighty guitars, Afterlife felt slightly thin with the low end lacking presence and over-exaggerated high end. The production to Miracles falls somewhere in between in that while not separating itself from the thinness to Afterlife, it plays up the greater bass heavy sound, which allows those melancholic Gothic sensibilities to stand out that much further.
Equally important is the manner in which front man Michael Hero continues to bring a vocal style rooted in the somber and baritone. I always felt he was miscast on the groove laden hard rock to Bless This Nation but fits like a hand in glove on Immoral and Afterlife and even more so Miracles with its added emphasis on a Gothic based sound. What I said in my Afterlife review continues to hold true: “(the) opaque nature to (its) material fits his moody style and helps set him apart as one of the finer baritone vocalists this reviewer has heard”.
Album could not start more decisively to one of its heavier tracks, “Kill The Monster”. The song impels its length to abounding up-tempo groove as towering guitars pummel in and out of the mix, only decelerating for the periodic calmer moment in which crystalline piano holds sway. Instrumentally, an even more forthright statement prevails as stark rhythm guitar leads the way. I also appreciate the double kick drum at the end, courtesy of holdover timekeeper Daniel Mouton.
A more melodic direction is taken on “The Broken Hearted”, a laid back and reserved mid-tempo piece that best exemplifies those solemn Hero Gothic proclivities. Consider how rhythm guitars still assert themselves but also not to quite the same extent as on predecessor “Kill The Monster”. The ripping blues based leads of newcomer Emanuel Wärja, whom supplants departed long-term guitarist Bjorn Sundstrom, carry the instrumental moments.
“Miracles” returns the album to an up-tempo direction while maintaining the Gothic leanings, as found in the ethereal keyboards that highlight the backdrop. Also upheld is the stress on the melodic from how guitars maintain more of a hard rock feel as opposed to all out metal. Refrain represents every bit the strong point, with its reverberant qualities successfully grasping a commercial element.
“Tell The World” might be albums most Gothic based, aligning a forward keyboard basis (that almost mirrors the industrial) with a plodding momentum that has mournful written all over it. It is also albums shortest at just over three minutes, but it also fits well within its length in that with an added minute or two it might wear out its welcome (due to the toiling feel at hand).
“Via Dolorosa” proves intricately woven in also touching upon the commercial. The song presents with some interesting variances, including verses in which keyboards and drums play prominent roles and refrain that contrastingly finds guitars aligning with the lush if not exquisite scene. I love the instrumental section as piano and rhythm guitar give way to church organ and choir vocals, which cannot help but remind of Saviour Machine.
“Corpus Christi” starts to a cinematic keyboard solo prior to metal edged guitars cutting in. The song makes the same type of assailing impact as “Kill The Monster” moving ahead, assertive with its forthright disposition but every bit bottom heavy from its catchy groove and echoing bass. A rawer, bare bones mentality establishes itself that places “Corpus Christi” well within straightforward hard rock territory.
“Melancholiah”, a minute long piano based instrumental, gives way to “Crying In The Rain”. Appropriately starting to the sound of a thunderstorm followed by a drum solo, “Crying In The Rain” slowly plods its remaining distant to traces of the wistful in allowing for a semi-ballad feel to preside. Michael Hero makes effective use of his baritone vocal abilities in lending to the moody and sorrowful setting that has established itself.
“Join Me In Life” opens its initial seconds delicately to a melding of keyboards and acoustic guitar. The song proceeds to set a steadfast mid-paced tempo its remaining length, calmly drifting through its verses to stilly done guitar only to gradually build momentum until reaching the impassioned refrain that finds guitars moving to a forward place in the mix at the end. Things shine instrumentally to a beautiful classic guitar solo.
Raw edged hard rocker “When Evil Blooms” sets the brazen tone from the get go. With mirthful keyboards dancing in the backdrop, the song plunders forward in making a near doom metal statement with its brooding mentality but comes across every bit accessible in terms of the catchy hooks that make every bit the prevalent statement. Another stretch of blistering lead guitar rounds out this reviewer’s choice cut.
I find “Shot” the least interesting of the Miracles tracks. Perhaps it the straightforward nature to the song - it is the albums least complex and technical - that prevents it from garnering my full attention, but it could also be the short three and a half minute length. Whereas the other shorter Miracles track “Tell The World” stood out with its outside the box industrial flair, “Shot” fails to separate itself in the same unique manner. My feeling is that Hero (for the most part) is not necessarily a three-minute song band or perhaps more specifically the Gothic genre does not always lend itself to three-minute songs.
While still a very good album, I rate Miracles a light notch below Immortal and Afterlife. I could argue musical consistency in that I skip over one Miracles song while its predecessor track listings flow without flaw; I could also point to production, which would benefit from some tightening that a touch of polish might bring. That being said the stronger Miracles material rates with the group’s best, while Michael Hero continues to put in solid performances vocally and guitar wise, with a distinct vote of confidence also given to his band colleagues. Fans of Hero’s past albums not to mention the various Gothic genres (in all their various forms) would do themselves a favor by checking Miracles out.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Kill The Monster” (5:07),“The Broken Hearted” (5:05), “Miracles” (3:53), “Tell The World” (3:06), “Via Dolorosa” (4:06), “Corpus Christi” (4:57), “Melancholiah” (1:11), “Crying In The Rain” (4:28), “Join Me In Life” (5:10), “When Evil Blooms” (4:09), “Shot” (3:38)
Michael Hero - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Emanuel Wärja - Guitars
Henrik Deleskog - Bass.
Daniel Mouton - Drums