Album Title: Into The Great Unknown
Date of Release: 22 September 2017
When I reviewed ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, the fourth album from Swedish hard rock band H.E.A.T, I suggested that it was even better than their previous effort, ‘Address The Nation’. And that was a superb album, one of my all-time favourite hard rock albums no less. So, the bar has been set stratospherically high for album number five, entitled ‘Into The Great Unknown’. But let’s face it, if anyone can meet these expectations, it is going to be H.E.A.T.
With the core of the band remaining intact, the only alteration to the line-up for the new disc is the somewhat surprising departure of guitarist Eric Rivers towards the back end of 2016. Given that Rivers was a founding member of H.E.A.T and was an integral ingredient within the overall H.E.A.T sound, the shoes to fill are pretty large. However, arguably the perfect replacement has been found in the shape of Dave Dalone, who returns to the band that he left in 2013. He re-joins vocalist Eric Grönwall, keyboardist Jona Tee, bassist Jimmy Jay and drummer Crash and together, they headed to Thailand to record ‘Into The Great Unknown’ alongside producer Tobias Lindell.
Now, the cynics amongst us might raise an eyebrow at the choice of location for the recording of the new album. Were the band just looking for a warm, exotic place to party? Bangkok is famous for plenty of reasons, but I’m not entirely sure that musical creativity is one of them. However, after one spin of ‘Into The Great Unknown’, it is clear that for all the partying that may or may not have taken place, plenty of serious work was also undertaken by the Upplands Väsby-based quintet.
The big question I’m sure you want me to answer is ‘is this record as good as the last two?’ Well, in keeping with the cocky swagger that H.E.A.T possess in bucket loads, I’m not going to answer this question just yet.
Instead, allow me to offer a run-through of the album. Seeing as I penned a blow-by-blow account of ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, I may as well do the same again with ‘Into The Great Unknown’.
This hugely anticipated record opens up in exactly the way you’d hope a H.E.A.T album to. ‘Bastard of Society’ is the kind of hard rocking, hook-laden, up-tempo sing-along anthem for which they are known and loved. It’s an instant testosterone-fuelled classic within their back catalogue, the kind of song that would easily open up their lives shows from now on.
In keeping with their last album, the number two slot is then reserved for a little bit of a curveball, certainly a song that might raise a few eyebrows and divide opinion. On ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ it was ‘Shot At Redemption’ with its country twang. Here, it’s the quieter, arguably more mainstream-sounding ‘Redefined’. And surprisingly, given its prominent keys and more minimalist approach, it has turned out to be my current favourite track on the record. I hear smatterings of U2 and Bon Jovi within the track but it is again the chorus that leaves its indelible mark on my brain. That and the slower, more melodic and emotive lead guitar solo from Dalone, which is a delight.
I may come across as sounding straight-laced or old-fashioned, but I’ve never been a fan of song titles that contain swear words. Let the music do the talking, not a vaguely controversial song title – that’s my view anyway. In spite of this minor grumble, ‘Shit City’ dials things back up into more natural H.E.A.T territory. Grönwall is all over this track, hitting some impressively high notes along the way as his band mates deliver a glorious racket behind him, most notably a powerful rhythmic backbone from drummer Crash and bassist Jimmy Jay.
Lead single, ‘Time On Our Side’ is up next and it’s the track with which readers will be most familiar. It may even have single-handedly influenced your decision about whether or not to explore this album further. It was a close-run thing for me, I must admit, but I’m glad I took the plunge. After initially feeling thoroughly underwhelmed by it, I have grown to love it. There is an undeniable pop sheen to the song with the pronounced keys of Jona Tee and an electronic beat. I will admit that I still enjoy the verses more than the higher-pitched chorus which, whilst becoming quite infectious, doesn’t grab me like others on the record. But regardless, it’s a song that cannot be ignored.
‘Best Of The Broken’ is a cock-sure, swagger-laden anthem of defiance that features another huge chorus. In between, the verses deliver a simple but driving rhythm and there’s even space for a strange 80s digitised segment that would sound out-of-place if it had been delivered by anyone other than H.E.A.T. But given that they turn most things up to 11 anyway, it works.
Just over the half-way mark, H.E.A.T pander to their softer side with the monster ballad ‘Eye Of The Storm’. If you’re going to indulge in a ballad, this is the way to do it. Quiet introspection? Check. Enormous heartfelt chorus? Check. Passionate lead guitar solo? Check. Irresistible crescendo? Check. It’s all there and it is delivered with aplomb. No half-measures, no regrets, just full-on big-hair-and-wind-machine music.
Unless I’m hearing things, the guitar riffs in ‘Blind Leads The Blind’ are some of the chunkiest and heaviest I’ve ever heard with H.E.A.T. It leads to a driving, no-nonsense hard rock track full of more of that swagger and cockiness that is such a huge part of this band’s DNA. There’s even time for a lead keyboard solo from Tee and a few snarled lines from Grönwall which I rather like having initially baulked at them.
If you can’t hear the Queen influences on ‘We Rule’, you need to need to consult an audiologist because they are writ large across this track. Overall, this is a much more theatrical track that always reminds me of both ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ thanks to some of the chosen melodies, guitar sounds and quieter moments. The way that it builds from subtle beginnings to a huge anthemic chorus is a thing of beauty, a huge statement of where H.E.A.T are currently in terms of their song writing ability.
If I’m honest, I can take or leave ‘Do You Want It?’. IT is the one track on the album that still hasn’t entirely clicked with me yet. The vocal gymnastics from an ever-improving Grönwall are impressive, especially his falsetto in the bridge, but for my personal tastes, this is by far and away my least favourite track on the record.
It is left then to the title track to conclude ‘Into The Great Unknown’ in strong fashion. At over seven minutes, this could have been a misstep but such is the power of this song, it ends up being one of the biggest triumphs on the entire album. The pace at the outset is slow and measured. The guitars are up front and centre, just where I like them and there’s a nice groove to the track as it builds towards the chorus. And what a chorus it is. Epic, sprawling and hook-laden, it is very much a case of leaving the very best until last. And given the epic feel to the track over all, it fits the bill perfectly.
And there you have it.
So, to go back to that question you’re burning to ask me – ‘is this record as good as the last two?’ The short answer is ‘yes, it is’. In terms of the performances all-round, the attitude of the band and the consistent quality on offer, it is definitely as good as its predecessors.
However, the bigger question for me is ‘do I like it as much as the last two albums?’ The answer there is more nuanced and more reserved. I really, really like ‘Into The Great Unknown’ but, as I sit here now and type, I’m not entirely sure that it’s my favourite H.E.A.T album. My opinion may change in time of course, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the choruses in particular were more to my taste on the last couple of albums.
Putting all of that to one side, if you’ve dismissed H.E.A.T on the basis of ‘Time On Our Side’, I urge you to give the album a proper listen. ‘Into The Great Unknown’ is without doubt a superb melodic hard rock album. It might be a little more mainstream and honed in places, but it still rocks like a bad’un and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
‘Into The Great Unknown’ is out on earMUSIC on 22 September 2017.
The Score of Much Metal: 8.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day