Album Title: Earthrage
Label: Frontiers Records
Date Of Release: 23 March 2018
Now this was one of those albums that I have really been looking forward to hearing. I might be the ‘Man of Much Metal’, but as you know, I have a huge soft spot for melodic hard rock. I love a good dose of extreme technical progressive death metal or grindcore – frankly, who doesn’t?! But occasionally I like to let my hair down and enjoy a slab of feel good melodic rock, the kind that delivers hooks and melodies galore, and which I can sing along with or play air guitar whilst pulling ridiculous faces.
And W.E.T. are arguably one of the very best exponents of the genre, maybe THE best. Mind you, that’s hardly surprising when you consider the clientele involved in this band. I’m sure most of you already know the background but for those who remain in the dark, here goes:
Frontiers Records have a habit of wanting to facilitate collaborations between musicians that, on paper, should create magic together. I was a moderate fan of the first couple of albums featuring the vocal talents of Jorn Lande and Russell Allen, but less enamoured with the recent collaboration between Fabio Lione and Alessandro Conti. But, with W.E.T., I will happily concede that this has been a total, unmitigated success. Comprised of Work of Art keyboardist Robert Säll (W), Eclipse guitarist Erik Mårtensson (E) and Talisman vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (T), W.E.T. was born and with their self-titled debut, they created the kind of melodic hard rock magic that fans (and Frontiers Records) could have only dreamed of. That album remains in my top two or three melodic hard rock records of all time and, depending on my mood, it sits at the summit.
The follow-up record, ‘Rise Up’ wasn’t bad either. Indeed, it even featured a track in ‘Love Heals’ to rival and possibly better the incredible ‘Comes Down Like Rain’ from the debut, something I thought might be impossible.
And so, after a wait of five years and amidst impressive output from all three members in various guises, we are rewarded with the third W.E.T record, the boldly-titled ‘Earthrage’. So excited was I to listen to this latest endeavour, I was even prepared to ignore the fact that I had to listen to a hopelessly annoying and unhelpful stream to do so. Did I want to be able to listen to this album in the car, whilst out walking my dog, or during my lunchbreak at work? Of course I did, but I had to settle for those precious moments at home when the kids were asleep and I could actually listen to the album. It wasn’t easy, but I made the time…just about. And then I realise that I’m further restricted, to a mere 20 spins of each song. Seriously? Does the label not want in-depth and fully-considered reviews?
But enough of griping at this frustrating situation that’s sadly becoming ever more prevalent because I have more important things to do, like tell you all about ‘Earthrage’ and my thoughts towards it.
To do this, I need to ask myself a series of questions:
Do I want huge choruses? Do I want plenty of giant hooks? Do I want strong songwriting? Do I want impressive musicianship? Do I want to feel the passion of the musicians? Do I want power and for the music to rock? And finally, do I want the music to make me feel happy and alive?
Somewhat unsurprisingly, my answer to all these is ‘yes’. And even more unsurprisingly, W.E.T. deliver on every single one. But they don’t just deliver on these, oh no. With everything else going on in their careers, like new Eclipse, Work of Art and Sons of Apollo records, it would have been easy for these guys to take it easy or take their eye off the ball completely. The reality couldn’t be further from this possibility however. Instead, on top of all of the other facets listed above, they also manage to make the music on ‘Earthrage’ sound fresh, vital and relevant to 2018. How the (insert expletive of choice here) do they do it?
First off, the trio, ably assisted by guitarist Magnus Henriksson and drummer Robban Bäck, are seasoned, accomplished musicians. But more than that, they have an innate understanding of what makes a great song. One album could be considered a fluke, but without even considering their primary bands’ material, ‘Earthrage’ is the third record in a row to produce top drawer material. That’s not luck. That’s skill and plenty of it.
At this juncture, I will admit that ‘Earthrage’ doesn’t have an immediate standout track, something that catches me as squarely as the aforementioned ‘Comes Down Like Rain’ or ‘Love Heals’. But somehow, as I sit here and type this review, that doesn’t seem to matter. And that’s because ‘Earthrage’ is a collection of eleven new songs that all hit the mark. And when I say all, I mean all. There isn’t a weak link, a duff track or a disappointing moment to be heard across the entire album. The whole disc from start to finish is a pure, unadulterated masterclass in how melodic hard rock should sound. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s a masterclass of how I want melodic rock to sound.
The opening track has me salivating almost immediately. It builds with purpose and authority from humble beginnings, led by a strong rhythm and an infectious, incessant guitar riff, full of energy and forceful intent. The moment that Jeff Scott Soto sings, I get the usual chills, meaning that he is immediately on top form. The chorus is then the final piece in the puzzle, a huge hook-laden beast that begs to be sung along with. There’s even room for a swift lead guitar break and a nice momentary reduction in intensity to add variety and colour. This is a cracking way to open the record and has me chomping at the bit to explore ‘Earthrage’ further.
And the great news is that, as I’ve already alluded to, there’s no let-up in quality. ‘Burn’ underlines this point fantastically, featuring another superb chorus around which is a song with real swagger and up-tempo intensity, a hard-rocking number that proves that the protagonists mean business. The acoustic-led segment that rebuilds and in the process delivers some superb drumming from Robban Bäck, leading to an expansive lead guitar break is pure aural delight and has me grinning from ear to ear.
Next up is one of my favourites on the album, maybe the favourite. It is a slow-burner but has got to the point where it is irresistible. The verses allow the keys of Säll to come to the fore courtesy of some lovely tinkling notes atop more atmospheric tones. However, it’s the chorus that somehow, rather insidiously, suddenly catches me off guard and hits hard when it does. Lyrically, it has a wistful, care-free tone, a recalling of halcyon times, which adds to its overall impact and ultimately, its considerable charm.
‘Elegantly Wasted’ is arguably the quirkiest track on the record. It’s ballad-like in its construction, almost forcing the listener to sway, whilst waving a lighter in the air. It is deliberately-placed to dial down the full-on high-octane opening, featuring more prominent orchestral-style keys as well as a country-esque acoustic guitar lead which I have grown to love over repeated spins.
The heavier guitar riffs return on the aptly-titled ‘Urgent’, and it is at this point that I realise that the production of this disc is out of the top drawer, allowing the music the clarity and robustness to pack the necessary punch. This is a driving, forceful track that is simply an utter delight. The verses are stripped back and allow the commanding chug of Mårtensson’s bass to cut through to the fore. And again, the chorus is suitably memorable, as is the all-too-short segment where it is just keys and the heavily effect-laden voice of Soto.
Without so much as a pause for breath, we’re hit with another one of my favourites, in the form of ‘Dangerous’, another true anthem that W.E.T. can add to their ever-growing list of bona-fide melodic rock anthems par excellence. In contrast, ‘Calling Out Your Name’ starts off gently, the bold synths a real highlight in the opening moments. The song then explodes with crunchy riffs and a great tempo, with further bold synths that bathe the song in an atmospheric glow.
I’ll admit here and now that I have never been averse to a well-placed and professionally delivered ballad. And that’s exactly what you get with the huge, heartfelt ‘Heart Is On The Line’. It is a truly beautiful piece of music, executed with real conviction and deftness and blessed with a stadium-sized chorus.
‘I Don’t Wanna Play That Game’ reminds me a little of Def Leppard in their pomp. The song just has that kind of effortless swagger and style to it, capped off with yet another great sing-along chorus. There’s also a hint of 70s classic rock to it, which I rather like. By my reckoning, that’s the ninth such chorus on ‘Earthrage’ so far and yes, for those counting, this is track nine. Are you beginning to get an idea of just how great this album really is? Well I’m not finished yet, because neither are W.E.T.
‘The Burning Pain of Love’ is track ten, the penultimate of ‘Earthrage’. I feel like a broken record because it contains all of the elements that makes this such a magical band, including hooks galore and professional performances all round, albeit it’s draped in a slightly more brooding cloak. It’s not a dark song by any means, but Soto’s words have a sober edge, as evidenced by the following paraphrased lyric: ‘doesn’t matter if you’re rich, don’t matter if you’re poor, cos we all face the silence alone…’
This remarkable album is then brought to a close via the suitably enormous ‘The Never-Ending Retraceable Dream’ with its massive chorus that has a vague 80s feel to it, via the use of the backing vocals and rich keys. The lead guitar work is flamboyant and there’s a care-free, triumphant feel to the song, as if Messrs Soto, Säll and Mårtensson realise that it’s another job well done.
I’m not sure what else there is to say about ‘Earthrage’. I’m pretty sure, even at this relatively early stage, that it is W.E.T.’s best album to date and right now it is fighting hard to be my personal favourite melodic rock record ever. Time will ultimately tell on that score, but regardless, as I sit here now, ‘Earthrage’ is damn close to being a perfect record. I love this band!
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse