Artist: Audrey Horne
Album Title: Devil’s Bell
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 22 April 2022
There are times when I can make no sense, and this review demonstrates such an occasion. I have known about Audrey Horne for many years, initially mistakenly disregarding them, then enjoying their brand of heavy music, before forgetting all about them again. It makes absolutely no sense; you know that, and I know that. But here we are, on the eve of the band’s seventh release during a career that has so far spanned 17 years, and this will be the very first time I have listened to one of their records fully enough to be able to offer any kind of review. The facepalm emoji was invented just for this kind of occasion.
Nevertheless, here I am, and here are Messrs Torkjell “Toschie” Rød (vocals), Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal (guitars), Thomas Tofthagen (guitars), Espen Lien (bass), and Kjetil Greve (drums) with their seventh full-length release, ‘Devil’s Bell’. And, based on the music offered on this record, there seems to be no sign of Audrey Horne losing any amount of energy or enthusiasm for what they are doing, delivering another clutch of hard-rocking, melodic music for our delectation.
I may not be the greatest authority on such things given my past with the Norwegians, but my first thought when listening to ‘Devil’s Bell’ was ‘I don’t remember these guys being quite so overtly inspired by the NWOBMH scene, and classic 70s/80s heavy metal’. From what I knew about the quintet coming into this review, I was expecting some modern melodic hard rock, with hooks, riffs, and melodies aplenty. However, whilst the riffs, hooks, and melodies are all delightfully present, they are wrapped up in a seemingly darker, more brooding, NWOBHM cloak. This is not a bad thing, I’d like to point out, just that I wasn’t quite expecting it. In fact, I’m lapping this up, as much of it is great.
When I talk about the broodiness of the music, this is never more evident than in the opening moments of the album. The intro to ‘Ashes To Ashes’ is a dark affair, full of smouldering intent and takes its sweet time to build up the drama for what’s to come very nicely. The intensity builds across a couple of minutes before it falls away to be replaced by a really strong, instant hard rock riff. The unmistakeable voice of Toschie has lost none of its commanding presence, leading the band through a groovy verse and into a wonderful chorus that gets better and better with every spin. The production is great, allowing the bass of Espen Lien to work perfectly in tandem with Greve’s drums to lay down a rich and tight rhythm upon which the guitars of Ice Dale and Thomas Tofthagen deliver riff after chunky riff, and latterly, some cool duelling solos.
‘Animal’ is much more the style that I was expecting, being a full-on fast-paced hard rock affair with galloping rhythms, dominated by the bass, as well as vague punk overtones created by the attitude that comes through from both the instrumentation and the vocals. Ironically, it’s one of my least favourites too. So too is ‘Break Out’, which revels in the 80s classic metal sound, Toschie mimicking more of an Ozzy Osbourne style of singing. Much of the track is reasonably forgettable if I’m honest, but I really like the darker, more introspective vibe that’s brought to the fore in the middle and actually, it serves to enhance the enjoyment of the faster elements when they return to see out the song.
Interestingly, and surprisingly, we’re then presented with an instrumental track in the form of ‘Return To Grave Valley’. As you might expect, the musicianship is of a very high standard, the song driving along at a brisk tempo for large periods, with the guitars able to play a little more with embellishments and other ideas. Initially a throw away composition, the NOWBHM dual harmonies and solos, as well as the stomping groove from the halfway point mean that you can’t help but fall for its charms.
Easily one of the very best songs on this album is the title track. Starting out with a flurry of lead guitar extravagance, it soon launches into a Maiden-esque gallop that gets me excited, continuing with an energy and exuberance that is thoroughly infectious. And the chorus is a thing of real beauty, one of those sing-along hook-laden beasts that most of us with metal in our blood will take to our blackened hearts. But those dual harmonies, up-tempo riffs, combined with the overall playfulness of the song is equally as disarming and enjoyable. Put simply, it reminds me of a time when Iron Maiden sounded like I wanted them to sound, if that makes sense.
Elsewhere, ‘All Is Lost’ is an entertaining affair led by driving riffs, and a swagger that just works, whilst ‘Toxic Twins’ provides us with a raucous hard rock workout with another infectious chorus. ‘Devil’s Bell’ is then brought to a close by ‘From Darkness’ which, as the name implies, brings back that air of brooding darkness that I referenced earlier. It is a song that stretches beyond the seven-minute mark and contains some great guitar work, as both six-string slingers duel together and also feed off each other. I’d have liked the addition of a central, addictive chorus, but bearing in mind how good the rest of the song is, it feels a little churlish to even mention this, even if such a thing could have pushed the song into the stratosphere. As it is, my favourite part is strangely the extended instrumental outro that carries with it a bittersweet feel, both welcomingly melodic, but strangely forlorn sounding too.
It is very safe to say that I will not be forgetting Audrey Horne again, or even shoving them to the back of my mind, because they are just too good. And I knew that before diving deeply into this album. But sometimes it takes some new material to remind us of just how good a band actually is. ‘Devil’s Bell’ may be a tad darker and a touch more inspired by the NWOBHM genre than ever before, but it doesn’t stop the Norwegian powerhouse from gifting us with a very satisfying record indeed.
The Score of Much Metal: 85%
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