Sometimes it feels within rock and metal circles that some of the more radio friendly bands can easily get dismissed by critics and by the metal community in general, somehow missing that seal of authenticity that is required. It hasn’t always been the case though, back in the heady days of 1980s hair metal the world actively supported and unanimously cheered with each single that charted and each commercial release by their favourite bands. Perhaps it is just a sign of the times. The 1980s were a long time ago and it was a time where wealth and bettering your social position was one of the main aspirations for some in life.
Fast forward almost forty years and the world is a very different place but we still crave those bands that can champion our view of life, that can speak to us, tell our story and the story of those people that we know. This need to belong, to identify and get taken on an emotional journey has never changed. Luckily for us London’s Hunter and the Bear are here to take on that mantel. Whatever may be happening outside in the world of politics, in your life, in the community around you, Hunter and the Bear are here to champion your cause and to allow yourself to be lost in the moment.
In their relatively short life so far, the band have already supported Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Simple Minds as well as playing Leeds and Reading Festival. This is a band on the cusp of greatness. For me they fall into the camp shared by the likes of Lonely the Brave and You Me At Six but like all bands and albums like this you have to read between the lines to really get to grips with the band, their philosophy and their works. It’s not just about the radio friendly singles but about the band and its output overall. Take the time to listen to Paper Heart and you are going to uncover a band with influences from the 70s to modern day, with a soulfulness and depth well beyond their years. A band that their social observations will resonate with you and emotional integrity that will draw you in and if all else fails this is a great rock pop band and you’ll be singing along neverthertheless. We were already hyped to review the album after Katie saw them perform a couple of tracks live and went to hear the album playback recently.
Album opener “You Can Talk” is as radio friendly as they come but it is a great introduction to the band. Yes, it’s pretty accessible; crossing that line between pop and rock, kinda one foot in the Springsteen camp. It has that same likability, feeling of being in it together and more importantly singalong choruses but it is second track “Hologram” where you really see the potential for this crossover. From the ‘wild one’ introduction to the “Better Man, hologram” chorus this is an incredibly endearing song and comes across as incredibly natural, it is as though these guys have spent their entire lives just throwing out radio friendly rock. These opening tracks may not test the boundaries of their genre but what they do, they do extremely well. The songs are catchy, they have depth, they have an emotional plea to them that will resonate with many.
It is the other side to Hunter and The Bear that intrigues me though. There is throughout the album plenty of influences right from Led Zeppelin and forward. The riffs in “Who’s Gonna Hear You” is the first indication to a deeper musical understanding by the guys. It’s got a little more bite to it than the riffs we have heard so far and a firm grounding in blues rock that draws your attention. The vocals on this album already have that touch of gruffness to them and this suits tracks like this well. It is also the first time you really get to hear the lead guitar as well and it is worth the wait. “D.R.K.” is another of the tracks that falls into this category and probably the heaviest track on the album. This is a direction and area that I think really suits Hunter and the Bears’ style and particularly well suited for the vocals. There is a dirtiness to this track but also a feeling that the band themselves have a little bit more freedom to breathe and express themselves. I think these two conflicting sides to the band works well sat next to each other on the album but it will be interesting to see how the band develops for the future. I for one would like to see the rockier side explored more if this is indicative of the type of tracks they are capable of producing.
On “I Am What I Am” we are again introduced to another more soulful side to Hunter and the Bear. I am reluctant to say that is their ballad as that suggests almost sickly arrangements in the background sweeping you up. Instead this is stripped back and laid bare. For me it is very James Bay, and this is most certainly in a good way. It is the raw emotional side of James Bay. Hunter and the Bear, like James Bay, are able to capture a whole world of sentiments by the tone of the voice, the sincerity of the arrangement and the simpleness of the track. Probably a more traditional idea of the ballad would be “Won’t You Ever Come Home” but again this is stripped back. A simple guitar accompanies the vocals for the start of the song but it is probably the melody of the vocals that separates this. As you would expect from a band that are very aware of how to write a pop rock song, this is great. As good as anything James Bay has done. To me again it has the similar feel to Bay, and arrangement-wise, the way it slowly builds is also similar. I guarantee after a couple of listens you are going to love this song. It will draw you in whether you like it or not. This is currently where Hunter and the Bear excel.
So, what is abundantly clear is that Hunter and The Bear have every element in place to really make their mark in the rock world, in the chart and in your heart. What really stands out, apart from the knack to write a catchy song, the arrangements and great playing is the voice. The vocals have a depth and soulfulness that cannot be written and bought. It is timeless, ageless and gives you the impression of life lived and of history. What’s more exciting for me as well, is not the heights this band can achieve but where this journey may take them. It is clear that given the freedom and space to play, they are capable of taking the band into whole new fields and onto another level. I hope that along with the radio friendly hits that they will not be afraid to explore this aspect to the music too, take risks and really push the boundaries. If they do this, they really could be a band that will be championing and be proud to say that they are ours.
Paper Heart is out 12th May