Let’s be honest, the last Halestorm album wasn’t the quartet’s finest hour. The songs, for the most part, were throwaway by a band not quite as confident as they had been before. Then there was the non-existent production values…
Vicious sees Halestorm back to their winning ways. Whilst it may not be as dark and gritty as The Strange Case Of, it’s an album which sees them bridge the gap between that and the self-titled debut but far more mature than both of those records combined. Racing straight out of the gate with the furious “Black Vultures”, “Skulls” and the pop metal intensity of “Uncomfortable”, the band aren’t taking any prisoners with this album.
As ever, the lyrics throughout the album speak of empowerment, inspiration and stories that anyone with a bit of life experience can relate to. The afore-mentioned “Uncomfortable” is another in the Halestorm arsenal for celebrating individuality and ignoring what others may think of you. Meanwhile “Killing Ourselves to Live” has Lzzy Hale screaming her frustration at a situation we’ve all found ourselves in: pouring our heart and soul into something be it a job, relationship or project and needing to put those last morsels of energy into it to correct the course in the belief that with the last push, everything will work out.
There’s sultry moments with “Do Not Disturb” and the acoustic-driven “Conflicted” as well as the standard rocky numbers with songs like “Buzz” and the title track. Full of big choruses and hooks meant for arenas to sing back to the band, it’s very much what you’d expect from Halestorm but the energy of earlier years has been replaced with the assuredness of experience. Elsewhere the album’s “big ballad” moment comes right at the end. “The Silence” is as touching as the rest of their works in this territory. It may not have the magnitude of “Here’s to Us” but it’s no less spine-tingling.
Riffs from Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger are as hard-edged as ever but further refined into their signature sound. There’s room for them to experiment within the songs but it comes across naturally and less ham-fisted than the preceding album. Balancing polish with a snarling beast, they’ve managed to distil their core sound and manage to evolve but make it sound quintessentially Halestorm. Alongside this, Lzzy’s vocals are as varied as ever, full of raw emotion and power as she gives some of her finest vocal work to date. Her throaty drawls blend well with the feral screams and her tender moments. “Heart of Novocaine” is dark, bitter and a letter to those who attempt to destroy us – her voice laced with anguish.
Meanwhile songs like “Skulls” and “White Dress” show Arejay Hale’s drumming prowess to their full extent. As finessed as ever, it’s unmistakably Arejay and whilst his Animal-like performances are always an incredible sight to watch, there’s more control here, noticeably upping his game and forcing the rest of the band to match him.
Vicious starts out as a good listen, it’s the album the band needed after Into the Wild Life and the ones the fans deserve after The Strange Case Of, but several spins later and it only gets better. From a technical level, this is Halestorm at their best, experimenting with their sound but keeping it within their boundaries. There’s a number of tracks on here which are going to work incredibly well in a live setting with space for them to tweak and have fun with every night to continue to thrill audiences. The hard rock sensibility is still there, the pop elements are still present, it’s just better than it’s ever been.