Album Review: H.E.A.T – Force Majeure

Reviews probably shouldn’t start with a hard truth, let alone two, but conventions are there to be broken and they both concern H.E.A.T’s ex-vocalist, Erik Grönwall. Firstly, they were fine as a band until Grönwall replaced original vocalist Kenny Leckremo and elevated them to become the band they were always meant to be. Secondly, II, the album which ended up becoming his swansong was a disappointment to say the least, leaving a bitter aftertaste to his tenure.

So, as H.E.A.T try to reset by replacing Grönwall with the man he replaced (taking a leaf out of Killswitch Engage’s book), it’s a return to those early albums – reverting back to melodic rock as opposed to the harder edge Grönwall brought. Which then makes this new era of H.E.A.T reflect their first time around with Leckremo – Force Majeure is fine as an album. It’s not bad, just a touch forgettable and lacking that spark which elevated them from good to great.

Admittedly, the first few songs on the album are great and to hear H.E.A.T firing on all cylinders for the first time in five years (yes, it’s really been that long since Into the Great Unknown) is a welcome sound for the ears. Indeed, if they kept it at that handful of songs, they’d have a killer EP on their hands but it goes on; the remainder of the songs blending into each other, tainting that which came before it.

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As opener “Back to the Rhythm” acts as a statement of intent for the band, Leckremo has the chance to stretch his legs and show what he can do against a slice of H.E.A.T in its purest form, setting the scene for what you would hope follows. Melody hits guitars in a full-scale brawl to remind you that when this band are in full flow, they’re nigh-on untouchable. Not only that, they up the ante with “Nationwide”, bringing the melodic element down to a light simmer and allow harder-edged guitars to do the heavy lifting to create a song you’d expect on Address the Nation or Tearing Down the Walls. Elsewhere, “Hollywood” with its audience-ready chorus may not tread any new ground lyrically as they question the unrealistic expectations of appearances and pressure on the younger generation. However, it’s a refreshing change to hear it laid at the feet of film and TV, rather than the even lower hanging fruit of social media.

Where “Harder to Breathe” brings it down a notch, it creates a welcome breather after the hell-for-leather pace of the opening salvos. Even this is prime H.E.A.T with its steady pounding drums against a blistering guitar solo and Leckremo digs deeper into his register but still able to belt it out when necessary in service of the song. And that’s really where this album manages to excel in even the lacklustre tracks, they’re a band who know how to serve a song. As “Not For Sale” bridges the album at the exact mid-point, it’s where the first hints of wobble come in. It’s not a bad song but hints at genericism.

“Hold Your Fire” with its dirty riff and pounding rhythm in the verses manages to bleed the last drops of your attention dry and whilst it’s ripped straight from their own playbook across numerous albums, much like AC/DC, they know not to fix something which isn’t broken. The last few songs simply blend together where it feels like it’s one big prog slog where side B of the vinyl would be one track broken down into various pieces. And unless you’re Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, that’s just simply uninteresting.

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Force Majeure is one of those albums which happens to be at odds with itself. As H.E.A.T go back to their roots in melodic rock rather than the bolder melodic hard rock of more recent albums, it sees the second era of Kenny Leckremo off to a shaky start. There’s nothing overtly bad on here but the handful of great songs on the album are overshadowed by the tracks lacking the same je ne sais quoi, infecting the entire album like a virus. Leckremo isn’t a bad singer by any stretch, he has a hell of a range on his pipes and there’s a noticeable improvement in his ability from the first time around but his voice simply lacks the natural charisma found in Erik Grönwall’s. If anything this album, other than simply being new, pushes H.E.A.T back the step Grönwall pulled them forward with. Their loss is Skid Row’s gain.

Force Majeure is released on 5th August

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Header image by Gustaf Sandholm Andersson

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