Proper rock bands and the charts don’t mix. Or so it can appear, given the total irrelevance of so much chart-friendly music to ‘serious rock fans’. Last year Ed Sheeran sold more albums than any other artist in the UK. The likes of Paolo Nutini, Sam Smith and One Direction followed him. With the best will in the world, it made the CRock office sigh a little wearily. No disrespect to One Direction and co (I’d rather slam my hand in a car door than sit through a full album of theirs, but I don’t begrudge those who like it); it just felt like a reminder that the charts are, basically, a separate world to that occupied by most bands in Classic Rock.
Which makes it interesting when the gap is bridged, as it has been lately. Royal Blood, Foo Fighters and AC/DC were all featured in the UK’s top 30 biggest selling albums of 2014. This year Steven Wilson and Thunder have had top 10 albums, and now Halestorm – a Pennsylvanian group, hitherto yet to reach the UK top 40 – have done the unthinkable and scored a no.1 midweek position.
How have they done this? By masterfully capitalising on their ferocious hard rock-meets-grrrl power blend, with a pop record. A metallic, rocking pop record with wonderful bite, but a pop record nonetheless; with the tools to charm little girls with their first guitars, and adult rock fans. It’s I Kissed A Girl with meat instead of sugar; Pink with the proper rock grit she always wanted; Black Sabbath with bubblegum, in the weightier likes of Sick Individual (in a feisty way, not a shit way). Both pop-tastic and oddly more grown-up than their previous records – propelled furiously forward by Lzzy’s incendiary vocal performance. Part Pat Benatar, part angry bat-out-of-hell on brutal numbers like Mayhem, she’s etched her game up a good few notches.
This time last year, Halestorm were looking down at the enormous queue forming outside the Kentish Town Forum (which they’d sold out). “They do know it’s just us, right?!” Lzzy gawped, seeming genuinely incredulous. Based on their current momentum, the next venue they look down from could be quite a bit bigger.
As have the whole band, for that matter. Songs are framed more tightly and viciously, despite the pop core. Apocalyptic is a full-throttle heavy (yet sassy) bluesy rocker. The pensive Bad Girls World opens into beautiful classic rock guitar – suddenly it could be Def Leppard, Aerosmith… Except the lyrical messages of empowerment keep them in a yoof-friendly place. Lzzy speaks to the younger girl end of their fanbase in the likes of Dear Daughter and the aforementioned Bad Girls World. Sure, such sentiments as “they hate you coz you’re beautiful” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But to know that a fundamentally rock-primed band can impact the mainstream – scooping up fledgling rock fans along the way – is surely a good thing.