Halestorm - Vicious album review

Lzzy Hale channels her inner Joan Jett on US band’s ass-kicking fourth album.

Halestorm - Vicious

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Halestorm - Vicious

1. Black Vultures
2. Skulls
3. Uncomfortable
4. Buzz
5. Do Not Disturb
6. Conflicted
7. Killing Ourselves To Live
8. Heart Of Novocaine
9. Painkiller
10. White Dress
11. Vicious
12. The Silence

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Probably the closest thing we have to a 21st-century Joan Jett figure, Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale is a sexy-tough frontwoman fully in charge of her band, image and career. Because the hard rock landscape is depressingly low on such female icons right now, the perma-touring Pennsylvania four-piece arguably enjoy more prominence than their fairly conventional, increasingly chart-friendly music merits. Their previous album, Into The Wild Life, was widely criticised for sounding overly polished and poppy. This time around they cover a broad spectrum ranging from super-heavy grind to unashamedly tender balladry. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it’s punchy and catchy and generally excellent. 

Sounding at times like a fire-breathing she-dragon, Hale has a flair for lyrically deft rebel-girl songs that wear their feminist credentials lightly. As on the frenzied metal-punk single Uncomfortable, with its machine-gun litany of reasons for defying the patriarchal rule book and its melodic chorus. Or the stereotype-smashing garage rocker White Dress, which stomps all over fairy-tale princess clichés. This bad-ass attitude reaches a delirious S&M peak on the album’s pounding, semi-mechanised title track. 

Vicious is positively dripping with sex in places, but thankfully not the kind typical of testosterone-heavy hard rock. Do Not Disturb is a raunchy riff-blaster about a casual hotel-room hook-up containing lascivious lines like ‘I wonder what you sound like when you come.’ Subtle sub-text is not one of Hale’s lyrical fortes. 

More complex adult emotions also lurk behind the ragged, shredding licks that Hale trades with fellow guitarist and on-off boyfriend Joe Hottinger. Sex and love become tortuously entangled on tracks like Conflicted, a low-slung guttural stomper in vintage Joan Jett mode. Heart Of Novocaine, chronicling a traumatic break-up, trashes the idea of romance altogether. ‘Thank you for the pain, thank you for the hate, thank you for the way you left me scarred,’ Hale roars over crashing waves of acoustic guitar. Falling just the right side of bombastic melodrama, this arena-sized anthem could well become Halestorm’s November Rain

Overall, this is their most eclectic album yet and, despite a couple of lightweight generic tracks, their most end-to-end enjoyable too. Clearly enamoured of late-70s and 1980s rock tropes, they will never be rule-bending revolutionaries, but they know how to balance compact pop-metal dynamics with gritty, sexy, alluring garage-punk attitude.

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.