Whenever new music arrives for review, I always try to listen first, before reading any accompanying press blurb where, invariably, the band/artist in question is overzealously and eulogistically hailed as the best thing since the invention of the Pop-Tart, and their latest work is by far the greatest thing you'll ever hear... until their next album, of course. I generally don't want my listening expectations primed by what's often verging on insincere laudation. So, true to my ethos, I listened to H.E.A.T.'s new album, 'Into the Great Unknown', before reading a single word of the blurb (and not reading too much into the title). If I had read it, or interpreted the title as descriptive of their new music, then I wouldn't have had the degree of surprise upon first listening to the record as, for large parts of the playing time, this is something quite different for the band. A good surprise? Initially, I have to admit, not entirely. But, after a few more listens, when the album started to reveal its finely crafted core (as I've come to expect from these Swedes), 'Into the Great Unknown' is actually a seriously accomplished work with so much to enjoy. It's definitely a grower... at least, this is the case for many of the songs.
As indicated by the album's name, they've seemingly taken a musical step into the unknown. Is it great? Aye, that it is, too. In one sense, it's loaded with even more retro regression than any of the band's previous works. In another sense, somewhat paradoxically, it provides a more refreshing listen for a H.E.A.T. album. Either way, 'Into the Great Unknown' is, at least to my ears, their most mature work to date. And their most diverse. And the stylistic canvas on which they've created their art is more expansive this time around. Perhaps this had something to do with new beginnings. Previous guitarist Eric Rivers parted company with his bandmates, and Dave Dalone (aka Sky Davis) returned for fretboard duties. Maybe they saw this as the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. Whether this was the case or not, 'Into the Great Unknown' feels like a forward step in the band's recorded output, rather than another sideways step.
While the album generally lacks some of its predecessor's refined, raw and adrenaline-fuelled energy, 'Into the Great Unknown' offers its own musically refined experience. And it's one that sees the Swedes diversify their sound to branch out into refreshing compositional territory... even if this new ground for the band has a discernible retro twang. 'Best of the Broken', for example, feels fresh for H.E.A.T., yet simultaneously a pastiche of 80s commercial hard rock.
Interestingly, the album opens with pretty much standard H.E.A.T. fare, with 'Bastard of Society'... almost acting as a segue from prior work and expectations, to the diversified beast 'Into the Great Unknown' transpires to be from that moment on. Aside from the opener, 'Blind Leads the Blinds' sounds more like familiar H.E.A.T. territory, too... and there are passages of music that are strongly characterised by the band's established rock swagger. But there's also a kind of 80s electro-rock vibe about some of the music, although without being overtly so. And a degree of welcome quirkiness. Even in Erik Grönwall's vocal delivery in parts.
For those of you who admired H.E.A.T.'s harder sound, there's not much of a metallic edge for the majority of the songs... it's definitely veering more towards pop-rock than rock-metal. In fact, many of the tracks unashamedly adhere to radio-friendly, regressive rock that, somehow, transcends its retro foundations and eschews cheesiness to be rather very likeable for what it is, in the way that only H.E.A.T. are able to always pull off. So many catchy melodies... so much retro pastiche... so many overly familiar motifs... yet H.E.A.T.'s music has never sounded cheesy to my ears. 'Into the Great Unknown' is no exception.
The production's also part of the overall affect here... the fine result of a jaunt over to Thailand to record the songs in a studio on the outskirts of Bangkok. The overall sound on 'Tearing Down the Walls was very polished, but 'Into the Great Unknown' seems to have an extra layer of sheen... almost a pop-edged sheen, it could be said. It's in fitting with the direction of some of this new music, which has an emphatic pop rock edge. H.E.A.T.'s music has always been commercially-swayed in its composition, arrangement and execution... such is its hook-driven rock/metal constitution. But, now, they seem to be pushing their commercial potential to the forefront. Heading even more towards radio-friendly sonic fodder for the AOR mob to feast on, it could be said. Whatever the case, this is still as catchy as hell, and has a ton of melodies that will indubitably transpire to become persistent ear worms for a large number of listeners. Even the melodies that emerge from some of the album's more unexpectedly quirky moments, like during the bridge to 'Do You Want It?', have ear worm potential.
So, all in all, 'Into the Great Unknown' is, on the whole, a different outing for H.E.A.T., and also a very good one... fantastic, in fact. For me, for sheer entertainment value, 'Tearing Down the Walls' edges it. Not by much, but it is a tad better. To my ears, at least. However, I'm sure 'Into the Great Unknown' will lure a whole new set of listeners into the fold. Whether or not this is H.E.A.T. progressing with their sound, or regressing further by dipping their toes into a different retro pot for alternative inspiration, will no doubt be up for debate. Either way, 'Into the Great Unknown' is another solid album from these Swedes.
INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN
Review by Mark Holmes
22nd Sept 2017
1) Bastard of Society
3) Shit City
4) Time on Our Side
5) Best of the Broken
6) Eye of the Storm
7) Blind Leads the Blind
8) We Rule
9) Do You Want It?
10) Into the Great Unknown
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Whether or not this is H.E.A.T. progressing with their sound, or regressing further by dipping their toes into a different retro pot for alternative inspiration, will no doubt be up for debate. Either way, 'Into the Great Unknown' is another solid album from these Swedes."