By Simon Shoulders, Rock At Night London Correspondent
Review: Heat – Into the Great Unknown-Release date September 22, 2017
Friday the 22nd September will see Swedish melodic rockers H.E.A.T release their 5th studio album “Into The Great Unknown” vis earMUSIC. Here at Rock at Night we’ve been lucky enough to have a sneaky listen, and cards on the table, it’s a bit of a Beast…
H.E.A.T have come along way since they formed back in 2007 in Upplands Väsby some 25 km north of Stockholm, Sweden. In 2007 they were the opening act for Toto and the following year they opened for Sabaton and Alice Cooper which should give you an idea of the caliber of the band. Their first eponymously-named album was released in 2008 on StormVox records. Today, when compared to the upcoming release, “Into The Great Unknown”, that first album, whilst still a great listen and formidable album in its own right, feels a little sluggish and perhaps weighed-down by an 80’s classic hard rock heritage that the current incarnation of H.E.A.T still cherish highly, but also display a wanton hunger to expand and build upon.
Just as H.E.A.T’s sound has evolved, so too has the band’s line up. After releasing two albums on StormVox, and making it to the final round of the Swedish qualifier to the annual Eurovision Song Contest with the song “1000 miles” which became a hit in its own right, lead singer Kenny Leckremo chose to leave the band in July 2010. While all this was happening, another star was on the rise, one that was about to have a big impact on H.E.A.T. Erik Grönwall. Erik’s musical career began playing guitar in a local punk rock band in his home town of Knivsta before becoming lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the Stockholm metal band, RAID with whom he played until the summer of 2008. His future as a singer really began to take shape when he performed the leading role as Galileo Figaro in Ben Elton’s musical “We Will Rock You” which is packed with the songs of Queen. Erik even did a number of shows at Oscarsteatern, one of the best known theatres in Stockholm. Erik then went on to compete in and win Swedish Idol in 2009 and released his debut single “Higher” which went straight to number one on the Sverigtopplistan. Erik’s self-titled debut album followed the same trajectory and went platinum. Although far from a hard rock classic, “Higher” certainly showcased the considerable power of Erik’s voice!
Bass player Jimmy Jay met Erik at a release party and asked him if he was interested in taking the lead singer role in H.E.A.T, destiny beckoned, and Erik joined H.E.A.T in August 2010. This moment formed a bit of an inflexion point for the band with Erik’s manager Petri H. Lundén also joining at the same time. Next came the record deal with GAIN/Sony Music, then Grammy award winning producer Tobias Lindell (just listen to the way the 20-strong string orchestra is woven in to ‘Double Nature” by Mustasch if you’ve not come across Tobias’ work before), and in late 2011 H.E.A.T entered Studio Bohus in Gothenburg to record their third album, “Address the Nation” which was released in March 2012.
It might be fair to say “and the rest is history…” because numerous tours, awards and appearances long side some of the great names in rock (like Journey, Whitesnake, Europe and Scorpion) have followed. H.E.A.T have built up quite a reputation with Classic Rock Magazine going as far as to say: “What can you say about H.E.A.T? If you don’t like these energetic Swedes you must be dead inside, as this year they’ve shown the UK crowd how to be the most complete band on the planet.” There have been twists and turns, with guitarist Dave Dalone (aka: Sky Davis) parting company with the band in 2013 and a fourth critically acclaimed album “Tearing Down The Walls” released in 2014 (again produced by Tobias Lindell).
H.E.A.T are now surfacing from an 18 month break from live shows to focus their creative efforts towards writing their latest album. Somewhere along the way founder member and guitarist Eric Rivers left the band and Dave Dalone rejoined it, but when they were ready to record, H.E.A.T chose to leave Europe behind and headed to the more exotic shores Karma Sound Studios (accompanied once more by Tobias Lindell) which is just a few minutes walk away from the beach at Bang Saray, a picturesque fishing village on the Thai coast with Pattaya just a 20 minute drive and Bangkok a further hour and a half along the road.
The result? Well, H.E.A.T have already released a lyric video for the fourth track on the album “Time On Our Side” and you only have a few short weeks to wait to hear the results for yourself, but in the meantime, for the painfully impatient or insatiably curious who have bravely read this far, this is what we think of the 10 sumptuous tracks you have to look forwards to, along with a few thoughts from Erik himself…
Some albums start gently, easing you in to the flow of the music. “Into the Great Beyond” is not one of those albums. Instead H.E.A.T explode out of the the blocks with the bombastic reboot of 80’s heavy rock that is “Bastard Of Society”. In Erik’s own words: “It’s a song about not following the system e.g. you go to school, study hard, get good grades so you can get a good and safe job, you take a loan to buy a big house, a new car but you never stop to consider what you are selling. You are selling your time 8 am – 5 pm at a job that you might not even like. That’s the system we are taught in school to follow and that’s a life I don’t like. I want to wake up every day of my life and do whatever I want with my time and that’s what I do. So I guess I’m a bastard of society 🙂”.
“Bastard of Society” is all catchy pop hooks, solid rock riffs and epic choruses married to a swagger and and sneer which can’t fail to get the pulse rate up and, for me, marks a great start to the album. All of which makes the choice of “Redefined” as a second track some what of a surprise. Instead of ratcheting up, or maintaining the pummelling pace set by “Bastard of Society”, “Redefined” drops the tempo, brings the keys and melody to the fore and sets an altogether more introspective tone. Whilst it’s a surprise for rockers the caliber of H.E.A.T to set sail for the calm waters and balmy sunsets of the soft-rock ballad this early in to the album, they do so in a way that’s mature and engaging, and just about manages to skirt the treacherous shoals of euro-pop. Let’s face it, this is a fine line to tread, but perhaps the clues in the title of the track, perhaps with “Into The Great Unknown” H.E.A.T are out there to redefine their sound and push it in new directions.
With “Shit City” H.E.A.T return to the more familiar waters of groove-laden hard rock inspired by the school of hard knocks. The song was inspired by the period of transition that H.E.A.T went through in late 2015 when they decided to focus on writing “Into The Great Unknown” and stepped out of the limelight for a little while. Erik takes up the story: “At the top of our career in late 2015 we decided to not play a single show until the new album was out, to focus entirely on the song writing. In fact, the last show was in Tokyo in September 2015. Shit City is a metaphor for the unexpected place H.E.A.T ended up in for a short while at the beginning of this song writing period. Working mostly behind the curtains, it was a new thing for the band to slowly fade away from the light of fame while other bands never slowed down. I think that it hit us harder then we could have expected. Then we got kicked out of our rehearsal place within 24 hours’ notice. We got a new one quite fast but it had a sewage problem which drowned all our gear only a few days after moving in. Shortly after, the former guitarist Eric Rivers left the band. Shit City is like a modern version of Guns n’ roses “Welcome to the jungle” mixed with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. It’s our way to say – WTF is going on, we don’t deserve this! This situation inspired the song and the song inspired us, which slowly made things take a turn for the better and “Into The Great Unknown” started to take shape.”
If “Redefined” skirted around a more euro-pop aesthetic, “Time On Our Side” unashamedly embraces it bringing in disco and electronic beats to support an arcing chorus with a richly-operatic feel. Whilst again this is perhaps an unexpected twist, “Time On Our Side” gives Erik the space to really let rip and show the listener just how powerful his voice can be. Give it time and you’ll find this see-sawing in style and tempo starts to grow on you, even if it was somewhat unexpected to begin with.
“Best of the Broken” starts out with a simple, solid beat, chanted vocals and a retro, lightly country-infused rock’n’roll melody that builds step-wise through the verse before unleashing another soaring chorus worthy of playing full volume with the roof down whilst driving hard along a desert road somewhere under a massive sky. It’s a song that’s about defiance and resilience, as Erik puts it: “This song is based on the quote from Hunter S Thompson: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, there’s also a negative side.” That’s all I’m gonna say about that song.”
Every Rock album (capital “R”) needs its big ballad, in this album you’ll need look no further than “Eye Of The Storm”. This is another track that really makes the most of Erik’s vocals and allows him to display a more nuanced intensity as well as the full-throttle passion and power that you’ll have already encountered on this album. There’s some cracking guitar solo’s from Sky too! Of course, there is only one way to follow the big ballad, that’s with a solid display Hard Rock! Led by the keys of Jona Tee “Blind Leads the Blind” does not disappoint. What’s more it’s followed by “We Rule” which, whilst a much slower number, builds to a staggering anthemic crescendo. Perhaps, just maybe, there’s shades of Erik’s time as Galileo Figaro, and more than a subtle nod to the influence of Freddy Mercury in “We Rule” and that’s nothing to be shamed of.
“Do You Want It” sees Erik experimenting more with his voice accentuating the melody during the verse with falsetto vocals in this fiery number before launching in to yet another massive chorus. Erik’s vocal experimentation is an interesting route to take and really shows H.E.A.T’s drive to grow and evolve their sound. It’s also far from an easy path to follow and takes great skill and vocal dexterity to execute well without becoming overly quirky or verging towards somewhat of a rock-pastiche. When it comes to the inspiration behind this track, Erik tells it like it is: “It’s about sex. Sex gone bad. Let’s just say that a certain sound engineer in a certain studio in Thailand ended up with the boys in H.E.A.T on walking street in Pattaya. Apparently the devil created that place to give us inspiration for this song, and we thank him for it.” (no wonder the press release accompanying the album describes the band’s trip to Heavenly Karma Studios as “questionable”!)
The album closes with the foot-stomping swagger of its title track, “Into the Great Unknown”. It’s a deceptively slow song, rich in guitar driven melody which whilst perhaps more conventional in it’s approach than the rest of the album, also creates plenty of room for a suitably climatic guitar solo from Sky Davids and makes a cracking end to the album.
With “Into The Great Unknown” H.E.A.T have taken a brave step because it feels very much like an album that swings between two extremes: the tried and tested 80’s infused-hard rock that H.E.A.T have no issues delivering with a confident swagger, and music that’s pushing the margins, by (amongst other things) experimenting with vocal styles, or dabbling with more euro-pop infused motifs. Throughout, frontman Erik pushes himself to the limits, and it feels like the bass of Jimmy Jay and keys of Jona Tee have had a greater part to play in the shaping of the songs than in previous albums. Add to that the return of the crashing guitars of Sky Davids which combine so well with Crash’s drumming and you’ve got a heady mix, and perhaps if this is just a beginning, then all the ingredients for the next step in H.E.A.T’s musical journey are already laid out in front of us. Even for all its experimentation “Into the Great Unknown” is still a cohesive and very enjoyable album, but I can imagine those tracks that step the furtherest from the path that H.E.A.T have trod to date may infuriate infuriate long-term fans, especially after having to wait so long for new material. The thing is that there’s plenty of bands out there that have reimagined their sound, changed direction and been none the worse for it.
As Erik sings in the final track: “…is it the end of the road? Or a one way ticket to fortune and fame…” I guess only time will tell, but I doubt very much it’s the end of the road.
Guitar: Sky Davis (aka Dave Dalone) Bass: Jimmy Jay Keyboard: Jona Tee Drums & Percussion: Crash Vocals: Erik Grönwall
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
01. Bastard Of Society
03. Shit City
04. Time On Our Side
05. Best Of The Broken
01. Eye Of The Storm
02. Blind Leads The Blind
03. We Rule
04. Do You Want It?
05. Into The Great Unknown
All songs written by H.E.A.T Additional composing: Sharon Vaughn, Johan Becker, Fredrik Thomander on Track 6. Sharon Vaughn and Fredrik Thomander on track 8, and Peter Larsson on track 5. Produced by Tobias Lindell Recorded at Karma Sound Studios, Thailand by Tobias Lindell and Rhys Fletcher
Additional Recordings: JayRex Productions Studios Mixed by Tobias Lindell at Phuket Sun Studio Mastered by Henrik Jonsson at Masters of Audio
H.E.A.T – ONLINE