Sound: In the mid 90's, a small metallic hardcore band by the name of Eighteen Visions was formed in Orange County, California. Their music took them far enough to land deals with Trustkill and Epic, but by the end of their career, they were an entirely different band. The group that started out bringing the mosh at festivals like Hellfest gradually transformed from a tough-guy hardcore act to a tough-guy hard rock band. 18V, as they were also called, split in 2007, with the members going separate ways. Vocalist James Hart decided to continue his musical endeavors in a direction similar to what 18V had been heading in at the time of their split with his new project Burn Halo. Hart began collaborating with Zac Maloy of The Nixons (who has also written music for Bowling For Soup and Chris Daughtry) to write what James would describe as "a straightforward rock album" with "commercial appeal [and] a classic, vintage mid-80s throwback vibe to it". Burn Halo's self-titled debut was recorded with session musicians, and shortly after, a full lineup came into the picture and began work on their second album "Up From The Ashes".
The album gets off to a very promising start with the song "Tear It Down". Catchy vocal melodies, a driving rhythm section, and tasty riffs and leads make this opener a very high energy track. Hart's vision of making fist-pumping sing-along rock and roll comes to fruition in the opening track of the album, as well as on the following title track. Production on the album is very well done. The drums and bass are very well done and punch you in the gut with such a thick sound. The guitars are equally thick, but they sound very processed and unnatural. I think the album could have benefited from a simpler production job. If they had simply plugged a Gibson into a Marshall and hit record, Burn Halo could have captured that old school hard rock sound much easier. There's a reason why bands like The Darkness, Taking Dawn, and Sons Of Icarus do it. It just works.
The album quickly loses momentum after the second track with "Stranded" and "Threw It All Away". It's odd hearing the slow tracks in an album come in so early. Regardless of where they're placed, though, they feel forced and almost awkward. It's like the tracks are only there for the sake of providing some variety in the album. Personally, I'd rather have an album with fewer tracks that are all kick-ass than an album with a few extra tracks that sound half-assed. Things pick back up after that with "Alone", which has a fantastic chorus, probably one of the best on the album (other notable choruses include "Dakota" and "Rest My Soul"). Alone gets you back into the swing of things and prepares you for... two more power ballads. But that's okay, because after that, the rest of the album holds its own pretty well, with several more memorable moments scattered throughout. But for every nice sounding bit, there's at least one rock and roll clich staring you in the face. A predictable chord change here, a played out melody there, all sorts of arrangements that you've heard before. It actually doesn't really matter that much unless you overthink it. This is an album that you're meant to have fun to. And despite having a few holes, it serves its purpose pretty well. // 7
Lyrics: Unfortunately, some of the lyrics just don't live up to the voice that is singing them. There's some lines that are either so embarrassingly stereotypical or just nonsensical that I sometimes feel like I'd enjoy it more if I just focused more on the music and less on the words. "We Won't Live Forever" is a great example of this. "We won't live forever, we won't take it anymore, and the silence will be broken here once more". It just sounds like a string of words put together to sound cool, with no real meaning. If there is a meaning behind it somewhere, it hasn't been conveyed to the audience, not in the chorus or in the rest of the song. However, if you take the "don't think, just rock" approach, this is all excusable. Let's face it, Motley Crue, Guns N' Roses, Skid Row, and plenty other legends in the rock and roll scene had some pretty bad lyrics fairly often. But it's all about the delivery. The hooks in this album are incredibly catchy, so regardless of what James Hart is saying, it's the way he's saying it that shines here. // 8
Overall Impression: At the end of the day, this is a fun album for anyone who takes interest in radio-friendly hard rock. You'll want to sing along, bang your head, heck, you may even want to drive fast. The main catch, however, is this: Burn Halo still doesn't feel like a full band yet. It still sounds like it should be called "The James Hart Experience". I know it's his solo project, and that his lineup was solidified only after his first album was released, but it still doesn't feel like a collective effort. Everything has been designed to showcase Hart's vocals (which admittedly, are a selling point here). The potential is here, no doubt. They're a group of talented musicians who definitely have the power to craft some heavy hitting rock and roll. They just feel young. Most bands spend years building themselves up before getting a chance in the limelight. Burn Halo was put together fairly quickly. And I know that James has paid his dues. After all, he spent over a decade fronting Eighteen Visions. But Burn Halo is still a young band that hasn't had the chance to grow. But given a few years, I know they'll get there. // 7