Sound — 6
Hinder was formed in 2001 in Oklahoma, and immediately began performing an releasing music with a radio-centric hard rock sound. The band made the money for advertising and releasing their first demo by saving profits from performing at the local club, The Blue Note. Further success came to them after coming in as a runner up of a battle of the bands contest ran by Oklahoma radio station KHBZ-FM, called March Bandness. The band used their winnings and other savings to release their first EP, "Far From Close," which sold 5000 copies and got the interest of several record labels. By 2005 they had offers from Atlantic, Roadrunner and Universal and eventually signed with Universal Records and released their debut album "Extreme Behavior" with most of the material being written by Austin Winkler and Cody Hanson, who have written the majority of the music on every subsequent release leading up to "When the Smoke Clears." After several years of success, Austin Winkler had to go into rehab for treatment of a substance abuse issue in 2013, and several months later when he had been unable to rejoin Hinder on tour, they announced that Austin Winkler was no longer a member of Hinder. Their first experiment with a replacement was Neal Nolan, but he didn't fit the band and was replaced with Marshal Dutton in 2015. "When the Smoke Clears" is the band's fifth studio album, with a total of 11 tracks that clock in just under 40 minutes. The track, "Hit the Ground" was released as the lead single for the album in November 2014.
The album opens with "Rather Hate Than Hurt," which is the second single from the album having been released by the band in March 2015. The sound has a decent melody that is somewhat engaging, and a little bit of riffing go on - but it also sets the stage for the album, by sounding like all the "hard rock" on the radio these days, except with a guitar solo. The lead single, "Hit the Ground," is the second track on the album and it has a new problem for Hinder - and that is that the chorus sounds suspiciously like a country song with slightly too much distortion. "Wasted Life" has an interesting bit of riffing going on, but still has a strong dose of that modern radio sound, that unfortunately takes a lot of the impact out of the band's songs. The hook of the song involves "dead end job - f--k it/ my a-shole boss can - suck it/ cause it ain't worth all the pennies I've earned/ just another drop in the bucket," with the music stopping at the end of each line for emphasis. "If Only for Tonight" opens up as an acoustic song with piano, and honestly sounds more like country pop than rock. "Intoxicated" isn't bad, it has some strong riffing, but it is basically Hinder's version of "Animals" or "Porn Star Dancing." "Dead to Me" is the first song on the album that feels as strong as I was expecting, musically, but the structure of the song and the vocals by Dutton just don't cut it and make the song sound neutered. "Foolish Eyes" opens up like some more pop country, unfortunately, and the song doesn't really recover. "Nothing Left to Lose" opens up fairly soft, but builds up to be a strong track. "Letting Go" opens up with an acoustic piano and Dutton singing in an almost R&B style. The album closes out with the track, "I Need Another Drink," which probably one of the strongest songs on the album. It has a gritty blues thing going on, which really shines on the album.
Lyrics — 6
"When the Smoke Clears" is Marshal Dutton's first album with Hinder, and he does a fairly decent job, but I just can't get behind the album as a whole. I don't know if I dislike it because of the new vocals, or if the album truly suffers that much without Austin Winkler acting as one of the primary songwriters. As a sample of the songwriting, here are some lyrics from the single, "Hit the Ground": "When the smoke clears/ And the flashing lights and neon signs all disappear/ It's like closing time and the sound of silence is all you hear/ Cause everyone's gone/ Trying to make sense/ Maybe I got a little lost and got a little reckless/ Trying to piece it all together while I'm standing in the middle of the wreckage/ It's all I'm left with/ Burning both ends of the night just trying to find it/ Anything I could to get me higher/ But when that high starts running out/ What goes up must come down/ Falling feels like flying 'til you hit the ground." It's ironic that their single is a song about addiction getting out of control when they just lost a lead singer for the same reason.
Overall Impression — 7
I guess I have to give Hinder a little bit of leeway - they just had to change out vocalists and lost one of their primary songwriters, so of course there will be a little bit of a bumpy patch. The band sounds a little more "country" on some of the songs, but maybe that is really a valid direction change for the band. I don't know. I'll have to see what happens on the next release, but this one isn't one of my favorites. My favorite tracks on the album would be "I Need Another Drink" and "Dead to Me."