It’s been three years since H.E.A.T unleashed the acclaimed ‘tearing down the walls’, the 2014 follow-up to 2012’s similarly feted ‘Address the nation’. Once again teamed up with Swedish Grammy Award winner Tobias Lindell, the band packed up and shipped out to Thailand, where they recorded in a studio just outside Bangkok. A hedonistic location, perfectly suited to the band’s bruising, yet melodic, style of hard rock, it provided the perfect backdrop to ‘Into the great unknown’, the band’s fifth album and, arguably, their most vibrant yet.
The return of Dave Dalone (AKA Sky Davids) is celebrated as a hotwired riff and gang vocals announce the arrival of opening track ‘Bastard of society’. Salty language notwithstanding, this is premium radio rock, the band tipping their hat towards the likes of Kiss, Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Europe with their heroic solos and soaring melodies. Such music, alas, no longer perches atop the global charts, but there’s no mistaking the band’s stadium-sized ambitions as they plunge into the thunderous percussion of ‘redefined’. With Jona Tee’s synth elements very much to the fore and the verse paired back to atmospheric guar and Erik Gronwall’s perfectly-phrased vocals, ‘redefined’ is the sort of track that would have closed out a John Hughes movie back in the eighties (with corresponding promotional video gaining airplay ad nauseam), the rich melody redolent of big hair and outrageous outfits. Ramping up the energy, ‘Shit city’ sounds like Royal Blood covering Europe, the huge riffing and ecstatic chorus guaranteed to lodge themselves in your cranium for days on end. Boasting an explosive chorus and a sense of high drama, ‘Time on our side’ emphasises the synth elements to grand effect, whilst ‘best of the broken’ has a bluesy shuffle to it that provides a welcome counterpoint to the kitchen-sink style production of the previous track.
A full-blown hard rock ballad, ‘eye of the storm’ is the latest example of a track best listened to whilst staring blankly out of a window into the pouring rain. With a production that sounds like a million dollars and a vocal performance that stains the codpiece, it’s an anthem that is sure to form a centrepiece to the band’s live set, not least thanks to Sky’s epic solo. Next up, ‘blind leads the blind’ is a full-blooded rocker with a melody to die for and plenty of spacey synth work. Given the self-confidence of the title, ‘we rule’ opens upon an unexpectedly theatrical note, all synth strings and Sondheim vocals before rising to the sort of epic crescendo that bands simply don’t write anymore. Part Dream Theater-esque bombast, part Broadway-esque epic, it’s a huge, ambitious track that speaks volumes about the band’s self-confidence. Lest things become too syrupy, ‘do you want it?’ is a more straight-forward rocker complete with whimsical synths and lascivious subject matter. The album concludes with ‘Into the great unknown’, a gloriously over-the-top finale that brings the album to a suitably dramatic conclusion.
This is a difficult album to grade because it is inevitably going to be musical Marmite. For those who hanker after the flamboyance of the mid-eighties, ‘Into the great unknown’ brings that era vividly to life. For those who feel that the opulence of that decade was best washed into the gutter by thrash and, later, grunge, it’s difficult to imagine them viewing this album with anything other than horror. Ultimately, H.E.A.T are a technically proficient band who follow their muse with considerable joy, and it’s difficult to condemn so irrepressible and colourful a sonic assault. Larger than life with a production job that sparkles like the band’s inevitable stage wear, ‘into the great unknown’ is a window into a simpler, more naïve era and it serves as an antidote to the increasingly depressing news that seems to have become the norm in these days of 24-hour reporting. Vibrant and varied, ‘into the great unknown’ will be loved and loathed in equal measure, but it certainly can’t be ignored. 8