By Sam Graham
For those of you who may not know, Alice In Thunderland are a hard rock band hailing from the seaside town of Bridlington. Formed in 1995, the five-piece has been around the block enough times to know what they’re doing and on their fourth album, Hellfire, that experience shows.
The album artwork features some heavily stylized patterns that on first glance gives a sort of gothic hard rock look to it. It’s easy to tell straight away that a lot of bread and butter went into this album.
The first song off this album, entitled Something Is Coming is a bit of an understatement as from the very first note, it’s already here. There’s no mucking around with intro’s and the riff that slams straight in is straight-up rock. This may be an obscure reference, but it reminds me of the music from the 2004 video game Painkiller (the music for that was made by Stephen Rippy, David Rippy, and Kevin McMullan). Once the song’s established a rhythm, vocalist Kala comes in with some long notes, and it’s interesting to hear a female vocalist that isn’t just there for novelty. By that I mean her presence in the band doesn’t feel forced, like she’s only there to say “look at us, we have a girl in the band”. She has a certain churn in the further reaches of her voice that suits the music well and in the chorus, takes the reigns. That beast of a riff carries the song, coming back for every verse. There’s a short, but melodic guitar solo played by Tony Dean that feels like it completes the song and towards the end, Kala holds some long notes alongside the guitar and makes for a cool crescendo.
They’ve probably heard this before, but the riff to the second song, Hey Hey sounds somewhat like the verse riff to Electric Funeral (1970) by Black Sabbath. It doesn’t stay that was for long as what comes next is another heavy riff that’s almost as good as Something Is Coming. Accentuated by the harmonic twangs at the end of every repetition, Tony Dixon flexes his lead-guitar duties on the first solo and is very classic-rock. It’s that rooted in the seventies, it’s like a god damn time-capsule. After that, Dean treats us to some wah. His solo has got more umph to it, but Dixon’s had more heart. All in all, the solid rhythm is the pride of this song and in my opinion, it’s the best on the album so far.
The fourth track on Hellfire, Control has another of those ‘Painkiller’ riffs and is in a very similar vein to Something Is Coming. The pattern is almost identical to Take to the Limit in the verses as the main riff often comes back between the lyrics (I’d be proud of a riff like that, so I’d want to play it as much as possible too), but the descending chords in the chorus is what gives it that extra bit of edge. The interlude that precedes the solo is a variant of that main riff and when Dixon’s solo does come in, he casts off the 70’s feel of his previous one and instead shreds this one. It comes out of nowhere, kicks you in the teeth, then legs it with your wallet.
Hellfire takes a turn for the emotive as Always Forever starts off slow and soft, with Kala reminding me somewhat of Doro Pesch when she sang Beyond The Trees (1989), because they both have the ability to go from soft to harsh in the click of a finger. This likening continues into the chorus which has by far one of the best hooks on the album. Aside from the guitar solo which oozes players like Dennis Stratton and Tony Iommi, Always Forever is Kala’s time to shine. She carries this song from the minute she starts and it doesn’t disappoint. This slower number is well-placed in the dead centre of the album as it breaks it up nicely. To have it later on would have felt like it was just thrown in, and to have it earlier would have spoiled the atmosphere.
The track that comes next, Are You Ready falls a little short in my eyes. While it has a solid rhythm, a decent solo and in short, everything that makes a good rock song, it feels a little lacking when compared to the tracks that have come before it. I wasn’t keen on the vocals in the chorus. While there’s nothing wrong with the actual singing, the pattern just didn’t do it for me. I can see why some would really go for this song, but thinking objectively, it’s just not as good as some other tracks on the album.
Thankfully that lacking feeling is over as soon as the riff to Voices comes in. For lack of a better adjective, it’s a beast. It’s kind of like Something is Coming, but with the subtlest hint of glam to it. Whereas Kala may have held the reins tightly in Always Forever, Voices is all about the music. It’s one of those songs that is all riff, and that’s something this band can do very well.
The final track on Hellfire is named exactly that: Hellfire. It busts straight in with a riff that, if it’s a precursor to their next works, is a good show. From the opening chord, it’s clear that this song will have that element of power-metal cheese. This notion is then cemented by the backing vocals in the chorus. In lieu of this information, it won’t come as a surprise to find that Hellfire is the most epic-sounding of the tracks. Kala’s vocals in the interlude are sombre and help carry the song to a sense of security before the solo’s bust in. By this point, you should know what kind of style the leads are in, and while they throw in a few extra tricks, it doesn’t disappoint.
While Hellfire may lack the meaty riffage that made this album so good, it does pick up a lot more atmosphere, and in that respect, makes a great ending to the album.
If I had to sum this album up with one sentence, I’d say that it’s a celebration of the riff. So many great riffs feature on this album, they should be proud of it. If I had to pick a gripe about this album (and if I didn’t, the review just wouldn’t be honest), I’d say that at first I wasn’t keen on the vocals. They quickly grew on me; in fact they had grown on me by the end of the very first song, but when they first came in on Something Is Coming, I thought they sounded a little strained. Aside from that, a lot of the song structures tend to follow a similar format without much variation. However, Alice in Thunderland seem to prescribe to a more meat-and-potato style that I can appreciate.
The sound quality for this album deserves its own paragraph. In short, it’s brilliant. Everything has a warmth to it and the lead-guitar parts especially, aren’t tingy at all. The drums are nicely mixed to not overpower, but be noticeable where they need to be, and the same goes for the bass. Kala seems to have a nice hint of reverb which makes her stand out, but not in a purple, self-attracting way. Everything about this album, from the mixing to the cover artwork (which the members of the band were kind enough to sign for us) feels professional.
Well done guys.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \n