It takes a brave man to jump into a band situation the way Nic Maeder did when he replaced the late Steve Lee in Gotthard. Lee was the band’s frontman – a damn good one, the lead singer – a damn good one and together with guitarist Leo Leoni, the main songwriter in the band and of course very hard to replace. It would have been one thing if Lee had left the band to do other things, but since Lee was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2010, it must have been far from easy to step in and shoulder Lee’s place in the band. Gotthard were formed in 1992 and released nine albums with Lee and in their native Switzerland, the band was huge. Internationally, the band had grown bigger and bigger with each album and by the time of Lee’s death they were on the threshold of making it really big internationally so the tragedy of Lee’s passing was more than the guys losing a dear friend – as that wasn’t horrible enough. So, to jump into a situation like that takes guts – and then some!
Me, I was never a big fan of the band in the beginning, I had heard some of their tunes and even though I thought they were alright, they never struck a nerve with me at all. Until 2005 and their seventh studio effort Lipservice, that is. With that album, Gotthard rose to the occasion and made one hell of a KO of an album, something they repeated with the following Domino Effect (2007) – I still love those albums. Lee’s last album with the band – 2009’s Need To Believe – wasn’t as strong as the previous two, even though it was a really good album. It felt like Gotthard were on repeat somewhat and I was hoping that they would better that on the next record. Well, Lee never got the chance to do that and instead we got a new album with a new vocalist who must have been scared shitless about his task as the new guy. Unfortunately, Maeder’s debut with the band wasn’t all that great. It was called Firebirth, released in 2012 and was to me a disappointing record. It wasn’t bad but I had hoped for more and so was the case with the second Meader-fronted album Bang! (2014). Bang! was better and contained some really good songs but had some fillers too many and frankly, for me Gotthard had gone back to the band they were before 2005, a good but not that interesting one.
Now it’s time for the band to release their so important third album for the second time in their career – the title Silver is of course named that because it’s their 25th anniversary. After the last two albums I was worried that Gotthard wouldn’t be able to come back as the strong unit the were when Lee fronted the band ever again – to me this album is their trial by fire. They kick off the album with “Silver River” and I can quickly breathe a sigh – this song is everything I had hoped for. It’s a big grooved, classic hard rocker with a Deep Purple / Whitesnake influence that hits right where it should. “Electrified” keeps up the spirit with a riff similar to Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, a steady beat and a kick-ass rhythm. Brilliantly catchy but still rough enough to rock hard – I’d be very surprised if this one doesn’t show up in their future live set. First single “Stay With Me” is a hot rock ballad with a chorus that smells like a hit from go. But it is a ballad with groove and dynamics and the guys has made sure to cut off the cheese – awesome! Another song with single potential is “Beautiful”, a pop song that borders to a ballad as well. It’s not only the chorus that sticks here but the whole damn song. “Everything Inside” comes with a big, fat groove and a ballsy rhythm that really kicks up some dust. But it’s the refrain that makes this song a true winner, it’s sticky without being cheesy and it actually reminds me of the glory days of Lipservice / Domino Effect. This one must be included in their live set. With “Reason For This”, the boys takes their classic rock into AOR territory – melodic and catchy as hell, but still with a crunch and groove. The late 1980’s comes to mind here – and I love it. It’s ballad time again with “Not Fooling Anyone”, but this one is acoustic with a nice layer of strings and a Beatles influence on top – soft and laid back. Brilliant track.
“Miss Me” comes in a slower pace and it’s even a bit monotone (in a good way), but that doesn’t keep this pop-rocker from swinging. The verses and chorus melodies are also stickier than glue and pretty hard to get out the skull once it’s in there – just way I like it. “Tequila Symphony No 5” makes me think of early 80’s Rainbow but despite that, I can’t get a grip of the song – it just won’t stick. It’s not bad but I find it somewhat forgettable. “Why” is another ballad albeit with a heavier arrangement, but this too is a bit forgettable and feels somewhat perfunctory. Could be a grower, though. And for the fifth time on this album we get – you guessed it – a ballad! “Only Love Is Real” is bombastic and big with shitloads of strings all over it which makes it almost overblown – it’s dramatic to say the least. But I think it’s an awesome song. They rock things up again with “My Oh My”, a fat and heavy classic rock tune with a striking melody and it feels like this one is written for the stage, very in-your-face. Good one! The last tune before the bonus tracks is called “Blame On Me” and this one is a faster paced party rocker, an all classic rock stomper complete with a sleazy harmonica – very good. I have no idea why bands keep on putting so-called bonus tracks on albums anymore – I mean if you want the song on the album, just put it there – the whole bonus track thing is so over and out ages ago. Well, the first one is called “Walk On” and comes with a riff similar to Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.”, but with all the classic Gotthard arrangements. It’s a big grooved rocker and way too good to be just a bonus track. The same with “Customized Lovin'”, a great late 80’s influenced hard rocker with a kicking groove, a classic rock arrangement and a stellar melody – thumbs up!
After two somewhat uneven albums, the Nic Maeder fronted Gotthard has finally come up with the goods. Sure, 15 tracks are a bit overmuch and five ballads on a hard rock album is also two or three too many even though all of them here except one are really good. On the down side, I think the production is too clean and slick – some dirt and a bit more clout and aggression wouldn’t have hurt. Still, the album is big on guitars and the fact that they use an organ instead of a synthesizer makes the album more dynamic. With Silver Gotthard has made their best effort since Domino Effect and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the album that brings Gotthard up a notch or two on the ladder of success.
Other Gotthard reviews:
1. Silver River
3. Stay With Me
5. Everything Inside
6. Reason For This
7. Not Fooling Anyone
8. Miss Me
9. Tequila Symphony No. 5
11. Only Love Is Real
12. My Oh My
13. Blame On Me
14. Walk On (Bonus track)
15. Customized Lovin’ (Bonus Track)