HARTMANN – Hands On The Wheel

It feels like I have written quite a few reviews of artists that I have heard of but never listened to, lately. Here’s another one. To me, guitarist Oliver Hartmann is the guy who participated as a singer and guitarist on some of Avantasia’s albums and also toured with the project as its guitar player. Other than that, I’m pretty lost. Apparently, he was also in the band At Vance but all I have heard by them is the album The Evil In You, an album he’s not on. Other projects of his are Centers and Empty Tremor but he have been involved in shitloads of other bands such as Primal Fear, Lunatica, Edguy, Freedom Call, Hammerfall and Helloween, but as a guest only. But he also run a band of his own – Hartmann. If that’s a real band or a solo career in disguise, I’m not sure of. He formed that band in 2005 and have released six albums and one live album with that outfit. Now it’s time for album number seven, the first one yours truly has lent an ear to. I’m really clueless of what to expect musically but if I look to the other projects he’s been involved in, I’m guessing we’re in for a Power Metal ride here.

But I couldn’t be more wrong, at least to judge by the opening track “Don’t Want Back Down” alone – this is as far from Power Metal as it gets. The tune’s verse goes in a soft, levitating, feel-good vibe but the chorus is moving on in a bit faster pace. It never gets hard or heavy though it still holds a soft atmosphere throughout the song. The song is ok but fails to make a lasting impression on me. “Your Best Excuse” is in a more upbeat tempo and it rocks more although it do sport a huge Pop feel. It’s very straight-forward with no extra anything, just a ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ kind of thing. It’s a good song, but a bit too plain for me. “Cold As Stone” is a mid-paced Melodic Rock song that comes with a really good groove. It’s a bit more bluesy, in a Melodic Rock way, very much thanks to the Hammond.  The refrain catches on from go and it’s easily the best song so far – very good!

“Simple Man” features a duet with Eric Martin (Mr Big, Avantasia) – a groovy, acoustic guitar based Pop song. It also comes with a Celtic touch and a 70’s down-to-earth vibe. The memorable melodies and the brilliantly catchy chorus makes this tune a real winner and it’s my favorite track on the album. “Last Plane Out” is a Pop-laden rocker, also very straight ahead with no messing about. This one catches on and the catchy chorus keeps humming in my head a long time after the record’s done. Very good.  With its seven minutes, “Soulmates” is the album’s epic ballad. It’s slow with a bluesy feel. There’s also a Soul influence and a slight Gospel touch, very atmospheric and emotional. Brilliant! As a contrast “The Harder They Comes” provides us with a big Hard Rock twist, very raunchy and bouncy. It’s slower in paces and quite heavy as well, even headbang-friendly – and a bit 70’s influenced. There’s also a very catchy refrain on top which brings the song home – very good.

“Dream World” is a more straight-forward, in-your-face Melodic Rock tune with some inserts of Hard Rock. It’s got a pretty catchy chorus as well but the song sounds way too unpersonal and mainstream. It’s not bad at all but I’m not really convinced here. “I Remember” brings on a floating groove and the tune is a bit dreamy and spacey. The pre-chorus and chorus goes into more traditional AOR territory but it’s not cheesy at all. I guess the somewhat trippy arrangements made sure of that – good tune. “Lost In Translation” is slower, heavy and brings on a punchy groove, all in the name of Melodic Rock. It’s catchy, holds a neat riff but it’s too forgettable. “The Sky Is Falling” is a slow blues-ballad that holds some heavy riffing and an equally heavy rhythm, very punchy and earthy – old Whitesnake comes to mind here. Great tune. The album closes with “Heart Of Gold”, a soft, laid-back, taciturn and stripped acoustic ballad with a melancholic undertone and a soothing vibe – a good tune.

While listening, I thought the album was a good one but there’s something that makes the album sound a bit bland – I just can’t make it stick. Even though I found a few goodies here I couldn’t help notice that the hooks are missing, I can’t hear any hit songs and the stuff that makes me go WOW! just isn’t around and that makes the most of the record somewhat forgettable. Also, I find the production too laid-back and smooth. Sure, my Power Metal guess was totally wrong and I know this is supposed to be a Melodic Rock album but I miss the rough edges, the attack and the punch. The fact that we’re dealing with very good musicians here isn’t even under discussion but when both songs and production are too mainstream, I just can’t get hooked. It’s an ok album but too many steps from great!

5/10

Tracklist:

1. Don’t Want Back Down
2. Your Best Excuse
3. Cold As Stone
4. Simple Man
5. Last Plane Out
6. Soulmates
7. The Harder They Come
8. Dream World
9. I Remember
10. Lost In Translation
11. The Sky Is Falling
12. Heart Of Gold

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