Back in 2014, Canadian Melodic Rock band Harem Scarem surprised me big time with a damn good album called Thirteen (the most used album-title ever?) after a strain of mediocre albums throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. They even split up for a short while in 2008 and Thirteen was their reunion record – and what a reunion record that was! But not even that album could prepare me for what was about to come. Of course, I had some high hopes for the follow-up, 2017’s United but that said album would be one of the best records of that year was something I wouldn’t have guessed. I gave it a 9/10 but three years later I think it’s damn close for the full monty. When Harem Scarem now follows that album up, my expectations is really, really high. Would they release yet another monster – the third time in a row?
Opening with the album’s second single and title-track (remember the days when the title-track always opened a record?), they put their foot down to show us that the last album was no lucky strike. In a mid pace, this hook-laden rocker is a bit darker in sound but also with uplifting melodies and a positive message. Listening to the melodies – and of course Harry Hess’ distinctive voice – there’s no doubt which band we’re dealing with here. A big, catchy chorus brings the song home and to me this is a hit. A real killer! Latest single “Aftershock” is heavier with crunchy guitars and a punchy groove. It’s an uptempo rocker that leans more towards Hard Rock than Melodic Rock on a bouncy beat. It also comes with another massive chorus that can move mountains – and it screams Harem Scarem. Phenomenal!
“Searching For Meaning” is an upbeat, straight-forward and pretty crunchy rocker that hold’s some smoother pop vibes where Hard Rock and melodic Rock blends masterfully. The hooks are everywhere in the song and the chorus is not only distinct and effective – it’s massive. It just won’t get any catchier than this. Must be a single at some point. Brilliant! Leading single “The Death Of Me” is ballsier, more in-your-face and holds some fat, edgy guitar riffing. With some upbeat yet slightly laid-back verses, a more quiet and stripped bridge takes us right into a huge refrain that is so catchy I’m almost lost for words. It’s a bit darker in sound and Hess brings on some crispy and crafty vocals but with all those hooks, the song should have been all over rock-radio in a fair world. Amazingly good.
“Mother Of Invention” starts out on a softer note with only a piano and vocals with a 60’s Beatles-like vocal arrangement but it gets more powerful and bombastic when the band joins in. The verses are still held-back and the Beatles influence is now joined by a big Queen feel but when the enormous chorus takes over, this ballad tears down walls, fat and striking with catchiness enough to sell. Fantastic stuff. “No Man’s Land” is slower in tempo, heavy and a bit moody. Pete Lesperance throws some meaty riffs our way, edgy and rough and there’s a rolling rhythm section where the bass is boss. The all-over vibe might be dark and rough but the big melodies remain and the Melodic Rock laden refrain is another monster. Love it.
The upbeat rocker “In The Unknown” holds verses that are a bit laid-back, even sombre, without being actually soft. The crafty and straight-forward chorus hits right on the jaw and is very memorable but in an album-track kind of way. The song also comes with a chunky live-feel that makes the groove more prominent. Damn good stuff. “Riot In My Head” is probably the heaviest track this band has recorded in many, many moons. Fast in tempo, rough and heavy, this is Hard Rock with a kicking rhythm, a ballsy groove and very direct and sharp-edged. It’s full of adrenaline, energy and even though the melodies are memorable, this is a typical album track – and maybe a future concert opener. It’s a good track but the chorus takes its time to attach itself to my mind.
“No Me Without You” is an upbeat ballad that glances at power-balladry from the early 90’s. The verse is somewhat taciturn and even serene where the Beatles-esque vocal-melodies returns and it paves way for the mighty chorus that comes in and pulls me in – it’s endlessly catchy and I’m completely defenseless to the hitty hooks it brings. It holds a huge hit-potential and needs to be a single. Great stuff. “Fire & Gasoline” brings on a rowdy opening – heavy, tough and aggressive with a slight nod towards Metal. The verses brings on a stompy rhythm with punchy drums while the chorus is rough and in-your-face with a big, infectious melody. It’s a catchy one too without going near any Melodic Rock at all – this is plain Hard Rock. And it’s damn good.
It’s now closing time and the guys bid their farewells with the uptempo, slightly gloomy straight-forward rocker “Swallowed By The Machine”. Lesperance’s juicy guitar-sound and meaty riffing brings on the heaviness, the main melody goes straight for the throat on a blasting rhythm section and the refrain makes sure you’ll never forget it, with tons of catchiness albeit without any pop-friendly hooks. It’s a bang-on-target rocker made for the stage and even though Harem Scarem is a Melodic Rock band, it’s never wrong to end an album with a blaster. It’s a great song that makes me want to spin the album over and over again. And Again. And Again.
Harem Scarem has shown us with their last three albums – this one included – that their lowest level is very, very high and even though I hold their previous record United their strongest to date, this one isn’t far behind. This album is a bit more varied musically, the last few records are bonafide Melodic Rock records whereas this one brings on more Hard Rock influences – even nods to Metal at times – and holds an all-over darker vibe sonically. That being said, it’s easy to spot it’s a Harem Scarem record as they sport their own sound, especially in the vocal-melody department. I can’t imagine any fan of the band getting disappointed by this effort at all – it is a magnificent album by a magnificent band. Unfortunately, Covid-19 made sure Sweden Rock Festival 2020 got cancelled and my chances to see the band live for the first time took a hike, but hopefully they’ll appear at SRF 2021 instead – I have a feeling they’re a great live act as well. As for this record, if you dig ’em, you can buy this record unheard and if you haven’t heard them before, it’s time now.
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