Album: Steel Roots
Label: Self Released
Here’s the first album review of 2009, which is set to be the worst year ever for everyone in the world. So what better way to kick off the year with some heavy fucking metal from Sweden? Concerned? Yeah, so was I given the terribly 80’s album cover and band logo that looks like it was an idea thrown into the rubbish heap for the Sega Mega Drive. But never judge a book by it’s cover, and so I eventually braved listening to Powerdrive’s debut, Steel Roots.
Given that guitarist Miguel Gayarre and vocalist Robin Lundgren live thousands of miles apart (Lundgren resides in Sweden, and Gayarre recorded his parts in Madrid) it’s important to note that the two never actually met whilst recording this album. Sending hundreds of audio files back and forth to each other each day, it’s a miracle that the album sounds as complete as it does. Opener ‘Final Chapter’ grabs you by the balls and completely evaporated all of my initial doubts as to what this album was going to be like. It’s got all the typical 80’s metal references – Metallica, Megadeth, a bit of Guns ‘n’ Roses in the solos, but there’s also some more modern influences prevalent, such as Killswitch Engage, which really adds a sharp, modern kick to what is essentially a heartpounding metal track. ‘Starting Over’ follows, and despite some recklessly cheesy chorus lyrics (You gotta set me free/free from my chains/free from my injuries/free from my demons/free from myself!) the guitars have a real chug full of vengeance, and it could only serve to put a massive smile on my face. Although a borderline parody of the metal scene, it’s got just enough grit in it to make it headbangingly good in its own right.
‘Alive’, not a cover of Pearl Jam’s classic (although by this point I would have been more than happy to hear what these guys would have done to it) is the first of a few dips quality, as the track slows things down and takes a regrettable more reflective attitude. It’s slower, somewhat tribal in its resounding drum rhythm evolves into a real sing-along chorus that never stretches the mind matter too much, but does feature a notably good dual vocal style from Miguel and Robin. The band also pilfer an idea best utilised by Queens of the Stone Age as ‘Self Determination’ opens with a rather pointless radio tuning in and out of different radio stations. This is just before a tumultuous riff kicks in, and restrained but nevertheless wailing vocals burst out, recalling the likes of big acts such as Dragonforce (although somehow less ridiculous). The pace is almost akin to that of Avenged Sevenfold‘s only good song ‘Bat Country’ and indeed, the vocals certainly take a more M. Shadows vibe to them, which really isn’t as bad as it sounds when it’s thrown together with a Slayer-infused riff and a guitar solo that would mean an entry into Guitar Hero would probably bring about an epidemic of pinky fingers falling off.
Disappointingly the band play up to the 80’s stable album format by throwing in a couple of weak ballad tracks that really let the side down. The first of these, ‘Treat’ just about saves itself by only having about a minute of acoustic guitar playing before the band realise that they should stick to the riffs. But the biggest offender is ‘Silver Bullet’, a “tribute to the fallen metal legends” according to the band. Here comes the point where I upset another vast swathe of metal fans: Dimebag Darrell died in 2004. That’s five years ago now, and yet still bands are churning out these turgid tribute to a man who, although a brilliantly inspirational guitarist, was nothing more. It’s not so much the subject matter that riles me, but more the way bands go about commemorating their idols. Powerdrive’s tribute is a shocking ballad that opens with an “oh please” rumble of thunder and rain and persists with plodding drums and embarrassing lyrics (Sleep well my dying friend/the cold night is closing in) but most of all it lacks any sense of sheer anger or passion, hallmarks of the metal genre that Dimebag pioneered. No-one wants to hear a pissy, whingey ballad when you could be writing riffs that drown innocent children in the blood of cougars, and surely such a feat would be a much better tribute to one of metal’s greats?
However, despite these few major blips, the rest of the album picks things back up and sufficiently partakes in rocking with its cock out all over the place. ‘Blast’ covers up for some more questionable lyrics (There’s nothing human left in me!) with a great dual guitar solo that gets that foot tapping again, and ‘Laid to Rest’s (again, not a cover) guitars stomp all over everything in the song before breaking out into a sudden angular riff that is clearly an influence of the likes of Meshuggah. The closer, ‘New Life’ has some Linkin Park-esque backing vocals, but Robin’s lead vocals carry over with an appropriate sense of melodrama, and rather helpfully the guitars do not stop rumbling, sounding like a washing machine possessed. The track suffers from ending almost in the middle of itself, leaving quite a hollow conclusion after the concise battering that most of the other tracks have deposited on the listener.
Despite the rather worrying front cover, and the band clearly having no qualms with being associated to classic 80’s heavy metal (a brave stance these days I suppose) I was pleasantly surprised with Powerdrive’s offering. Sure, there is little here that expands upon the idols that they look up to, and the unabashedly cliché lyrics are perplexing, but for the most part this is a solid record that’s good fun and fucking rocking. The clear influence of other Swedish exports such as the notable Meshuggah lend the album a much heavier and more contemporary sound, but the band do a good job of making the impossibly cheesy sound as passionate as any notable metal release. It’s only problem is falling into the same pitholes that a lot of metal bands do, feeling it has to throw in a couple of slower tracks to mix it up, which drags down the pace and really makes you start to question why you’re listening to a couple of bearded men whinge and complain. However, for a couple of guys who didn’t even meet each other physically, to get this recorded and pack it with such a punch is extremely impressive, and I’d definitely recommend searching it out if you fancy some no-brains-required metal.