Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Devil's Heaven - Heaven On Earth (2014)

Devil's Heaven is an interesting collaborative of musicians.  According to the Press Release I received, you have 2 guys that are in AOR bands, 1 who has worked with Prog Metal/Rock titans and is in a well known prog band himself (Flower Kings), 1 from a fully prog metal background, a guy who has dabbled in jazz, pop, and metal, and a dentist who apparently plays guitar.  I think perhaps Mötley Crüe needs to give up their name and find a new moniker, because these guys might be more suited to it.  To be fair, it would seem that, because of some of the members other, more full-time commitments, this would be a side project, so perhaps Vince and company can keep the name after all.  Still, an odd bunch of players to get together.

With a name like Devil's Heaven, you could go just about anywhere lyrically or musically, but this project kind of walks the line between sleaze metal and a melodic, traditional 80's heavy metal approach.  I can only assume this is a side project for the talent involved, so this is most likely a batch of tunes that these guys couldn't necessarily have recorded (or have wanted to record) with their primary bands.  Chief among those I would say would be Jonas' Flower Kings, as there would be little or no place for this material on a Flower Kings record.  That's not to say this material isn't musically sound, because it is, but based on the fairly straight-forward hard rock and metal sound here, we won't be hearing any of these songs show up at a Flower Kings gig any time soon.

Musically, this is solid stuff, and with the players involved, it ought to be.  The instrumentation is all quite good, and the riffing is heavy enough, if not always that memorable.  The guitar sound is somewhat modern without being overproduced, and sounds appropriate for a band of this type updating an older hard rock and metal sound.  Solo work is also quite good, with a lot of good leads and licks over the course of the whole record.  As expected, bass guitar is well done here, though it's not as high up in the mix as you'd think it would be, given the band he hails from.  Still, he's audible and you can hear him doing his thing.  Drumming is also pretty good, with dynamics where the songs call for them.  His performance is solid overall, and he occasionally cuts loose with real fiery double-bass work (especially in the opening track, "Welcome II the Show") and rolls.  One thing about the drums is that I didn't think the bass drum sound was loud enough, as sometimes it seemed to get buried by the bass guitar.  Keyboard work on the album is quite good, with organ sounds, piano, and the usual keyboard tones in place where you'd expect them.  They don't take center stage much, but they add a nice layer of interest to the songs.

Vocally, Marcus Nygren sounds quite good.  His accent makes some word pronunciations a bit odd, but overall, he makes things relatively easy to understand with his lightly gravelly tone.  For a guy that sings in a couple AOR bands, you'd think his voice would be smoother, but then again, I haven't heard his other material.  His voice works well for the material in question, however.  One thing I'll mention is the lyrics - some of them are pretty good, well thought out narratives about various topics, but there are a handful of songs where the lyrics are PAINFULLY bad.  Chief among them are the single "Demerital Action, "Hot Sex" and album closer "Wine Me", which tries to be clever with its story, but ultimately falls flat.  Another song that doesn't quite work is "Mean Street City" - it just seems to try too hard to sound like it's being sung by a real tough guy, but I don't buy it.  Other lyrics are surprisingly meaningful and emotional, such as the short poem used for "Stillborn", "Touched By An Angel" about death, or the heavy track "Riders In The Sky".  All in all, the lyrics on the album are a mixed bag.

Listening to this album, it occurs to me that this is exactly the kind of record I'd expect to hear from a group of guys, mostly from other bands, that want to put out something that doesn't fit into the scope of music they'd normally be writing or playing.  It's all well constructed and reasonably enthusiastic, with good performances and fairly good production.  My biggest gripe is that the album feels uneven, stylistically.  It doesn't bother me that they did 3 or 4 "sleaze metal" tracks, 2 or 3 emotional ballads, and a handful of "barn burner" type songs.  What bothers me is that it doesn't necessarily flow together that well while listening to the album.  There's nothing technically wrong with the material, but as an album, I don't think it gels the way it should.  Add the inconsistency of the lyrics and the fact that it feels like the album has been pieced together from 2 or 3 different bands' material, and it's just not as cohesive as I'd like it to be.  It's a solid debut, but I can't say it's anything more than that.  I'd encourage the band to write more songs next time and really work on choosing the best material before they compile the album and record it all.  If you can't get enough 80's styled hard rock and metal with a modern feel, give this a listen, it just might be for you.  Otherwise, this is definitely a try before you buy kind of CD.


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