Thursday, 9 April 2015

Santa Cruz's 'Santa Cruz' - Album Review

Hair metal has been having a pretty large revival in the Scandinavian countries in recent years. Bands like Reckless Love and Crashdïet have been making names for themselves and getting a whole new generation into the joys and fun of hair metal. Santa Cruz are another one of these bands. Since forming in Finland in 2007, the band have been making a name for themselves in the ever-improving Finnish hair metal scene, and elsewhere in the world. The band's debut album, Screaming for Adrenaline, was released in 2013 to pretty good reviews. While the album itself was not anything new, it was an enjoyable slab of hair metal that fit in well with the rest of the Scandinavian scene without really ever threatening any of the bigger bands' crowns. Last month saw the release of the band's second album, and this time it is self-titled. On first listen, you might be forgiven for thinking that you were listening to a different band, such is the initial shock in the difference of the band's sound. Santa Cruz is much heavier than it's predecessor, clearly being influenced more by Mötley Crüe than say Poison. But it goes beyond that, and some of the songs here have a slight metalcore edge, showing that the band is as much influenced by modern metal than the 1980s. The initial shock soon wears off however, and your realise that, in fact, Santa Cruz is not that different from Screaming for Adrenaline after all - it just has more adrenaline (yes, I know..). This is an album that hits you between the eyes and makes sure you are listening. The big, hair-metal choruses are still present and they are still extremely catchy, but the music overall is much tougher. As I said before, while this album does sound different to the previous one, at it's core it is still very much an album full of fun, party anthems - they are just not as obvious as before. I wonder if the band wanted to make themselves stand out from a crowd a bit and, if this was the case, then I expect that they have succeeded. Anyone who was familiar with the now sadly defunct bands The Morning After and Blessed by a Broken Heart will find a lot to like here (minus the harsh vocals that both bands used), as the mix of hair and modern metal here is quite similar to the sound that these bands utilised, but it retains the rawness of classic hair bands like Mötley Crüe and fellow Finns Hanoi Rocks. Their image is much rawer now too, ditching the cowboy boots and perfectly backcombed hair for a more rugged overall appearance.

Bonafide Heroes is the album's first song and a sugary intro leads into an almost nu-metal-esque instrumental section with chunky riffing and powerful double-bass drumming from Taz Fagerström. The song's verses are powerful, with some serious riffing and angsty lyrics that are snarled by Archie Cruz. The lyrics are a little annoying on this album, lots of clichéd profanity, but it does not detract from my enjoyment of the songs. The song's is very catchy though, and is more similar to the sound on their first album. This is typical of the overall sound of Santa Cruz, and this song works well to get in the mood for the rest of the material here. The metalcore sound I outlined earlier is apparent on Velvet Rope. The main riff has a clear Zakk Wylde influence with some pinch harmonics thrown in for good measure, and the way the guitars lock in with the drum pattern brings to mind bands like Killswitch Engage. Vocally, this song is pretty punky with lots of powerful gang vocals and a gritty delivery from Archie Cruz. There is a really excellent guitar solo here from Johnny Cruz and he speeds through plenty of great licks with ease. My Remedy mixes the band's new nu-metal influence (what is with those weird 1990s style vocals in the intro?) with their classic 1980s influence with good results. It is easily the catchiest song on the album with an anthemic chorus (that has plenty of natural swing) and some excellent wordless vocal sections. The verses have an almost rap-like rhythm to them, without ever really sounding like a proper 'rap', which actually works pretty well in the context of the song. Purists may struggle with it, but I think it works. 6 (66) Feet Under takes that sound a little further however, and it starts it crack a little for me. The verses sound like early Papa Roach, which is not a good thing; but the song is slightly saved by a pretty melodic chorus that sounds more like their first album. This is a song that I quite liked on first listen, but each listen since has only made me realise that it one of the weaker songs on the album. The nu-metal vocals annoy me, and the silly chanted vocals at the end of the chorus are also weak. Bye Bye Babylon is another fairly weak number. It seems to straddle the line between a ballad and a rocker, and does not really seem to know which it wants to be. The vocals are quite gently throughout, but then some aggressive, atonal riffing stick out like a sore thumb and crash the nice atmosphere created by the vocals. This middle period of the album is certainly the overall weak point, but thankfully it does improve!

We are the Ones to Fall, which has been around on the internet for quite a while now, raises the bar again after a couple of weaker songs. The big melodies return here big time, and from the opening guitar riff to the end this is a winner. The song's chorus makes great use of backing vocals to make it infectious and catchy. This is one of the album's best songs for this reason, as it really captures the spirit of hair metal while fitting it well in a slightly heavier and modern setting. Wasted & Wounded is similar, and is another great track. It is not as heavy, but the melodies here are so strong that I think anyone would have a hard time not to sing along. Anyone who is worried that the band's heavier sound has made them lose the 1980s spirit needs to give this a song a go, as it fully captures that vibe perfectly. There is no surprise that videos were made for this song and the previous one, as they are two of the best songs here and perfectly capture what the band are about these days. Let Them Burn carries on the good work started by the last couple of tunes. This is a bit heavier though, with a speedy, punky verse that mixes well with the gang vocal-led chorus. It is quite an angsty song, but this is fine as it is done well. The vibe throughout this song is excellent, and the cherry on top is the excellent, shredding guitar solo that fits so well with the rest of the song. Vagabonds (Sing With Me) is another good one. This is a very energetic song, with a very catchy chorus and some great stop-start riffing that epitomises the modern influences found on this album. It is not a complicated song, and I am sure this would work really well in the live arena with plenty of opportunity for crowd interaction and clapping with the standout rhythms. The album's final song is Can You Feel the Rain which, although is a bit of a comedown from the last few songs, is still enjoyable. It is a still a bit slower and tries to go for that 'epic' album closer feel without quite making it. That being said, it is still a good song, it just fails to live up to the power of the past four songs, all of which are excellent. The song's solo is very strong, and the melodies are very catchy, so it rounds the album out nicely with a slower song free from angst. Overall, despite some weaker moments, Santa Cruz is a good follow up album from the band and one that clearly shows the band's desire to branch out and make a sound that is their own. While I think that work still needs to be done to hone this development, this is a step in the right direction, and will help to set Santa Cruz apart from other hair metal acts.

The album was released on 9th March 2015 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for We are the Ones to Fall.

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