Saturday, 21 May 2016

Treat's 'Ghost of Graceland' - Album Review

While Sweden is known for having a history of producing great melodic rock and metal acts, veterans of the scene Treat had eluded me until very recently. I subscribe to the Frontiers Records Youtube channel, and their videos fill up my recommended videos lists. I discount the vast majority of their 'supergroups' and 'projects', as they are often vehicles for their in-house songwriters to use up heaps and heaps of samey and generic melodic rock songs, and instead focus on the original bands (old or new) the label is promoting. Treat is one of those bands that one day appeared in my recommendations with their new single Ghost of Graceland. I instantly enjoyed the song, and pre-ordered the corresponding album almost straight away. As someone who considers themselves extremely knowledgeable on rock and metal bands, I am surprised a band of this quality had eluded me for so long. A quick bit of research shows that they were formed in 1983, and that their new album Ghost of Graceland is their seventh studio release. Lead by founding members - frontman Robert Ernlund and guitarist Anders Wikström - Treat, at least in 2016, play a classy and modern-sounding brand of melodic rock/AOR. I cannot compare this album to their past sound, as Ghost of Graceland is the only Treat album I have heard so far. I have bought a copy of their 1985 debut album Scratch and Bite (on vinyl, as their old albums seems very hard to get on CD - it was difficult enough to find on vinyl!) but I wanted to get to know and review this new album first before delving into their back catalogue. Looking at the band's picture on the back of Scratch and Bite, I would imagine that album is heavier than Ghost of Graceland, and probably quite typical of the hair metal sound that was popular at the time. Joining Ernlund and Wikström on this album are keyboardist Patrick Appelgren (he also plays some rhythm guitar) and drummer Jamie Borger - both who have been in the band for the best part of thirty years. The only new face in the band is bassist Pontus Egberg (Dark Illusion; The Poodles; King Diamond) who has joined Treat for the recording of this album and future shows. He is a well-known name in the Swedish rock and metal worlds though, and brings plenty of his own experience to Treat. The album was produced by Peter Mansson, who also co-wrote much of the album with Wikström. His production job is very clean, with plenty of space for Appelgren's keyboards (he also co-wrote a good chunk of the material on this album) to shine and produce a big sound. This is not a pomp-rock album however, and it lacks the cheesy, overblown keyboard sounds of the 1980s.

The album opens with the title track, the excellent song that persuaded me to give this album a go in the first place. After an electronic opening, a heavy, methodical guitar riff takes that sets the tone for the song. It has some good crunch to it, but the song has an overall smoothness as Appelgren's keyboards dominate the sound as the riff snakes around them. Ernlund's voice is strong throughout, and he commands this song, especially during the soaring chorus - which is one of the album's best. The subtle us of vocal harmonies works well to emphasise the melodies and make it very memorable. A piano-led mid-section leads into a melodic guitar solo. Wikström's playing starts off slow, but soon explodes into a shred-fest with some very nice licks. I Don't Miss the Misery utilises more of a modern hard rock sound, which works well as a contrast to the 1980s sound of the previous song. The main riff has something of the lighter end of post-grunge about it, and the upbeat, percussive verses are instantly catchy. The chorus is very strong too, which again uses plenty of good vocal harmonies, even if there is a hint of autotune there somewhere! The 1980s metal sound returns in Better the Devil You Know, which has a slightly neo-classical riff and washes of dramatic keyboards throughout. Ernland really impresses throughout this song with an excellent vocal performance, and does well to stand out in front of Wikström's crunchy guitars. A great old-school keyboard solo is one of the highlights of the song however, with some great organ sounds from Appelgren. It leads into an impressive guitar solo from Wikström that ends up mirroring Ernland's chorus vocal melodies to great effect. Do Your Own Stunts is the first real change of pace on the album, and is easily the album's best ballad. Opening with some delicate piano, Wikström's cutting clean guitar soon takes over to drive the mellow verses, but it is the soaring chorus that really makes this song. Layers of keyboards and strings surround Ernland's voice as he delivers his best single section of singing on the album. The song beefs up with the addition of drums and bass afterwards, but it remains a great song and repetitions of the chorus only make it stronger. Endangered gets back on the rockier path of the album's earlier songs, and has a great energy throughout that makes a great impact after the slower previous song. Appelgren's keyboard stabs are right from the 1980s, and the fast-paced chorus with plenty of range really grabs the attention. Wikström even throws in a few passages of slide guitar throughout, which adds a slightly strange but welcome addition to the song. Despite opening slowly with piano, Inferno has a great rock energy with a verse that is built on an AC/DC-style riff (but with added keyboard backing) and a great rumbling bassline. The mordern-sounding pop chorus is a contrast to the verses, but it works well with plenty of electronics and backing vocals to bulk it out. It is another strong song on an album that does not contain a lot of filler.

Alien Earthlings starts off with some appropriately strange keyboard sounds, but launches into a guitar and keyboard riff that sounds like something that could have been on Deep Purple's Slaves and Masters album. The song itself is a strong mid-paced rocker, built around that strong guitar and keyboard, and plenty of neo-classical flourishes. There is even some gang vocals used to good effect as a sort of post-chorus piece that works well to add a bit of grit to an otherwise smooth song. Nonstop Madness is a short song, but really packs a punch. It is full of poppy melodies, but these are perfectly blended with a staccato guitar riff that is surprisingly heavy when compared to the rest of the song. The chorus is one of the most overt on the album, with some huge, soaring melodies that are instantly memorable. Wikström's guitar solo is also short but sweet, and is the icing on the cake. Too Late to Die Young is one of the few weaker moments on the album. The more modern sound that worked so well during I Don't Miss the Misery fails to make the same impact here, and the song overall just lacks any standout melodies. The rather bland riff the song is based around does not help much, and it just never really gets going. Luckily, there is so many other strong songs here, that this one is soon forgotten. House on Fire is better and gets the album back on track with a slightly atmospheric, but heavy tune. Appelgren's keyboards provide a really interesting backing during the sparse verses, but the extremely melodic chorus is the song's high point. Appelgren dominates the song's solo section too, with plenty of spacey keyboard runs that have a slight progressive feel to them, which adds an extra dimension to the song, before once again exploding into the big chorus. Wikström sings the penultimate song, the ballad Together Alone. His voice is a little lower than Ernland's, but I am not sure I would have noticed the difference if I had not read in the album's sleeve notes that Wikström was singing. His voice is strong though, and fits this piano-led ballad nicely. It is a really nice song, with a massive string arrangement that helps to drive the song along with Appelgren's piano. It is quite a heartfelt piece, and Wikström's slightly lower voice gives the song plenty of emotional weight. The album comes to an end with the simple upbeat summer rock of Everything to Everyone. There are plenty of strong synth sounds here, and Ernland reinforces his vocal dominance after Wikström's little detour in the last song. While the song is fairly unremarkable, it is the perfect feel-good song to end the album on. Overall, Ghost of Graceland  is a strong release from Treat and a great new discovery for me. I will definitely be checking out some of their back catalogue, starting with my vinyl copy of Scratch and Bite.

The album was released on 15th April 2016 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Ghost of Graceland.

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