Today’s review comes from Bill Leslie from Rock of Ages. Be sure to stop by Bill’s excellent site, where you can also find a new interview with Sacred Heart singer, Paul Stead.
It’s been many years now since the UK had a true melodic rock band that I felt could match the best of this often maligned genre. “Ten” had promise but despite some success in Japan, line-up changes and reluctance to tour have seen their chances of worldwide recognition diminish. Likewise Dare, who despite some significant airplay on the national BBC Radio 2 station have been unable to turn it into sales. No, the days of the likes of Shy, Tobruk and the mighty F.M. et al flying the flag for Britain are long in the past… but maybe that’s about to change.
Sacred Heart, a four-piece outfit comprising of Paul Stead on guitar & vocals, Mark Stephenson on lead guitar, Claudio Cafolla on drums and Darren Jhuboo on bass have taken the polished rock sound of the late 80’s, modernised it by adding a heavier feel that has welcomed comparison to the like of Nickelback and Hinder, and across twelve all original compositions have produced a debut that makes you wonder why it doesn’t bear the label of one of Europe’s premier AOR/Melodic Rock labels.
That’s right, despite no major label support, their persistence and belief in these songs has seen the band self-finance the whole thing, and through hard work and impressive use of the internet for promotion should see significant returns.
Having only heard their 2004 demos album “Lay It On The Line” before, the first thing that hits you is the sheer depth of sound they’ve achieved. Opening track “Afraid”, a brooding, mid-tempo rocker with a slight hint of Dio in its pulsing riffs, just sounds so ‘full’. The nearest comparison I could think of is that achieved by Europe on the “Out Of This World” opus and that’s an interesting one to recall as in a few places on this disc I found myself remembering that album and that band. Lead singer Paul Stead shares similarities in both voice and phrasing with Joey Tempest whilst the guitar work of Mark Stephenson possesses similar traits to that of Kee Marcello. Specifically it’s technical and impressive and often attention grabbing yet always seems appropriate to the song and never overly ‘flash’.
Further harder songs such as “Tonight”, a number that builds from a quiet opening toward a monster mid-section and solo, or the magnificent “Lift You Up” leave a lasting positive impression whilst the sleazy lap dancer tale of title track “Shake” will result in a smile from the listener either for the picturesquely suggestive lyrics or the guitar riff straight out of George Lynch’s book from Dokken’s heyday.
Memories of Jagged Edge and their quite English melodic blues-rock single “Out In The Cold” were stirred during “Lost”. One of the albums many highlights it’s already gained some radio airplay for the band in the UK and with its catchy chorus and “hooks that kill” could be an ideal candidate to lift as a single. Likewise the closing track “1000 Tears” which as the albums heaviest number tears up the final five minutes or so and leaves you in no doubt of the bands hard rocking credentials. Of the other tracks, “Paradise” also evokes memories of Europe in sound although it’s a cracker in its own right. “Carry On” is a big, grooving number with speaker rattling riffs and a touch of Warrant about it whilst “Perfect” again makes me recall those American pretty boys although this time it’s along with Whitesnake 1990 in the mix.
Of course, no melodic rock album would be complete without its ballads and here Sacred Heart offer the heartfelt tale of “Natali”, a song benefiting from a pulsating bass line, and the mid-album “Maybe”. Now I must admit that the soft acoustic opening of the latter hasn’t quite clicked with me yet, maybe too much of a come down from the fine opening five song salvo, but there is no denying that it’s a fine vocal performance from Stead and once it erupts pre-solo it’s real power ballad material. That only actually leaves “Promise” left to mention. A slick pop-rocker that like “Natali” perhaps errs on the pop side a little much for my personal taste yet along with the ballads gives the album wider breadth and variety and ultimately more appeal.
In summary, it’s an album that has impressed me greatly. I did initially think maybe I was going overboard and it was down to the sheer leap this band have taken since the demos release however placing the album next to personal genre favourites like the aforementioned Jagged Edge’s “Fuel For Your Soul”, FM’s “Tough It Out”, Ten’s debut album and even added a few of Europe, Dokken and Tyketto releases and I decided it’s not out of place in their company at all.
Of course, it’s not going to redefine a genre but it sure as hell should give the UK melodic rock scene a long overdue shot in the arm. It’s a superbly accomplished debut, which deserves the attention of any melodic rock fan. And that they’ve done it this well down the self-financed route has to be heard to be believed.