August 15, 2022

H.E.A.T are known for starting albums with a bang and there’s no exception here with Back To The Rhythm bursting out of the blocks and gifting us one of those brilliantly rhythmic chorus lines that the group are well known for.

What is the equivalent of winning the lottery for a Swedish singer who has spent a decade or more imitating the classic American rock music of the ‘80s? Well, I reckon it is being asked to join one of those legendary groups – and that’s exactly what happened with H.E.A.T front man Erik Grönwall who got the call from Skid Row and presumably headed off on the first flight to LA without a second thought. To fill that very sizeable void, H.E.A.T turned to the familiar face of Grönwall’s predecessor Kenny Leckremo. H.E.A.T are used to such family reunions since guitarist Dave Dalone also left at one point only to return a few years later. As a result of these comings and goings, H.E.A.T find themselves back to their original lineup of fifteen years ago (minus second guitarist Eric Rivers). With this new/old lineup, I’m surprised some cheeky record executive didn’t suggest calling this album H.E.A.T I, just to add to the confusion already created by their last (and sixth) album being called H.E.A.T II!

So, have H.E.A.T gone back to the softer AOR sound of those first two albums recorded with Leckremo? The answer is a decisive ‘no’. If anything, Force Majeure is a heavier album than its predecessor, and it’s very much a guitar-based album with Jonah Tee’s keyboards relegated to a minor supporting role. H.E.A.T are known for starting albums with a bang and there’s no exception here with Back To The Rhythm bursting out of the blocks and gifting us one of those brilliantly rhythmic chorus lines that the group are well known for. Another song firmly within the H.E.A.T tradition is Hollywood, built on the Bon Jovi template and characterized by an absolutely irresistible chorus line and an infections guitar hook. It’s probably the highlight of the album.

Along with those two excellent tracks, the third single of the album is Nationwide. It’s a fast rocker that might get heads banging but it’s the first of several songs where H.E.A.T appear to abandon their killer melodies and rely more on heavier guitar riffs for effect. The same is true for tracks like the sleazy Hold Your Fire where guitars abound but catchy melodies are conspicuous by their absence. Now, Dalone is a really fine guitarist, but I suspect most long-standing fans will be putting their bucks on the table expecting to hear eminently singable rock anthems rather than neat riffing and soloing from Dalone.  There are several attempts to write more classic stadium rock anthems – Not For Sale, Harder to Breathe, and Paramount, are all good stabs at the genre, but H.E.A.T have raised the bar so high in the past that you can’t help feeling that these new songs are not quite up to their usual standard.  Despite this, credit goes to Kenny Leckremo who has done a fine job on his return. What he lacks in charisma compared to Grönwall, he makes up for with one hell of a powerful voice, and he may even be better suited to this heavier style that the band has adopted. Dalone’s guitar work is as good as ever and the songs are well-crafted.

There are a few oddballs here too. Tainted Blood is more of a mid-paced metal song in the style of Ronnie James Dio, while the speed/power metal of Demon Eyes is about as far away from their traditional sound as the band have ever gone. It’s an experiment that probably doesn’t merit being repeated. One Of Us isn’t a cover of the Abba song but it is a power ballad and perhaps the most commercial song in this set. The anthemic chorus tries hard but doesn’t quite take off despite a strenuous vocal effort by Leckremo. I could however imagine Abba making a more sedated cover version of this one!

 ‘Force majeure’ translates to ‘greater force’ which in the end is an apt title for this album as the band move to a heavier and sleazier sound. That may appeal to many fans but for myself I was left with a feeling that the quintessential element of a H.E.A.T album – great melody – was just a little in short supply here.