Hard rock group Halestorm has built quite the career for themselves over the past few years–the type of career that comes with heavy expectations for a new release. Originally a family band (no joke–lead vocalist and guitarist Lzzy Hale and drummer Arejay Hale are siblings, and their father was their original bassist), Halestorm made a name for themselves quickly, sharing billing with the likes of Disturbed, Evanescence, Avenged Sevenfold, The Pretty Reckless, and plenty others in their near-constant touring schedule. They won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 2013 for “Love Bites (So Do I),” making Halestorm the first female-fronted band to be nominated for and win that award. Halestorm has certainly earned their industry stripes over the past thirteen years, and fans were anxious to know if they would keep them with their fourth studio album, Vicious.
Vicious starts off with a bang on “Black Vultures,”using Hale’s guttural scream as an indication that their sound is back and harder than ever. Driven by heavy guitar and drum beats, “Black Vultures” is all about surviving in the face of hardship and standing up to the people who want to see you fail. “Feels like the end of the world/But it’s only the beginning of it all/Forget the things that you learned/I’ve been a survivor since I began to crawl,” Hale sings, asserting that she wasn’t defeated then, and she won’t be defeated now.
Survival and self worth continue to be two of the strongest themes on Vicious, something that may not be evident when you hear the album’s title. While Halestorm is no stranger to these themes, songs like the pop-leaning “Skulls” (which rhythmically nods to “Problem” by Natalia Kills, interestingly enough) and the acoustic ballad “Heart of Novocaine” transform past hurts into strength, with Hale’s powerhouse vocals leading the way. This confidence isn’t merely declared–it’s weaponized, ready to be turned on the people who have done them wrong in the past. As they sing in the album’s eponymous track, “What doesn’t kill me makes me vicious.”
Alongside this confidence is a separate declaration of self for Hale, one that may not jive with what people think she should be. In the album’s lead single “Uncomfortable,” Hale explores all of the reasons she acts in defiance of the usual. “I do it ’cause I love it/And I want some more of it/And I do it ’cause you said I can’t/I do it ’cause you fight it/And I know don’t like it when I open up and talk about sex/I do it ’cause you hate me/And I do it for the ladies/And with all of my good time friends,“ Hale sings at a rapid pace, her words being chased by frenetic guitar riffs. Nu-metal track “White Dress” directly addresses her rejection of society’s–and her mother’s–traditional definition of femininity with catchy lyrics and a fast pace. “I’m really sorry that I let you down/But I’m still going to make you proud,” she sings, apologizing for any disappointment she’s caused, but not for who she is.
As discussed in “Uncomfortable,” Halestorm isn’t afraid to address female sexuality in a blunt–and sometimes explicit–manner. “Do Not Disturb” has their usual heavy guitar and drums slowing down, dragging their sound to a slightly languid pace while Hale describes an encounter with a one night stand in a hotel room. The epic love song “Buzz,” the demanding “Conflicted,” which blends acoustic and electric guitars, and the repetitive “Painkiller” all draw comparisons between sexual attraction/appetite and drug addiction.
Balancing their hard rock sensibilities with catchy, pop-edged lyrics, Halestorm has created an album worthy of their own hype, one that will be sure to please fans. Songs like “Black Vultures” and “Uncomfortable” have the same frantic guitar chasing the pace as songs like “Love Bites (So Do I)” and “I Miss the Misery.” Opening on guitar riffs reminiscent of ‘90s nu-metal and soaring choruses that call back to the hard rock of the ‘80s, “Killing Ourselves to Live” is an anthemic track that has the band committing to each other, regardless of what happens in their future–albeit in a way that might sound too close to some of their past songs. The album could use a bit of rearranging; songs with similar messages were lumped together, sometimes making it difficult to discern between them. That being said, the album is a solid, powerful entry into Halestorm’s discography.