After being immersed in traditional progressive rock for the last month or so, it has been nice to listen to something a bit more straightforward without odd chord changes and timings. I suppose you could say it’s like eating fish and chips after gorging on foie gras, cordon bleu fish and chips mind but something a bit simpler and easier to digest.
Please forgive the rambling musings of my mind, I will get on and tell you which band instigated this food based introduction, Dutch band Equisa and their 2013 album ‘Strange Release’. Odd title you may think as there is nothing ‘strange’ about this record at all, it is good quality female fronted melodic rock with a bit of a prog-metal tinge.
Right, Equisa, where shall we start? Well, the band had its origins around 2004 but the name ‘Equisa’ did not emerge until 2011 when they released their first EP ‘Straight Lines’ at the end of the year. October 2013 saw the release of their first video for ‘Faces’, followed by their independent album ‘Strange Release’.
The band has morphed through different line-ups along the years but is now a four piece consisting of founder members Petra Honing (lead vocals), Sebas Honing (guitars, backing vocals, keyboards), Joost Maglev (bass, backing vocals) and drummer Raymond Otterspeer (recruited in 2012).
The album begins on a very positive note with the rising introduction to Faces, a punchy riff and swirling keyboards draw you in to what is a stock hard rock song with added pizzazz. The banging bass line really adds some substance and the vocals are neat and precise with an edge of fragility, rising to an impressive crescendo on the chorus. Petra has an instantly recognisable voice that adds polish to what is an already impressive track with seriously tight drumming, if this doesn’t get your ears perked then you must be musically bereft. Loop carries on the melodic hard rock vibe with a repeated riff that circulates before the vocals move in to take over with a sombre feel. This counter between circulating riff and low down vocals is repeated through the song before Petra’s vocals soar into another catchy chorus firing deep into you. A classy solo break adds something extra before the track runs out with those incredible vocals backed by the superb musical talents of the rest of the band. Onto something more harder edged and funky with Headrush where the band take on a more metal edge with the guitar firing impressive licks left, right and centre. The chorus powers into view led by another suitably charged vocal performance. Hectic yet measured, it is a thrill ride of crunching riffs and melodic vocals that ends far too soon and reminds me of Within Temptation.
The title track Self Release is an emotive highlight of the album. Gentle keys, laid back drums and a lightly strummed guitar lead into Petra’s vocals that hold you in place, quite mesmerising. It reminds me of some of the great 80’s rock classics, superb in construction and delivery. You may consider it more commercial fare but is quite exquisite. The fragility that the vocals impart is endearing and the chorus is a thing of wonder. The powerful riff that emanates at the end of the track works in conjunction with the captivating harmonised vocals to add another layer of sophistication. In keeping with the more melodic tone, Goodbye pairs a mellow piano line with a touching vocal perfectly for another emotion stirring track that treads a middle of the road path without losing that special something. The guitar solo is full of passion and desire, delivering a heartwarming kick, this really is music for the soul. Panic returns us squarely to the hard rock arena and has a keyboard rhythm that shouts Queensryche at me. Powerful riffs, pounding drums and that ever present bassline deliver in spades, add in one of the best female voices in rock and you have a recipe for quality music. There is an energy and urgency to proceedings that is quite infectious and the solo is quite a surprise being light and airy to begin with before it erupts and flares out with majesty. There is a lifeblood of joy and zeal running through Equisa which is wonderful to behold.
Capital begins low and brooding with a deep bass note that digs deep into your psyche before the guitar thunders in with a crunching riff, the track has a laconic feel as the vocal begins quite ethereal and spellbinding. The addition of a harder edged male vocal adds a great contrast to the beauteous delivery of Petra and the towering chorus is something amazing to observe. It might just be me but I do discern an almost Celtic definition to this track amongst the thunderous riffs and symphonic metal outpourings. A superb solo that erupts and runs a fiery trail through the song is another highlight of this anthemic track and it flows out to finish on that great bass note. Air, in keeping with the track name, is a much lighter track, more hard rock and keyboard influenced than the previous song. The descriptive vocals take the lead as ever, holding you in sway as the strong bassline keeps everything in check. The keyboards add in a level of class but it is the immensely talented vocal of Petra that holds your attention until another blistering solo takes flight, restrained but with depths of emotion. Another crowd pleasing track that would work brilliantly live.
Summers is the obvious ballad on the album, gossamer like in the beginning with a delicate guitar and sensual vocals before it builds into an outpouring of sentiment and desire. The guitar is deep and compelling and Petra’s vocal becomes almost operatic in its delivery. This song is captivating and delves deep into your soul to deliver its enthralling message, the solo is, once again, graceful and tender and I am left hypnotised. The closing track on the album is For All the Others and it is another piece of superlative synth tinged hard rock perfection. Here is nothing completely new on show here but it is performed with a dash of panache and lashings of style to deliver something that is an evolution of the hard rock, power metal that we have known over recent years. Punchy guitar riffs performed with verve and vigour, driving drumbeats and an enhanced bassline all add to the prodigious vocal of Petra to deliver something more.
Sometimes less is more, expressive hard rock and metal with a progressive edge done to this standard is rather enjoyable and leaves you wanting more. It has a depth to it that will keep you going back for more but, it is easily accessible and rather captivating.