“Girl power” was a much-uttered phrase back in the 90s, mostly in relation to a Spice Girls-led surge in popular girl groups filling the charts. Problem was, as much the idea had merit, it was really just used as a marketing tool, and the groups in question just played pretty bland pop music, much of which was, in fact, written by men. 20 years on, and the musical landscape has changed rather a lot. We’re increasingly seeing female artists and bands doing well in genres that, traditionally, have been very male-dominated.
Enter, therefore, Halestorm. Led by singer, guitarist, and all-round awesome lady Lzzy Hale (that’s not a typo, it’s how she spells it), the band takes proper 80s rock’n’roll, gives it a whole host of modern twists and a healthy dose of attitude, and produces music that doesn’t really sound like anything else. The rest of the band – Lzzy’s brother Arejay Hale on drums, guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith – are also top-notch. But while I would never downplay the energy and quality that they bring to the band, I can’t deny that it’s Lzzy who draws me to them.
Firstly, and crucially, there’s her voice. It. Is. HUGE. Seriously huge. Not all the time, of course, that would be exhausting, for her and for us. In fact, something I really like about her singing is how well she fits it to the music and the lyrics. She sounds soft and delicate when she needs to, particularly on some of the ballads, and she can do poppy on some of the more accessible tunes. But when she goes for it, she really goes for it. It’s hard to pick the right words to describe the way she can belt out those parts, but “power” and “attitude” probably sum it up nicely.
And really, those words sum her up in general. She has a tremendous amount of charisma that she brings in the studio and on stage. Her guitar playing is also excellent, producing some great riffing and sharing solos with Hottinger. I saw them live a couple of years ago supporting Alter Bridge, and she can shred away with the best of them, but in the studio both her and Hottinger keep things in proportion and produce some really nice stuff.
Of course, a great voice, charisma and top-notch guitar playing only go so far if the music isn’t interesting. Fortunately, that is not the case with Halestorm, and the new album Into the Wild Life pretty much picks up where 2012’s The Strange Case Of… left off. If anything, they’ve continued to diversify and stretch the styles that they cover, something that the band itself has indicated was fairly deliberate, and a way to show the range of bands and artists that have influenced them.
There’s a more direct and explicit pop-infusion in a few songs on the album that represents something new for them, which I rather enjoy for the most part. Bad Girl’s World, in particular, stands out as one of my favourite songs thanks to its nice groove and moody atmosphere. There are some nice ballads too, Dear Daughter especially is very touching and features an especially warm performance from Lzzy. There’s a couple of songs where it doesn’t work quite so well, but they’re still fun. They also do some proggier stuff too, like The Reckoning which starts slowly but builds up really nicely to a big finish.
There is still plenty of rock’n’roll across the album, of course, and some of it is really fantastic. I particularly enjoy the early two-punch of I Am the Fire and Sick Individual, for quite different reasons. The first is more serious, the latter more fun, but both are really rocking. Nothing on the album quite compares to the two punch from the previous album of Mz. Hyde/Miss the Misery (official vids for which are both on Youtube, go check them out!), but the diversity and consistent quality across the new album earn it some brownie points overall.
I will finish, if I may, by returning to my opening point about girl power. There’s nothing about Halestorm’s lyrics that is particularly profound in this regard, but what is refreshing is just how cool about everything Lzzy is. From recent interviews, it’s clear that she glams up and writes rock’n’roll songs about sex (among other things) not because it will sell, but because it’s what she finds fun and what she grew up with. Regardless of the fact that the genre is generally dominated by men, she’s showing that as a woman she can still do whatever she damn well wants. She’s having a blast, and frankly Halestorm are, in my opinion, more diverse and enjoyable than pretty much any other rock’n’roll band I’ve come across.