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Changes in style can sometimes make or break a band. In the cases of bands such as Metallica and Megadeth, shifts in style resulted in albums way below their usual standard and in turn the current incarnation of that band was utterly condemned by fans and critics alike. For other bands however it can be the best thing they’ve ever done, like when Pantera ditched their glam metal aesthetics and sound and became the groove-laden behemoth of heavy music that changed metal as we know it, or when At the Gates injected huge doses of melody and tons more aggression into their sound in order to bring forth the juggernaut of melodic death metal that was “Slaughter of the Soul”. This type of stylistic shift is exactly what Audrey Horne’s fourth full-length album “Youngblood” brings.
Audrey Horne are a curious beast. Hailing from Norway and named after a character from “Twin Peaks”, their ranks include and have previously included members from some of Norway’s most revered extreme metal bands, including Enslaved, Sahg and Gorgoroth, such as Enslaved’s supremely talented guitarist Ice Dale, whose skills have not only contributed to Enslaved, but Demonaz, I, and Ov Hell. Up until now however, Audrey Horne’s sound has been firmly rooted in 90’s grunge and alternative rock, and to be honest they weren’t all that good at it. While they did have their good moments, a lot of the time their stale brand of alt rock sounded like a watered down, less interesting Alice In Chains, and they didn’t have all that much to offer. This makes the quality of “Youngblood” all the more surprising.
The bland grunge-worship has been dumped in favour of huge and exciting 70’s hard rock and classic heavy metal, and it’s a change that suits them down to the ground. Not only is this a refreshing change from what they were doing before, but it’s among the best classic rock released in the modern age. Audrey Horne haven’t gone from being an Alice In Chains tribute act to a Led Zeppelin tribute act; they’ve actually forged their own identity with this album and come up with some truly stunning work. The album tears straight into the muscular riffing of “Redemption Blues”, and from this point it’s brilliant song after brilliant song, with no filler found whatsoever. Songs like “Straight Into Your Grave”, “Show and Tell” and “Pretty Little Sunshine” follow in the same vein as “Redemption Blues”, filled with Iron Maiden-esque riffing and melodies Thin Lizzy would have been proud of. Songs like “The Open Sea” and epic album closer “The King is Dead” meanwhile bring more ambitious and thoughtful ideas to the table, soaked in atmosphere and melancholy yet still fitting in with the overall flow and feel of the album.
This album oozes the high quality musicianship you would expect from a band consisting of members of the Norwegian metal elite that the previous Audrey Horne efforts should have oozed, for example the spectacular guitar work from Sahg’s Thomas Tofthagen and Ice Dale, who churn out catchy riff after riff, intertwined with glorious, infectious melodies and solos. The rhythm section is as solid as in any of the classic hard rock and heavy metal bands of the 70’s and early 80’s that the band were obviously influenced by, Kjetil Greve’s drums and Espen Lien’s thunderous, galloping bass laying the perfect framework for Tofthagen and Dale’s work. Vocalist Toschie meanwhile, who often sounded so weak and transparent on previous Audrey Horne albums, is suddenly incredible, his now powerful and huge voice soaring over the already excellent songs like “This Ends Here” and the title track.
With “Youngblood”, Audrey Horne have proven themselves to be a legitimate band with its own identity and ability to leave a mark on the rock and metal world, rather than just a side project of some extreme metal musicians who wanted to do something different, and have offered up an album that stands tall alongside other 70’s revival albums released in recent years, as well many of the classic albums that inspired the entire scene. If there’s any justice in the world, “Youngblood” will one day be seen in the same light, as rock fans in thirty years time look back at those musicians in the first couple of decades of the twenty-first century who endeavoured to keep the music of the past alive while still injecting their own personality and flair into it. Right now in 2013, “Youngblood” simply seems like a stunning hard rock album that will probably be overlooked by many, but deserves all the attention it can get.