To say this is a keenly-awaited release is something of an understatement. Since I caught the video for Devil’s Hand’s titanic first release, Falling In, about a month ago, I’ve been badgering Sentinel Daily head honcho Scott Adams for the chance to review the band’s debut album, and now hear it is – and I’m not disappointed…
Basically a vehicle for a collaboration between AOR God Mike Slamer and Raiding the Rock Vault/Last in Line throatsmith Andrew Freeman, there was a chance that Devil’s Hand might just become another of ‘those’ Frontiers albums, with two biggish names throwing some mud at a wall to see if anything sticks. However these men are both among the best at what they do, and on this self-titled debut they demonstrate just that.
Opener We Come Alive is merely good, a getting-to-know-you kinda thing that just sets the tone sonically before handing the stage to that song that started it all, Falling In. This is prime Mike Slamer, slickly produced AOR a la Streets (the band he formed with Steve Walsh after Walsh quit Kansas for the first time back in the eighties), full of prime guitar work and a soaring chorus that really allows Freeman to stamp his authority on proceedings. It’s a big contender for my song of the year, really taking the listener back to the days when Radio (at least in the US) was ruled by this kind of melodic hard rock.
One More Time is bluesier, and Freeman delivers a blustering vocal to match the swagger of the guitar playing. Next track Another Way to Fly is the first to feature Slamer’s trademark guitar sound, and thus again takes the listener back to the glory days of Streets. It’s actually got a real prog-pop sound, perhaps a hangover from Slamer’s City Boy days, perhaps not. But I could imagine prog supergroup GTR pumping this track out in the mid eighties for sure.
Drive Away is a real showcase for Slamer’s sleek yet bombastic style, whilst next track Justified is perhaps the most surprising on the album. A delicate, acoustic-guitar led balladic piece, Freeman trades his stock hard rock bellow for a more sensitive mode of delivery, the result being a lush piece of music that resembles something from Aussie adult contemporary Titans Crowded House. It sticks out from the rest of the material like a sore thumb, yes, but it’s an undoubted success.
Rise Above it All is solid, riffy and possessed of a strong chorus – which Freeman sings the proverbial out of – but isn’t quite as stellar as the tracks that surround it, but the title track, which opens with a vague nod to Whole Lotta Rosie before morphing into another classy, big-balled heavy AOR anthem, succeeds on every level. Freeman, who despite putting in a solid performance on the Last in Line album is not a voice I’d count among my faves – I saw him in Las Vegas in the Raiding the Rock Vault show and thought he came a poor third to Paul Shortino and even Robin MacAulay – puts in another first-rate performance on this track.
However he aces even this on next track Unified; Building slowly – building, in fact, like something off of the Last in Line album – before exploding into another quite superb chorus, it’s many facets allow by turn Freeman the space to prove that he’s a master hard rock vocalist. Add to this the utterly bombastic guitar arsenal supplied by Slamer and you’ve got, to these ears at least, the perfect mix of hard rock brilliance. This track is worth the price of admission on it’s own, and then some.
Next track Heartbeat Away (sadly not a cover of the Outside Edge track of the same name) is a piece of brooding power pop that suffers from following Unified. Placed elsewhere on the album it’s superb chorus might attract the attention it deserves. Whatever, it’s another spine-tingling piece of inspired songwriting, the work of seasoned professionals working at exalted heights that most will only dream of.
The album’s closing track, Push Comes to Shove, is a relatively faceless fast-paced rocker, nothing more nothing less, but the meat of this album is music of the highest, most memorable quality. If you love melodic but heavy AOR, this will sit beautifully in your collection.
Devil’s Hand will be released by Frontiers Music on December 7th.