I’m still an iPod guy. I like having a device fully dedicated to dialing up access to a massive music library without worrying about whether I have strong enough signals to stream. And to better manage that massive library I’ve been collecting since I was 7, I organize my music in self-declared genres.
Upon first hearing of Smackbound, I instantly added it to my “Chick Metal” subdivision, where it fits comfortably surrounded by the girl-fronted acts of Evanescence, Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil and fellow Finland exports, Nightwish. That’s not to say Smackbound is a clone or a derivation of something else, just that my ear finds the female fronted voice paired with grandiose guitars produced with an ear for the epic to be somewhat familiar (as well as enjoyable).
The place for me where some female fronted acts fall apart is when the voice carrying the act fails to hold the same grit and aggressiveness as the band supporting it. And with the opening notes of Smackbound’s opener, “Wall of Silence,” vocalist and actress Netta Laurenne kicks down the door of doubt on whether she can hold the same ground as guitarist Teemu Mäntysaari (Wintersun). She’s got enough of both the sweet and sour in her pipes to deliver a hooky, smooth chorus as easily as a venom-spitting verse. There are fragments of Stephen Pearcy (Ratt), Joan Jett, Sharon den Adel and other distinctive voices mixed in there, yielding a unique range that immediately becomes a showcase feature of the band’s instantly accessible sound. It’s in-your-face rock, complete with chugging, wall of sound guitar and a tastefully supportive rhythm section brought to us by Rolf Pilve (Stratovarius, Wintersun) on drums, and Tuomas Yli-Jaskari (Tracedawn) on bass, along with atmospheric and tonal color from Vili Itäpelto (Tracedawn) on keyboards.
The album opener, “Wall of Silence,” is a confrontational, raging rocker with crunchy guitar tone, spindly soloing and a raging Netta Laurenne showcase of her impressive diversity and passion. Like much of the record, it finds it place instantly and what it may lose to sustainability over time it gains in instant catchability without ever losing its balls. “Drive It Like You Stole It” is instantly likeable. We’ve got big riffs, strong vocals and lots of cowbell on a grooving chorus that’s just empowering, good-feeling rock at a time when we all could use it. If it’s not to the listener’s liking, then this band isn’t either. Buttressed by some blistering fretwork, it’s a natural single choice to introduce the band, with a video that is maybe silly in spots but right in the vein of the spirit of the song.
“Closer to Sober” has a Within Temptation vibe with its more plodding pace, dynamic range and epic, orchestral chorus. That’s not to criticize it as derivative, but more to a point of reference. If you like one, you’ll likely enjoy the other. The big, melancholic choir casting shades of symphonic metal are alive and well here. If “Closer to Sober” reminded me of Sharon den Adel’s band (Within Temptation), then “Run” elicited a sense of similarity with Elize Ryd’s (Amaranthe). With a little more pop infused with the metal, it’s a burst of energy that may not hold up long-term over time but is a fun ride on first listen.
The next track is the first “breather” of the bunch so far. “The Game” is a ballad that sounds like one that could have been the closer of a movie with its big chorus, spaced out verses and a pulsing keyboard solo that builds a mood that seems to end too abruptly. Strategic album sequencing calls for a big helping of attitude to follow up “The Game,” and thus, “Those Who Burn” delivers with Netta Laurenne fliting with raspy shouting one moment and floating angelic strains soon after. She throws herself into her performance, as does Teemu on guitar, creating an aggressive, fat sounding rock record that has more swagger backed up by performance than many of Frontier’s melodic metal releases.
If you question the claim that there’s lots of attitude on this record, one need only look as far as the next track, “Hey Motherfuckers,” which begs for audience participation in a live setting. Next up is a track that really sounds like something off a Megadeth record, with elements of thrash and a pissing, spitting vocal performance than makes Netta sound like a female version of Dave Mustaine. So yes, by now there are some songs that remind you of things you have heard before, but they’re just so damn well executed and accessible you can’t really complain. Even the guitar solo treads the Vic Rattlehead territory a bit in a tip of the hat fashion that elicits respect.
“Date with The Devil” is another pop/punk/rocker that features a blistering guitar solo and some Brittney Spears like vocal lines that are shattered by Netta’s strong, cascading chorus. The final track is also the longest. “Wind and Water” opens with an unexpected, delicate piano passage. Netta’s voice takes on an air of Lacuna Coil’s Christina Scabbia on this more laid back track that is unlike the rest of the record, but not necessarily out of place. With time to build up its more gothic backed chorus, this grandiose track plods a melancholy trail that reveals more pain than anger and another side of Netta Laurenne, who really is the deserved focal point and signature sound of the band.
Hats off to Smackbound for coming out of the gates with such a strong debut that while may wear a few of the band’s influences on its sleeves, it makes up for any lack of originality with solid songwriting and passionate performances, making it one of the more ballsy recordings I’ve heard from Frontiers and a welcome addition to my library.
Released By: Frontiers Music SLR
Release Date: June 12th, 2020
Genre: Melodic Metal
- Netta Laurenne / Vocals
- Teemu Mäntysaari / Guitars
- Rolf Pilve / Drums
- Vili Itäpelto / Keyboards
- Tuomas Yli-Jaskari / Bass
- Wall Of Silence
- Drive It Like You Stole It
- Close To Sober
- The Game
- Those Who Burn
- Hey Motherfuckers
- Date With The Devil
- Wind And Water
Strong vocal performance and gutsy guitars power this debut up and over initially low expectations for this debut from Frontiers that is catchy, accessible, gritty and fun, while admittedly familiar at times drawing influence from other female-fronted rock acts.