Emerging in 2005 with little fanfare but an incredibly confident debut EP and album (“Confessions & Alcohol”, and “No Hay Banda”) Audrey Horne were a fascinating prospect. Containing members of celebrated acts like Enslaved and Gorgoroth obviously caused the rock/metal media to prick up their ears straight away, but this was no black metal side project. As a very focused and fully formed band they were playing intelligent hard rock with a whiff of grungey melancholy and an emphasis on powerful vocals. Progressing onto their second album, the critically acclaimed “Le Fol” saw the writing team of guitarists Ice Dale (Enslaved) and Thomas Tofthagen (Sahg) really coming into their own and the added keyboard sonics made the sound fuller and occasionally proggy in places.
Fast forward to 2013 and Audrey Horne have just launched a spectacular curve ball that caught me somewhat by surprise. Kicking off with “Redemption Blues” we are treated to an absolute belter of fine 70’s hard rock pedigree with a welcome nod to early NWOBHM. The unashamed Diamond Head, Saxon and Iron Maiden influences ring loud and clear and can be felt throughout the album with some fine twin guitar harmonies, but the choruses boast Toschie‘s stunning melodies and full throated classic rock attack calling to mind arena-fillers Van Halen and Kiss.
The title track swaggers along with a riff that’s as catchy as it is whiskey-soaked and slaps you with a Boston-style vocal hook that will burn indelibly into your brain. It is refreshing and hugely welcome in 2013 to hear a record and immediately think “I cannot wait to be singing along to this when they play live”. Only a few tracks in and this already has “classic” stamped on it, but can they really keep this up all the way through?
‘There Goes A Lady’ is equally magnificent and reeks of early Whitesnake and Deep Purple without ever straying into bland homage. ‘Cards With The Devil’ is another corker with Toschie calling to mind Paul Stanley at times, suiting the Frehley-esque chugging chords. Yet again this is so catchy and downright addictive it should only be available on prescription.
Thinking they must have packed all their best riffs and choruses into the first half of the album and wondering when it will start to tail off I am smacked sharply with the infectious wonder that is ‘Pretty Little Sunshine’ carrying me away on a wave of sheer joy. This is pure musical opium and it gets me reaching for the repeat button a couple of times before I can bring myself to progress to the more majestic ‘The Open Sea’ which builds with brooding Hammond organ and tempered vocals into another mammoth fist-pumping chant.
With more Thin Lizzy/Maiden six string flashes ‘This Ends Here’ sparkles and burns brightly into the closer ‘The King Is Dead’ which harks back to the more introspective sound of crowd favourite ‘Threshold’ from “Le Fol”. Although perhaps a little out of place on first listen it is a great way to round off what is a real tour-de-force of quality songwriting and soulful playing.
As much as I hate to cite so many influences/references to other bands in a single review, it is done not only to give a flavour of what “Youngblood” sound likes, but also to note the benchmark level of quality and exuberance in the songwriting here. Always sufficiently flamboyant to be genuine and infused with rock n’ roll’s essential edge, but never so self-indulgent as to veer away from the punchiness and impact of each song, this is life-affirming, charming and a huge amount of fun. Having let loose whatever shackles or constraints they may have felt as artists and damned all convention and expectation, Audrey Horne have created a sonic wonder that is going to see them hitting the big league very soon if there’s any justice.