Harem Scarem – Hope (2008)

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The new Harem Scarem record is called ‘Hope’, but for the fans of this very talented Canadian melodic rock band there is no hope anymore. In fact this records will be the very last one that will be released of Harem Scarem because the main tandem Harry Hess/Pete Lesperance have decided to stop the band activities and devote their time to other things. During twenty years and eleven studio album we have been able to enjoy the great melody lines, the fine guitar work and the fantastic vocals which always characterized the song material of Harem Scarem. Highlight of their total back catalogue was of course ‘Mood Swings’, a truly magnificent record which they haven’t been able to equal anymore. Despite of that Harem Scarem was always delivering high-quality melodic rock and that certainly hasn’t changed on this last (sob, sob…) CD ‘Hope’. The record contains eleven catchy rock songs (among which an acoustic version of ‘Higher’ as a bonus track), which showcase a little bit of a darker atmosphere than their previous efforts. That doesn’t change the fact that songs like opening track ‘Watch Your Back’, title track ‘Hope’, the aggressive ‘Dark Times’ and the ballad ‘Shooting Star’ are a delight to listen to and I’m pretty sure I will be listening to them many times during the next couple of weeks. Harem Scarem has again delivered a mighty fine record with ‘Hope’.

1 Watch Your Back
2 Time Bomb
3 Hope
4 Days Are Numbered
5 Dark Times
6 Beyond Repair
7 Never Too Late
8 Shooting Star
9 Calm Before the Storm
10 Nothing Without You
11 Higher [Acoustic]
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Harem Scarem – Human Nature (Bonus Track) (2006)

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Over the last four or five years and three or four albums, Harem Scarem have quietly become one of my favorite bands and their latest cd continues pretty much right where the last one left off. They’ve honed their signature sound to perfection and become what Def Leppard should have, but failed to become: A rock band that seamlessly blends the styles and sounds of the 80’s metal with a modern twist. They’ve managed to create songs with a sound that I think could appeal to new and old fans without alienating either. It’s a fine line, but they walk it well. Not only are the songs good, but they go well together. The whole album is just solid. And I find myself going back to it over and over again, not just to hear one or two songs, but to play it all the way through. They aren’t the heaviest songs, or the flashiest, and I don’t think that I could point out one and say, “This is why I like them.” Their appeal is in the details. The balanced layers of melodies, harmonies, rhythms and solos … This album is just terrific.

1 Human Nature
2 Next Time Around
3 Caught Up in Your World
4 Reality
5 Hanging On
6 Don’t Throw It Away
7 Give Love/Get Love
8 21
9 Starlight
10 Going Under
11 Tomorrow May Be Gone
12 Higher (Acoustic Version)
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Harem Scarem – Higher @320 (2003)

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Many people these days ask the question, where did all of the good stripped down hard rock go, where is the good pop-rock complete with hooks and crunching guitar riffs without all of the gloss and glitter go. Look no further, Canada’s Harem Scarem come forth with yet another offering, giving us the answer to real hard rock. With Higher being their 22nd album (compilations and live releases included, shit, that’s a lot for such a short period of time), it shows an introspective evolution of the band from their Pop Metal beginnings through their endeavors that have combined everything from progressive and world elements, to stripped down acoustic performances. Over a decade after their debut self titled release, these guys have moved beyond their early pop metal sound to bring the melodic hard rock sound to the forefront of the metal scene. Filled with pop hooks, just like all of their past material, thick crunched guitars to shimmering chorus laden axework to acoustic splendor, brought forth with the vocal chops of Harry Hess (who along with guitarist Pete Lesperance, are the two only original members left), Higher makes for yet another satisfactory release. All cuts have the AOR vibe, without all the stereotypical commercial guitar pop connotations brought forth; cut’s like “Torn Right Out,” the psuedo-anthem “Reach,” and “Run and Hide” have the heavy aesthetic, complete with metallic solos and discrete vocal harmonies. Of Course, what would a Harem Scarem record be without a ballad, well look no further the title cut adds that element to Higher as well as the acoustic cuts “Gone” and the moody “Lucky Ones” which complete the pop element. What can anybody say, this is yet another great record from a band that could have easily set the standard for melodic hard rock with pop hooks and memorable riffs that would make any hard rock fan, as well as the average metalhead say, “why isn’t some of the material on this record top 40 hits?” Considering some of the mainstream shit that is played out in the U.S. by bands like The Strokes or Coldplay, this is what mainstream rock should be, maybe some of these mainstream bands could take a lesson from these guys, or at least the A&R record label people that control them.

1 Reach
2 Waited
3 Torn Right Out
4 Give It to You
5 Higher
6 Run and Hide
7 Lucky Ones
8 Lies
9 Gone
10 Lost
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Harem Scarem – Weight Of The World (Bonus Track) (2002)

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Oh, Canada. The country that (for better or for worse) brought us Rush, Honeymoon Suite, Corey Hart and Celine Dion now provides America and the rest of the world with what will perhaps be one of the best hard rock albums of 2002. Weight of the World, the long-anticipated fifth studio record from Toronto’s chameleon rockers Harem Scarem – it’s the band’s seventh, if you count the two alternative-pop discs they released under the name Rubber – pounds with intense melodies, passionate anger and riveting vocal performances that will wear out your CD player’s “Repeat” button. This album is that good. Harem Scarem broke out of Canada in the early Nineties with their first two albums (the self-titled pop-metal debut and the heavier and much-acclaimed Mood Swings), and began building a strong following in Europe and Japan. The quartet’s instantly recognizable sound blends Pete Lesperance’s chunky guitar riffs with Harry Hess’ deep-throated vocals, which effectively cross Don Dokken with Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer. One Harem Scarem album has never sounded like another, in part because the band eventually dropped some of its traditional hard-rock elements and headed toward territory occupied by the likes of Marvelous 3 and SR-71. On Weight of the World, the band combines the best of its melodic and heavier past with its darker and more-modern sound. Weight of the World’s all-over-the-place opening title track sets the tone for what’s to come. And although the album never reaches the thickness of that track until the closing song, “Voice Inside,” the middle nine tunes still wrap their tentacles around your eardrums. “Killing Me” boasts an instantly catchy chorus, while “This Ain’t Over” recalls classic Queen (a major influence for Hess). Even the two brief instrumentals – one electric and one acoustic – resonate with depth. Lyrically, Harem Scarem don’t venture far from the highs and lows of relationships, and songs like “You Ruined Everything” and “If You” reek of romantic sarcasm and bitterness. In short, Weight of the World packs broad musical appeal, with melody and song structure taking precedent over lyrical content and image. It may not be as heavy as it could have been, but lots of heavy albums suck. In plain and simple terms, this does not suck.

1 Weight of the World
2 Killing Me
3 Outside Your Window
4 All I Want
5 This Ain’t Over
6 Internude
7 You Ruined Everything
8 Charmed Life
9 If You
10 See Saw
11 Voice Inside
12 End Of Time
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Harem Scarem – Mood Swings (1993)

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Harem Scarem seem to reinvent themselves every other album, going from the keyboard filled Def Leppard meets Honeymoon Suite debut and sliding all the way into the depths of nu-breed “modern” rock and then back to AOR again in recent years. But unlike other bands that seem to do this soul searching to try and discover the recipe of musical perfection to later hang onto, this Canadian band found their potentially chart smashing sound for one grandiose release and then ditched it. It was a few years too late, in 1988, “Mood Swings” likely would have been a major hit maker for them, but for 1993, a year often discarded by melodic fans since the radio had jumped ship on the genre and a plethora of superb releases by the likes of Virgin Steele, Winger, Red Dawn, Gotthard, Talisman, Savatage and many more were left drowning by the wayside or trapped in their own countries with no US labels biting for domestic release, the time had passed for rock of any sort that didn’t include distortion and teenage angst, and thus this one sank with the rest of them. Only to be hauled to shore as a precious treasure years later. A lot of albums succumb to the over hyped ravings of band fanboys and fangirls, blowing the music contained within way out of proportion. Disappointment is usually lurking on the horizon when anyone starts ranting about how such-and-such is the “Greatest CD EVAH!” but in this case, the hype is right. “Mood Swings” is an exceptional package of melodic hard rock, in fact, it is so good in places it nearly defines the genre. It’s a potent mixture of Def Leppard’s harmonies, Pretty Maids style (think “Sin Decade”) and rough edges, and some of the top heavy melodic pop jolt of Winger. The disc relies on catchy guitar and delivers this in spades, as catchy riffs run throughout most songs, lending an added layer of depth to explore upon repeated listenings. The production is sharp and doesn’t sound overly dated even eleven years later, and the disc just flows with tight musicianship and Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids fame) type vocals. On top of it all, the combo of Pete Lesperance and Harold Hess have yielded a bounty of fantastic songs. Highlights include the immense album opener, “Saviors Never Cry” that is harsh and heavy much like the best rockers from Pretty Maids, but pops out some extremely melodic moments that lighten it up, letting the metallic sections stand out without becoming annoying or repetitive. You will likely find yourself just waiting for the melodic massive sections to kick in all while basking in the rays of pure hard rock. “No Justice” can best be described as a mix of Winger’s “Pull” and Def Leppard’s “Retro-Active” with the hearts of Pretty Maids locked within. Subdued sections are disturbed into harsher, yet flowing areas, milking that contrast angle for all its worth. The melodic slab of “Stranger Than Love” is one of the best Def Leppard copies I have ever heard. They actually managed to capture the magic of the Lep’s “Hysteria” and meld it into a mind blowing uptempo rocker that keeps spinning in the head days after hearing it. “Jealousy” has the shades of the blues hanging out in plain sight to start out with, you can hear the sorrow biting grit in the guitar exposing the instinctive intentions, as well as showcasing this as a taste of something different, expanding the album’s variety. The chorus is as catchy as everything else on this album, and the rather simplistic musical take let the vocals breathe. “Sentimental Blvd.” Starts off as a smooth flowing rocker for the first thirty seconds, a thick guitar riff squirming around in the background, and then suddenly a huge titanic wave of melody crashes the boundaries down for an absolutely breath taking bridge, that heightens excitement levels with gigantic vocal harmonies and rather simple but effective guitar riffs before sliding into an absorbing chorus that takes it down a notch for a few silky catchy moments before giving way for the next round of verses. The echoing of the ending is truly the touch of masters, not a necessity but causes the song to linger on in memory. “Nothing for you and nothing for me.” “If There Was A Time” is likely the most misunderstood song on “Mood Swings”. It is my personal favorite with its emotional power that resonates strongly on many levels. This one borders on being a ballad, opening with swirling keys and gently adding acoustic guitars and that soul worn voice on top. While there’s much to love here, the gentle building pressure through the verses to the skipping time change for the bridge, the extended yells, the guitar solo that seems to be a heart unraveling its strings yet still searching for the answer, it is the centerpiece of the chorus that takes you away in the end. The electric notes seem to pop in at the perfect sections between the vocals, which change up the lyrics to keep it all fresh, right up until the piano that begins the song, closes it with the effect of fade. This is fantastic stuff, and one of the top songs from the 90s. “If there was a time.for mercy in my life.it’s right now.” And then there’s “Just Like I Planned”, a much panned a capella song that is pulled off so beautifully that I just have to wonder what other people are thinking sometimes. It shows the band’s versatility, without being a gimmick, all while being a lovely song in its own right. As you can likely tell from the descriptions, this CD goes through many mood swings, all which are as precious as the last. The hype is finally deserved, Harem Scarem’s “Mood Swings” will always be the album that melodic rock lovers will continue to measure the band up to, simply because it managed to do many things on several levels and succeed at all of them with flying colors. Not the best album of 1993, but in the top five, making it an essential selection for every AOR/melodic rock fan out there.

1 Saviors Never Cry
2 No Justice
3 Stranger Than Love
4 Change Comes Around
5 Jealousy
6 Sentimental Blvd.
7 Mandy
8 Empty Promises
9 If There Was a Time
10 Just Like I Planned
11 Had Enough
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