A little confession: I chose to review the appallingly-titled 23 Acez sophomore effort in a bout of vindictive malice after grappling with a particularly hateful Spanish literature essay. I was pissed off and envisaged venting on a poor rock band just trying to make their way in the world. Surely a group marketed as hard rock but titled as 00s rap was going to be shit? They didn’t even do us the courtesy of replacing a ‘u’ with a ‘v’, instead replacing an ‘s’ with a ‘z’. And everyone knows there’s only four aces in a deck of cards. The stage was set for a massacre, and it was with a spiteful grin that I clicked play to Redemption Waves.
It took just 10 seconds from opener “Loopholes” to upturn my cart of hate and derogatory metaphors. From the opening guitar lick and accompanying shout, it was clear that these guys were the real rocking deal. Omitting the high-pitched croons and acoustic ballads beleaguering much melodic hard rock, these Belgians favor fat riffs, hefty vox and crunchy production. The guitar-work is the obvious focal point, with hooks and grooves everywhere. “Loopholes” exemplifies this, as do “Alone” and “Looking Back.” Tasteful solos on most tracks don’t hurt either, showing off Benny Willaert’s effortless writing for guitars. Willaert’s vocals are strong as well, with greater bite than the wailers and crooners often used by such bands. The core hard rock sound befits the genre’s name, in comparison to others who appropriate the term into a soft and safe cheese-fest (see my review of Skyscraper). It’s actually quite refreshing.
There are even some successful forays into something more than bare-bones hard rock. An album highlight is the title track, which boasts very strong metal overtones. The atmospheric opening evokes something like Judas Priest, replete with Halford-esque cry and ludicrously groovy lead riff. “Morning Sun” is similarly epic at its start, with big synths breaking into power chords. These moments inject some drama into proceedings and further harass my prejudgement of 23 Acez‘s cheapness. Even the requisite ballad, “The Bigger Picture,” doesn’t let up the energy and is a seriously catchy, surprisingly cheese-less, affair.
Unfortunately, Redemption Waves suffers the same fate as many rock albums: despite an optimum length of 45 minutes, not all the tracks are of equal quality. Aside from a good pair of concluding songs, the second half is worse than the first. “My Blood” uses synths more strongly and lacks the rocking swagger of many other tracks – it feels more like alt or indie rock, and we will not tolerate such poseurship at AMG. “Descending” has similarly over-zealous synths in the verses, weakening the song’s ‘crunch.’ Must… resist… derision…
The production aids the hard rock kick with well mixed and mastered guitar and drum tones. Aside from the aforementioned weak links, synths are tastefully and sparingly integrated, and don’t supplant the vocals or guitars as the principle conveyors of melody. It doesn’t have a vast dynamic range, but it doesn’t really need it. Perhaps this promo came at just the right time. My essay dread and unspecified hatred has abated over the course of the listening process and the festive season. Nonetheless, there’s no denying 23 Acez have produced a cracking hard rock album against the seemingly insurmountable odds of their name and my malicious intentions. Get your rocking fix here.