Ah, December. Also known as the reviewer’s doldrums. Hardly anything good is ever released in December: it’s the time of year when our aggregate review scores take a bit of a tumble. In poring over the December releases, I found four albums that seemed marginally appealing. Hot Wired Beat, the sophomore effort from Finnish rockers Hard Action, wasn’t one of them. Nevertheless, I’m game for taking one more kick at the retro metal cat and seeing what these guys are all about. The odd metaphor comparing Hot Wired Beat to a street fight set to Fleetwood Mac was enough for me to say “Fine, toss it over here.” Was this a good decision, or just more PR lies?
“Free Fall” bursts into the speakers like something Hanoi Rocks would open with, a jackhammer up-tempo number with blasting guitars and a laid-back vocal style that would be intriguing if not for the fact that my speakers sound blown. Every instrument and the vocals are clipping like hell, obliterating any enjoyment the song may have provided and wasting my time by forcing me to re-download the promo, then try it on multiple systems in an effort to make it sound good, to no avail. In a monumental effort unequalled in AMG history, I forced down the bile in my throat and tried to listen objectively to the rest of Hot Wired Beat, because it’s clear (in a horribly distorted way) that Hard Action have some positive traits drowning beneath the squared-off waveforms; most notably the old-school, punk-tinged, laid-back vocal style of he known simply as Gyntsä. Those amongst us who are old and Canadian may think he sounds like Frankie Venom from Teenage Head.
For the most part, the songs on Hot Wired Beat are fast-paced 4/4 numbers that rock by with no frills. They’re decent enough songs, although it ain’t easy to hear them. Even the mellow “The Losing Side,” with acoustic guitar, features distortion of the clipping variety throughout. Same goes on “May,” which features two distorted acoustic guitars. The thing, though, with the faster songs is that we have the distinct impression we’ve heard them all before. The chord progressions are simple, predictable, and generic. Song arrangements are by the book. “Running Start” could have been recorded by a hundred bands, some today and some in 1980. “Tied Down” is my favorite song here – or would be, if it didn’t sound so shitty. Pardon my language, but I mean really, Hard Action have no chance to strut their stuff in this environment.
This is the worst-sounding DR8 album on the planet. The promo blurb stresses better production values on Hot Wired Beat than on Sinister Vibes, but the production here is so bad, all that statement did was encourage me to not go back and listen to their debut. It’s a shame because one can hear some good-but-not-great songwriting behind the wall of clippiness. It’s like every instrument was recorded way too hot, and no mastering engineer in the world could fix it. Garbage in, garbage out, is the saying. If this was an intentional decision, it was an awful one. But I will give them bonus points for including handclaps in “Knocked Down, Dragged Out.” Sadly, Hard Action needed more than bonus points. The needed an engineer with eardrums.
If you’re looking for quality, well-produced music, Hard Action are not going to be providing it. The songs are generic and unmemorable, albeit well-played. The sense of familiarity makes for a bit of comfort, but at the same time makes us realize nothing on Hot Wired Beat stands out from the retro metal crowd. There’s some talent in the band, but they need to take some songwriting chances and give us a better-sounding final product.