Hinder. Depending on your familiarity with modern rock radio, you’re either asking who the hell they are or why in Jørn’s name we’re reviewing them. For the former, the term “Nickelback-lite”1 is all you need to know. For the latter, it all started when Madam X presented The Reign as “good hard rock,” inciting a discussion about who was familiar with these Oklahoma natives. With a sideways glance and a quivering lower lip, I stepped forward and sheepishly announced to the group:
“I… I have known this band.”
Embarrassing to admit, but back in 2006, Hinder were my first concert ever, a packed show with Eighteen Visions at the now–defunct Sonar in downtown Baltimore. In the previous months, I’d learned of them when their hit single “Lips of an Angel” was broadcast on roughly every FM radio wave in the electromagnetic spectrum, inspiring my high school buddy to peddle their music to our friend group like meth at a Tulsa whorehouse. Nonetheless, I moved on after their 2005 debut Extreme Behavior grew stale, joining the throngs of people shouting “butt-rock!” and purging all traces of post-grunge from my iTunes library. It’s only now with sixth full-length The Reign that Hinder have returned like a dark specter from my past, a specter that will only be satisfied when I give its newest creation a proper review.
And surprisingly, things actually aren’t that bad. The title track kicks things off with a crackling riff and some unexpectedly smoky vocals, initially leading me to believe frontman Austin Winkler had grown wise and dropped his Chad Kroeger impersonation. In actuality, quick research reveals Winkler left the band in 2013 to be replaced by Faktion’s Marshal Dutton, who debuted on 2015’s When the Smoke Clears. Here Dutton gives a performance that’s smoother and more Southern than Winkler’s, recalling He Is Legend’s Schuylar Croom or the clean vocals of Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley. While he’s no Jørn Lande, he’s a decent singer in his own right and adds some nice ‘tude to songs like “King of the Letdown” and the arena rock crunch of “Play to Win.”
Vocals aside, on the surface this is largely the same Hinder I remember from a decade ago. Loud radio-ready choruses, softer verses, cleanly picked bridges, and fat hard rock riffs that probably sound similar to the music at your local strip club. And yet somehow, things are different. In their years together the group has attained an awareness of the genre’s limitations and with it, a resolution to keep things fresh and engaging. Take second track “Burn It Down,” whose first verse is propelled by a dramatic piano line that initially made me think the band had rushed right into a ballad. Instead, after its first minute, the song explodes with a stomping melodic riff and soaring chords that make for a powerful early cut. Even Reign’s biggest pitfall — the occasionally generic choruses in the album’s midsection — is dealt with rather hilariously by abruptly cutting off “Drink You Away” halfway through its second refrain. It’s as if the band knew you could already figure out exactly where the song was going and just decided to move onto something better.2
The modern rock production isn’t surprising, but the lyrical themes are. Rather than glamorizing rock n’ roll life, tracks like “Remember Me” deal with the emotional struggle of being a career musician, a message made all the more poignant with Chester Bennington’s recent passing. While there’re still some crude bits (the bluntly suggestive “Making It Hard”), the musicianship remains strong. Guitarists Joe Garvey and Mark King imbue the proceedings with plenty of flashy solos and fun riffs, be it the cruising swagger of “Hard,” the Chevelle-esque verses of “Another Way Out,” or the booming “whoa-oh-oh” refrain of aforementioned “Win.” Perhaps the strongest is closer “Loser’s Salute,” whose lethargic verses and bumbling Puddle of Mudd rhythms soon erupt into the biggest chorus on the album.
Still, don’t let that goat-infused cover fool you: ultimately this is still a band that fits right in with Seether, Three Days Grace, and that guy from college who always wore sleeveless shirts and only drank Busch Light. And yet at the same time, the catchy choruses, inspired musicianship, and energetic songs make The Reign more enjoyable than anything I’ve heard from this style in years. The Madam was right: this is good hard rock.