Hall Aflame // Guaranteed Forever
Label: I.R.S. Records
I’ve been meaning to write a retro-review of this bad boy for a long time since it’s the very definition of “buried treasure.” Sadly, it’s an equally good example of a winning release that slipped through the cracks and fell into oblivion. Hall Aflame was a project launched by Metal Church founder/guitarist/main writer Kurdt Vanderhoof after quitting the band due to tour burnout. While there are trace elements of his main band in the sound. Guaranteed Forever is a weird amalgam of southern hard rock, blues and metal that borrows heavily from acts like The Cult, Jackyl, Tesla and The Four Horsemen. Vanderhoof brought an extremely high level of writing to the project and the result is one highly addictive rock platter that screams beers, bars, pickup trucks and good times. While the whole album is great, there are a few superb songs on here that really should be heard by everyone because they’re just that fookin good!
The rowdy, southern-friend, hard rock urgency of opener “Shake the Pain” should clue listeners in that they may have found something a bit special. Vanderhoof rocks out some simple, but huge, driving riffs and vocalist Ron Lowd delivers a barn-burning performance falling somewhere between Jackyl‘s Jesse James Dupree and Mike Howe (Metal Church, Heretic) who provides guest vocals on one track. The inclusion of harmonica adds to the moonshine and alligator vibe and the whole song just rocks hard and rides free. Things continue on in high gear with the bad attitude and biker charm of “Child of Medicine” and Lowd again shows himself to be a top-notch hard rock singer full of bourbon, brawn and buckshot.
One of the huge standouts comes with “The Money” which has some similarity to the darker stuff from the Mike Howe era of Metal Church, but it still has a bluesy, hard rock swagger that sets it apart. Everything about this song just clicks and the band catches white lightning in a dirty beer bottle. The acoustic refrains amid the generally hard music are genius and Lowd outdoes himself jumping back and forth between a raspy roar and softer, emotional singing. The chorus hits like a tractor loaded with napalm and replays are guaranteed forever.
The middle section of the album is full of enjoyable, memorable cuts like country-rock ballad “Cold Wind”, the Texas biker bar rumble of “No How, No Way” and the beers-to-the-sky anthem “Pirate’s Life” which is about as rabble-rousing as hard rock gets. Also of note is the macho bravado of “Feed the Fire” and the southern boogie of “Pray to God.”
Things wrap up with yet another must hear tune called “Another Heartbeat” which is firmly ensconced in my best songs of all time list due to it’s hard-edged, rough and dark vibe and super hooky chorus. Lowd outdoes himself on this one and it’s a perfect hard rock song.
Vanderhoof was the only musician of note here, and he delivers a ripping performance, laying down catchy riff after riff. More impressive still is his writing which dabbles in several genres and hits all the right notes while remaining amazingly accessible. Surprisingly, the real star is Ron Lowd who proves his worth on every track and shows a great deal of versatility as the material flows from country to hard rock and into metal. The man has a powerhouse voice and a true flair for knowing when to power up and dial back. I have no fucking idea where Vanderhoof found him or where the hell he went after this album (nor can I even find a real picture of the guy), but I love his voice and wish he did something… anything else! The rest of the band is also excellent and Brian Smith’s bass adds extra swagger as Tom Weber provides a hard-driving, heavy-handed performance behind the kit.
When Guaranteed Forever was released, it went nowhere fast. Metal Church fans wanted it to be harder and it never found an audience of its own, which is a shame because this should’ve gotten a lot of radio play on hard rock stations. Although a second album was allegedly written, Vanderhoof eventually went back to Metal Church and the rest of the band faded into the woodwork. There have been scattered rumors of a reunion and that mythical second album seeing the light of day, but after twenty-one years, I’m a bit skeptical about that happening. Regardless of the stillborn band history, if you love hard rock and want to unearth a true diamond in the genre, look no further (though finding this may take some looking in and of itself). You’ve probably slept on this record your whole life. The sleeper must awaken!!