Before there was The Night Flight Orchestra, there was Audrey Horne. They were the first extreme metal collective to rediscover and mercilessly plunder the sacred crypts of 70s and 80s radio rock, leaving naught behind for subsequent tomb raiders but Frank Stallone 8-tracks and broken pieces of Toto and Billy Joel imports. Those purloined rock relics helped fuel album after album of irresistibly rowdy music, establishing these sticky fingered Norwegians as the best hard rock band America never produced, while cementing them as one of my favorite acts. Blackout is their 6th album and they haven’t changed much style-wise. They’re still using the past as the conduit to broadcast righteous rock to the present, and they still manage to make it feel fresh, relevant, dare I say it, modern. Such is the universal language of well-executed rock.
Opener “This is War” is a typically upbeat, dynamic rocker with a strong NWoBHM flavor to the riffs. We’ve heard them use this formula before on past ditties like “This Ends Here,” and though there’s a sense of familiarity and deja vu, it’s still a monster tune with a big anthemic chorus that makes me want to guzzle beer and throw cars at people. The band churns out this kind of slick, easy to love material effortlessly, and Blackout is chocked full of similarly infectious earworms. “Audrevolution” is a simple, stripped down barroom rocker that will make you jump around like a spazz, while cuts like “Blackout” will take you back to the poppy radio rock of the early 80s, cutting dangerously close to Pat Benatar‘s classic “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in the process.
Blackout is a smart mix of hard rockers and more laid back, good timey cuts. For every raucous, balls out rocker like “Light Your Way,” there’s a smooth, beguiling cut like “This One” that strokes you with a velvet glove smelling of stale beer and poor life choices. Especially endearing are the uber catchy party rock of “Satellite” and the urgent, Iron Maiden meets Van Halen gallop to the open bar of “Naysayer.”
As usual with an Audrey Horne album, there are no duds or misfires and the songs all flow together seamlessly, making it a delight to play through to the end. At a concise 43 minutes (minus 2 top-notch bonus cuts), Blackout is easily digestible and easy to love. The only downside is that the overall impact of the album is a bit less than that of past mega-killers like Youngblood and Pure Heavy. It’s still classic Audrey Horne, but a slightly more refined, languid and unhurried version, whereas I prefer the more edgy, dangerous version I’ve grown accustomed to.
As usual, I’m a sucker for the vocals of front man, Toschie. He’s the prototype of what a good hard rock singer should sound like. He has a raw, unrefined quality to his singing and projects a lot of attitude and swagger with a slight patina of sleaze and criminality. He’s supported well by the kinetic guitar-work of Ice Dale (Enslaved) and Thomas Tofthagen (Sahg). Together they genre-warp from 70s and 80s rock through NWoBHM, keeping the music rocking and the listener locked in. The band is tight, the music is festive and the songs stick on the first or second listen, as greasy rock should. What’s not to like about that?
Blackout may be a bit mellower than past forays, but the same Audrey Horne pop and crackle is here in spades. These guys wrote the book that The Night Flight Orchestra is now utilizing with so much success, and in my opinion NFO still have a ways to go to catch up with these Norwegian neer-do-wells. Blackout is coming out in the dead of winter, but it’s really the soundtrack to summertime fun and frolic. Put a squid in your pocket, crack a few cold ones and play this at unsafe volumes.