Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell Review

Since 2005 Audrey Horne have been showing the world that some of the best American-style rock n’ roll comes from Norway courtesy of black metal and stoner doom musicians. Yeah, I know, go figure, but damn if that’s not how things played out. On the strength of albums like Youngblood and Pure Heavy the band carved out a sizeable niche of hard-rocking good times music with a strong NWoBHM flavor and they’ve been in heavy rotation in my neck of the woods for many a year. They’ve been quiet since 2018’s Blackout, but 2022 sees them return with seventh album, Devil’s Bell. And things seem to have changed a bit at Camp Horne since we last tuned in. Devil’s Bell has a different approach and vibe than past albums, with the NWoBHM influence put way forward and the commitment to hooks upon hooks seemingly dialed back. Much of the material here could be mistaken for a British metal album circa 1981 and sometimes even an early Mercyful Fate platter, minus the Kingly vocalizing. Is it still recognizable as Audrey Horne? Yes, but it’s an altered beast version of them.

The differences become apparent with opening cut “Ashes to Ashes.” It features a long instrumental build-up with an ominous tone reminiscent of early Overkill. Eventually, things kick into gear and burly riffing arrives to carry the song along, not unlike an old Armored Saint joint. When Toschie finally makes his appearance, the expected Horne-isms begin to take root, but it’s a darker version of them to be sure. It’s a good song with some decent hooks, but not the kind of high voltage fare I was expecting. “Animal” is much more in the tried-and-true Horne style, with a brisk pace and punchy attitude, though the chorus feels muted somehow. This weirdness continues as the band drops a 4-plus minute instrumental (“Return to Grave Valley”) that sounds like something off the recent Satan album. It isn’t until the lead single/title track hits that the juices and electricity really get flowing. This is a classic Audrey Horne number, full of wild guitar work, passionate vocals from Toschie, and a killer chorus that sticks like hot tar on freshly permed back hair. The fact it takes almost 26 minutes to get to this place is a problem, however.

The back half of Devil’s Bell is good, but none of the songs really hit me as top-flight examples of what Audrey Horne does. “All is Lost” has the rebellious energy I crave, but there’s a curious lack of brain glue to it, and “Toxic Twins” is fun but the replay-controlling brain worms don’t crack through my skull the way they did with the older material. Closer “From Darkness” offers over 7-plus minutes of familiar Horneisms and flagrant Maiden worship fortified with some lovely guitar interplay, but you likely won’t remember any of it due to a lack of killer chorus. As an NWoBHM aficionado, I should be eating all this stuff up like meth-coated jumbo shrimp wrapped in candied bacon. The problem is the songs themselves, which feel like lesser versions of past Horne escapades. There’s also some noticeable bloat at times on a strangely tempered album by a band that usually gets me jacked up and ready to RAWK.

Toschie has become one of my favorite rock/metal vocalists over the years and once again he imparts a sleazy, sketchy charm to the proceedings with an underrated range and sneaky versatility. He sounds like a guy who would steal your dime bag and do bad things to your sister, and that’s what a good rock singer should sound like. He imbues personality to the songs and elevates things by sheer gravitas alone. Ice Dale (Enslaved) and Thomas Tofthagen (ex-Sahg) bring loads of guitar talent to the party. They’re clearly inspired by the raucous early days of the NWoBHM movement and much of their toolkit is in line with what the greats were doing back in the day. That said, the riffing on “Break Out” cuts much too close to Ozzy‘s “Bark at the Moon” for comfort at times. That faux pas aside, the issue here is a matter of song smithing rather than musical talent. This material just doesn’t pop like it did on past platters. It’s moody instead of rowdy and often feels too tame.

Devil’s Bell is a curious release for Audrey Horne. It isn’t wildly different than what they did before, as it’s composed of all the same ingredients. It just lacks the extra spice and WOW factor. I want to love it, but I just can’t seem to get there. Will it get spins going forward? Absolutely. Will it be the top choice when I want a Horneswoggle? Not likely. Still a huge fan though!

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: NA | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Napalm
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 22nd, 2022

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