Informal poll: who here is getting tired of the whole “retro rock” scene? It seems everyone and their dog wants to be in a retro band — especially those pesky Scandinavians. Whether it’s the proto-metal stylings of Sweden’s Saturn or the Survivor-core of Finland’s Brother Firetribe, or a litany of other bands flying the retro-core banner these days, retro seems to be the flavor of the month. Troubled Horse looks to add their crest to the mix with Revolution on Repeat. But these fellas don’t want to just be a part of the scene: they want to stand out from the crowd, eschewing the rules that might limit their styles, and mixing everything in their Troubled Horse grinder (a disquieting vision if ever there was one), churning out something trve and special. You know, like most other bands want to.
Funny thing about these Swedes is their timeline. Together since 2003, Revolution on Repeat is the band’s second album, hot on the heels of 2012’s debut Step Inside. Yes, it took them nine years to release their debut album. This means two things: they aren’t well known, but they’ve played a ton and have honed their chops. That being said, half of this foursome is new. Founder and vocalist Martin Heppich and axeman Mikael Linder are joined by Jonas on drums and Tom on bass (apparently newer members are not bequeathed surnames). Chemistry isn’t an issue, though, as the band immediately kicks into high gear on opening track “Hurricane,” a super-tight garage-band galloper featuring Heppich’s barely-in-control vocals rasping “I know you hate me, it doesn’t bother me though, I’ve got nothin’ but love for you” atop a driving rhythm. It’s a catchy song, and while it doesn’t distance Troubled Horse from other acts, it doesn’t have me skipping to the next promo either.
And good thing, too, as there’s more to Revolution on Repeat than fast garage rock. “The Filthy Ones” has a distinct 60s psychedelic vibe to it, from the clean-picked melodies to the shuffle beat – but midway through the song shifts to 70s riffing. Heppich’s vocal style is raw and raspy, teetering just on the edge of control, reminding me of an even less refined version of Scorpion Child’s Aryn Black. “Peasants” has a southern boogie to it that would fit perfectly on a Scorpion Child album. Elsewhere we’re treated to a subdued acid-rocker in “Desperation” and a swampy/country cover of Warren Zevon’s “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” of all things. While Troubled Horse have a definite sound and style, the variety in songwriting makes for an engaging listen rather than just the same song ten times over – thus standing slightly apart from the retro rock crowd.
Not every song strikes the right chord, of course. Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, “The Haunted” overstays its welcome and “Track 7” is a misguided attempt at injecting some humor into the seventh track. The most puzzling song is “Bleeding,” a melancholic, somewhat dispiriting cut that closes the album at an epic nine minutes. The slower, more contemplative moments in the song work, but the up-tempo screamed sections do not, and at nine minutes patience can be exhausted, especially with the self-indulgent fade-out, fade-in halfway through. Thankfully, our ears don’t suffer, with a clean and crisp production style and a mix that gives every instrument the space needed.
Have Troubled Horse succeeded in standing out from the crowd? Maybe they’re off to the side a little from the gaggle of retro bands out there. Revolution on Repeat isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a diverse, well-played, and enjoyable collection of retro-feeling songs that manage to break type on occasion. It’s a fine example of how a band can embrace the olde ways while putting their own spin on things, and with summer fast approaching Revolution on Repeat will be a fun record to blast on road trips.