Last year, Finland and the world were introduced to SMACKBOUND, made up of Netta Laurenne, Vili Itäpelto, Teemu Mäntysaari, Rolf Pilve, and Tuomas Yli-Jäskäri. At long last, the release of their debut was announced to be appropriately titled “20/20” and SMACKBOUND arranged one of the last events we were able to attend before the COVID-19 event bans. They held a pre-listening session at Sonic Pump Studios on May 16th, 2020, to the few who dared go out into this brave new world.
Since the event took place a mere few days before all event cancellation was recommended, a mere three brave medias (a fourth was on its way, having gotten the time wrong) arrived at Sonic Pump Studios for brunch and the pre-listening. After having pleasant conversation around a bit of food, we were taken into the mastering room where the album was already set to play.
The album starts with the thrashy and melodic “Wall of Silence,” with which we’re already quite familiar as it was the band’s second single. This song is made up of fast verses and a melodic, singalong-able chorus. Next is the first single, “Drive it Like You Stole It,” which is an awesome self-empowerment song that’s easy to go back to any time you feel like having a party, or just want to pick up your mood if you’re bummed out.
The first new song was “Close to Sober,” which starts slow with a really epic and passionate build-up to a really emotive chorus. The backing ambiance and slightly echoey guitars are very nicely done, as well as a vocal progression at times that feels very neoclassical/power metal, like THUNDERSTONE and SYMPHONY X were writing songs together. There is also ample blending of Netta Laurenne‘s incredible whisky and clean vocals.
Third single “Run” is up next, moving out of metal/rock back into a more straightforward hard/heavy rock with less in the background – a good decision because this track may have been overdone with more in the background. Vili Itäpelto has some nice additions on keys to give this song some flare.
The latest single is “The Game,” which has a very artistic and emotional music video (below). This is definitely a song that benefits from multiple listens; it’s very intense-feeling with melancholic vocals, plinking keys, deep and slow bass and drums, and ambient guitars. I hate to gush about dynamics all the time, but this track is massive and intense, continuously rising and building up until the listener feels like bursting. The keyboard solo really adds a nice touch to the whole piece. The final ticking was done, according to the band, by Itäpelto‘s kitchen clock.
“Those Who Burn” is pretty ’90s heavy metal, straight-up. The time change in the bridges gives it some extra flavor, with some proper stylish drumming from Rolph Pilve, and some nice riffing by Teemu Mäntysaari on guitar, while Tuomas Yli-Jaskari keeps everything alive on bass. “Hey Motherfuckers” keeps the listener guessing – it’s not a remotely predictable song and the chorus is a bit reminiscent of Alice Cooper‘s “Hey Stoopid” (in style, not melody) and it’s easy to imagine a crowd getting their hands up in the air to this song live. This was a personal highlight because it’s just plain fun.
“Troublemaker” is much like “Wall of Silence,” with its intense, groovy-yet-thrashy energy, which blasts the listener relentlessly from start to finish. You don’t generally hear a lot of keyboard in thrashy music (and this is not strictly thrash either, more thrash-esque), so it’s interesting to hear how it was integrated in to this song with sharp, high notes. Laurenne sings sweetly about burning as “Date with the Devil” begins, but she drops to a slightly darker sound as the song kicks off. This track is really intriguing, with many different singing styles, a straightforward chorus, and a really stylish solo.
The final track, “Wind and Water,” takes the album into “finale ballad” territory. Ballads are easy to mess up with too much sugar, but SMACKBOUND does the job admirably. The lyrics sound like the end or a farewell, the music is a bit too epic and honest to sound cheesy, and the vocals and solos aren’t overdone. It works well as an album closer, with its power and finality, leaving the whole thing on a really strong note.
“20/20” is an epic album with a shocking amount of diversity. From hard rock and thrash, through ’90s heavy metal, and on to symphonic power metal, there’s a lot happening. One could say that there isn’t a concrete sound that is “SMACKBOUND” just yet, but I might argue that, at the same time, this album has a little something for (almost) everyone. It’s complex and each member of the band is pulling their weight; legendarily good musicians like Mäntysaari (WINTERSUN) and Pilve (STRATOVARIUS, etc.) don’t overshadow the others, but help to elevate them. It’s a fantastic showcase for Netta Laurenne as a vocalist, and on top of it all, it packs a pretty emotional punch with its raw and personal lyrics. Highly recommended for 2020!
Report by Bear Wiseman