A far more burning question than “what’s west of Westeros?” could be “what’s south of Salem?”. Well, a quick Google tells you that there is indeed a hell of a lot (intended, thank you) south of Salem. Germany, India, Sweden, all have places called Salem; the US being the US has to have more than anyone and has multiple places called Salem. The UK has a few. Most notably Salem, Cornwall, south of which is a lot of bloody water, but east of Salem is Bournemouth, the home of hard rock outfit South Of Salem. Therefore the name of the band is not a cunning marketing ploy on behalf of the Dorset visitors association, but rather a hint of the music on offer. Much like the pun-tastic album title, it’s chockful of devilish good tunes with hooks-a-plenty.
Led by vocalist Joey Draper, South Of Salem mash up a healthy mix of both American and homegrown influences to deliver ten tracks that sound way more accomplished than a debut album should really be. Accomplished yes, but not too polished that all hints of rawness which a debut album brings have been wiped. Take opening track ‘Let Us Prey’ for instance, killer ‘Anarchy In The UK’/’Holiday In The Sun’ inspired power chords and riffs shepherd in a powerful first introduction to South Of Salem. Once the opening seconds fade out, the band settles into a punky rock n’ roll anthem with added backing gang vocals; kind of like Harley Quinn getting a call from Duff to help out on a new Guns tune. The Slash-like tones continue on ‘The Hate In Me’, which features a fair old smattering of meaty vocal hooks from Draper, and who can’t but identify with the lines…”…goddam, here I am, in the same old shit again…”?
The shouty, punky gang-vocals on ‘No Plague Like Home’ give the track a hardcore feel which combined with a pulsating drum sound hits all the right spots. It’s hard to not pick up on a Motley Crue feel during the early moments of ‘Made To Be Mine’, in particular, ‘Kickstart My Heart’, but once the Crue riffs fade, the bones of a really strong, commercial melodic rock song remain. It’s all about the hooks baby, and South Of Salem does possess some major hooks. ‘Cold Day In Hell’ is another example of this. Very ‘Nightmare’ era Avenged Sevenfold influenced, it expertly meshes a handful of A7X traits with more of the commercial melodic hard rock hooks mentioned earlier. Hard enough to keep the grizzled rockers happy, but not too heavy to scare off those just dipping their toes in the genre. A bit like Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ really. On that note; ‘Demons Are Forever’ – ‘Unforgiven’ inspired? Fuck, and yeah.
‘Another Nail In My Coffin’ signals the start of the home straight; imagine HIM with Abba-esque melodies, powerful guitar riffs, and the occasional break into hardcore gang-vocals. As bizarre as that sounds, it does actually work very well. Closing track ‘Dead Hearts Don’t Break’ is perhaps a contender for the strongest track on the album (‘Let Us Prey’ does run it a close second though), it’s easy to digest, with several earworm moments within its three minutes, and a chorus that is catchier than a night out in Concert Square, Liverpool. A fine way to bring this strong debut album to an end.
Footnote (of sorts), if we operated a points-based review system, then ‘The Sinner Takes It All’ would get extra marks not just for the title, but also for the cover artwork: simply stunning.
Once Covid buggers off, someone needs to get these guys to America, the lamb-shanks would lap them up.
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Review – Dave