Overload | review
"Time After Time.. Release After Release.. Harem Scarem keeps on amazing me.. Overload is by far thebest workof their careers... Solid.. Powerful... Exciting..." - Tony
"Harem Scarem turn the tables once again delivering an album that plays on all the emotions. Hess,Lesperance,Donaghy, and Doane have not disappointed on studio album number ten, the group's heaviest effort since Voice Of Reason..." - Jere
Track by track breakdown:
1. Dagger - What has happened here? What has Harem Scarem done this time around? Its like Weight Of The World and Higher are left behind biting the dust compared to the intensity of this lead off track. Lesperance doesn't waste time introducing a riff that manages to leave listeners marveling and in a state of shock at the same time. Dagger has an approach to it that feels somewhat familiar to Saviors Never Cry off of Mood Swings, the vocals from Harry Hess are down right striking as he has expanded, once again, on his delivery and the finished result just leaves quite an impact and this is only the first track of the album.
2. Afterglow - Next up is the most pop influenced rocker on the disc. Most will associate Scarem's modern pop element to their other moniker Rubber as on the two previous HS albums the guys meshed the catchy modern influences of Rubber with some classic Harem Scarem melodies, well that isn't the case here as the melodies remain strongly intact but the guitars are heavier then any of the Scarem/Rubber fusion material from previous releases. Nevertheless this song is extremely infectious and features a chorus that has some of the vintage HS flavor and one thing with this band is it doesn't take much to keep coming back for more.
3. Rise & Fall - Three tracks in and Over:Load takes a turn as the band unloads with their darkest composition thus far. Rise & Fall features songwriting the magnitude of what can be found on group's ground-breaking album: Voice Of Reason, in fact I'll be bold to say that this rivals the material from that release. Over the years Pete has always been one to experiment with tone and his use of baritone guitars really pack a wallop like no other on this CD as the main solo here is wickedly crafted and actually leaves the listener mesmerized by the time its over.
4. Don't Come Easy - From the first 30 some seconds a comforting piano intro seems to slow things down but then out of nowhere Pete applies those trademark heavy guitars as the approach on this track feels like its second coming of Weight Of The World. There is a dark aura throughout the song and you can really feel the passion as Hess lays on the main chorus it has that classic Scarem hook that reminds of mixing Hard To Love with the modern rock influences that the guys have familiarized themselves with on the recent Frontiers releases.
5. Can't Live With You - Finally the guys give listeners a peaceful break from the heavy side of Over:Load as the beginning of Can't Live With You drops hints to Voice Of Reason. The true beauty of the song lies in the build up to that all too effective Harem Scarem chorus Hess and Lesperance, as songwriters, know exactly how to deliver a compelling performance time and time again and as the main chorus hits the group switch over to full on rock mode. The harmonies alone in this track make it worthy of a listen but the sheer catchiness will make you return for more.
6. Forgive & Forget - Getting right back into the heavy manner of this disc Pete kicks things off with a intro riff that shows off the best of his skills as this reminds me of a more modern version of the opening riff to Paint Thins on VOR. Harry gives a commanding vocal performance that fits the overall flow of the track and when push comes to shove Forgive & Forgive sets listeners up for the second half of the album.
7. All You're Getting - Its somewhat difficult to categorize this song as it isn't a ballad yet its not a rocker either, mixing a piano with soaring vocals and excellent harmonies makes it one of the more meaningful tracks on the CD. The Queen/Freddie Mercury influence is in full effect here as Hess really pours out the feelings into his performance and by the conclusion of this track is where you get how this group is able to create material that stays with you long after you listen to it.
8. Leading Me On - I feel that this is a natural progression not only for the CD but it really brings about what this band has emphasized on in their nearly 15 years of existence: releasing high quality music. The formula on Leading Me On revisits the traditional Scarem basics of structured songwriting and out of this world harmonies. Harry stated that for this disc he is singing at the very top of his range and this is a prime example of his talent basically holding nothing back, I honestly think that he gives one of his best vocal performances of his career on this album and listening to this song will be a testament to that statement.
9. Understand You - For the most part Over:Load has been a electric dominated record but every now and then there were a few hints of some acoustics however its finally nice to see a ballad surface with a dominant acoustic influence. Written solely by Hess Understand You doesn't quite have the zing as recent HS ballads like This Ain't Over or Higher nevertheless it still features top-notch lyrics and a powerful delivery.
10. Same Mistakes - Pete again plays around with the guitar tones on this song and the intro to it adds a certain flavor on the disc all its own. Another good mid-tempo rocker which seems to again play on the Voice Of Reason vibe while at the same time hooking into some of the sounds off Big Bang Theory. Do I even have to mention Harry again? He definitely holds his own and delivers a breathtaking performance but I've been saying this all along.
11. Wishing (Bonus Track) - Featured on the Japanese edition of the band's 2003 effort: Higher as a bonus track Frontiers Records decided to throw in Wishing to finish off the album. Originally back when this track was going to be a Pete Lesperance instrumental but I guess Harry really liked the sound of what Pete came up with and wanted to try and put lyrics to it with the final product being a mid-tempo ballad just short of three minutes that helps top off an exceptional album.
The last few years have kept the guys of Harem Scarem busy for quite a while. Taking a look back 2002 saw the release of their phenomenal comeback: Weight Of The World follow that up by the release of another critically acclaimed album: Higher in 2003. Ok so lets break this down two highly praised albums virtually released back to back in fact logically the guys could of released them as a double disc studio album set where WOTW is a partial return to the glory days of Mood Swings Higher was a bit lighter and matches up to Scarem's self-titled debut. Normally a group will release an album, promote that album, tour, and then take some down time in between albums but then again Harem Scarem isn't the typical band, although 2004 brought about some break time group members continued other musical endeavors. Harry Hess produced Canadian Idol runner up: Billy Klippert's debut album which also featured contributions from Pete Lesperance and Creighton Doane.
Pete put out his long awaited solo album Down In It and in the process formed a brand new band, Fair Ground, around him featuring former Our Lady Peace guitarist: Mike Turner. As the end of the year approached Creighton released his sophomore solo effort: Learning More & More About Less & Less. 2005, so far, has kept band members just as busy as former Harem Scarem drummer Darren Smith released his first solo album under the moniker Darren Smith Band - Keep The Spirit Alive (Black Star in Japan) with Harry contributing as producer as well as making a guest appearance and Pete also coming in and providing some guitar work.
So as one can see when it comes to this band music is a part of life not only do they create it Hess, Lesperance, and Doane also employ their services to other up and coming artists in the form of producers and songwriters. Any other band (or group of musicians for that matter) in the industry today would more then likely crack under the pressure of trying to balance a work load the likes of this. With the release of Over:Load Harem Scarem returns wiping the slate clean and once more testing themselves in terms of producing something that is both thought provoking and explores familiar territory at the same time. Compared to the other albums from the Frontiers era this is the hardest sounding disc to date.
+ 'Heavy as a MotherF@#%*er!' - I borrowed that from Creighton Doane... A comment he made on his website a few months back on his initial thoughts on Over:Load and that certainly isn't an understatement either. Weight Of The World and Higher were strong guitar driven records however the Rubber/pop elements made those discs catchy. Over:Load is a 180 degree turn in a heavier direction, the songs are still memorable except dark and moody seems to the basic emphasis this time around.
+ Less pop more punch - Don't get me wrong I like the Rubber albums and I think the meshing of the Harem Scarem sound with the Rubber sound was a stroke of genius yet with Over:Load the pop elements for the most part sit this one out, I feel this is a full return to Harem Scarem as I've always enjoyed the band's heavier efforts more.
- Great material, short running time - Harem Scarem have always made quality priority number one when releasing an album but like previous attempts this one is short clocking in at a little over 40 minutes I made this point on my review of Higher in 2003 and its not a major problem its a very high quality release I just needed to fill this part of the review to help even it out.
You really have to hand it to Harem Scarem they are a band who over the years explored the realms of the rock genre, I don't think any other band out there has given their fans such a diverse discography as this group. Now in this reviewer's opinion it was Scarem's first three albums that revolutionized their career. 1991's self-titled debut introduced the world to a young upstart group with a pure melodic/AOR sound, 1993 brought about Mood Swings where the guitars were turned up a bit more as well as the attitude of the entire album. By the time 1995 rolled around the band delivered the controversial Voice Of Reason album with a dark modern approach this was the one record that alienated a lot of fans. The mid to late 90s saw several other albums that bridged the gap between conventional melodic rock with modern influences. 1999 saw another change, perhaps the riskiest one in group's career, with a complete infusion of modern rock thus the Rubber era was born.
Ever since the guys signed to Frontiers Records and came full circle as Harem Scarem again the band returned to their roots while at the same time continuing to explore the modern sound they picked up from Rubber. As I stated above the first two Frontiers releases Weight Of The World and Higher were met with praise and rang in a new resurgence not only for HS but the rock genre also. When the announcement came in the fall of '04 that work had begun on the new album I think many, myself included, were asking ourselves: "Ok how are Harry,Pete,Barry, and Creighton going to top themselves this time around?" When you release two successful andhighlytalked about studio albums you would think the pressure would be on... That is simply not the case here as just when you're getting comfortable thinking you have an idea what this group sounds like they go ahead and give their fans a different album every time around the bend so you never get the same album twice, truthfully I think the guys change their sound as many times as they change socks and that is what keeps things interesting and fresh. Many bands out there are striving to expand and deliver something new with every album they release. Harem Scarem is the band who not only bring something new to every studio album they release but they also have the power to make you think about it in great depth, even if a person doesn't like it at first listen the band has the ability through crafty songwriting and musicianship to bring you back in more and more each time you put the disc in your CD player.
How does Over:Load rate to the previous nine studio albums? In ways Over:Load is much like Voice Of Reason in that it will divide fans and after reading various thoughts from around the net the mixed reactions is what in the end makes this band so good. I guarantee its going to take some time for many people to get into the flow of this album. Weight Of The World and Higher are just lightweights compared to Over:Load, Pete's use of baritone guitars sets this album apart from anything previously released so if are a fan of Scarem's heavier side you'll be in paradise. In contrast the album is nothing like Mood Swings or Voice Of Reason... sure the classic things such as powerful harmonies and backing vocals have always remained but if your waiting for a 100% return from the band to the glory days I think you'll be waiting quite a while. This band continues to evolve with every album they put out and in my opinion the classic albums still remain great albums but Harem Scarem are defying the odds and not being constrained to any particular sound or style thus putting out the best rock albums of their career.
Harem Scarem Over:Load recieves a 5/5 - Some say it doesn't live up to other albums. Well of course not after all this is Harem Scarem they're not going to give us the same over and over again. Heavy guitars and Pete Lesperance's masterful guitar playing combined with Hess' influential voice makes Over:Load stand out. Recommended? Most definitely... even if you're in doubt that this album isn't that good... Give it time... that is all I have to say.... give it time.
Favorite songs: Another release where I felt all the tracks had something to offer but if I had to pick favs: Don't Come Easy, Can't Live With You, Afterglow, Dagger, Rise & Fall, All You're Getting, and Forgive & Forget.Review by Jere
Originally posted at Shipwreck Island Studios