Covers albums can be a hit and miss prospect. For every band willing to take risks, there are three dozen hacking out uninspired versions of other peoples’ songs in the name of a quick buck. As proven by Jorn Lande, metal based covers albums can be an even trickier thing to pull off successfully, since not everything needs – or even suits – being “heavied up” in the name of entertainment. In fact, the experience of hearing Lande wail his way through Don Henley’s ‘New York Minute’ could be enough to put you off metal oriented covers albums for life…
Luckily, ‘Undercovers Vol. 1’ from Australian band LORD is nowhere near that bad. It would be a lie to say all of their chosen material truly works within their metallic image – and a further stretch to suggest that any of the tunes have been necessarily improved – but in sheer breadth alone, it’s an impressive project. A Bandcamp exclusive, the CD version includes twenty three songs, and buyers are also given access to various recorded interview materials where band members talk about the recording, their influences and more besides. For those willing to dive in head first, this release brings together over three hours’ worth of material.
Looking purely at the songs, there’s a great variety of artists covered here. Although it would’ve been easy for Lord to kick off with something in their own image, the release begins with a very strong cover of Savage Garden’s ‘To The Moon & Back’, where the AOR elements of the Australian pop sensations’ mega hit are brought out via a world of harmonic guitars and a dramatic vocal. It’s rockier, yes, but not too heavy; in fact, it makes a very natural transition, and the early 90s melodic rock charms make a decent intro for anyone not previously familiar with the band’s work. A similar AOR mood drives a straight up cover of Harem Scarem’s classic ‘Hard To Love’, and although Lord choose to play this absolutely to the letter, it’s by no means a disappointment. If anything, it’s a pleasure to experience another band singing the praises of Canada’s finest. With Pete Lesperance’s harmonic guitars reproduced fairly faithfully and a barrage of harmonies filling the chorus confidently, it shows how well this metal band can tackle a very melodic style, despite hammering their way through Metallica and Pantera tunes with ease elsewhere. The first two Harem Scarem discs are melodic rock classics that more than deserve a revisit, and if Lord can somehow steer their fans in the direction of those records, then ‘Undercovers’ has served a great purpose already. Their AOR fascinations also get a look in on an old Bon Jovi track and their choice of ‘Runaway’, although arguably less populist than many they could’ve picked, is inspired. It very much suits having the guitars transposed to something heavier while retaining the stabbed keys for a pure AOR core. With a more aggressive guitar solo featured and a wise decision to sidestep the original’s ugly falsetto moments, this is a spot-on reworking of an old favourite.
From a pure metal perspective, there are great versions of a few 80s classics. Judas Priest’s ‘Reckless’ presents a recording where a bunch of Australians occasionally sound like a Euro metal act tackling something by Helloween. Even though the vocal is a little overwrought, it’s a reminder that somewhere behind the sheen, Priest’s ‘Turbo’ is home to some strong chorus driven songs. A live take of Helloween’s ‘I Want Out’, meanwhile, showcases a band who can take a trad metal arrangement and really run with it. The lead vocals are actually better than Michael Kiske’s; the way in which they rise from a forceful low register during the verse into a full on Damian Wilson style wail on the chorus shows a performer brimming with confidence and experience, while the twin lead guitars – played at speed – are absolutely spot on. The fact that LORD absolutely nail this in a live setting should provide more than enough evidence of a great trad metal band at work. Opting for the even heavier, a run through of Symphony X’s ‘Of Sins & Shadows’ is a fantastic demonstration of LORD’s prog metal abilities and the horsey squeals dropped against a heavy staccato riff are superb. Naturally, the vocals aren’t as massive as Russell Allen’s own, and fans would never consider this in any way an improvement, but it’s a brave band that takes on a riff by Michael Romeo and co., but the fact that LORD somehow manage to sail through it as if it were one of their own compositions is truly impressive. With a decent version of Queensryche’s ‘The Whisper’ bringing more twin guitar thrills and Iron Maiden’s underrated ‘Judas Be My Guide’ reworked in a slightly rougher fashion with occasional black metal growls, the core of ‘Undercovers’ offers solid entertainment for fans of a trad metal style.
The most enjoyable moments of this collection, however, come from a few left field picks. The Police’s ‘Message In A Bottle’ stands up to a vigorous overhaul where the guitars are pushed to the fore and delivered with a massive chug against a Michael Kiske-like vocal. It isn’t as enjoyable as Leatherface’s punky take from 1991, but between a great guitar sound, a few unexpected AOR synths and a few moments where double bass drums are called upon for an extra kick, there’s a lot to love here. A double dose of John Farnham also stands up the LORD treatment very effectively. ‘Break The Ice’ almost becomes a lost Harem Scarem number – another case of the band wielding their melodic rock credentials very effectively – and with a barrage of Iron Maiden-esque twin lead guitars, Little River Band’s ‘Playing To Win’ almost sounds as if it were destined to become a trad metal number. Although Farnham’s brief stint with LRB resulted in two albums of fine pop, LORD obviously saw the potential in this track; although it relies heavily on a few tricks you’ve heard elsewhere, the interplay between the wall of symphonic metal keys and busy lead guitar is stunning. Best of all, metal fans deserve to hear Kylie Minogue’s ‘On A Night Like This’ given the full LORD treatment. This great pop number is reimagined in the style of a Euro metal band and once loaded with jagged guitar riffs and a blanket of keys, its huge sound really allows it to be heard in a whole new way. Between a massive vocal and brilliantly punchy arrangement, LORD transform everyone’s favourite Aussie pop queen into something akin to the big sounds of Place Vendome and Tony Harnell’s Starbreaker. If you need just one reason to pick up a download of this release, look no further.
You’d expect something spanning so many different eras, artists and tracks to be hit and miss, but ‘Undercovers Vol 1’ actually provides a broadly enjoyable listening experience. In terms of trad metal and the harder end of the melodic rock/AOR scale, LORD hit the mark throughout. Between their varied tastes and years of experience, this is a release that seems entirely celebratory, whether or not all of the material truly works. If you love a good cover and enjoy a regular trad metal fix, you really need to add this to your collection.