HUMAN TEMPLE – Halfway To Heartache

Human Temple’s debut album ‘Insomnia’ was released back in 2004 via the now defunct European melodic rock label MTM Records.  It took the band another six years to follow the release, by which time the band had secured a place among the roster at Escape Music, a UK independent label with a similar outlook to that of MTM.  With that second album, the Finnish rock band achieved a small amount of cult success and good reviews.  This was seemingly enough for Escape to consider it worthwhile releasing their third outing, 2012’s ‘Halfway to Heartache’.

A huge intro opening the album suggests Human Temple believe this third album to be something special.  By the time that intro – all militaristic beats, riffing guitars and sirens – subsides, ‘I Will Follow’ becomes a reasonable, expertly played – though not especially groundbreaking – slice of Scandinavian hard rock.  It’s not of the “jaw-droppingly special” variety, but in reality – at least for what it does – it’s really not bad either.  The riffs are hard edged yet surprisingly melodic, while the lead fills are twiddly (technical term) without being overtly showy.  The only thing which appears musically misjudged is the keyboard solo: for the first few bars, it’s all bell noises; the kind better suited to American AOR as opposed to full-pelt Scandi hard rock.  To accommodate this, the band moves away from their standard hard rock chops and further into progressive metal territory.  While it’s well executed, the song isn’t necessarily improved by this – in fact, it’s a bit jarring. The second part of the solo is better since it uses a more squealy synth tone (something not often better, just better here), while the rest of the band take an opportunity to swiftly return to something resembling the main riff.  All the while, Janne Hurme turns in a more than reasonable vocal performance on a song which carries just enough of a memorable hook to balance out the levels of bombast.  If you’re still curious by the end of this track and those keyboards didn’t put you off, it’s likely ‘Halfway To Heartache’ will appeal.

‘Like a Beat of a Heart’ is a softer number which allows bassist Harri Kinnunen to carry the verses.  A great piece of mid-paced rock music, it features a couple of commendable solos and plenty of old-school fist-pumping enjoyment.  Compared to ‘I Will Follow’, the band appears far less in-your-face, allowing simple melodies and a good chorus to win out over musicianship.  With its Scandinavian bent and a strong focus on backing harmonies, it would be fair to say if you’ve always enjoyed Talisman (and in particular, their debut record), there’s more than a chance you’ll love this.  Similarly, ‘Our World, Our Time’ features some more memorable melodies and a stronger hook, strung together with some lovely guitar work in both the lead and rhythm departments. The staccato rhythms which sit in the backseat are particularly pleasing, although not entirely original. If you can make it past the unashamedly cheesy lyrical content, it’s another stand-out.

‘Because of You’ comes with more choppy riffing, creating a tune on which the band sound very assured.  It may have a great tune, but sadly, the vocal just doesn’t sit quite right. Hurme’s lead voice is just a little too full on for what’s essentially a bouncy affair: his long notes are too overbearing for the job in hand.  That’s a shame, since he doesn’t always attack his material quite so aggressively – ‘Our World…’ came with a suitably restrained performance, after all.  ‘Some Things Are Never Long Time Ago’ [sic] has a great intro utilising some decent hard rock guitar chops, overlaid with some equally effective keyboard, presented highly in the mix.  To be fair, throughout this number, Jori Tojander’s choice of keyboard sound is spot on – very 80s – albeit often played in a blanket style arrangement as opposed to classic AOR stabbing.  Once again, the band present a more than reasonable chorus to back up the musical goodness, but the shining moment comes from a twin lead guitar solo, with just enough flashy techniques to sound impressive without being overdone.

‘She Talks To Angels’ is a sappy ballad where, once again, Hurme could be accused of oversinging. Human Temple fare far better when they keep things upbeat and punchy; once they slow down, things just get too syrupy.  While Hurme is a great rock vocalist, he just doesn’t seem to have the right kind of voice for the slower stuff.   The fact that this track is dragged out for over six minutes doesn’t help its potential weakness, varying vary little from the musical motifs it presents during the first verse.  Aside from that, the track features a few enjoyable lead guitar parts – with plenty of vibrato – so it’s not quite a dead loss, but you’ll certainly find far more enjoyable material scattered elsewhere throughout this disc.

Joining the band’s self written material is an oddly chosen cover tune.  With potential for being an outright disaster, Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 hit ‘Little Lies’ turns out surprisingly well moulded into Human Temple’s hard rock blueprint.  Despite the hard rock guitars, this tune is recognisable from the off thanks to Tojander reproducing the keyboard line faithfully, albeit with an unsubtle 80s rock sound.  Hurme’s curly lead voice does its best to pull emotion from the original lyric and although he oversings a tad (again), it’s a reasonable performance on a track which really shouldn’t work in this format.  Maybe the fact that it works at all is tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s gift for writing timeless songs…or maybe it was dumb luck.  Naturally, none of this Finnish band’s chutzpah makes up for either Fleetwood Mac or Lindsey Buckingham’s level of finesse, but all the same, it’s quite fun.

You certainly won’t find any surprises on this album (save for perhaps the audacity of tackling the Fleetwood), but more often than not, what Human Temple do, they do very well within their chosen sub-genre of (very) Scandinavian hard rock.  In fact, it’s fair to say that if you’re undemanding and have a liking of old-school arrangements, this is a band which ought to be on your radar, assuming they aren’t already.

February 2012