GIANT – Shifting Time

There’s no debating the fact that the first two Giant albums are genre classics. 1989’s ‘Last of The Runaways’ set out the band’s stall with some massive choruses and equally massive guitar parts, and it’s lesser appreciated follow up – 1992’s ‘Time To Burn’ – showed how truly great melodic rock could stand firm against a shifting musical tide. Tracks like ‘Stay’ and ‘Save Me Tonight’ cemented Giant’s contribution to the AOR cause, and Dann Huff’s guitar work, as always, sounded terrific. An unexpected comeback in 2001 resulted in the ‘Giant III’ album, which was an enjoyable affair, but not on the same level as the band’s original work. In many ways, that’s where the Giant story should have ended. However, the name was revived in the late noughties, and an album release (‘Promised Land’, featuring Strangeways vocalist Terry Brock), appeared in 2010. On the surface, there were some enjoyable tunes, but in truth, it suggested that there’s no real Giant without Dann’s distinctive guitar tone and vocal presence taking the lead.

…And the same goes for their 2022 release, ‘Shifting Time’. Now with Swedish vocalist Kent Hilli on board, the band rises once more, but in so many ways is Giant in name only. Kent’s abilities are without question, but his slightly louder presence in the vocal department makes the bulk of the album feel more like a second division Euro affair than a true Giant recording. Dann Huff actually makes a guest appearance this time around, but by and large, this feels so much like Hilli’s album. With that in mind, it’s such a shame that a change in band name could be seen as viable. Without an obviously superior past hanging over it, so much of this material would be allowed to be approached more fairly. On their own merits, a lot of the songs are actually very good indeed.

Lead single ‘Let Our Love Win’ pushes forth with a driving riff, and although John Roth’s guitar tone comes across as sounding almost as if sourced from a demo, the riff itself is great – there are ghosts of the heavier moments of ‘Last of The Runaways’ and his playing has a real spirit – very much creating the backbone of solid, very retro sounding hard rock. Hilli’s voice attacks the tune with just as much enthusiasm as he chews through the speed driven verse at full pelt. The chorus takes a little adjustment, however; instead of dropping into something huge and melodic (as per ‘I’m A Believer’ or ‘Innocent Days’, for example), everything shifts into a massive pomp, where rising vocal melodies sound more akin to a bloated Jim Peterik project. There’s nothing wrong with the vocal itself, of Hilli’s handling thereof, but it really jars from a purely melodic angle, almost as if dropped in from another tune. Once you get used to that, of course, it presents a solid opening number, which more than paves the way for the best moments of the next forty minutes. Likewise, ‘Never Die Young’ offers another strong riff – one that appears to recycle classic Giant; unsurprising since it’s the only track to feature Dann – and utilises a decent vocal throughout. Its combination of clean toned guitars on parts of the verse coupled with a very old school AOR melody pushes a lot of the right buttons, which for some listeners will be enough alone to make it work. With some timeless melodic rock traits firmly in place, a more obvious chorus hook would’ve been nice, but the vague lack thereof is made up for by a cracking guitar solo, loaded with sweeping notes and – eventually – a quick burst of fretboard melting that could hold up against a lot of the Euro melodic rock. And although that’s all good in its own way, it’s could actually be an issue for the over-critical: although the opening riff sounds rather Giant-esque, the rest of what follows could honestly be almost any number of bands on the Frontiers label…

During ‘Don’t Say A Word’, Roth does a reasonable turn with some soaring guitar sounds, Hilli pulls out some unashamed “whoahs”, and there are some top tier harmonies. Ultimately, that presents a lot of ingredients for fine AOR, and on this track especially, Kent sounds particularly comfortable and the Giant rhythm section lock down a solid groove throughout. With the volume cranked, even the fudgy production values can’t spoil this number, and by the time the chorus rolls around for the second time, it feels like something you’ve always known. The same goes for ‘The Price of Love’, which shoehorns a couple of Giant-esque traits into more solid AOR fare with Hilli truly believing he’s been handed the job of a lifetime. ‘Standing Tall’ presents a darker, more groove-laden riff which, in places, has a little more in common with the Terry Ilous project Land of Gypsies. These four minutes show how well this line up of the band works together – regardless of style – with Hilli reaching for higher registers with ease, and David Huff dropping a heavy beat throughout. The highlight of this vaguely bluesy workout definitely comes from Roth, whose featured solo is one of those great examples of how to fill a few bars quickly and effectively, always valuing melody over flash. Without wishing to labour a point, you’d never recognise this as Giant, but if you’re happy to accept it at face value, you’ll have a blast.

Elsewhere, ‘Anna Lee’ calls back to the early 90s with a huge ballad that scores highly in the harmony stakes, ‘I Walk Alone’ taps into some massive Euro derived cheese that’s closer to a Matti Alfonzetti project than classic Giant, and the moody traits of ‘Highway of Love’ could’ve easily been pulled from Europe’s later work, despite the vaguest of nods to ‘Time To Burn’ era Giant during the chorus. As before, the less demanding rock fan will certainly enjoy it on face value. ‘My Breath Away’, meanwhile, brandishes the kind of riffs that, back in the day, would’ve anchored a tune called ‘Don’t Walk Away’ with Mike Brignardello audibly pumping his strings whilst Roth drops in a few ringing tones as a great musical counterpoint. It all comes to life for the chorus with Hilli steering everyone through a tune that could’ve been on loan from Stardust or Lionville – all good AOR, even if sounding a little by numbers in its execution.

Despite some good material, it’s really hard to get past the elephant in the room here. Brignardello and David Huff are very much obviously trading off past glories and a semi-bankable band name, and Frontiers Records – obviously knowing their audience – are very much complicit in encouraging them to do so. You can’t really blame Dann for choosing not to be too involved, of course – his career writing for, and producing, other artists is far more lucrative than churning out melodic rock purely for a nostalgia trip could ever be. With all that said, even if it is barely distinguishable from about three dozen other discs from the Frontiers production line between 2017-21, what this album does, it does very well. With a half dozen solid rockers and a couple more entertaining tracks to be found along the way, it’ll more than entertain a large number of devoted AOR fans, even if it never reaches the heights of the original band at their best.

January 2022