This is really hard for me. If one country has left an unprecedented mark on the international rock scene recently it’s Finland, mother to H.I.M., Nightwish, Apocalyptica, The Rasmus and many more. Scan the pages of the rock press and there’s a new one appearing every week. I feel the Finnish blood that runs through my own veins as I make beautiful rock music on my Les Paul and I feel proud, like a rock god in the making. However, Hangface are Norwegian and their debut album Freak Show seems to piss all over their fellow Scandinavians. It’s damn good in fact – but is that enough?
Feeling sceptical? Silly name Hangface, isn’t it? Let’s have a little look at why this could be something special. Hangface has been championed in the US by Freak Show producer Eddie Kramer. Now this guy has a serious CV as an engineer: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, KISS. Hell, he even worked on All You Need Is Love by the Beatles.
So you’d expect it to sound fantastic, and it does. On to the music itself, and it’s like stepping into a time warp. The nineties are barely underway, and I’m still 16. In this alternate reality, Hangface are up there with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Metallica and the Stone Temple Pilots, bathing in the ashes of Guns’n'Roses et al. There’s actually a cover of the Pilot’s Down on the album, and that’s damn good too.
So maybe a bit like Velvet Revolver? Not far off in places. Lead guitarist Tom Espen Pedersen has clearly worshipped at the church of Slash, especially in his soloing style and impressive riffage. There’s no coyness about showing off here, or about embracing the sillier trappings of dumb rock, as is clear from the wonderfully daft and angst-free cover art.
So on to the songs. The title track is a great slab of retro-rock complete with a cheesy voice-over in the bridge. There are a few nods to H.I.M. on Wait and on Northern Lights, but the enduring feel is definitely 20th, not 21st Century. Many of the tracks, especially Today, evoke the great King’s X, and for this type of music there are few higher compliments than that. The second half of the album isn’t quite as good as the first, which is a shame, and it’s here the problems start to show.
Freak Show sounds fantastic, with strong vocals, great air guitar potential and a huge dash of 90s nostalgia, but they sound so much like the great bands of the past that it’s almost hard to distinguish them apart. It’s like they lack an identity of their own. The Finnish artists listed at the top of this review all have something that makes them unique, whether it be Abba-esque pop rock, operatic singing, cello players or the whole ‘Love Metal’ thing. Hangface have given us a worthy debut, and they’ve got huge potential, but they’re not going to truly strike gold until they take their influences further and branch out into what makes them unique – and when they do, I’ll be waiting.