Life Among the Ruins Hero - Immortal (Retroactive Records) 2009

1. "Immortal" (4:45)
2. "Blood Red Roses" (4:48)
3. "R.I.P." (4:50)
4. "Punch in the Face" (5:57)
5. "Imagine This" (4:20)
6. "Gasoline" (3:47)
7. "Funeral of Death" (5:45)
8. "When November Falls" (3:57)
9. "Rock the World" (3:43)
10. "Immortal We Are" [Outro] " (1:19)

Hero are a heavy metal, power trio from the metallic lands of Sweden. Their sophomore CD showcases a melodic metal band that offers a variety of influences in their sound including a mixture of slow to up-tempo songs, sweeping melodies, heavy guitar riffs, epic keyboards, some ambient ballads and even a slight gothic influence. 

The opening title track is the perfect example of this blend of styles. This particular song is upbeat and progressive but retains a somber, dark and gothic tone. "Blood Red Roses" takes the tempo down a bit but retains the progressive song writing as well as that somber mood. This track in particular reminds me a bit of bands like Evergrey and perhaps fellow Swedes, Veni Domine. A song titled "Punch in the Face" sounds like it should be a fast heavy number with a lot of attitude. Indeed the attitude is there, but this song is quite melodic and almost melancholy. An odd name for a song of this nature. "Gasoline" has a more modern metal feel to it, and reminds me of modern Ozzy or perhaps Black Label Society, complete with Zakk Wylde guitar squeals and a radio friendly chorus. 

The band's vocalist, Michael Hero (Michael Hjelte), has a deep, somber, baritone voice that is melodic and helps give the album it's gothic overtones. His vocals on some tracks, such as "Punch in the Face" and especially "Funeral of Death" are great examples of this. As well, the ballads, "Imagine This" and ""When November Falls" are comprised of mostly acoustic guitars, keyboards and Hero's somber vocals. These two songs really allows Michael to showcase his vocal talents. 

Despite the overall somber mood of this CD, the band has included a song titled "Rock the World" which stands in stark contrast to the rest of the album. This particular song has lyrics that sound as if they would have come off a Stryper or Leviticus record from the early 1980's. The song itself replaces the somber gothic sound for something that is quite "happy" and sounds like a combination of both Stryper and Leviticus. While the upbeat song has that Stryper feel, the lower register vocals reminds me of those early Leviticus records. 

I must also give this band kudos for not overdoing this record. Many of today's bands like to cram fifteen or more songs on a new release. Many times it becomes a chore to listen to an album of this length from beginning to end. With the ten tracks included here, the listener is left wanting more, which is a great way to get people coming back for more, rather than leaving them bored. Hero's "Immortal" is a solid record of melodic, somber heavy metal and a welcome addition to Retroactive Record's growing catalog of artists.

Afterlife Hero - Afterlife (Retroactive) 2013

1.   Now Tears Are Falling (4:48)
2.   My Heart Is Bleeding (4:40)
3.   Afterlife (6:13)
4.   Left Behind (5:07)
5.   Destination Graceland (4:51)
6.   Beautiful (4:52)
7.   The Dark (5:28)
8.   My Heroic (5:06)
9.   When We Die (5:00)
10. When Afterlife Begins (1:57)

Sweden’s Hero return with a new album after a nearly four year absence. "Afterlife" is a dark, melodic, gothic metal album that falls somewhere between the melodic heavy metal of bands like Pretty Maids and the gothic rock of Saviour Machine. Musically the songs are mostly mid-tempo to slow and are built around crunchy guitars, ominous keys and driving drum beats. Songs such as opener "Now Tears Are Falling" and "When We Die" are straight-forward heavy metal rockers. Others songs such as "Left Behind" and "The Dark" have more progressive tendencies and are dark and moody. Both "Left Behind" and "The Dark" features some harsher vocals that add a more aggressive nature to the songs. 

For the most part, Michael Hero's vocals are clean and offset the music giving the album it's overall dark and morsose sound. Michael has a deep, somber voice that sometimes sounds flat and seems off-putting to the music. However, it is definitely his voice that gives the music it's gothic feel. 

Unlike more extreme styles of metal such as thrash, death metal or even traditional heavy metal, which can sometimes benefit from raw, harsh and or loose production qualities, Hero's style of melodic heavy metal requires a tight, heavy sound. Unfortunately the production on "Afterlife" is a little thin, though it's certainly not so poor as to make the album unlistenable. A beefier production would have just made it more enjoyable. 

"Afterlife" is a natural progression from the band's last album, "Immortal". Fans of Christian bands like Saviour Machine and Veni Domine will probably also enjoy Hero. 

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