Album Review: Hatebreed – For the Lions

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For over a decade, Jamey Jasta has served as the unofficial mascot for the metalcore scene.The diminutive front-man for Connecticut’s Hatebreed is probably the most appreciative (and busy) singer/shouter in metal always giving props to the bands that inspired his transition from a small-town concert promoter to a popular musician and producer. On a side note, catching Hatebreed live is a trip. At last summer’s Montreal’s Heavy MTL festival, Jasta performed a very un-masculine high-kick during a bout of unbridled enthusiasm, quelling any cynicism that the band was anything but the real deal.

Formed in 1994 as a hardcore trash/punk band, Hatebreed’s sound has transitioned into a blend of hardcore and traditional metal, acknowledging their roots while pursuing the slightly more lucrative metal scene. While covers have always been a staple in their live shows, Hatebreed’s latest release, For the Lions (Koch Records) is a ‘gentle reproduction’ of songs that have inspired Jasta, guitarists Frank Novinec and Wayne Losinak, bassist Chris Beattie and drummer Matt Byrne.

The 18-track album (don’t worry – the old-school punk songs tend to be under 3 minutes) range from classics (Metallica’s “Escape”) to rarities (“Sick of Talk” by Negative Approach). Jasta recently told Revolver Magazine that because of their love for the originals songs and bands, they did not want to make too many radical changes and most of the time, that philosophy works. For the times it doesn’t, you can blame Hatebreed’s production quality.

When you are doing a cover of Black Flag’s “Thirsty and Miserable” a gritty, sarcastic song (and Jasta does a great job of replicating Henry Rollins’ primal yells), the feel of the song should just be a gritty as the original – it is a signature of the band. Instead, the cover feels like it is layered in velvet, the guitars are so well engineered that it softens the whole effect.

Yes I understand that this is a contemporary cover of a song that came out in 1981, and while Hatebreed’s albums all have that same shiny veneer, you are begging for them to give the rhythm section more knob-love. Turn it up! Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist” lacks the unbridled anguish that Max and Igor Cavalera’s had, turning an angry, punchy original into a standard rock track.

Jasta clearly has his favorites. On Crowbar’s “All I Had I Gave,” he puts a bit more “oomph” into his vocals, maybe because his side project, Kingdom of Sorrow includes his good friend, Crowbar singer Kirk Windstein. Same with the Cro-Mags “It’s the Limit” when he channels the spirit of frontman John Joseph to the hilt.

The standout track is one that Hatebreed has covered live numerous times, Madball’s “Set it Off,” a loud, punchy, New-York hardcore anthem in which you can feel the enthusiasm of the quintet through your speakers. Madball is a side project of Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret and Vinnie Stigma and Jasta, a good friend of the band, also does a pretty decent cover of “Your Mistake.”

Unfortunately, just because you love and / or were inspired by a song, doesn’t mean that you everyone else will. Judge’s “Hear Me” and Negative Approach’s “Sick of Talk” should not be on For the Lions. Simply just not catchy nor memorable and serve as an unfortunate indication that while Hatebreed has an impressive reputation for adoring their fans, these two tracks made the cut simply for nostalgia’s sake.

For the Lions serves as both a great opportunity for music critics to flex their musical knowledge and young punk and metal fans to listen to contemporary takes on some decent but rarely-heard songs from some pretty obscure bands. more importantly (if you are interested) you can get a good indication of the inspiration behind many of your favorite punk, metal and thrash bands.

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For the Lions