If this review was a red-top headline, it would read something like: “Frontiers Music unearth another stunna…”, but the Italian label have Jeff Scott Soto to thank for pushing Animal Drive in their direction. Vocalist and main songwriter for the young Croatian band, Dino Jelusic, was hand picked by the much missed Paul O’Neill as a featured vocalist for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Paths cross with Soto and bingo bango, the big guy introduces Animal Drive to Frontiers. The rest, as they say, is history.
The label is Frontiers Music, so you should not be expecting melodeath, metalcore, black metal or anything extreme. It’s hard rock, baby, fronted by a fresh-faced vocalist with a voice that belies his age. Lord Coverdale of Whitesnake might be the obvious comparison, but I’ll be damned if Jelusic doesn’t remind me of a young Eric Martin from Mr. Big. Jelusic has that same combination of steel and fragility, melody and confidence, that Martin has exuded for decades. Musically, there are shades of Skid Row, but without the high-pitched range of Sebastian Bach. There are lots of bands in there from the golden era of hard rock, but don’t go getting the idea that Animal Drive are a retro act. ‘Bite!’ manages to navigate the tricky waters of taking inspiration from 80/90’s hard rock and making it sound fresh and relevant. The intro to opener ‘Goddam Marathon’ couldn’t be more steeped in Whitesnake folklore even if it screamed, “Here’s a song for ya…”, but then it steamrollers into a bass-heavy, crushing riff-fest of a track that doesn’t forget the all important hooks. Pair this with a pounding bass drum display from Adrian Boric, and it makes for the perfect album opener. Jelusic has a powerful set of pipes on him, and it’s easy to see why O’Neill and Soto were so impressed. He might still get asked for ID in his local boozer, but he can sing.
‘Tower Of Lies (I Walk Alone)’ is a perfect slice of modern hard rock fraternising with metal, whereas ‘Had Enough’ goes the whole hog and puts out. It’s catchy enough to have metalheads singing along sneakily, and not so heavy that people will turn off. With a title like ‘Hands Of Time’, you know what you are going to get… a slow-burning arena anthem that builds to a towering chorus, evoking many memories of both Eric Martin and David Coverdale. Even on the heavier moments, like ‘Lights Of The Damned’, ‘Time Machine’ and the stonking ‘Devil Took My Beer Again’, Jelusic doesn’t forget about the melodies or the hooks. He knows what makes a song tick, and every component works in perfect unison with the others. Throw in a chunky Hammond organ and Rival Sons-sized fuzzy riffs on the latter, and the end result is very memorable. I could live without the keyboard intro on ‘Deliver Me’ though. It’s a minor grumble that doesn’t harm the album at all, I’m just not a fan. Where are the ballads? Well that would be ‘Father’ and ‘Carry On’ then… heartfelt and memorable, without being a cheese-fest.
It makes a pleasant change for Croatia to be in the foreground for something other than Game Of Thrones sets, and the guys from Zagreb have produced a debut album of stunning quality.
Available now through Frontiers Music. More information here.