By Lesley Macdonald

Every band just needs that break, and female fronted hard-rockers Hearts & Hand Grenades got theirs from none other than the Goo Goo Dolls. After playing the same kids telethon event, they ended up with a recommendation from ‘Dolls bassist Robby Takac and a debut album produced by Justin Rose (GCR Audio). Not a bad night’s work…

Hailing, of course from Buffalo, New York, the band started out playing covers. However, it’s clear that they impressed Robby and took his initial advice to heart. “Go and make some original music.” he said. So, they did… since forming Hearts & Hand Grenades they have released no less than three EP’s in a year and a half: ‘Wait’ in July 2019, ‘Nothing Left’ in December 2019 and ‘Adrenaline’ in May 2020 which contains four of the tracks from the full-length LP.

The artwork on full length offering ‘Turning to Ashes’ is eye-catching. A woman walks towards you, strong and beautiful, literally on fire, but she’s gradually disintegrating into ashes. It typifies what Hearts and Hand Grenades are about. Songs that touch you enough to evoke emotion but that also have a hard edge.

The title song is likely to strike at the heart of a lot of people’s insecurities. About feeling like there’s something about you that just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world, it’s not hard to identify with. Everyone must have felt like this at some point in their lives, especially the younger generations who are constantly told they can be ‘anything they want to be’, even if they can’t. If these aren’t promises that are destined to crash and burn, I’m not sure what are and we watch, helpless as so many fall to pieces when they realise there’s too much choice and little direction. Where do they belong?

Although ‘Turning to Ashes’ has a poignant message, it is musically quite uninspiring and I’m left feeling like I am waiting for the band to let go. Perhaps this is a track aimed at the mainstream. It’s plainly rhythmic with a little bit of an edge but not too much. It’s cleanly produced and lacking the roughness and swagger that you feel should be there when you see vocalist/bassist Stephanie Wlolinski appear in the video looking punked out and covered in tattoos.

Fortunately, ‘For The Weakened’ is meatier from the start, more metal than mainstream with a melodic break in the middle to mix things up a bit. About encouraging attitudes that are the antithesis of fascism, it incites you to raise your fists together and hail unity in diversity. Here Stephanie’s vocal skill is clear and her tone has a bit more of a rasp which I like. She cites Muse as one of her influences and would love to support them one day and you can hear their influence in the anthemic style.

‘Daggers’ carries the new energy forward. Interspersed with lead solos from guitarist, and seventh-degree black belt, Mike Bress, it’s a story about a toxic relationship. Both sides want each other but being together causes too much pain. Something’s got to give. The rasp is back and it gives the track an authentic live feel. ‘I Hide’ is reminiscent in part of 80’s rock with a hard-edged riff and ‘Adrenaline’ is of course about playing live, ‘chasing highs and living wild’. It has an epic false finish in the middle, but the high continues as ‘Nothing Left’ is one of my favourites. Fast paced and raw, Stephanie turns the gain up on the aggression and Bress takes you on a journey with his solos before we return to the punk influenced loose bass rhythm. For me this is where it all comes together for Hearts and Hand Grenades. It is an exciting sound that I’d love to hear live.

Yet just when I think I’ve got Hearts & Hand Grenades down, ‘The In Crowd’ delivers a plot twist that I didn’t expect. There are two sides to this song as it undulates between slow, languid swing and flat-out rock. This apparently represents the two faces of the assassins that form the exclusive in crowd. Sounds like every day at high school to me!  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this on the first few listens but the single is definitely a demonstration of how diverse the band can be. So much for the safe intro.

The last track, well last bar a random clean edit of ‘Nothing Left’ is ‘My Sickness’. Wonderfully produced, it sounds amazing. Ruminative and ominous, it builds to a crescendo which would have been a nice finisher for the album.

Overall, I’m left feeling pleasantly surprised. Hearts & Hand Grenades are clearly a hard-working, modern hard-rock band with a melodic edge that could easily propel them to mainstream success. They’ve taken that break and run like hell with it. It’s hard to believe they started out playing covers not so long ago. ‘Turning To Ashes’ is a solid first album. I look forward to hearing what more they’re capable of.

  • ‘Turning To Ashes’ is released on Friday (8 January). You can get your copy HERE.

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