GOTTHARD – DOMINO EFFECT (NUCLEAR BLAST 2007)

REVIEW BY KASSU KORTELAINEN / AUGUST 2007

Strangely enough, swiss rock outfit Gotthard have remained quite unknown outside their home turf, where they contrastingly have built a massive following of fans. What makes this even more odd is the fact that during their 14-year career, Gotthard has never issued a bad album.

Sure, some of their albums have been stronger than others, but even the weakest of the bunch contain at least a couple of totally killer tunes. Since their awesome ’92 self-titled debut, Gotthard has both remained true to their classic hard rock style and at the same time evolved their songwriting to offer new nuances and ideas on each new release.

Gotthard excels in coming up with songs that are catchy, hook-filled and sometimes even very simply-structured yet ingeniously addictive. Especially the songwriting nexus of guitarist Leo Leoni and vocalist Steve Lee have always been masters in the art of creating shamelessly addictive rockers and beautifully melodic ballads, rich with recognizable Gotthard flavour. A flavour that gets it’s final touch with Lee’s amazing voice – we’re talkng about one of the best hard rock voices on the globe here, folks. Just check it out yourself if you won’t take my word for it.

Any fan of melodic hard rock who hasn’t heard the band before has a good chance to get hooked for good after a first dose of Gotthard’s music. And those of us who have already discovered the band have learned to hold big expectations for anything new they’re about to release. As was the case with their brand new album, entitled Domino Effect.

With Domino Effect, Gotthard faces a situation that’s even tougher than usually; their previous studio album Lipservice (2005) was among the best of their career, and last year saw the release of an excellent CD+DVD live slab Made In Switzerland – one of the definite best live DVD’s of last few years. So, burdened with high expectations, Domino Effect’s got a lot to prove.

Luckily, the expectations are rather well met. The new album has all the familiar Gotthard elements from touching ballads to steaming rockers. And constisting of a whopping fifteen songs, there’s a lot to choose from. The album wouldn’t have suffered from dropping of a couple of more indifferent tracks, but on the other hand all the songs clock around three or four minutes in length so there shouldn’t be any fear of getting bored with the lesser tracks between the better ones.

As far as the style goes, Domino Effect blends in elements from Gotthard’s softer early 2000’s albums (i.e. Human Zoo and Homerun) and the hard-edged rock structure of their early releases, and most recently the previous studio offering ‘Lipservice’. The balance is good and thus the album offers something for fans of both aspects of the band.

As for the moodier Gotthard, the group’s knack for writing fine melodies has always produced top notch ballads and this tradition lives on strong on Domino Effect as well. To lift up a couple of examples – Leo Leoni penned ‘Falling’ is reminiscent of the beautiful ‘Janie’s Not Alone’ from Human Zoo due to the inclusion of longingly weeping violin. ‘The Call’ on the other hand is constructed around a sorrowful, lonely guitar melody and a chorus that lets Steve Lee show his forte in delivering emotional pieces such as this one.

As the ballads work, so do the rockers. Sharply titled ‘The Oscar Goes To…’ offers another example of Gotthard’s catchy choruses. So does the album opener ‘Master Of Illusion’ that in addition to hefty riffs features a pre-chorus guitar break that’s brilliant in it’s sudden appereance. Album’s namesake track on the other hand is a good example of the collaboration of the whole group; The song plods onward with seamless work of guitarists Leoni and Freddy Scherer, pauses momentarily to give room for drummer Hena Habegger and bassist Marc Lynn before reverts back to the interacting guitars, all along letting Lee paint the atmosphere of the lyrics with his soulful singing… and soon it all leads into a… you guessed it… another addictive chorus.

Overall Domino Effect didn’t hit me quite as hard as it’s predecessor Lipservice, but after more spins the different shades of the songs started to surface. There’s a lot to discover; Whether it’s the voicebox on whitesnake-sque ‘Bad To The Bone’, the surprising presence of an accordion on ‘Where Is Love When It’s Gone’ or the almost annoying but still perfectly fitting funky backing vocals on ‘Come Alive’.

Like said before, some songs are a bit mediocre on Gotthard scale, but the better songs more than make up for this. The band works like a well-oiled hard rock machine, especially the inventive playing and sharing of duties by Leoni & Scherer offers many enjoyable moments and once again Steve Lee shines at the microphone. His voice has gained a certain slight roughness over the years, but especially on the emotional sections of the ballads it only emphasizes their effect.

If melodic hard rock with great musicianship, bombastic choruses, and more hooks than you can count is your thing, be sure to give Gotthard a go. There are some true ten out of ten score albums in their discography, and though Domino Effect doesn’t quite reach that high it definitely is another sure bet to place your money on.

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gotthard

1. Master Of Illusion
2. Gone Too Far
3. Domino Effect
4. Falling
5. The Call
6. The Oscar Goes To…
7. The Cruiser (Judgement Day)
8. Heal Me
9. Letter To A Friend
10. Tomorrow’s Just Begun
11. Come Alive
12. Bad To The Bone
13. Now
14. Where Is Love When It’s Gone
15. Can’t Be The Real Thing (digipack bonus)

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About Kassu Kortelainen