Review written by Jewels the Rock Hobbyt.
Word on the street is that Kelen Heller have released their debut album! On March 24th 2017, the South Carolina-based hard rock band unleashed what has been a long time coming: many years of hard work and dedication, and an unparalleled drive to complete and deliver a sonic surprise of a rock and roll record. As quoted by vocalist Ricky Shuler, “It’s been literally blood, sweat, and hair caught in Efrum’s headstock! We’ve been through so much and it’s all worth it!”
Formed in 2009, Kelen Heller have since released two EPs, including their well-known 2013 release, LTD, produced by platinum-selling producer Rick Beato. They have toured nationally with bands such as Saliva, Sevendust, Halestorm, Guns N’ Roses, among many others. In 2015, Kelen Heller returned to the studio with Beato to complete their first full-length self-titled release.
The album art displays a large antique mirror in an icy tundra atmosphere, with a woman’s reflection leaning into the glass, listening. Described by the band’s guitarist, Efrum, “Who’s in the mirror is anyone who represents life, and being trapped by whatever makes your heart heavy. They’re anyone who feels caged with a personal battle, softly leaning in to listen to the music coming from the other side.”
Let’s delve into the interior.
The first track, “Home,” launches and lures the listener into another world; an aggressive, yet inspiring setting with an “in-your-face” presence that is created by a driving powerhouse combination of heavy guitar hooks and rock solid, dynamic bass and drums. It is accompanied by melodious lead vocals and harmonies, and mysterious, intriguing keyboard expressions. What would rock and roll be without a guitar solo? Exactly. To make it quite clear and simple: if this is what you’ve been missing in your life from your modern rock radio routine, then look no further. (First and foremost, cease filling the void with mainstream, and look within your local and regional scene, but I digress.) “Home” certainly sets the tone for the record, giving the listener an uplifting feeling, a sense of hope, but this is only the beginning.
Standout lyric: “The anger flows down,
deep into obscenity,
but what we know now
was given so you all could see.”
Up next is the well-received fan favorite, “Never Lived,” a song of self-reflection and making a choice. Opening with the familiar hook which echoes and grows louder until blasting into a grinding, edgy groove that twists and turns, it is an audible sensation that simulates escapism. In simpler terms, it is certainly the ideal driving song, however the literal feeling of the song reflects the message within.
Standout lyric: “The damage it brings of leaving everyone behind
will lead to a thoughtless erasing of all that still remains.”
The third song on the album, titled “Cut Me,” holds a special place in my heart. This one is for the outcasts. The lyrics themselves feel like a mirror; eloquently translating the inner thoughts and feelings of being different from society, not being accepted or understood by the norm, dealing with the hatred and oppression, and rising above it.
Standout lyric: “It’s always pulling me, I’m caught in the undertow,
Anchored to me, no way of letting go,
Numb to the games you play,
Dumb from the world we know,
White-picket-dreams from the static glow.”
Another illustrious fan-favorite, “So Deserving,” resonates throughout with its promiment, catchy hooks and chunky guitar riffs, yet it is laden with easter egg-like qualities. Additional psychedelic-esque keyboards can be heard in the introduction to the song as well as interlaced throughout. The lyrics speak for themselves; a theme tapping into loss, being haunted by the past, hopelessness, uncertainity, frustration, and individuality. Collectively, it embodies life experiences and the unknown, which fluently blends with the succeeding track.
Standout lyric: “Still in the depths of my own misfortune,
stuck in the past that I hide,
and yet the light shining through distortion,
is just a shout from the other side.”
“The Answer” feels like the metaphorical answer to “So Deserving,” heavily touching on the topics of keeping the faith, controlling negative emotions, staying the course, and ultimately taking the reins of your own life. The track sonically blazes, dips, and dives with a fusion of heavy and light; the hefty guitar, bass, and drums mixed with the striking keyboard accompaniment, all strung together with a compelling vocal performance.
Standout lyric: “Slow down, don’t let the anger feed,
It doesn’t have to be that way.
No doubt – you’re looking for the answer,
We’re only guaranteed today.”
“Burn It All” continues this notion, both musically and lyrically (Nobody knows the way it feels/They couldn’t even describe…). Brooding, ominous riffs, acompanied by anthem-rock rhythms intertwined with infectious vocals and harmonies give this track all the right ingredients, as well as a brilliant lead to its successor.
Standout lyric: “Take everything from your darkest night,
That overshadows the day,
If nothing else can bring you back,
There’s nothing left to say.”
“All For Nothing” has an undeniable groove that can be heard throughout, dancing about within the phrases of a darker, melancholic tone and tranquil mood. Highlighted with mystical piano melodies and a soaring guitar solo, it gracefully falls into place with the timeline of the album. The music in and of itself is poetic, making the lyrics like icing to the cake. (Leaving this one open for interpretation, comment below what you, the reader, think the lyrics to “All For Nothing” are really about.)
Standout lyric: “Carry out the plan that you’ve made,
don’t ever get the feeling that the force is too great,
when you get to the other side
you can see a lot better when you open your eyes.”
“Without the Pain” is a song about losing a loved one; the pain, heartache, grief, and experiences that follow, and learning how to carry on and rise above.
It is a dynamic, well-celebrated song amongst Kelen Heller fans for its inspiring lyrics in which many feel that they can relate. Its notable call-and-response chorus relishes in the idea that the pain is what shapes us into the individuals we have become.
Standout lyric: “Without the pain I would not have been around,
In need of keeping sanity from now until I’m found.”
“Your Kingdom Awaits” is without a doubt the heaviest track with the fastest tempo and the most obscure characteristics, both which are evident from the eerie synth introduction and the song’s immediate blast-off thereafter. Heavy, pulsating guitar riffs, intense double bass, enchanting harmonies, and some of the most intense lyrics present on the disc.
Standout lyric: “No worry, you’ll never have to leave and take it all alone,
The Gift was given from the day you gave your soul.”
“Nothing Ever Breaks” gleams with optimism through and through, portraying the sunshine after the storm. An upbeat, feel-good approach with auxillary percussion present, but still a heavy hitter all the same, the song speaks for itself: “Nothing ever breaks all the way.” No matter what we go through, we must never give up and keep pressing onward.
Standout lyric: “So strong could it be enough to make you bend,
Don’t know when you’re gonna see the sun again.”
“The End” finalizes the record in the most positive way possible. An incredibly heavy track in all regards, it gives the listener a taste of all of the emotions and feelings heard and felt whilst experiencing the album as a whole. The conclusion leaves one with much to internalize, a positive perspective on life in general, and the excruciating urge to press play and begin again.
Standout lyric: “It’s over now as you walk away, with no regrets ’cause soon there are better days.”
Most of the songs’ messages are self-explanatory, but at the same time, it’s best to listen with your heart instead of your ears to truly understand the context. With that being said, music touches everyone’s hearts differently; we are all living a different story, therefore song lyrics are interpreted in a diverse number of ways. My interpretation of the album’s content may not be the same as yours, so I highly encourage any and every reader of this review to take a listen for themselves.
To purchase Kelen Heller’s debut album visit the following link:
(Also available on iTunes and Amazon)
For more information on Kelen Heller: