It may be because they come from Bergen, Norway, rather than anywhere near the Sunset Strip, but AUDREY HORNE have never quite hit the heights that their music seems to demand. Even back on early albums like “Le Fol” (2017) and the Norwegians’ superb self-titled record (2010), they were writing ridiculously memorable and exhilarating hard rock bangers at such an alarming rate that world domination seemed inevitable. A decade or so later, “Devil’s Bell” is yet another album full of songs that deserve to be heard by absolutely fucking everybody, preferably at full blast through a car radio. Maybe this time, the world will pay attention.
AUDREY HORNE are perfectly successful in their own right, of course. Having been so consistent over the years, they are a respected, well-established cornerstone of European hard rock. And yet, “Devil’s Bell” provides a timely reminder that they are a band with certain unique charms, too. Firstly, frontman Toschie has a glorious, distinctive voice: he swaggers and soars his way through these nine songs, exuding mischief and conviction in equal amounts. Secondly, AUDREY HORNE are absolute masters of the audacious classic rock hybrid. These songs borrow from all manner of cherished sources — from CHEAP TRICK, KISS and VAN HALEN, to METALLICA, IRON MAIDEN and ALICE IN CHAINS — but the end result is always something else entirely.
The sheer diversity of the thing is laudable in itself. Opening salvo “Ashes to Ashes” verges on outrageous, as it switches seamlessly from anthemic ’80s vibes to twisted, post-grunge dirge, while also boasting a chorus big enough to flatten a cathedral. Faster and grittier, “Animal” is a high octane, speed metal sing-along, infectious gang vocals included; “Break Out” goes full ’80s OZZY, replete with meandering, psychedelic middle-eight; “Return To Grave Valley” is a rampant, ingenious instrumental with guitarists Ice Dale and Thomas Tofthagen on spectacular form.
Toschie returns in a boisterous mood on “Dance Macabre” — an organ-drenched boogie rock extravaganza with a blissfully uplifting chorus — and the MAIDEN-saluting fire ‘n’ fury of the title track, which may be AUDREY HORNE‘s finest single moment to date. Diving further into epic metal territory than ever before, the steady gallop of “All Is Lost” is another standout, while “Toxic Twins” turns the tables once again, via the kind of strutting, punked-up rock ‘n’ roll that the Scandinavians seem to do better than anyone. “Devil’s Bell” concludes with “From Darkness”: a seven-minute labyrinth of street-metal riffing, woozy vocal harmonies and grandiose, hallucinatory detours. It is a startling and unexpected moment on an album that is full of such things. This is classic rock, but AUDREY HORNE style. In many ways, it’s better than the real thing.