Review: Nitrate – Renegade
AOR Heaven (July 30th 2021)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
Dynamic! That is the word that came to mind while listening to Nitrate’s ‘Renegade‘. The third album from this band finds them recruiting vocalist Alexander Strandell (Art Nation, Crowne) and Tom and James Martin (Vega) for rhythm guitar and keyboards, respectively, as well as production duties. All bands listed are highly regarded by me, so there was certainly the potential for something magical to happen here.
The album kicks off with lead single ‘Danger Zone’. The song starts out in a typically standard AOR fashion, certainly nothing groundbreaking, but then something happens with the chorus, and suddenly the song sounds MASSIVE! It’s like the vocal volume knobs were cranked to emphasize the bombast of the harmonies. Track 2, ‘Renegade’, does the exact same thing. Quiet, simple verses, followed by a BIG chorus.
With these two mid-tempo rockers, you have the template for this whole album. The rock tracks have verses with a basic rhythm that builds to a huge anthemic chorus. The verses are sonically quieter than the chorus to almost guarantee that the listener will sing along, like some type of Pavlov experiment. We can’t explain it, the sonics just compel us to sing with the band. This is certainly an interesting way to produce an album. If the volume of the chorus was maintained throughout the song, you run the risk of a “brick-walled” sound, which can diminish the strength and impact of a song.
With this approach and the undeniably catchy material the band has crafted, it’s not easy to pick a favorite song, as they all sound great. My favorite would have to be ‘Big City Nights’. Its chord progression and structure of the harmonies in the chorus just check off all the right boxes for me. The album has two ballads and while both are on par with the rockers, ‘Why Can’t You Feel My Love’ is the preferred one for me.
With all of these songs having big sonically charged choruses, that leads me to my only critique for the album, the song structure. All of the songs have the same paradigm (verse, bridge, chorus). Yes, that’s typical of most rock albums we listen to, but changes to the paradigm keep the album varied and unpredictable. For instance, Def Leppard’s “Hysteria”, which this album was heavily influenced by, has similar paradigms throughout. However, tracks like ‘Rocket’, ‘Gods of War’, and ‘Excitable’ would shake things up, either with sound effects or external sound recordings. When every song on an album is structured the same, what starts out as exciting at first listen soon turns to predictable towards the end. When mixed throughout a playlist, the songs stand out and are everything we love about the 80s big chorus sound. When played as an album, the songs gradually lose their luster.
Yes, it’s a contrived album, but the band does not shy away from this, stating they were influenced by late 80s hard rock bands and were purposefully trying to go for that sound. In today’s world of streaming platforms, listening to these songs sporadically will make each track stand out, as if each could have been a single. In that regard, the band succeeded in their goal. Every song is a melodic, harmonious treat that fans of AOR/MHR will surely want to possess. This will surely make people’s Top 10 lists for the year.