Santa Cruz – The Return of the Kings (M-Theory Audio)

Friday, 26th August 2022
Rating: 8 / 10

Sometimes bad press can pay dividends to establishing the brand of a band. Earlier this year, Finnish hard rock / metal band Santa Cruz made viral waves over a Whiskey-A-Go-Go show where the band was heavily criticized for backing tracks that didn’t mirror staying in time with the live music action. Now choosing to be authentic and ‘live’ going forward, will this awareness parlay stronger interest in the fifth studio album The Return of the Kings? Vocalist/guitarist Arttu ‘Arche Cruz’ Kuosmanen is the sole original member still standing – surrounded by three new bandmates, so it’s a pivotal point in continuing momentum, hopefully upward and onward, into the best direction for the group.

Diversity has been a staple of the Santa Cruz sound/style – intertwining songs that have a heavier, primal flavor with chunkier riffs, dirtier sonic perspectives, and fierce vocals, plus more straight forward efforts that can lean on some of those AOR/melodic hard rock aspects from the past. Opener “Here Comes the Revolution” provides that easy headbanging start, the lead break energetic with speedy shred/tapping action while the main vocals / gang background work crosses those sleaze/metal platforms. Meanwhile the uplifting keyboard supplementation to major chord choices plus lower register verse work/ harmony extensions take “Disarm” into the possibility of a commercial radio hit – if corporate radio would give a current band a chance as they used to in the 80’s and 90’s. The occasional distant vocal effects during “Standing My Ground” along with the jagged guitars make this cut a bit more modern in approach, while the rhythm swing and pulsation to “Gunshot” takes elements of Ratt and Aerosmith circa the late 80’s/early 90’s to make for an engaging mid-tempo party anthem. The players surrounding Archie embellish and enhance the main hooks professionally – knowing when to rise to the occasion through key transitions that tear the roof off any establishment, as you get an early Ozzy-like blitzkrieg on the guitar/drumming front for “Under the Gun” all the way to a quick hitting “Stay” closer that seesaws between power punk and melodic metal measures for both the musical and vocal deliveries.

The Return of the Kings will not disappoint those already familiar with the discography of Santa Cruz – and should bring a few more newcomers to the fold, especially if you like down and dirty melodic hard rock with that right angst and attitude.

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