Hitten - Twist of Fate - (9.5/10)
Published on September 14, 2018
The Spaniards Take it All
A change in vocalist can make a big difference—for better or worse. Some changes in vocalist can take a band to new heights—think of Dream Theater with Charlie Dominici vs. Dream Theater with James Labrie. Other vocalist changes can take a band down a sad and lonely road—think Black Sabbath replacing Dio with Ian Gillan (or any other vocalist that isn’t him or Ozzy…). Other times, a replacement vocalist can be more of a lateral move. The best example of this (though some may disagree) is Iron Maiden’s switch from Di’Anno to Dickinson. You can argue until you’re blue in the face over which one is better, but it’s pretty undeniable that both produced fantastic recordings with Maiden.
For their third album, Hitten was faced with this problem—original vocalist Aitor Navarro’s tenure with the band ended after their 2016 album State of Shock. He fit in with the band very well, lending the band a gruffness and muscular edge—not dissimilar to what Di’Anno brought to Maiden. So with their 2018 record, and their replacement vocalist, Hitten had the opportunity to take their sound into the stratosphere or fall flat on their faces.
And just like Maiden, thankfully, they managed the latter.
Where Navarro was muscular, Alex Panza is majestic. He has a beautiful, screaming, high register voice that perfectly suits the change in sound that Hitten pull off on this album. Where before, Hitten was more concerned with pulling off the most blue collar, muscular 80’s heavy metal sound they could, they have now taken significant influence from more melodic heavy metal bands like Dio and Ozzy Osbourne’s solo groups and even some USPM sounding speed influence to become an even more compelling beast than they were before. The album brings to mind the cheesy side of the 80’s in a tasteful way—entertaining, high energy, towering choruses, makes you want to chug a beer and floor your Camaro down the freeway—that kind of stuff. There are also wonderful gang vocals in both the thrashier sense and the “echo the lead singer with effects soaked gang vocals” in the cheesefest 80’s way. Plus, there’s a song called “In the Heat of the Night.” Can you get much more 80’s than that? You can practically see these guys back to back in jean jackets twin soloing to their hearts’ content. These are songs marinated for 13 hours in adrenaline and testosterone to produce a deliciously high octane set that may have you checking your pulse to make sure you’re not having a heart attack.
The biggest focus these guys have on this album is writing fantastic and memorable songs. Are there over the top guitar solos? Yes. Is the drumming constantly pounding away like a jackhammer? Also yes. Could Alex Panza be the bastard child of a banshee and a songbird? Potentially. But all of these facets are in the service of catchy as all hell songs absolutely stacked to the brim with hooks. So many hooks you could start a commercial fishing business. WHO KNOWS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT? (I’m really sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) The biggest change here is that Alex Panza (I’m assuming) writes some supremely catchy and beautiful vocal melodies. Panza simply has a better voice and more skill as a singer, meaning he can pull off things that Navarro never could. And when he does, it is mesmerizing. For example, in the first chorus of “Twist of Fate,” when he sings the last word of the title in the first chorus (faaaaaaaaaaaaaate) surrounded by twin lead guitars. Or his “can you feel it, can you hear it? The boys are playing loud!” in rocking out the city that is a sure-fire pump-up. In general throughout the album, there are myriad times where a vocal melody is supremely affecting and worms its way into your psyche (the pre-chorus and chorus of Flight to Freedom, the pre-chorus of “In the Heat of the Night,” the chorus of “Take it all”).
With Panza front and center, Johnny Lorca and Dani write the best riffs and melodies of Hitten’s tenure. It seems that they feel they have the freedom to branch out from their extremely muscular approach and they take full advantage of it, incorporating amazing melodic riffs throughout the album and plenty of twin guitar leads. Their riff structure has changed from a more standard heavy/speed template to one that sounds more beholden to USPM bands of the 80s—and indeed has a lot in common with modern practitioners of this sound. The main riffs of both “Take if All” and “Flight to Freedom” sound like they could be on an Eternal Champion or Sumerlands album. Every song has an excellent main riff, and it is not uncommon for each song to have an even more righteous riff during the bridge/solo/interlude section (see the riff after the second chorus of “Flight to Freedom”—holy shit). The melodic interludes in each song are amazing and feature some of the best guitar playing I’ve heard in years. In the middle of the album, Hitten even decides to do their best 80’s thrash impression on the lovely and haunting interlude “Svccvbvs” and the subsequent track “Evil Within.” “Svccvbvs” sounds like it could have been an intro to a Megadeth song circa 1986 and “Evil Within” features an interlude ripped straight from “Master of Puppets.” The guys follow this up with a “Victim of Changes”-esque section where Panza screams out some truly hair-raising melodies. Throughout the album, there is a larger sense of adventure in all performances—vocals, guitars, drums, and bass. The guys branch out and incorporate far more influences than before, and the album is so much stronger for that.
I regularly find each and every song on this album stuck in my head at various times throughout my day. Every song has some riff, vocal melody, or combination thereof that is just impossible to ignore. And every time they enter my head, I have to put the album back on because it is that good. I haven’t heard any heavy metal in the year 2018 that comes close to what Hitten have achieved here. Every song on the album is killer in its own way. These songs are unique, memorable, filled with catchy hooks, and—most importantly—there are absurd riffs in every song. I can’t imagine anyone is going to release a heavy metal record that bests this beast in 2018. So, it seems Hitten may have entered their Dickinson period. Except in their case, rather than a lateral move, this is a definite step-up, and a crowning achievement in modern heavy metal.