Counterline may hail from Bogotá, Colombia, but they sound a lot more like they ought to be from Denmark, where their label, Lions Pride, is based. This is very European sounding melodic rock, an approach that surely reflects where their primary influences come from. When they're good, and they're good quickly here with opener If You're Clear with Your Words and single The One, they're up there with some of the better Scandinavian melodic rock I've heard this year, if not at the level of Ronnie Atkins or W.E.T.
The bad news is that they can't maintain that level of quality across the entire running time. This is a debut album, I believe, and, even if it isn't, it sounds like one, even if the band members aren't new to the industry. Harold Waller, for instance, who handles the lead vocals, keyboards and bass, as well as chipping in on guitar, used to be in a band called Supremacy that released an album and played some major gigs. Drummer GG Andreas also played for Supremacy and while pianist Rubio Res didn't, he did play for Waller's solo project, Fandiño. None of them are new.
The good news is that there isn't anything that's obviously broken and so needs to be fixed before the band can move forward. I see this album as a beginning, a promising one but still a beginning, with a lot of the right steps taken already but a lot more still to come. They need to figure out the identity they want Counterline to have and maybe settle on a line-up, because the guitarist guest list is a long one. I'm guessing that neither Waller nor Andreas think of themselves primarily as a guitarist and the band doesn't have one otherwise, so that job's split up between the two of them and no fewer than seven other musicians, who play on one, two, three or even four songs each.
Don't get me wrong, there's some cool guitarwork here. I felt that Spell of Love stood out on that front, though I don't know if it's because of Paul Alfery's contribution or not. It probably is, as he's not on anything else, but I can't tell which guitar section is played by whom. There are certainly a lot of different guitar styles and tones on offer, though they all fall somewhere into the hard and heavy melodic rock spectrum, all melodic but some a bit more emphatic than others. And that's a bad thing here because I couldn't figure out what the Counterline sound was, given that it kept on shifting from song to song, sometimes even within a song.
Researching the band, I saw people calling out Waller's vocals as a weak point and I don't buy that except at odd points, like on Angel, which makes him feel clumsy. He has a decent voice, a soft and melodic one that's perfect for this sort of material. Does he have limits? Absolutely. He can't soar so far that it shocks us into amazement but, to give him credit, he doesn't try to do that here. He's always within his range and he doesn't remotely have the most limited range I've heard. My main complaint about his voice is that it can get too saccharine if the song lets it and there are quite a few ballads here that do exactly that.
That's partly why the first half of this album is so much stronger than the second. Both standouts arrive in the first three and they both rock, with strong riffs, excellent hooks and decent keyboard flourishes. Maybe they're not as polished as they could be, but they sound damn good to me. Spell of Love is surely next on the list and that wraps up a strong first half that doesn't have a bad song on it, just some that are better than others. The second half, however, is primarily made up of the ballads and some filler tracks that sound fair enough but don't stay in the mind past the gap until the next one starts.
I wish Counterline all the best and hope that they find a permanent guitarist to help flesh out the identity they so sorely need. I'd love to hear a second album. I have every expectation that it'll be this but better and, with a solid line-up, more consistent too.