‘Rockhard’ by White Flame (Half-Pint Reviews #5)
Scuzz music from Finland
The first time I heard the phrase “priapic posturing” was in an article about Whitesnake’s 2008 release Good to Be Bad. The feminist in me knows enough to look at this characteristic of much hard rock with suspicion, my libido just enjoys it, and somewhere in between is a music fan mediating between the two. All three of these aspects of me are fully engaged when listening to White Flame’s 2009 compilation Rockhard.
Rockhard is a Japan-only release. According to the CD booklet, the Finnish quartet formed in 2002 and gathered steam when MTV banned one of its videos (“Kill the Radio”) from daytime play, which resulted in an outpouring of support from fans that sent the very same single to number one in Finland. Later, the band picked up Hanoi Rocks producers Hannu Leidén and Petri Majuri and went on to polish off a trio of studio albums with Cougar in 2012. Rockhard only covers the first two, but it’s a sufficient introduction to the band.
White Flame doesn’t aspire to be original. Without the impeccable pop sensibilities of Sunset Strip legends Mötley Crüe, the epic sweep that creeps into Eighties Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, the ear-splitting vocals of Slaughter, or the technical wizardry of revivalists like Enforcer, the band comes off more like low-grade Kiss. But simple riffs, brief solos, catchy choruses and rock beats straight out of Carmine Appice’s Realistic Rock can go far, and the band has enough to get the job done.
It also has a sense of humor. The song titles represent the band’s brand of playful lewdness: “Swimsuit Issue Centerfold,” “Twins,” “Dancin’ with Her Sister,” and so on. “Hour of Emptiness” sounds like it might be serious, but due to a deal with the filmmakers of the Star Wreck franchise, it got a video along the lines of the schlockfest Iron Sky. That’s right, the band rocks out on the moon, undergoes questioning by lunar Ilsas, and eventually escapes in a flying saucer. Bizarre as it may sound, this is what goes on in many a hetero-masculine psyche.
Despite a worldview stunted at the phallic phase, however, every sleaze rocker worth his stones can compose a decent ballad, and the members of White Flame are no exception. Toward the end, Rockhard takes a break from loud tracks for the quiet “Close to You.” Suggestive turns of phrase indicate this too is about sex, but the general mood is sensitivity laid on thick. It’s not in the same league as Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (1988), but you can throw it in the same general category.
Rockhard doesn’t offer as much in the cover art category. Testosterone-fueled hard rock tends toward worship of the feminine form — or gross exercise of the male gaze, if you prefer — and White Flame took that route for Cougar. The cover of Rockhard, however, is just a cheesy picture of the band. The photos inside aren’t any better, assaulting the unwary music fan with bootcut leather pants, bare chests and “I’m a cool rocker” poses. The band is straining, I would assume with irony, to convey the kind of music Rockhard promises…and I’d say delivers.
Stylistically, there isn’t a lot of distance between White Flame and the bigger bands they emulate. They might as well all be crammed into the same booth passing around the same lap dancer, but this is good news for those who think good music went out with “Cherry Pie.”
Half-Pint Reviews is a series of short reviews covering releases that strike me as little-known, underappreciated or forgotten. The last installment was about the digital hardcore duo Cobra Killer and may be read in The Riff here.