I consider myself reasonably well-versed in the biggest of the big-hair hard rock acts but Treat are a band that have simply passed me by, in spite of their thirty-year pedigree as well-respected Swedish melodic rockers. A career that has seen them constantly in the shadow of the success of Europe might go some way to explaining how it happened, but Ghost of Graceland makes me think I may have seriously missed out.
Following 2010’s lauded Coup de Grace, this is Treat’s second record since their reformation in 2006 and it is, quite simply, one of the best melodic hard rock albums I have heard in years. Its spot-on balance of attitude and melody, coupled with expert songcraft and crystal clear production make it something of a faith-restorer in a genre that so often disappoints. From the opening riffs of the title track to the final choruses of the album closer, this record just refuses to stop oozing class. For Treat, making records is clearly a very serious business and this one should serve as a lesson to the band’s peers in just how it ought to be done.
With its massive chorus and portentous tolling bell ‘Ghost of Graceland’, the current single and album opener, is awash with soaring keys and slick wall-of-sound vocals all tightly wrapped in a crunchingly heavy riff. It demands that you take notice and sets the bar extremely high for the rest of the record. It’s hotly followed by the modern, dry and detuned guitar of ‘I Don’t Miss the Misery’ - a song about coming to terms with madness - which wastes little time in flipping the switch from menace to melody as it breaks into a glorious major key chorus reminiscent of Harem Scarem at their absolute best. The stripped-down verses, punctuated by Anders Wikström’s half-wah guitar howling reflect the subject matter well, while sonically they give a respectful nod to Europe’s stunning Start from the Dark album. The energy continues with another heavy hitter: ‘Better The Devil You Know’ by which point I’m wondering how these guys are going to keep the quality up for the rest of the album.
Mercifully, our ears are given the chance to recover as the big guitars are given a short break for ‘Do Your Own Stunts’, a song inspired by Wikström’s experiences as a father. It holds its restraint for a full two minutes before building into an epic mid-paced showpiece, scaffolded by a lavish, swirling string orchestra which enrobes a spacious and tastefully brief guitar solo. Perhaps fittingly, mortality is addressed next with the high-octane ‘Endangered’ which sees the resumption in normal heavy-melodic service and yet another ridiculously hooky chorus. So far I’ve counted four potential hit singles and there are still seven songs left to hear.
‘Inferno’ is a little more straightforward and feels a little throwaway given what’s come before but my jaw drops again for ‘Alien Earthlings’ with its skyward Winger-esque chorus showcasing Robert Ernlund’s considerable vocal talents. By now it’s pretty impossible for the band to top themselves so instead they change tack slightly and the over-processed vocals and stuttering chorus of ‘Nonstop Madness’ reveals a much poppier side, akin to Finland’s The Rasmus. This is perhaps unsurprising given that Wikström had an extremely successful career as a big-name pop writer and producer during the years that Treat were disbanded. As if to atone, the album pounds on with ‘Too Late to Die Young’ and ‘House on Fire’, both of which are pure and wild hard rock, in the vein of classic Firehouse or modern-day Trixter.
Drowning in Patrick Appelgren’s piano and kitchen-sink strings, ‘Together Alone’ is the only track on here that could be described as a ballad. It sees guitarist Anders Wikström take the lead vocal, which is a very brave move given the world-class performance that Ernlund has turned in for the rest of the album. It’s a much-needed lull, though, before those chunky guitars return for the playful closer ‘Everything to Everyone’. The gang vocals give a singalong contrast to the old-school heavy guitars and you stagger away from the record in disbelief, the unwitting carrier of another chorus that will be stuck in your head for a month.
The effect of this record when taken in one sitting (which I highly recommend) is immensely satisfying. There’s just so much obvious time, pride and care taken in writing, arranging and producing an album of this calibre that every hat in the room ought to be off for Treat. Mention must also go here to Peter Mansson who had the not inconsiderable task of producing the record alongside Wikström. It’s a release that the notoriously backward-looking AOR fan can (and will) drool all over, yet it manages to be forward-thinking enough for the band to look themselves in the eye and for new fans to have their head turned. Treat have pulled off the trick of reinventing themselves without retreading old ground or reverting to self-parody and have miraculously done so while retaining some of the character that made them successful some thirty years ago. It is arguably a song or two overlong but in all other respects Ghost of Graceland is nothing short of a masterwork.
Review by Rich Barnard.