Reviewed: December 2020
Released: 2020, AFM Records
Reviewer: Jack Merry
“I just want us to be known as Working Class Rock N’ Roll.” So says vocalist Zoli Teglas (ex-Ignite), having taken thirty years’ worth of experience in the music business to launch a brand new project close to his heart, OCEAN HILLS.
Born into a working-class Hungarian family, a dedicated animal rights/rescue activist, and a Hollywood actor with supporting roles in “Terminator: Dark Fate” and “The Alienist” under his belt, Teglas learned the value of hard work at a young age and the relationship music played in it. And it was always rock n’ roll for him. Bands like BOSTON, THE WHO, and LED ZEPPELIN are only a few examples of the artists that laid the groundwork for Teglas’ current artistic vision: to write songs for the working-class man in the vein of acts like SHINEDOWN, NICKELBACK, and ALTER BRIDGE.
The band’s debut record, entitled Santa Monica, manages to be a success, for the most part. Starting off the album in style, “Bound” sounds custom-built for stadiums with an infectious stomping guitar riff and chants, and it’s not long before the skyscraper-sized chorus bursts out of the speakers. I soon learned that the track was written with BUSH guitarist Chris Traynor, and it clicks immediately.
“A Separate Peace” ramps up the pace with some excellent chugging guitars and relentless drumming, complete with fills everywhere you turn and yet another anthemic hook, while “Death or Liberty” and “Like a Lady” channel a mix of old-school hard rock and modern post-grunge sensibilities that shine through the latter’s extended passages.
“Budapest My Love” is a gorgeous love letter to the band’s home, and structurally it’s reminiscent of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with a sublime piano melody creeping in underneath Zoli’s croon, and it’s not long before the distorted guitars and explosive lead work kick into gear to go full Brian May. It’s a passionate track, clearly written with a lot of love.
The first half of the album is really strong, but it’s the second half where it starts to fall apart for me. I started to zone out by the time the second chorus of “Hold Me” came around, due to its dull and repetitive nature. “Vampire” and “Christina” I found equally weak in structure and tone, and there’s an uninspired cover of the classic SMITHS track “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” that closes out the record. It’s an odd choice, and Morrisey may be completely insufferable as a human being, but I’ll take the original track with his vocals any day of the week over this.
As a debut album, it’s pretty average, and for every good and great moment, there are just as many bad or awful moments to balance it out. OCEAN HILLS have a decent foundation here, but the songwriting leaves a bit to be desired in places, despite the obvious musical talent. Santa Monica is just okay, and there’s definite room for improvement.