Review: Greenleaf ‘The Head & The Habit’

As a long-time fan of Dozer, Tommi Holappa’s on/off fling with once side project, now ‘full-time love affair’ Greenleaf has at times felt like a frustrating distraction. Of course, with the former band on hiatus from 2009 following vocalist Frank Norton’s departure to continue with his studies, it would be churlish to deny Holappa his desire to continue writing kick-ass, ear-catching hard rock anthems, but the years of rotating lineups meant that there was an air of inconsistency to their output.

Greenleaf 'The Head & The Habit' Artwork
Greenleaf ‘The Head & The Habit’ Artwork

However, that would begin to change in 2014 with the addition of permanent vocalist Arvid Hällagård for their fifth album Trails & Passes, which built on the growing popularity and success of the previous attempts. Following with two more albums Rise Above The Meadow (2016) and Hear The Rivers (2018) the band would begin to make an impact on festival stages all over Europe before 2021’s Echoes From A Mass saw the band reach global charts, a sign of the hard work that had been poured into the project.

Skipping over Dozer’s much-welcomed reformation and superb 2023 Drifting In The Endless Void comeback album, Holappa, alongside bandmates Hällagård, Sebastian Olsson (drums) and Hans Fröhlich (bass) look to continue Greenleaf’s increased profile with the ninth album under the banner on latest release The Head & The Habit.

Chock full of trademark riffs that drip with fuzz-drenched powered and ‘70s retro proto-metal flavouring, the band deliver nine tracks of catchy, hard rock tales that cover real-life experiences of drug abuse and psychological health.

Barrelling straight into the upbeat funky rhythms of Breathe Breathe Out, the band lay down a quirky, fun groove over the energetic drumming. The laidback vocal melodies help bring out the bright, catchy chorus that feels deceptively simple but repeated listens will reveal layers of subtleties like the urgent bass rumbling of Fröhlich and the delicious fuzzy lead licks. Over these tumultuous, driving stabs Hällagård delivers lines like ‘Your head is an onion, you peel and you’re fine’, part nonsense, part in keeping with the off-the-wall nature that has always resonated through Greenleaf.

The classic rock vibes of Avalanche pay homage to the original motivation for the band, a celebration of their love of that era of music away from the focused pressure of Holappa’s main band. The sleazy hooks and robust blues rock has a faraway, spacey vocal harmony over the galloping drums and as much as some of their elements bleed into Drifting… the second track features a Dozer-like breakdown. The meandering mid-track instrumental and soft vocal musings add a psychedelic noodling jam before they return one more time for the celebratory chorus.

The winding guitar intro of Different Horses slams into a bouncing refrain with almost gang-vocal-style shouts. The metallic-edged blues retains a soulful side that goes on a melodic run before the chugging, chunky riffs bring the band the space to let the dynamics breathe and showcase all the members as they turn the screw to ramp up to the punky, nagging anthemic ending.

heavy, overdriven guitars and unashamed love of poppy sing-along moments…

The title of the album borrows a line from the lyrics in A Wolf In My Mind, which is the most overt reference to the real-life themes of the subject matter. A darker, moody vibe spills from the track with the haunting ‘some things feel wrong, but they don’t feel right’ as the band dives into their desert rock legacy and creates a sound like a grittier Queens Of The Stone Age track, circa Songs For The Deaf, with a swirling middle section and quirky build to the final rousing sign-off.

That Obsidian Grin brings the tempo down further with a smokey blues number, featuring light drumming and hoary bluesman whiskey-soaked vocal stylings. The sparse arrangement is a short-lived but memorable sidebar amongst the thunderous noise the band usually make, and they return to this tried and tested formula with The Sirens Sound.

This full-throated track shows the talents of the classically trained Hällagård and Holappa’s gorgeous guitar tone on the dexterous flourishes that he sprinkles all over The Head & The Habit and as ever features a massive chorus that walks the line between off-kilter and catchy.

This more serious detour is broken up by the playful boogie of Oh Dandelion as the riffs slam up against the hard-hitting drumming. Unashamedly retro, it feels like this should be played in a room adorned by lava lamps and violent, clashing colours painted in wavy lines by people wearing bell bottoms, Afghan coats and round ‘Lennon’ sunglasses.

The Tricking Tree is a longer tale that has a jumble of time changes giving the stuttering stop/start feel of the rhythm section a jazz-like scat to the momentum as if born from extended jamming and a desire to keep the listener guessing where the wandering funky bass will lead them for the first half. When they lock into the second act, the big finish is proceeded by noodling experimentation that creates indulgent prog rock soundscapes teasing the moment before they deliver the payoff.

Finishing with the shorter An Alabastrine Smile the low bluesy number is punctuated by a lazy hi-hat beat and swishing guitar swing that, when paired with the gentle, musing narrative, gives a gentle lounge-like close to the album.

Recorded and mixed by long-time associate (and ex-member) Karl Daniel Lidén, The Head & The Habit feels like another step up for the band. As someone who wasn’t blown away by their previous album, the latest release feels like the band have returned to a degree of self-assurance and awareness of their history. There’s a motivation striving to distil past triumphs into an album that rocks with the best of their output, keeping those heavy, overdriven guitars and unashamed love of poppy sing-along moments.

Label: Magnetic Eye Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden