We’re surrounded by influences. In a world where the music we consume is now so easily placed into our ears, popular music from the past feels less like the cultural milestones they are and more like hand-me-downs for inspiration. Gatekeeping aside, nostalgia has its generational roots in music to the point where, if one asks the right person, they will be confronted with remarks of how the golden age of music has had its day. By that, they mean the 80s are over.

Since music elitism proliferates such toxic gatekeeping, modern pop/rock music has undergone metamorphoses to cater to “former” sounds and styles. Perhaps better known as nostalgia rock, the genre gleams onto just about anything vintage in hindsight. Groups playing nostalgia rock aren’t old dogs demonstrating old tricks; these are new dogs, presenting tricks where, more often than not, sleight of hand isn’t their proficiency.

Such is the risk of any band that wears their influences loudly on their wrists. Though not always to the extent of emulation, bands like Haunt and their classic 80s heavy metal sound can sometimes produce records that should reasonably be considered among the best of their predecessors. This consistency, however, is quickly smeared by their newest 2021 album, “Beautiful Distraction,” in which the Californian band fails to compensate their music with any scrap of identity.

Along with having a vocalist whose whine echoes the most grating moments of Judas Priest, the instrumentation of “Beautiful Distraction” is so loosely put together that it probably could have been composed in a half hour. Despite the hints of 80s thrash or power metal inspired guitar work, tracks like “Imaginary Borders” suffer from a painfully tedious comprehension of 80s heavy metal. When mixed all together, we’re not left with perfectly circular cookies. We’re left with the cookie cutters, because Haunt knows their influences too well.

A heavy metal album in which the only redeeming quality about it is its guitar solos (which are too constant anyway) isn’t really much of an album. Classic heavy metal, a treasure trove (or festering coffin, doesn’t matter) for guitar work as its centerfold, doesn’t need more albums where the guitar solos are the best aspect. Is there an ethical dilemma here, where Haunt should have just released a covers album of 80s heavy metal hits instead of blatantly formulaic dollar store knock-offs? Would we know the difference?

Yes. Partly because Haunt once had identity, and has a string of previous records that pay homage to a musical sound rather than deny they were born in the wrong generation. And partly because they’re not Greta Van Fleet. “Beautiful Distraction” won’t ever be anyone’s favorite album, which isn’t to say nostalgia rock records are exempt from being anyone’s favorite. But when so many others who came before are already in contention for favoritism, the result is a binary. Either a record is a classic, or it’s just a novelty. For nostalgia rock, it seems to be comfortable with the latter.

Listen to “Beautiful Distraction” by Haunt on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/194auaXgPOWbml42Ii6O2Y?si=rraD8oBgR5akJNS-mP0k_w