Magnus Karlsson is back for another ride of melodic Metal. We all know the guy from Free Fall, Starbreaker, The Ferrymen and his day-job in Primal Fear, to mention but a few. We also know him from Allen/Lande where he (and Frontiers Records, to be honest) gathered singers Jorn Lande (Masterplan, Millenium, Ayreon, Avantasia) and Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, Star One, Avantasia, Ayreon) for a collaboration. The first album The Battle (2005) was brilliant and is today looked upon as a more or less a classic. The second, The Revenge (2007) was a big let-down but he/they took their revenge (sic!) with the third outing The Showdown (2010), not as good as the debut but still a damn good record. The fourth album The Great Divide (2014) was also good but that one was written by Timo Tolkki (Startovarious) and Lande (lyrics only).
For now, it seems like another Allen/Lande album is not to be – if it has to do with the Tolkki involvement or not is yet to be revealed – but at least Allen and Karlsson wasn’t done with each other. So what to do when you have an idea and shitloads of songs? Hire a new second singer, of course. And if a change is to be done, why not go all in? Instead of hiring another male singer, why not try a female one? Anette Olzon (The Dark Element, Nightwish, Alyson Avenue) was asked, gave her thumbs up and off they went. This, of course, will bring on a completely different dynamic to the project and to me this feels very interesting, especially as I really dig Olzon’s voice (to me, Nightwish was at their best with her in the band) and we all know Allen is an amazing singer as well.
Opening track ”Never Die” sounds pretty much like I had expected, much in the vein of the Allen/Lande records. It’s an uptempo rocker, heavy yet melodic and slightly symphonic. It’s very direct, big on hooks and a distinct chorus that sticks right away. Allen sings it by himself with all the glory, but I have a feeling it would have been even better as a duet. Next up is the album’s leading single and the title track, an upbeat and punchy rocker with a pumping rhythm where Melodic Rock and Metal meets up. The tune brings on a strong main melody that brings The Dark Element to mind while the big, catchy refrain is really in-your-face with a slight poppy vibe. The contrast between Olzon and Allen works like a charm and blends brilliantly. I dig.
Latest single ”I’ll Never Leave You” – sung by Olzon alone – is uptempo, quite robust and heavy with an underlying symphonic vibe and some small Celtic undertones. While all that is great, the punchy chorus doesn’t really life enough for me and I’m left waiting for the punchline. It’s a good track but as a single, the chorus should have swept me away and it doesn’t. ”What If I Live”, on the other hand, is great. It comes in a mid tempo, is a bit laid-back yet bombastic and big and stands on the threshold of being a ballad. It’s a bit sullen with a really strong main melody and a massive chorus that hits right where it should. They way that Allen and Olzon blends together is brilliant and raises the dynamics to the top. To me, this is a single!
The edgy and aggressive ”Lost Soul” opens with some dark and at times slightly thrashy riffing and is carried by a rhythmic and stompy rhythm-section. The tune is all about Allen and at times it reminds me of a less proggy Symphony X with a Power Metal flirtation. I love the aggression here and there are some memorable arrangements in the vocal melodies but the chorus doesn’t really take me anywhere. It’s not bad though. Opening on a dark and atmospheric note, ”No Sign Of Life” brings on a somewhat eerie ambience. The tune takes on a laid-back Melodic Rock style but the chorus takes a heavier approach and gets more upbeat and bombastic with another effective refrain. Again, it gets better when they both sing.
”One More Chance” takes a slower route with verses in a mid-pace, very Melodic Rock laden and some stripped and softer parts. Big on orchestration and a symphonic vibe in a bombastic sound-scape, the chorus is huge – big on AOR tendencies and throws a wink at power-balladry. It’s a very memorable song all over that Olzon takes on by herself and she does it with all the glory. Great stuff. The following ”My Enemy” is a straight-forward hard-rocker, very direct and muscular on a solid ground where the bass and drums go boom. The rough verses takes us into a big, catchy refrain that dwells in Melodic Rock land on a heavier note and that refrain makes this single-material. Great stuff.
”Who You Really Are” alters between mid to uptempo throughout the song. It’s quite rough and rowdy but with more polished vocal-melodies, especially in the verses. Said verses are also quite held-back but the chorus moves things up a level and becomes more kicking and punchy. As a whole it’s an ok track – Allen sings this alone – but it never really touches a nerve. ”Cold Inside” starts out soft with only piano, keyboards and Olzon’s amazing voice. It gets tougher and punchier on the way but still a ballad that mixes AOR twists, making it a big AOR/Metal ballad. Clearly single-material, the chorus is breathtakingly awesome. A clear winner!
Closing track ”Who’s Gonna Stop Me Now” is softer but not soft per se. The verses are on the smooth side, but also very invigorating and inviting and when the grandiose and powerful chorus comes in and swipes me away with its big hooks, I can only surrender. Also, Allen and Olzon meets up in a very embracing and dynamic symbiosis. The song is quite majestic – easily one of my favorites on the album – and bids its farewell by leaving me wanting more which in turn makes me want to spin the album again. A great song and a great closer.
With the fact that I think that Magnus Karlsson’s outings has been somewhat uneven throughout the years, this record is a very nice surprise – and to be frank, better than I thought it would be. Allen/Lande and some of Primal Fear’s albums are really good while Starbreaker is underwhelming, especially their latest album and The Ferrymen albums are good albeit not great, to mention some examples, so it was a bit tough to know on which level I should put my expectations here. The first time I took the album on, I thought it was quite bland but it grew on me fast. Style-wise, it sounds like the Allen-Lande records was the template but with Olzon onboard, the dynamics changed drastically – for the better, I might add. Because when the two sings together, it’s a marriage made in heaven as their voices are so different to each other – kind of like the beauty and the beast in line with the album cover – and the match is brilliant whereas when they’re not, songs comes across more like solo-album songs. They should have duetted on more songs. All in all, a very genuine album.
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