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When former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon joined forces with Finish guitarist/keyboardist Jani Liimatainen (Sonata Artica, Cain’s Offering) back in 2017 and formed the band The Dark Element, I thought that their self-titled debut album, released on Frontiers records, was one of those endless all-star projects that more than often shows up at that label. But, it turned out that The Dark Element was a real band and just not some kind of project. Together with bassist Jonas Kuhlberg and drummer Jani Hurula, Anette and Jani hit the road. Anette is easily my favorite Nightwish-singer and her time in that band is my favorite era so it was sad that I missed their gig at Sweden Rock Festival in 2018.

The debut album was, in my opinion, good but didn’t really make a lasting impression. I always really enjoy that album while I listen to it but the urge to pick it up for more spins seldom appears. Now, two years later it’s time for Olzon, Liimatainen, Kuhlberg and new drummer Rolf Pilve (Stratovarius) to release their sophomore album and since it’s always a pleasure to get new music with Olzon’s voice over it, I gladly throw myself over this record hoping it will be the album where all the pieces of the puzzle fits right on the spot.

Opening track and latest single ”Not Your Monster” is a symphonic symbiosis of Metal, Hard Rock and Pop. It’s an uptempo stomper, very direct and with hooks everywhere there’s a melody. While the tune holds an immediate and spot-on chorus and comes across as a more poppy version of the Olzon-era Nightwish, the tune also brings on a quieter piano section and an orchestrated keyboard-solo. Six minutes long, it’s a bit long for a single but everything they threw against the wall here stick – a damn good tune. The following title-track and leading single is a faster paced, straight-forward, high-energetic symphonic Metal track that holds a big chunk of poppiness and hooks enough to sell. Kuhlberg and Pilve brings up a headbang-friendly rhythm which is the solid foundation that the immense and catchy as damn refrain lies upon. The whole tune smells of a mixture of 80’s pop-metal and symphonic Metal. Great stuff.

In a mid-paced tempo, the heavy and dark ”When It All Comes Down” shows up, bringing along a big soundscape that includes a fat rhythm, rough and gritty guitars and lots of keyboard orchestration. The chorus slows the pace down a bit and changes the dynamics with a gloomier and slightly gothic outlook. The tune is surrounded by memorable melodies and even though it’s very much an album-track, it still sticks – good one. ”Silence Between The Words” comes with an upbeat groove and a straight ahead drive even though the verses are more held back, backed up by drums, bass and keyboards. There’s a touch of late 80’s Melodic Rock here, much because of the similarity to the keyboard sound Europe had on Out Of This World (1988). The instant chorus takes a more bouncy and tough route albeit all the while with a massive pop touch over the vocal-melody. Very catchy and lots of hit-potential. Good tune.

”Pills On My Pillow” is a bit darker but at the same time rhythmically bouncy. Faster in tempo and quite in-your-face, the song is both rougher and crispier in the verses with some crunchy riffing and the chorus makes me think of Battle Beast’s later material because of it’s dancey beat and the slightly ABBA-like melodies. It’s not as strong as its predecessors but the chorus is hard to not like. On a softer note, the laid-back ballad ”To Whatever End” treats us with piano, strings and an acoustic guitar and a main-melody reminiscent of Blackmore’s Night. The refrain comes on bigger with orchestration, a delicate arrangement and Olzen’s emotional vocals. To break things off some, there’s a heavy and punchy passage in the middle, like a song within the song but all the while it suits the song really well. Very good, indeed.

”The Pallbearer Walks Alone” brings the tempo up to a faster pace, punchy and rough with some classic Metal riffage, very straight-forward and kicking. When the chorus comes knocking, the tempo slows down and the song goes into a heavier and more symphonic sound-scape. It’s an ok tune but it fails to hold on to my interest. The upbeat, 80’s chart-pop laden rocker ”Get Out Of My Head” is built on a Metal ground where the big and striking melodies makes me think of a more symphonic Battle Beast/Beast In Black. Mid-way, there’s a funk/disco section and the efficient and direct chorus brings more ABBA to the table – and it’s catchy as hell. Fact is, remove the guitars here and you would have a total Pop song. It’s a great tune and it really should be a future single because there’s more hit-potential here than in Mike Tyson’s fists.

There’s more single-material to come, this time with ”If I Had A Heart”, a smooth and plain rock-song with slight nods to symphonic Metal. It’s quite punchy rhythmically, it holds some sharp riffing and an enormous AOR-laden refrain with hitty hooks everywhere. To not release this a single would be a huge mistake – this is a hit. And a killer tune! On a rougher outlook, the heavy and edgy ”You Will Learn” takes the straight-forward route, trying its best to go for a Metal knock-out. The beat is pulsating and it’s orchestrated and together with the softer and laid-back passage there’s a working contrast within the song. It holds a good refrain but it never passes just good. They round the album off with a soft, smooth and mellow ballad called ”I Have To Go” that holds a jazzy twist. It’s based on piano, keyboards and vocals with a quiet rhythm section that brings Nightwish’s ”Slow Love Slow” to mind. Calming, relaxing and restrained with a beautiful arrangement and a soothing vocal arr, the song differs a lot from the rest but is still a winner. Awesome!

Style wise, this is pretty much a sister-album to the debut but it stands out as a bit more varied. There’s also a bigger focus on catchy melodies and big choruses that borrows from both Pop, Melodic Rock and AOR which brings another dimension to the symphonic Metal that is the base of The Dark Element’s music – which in turn makes this a much stronger album than the debut. The Nightwish glances are still around, of course, but not as blatantly – and often – as on the debut and it sure feels like this album brings on a more clear band-identity. Olzon’s vocal performances are as always splendid – dramatic, emotional and powerful and since Liimatainen have written a whole bunch of solid songs, The Dark Element will hopefully be their main focus in the future as this project have every potential to become really big.

*** (7/10)

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