Friday 30 April 2021

Issa - Queen of Broken Hearts (2021)

Country: Norway
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Mar 2021
Sites: Facebook

If Simulacrum, whose third album I reviewed earlier this week, are atypical for a Frontiers release, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a band more suited to that label than Issa. It's melodic rock through and through, with hints of symphonic metal behind the hooks, and it's bright, perky and cheerful from the very outset. It also remains on the rock side of the boundary with pop music, even with a few R&B runs here and there from Issa, a Norwegian singer apparently living in York, the lucky devil, and some poppy keyboards every once in a while from the Frontiers in-house producer Alessandro del Vecchio.

I'm new to Issa, having first heard her in January when Chris Franklin played her single Angels Calling, which opens up this album, on his Raised on Rock radio show. However, this is her sixth album and she has apparently grown over that discography, even if I'm hearing that the symphonic rock style in play here hearkens back to her debut, Sign of Angels, just over a decade ago. I like this sound, though it's a given that the band are there to support Issa and nobody would assume on a blind test that this isn't a solo album. At least she has the vocal chops to justify that.

She's very good at finding a balance between the soft and sensitive voice that would serve her well in the pop world and the strong and soaring voice that's perfect for the a rock world. The epitome of this can be found in Blue, which kicks off like a ballad with Issa ratcheting back her power substantially for effect and gradually bringing it back in. It's not just a toggle, it's a scale and it's telling that she has an extra level beyond the one we think might be the pinnacle.

That isn't to say that the musicians behind her aren't up to the task. They are, with del Vecchio finding some neat textures across the eleven tracks and Simone Mularoni contributing some excellent power metal flourishes. He plays for a lot of bands, most obviously DGM and, with del Vecchio, the Frontiers project known as Sunstorm, among others across the hard rock, heavy metal, power metal spectrum. These are quality musicians. They're just here to support someone else's voice, not to showcase their own abilities.

I liked this immediately because it's really hard not to like something this fresh, bouncy and upbeat. It really does play like a cold fruit salad on a hot day. It's refreshing. The question isn't about whether it gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down, because it was always going to be the former, but whether it has the staying power to work on levels beyond the simply refreshing. How's it going to taste an hour later when we're refreshed and looking for something deeper?

Well, I think it does pretty well and I'm still discovering some hidden depths on a third listen through. Derive is fast becoming my favourite track, because it refuses to be obvious. It's sultry and enticing, a real grower of a song. However, from a melodic standpoint, there's only one earworm here that nails every aspect of what it wants to do and that's the title track. However good we think this is, that song, which sits right at the heart of the album, is always a step up from everything else.

If you like your melodic rock on the poppy side, you're going to dig the songs that are more driven by electronica like The Night It Rained Forever. If you like it to be emphatic rock music but with singalong choruses and spotlight moments for the guitarist to shine, then you're going to like Without Love. As I mentioned, if you're looking for something deeper to get your teeth into, then you'll get a kick out of Derive. But whichever one of those three listeners you are, Queen of Broken Hearts is going to be your standout and that tells me that, as enjoyable as this is throughout, there's a better album still in Issa Ƙversveen. Maybe we'll hear that next time. I'll be listening.

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