So I asked the maestro of melodic rock, Chris Franklin, host of 10 Radio's Raised on Rock, what my most obvious misses were in 2021. What were the best albums in that genre that I didn't review at Apocalypse Later? He came back with a few, led by a trio of Scandinavian albums: Kens Dojo from Norway, Laurenne/Louhimo from Finland and Fans of the Dark from Sweden. I don't believe he put an order on these three, but he listed this one first, so I put it on and immediately recognised the opener from his show.
Now, Chris plays a lot of great material in every show, but there are usually a couple of tracks that blow me away and I jot them down for future investigation. Those are the cream of the crop, but I won't necessarily remember one of them in detail months later. The Ghost of Canterville was one of those that I did. Having heard it once a few months ago, I still found myself singing along with it on a first revisit. It's a memorable song with a memorable hook and, having now heard the rest of the album, I'm totally with Chris. Fans of the Dark are a memorable band and the self-titled debut that came out in November is a memorable album.
At eight minutes and change, The Ghost of Canterville is an epic opener, based on the Oscar Wilde short story, which immediately conjures up Iron Maiden comparisons. This is surely softer than a Maiden equivalent, led by what initially seems like an ethereal vocal from Alex Falk, but it's also an epic rock song, drawn from classic English literature by a band sporting a name appropriate for a Maiden tribute band. The more I listen to it, the more I hear similarities in its riffs, its changes and its hooks. The biggest difference is Falk's vocals, but he's playing to the song and is more than able to rock out at the right moments. It's a well constructed piece that reveals itself to be better constructed still when we analyse it.
And, if it pulls the instruments back while Falk is singing, Fans of the Dark follow up with a denser song that really rocks out in Escape from Hell, aided by the guest guitar talents of Ryan Roxie of Alice Cooper's band. It's a stormer of a track that ably shows how Falk can add rasp and emphasis into his voice for even greater effect. I mention him a lot here because he's the unique factor that elevates Fans of the Dark. The musicians behind him are excellent and the songwriting, primarily by drummer Freddie Allen, who put the band together, is fantastic, but we are not going to listen to instrumental sections here and immediately recognise them as being by Fear of the Dark. The vocals do serve that exact purpose though. Nobody else in rock music sounds like this.
There's something androgynous about them that reminds me of Freddie Mercury. They're clearly male vocals for the most part, but Falk is able to shift seamlessly into a female voice, like he does on Rear Window, just as he can go deeper, turn up that rasp and sound even more masculine. I'm utterly not surprised to see that he's also a drag queen as my drag queen friends shift their voices depending on whether they're in persona or not and it becomes second nature over time. Falk has a serious range too and it's clear, just from the opening couple of tracks, that he really knows how to add or remove weight from his voice to find the effect he's looking for. He gives a memorable performance here, even on the overtly silly closer, Zombies in My Class.
As much as Falk is the clear focal point for this band and Allen apparently wrote these songs with his voice very much in mind, the other members of Fans of the Dark are no slouches either. This is melodic rock, but it does heavy up too, on songs like Escape from Hell, Rear Window and especially Life Kills, which features the most overt Maiden midsection on the album (and it has a whole slew of competition there). Allen is the bedrock of the band and Robert Majd on bass is audible, with a single guitar in front of him, and utterly reliable. That guitar is Oscar Bromvall's and he seems to have been listening to a lot of NWOBHM on top of the AOR that always feeds melodic rock bands.
I can totally see why Chris focused so much on this. He's a die hard melodic rock fan and this works as a pristine melodic rock album. He's also happy to listen to heavier material if it maintains that melody and this goes there too. He likes epic songs and, while only The Ghost of Canterville really meets that here, many of these songs have epic in them, as adaptations of literature or film. The Alfred Hitchcock double bill on the front cover is echoed in two of the songs, Dial Mom for Murder and Rear Window. Add Falk's unique vocals on top of that and Fans of the Dark utterly stand out from the crowd. The songwriting is the cherry on top of this already rich cake. Thanks, Chris!