Fans of the Dark were recommended to me in January by Chris Franklin, as his choice of what I had missed most obviously from last year's releases, and he didn't let me down. I thoroughly enjoyed their self-titled debut and gave it a highly recommended 8/10. This isn't quite as good, but it's still an excellent album. It's perhaps more consistent but it's missing the standout track that sticks in your brain, which was The Ghost of Canterville last time out; that was also the epic of the album, a fact that helped it to stand out. That said, I've been listening to album number two for a couple of days straight now and it's only getting better.
This time the most catchy track and the most epic are split up across two different songs. Catchiest is surely The Goblin King, with a memorable chorus. It's a simple one—"I am the Goblin King, I can do anything"—but it's delivered with panache by Alex Falk, who owns every lyric that he delivers. It has a perky beat too, but it's only a skimpy four minute piece so there isn't a lot of time to spend developin the song either lyrically or instrumentally. It's a great track but it's there and it's gone and we're on to the next one.
There are two epics, but the one that succeeds most is The Pirates of Maine, which is fantastic but just without that killer hook to put it on the same level as The Ghost of Canterville. It has a patient riff and Falk's voice is as identifiable as ever. It's fair to say that he remains the focal point of the band, which shouldn't surprise anyone who heard the first album, that warm and inviting texture to his voice managing to remain soft and yet command our attention. The catchiest section to The Pirates of Maine comes soon into its second half, but it's told through "woah woah" vocalisations by backing singers rather than the expected lyrics delivered by Falk.
And, once more, I have to reference the band's name because that vocalisation section is right out of Iron Maiden, as indeed is a whole lot of the music. Fans of the Dark immediately sounded to me like the name of an Iron Maiden tribute band, as a nod to their Fear of the Dark album, and that's not technically true, because they release original material, but it is clearly Maiden-inspired, even if they're a little softer in sound. Many of these riffs and the melodies, not to forget plenty of their changes, remind of Maiden and there are even overt nods, like the solo in Sick! Sick! Sick!, which is also the song where you'll hear lyrics like "Sick! Sick! Sick! The number of the people here." Yeah, I think it's safe to say that they're all Maiden fans.
However, there's a double meaning to the name, which is that their lyrics focus on darker subjects like the tribute to the pivotal horror movie Night of the Living Dead on the opener, which is called, well, Night of the Living Dead. They are indeed coming to get you, Barbara, and that sample opens the song. This album also sports Fright Night and explores what The Goblin King gets up to. It ends with the other eight minute epic, Restless Soul, which sounds less horrific but covers the same sort of ground. These would be seem to be children who grew up on a similar diet of eighties rock music and horror movies to me.
And while I'm English and it would seem fair to guess that they are too, it might shock to discover that they hail from Sweden. Drummer and band leader Freddie Allen went to school in Stockholm with Alex Falk and, while I have no idea if they were involved in music while they were there, it's a given that, given the latter's presence, the idea of having him lead a rock band didn't take long to stick in young Freddie's head. The band behind them has changed subtly since last year, as Rickard Gramfors has replaced Robert Majd on bass, but the guitar is still the province of Oscar Bromvall.
And, after Falk and the melodic songwriting, it's his guitar that shines brightest here. It's not easy to ignore Falk's memorable voice but I tried to do that on my tenth or eleventh time through in an attempt to could focus on the music behind him. I love what Bromvall does, which is to play along with the melodic rock mindset of the songs but still turn out riffs like this is a good old fashioned hard rock band and also hint at getting heavier. Add a couple more guitarists alongside him while keeping the melodies foremost and they might sound even more like Maiden. Their famous duels on guitar and their air raid siren vocals are all that's missing here to cement that comparison.
So, this is a solid and reliable follow up. I think it's more consistent than the first album, but it falls just a little a bit shy of its achievements, even with some great changes during the midsection of the closer, Restless Soul, to leave us wanting more. I absolutely want more, though, and right now that just means playing the album yet again. Hopefully, though, they'll keep up to their promising album per year release schedule and become a highlight of next year too.