Style: Symphonic Power Metal
Release Date: 14 Apr 2023
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The ever-prolific Magnus Karlsson, of Primal Fear fame, among a whole slew of other projects that have benefitted from his talents, usually as a guitarist and sometimes as a keyboardist, is back for another Free Fall album. That's his solo project, where he performs everything himself, except the drums, and whichever lead vocalists show up to guest on tracks. Anders Köllerfors plays the drums here, as he did last time out, on We are the Night in 2020. Lead vocals change on a per song basis, with nobody doubling up. I believe everyone's new to a Free Fall album too, which isn't typical.
As always, the style is power metal with clean vocals and virtuouso guitarwork, drenched in layers of keyboards. It's all capable stuff and the worst songs here are decent, simply unable to carve out a special place in our attention above their peers. Of course, with this multi-vocalist approach, the best song here may depend on which singer meets your personal taste in power metal the closest. As Karlsson is a constant throughout, I'll suggest that his most adventurous guitarwork is on Hunt the Flame and The Lucid Dreamer.
Hunt the Flame is the opener and it may well be the best track here, with six minutes on the dot to flesh itself out, excellent solo sections and a versatile vocal from Anders Köllerfors, best known for Crowne nowadays, I think, even though he's sung for Art Nation longer. He has a a very clean voice, so it's incredibly easy to listen to, but he has technique and power, showing off a little towards the end but impressing more with more subtle sections earlier in the song. It's countered well by You Can't Hurt Me Anymore, which is more commercial, less frenetic and more elegant, guest vocalist Jakob Samuelsson veering into arena rock for his melodies.
All these guests do exactly what Karlsson wants from them, though they do blur together a little, mostly working to very consistent approaches. Most are Scandinavian, the initial pair Swedish, as is Jake E of Chyra and Dreamland and, I presume, Kristian Fyhr, of Ginevra (wth Karlsson) and Perpetual Edge. I'm seeing a pair of Norwegians, Michael Eriksen of Circus Maximus and Terje Harøy of Pyramaze, and one Finn, Antti Railio of Raskasta Joulua, who gets the closer, Summoning the Stars, onto which he can stamp his authority. It's another strong song, perhaps not quite up to the opener but coming close. It's also the longest song here, suggesting that Karlsson nails those songs that have time to breathe, but not so long that it could be called an epic.
Other singers hail from further afield, starting with James Durbin, formerly of Quiet Riot and now of his own band, Durbin, who's American. I appreciated Durbin's debut album, The Beast Awakens, a couple of years ago, and he fits in well here, on an elegant song called Thunder Calls. I see Girish Pradhan here too, of Firstborne fame and lately Girish and the Chronicles, who get a lot of airplay on Chris Franklin's Raised on Rock show. And that leaves a couple of South American singers, both of whom shine here.
The first is James Robledo, a Chilean singer who fronts Sinner's Blood, and his song stands out for its hints at middle eastern melodies early on and for his delivery. It's Far from Home, which seems fair, and there's some grit in his voice that elevates it in my mind above many of his peers here. He works in much the same style but that grit feels like he's giving more and we can feel the energy, especially when he escalates. It's a good song too and that never hurts.
Best of all, though, is Raphael Mendes from Brazil, who's guested on a bunch of European albums before releasing anything in an actual band setting, his band right now being Icon of Sin. I love his voice, but I have to acknowledge that it's hardly the most original here, given that he could easily be mistaken for a certain Bruce Dickinson. His song here is Following the Damned, which would be less of a standout if one of the other vocalists here fronted it. It's a bit more symphonic, perhaps, but not a huge departure from other songs. However, he makes it his own as soon as he opens his mouth and suddenly we're listening to Iron Maiden as a symphonic band, which is neat. Mendes's sustain is fantastic and I'd love to hear him take on Hallowed Be Thy Name.
If you know Magnus Karlsson in any of his various incarnations—and, if you've been following my reviews at Apocalypse Later for a while, you'll have seen him pop up on a solo album called Heart Healer; an Allen/Olzon album, Worlds Apart, and a Primal Fear album, Metal Commando—you'll know what to expect from him. This is more of the same, without any disappointment, but it plays better for me as an exploration of a bunch of vocalists, most of whom I hadn't heard before.
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