Skeletoon – The 1.21 Gigawatts Club

Album: The 1.21 Gigawatts Club
Artist: Skeletoon
Label: Scarlet Records
Released:  October 15th, 2021
Genre: Power metal
Tracks: 11

1. Intro: Unveiling Secrets
2. Holding On
3. Outatime
4. The Pinheads
5. 2204
6. Enchant Me
7. We Don’t Need Roads (The Great Scott Madness)
8. Pleasure Paradise (Oh Là Là)
9. The 4th Dimensional Legacy
10. Eastwood Ravine
11. Johnny B. Goode

Third strike in as many years for these Italian purveyors of power metal pomp, and have they lost their stride? Has the well of creativity run dry? Not in the slightest! Where other bands may have run out of ideas, of catchy choruses and epic guitar riffs, Skeletoon just sail on, oblivious to all except bringing quality European power metal to connoisseurs of the genre. We should be thankful, really.

The 1.21 Gigawatts Club is a concept album, dealing with the 80’s cult classic film trilogy Back to the Future. A fitting theme, seeing how the band prides itself on being ”nerd metal”. There’s a lot of love for these cult movies in the execution of the material on hand. Once again the boys of Skeletoon bring us a variety of tunes all adding up to a sum that is greater than its parts. There are the obligatory speedsters (the opening tracks ”Holding On” and ”Outatime”), there are the mid-tempos (”The Pinheads” and ”Pleasure Paradise (Oh Là Là)”), and there’s the obligatory ballad (”Enchant Me”). All songs that are jewels in and of themselves, but as a collective pushes the concept and the story forwards.

As I’m a great fan of speedy power metal, the opening cuts – the already mentioned – ”Holding On” and ”Outatime” scratch that itch I have for sugary European power metal with catchy and memorable, not to mention anthemic!, choruses. Especially the latter track does it for me. Man, that chorus! And the ending wraps up the candyflossy (is that even a word?) affair in a most fitting manner. Frontman Tomi Fooler treats us to the compulsory falsettos that we’ve come to love so. A great start to the album!

The mid-tempo tracks that follow are good, especially ”2204”, but they have a hard time competing with the opening salvo. The ballad ”Enchant Me” works its magic on the first listen and just begs for repeated listens. I don’t think I’ve heard such a sappy (but in a good way!), cheesy and sentimental ballad in a long time. But it fits the concept, it feels natural, and it feels Skeletoon-y, so it works. This is the tune that will bring the lighters (or, in this day and age, cell phone flashlights) when played live, no doubt.

The other half of the album boasts two more great songs in ”Pleasure Paradise (Oh Là Là)” and ”The 4th Dimensional Legacy”. Mid- to up-tempo affairs, they bring yet more of those infectious choruses as the aforementioned Mr. Fooler works his vocal chords to the benefit of the listening pleasure. There’s really nothing more to say other than that these songs cement the record’s replay value in a most charming way.

Closing track ”Eastwood Ravine” is a mini epic, clocking in at little more than seven minutes. It deals with the last installment of the movie trilogy, as I’ve gathered, and it wraps the album up nicely. Did I mention that chorus will get stuck in your head? It’s hard to fathom how these guys can keep churning out consistently professional power metal and make it work over the course of not one, but three albums in three years. Other bands, and not only in this genre, would kill for that ability.

In closing, The 1.21 Gigawatts Club is yet another triumph for these guys. Granted, there were moments over the album that didn’t impress me as hard as others, and 2020’s Nemesis is a tough album to beat (I mean a song like ”Il Tramonto Delle Ere” is just ridiculous), but I do think it’s at least up there sniffing alongside it, and what more could you ask for?

Now, I don’t have access to the lyrics, but I imagine they follow the trilogy pretty close in theme. You don’t have to have seen the movies to enjoy this album, but I gather it helps. What’s obvious, though, is that these guys really revere the Back to the Future movies and furnish their tunes with love and admiration accordingly. One more candidate for album of the year? Probably. Yeah, I’m a fanboy. So sue me.

Shock! av Richard Matheson

Titel: Shock!
Författare: Richard Matheson
Förlag: Sphere
Utgivningsår: 1978
Sidantal: 188
Genre: Spänning/noveller

 

 

När jag gick i högstadiet för länge sedan gav vår engelsklärare (vila i frid, Allan!) oss att läsa novellen ”Prey” av Richard Matheson. Jag minns att jag tyckte berättelsen om zunikrigsdockan som bara hade ett mål (döda!) var ganska häftig. Och småläskig.

På 60- och 70-talen gav Matheson ut fyra novellsamlingar: Shock!, Shock II, Shock III och Shock Waves. Jag har nu läst ut den första av dem (en senare utgåva) och måste säga att jag nog blev duktigt underhållen. Det tror jag också är Mathesons stora selling point: Hans noveller har ofta den graden av spänning och underhållning som vissa avsnitt av tv-serierna Twilight Zone och Tales from the Crypt har. Berättelserna är definitivt ingen tung litteratur, utan faller inom ramarna för speculative fiction/spänning. Gott så. Ibland vill man ha litteraturens motsvarighet till en Big Mac. Inget fel i det: Jag är definitivt ingen kultursnobb.

Samlingen innehåller 13 berättelser. Vissa tyckte jag bättre om än andra. Som det brukar vara. En man kör för fort i en liten sömning småstad och får anledning att ångra det. Människor tar livet av sig en masse. En man vaknar upp en dag och inser att han plötsligt kan tala franska. En annan man tror att hela världen är ute efter honom. Staden Los Angeles börjar en dag att breda ut sig och ta över resten av USA. Och så vidare.

Nu när jag tänker efter inser jag att jag nog gillade de flesta berättelserna i boken. Matheson skriver inga djupa karaktärer; de är alltid underställda handlingen, som drivs fram av en författarhand som vet vad den gör. Ibland känner man på sig vad som kommer att hända, men det är inte desto mindre spännande för det.

”Lemmings” handlar om hur människor lämnar sina bilar på motorvägen och vadar ut i havet för att drunkna. Två poliser betraktar det hela. Man får ingen bakgrund till varför, utan slängs in in medias res. Jag vet att jag kan bli lite tjatig vad gäller detta, men jag anser att det är bra novellers storhet: Det ges inga direkta förklaringar. Läsaren måste gissa och därmed vara medskapare. Så griper man tag.

I ”Long Distance Call” blir en sängliggande kvinna telefonterroriserad. Hon försöker ta reda på vem det är som ringer, men det kanske hon inte borde ha gjort. Den här berättelsen är faktiskt riktigt kuslig. En spökhistoria som gjord för höstläsning.

I ”Mantage” en författare önskar att framgången skulle komma lite snabbare. Han är trött på att slava utan resultat. Det verkar som om han får som han vill. Här imponerades jag av Mathesons förmåga att införliva två  handlingar, där den ena läggs som ett filter över den andra. En litterär snabbspolning som får konsekvenser för huvudpersonen.

”Death Ship” skulle kanske … nej, jag ska inte skriva det, för då avslöjar jag twisten. Jag såg den inte komma. Kanske borde jag ha gjort det? Tre män landar på en främmande planet och upptäcker en farkost med en hårresande överraskning. En science fiction-berättelse med övernaturligheter. Jag gillade den.

I novellerna ”The Splendid Source” (som ställer frågan: Var kommer alla snuskiga skämt ifrån) och ”The Creeping Terror” (den där L.A. växer och tar över resten av USA) får vi ta del av Mathesons humoristiska sida. Den förra berättelsen tycker jag dock var ganska långrandig. Inte dålig dock. Den senare novellen anlägger en mer ”dokumentär” och ”vetenskaplig” approach, med den äran.

Slutligen vill jag nämna ”The Distributor”, om grannen från helvetet. En ondskefull cocktail av paranoia i förorten. Återigen vet man som ska hända, men det blir inte mindre spännande för det. Ett bra avslut på boken.

Sammanfattningsvis: Richard Matheson var en fena på att skriva spänningsnoveller, och den här samlingen är definitivt en jag rekommenderar.

Jag vet att det här inte är mycket till recension, men jag ville mest skriva ner några tankar jag hade om boken. Jag planerar att göra det lite oftare, för övrigt. Det är, om inte annat, ett bra sätt att hålla reda på vad jag läser.

All Too Surreal av Tim Waggoner

Titel: All Too Surreal
Författare: Tim Waggoner
Förlag: Prime Books
Utgivningsår: 2001
Sidantal: 188
Genre: Weird fiction/noveller

 

 

Runt millennieskiftet fick jag nys om ett bokförlag vid namn Prime Books. Jag hade redan då börjat samla på mig antologier med noveller inom området speculative fiction (vilket är en paraplyterm och innefattar skräck/fantasy/sf/surrealism/weird fiction etc.) och hade en av deras titlar i hyllan sedan tidigare. Därifrån var steget inte långt till att beställa All Too Surreal, Tim Waggoners första novellsamling. Jag erkänner att jag blev såld på beskrivningen:

Look at your reflection. The mirror is broken, the cracks spreading. Wider . . . deeper. Look between the cracks, and what do you see? Glimpses of dark, shadowy, twisted things that could only exist on the other side of a mirror. Eighteen stories. Eighteen cracks. The sound of shattering glass.

Jag minns inte om jag någonsin läste ut boken då, och med åren försvann den bort någonstans. Förmodligen under en flytt. Men jag kommer ihåg de berättelser jag faktiskt läste, och när jag skaffade en Kindle för några år sedan (som också blev liggande ett par år innan jag började använda den ordentligt) köpte jag den igen, fast i elektroniskt format. Och den här gången läste jag ut den.

Jag ska vara ärlig: Den var bra, men inte så bra som jag kom ihåg den. På engelska finns ett uttryck: A mixed bag. Blandad kvalitet. Det var Waggoners första samling, så det kanske beror på det. När berättelserna är bra är de dock riktigt bra. Bäst blir det när Waggoner kör ner på den ”mörka vägen” och lämnar åt läsaren att fylla i vad som verkligen hände. Eller overkligen. När berättelserna verkligen speglar (ha!) beskrivningen: När författaren injicerar ett mörker som skrämmer för att det lämnar åt läsaren att fylla i skräcken. När saker faller sönder.

Den första berättelsen, ”All Fall Down” är en sådan. Huvudpersonen återvänder till sin barndomsstad och upptäcker att ens förflutna har en tendens att … hinna i fatt en. Glidningen från vardagligt till obehagligt är här välutfört. Masker spelar en viss roll, metaforiska som fysiska. Jag vill inte avslöja mer. ”Picking Up Courtney” är en annan berättelse med ett tragiskt slut som kanske förutses i början av berättelsen. Här ligger halvsurrealismen och skvalpar runt i prosan, och det är upp till läsaren att avgöra vad som är verkligt och inte.

Den näst sista novellen, ”I Scream, You Scream” tävlar med öppningsnovellen om vilken som är bäst. Jag kan säga att den innehåller en ondskefull glassbil och ändå lyckas vara rätt obehaglig, så bara det är väl en bedrift. En pappa förföljer en glassbil vars förare ska ha betett sig minst sagt olämpligt mot hans dotter. Det han får erfara överstiger hans värsta mardrömmar. Man får aldrig riktigt veta exakt vad det är, och det är det jag gillar så mycket i fiktionen: Ge läsaren tillräckligt med info för att själv fylla ut det som saknas. Berättelsen påminde för övrigt om Jack Ketchums novell ”The Box” i det hänseendet.

Utöver dessa mina favoriter vill jag även nämna ”On the Skids in Another Dimension”, som påminner om en väldigt flummig LSD-upplevelse (inbillar jag mig, jag har aldrig testat), samt ”Joyless Forms”, som är en berättelse jag själv gärna hade skrivit. Påminner om Thomas Ligottis ”The Red Tower”, vilket naturligtvis är ett bra betyg.

Boken innehåller också en rätt larvig berättelse (”At the Movies”) om en filmkritiker som tycker att det mesta som visas är skit. Han får bokstavligen rätt. Ja, ni fattar. I ”Exits and Entrances” fungerar berättelsen om en teaterkritiker som får äta upp sina elaka ord bättre. Kanske för att den är lite längre.

Just ja! Jag vill även nämna ”Simulacrum”, om en ung kvinna vars ilska och pessimism tar sig fysiska former, samt ”On the Shelf and Dreaming”, om en kvinna som drömmer att hon är en docka som råkar ut för en del otäcka saker. Det visar sig att drömmen kanske är verkligare än hon anat.

Det är alltså en s.k. mixed bag, med huvudsakligen bra till mycket bra texter, men även en del av … varierande kvalitet. Hur som är den läsvärd, och den fick upp mina ögon för den här författaren, som jag kommer att läsa mer av.

Evermore – Court of the Tyrant King

Album: Court of the Tyrant King
Artist: Evermore
Label: Independent
Released:  April 28th, 2021
Genre: Power metal
Tracks: 8

1. Hero’s Journey
2. Call of the Wild
3. Rising Tide
4. Court of the Tyrant King
5. Northern Cross
6. See No Evil
7. My Last Command
8. By Death Reborn

Sometimes a band appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and slaps you in the face with a debut album of such high quality you can’t help but be in awe. Some examples would include Sonata Arctica’s Ecliptica, Lost Horizon’s Awakening the World and Timeless Miracle’s Into the Enchanted Chamber.  And now we can add another debut to the pile, namely Evermore’s Court of the Tyrant King (doh).

This young band from Karlskrona, Sweden released an EP of three songs in the autumn of 2020, so technically this isn’t the debut, but that’s nitpicking. Those songs are featured on this album, as well as four new ones + an intro. All in all it makes for seven complete songs, and not one, I repeat, not ONE dud. Yeah, that’s right. All killer, no filler. It’s as if the trio gave all they had, poured every last drop of power metal into one chalice and offered it for you to drink. The album has a playing time of about 40 minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome by one second.

So what do we have here? Seemingly ”basic” power metal, some uptempo, some mid-tempo and topped off with the curiously addictive vocals of Johan Haraldsson. The man was the last piece of the puzzle that began with two friends (Andreas Vikland and Johan Karlsson) jamming together before starting to write original songs. Haraldsson soon joined, and the rest is history. Yeah, I know it’s a cliche expression. So sue me. There is really no other way to put it.

I mentioned Haraldsson’s vocals. The closest comparisons would be Bernhard Weiß from Axxis, or maybe Jonny Lindqvist from Nocturnal Rites. Now these are only reference points, as Haraldsson has a voice that is completely his own, strong in mid-range as well as commanding and assertive in the higher registers. Actually it’s quite impressive how he manages to sound so secure even when he seems to be aiming for the stratosphere.

So how about the songs? All killer, no filler, he said, and he meant it. But I’d like to point out three favorites, if I may (yes, he may). The opening song ”Call of the Wild” is an uptempo affair about wanting to escape the dreary life of civilization, longing for the serenity that a life in the wild might offer. At least that’s how I interpreted it. Pay attention to the lyrics: They mean something.

Next tune up would be the title track, ”Court of the Tyrant King”. It doesn’t matter how long it may take; tyrants will fall eventually. I was reminded of Stephen King’s opus The Dark Tower when I perused the lyrics, curiously. Yeah, they’re based in fantasy, but there are still ties to, and ways to relate this to, the real world. These are the kind of lyrics I most enjoy in my power metal.

Lastly, we have the track ”My Last Command”, and among its brethren of strong songs, this may be the strongest of them all. I dare you to soak in that chorus and not shake your fist at the sky. It’s that damn good. As soon as the lonely guitar intro hits your ears you know the song’s going to be a cracker. The refrain hits you straight between the eyes, and you realize why I’ve lauded this band so much. They deserve every last ounce of praise.

So there you have it. A contender for album of the year, that goes without saying. I for one can’t wait to hear what these guys might cook up for us in the future. Mandatory listening for power metallers worldwide.  If you’ve found a better way to spend forty minutes, I’m all ears.

Control the Storm – Forevermore

Album: Forevermore
Artist: Control the Storm
Label: Independent
Released:  July 25th, 2019
Genre: Power metal
Tracks: 9

1. Darkest Fantasy
2. Strike to Defend
3. New Era
4. Follow Me
5. In the Night
6. Chaotic Mind
7. Hidden Wonder
8. Curse of the Voiceless
9. Forevermore

Now this was a nice surprise! Sometimes fate works in mysterious ways. As I was searching for another band (Evermore), I came across this sextet called Control the Storm from Bristol, England. They play melodic power metal with some symphonic touches, and man, do they know their stuff!

Forevermore consists of nine tracks, all offering a veritable smorgasbord where catchy choruses and exciting songwriting are concerned. Basically every song has that catchiness that is so essential to (European) power metal. Yet the band never repeats themselves, which deserves respect. And in Firouzeh Razavi they have a very talented vocalist who adds timbre and power to the tracks. I don’t know where they found her, but they’d do well to keep her! She has a strong, assertive voice, somewhat reminiscent of Sonia Pineault from Canadian power metallers Forgotten Tales, but at the same time she has a voice that is completely her own. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there you go.

And the songs! As previously stated, they’re all pretty basic melodic power metal tunes with the occasional splash of keyboard symphonics added to the brew for good measure. Some may call them derivative of band X or band Y, but that’s not a problem with me. Not if you pen songs this catchy and memorable. That’s what it’s all about, right? I know I wrote they’re exciting in the songwriting department, and I stand by that. Writing derivative songs is not a problem as long as they’re memorable.

Opener ”Darkest Fantasy” is one of the longer songs, clocking in at approximately seven minutes. It takes its time to build up to that pretty chorus, but when it hits – WHAM – you can’t help but smile. This is how melodic metal with female vocals is supposed to sound! Follow up track ”Strike to Defend”, features a chorus that is catchier than its predecessor, if that’s possible. The song is very brief, at least compared to the previous one, and leaves you longing for more. One of my favorite tracks off the album, if not the favorite.

”Follow Me” is basically a pop song coated in a metal finish, heavy on the choral background work. It’s all these small things that add nuance and shine to songs. Layered vocals, gang vocals in the choruses, key and tempo changes etc. The band has them in spades and knows how to use them.

”In the Night” is the mandatory ballad, and Control the Storm deliver the goods. Yeah, the song could be accused of being too sappy, but who cares? A ”hold your lighter high” tune. Razavi delivers a fine performance oozing with emotions.

”Chaotic Mind” has a really cool passage at about the 3:12 mark, followed by a sweet ass guitar solo. Generally the guitarists are somewhat restrained and tasteful when it comes to adding solos. This is appreciated, because when they do come, they rule. Another notch in the belt for these guys. They know how it’s done!

Generally the album features its best songs in the first half. Still, out of nine tracks, at least seven of them know how to put a smile on this dude’s face. That’s not a bad tally. And while the closing eponymous monster of a track doesn’t manage to convince me all the way, it’s still a fine and well-crafted piece of work. Starting off with a bagpipe, the guitars don’t kick in until around 2 minutes in. From there on, it’s smooth sailing over mid-tempo ocean, resting briefly in smoking guitar solo bay and, around the halfway part, a quick stop in piano interlude peninsula before the track comes to an end after about 13 mins. Solid work.

So, to sum it up: Forevermore is a respectable effort from a young band you should keep an eye on. I predict good things for these guys in the future. Until then, check this one out!

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Album: Viribus Unitis
Artist: Dragony
Label: Napalm Records
Released:  January 15th, 2021
Genre: Power metal
Tracks: 12

1. On The Blue Danube
2. Gods of War
3. Love You to Death
4. Magic
5. Darkness Within
6. A.E.I.O.U.
7. Viribus Unitis
8. Golden Dawn
9. Made of Metal (Cyberpunk Joseph)
10. Battle Royale
11. Legends Never Die
12. Haben Sie Wien schon bei Nacht geseh’n?

I’ve been following Austria’s self-described glory metal youngsters Dragony more or less since the release of their sophomore effort Shadowplay (2015). That was a very fine effort, a smorgasbord of the best European power metal has to offer. Unfortunately, while still good, the follow-up, named Masters of the Multiverse (2018) didn’t quite live up to the grandeur set by its predecessor. Not that it is a bad album in any way, just not on the level of what had gone before.

So how does the newly released Viribus Unitis (Latin for ”With United Forces”) fare? Very well, I’m pleased to say! Thematically it deals with the last monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty, including Emperor Franz Joseph I. and his ill-fated son Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria. But it doesn’t end there. The guys in the band opted for throwing in some steampunk as well, as can be seen in the glorious cover art, featuring Nikolai Tesla as well as Houdini. But even though there’s a theme running through the album, it’s not overtly present, meaning you can enjoy the music without having to know shit about European history.

After an intro, the albums kicks off with two of the moodier tracks (relatively moodier, I might add, since we’re firmly in European melodic power metal territory here), namely ”Gods of War” (which I found a little bit lackluster in the beginning, but boy has it grown on me!), a brilliant opener with a dramatic flair and a catchy chorus, and ”Love You to Death”, which deals with the aforementioned Crown Prince of Austria, Rudolf, who committed suicide together with his lover Mary von Vetsera in 1889. Featuring yet another moody chorus, this song develops and reels you in the more you listen to it.

”Magic” is a song that sports the catchiest and most saccharine chorus on the album. Some might argue this is too flowery, but in that case, hey, call me the happy metal horticulturist. I for one love it.

The middle of the album features a real hattrick of pure European melodic metal  hits in the form of the songs ”A.E.I.O.U” (which stands for Austria Est Imperare Orbi Universo, or ”It is Austria’s destiny to rule the whole world”) and treats the listener to a guest appearance by fellow Austrians Serenity’s vocalist Georg Neuhauser as well as an anthemic chorus that may give some goosebumps; the title track ”Viribus Unitis” a short but sharp melodic metal grenade, and finally ”Golden Dawn”, a mid-tempo rocker with a truly catchy chorus (again! How do these guys manage to score hit after hit?).

The album closes with a cover of the (I guess) popular Austrian pop tune ”Haben Sie Wien schon bei Nacht geseh’n” (Have you ever seen Vienna by Night). I had to YouTube this song, and it didn’t really turn out to be a favorite … but kudos to the band for trying something unorthodox.

I won’t mention all tracks. They’re all good, but the standouts are the ones listed above (maybe not the cover though). What is fascinating – and commendable – is the flow and consistency with which these guys operate. Never do you get the feeling a song stands out in a negative way or breaks the flow of the album. All players deliver in their own way, but I have to mention vocalist Siegfried Samer who may have recorded his finest performance to date. These guys really have managed to carve a niche for themselves in a genre that’s become kind of crowded lately (which is mostly good). If you’re new to the band, this record would be the ideal place to start, and then go backwards through their discography. All of their albums have something to offer, but, as stated, the one that makes it all the way is Viribus Unitis. Hats off!

Royal Hunt – Dystopia

Album: Dystopia
Artist: Royal Hunt
Label: NorthPoint
Released: December 18th, 2020
Genre: Melodic progressive metal
Tracks: 10

1. Inception F451
2. Burn
3. The Art of Dying
4. I Used to Walk Alone
5. The Eye of Oblivion
6. Hound of the Damned
7. The Missing Page (Intermission 1)
8. Black Butterflies
9. Snake Eyes
10. Midway (Intermission 2)

Denmark’s Royal Hunt have been around since 1989 and released their first album Land of Broken Hearts in 1992. More or less firmly rooted in the progressive melodic metal camp, their early days found them a tad more accessible than on later outputs. Fast forward almost 30 years and we have their most recent offering Dystopia, released in December of 2020. While I’m a fan of albums such as 2011’s Show Me How to Live and 2013’s A Life to Die For in particular, I wasn’t too keen on their last offering 2018’s Cast in Stone. Somehow the songs didn’t gel with me. Thankfully, the band has remedied this on Dystopia.

Royal Hunt’s sound has always been keyboard heavy, which may or may not come as a surprise, since main man and (I guess) main composer André Andersen’s instrument of choice is the keyboard. But don’t expect neoclassical wankery (although there’s a little of that too), as the keyboards are used more as a way to embellish the compositions. They create rich, lush textures and a smooth “wall of sound” for the other instruments to fall back on. I believe the term most appropriate to use would be “symphonic” (hardly a surprise, eh?). Every musician in the band is more than competent with his instrument and the songs come together nicely.

I am not 100%, but I’m pretty sure the album is a concept piece. As I do not have access to the lyrics, it’s hard to tell. But the intro is called “Inception 451”, which makes you think (even if you haven’t read it) about Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. As the first real song is called “Burn”, and with the album title in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is, indeed, about a society that has slipped and turned into a nightmare. “Burn” is an excellent opener, showcasing a memorable chorus and a rich and meaty sound.

“I Used to Walk Alone” starts of with a mellow piano, before female vocals set in. The song builds to a climactic chorus. The section around 3’00 features female operatic vocals, trading off with the male vocals, in a section that almost comes off as something Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf) might have written. This is good, by the way. An album highlight!

I realize I haven’t even mentioned the vocalist, D.C. Cooper. He’s good, with a slightly (actually it’s very present) nasal intonation and thus a voice that’s recognizable among a thousand. There’s something that can be said about originality AND longevity (he’s been in the band since 2011, and before that a spell between 1995 and 1998). It’s his voice that I’ve come to associate with Royal Hunt.

“The Eye of Oblivion” continues affairs in a most pleasant way with drama and pomp each getting their due, with a chorus full of pathos. If I haven’t mentioned it, all the songs are in mid-tempo, which suits the overall sound. Continuity is the word of the day. “Hound of the Damned” is ample proof of that. The end of the song features something burning, adding to the album’s supposed theme.

The album features two interludes, in addition to the instrumental opener, which might be one too many, but it is a petty quibble overall. “Black Butterflies” and “Snake Eyes” close out the album in an elegant fashion, featuring hypnotic riffage (the band has not forgotten they’re actually metal) and lush keyboard harmonics. “Snake Eyes” starts off with acoustic guitars and horns before turning into a smooth rocker. Somehow D.C.’s voice sounds rougher here, as if he were in a more classical 80’s rock band. A chorus that sounds hopeful (and catchy) adorns the song, which features some fretboard wizardry that also has that “dirty” sound. An excellent note to end the album on, if you don’t count the last interlude.

All in all, here we have a band that has returned to form, offering a capable, authentic and, most of all, enjoyable album. Recommended.

Skeletoon – Nemesis

Album: Nemesis
Artist: Skeletoon
Label: Scarlet Records
Released: September 25th, 2020
Genre: Melodic power metal
Tracks: 12

1. Prelude: Falling Galaxies
2. Brighter Than 1000 Suns
3. Will You Save Us All?
4. Nemesis
5. Starseeker
6. Cold the Night
7. Follow Me Home
8. Wake Up the Fire
9. Il Tramonto Delle Ere
10. Arcana Opera
11. The Nerdmetal Superheroes
12. Carry On

Some bands just don’t rest on their laurels. Case in point: Italy’s Skeletoon, who released their latest album, They Never Say Die (see my review here), a mere 18 months ago (that’s March 2019 for those of you reading this review at a later date). That album was a hearty and fun tribute to the cult flick The Goonies, coated in that sugary version of European power metal the Italians seem to be so keen on. And now it’s time for the successor, menacingly named Nemesis. There’s no menace here, however, but abounding happiness and positivity.

Skeletoon label themselves ”nerd metal”, drawing inspiration from comic books, computer games and movies, and Nemesis is apparently the first part in a three part sagas, the following two parts to be released over the coming years (oh joy!). If the quality of those forthcoming albums is anything like this album, we’re in for a treat. Actually, we’re in for a treat right now, because Nemesis blows They Never Say Die, an excellent album in its own right, right out of the water.

After a short intro, ”Brighter Than 1000 Suns” starts with a falsetto from vocalist Tomi Fooler, setting the bar for what’s to come. Double bass abounds as we’re led to a chorus that’s the epitome of happiness and positivity. A great start. Now, many power metal bands would follow the obligatory speedy opener with a mid-tempo track, but not Skeletoon. No, ”Will You Save Us All?” continues the high speed of the opener and treats us to a guest appearance by Alessandro Conti (Trick or Treat, Twilight Force) as well. The falsettos on this one are unreal, carrying that sweet ass chorus us power metallers so desire.

Only with the title track things are slowed down a bit. This is actually sort of the black sheep of the family, featuring some dirty guitars and harsh vocals in the verses, supplied by Melissa Bonny (Rage of Light). I really didn’t care for this track all too much in the beginning, but it grew on me, bringing the necessary dynamics to the album. Feels like I’m repeating myself here, but the chorus is really catchy too.

”Starseeker” brings us back into sing along land again. What a chorus! Not as fast as the two opening tracks, but equally anthemic. Now, I don’t have access to the lyrics, but from what I’ve managed to gather the whole theme of the album is heroes, and how regular people can be heroic given the right circumstances. The aforementioned track illustrates this beautifully. ”Cold the Night” is as close to a ballad as you will come, and if there ever were a time to bring out the lighters, it is now. Yet another brilliant chorus from the guys.

”Follow Me Home” is a merry speedster resembling something Freedom Call could do, without being an overt tribute. The guys of Skeletoon seem to like speed, and I’m not one to complain. Mid-tempo track ”Wake Up the Fire” is the first song I don’t really care for. I don’t know, it just didn’t gel with me. It’s got a nice guest guitar solo by Bill Hudson (NorthTale), though.

Now we’ve arrived at ”Il Tramonto Delle Ere”, undoubtedly the jewel in the crown, the cherry on top of the dessert. I could easily write a thousand words about this track alone, but at the same time, no words would do it justice. Sung entirely in Italian, this song is no ballad (which you might have thought, seeing other Italian bands – cough, Rhapsody of Fire, cough – having a penchant for penning ballads in their native language), but resides somewhere between mid and up-tempo. The title translates to ”Sunset of the Ages”, and features verses and chorus so anthemic and glorious they’ll blow your head clean off, and, yeah, it’s kinda cheesy but there is no better word for it: This song is heroic. It also features a shitload of falsetto singing (is there nothing Mr. Fooler can’t do with his voice?). Seriously, it sounds like he’s serenading life itself. You’ve just got to hear this. My favorite track of the album by a country mile.

Time for the mini epic (around 8 minutes long) ”Arcana Opera”. It starts off – yeah, you guessed it, speedily and features a chorus that gets stuck in your head like glue the first time you hear it. We’re treated to guest vocals by Giacomo Voli of the aforementioned Rhapsody of Fire, as well as guitar contributions by his band mate Roberto De Micheli. The song is very dynamic, with slower portions to complement the fast parts. Returning to the chorus, the song rounds off nicely. ”The Nerdmetal Superheroes” is a track that’s taken me a few spins to appreciate, even though I didn’t really care for it in the beginning. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Edguy’s earlier days, although being neither a parody nor a tribute. I reckon it will grow on me.

Rounding of the album is a more than passable cover of the Angra evergreen ”Carry On”, one of my favorite power metal songs ever. There is no replacing André Matos (R.I.P.) ever, but Skeletoon manage to stay faithful to the original in a very respectful way, so kudos to that!

To summarize this overly long review (yeah, I just can’t help myself when reviewing albums I really really love), what we have here is one of the best European (in both the geographical and genre sense) power metal albums released this year, and easily a contender for  album of the year. Skeletoon outdid themselves on this one, and I, for one, can’t wait to follow them wherever they go next. Nerd Metallers del mondo, unitevi!

Joachim Nordlund’s Dreams of Avalon – Beyond the Dream

Album: Beyond the Dream
Artist: Joachim Nordlund’s Dreams of Avalon
Label: Metalville Records
Released: August 28th, 2020
Genre: Melodic rock/AOR
Tracks: 11

1. Young Wild Hearts
2. Under the Gun
3. Shining Light
4. Bleed for Me
5. Run for Cover
6. Into the Night
7. On the Run
8. To Paris and Back
9. Stop
10. Black Demons
11. Somewhere Tonight

I don’t normally listen to a lot of AOR, much less review it. But as chance would have it, I stumbled upon a YouTube teaser of a band/project called Joachim Nordlund’s Dreams of Avalon, and I was very impressed indeed.

Dreams of Avalon is – yep, you guessed it – spearheaded by one Joachim Nordlund, guitarist of Swedish heavy metal band Astral Doors. Apparently Nordlund is a big fan of 80’s melodic rock / AOR, and it shows. On this, his first solo offering, I believe he plays most instruments and handles the vocals as well.

With this record you get, essentially, damn fine 80’s melodic hard rock / AOR of the highest caliber. Nordlund knows what he’s doing, and his passion shines through. It’s as if we’re whisked back to the 80’s, a carefree time when you could cruise along in your car and blast feelgood rock on your stereo (or, if we go back to the present, your mp3 player).

Basically every song on Beyond the Dream is a feelgood rocker that manages to inject a happy vibe into your day. Seriously, it’s as if you’ve been served a glass of pure sunshine or have had vitamin C injected straight into your veins. These songs are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and brighten your day.

What’s impressive is how consistent the album is. There’s nary a clunker here, and with most songs clocking in at 3-4 minutes, the tunes never overstay their welcome. Add to that the fact that Nordlund is very talented instrumentally as well as vocally. In fact, he has a very warm and likable voice. Be aware of the fact that this album is very keyboard heavy (which is so 80’s!), so if you detest synths, well, this is not for you. For everybody else though, you’re in for a good time. And the guitars are very present, treating us to the occasional slick solo, so this is definitely a rock album.

Picking out favorite songs is not easy, since they’re all of such high quality. But some of my choice cuts are opener ”Young Wild Hearts”, ”Under the Gun” (which is slightly darker, if that’s even possible), ”Shining Light”, ”Run for Cover”, ”To Paris and Back” and ”Stop”. Yeah, I’m aware that’s about half of the album, but as I said, the quality is consistently high.

I guess I’ll have to stop this now or run the risk of becoming too fanboyish. But in essence, this is a gem that any lover of retro hard rock / AOR is sure to enjoy. With autumn approaching this is a welcome complement to good old regular sunlight and vitamin C, all of which are so necessary. Easily recommended.

Tusen nålar av Stefan Lindberg

Titel: Tusen nålar
Författare: Stefan Lindberg
Förlag: Albert Bonniers
Utgivningsår: 1999
Sidantal: 162
Genre: Noveller


Omkring 2008, innan jag registrerade den här webbplatsen, hade jag en blogg där jag bland annat recenserade böcker. En av dessa böcker var den då nyutkomna I Gorans ögon, Stefan Lindbergs (f. 1971) andra novellsamling. Bloggen finns fortfarande kvar och kan beskådas här, och det aktuella inlägget här. Jag minns att jag tyckte boken mer än väl hade sina poänger, men att det kunde bli lite för putslustigt, lite för studentikost, mellan varven. Lite för mycket hjärna och mindre hjärta.

Men Lindberg debuterade redan 1999, vid 28 års ålder (jämför med mig själv, som var lika gammal när jag debuterade 2009). Och hans debut håller måttet, absolut. Det är förvånansvärt mogna noveller som alla övertygar på sitt sätt. Boken innehåller åtta berättelser som alla har något, tja, inte övernaturligt, men onaturligt inblandat i de vardagliga skeendena. Så upptäcker flygfotografen i öppningsberättelsen ”Flygfotografens sista sommar” en pojke på sina foton, en pojke som verkar sjunka ner i marken, djupare för varje foto. Och han blöder. I hans närhet figurerar även en man som verkar ha någon slags mystisk koppling till pojken. Jag har mina idéer om vad det handlar om, men vill naturligtvis inte förstöra för den som ännu inte läst berättelsen, så jag behåller dem för mig själv. En rätt obehaglig novell.

I ”Om du flyger” har en flicka en ovanlig förmåga. Men att sticka ut kan få förödande konsekvenser. En mycket bra berättelse, som dock hade fått kunna vara lite längre.

Vidare: En ung man får i ”Klasskamrater” chansen att leva om sitt liv som förstaklassare, men i en vuxens skepnad, vilket erbjuder honom möjligheten att rädda den unge klasskamraten som är de andras hackkyckling och mobboffer. Men kan man verkligen ändra på det förflutna? En av bokens starkare noveller.

”Fabrizio” handlar om en ung pojke som ramlar ner i ett brunnshål i Italien. Det är sent 70-tal, eller tidigt 80-tal, och i Sverige håller två kusiner på att bygga ett sandtorn för att sätta rekord och komma med i tidningen Buster. Deras göranden varvas med passager från Italien och pojken som heter Fabrizio. Ska han överleva? Temat är att växa upp och att inse att man inte kan vara barn för evigt (så tolkade jag det i alla fall).

I novellerna ”I våra kommuner” och ”Bortamatch” är temat att längta bort, att släppa allt och försvinna. Jag föredrar den förra, som verkar handla om en man och en flicka som hela tiden är i rörelse och inte verkar kunna stanna. En vag känsla att världen är i uppror, eller att någon slags katastrof inträffat, svävar över läsandet.

Jag ska inte nämna alla noveller mer än att säga att jag tycker de alla har något visst … även om det naturligtvis handlar om en debut och man inte kan förvänta sig finslipad perfektion. Men det är ändå en imponerande och läsvärd samling. Jag får ta och läsa om I Gorans ögon snart, och sedan hoppas på att Lindberg inte övergivit novellen för alltid.

Kuriosa: Bokens titel syftar på en kort passage i en berättelse (minns inte vilken, men förmodligen ”Klasskamrater”) där någon gör tusen nålar på någon annan (alltså vrider om skinnet på underarmen, sådär som vi alla gjorde på varandra som barn).

Kuriosa 2: Bokens omslag kan vara bland det fulaste jag sett. Tur att man inte dömer hunden efter håren.