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The current craze towards a more melodic, slowed down, arena rock oriented approach to power metal has been, at best, a mixed bag. A lot of it owes not so much to the idea that such a take on the style is destined to fail by default, but more because most bands that attempt it put way too much emphasis on the catchiness factor while forgetting that we’re actually still playing metal here. Perhaps the grossest offender in this regard has been the last 5 years of output by Edguy and Avantasia, where the guitar sound has been gutted and replaced with something more suited to the muddy mess that works fairly well for the old guard 60s and early 70s rock scene, but doesn’t mix well with a faster, more percussive and precise style in line with present practices. But there’s always been an upside to this idea of approaching power metal or even standard heavy metal without resorting to the widely utilized speed metal trappings, and most of these projects tend to have either Jørn Lande, Magnus Karlsson, or in this particular case, both of them.
Essentially Allen/Lande succeeds where the newer Avantasia/Edguy fail, bringing forth a lofty, hook driven approach to metal that is a good bit closer to the triumphant, larger than life character of a number of mainline 80s bands. In fact, this debut dubbed “The Battle” listens like a more restrained and song oriented version of Malmsteen’s early albums after dropping the Rising Force moniker (“Eclipse” and “Fire And Ice”). Perhaps this makes a bit of sense given that Jørn had a brief stint with Malmsteen as a live vocalist a few years prior to this project taking off, and that Russell Allen’s principle project Symphony X takes a heavy amount of influence for the mad Swede as well. But perhaps even more relevant than both front persons’ associations is that Magnus Karlsson’s lead guitar work has its fair share of Neo-classical tendencies, though his rhythm riffs tend to be a bit more simplistic and rooted in NWOBHM orthodoxy.
It has been noted by others that although the project sports the names of the two principle vocalists, that this project is really Magnus Karlsson’s beast, and as such it tends to conform to the same predictable formulas that embodies much of his other projects such as the now defunct Last Tribe and the backburner bound The Codex. The songs are punishingly symmetrical in their form, hitting the catchy chorus button at all the obligatory points, pasting in verses and bridges that sound almost as easy to sing along to, and technically impressive yet modestly brief lead guitar bursts that don’t allow the listener to zone off into instrumental land. Trying to differentiate the songs is actually a bit challenging, as is where Russell’s parts end and Jørn’s begin, but a few noticeable points of interest manage to peak out amid what is a frighteningly consistent set of songs. “Hunter’s Night” and “Silent Rage” tend to be the most blatant highlights with their alarming closeness to a number of mid-tempo Malmsteen classics from his middle era, to the point of sounding like they were reinterpreted from a set of ideas conceived of sometime in 1991. “Universe Of Light” also manages to put in a more metallic cruiser to complement what is largely a more rocking album, but doesn’t venture too far beyond what the average “I Want Out” emulation tends to.
An album like this tends to stand or fall on what kind of early impression in makes on the listener, and often expectations can get in the way when focusing too much on Russell Allen’s presence on here and drawing parallels to Symphony X. Admittedly, the visual of two dinosaurs doing battle on the album art doesn’t help this album much as one might expect either an archaic nod to Manilla Road or a speedier delivery along the lines of Helloween to come with it, neither of which is to be found here. But I would wager to guess that many a metal maniac may have purchased a Molly Hatchet album at some point expecting something other than old style southern rock. Either way, anyone who really likes Masterplan or Lande’s solo work should like this, as well as anyone else who wished the 80s had never ended. It’s a bit one-dimensional in character, but it works well nevertheless.
When I heard this, the first thing I thought was "Damn, this album is catchy." There are hooks abound, sing-along chorii, and endless amounts of guitar/keyboard melody. Did I mention this is very melodic? It's reminiscent of Lost Horizon and Blind Guardian's A Night at the Opera in that sense, filling an album full of catchy riff after catchy riff, with dense orchestrations of Magnus Karlsson that make me wonder why he's not more prominently featured.
Unfortunately, that's all it really is. It's full of soft-ish lines, powerless riffs, and although a riff here and there will be fun to play, as a whole, it does not stand up to the test of time. Part of the blame goes to the Karlsson; half the songs here come off as radio rock with guitar solos; the other half would've been appropriate as the more ballad-like songs on a power metal album, but since they are in fact the harder and heavier songs here, it completely ruins this.
A track-by-track review on this album would be useless; every song blends into each other, with the same tempos, same volumes, and same mush-like consistency with no organic variation or change. It's all the same super compressed, one-dimensional pap. Sure, a chorus here and there might stand out, but everything's been processed to utter death, including the singing, even though that was supposed to be the centerpoint of The Battle. Both singers sound the same, and the production does not allow either to really stand out or shine, so what's the point of having 2 singers, much less naming the project after them, if not for the sheer profit it would make from having 2 big name singers attached to it?
The guitar solos are all technically good, but none really stand out, being the usual sweep picked power metal fair, and the keyboards dominate, providing much of the melodic fiber. Due to the vocalists being the name of the group, vocals are omnipresent, singing melodic hook after melodic hook, providing a choral texture to compliment the orchestral keyboards and the melodic guitars. However, style=/=substance, and while this may all be technically good, it's about as hollow and substanceless as a can of dehydrated water (get it hyuck hyuck hyuck hyuck hyuck) and leaves just as much of an impression. It's good the first few listens, but quickly deteriorates because after a while the tendency is to want more out of this; more substance, more power, and for the love of god, a few manlier songs (they don't even have to be fast) would do good, and a bit less commercialism.
To sum it up, uninspired lyrics, uninspired songwriting, and an extreme tendency towards being overprocess prevent this from shining, which is a shame, because all the musicians here are actually very talented. You just won't hear that on The Battle.
Call me Mr. Picky, but if an album’s artwork promises a violent encounter between fantastical riders on a mammoth and a ceratopsid with lances at the ready, I’m going to be a little disappointed when ‘Another Battle’ turns out to be a bland lament about a relationship breakdown. It’s clear that this entire project, engineered and written entirely by Magnus Karlsson (who plays all the instruments aside from the drums), is merely a vehicle to combine two of the most sensational vocalists in the heavy metal world. Apparently.
Unfortunately, ‘The Battle’ between Symphony X’s Russell Allen and Masterplan’s Jørn Lande is something the listener will spend the entire album awaiting to no avail, assuming that unlike me, their interest didn’t wane increasingly with each tedious offering before the whole thing became a serious chore to get through. The two singers possess a sufficiently different range for this to work, on the six songs that they are actually pitted against each other (in an amicable, supportive arrangement, of course), but Lande’s higher notes unfortunately lead to that singer being far more prominent in the album’s very worst offerings, leading to the superior hard rock stylings of Allen being overshadowed. Symphony X are one of the foremost bands of progressive metal, combining neoclassical guitar and keyboard flourishes with an American thrash style that has produced some of my favourite albums of all time. Masterplan are power metal or something, apparently, but I haven’t heard of them. With their powers combined, what on Earth will be the result?
An incredibly weak melodic rock album is the answer. Barely clinging on to its supposed metal roots with a few nice guitar solos and riffs recycled from Queensrÿche, I can’t imagine a two-disc collection of ‘The Weakest Hair Metal Power Ballads of the 80s... Ever!’ sounding less effeminate than this. There’s nothing wrong with not being metal of course (well, there is really, but let’s pretend I have a reasonable world view), but this album is clearly targeted at the metal crowd with its prominent frontmen. If Karlsson wants to make an album of easily digestible light rock anthems, he could at least have the decency to admit it, without raising unrealistic hopes for some heavy metal about battles. Both singers adapt a significantly more pop-oriented style perfectly suited to these melodic songs, mostly based on mediocre hard rock guitar riffs but occasionally and horribly on piano, but it’s Allen who retains the most dignity. He’s already explored a pop vocal direction in some of Symphony X’s past songs (the boy band chorus of ‘Out of the Ashes’ and the weird refrain of ‘Wicked’ spring to mind), and although he has to contend with some awful lyrics here, he’s at least spared the ballads.
‘Reach a Little Longer’ is the most significantly vomit-inducing five minutes of this tedious hour, and Lande makes it much worse by really getting into it, making silly hum sounds and pretending to ad-lib/scat over the final guitar solo. I’m sure it wouldn’t offend most casual listeners quite as much, as the whole idea of an album based entirely around the singer is something you don’t really get in metal: even the side projects of prominent vocalists tend to be as heavy and band-oriented as their customary outfits (things like Bruce Dickinson, Halford and Dio). Not all of the album is terrible, and there are some parts that are saved by pleasant lead guitar melodies (such as ‘Wish for a Miracle’ and ‘Truth About Our Time’) before these too become overly repetitive, while ‘My Own Way Home’ stood out as being the most successful meeting of all the instruments. The rest of the album is an incredibly dull, pop rock affair that I’d be embarrassed if caught listening to (I had to turn it down in case my flatmates thought I was normal or something), spoiled further by some really bad lyrics about boring stuff like love and the world rather than prehistoric monsters fighting, that’s what I like. The worst thing is, they did it all again...
This is without a doubt one of the best melodic albums I have ever heard. I bought this mostly for the Russell Allen aspect; I really dig his work with Symphony X and his "Atomic Soul" album. What I got was so much more that what I had originally expected.
Each song is extremely uplifting, and over the top in its magnificence. Right from the outset we are greeted with incredible production that really packs a punch. This compliments the instrumentation so well, kudos to Magnus Karlsson for his superb skills and writing capabilities. The music is majestic, sometimes venturing slightly into the progressive realm (the opening riff of the album springs to mind). Huge keyboards boost the magnificent riffs to a heavenly state, and the guitar solos are pretty damn impressive.
Now, to the vocalists; having not really heard Masterplan before, I was new to Jorn Lande, but man does he have an incredible voice. His is definitely the more "power metal" of the two, whereas Russell's are grittier, more hard rock influenced (see his "Atomic Soul" album for a real show of his vocals). I have to say, if I was forced to pick the better performance, it would be Lande by a fraction - purely because I have heard Allen doing slightly better. It is indeed a battle, as the title suggests, but Lande also does all of the vocals on some of the better tracks - "My Own Way Home" definitely springs to mind.
All in all, this is a magnificent album. I know I've said this before, but there really is no other word to describe it. The verses and choruses are all incredibly, brilliant, catchy, and most of them will have you singing along for months. There is also a more than welcome hint of diversity throughout, be it in the form of the Hard Rock based "Come Alive" or the balladesque "Reach A Little Longer".
Standout tracks are "Another Battle", "Come Alive", "Truth About Our Time", "My Own Way Home", "Silent Rage" - and pretty much the rest of the album. A very strong effort, and I am struggling to believe reviews claiming that "The Revenge" - which I am yet to hear - is a better offering.
Russel Allen and Jorn Lande, two of the greatest metal vocalists on the same album, needless to say the level of expectation was high. Combining Russel’s slightly harsh vocals with Jorn’s more melodic style, without doubt the idea was a great one. But then?
The first thing that strikes without even having heard the album is the omnipresence of Magnus Karlsson (from Last Tribe, quite unknown) behind the music: the guy wrote all the music as well as lyrics, and plays every instrument (except the drums) so one can wonder why the project hasn’t been called Allen/Lande/Karlsson. Perhaps because he’s rather unknown so he won’t have had any commercial impact... Actually by starting listening to the music one understands why he still remains unknown: mostly boring and uninspired mid-tempo power metal, that’s what it is all about. Most of the songs actually begin with some hooking riff (Come Alive, Silent Rage) or keyboard tune (Where are the Angels gone) which let the listener think something like “yeah, eventually this one’s got it!” – but alas, soon basic vocal lines and chords as well as uninspired choruses (Come Alive... again) already heard a thousand times in every sub-par power metal band (like, let’s say Dragonforce) make the track as forgettable as the previous one. And it’s not the two utterly shitty ballads (Reach a little longer, Ask you anyway) which will make the album better. To sum up, power metal is about... power, and this album singularly lacks of it. Lyrics, mostly dealing with the eternal struggle-with-life theme, are not more interesting, a shame when one thinks of what they could have been if only Russel Allen had dealt with them instead. Let’s face it: the man is untalented, and one begins to suspect that he called Russel only to try to give him some fame...
So, how about the singing? Russel and Jorn’s fans, prepare to be disappointed once again: while the album title let expect a actual “battle” between these two great men, actually only one half of the twelve songs are sung by both, and even on these tracks there is no real “duel” – they consist generally in two verses, one being sung by each vocalist alone, and choruses sung by both. Then three songs are sung by Russel alone, and three by Jorn alone (however, despite what is written on the booklet, it seems backing vocals are often sung by both). One just can wonder where the interest is considering that both singers already have an extended solo discography. On the vocal performance in itself, as expected, there’s nothing to say, even if Russel Allen doesn’t seem to display all of his impressive capacities, trying more to sound like Jorn (who, of course, does it quite better than him). Only one song, Hunter’s night, shows his harsher side.
There are however a few good surprises here. The opening track, Another Battle, just lets one guess how the whole album could have sounded like had it been written by a more gifted musician: a mid-paced, powerful song, sounding like a good old Helloween tune, showing indeed a perfect balance between the two singers, and backed by some nice keyboards - actually the song it seems that Mr Karlsson has put all his ideas in. The following song, Hunter’s Night, as said before, is easily the best Russel Allen’s performance here (he sings alone on this track and his more aggressive style reminds a bit of what he usually does in Symphony X, especially at the end of the song), and the solo part is a bit more technical that in the following songs. Eventually, Truth about our Time, lost in the middle of the album, is the kind of song that Tobias Sammet of Edguy would have easily turned into a succesful single. Actually it sounds somewhat like a rip-off of Avantasia (the song) of the same Tobias Sammet, so it’s no coincidence: an instantly memorable riff, a catchy chorus and some pop-ish backing vocals. Don’t get me wrong: the song, one of the fastest here, is good, and actually far better than the aforementionned Avantasia. Then, lost amongst the nine other tracks, some nice melodies, some more inspired riffs, some isolated technical parts, and two amazing singers apparently wasting their time.
Well, it COULD have been wonderful.
Highlights: Another Battle, Hunter’s Night, Truth about our Time