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Throughout the 1990s heavy music was experiencing a dark age of sorts, mired by an endless collection of bands that specialized in grooving rather than innovating. Many in the critical field believe that “Facing the Animal” represents a compromise between the predominant style of this period and his own music, but when one listens to the full collection of songs on here and is mindful of the gradual evolution in Yngwie’s sound that began on “Seventh Sign”, this viewpoint becomes hard to defend.
The structure of the songs have not really changed all that much since Marching Out, as Yngwie has tended away from the progressive pursuits of others whom he has had an influence on. The riffs on certain tracks, particularly the title track and “Enemy”, are a bit minimalist in nature and groove a bit. However, these riffs function more to complement the more harmonically intricate sections that they lead in and out of, rather than fully dominate the song and turning it into an exercise in pure boredom, as was the case with many metal releases in the early to mid-90s.
We have more attention paid to melody and a more measured approach to shredding than was the case on previous efforts. Songs such as “Like an Angel”, “Sacrifice”, and “Alone in Paradise” have highly catchy guitar leads that you can easily hum along with. “My Resurrection” and “Heathens from the North” have signature riffs that are easily picked out from the vast Yngwie back catalog, where certain tracks do become interchangeable with others on previous releases. Even faster tracks such as “Braveheart” and “Poison in your Veins” are easily distinguishable from previous Malmsteen cookers, particularly the former which contains a brilliant Scottish highland inspired lead riff.
If I had to pick one song on here that stands out amongst the rest, which is extremely hard to do as there is so much great music on here, it would be the straight-forward rocker “Another Time”. This song just never gets old for me, be it the highly catchy chorus, the memorable main riff, or the amazing organ solo that Mats Olausson closes off the song with.
One peculiar aspect of this album that aids in its high level of accessibility is the lack of substantial instrumental works on here. The only one on here is the baroque inspired “Air on a Theme”, which closes the album and functions mostly as an afterthought. Unlike such long-winded and shred happy works as the Trilogy Suite and Krakatau, it’s a short melodic number with a simple tune.
The line-up on this album probably carries as much, if not more musical credibility, than the original line-up of Rising Force. Keyboardist Mats Olausson has proven to be equally apt at both lead playing and providing beautiful atmospheric textures as Jens Johannsen did. Barry Dunaway was something of an unknown before appearing on this album, but he gets the job done on here with the best of them. Legendary drummer Cozy Powell (RIP) of Rainbow and Black Sabbath fame puts on the performance of a lifetime on here, keeping up the consistency of the rhythm section and executing every fill-in flawlessly. But the true highlight performance of this release goes to Mats Levén, whose triumphant yet scratchy vocal style is highly reminiscent of the greatness exhibited by Jeff Scott Soto. He ranks as the 2nd best vocalist that Yngwie has ever had work on an album, with Mike Vescera and Joe Lynn Turner riding a close 3rd.
In conclusion, for the metal fan that is not familiar with Yngwie’s music, this is probably the most accessible of his releases (his debut being the least accessible). It emphasizes structure and melody more than any of his other releases, resulting in a more reserved yet equally powerful version of past efforts. It carries some slightly modern elements in the overall production and the rhythm guitar tracks, but this album is as much a rejection of the musical mediocrity that was going on in the 90s as any other release that Yngwie has ever put out.