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Often dismissed as being all flash and no flair, Yngwie has become quite apt at making his critics look like morons. Whenever some hipster or burnt out adherent to post-Grunge decrepitude gets high and mighty about the so called value of good songwriting and how Malmsteen never understood it, a quick visit to albums such as “Marching Out”, “Odyssey” and “The Seventh Sign”, among others, reveals such buffoonery as being an outright confession of proud ignorance. But to be fair, within his lengthy back catalog, there is a good amount of shifting back and forth between a focus on songwriting and one on elaborate lead playing. For much of his later albums after “Alchemy”, the focus has been pretty heavily on expanding the standards first set on “Rising Force”, with lengthy instrumentals, but within the format of still putting out a plurality of songs rather than instrumentals, thus resulting in a very solo heavy and vocal light approach. “Perpetual Flame” is a step back towards a measured approach to both, fueled most likely by his exceptional new vocalist.
In a manner of speaking, Tim Owens really makes this album, in spite of his role as vocalist alone. His uncanny ability to be a formidable force as a lone voice, coupled with his great adaptability in a multi-tracked chorus approach, put him in a realm quite different than previous vocalists in Yngwie’s camp. Others like Mark Boals, Joe Lynn Turner and Doogie White were pretty well capable at doing harmonically rich choruses; while Michael Vescera, Jeff Scott Soto and Mats Leven had a much more aggressive approach that was conducive to going it alone, but Owens proves able to handle both roles equally well, and often outclasses some of the others in their own areas. This is established not simply through a measured performance throughout the entire album, but immediately during the highly memorable, high octane, metallic ass kicking opening song otherwise known as “Death Dealer”. The intro is a typical baroque chord progression as Yngwie often delivers, but good old Ripper adds this majestic edge to an otherwise cliché section and everything just falls perfectly into place as the song accelerates into a beautiful marriage of J.S. Bach and Judas Priest.
In many ways, “Perpetual Flame” is less a new direction for Malmsteen than it is a reorganization of a working formula. Many of these songs are loaded with familiar themes, varied slightly from various past efforts, in much the same way that AC/DC evolved their sound during the transition from the Bon Scott era to the Brian Johnson one. Musically songs like “Damnation Game”, “Red Devil” and “Be Careful What You Wish For” have some riffs that ring really familiar to anyone whose heard any albums from this outfit from between 1994-2005. But the difference lay chiefly in a stellar vocal performance, a more compact and melodic approach to soloing that hearkens back to the glory days of the 80s, and a much cleaner production that departs from the modern, somewhat sloppy mixing jobs that permeated every album in the 2000s before this. This is particularly noticeable on slower, heavier songs such as “Four Horsemen (Of The Apocalypse)” where the droning low guitar riff whacks right through the dense atmospheric keyboards in a way that that hasn’t been heard since “Magnum Opus”. In fact, the only area where this album retains anything from last two albums is the slower rocking “Magic City”, which heavily resembles the bluesy and attitude drenched “Cherokee Warrior”, one of the stronger songs off of “Unleash The Fury”.
Although there hasn’t been too many slip ups in Yngwie’s near 3 decade history, this definitely showcases an outfit that is hungry to regain grounds that haven’t been explored in quite a while. The choice of Owens was the perfect choice, given the large array of similar sounding vocalists in Malmsteen’s past and the need for a fresh new sound, and it shines through every time Ripper puts his mouth to the microphone. The only outright negative aspect of this album is that, given the frequency in which vocalists tend to come and go in this fold, the expectations have been set high for the next studio offering. But regardless of future outcomes, this is a fine addition to Yngwie’s history and one that any fan of his brand of speed shredding should not be without.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 23, 2010.