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Swing the ballroom in blood red. - 87%

hells_unicorn, March 8th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Avalon (Japan)

Jorn Lande could be seen as the godfather of the groovy mode of power metal that began taking over the scene soon after the turn of the millennium. Whether through his tenure with Masterplan or his ongoing career as a solo artist, he was essentially pulling back the speed metal influences and going back to the more rocking 80s school as espoused by the likes of Dio and Ozzy long before Edguy and Eden's Curse decided to glom onto it, albeit in Jorn's case, with a voice more reminiscent of David Coverdale and a musical sensibility that is a bit more eclectic and hinting at a progressive rock influence. His musical output as a solo attraction has been fairly consistent in its reliance on heaviness and a slightly asymmetrical, yet still largely song oriented approach to composition that cuts a bit against the trend of repetitive radio fodder typical to Tobias Sammet's output of late. To put it as plainly as possible, while having a consistent formula, Jorn isn't averse to taking some risks, and his latest venture with his solo band's recently recruited ax-man Trond Holter (himself from more of a rock background) definitely indulges in a few.

One might attribute the subject of a concept album like Dracula: Swing Of Death to a revived craze with the famed vampire legend due to the recent film "Dracula Untold", but a close inspection of the musical contents of this opus reveal something a bit more focused on the mid-20th century cinema depictions of the tale in question. It comes with a lot of usual conventions typical to Jorn's handiwork, namely rocking riffs with a heavy edge, plenty of gravely and sleazy shouts out of the helmsman with maybe a hint of soul, and a mid to upper mid-tempo feel that inspires a fair amount of foot tapping. However, it also comes with a fair amount of Neo-classical detailing, acoustic guitar and piano interludes like an occasional visit to the ball in between a bloody feast, and a frequent series of appearances by a female vocalist that counterpoints Jorn's rugged shouts with an equal amount of attitude yet a strong sense of passion and romance.

It's important to note that despite the cliche character of this album's subject, the approach manages to be anything but that. In stark contrast to the stereotypical sound of blaring pipe organs readily associated with Powerwolf, this album opts for a highly intricate, yet subtle and nuanced approach to working the vampire myth into the heavy metal medium. The chorus material heard out of "Walking On Water", "Save Me" and "River Of Tears" have a massive ensemble character to them that wouldn't be out of place on an Avantasia album, but what occurs between them is far less predictable. The guitar work is flashy, but largely avoids going too heavy on Malmsteen-oriented shredding and has a healthy amount of melody and a bluesy rocking character. Things go off into virtuoso territory a bit during the closing climax of "Queen Of The Dead" and much of the jamming instrumental "True Love Through Blood", but it manages to balance technique with memorability in a manner quite different than a lot of typical guitar hero affairs out there.

While it would be a bit of a stretch to claim this to be the greatest thing that Jorn has ever put together, it is definitely among the more unique projects associated with his name. I'm not a hundred percent clear on the reason for this being a completely independent project from Jorn's other albums bearing his name was due to label related matters, but the level of ambition on display here definitely sets it apart from everything from Starfire up to Traveller. There are occasional isolated spots where things take a bit of a stride off the stylistic map, such as the almost Doo-wop sounding chorus and overtly jazzy character of "Swing Of Death", but this is mostly something that will be easy for most fans of Jorn's solo work and Masterplan to sink their teeth into (no pun intended). Some see Dracula in a grandiose light typical to a usurping king waging an epic war on humanity, but this interpretation sees him more as a cynical and occasionally ironic figure, or in other words, a bit more like a human villain than a supernatural one.

Later submitted to (The Metal Observer) on October 19, 2015.

This will be one of the best albums of 2015. - 95%

PowerProg_Adam, January 28th, 2015

Concept albums are often tricky. If you don't have a strong concept the album doesn't seem to flow very well even if there happens to be superb musicianship. On the other hand, if you happen to have an incredible concept, but the music is lacking it doesn't make for a very enjoyable album either. Once in a blue moon a band actually gets it right from every angle imaginable. Jorn Lande has always been a force to be reckoned with in the world of heavy metal, often sounding like the bastard love child of Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale. He has worked with several great projects such as Masterplan, Allen-Lande (which happened to be one of my favorite albums of the year in 2014), Beyond Twilight, and his solo project Jorn just to name a few. Trond Halter has not been in nearly as many projects, mainly on Jorn's Traveller album last year. The two make a fantastic duo however and have come up with I feel is a concept, though very overused in books and movies, has not really been touched as a heavy metal concept album. The story of Dracula is one that is immediately identifiable and is one that is extremely dark and sinister, which is also a spirit that heavy metal embodies. Before even listening we already see that we have incredible musicians and a concept everyone can relate to, now the only thing left is to see if they can execute it like everyone would expect.

Hands of God starts out with Jorn sounding as menacing as he always does while laying out the framework of the story. There really isn't much to it musically, but it is an excellent way to help people on their journey through the concept. Enough albums are labeled as a concept and don't really begin the story very well. Jorn and Trond are well on their way even in the introduction in portraying a storyline that can easily be followed.

If you are expecting this to sound like Jorn's solo album you actually may be a tad bit disappointed. Although their are some darker elements to it, its actually a pretty upbeat album. Swing of Death is actually a pretty accurate title for the album and is very descriptive of the music. The title track is incredible, although a heavy metal song it has a bit of a swing element to it that kind of gives you the illusion that you're in a time centuries ago, dressed elegantly, and ballroom dancing with a beautiful maiden. There are some really nice female backing vocals in the song that accompanies Jorn's power voice very nicely. The title track is possibly my favorite track on the album and one I'd recommend listening to first.

Masquerade Ball continues with the elegant dance theme once again. This song lets you know just how amazing of a guitarist Trond Halter is. There is a lot of Spanish influenced flamenco guitar playing as well as some beautiful piano passages. Its continues the story of Dracula's dark seduction very nicely and does a great job of carrying on Dracula's tale. Jorn still manages to sound dark yet emotional in this track and this begins to show just how impressive the album's production is top notch. You can hear every facet of the music quite crisply, which gives it a very grand and majestic sound.

River of Tears displays very nicely the communication between Dracula and the woman he is trying to seduce. The trading of vocal lines between Jorn and the female vocalist makes this song one of the most intense on the album. Trond's solos here are incredible. They are extremely clean, yet alert of a brooding sense of danger. This is probably musically the finest song on the album. The last two minutes of the track is pretty much all solo until the song kicks back in with the chorus, which is possibly the most memorable on the album as well. Into the Dark is another song very much like this, which makes me wish I actually knew who the female vocalist was, because she sounds amazing and is actually a surprise and another reason I'd greatly recommend owning this album.

The concept has a very powerful ending as well. Under the Gun has some really impressive vocal orchestration and the emotion to the song leads to an excellent climax of the story. The chorus here is superb, just like many of the others through out the album. It concludes the love story between Dracula and his lady very nicely and portrays their passion for each other through vampirism almost perfectly. The fading out of guitar solos leads to a very nice ending of an extremely impressive album.

To be perfectly honest I was not a huge fan of Jorn's Traveller album and assumed this would be more of the same since it shares the two primary members. Drastically different from his solo project, Swing of Death is a rather eloquent concept that is pulled off almost flawlessly. The vocals are some of the best of Jorn's career, the backing vocals are an excellent touch, Trond's guitar playing shows that he also a force to be reckoned with, and the production of the album is very clear and crisp. I went into this album with low expectations and I have a feeling its already going to be top 10 material of 2015. I was thoroughly impressed far beyond I could have imagined.

Originally written for Horror Metal Sounds