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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.