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The kings of rock will be pleased. - 85%

hells_unicorn, April 15th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Frontiers Records

Somewhere in the great land of metal there exists a kingdom where all the patriarchs of iron and steel, be they royalty, nobility and gentry, gather to celebrate their trade. While such a land is naturally mythical, if there were to exist such a place, it's a fair bet that all of the figures that have participated in Magnus Karlsson's solo project dubbed Free Fall would be in congress. As the substance in question (metal) is known for its constancy and malleability, it is with little surprise that these two attributes have become staples of Karlsson's musical endeavors, as he has grown a fair bit since his formative days in the early 2000s with Midnight Sun and Last Tribe, offering up an eclectic take on modern melodic metal that is known for upholding orthodoxy while not shunning various innovations in production and style that have become common practice only recently. After a passage of only two years, not to mention while still being involved as a songwriter and co-producer with Primal Fear, an near equally impressive display as the self-titled debut comes in the form of Kingdom Of Rock.

While Karlsson's project doesn't involve a recurring conceptual story, there is a fair degree of similarity with Tobias Sammet's highly popular Avantasia project, barring the latter's tendency to move further away from its Helloween oriented power metal roots. A number of vocalists that were involved on the debut have returned to reprise their roles, admittedly taking on songs similar in style to where they were situated before, and the rest of the cast of vocal characters have similarities or direct connections with the figures they've replaced. The most obvious and auspicious figure gracing this album is responsible for giving the opener and title song "Kingdom Of Rock" its power, namely the second half of Karlsson's former project Allen - Lande. Suffice to say, Jorn Lande provides the usual display of dynamic and impassioned David Coverdale vocal emulations, but surprisingly enough Karlsson proves to be the greater force in this song, as the riff work is extremely active, shifting feel fairly often and featuring lots of lead detailing in a manner that is highly indicative of Randy Rhoads' handiwork on Ozzy's early albums.

Nipping on the heels of the highly impressive lead off song is a varied, yet slightly less adventurous collection of songs than the last go around, featuring a slightly more rock oriented cast of characters. The second song "Out Of The Dark" has a similar speed metal character to a Primal Fear oriented number like the one that Ralf Scheepers handled on the last album, but vocalist Jakob Samuelsson comes off more like a sleazy LA sounding screamer than a Halford adherent, giving the song a slightly lighter and less menacing feel. The Joe Lynn Turner at the helm rocker "No Control" is among the least metallic numbers on here, but features a fairly catchy set of hooks and a fairly lean and clean performance out of the vocalist in question. Rick Altzi's tune "Another Life" sports something of a folksy acoustic segue into one of the heavier and faster numbers on here, providing a necessary musical contrast for a vocalist that sounds extremely similar to Jorn Lande. Much of the rest of the album goes through similarly mixed motions of rocking one moment, metallic glory the next, with David Readman's performance being another obvious highlight.

Perhaps the biggest point of contrast between this album and its predecessor, apart from it being slightly less adventurous stylistically, is that while it is an overall collective success, it also comes with a couple songs that absolutely tower above the rest. One of these is the already mentioned title song, the other is "When The Sky Falls", seeing the triumphant return of former Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin to what he does best. This song is an absolutely boon for anyone who is nostalgic for the highly triumphant and epic character of Sabbath's Tyr, and draws some heavy influences from both "Anno Mundi" and "Jerusalem", to the point of sounding like a perfect amalgamation of the two songs, and still carrying Mangus' staple lead guitar style, which is less bluesy and retro in character than Tony Iommi's. This song alone makes this entire album worth checking out, and all but makes one want to start a campaign to convince Karlsson to do an entire album with Martin in said style. It's uncertain who this project will tap the next time around, but given Karlsson's fairly rapid output between his various active projects, we're all sure to find out soon enough, and thank goodness for that.

This is how you write songs for guest vocalists. - 95%

PowerProg_Adam, November 11th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Frontiers Records

One of the most difficult feats to achieve for many metal artists when trying to comprise an album full of guest appearances seems to be actually writing songs that fit the particular cameo's style. Several bands such as Avantasia have succeeded quite well in doing so while several others such as Ayreon and Timo Tolkki's Avalon don't always pull it off for me as successfully as they possibly could. After hearing that guitar virtuoso Magnus Karlsson was creating his second Free Fall album I honestly was not that excited. I love virtually every band he has ever been a part of from Kiske/Somerville and Primal Fear all the way back to Last Tribe and Midnight Sun, but something seemed to be amiss about many of the songs on the debut. He managed to recruit some incredible singers such as Russell Allen and Tony Harnell, but the songwriting seemed to be lacking in several places almost as if he wrote the songs before he had particular singers in mind. After announcing the lineup for Kingdom of Rock I was almost even more disappointed, not because of the guest vocalists chosen weren't to my liking, but quite the opposite. I loved the lineup up so much and I really didn't want to potentially be disappointed again.

After pushing play I was immediately enamoured from the opening track on. Magnus seemed to be firing on all cylinders when attempting to write songs for individual singers. It is almost as if he sat down and said to himself "I've got Joe Lynn Turn on the song No Control, maybe I should try to write something that wouldn't be out of place on Yngwie Malmsteen's Odyssey album". Honestly I felt he nailed that particular song perfectly. Incredibly memorable riffage, a chorus that you'll be singing along to from first listen, and Joe's voice is certainly not showing his age. The real highlight of this album though is When the Sky Falls featuring ex-Black Sabbath legend Tony Martin. He has always been an incredible singer who I've felt never really got the credit he's deserved. Magnus's opening riff is just punishing, I found myself headbanging throughout the entire song. This is also not the typical vocal performance of a man who is damn near 60. This song to me really sounds like something Tony Iommi might have written in the late 80s. Honestly the way it stands now this is a heavy contender for song of the year.

I could go on and on about how great the guitar playing and songwriting are on Kingdom of Rock. Angel of the Night with David Readman sounds like an extremely memorable Pink Cream 69 track, Never Look Away with Tony Harnell easily sounds like something TNT would be writing had he not left the band again and is easily a considerably better track than the one he contributed on the debut Free Fall album, etc. One of the biggest surprises for me though is that Magnus is once again the vocalist on the two tracks I Am Coming for You and Walk This Road Alone. I always knew he was an incredible guitarist, but I had no idea he had gained a much more competent singing voice over the past couple of years. His vocal control can easily rival that of pretty much any of the well established guests singing for him.

All in all Kingdom of Rock was an immense surprise. For a project where one man does all the guitars, keyboards, bass, and even some of the vocals everything is completely top notch. Once again Magnus has another producer credit, which I have always loved. Every album he's ever got his hands on has come out extremely clean and well polished and he has grown to be one of my favorite producers as well as all around musician. This is pretty close to being an album of the year contender.