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A cut above the rest. - 88%

hells_unicorn, March 4th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Frontiers Records

As one of the more prolific purveyors of AOR infused power and heavy metal, Magnus Karlsson has proven himself an expert at getting the job done, though often times his work doesn't quite go too far beyond just that. In spite of his extreme skill as a guitar soloist (rivaling most in the field), and his exemplary abilities as an arranger with his dense keyboard overlays and symphonic detailing, his songwriting has generally erred on the side of caution and much of his output with bands dating back to Midnight Sun in the late 90s up until the present has been a bit dry and predictable, though definitely pleasant and engaging at times. Perhaps the lone exception to this trend has been his ongoing contributions to Primal Fear since they joined Frontiers Records, which can perhaps be chalked up to him sharing songwriting duties with Mat Sinner and focusing more on his prowess as a technician and an arranger while the riff department is shared with other perspectives. But with the recent birth of Karlsson's own solo project Free Fall, a greater degree of adventurism seems to be afoot.

At first glance this project may seem redundant in that it does carry some stylistic similarities to Karlsson's work with Allen - Lande, aka the project that he left to start this one, and also that of Kiske - Somerville which is perhaps a bit lighter and geared a bit towards a melodic power metal sound, but it hits the ears with a greater degree intensity. Part of this may lay in a greater degree of his Primal Fear work seeping into his songwriting, as select songs such as "Not My Savior" (featuring current Masterplan vocalist Rick Altzi and sounding fairly closer to something said band would do) and "Last Tribe" (named after one of Magnus older projects and featuring two fellow band mates from the same band) have this chunkier, punchy chugging character at times that is a bit more indicative of a heavier ended style, not to mention Ralf Scheepers' guest appearance for "Higher" featuring more of a riff-happy, speed metal character to it, differing from Primal Fear primarily in the degree of keyboard and lead guitar presence.

This is actually the chief aim and draw of this project, a demonstration of Karlsson's ability to adapt his highly stylized songwriting approach to a number of different sounding vocalists and coming out with something that is varied yet consistent. Even when accounting for generally slower paced and rocking numbers like the lead off and title song "Free Fall" (featuring the first half of the Allen - Lande namesake on lead vocals no less) dresses up its hyper-catchy, AOR demeanor with a fair bit more detailing than usual and comes out sounding a bit closer to a progressive take on melodic metal than a straight-line rock anthem, which fits in with Allen's best known handiwork. Similarly, one can't help but miss the heavily keyboard oriented and spacey character of "Dreams & Hunters", in much the same vein as Cloudscape and featuring the vocalist of said band. The lone exceptions where this album takes on an identity that is wholly Magnus Karlsson in character are the ones where he handles lead vocal duties, as "Heading Out, "Ready Or Not" and "On Fire" carry a similar degree of intricacy as the other songs, but in more of a less emulative way, owing partially to Karlsson's vocals being more squeaky clean and moderated in character next to most of the other vocalists on here save Herman Saming's all crooning, all the time approach on "Fighting".

There's basically a little bit of just about everything associated with melodic metal to be found on here, ranging from straight up symmetrical rocking with all the obligatory and predictable hooks, to something that is occasionally progressive and willing to step a little out of the box. All of the bands associated with the vocalists tapped for the various songs found on here have had a degree of influence on its consequential sound, though if there was a single band that this entire package could be compared to it would be Eden's Curse, itself a band that boasts a fairly wide array of rock, progressive, power and heavy metal influences. It's an album that sees Karlsson redressing some of the mild flaws in his generally predictable songwriting and riff creation, showing less of a tendency towards maturity and the limitation that tends to go with it, but more so a sudden youthful sense of adventure that is not terribly common. Back in the early 2000s Tobias Sammet pioneered the concept of an artist tapping a wide array of vocalists to create something elaborate, while in 2013 Magnus Karlsson has all but taken it to its logical conclusion.

Surprisingly good. - 70%

Tobbe L, June 23rd, 2013

Swedish multi-instrumentalist and producer Magnus Karlsson has gathered a bunch of vocalists from all kinds of rock and metal, wrote songs to fit each and everyone's style and topped it with Daniel Flores behind the drum kit. This equals a melodic metal experience with mainly good and great songs, yet not totally awesome or extraordinary. It's a journey that reaches about halfway to total success, which may sound cryptic when the album in fact carries a most pleasant fifty-five minutes of heavy rocking and soul-binding material.

Karlsson handles his instruments on this Free Fall debut with a certain brilliance in his soloing and with his occasional heavy riffing, proving that he's capable of writing and playing songs in different metal genres as well. With lead vocals on three tracks, he further shows that these chores are what he does best. This is, what I know of, also the first time ever I get to hear his lead vocals and I must say, I couldn't have done it better myself. His production is somewhat clean on a moderate level, suitable for these melodic and captivating songs. I won't endeavor to go through each singer's individual effort, so you just have to trust my word that they fulfill their duties with grandeur and dignity.

It's indeed melodic all throughout with a pair of ballads and some slightly faster and heavier tracks. The songs throughout this release are rather varied and are approached with control and thought. A couple of songs hit me right in the guts. The opener, Free Fall, featuring Symphony X's Russell Allen, is heavy rocking. The strongly Primal Fear-influenced Higher with a screaming Ralf Scheepers makes my head bang, as I'm a huge fan of the German's vocals and also the drums in that song feel like they could have been ripped from just about any song from that named band's discography. Ready or Not, featuring the main man on vocals, is strongly captivating and I love the guitar play in that song. Much to my surprise I also totally dig this album's AOR track number one, the Herman Saming-sung Fighting, which is catchy to the edge of ridiculousness.

All in all, a very uplifting and captivating record qualifying in at a high rate. Karlsson is a highly productive man and I wouldn't be astonished if his days in Primal Fear were counted, now when he has this release to fall back on. A surprisingly solid album from the Sweden native and his crew.

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