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Magnus Karlsson's Ultimate Suck - 20%

Dragonchaser, February 4th, 2023
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Frontiers Records

I actually used to be a fan of Magnus Karlsson’s work, but his numerous projects for Frontiers are starting to make me avoid anything he’s involved with, as he’s gone from being one of power metal’s shining stars to a guy who’s pulling the genre down with far too much hard rock and AOR-infused shit like this that is so by the numbers it might as well not exist. Despite the guys he has playing with him in The Ferrymen, they are fucking awful, and his work on Allen/Olzen was a total snooze fest. Some misinformed idiot told me Free Fall was his speed/shred metal project so I decided to check it out thinking, well, I guess he’s tired of putting out all this Whitesnake bullshit; he probably just wants to make power metal albums again. But no, Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall is the worst of his projects I’ve been subjected to, and by far the most hard rock-influenced, not to mention the most boring act he’s currently part of.

For fuck’s sake, though, Last Tribe were awesome, and Magnus brought such a great songwriting flourish to Primal Fear, I really thought his solo stuff would blow me away. ‘We Are The Night’, despite its awesome cover art, is just a sad and depressing collection of hard rock songs with very little double kicking at all. He gives each tune to a different vocalist, some of them with a lot of heft in the scene, but the songs suck. They contain plodding, middling riffs, pathetic hard rock vocal lines, and choruses you’ve heard a million times before. This is still Masterplan metal at best, but at least Masterplan would rip out a power metal speedfest from time to time. There’s nothing like that here. He’s hired a bunch of guys who sound like Jorn Lande and Russell Allen to sing, so it all sounds like the same old shit. Even Noora Louhimo’s powerful pipes can’t save ‘Queen Of Fire’ from sounding like something you’d hear on the radio in 1988. Michael Andersson from Cloudscape sings on ‘All The Way To The Stars’, but even that one is an overblown piece of orchestral, despondent hard rock dressed in power metal robes. The only power metal tune on here is ‘Temples And Towers’, which is about as fast as ‘I Want Out’, but it sounds like fucking ‘Speed Of Light’ against the chugging, swaggering bullshit most of this album is made up of. The best parts by miles are when Magnus solos, as he is still a fabulous guitarist, with tasteful touches and phrases that come so easily to him. I just don’t know how he’s forgotten how to write shit like ‘Witch Dance’ and ‘The Uncrowned’. I mean, Last Tribe were the perfect power metal/hard rock composite; why does all his shit sound the same these days? You could play a tune off this against anything from The Ferrymen, Allen/Olzen, or Heart Healer, and it would all be transposable. Just like on ‘Army Of Dreamers’, the only exciting parts are the solos and what backs them up. Songs like ‘Under The Black Star’, with Animal Drive’s Dino Jelusic doing his best Ronnie Romero impression, sound like leftover scraps from the last Ferrymen album, which blew the big one so bad it was an embarrassment to the power metal scene. This is not what the genre is supposed to be about, Magnus. Make a fucking cock-swinging hard rock album if you want to, but don’t dare trick power metal fans into buying it. They don’t want it, trust me.

Bottom line is if you actually enjoy Karlsson’s various symphonic hard rock albums for Frontiers, you’ll like this, too. But it’s by far the most egregious one I’ve heard from him so far, and sadly, I don’t think I’ll be listening to another one any time soon. Get a Last Tribe album instead to see how amazing this guy used to be.

Therefore, we are Batman - 73%

Silicon Messiah, October 6th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Frontiers Records

As is becoming a tradition I had half a review written detailing the many exploits of Magnus Karlsson of late before Microsoft struck and with a reboot undid the entire thing. Between all his projects and doodads the man seems unwilling to stop cranking out album after album of his own style of melodic heavy metal. Between most recent (and decidedly lukewarm) Frontiers Records team-up Allen/Olzon and the upcoming Primal Fear full length the time is right to unleash the third album released under the Free Fall moniker.

And with all this material just getting cranked out one would be hard pressed to remember much of anything of the previous two albums – that is aside from the phenomenal Jorn Lande blessed title track off the previous album Kingdom of Rock (2015). The third one is titled We Are the Night and is much like the previous two based on the noodling of Karlsson’s guitar, as well as the songwriting and multi instrumentalism of the same.

Vocals are once again handled by guests and friends from afar as well as Karlsson himself on a couple of the songs. The guests include the overrated (there, I said it) Ronnie Romero (The Ferrymen, Lords of Black, Rainbow) and Tony Martin who still lives on the legacy of being Black Sabbath’s third best vocalist. The inclusion of Romero especially is confounding, given the bleak One by One he appears on could just as easily have been tossed on a The Ferrymen album; it just feels like filler left out from there.

Dino Jelusić (Stone Leaders, Animal Drive) lend some Coverdale inspired weight to a couple of tracks, not least is Hold Your Fire which blasts the album open on a high note. As usual though, Karlsson himself sings a few of the tunes, and makes an absolute blast of it, proving himself the perfect fit in the title track and Don’t Walk Away. The catchy guitar noodling is obviously the main focal point of the entire project, and to that end Karlsson does tend to put some of his strongest songwriting chops to the table here.

The strongest tracks see massive rhythms broken intermittently by furious lead work and soloing galore, always grounded in the beefy drum work of Jaime Salazar. Other tracks take a more AOR route that fit Karlsson’s strengths so well. Everything is catchy, and it’s all perfectly polished in a flawless Jacob Hansen production, but it’s just never too memorable, to which end tracks like the slow Queen of Fire, Under the Sign of the Star and Temples and Towers just bring little of interest, though Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast) lends a great performance on the first one. Aside from a few tracks gaining some traction, there’s little staying power and little in the way of innovation.

Karlsson also tends to show off his skill and abilities without going to extremes and taking to shredding or overdone soloing (instrumental On My Way Back to Earth is a fine example); the elements are put in place to make the album an enjoyable, if straightforward and taken at face value fairly simple, listen meant to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. It’s all well and good and definitely a fine album to crank on your average drive on a curving country road, but… when the next one comes out, how much of this will still be getting played regularly?

Standout tracks: We Are the Night, Don’t Walk Away, On My Way Back to Earth

The night has many personas. - 90%

hells_unicorn, June 26th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Frontiers Records

Shifting times can have the appearance of bringing shifting allegiances, but in the particular case of Magnus Karlsson's shifting array of projects, it's all bound to the same overarching kingdom. The imperial domain in question is naturally the Italian-based Frontiers Records, a beacon from which much of present day strains of melodic metal flow, which has been this Swedish virtuoso's benefactor of sorts for nearly two decades. Despite frequently hoping between projects that often fail to go beyond three studio LPs, there is a stylistic consistency that has always lingered in Karlsson's output, a sort of trifecta of traditional heavy, power and progressive metal elements that are used to different degrees from one project to the next, but tend to yield highly similar results. Naturally much of this owes to Magnus often being the dominant compositional force in the lion's share of these projects, but also due to his heavy involvement in the production department, like a veritable jack of all trades that serves not only to create, but also to direct the talent employed to bring the creation to life. In this capacity, the aptly titled Magnus Karlsson's Free Fall offers the most concentrated dose of what he has always tended to put forth, with a correspondingly impressive array of guest vocalists lending their voices to the effort.

In relation to his past efforts, We Are The Night stands apart not merely for being a versatile and amped up expression of the same winning formula, but also due to an impressive lineup of more youthful vocal contributors. One might venture to say that Karlsson has become something of a talent scout given the larger degree of newcomers in the fold, with Animal Drive front man Dino Jelusic and rank newcomer from Brazil Renan Zonta. Both singers exhibit that Coverdale-like smokey swagger and gravely goodness to their delivery that Jorn Lande contributed to the last installment, yet each putting their own unique spin on it, with Jelusic being more of a menacing growler, while Zonta has a bit more of a nimble, higher end glide to his execution. Naturally the rest of the guest titans that make a showing on this album do a more than adequate job of showcasing their vocal chops, with the peculiar example of ex-Sabbath vocalist and unsung metal hero Tony Martin impressing by holding his own as he approaches his mid-60s amid a crop of much younger helmsmen. Surrounding them is the usual assortment of hook-driven yet heavily nuanced blend of metallic thunder and keyboard-driven symphonic pomp that comes along with any Karlsson project over the past decade, though being even more developed and versatile.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Free Fall's formula is how the music adapts itself seamlessly to the expected stylistic expressions associated with each singer's unique voice. In the peculiar cases of the blaring power ballad and Noora Louhimo offering "Queen Of Fire", as well as the prog-infused and spacey song allotted to Michael Andersson, it's all but impossible to avoid being tricked into thinking that each song isn't the latest single out of Battle Beast or the now sadly defunct Cloudscape. Likewise, the power metal infused anthem featuring Ronnie Romero in "One By One" sounds like it could have been lifted off the latest outing by The Ferrymen, and naturally features the most intense shredding display out of Karlsson of the whole bunch. Perhaps the lone exception to this tendency is the title song "We Are The Night" and "Don't Walk Away", which feature the man in question himself handling vocal duties and sees more of a generic blend of Stratovarius and Nightwish influences to fit his smooth, almost Koltipelto-like voice. Then again, the Tony Martin fronted offering "Temples And Towers" sees a bit more of a Malmsteen-like drive to things, complete with a vicious Neoclassical solo right at the song's inception before launching into a swift display of riff happy goodness; definitely a change of pace from the more late 80s Sabbath character of his last outing on the previous album and this album's closer "Far From Over".

Due to the highly controlled stylistic evolution that Karlsson has displayed over the course of his twenty year tenure in the metal scene, it's basically stipulated that if any part of his substantial back catalog agrees with someone, this album will do the same. With perhaps the exception of his extremely stellar work earlier in the previous decade with Primal Fear, which essentially stepping a bit outside of his comfort zone for something a bit heavier, his output has been one of gradual improvement and development, thus this could be logically seen as the next rung on the ladder of a still ongoing career. It's a tad bit more stylistically uniform than the previous two Free Fall albums in that the vocal talent featured here, while highly diverse, have tended to lend their voices to fairly similar sounding bands. The comparison to Tobias Sammet's Avantasia has naturally been an unavoidable one given the similar formula at play, but this album represents Magnus striking a bit closer at that original magic that was displayed in the former's earliest days when The Metal Opera set a standard that Sammet would continually seek to deviate from, largely to the alienation of his original fan base. To the prospective fan of power metal and the more bombastic strains of 80s retro heavy metal that have been a hot item since the late 2000s, this is one of the highlights of 2020, and definitely among the better works to come out of Karlsson's arsenal outside of Primal Fear.

Originally written for The Metal Observer (