When you take two of the greatest vocalists to come out of the 90s and have them join forces, it could only result in something special. An album that is extraordinary. A disc that would blow your mind if only it was done properly. Thank the lucky stars, but Allen/Lande "The Battle" is an exercise in how to achieve superiority. It's a crushing blow to everyone else out there trying to put together decent discs, and a towering accomplishment that will make fans of melodic metal wet their pants in sheer explosive ecstasy.
I knew this was going to be a piece to watch from the moment it was announced. I proclaimed Jorn Lande to be the best vocalist in rock back shortly after he crossed into The Snakes and Ark territory. This was before he took charge of Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus project, becoming the shining star amongst a virtually who's who of premier rock vocalists. Before Masterplan or his solo career that left us breathless and staggering from the first disc on. With age and experience he only gets better, and can handle any genre that's thrown his way, from AOR in Vagabond to prog metal in Beyond Twilight, he has yet to slip up or turn out anything that is recalled as just "average".
Then there's Russell Allen, the throaty singer for American progressive metal act Symphony X. Just like Jorn Lande, he has proven himself as a versatile frontman that oozes emotion and can belt dirty rock tunes with swagger, hypnotize the listener with from-the-gut screams over double drums and crooning like a gentle lover over soothing ballads. Here he sort of blends into the background more often than not, allowing Lande to take center stage. Allen's contributions are far from unnecessary however, for as you delve deeper into the disc it becomes more and more apparent just how essential he is to the overall picture of this project. That's not even including the songs where he takes the lead as the sole survivor of "The Battle". Lande is just the dominant alpha of this small musical pack, but it’s when the two team together that musical magic is made.
"The Battle" requires no introductory period to settle into. It catches and grabs the attention from the beginning and is impossible to ignore or let go. It only takes one spin to fall in love and the infatuation continues as each song unfurls to be yet another hard rock gem upholding the highest of standards.
These two guys are versatile, top notch singers who give it their all, and "The Battle" throws a little bit of everything at them. The title is a little on the misleading side, because it really isn't so much a battle as it is a fantastic collaboration of teamwork and showing off each other's strengths. Some might have envisioned vocal battles on the scale of Jorn Lande and Joe Lynn Turner fueding on Nikolo Kotzev's rock opera Nostradamus, or Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale coming to vocal blows in Deep Purple. This is far from that, and seems like it's more of a battle between the two vocalists against the guitarist. The winner doesn't even have to be mentioned, but the guitars come in a nice second place.
While it's no surprise that Lande and Allen are the stars of the show, being on the title card and all, it's the man behind the scenes that is responsible for the written material as well as a good chunk of the instrumentation. Magnus Karlsson, the very same Magnus that put together the Starbreaker vehicle for Tony Harnell, wrote most everything you hear in this album. Which is an amazing feat considering how different this is from Starbreaker and the fact that these two discs are without a doubt two of the best things put out on the market for 2005, neither slacking in quality. While Starbreaker was more bent into a heavy modern rock direction, this one is pure melodic metal with prog flourishes.
The guitar work is even very different sounding, lacking a lot of the gritty moodiness that helped define the tone of Starbreaker, and instead opts for this all strings blazing, pristine quality that is reminiscent of Malmsteen at times. His songs will not change the world, not even close, but it’s their presentation and the love and care that came with their creation that has made mere caterpillars have the potential to blossom into full-fledged butterflies. The lyrics border on cheese even, but with such masters as these two vocalists taking care of the "voice" side of the disc, it doesn't matter what is written, the delivery is with such conviction you will feel it reverberating into your very essence.
sums up the album perfectly. Blowing the listener away on the wings of a heavy metal storm, the atmosphere is blustering with heaviness, a tornado of melody and a hurricane's force worth of progressive influenced moments. A powerful epic indeed, it slams you on all levels, and brings on a vocal onslaught of the likes I haven't heard in ages. Both Jorn and Russell are showstoppers solo, but when their talents combine, the result is mind-blowing. Lande plays the more in-your-face part.
seems to illustrate the tale of a femme supernatural man killer, perhaps like a succubus. The track itself though could easily pass as a Symphony X tune. With its glossy production, heavier backing, ultra melodic chorus and Russell attacking the verses with a vicious ferocity, it will likely capture the hearts of anyone familiar with Allen's previous body of work. It is one catchy little heavy metal tune, that's for sure.
"Wish For A Miracle"
reunites Jorn and Russell, opening with one luscious vocal after another, then they join as one for the terrific chorus, their voices intertwining till neither can be picked out as a separate entity.
"Reach A Little Longer"
would be a ballad, and one that reveals the spirit of those that are trying to overcome obstacles in their life, some which might seem to be impossible at first glance but there is hope, if only you have faith in yourself. The piano and guitar compliment one another beautifully, and with Jorn's superstar vocals laid upon top, it's no wonder that this slams it right to the listener without apology. Allen's melodious howling in the background is a bluesy necessity to add the final little touches to a gorgeous track. "I know that I would never fall, I haven't come this far to stop right now, to give up here and now"
What better way to combat the lovely peaceful feelings that linger after a tender, life-affirming ballad? Smack them over the head with some guitar riffs that seem spawned from the pit of hell. This initial impression falls away as the chorus splits the songscape with an over abundance of melody awashing the song in hues of melody and beauty. Jorn and Russell are trading back and forth with a level of success that just cannot be stressed enough. "Come Alive"
is yet another wonderful track that blisters forth with its war between heaven (melody) and hell (the heavy metal-ness).
"Truth of Our Time"
continues the blustery up tempo beauty of the album with a lean yet elegant piece that presents Russell Allen in his sweet "Candlelight Symphony" ethereal croon, till the chorus where he answers Jorn in a more powerful fashion. Lande also sounds just lovely here, delivering the verses with a gorgeous well-rounded quality. His smoothness spills over into the song, which has this addictive rhythm guitar that pushes it forward and lets it get captured up inside your head. The trading and line swapping between these two kings of hard rock turn this one over from an average Euro flavoured hard rock tune into something spectacular. The level of impact these two achieve when paired together is a sight (or in this case, sound) that has to be heard to be believed. In a word, amazing.
"My Own Way"
has the pedigree of a champion, and with Jorn in the spotlight again, there's no way you can go wrong with such a perfected chorus that embodies the more notably awesome qualities of Euro Hard Rock in one little package. The guitars wail, the vocals do the same, and the track just builds to this uplifting climax where there isn't an instrument or voice that doesn't just take flight and soar. Also to love is the positive spin the lyrics take, they hold your hand and literally help give you faith.
"Ask You Anyway"
is an absolutely magnificent piece that relies on the soothing pipes of Russell Allen and some fantastic guitar work that supports the mood perfectly. Putting the disc into perspective is the fact that this song is not even close to being the best thing the album has to offer, yet still resonates in the mind due to its deceptive depth, building emotion and climatic chorus.
is another holy shiat moment of the disc as it mimics the more melodic moments from Symphony X. The verses explode into this just fantastic chorus that oozes with melody and an intensity that blows the roof off with Jorn's David Coverdale-like spin on the vocals and Russell just giving it everything he's worth while retaining that melodious core. Absolutely love this song, and every moment of it, since the track refuses to let up its intensifying blistering pace for a moment. The choruses just support its nature with their ability to lift the proceeding even higher. Delightful.
"Where Have the Angels Gone"
is a showcase for Jorn Lande and bursts into glory with a mix of pulsating keys that haunt and sizzling guitars to puncture the musical mixture with conviction. Lande's brilliance shines brightly especially in the chorus, where his inflections reflect the level of urgency, which seems to keep climbing higher and higher. Not too heavy but definitely uptempo in a hard rock vein and simmering with little progressive touches that make all the difference. The infusion of infectious melody ups the quality and brings this one to become something definitely special. A sing-a-long track that gets better and more addictive with age.
"Universe of Light"
hits another one home for Russell with a heavier approach, and gives him ample opportunity to toss in that metal growl here and there, taking it down a few notches for a metallic snarl. The guitars are also of note, and a rougher note at that. The rhythm six string bending is extremely crunchy and is a sublime contrast to the chorus, which is belted with the focus on melody. A simple yet sweet solo punctuates the tune a little after the midway point. It keeps the blood pumping through the uptempo "rock" nature of the track. I love how all boundaries are kicked down for the ending and it's just this orgy of all-out vocals and crazily shredding guitars.
"The Forgotten Ones"
has a title that is not quite proper, since it is the very opposite, judging of the enduring power of this track. It really is unforgettable. A ballad perhaps, yet not, it lies somewhere in the murky waters inbetweened, defined by no title but still encompassing all the strength necessary to tug at the heart strings. Jorn and Russell are both forces to be reckoned with here, turning in heart wrenching performances that surely drains the soul just as it blew out their vocal chords in the making. The chorus here is plush and deep, layered for your pleasure and bursting with sing-song melody. It is a keen finish for a fantastic album.
I'm sure there will be some party poopers out there that will be disappointed in this disc. Usually when expectations are this high, someone is bound to be let down, but this time, even the sceptic in me can't find too many points to nitpick. "The Battle" is just that good. It delivers everything I would hope in a collaboration of this sort. Some might want it heavier, but the combination of the rougher guitars with the rest of the soundscape just packed to the gills with melody and AOR-esque choruses is a lovely formula that works out extremely well.
I would even be hard pressed to pick out a track that is of the skippable variety. Every single song is worthy of the A-list, which is a rare occurrence these days, few and far between. To pick a highlight would be like singling out your favourite child, it's nearly impossible to do. Of special mention however is the infatuation over "Where Have the Angels Gone"
, "Silent Rage"
, "Hunters Night"
the opener, the closer... well you get the picture...it's like a Lays potato chip, you can't just eat one of those and you certainly can't select just one of these. My only regret? That the album actually ends. With music this good, you want it to just keep going on and on into infinity. But then again, that's what "replay" is for.
And as for the score, it may seem a bit high but truthfully, I haven't heard an album in at least the past five years that is more deserving of it.
There's really no modesty necessary here, this album is simply amazing. An hour of absolute heavy metal bliss.Rating: 9.5/10Alanna - 10/5/2005