Monday, January 18, 2016

Album Review: Nordic Union - Nordic Union

If you follow the world of European melodic rock and AOR, the chances are pretty good that you are well aware of the major players in Nordic Union, even if you probably don't know their names. Ronnie Atkins is the singer of the long-running Pretty Maids, and Erik Martensson is the driving creative force in both Eclipse and W.E.T. Considering that Ronnie guested on the last Avantasia album, and Eclipse put out one of the year's most highly regarded albums of its kind (which I'm not sure how I didn't get around to), their profiles have arguably never been higher. So by combining them into this project, there is no shortage of expectations for something that could give us a slightly different take on the sound, along with songs that should show off the wisdom of their collective experience.

"The War Has Begun" opens the record in fantastic fashion, going between soft acoustic guitar, some decidedly heavy riffing for this style, and a big chorus that layers vocals to make it a huge call-to-arms. Ronnie doesn't have the prototypical voice for melodic rock, which is actually a benefit, because his slightly rougher tone helps balance the muscle given to the guitars. Often, when these kinds of bands try to get heavier, the vocalists aren't convincing enough to pull it off. Ronnie can, so when Nordic Union borders on metal, which they do frequently here, it all sounds natural.

"Hypocricy" carries on in an unusual spirit. The main line of the song is a deep, heavy riff that comes from modern rock radio, and then the chorus explodes with all the sheen of modern pop. They don't necessarily belong together, but they're both great parts, so I'm not complaining at all. That chorus is one that is going to stick to the wall, and to you, because it's so energetic. Hearing that song, and the following "Wide Awake", it's hard not to find yourself nodding your head along with the beat. I don't mean this as anything but a genuine compliment; they're a modern take on the sugar-rush of "Livin' On A Prayer".

The first track that was released to whet our appetite was "When Death Is Calling", a song that stands up as a highlight, even among the competition. The opening guitar line recalls HIM's "Wings Of A Butterfly", before turning into a stomping, crushing melodic metal monster. That song made me think Nordic Union had the chance to produce something great, which is exactly what a single is supposed to do.

As the album progresses, we get some tracks that tend towards the heavier side like "21 Guns", and some that are softer like "Every Heartbeat", but they maintain a level of quality where every one of them has a big chorus that you find yourself wanting to sing along with. None more so than "True Love Awaits You", a lighters-in-the-air ballad that balances the records heavier tinges with one song that is unapologetically saccharine. It doesn't hurt that it, like most ballads, is also a great track.

The record ends in fine form with "Go", which is ironically titled, because that's the last thing we want Nordic Union to do. After eleven tracks proving their worth, I don't want them band to slip away like a lot of these projects can. "Nordic Union" is a fantastic little album, and maybe a case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. I haven't heard enough Pretty Maids or Eclipse to say with certainty, but I can't believe either of those bands is better than Nordic Union. This year is off to a great start with albums like this coming out. This is absolutely good enough, and enough fun, to be a serious contender for Album Of The Year.

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