Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Album Review: Jorn - Life On Death Road

Jorn Lande is perhaps the ultimate case of "what if?..." He is, without a doubt, one of the handful of greatest metal singers in the world. Every time he makes an appearance on record,  he is the highlight, because his massive presence cannot be denied. Unfortunately, he hasn't been the best at selecting his projects and his songs, especially in his solo career. The albums that have come out under his own name have been largely mediocre, and not at all befitting his talent. But having come off an Allen/Lande album that featured many of his contributions, and the "Dracula: Swing Of Death" project that won Album Of The Year from me, along with a brand new band behind him, this is Jorn's best chance to finally make the album that has eluded him.

We got our first taste of the new direction Jorn is taking from the pre-release tracks "Man Of The 80s" and "Love Is The Remedy", which did show a shift in tone. Instead of pushing the metallic edge, Jorn has focused more on the records he grew up with, the heyday of 80s hard rock and heavy metal. "Man Of The 80s" is a mission statement for this album, although I wish the solid tune had been wrapped up with lyrics that weren't so clumsy. The other single is a better track, where the chunky riffs through the verses segue into an AOR chorus. It's actually surprising to hear Jorn be so restrained delivering the hook, but it's a really good song that finds the right approach.

The makeup of the band had me a bit worried about the outcome. Alessandro Del Vecchio is a great melodic rock writer, but his style didn't scream a fit for Jorn's voice, while Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt have never been part of anything I've found interesting. One thing that is true of Jorn's career is that he needs good writers around him to come up with magic, and this crew didn't seem to fit that bill.

After listening to the album, I would say my worries were somewhat well-founded. Jorn has gotten better as a writer, so this album is rock solid (aside from the poor cover art), but it falls into that band of stereotypical 'ok-ness' that I've always found Sinner and Primal Fear to inhabit. There's absolutely nothing wrong with anything on tap here, but there aren't any songs that scream out as future Jorn classics. This is an album that should be all about the big man and his big voice, but the melodies aren't the star here. They aren't strong enough to win me over all the time. In fact, I'd say there's more focus on the guitar solos at time, which is the completely wrong way of approaching Jorn's music.

It baffles me how this keeps happening. Jorn makes guest appearance on fantastic albums, then he has collaborative projects like the ones I mentioned earlier than are amazing, and when it comes time to put his own name on the line, the results never match up. Jorn is Jorn, so it's always a treat to listen to him do his thing, but there's no way I can say this album comes close to approaching "The Great Divide" or "Dracula: Swing Of Death" in terms of quality. Those albums were phenomenal, while this one is good.

But what I think I can say is that Jorn's consistency has improved to the point where this is one of his better, if not best, solo efforts. While I'm disappointed it doesn't live up to the lofty standards I had set for it, let's be clear that "Life On Death Road" is still a fine Jorn album. It's only real problem is that Jorn keeps doing even better work outside of his solo career. If you don't compare this album to that fact, Jorn's done just fine for himself here. I will certainly recommend this album, if only to hear the man do his thing.

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