Magnus Karlsson, Freefall
To put it simply, Magnus Karlsson’s Freefall is an exquisite work of melodic metal. I really can’t emphasize that enough. The songs are satisfyingly heavy, with plenty of guitar pyrotechnics and double-bass drumming, but they have a sense of melody that is stunning.
Honestly, I don’t know how the man does it, but he seems incapable of writing a bad song. Each song is perfectly crafted to match the vocals of the various singers, and Karlsson always seems to bring the best out of them, including the three on which he sings.
“Free Fall” features Russell Allen of Symphony X and Adrenaline Mob. Allen has worked with Karlsson on the three Allen/Lande projects (with Jorn Lande) — Allen’s vocals here fall somewhere between the ultra-clear operatic vocals he used on early Symphony X albums and the gruff “metal” voice he’s cultivated lately. It’s a nice touch.
“Higher” features Karlsson’s Primal Fear bandmate, Ralf Scheepers; they also worked together on Scheepers’s solo album. Scheepers turns in a powerful, melodic vocal here, possibly one of the best I’ve ever heard from him. Strong and clear, with some soaring notes.
“Heading Out” is Karlsson’s first vocal performance here, and he proves to have a pretty stellar voice himself. He’s not just “carrying a tune” here, he sounds great — if I hadn’t already looked at the vocal lineup before listening to this song, I would never have guessed it was him.
“Stronger” features Tony Harnell of TNT. Harnell and Karlsson worked together on two Starbreaker albums, which introduced me to Harnell, who has become one of my favorite vocalists. This might be my favorite song on the album, although it’s also the mellowest. It’s a heartbreaking ballad, and Harnell goes all out, hitting seemingly every note in his incredible range. Please, let there be another Starbreaker album. These two make magic together.
“Not My Savior” features Rick Altzi of Masterplan. This was my introduction to his vocals, as the new Masterplan (his debut with the band) came out a week after Freefall. This is one of the more aggressive songs on here, and Altzi has a nicely gruff voice that fits it well. His performance made me look forward to what he would do with Masterplan (he did not disappoint). I’m not aware of Karlsson and Altzi working together before, but I hope they do so in the future.
“Us Against the World” features David Readman of Pink Cream 69 and Voodoo Circle; I’m fairly new to Readman, having heard him for the first time on the latest Voodoo Circle album earlier this year, but I have quickly become a big fan. He has an incredibly rich, bluesy voice that Karlsson takes full advantage of. Again, I’m not sure if Karlsson and Readman have worked together before, but since two of Karlsson’s Primal Fear bandmates (Alex Beyrodt and Mat Sinner) are also in Voodoo Circle with Readman, it’s not hard to imagine one or both of them suggesting Readman.
“Our Time Has Come” features journeyman Mark Boals, currently of Iron Mask, formerly of Royal Hunt and Yngwie Malmsteen, and a ton of other guest appearances. Boals and Karlsson collaborated on The Codex in 2007, and it’s nice to hear his voice here — I’ve listened to a lot of his work in the last year, and while I think he has an incredible voice, it’s not always utilized to the fullest. Karlsson knows how to make anyone shine, and when that vocalist is already powerful, you have the makings of a great song. Any chance of The Codex 2?
“Ready or Not” is Karlsson’s second vocal performance. Ditto my previous comments.
“Last Tribe” features Rickard Bengtsson, who was the lead vocalist of one of Karlsson’s first bands, Last Tribe. They disbanded after their third album in 2003, and I don’t know if Bengtsson has done anything since. If he hasn’t, it’s a shame, because he is a fantastic vocalist, and it doesn’t sound like he’s lost anything in those 10 years. Here’s hoping he gets back into music.
“Fighting” features Herman Saming of A.C.T., formerly of Locomotive Breath. I’ve not heard either of these bands, and I don’t know the connection between him and Karlsson, but I’ll have to check his other stuff out. Can I figure out another adjective to describe a great vocal performance? No? Okay, I’ll just go with that.
“Dreamers & Hunters” features Mike Andersson of Cloudscape. Karlsson and Andersson collaborated on the Planet Alliance project, where Andersson provided all lead vocals. I’ve since been listening to the Cloudscape albums and have added them to my wish list. I like his voice a lot — it’s very expressive and melodic, but with a slight gruffness to it.
“On Fire” is Karlsson’s third vocal performance. Again, he proves he can do it all.
I sincerely hope Karlsson has a follow-up, because there are some curious absences on here. Where’s Jorn Lande (the other voice of the Allen/Lande projects)? Where’s Bob Catley (for whom Karlsson wrote all the songs on Immortal, Catley’s last solo album)? Where’s Tony O’Hora (for whom Karlsson wrote all the songs on O’Hora’s first solo album)? Where’s Michael Kiske (for whom Karlsson wrote songs on the Kiske/Somerville and Place Vendome projects)? Where’s Amanda Somerville (of Kiske/Somerville)?
These questions aside, have I made it clear that I love this album? If you enjoy any of the artists I’ve mentioned in this review, or if you just like melodic metal with lots (and I mean, lots) of excellent guitar work, I think you will, too.