Ah, Steel Druhm has been hoping these cats would come out with another album so he could adjust the mighty Ledger of Metal! In my time here at Angrymetalguy.com, I’ve only had second thoughts about three or four ratings I’ve given out (not bad for over two years work, I’d say). One of those was the debut album One by Fullforce. I was simply wrong about it and a year and a half later, I’m man enough to admit it. While I really enjoyed the front half of that album, the back-end wasn’t working for me as I reviewed it. Essentially, I gave the first half high marks and killed the rest and they ended up with 2.5. Over time however, the other tracks really grew on me and the album ended up getting more time in my personal rotation than I would have expected. I should have given the damn thing a 3.0 or even a 3.5, but it just hadn’t worked its magic on me by deadline. Now that I have that injustice monkey off my back, let’s focus on their sophomore release, Next Level. Like last time, this “supergroup” lead by Michael Andersson (Cloudscape) delivers extremely melodic, catchy metal that borders on hard rock. It’s not far from the material on the Allen/Lande albums, the Jorn solo material or a lighter version of Herman Frank. Despite the lack of heaviness, it has its share of fun, addictive numbers. It’s more simplistic and direct than One, but lacks some of that album’s overt hookiness and urgency. It also showcases the “soft” side of the band with a few intolerable, sugar-coated ballads that almost gave me diabetes. They say laughter is the best medicine, but if there was just one more ballad on here, insulin would be the best medicine.
Fans of hard rock inflected metal will likely eat up the more aggressive, ballsy tracks like lead off “Broken Dreams,” which incorporates enough melody and rock sensibility to make things memorable, while keeping it heavy and aggressive enough to satisfy. That style continues to pay dividends on tracks like “Break It, Crack It, Destroy It,” which has a hooky chorus and some tasty guitar work. Likewise, the sheer anthemic might of ditties like “Back to Life,” “Whispers,” “Course of Life” and “Visions” could be on any Jorn album and not sound out-of-place. All benefit from big, stadium-rock choruses and enthusiastic performances. Hell, even the song with the dreadful title of “Awesomeness” is pretty damn catchy and enjoyable (though it should get a point deduction anyway).
My big issue with Next Level (besides the over-promising title) is the overdose of super cheesy, overwrought power ballads. While these guys have the melodic metal style down and manage to add just enough muscle to make it work, the inclusion of three hugely sappy songs is a bit off-putting and partially derails the album. “A Night to Remember” could have been the prom song for any class from 1980 until 1989 and believe me when I say, that’s not a compliment. It’s so hair metal and so wimpy, it would make Motley Crue laugh. It’s like a song Whitesnake dropped from their record because it would hurt their street cred. As if they were trying to upset me, “Smile at the World” is even worse and invokes the worst moments of “lighters out” power ballads. It’s unintentionally funny due to so much overdone emotion and sappiness. While album close “Strongest Thing of All” is better and more tolerable (and reminds of the big ballads Hammerfall used to tack onto the end of each album), after the other two voyages into 80’s cheese-rock, it just feels like a balladry overload. These guys butter their bread with the aggressive numbers and while one of these songs would be a nice change of pace, three is suicide.
As with all his recorded output, Michael Andersson sounds solid and professional on all the songs (even the dreadful ones). His delivery is a mix of Jorn Lande, David Coverdale and Rob Rock, and while he isn’t the most charismatic singer out there, he generally makes good vocal choices and uses his tools to maximum effect (he even dabbles in harsh vox on a few songs to shake things up). The riffs by Stefan Elmgren (ex-Hammerfall) and Stefan Rosqvist are dependable and in-your-face, but often have enough flair to rise above the simple style of metal/rock they traffic in. Most of the leads are ballsy enough to keep the melodic writing from sounding too wussy and the solos are frequently interesting. Since this is a “supergroup,” the performances are all high level and as a band they sound very competent (even if the style doesn’t allow for much showmanship and wankery).
I may have shortchanged these guys last time and for that I feel shame. This time out, I think they might have shortchanged themselves with a few too many lame-o ballads. Be that as it may, Next Level is still an enjoyable foray into hooky metal with an ear toward radio-ready choruses and fist pumping rock. Of the thirteen songs offered, ten are worthy of checking out and this is a solid, beer drinking, party metal opus. One was better, but Fullforce proves once again they have a steady hand at writing smooth and slick melodic metal. Are we even now, guys? Phew!