Magnus Karlsson // Free Fall
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Step into the unknown… Free Fall!
Label: Frontiers Records
Websites: Facebook.com/magnuskarlsson | Myspace.com/magnuskarlsson
Release Dates: EU: 2013.06.11 | US: 06.14.2013
Hot on the heels of Jorn‘s Traveller, Free Fall is living, breathing, tangible proof that Frontiers Records know their 70’s flavored hard rock! Picking up Free Fall is a little like solving a riddle… getting thrown head first into a melting pot and it’s quite literally a who’s who of hard rock and heavy metal. At the forefront of Free Fall you have the man of the hour, Swedish, heavy metal multi-instrumentalist, classically trained wizard and songwriter Magnus Karlsson axeman to the likes of Primal Fear, Allen/Lande, Last Tribe and a host of others. The rest of Free Fall consists of the plethora of talented vocalists that Karlsson’s worked with and/or admired during his career – so in total Free Fall has nine (NINE!!) vocalists excluding Karlsson. Now that can either work, or it can go horribly, horribly wrong!
I’ll start by saying Free Fall is not an instance of horribly, horribly wrong. In fact as you get drawn into the opening title track Russell Allen’s (Symphony X, Allen/Lande) soaring, husky wails and aggressive cleans push you straight into a free fall, down, down, down the rabbit hole. The track’s huge and the perfect starting point to introduce you to Karlsson’s songwriting skills, his catchy choruses that have you singing along and of course, his easily digestible guitar riffs that destroy. Tracks like “Higher”, “Not My Saviour”, “Ready or Not”, “Last Tribe”, “Fighting” and “Dreamers and Hunters” brim with guitar solos that ripped though my speakers. These solo’s never overstay their welcome and there’s none of the wankery, one-upmanship that weighed down Jorn‘s Traveller. Karlsson is always the star of the show, but he’s written each track with a specific vocalist in mind, catering to their individual vocal styles and allowing them to shine.
The vocal styles on Free Fall are as diverse as they are similar, in addition to Allen, you’ll come across Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear, who belts out passionate shrieks in much the same way as Rob Halford. The liquid, smooth, almost golden sound of Voodoo Circles’ David Readman; the husky mid-range stylings of Herman Frank‘s Rick Altzi that give Jorn a run for his money; Royal Hunt‘s Mark Boals, the otherworldly warmth of Last Tribes’ Rickard Bengtsson, Herman Saming of A.C.T and Fullforce‘s Mike Andersson. Karlsson handles vocals on three tracks (“Ready or Not”, “On Fire” and “Heading Out”) and while he’s not the most powerful singer, his range is easy listening and suits the hard rock, melodic feel.
The production is warm and clearly modern, showing off Karlsson’s huge and dynamic melodic soloing. Free Fall‘s 500 mile an hour, hard rock at its best, but this doesn’t mean it’s not without its weak spots. Tracks like “Heading Out” and “Us Against The World” certainly lack the oomph necessary to hold your attention over repeated plays. And then there’s the awfully poppy track “Stronger”. I have no idea what happened on this one, but it sounds like something left over from a Backstreet Boys or Westlife album… scary stuff!
I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity offered by Free Fall and I’m prompted to follow up on a number of albums based on my vocalist preferences. My favorite tracks ended up being Russel Allen’s “Free Fall“, Rick Altzi’s “Not My Saviour” and the mind-blowing, spacey Rickard Bengtsson track “Last Tribe”. If you’re a fan of any of the bands mentioned or of Jorn and his brand of heavy rock, this is a winning album and you need to check it out [If you don’t, how will you bring heavy rock to the land?? — Steel Druhm].