Last year Christian Alvestam (ex-Scar Symmetry, Torchbearer) and his Solution .45 project dropped the first installment of a double album that went by the name of Nightmares in the Waking State – Part I. As expected, it was grounded in the same metalcore-tinged melo-death Alvestam’s been associated with throughout his music career. It had a few strong highlights but as a whole it was nothing earth-shaking. Almost a year later he’s back with the second installment of his double creature feature, but should you care? Well yes, since this is a much more consistent, enjoyable ride with an unexpectedly ambitious prog side; at times almost sounding like a Dan Swanö melo-death project rather than the usual regurgitated Soilwork or Scar Symmetry fluff. Since it’s so much better than Part I, does that make it the Use Your Illusion II of melo-death? Was that title already taken by Disc II of Songs From the North? I can’t keep this stuff straight anymore because math is hard.
Numerology woes aside, Nightmares in the Waking State – Part II continues the central story started in Part I, but since I didn’t get lyrics with the promo, I have no idea what it’s all about, though a good guess would be nightmares. Plot ignorance won’t get in the way of enjoying the music however, which feels a lot more inspired and adventurous overall. After a pompous, powerweenie intro, “The Faint Pulse of Life” comes at you like a rampaging beast with heavy, vaguely core-ish riffs battering away as Alvestam provides some very Mikael Stanne-like death rasps. The change up comes at chorus time where he remains in death mode rather than opting for his usual soaring cleans, yet it’s still very memorable and catchy. Nicely played, that. Follow up “Mind Mutation” also throws some curveballs into the basic Solution .45 template by incorporating power metal guitar and keyboard wankery that would fit in on a Kamelot opus. Alvestam’s singing makes it’s first appearance and it’s solid as always and a nice shift from the gruntage.
“Built on Sand” is another odd duck, adopting a herky-jerky prog style that feels like something you’d get on a Witherscape album. It’s all over the place but somehow manages to connect on the first spin and Alvestam outdoes himself with his harsh-to-clean vocal switcheroos. The frantic and jangled riff-work is interesting, the solos are beautiful and the song feels like a big leap forward for Solution .45. Other highlights include the melodic sappiness of “Inescapable Dream” that sticks to you like cotton candy in August; the strange sojourn into Within Temptation goth-symphonics on “What Turns the Wheels” and the slightly sadboy “Heavy Lies the Crown.”
All the songs are good and several are actually quite great. That’s in stark contrast to the Part I which felt filler heavy. So Impressed was I with this album, that I started to second guess my reaction to Part I and went back to give it a another try. Sadly, my opinion stands. Alvestam seriously back-loaded Part II with the top-shelf material. This is like moving “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry” from Use Your Illusion I and over to II, but I digress.
Alvestam delivers one of his best performances, showcasing just how well he can sing when he puts his mind to it. He’s one of the most versatile vocalists in metal and that’s why it took 2 dudes to replace him when he left Scar Symmetry. Both his melodic singing and death roars are in peak condition and he goes extra brootal at times for added impact. As good as he is, I was most impressed with the guitar pyrotechnics of Jani Stefanovic and Patrik Gardberg. This batch of tunes feels less tightly structured, giving them greater freedom to explore the musical sandbox and try new things. Their impressive noodling and oddball prog ideas offset the more straightforward melo-death moments and make for a much more unpredictable and rewarding listen.
I didn’t have great expectations for this but ended up really enjoying it. I’ll likely take the best parts of Part I and move them over to Part II for one kick ass playlist, and I’m left to wonder why Alvestam didn’t do something similar when he was writing and recording these platters. Regardless, Part II is definitely a big step up and one of the best things he’s done since leaving Scar Symmetry. Well worth hearing.