landeholter-draculaJorn Lande is one of those people in metal who has a pretty impressive resume. The Norwegian with the powerful voice has been the frontman for a series of bands such as Ark and Masterplan, as well as contributing guest vocals for Avantasia, Ayreon and Yngwie Malmsteen. He’s also got a pretty impressive solo career resume too, so it’s no surprise that he’s got a new album in the works which is pretty big sounding. Teaming up with former Wig Wam guitarist and bandmate Trond Holter, the two have put together a dramatic rock opera concept album based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. No clever remark here, let’s just listen and see how this one plays out.

“Hands of Your God” opens the album with the sounds of a storm which leads into a clean guitar passage with some ominous church bells topping it. Jorn’s vocals come in and you can tell straight away how gifted he is. His powerful and passionate delivery draws you in straight away and it’s clear just to see how talented he is at painting a vivid story with his delivery. As the song gets heavier with the distortion, the story keeps going. The guitar work is sublime and the strong vocals just make it sound so easy. It’s a simple start which sets the scene for the ‘opera’ brilliantly. “Walking on Water” follows on with some synths and vocals. Lande’s delivery takes on the role of ‘Dracula’ in this song and the darker approach with a more rock-metal delivery combined with the hard hitting sound of the song really kicks it up a gear. If this whole album were to be played live, this song would get everyone moving, head banging along to the powerful delivery and the chorus is epic sounding. Lande’s vocals are big, the synths and the guitars back it up perfectly and it really puts the story across. Guitar wise, this song doesn’t slouch either, just listen to the main solo!

“Swing of Death” lives up to its name with a real old-time swing feel which will have you grinning like an idiot and clicking your fingers in time to its infectious feel. The rag-time style piano and dramatic lounge style singing from Lande just gets stuck in your head and the chorus brings in some big noise and female backing vocals to top it off. The verse swing feel comes back with a bit more of a distorted bite and some more rawness in the vocals and it all comes together great. Near the mid-section there is a Celtic-styled section (think Gary Moore) which changes up the feel a little but it sits just right, building up for the big epic ending chorus.”Masquerade Ball” opens with a haunting piano melody which has an unsettling feel to it and the vocals are back to that dark sounding feel again. The guitars and drums join in to help keep the tension building and the sample of a woman running from something whilst breathing heavily adds to the suspense and the sense something big is coming… And it does. Dramatic Dio-esque vocals and distorted guitars ramp up the power of the song and choir-like backing vocals with the synths just add to the intensity. It’s a really powerful track and given that it’s about Dracula’s promise to make Mina his, it has to be. The song has that Ayreon feel to it with the dramatic shifts in instrument prominence, but it all comes together in the right way.

“Save Me” has a more metal edge to it. Its hard hitting harmonic laced intro grabs the attention before a calmer verse kicks in. The break after the verse has the powerful vocals and then the female vocalist Lena Fløitmoen Børresen, takes over on the vocal duties with a powerful hitting voice which compliments Jorn brilliantly. The interplay between them acting out the roles of Dracula and Mina, combined with the intensity of the song works brilliantly, and the follow up “River of Tears” keeps this interplay going. Its short, punchy riffs, steady feel and simple melodies comes across great and Lena’s lead vocals in the chorus much like the previous track add a new dimension to the sound and feel. The dark feeling riffs, cutting solo and powerful vocals just make this a brilliant track. “Queen of the Dead” has that dark feel to it again with the piano, acoustic/clean guitar and church bell combination in the intro whilst Lande sings about Mina’s transition to darkness. It’s really gripping and passionately delivered and the chorus has some big riffs and plenty of head banging moments, not to mention a killer sounding lead sections and a calm, almost folk-like outro which slips into a more urgent paced instrumental closing part with one of those lead sections mentioned earlier.

“Into the Dark” has a powerful intro laced with epic sounding synths and hard hitting riffs. Lena’s vocals come in first and her and Jorn trade vocals, adding more to the story and really bringing it to life. Lena’s vocals take more prominence in this track and it’s worth it – she really holds her own in comparison to Jorn and that takes some doing. Its chugging feel and lightening quick leadwork is captivating and it sets up the following track nicely. “True Love Through Blood” keeps the hard hitting metal edge with its big riffs and clear cut leads. The instrumental track is a short transition but it does the job required of it, keeping the feel and flow of the album going without any significant divergence to make it stand out and its twisting ending paves the way for the last track of the album. “Under The Gun” is the closing track of this rock opera and it lives up to the expectations of the album. Big sounding riffs, soaring leads, epic synths and Jorn and Lena’s distinct vocals all come together to create a well rounded track. The verses have more focus on the vocal interplay and the chorus has that big powerful moment feel to it. Jorn and Lena trade off big vocal moments, the lead guitar sings beautifully and skilfully dances its way through the fast melodic shred sections before a haunting synth section, almost music box/fairground like in sound closes the album.

“Swing of Death” is a fantastic rock opera themed concept album. It’s got a well respected story as its base and some very talented musicians creating a modern metal masterpiece from it. It’s certainly setting the standard for progressive metal in 2015 and it will take some effort and serious skill to top! Even if you’re not into epic sounding albums like this, give it a chance, believe me, you’ll be caught up in the swing of death in no time!

(9/10 Fraggle)