Saturday, October 8, 2011

Golden Resurrection - Man With a Mission (2011)

Christian Liljegren (aka Christian Rivel) is a busy man.  And not just busy like having plenty of stuff going on.  I mean busy as in, the guy apparently doesn't sit still.  If my count is right, Christian has either spearheaded or been involved in the recording of some 15 albums since Narnia released their debut in 1998.  So by my count, that is more than 1 album on average per year.  Sure, there have been years where he hasn't released any material, and heavier periods (like 2004-2006 where he was involved in at least 5 different albums, 3 just in 2005!), but suffice to say, the man has kept himself busy, professionally speaking.  Add to that the fact that he runs his own record label(s), and you have one busy guy.  He left Narnia, presumably so he could be less occupied, but aside from less constant touring, I think Christian is probably still busier than the average metal musician.

2010 was another busy year for Mr. Liljegren, as he released the 2nd Audiovision album, guested on the 2nd 7days release, AND put out the debut of his latest endeavor, Golden Resurrection.  The album hailed a return of the neoclassical metal he had become known for in Narnia, but bumped up the speed and intensity factor a bit, resulting in a strong showing and a fine debut album.  Just 11 months (to the day!) later, Christian and company are back with their sophomore outing, "Man With a Mission".  Still present are Tommy Johansson's sweeping neoclassical playing and Christian's strong vocals.  The big difference here, however, is that everything has been amped up save for the speed.  In fact, the album has considerably slowed down to where the number of "speedy" songs has dwindled to just a couple.  Most of the material is mid-tempo, or meets somewhere in the middle between the speed of power metal and neoclassical, and a more traditional metal stomp.  This isn't wholly unique, by any stretch, but does give Golden Resurrection slightly more identity than they had before.  In a way, it's like they've taken a Hammerfall approach that says, "Speed isn't always better, sometimes it's just more."

In terms of guitar work, Tommy is on-point as always, and brings some fairly strong riffs with a good melodic sense.  His lead playing is always skillful and technically adept, while also being melodic, and that shows here, perhaps a bit more strongly than on the debut.  He also adds some vocal work here and there, harmonizing with Christian in background and group vocals, as well as doing a few lead vocal trade-offs with Christian at times (including on the bonus tracks).  Christian is in fine form here as well; I firmly believe he has only improved with age, and his material with Divinefire was (I feel) his strongest work up to that band's original demise in 2008.  Golden Resurrection has continued this, with Christian nicely transitioning back and forth between his smooth-as-butter "golden" voice, and his more gritty, aggressive tone that he uses at times to accentuate the tempo, mood, or power in the songs.  Bass work by Stefan is solid, though it's often difficult to pull out of the mix.  In other words, his contribution is less overtly obvious than the rest of the band, but when you hear his rumbling underneath, it's easy to see he contributes.  Drum work by Rikard is also quite good, with a good use of varying tempos, not content to just double-bass drum his way through the album.  He is quite solid and provides competent rhythms behind all the music, and doesn't showboat or take over the music.  Special mention must be made of keyboardist Kenneth Lillqvist - the man certainly knows his way around his instrument, and he provides an excellent backdrop for Tommy's guitar, sometimes acting as a "second lead", other times merely providing a melodic framework for Tommy's guitar pyrotechnics so the song doesn't lose the melodic sense in the midst of all the fireworks.

Lyrically, the band trudges the usual territory of faith in Christ, power through faith in Christ, empowerment through Christ, etc.  There are a couple of exceptions, such as "Golden Times" which is more of a reminiscence than an overt statement of faith, and "Flaming Youth" which is directed a bit more specifically at, well, the youth and their direction.  But if you're no fan of "Christian metal" because of the lyrics, this won't win you over, and will probably be one more album on the pile of records that turn you off.  I would challenge those listeners to keep an open mind, however.  While Christian isn't the most adept lyricist out there, he tries, and he is earnest in what he is singing, even when his stuff tends to veer into "maximum cheese" territory.  So while the lyrical themse on the album tend to be a touch redundant at times, they're at least consistent.

The digital release of the album includes 2 bonus tracks not available on the physical CD: "Point Of Know Return" (a Kansas cover), and "The End Of the World", which is a fitting and timely tribute to the late Gary Moore.  Both songs are well done and show the band from a slightly different vantage point.  Actually, I quite like their take on "Point Of Know Return" after listening to it a few times, with Tommy providing the bulk of vocals and Kenneth's keyboard shining throughout.  If the band decides to change things up again after this release, a metalized Kansas-like progressive direction would be something I could see (and would welcome) from this group.  Likewise, "The End Of the World" is a strong closer, though perhaps just a touch overlong.  It starts with a lot of guitar wizardry by Tommy, obviously paying homage to Gary's underrated guitar playing skills, particularly in light of his time in Thin Lizzy, no doubt.  Once the song actually gets underway, after a 2 minute solo-fest, we are treated to a mid-tempo rocker with a strong, aggressive vocal by Christian and some guitar flourishes by Tommy.

Overall, this is a strong second album by the group.  After my initial disappointment that the speed and power of the debut isn't present here, I think that actually works in their favor in the long run, as the market is currently overloaded with a glut of also-ran power metal bands.  I'm betting Christian and Tommy know that, and this album seems like a conscious shift away from the speedy European power metal sound to a more hybridized sound that combines classic European power metal with traditional heavy metal and hard rock, which I think will give the band plenty of crossover appeal.  It also gives their songs a bit more collective identity this time around, so while the songs start to bleed together a bit mid-way through, this sees the band moving in the right direction.  Recommended for fans of melodic, power, or really any traditional European style of metal.


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