Wednesday, August 28, 2013
ReinXeed - A New World (2013)
So here we are with a new ReinXeed album, the 6th release in so many years. You'd think, with all band-leader Tommy Johansson is involved in, he'd eventually run out of ideas, but apparently that's not the case, at least not yet. The last 2 ReinXeed albums have been very strong, thematically speaking, as well as both being musical high points for the band. This new release returns to a bit more of a traditional approach, that being self-contained songs that aren't part of a larger concept or cohesive theme. After all the grandeur of an album about the sinking of the Titanic, followed by an album celebrating the movie theater experience with references to comic book characters, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and the like, how will a more "hum drum" approach stack up? Pretty well, all things considered.
Tommy and company have always had a knack for catchy melodies, and as was eluded to none so subtly via the "Swedish Hitz Goes Metal" CD, Tommy has received much inspiration from pop song craft masters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (the 2 B's in pop superstars ABBA). This does not come as a detriment to the band, however, as this kind of buoyant melodic approach is part of what gives ReinXeed a reasonably fresh sound in contrast to many of their neoclassical and power metal peers. While many bands have a "too cool for school" vibe and try to be "dark" when they're really not, Tommy embraces the more major chord melodic bent, generally to great effect. That's not to say their sound is one-dimensional. As anyone who has listened to several ABBA albums in their entirety can attest, there's more to things than what the radio singles tell you. Such is the case with ReinXeed, whose more "happy metal" approach is more layered and nuanced than may be evident at first blush.
As with the last several ReinXeed albums, the music here is brimming with energy, with mid-tempo and galloping numbers leading the charge. The guitar sound is essentially the same as you've heard on the last 2-3 ReinXeed albums - it's not discernibly heavier, but has about the same amount of sufficient crunch as before. The heaviness quotient is near perfect for an album of this type - plenty of distortion so there's no question this is metal, but clean and crisp enough so that it doesn't distract from the quality of the overall production. Tommy, Mattias Johansson, and Calle Sundberg all provide an excellent guitar foundation for the music here. Of note also is Tommy's keyboard work, which adds a nice touch here and there. He's no Eddie Vedder on the ol' ivories (insert "Jump" joke here), but the occasional melodic bits and flourishes help give a little more dimension to the sound. Bass is provided competently by Christopher Davidsson, and is audible in the mix. He's not doing anything spectacular here, but he provides that good rhythmic propulsion along with drummer Alfred Fridhagen. Alfred plays well here, providing the usual double bass and snappy snare drum sound that one expects from an album of this type. In other words, you've heard this all before, but it's well executed and generally well written.
Vocally, I think Tommy is nearing that apex where he can't improve much more, but I do believe with each of the last 3 albums he continues to sound better and better. I hear less improvement from "Welcome to the Theater" to "A New World" as I did between "Majestic" and "1912", but he's definitely achieved greater control of his instrument, and has branched out a bit here to be perhaps more expressive at times than on past albums. As for the lyrics, since these don't follow a cohesive theme, we have the typical metal themes of fantasy and magic, as well as songs about being a rock star and a Guitar Hero (or not one, if you're playing the game of the same name, as the song decries). It's all "business as usual" from a metal lyrics perspective, so for those who enjoyed the more focused direction of the previous 2 albums like I did, this will be a bit of a letdown, as there are more cliches present here than I'd like to see after such quality work. Still, none of the lyrics are painfully cheesy, and they can be overlooked if you're so inclined.
By the time the album's 49 minutes and change are up, it seems like the album came and went quickly, which is always a plus. Rather than dragging on for that time, "A New World" doesn't overstay its welcome. My biggest gripes with the album are from the perspective of what the music is and does, versus what Tommy says about the style of ReinXeed. He describes it as "symphonic, OST inspired melodic power metal" which sounds fine at the core, until you realize that Rhapsody (pick your version) has been doing that since 1997 with their so-named brand of "Epic Hollywood Fantasy Metal". ReinXeed are considerably less "epic" sounding than Rhapsody et al., and that's okay, but it seems to me that the music should be more epic than what is presented here, much like what was on "1912" and "Welcome to the Theater". Personally, I think Tommy should perhaps explore a more story-based approach on future albums and save the one-off type songs for EP's, singles, and his work with Golden Resurrection. Don't get me wrong; the material here is of high quality, is very listenable and enjoyable, and over the 25-30 times I spun this in preparation for the review, I've enjoyed that time quite a bit. But the album's melodies, lyrical approach, and overall presentation isn't as memorable as the previous 2 releases, and for that, I have to factor in that where ratings are concerned. I'd like to see Tommy explore more story-based work and keep with a theme or concept based approach, because his best work thus far has been in that realm. That caveat aside, if you've heard and enjoyed ReinXeed in the past, you'll likely get the same kick out of this. Recommended.