Thursday, October 3, 2013

ReinXeed - Swedish Hitz Goes Metal Volume II (2013)

Metal bands covering pop music is nothing new, as the lines between metal and pop have always been a little blurred, at least in some circles.  Some ardent metal fans refuse to accept any semblance of "pop music" in their metal, in part because the "pop" part means popular, and metal was never truly meant to be popular, at least not in the minds of the de facto metalhead.  If I'm over-generalizing, I apologize, but I think any of us heavily into metal can safely admit at some point or another in our musical journey that there are lines we've refused to cross, only to later realize that we were, perhaps, either short-sighted, or just not willing to let go of our own pre-conceived notions of what metal is or was.  The truth of the matter is, traditional forms of metal music are often based around many of the same melodic touchstones that "pop music" is, though with a decidedly more aggressive or energetic bent, and arguably less approachable subject matter.

So while pop elements aren't likely to creep into goregrind or bedroom black metal any time soon, anything rooted in more traditional heavy metal sounds and styles will have a pop underpinning at the very least, due to the reliance on catchy melodies and specifically structured songwriting.  As such, it should be no big deal for metal musicians to pay homage to pop music.  Helloween covered ABBA's "Lay All Your Love On Me" via their "Metal Jukebox" release, and while not every pop songwriter is as brilliant as Benny and Bjorn of ABBA, the fact remains that catchy melodies, sing-along choruses, and verse-chorus songs are a staple in this genre we love so dearly.  I, for one, don't think that's a bad thing, as many a classic metal song over the years would have suffered greatly if not for a quality melody carrying it along.

So with that in mind, Tommy Johansson (or Tommy ReinXeed, if you prefer) has put out a pair of albums, the first in 2011, and now this 2nd volume in 2013, which exemplify that relationship between traditional heavy metal and pop music.  And while the 1st record concentrated solely on 3 Swedish groups, that being ABBA, Roxette, and Ace of Base, this 2nd volume branches out just a bit further.  So while over half the material here is still ABBA (who had a wealth of excellent pop songs), Tommy brings some newer material to the table as well, and most of it works pretty well.  The record occasionally dips under the weight of its ambitions, but never falters so much that it stumbles and falls down.

If you've heard a ReinXeed record, you know what to expect musically: a crunchy, yet clean-sounding rhythm guitar sound, sharp lead guitar, lightly rumbling bass, and time-keeper precision drums, along with keyboards where appropriate, and pristine production that gives the proceedings an almost "too shiny" sheen.  That's not to say that things don't occasionally get aggressive, because "Don't Stop the Music", "Rock Me" and "My Favorite Game" all have sufficient weight to them, but overall, you know you're getting a juicy pop nougat wrapped in a crunchy metal shell.  Since Tommy has a respectable handle on the ballad side of the coin, his interpretation of a song like "One of Us" works well.  Mid-tempo stuff like "Does Your Mother Know" and "Voulez-Vous" also work well, as does his interpretation of non-single ABBA track "Tiger" (a personal favorite from ABBA's "The Arrival" album).  Some of the non-ABBA tracks are quite effective as well, though I must confess I'm less familiar with the other artists.  I will say that Tommy's choice of "My Favorite Game" by The Cardigans was a good one; had he chosen to do "Lovefool", I'm not sure he would have pulled it off.  And I was surprised how well Loreen's "Euphoria" (2012 Eurovision songwriting contest winner) translated - Tommy wisely kept the basic keyboard line as part of the song, and just give it some metal muscle to beef it up a bit.

With as much success as Tommy has here in translating songs, there are only a couple misses.  Sadly, his take on "Dancing Queen" lacks the charm, punch, and soul of the original, and ends up sounding somewhat flat and lifeless by comparison.  Perhaps I'm too big an ABBA fan, and perhaps that particular song is just far too iconic, but Tommy's interpretation just doesn't do anything for me.  And because it opens the album, it brings down the album ever so slightly because it doesn't begin on a high note.  "All About the Money" is a good listen, but as a song it doesn't stand out as much as most of the other material here, so it ends up sounding a bit like a filler track at the end of the album, which is what it becomes.  These minor missteps aren't enough to drag the record down that much, but I just didn't feel that they reflected the quality of the rest of the covers, or the quality of the 1st volume for that matter.

At the end of the day, there are 2 types of people who will buy this album: ReinXeed die-hards, and power metal fans who are also partial to material that showcases a highly melodic pop or rock sensibility.  If you're in either camp, this is a CD you at least should hear, if not own.  For those who haven't discovered ReinXeed yet, start with either "1912" or "Welcome to the Theater", or even their most recent album "A New World" for quality melodic power metal that remains consistently good throughout.  For those looking for something different, or metal fans who enjoy covers albums or interpretations like this (especially of non-metal material), then this is a good CD to show the relationship that exists between pop music and metal.  I would recommend this if you liked Volume I and are looking for more, or if you are willing to entertain something other than tried and true, dyed-in-the-wool metal.


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