August 24, 2022

All the ingredients that melodic metal fans crave…

We had it all, but wanted more. It was never enough… now it’s all gone, everything’s destroyed, sings Russell Allen amid a sea of chugging guitars and rapid-fire drums in the song A Million Skies, featured on the upcoming album Army Of Dreamers. It’s a dark lyric that stands in contrast to the uplifting feel of the chorus, which is just the kind of yin and yang that brings depth to this newest release from the project simply known as Allen/Olzon.

Photo: Patric Ullaeus

Following a handful of collaborative albums between Allen, Norwegian metal singer Jørn Lande, and Swedish guitarist, songwriter and producer Magnus Karlsson, 2020 saw Allen and Karlsson switching gears and teaming up with former Nightwish singer Anette Olzon for the album Worlds Apart, an inspired choice which met with critical and fan acclaim alike. It’s a union that worked so well that this follow-up album is upon us only two years later, and it’s every bit on par with its predecessor.

By now, listeners may be familiar with the album’s leadoff title track with its triumphant opening and impossibly catchy chorus. It’s a strong beginning followed by ten more songs which traverse various moods and themes. The majestic beauty of So Quiet Here, for example, with Olzon’s strong, tuneful vocals recalling certain pieces from her own excellent album Shine (an album highly worth checking out). Not to mention Allen’s seamless Dio-like transitions from gruff to melodic, which remain as impressive as always. From Symphony X to Adrenaline Mob to Star One, there’s simply no disputing the vocal prowess on display. So far, so good.

Magnus Karlsson’s compositions provide plenty of room for his own numerous guitar solos, like in the heavy ballad (and second single) All Alone, as well as Out of Nowhere, where he blends soaring, emotional notes with a dose of ballsy shred. Once again drummer Anders Köllerfors anchors these songs with ferocious energy while balancing chops and groove (he and Karlsson also both appeared on Olzon’s recent album Strong). He gets a chance to really show off in the spirited rocker Look At Me – surely one of the album’s highlights, and Köllerfors’ dynamic playing is a big reason why.

More early favourites are Carved Into Stone, which is built around the symphonic melody that opens the piece (Karlsson is big on those gothic-sounding intros), and the effectively moody breakup song I Am Gone, bitterly told from the point of view of someone who has just ghosted their life partner:

Every second felt like a lifetime, I know I would never survive
I'd been waiting for that right moment to break free 
I cover up my tracks, won't ever look back, you won't see me again
Won't matter how long you search
I am gone

Serious stuff. Both songs showcase the strength of Karlsson’s writing as well as the might of the two lead vocalists, both of whom are at the top of their game right now. Their voices blend beautifully and they play off each other in often dramatic fashion… am I the only one who wants to hear these two remake If I Close My Eyes Forever? Something to consider for album #3, anyway.

Karlsson lays down a blistering minute-long solo in the grand closing track Never Too Late, which at barely more than five minutes manages to garner an epic quality, and just like that the album ends as suddenly as it began. It’s a fun ride, and there’s little to complain about, though I would like to have heard each singer take a full song for themselves, as they did on Worlds Apart; it does come across a bit forced to have both of them in every single track, but maybe that wasn’t intentional; perhaps it was simply the way the cookie crumbled this time around.

Overall, Army Of Dreamers serves up all the ingredients that melodic metal fans crave. It doesn’t pretend to break new ground, nor does it need to. It’s simply a well-written batch of songs that feature fine playing and top-notch performances from its two star vocalists. It’s also mercifully free of the kind of half-assed filler tracks that tend to bloat so many modern albums. If Karlsson does lean on a formula, it’s certainly a successful one. There’s plenty of energy and bombast to go around, and enough ear-pleasing melodies to burrow into the minds and hearts of listeners. Whether taken as an extension of Worlds Apart or accepted on its own merits, Army Of Dreamers is definitely a checkmark in the ‘Win’ column. Fans of either singer will like this a lot… fans of both will love it.

Army Of Dreamers is released 9 September.