While a collaboration of Anette Olzon (Nightwish, Dark Element) and “Sir” Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, and all things Ayreon) may at first look appear to be yet another crazy fusion snack food from Frontiers Laboratories, it is in fact a modest tweak to an existing formula. Many regular Sonic Perspectives readers, if not most, will be familiar with the four Allen-Lande collaborative albums with Jørn Lande, principally written and executed by Swedish Superman Magnus Karlsson. When he had time away from his other dozen projects, Magnus helmed the first three Allen-Lande albums, with the fourth being the product of Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius). If 2020’s Allen-Olzon album, “Worlds Apart” is the fifth spiritual successor in the Allen-Lande series, then fans will be glad to know this album is another Magnus Karlsson production.
The first impression we get overall from this album, especially as it relates to Allen-Lande, is the increased amount of contrast, and the latitude in writing style it affords. Back in the golden days (or the wasted years?) of Iron Maiden, one of the best strengths of the band was the Murray-Smith contrast. Dave Murray was an icon of blues-rock neck pickup noodling, always staying within a key and the parameters of a song, but never being afraid to be fluid and adaptable. Adrian, on the other hand, was tight, controlled, practiced, and ultimately more melodic. While neither was the complete package alone, as a pair it was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of heavy metal delight. Contrast this with 1990 onward, where we had the Murray-Gers dynamic, which gave us Dave’s free-spirited playing paired with the unkempt dumpster fire of execution that was Janick Gers. The contrast was gone. We went from Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, to a combination of Oscar Madison and Oscar the Grouch.
And so where with Allen-Lande we may have been missing a little something along the way, via Russell and Jørn being cut from very similar cloth. Which makes a lovely sonic tapestry, to be sure, but it is not setting any world records for contrast and variety. Enter the esteemed Swedish siren Anette Olzon, to attempt to balance the scales. To that end, it’s a refreshing angle, and that’s nothing against Lande. We could have done this same album with Jørn and Floor and it would have been a glorious beast. From the opening Russell Allen track, “Never Die,” with its power metal flavor and blistering lead guitar, and on into the following title track, with its duets, it is clear the album is a fairly polished product, and the voices of Russell and Anette do mesh enjoyably. The third track, “I’ll Never Leave You,” is an Anette solo track, with some great compositional elements and even more exceptional guitar leads.
The following eight tracks are essentially variations on this same theme, some songs are Russell, some songs are Anette, and some songs are both. “What if I Live” has some nice call-and-response duet parts, and shared harmonies, and “Lost Soul” inescapably has some Symphony X flavor, although much lighter on the prog content. Imagine a more stripped down composition more in line with Kamelot. “One More Chance” gives Ms. Olzon a chance to deliver a more soulful and sentimental ballad upon which to demonstrate some change of pace and flavor. The album closes with the track “Who’s Gonna Stop Me Now,” which while a solid song in itself, it does not quite have the punch or uniqueness to close the album on a grand crescendo, which is what an album like this almost begs to have.
Here’s the verdict. This album is well-produced, and the writing is the good stuff we have come to expect from Magnus. The guitar parts are absolutely top-shelf. Russell Allen and Anette Olzon both deliver superb results in line with their previous body of work. However, there is an inescapable sensation of the album being a product of the modern process of writing and then recording vocal parts offsite, sometimes in other parts of the world, and then just making a bowl of digital copy-pasta to combine it all together. It is not bad. It is how Arjen Lucassen and others like him get things done, and if often yields good results. But there is a feeling that the songs were made, and then two USB Plug-n-Play vocalists were “plugged in” to the record, and yes, it works, but it just does not carry the camaraderie, the human interplay, the esprit de corps of a bunch of musicians in love with each other shacking up in a little Scandinavian or English lodge for six months, writing a masterpiece. And no, not in love with each other in the Fleetwood Mac sense. Musical souls intertwined into a creative crucible to create something special. Human. Unforgettable. Unfortunately, some of the songs on this record are admittedly a bit forgettable, or at least not especially memorable. We still have Night Flight Orchestra songs stuck in our heads from the recent review, and this Allen-Olzon album does not have that power. In an age where demand for quality music is flagging, and artists and labels alike are operating on thin margins, it is becoming less practical to record something like “So,” or “A Night at the Opera,” especially with modern technology. However, for we relics who still collect albums and appreciate quality, assembly-line collaboration metal is always going to yield limited returns.
With all that being said, Magnus wrote some good heavy and semi-symphonic tunes all the same, and Anette and Russell acquitted themselves well, so please do not misunderstand, this is a great record. We would just like to see a little more heart and soul, a little more human passion imbued into a project such as this. Definitely listen to some of the promotional videos from the album, and let us know if you agree, on Facebook, Twitter, or your preferred social media poison of choice. The record is dropping right now, and you can snag it from your usual online retailers, or right here from Frontiers Music.
Released By: Frontiers Music SLR
Release Date: March 6th, 2020
Genre: Melodic Metal
- Russell Allen / Vocals
- Anette Olzon / Vocals
- Magnus Karlsson / Guitars, bass , keyboards
- Anders Köllerfors / Drums
“Worlds Apart” Track-Listing:
1. Never Die
2. Worlds Apart
3. I’ll Never Leave You
4. What If I Live
5. Lost Soul
6. No Sign Of Life
7. One More Chance
8. My Enemy
9. Who You Really Are
10. Cold Inside
11. Who’s Gonna Stop Me Now
Russell Allen attempts the Allen-Lande formula with Annette Olzon, with impressive results. It is a refreshing contrast of two disparate world-class vocalists, and fans of either one will want to check this one out.