Our friends at the record label Frontiers Music sank our hearts in April when a few choice album releases were pushed back due to the present quasipocalypse. One especially high on our list for Santa was the new sophomore offering from Finnish melodic metal rockers One Desire, who knocked us upon our collective asses a couple years back with their self-titled debut, including tracks like “Hurt” with well over 3 million streams on Spotify. For music outside of the Top-40 stratosphere, those are some big numbers for a relative newcomer from Scandinavia. The reason? One Desire invokes old-school melodic nostalgia, tempered by sensible modern stylings and maturity.
Has the band repeated this feat in 2020, with their newest release, “Midnight Empire?” A strong start can be found in the band remaining intact with their original lineup, a rare feat during any period of rock history. The band is actually the lovechild and brainchild of drummer Ossi Sivula, who searched exhaustively for the right chemistry before meeting gold-and-platinum guitar producer powerhouse Jimmy Westerlund, and this Archduke Ferdinand spark was the catalyst for a chain reaction resulting in vocalist Andre Linman and bassist Jonas Kuhlberg. Something special must have been born, because the resulting creative maelstrom yielded one of the stronger self-titled records we have seen in the genre in a very long time. With the same lineup intact and evidently still firing on all cylinders, there would seem to be a high probability of a repeat performance, but were they able to do it?
In a word, yes. Brilliantly. In a bold play, the band gets the Queen out on the board as quickly as possible, publishing the strongest track first on the album. The opener, “Shadowman,” cues classic film dialogue about a jungle demon, a killer of the shadows, before atmospheric keys and clean guitar join the mix to add a minor key ambience before a monster wall of sound crashes in. Crunchy EL34-ish guitar tone, Euro keyboards, and unrelenting snare and kick all come together to part a Red Sea so Andre can deliver unique vocals, clean and expressive in the verse, and powerful in the chorus. The guitar leads following each chorus are pure Neal Schon, and that compliment should only be taken as such. There is a momentary lull in the music, a reprise of the cinematic dialogue about the hateful demon, layered with piano, before Andre unloads some of the highest-quality power screams of 2020. All instruments man their battle-stations for the closure of the song, everyone going absolutely ape while layers of the chorus, laden with modulation effects stack over top of the melee in what ends in epic fashion.
We will let you decide whether opening with your biggest bruiser is a tactical misstep, but it would seem that if the rest of the album can keep up the momentum, it is not such a bad move. It is definitely an attention-grabber. The second track may not be the best for momentum, with its reduced tempo and heaviness, feeling decidedly more AOR than its predecessor, but it serves to convey a sense of the variety of the album, a decided strength which may be even better than with the debut album. Unusually, the third track, “Down and Dirty,” opens with an R&B synth beat, seeming for a long moment like something not-very-metal, but once the chorus joins in, you would think you are listening to Eclipse or W.E.T. You had us going there for a moment, boys. Well done. It still makes two tracks not as heavy or bombastic as the first track, but the chorus and melody here is strong enough to make it very forgivable. Thankfully, the fourth track, “Godsent Extasy” comes in hot, only dialing it back for a couple verses before amping it up and delivering a big power metal chorus. Halfway into the track, when we think this one is simple as pie, we get am unusual stomping drums plus guitar arpeggio instrumental bridge leading into a very well-executed guitar solo, continuing to skate that thin and perfect line between arena radio rock and modern metal.
“Through the Fire,” opening with steel string acoustic guitar and atmospheric percussion, paired with clean vocals just feels like it is our obligatory unplugged ballad. However, after a minute it gains in majesty, before descending back into the original style, before changing yet again and coming out of nowhere with full electric overdriven heaviness. The track does a marvelous job of keeping the listener guessing, clean song or heavy song, before launching into a guitar solo backed by both clean and electric guitars, and ultimately presenting a vocal section right off of any of the best most recent Winger albums. Again, a compliment in the highest. Someone at Frontiers needs to ensure Reb Beach gets an opportunity to listen to “Through the Fire.” There is not nearly enough great writing like this.
The album then presses on, with more traditional rockers like “Heroes,” and less conventional pieces like “Rio,” (who may or may not also dance on the sand), before delivering us to the “Battlefield of Love,” a fusion of high-gain guitars and Euro power metal keyboard chords when it isn’t busy being a unique tune bordering on the modern pop. “Killer Queen,” may or may not be dynamite with a laser beam, but she is probably the most well-rounded track on the album, paving the way for the final track, “Only When I Breathe.” Setting the stage with the pitter-patter of rain and distant thunder, the track evolves into a thoughtful and bittersweet message, approximately being, “Don’t worry about me, I am OK now. In fact, it only hurts when I breathe.” The piano, acoustic guitar, and programmed percussion all complement Andre’s vocals as we bring this album to its conclusion.
This album is easily on our short list for 2020 best melodic rock albums at this point. AOR music is not as common today as it once was, and great AOR even less so. This album is squarely in the latter category. Rather than deliver a nostalgic photocopy of yesteryear, or bringing us a “heavy version of Journey,” One Desire has further developed a formula of delivering 80s AOR, but with strategically-placed application of heaviness and borderline-pop elements to bring us something not only accessible, but enjoyable for listen after listen. Well done, boys. Kiitos. If you are now hankering for some Finnish AOR metal, and thinking “Show Me the Suomi,” we have some great news. In spite of recent delays, “Midnight Empire” should hit the streets on 22 May. Check out the video previews below, and if you like what you hear as much as we did, be sure to get a copy. The band will thank you. And you will thank yourself.
Released By: Frontiers Music SLR
Release Date: May 22nd, 2020
Genre: AOR / Melodic Rock
- André Linman / Lead vocals, guitars
- Jimmy Westerlund / Guitars, background vocals, lead vocals (5)
- Ossi Sivula / Drums
- Jonas Kuhlberg / Bass
“Midnight Empire” Track-Listing:
2. After You’re Gone
3. Down And Dirty
4. Godsent Extasy
5. Through The Fire
8. Battlefield Of Love
9. Killer Queen
10. Only When I Breathe
Wow. We have no idea where Serafino at Frontiers Music found these guys, but are we ever glad he did. One Desire’s debut album was not a one-off accident, in fact it was just a warmup for this, their second powerhouse album. For mature, well-thought-out, and absolutely ear-pleasing melodic rock, look no further than Midnight Empire. There is something here for every fan of the genre