New is old and old is new.
As the next decade approaches and the 10 year mark of Ronnie Dio’s untimely passing has come and gone, the ghost of the man on the silver mountain continues to haunt to heavy and power metal scenes alike. So much so that the past five years has seen two substantial spinoff projects in Last In Line and Dream Child, led by Dio’s two most prominent guitarists no less, emerging alongside a recently reformed Rainbow as even the olden sage of the six-stringed instrument Ritchie Blackmore himself has been hit by this mass nostalgia effect. In keeping with this, virtuoso guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Magnus Karlsson opted to seize upon this phenomenon by recruiting current Rainbow vocalist and Chilean Dio doppelganger Ronnie Romero and former Axel Rudi Pell drummer (among countless other projects) Mike Terrana in 2016 for a recording project dubbed The Ferrymen and put forth an impressive melodic power display of an eponymous debut the following year, arguably matching if not surpassing Karlsson’s finest works outside of Primal Fear in the process.
In every respect, this project’s latest installment and sophomore outing “A New Evil” stands as a more amped up version of its predecessor. The same amalgamation of Magnus’ melodic power, heavy and progressive metal influences that touched his songwriting from the early days of Midnight Sun up to his various vocalist conglomerations and shred fest albums under the Free Fall moniker are present here, alongside a more heightened speed metal tendency no doubt imported from his 10 year affiliation with Primal Fear. Likewise, the symphonic character of his compositional work with another Frontiers Records project in Kiske/Somerville, no doubt inspired by the latter vocalist’s connection with Epica, is a prominent feature that gives things a sense of epic splendor that is sure to play well with the Nightwish crowd. At its core, however, this is a project that is geared towards an older heavy metal vibe, and is appropriately chock full of hard-hitting riffs, blazing guitar solos and enough vocal attitude out of Romero’s gritty, Dio-like pipes to make one party like its 1985.
Much like the haunting visual on the cover of Charon ferrying lost souls across the Acheron, the musical demeanor of this album is both cinematic and heavy from its very inception. Like a perfect combination of a symphonic nod to the current female-fronted craze and the riff-happy madness of Primal Fear, “Don’t Stand In My Way” leaves an impression right in the listener’s skull and sets a precedent of power by which most of this album follows effortlessly. Similarly guitar-dominated yet dense orchestral anthems with a speed metal flavor such as the title song “A New Evil”, “Save Your Prayers” and the almost thrashing cruiser “You Against The World” could almost pass for material from Magnus’ handiwork with the aforementioned German speed extraordinaire outfit were Ralf Scheepers handling vocals, though even with Romero’s more gravely, 70s rock inspired growl the affinity for material off an album like “Delivering The Black” or “Rulebreaker” on here is impossible to miss, to speak nothing for Karlsson’s Malmsteen inspired shred segments, which are a bit more measured yet still utterly off the hook.
Nevertheless, in much the same fashion as Dio’s iconic offerings from the mid-1980s, this is an album that truly shines when the tempo is brought back to more of a rocking groove, while the melodic hooks and vocal work takes center stage. This is perhaps best encapsulated on more drawn out offerings such as “Bring Me Home”, which definitely has a bit of a “Holy Diver” character to it at times between the slow thud of the drum work that sees Terrana channeling Vinnie Appice flawlessly and the more Vivian Campbell inspired crunch of the guitars, though true to form Karlsson keeps it from throwback territory by loading things to the brim with bombastic keyboards and a Helloween-inspired lead guitar theme. Shorter rockers like “The Night People Rise” and “Heartbeat”, in additional to featuring titles similar to Dio offerings of 3 decades past, also carry some fairly musical parallels to the “Sacred Heart” and “Dream Evil” albums at times. All the same, each of these songs still exudes that modern power metal sound as only Karlsson can deliver, and occasionally things leave the Dio nostalgia behind for full on symphonic power territory, such as the infectious ode “My Dearest Fear”.
As with just about every offering that has come down the pike with the support of Frontiers Records, this is an album that makes no mystery as to its target audience and is equally interested in reviving the past as it is soldiering into the future. It’s a foregone conclusion that any fans of Karlsson’s other associated projects will take to this, as he has a very clearly defined style of songwriting and production that changes very little regardless of the other musicians involved, though there is a pretty strong case to be made that The Ferrymen might be Magnus’ finest hour outside of Primal Fear given the caliber of Romero’s vocals and the continual technical evolution that Karlsson’s riff work has seen since the mid-2000s. Many have no doubt been speculating since the demise of heavy metal’s beloved king as to where he would have gone musically since the dawn of the now closing decade, and while one wouldn’t be far off in pointing to the recent Dream Child album that Craig Goldie put forth last year as the likely answer, Dio’s praise of the European power metal scene throughout the 2000s make an album like this a strong possibility as well.
Released by: Frontiers Music SRL
Released Date: October 11th, 2019
Genre: Heavy Metal
“A New Evil” Track-listing:
1. Don’t Stand In My Way
2. Bring Me Home
3. A New Evil
4. The Night People Rise
5. Save Your Prayers
7. Your Own Hero
8. No Matter How Hard We Fall
9. My Dearest Fear
10. You Against The World
11. All We Got
Nostalgia for the days when Ronnie James Dio reigned supreme, melodic splendor abounded and guitar gods were the order of the day collide in the second installment of Magnus Karlsson’s latest Frontiers Records backed project