Album Review: Jorn – ‘Heavy Rock Radio’

Jorn Lande is hardly a name that is unknown to metal fans. The guy has had a solo career for over a decade now, has guested on so many metal albums that he’s basically the equivalent of getting Wolverine to appear on your comic book’s cover (if you pardon the VERY geeky analogy) and is a name that most people will associate with the bands Ark (the progressive metal band he was part of in the late 90s and early 2000s) and Masterplan (the power metal group he was part of in the early 2000s and briefly returned to in the late 2000s), not to mention his duo project with Symphony X’s Russell Allen (who, now I think on it, is basically Jorn Lande without the solo career and a main band).

Yet ask someone who isn’t a metal fan about Jorn Lande and you’re almost guaranteed to get blank looks. See, his projects, while usually well liked by metal fans, are simply not projects which have really crossed over outside of the metal scene.

Still, Jorn is hardly a bad artist in his own right. While this is his third cover album of his solo career, it’s probably the one closest to what you could see being on a radio playlist, being comprised mostly of classic (or well respected) song by artists of the 70s and 80s. And a Dio and Black Sabbath cover, because some things never change.

So, what do I think of Heavy Rock Radio? Well…on the performance front, it’s pretty solid, but the covers themselves are more of a mixed bag, with some covers that are pretty major misfires mixed in with some absolutely brilliant covers that show there was potential in this record to be great.

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Let me talk about the songs first, since that’s what everyone wants to know. I’m going to start with the covers that I feel didn’t work for once, but only because I feel I should start with the negatives due to the rest of the review being fairly positive, so here goes: there are some songs that just don’t work and I feel it would have been better to have not covered them at all. The big ones for me are Queen’s ‘Killer Queen’, The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’’ (all placed in the middle of the record, incidentally enough), as Jorn tries to make them fit in with a more typical metal sound and they just don’t work because the reinterpretation of the songs takes too much away from what made the originals work so well. Now, to be fair, I do idolise those songs myself (they’re some of my favourite songs from when I was growing up), so you could make a case that my reaction is more out of dislike for the changes than focusing on the overall quality of the covers, but the honest truth is that those songs have a sense of dynamics and an unconventional edge to them which doesn’t get translated over into metal cover very well. I’m also not sold on the cover of John Farnham’s ‘You’re The Voice’ for much the same reason, although the fact that Blind Guardian have done this song in the last few years and their version was a version that was good at being its own unique thing while still obviously honouring what the original did may make this a case of “heard it done better in the past”.

That said, there are covers which DO work. Frida’s ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ actually benefits from the makeover surprisingly well, giving the song an extra dose of power and energy that the original didn’t have. Paul Stanley’s ‘Live to Win’ was not a song that I was especially big on, but I do find that the cover works nicely and gives it a heavier edge that enhances it quite nicely. I was a bit surprised at the choice to cover Iron Maiden’s ‘The Final Frontier’ (most people go for older songs by the band to cover and The Final Frontier was released in 2010, which is a lot more recent than most Maiden covers tend to go), but Jorn does a fairly good job at it (in fact, I dare say that Jorn’s vocals on the song are actually better than Bruce Dickinson’s are, being less strained than Bruce’s and clearly more comfortably sung). ‘Stormbringer’ by Deep Purple sounds pretty much what you’d expect it to sound like and, well, there’s nothing wrong with that at all! The covers of songs which Dio sung on is kind of predictable by this point (to the point that I’m actually wondering if Jorn is secretly on a life’s mission to cover every song that Dio has sung), but they’re done with obvious respect for the originals and are done very well, so, while I’m wishing Jorn would throw a curveball like an Elf cover instead of the obvious songs, I can’t fault the covers much! Honestly, I think this record could have benefitted from more cuts like the Frida cover and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, in all honesty, as there is a lot of potential in taking material like that and making them into loud and proud heavy metal anthems, but, at the end of the day, a good song’s a good song and Jorn certainly knows how to pick good songs to cover!

The sound of the record is pretty much loud and proud traditional heavy metal, which means every song has had a makeover to fit into that style of music if they didn’t fit that style previously. Complaints about the setlist aside, I can’t say that I dislike the idea behind this at all, as it’s clear that Jorn likes every song that is being covered on the record and he offers a new take on all of the songs which is hard to fault too much on paper. I’d say that you’d have to be on board with cover records to start with to enjoy this (which, I’m not going to lie, I’m usually not), but it’s hardly going to upset anyone too much.

The performances on the instrumental front aren’t especially unique overall, but I can’t say anyone does a bad job, as they don’t. The drums on the record are played with a lot of power and energy by the drummers on the record (mostly Francesco Iovino, although long running Jorn drummer Willy Bendiksen provides drums on ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ and ‘Stormbringer’), the guitars (mostly provided by Trond Holter, formerly of the glam metal band Wig Wam and on his second album with Jorn after 2013’s Traveller) are decent (though they don’t deviate too much from the core of the originals, as might be expected from this sort of record), the bass guitar (mostly provided by Thomas Bekkevold) is…well, there, and the keyboards (credited to Alessandro del Vecchio, who should be familiar to long time readers for being part of Sunstorm and appearing on Ted Poley’s record, which I covered recently) are…well, there too. Nobody does a bad job, but, considering they’re just covering songs, there’s not really a lot to say, since the main question that has to be asked is “do they do the songs justice?” and I can’t say that the performances of the musicians fails to do the songs justice, for all my complaints about some of the covers not being to my liking.

Jorn’s vocals, as ever, are pretty strong, with his vocals sounding more than a bit like a young David Coverdale after listening to Holy Diver too many times (that was meant to be a complement, if you’re wondering). No new real tricks to mention from the guy for long time fans, but, for those not familiar with him, he should impress pretty easily with his incredibly good voice. I’m surprised to notice that the guy’s voice hasn’t really changed that much since Masterplan’s self-titled album in 2003, which is quite impressive considering he recorded said album when he was 34 and this was recorded when he was 47!

The production on the record…well, I do think the production’s OK overall, but something seems off. Maybe it’s because I’m too used to the original songs, which were mostly recorded onto analog as opposed to digital like this album was, but something about the sound of this record doesn’t gel with the material to me, being a bit too heavy on the guitars and the vocals and having a more noticeable than usual feeling of being a studio production. It’s not necessarily bad per se, but something feels off about it. Still, for what it’s worth, the worst I can say is that the mix feels weird to me (on top of the earlier complaint, the bass and keyboards generally don’t have a lot of presence in the mix), as the mastering is acceptable (bit louder than I’d like, but nothing too excessive) and nothing about the sound of the instruments sounds like it’s been recorded wrong. I don’t feel anyone’s done a bad job on the production front, but I don’t think I can really give props to the production like I would usually do because something doesn’t sit right with it to me.

Ultimately, Heavy Rock Radio is a decent enough cover album that, while not going to convert anyone who wasn’t already on board with Jorn as a musician, isn’t going to upset fans either. Some fun covers can be found on here (despite a few choices which just don’t work) and there’s certainly far worse cover albums out there (anyone remember Six Feet Under’s cover of Back in Black? No? GOOD!). I personally doubt this album is going to have any real longevity, but, if you want something to tide you over until the next Jorn album comes out, then this should do the trick nicely!

Heavy Rock Radio will be released on the 3rd of June by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.