Magnus Karlsson’s been a busy guy, to say the least. Not only as he been working with Primal Fear on next year’s album Rulebreaker (due out in late January next year) and tour with them for last year’s Delivering the Black, but he was also behind Kiske/Somerville’s City of Heroes (released early this year) and this album. He’s a prolific songwriter, to say the least, and certainly share the title of most prolific member of Primal Fear with bassist Mat Sinner (who, in addition to Rulebreaker and City of Heroes, was also involved in Voodoo Circle’s Whisky Fingers and Level 10’s Chapter One, both also released this year). I will say that I personally quite liked City of Heroes (although I’ll admit that the presence of Michael Kiske on anything pretty much guarantees I’ll enjoy it due to how much I love his singing voice, so make of that what you will), so I was curious to see what Karlsson could do when he was letting himself do what he wanted to and production a record that he felt represented himself as a musician (since I missed Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall’s selt-titled debut album from 2013).
The answer…was not quite as impressive as I was hoping, but I will still admit to enjoying Kingdom of Rock. I just expected more than the very solid record I got…which I know is kind of like complaining about getting a four star meal when you were expecting a five star meal, as it’s something most would be perfectly happy to settle for, but that doesn’t stop it from having failed to live up to expectations.
One of the first things I couldn’t help noticing with the record, and part of my source of disappointment, is that the record basically feels like the last Kiske/Somerville record, just a bit heavier and with a rotating cast of vocalists (none of which are Michael Kiske or Amanda Somerville, so this criticism already feels like it’s lacking a valid point now I say it out loud). Now, in fairness, the songwriting is handled by the same guy who did that record, so you can give some degree of leeway to this criticism, but I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed that he doesn’t try to shake things up more, as it just begs the question of why he put his name on Kingdom of Rock when the songwriting just sounds like what he’s done already. If this is the sound he wants to be known for, than more power to him, but I personally can’t escape the feeling that this record would have been a far more powerful statement had we not basically had this same record given to us multiple times already via various other projects he’s done the songwriting for over the last few years.
Still, if you’ve managed to miss the other records Karlsson has done songwriting for, then that criticism is going to sound very hollow, and I have to admit that there is nothing wrong with the songwriting on the record if taken as a record in and of itself. Karlsson himself handles every instrument aside from the drums (which are handled very well by Jaime Salazar) and even provides lead vocals on two tracks (‘I Am Coming For You’ and ‘Walk This World Along’), doing very well on all of them, although I wouldn’t say his vocals are all that impressive by comparison to the guest vocalists (although, to be fair, the guest vocalists include Jorn Lande, Tony Harnell and Joe Lynn Turner, so this is kind of like saying you’re an unimpressive guitarist compared to Joe Satriani). All of the songs are carried by their vocalist very well, although none of the performances from the guest vocalists are going to be among the best performances each vocalist has produced, and they have a good variety of tempos and degrees of heaviness to prevent the record becoming dull. I think the only real misfire for me is ‘When the Sky Falls’, as it is a slow song that lasts for just over six minutes and feels like it forgot to bring the energy that keeps the rest of the record moving along nicely. I also wasn’t entirely convinced by ‘The Right Moment’ as a ballad, but I can’t say it was poorly done: it just failed to grab me in the way I was wanting it to.
The production is basically modern metal production, with not a lot to really comment on: it works well for the style of music and, while I do have my usual hang ups on it regarding the mastering (which is actually not as overly loud as I was expecting it to be, so props to production Jacob Hansen for preventing the mastering from going too loud) and a more limited bass presence than I personally like, I can’t fault the production too much on the record.
Ultimately, I really do get the feeling that I should like this record more than I actually do. It’s got just about everything I’d like to see in a record: strong performances, incredible vocalists, solid and varied songwriting, a good production job…this is a record I should be raving about, yet I can’t say that I’m able to convince myself that this is a record worth raving about. It’s good, certainly, but I still expected more than I go. I will still say that this record is worth a listen if you like traditional heavy metal and hard rock, as it is a very solid record, but I personally can’t shake off the feeling of unmet expectations enough to want to call it a potential album of the year.
Kingdom of Rock will be released on the 6th of November by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.