One thing that I’ve come to take for granted (in a good way) is that you can always rely on the Nordic countries to do great quality melodic hard rock, glam metal and power metal. I know, I should be impartial on this kind of thing, but I rarely find myself disappointed with the Nordic countries when it comes to that sort of stuff: even at their worst, they always provide something that I find very listenable and nearly always provide at least one song which I happily return to months later.
So yeah, if you pardon the godawful pun, even before I heard this album, I knew I was in for a treat! Then I did my research and my excitement only grew when I learnt that Treat were one of the few European glam metal bands to actually get international success in the 80s, alongside fellow countrymen Europe and Finland’s Hanoi Rocks. Admittedly, Treat didn’t get the same level of success as Europe, but some older readers might faintly recognise them.
For those who don’t, though, here’s the quick breakdown of their career for you: the band were formed in 1981 as The Boys by guitarist Anders Wikstrom (who has played on every record except for their 1992 self-titled record), vocalist Robert Ernlund (who has sung on every record by the band except for their 1992 self-titled record, which was recorded with Mats Leven, who was then only known as the ex-vocalist of the band Swedish Erotica, who had sung on their 1989 self-titled debut album, but is now probably best known for being the vocalist of the doom metal band Candlemass) and guitarist Leif Liljegren (who left the band in 1988, having played on their first three records). The band really started to take off in the summer of 1983 when drummer Mats Dahlberg joined the band. It’s really after this that things start getting complicated, but the key thing to remember is that the band never managed to release a single record with the same lineup. However, it was really after Emlund was replaced in late 1990 and Wikstorm left that the band finally fell apart and, after the lack of success of Treat, the band disbanded in March 1993.
Luckily, a reunion ended up happening in 2006 after the surprise success of the 2005 compilation Weapon of Choice (bear in mind, this was a band who, at the time, had been inactive for over a decade and hadn’t exactly left the same impact that, say, Poison or Twisted Sister had, so it wasn’t a given that the record would sell well), with the lineup mostly comprising the members of the band around early 1990 (the only exception being bassist Joakim Larsson, who was replaced by Nalle Pahlsson). They released a reunion record in 2010 and, while the rest of the lineup is still the same as it was in 2006, they are now on their third bassist since their reunion (Pontus Egberg), with previous bassist Fredrik Thomander leaving the band this year. This is the band’s seventh record to date: their previous albums are 1985’s Scratch and Bite, 1986’s The Pleasure Principle, 1987’s Dreamhunter, 1989’s Organized Crime, 1992’s self-titled album and 2010’s Coup de Grace.
So, now we’re all on the same page, let’s actually start talking about Ghost of Graceland. While I think it does have some issues which hurt it, for the most part, it’s a really good record that, while not the most original of albums by any measure, will certainly satisfy fans of melodic rock.
The band definitely have a sound that is cut from the cloth of melodic hard rock, but, rather than the expected glam metal that such a definition would bring to mind, the band actually goes a bit earlier than you might expect, with a sound that is clearly more influenced by the sound of 70s glam rock and 70s hard rock than might be expected (although ‘House on Fire’ is certainly proof that the album isn’t lacking in heavy moments at all!). The press release says the band retraced themselves back to their roots and idols for this record and I can believe it: this is a really old school record musically, with the only really modern aspects to their sound being the more mature lyrics and the production. Yet it doesn’t feel like a gimmick like it does when many younger bands do it: you can practically feel the genuine love and appreciation for those old records seeping in this album and the little touches that many retro acts fail to include are all here. All of this, of course, will make the record a tough sell for those looking for something new and it could be argued that the band taking a deliberate step back is a bad move because it is very easy to lose what makes a band unique by doing so, but, as a newcomer to the band, I didn’t find this a problem!
The songwriting isn’t pushing any boundaries (although you probably wouldn’t be expecting it to), but it is very solid in its own right. Every single song has a great chorus (I would say my favourite is probably ‘I Don’t Miss The Misery’, but none of them disappointed me at all!), but they offer more than just that: the rockers are built upon great guitar riffs and verses that, while nothing that is especially noteworthy, have some pretty good moments (including some very good lyrics, although I will admit that I’m still not entirely sure what ‘Alien Earthlings’ is meant to be about…) while ballad ‘Together Alone’ (sung by Wikstrom) offers some very gentle keyboard playing (it sounds like a piano, but the notes are all at the same volume and it doesn’t have a slight echo, which gives away that it is a keyboard) and some slight symphonic elements which give it a grander feel which offers a very different side to what the rest of the record does. I will say, though, that I do think ‘Forever Alone’ isn’t all that great overall: I can’t say that it’s bad, as it’s certainly pleasant enough to listen to, but it’s not something I see myself listening to much because it doesn’t really offer much of interest to me beyond the chorus.
The instrument performances aren’t going to impress the progressive crowd, but the musicians are definitely competent musicians. Wikstrom’s lead guitar playing is certainly fine, with some good guitar solos across the record, and he is supported nicely by keyboardist and guitarist Patrick Appelgren, who does a solid job on both instruments. Drummer Jamie Borger doesn’t do anything all that impressive, but he certainly lays a good foundation for the rest of the band to play over and Egberg…well, he’s definitely there, I can say that for sure!
Vocally, Ernlund has definitely not handled the years as well as he should have done, as his voice has quite a few effects on it. I always hate it when there’s a lot of effects on a vocalist’s voice, as it usually indicates that the vocalist is trying to conceal diminished vocal ability. Whether this is true or not is tough to say, but it does make me wonder if Ernlund is going to be able to handle the material live or not. However, this isn’t to say that the performance on the record is bad: his vocals certainly sound decent on here and, while his vocal range isn’t going to blow anyone away, he knows how to use it to the best of his ability, which is still commendable when you consider how long the guy has been singing!
The production of the record is pretty solid, but I think Egberg’s bass felt a bit quieter than it should have been. This is, admittedly, a general issue I find with most metal outside of progressive circles, so this probably can be safely ignored if you don’t have this issue. The mastering…actually, I think the mastering is fine, if I’m completely honest! The general sound of the record is also great: it feels like a record which has had a good amount spent on it to sound great (as the instruments have been clearly recorded), but not focused over so much that it feels like the production was more important than anything else. It’s a clean modern production, which might ruffle a few feathers if you prefer a more raw style, but, for melodic rock, this is perfect for what the band are going for. Peter Mansson produced this record alongside Wikstrom and they both did a great job, so credit to everyone who was involved in the production side of the record for their excellent work!
Ultimately, Ghost of Graceland is a pretty solid record that, some complaints about the effects on the vocals and the mixing of the bass aside, is pretty much what I’d expect to hear from a melodic hard rock band today and backed up with enough great songwriting that it overcomes the potential originality issue nicely. There’s really not a lot to stop me from recommending this record to melodic hard rock fans, in all honesty: even at worst, it’s a very competently made record with some good songwriting and some good performances. There’s nothing here to change your mind on the genre if you don’t like it, by any measure, but, if you do like the genre, then this should be right up your alley!
Ghost of Graceland will be released on the 15th of April by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.