You know, looking at this album cover makes me remember something I discussed in my review of The Defiant’s self-titled debut album earliest this year: there’s a strange fondness for cowboy hats among metal musicians these days. At the time, I thought this was just an exclusively American thing and put it down to too many glam metal bands listening to too much country music or associating with the old cowboy lifestyle due to how their style of music is seen in today’s music scene, but then King Company’s debut comes along and proves that I might have been further from the mark than I thought I was.
Mind you, looking at the cover art, I am being faintly reminded of Poison’s Hollyweird record from 2002 and wondering whether the artist for the record is a pin up artist in their free time, so I’m not really sure whether this helps the case I provided or not. Or just begs further questions of a different nature, like whether I should critical of the fanservice driven position the woman on the album cover is depicted in (since, well, I don’t think most people would find that a comfortable position to stand in, so it’s hard to claim it’s a realistic drawing of a person) or shrug it off because I have more important things to focus on and it’s not really a big deal to most people anyway…
Moving away from the potentially controversial questions and onto the actual review, though, this is a band that are going to be somewhat of a big deal among already established metal fans, as all of the members are from previously established bands in the scene (though none of them are likely to ring any bells with the average person on the street). Drummer Mirka Rantanen will be familiar to Thunderstone fans due to being their founding drummer and having been with them up until 2013, as well as playing in Warmen (the side project of Children of Bodom’s keyboardist) and Kotipelto (the solo project of Stratovarius’ lead vocalist). Vocalist Pasi Rantanen should also be familiar to Thunderstone fans, having rejoined in 2013 after originally leaving in 2007 and sung on their most recent album Apocalypse Again, which was released in April. Guitarist Antti Wirman should be familiar for playing in Warmen alongside his brother (the earlier mentioned Children of Bodom keyboardist). Keyboardist Jari Pailamo is probably best known for being part of much-missed power metallers Kiaus in its last few years (though he did not actually perform on any of their recordings). Wrapping up the band is bassist Time Schleifer (I am going to stress this now: from what I’ve read, this is the guy’s actual name, not a stage name. I’m seriously not preparing a joke on anyone, go check this name in another tab if you don’t believe me!), who has been part of the reactivated version of Enforce (now called Enfarce) since 2013.
So yeah, this band is kind of a big deal!
One for the Road (which I’m guessing wasn’t named that in tribute to a song by Judas Priest from their debut, although I would be very happy if it was, as I do like that track!) is the band’s debut album and, honestly…I’m not entirely sold on it. Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid record and it’s hard to deny that it’s clearly the product of musicians who know what they’re doing, but it doesn’t really grab my personal interest enough to hold me for repeated listens and, considering the previous credentials of the members, I feel that this doesn’t live up to the expectations put upon it.
Let me start by saying that the band’s sound might surprise some people. Oddly, considering the fact that some of the members have been connected to projects in the past which have been heavier than a typical power metal band, the material is actually far more traditional in terms of overall sound, mostly sticking with a hard rock and melodic heavy metal blend somewhat like latter-day Edguy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but those wanting something that nods towards Kiaus’ heavier side might feel a bit disappointed, as the record doesn’t do that at all. It’s not really a new sound, but it’s hardly a bad one at the same time!
The songwriting is best described as “professional”: if you know what goes into writing solid melodic heavy metal and hard rock, then you’ll spot all of those things here, but it does mean that you’re not going to find any real surprises here. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, admittedly, as the songs themselves are certainly enjoyable enough if you like this style of music, with great choruses, solid verses and a decent amount of talent on display, but it won’t convince anyone who isn’t already sold on this style of music. The strongest songs which stand out to me are “In Wheels of No Return” (which has a truly great chorus that I can see going down well live), “One Heart” (which offers a surprisingly darker side to the record which I think works well, though maybe not as the closing track of the record!) and “Wings of Love” (which is just a great rocker with a great chorus), but, personally speaking rather than critically, I just don’t feel the songs hold up enough to warrant a lot of repeated listens. It’s great to hear on a casual listen and it’s great to listen to every now and then, but I don’t see it holding up well to repeated listens over a long period of time, as it doesn’t have a lot underneath the immediacy to give the record a particularly long shelf life.
The instrumental performances, as might be expected from musicians with previous legacies like these guys do, are pretty solid, with some pretty great performances across the record which fit the music the band are playing while still having some skill to them to prevent the album from sounding too much like a typical album in the same vein. Wirman’s guitar playing is pretty reasonable on the rhythm guitar front, but he really comes to life on the lead guitar front, managing to offer some guitar solos which are more technical than the average level and sound somewhat inspired compared to a great many guitarists in the genre. Pailamo’s keyboards mostly fall into the usual melodic heavy metal cliche of more just adding bits of background noise to the proceedings, but he has some great solos across the record which shows that he can take the lead when he has to. Schliefer’s bass playing is competent, but unremarkable, mostly following the root note of what Wirman is playing. Mirka Rantanen’s drumming is pretty much what you would expect to hear on this sort of record, but that doesn’t make it bad at all, just kind of typical on the expectations front.
Pasi Rantanen’s vocals are surprisingly good for a guy who has been performing for over three decades and is now coming up to 47 years old. While his voice is a bit reminiscent of that of Chas West (which is probably a coincidence, as West started performing in 1986), he still has a pretty great range (some of the high notes he hits in “One for the Road” will surprise you) and his vocal tone fits in perfectly with what the band are going for, being clean while still having a rockier edge to them that keeps things from crossing over too much into power metal territory. He’s certainly a great vocalist and this record does a great job at reminding you of that fact.
The production is pretty solid overall, with an overall great mix (the bass is pretty easy to hear and the keyboards are mixed so they add a subtle edge to the proceedings without dominating it unless it needs to step up, not to mention that everything feels like it has the space it needs in the mix and doesn’t bleed over too much into another’s place), a great production sound (it’s a professional product, but it doesn’t feel too much like anything has suffered too much in the recording stages and it sounds great as a result) and a reasonable master (still arguably a bit on the loud side, but it’s nowhere near bad enough to make a big fuss over in my book). Huge props to everyone for a great job here!
Ultimately, One for the Road is a pretty solid record that I think only suffers from the fact that it doesn’t have enough to the songwriting to cope with repeated listens over a long period of time, isn’t really offering anything new to the scene and doesn’t really live up to the high expectations that it is inevitably going to be facing. It’s probably not a record that will win anyone over who wasn’t already on board with the scene, but, for fans of the genre, this is a pretty solid record that is worth checking out if you can approach it with reasonable expectations.
One for the Road will be released on the 26th of August by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.