|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Carl Johan Grimmark|
|Record Label: Rivel||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2007||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 39:34|
Guitarist Carl Johan Grimmark needs no introduction. Best known for his work with the Swedish Christian metal outfit Narnia but also contributing his superlative playing to albums by Audiovision, Divinefire and Rob Rock, Carl recently made the wise decision to step out on his own and in 2007 record his first solo album entitled, appropriately, Grimmark. My initial expectation prior to approaching the project, naturally, was that it would reflect a heavy Narnia influence. However, as things turned out, the album finds the artist taking a break from his past in that it fails to include many of the neo-classical flavorings that made Narnia’s 1998 debut Awakening stand out or the power and progressive based sounds characteristic to Desert Land (2001) and The Great Fall (2003). If I were to invite an accurate comparison to Narnia’s back catalog, nevertheless, it would have to be Long Live The King (1999) or, more exactly, the superlative Enter The Gate (2006) in that Grimmark delivers a polished melodic metal sound with occasional symphonic or power tendencies. Fans of other Northern European outfits such as Audiovsion, Wingdom and Essence Of Sorrow, for example, will accept this with open arms as will those into Shining Star, Rob Rock, Magnitude 9 and Impellitteri. If you are a child of the eighties, and Stryper, Dokken, Bloodgood and Holy Soldier happen to be your cup of tea, then I can see you getting into Grimmark as well.
The previously referenced Narnia influence can best be found in several of the albums slower pieces such as the Long Live The King-ish “Hiding From The Sun” or “The Kingdom” (this one sounds like an outtake from Enter The Gate). But it is on guitar driven romps such as “Free” and “Monkey Man” (two of the heavier pieces here) or the up-tempo “Pray” and Essence Of Sorrow-like “How Many Times” in which Carl takes that “break from his past” in question. These four, with their relentless fast pace and guitar driven initiative, to be quite honest, do not always invite comparison to anything Carl has put together in the past (with “Judgement Day” from The Great Fall being the possible lone exception)- something I cannot help but commend the artist. Other quality numbers worth noting include “Resurrection” and “Save Our Souls” (I can see Rob Rock performing this one), two classy hard rockers which serve to reinforce the albums strengths in the areas of consistency and continuity.
So what is there not to like here? Why, for instance, does Grimmark – despite its front to back musical excellence – receive a grade of “just” 85%? Well, to be quite honest, the issue does not necessarily revolve around one of quality but rather of quantity. Quantity? The album, for example, is a bit on the short side in featuring only eight full length songs and one instrumental- a particular I find to be a bit disappointing. Now, I understand that songs do not grow on trees; however, am I being unrealistic to expect a bit more here? If quality material happened to be in short supply, for instance, then perhaps the artist could have come up with a cover or two (one thing Carl’s band mate in Narnia, vocalist Christian Rivel, has done with Divinefire and Audiovision). And while we are on the subject, it is also a letdown that Grimmark includes just one instrumental (and a short one at that in the 2:55 “The New Song”). I full expected at least two full length instrumental pieces here – similar to what Narnia delivered on Desert Land. This IS a solo album by a lead guitar by the way.
One of the legitimate surprises (and a very pleasant one at that!) to the project has to be the strength of Carl’s lead vocal abilities. In a world in which many – if not most – talented lead guitarist either cannot (or choose not to) sing, the artist proves quite the refreshing exception to the rule with his clean sounding vocal delivering hinting at an occasional element of grit. No, the talent here is not quite on par with, let’s say, Rob Rock or Corey Brown (Magnitude 9) but Carl more than holds his own in fully complementing the quality material here.
It is on lead guitar, of course, the artist truly shines. A world class musician deservedly ranking with the best guitarists imbuing the current metal scene, his abundant playing – benefited by the polished feel to the albums production – stands out best on “Pray”, “Hiding From The Sun” and “Monkey Man”. If you are interested in a bluesy flavor to his soloing abilities, then look no further than “Resurrection” and “Free”. The instrumental “The New Song”, at the same time, is another track worth checking out. Carl has surrounded himself with some very capable musicians as well, including Masterplan bassist Jan S. Eckert and drummer Peter Wildoer (Darkane).
Beginning to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar before abruptly kicking in to high gear, “Pray” settles down for its first verse only to regain the guitar driven initiative on the way to a melodic based chorus highlighted by keyboards. Carl’s lengthy stretch of expert lead guitar stands out fluidly in the mix. What we have here is as aptly titled song as you will ever find:
I’ve got to learn how to deal with it
Every single day
I start all over and I pray
That God is watching over me
It helps me through the day
I start all over and I pray
The vocal harmonies at the start of “How Many Times” transition to a hard rocking blend of rhythm guitar and keyboards. Maintaining the rollicking momentum during its smoothly flowing verse portions, the song culminates for a chorus in which a deep and resonant setting is put into place. “How Many Times” is a relevant question:
Waiting for the stars above
To lead us right
Wondering blindly in cities of sin
How many times
Can we face the night
Without our Saviour
Without our King
The pace slows down for the mid-tempo sounds of “Hiding From The Sun”. A forward surge of rhythm guitar introduces the song, gradually leading the way in tempered fashion until a commanding chorus of an energetic variety is procured. Carl tears it up with another stretch of ardently played lead work. As a result of its laid back feel, “Hiding From The Sun” would not sound out of place on Narnia’s Long Live The King.
“Free”, on the other hand, ranks with the albums heavier and more aggressive pieces. The song immediately takes off to a snarling blend of rhythm guitar and double bass, the combative environment upheld during its driving verse portions in addition to a symphonic based chorus talking about what it truly means to be “free”:
Someone take me out of here
Blinded by a bright shining,
Tell me there’s a home
Beyond the clouds where I’ll be free
I want to go
I do not need to tell you that Carl asserts himself with more of his trademark adept soloing abilities (this time coming across on the bluesier side of things).
The polished hard rock of “Resurrection” brings to mind Shining Star’s Enter Eternity. The song plows its way forward from the start to a grinding rhythm guitar, a slight hint of keyboards decorating the sublime backdrop as the way is paved for a chorus advancing at a hook driven upbeat tempo. The lead guitar work here gives rise to a more laid back feel – again, almost bluesy – this time around. “Resurrection” focuses on making a positive change in life:
It’s time to fight our demons
Time for resurrection
We’ve got to learn
We’ve got to burn
We’ve got to face our egos
It’s time for resurrection
The refined keyboard solo at the start of “Monkey Man” soon gives way to a hard hitting guitar riff. Pushing itself ahead with the rhythm guitar placed forwardly in the mix, the song transitions through the occasional quieter passage before reaching a catchy chorus backed by a cascade of pounding drums. Carl adorns the scene with a fast fingered run of lead guitar work. “Monkey Man” takes an apologetic look at the theory of evolution:
See the muddy
Crawling creates of the ocean bed
Conquering the planet
While they grow a bigger head
Developed into dogs and
Cats and rats and brats and
High school teachers
Forcing us to join the
Also opening to a keyboard solo, “Save Our Souls” slowly maneuvers through its first verse with the rhythm guitar slamming in and out of the mix. The pace does not pick up, however, until the achievement of the emphatically tinctured chorus that follows. Judgementalism is the subject matter here:
Who are you to judge me?
Why am I to blame?
For the guilt you feel inside
See the mote in my eye
But not the beam in yours
“Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone in”
The symphonic flavorings of “The Kingdom” reminds me of the Enter The Gate track “The Man From Nazareth”. The heavy duty rhythm guitar initiating the song fades from the mix just prior to its first verse. Wafting ahead as keyboards gracefully adorn the background, “The Kingdom” gains impetus as the rhythm guitar steps forward to underscore a sweeping chorus standing out as a result of the sublime feel to its delivery. “The Kingdom” comes across as a song of victory:
We will fight for the King
Until the day we stand
At the gates of the forever glowing Kingdom
By the grace of God we’re
Saved, pure and strong
And we’re singing our song
To celebrate the victory and to witness
The power of God
Grimmark closes with an instrumental entitled “The New Song” that, while very well done, is on the short side of things in coming in at only 2:55. Of course, the albums crystal clear production highlights Carl’s radiant and at times bluesy lead work that decorates the full length of the song. In the end, I cannot help but think there could have been a few more instrumental pieces like this here.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Pray” (4:50), “How Many Times” (5:06), “Hiding From The Sun” (3:54), “Free” (4:12), “Resurrection” (4:02), “Monkey Man” (4:47), “Save Our Souls” (4:42), “The Kingdom” (5:06), “The New Song” (2:55)
Carl Johan Grimmark – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Jan S. Eckert – Bass
Peter Wildoer – Drums
Horst Dirkschneider - Drums