|Musical Style: Melodic/Power Metal||Produced By: Varies|
|Record Label: Massacre||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2007||Artist Website: Narnia|
|Tracks: 26||Rating: No Quote|
|Running Time: 125:50|
The year was 1993 and guitarist Carl Johan Grimmark crossed paths with a vocalist by the name (at the time) of Christian Liljegren at a record store in the small Swedish town of Jönköping. Christian’s band, the 70s influenced hard rock outfit Modest Attraction, was preparing to release its debut album, The Truth In Your Face, while Carl remained active in his group, Sentinel. The two exchanged telephone numbers and kept in touch. As 1996 arrived, Modest Attraction had put out its sophomore effort, Divine Luxury, and Christian – wishing to expand his musical horizons – contacted Carl and asked if he would be interested in doing a melodic hard rock project. Carl answered in the affirmative and, hence, Narnia was born. In the meantime, when Modest Attraction guitarist Stephan Mohlin backed out of the bands upcoming tour of Germany, Carl was asked to take his place. Stephen eventually departed the group with Carl replacing him full time. Working together in a band for the first time, Christian and Carl soon began planning the previously discussed project in question.
After revamping several older songs from bands they were part of in the past, the two entered Topz Studio in September of 1996 and proceeded to finish Narnia’s first album, Awakening, in early 1997. Awakening was officially released in Japan (on Pony Canyon Records) on July 18, 1997 while the European release, on Nuclear Blast, came out February of the following year. With drummer Andreas Johansson, keyboardist Martin Claesson and bassist Jakob Persson later rounding out its line up, Narnia spent the summer of 1998 in the studio working on the sophomore effort Long Live The King. While Awakening can best be described as a project due to featuring primarily the contributions of just Carl and Christian, Long Live The King proved more of a group effort in that all members of the band participated on it. Immediately upon finishing Long Live The King on September 22, 1998, Narnia hit the road as the supporting act of a 15 city European tour with metal legend Ronnie James Dio.
Subsequent to releasing Long Live The King in early 1999, Carl spent the remainder of the year putting together the material that would encompass Narnia’s next project, Desert Land. The band proceeded to enter the studio in March of 2000 to begin work on the album, which saw a December 20, 2000 release date in Japan and European release on February 14, 2001. The fall of 2001, however, found bassist Jakob Persson leaving Narnia and replaced by talented newcomer Andreas Olsson. The band soon began work on the songs for the follow up effort The Great Fall, an album that got its start in the spring of 2002 but was not completed until early 2003. Upon finishing The Great Fall, keyboardist Martin Claesson left the group while his replacement, Linus Kase, was brought on board in time for Narnia’s show in Owens, Germany on March 29, 2003. The concert in question ended up being recorded and released on DVD in the spring of 2004 under the title At Short Notice: Live In Germany (it eventually was re-issued on CD in early 2006). By late 2004 work began on Enter The Gate, the fifth studio album from the band and first to be released on Massacre Records. Narnia spent the better part of 2005 concentrating on the project, which saw Linus Kase depart during the recording process (Carl ended up handling all keyboard duties). Enter The Gate officially hit the shelves in Japan in March of 2006 and the rest of the world the following month.
Finally, in order to commemorate its 10th anniversary, Narnia released a 2 CD compilation album entitled Decade Of Confession in the summer of 2007. Decade Of Confession features three songs from Awakening, six from Long Live The King, five from Desert Land, two from The Great Fall, three from At Short Notice and two from Enter The Gate. You will also find one new song in “In His Majesty’s Service”, several bonus tracks that were exclusive to the Japan only releases of Long Live The King and Enter The Gate (“Can’t Get Enough Of You” and “Hymn To The North” respectively), a Uriah Heep cover (“Sunrise”) and a dance remix of the Enter The Gate track “Show All The World”.
The digipack style packaging to DOC is a thing of beauty, nearly worth the price of the album alone. Inside the cardboard gate fold, you will find a 20 page mini-booklet made up of a detailed band history along with numerous never before seen band photos as well.
Narnia’s full length debut Awakening moved in a neo-classical metal direction with power and melodic tendencies. Quite the underrated work, the album proves a solid effort musically but suffers from inconsistent production. The rhythm guitar and drums, on one hand, end up on the thin side of things but the lead guitar, on the other, is produced to near crystal clear sounding perfection. As a matter of fact, Awakening allows Grimmark to introduced his world class playing, something he best exhibits on the heavy duty “Break The Chains” and more melodic based “No Shadows From The Past”, two first rate numbers to include on a Narnia compilation. The ballad “Heavenly Love” – a marginal choice at best – represents one of the only tracks on Awakening I struggle to get into. Perhaps the band felt they needed the versatility a ballad would provide, but I say put your best foot forward and select the shredding instrumental “The Return Of Aslan” or technical “Time Of Changes” instead. Irregardless, one has to commend the decision to add the live version of “Awakening” in that it showcases a heavier side to the bands sound along with the solid production characteristic to At Short Notice.
Long Live The King
Long Live The King found Narnia slowing the pace down a bit and heading in melodic metal and hard rock territory. Showcasing production values of a more polished variety, the album combines added emphasis on keyboards – almost to a fault in places – with a slightly restrained guitar sound. Carl, for example, does not cut loose quite as much as on Awakening, something which helps lend to the albums all around laid back feel. Still, Long Live The King is a fine effort made up of more than its fair share of catchy songs. The up-tempo “Living Water” and temperate sounds of “The Mission” and “Shelter Through The Pain” both represent worthwhile choices. Other notable additions include the albums anthem-like title track and “Dangerous Games”, one of the fastest songs on Long Live The King. You will even find the short instrumental “Gates Of Car Paravel”. The only song missing in action is “Star Over Bethlehem”, an emotional piece ranking among the best in the bands repertoire.
On Desert Land Narnia decided to back away from some of the gloss and polish of Long Live The King and give us a rawer, heavier and more guitar driven effort- all the while mixing in elements of power and progressive metal. And nowhere is this more evident than on choice selections such as the awesome “Inner Sanctum” – a track which finds Carl really cutting loose – and the fast paced but catchy “The Witch And The Lion”. “Revolution Of Mother Earth”, one of the bands better ballads, and “Light At The End Of The Tunnel” (if I were to include one Narnia instrumental this one would be it) both represent no-brainer inclusion. Finally, you cannot go wrong with the nine minute progressive sounds of “Trapped In This Age”. All around, when it comes to the material taken off Desert Land, the band, for a lack of better words, hit the nail on the head in that I would not have done anything differently.
The Great Fall
The Great Fall, an albums standing out as perhaps Narnia’s heaviest and darkest to date, was a conceptual piece telling the story of a soldier returning from war who, as a result of being unable to cope with his experiences, suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome. Continuing to include many of the power and progressive influences characteristic to Desert Land, The Great Fall comprises the driving “Back From Hell” and laid back “The Countdown Has Begun” (a track standing out with its numerous time changes). It must be noted that Decade Of Confession incorporates the live versions of these two as recorded on At Short Notice (a decision I support in that it adds to the albums versatility). The rollicking, fast tempo of “Judgement Day” and melodic based “Innocent Blood” – real catchy hook on this one – are both notable selections. Finally, it would have been nice if room had been made for the fourteen minute epic “The Great Fall Of Man”.
Enter The Gate
I cannot help but compliment Narnia for its decision to return to a refined melodic metal based sound on Enter The Gate, a work bringing to mind a heavier – and better – version of Long Live The King. That being said, I find it disappointing that only two tracks here taken from the album (obviously Narnia’s strongest effort musically of its five studio releases). You cannot go wrong with “Into This Game” and “Show All The World” – Enter The Gate does not come with a weak moment – but I might have chosen the catchy “People Of The Blood Red Cross” and the albums acoustic laced title track instead. And while we are at it, rather than a dance remix of “Show All The World”, why not go with the haunting progressive rock of “The Man From Nazareth”?
I would rate “Can’t Get Enough Of You” as the better of the two Japan release bonus tracks. The song begins to a keyboard based introduction that gradually builds momentum until the rhythm guitar kicks in. Proceeding through its verse portions in smooth sounding fashion, “Can’t Get Enough Of You” picks up in pace for a chorus in which a near commercial setting is put into place. An extensive instrumental section begins to an even blend of rhythm guitar and keyboards prior to culminating for a neo-classically flavored guitar solo. This one is right up there with the better material on Awakening.
“Hymn To The North”, on the other hand, is a short (2:49) instrumental covering its distance to a joining of bluesy lead guitar and keyboards. Nice song but I wish it had been a minute or two longer.
“In His Majesty’s Service”, a “metallized” cover of an old song by the Swedish hard rock outfit Jerusalem (off the bands 1985 live album of the same name) stands out with its up-tempo momentum and hook driven chorus. If anything, Narnia adds its signature “neo-classical-melodic-metal” touch to what was already a very good piece. Rather than Ulf Christiansson’s gruff lead vocal style, for example, we get Christian’s smooth sounding vocal delivery instead. Carl, of course, shreds as well.
My overall feeling? Give Narnia a great deal of credit for the respect it shows for one of the all time classic Christian bands of the past. Let’s face facts, if it were not for “foundational” groups such as Jerusalem (or Leviticus) there might not be a Narnia or any of the other Christian acts from Northern Europe to hit the scene in recent years.
Mid-tempo, gritty and bluesy, “Surprise” (which appeared on the Uriah Heep tribute album A Return To Fantasy) brings a 70s-ish feel that reminds me of Christian’s old band Modest Attraction. A forward but complementary mix of keyboards stands in support of the song while backing vocals add the needed touch during its emotionally driven chorus. Of course, it must be mentioned that Carl shines with a brazen stretch of lead guitar.
Decade Of Confession closes to a “dance remix” of “Show All The World”. Dance remix? I do not know about you, but I would prefer not to hear a “dance remix” of anything. All the swirling keyboards and drum effects, for example, make a vibrant rock band such as Narnia sound, well, a little bit silly. The lone redeeming factor is that the rhythm guitar did not end up being completely neutered out of the mix. I cannot help but think it would have made better sense to include another track or two from Enter The Gate instead.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Disc 1): “In His Majesty's Service” (3:49), “Into This Game” (4:36), “Show All The World” (5:09), “Judgement Day” (4:29), “Innocent Blood” (7:13), “The Countdown Has Begun” (5:05), “Back From Hell” (7:26), “Inner Sanctum” (4:32), “The Witch And The Lion” (4:15), “Revolution Of Mother Earth” (4:49), “The Light At The End Of The Tunnel” (4:26), “Trapped In This Age” (9:10), “Sunrise” (4:39)
Track Listing (Disc 2): “Gates Of Cair Paravel” (1:26), “Living Water” (3:52), “The Mission” (4:23), “Shelter Through The Pain” (5:00), “Can't Get Enough Of You” (5:25), “Dangerous Game” (5:09), “Long Live The King” (4:56), “No More Shadows From The Past” (3:28), “Heavenly Love” (4:15), “Break The Chains” (4:56), “Awakening (5:36), “Hymn To The North” (2:49, “Show All The World” (4:44)
Christian Rivel – Lead Vocals
Carl Johan Grimmark – Guitars & Keyboards
Martin Claesson & Linus Kase – Keyboards
Andreas Olsson & Jakob Persson – Bass
Andreas Johannson - Drums
Also Reviewed: Narnia – The Great Fall, Narnia – At Short Notice, Narnia – Enter The Gate, Audiovision – The Calling, Divinefire – Glory Thy Name, Divinefire - Hero, Divinefire – Into A New Dimension, Divinefire - Farewell, Flagship – Maiden Voyage, Harmony – Dreaming Awake, Saviour Machine – Legend 111:1, System Breakdown – 102, Wisdom Call – Wisdom Call