|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Narnia|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 75%|
The nineties weren’t really that bad, were they? For metal and hard rock enthusiasts, yes- they were. It was a ‘grungy’ time of guitars down-tuned to a lower key, dissonant harmonies, angst filled lyrics and general unkempt appearance of performers (with the trademark flannel shirt being the centerpiece). The gist, of course, is that many of the bands we grew to know and love either broke up - can you say Stryper, Bloodgood, Sacred Warrior and Barren Cross? - or worse yet, ‘turned modern’, noting the ‘up to date’ and ‘current’ sounds of albums released by Guardian and Holy Soldier the latter half of the decade. That said, several notable stalwarts managed to ‘stay true’ to the hard music scene throughout the nineties, with Bride, Deliverance and Rob Rock fronted Impellitteri, coming to mind, while a host of exciting new acts emerged in Veni Domine, Seventh Avenue and Narnia.
Stockholm, Sweden based Narnia might be the best of the bunch. Tracing its origin to 1996 and a joining of vocalist Christian Liljegren and guitarist Carl Johan Grimmark, Narnia got its start in 1997 with the neo-classical sounds of its full-length debut Awakening prior to putting out the polished melodic metal of 1998 sophomore effort Long Live The King. Narnia took the heavier and rawer approach on the more varied power/progressive metal basis of 2001 release Desert Land only to up the heaviness in taking a similar music heading on The Great Fall released two years later. Enter The Gate from 2006 might be the groups magnum opus from representing a return to the melodic metal propensity of Long Live The King but mixed with the guitar heavy aspects of its two predecessors.
All good things, nevertheless, must come to an end in that Liljegren departed Narnia in 2008. Grimmark persevered and released one more Narnia album, Course Of A Generation from 2009 with new front man Germán Pascual, before disbanding the group the following year. The end of Narnia, however, proved short-lived in that Liljegren and Grimmark again joined forces in early 2014 with a series of shows to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Long Live The King. One thing led to another and the two soon started work on what would culminate in the seventh self-titled Narnia studio album released in the summer of 2016.
Narnia finds the group returning to its musical roots with a throwback sound that draws upon a melodic metal basis but mixed with occasional elements of neo-classical power metal. Repeat listen reveals it to compare favorably to melodic based releases such as Long Live The King and Enter The Gate, albeit not quite keyboard heavy as the former while touching upon the guitar driven focus to the latter. Nowhere is this better stand out than on opener “Reaching For The Top”, a spirited piece exuding hooks non-stop, decided front to back riffing and periodic use of light vocal melodies. It is good to hear that Grimmark has not lost his fast-fingered soloing touch.
“I Still Believe” features moments both mid-paced and up-tempo, including slower verses in which airy keyboards hold sway and mirthfully flowing (almost palatial) refrain upheld by some striking medieval elements. Lone potential draw back is how the song almost borrows its riff verbatim from the Desert Land track “Walking The Wire”. Still, it is encouraging how Narnia maintains its faith based lyrical penchant: “I still believe in the Maker / One by one, we all must bow down / I still believe in the Father, the Son and the Fire / Burning on, I still believe”.
Splendid and graceful melodic hard rock, “On The Highest Mountain” gives rise to a cool arena rock feel with its larger than life anthem-like presence and shred lead guitar closing out its final seconds. Only complaint is that the songs guitar melody is reminiscent to that of the Long Live The King title track. “On the Highest Mountain” finds Narnia making its mission statement best known: “Twenty years ago the call / To be a voice for the man who gave it all / Jesus Christ, the Son of God / The Solid Rock, The Lion´s roar / We are here through it all”.
Three songs into the album and it becomes apparent the strength to Liljegren’s vocal performance, whom continues to lend hints of signature grit and gravel with his smoother mid-ranged but at times high-end delivery. Lone difference is how at times he lowers his register to the point of reflecting a baritone vibe, an effect I find quite flattering.
“Thank You” separates itself as the albums most outside the box, particularly from the manner in which it approaches Gothic rock territory from plodding its length in reflecting a swarthy if not worshipful feel. An audible bass line merges with hints of the acoustic, swirling keyboards and albums best stretch of scintillating lead guitar. Saviour Machine could not do it any better!
“One Way To The Promised Land” returns things to an upbeat heading, as Andreas Johansson highlights with his technical timekeeping abilities an uplifting pieces that proves quintessential power metal. Liljegren reaches low and gives rise to some of those baritone qualities. Lyrics align with the feel to the music at hand: “Hail the truth, face the lie / By the cross it must die / There is one, only one way to the promised land”.
The lively focus maintains itself on “Messenger”. The song plows forward from the start, with trenchant verses in which bass guitar plays a prevalent role and animated chorus uphold by bountiful hooks manifest. Similar to many cuts here, “Messenger” successfully walks a fine line between that Long Live The King meets Enter The Gate melodic power metal in which Narnia has gained renown.
“Who Do You Follow?” slows the tempo to heartfelt mid-paced territory. Fittingly, Liljegren stretches from a projection standpoint in lending some courser grit and gravel to a blues heavy song that finds persuasive guitars and hammering rhythm section to subtly converge. Yes, this one is a bit heavier than some tracks here but does not forsake the melodic hard rock penchant at the same time.
“Moving On” represents albums fastest, not quite setting a blistering speed metal tone (see The Great Fall track “Judgement Day” for that) but quite mercurial and expedited as far as Narnia are concerned (in a positive sense). I especially appreciate how the song makes a refined statement from how it joins polished guitars with wistful keyboards. This one allows the band to make its faith best known: “God, see my heart, I´m starving for Your love / God, let me be a man and follow your plan”.
Metal anthem “Set The World On Fire” does exactly that with its riveting demeanor. “Come with me / You will see / Freedom in Christ, for you and me / We were all meant to be / By His holy majesty” exclaims Liljegren during the moving verses, while chorus proves every bit invigorating: “Fire, set the world on fire / Shaking the heavens, the sea and the land / Setting the souls free”. Tight guitar harmonies carry things instrumentally.
Production is up to the Narnia standard with guitars the focus to the mix and keyboards accenting but not to a fault. Rhythm section makes the pronounced low-end statement. Cover art, on the other hand, is somewhat plain (about as original as the albums title if you will) in representing the lone Liljegren era Narnia album to lack the Aslan Lion in the backdrop.
Narnia adds up to a good album made up of good songs. Therein also lays its limitations in that after repeat listen I do not find any of its tracks rise to a level higher than above average to very good. Nothing, for instance, grabs me in the same manner as the better material off Enter The Gate, such as “People Of The Blood Red Cross”, “Enter The Gate” and “The Man From Nazareth” (noting the 95% Angelic Warlord review). I find this disappointing when factoring what Narnia are capable in light of previous releases.
Narnia also feels somewhat abbreviated in featuring just nine songs of which none exceed six minutes. Contrast this with Enter The Gate, which also encompassed nine songs but had one approach nine minutes and one other in the seven minute range. The more progressive leaning of The Great Fall included just seven full-length tracks but one that exceeded fourteen minutes and two others in the seven-minute range. Desert Land, also a nine-song effort, closed to the twenty minute epic “Trapped In This Age”. When further reinforcing how several of the Narnia songs sound like rehashed versions to those previously composed by Narnia, the impression left is that the group failed to stretch and push its creative boundaries to their fullest potential.
I hate to summarize by stating that (in my opinion) Narnia is good but not quite good enough, but that is how I feel (again, with repeat listen). That said, Narnia also proves a consistent work in featuring no skip buttons, while Liljegren and Grimmark put in the type of top-notch performances one expects either way. Hence, I still encourage you make the album a necessary purchase if you are a fan of Narnia (perhaps I am missing something here or your experience will be completely different from mine) or the melodic and power metal side of things in general.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Reaching For The Top” (3:47), “I Still Believe” (4:40), “On The Highest Mountain” (4:51), “Thank You” (5:33), “One Way To The Promised Land” (4:56), “Messengers” (3:40), “Who Do You Follow”? (4:19), “Moving On” (3:50), “Set The World On Fire” (3:48)
Christian Liljegren - Lead Vocals
CJ Grimmark - Guitars, Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Andreas “Habo” Johansson - Drums
Martin Härenstam - Keyboards
Andreas Passmark - Bass