|Musical Style: Rock||Produced By: Björn Stigsson|
|Record Label: Talking Music||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Björn Stigsson|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 49:43|
Introducing A New Beginning, the fall of 2016 Talking Music sophomore solo album of veteran guitarist Björn Stigsson. Most identify with Stigsson for his work in Leviticus, the Skövde, Sweden based Christian metal and hard rock act in which he recorded four albums, beginning with 1984 debut I Shall Conquer and 1985 follow up effort The Strongest Power both of which featured bassist Hakan Andersson on lead vocals. He later recruited vocalist Terry H for third full length Setting Fire To The Earth from 1987 only to close out his Leviticus career in 1989 with the Peo Pettersson fronted Knights Of Heaven. Stigsson’s strongest artistic statement might actually be his 1989 debut solo album Together With Friends, which skirted similar eighties metal and hard rock territory as Leviticus in featuring a trio of vocalists in Pettersson, Sonny Larsson and Tina Spangberg.
Once Leviticus had run its course, Stigsson joined forces with Larsson for three more albums under the XT moniker: the pop based sounds of XT (1992), melodic hard rock of Taxfree (1993) and heavy metal of Extended Empire (1995). After taking an extended hiatus from music, he returned following the turn of the century with Leviticus for its first and only live album Live At Bobfest 2003, which as its namesake suggests the group recorded at the Bobfest Festival in Sweden on March 14, 2003. Thirteen long years passes - a period in which rumors circulated of a new Leviticus album that never materialized - before Stigsson reemerged in 2016 with the Leviticus box set 35 Years Anniversary: In His Service, encompassing re-mastered versions of all five Leviticus albums, and A New Beginning.
When putting together a review, I feel it is important to do so objectively and with an open mind while sidestepping any expectations in terms of what I hope the artist might create. In other words, one must approach a musical work neutrally and without bias or prejudice. Hence, the challenge in reviewing A New Beginning, an album that proves aptly entitled when factoring the musical leanings at hand. Stigsson, for instance, has eschewed any form of Leviticus style melodic hard rock - a direction in which I am sure long term fans were longing - for what amounts a literal musical ‘new beginning’ for him with a sound rooted in straight on rock that revels in the laid back and atmospheric in reinforcing lengthy songwriting and moody vibe overall.
Those that mention David Zaffiro’s solo albums as a point of reference have the right idea, at least in terms of the AOR and bluesy qualities that permeate A New Beginning, but go beneath the surface and every bit evident are understated progressive nuances. Listen closely, for instance, and occasional Pink Floyd elements come to the forefront that when combined with hints of U2 in terms of the guitar tones, create an ethereal effect. All these aspects help define opening cut “Message Of Love”, a silky smooth plodder that drifts its six minutes to lofty keyboards and gentle guitar underpinnings to approach the sublime. An instrumental section of tasteful length highlights the artists bluesy soloing, an aspect that I am glad he did not take a reserved stance.
“Message Of Love” also serves to highlight Stigsson’s vocals, whom come across every bit still and relaxed as the music at hand- whispered or spoken might actually be the best way to describe his abilities. Whereas on one hand I was hoping the artist might recruit several guest vocalists to front A New Beginning, I can also understand his motives as well: if I were a guitarist that decided to record a solo album, I would want to sing on it as well!
“My Heart And Soul” ensues with the slightly elevated tempo but easy going all the same, with guitars distantly adorning the backdrop and keyboards not playing quite the same pronounced role. The poignant and drifting refrain reeks of Pink Floyd- in the most positive sense (I can see fans of Jupiter VI embracing this one). “My Heart And Soul” ranks with my albums favorites as a result.
“I Call Your Name” is a cover of the XT track “Call Your Name” (off the self-titled debut). It proves one of the more up-tempo tracks here, manifesting an assuming bass line and rhythm guitars that play a more elevated role in comparison to some tracks here. Gospel choirs step forward to back the heartening “I Call Your Name / ‘Cause Your name is the key to be free” refrain. Instrumentally, Stigsson steps forward with a run of choice lead guitar that hearkens back to his Leviticus days.
“The Sun Goes Up” touches upon AOR and melodic rock in similar fashion as John Elefante’s solo material, a particular I find quite flattering. Starting to a brief drum solo, the song saunters its lengthy to an even joining of wistful keyboards and reserved guitars that combine for a bluesy sentiment. Of all the A New Beginning tracks, this one comes across as the most commercial.
“All I Want Is You” brings to mind the Together With Friends cut “It’s Alight”, not the least of which is the presence of guest female vocalist Petra Wirsen. Musically, the song drifts between its worshipful verses, in which keyboards play a lead role, and decisive chorus, that finds rhythm guitar maneuvering to the front of the mix (and touching upon hard rock in the process). This is heavy as it gets as far as A New Beginning is concerned.
“I Will Lift My Hands” is a mostly keyboard driven track with a penchant for the worshipful, as found in its emotional demeanor and uplifting refrain: “I will lift my hands / And bow my knees / You are worthy of all honour / You are Christ”. In a sense, this one represents all that both works and does not work with A New Beginning: I appreciate the moody and subdued feel to the music, but I also cannot help but think the song would improve with a heightened guitar presence. I remain on the fence with this one as a result.
Stigsson gets back on track with “Love Will Be My Way”, albums longest at just under seven minutes. The song amiably drifts to a delicate joining of Hammond B3 and bluesy guitar, with staunch rhythm guitars elevating above the tranquil setting to help shoulder the affable refrain- and similar to “All I Want” lend a satisfying hard rock feel. Light progressive nuances - revealed in multiple instrumental sections - help turn “Love Will Be My Way” into this reviewer’s choice track.
“Look At The Sky” is another showstopper. This one revels in understated melody - not profound or overriding but permeating the serene scene nonetheless - while also upholding strong AOR-ish leanings (chorus entices with repeat listen) and bluesy signatures. I also appreciate the extended stretch of soloing that closes out the song (I cannot say how good it is to hear the artists lead guitar work again).
My attention begins to drift with the albums final two cuts. “I Will Never Lose You” proves the most upbeat A New Beginning cut, almost upholding a pop basis with its sinuous keyboards and magnified bass line. Where the song begins to lose me, however, is in the generous backing vocals (to a fault) that shoulder its refrain- back off them somewhat and elevate guitars and I would be more willing to accept.
Closer “A Place In The Sun” is the albums shortest at three and a half minutes. The song starts to an ominous joining of orchestration and keyboards, maintaining the pensive aura as it drifts through its verses in temperate fashion to the artist’s serene spoken word delivery. Marked backing vocals again step forward to drive the chorus, although I find them easier to accept in light of the dramatic atmosphere not to mention stronger sense of melody. That said I wish guitars had played the more prevalent role.
One would expect an artist with Stigsson’s pedigree would nail it in the studio and such is the case here. What I appreciate is how A New Beginning features just enough production but not to a fault; in other words, the album successfully walks a fine line between adequate polish and not coming across overproduced. Credit the artist equally for the professional digi-pak packaging with mini booklet featuring easy to ready lyrics and liner notes.
As with past releases with Leviticus and XT, lyrics directly reflect Stigsson’s faith. A worshipful sentiment highlights several tracks, including “My Heart And Soul” -
You are so wonderful
And so mighty
And I love You more than life
And Your grace covers me
With all Your love
You give me strength
Your presence fills my life
Like no one I have ever seen or heard
And I stand in awe of You
My Lord, my Holy God
- “I Will Lift My Hands”:
I will tell the world about you
You are the way, the truth and the life
You are Christ
And You fill my soul with love
I will lift my hands
And bow my knees
You are worthy of all honor
You are Christ
“Message Of Love” hearkens back to the old Leviticus cut “Flames Of Fire” (off Setting Fire To The Earth):
Cross the mountains
Over the hills
Land to land
With the message of love
Flames of fire
From man to man
My heart is burning
For the Kingdom of god
Coming from a man
Love will be my way
“The Sun Goes Up” speaks of a new day:
The sun goes up and a new day is here
We have no promise of another day
We look for love and we look for peace
And the sun goes up for You and me
When I look into the mirror of life
I sea people they’re longing for love
Everywhere in the world they are
And the sun goes up for You and me
The best way to approach A New Beginning is with an open mind in light of how Stigsson diverges from the metal and hard rock to Leviticus and XT. In other words, if you were expecting the artist to ‘Set Fire To The Earth Again’ or ‘Get Together With More Friends’ you might be disappointed because A New Beginning is a completely different animal. If open to Stigsson heading in a different direction - a new musical beginning if you will - that touches upon straight on rock then give the album the chance it deserves. Frankly, A New Beginning features some standout material, with “Love Will Be My Way”, “My Heart And Soul”, “Look At The Sky”, “All I Want Is You”, “Message Of Love” and “The Sun Goes Up” ranking with my favorites. It is also somewhat inconsistent in that I hit the skip button a couple of times, and while plentiful in terms of lead guitar, it could use a bit more rhythm guitar at times. Looking ahead, lets hope A New Beginning inspires the artist to record that Leviticus style hard rock album in which we have been waiting for years.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Message Of Love” (5:51), “My Heart And Soul” (5:34), “I Call Your Name” (3:50), “The Sun Goes Up” (4:06), “All I Want Is You” (5:09), “I Will Lift My Hands” (5:15), “Love Will Be My Way” (6:57), “Look At The Sky” (4:49), “I Will Never Lose You” (4:36), “A Place In The Sun” (3:30)
Björn Stigsson - Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards & Programming
PO Larsson - Bass
Petra Wirsen - Lead Vocals