For over two decades, Norwegian metal veteran Jorn Lande has sustained a reputation with his soaring vocal abilities. Whether adeptly showcased through formative tenures (the promising Vagabond, the global-reaching Masterplan) or his extensive solo output with the eponymous Jorn band, ultimately, the sound remains the same. Anything featuring Lande has an unmistakable allure—a vigilant power metal riff/vocal attack leveled by a streamlined foundation. And provided that combination of qualities has propelled him this far, it’s no wonder he is renowned.
Earlier this month, Jorn released Heavy Rock Radio; a sincere tribute to the foundation of influences that bolstered Lande’s pursuing a music career. Normally I wouldn’t call myself a fan of covers albums, but to bluntly state my initial reaction, this was different. By no means does the experience feel like a haphazard butchering of overplayed singles for the sake of merely getting something out. In actuality, Lande ventures to the core of his spirit to reconnect with, as well as competently express, his musical upbringing. As of recent, the album has achieved exceptional European chart success, rightfully deserved by all accounts.
From the opening track, “I Think There’s Something Going on” by ABBA’s Frida Lyngstad, Lande already takes his interpretation to the next level. The bombastic intensity of the drum intro is still present, opportunely fitting his musical approach. Lande takes cue from Frida’s originally anthemic voice, making the track hold together smoothly. Guitarist Trond Hotler gives the opening chord sequence a meatier heavy rock punch, with less of a swagger but staying wholly faithful stylistically. At around three minutes, the solo and lead bits are also carefully considered. Emphasis is rightfully placed melody, rather than a busily compacted virtuosity, as is the case with a great many metal-based translations. “Running up That Hill,” a mega pop hit by Kate Bush, also fares exceptionally well. The accentuating synthesizer strokes of the original’s intro are given a pounding harmonic guitar interpretation. I’d liked to have had it somehow retain the Bush’s textural layering, because while there is a pad integrated in Jorn’s intro, the rhythm guitars exert dominance. The balance of instrumentation does improve, though, as the synth becomes equally aligned with the guitars during the verses. Lande’s singing once again pays close attention to Bush’s diction and phrasing, which I appreciate. The chorus still hooked me in and feels much better texture-wise—definitely what gives the track its backbone. On the third track, “Rev on the Red Line,” Jorn effectively captures its aesthetics without my having to largely refer to Foreigner. I felt like I was transported right back into album rock’s peak of popularity (late 70s to mid 80s), and the additional piercing leads cemented that feeling. The pacing of Jorn’s rendition is a bit faster, but generally makes for enhanced listening as each phase is kept intact. It was a bold move for the band to have featured a cut from Foreigner’s Head Games, a fairly overlooked album in their catalogue, to which Jorn’s cover serves as the gateway for further exploration. The band then ventures into songwriter territory with “You’re the Voice,” penned by session players Andy Qunta, Keith Reid, Maggie Ryder and Chris Thompson, and interpreted by various artists. Yes, it’s a cover of a cover! The song was first brought into adult contemporary light via John Farham, Jorn’s homage being more in proximity to that of Heart. Similarly, the two efforts demonstrate direct emphasis of lyrical context, echoing the motions of harnessing courage to advance onward, yet the band has its 80s metal foundation already in place, as if not to conform to a trend. I can still feel a strong bond between both versions, and there is an air in their presentation that feels generally in sync.
As such, the message remains consistent through subsequent tracks, “Live to Win” (Paul Stanley) and “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Journey).
The first of the midway tracks plays like a classic twist on otherwise recent modern rock affair, but the latter nearly surpasses the criteria of the original, particularly in structure, delivery, and dynamics. In fact, I was surprised to the extent that I honestly couldn’t decide which version I’d prefer. I consider it one of my favorites on the album besides the first and third tracks, and one that will surely be difficult to pass up. Toward the latter half of the album, Jorn takes on tunes focusing on intricacy and instrumental involvement. Queen’s “Killer Queen”, for example, contains sufficient variety in riff tonality and harmonics. The percussive swagger of the original is present, as well as attention to the harmonic leads. Tracks like this veer into to a straightforward 70s rock vein, which refines the album’s general flow. The second easing happens on the very next track, The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” featuring a wider space for its acoustic nature while keeping Lande’s signature vocal flair. Hotler’s riffing kicks off in its grandeur, only this time, it blends and is fairly contained. Throughout the song, what I was especially anticipating was the song’s iconic multi-part solo, which he nails with flying colors. By far the heaviest sound isn’t captured until the album’s final track, “Die Young,” from Dio-era Black Sabbath. The band launches into a fiery up-tempo metal, and is the ideal accompaniment for Lande’s vocal style. While this cover may sound a bit crisper production, it doesn’t detract from the angst-driven prowess exuded from the presentation. The solos—and I can’t stress this enough—are also what make the track truly stand out.; they rain in a massive, yet masterfully fluid hale storm of notes. Even the ending’s reverberated remnants make this track feel like a true closer, capping off another year’s success and subsequently building a trail for Jorn’s follow-up venture.
Overall, Heavy Rock Radio gave me a newfound perspective of how covers albums should be made. Its definitive strength lies in that, among all things, it sounds like a Jorn album! Legend says in order to stay relevant, an artist must push themselves toward consistent innovation. However, for their journey to continue, they must learn to take a step back and pay respects to their roots.