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JORN Life On Death Road

By George Mihalovich, Pittsburgh Contributor
Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 1:52 PM

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Life On Death Road

Frontiers Music

Norwegian vocalist Jorn Lande is widely lauded as one of the leading hard rock/metal vocalists of the past few decades. He established himself by working with various noteworthy bands and projects (e.g., ARK, BEYOND TWILIGHT, MASTERPLAN and ALLEN/LANDE) while developing his solo career in parallel under the JORN banner. In recent years, his focus has largely shifted to his personal brand; which, of course, is the point of this review - to examine his latest release, Life On Death Road.

In addition to his impressive range, broad array of tones, and simultaneously metallic, bluesy and soulful roar, Jorn is also known for his uncanny ability to convincingly channel the late great Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale. In addition to being significant in terms of his vocal approach, both of these artists are also integral to his songwriting style and inform the lion's share of his solo work. This disc is no exception, and fans of heavier WHITESNAKE (fairly dominant here) and latter DIO (along with some THIN LIZZY and strains of other classic hard rock bands from the 70s and 80s) probably won't need to read much more to justify this purchase.

One of the most salient aspects of Life On Death Road is that Jorn dropped his previous solo band to work with three-fifths of the current PRIMAL FEAR lineup - namely, Alex Beyrodt (guitars), Francesco Jovino (drums), and Mat Sinner (bass) - alongside Alessandro Del Vecchio (keyboards). It's worth noting that Alessandro is a staff writer/producer for Frontiers Music, and served in both of these capacities (Jorn and Allesandro share production credits). Even though Jorn's previous solo band had its share of membership changes, two near constants were guitarists Tore Moren and Jørn Viggo Lofstad. Moren played guitar on the majority of releases since 2001's Worldchanger; Lofstad wasn't on as many albums, but was a significant writing partner. Since neither was involved on 2013's Traveller, maybe the time was ripe for a completely revamped approach?

While the credits are not included on the promo copy, it seems Del Vecchio and several other outside writers (including contributions on at least one track by guitarist Alex Beyrodt) were involved. In addition, guitarist Gus G. (FIREWIND, formerly OZZY OSBOURNE) also co-wrote and provided lead guitar on "The Optimist"; traded extended solos with Beyrodt on "Life On Death Road"; and added the lead work to "Love Is The Remedy". The concern with this type of situation (although extremely common in all styles of music these days, and metal is not immune), is that it could result in an effort that lacked Jorn's identity/personal stamp; in other words, coming across as more of a manufactured product as opposed to a true solo effort. Fortunately, whether by nature of Jorn's strong direction and hard work (Frontiers reports that it took about two years to complete) and/or careful vetting of the material, the concerns seem to be unfounded.

The album largely continues in his Jorn's tried-and-true classic hard rock/metal hybrid vein, but exhibits a more consistent metallic feel; not entirely unexpected with the majority of PRIMAL FEAR on board. Specifically, this is not achieved through more double-bass and speed, but rather by the general attitude and aggression. Songs that rise above the fold in addition to the aforementioned cuts include "Fire to the Sun" (a strong rocker reminiscent of 80s-era WHITESNAKE); "Insoluble Maze (Dreams In The Blindness)" (an almost doom metal intro and outro bookends a heavy mid-paced track; typically, on every JORN album, at least one melody or turn of phrase will appear that brings snatches of a DIO song or two to mind - listen for it here); and "I Walked Away", (possibly the strongest and most emotional vocal performance on the record, delivered against a background of more prominent keys and subdued verses). For good measure, two power ballads ("The Optimist" and "Dreamwalker") serve to break up the heavier material. All 12 songs are right at or above the five-minute mark, so it seems that there was a conscious decision to let them go as long as necessary to make the point. That stated, the tracks are consistently worthwhile and nothing comes across as a throwaway or filler.

Overall, Life On Death Road offers a slick, punchy and clear modern production; well-performed songs played by seasoned professionals; and Jorn's unmistakable voice. His near-flawless vocals keep him firmly in his place at or near the head of the pack in his chosen genre. Aside from some creative song titles, the lyrical style and content also remain true to what his fans would expect - an amalgamation of themes from his influences and personal observations - with a bit of cheese here and there (e.g., "Man Of The 80s").

Life On Death Road ranks as one of Jorn Lande's better releases with only subtle adjustments as noted. Fans of his previous work will certainly be comfortable with the end result, but may also be pleasantly surprised by the renewed energy, slightly varied feel and consistently high-quality songwriting.

4.4 Out Of 5.0

Pick up a copy of Life On Death Road in the KNAC.COM More Store right HERE.

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