Back in the 90’s, AOR had pretty much ran its course for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the old bands but not many new ones made any impact on me. Sweden had some record companies, like MTM and Empire, that put out loads of AOR/melodic rock bands throughout the 90’s but I had trouble finding anything interesting out of all those releases. It’s not like I succumbed to grunge or nu-metal like so many others, I still loved the classic hard rock, metal and arena rock bands that struggled, but in AOR too much were underwhelming, badly produced and sounded like the same old same old. But something happened in the mid 2000’s. A new generation of musicians appeared, young men and women that had looked through their parents’ record collections and found their albums from the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, liked what they heard and saw and picked up instruments and formed bands. New blood. New passion for old music and decided to take those songs and that sound, update it and make it their own – and it worked. And yours truly found his way back to genre again. And then some!
In Scandinavia – and especially Sweden – new bands popped up like mushrooms in the forest and genres, often spat on and laughed at by pretentious know-it-alls, like glam, sleaze, arena rock and AOR was given a second coming and all of a sudden, the last laugh was on them. With those genres not being looked on as a pariah anymore, every old rock band and their mother reunited – and still do – some better than others, some even better than in their hey day. Today, trends in rock are pretty much gone, it’s ok to dig everything from fluffy AOR to black metal at the same time – and the world of music is bettered for it. And that’s what it takes – new blood that loves what they do and doesn’t have a past to catch up with them. Of course, there will always be hangers-on, musicians that only wants to be a part of a certain bandwagon and lately, there have been a bit of an overkill in those areas as well. But new bands keep forming and the latest band to join the AOR / melodic rock circle is from Sweden – and they are called Wildness.
Wildness started out back in 2014 by drummer/song writer/producer Erik Modin as a solo project but that changed when guitarists Pontus Sköld and Adam Holmström joined. The guys found lead singer Gabriel Lindmark through an ad and the project evolved into a real band where everyone participate in song writing and production. They don’t have a steady bass player yet but they hope to fill that spot before touring begins. The band signed with AOR Heaven, brought in producer Erik Wigelius (Wigelius, Care Of Night) and got to work and after many years of hard work, the result is finally out. Since I feel that the AOR quota is starting to become quite full, I must say I’m a bit jaded in my expectations when it comes to new bands from that genre. I mean, we’re pretty close to an AOR overload where new bands won’t sound that exciting and fresh anymore and personally, I’m not that easily impressed anymore.
They kick off with “War Inside My Head”, a big, fat, heavy AOR-rocker with a chorus so catchy it’s insane. While this is AOR by all means, it’s also pretty ballsy and tough and I’m thinking FM meets Shy on a more hard rock basis. Peeps, this is brilliant stuff and it should be a single because I smell a hit here. “Stranger” follows and it is a more traditional Scandi-AOR track. It’s upbeat and straight forward but also a bit pink n’ fluffy with a smooth melody. The chorus is very distinct and direct, the catchiness is all over the tune and it sticks right off the bat – brilliant! “Shadowland” rocks things up a bit more and the tune comes in a fast pace, kicking and screaming the AOR way – glossy and smooth with all the most brilliant AOR arrangements in the world and another sticky sweet refrain. Awesome! Latest single “Alibi” tags along with a really big keyboard sound, distinct guitars and a huge sound scape all over. To me, the tune comes off like a H.E.A.T. meets Strangeways with a mind-blowing chorus that nail itself to my brain. Catchiness deluxe, amazingly good and a natural choice as a single!
“Collide” – one of two songs that have been previously released as singles and re-worked for this album – comes with a more hard rock feel with touches of AOR on top. The riffing reminds me some of Eclipse and it sports a H.E.A.T.-like main melody. It’s very direct and quite ballsy – the heavier guitars gives the song some well-needed toughness and the very catchy refrain really brings the tune home – how damn fantastic! “Highlands” breaks out from the rest here – the album’s sore thumb, if you will – and comes in a more classic rock suit. I hear a lot of Thin Lizzy here and also Blood From Stone era Dare albeit with some clear arena rock vibes added. It’s the roughest song on the album and my favorite. Hot damn! We go into ballad-land with “Your Last Romance”, a slower-paced melodic rock tune. More a half-ballad, to be honest and even though it’s catchy enough, it doesn’t strike as hard as the rest. “Down In The City” is big, tough and kicking AOR, very distinct with a punch and a refrain that hits hard and fast – very spot-on and memorable. Great!
“Falling Down” is another tune that comes with a bit of Eclipse influence – foremost the fast-paced, chugging, metal influenced guitars and comes off more like melodic hard rock than actual AOR. I love it when AOR gets heavy and rough so this tune hits a home run with me. “The Flame” is a bona fide power ballad with some heaviness added and there are traces of jazzy arrangements and bluesy vibes waved in. The main melody goes right to the head and the chorus is pure super glue. It’s big and bombastic and I find myself thinking of Steelheart here – so very 1991. Gotta love it! “Welcome The Night” reminds me somewhat of Palace, another quite new and great Swedish AOR band, but more melodic hard rock than AOR. It’s guitar-driven but also very melody oriented and catchy as hell – very good. Closing track “Turning The Page” was also previously released and re-worked for the album. It’s very smooth and glossy, like a poppier Treat meets H.E.A.T. – and brilliantly catchy – a killer track with a big hit-potential.
Not easily impressed anymore, huh? Well, I still think I’m not but Wildness impresses the living daylight out of me. While there’s nothing really new under the table here – AOR is a genre where it’s very hard to be original – Wildness still have their identity and more importantly, they have fucking brilliant tunes. When you write songs this good and brings on shitloads of hooks, catchier than catchy refrains, have great musicians and a killer production, who gives a shit if you haven’t reinvented the wheel? As for the production, it’s smooth, silky and clear but it also comes with an edge and some roughness, depth and dynamics, so not much to complain about there. Maybe they could have gone with a heavier sound and the guitars more upfront, but that’s not crucial for the album at all. If you’re not into AOR then this album is not for you but if you are, you’d be a fool not to give it a go. A clear contender for the best AOR/melodic rock album of the year!
3. Shadowland (Stay Alive)
7. Your Last Romance
8. Down In The City
9. Falling Down
10. The Flame
11. Welcome The Night
12. Turning The Pages