“I have said it before in my later reviews concerning new AOR acts, nothing new has happened in a long time and it’s really rare that I get excited about new AOR albums nowadays.” That’s how I ended my last review. It was a review of an album called Love Equals War by a Swedish AOR foursome called Care Of Night. So here I am, back with another review of an album by another Swedish AOR act, State Of Salazar on Frontiers Records. Starting out in 2010, the band was formed by five students from the Malmö Academy Of Music – Marcus Nygren (vocals), Johan Thuresson (guitars), Johannes Hansson (bass), Kristian Brun (drums) and Stefan Mårtenson who is now replaced by Kevin Hosford (keyboards) and in 2012 they released their debut E.P. Lost My Way which was followed by the debut album All The Way in 2014 to lots of critical acclaim. Now, four years later, the band is ready to release album #2 and since this lot have been the talk of the town in AOR and Melodic Rock circles in the last few months, the guys do have a lot to live up to.
Opener and first single “If You Wait For Me” is an uptempo, highly Pop-driven AOR track, heavily influenced by the sound of the mid 80’s. It’s very big on keyboards with the guitar low – too low – in the mix. Still, the tune holds a ridiculously catchy refrain – the tune is in its whole very memorable. A good song but it sounds so typically Swedish. Second single “My Heart Is At War” is clearly Toto influenced but also an upbeat AOR-rocker. It’s still very slick and smooth and even though the chorus is pretty catchy, the song don’t move me all that much. It’s an ok song but a few steps from being great.
It’s not only the title that screams total AOR with “Hold On Tonight”. The tune holds an 80’s American sound – a nod to a band like Survivor – with a chunk of West-Coast. Big keyboards everywhere with the guitar hardly audible. Despite that, the tune is brilliant with a huge chorus that’s catchier than super-glue. Must be a single at some point. The big Toto influence returns with the slightly darker “Masquerade”. This AOR pearl is even danceable with its groovy rhythm and the big chorus sticks right from hello. The song really belongs in 1986 and had it been recorded then, State Of Salazar could very well have had a big hit with it – very catchy and very good.
“She’s A Loaded Gun” keeps the formula of mid 80’s AOR with a nice groove and lots of Pop, very saccharine and slick, but with a live-feel on its plus-account. The refrain is catchy and sticky but it’s also on the mainstream side. A good song, though. The ballad “Lie To Me” introduces a duet with female singer Kristina Kalajic – what a voice! At times this reminds me of something that Chicago could have released back in the 80’s – very overblown and smooth. It’s absolutely not a bad song but it reaches the limit of how cheesy and sugary it can get for my taste. “Joanne” is a big, uptempo Pop song. It’s a catchy and good song but sounds way too predictable. Why do all those Toto-influenced girls-name songs tend to sound the same? “Someone I Know” brings on a fairly good groove and lots and lots of Pop – and some pomp as well. It’s an ok song but it really don’t go anywhere and is forgettable despite the big chorus.
“To The Wire” starts out with some raunchy and chunky guitars and the hope for a good dose of Rock rises. But as the song continues it’s clear that we’re being given another Toto-smelling AOR/Pop tune. It still rock a bit more than the rest of the tunes, especially the verses. It’s groovy with a good live feel and a memorable main melody – good tune. “Love Will Find A Way” is a slow-paced Pop tune on the ballad side, very silky and cozy and a bit abstemious complete with a saxophone to bring up that side even more. It’s an ok tune but way too cheesy for comfort. The album closes with the title-track, an uptempo Melodic Rock tune with more punch and a clearer Rock vibe. The more in-your-face outlook and the Hard Rock riffing brings an edge to a song that still got lots of fluffiness and that, together with the brilliantly catchy refrain makes the song the winner of this record.
While musicianship is a craft these guys handles completely flawlessly, they are after all schooled players, I still can’t find anything here that makes SOS any different from all the other Swedish/Scandinavian AOR acts out there. Sure, there are a bunch of great songs here but also a few that really don’t cut it all the way. The production also leaves a bit to be desired. It’s definitely well produced but it’s too clean and safe and totally without any edge at all. With musicians like this, I can’t see any reason why not letting Thuresson rip with more crunch and roughness and why can’t Brun’s drumming beat us blind at least at some point? For AOR and West-Coast purists, this is maybe exactly how this music should sound but me, I miss some dirt under the fingernails. But with that said, it’s impossible for me to bash this because there’s still a lot for me to like here, but the high-score will have to wait.
1. If You Wait For Me
2. My Heart Is At War
3. Hold On Tonight
5. She’s A Loaded Gun
6. Lie To Me
8. Someone I Know
9. To The Wire
10. Love Will Find A Way