I first thought that Age Of Reflection were a Power Metal band. The album cover-art and the name suggested that. Then it struck me that the acronym for Age Of Reflection is AOR. And they’re from Sweden. Hmmm. Reading the press-release for this album, this is a band working in those territories. Now, when it comes to Scandinavian – and especially Swedish – AOR acts, inflation has struck. For a while, new bands kept popping up from everywhere and even though none of them were bad per se, they were all sporting the same soundscapes. For a while I had four new AOR records, all hailing from Sweden, on my phone and when I played songs randomly it was actually hard to tell them apart – sound, arrangement, production. And they all sound extremely slick and polished with keyboards taking over and with little to no crunch, grit or edge whatsoever. So my first thought was, “ok, another Swedish AOR act…”
I’m not familiar with this lot at all but their name rang a bell somewhere in the back of my mind. Was this really an entirely new band? The answer is no. Back in 2013, guitarist Carl Berglund and bassist Jan Skärming decided to form a band together, going in the direction of Melodic Rock and AOR and in 2014, vocalist Lars Nygren joined them in song writing sessions. When they had enough songs, they started looking for like-minded musicians to help them fulfill their dream. Guitarist Jonas Nordqvist and drummer Michael Sjöö – now replaced by one Peppe Vikman – came onboard and recordings began. In 2016, they took four songs, put them on Spotify and iTunes as tasters of what to come and in 2017 the debut album In The Heat Of The Night was released, mixed and mastered by Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse, Nordic Union, W.E.T.). With a new member, keyboardsman Jens Rüttgreroth, the guys has now released their second effort. I was curious to find out if they were just another thirteen-a-dozen Scandi-AOR group.
The slow and atmospheric intro “Aurora” opens the album with only keyboards and guitar present and it takes us to the title-track – and the song’s opening is a bit of a shocker. Punchy and heavy with a clear metal vibe a slight Iron Maiden influence shows up for a while before the tune continues in a Hard Rock meets Melodic Rock way. The tune might go a bit more melodic but that doesn’t mean the heaviness is lacking, it’s still a gritty rocker closer to melodic Hard Rock than AOR. Without going radio-friendly or flirting with mainstream radio, the tune holds a very direct refrain that hits where it should. A killer tune and surprisingly crunchy. “Stay With Me” is upbeat and straightforward, more of a Melodic Rock track and not as heavy as the previous one but with the guitars at front and a steady, tough rhythm section, the tune still manages to bring on the heaviness even though there are lots of poppy melodies and a damn catchy chorus. I dig this.
For AOR lovers, “Here I Stand” is for you. Uptempo, smooth and quite slick where the pop-vein shines through a lot. But Age Of Reflection seems to love the guitar so it has been put at the frontline and since even AOR needs a good punch, the rhythm-section comes along all rough and pounding which gives the song a touch of Hard Rock as well. The fact that it’s the album’s leading (and only?) single is a no-brainer as the chorus is so catchy it’s almost unnatural. Back in the 80’s, this song would have made these guys very wealthy. In my world, this is a total hit. Brilliant. On a straightforward, uptempo note, the AOR-rocker “Until Death Do Us Part” throws a punchy rhythm and some gritty guitar-riffing our way where the keyboards teams up splendidly in the finest of symbioses. Sound-wise this tune reaches out towards early 80’s AOR more than any AOR of 2019 – and I love that. Great tune.
“What If I Break” starts out acoustically, stripped, earthy and laid-back but after the first verse, the tune turns into a bonafide power ballad – and the vocal arrangement here is gorgeous. On top we get a massive refrain, impossible not to surrender to. The first time I heard the tune I went around humming the refrain for a week afterwards. Release this as a single with an appurtenant video now, please. Awesome song. Straightforward and punchy on a steady foundation, the rhythmic “Go” aims for the throat. It’s a Melodic Rock tune that borders to Hard Rock, quite raunchy and in-your-face and it sports a striking refrain that’s catchy as hell but never sugary – very good. “Never Alone Again” is a driven, upbeat pop-rocker, smooth and slick with a huge AOR refrain that puts us in a time machine back to the mid 80’s – and the melodies are stickier than a bathtub full of honey – and I mean that in a good way. Needless to say, the chorus sticks from hello.
Remember “(I Just) Died In Your Arms”, the 80’s pop-hit by Cutting Crew? I do – and I also remember that I thought it sucked back when. Well, AOR (band) has decided on covering it here. Oh my. This version is rocked up, of course. It’s still very much pop-laden but heavier and with a tougher rhythm-section and the guitars more raunchy. I’m not that fond of the song per se but in the hands of AOR (band), I actually think it’s ok. With a chunky guitar-riff and a striking rhythm, “Write It On The Wall” comes across as the Melodic Rock cousin of Mötley Crüe’s “Looks That Kill” riff-wise – and that can never be a bad thing. Rowdy guitars with hooky melodies and a solid refrain makes the tune another winner. The album closes with the most pink n’ fluffy song on the album, “Can’t Let Go”. It’s very pop-laden and brings on a smell of 1986. Sure, it’s somewhat sugary but the massive refrain is persuasive enough for me to say yes. Good one.
This album is refreshing. In a genre that has turned more and more polished, where more and more bands use the same kind of production and sound, where layers and more layers of keyboards takes over, where the guitars sound compressed and the where the rhythm section lacks punch, it’s feels really good to hear a band that do belong in the AOR/Melodic Rock genre but also knows that those genres branches out from Rock. And as we all know, if you’re a Rock band, you should rock! Age Of Reflection rocks. There are loud guitars, heaviness, a beefy and tough rhythm-section and most important of all – they write damn good songs. Keyboards, then? Oh yes, but they play second fiddle to the guitars here and is merely used to fatten up the sound even though they’re more prominent on a couple of songs. This is a record I can easily recommend to both hard-rockers and fans of AOR/Melodic Rock. Well done!
2. A New Dawn
3. Stay With Me
4. Here I Stand
5. Until Death Do Us Part
6. What If I Break
8. Never Alone Again
9. (I Just) Died In Your Arms
10. Write It On The Wall
11. Can’t Let Go