“Damn I hope that Gathering Of Kings will turn into a real band in the future!” That’s how I ended my review of GoK’s brilliant debut album First Mission last year. Apparently the God of Rock answer prayers because that is exactly what this Swedish version of Phenomena has turned into. Fantastic news. My guess is that they turned into a band more or less right after the success they had at Sweden Rock Festival last summer. A killer gig, it was. Only a little more than a year after the release of the debut, GoK is about to release their second outing – this time with a slight change of personnel. Chris Laney (guitar – Pretty Maids), Björn Strid (Night Flight Orchestra, Soilwork – vocals), Jens Westin (Corroded – vocals) and Richard Larsson (keyboards – Night Flight Orchestra) has all bid their farewells. New on the singer spot is instead Jonny Lindqvist (Nocturnal Rites). But just like on the debut, it’s Saffire’s Victor Olsson who provides the music – with a helping lyrical hand from Helldog singer Alexander Frisborg – which indeed bodes well.
The debut was structured a whole year before its release, all without any expectations and demands to go with it, giving Olsson piece, quiet and especially time to create his songs. This time it’s different. Very different. Since First Mission was released, GoK has been touring it, working it – which do not leave much time for song-writing and recording. Secondly, First Mission got raving reviews everywhere – from both critics and fans – which means the pressure is on. And then some. Expectations are high, very high which is something that could give anyone the shakes. Especially when the album sold quite the bit – in a time time where Spotify is king. Being a fan of both GoK and Olsson’s day-job Saffire, I know I can rest assured that Olsson won’t bring in anything half-assed, but would this release have chance on standing up against the so loved debut?
Just like on the debut, the album opens with an instrumental intro, this one called “Starsleeper”. This gorgeous piece of music is softer, on a sparse note, based on keyboards with a dreamy and somewhat spacey arrangement and a colorful soundscape, very atmospheric. The intro paves way for the album’s real opener, “Riders Of The Light”, a straight-forward, big AOR-stomper with some classic Hard Rock is waved in. Huge melodies that more often than not has Olsson’s other band Saffire shining through. Its punchier outlook makes it a perfect opener and add to the fact that every melody here is damn memorable and the chorus bloody knocked me for six – this guy was floored from hello. Also, singer Apollo Papathanasio (Spiritual Beggars) totally nails this. What a voice! The album couldn’t have started any better if it were twins.
The album’s leading single “Heaven On The Run” (which was released almost a year ago) holds a foundation made of classic melodic Hard Rock but is really an upbeat pop-rocker, a bit on the smooth side but has a guitar and keyboard mixture of the finest kind. Rick Atzi (Masterplan) delivers a vocal effort so strong it’s almost ridiculous and with a never ending flow of melodies memorable to the max and a chorus so enormously catchy it makes me laugh, it stands clear that we have a winner here that should have ruled the airwaves in a perfect world. Amazing!
I’m not that familiar with Nocturnal Rites and therefore not with singer Jonny Lindkvist either but with this album I will be. And damn what a voice that guy has. Jonny sings on “December”, a pretty smooth AOR rocker that holds a punchy beat and starts off as a crunchy rocker but almost comes across as a Christmas song with lots of pomp-laden keyboards high in the mix and a complete monster of a refrain. Said refrain is so glistening immense, it’s a mystery it hasn’t been released as a single. I promise, you’ll be shouting along to it whether you like it or not. But you’ll like it. Jonny nails it with conviction and vigour. Brilliant!
“Highway To Paradise” comes with softer verses, quite smooth and easy on the ear but on an upbeat pace. It’s a tune that lands somewhere between Melodic Rock and AOR with a slice of West-Coast for good measure. Another über-catchy chorus gushes over us like a waterfall full of catchiness – and Alexander Frisborg deliver the goods in the best of ways. Phenomenal. “The One That Got Away” – featuring the ever so brilliant Tobias Jansson (Saffire) at the mike – is the album’s grand ballad. The song starts out on a softer note while the verses are more on the sparse and abstemious side but grows bigger and more bombastic when the amazing refrain shows up. To get a break from its softer side, we get a heavied up and more hard-hitting solo-part for dynamics sake. Jansson’s vocal performance is as always impressive – soulful, emotional and powerful.
Jansson also brings his powerful vocal-cords to the next tune, the uptempo and propulsive rocker “Lorelei”, a striking piece that holds a verse rhythm slightly borrowed from Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” but mostly reminds me of a more AOR-laden Saffire, both because of said band’s very personal melody-structure but also because of Jansson’s just as personal voice. It’s a guitar-driven rocker with classic Hard Rock as a base but with mesmerizing and pop-influenced melodies – and by now it almost feels unnecessary to point out just how magnificent the chorus is because they all have been so far. That goes for this one too. Fan-fucking-tastic!
The record’s second single – which also features an impressive vocal deliverance by Lindkvist – “Moonlight” goes off in a straight-forward and uptempo pace and holds big pop-vibes and brings The Night Flight Orchestra’s take on AOR to mind which goes back to the early 80’s instead of the later part of that decade but on the other hand, the keyboard sound screams of 1986. The tune holds shitloads of hooks and another stellar refrain that should have brought this band a monster-hit. Love it. “Revelation” takes a different turn with an energetic, rowdy groove that has ZZ Top kicking up dust with pre-1987 Whitesnake, very rhythmic indeed. Added to that is big keyboards with a big 80’s AOR vibe and a pretty slick arrangements, but the crispy-edged guitars are always prominent. The main melody is majestic and that refrain totally kills. Maybe my favorite track on the album. Oh, Apollo makes one helluva deliverance here as well. Pure brilliance, folks.
Next up is the album’s third taster “Kiss From Above”. This is an uptempo, pure AOR track, at least it starts out this way. But as it goes along it stands clear that this number belongs more in the Eurovision Song Contest – for a not Rock but a Pop artist. Just listen to the “whoa whoa whoa” in the chorus and you’ll realize that the cheese quota is filled right there and then. Sure, it’s catchy as a motherf**ker and I keep humming the damn thing every time I hear it, but it’s also extremely slick, silky and so sugary it gives diabetes diabetes. The song is sung by Frisborg and that guy has a million-dollar voice for sure, sometimes slightly reminiscent of Michael Sweet (Stryper), so thumbs up for his effort. But for me, this song just don’t cut it, it’s way too cheesy and is too standard Scandi-AOR. I don’t hate it and even though the chorus is unescapable, it’s too sticky sweet and mawkish for my taste.
But GoK gets back on track directly with the brilliant latest single “From A Whisper To A Scream”. The verses come along laid-back yet rocking with a held-back, chugging guitar and a solid rhythm. This AOR meets Melodic Rock on a Hard Rock ground stomper takes a more uptempo and striking outlook along the way and not only because of Jansson’s stellar voice but also the melody-arrangement, Saffire comes to mind once more. The tune brings along another one of those flabbergasting, do-die-for choruses that floors me with a musical KO. This must be a hit. It must! The album closes with the Azti sung “Final Hour”, a more Hard Rock grounded rocker carried by a solid, meaty rhythm. The tune has a more gritty and punchy outlook with a big live-feel but still with lots of hooks and a smooth vocal melody. The mid-break is heavier with a 70’s Rainbow vibe complete with a Tony Carey like organ sound and on top, an in-your-face refrain that sticks without going for the more poppy style. A killer track that ends a brilliant album in a brilliant way!
The new record is pretty much a sister-album to the debut but to claim GoK is on repeat would be dead wrong – this is more a continuation. Which of the two is better one is really hard to say but spontaneously I’d say that this record is at least just as awesome as its predecessor. In fact, this AOR-monster of an album is only one song from getting the full monty from me because everything else – EVERYTHING – on this record is simply phenomenal. The song-writing skills are out of this world, Thomas “Plec” Johansson’s productions is clean, somewhat glossy and easy on the ear and holds a massive, colorful soundscape but it’s also quite rootsy and organic and those elements blends brilliantly. Also, the performances by all the musicians is nothing but splendid – total world-class.
On the downside, Björn Strid is really missed here even though all singers here are magnificent and then there’s that song that wasn’t to my liking – it would have cool with another unexpected cover like “The Runaway” on the debut – but that’s it and those things are trivial when you look at the whole picture. In a world that’s fair and just, this lot would be huge band, headliners everywhere – and maybe they will be at some point. But for now we can only try to spread the word and buy – yes BUY – their music because this album is worth every penny spent. Discovery will without a doubt be runner up for the Album Of The Year 2020. To all involved – I bow to thee.
More Gathering Of Kings reviews:
2. Riders Of The Light
3. Heaven On The Run
5. Highway To Paradise
6. The One That Got Away
10. Kiss From Above
11. From A Whisper To A Scream
12. Final Hour