I guess most people aren’t very familiar with Mats Karlsson, going “hmmm” when taking a look at this review. Mats Karlsson came into the spotlight here in Sweden while playing guitar with Swedish Metal/Hard Rock outfit 220 Volt, a band that never really made it outside of Sweden. To be frank, they weren’t exactly huge in Sweden either even though most rockers that grew up in the 80’s know who they are. They were the closest to a international break-through when in 1988 they released their most commercially viable record Eye To Eye, their fourth, with legendary producer Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne, Y&T, Lynch Mob, Megadeth, Savatage) steering the wheel. It’s also my favorite 220 Volt album and in my book, the album deserved a better fate than it did. Personally, I was never a big fan of the band even though I never disliked them – they sure wrote some really good songs throughout the years.
220 Volt reunited with a different line-up in 2002 and Karlsson is still with them but in December 2019 it was time for Karlsson to release an album of his own, a record that breaks out from his day job’s heavier style, going into a more Classic Rock meets melodic Hard Rock vibe. With him on this journey he has brought some interesting names like bassist Nalle Påhlsson (Easy Action, Treat, Therion, Royal Mess), drummers Peter Hermansson (220 Volt, John Norum) and Björn Höglund (Easy Action) and also lesser known names such as bassist Lars Ericsson, drummer Mike Ajax and singers Jenny Fall and Christer Åsell, who actually was the original singer for 220 Volt before they had an album out. Musically – and quality-wise – I had no idea how this would turn out or how it would sound, so I expected nothing. Nothing at all.
The album kicks off with “Bumping Along” and that’s exactly what the song does. It bumps. And grooves. And swings. It’s a rootsy blues-rocker that sends some chunky guitars, a steady yet stompy rhythm our way – and a feel that’s very living and breathing. Some raunchy Led Zep-like riffs shows up here and there but also some very memorable melodies and a catchy chorus that sticks from hello without being the least pop-sugary. This is Classic Rock with a slight nod towards 80’s Melodic Hard Rock. This is good. Actually, it’s damn good. Latest single “Natural High” follows and here we’re treated with a straight-forward Classic Rock number, upbeat with a slight pop-feel. Parts of the song reminds me of Joe Satriani’s Flying In A Blue Dream (1989) days but with a more earthy groove and a chunkier outlook. Again, the whole tune is very memorable and the refrain catches on immediately but is never even close to being syrupy at all. Killer stuff.
Leading single “Megalo Seitani” is a mid-paced blues-rock pearl that brings along a tasty groove with a reggae flavor baked in. Karlsson & co. bring on a big 70’s vibe, danceable rhythms and a very comfortable feel-good summer feel. I want to listen to this hanging by the poolside on a hot summer day gazing at the sun with a drink in hand, getting a buzz. I love this! He should have released this a single in the summer, though. “I Believe” is more of a chunky pop-rocker, quite smooth and somewhat slick but never mawkish or tame. It’s groundy yet feel-good laden, rhythmic yet very catchy and accessible. It should have a good shot a gaining some air-play if released as single. Good one. The upbeat and upfront “Stop The World” is a straight-forward rocker on the Classic Rock route that brings on a 70’s pop-twist with a big groove and an in-your-face outlook and memorable melodies all over. Very good indeed.
“October 28th” takes a slower, sullen and more blues-oriented turn and brings on Gary Moore vibes. It’s quite a laid-back tune that borders to a ballad even though it’s not a softie. It’s quite an intense tune, filled with emotion that really gets under my skin – very touching. Great. For us who had children in the early 2000’s, Sheryl Crow’s “Real Gone” is a tune we have heard a million times as it was featured in the movie “Cars”. Mats covers that tune here in a to the original truthful way but with some crunchy and crispy guitars on a rowdy groove and chunky riffing, he has made the tune his own at the same time. Jenny Fall duets with Mats here making the dynamics rise and her voice fits the song like a glove. A damn good cover. “Heather” is a pop ballad in mid tempo, smooth and silky but it also comes with some crunchy guitars. The tune is on the softer side but it’s hardly wimpy by any means. The chorus is also spot-on and sticks after one listen. Single-material, quite clearly. Very good.
With danceable rhythms in a 70’s Classic Rock style and a funky touch, the upbeat “DayDreaming” treats us with swing and groove and some quite edgy Led Zep influenced guitar riffing here and there. With memorable melodies in both verses and refrain, the tune holds a massive catchiness and is another brilliant Rock tune that gets me going every time! “Function Over Fashion” accelerates to an uptempo pace – striking, punchy and in-your face in a robust and rough mode. With a ballsy rhythm-section and fat, gritty guitars the song is Classic Rock but heads towards both Hard Rock and Melodic Rock at the same time. A meaty and direct chorus that hits right where it should brings the song home – a winner! As a closer, the Classic Rock belter “The Other Side (Of Love)” throws some crunchy and raw guitars, a swinging beat and a beefy, rhythmic groove our way, very organic and down-to-earth. The tune is a fine mixture of Hard Rock and Melodic dito with a chorus so catchy it hurts. An awesome song and a perfect closer.
I know that a solo album by a fairly unknown musician with a common name might be a hard sell but for lovers of Classic Rock and Hard Rock to not check this out is a big mistake. It’s a great album, see. A lot better than I thought it would be – even though I really didn’t know what to expect of it. Firstly – and most importantly – there’s not a song worse than good on here. Secondly, as one might guess just by checking out the musicians here, every performance is a delight. Thirdly, the production leaves nothing to complain about – it’s quite organic and earthy, it lives and it brings on a live-feel, very airy. Mats Karlsson himself is a really skilled player, bringing on feel and passion before technique even though he’s got that as well. As a singer, he’s faultless even though this album hardly contains any vocal-chord gymnastics. Sound-wise, his voice actually reminds me of Nalle Påhlsson’s – another singer that impressed me when I first heard him sing. To round this off, if anything in this review tickled your interest, give this album a shot. Highly recommended!
1. Bumping Along
2. Natural High
3. Megalo Seitani
4. I Believe
5. Stop The World
6. October 28th
7. Real Gone
10. Function Over Fashion
11. The Other Side (Of Love)