NUBIAN ROSE – Mental Revolution

2014 © Savage Photography - Photo: Tallee SavageSwedish melodic rockers Nubian Rose got some pretty rave reviews when they released their debut album Mountain back in 2012, especially from England and the band did some giging around to promote it. Me, I was not that easily convinced. The big reason why I picked up the album in the first place was curiosity foremost. The band’s charismatic front woman Sofia Lilja happened to be a vocal coach that worked with the Swedish Idol participants on TV and since I had no clue that Lilja was a rock chick, I really needed to hear what she and her guitar playing and song writing hubby Christer Åkerlund had come up with. The debut album turned out to be a somewhat uneven product where some really good songs mingled with both fillers and the odd dull track and also the production also left a lot to be desired, even though the album was mixed by none other than Tobias Lindell, a guy who had created wonders for bands like Europe, H.E.A.T., Mustasch and Hardcore Superstar. And even though Lilja is one hell of a singer, the vocal coach in her shone through a bit too much, leaving me wanting a bit more rawness and fire. But the album showed potential for the future to come and there was nothing wrong with the musicians’ performance, quite the contrary. Also, the simple album cover – a close-up of Lilja’s face and the band’s name in regular letters – looked a bit low  budget. The cover really didn’t have anything to do with the album’s title either. That said, you could do a lot worse than a close-up pic of Sofia Lilja. A lot worse.  I’d sum it up as a good debut that did convey some big hope for something big the next time around. So now when Nubian Rose are in the starting pits to release their new album, I am of course curious and hopeful even though I might not have extremely high expectations. When I asked Åkerlund, also the album’s producer, about how the new album was turning out he used words like “huge development”, “keeping what the band’s all about”, “more mature and better song writing and production” and that “Sofia’s development curve was astonishing”. Big words, but if you believe that you have achieved something great, then let your confidence fly free. It did raise my expectations a notch, let me tell you. So it was with big anticipation that I listened to the album when I got the link for the download of the album in the mail.

The first single “Break Out” pre-dated the album’s release and to tell you the truth, I was a bit shocked when I first heard it. Shocked in a positive way. Dude, this was a metal track! Heavy Metal! Nubian Rose is of course a hard rock band, but that they had gone metal was a big surprise. But I must admit, it’s a pretty weird choice for a first single. Ok, the song is a killer – a real killer and Lilja sings the hell out of it, but it’s not exactly a hit. But I guess the track is more of a statement than a go at radio airplay. But what the song did do was to infuse more hope for a raging rock record. The album itself starts off with a bang! Opener “War” is a classic heavy metal song – fast, hard, aggressive and Sofia Lilja’s voice is sheer power – effeminate, yet kicking and biting – a real killer. The band stays on the metal path with the brilliant “Time Again”, although this one is at a midtempo pace, but the hooks are to die for. “Illuminated Within” is a startling track, it’s a heavy, but very catchy hard rocker that borders to metal and it’s one of my favourite tracks here. “The Eye” goes old school metal. Almost NWOBHM. I’m thinking Saxon. Judas Priest. Early Iron Maiden! I love this! With the tongue in cheeky “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” (yeah, I know we don’t…) they take a turn away from the metal and gives us some Mötley Crüe riffing mixed with some Aerosmith groove and it’s a good thing. It does not make the sound divided, only more varied and the song itself is really good. If the first single “Break Out” wasn’t meant as a hit single, then “Higher” sure must be. This pop metal pearl must be single number two because, ladies and gents, this is a hit if there ever was one. What a melody! What a refrain! Some people might call this cheesy, but I call it über-melodic. Awesome! After this, the hits to be keeps on lining up. “You Will Never Walk Alone” is the closest thing they get to a ballad here and what a fantastic ballad it is. Lilja’s voice is really touching, a little brittle but still with lots of smoulder. This is a hit as well. Single no. 3? It feels like the metal that started the album has subsided by the second half. Song number nine, “(Taking This) Further” says so with its late 80’s / early 90’s melodic hard rock style. It does have a heavy touch, though and the song is a killer. They finish the album off with a huge sing-along chorused rocker, complete with whoa-whao-whoa’s and a melody catchier than chlamydia. The song is called “All Of Your Love”, it’s awesome, it kicks butt and it should be released as a single at some point, because I can hear a hit here as well, dammit!

After the first listen, I thought, wow, this is really, really good stuff, Åkerlund wasn’t wrong with being that cocksure with his words of the band’s development. The second listen (I always listens to the albums at least twice to make sure the first listen hadn’t deceived me in some ways) was through my headphones and it totally floored me. Not make their debut sound like a crap record by comparision, but is this the same band? The same producer and engineer? Because everything has improved here. Everything! The production that I described as a mess on the debut is big, fat, ballsy and in your face, but still clear as running water. The vocal coach is still within Lilja, but on this album she has stepped out of her comfort zone and sings with vigour and panache and some stupendous aplomb with a roaring clout. The controlled vocal coach only visits sparingly. Yes, the development curve Åkerlund was talking about, was no lie. What a voice! But what really makes this album are the songs. With those, nothing is being left to chance. It really feels like as if one song wasn’t a 100%, then say hello to the trash can because there isn’t even one filler here and almost every song here is a complete knock-out. I’m damn curious to find out how you can go from realising an album that only showed potential to making a contender to the album of the year in only two years. Because that is what this album is, a contender for best heavy rock album of 2014. I’ll be damned!

The album is out November 24. Make sure you get it!

Jon Wilmenius (9/10)

Tracklist:

01. War
02. Time Again
03. Illuminated Within
04. The Eye
05. Tough Guys Don’t Dance
06. Break Out
07. Higher
08. You Will Never Walk Alone
09. (Taking This) Further
10. All Of Your Love

 

 

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