Johan Kihlberg’s IMPERA – Age Of Discovery

After three great albums – Legacy Of Life (2012), Pieces Of Eden (2013) and Empire Of Sin (2014) – with the line-up that featured singer Matti Alfonzetti (Bam Bam Boys, Jagged Edge, Skintrade), guitarist Tommy Denander and bass player Mats Vassfjord (Laney’s Legion, 220 Volt, Grand Design) it was time for a new chapter for drummer and founder J.K. Impera (aka Johan Kihlberg). Impera were a band that hardly played live and could easily be viewed as just a side project for the members of the group. But it was a brilliant band with all brilliant musicians and when Alfonzetti and Denander took their talents elsewhere, it wasn’t an easy task for Kihlberg to find replacements that were in the same league. At first it was said that guitarist Rob Marcello (Danger Danger, Laney’s Legion, The Defiants) would join but that one fell apart. It was also rumored that Kihlberg would turn his drum stool over to another drummer and only do rhythm guitar, keyboards, song writing and production. The vocal job was also a bit of a mystery and at one point I even heard John Corabi’s name mentioned.

However what happened was this: Kihlberg kept his place behind the drum kit and Vassfjord also stayed on for bass duties. As a guitarist, Lars Chriss (Lion’s Share) stepped in, a logical step as he has always been the fifth member of the band as a producer, engineer and programmer and as for a singer, well Kihlberg brought in several of those. Nils Patrik Johansson (Lion’ Share, Astral Doors, Civil War), Göran Edman (Madison, John Norum, Yngwie Malmsteen, Kharma), Mick Divine (Seven), Michael Sadler (Saga), Nigel Bailey (Bailey) and Michael J Scott. So what we have here is a solo album from Johan Kihlberg under the Impera moniker and with this impressive line-up, it’s hard to not get the hopes up especially since I really dug all the Impera records hard.

“Prelude” is just that, an intro and not much more can be said about that other than it leads us into the opening track “That’s The Way Life Goes”. Sung by Nils Patrik Johansson, this mid-paced, heavy, classic hard rock groover really hits home. There’s a 70’s melodic hard rock vibe here mixed up with a slight metal touch and melodic rock on top. The refrain is extremely catchy without being the least cheesy or even radio-friendly. Johansson totally nails it as well and the album could hardly have started better. The verses in “Fear” are very 80’s, pop-rock with a synthesized sound but when the chorus sets in we get some classic heavy rock – and it is an extremely catchy chorus as well. There’s also a middle-break that sounds like a musical – very dynamic. There are lots of contrasts here but they marry really well. The vocal parts are split between Johansson and Mick Devine who both does a splendid job. Brilliant!

Michael J Scott takes the vocals for the hard rock ballad “Falling”. It do sports an updated 80’s sound but it still have some heaviness over it and the refrain is very catchy, clearly single-material – and a great tune. I’m not familiar with Scott at all but I must say he’s got a very good voice. “The End Of The Road” is a full-blown melodic rock tune with huge AOR vibes all over. It’s straight forward, hit-laden with a refrain that will make you helplessly surrender right on the spot. Mick Divine sings here and it reminds me of his band Seven at many places. Very good. With “Just A Conversation”, Impera goes pop – 80’s chart pop, even – and it’s very radio friendly and catchy in every way. Göran Edman nails this completely – awesome! The straight ahead melodic rock continues with the über-catchy and in-your-face groovy “The Right Stuff”. The mid 80’s pop-rock sound is complete with a blipping synthesizer and a big sound. This might sound awful to some but I love it. Nigel Bailey sings it and he makes no mistakes doing so.

“Why Does She Care” is an uptempo, pop-rocker with layers of keyboards and a really big sound scape. It contains some really good 80’s guitar riffing but the guitars could have been higher in the mix here. It has a really strong melody and a very memorable chorus, catchy as can be without being too radio friendly or smooth. It is also the track where the album’s biggest star makes his appearance – Michael Sadler of Saga. I admit that I’m not very familiar with Saga’s music but the fact that Sadler is brilliant here isn’t even under discussion. A very good tune. “I Am I” comes in a slower, mid pace tempo and it is a quite riff-happy melodic rock tune with a big pop vibe. A good song that fits Divine’s pipes splendidly. The album closes with “It’s A Revolution”, a more punchy and raunchy take on melodic rock that brings the 80’s sound into a more 70’s  rock vibe and I can’t help thinking of Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album when I hear it. The refrain goes more into 80’s arena rock, though. A great closer!

Where the three Impera albums were more plain hard rock with melodic rock influences, Kihlberg’s debut solo album is more melodic rock with lots of AOR vibes. What is recognizable from the earlier albums is some of the arrangements and the melodies which all gives the album a bit of a band feel. The production here is a bit more slick than before and reminds me some of the Seven albums that Chriss produced and mixed, the Impera records were a bit rougher and heavier in that department. It’s also a pretty short album with only nine real tracks but it matters little as all of them are really strong and it makes the album filler free. I also need to point out that Mattias “IA” Eklundh guests on “I Am I” with a killer solo and that Kay Backlund and Anders Rybank helps Kihlberg out in the keyboard department. As a whole, this is an album full of great musicians and singers that shouldn’t disappoint anyone with a weak spot for melodic hard rock and AOR. Very well done!

8/10

More Impera reviews:

Legacy Of Life
Pieces Of Eden
Empire Of Sin

Tracklist:

1. Prelude (intro)
2. That’s The Way That Life Goes
3. Fear
4. Falling
5. The End Of The Road
6. Just A Conversation
7. The Right Stuff
8. Why Does She Care
9. I Am I
10. It’s A Revolution

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