When it comes to projects made up by record companies and/or by some friends from different bands, it’s quite rare that the sequel – if it happens – betters or even equals the debut quality wise. Frontiers records’ different projects usually have one thing in common – they’re put together and very often written by people associated with the record company which means that those projects have a tendency to sound very alike. But then there are the projects where the members get together and write their own stuff – and those projects are usually the best ones. When Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse, W.E.T., Ammunition) joined forces with singer Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids, Avantasia), it was more or less a no-brainer that we would get an album full of high-quality melodic Hard Rock. The self-titled debut came out in 2016 and was a pure killer. With Mårtensson as the main song writer, Eclipse weren’t far off style-wise but Atkins’ vocal melodies and brought the poppier side of Pretty Maids to mind as well – a brilliant combo.
That we would get a follow-up to such an awesome and successful record was something I took for granted, the big question was if that follow-up would rise to the expectations an album like the debut brought with it. With all the different projects that Mårtensson is involved with as a song writer, all logic says that at some point his idea bank must run dry, at some point that album of mediocre and repetitive songs must show up but in Mårtensson’s case, that hasn’t happened yet and I don’t think that either him or Atkins would even consider putting an album out if it wasn’t great so with this record, I wasn’t worried. The question isn’t if this album would any good but how good it would be.
Opener “My Fear & My Faith” sounds pretty much exactly the way you’d want Nordic Union to sound – heavy with distinct guitars, very hook-laden with crafty melodies to die for. It’s a mid paced tune but still with a punch and the chorus, while not chart-hitty, it’s damn catchy with Mårtensson’s personal melodies shining through and Atkins putting his stamp on it. This is brilliant. First single “Because Of Us” is upbeat, tough and chunky but also a bit more laid-back than the opener, at least in the verses but the chorus is kicking and direct and very, very catchy. To me, this is a hit by large – excellent! Second single “It Burns” isn’t such an obvious single choice as it is darker and quite heavy but on the other hand it contains a million-hook catchy refrain with lots of hit-potential. A clear single or not, it’s a brilliant track.
Second single “Walk Me Through The Fire” is a mid-paced stomper that comes across as Eclipse with Ronnie Atkins as the singer that sounds like it could have been of the debut album. It’s a pumping track with another amazing refrain and an instant appeal. Brilliant! It’s ballad time when “New Life Begins” comes along albeit darker and with a crunch. The Mårtensson stamp is all over it but the melodies, especially the chorus, sounds like Atkins might have a hand in it. The chorus is ridiculously catchy and have hit written all over it – it must be a future single. How awesome! The guy’s Metal influences shows clearly on the heavy, pumping and punchy “The Final War”. Still, it stands very clear who’s involved here – the Eclipse meets Pretty Maids style is everywhere – tough, a bit dark and crunchy but still very melodic and catchy – a killer track! “Breathtaking” lies on the ballad side – it’s slower and more soft but at the same time, it’s quite heavy and it also brings on a slight Thin Lizzy vibe where the catchy refrain is more catchy than the verses – brilliant!
“Rock’s Still Rolling” brings on a pumping bass line, a steady rhythm even though the mid-paced verses are a bit more stripped. It’s a very direct tune with an effective, AOR like, catchy-as-hell chorus. So damn good! Also on the ballad side of Hard Rock is “Die Together”, a slow, dark and melancholic tune that holds a minor punch. The tune definitely goes into power ballad mode but it never goes sugary or mawkish. A very good tune. “The Best Thing I Never Had” brings on some heavy guitars, a pumping groove and is another track that shows that Mårtensson and Atkins do sport a Metal background. That said, memorable melodies will always come first and this is no exception – a killer tune that hits where it should! Closing track “Outrun You” comes with softer verses, a good groove and the chorus is catchy yet the heaviest part of the song. The Eclipse meets Pretty Maids style is all over this track as well – a great tune that makes for a great closing track!
As this album is pretty much a sister album to the debut both in quality and in style, I can’t see any reason for fans of the debut to not dig this just as much. Great songs never goes out of style, see. And this album contains enough killer tracks to make lots of other Melodic Rock acts envious. If you prefer every new Rock album to be all original and revolutionary, you should look elsewhere because there’s nothing revolutionary about this at all, but for us who don’t give a rat about that and only want great songs, then this is for you. Yes, Mårtensson – who handles guitar, bass and keyboard duties here – do have his own style when it comes to song writing which shines through on everything he does but the way that Atkins interpret his tunes makes Nordic Union stand out from a lot of the Melodic Rock that’s out there now. Production, performances and song writing is world-class and just like on the debut, there’s nothing to complain about on this record. Highly recommended!
More Nordic Union reviews:
1. My Fear & My Faith
2. Because Of Us
3. It Burns
4. Walk Me Through The Fire
5. New Life Begins
6. The Final War
8. Rock’s Still Rolling
9. Die Together
10. The Best Thing I Never Had
11. Outrun You