When I first heard of Swedish AOR:sters Art Nation, I didn’t care much. In all honesty, I really hadn’t heard much of their two albums Revolution (2015) and Liberation (2017) except for the odd song here and there and to me they only came across as some kind of H.E.A.T. light. But after seeing the band playing an impressibly good gig at Rock City Stockholm to a small crowd back in 2018, where they went off as they were playing to 10 000 people, I gave in and decided to check their two albums out properly. Sure, there were a likeness to H.E.A.T. genre wise but they also sported their own identity – and more importantly, the guys wrote some killer tunes that landed somewhere between Melodic Hard Rock and AOR.
However, things has happened in the Art Nation camp since the last album was released. No less than three members – guitarist Johan Gustavsson, bassist Richard Swärd and drummer Linus Thomsson – jumped the nation-ship before the recording of their new album, leaving original singer and main song writer Alexander Strandell and guitarist Sam Söderlindh, who joined the band after the release of Liberation in 2017, to their own devices. Quickly the guys had to find themselves a completely new line-up and today when we hold their brand new album in our hands, the new members – guitarist Mia Moilanen, bassist Ola Thuresson and drummer Alexander Lundgren – have taken their spot in the band. The foreword on the streets spoke of a new Art Nation, a band that had taken on a new route musically – a brave and bold move for a band whose break-through seemed to be right around the corner.
Opening up with second taster (video/single) “Fallen Worlds” – released some six months ago – it stands clear that Art Nation has taken their brand of AOR-ish Melodic Rock and mixed it up some. The base is still AOR/Melodic Rock but heavied up with a Metal influenced rhythm, upbeat and punchy – and the tune comes across like a more modern metalized One Desire meets H.E.A.T. with a striking refrain, catchy as damn with a rougher elegance of AOR oriented melodies. I put a HELL YEAH! over this one – because it’s a killer. On a rhythmic and bouncy groove, “Tick Tock” sends along some big pop-vibes and electronic twists with lots of synths over a Hard Rock foundation. Again, they mix their old sound with a modern, more rock-radio friendly outlook and it do work. I dig the song but the verses are both catchier and more accurate than the refrain which falls a bit flat in comparison.
The mid-paced “Firefly” brings on a groove-laden and rolling rhythmic beat with crispy guitars but also a big, fat keyboard sound on top. All this comes with a huge refrain that holds a choir-like backup, classic AOR style melodies and a trillion hooks that will have you caught up in the song no matter if you want to or not. A spoken word – for good measure – changes the song’s dynamics and even betters the tune. This is brilliant stuff and extremely catchy. Release this as a single because I smell a hit here! “Infected” was released as a taster/single/video a whole year ago and holds a darker twist, rhythms that are almost tribal and a heavy yet quite poppy foundation. As the icing on the cake we get a spot-on, direct and very effective chorus that brings a less Metal Dynazty to mind – and it sticks right off the bat. I’m surprised this tune wasn’t all over rock-radio when it was released with all its hit-potential. Great.
Latest single, the big power ballad “The Cure” follows next. While slow, dark and a bit melancholic, it also holds quite a bouncy groove. But the over-all sound is very slick and smooth with a bunch of synthesized strings and an orchestral arrangement. The refrain is big and quite in-your-face and Strandell’s duet with singer Rebecca Hakso gives the tune a bit of an Amaranthe meets Evanescence touch. It sure is catchy enough and it has every potential to become a major hit – and Hakso is a brilliant singer – but in my book, it’s too syrupy and the Amaranthe touches sure doesn’t help. It’s ok at best. Straight forward and uptempo, “Not Alone” takes on some classic Hard Rock riffing where the solo-part reminds me a lot of early Dio. That said, the electronica-like synths appear here as well but in a more sparse way which makes it work. Another kicking refrain that hits the bulls-eye is brought on us but in a more rootsy and rough way more than radio-flirtatious. Great tune.
When “Who We Are” starts, they lure us into ballad-land once again but as the song’s chorus takes over from the verse, the song morphs into a big, modern sounding Pop number. However, there are more rock-laden turns here and there but it still doesn’t make this a Rock song. This sounds like a slightly rocked up Avicii more than anything Rock out there. I don’t dislike the song but I’m not a fan of Avicii-type music so the maths are easy to do here. With “Blaze The Trail”, they bring the upbeat and heavy Rock back. This straight-forward rocker mixes Dynazy and Nightwish, punchy and bang-on-target with a striking main-melody. The clear pop-vibes blends very well with the metal-like undertow and the refrain – that reminds me of a more pop-laden Chameleon-era Helloween – is so amazingly catchy I don’t know which way is up. The hit potential here is endless so go make this a single, boys – and girl.
On yet another turn, “Crack In The Sky” is metal-fueled, fast and heavy – very in-your-face with a rough and crunchy outlook. That said, the tune still brings on a whole bunch of striking, hook-laden melodies and yet another amazing chorus that sticks like glue right from go without being the least radio-friendly – very, very good. Closing track “Open” keeps the heaviness going on an upbeat note with edgy riffing and a punchy rhythm. There’s also some electronic sounds mixed in and the keyboard riff is fat and dramatic. The mixture of Heavy Metal and Melodic Rock works like a charm and the refrain is another catchy one. A great way to close the album. If you go for the Japanese version of the album you’re treated with a bonus track, a ballad called “One Is Better Than No One”. It starts out laid-back and slow, based on piano and acoustic guitars with a smooth and slick outlook. The main-melody holds a gorgeous arrangement and the chorus is massive, impossible not be swept away with. This should not be a Japanese bonus track – this is a hit-single, dammit!
Yes, this is a new, updated version of Art Nation that we’re given here. This is an experimental album where the the sky seems to be the limit but at the same time, it’s not like Art Nation has thrown their old style into the garbage bin. With the addition of Metal, Electronic, Goth and more modern sounding radio-rock, there’s also lots left of what we got on the two first albums. This is experimental just like H.E.A.T.’s last album Into The Great Unknown is. That particular album got H.E.A.T. some, well, heat, actually from both fans and reviewers and I’m pretty sure that will happen to Art Nation will too. Which means that these are records that will need its adjustment time and growth before they can be fully appreciated. Just like the H.E.A.T. record, this album left me somewhat confused in the beginning but after a few spins the pieces were glued together and now when I listen to the record, I love it. I love the high-quality songs, the arrangements and the way all those styles of music have been blended together without losing the band’s identity. Time will tell where this album will stand in the future to come, but I think it’s their finest moment to date.
1. Fallen Worlds
2. Tick Tock
5. The Cure
6. Not Alone
7. Who We Are
8. Blaze The Trail
9. Cracks In The Sky