GATHERING OF KINGS – First Mission

First of all, Gathering Of Kings are not a band, it’s a project. That said, the fact that they’re booked to play Sweden Rock Festival in 2019 might say that the project will turn into a real band in the future. Time will tell. GoK is the brainchild of one Ron Dahlgren together with his wife Nina (hence the RN Records moniker) who wanted to put together an A-list of Swedish Hard Rock musicians and make an album clearly influenced by how Phenomena was put together. Ron Dahlgren, the Tom Galley of Sweden? The whole thing has been in the making for a year and on January 25, it was time to show the result of some really hard work that has been going on for a year or so. But first a little presentation of the people involved here, an impressing number of 22 participants, from organisers, cover-art artists to producers and musicians.

So the involved artists are: Rick Altzi – Vocals (Masterplan, Herman Frank, At Vance), Björn Strid – Vocals (Soilwork, The Night Flight Orchestra), Apollo Papathanasio – Vocals (Spiritual Beggars, Firewind), Tobias Jansson – Vocals (Saffire), Jens Westin – Vocals & Guitar (Corroded), Alexander Frisborg – Vocals (Helldog), Victor Olsson – Guitar & Keyboards (Saffire), Stefan Helleblad – Guitar (Within Temptation, Jono), Martin Sweet – Guitar (Crashdiet, Sister), Erik Mårtensson – Guitar (Eclipse, W.E.T, Nordic Union, Ammunition), Nalle Påhlsson – Bass (Therion, Treat, Martina Edoff, Groundbreaker), Richard Larsson – Keyboards (The Night Flight Orchestra), Chris Laney – Keyboards (Pretty Maids, Laney’s Legion, Animal), Erik Wiss – Keyboards (Cap Outrun), Jonas Källsbäck – Drums (The Night Flight Orchestra, Mean Streak), Efraim Larsson – Drums (Streamline, Diamond Dawn), Robban Bäck – Drums (Mustasch, Eclipse, Sabaton, W.E.T) and Henrik Sethsson – Backing Vocals (Casanovas). The songs are all written by Victor Olsson apart from a few lyrics, written by Frisborg and one cover, and when you think about just how awesome Saffire are, there are lots of reasons to expect greatness here.

The album opens with the intro “The Gathering” where all instruments were played by Olsson. It’s an atmospheric piece of music that work for its purpose and it brings us right into the album’s first taster “Forever And A Day”, sung by Strid. Now we know that Strid both loves his Metal and his AOR so it’s not a shocker that he brings this phenomenal pop-rocker home. The shadow of Saffire rests over tune but taken the route of Melodic Rock and AOR but the way Strid sings it, it’s almost impossible to not find a slight nod towards Night Flight Orchestra as well. This tune was released as a single back in late 2017 and it’s really a mystery that rock-radio didn’t play the shit out of it. Brilliant! Latest single “Love Will Stay Alive”, sung by Altzi, follows and brings on a big groove that blends Classic Rock with AOR. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great flow and a refrain that hits right off the bat and the hit-potential here is endless.

The mid-paced “Endless Paradise” is a bit heavier and not really a far cry from how Saffire actually sounds, much of course affected by the fact that Saffire vocalist Tobias Jansson sings on it. The chorus, however, brings on a Melodic Rock/AOR twist and since it’s brilliantly catchy, I think it’s a single to be. “Saviour”, also in mid pace and sung by Apollo Papathanasio, is a Hard Rock driven number with an AOR-like main melody and some Melodic Rock thrown in for good measure. The verses are a bit more laid-back but the refrain is huge and catchier than chlamydia. Is there a song on this album that do not qualify as a future single? Well, this one obviously does. Awesome! In “Passing Rain” we get a bonafide power ballad. It’s both powerful and atmospheric but also very direct and with a darker vibe. Altzi sings this song with conviction and soul – the dude really can hold a ballad as well. It’s catchy and memorable but never cheesy – fantastic!

“Out Of My Life” could pass as a Saffire tune, hands down. Again, vocalist Tobias Jansson’s personal voice leads thoughts to his day job but if it wasn’t for the Melodic Rock twists, this is pure Saffire. With the Melodic Rock arrangements the song holds, this is another mix of 70’s stark Hard Rock and the more poppy side of the 80’s, like 70’s Rainbow had a bastard child with Bon Jovi, if you will. It’s heavy, tough and amazingly catchy – another killer! “Lonely Road” is upbeat, pretty heavy and straightforward with lots of classic Hard Rock 70’s style but also with a slight Pop vibe. The AOR here is kept at a minimum which makes this tune probably the most hard rock tune on the album. Jens Westin hits the bulls-eye vocally here, his voice is perfect for this kind of tune. It’s cool to hear him sing a tune like this when we’re used to his more aggressive style in Corroded. Very good tune!

“Angels” is more traditional AOR but still in-your-face and some powerful vocals by Apollo, who sings both lead and backing vocals shared with Chris Laney. It takes my mind to the early 90’s when Desmond Child teamed up with bands such as Ratt and Alice Cooper at the end of his glory 80’s song writing years. It’s a good and catchy tune but it’s a bit too mainstream and lacks Victor Olsson’s personal skills when it comes to identity. It sounds more like it could have been a song by any AOR acts out there. Not bad, though. Helldog are a band I’m not familiar with at all so “Long Way From Home” is my first acquaintance with singer Alexander Frisborg and I must say, what a voice. The guy is brilliant! The song itself is a total AOR tune with shitloads of Pop melodies. It holds enough hooks to sell and catches on no matter if you want it to or not. However, the tune sound very Swedish/Scandinavian AOR and it doesn’t really stand out like the other tracks. Maybe it was written with radio in mind and it could have fitted the ESC like a charm. It’s ok, but not a favorite.

Then we come to the cover choice here – and it is an unexpected one. “The Runaway” is not a Bon Jovi cover, but a cover of a song by Swedish singer Carola. Carola might not be known world-wide but in Sweden – and parts of Scandinavia – she has been a big artist since the mid 80’s. This particular song was written by the Gibb (Bee Gees) brothers – so was the whole album it’s taken from, this is the title-track – and to many seen as a very underrated album, an album that deserved to take Carola to big fame. It’s really a pop-disco record and I was really keen to hear what GoK had made of it. Well, GoK has given it a new life, it’s a new song even if it’s easy to hear which song it is. Björn Strid sings the tune like he wrote it himself and the new Melodic Rock arrangement fits it like a charm. A superb version that should be a single. “Battle Cry” is a bonus track but shouldn’t be one. It’s a heavy, bang-boom rocker that goes for the throat. Tough, punchy and beefy it also holds lots of catchiness. To me, this is not a bonus track, it’s an opener both for the album and live. Great!

For Ron and Nina to bring in a guy like Victor Olsson to write a Melodic Rock album turned out to be a stroke of genius. In a time where many AOR and Melodic Rock albums sounds the same, to have a guy that obviously comes from a different genre in Rock has given this genre a new twist that takes a step outside the box and comfort zone. Olsson has with Saffire proved he’s a brilliant song writer and now with GoK he has proved that he can write just as great songs in other genres as well. Also, despite the fact that this project holds no less than five different vocalists producer Thomas “Plec” Johansson has made GoK sound like a band. The musicians on this album is also world-class and performs brilliantly – and I hadn’t expected otherwise either. The cover-art needs a mention as well. German artist Markus Vesper have given GoK a cover inspired by bands like Yes and Asia – very colorful – impossible to miss.

I must admit that when I first heard the two singles that preceded this record, I wasn’t totally convinced. Sure, good songs but nothing out of the ordinary, I thought. Now, with the album on my phone and a few spins later I can honestly say that I am floored. It’s only the end of January and the new year have just begun and we’re already sitting on an album where nine of the eleven tracks are brilliantly good and two songs that are just good but with more or less all of them single candidates. Folks, we might already have the best Melodic Rock album of 2019 in our hands and probably a top ten Rock album of the year. Damn I hope this will turn out to be a real band in the future. Highly recommended!

9/10

Tracklist:

1. The Gathering
2. Forever And A Day
3. Love Will Stay Alive
4. Endless Paradise
5. Saviour
6. Passing Rain
7. Out Of My Life
8. Lonely Road
9. Angels
10. Long Way From Home
11. The Runaway
12. Battle Cry (Bonus Track)

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