In addition to his various solo releases, Mikael Erlandsson will be best known to melodic rock listeners for his involvement with Frontiers Records signings Last Autumn’s Dream. Not content with having those two prongs to his busy career, Erlandsson is also involved with a third project, Salute, where he performs alongside guitarist Martin Kronlund (who in 2010 played a big part in the fifth instalment of Tom Galley’s Phenomena project) and Gypsy Rose drummer Imre Daun.
‘Heart of the Machine’ is Salute’s second release and its eleven songs, as you’d expect, are heavily influenced by late eighties/early 90s melodic hard rock. While you’ll get no musical surprises, this album presents solid musicianship on a set of songs which were co-written by Bangalore Choir’s David Reece (although there are few songs here I wouldn’t have put my name to if I were him, since although the music is often decent enough, a good few of the lyrics are questionable).
‘Higher’ opens with a pounding riff undercut by a slab of keyboards, creating a sound that’s unmistakably European. Anchored by a rock solid bass line, it’s an opening number which instantly shows the power behind pairing of Erlandsson and Kronlund. Erlandsson’s vocals are assured and Kronlund’s solo work is equally confident. While the stomping approach of the opener shows power, it’s ‘Feed Your Hunger’ which really showcases Salute at their best. In a much lighter mood, (though remaining mid-paced) Kronlund’s rhythm guitar work presents itself in a classic staccato style which is coupled by a clean lead, creating something very effective. Erlandsson’s vocal is understated and melodic, beefed up by some great harmonies.
Also recommended listening is ‘I Will Be There’, a huge power ballad which really highlights Kronlund’s soaring guitar work. Erlandsson’s voice is very natural and very much suited to the soft keyboard accompaniment which opens the track. By the time the rest of the band joins the arrangement, Erlandsson steps things up a gear to deliver a performance both passionate and heartfelt. You can almost see him belting out his lines, with fist clenched and eyes closed!
The title cut features a few iffy lyrics and a horrible, unnecessarily gritty vocal performance. In terms of riffing, although Salute suits this slower, meatier style, you’ve already heard them doing something similar (and far better, too) during the opening number. An uptempo workout with a great hook, ‘A Falling Star’ helps make sense of why Erlandsson is well respected as a song writer in the melodic rock field (something I don’t always understand). The track has plenty of great vocal harmonies , which are put to especially good use on a bridge section, leading into a multi-layered solo from Kronlund.
‘In It For The Long Haul’ gives drummer Imre Daun a chance to play in a slightly more aggressive fashion – an opportunity not missed by Kronlund either, chiming in with both a decent riff and solo. However, this track has quite major faults: some of the lyrics about being “a warrior conquering fears” and a “soldier of fortune, always swinging a sword, never carrying a shield” echo the kind of clichéd, cringe worthy lyrics which grace Yngwie Malmsteen’s back catalogue. And surely someone should have told them that the chorus line isn’t pronounced ‘In it for the long howl’…? Just a thought. Since Erlandsson’s English pronunciation is perfect throughout the rest of this album, how did this “howler” get overlooked?
Also, while we’re on the subject of bad lyrics, ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Train’ is guaranteed to make you wince. Every line in this song is appalling. Clichés about a journey with no end in sight are bad enough, but it doesn’t stop there: it also includes references to hard drinking party animals and a woman with loose morals (including a thinly veiled reference to a vibrator). It’s all very poor…and then, use of the phrase “got me choo-choo-chooglin on down the line” makes it even worse. [Only John Fogerty gets away with the word chooglin’…and only then because Creedence Clearwater Revival is a classic, classic band].
‘Tearing Me Down’ features Kronlund in a quasi-aggressive mode, utilising a dirtier tone with an occasional horsey-noise. While he and Daun are clearly the driving force here, Erlandsson’s vocal performance is one of the album’s best. His slightly raspy delivery is well suited to the old school classic rock sound of this track; a sound reinforced by slabs of old style organ on the pre-chorus (albeit quite low in the mix).
While Salute’s big draw for most people will undoubtedly be the presence of Mikael Erlandsson, by the album’s end, it becomes clear that it’s Martin Kronlund who’s the real star. His guitar work is top-notch throughout, putting in his best performances even when the songs aren’t always very good. If you’re a fan of Last Autumn’s Dream, you’ll certainly want to check it out, but despite best intentions, ‘Heart of the Machine’ is a very hit and miss affair.