‘Sign of Angels’ is the debut release by Norwegian born singer Issabell Oversveen, otherwise known as Issa (not to be confused with Jane Siberry’s alter-ego of the same name). It would be more than fair to say Issa’s voice is strong, but it isn’t remarkable by any means – you’ll certainly have encountered better female rock vocalists in the past… Combine that with the choice of album artwork and the fact that the record company press release talks about how “beautiful and sexy” Issa is before it attempts to state how talented she may be, it would suggest Frontiers Records may have been swayed somewhat by the Scandinavian blonde’s looks. Let’s hear it for equality in the 21st Century. That aside, with input from a team of song writers (including members of Hammerfall and Candlemass), the album itself delivers some great moments, which should be enough to please long-time fans of melodic rock, even when the end results are often workmanlike workwomanlike and a little predictable.
Combining staccato guitar work against slightly pompy keyboards, the verses of ‘I’m Alive’ present the song with a strong base, but it’s the huge chorus which makes it a winner. Simple, predictable, but suitably feel-good, it lifts the track considerably. Multi-tracked vocals lend a classic sound for a number which would have suited many of the melodic rock greats had it been written a decade earlier. The chorus of ‘Give Me a Sign’ offers a sweeping majesty and the rest of the number offers decent performances from all concerned, though it’s odd that Peter Huss wouldn’t take the opportunity for a guitar solo – especially given that there’s an almost perfect opportunity for one at the 2:20 mark.
The big power ballad, ‘Unbelievable’, sounds like a soft-metal version of Amanda Marshall. Here, Issa utilises the softer side of her vocal style during the verses, which makes for good contrast against all of the Euro-rock power-fisting elsewhere. Not that this track lacks an element of that, of course; in fact, its chorus is the very epitome of the great fist-clenched 80s style power ballads. Adding a choir of backing vocals takes things up a notch, but not in a way which upstages the lead – and that lead is one of Issa’s finest. ‘What Can I Do’ takes one of the album’s heaviest riffs and does very little with it. Despite best intentions, the plodding nature – complete with stabbing keys representing the sound of strings – provides a textbook example of Euro-metal. With a better chorus, there’s no reason it couldn’t have worked, but as it stands, it’s rather leaden. Similarly, ‘How Will I Know’ tries its hardest to be a decent rocker, but Tim Larsson’s keyboard work approaches similar sting-influenced territory. Here it’s much worse – interfering with what could have been a relatively good hard rock number. Featuring a very strong pre-chorus, this track promised so much, only to be let down by a slightly clumsy arrangement.
There seems little point in going into any greater detail regarding the rest of the songs, since there’s not a great amount of variety within the album’s twelve numbers. Depending on your personal viewpoint, that’ll either be the album’s greatest strength or eventually work to its detriment. On the whole, though, what you’ll get here are a bunch of (largely) unobjectionable songs with a few really great choruses on hand to give things a boost. For the diehard melodic rock fans, this’ll find a deserved place as collection filler. For the rest of you: if you’re starting to look beyond Journey, Survivor and Foreigner for similar undemanding rock thrills, there are a whole world of second division artists who deserve your attention before you even consider Issa as a contender, no matter how good parts of her debut may be.