ISSA – The Storm

Despite members of the melodic rock community proclaiming her Issa’s debut album ‘Sign of Angels’ a work of genius and suggesting the record sounded like a female fronted Journey, that wasn’t really accurate. Fact is, being Norwegian, huge chunks of Issa’s first album had a distinctly Scandinavian feel. There was nothing particularly wrong with that, but it just wasn’t American enough to gain Journey styled comparisons. Regardless of Issa’s best efforts, the bulk of that album’s material was solid, but often unremarkable – certainly not really “genius” by most people’s standards.

It would be wrong to suggest Issa had broken any new ground with her second record, ‘The Storm’ – it’s still loaded with some very predictable melodic rock chops – but the record has a distinctly more American feel at times. More importantly, she’s contributed to the song writing and – perhaps as a direct result – sounds more at ease vocally. Although not as sharp as those from a classic Survivor album, for example, the production values (courtesy of Daniel Flores) are also superior to the slightly muddy dynamics present on Issa’s debut release. Each of these factors make ‘The Storm’ an infinitely more enjoyable listening experience.

‘Looking For Love’ is a strong opening statement: David Siviland’s rhythm guitars have a pleasing soft metal choppiness over which Issa’s vocal is strong. An extra sense of depth is provided by a pompy keyboard line throughout which is perfectly judged rhythmically, though perhaps the squealy 70s style solo could have been avoided. Overall, it’s a decent opener, but it’s the softer bridge section and featured guitar solo (courtesy of Work of Art man Robert Sall) which lends the listener to believe this is only the beginning and, perhaps, ‘The Storm’ has even better material up its sleeve. ‘Please Hold On’ cements such theories, pushing things into slightly more American sounding 80s hard rock territory. Issa takes this number and pulls the best from its vocal – particularly on a classic sounding chorus. Many of you will have hundreds of songs in your AOR collections which achieve similar results – but when those songs are as good as this, there’s always room for one more! As before, Siviland provides a suitable amount of musical meatiness in the guitar department; this time around, though, he’s totally outshone by Daniel Flores on the keyboards, whose work echoes many 80s classics with his tinkling and rather bell-like accompaniments. Those keyboards alone would be enough to remind you all of melodic rock’s glory years, but a predictably perfect key change for the last chorus just adds to the goodness, making this one of the album’s essential tracks.

The intro on the title cut is lovely: the guitars ring with an absolute clarity, while the piano also adds a great deal of charm to a very 80s mood. When the drums kick in, they do not dominate – instead settling for providing a suitable backline, thus allowing the choppy guitars carry most of the tune. Compared with a few of the album’s choicest cuts, the chorus here is weaker and as the number progresses, a slightly cheesier mood doesn’t quite live up to the intro’s great promise. Still, it’s not a dud by any means – but it certainly could have been better. Moving things into a rockier mood, ‘You’re Making Me’ is slightly pompy – driven by a pounding bass and reasonable guitar riff. Issa proves here she’s as adept at rockier outings as she is the more dramatic offerings. Overall, it’s more in keeping with some of the material from ‘Sign of Angels’ and is a little more throwaway, but it’s given a lift by the presence of Christopher Vetter on lead guitar who offers up a more than commendable solo spot. ‘Two Hearts’ is slightly more Scandinavian sounding once again; this has much to do with its being penned for Issa by Xorigin’s Johannes Stole and Daniel Palmquist. What it offers musically is something hugely melodic – a number loaded with twin guitar harmonies and another big chorus. The mid-paced approach will likely appeal to a lot of melodic rock fans; Issa is in good form and even though her band don’t get to show themselves off as much here as on some of the other cuts, it has to be said that Palmquist’s lead guitar work – the solo in particular – is cracking.

‘Too Late For Love’ runs through many of the usual clichés, but is well arranged with a strong vocal pitched against clean guitar work. A harmony-filled chorus carries itself reasonably well, although it is perhaps not quite as strong as it ought to have been. You know what to expect and, although it’s far from a let-down, it shouldn’t have just settled for being a good track; with the level of quality shown elsewhere, this could have been great. With regards to power ballads, ‘Invincible’ is much better all round. Containing one of Issa’s best vocals it already starts with best foot forward, but a simple arrangement adds to its overall strength. The guitars are played with just enough crunchiness to put this track firmly in the rock bracket, yet extensive use of piano lends the softer passages an extra depth. Melodic rock by numbers it may be, but it’s spot on. Had this been written for any number of artists back in the 1980s, it could have been a hit. Alongside ‘Please Hold On’, this provides ample reason for investigating this release…even if you weren’t especially swayed by Issa’s first attempt.

It may not be edgy, but this album is well-crafted. It shows that Issa had a strong enough sense of vision to take the best elements of her previous work and make them work much better for her this time around. Granted, ‘The Storm’ isn’t as good as the female fronted AOR/melodic classics from the genre’s heyday – of which Robin Beck’s ‘Trouble or Nothin’, Heart’s ‘Bad Animals’ and Cher’s self-titled record are still at the absolute pinnacle – but on its own merits, Issa’s second outing is potentially one of the best examples of the genre offered in 2011.

November 2011