A prolific musician, Magnus Karlsson has worked with many legends from the hard rock and melodic metal scene. You’ll find his name attached to works by Magnum’s Bob Catley, TNT’s Tony Harnell, Russell Allen, Bobby Kimball and Phenomena. He’s also been a member of Euro metallers Primal Fear. Perhaps most importantly, the Swedish multi-instrumentalist has received great press for his own project Free Fall, designed to showcase his melodic metal prowess behind an impressive roll call of guest vocalists. An enjoyable self-titled release set a high musical benchmark in 2013 with a collection of very European sounding bangers. A follow up, 2015’s ‘Kingdom of Rock‘ (not to be confused with an identically titled project from the legendary Michael Schenker), sometimes showed a lighter side with contributions from Joe Lynn Turner and Harem Scarem man Harry Hess and although a more hit and miss disc, it still provided a decent collection filler for anyone enamoured with the style.

Five years on, 2020’s ‘We Are The Night’ is an especially heavy collection but, as before, the guest vocalists are impressive and the riffs are even better. With song titles like ‘Temples and Towers’, ‘Queen of Fire’ and ‘Kingdom Falls’ taking pride of place, you sort of know what you’re in for without hearing a note but, if you had any time at all for the previous albums, this is obviously not a bad thing. Things get under way with ‘Hold Your Fire’, a heavy but surprisingly melodic workout that sports a huge symphonic intro. The world of bombastic keyboard sounds underscored by almost militaristic drums leads into a track that would’ve suited previous collaborator Russell Allen. It’s Animal Drive man Dino Jelusick who ultimately gets to take the reins and although his voice is overstretched in a few places, in the main, his huge and gravelly tones are a fine match for Karlsson’s massive, massive riffs. Despite the keyboard laden intro, it’s a tune that very often values trad metal over pomp, but for those looking any big musical indulgences, a brilliant twin lead guitar harking back to Iron Maiden’s classic 80s output certainly will not disappoint. Julusick makes a return on an album highlight ‘Under The Black Star’ which matches some near perfect Dio-isms with massive, cinematic keyboard stabs and an especially theatrical chorus. Here, Jelusick puts in a much better performance – it’s still huge and ragged, yes, but always stays within his natural range, while Karlsson’s choice of solo shows few nods to the legendary Ritchie Blackmore, before rising into a fantastic – if short – flurry of 80s flashiness.

A tune like ‘Under The Black Star’ could have been ideal for one-time Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin with its mix of heaviness and grandiosity, but instead, Tone has been given something less interesting in softer number, ‘Far From Over’. The melody allows his voice to shine against cleaner notes on the verse, before scaling up to a bombastic chorus. On the tune’s quieter moments, he’s rarely sounded as good but, with regards to his approach on the heavier parts, he becomes less distinctive. This, in fact, could have been given to at least a dozen work-a-day Euro metal singers and achieved the same result. The real star here is Karlsson, who between a massive chug and fine, sweeping solo shows himself, again, to be one of the melodic metal scene’s best players. It isn’t a bad track – far from it – but it doesn’t quite hit the mark in the same way as ‘Under The Black Star’ or album highlight ‘Queen of Fire’ which melds Karlsson’s usual heaviness with more of an AOR-centric melody throughout. A great showcase for Battle Beast vocalist Noora Louhimo, it’s a great listen and especially so for anyone looking for a more melodic alternative to bands like Elvellon. Noora and Magnus make such a good match – and since this is something that becomes abundantly clear by the time you’re halfway through the second verse, it’d be great to hear them collaborating on a full album.

Karlsson can handle guitar, bass and keyboards in a very impressive manner, but ‘Don’t Walk Away’ shows how his all-round talents stretch as far as being a decent vocalist too. Sounding nothing like the hundred and one AOR tunes called ‘Don’t Walk Away’, this centres around a heavy, jagged rhythm very much allowing the guitarist to wield a hefty chug. A little more melody informs the chorus, with our all-round musical hero stretching his voice for a full on croon, certainly making this one of the album’s most balanced sounding tunes with regard to heaviness vs. melody, but – as expected – it’s his lead break that eventually leaves the strongest impression. Karlsson shows off lots of vibrato and eventually ramps up his playing to compliment a huge fanfare of a riff before closing everything with a huge flurry of notes – all of which is enough to match Marty Friedman circa 1988. First time listeners are advised to check out this track first; if you like what you hear, the rest of the album should at least bring a reasonable amount of enjoyment. The ever reliable Tony Martin returns for ‘Temples And Towers’, an unashamed Malmsteen inspired workout that finds drummer Anders Kollerfors hammering his drum pedal and Karlsson shredding his fretboard throughout. For those not keen on this full-scale, fist-clenched power metal it’ll surely be a tiring five minutes, but there’s no denying that Martin is in great vocal shape and Magnus is a dab hand when it comes to this sort of thing. Obviously, it doesn’t break any new ground, but with a relatively catchy hook and an absolutely blistering neo-classical lead break, it has plenty of old fashioned charm.

For lovers of Karlsson’s guitar playing, the softer ‘On My Way To Earth’ presents a fantastic arpeggio for openers, showing off a quick and sharp melody that sounds just as effective when played acoustically or electrically. Moving into the main melody, a few longer soaring notes provide a welcome change from the usual heavier styles and with these interspersed with a few busy passages and set against a great rhythm, it’s just fantastic. Of course, if you’ve not already succumbed to Karlsson’s brand of late 80s Euro metal, no amount of praise will convince you otherwise. A new talent at the time of release, Electric Mob’s Renan Zonta appears on a couple of tracks and first impressions suggest his huge voice will be a good match for Karlsson’s compositional skills. His heavily accented delivery is given a reasonably sympathetic counterpart in the heavier riff that runs through ‘Kingdom Falls’, but as with most of the tracks on this album, the real test is in the chorus. With Magnus opting for something that mixes his usual bombast with a slight AOR bent, Zonta is given more room to demonstrate a distinctive curl within his voice, suggesting he’d probably be able to turn his talents to a much wider range of melodic metal sounds. His performance on ‘Dreams & Scars’ is even better, as a spacious and more symphonic metal backdrop allows him to soar against an arrangement that is a little closer to some of the world’s many Nightwish wannabes. It’s one of those tracks that proves a tried and tested style can often be the most effective approach – and it’s certainly true when it comes to this kind of Euro metal.

‘We Are The Night’ is much bigger on riffs than genuine musical variety, but it adds a few fantastic tracks to the Free Fall legacy and is relatively filler free. In terms of Euro metal, it’s a very well put together album – certainly better than most. If you didn’t like Free Fall before, you should probably expect to remain unmoved, but those with a love for European metal will absolutely love it.

June 2020