PERFECT PLAN – Brace For Impact

In the year or so leading up to this third release from Perfect Plan, vocalist Kent Hilli kept himself more than busy. Considered by some to be the great white hope of melodic rock in the twenty first century, between 2021 and 2022, he not only issued two solo releases – an album of original material and an EP of covers – but also became the new frontman for AOR legends Giant, appearing on their very enjoyable ‘Shifting Time’ album, and even found time to contribute vocals to the second Restless Spirits album.

None of this extra curricular work seems to have harmed his main band, Perfect Plan, in any way. ‘Brace For Impact’ delivers eleven really strong tracks that draw heavily from a melodic rock past, often making Hilli’s big vocals the main event. Opener ‘Surrender’ mixes classic AOR/melodic rock with a swathe of pomp that makes the band sound a little like Red Dawn, especially when a blanket of keys parps beneath a chunky guitar. Armed with a great arrangement that rocks hard, Hilli rises, booming through a melody that marries a Swedish confidence to an American heartbeat. When working through various sounds where Red Dawn meets Sunstorm, Perfect Plan sound great; when offering a massive hook, they sound even greater. It’s a near perfect start to the album, but despite Hilli’s strong presence, the track is ultimately stolen by a couple of the subtler musical flourishes: the featured solo from resident six stringer Rolf Nordstrom evokes some of that 80s spirit that all great melodic rock needs without showboating, and a wave of keys during the middle eight opts for something a little more atmospheric, with the vocal de-escalating in a suitable way, showing that Hilli can do range as well as bombast. In short, if this is your first listen to Perfect Plan, then it’ll certainly be enough for you to get drawn in and enjoy the rest of this album. It’ll also want to backtrack and catch up on anything you’ve missed from their earlier records. It’s the perfect primer.

Potentially even better, ‘Love Walks In’ opens with a clean guitar, making the big crunch that comes soon after seem even bigger, before Perfect Plan lose themselves in a Survivor-like number where the pre-chorus teases with big harmony vocals and stabbing keys, setting up a great melody for an absolutely perfect chorus hook where the band’s Swedish origins cut through, sounding like a cross between Lionville and a tougher Work of Art. There’s nothing new here, but there doesn’t need to be; it’s all about the cheese, and all about the retro sound – both of which Perfect Plan absolutely nail. There could be more of a concession to a more upfront lead guitar perhaps – the solo sounds like a pre-solo melody, but doesn’t ever escalate to the full shred – but it’s a minor point.

Dropping into a punchy groove with plenty of swagger, ‘Still Undefeated’ isn’t shy in advertising it’s crowd pleasing qualities via a massive “whoah” placed effectively during the intro, before settling for a tune that sounds like Perfect Plan playing something from Europe’s underrated ‘Bag of Bones’ album. Here, when going for broke in the classic rock stakes opposed to pure melodic rock/AOR, Hilli really springs to life, exploring a slightly coarser texture in his impressive vocal range – sounding very confident on one of the album’s most memorable hooks – and keys man Leif Ehlin seems to relish the opportunity to channel Don Airey along the way. Injecting a very 80s AOR keyboard sound into the heart of another superb rocker, ‘Devil’s Got The Blues’ captures a little of the old school magic from the Frontline album ‘State of Rock’ and brings that into the twenty first century with a superb vocal and a pleasingly punchy sound. The way Nordstrom manages to a drop a couple of unexpectedly groove laden riffs behind a couple of Kent’s bigger vocals is unexpected, but at the same time feels totally natural, showing him to be a really intuitive player, and his main solo – tapping into some classic sounding, very 80s melodic metal – is almost certainly his best this time out. This, of course, is all bread and butter stuff to Perfect Plan, further showcasing why they’re one of the scene’s greatest bands at the time of release.

Every great melodic rock disc needs a lighter moment or two, and ‘Emelie’ more than fulfils such interests when exploring a classic mid tempo AOR arrangement (the kind of thing that used to be applied to tunes called ‘Don’t Walk Away’) and, in many ways, it casts Perfect Plan in the perfect AOR mould but with a more modern production sound (for better or worse). The melody immediately telegraphs itself in the old fashioned AOR mode, with Leif working a lovely circular keyboard riff, and the guitars dropping effortlessly into a soaring melody. Both of those might’ve been enough to make this a standout track, but – as expected – Kent rises to the occasion with an even better vocal, capturing a wave of emotion that feels timeless despite being obviously recycled from many of the melodic rock greats of yesteryear. In short, it’s perfect AOR with a Swedish accent; a track that’s top tier Perfect Plan, and another good reason – among many – to add this to your collection.

Going for something heavier, ‘Gotta Slow Me Down’ takes the rhythm of Poison’s ‘Unskinny Bop’ and the chunkiness of Motley Crue’s ‘Primal Scream’, applies a massive vocal that could’ve suited Europe’s Joey Tempest, and works a huge swagger throughout. In terms of pure muscle, it’s bassist Mats Bystrom’s finest four minutes as he pumps his strings with intent throughout, whilst there’s plenty that’ll thrill lovers of a classic rock sound via a really retro organ lending a little extra texture. A really mad keyboard solo – delivering a world of squirly noises – is perhaps a little misjudged, but when everything moves back into a very tuneful hook, it takes all of three seconds for Perfect Plan to sound right again. And even if they actually sound more like fellow Swedes Snakes In Paradise than their usual selves, it really doesn’t matter when the end result is so solid.

Even at times when the music could seem a little generic (‘Walk In The Fire’ with its Giant-meets-Strangeways chugging guitar and keys combo; ‘Bring Me A Doctor’, a by numbers rocker that could be any number of hard rock bands from the Frontiers label redressed with some Swedish pomp), Hilli’s voice and an ability to sell a great melody is more than enough to steer listeners through material that clearly loves to celebrate a classic, retro style – predictable as it might be.

Despite the potential for wearing himself a little thin with overwork, Hilli’s natural talent comes through strongly on this album. In fact, a lot of it captures AOR and melodic rock in a brilliantly pure way – the way you’ve often loved it. Production-wise, it might not eclipse those classic albums from the genre defining era between 1985 and 1989, but in terms of presenting massive choruses and some great playing, it hits the mark well…and often. Could it be one of the best melodic rock discs of 2022? It’s up against some stiff competition with releases from veterans FM and Jeff Scott Soto, but there’s enough gold here for it to come pretty close.

Buy the album here: PERFECT PLAN – Brace For Impact CD

September 2022