RIAN – Wings

Swedish rockers Rian have been slowly carving out their place on the melodic rock scene since 2017. This second full length album finds them reaching a musical maturity on an enjoyable set of tunes that blend melodic hard rock and metal riffs seamlessly with huge AOR choruses, and although their old school sound is often predictable, the eleven songs on 2023’s ‘Wings’ are of a very high standard for the style.

An instant standout, ‘On The Wind’ kicks off with a meaty riff that has a gentle Euro lilt, often sounding like a heavier version of German legends Frontline. After a little settling in time, a bigger melody rises, introducing a little more AOR. Aided by soaring guitar sounds and some big keys, there’s a feeling the band are building up to something great. Then – as expected – the chorus takes a massive leap into a piece of melodic rock where harmony drenched vocals are countered by tinkling keys, really selling a great hook. It never really rises beyond melodic rock by numbers, albeit with a slightly harder edge, arrangement-wise, but much like the Kent Hilli album from ’23, it really doesn’t need to be much more than that; this is a decent showcase for a band who can really play, and obviously understand the recipe for great 80s inspired rock.

Combining a big, dirty chug with a swathe of AOR keyboards, ‘We Ride’ sets up a massive melodic rocker that allows guitarist Tobias Jakobsson time enough to drop in various howling lead notes, before the verse gives way to a huge and melodic chorus. Despite the bulk of this track being dominated by guitars, the band obviously recognise a strong, lighter melody when it comes their way and during that chorus, frontman Richard Andermyr is given a little more room to move. He fills several bars with a soaring melody that draws from some great Euro rock of yesteryear, helping to drive another fine melodic rocker. As great as the song is, Rian deserved better production values than they ultimately get, though: the guitars are so loud in the mix that, important as they are, most of the keys are all but drowned out, and the bass is a little muddy. Them’s the perils of working with a small label, unfortunately, and the end mix also blights ‘Don’t Wait For The Fire’ during a couple of its heaviest moments. Thankfully, this more AOR-centric workout comes with a lighter verse where vocals and clean guitars sound nice and crisp and, as before, Jakobsson’s lead work creates many of the stand out moments. Based on a harmony drenched chorus with a simple hook, the band’s song writing shows once more how they understand the rudiments of what makes for timeless melodic rock, but by throwing in a brief moment where the bass seems keen to launch into a Steve Harris inspired gallop, a few keys akin to the Bon Jovi debut and another powerful vocal, and Rian really hit the mark here.

In a change of mood, ‘The Silence of Our Dreams’ opens with a Toto-ish piano line and clean vocal that is a bit more State Cows than usual, but even once that vocal stretches into a more familiar rock sound, it’s still great to hear Rian playing in more of a stripped back way. By dialling back most of the guitars and focusing on Eric Ragno’s keys and a pleasingly muscular bassline, it shows how Rian aren’t reliant on a fretboard king to wow their listeners. This is a perfectly written rock ballad that really clings onto a fine melody, and with Richard’s voice presenting itself effortlessly, it becomes another track to file with a lot of other classic Swedish AOR. Even when Tobias makes a late entry with a blues tinged lead, there’s more restraint in the playing than usual, and in a lot of ways, it’s actually more impressive than his usual full on style. Taking another opportunity to work some very 80s chops, ‘Look At The Stars’ marries a clean, ringing guitar part to a pumping bassline, over which Richard applies a very AOR-centric vocal. Seemingly channelling fellow Scandinavians Alien, this track is one of those times where Rian’s desire to rock hits upon another near perfect homage to the past. Of note here, a brilliant pre-chorus settles for another melody not far removed from early Frontline, and a few musical bridges between the vocal actually showcase a very cool guitar tone. It’s all fairly predictable, of course, but between some great playing and a big hook that’s perfect for the vocal, it results in more solid melodic rock that fans of the style will undoubtedly enjoy.

Another ballad, ‘One of A Million’ sees the band pulling out the acoustic guitar for a workout that’s all overwrought vocal and blanket keys in its early stages, and it isn’t really until Tobias drops in a couple of electric leads that it really finds its feet. It’s one of those numbers that feels instantly familiar, and despite Richard eventually settling into a fine rock vocal, you’ll have heard better from Rian previously. This isn’t a dud by any means – a brilliant lead guitar break sees that isn’t the case – but it tries far too hard to be earnest, and as a result it doesn’t really feel genuine. Elsewhere, rhe de facto title cut latches on to a few hard rock riffs that feel quite similar to ‘On The Wind’, but a more spacious verse with a bigger bassline ensures it’s a little different. In the main, of course, its familiar hard rock fare, but with a harmony driven hook and a constant push and pull between a great vocal and impeccable guitar work, it shows why Rian have the potential to become another of Sweden’s great exports, and ‘When You’re Gone’ promises something different when it opens with busy melodic metal guitar work, but quickly wusses out, retreating into a world of Swedish AOR that’s interchangeable with the bulk of Rian’s previous work. Tobias bravely drops the heavier riff between the verses, but by that time, it feels a little shoehorned in, playing second fiddle to a very confident vocal. Even stranger is his chosen backdrop for the instrumental break: a flurry of staccato notes derived from Jan Cyrka’s ‘England’s Eyes’ wasn’t to be expected, but it really works. Overall, ‘When Your Gone’ sounds like three half finished rockers welded together, but it’s to Rian’s credit that it works. Although they’ve written better songs – and you’ll certainly find three or four on this album – this is proof of their strong musical chops, if one were needed. Although it isn’t the best track on ‘Wings’, its more complex edge can be appreciated more after a few listens, eventually becoming something that sounds great with the volume cranked.

Quibbles about some of the production values aside, there’s a lot to like about this album. At its best, it shares the kind of chorus hooks that really stick, and in Tobias Jakobsson, they obviously have a guitarist who’s rather busy, but often understands the value of keeping a melodic core within his massive sounding solos. These ingredients go a long way to helping Rian sound a top melodic rock act, but the consistency with which they can deliver those great elements is what really counts, making ‘Wings’ a cut above a lot of other similar fare at the time of release. If you’re a fan of European melodic hard rock – Frontline, Kent Hilli, Grand Design and others – then this is definitely worth hearing.

Buy the CD here: RIAN – Wings

July 2023