ISSA – Another World

Ever since her breakthrough on the melodic rock scene in 2010 with ‘Sign of Angels’, Scandinavian vocalist Issa Oversveen has been one of Frontiers’ Records most bankable – and prolific – artists. Delivering the equivalent of a new album pretty much every two years, she’s kept herself in the spotlight, gained a lot of positive press from online sources, and become something of a fan favourite. Even 2023’s ‘Lights of Japan’ – her weakest album to date, due to a rather hard production sound – was home to a few great AOR tracks, and over the years, her voice has clearly held up very well.

In many ways, her 2024 release ‘Another World’ presents Issa in a very business-like fashion. Its strongest songs mine her preferred 80s melodic rock sound, and its production values – handled by The Martin Brothers, as opposed to Frontiers Records’ workhorse Alessandro Del Vecchio, or (thankfully) Michele Guitoli who made 2023’s ‘Lights of Japan’ sound far too loud – are far more sympathetic to Issa’s overall style. What this means, of course, is that ‘Another World’ is often a very safe record, but fans likely won’t have a problem with that.

An instant standout, ‘Armed & Dangerous’ kicks in with a chunky mid tempo riff which calls back to great melodic rock of yesteryear from the likes of Aviator, before building itself up to something a little bigger on the chorus, where Issa takes her huge, soaring vocals into a musical landscape that might’ve suited Valentine back in the day. The mix of multi-tracked vocals on a great hook and a solid guitar sound courtesy of Tom Martin really help to sell the track, despite it sounding like a thousand things from the genre’s 1984-87 peak. Even better, ‘Kick of Fire’ places Martin’s chunky guitar sound against a really crisp keyboard riff, which seems even keener to flaunt an early 80s heart than the best moments of the Streetlight album from 2023. In fact, James Martin’s synths are so uplifting they could easily have been dropped in from a much older AOR track, and his clean tones are a perfect match for a strong and buoyant vocal throughout. When dropping into something a little pompier between the verses, he brings the confidence of old Touch recordings to the fore. In short, the arrangement here is near perfect melodic rock/AOR in a massively retro style. Issa’s chosen tones are equally unafraid of the old school, and armed with a very Swedish melody on a really infectious chorus, it’s easy to hear why she has become one of the scene’s best loved figures. This really is superior to most of the material from her first two albums.

A little rockier, but clinging firmly to an 80s thread, the brilliant ‘Lost & Lonely’ works another mid tempo groove, before presenting a soaring lead break, a couple of twin lead guitars and a few bell-like keys to create something that could’ve been a massive hit in 1986. It’s barely a few bars in before it drowns the listener in its hugely nostalgic sound, but heard in a bigger voice than before, Issa clearly relishes every moment here. The end result isn’t a million miles away from something you might have found on Robin Beck’s ‘Trouble Or Nothin’ debut, or even Dante Fox’s ‘Under Suspicion’, but despite its obviously safe approach, it has a great spirit.

One of the weaker tunes, ‘Got A Hold On Me’ sounds a little cheap with its synthesized bass sound, fake handclaps and electronic percussion moments, but scratch beneath the surface of something that sounds like a demo with overdubs, and you’ll find another decent AOR track. Issa curls her voice around some softer, longer notes which shows a little more of her range, and James’s busy keyboard fills explore more pomp from yesteryear. By the time the chorus comes around a second time, there are hints of something Jeff Scott Soto could turn into a classic, and the counter melodies during the coda are a nice touch. It’s fine, but there’s a feeling that this could’ve been better. It’s partly that tunes like ‘Lost & Lonely’ hit their stride with a much greater confidence, of course…but there’s no excuse for those electronic/disco beats from 1979 in 2024. Luckily, that’s swiftly followed by ‘A Second Life’, a tune where a jubilant keyboard hook sounds like something pulled from a pop hit from 1984, before Issa takes centre stage with a massive AOR/soft rock vocal that’s as good as any of her performances here. As with ‘Lost & Lonely’ the debt to the likes of Robin Beck can’t be understated, but her huge cry set against some unashamedly bright keys creates a near perfect AOR tune that sounds like something inspired by a feelgood movie from the mid 80s. Tom’s lead guitar work makes a late entrance on this particular number, but sliding between a clean, soaring tone and a few bars of chunky rhythm work for his featured solo, he shows off a knack for filling space effortlessly, rather than opting for a more grandiose approach.

The title cut rocks things up with a blend of hard edged rhythms and twin lead guitars, taking Issa’s vocals into the realms of something that occasionally sounds like something closer to Billy Idol’s classic work, before branching off into another AOR chorus where tinkling keys pepper the arrangement behind some huge guitars. The arrangement is so busy that Issa is actually in danger of being upstaged by her backing band on the verses, but she makes the very best of a simple hook by sharing a few big notes in the late 80s melodic rock tradition. A little rockier than most of the album without feeling out of place, ‘Another World’ could slot into a couple of Issa’s past works fairly easily, and offers another highlight here. Another rare mis-step, ‘Only In The Dark’ places a mournful vocal over fake sounding keys and a “sax sound” that’s almost certainly also of a keyboard persuasion, which sells the “obligatory ballad” short. It’s only when Tom Martin steps forth with a crisp sounding acoustic guitar solo that things improve, and with Issa eventually summoning a huge voice for the climax, the listener gets a sense of what could’ve been, but by then, it’s too little, too late. Given how well Oversveen presents herself on this album’s AOR bangers and couple of rockier tracks, the classic AOR ballad should’ve been a shoo-in for being an album highlight, so that just shows how vital a great arrangement is, and in terms of sequencing, this rather flimsy offering has the knock-on effect of making ‘Never Sleep Alone’ sound even bigger. For fans of Issa’s tougher side, the marriage of chugging rhythm guitars on the aforementioned track along with Issa’s crying tone will make it an instant favourite; also with the lead break channelling more of a melodic metal style, there is some great music to be heard, as hints of the more melodic Heavens Edge fare collide with the usual influences with great effect. Naturally, it doesn’t add anything completely new to the Issa oeuvre, but with some strong vocals and a tough, repetitive hook, it works very well indeed.

Issa never really thinks outside of the box on ‘Another World’, but she’s in superb voice throughout and clearly been given some strong material to work with. This, naturally, results in the kind of album that easily stands alongside her earlier ‘Run With The Pack’ (2018) and ‘Queen of Broken Hearts’ (2021) in terms of overall quality, even with a couple of tracks that miss the mark. A sharper production makes it better than 2023’s ‘Lights of Japan’, too. With ‘Kick of Fire’, ‘A Second Life’ and ‘Lost & Lonely’ ranking among Oversveen’s finest recordings to date, and most of the remainder representing more than enjoyable melodic rock fare, despite ‘Another World’ often feeling predictable, fans will certainly not be disappointed.

Buy the CD here.

May 2024

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