Under the creative guidance of bassist Alec Mendonca and boasting the vocal prowess of ex-Unruly Child vocalist Philip Bardowell, N.O.W.’s 2010 debut album ‘Force of Nature’ had the makings of an cult AOR classic. It had the well arranged tunes; it had some strong choruses. On the surface, the album had the potential to be very good, but was sadly marred a little due to demo quality recordings (parts of the album were even mastered at different volumes).
‘Force of Nature’ is the debut release by N.O.W., a Brazilian based melodic rock outfit formed by bassist Alec Mendonça. The music was recorded in Rio de Janeiro (aside from a few drum parts recorded in Sweden) and the tapes were then sent to Los Angeles, where ex-Unruly Child vocalist Philip Bardowell laid down his vocal tracks. The resulting album offers thirteen hook-laden songs which push all the right buttons – especially for Philip Bardowell fans.
‘Can’t Make It (Can I)’ opens the album with the band in full-on rock mode, focusing largely on Caio de Carvalho’s guitar riff, although there are moments where some classic sounding AOR keyboard work breaks through. Although this is great, it’s on the slower numbers where the band sounds more comfortable, particularly those with a traditional mid-paced arrangement. ‘Listen To Your Heart’ is the album’s masterpiece. It’s a classic example of AOR – the keyboards take a stabbing approach and the bassline is uncomplicated, but it’s the vocal arrangement which is key: Bardowell sounds absolutely at ease and his lead vocal is fabulous; on the chorus, it has a well-placed backing vocal as a counter-balance. ‘Once That Feeling Comes Again’ is a standard mid-paced rocker, but stands out due to another use of stabbing keyboards, as well as featuring a couple of pleasing keyboard flourishes. ‘You’ begins as a grandiose piano-led piece, where Bardowell could be accused of over-singing. Things settle down with the addition of drums and guitars, at which point the track becomes another in a long line of songs which sound like they’ve come off the AOR factory’s production line. There’s nothing wrong with it, but ‘Force of Nature’ offers better moments.
‘Lonely Soul’ is an excellent soft rocker, which should please fans of Jeff Scott Soto and ‘Long Way From Home’ features some well played pompy keyboards, before settling into a techy 80s groove on its verse; this track sticks out a little, as its stylistically quite different to the other songs. ‘Hail Mary’ opens with some terrific soaring guitar lines, before the main riff kicks in. As with most of N.O.W.’s material, it has a mid-paced approach. The pre-chorus feels a little out of place but a couple of effective guitar fills help to make it work; when the chorus eventually arrives, it resembles melodic rock at its best, with another big hook. ‘I’m Free (But Not Ready To Go)’ is slow-burner of a song which seems to take a long time to get to the chorus. While the chorus is memorable, I would have shoehorned an extra one in, before the two minute mark, especially since verses are in a key not best suited to Bardowell’s voice. Once it hits its stride and he gets to hit the higher notes, though, it becomes another standout track. The closing number comes with a great lead guitar part, full of vibrato. With regard to the lead guitar in the end section, Caio almost steals the show here with some smart fretboard work. It never upstages the song, though, as once again the chorus here is incredibly strong.
Although there are no bad songs here, the (polished) demo quality of the recordings stops the album being truly great (it’s also worth mentioning that for some reason ‘Long Way From Home’ has also been mastered at about a third of the volume of the rest of the disc). However, fans of melodic rock – and particularly fans of the mid-nineties releases via labels like MTM – should find plenty of enjoyment here, even if ‘Force of Nature’ sounds like something you’ve heard a thousand times before.