AOR Heaven [Release Date 27.11.20]
One of the original wave of Scandi AOR bands at the end of the eighties, Alien’s return with their original line up was one of the stories of the early 2010’s. They followed up two stunning Firefest shows, where Jim Jidhed’s golden voice in particular was a revelation, with a comeback album ‘Eternity’, but then nothing for the last six years.
Their latest return sees some change in the camp with the quintet back down to three original members, and a self-confessed heavier, more guitar-based sound. That does not always end well, but with Europe having successfully reinvented themselves and bands like Eclipse managing to peddle a heavier sound without losing the melody, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
However the opening song ‘You Still Burn’ is a shocker; an attempt to get close to the spirit of Glenn Hughes’ heavier moments, it is a strange song, lacking hooks and disjointed. Only partly redeemed by a fine solo from Tony Borg, the biggest disappointment is how Jim’s voice is faint and hoarse in a muddy mix.
‘Night of Fire’ is an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Gary Moore, Dare, Ten and Eclipse at emulating a Lizzy-like celtic romp – it’s potentially enjoyable but ruined by poor production and Jim’s voice is ill-suited to carry it. Sadly this is even more the case on ‘War Scars’, as he wheezes Biff Byford-like through an ill-judged attempt to cut a slice of the Hammerfall market, complete with battle chanting.
Fortunately things do pick up from that disastrous opening trio and ‘Time is Right’ is more traditional Alien with a keyboard intro and big backing vocals on the chorus, and ‘What Are We Fighting For’ an upbeat number, with a groove and a hypnotic riff underpinned by some retro sounding Hammond organ, but neither are the strongest of songs.
‘Into the Future’ has some very Blackmore-esque guitar work from Tony, but again Jim’s voice, which was already starting to sound a little battle weary on ‘Eternity’, is straining and ill-suited to carrying off this type of song.
Yet the listener should not give up hope at this point as strangely, the latter part of the album takes a distinct turn for the better, with their misguided heavier stylings cast aside. ‘Freedom Wind’ and ‘Really Wheeling It’, despite a slightly muddy production, are the first examples of where they successfully marry the melodies that marked their old style to a tougher approach.
‘Fallin Way Down’ and ‘In Her Eyes’ are even better, even if Tony’s guitar solos seem incongruous with the songs. The former at last showcases Jim’s Perry-esque tendencies and the latter has the best hooks on the album, before ‘Children’ ends the album in original fashion, a sparse ballad with an epic solo.
So, a measure of respectability is ultimately restored to an album that is not without merit. However the disastrous opening trio mark a sound so far removed from the Alien trademark and ill-suited to Jim Jidhed’s singing style that the experiment with a shift in direction has to be considered a failure. ***
Review by Andy Nathan
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