Kiske / Somerville - City Of Heroes - (7.5/10)
Published on December 21, 2015
Michael Kiske has been something of an enigma since his departure from Helloween, going into a state of apparent musical limbo for the better part of two decades, yet always finding himself as a session/support vocalist for various metal projects while pursuing a lighter rock solo project. This state of ambiguity started to fade with the release of this project’s debut in 2010, though the super-group metal duet project Kiske/Somerville seemed to be more of a temporary experiment at the time that may well have ended with a singular release. Then again, while Magnus Karlsson (who shares principle composer duties for this outfit with Mat Sinner) has frequently hopped from one band to the next, his projects have tended to have a greater degree of staying power than a number of other would be metal mercenaries. But for all the questions surrounding this somewhat controversial concept of an arguably pop-like male/female duet format, not the least of which being would it release more material after five years, City Of Heroes leaves little speculation on the question of consistency.
Naturally, there is some degree of contrast that comes about on a follow up album when a number of key instrumentalists leave the fold, but this album comes in an extremely predictable package for those who are familiar with its predecessor or most of Magnus Karlsson’s other projects. The key difference is that this album is a bit more insular, largely due to Sander Gommans being absent both as a guitarist and secondary composer, resulting in something that’s a bit closer to a consistent power metal album in its most audience friendly and easy to digest incarnations. Certain select songs such as the title track “City Of Heroes”, “Open Your Eyes” and “Last Goodbye” have all the trappings of up beat audience fanfare, complete with blaring melodic guitar hooks reminiscent of Gary Moore’s archetype anthem “Out In The Fields”. Similar yet slightly more atmospheric musical tales are told on “Run With The Dream” and “Rising Up”, showcasing Karlsson’s occasional fixation with dense keyboard overlays and electronic gimmicks that first manifested back on his long silence project The Codex. It’s something of an interesting mix to hear the serene character of Amanda Somerville’s voice and the keyboard work with Karlsson’s shred happy solos and a fairly impressive power display out of newly recruited drummer Veronika Lukešová.
Though in some respects this album could be regarded as superior to the debut, particularly in that it shows a degree of refinement and power during its high points that make certain songs on here better than the strong points of before, as a collective whole it does suffer from some glaring flaws. Arguably chief among these is a pair of extremely drab and contrived ballads in “Ocean Of Tears” and “After The Night Is Over, the former being extremely sappy and cut from more of a light rock formula that almost passes for a Michael Bolton knockoff, whereas the latter is a bit more serious but just sort of coasts along and doesn’t really hit any sort of high point. On the other side of the lackluster coin is a poor finisher of a rocker in “Right Now” that crosses dangerously close to a bad version of Journey, featuring a banal chorus that could maybe work at a faster tempo and a generally stagnant riff set that’s masked in layered clean guitars and vocals. Essentially this album starts off very strong and then starts to lose steam about half way through in the songwriting department, though the vocal performances of Kiske and Somerville and Karlsson’s impressive lead guitar work stay pretty much on point the entire album.
This doesn’t really come across as being an outright triumph (despite the implication in the album’s title) nor an abysmal failure, but more of a middle of the road album that works well in moderate doses, which has generally been the case with a number of Magnus Karlsson’s various ancillary projects over the past seven or eight years. He always associates himself with top notch musicians and never slouches on putting together a well produced and polished product, but his songwriting suffers from being devoted a bit too much to AOR and traditional songwriting formulas that make for an extremely predictable LP. It’s worth a listen, particularly for the first half of the album, but Kiske’s work on the latest Unisonic release and Karlsson’s latest Free Fall album were stronger and will probably sit better with those wanting something a bit more metallic.