The Ferrymen - The Ferrymen - (8.5/10)
Published on December 23, 2017
There are many accusations that could and indeed have been lobbed at Magnus Karlsson; project hopper, virtuoso, classicist, Frontiers label lackey, and the occasional one-trick pony jab. However, two things that can’t be denied is that his projects always include top notch musicians and that his skills as a musician are beyond reproach. Naturally, over his near 20 year career as a signed artist, his songwriting has developed a fair bit and his output has shown varying degrees of competency in said department. It would behoove any onlooker to note the very gradual nature of this development over what now numbers 12 distinct yet similar sounding projects/bands with Magnus’ name attached, and thus divide it into two camps; namely one prior to his ongoing involvement with Primal Fear and the one that followed his first album with them as a full time member in 2009. There is a noticeable change in direction right at the beginning of the latter era where the progressive rock elements were toned down in favor of something more power metal based and symphonic-leaning, though also ironically a bit more busy in the riff department.
Chasing what was arguably Magnus’ most impressive pair of non-Primal Fear outings under the Free Fall moniker is a fairly similarly oriented Frontiers venture in The Ferrymen. In typical fashion, he minimizes the number of studio musicians by tackling bass and keyboard duties alongside his six-string wizardry, resulting in a project that aesthetically quite similar to the Free Fall albums, albeit with more of a symphonic gloss that parallels that last Kiske/Somerville album and features a single vocalist, giving things more of a band feel. Relative newcomer and definite up and comer Ronald Romero, whom some fancy as Chile’s long awaited answer to Ronnie James Dio (he was recently recruited for Ritchie Blackmore’s long awaited revival of Rainbow), is an interesting change of pace for this kind of music, which could be likened to a heavily orchestrated, AOR oriented power metal album with a strong 80s vibe. A good illustration of how his sleazy, grit-laced voice melds with Magnus’ riffs and arrangements would be to a crossroads between Primal Fear, Nightwish, Axel Rudi Pell and Jake E. Lee era Ozzy Osbourne.
From the very first string of sounds, it is fairly clear that this album has a strong affinity with the theatrical and heavy-hitting character of Primal Fear’s latest studio LP Rulebreaker. Fading in with a serene mixture of atmospheric keyboards and an angelic voice, the punchy, mid-paced monster “End Of The Road” sets the tone of an album that keeps the power portion of the power metal label well in sight by dropping some heavy German vibes in the guitar department. This more aggressive flavor receives a fair bit of help from Mike Terrana’s power approach to drumming, which plays well both when the riff work takes on that darker speed metal tone common to Primal Fear and the somewhat lighter and more flowery chorus material that ventures closer to Axel Rudi Pell territory, a band that he took part in for an extended period. Similarly driving and hard-edged numbers that creep into the fray include the more grooving nod to older school heavy metal “The Darkest Hour” and the gymnastic lead guitar display turned crunchy speeder “Welcome To My Show”.
Surprisingly enough, this album proves to be a bit deeper than first impressions would suggest, and the array of varying songs on here explore a fair bit of territory beyond Magnus’ ongoing work with Primal Fear. The title song “Ferryman” leans a bit heavy on the symphonic and piano-driven elements and comes off like something that could have been heard on Nightwish’s Once had Johnny Gioeli sang on it and there’d been guitar solo work more palpable to what Emppu did onWishmaster. Along with more mid-paced anthems like “Cry Wolf” and the somewhat faster yet fanfare-based “Enter Your Dream”, the side of the band presented here is a bit more nuanced musically and vocally driven, though the riffs continue to be surprisingly busy and intricate. By contrast, Magnus takes a few occasions to showcase how he’d have made a fitting replacement for Zakk Wylde in Ozzy’s fold a few years back on riff monsters like “Fool You All” and “Eyes On The Sky”. Amid all of this flashy musicianship and epic glory is a lone acoustic ballad “One Heart” that launches this album’s retro-80s credentials in the stratosphere and reminds heavily of several monumental ballad moments Axel Rudi Pell shared with us in the early 2000s.
Anyone with an inclination towards masterful guitar shredding and hook-oriented songwriting will naturally be drawn to nearly all of the material that Magnus Karlsson has been involved in since his late 90s entry into the metal world. However, The Ferrymen is probably the most potent example of how well his songwriting and playing translates into winning results for anyone who wants a project that listens like a live-oriented band rather than a studio project, an ironic outcome considering that he has not toured much of late. It finds a truly awesome front man in Ronald Romero who brings a far stronger sense of unity and order to Karlsson’s eclectic array of songs than the revolving door of big names that have been cycling through his career since the mid-2000s. In this sense, it recalls the earlier days when Last Tribe was active, but with a far more mature and fancy guitarist leading the charge into melodic metal glory. It’s unclear whether this project will go the way of Planet Alliance and The Codex and be a non-prolific, one shot deal, or if it will see regular output in fairly short order like Free Fall and Allen/Lande, but hopefully it will prove to be the latter.