The lengthy history of LARS ERIC MATTSSON is wrought with change, so much so that a jump forward from his early days in the late 80s to the present day would see a shift in sound from a modest form of DEEP PURPLE meets JUDAS PRIEST emulation with a fair share of guitar virtuosity, to something that could best be summed up as a highly progressive mix of DREAM THEATER, PAUL GILBERT and LACUNA COIL. As far fetched as the latter combination of sounds may seem, it is precisely what unfolds in MATTSSON’S latest offering “Tango”, which is a veritable manifesto of nearly every different twist on Progressive Rock and Metal imaginable.
While this is not the farthest cry from this outfit’s archaic 80s sound, this album consists primarily of the quintessential mishmash of style hopping epics that would not have been conceived of by any Progressive outfit from that time period, but are not unheard of today. Often this approach to songwriting only appeals to the most rabid of high-browed, pony-tails and tucked in t-shirts, genre eclecticism enthusiasts. However, a good amount of MATTSSON’S past approach of formulaic composing shines through and tempers most of this album into something that is somewhat accessible, though perhaps still out of the league of anyone who was devoted to “Eternity” and “No Surrender”.
Although a good amount of the elements at play here lend to a marriage of Instrumental Progressive Music and standard Heavy Metal, the two most active ingredients are the vocals and the collective utilization of the entire band, as opposed to individual instrumentalist showboating. Throughout the durations of long-winded compositions in “Never Stand Down” and “The Grand Escape”, intercessions of Jazz Ballad, riff happy Speed Metal and Neo-Classical methods battle each other for prominence, anchored into place by Adrienn Antal’s beautiful soprano. There is a strong parallel in vocal character to Tarja Turunen, perhaps due in part to hailing from the same region, though she uses her range in a much more reserved fashion and doesn’t have a full string orchestra behind her. Intercessions are also made by male vocalist Björn Lodin, who sounds a bit plainer and less operatic, but essentially Adrienn owns this album when there isn’t an interlude or lead break in process.
Surprisingly enough, in spite of all the business going on here, the place where this album really comes into its own and lands a couple of potential classics are where they keep things simple. The period music inspired title song “Tango” gets the job done with very little effort, offering up a simple verse/chorus approach that allows the vocals to work their magic and also affords Mattsson an opportunity to be original by merging together 2 distant styles that are not normally considered compatible. “The Scream Of My Soul” and “Slave To The Road” take a similar approach with a fusion of Jazz and Hard Rock, the former being a bit more ballad-like and turned into a beautiful song of longing by Antal’s melodies, while the latter has more of a bluesy, attitude driven delivery out of Lodin.
While not quite the greatest thing to come out of MATTSSON’S arsenal of varied repertoire, this is something that will probably find a loving home in most Progressive and guitar oriented circles. The vocal work gives it sort of a unique quirk, but musically it isn’t too distant from what a lot of orthodox DREAM THEATER fans might dabble in while staying within their comfort zone of many notes, many styles, and zero apologies for either. Lion Music has prided itself on housing some of the best bands in the business, and this does little to contradict that sentiment.
(Online August 3, 2010)