Heart Healer – The Metal Opera by Magnus Karlsson
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 12/03/2021
Running Time: 61:00
Review by Simon Black
When he’s not pumping out the riffage on Primal Fear, Magnus Karlsson has a whole bunch of other side bands keeping him busy. This latest project is an incredibly ambitious Metal Opera but musically it’s been handled slightly differently from similar efforts within the genre. Before I analyse that, a little on the definition of the genre itself, as frustratingly put the words ‘Opera’ and ‘Metal’ together and automatically many Metal heads just tune out, which is a shame.
A Metal Opera is not to be confused with (largely Italian) Operatic Metal. The latter is usually a combination of a Metal band with Neo-Classical instrumental stylistic tropes and a vocal delivery which fuses the Metal with the sort of delivery style that might tread the boards at Covent Garden. The former is usually more varied, subtle and probably had its birth with Tobias Sammet’s original Avantasia record twenty years ago. In this form, the ‘opera’ part refers to the way that the albums (which by their nature are nearly always conceptual) tell their story vocally through a series of characters, given voice by a whole bunch of contributing guest artists around a core central voice. The distinction between genres is important before you make that decision to tune out, as Operatic Metal is very much trapped by the Neo-Classical form, whereas a Metal Opera can really deliver the Metal part using almost any form of Metal.
In this instance the two sub-genres in the driving seat are very much an even mixture of Melodic, Power and Symphonic styles. The traditional rock sounds are almost entirely delivered by Karlsson who delivers all of the guitar, keyboard and bass parts, alongside drummer Anders Köllerfors. The other two named instrumentalists are delivering a full time cello and violin into the mix which makes the Symphonic sound much richer and more authentic than the more keyboard orientated synthesiser sounds many other acts opt for. For that core Metal sound we have strong Melodic Metal with, as you would expect from the Primal Scream stalwart a very strong Power Metal sensibility, giving it a good Euro-Metal bedrock on which to build, which predominate over the Symphonic.
But although the musical contributions are really strong, it’s the absolutely fantastic vocal deliveries that make this record stand out. In this case the central narrator voice is admirably delivered by Seven Spires frontwoman Adrienne Cowan (who is ironically enough also a part of the touring version of Avantasia, amongst others). The cast of characters also includes guest turns from Netta Laurenne (Smackbound), Youmna Jreissati (Ostura), Ailyn Gimenez (Her Chariot Awaits, Sirenia), Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast), Margarita Monet (Edge of Paradise) and erstwhile Nightwish singer Anette Olzon. Each and every one of those performances is strongly delivered, top notch and powerfully emotional, but for me it’s Netta Laurenne’s more bluesy delivery (whose performance on Smackdown’s “20/20” album was quite exceptional) and the more edgy turn from Battle Beast’s Noora Louhino most notably on ‘Evil’s Around The Corner’ that really hit the top spots over the more Symphonic and cleanly delivered tracks throughout the rest of the record.
Having given each voice the chance to shine, Karlsson brings them all together for a powerful finale with ‘This Is Not The End’, and I am slightly saddened at the thought that this project is unlikely to be delivered live – although I said the same thing about Avantasia and got happily proven wrong, so never say never. Strong, well-written and powerfully delivered, this has some quite exceptional vocal delivery and it’s worth taking the time to unpick the story.
‘Into The Unknown’ feat. Noora Louhimo (Official Video)
02. Come Out Of The Shadow
03. Who Can Stand All Alone
04. Back To Life
05. Into The Unknown
06. When The Fire Burns Out
07. Evil’s Around The Corner
10. This Is Not The End
Magnus Karlsson – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards
Daniel Tengberg – Cello
Anders Köllerfors – Drums
Erika Sävström Engman – Violin
Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires, Masters of Ceremony)
Ailyn Gimenez (Her Chariot Awaits, ex-Sirenia)
Youmna Jreissati (Ostura)
Netta Laurenne (Smackbound)
Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast)
Margarita Monet (Edge of Paradise)
Anette Olzon (Dark Element, Ex-Nightwish)
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