Jorn Lande & Trond Holter present Dracula – Swing of Death
Release Date: January 27, 2015
Blown-a-way! Lande and Holter’s sonic vision of Dracula sounds like Dio meets Alice Cooper on the stage of Phantom of the Opera. It is brilliantly heavy, melodic, fun, campy, and contagious. 2015 has not even begun yet and this is already an album-of-the-year contender. I am supposed to save all of this praise for the summation of the review, but Swing of Death is just that damn good. It serves as both a solid heavy metal album, and a devilishly creative concept production.
Vocalist Jorn Lande delivers his most encompassing work to date as the voice of Vlad Dracul, aka Vlad the Impaler. Trond Holter offers up some of the most addictive and memorable riffs and solos, which play perfectly into the songs’ storylines. Holter also serves as the pianist for the record. The female vocals for the voice of the character Mina/Lucy, are performed with flair and precision by Norwegian singer Lena Fløitmoen. Bernt Jansen (bass) and Per Morten Bergseth (drums) serve as the rhythm section for this intriguingly dark and exciting journey.
The waves crash upon the shore and lightening illuminates the sky to lead us into the tolling bell that opens “Hands of Your God”. The slow, grinding tempo of the song lends an ominous feel. The track sets the story’s tone. Lande’s voice is edgy and menacing. The listener has been warned.
Lande’s intro for “Walk on Water” helps one picture Vlad, top hat in hand as he stands under a street lamp, orating his tale. It is the first of many pieces that carry a grand, epic flair. The track breaks into a mid-tempo head-banger that would feel right at home on any Dio album. The lead guitars have an almost renaissance feel to them, which then rolls into a Thin Lizzy-style dual harmony.
A jazzy little tack piano kicks off the title track giving the listener the first real punch of camp. The vibe takes us into a bawdy vaudevillian era. The chorus, big and sweeping, might have fit right into the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Grease…on steroids. “Swing of Death” is an absolutely delightful and rollicking romp.
Holter’s starkly poignant piano opens up “Masquerade Ball” and scores the undoing of Mina. “Save Me” showcases the powerful vocal presence of Fløitmoen. The track is equal parts metal bombast and Broadway grandiloquence.
A swingy guitar groove drives “River of Tears”, which finds Lena and Jorn trading off on vocals. Another huge, hooky chorus on this one. The breakdown finds Lande trying to woo his lady-love: “Come and lay down on my bed, tomorrow morning when you wake up you’ll be dead.” Holter offers up some of his most inspired fretwork down the stretch on this track.
The eerie piano and tolling bell carry us into Lande’s ode to Mina, “Queen of the Dead”. The undulating guitar riff and towering vocal performance by Lande, recall Whitesnake in many respects. The guitar work in the second half is blistering, and the ascending feel of the song will raise the hair on your skin. A stand out track on an album packed with mammoth cuts.
On and on the record goes. There is not a weak track on Swing of Death. To be any more effusive in my praise would sound like hyperbole. I imagine that somewhere Jon Oliva is listening to this record with a mix of rapture and jealousy, wishing he had done it first. Records like Swing of Death help keep the torch of melodic metal lit. Lande and Holter have matched imagination and talent to create a darkly whimsical and captivating metal opera.