It’s been four long years since Norwegian Viking vocal god Jorn Lande released his last studio album under the JORN banner (2013’s Traveller), but in that time, Lande has been far from complacent, recording Dracula Swing of Death rock opera album with Trond Holter in 2015 as well as recording and touring the world as part of Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia. It was also in that time that Lande started to create a vision for his ninth studio release as JORN. The idea was to create something new, fresh, and exciting. To accomplish this, Jorn enlisted the talents of bassist Mat Sinner (Primal Fear, Sinner, Kiske/Somerville), Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline, Revolution Saints) as keyboardist and album producer, drummer Francesco Iovino (Primal Fear) and guitarist extraordinaire Alex Beyrodt (Primal Fear, Voodoo Circle). The result of this heavyweight collaboration is Life on Death Road, released on June 2nd through Frontiers Records.
As a huge fan of Jorn Lande’s incredible vocal work with Masterplan, Ark, Avantasia, Ayreon, the superb Allen/Lande albums, and his solo work, I have to admit that the last few JORN solo albums have felt stale and uninspired from a musical standpoint. No matter how great Jorn’s pipes sound, the songwriting didn’t match his incredible talent. The last JORN album I truly enjoyed was 2008’s Lonely Are The Brave. I felt for a long time that Jorn’s unique voice was best used within a collaborative project, as his work with Avantasia has been arguably the best of his incredible career.
So when I heard the announcement of a brand new JORN album with this talented new band of seasoned musicians, I was extremely hyped to say the least. Right out of the gate, the title track, Life On Death Road hits like a ton of bricks with melody, hooks, a driving beat, and Lande sounding refreshed and rejuvenated with this all-star lineup. I’ve seen people using the moniker Primal Jorn to describe the sound on the new album, but I think Voodoo Lande would be more appropriate, as the musical style on Life On Death Road leans closer to the bluesy hard rock approach of Voodoo Circle than the metal heaviness of Primal Fear.
Hammered To the Cross (The Business) opens with a drum fill by Iovino that is identical to the Stryper classic, Free, so much so that I had to do a double-take to make sure my ITunes hadn’t made an error. The main riff and guitar solos by Beyrodt are sublime, as are Lande’s powerhouse trademark vocals. The up-tempo Hammond organ-tinged rocker, Love Is The Remedy is a classic in the making with a catchy soaring chorus. Dreamwalker is a more AOR focused song with beautifully arranged piano and acoustic guitars to compliment Lande’s golden pipes. Fire To The Sun has a massive riff that is reminiscent of classic Jake E. Lee Ozzy (think Bark At The Moon era) meets John Sykes Whitesnake. This song is an absolute monster with Lande’s snarling growls complementing the heavy bluesy rock perfectly. Beyrodt’s fiery fretwork here left me awestruck, showing why he is one of the best axemen in hard rock and metal today.
Insoluble Maze (Dreams In The Blindness) combines the heaviness of early Sabbath with a bluesy edge while I Walked Away goes full-on blues rock with fantastic results, showing that vocally, Lande and company can indeed do it all with ease. The Slippery Slope (Hangman’s Rope) is another hard rocking song with Jorn’s melodic vocals reaching for the stratosphere with intensity and passion and features another killer guitar riff and solos from Beyrodt. Devil You Can Drive finds Lande channeling his inner David Coverdale with a bluesy delivery and some technical and powerful drum work by Iovino.
The album slows down for the power ballad The Optimist, with incredibly haunting and soulful vocals, accompanied by a gorgeous piano, acoustic guitar, and lush symphonic arrangement. Man of the 80’s appropriately begins with a riff that would have sounded at home on an early Dokken album and lande paying tribute to a bygone era when music was more of a craft than a commodity. Anyone else would sound silly reciting some of thee lyrics but Lande sounds so sincere he makes it work perfectly. The albums final track, Blackbirds, has a Slow And Easy Whitesnake vibe, beginning with a slow, soft bluesy refrain, and kicking into high gear with a nasty guitar riff and powerhouse drumming and Jorn’s gritty vocals falling somewhere between Coverdale and Ronnie James Dio in his delivery.
It will be interesting to see if Lande takes his new band out on the road as that would be a show for the ages. After several spins of Life On Death Road, I am happy and proud to say that JORN is back and sounding better than ever.