At the risk of repeating myself, as I know I have stated this in many of my past reviews, Swedish guitarist Magnus Karlsson is my favorite songwriter in metal. Everything the man touches is gold. Aside from being a member of Germany’s Primal Fear, Karlsson is responsible for some of the best AOR-tinged melodic metal releases of the past decade, including the first three Allen/Lande albums, Bob Catley’s Immortal, Kiske/Somerville, Place Vendome, Last Tribe, Starbreaker, and his two solo albums recorded as Magnus Karlsson’s Freefall. It’s no wonder that Frontiers Records look to Magnus when they want to put together one of that label’s “all-star” recording lineups. This time around, Karlsson teams up with Lords of Black and Rainbow powerhouse vocalist, Ronnie Romero, and beastly drummer Mike Terrana of Rage, Axel Rudi Pell, MasterPlan fame, to form The Ferrymen, a melodic metal fans dream, filled with soaring Dio-esque vocals, heavy guitar riffs, killer grooves, and anthemic choruses that will leave you breathless. The album was mixed by Simone Mularoni of Italian prog masters DGM, so if you are familiar with Mularoni’s previous work behind the mixing board, you know that sonically, the end result is nothing short of superb.
For those who are unfamiliar with vocalist Ronnie Romero, his style falls somewhere between Ronnie James Dio, Jorn Lande, and Russell Allen, but just the fact that Ritchie Blackmore handpicked him, when Blackmore was forming his new Rainbow lineup will tell you all you need to know. Romero’s raw and powerful vocals are magnificent here, a perfect compliment for Karlsson’s trademark writing style. Terrana is one beast of a drummer, as anyone who has ever seen him perform live can attest, and most importantly, the songwriting is top notch, grade A, masterfully written melodic metal, but from Magnus Karlsson, what else would you expect?
The album begins in stunning fashion with the metallic riffs of End of the Road, a relentless, hard driving song with a strong melodic chorus, accented by keyboards (also performed by Karlsson as well as the bass parts) and multi-layered harmony vocals. Karlsson gets the opportunity to unleash a shredding yet tasteful guitar solo here that never overpowers the song. That in itself, is a great skill that not all guitar players possess. The band then launches into Ferryman, which has an AOR-tinged keyboard intro, but the song soon bares its teeth as a heavy metal classic in the making. The chorus is majestic and soaring. Romero is on fire here!
Fool You All has some killer guitar riffs that sound like classic Jake E. Lee Ozzy era mixed with Whitesnake’s 1987 album. Terrana’s drumwork is so strong here, providing a solid backbone, and Karlsson’s guitar leads are any heavy metal guitar fans dream. Still Standing Up has a haunting intro which leads into another fast paced metal anthem and another great chorus. The keys are expertly utilized here and throughout the album to create dramatic effect and melodic layers but never overpowering the songs.
Now we come to my favorite song on the album. Cry Wolf is a perfect blend of melody and heaviness. The keyboards during the verses have a classic Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force/ Dio vibe to them and that chorus…THAT CHORUS…just magnificent, from Romero’s emotional delivery, to the harmony vocals, to the overall melody, just perfect in every way. I can’t overstate how incredible this song is, worth the price of the album alone.
The album slows down momentarily for the haunting power ballad One Heart, an emotionally charged song with strong vocals and beautiful acoustic guitar work. The Darkest Hour recalls an old school Heaven and Hell Black Sabbath vibe with its old school guitar riffs. How The Story Ends is another riff-heavy power metal track with a great hook and Romero once again delivers with some killer vocal melodies.
Enter Your Dream is a more dramatic mid-tempo song, but it doesn’t lack in power or melody. The chorus picks up the pace and there is a lot of headbanging worthy moments throughout, and of course, a brilliant neo-classical guitar solo thrown in for good measure. Eyes on the Sky has a more power chord based structure to the song which gives the bass guitar parts a more pronounced placement in the song as well as the synths, but never fear guitar enthusiasts, plenty of heavy riffs going on here of course! The chorus is AOR gold as well.
Eternal Night is another power ballad that features some nice piano work and dramatic vocals from Romero. As far as ballads go, I prefer this song to One Heart, in its melodies and hooks. The albums final track, the barnburner Welcome To My Show, begins with Karlsson’s incredible fretwork, and a killer energetic groove courtesy of Terrana’s power behind the drum kit. Romero’s vocals are just awe-inspiring here as he lets loose and shows off his considerable range. Karlsson’s solos are frenzied and tasteful at the same time. The Ferrymen’s debut album certainly ends with a bang. In Greek mythology, Charon is The Ferryman of Hades who carries the souls of the recently deceased across the river Styx, and the price for passage was a silver coin. Transferring this into (tongue and cheek) context for the purposes of this review, I would say that The Ferrymen’s debut album is worth the price for this expertly crafted, melodic metal aural journey.