To fans of melodic heavy metal, the names Russell Allen ( Symphony X ) and Jorn Lande (Ark, Masterplan) should be familiar as two of the biggest powerhouse vocalists in the metal genre today bar none. In 2005 the two vocalists teamed up with guitarist/songwriter extraordinaire Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Starbreaker, Last Tribe) to release the debut album from Allen/Lande titled The Battle. Two years later, the trio returned with the sequel The Revenge, and completed the trilogy in 2010 with The Showdown. Reviewers and fans universally praised all three albums for their melodic hooks, soaring vocals, and heavy guitar riffs. Flash forward four years later and the last thing that anyone expected was a new Allen/Lande album, but that’s exactly what Frontier Records is bringing you on October 21st (October 17, 2014 in Europe). However, there is one major difference, the new album, titled The Great Divide, is missing one key element…Magnus Karlsson. Replacing Karlsson as chief songwriter/guitarist is former Stratovarius axe slinger Timo Tolkki. Since leaving Stratovarius, Tolkki’s track record has been spotty at best (the last Timo Tolkki’s Avalon was dreadfully boring), so when I heard he was taking over the reigns of the fourth Allen/Lande album, I was skeptical to say the least.
Thankfully, after listening to the album several times through, my fears were mostly unfounded. The albums first track Come Dream With Me is a melodic rocker with Allen and Lande sounding just as potent as ever. Jorn takes the majority of the lead vocals on Down From The Mountain, a guitar heavy song with a monster riff and huge chorus. Tolkki’s neo-classical style of songwriting is more apparent on Strato-esque In The Hands of Time. Solid Ground is an upbeat hard rock song with a killer chorus that reaches another level thanks to Jorn Lande’s powerful pipes.
The albums first single/lyric video Lady of Winter is where things get a little controversial for me. The intro piano and chugging guitar rhythm combined with the vocal melody is eerily similar to Savatage’s Edge of Thorns. So much so that Tolkki may owe Jon Oliva some songwriting royalties…but I digress. As the song progresses the vocal melodies of Lande and Allen are strong enough to make me forget the similarities to the Savatage classic. Dream of Tomorrow is another hard driving metal song with Tolkki’s neo-classical songwriting touches that has melody, heavy guitars, and soaring vocals.
The Hymn to the Fallen is a mid-tempo headbanger with a huge anthemic chorus sung with power and emotion by Lande and Allen. It’s also quite possibly my favorite track on the album. The album slows down on the title track, which the clean guitar part in the intro reminds me of a combination of the KISS classic I Still Love You and Dio-era Black Sabbath. As a showcase for the powerful vocal talents of both Allen and Lande the song is a winner, however it does drag on a bit despite a scorching mid-song guitar solo from Tolkki.
Reaching the Stars as a song is rather forgettable but is saved only by the lead vocals. The albums final moment is a ballad titled Bittersweet and is another head scratcher for this reviewer. The song is almost a note for note copy of the brilliant Allen/Lande song Master of Sorrow from The Revenge. Don’t get me wrong, Russell Allen’s vocals are perfection, but this song has already been written and recorded. I’m not sure if the similarities to Master of Sorrow are intentional or just a coincidence but it was apparent enough that it warranted a mention in the analysis of the Tolkki era of Allen/Lande compared to Magnus Karlsson’s previous work with the vocal duo. To summarize, The Great Divide is not the train wreck I was expecting. It’s actually quite good and worth a listen, but never reaches the heights of the original trilogy.