It’s hard to record a bad album when you’re one of the most unique and sovereign voices in heavy metal. This is true for fellow Swedish vocal valiant Jørn as much as it is for Nils Patrik Johansson, releasing his first album with his eponymous solo band. While Jørn Lande’s powerful voice can’t fail expectations, his songwriting sure can. Lucky for him, his voice carried some of his rather monotonous solo albums in the same vein that Nils Patrik Johansson’s voice made his band Astral Doors‘ albums around 2010, even though lacking in songwriting, still enjoyable to listen to. With consecutive releases, Astral Doors recovered to old strength and NPJ proved to be exploding with creativity, fueling both Astral Doors and all-star band Civil War. Having left Civil War in 2016 to spend more time with his family, NPJ is still commited to the metal scene with Astral Doors, writing material for a follow-up to his band Lion‘s Share‘s 2009 album Dark Hours and now releasing his solo album. Hej Nils, while you’re being creative, how about you gather with Wuthering Height‘s Erik Ravn again? Those were some sweet records.
Throughout his career, NPJ built his reputation with a trademark sound, both musically as well as vocally. Both in Astral Doors and Lion’s Share Johansson celebrated down-to-earth melodic heavy metal with riffs heavier than steel, pounding drums and his forceful tenor, the latter oftentimes earning him comparisons to the great and late Ronnie James Dio. His new solo album doesn’t deviate from this frequently trod path, which is a safe bet to fulfill fans’ expectations. Fortunately, NPJ’s solo material doesn’t drop in quality compared to his bands’ releases like the earlier mentioned Mr. Lande’s records do, which is probably in part due to NPJ being a great songwriter who wrote big parts of Astral Doors‘ and Civil War‘s music, while Mr. Lande’s truly great releases such as Masterplan albums, Avantasia records and his Allen/Lande vocal battles with Symphony X‘s Russel Allen all were written by other songwriters.
With that said, you absolutely know what to expect, which is the same music you heard on all other albums Nils Patrik Johansson enriched with his voice. Classic heavy metal style tracks located in mid-tempo realms rather than high-speed European power metal sprees, some really catchy choruses and ear-sawing riffs, all adorned with Johansson’s soaring power metal melodies and screams, similar in power and delivery to Sweden’s Joakim Brodén and in tone to Dio, in lack of a better comparison. Which is good, as Johansson’s voice is truly unique; listen to any of his records in the blind and you just know it is him.
In songwriting, Evil Deluxe positions itself somewhere in the middle of Astral Doors quality – powerful, catchy tunes, but not the freshest ideas. For the most part, Evil Deluxe could have been released by Astral Doors at any other point in their career, be it 2000 or 2017. As such, it feels like just another Nils Patrik Johansson record much like Jørn Lande’s solo albums are stagnating in innovation as well, even though most of those are downright boring. Evil Deluxe avoids this fate as even at its most mediocre, for example with metal homage hymns “Kings And Queens” and “Circle In The Sky” which neither exceed in novelty nor in tempo, it still is a better than average record. Where Evil Deluxe really shines is with its more than usual extravagant tracks such as the almost 8 minute long “Estonia”, the nearly as long “How The West Was Won” and the power metal anthems “September Black” and “Dark Evolution”, which showcase a whole different, more Sabaton-style keyboard-heavy side to Johansson’s songwriting similar to Civil War.
Evil Deluxe will be a real delight for fans of NPJ’s records as it really satisfies all possible demands – the typical hard rock/metal split tracks known from Astral Doors, faster tracks akin to Civil War and some longer, more flamboyant songs to top off the album. None of those ideas are unknown to fans of NPJ’s other bands, but all of those ideas will make them happy. Is there anything more satisfying than getting exactly what you expect and wish for? Nils Patrik Johansson surely delivers on his fans’ expecations and wishes by recording an album typical for him which adds just another highlight to his long discography of great albums.