Review Summary: The girl with oceans within is back stronger than ever.
One day you're the singer of a relatively unknown AOR local band called Alyson Avenue and the next day you're fronting one of the biggest symphonic metal acts of the moment in front of thousands of people. Anette Olzon's cinderella story is one for the books, but also one written with blood sweat and many, many tears. It's no secret that the former Nightwish singer has been expelled out of the stage by an angry mob of Tarja Turunen acolytes more than once, and that many critics considered her an unfit replacement for the Finnish diva, but still, as resilient as an icebreaker tanking through the north pole's frozen waters, she slowly melted the ice surrounding her persona singing through many nights and many tours, slowly carving her own little space in the heart of many reticent Nightwish fans. With Dark Passion Play
she accomplished the unimaginable. Not only she gifted the band with a more commercial sound that still retained the band’s essence, in fact, these two albums still remain among the band's most sold releases in their discography, and songs like "Amaranth", "The Poet and the Pendulum" and "Storytime" have become staple classics of Nightwish in its own right.
Unfortunately, every fabled story must meet an end, and Anette's wasn't a smooth one. Forced to abandon the band in the middle of a tour around the US due to reasons that remain debatable from both sides, she vanished in the following years to focus on her family life, which had been impacted greatly by constant touring and the band's busy schedule. Losing her mother to cancer fueled her to release her first solo record in 2014, Shine
, which, sadly enough, didn't see great sales due to her sound veering towards a softer brand of pop rock and the lack of promotion behind the album. It wasn't until 2017, when Sonata Arctica's very own Jani Liimatainen invited her to become part of The Dark Element. With them she regained her mojo back, and the project proved to be fruitful enough to release a second album titled Songs That The Night Sings
a couple of years later. Linking with the actual events, it wasn't until 2020 that she would meet the mind behind this second solo album, Swedish composer and string master Magnus Karlsson, with whom she had worked in a collaborative album Olzon did with Symphony X's Russell Allen for Frontier Records, the German label also behind this solo release.
Karlsson is well known for being a sound architect capable of building vessels that adapt perfectly to the singers he works with. His partnership with American singer and ex-TNT Tony Harnell in Starbreaker remains a personal favorite and honestly, after hearing what he has created for [i[Strong[/i], there’s no doubt that he was the correct choice for this album. Anette Olzon's second full length is probably the heaviest record she has ever done, and that includes Nightwish. Her formula of Abba meets Swedish melodic metal works stunningly well here, but the ghosts from the past don’t disappear that easily, and the shadow of Nightwish, for all that is worth, also looms over Strong
in considerable measure.
As a recently converted fanatic of Nightwish myself, I will admit that I enjoyed hearing those influences as soon as "Bye Bye Bye" opens the album (title and lyrics might be more than a distant “wink wink” to "Bye Bye Beautiful"). With added growling vocals by Olzon's husband Johan Husgafvel (Pain, Cyanide, Plague Divine), and the thunderous drumming of Anders Köllerfors, the opening track shows Olzon riding with the Nordic metal winds once again in a way that feels both fresh and familiar.
The second track, "Sick Of You", wouldn't feel out of place in Dark Passion Play
thanks to its theatrical and sticky chorus but that's maybe the closest this album gets to Olzon's previous adventures with the Finns. Songs like the blistering "Parasite" or the stupidly catchy "Fantastic Fanatic" take her in a slightly different direction, with Karlsson at the wheel, showing how confident and powerful her voice still sounds even after a three-year hiatus. When considering she has been working as a nurse these last three years and that she has just turned 50, it's pretty amazing how consistently good her singing is across the 11 tracks included in this last album, with special mention to some impressive belting in "Catcher Of My Dreams" or the tender performance in the ballad "Sad Lullaby", dedicated to the passing of her father due to Covid.
honors the many virtues of Anette Olzon while channeling the perfect synergy that exists between her and Magnus Karlsson, and it does so with an album in which only the lyrics feel particularly juvenile at times, especially when hatred seems to transpire as the engine of at least half of the songs, tackling overarching themes of domestic violence, modern world horrors and personal griefs with a language that feels a bit shallow at times, leaving no room for interpretation or depth of meaning. In addition, some of Karlsson’s efforts to create a familiar environment result in mirror images. Such is the case of the driving riff of “Fantastic Fanatic”, which reminisces greatly certain “Storytime”, or the use of over-the-top keys and orchestral arrangements like the ones created by certain Tuomas Holopainen. These are but small qualms when looking at the big picture though. The fact that Anette is back in great shape producing music that somehow ties with her era in Nightwish while at the same time expands on it with heavier material can only mean good news for her fanbase, myself included, so I don't know... Let’s rejoice!?