REVIEW: Heart Healer – The Metal Opera by Magnus Karlsson

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Collaborations in the metal scene are common occurrences, from a neat featuring on a song to full albums comprised of guest artists (see AVANTASIA, AVALON, or AYREON). What veteran Swedish guitarist Magnus Karlsson has created with the ambitious project HEART HEALER falls pretty much in the second category, with a small difference – all the seven main cast members are ladies. The project debut, “The Metal Opera by Magnus Karlsson,” is out on March 12th, 2021, via Frontiers Music.

As with anything that is titled, or in any way promoted as a “metal opera” and has an overarching storyline with the lead vocalists playing different parts, this album is quite dramatic and theatrical. It also has a strong symphonic layer, which enriches the underlying melodic metal compositions while the vocals add a whole array of emotions and moods, from feeling lost and alone to finding your path in life. To bring this story to life, Magnus Karlsson together with label boss Serafino Perugino enlisted both established artists and up-and-coming talents from the Frontiers roaster – Adrienne Cowan (SEVEN SPIRES), Netta Laurenne (SMACKBOUND), Youmna Jreissati (OSTURA), Ailyn (HER CHARIOT AWAITS), Noora Louhimo (BATTLE BEAST), Margarita Monet (EDGE OF PARADISE), and Anette Olzon (THE DARK ELEMENT).

The story revolves around Adrienne Cowan’s character, the titular heart healer, who is on a quest to find out who she is, while also testing out her healing powers and meeting all sorts of people along the way. As such, the album opens with “Awake,” which sets up the lyrical plotlines and welcomes the listener into this world with lush backing arrangements, slick guitar melodies, interesting percussions, and Adrienne Cowan’s sweet and melodic vocals. Whoever heard SEVEN SPIRES’ latest album, 2020’s “Emerald Seas,” knows what she can do vocally. Halfway through, the mood changes as if something ominous is about to happen but soon calms down and continues in the same serene way it began. Second track “Come Out of the Shadows” picks up this dark melodic motif that something’s not quite right, as Youmna JreissatiMargarita Monet, and Netta Laurenne try to figure out what’s going on. The backing instrumental and orchestral arrangements only add intensity to the track. A gentle piano melody and strings open up “Who Can Stand All Alone,” a powerful duet between Adrienne Cowan and Anette Olzon supported by a groovy guitar line and pounding drums. Up next, “Back to Life” is a more theatrical number with robust instrumentals and a catchy chorus section as Margarita MonetAilyn, and Adrienne Cowan showcase their vocal talents.

The first single released, “Into the Unknown,” is a dark and brooding piece of music with occasional moments of serenity, carried forward by Noora Louhimo’s powerful and raspy vocals. Strings and piano set the stage for “When the Fire Burns Out,” a symphonic piece that is made even more dramatic by the orchestral arrangements that adorn the track as Youmna Jreissati, Ailyn, and Netta Laurenne play their parts with gusto and passion. Noora Louhimo and Adrienne Cowan go head-to-head in “Evil’s Around the Corner,” a number that feels more straightforwardly metal, coupled with a rather catchy melody. A gloomy undertone is present throughout “Mesmerized,” another solo showpiece that features Anette Olzon’s bright and melodious vocals dancing on top of a layer of chugging guitars and pulsating drums. Foreboding strings open the penultimate track, “Weaker,” and can be heard throughout it, as Adrienne Cowan’s character finally understands the price she has to pay for using her powers, and comes to terms with everything, making for an emotional performance. The epic “This Is Not the End,” closes the album on a rather uplifting and energetic note as the cast blends their voices into a beautiful choir.     

Since the tracks are all pretty rich in melody and have so much going on, the ebb and flow of the music is not as noticeable as it should be on this type of album, but it is still there nonetheless but more present inside the tracks themselves than in-between them. However, the length of the songs, with all ten having between 5 and almost 8 minutes of playtime, makes the album feel unnecessarily long, as some could have easily been a few minutes shorter. Also, with such talented musicians involved in this project, there could have been more variety present. But then again, this is just me being extra nitpicky.

All-in-all, this project puts the charm of symphonic metal to good use, being quite epic and big. The cinematic nature of the music coupled with masterfully delivered guitar solos, orchestral arrangements, and impressive vocal performances give the album depth and texture. Let yourselves be enchanted by these seven sirens and join the heart healer on her journey of self-discovery and acceptance of her fate.

Written by Andrea Crow

Tracklist

  1. Awake
  2. Come Out of the Shadows
  3. Who Can Stand All Alone
  4. Back to Life
  5. Into the Unknown
  6. When the Fire Burns Out
  7. Evil’s Around the Corner
  8. Mesmerized
  9. Weaker
  10. This Is Not the End  

Lineup

Magnus Karlsson – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards

Anders Köllerfors – Drums

Daniel Tengberg – Cello

Erika Sävström Engman – Violin

Label

Frontiers Music

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