Is there any other life in the universe? Is it possible that we are being visited by extra-terrestrial beings from distant planets but only a chosen few of us are experiencing this disturbing phenomenon?
That is the concept of the almost seventy five minute long album by Swedish vocalist, guitarist and composer Johnny Engstrom and his band. The Johnny Engstrom Band, consists of, Johnny, as mentioned above, bass player Niklas Högberg and drummer Galle Johansson. The concert of the album makes sure that the atmosphere of the album has a dark undertone and the science fiction elements sneak their way into the songs. The over sixteen minutes opener Oblivion Pt 1 has some extra-terrestrial sounds before the trio turns on the volume, creating a song that has all the elements you can imagine: powerful drums and bass, melodic progressive guitar and the extra-ordinary voice of Johnny himself. This voice gives the album links to the concept albums of Queensryche and also to a band like Shadow Gallery. Not the worst band to be compared with, I guess. Using all the elements, like I said, from the faster and heavy parts, the song structure turns into a long mid-section that points to the extra-terrestrial beings that the songs are all about. For me personally, I would not have minded if this long section had been shortened a bit for the focus on the song slips away a bit during the long section. But all in all: a tremendous epic to start an album with. The title track of the album creates a dark and moody atmosphere and the interaction of the furious guitar and the powerful bass are perfect. Listen to the instrumental part where the bass takes over and almost reaches the sound that Rush made famous. The clock is ticking in Endlessly, here the vocals get some assistance by a dreamy female voice, which really work well together and the keyboards, that are all over the album (but I can't find out who's playing them) lays a perfect carpet of sound for the relaxed guitars. River Oaks-which is with its six minutes the shortest song on the album-stays smooth and relaxed all the way and is in my opinion one of the highlights of the album. In this relatively short song, all the soundscapes that are used in the other songs are kept to a minimum and you are kept focused on this great and intense song. Wounded and Under Haunted Skies are heavy and intriguing and fit exactly to this nice concept, mixing the progressive elements with a hunch of alternative rock and melodic power metal. On another highlight; Paradise, the band again uses their full potency and goes from soft and relaxed to a heavy midsection and returns with a brilliant voice to softly end this song. Oblivion Pt2 ends the story, just as the album started, a fourteen minute long epic which is loaded with soundscapes alternating with heavy instrumental breaks. Together these elements close the story of extra-terrestrial life on earth.
Magnetic Force is a promising and intriguing album that steps out of the shades of bands like Queensryche and Shadow Gallery. There are even points of comparison with the mighty Ayreon albums. For me personally, the only point of criticism I can think of are the sometimes long soundscapes, during some of the songs. I know they are a vital part of the concept, but sometimes my mind wanders, listening to those interruptions of the great compositions. All in all: a very impressive progressive rock album that makes me curious about the next efforts by The Johnny Engstrom Band. I have a feeling there is more to come.
***+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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