Narnia return with the second album since the return of Christian Liljegren to the vocal helm. The line-up remains essentially intact from their self-titled release a few years ago, but Andreas Passmark (bass) has been replaced by Jonatan Samuelsson. While the Narnia sound remains essentially intact - melodic power metal with a bit of progression - some of the songs could be categorized as rock anthems. Still, there is enough crunch, shred and heavy drum punch to keep this offering within the realm of metal. Lyrically, these guys have always been outspoken about Jesus, but there is a definite “praise” element lyrically this time. One of the most noticeable improvements from the last release is the greater presence of keyboards (Martin Harenstam) in the mix. Furthermore, the songs feel a bit more developed – featuring a bit more substance and complexity - with longer durations. It’s early, but these songs reach the quality of the excellent Enter The Gate and Course Of A Generation – the two albums which I consider to be at the pinnacle of the band's career to date.
The album opens with “A Crack In The Sky” which features a great duel keyboard, guitar lead-in, a quick Grimmark solo followed by Christian Liljegren’s patented charismatic vocal exegesis heralding the Lord’s return. The 70’s rock anthem which follows – “You Are The Air That I Breathe” – has that classic “four on the floor” beat with a great melody. The anthemic gang-vocal, quasi-praise chorus is breathtakingly killer!
“You/You are the air that I breathe/You are the truth that I seek/I believe, I believe in You” – “You Are The Air That I Breathe”
And then there is the “groovy” Zep-influenced “Has The River Run Dry?” This song is a sobering reminder of the cost to living the Christian faith, but the sincere pleadings and humble outpourings keep it all grounded in the world where we live. One of the longer songs, there are some excellent performances by Grimmark during the middle section, and the subtle, yet noteworthy, synth/organ sounds permeate this song in glorious 70’s fashion. One of the catchiest, and most uplifting songs both musically and lyrically, is the Celtic-infused power metal romp “The Armor of God.” This song reflects back nicely on the band origins, yet carefully avoids the cliché pitfalls of those 90’s power metal leanings. The chorus here is almost Petra-like (in a good way!). In this era of negativity, this “happy” metal song is so cool. Grimmark delivers a blistering guitar solo which enhances the metal yet doesn’t overwhelm the overriding melody which is king here. The piano echoing the main melody in the outro is a classy touch as well.
While most of the music and lyrics have been constructed by Grimmark, newbie Samuelsson is credited with contributing on one of the most powerful songs on the album. “MNFST” is a strong statement both musically and lyrically and could probably best be described as the Narnia “creed.” This song perfectly encapsulates what these guys stand for spiritually and what they have strived to accomplish over the “course of a generation.” It smacks of Bloodgood even… sola Christus, sola Fide. It’s not about religion and politics, but personal relationship with the Creator.
“I believe in the holy Father/Who gave his holy Son/I believe in the holy Spirit/who raised Him from the dead” – “MNFST”
I love the “free-from-label -constraints” approach to songwriting. This is most evident on the dynamic praise rocker “The War That Tore The Land.” The introduction features an almost “western” twangy guitar melody accompanying soft vocal leads and Hammond organ undertones. After a brief heavy introduction to the “Hallelujah” chorus, things go quiet once again as we are treated to the ethereal “children” praises. Then Johansson’s nearly full measure drum fill leads powerfully back into the final run. This song is a departure for Narnia, but it works well and showcases a different side of their musical expression. Brilliant!
Similarly, “Sail On” has this care-free approach, only this time with a huge melodic hook – like melodic AOR meets metal. The melodies on this release, in general, really soar, but I love the driving keyboard sections to this song which give it that slightly commercial (in the 80’s convention) vibe. This second half of the album really continues to impress with “I Will Follow.” Grimmark delivers some lightening quick leads, then steps out of the way to allow the lyrics to take command. Once again, the keyboards drive a significant portion of the melody, trading off nicely with the guitar. This balance between vocals, keys and guitar is omnipresent on these songs and serves to manifest the mature nature of the songwriting going on here.
The title track consists of a two-part affair – part I an almost classical composition with melody firmly rooted in the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The opening instrumental segment transitions into a melodic, acoustic guitar, piano-lead section featuring Christian breathing life into a prayer of thankfulness and hope. Part II features an instrumental run-out featuring Grimmark’s soulful guitar noodling and Harenstam’s piano and keyboard. It’s a beautiful song, although some metal fans might wish this outro was just a bit shorter and heavier. Still, the album ends nicely on a peaceful note.
The CD is nicely housed in digipak with 16-page booklet replete with lyrics and illustrations which reflect the over-arching themes of spiritual warfare and praise for the Lord and Savior. Jens Bogren mastered this release, so its plenty loud, but the balance in sound isn’t overly treble-y which can sometimes be a problem on these “loud” masters. Narnia have delivered an album which is dynamically well-balanced, diverse musically, spiritually inspiring lyrically and satisfyingly mature from a songwriting perspective. While they have moved quite far from their neo-classical and power metal origins, they have retained the best qualities from those days and incorporated them into a much more accessible, more melodic – yet equally enthralling – form of melodic metal/rock. And for those missing the old days of no-compromising Christian metal, Narnia remain strong and true in the faith. This is easily one of the best releases I’ve heard this year.
Release Date = 8/2/2019
1. A Crack In The Sky (4:25)
2. You Are The Air That I Breathe (4:12)
3. Has The River Run Dry (5:10)
4. The Armor Of God (4:17)
5. MNFST (4:27)
6. The War That Tore The Land (4:31)
7. Sail On (5:43)
8. I Will Follow (4:02)
9. From Darkness to Light Part I (5:00)
10. From Darkness to Light Part II (3:44)