Album Review: Allen/Lande – The Great Divide

There are two types of singers; those who are great interpreters of material, and those who are great at writing their own.  Jorn Lande and Russell Allen, through their respective careers, have proven that they are both definitely among the latter group.  They have both been part of tremendous albums, and have shown themselves to be among the greatest vocalists in all of metal, but they have also shown a drawback to the praise.  Neither one of them can consistently write the kind of strong material that would turn them into the legends their voices dictate they could be.

The one place where they have both been able to shine is in the collaborative Allen/Lande albums, which have been some of the best melodic metal to come out in the last decade.  Written by songwriting maestro Magnus Karlsson, the three albums showcased the two singers better than any of the bands either one had ever been in, and were some legitimately amazing albums.

“The Great Divide” is album number four for the project, and as the title suggests, a dividing point for listeners.  Karlsson is no longer at the helm, being replaced by the running joke that is Timo Tolkki.  The change is immediately noticeable, and makes the album feel like a strange case of deja vu.  You know you’re listening to an Allen/Lande album, but something feels wrong.

Unlike the other recent projects Tolkki has been a part of, “The Great Divide” is actually good.  Whether he was inspired by the immense vocal talent he was writing for, or the singers were able to elevate his songs, “The Great Divide” is the best album any of the people involved have produced since the second All/Lande record.  Yes, this is a better record than the third one, despite the personnel changes.

Like the previous records, the guitars are mostly there to give a palate for the singers to do their thing.  There are few real riffs in these songs, but that’s not a criticism, since the best thing Tolkki could do here is get out of the way and let Allen and Lande do their thing.  They deliver in spades, both sounding better here then in their own respective projects.  Both have the tendency to turn up the aggression on their voices, straining to sound tough, and ruining thei gifts.  Here, they restrain themselves, and that does wonders for the material.  Their voices are as strong and clear as they have ever been, breathing life into the songs.

“Come Dream With Me”, “Lady Of Winter” and “Hymn to The Fallen” have big hooks, the kind that don’t take long to burrow into your head.  At their best, the songs here are as endearing as melodic metal can get.  Hearing them is like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night; comforting and reassuring.  Not everything works that well, though.  “Down From The Mountain” is a bit flat, and “Reaching For The Stars” is the very definition of filler.  Still, there are enough good songs here to easily make the album worth listening to.

The odd thing about the record is a production choice.  For long stretches, there are few if any backing vocals, a decision that robs some of the hooks of their power.  Layering both singers together on the choruses would have made them stand out more, and was something Karlsson was keen on.  Tolkki puts his own stamp on the music as a producer, and I can’t say it’s for the better.

Overall, “The Great Divide” is a fine album that does nothing to sully the reputation of the Allen/Lande albums.  It might not be as good as the first two, but neither way Karlsson’s last entry to the series.  Tolkki wouldn’t have been my first choice to helm the ship, and I think he falters in several spots, but it’s hard to make a bad album with these guys.  “The Great Divide” is still highly enjoyable.

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