Music is such a subjective art. We could listen to the same song but have completely opposite reactions to it. Cover songs are even more divisive. When an artist decides to put their own spin on a song that has already been recorded by someone else, you never know how it will turn out. Will it be bad? Will it be better than the original? You just don’t know until you hear the final product. I’ve given this topic some serious thought but I’ve been unable to decide on the attributes that I know will make me love a cover song. So when I first listened to Heavy Rock Radio from Jorn, I waited for the other shoe to drop. I mean, there is no way a band can do more than one or two good cover songs, let alone a whole album of them, right?
Wrong! Heavy Rock Radio is loaded with excellent reworked versions of classic heavy metal/hard rock tunes as well as bringing a few older pop songs over to the dark side. Lead vocalist Jorn Lande has stated the basic concept for this album was to choose songs that meant something special to him when he was younger. The beauty of this album is that the band did not just choose songs that were massive radio hits. No, there are tunes on here from artists with whom I am familiar but tracks that I had not heard previously. For instance, we all know Foreigner, but how many remember their song, “Rev on the Red Line”? Not I, but the version on this album makes me think I must have missed out on it. With just a touch more guitar and Jorn Lande‘s magnificent vocals, I find myself singing along as I enjoy the keyboards and driving beat.
Maybe you prefer the heavier cover of an unexpected pop song. Jorn has that covered. Frida, who rose to fame in the band ABBA, had a pop hit in the early 80’s with “I Know There’s Something Going On”. Trust me when I tell you that Jorn has a far superior version which includes a ripping solo from guitarist Trond Holter that would send ABBA fans running for the hills. Speaking of that, Kate Bush‘s “Running Up That Hill” is vastly improved on Heavy Rock Radio. Her version was a soft, ephemeral whisper of an artsy pop song. Jorn decided to bring a much heavier sound to the table and the world is a better place for it. I found it difficult to even make it through the original version once but I go back to it often on this album. Ever hear of John Farnham? Yeah, me, either. Apparently, he had once been in the Little River Band and had a solo inspirational type tune titled “You’re the Voice”. Again, the guitar work and beat bring this song to a new genre as accompanied by Lande‘s smoky voice.
As to the covers of classics on this album, Jorn‘s influences really begin to show. If you always thought that Paul Stanley‘s “Live to Win” needed more guitars and a few growled vocals, you will find that here. “Don’t Stop Believing” stays pretty true to the Journey classic. The same can be said for Iron Maiden‘s “The Final Frontier” as well as Deep Purple‘s “Stormbringer”. Black Sabbath‘s “Die Young” also remains mostly untouched. Although I thoroughly enjoyed these remakes, there are no major differences from the original. Of course, when you are working with music of this caliber, do you really need to change it very much?
I am not much of an Eagles fan. I believe this can be attributed to mainstream radio’s apparent decree that the Eagles should be played at least once every hour. “Hotel California” has merely become a tired standard that you can hear anytime, anywhere. I am excited to report that Jorn has breathed new life into this song by just including heavier riffs and more passionate vocals. This is a cover not to be missed!
Sadly, there are a couple of songs on this album that missed the mark for me. The band does a good job of tackling Queen‘s “Killer Queen” but I find myself missing Freddie Mercury‘s vocals and flair. In 2010, Jorn released an entire album of Ronnie James Dio covers. Therefore, it is not surprising to find a new recording of “Rainbow in the Dark”, however, for me, it falls far short of the classic. It is almost a note-for-note duplicate. Perhaps the issue is that Ronnie James Dio had such a distinctive voice that it makes it difficult to improve on his hits.
Jorn are no strangers to cover song albums – this is their third one in ten years – but when you continue to do such excellent work, why stop? The band has several albums of originals but always seem to come back with ideas to improve the songs of others. Heavy Rock Radio has an eclectic mix of classic covers as well as the bizarro types. Jorn Lande has a superb, husky voice. When he does tunes from his hard rock idols, I can hear just a hint of those vocalists in his voice. I’m not sure if that is by design or just due to the song choices. Not a perfect album, but I believe there is something here for everyone to enjoy. I highly recommend this album and I will be checking into their previous ones.