When Nils Patrik Johansson split with Civil War via Facebook post (classy) back in 2016 that never meant he was going to sit idle. Just a few months later he released a new full length with his main band, Astral Doors, and now once again he’s turned out another album, this time under his own name for the very first time, so what we get here is a very Johansson centric piece of metal, that focuses on just that - Johansson, and metal. Johansson is a great vocalist, there’s no way around that. With his Ronnie James Dio like style he’ll always be a great fit for the style and approach delivered here, and certainly there is some variation in the material to give him a bit of a run for his money. Big epics like Estonia and How The West Was Won stand in stark contrast to trilling heavy numbers like title track Evil Deluxe and more straight forward power metal tracks Dark Evolution that infuse more keyboards to recall the three Civil War albums.
The thing is, Johansson has been at his very best with Wuthering Heights, as the prog metal vibes and quirky twists fit his unique voice and style perfectly, but that’s not what we’re getting here. Evil Deluxe is a metal album by the numbers that feels more or less like a cash-in by alternating between songs that could well have been tossed on either a Civil War album or an Astral Doors one. It certainly has its moments and some more than ample tracks that get the whole concept of what the metal for metal’s sake thing is all about; rollicking riffage, thunderous drumming and over the top vocals about the glory of heavy metal. In that sense it’s a fun listen, but it never warrants a name of its own, since many of the tracks could have instead been worked into the Astral Doors discography. Listen up Johansson, you don’t want to sit around, you want to sing. Get Erik Ravn on the frickin’ phone and get us a sequel to Salt.
The first half of the album is good - not great, but good - brandishing the big sounding, melodic guitars that roll along with Johanssons voice. There’s certainly a likeable sound to the album, even though it sounds entirely un-new and like it could have been done by any other band within the same style. After September Black the albums kind of loses the momentum it had going. There are some thick riffs and neat melodies, but it doesn’t compare to the first half, which sounds wholly more inspired than the latter, which is more to the Astral Doors kind of Dio/Manowar inspired heavy power metal, rather than thick, epic power metal. Fans of Sabaton and Civil War style of heavy power metal or Astral Doors and their heavy metal antics alike should find a listenable tune or five among these twelve. In short, is this a bad album? No. Is it a necessary, memorable album that pushes the boundaries of what Nils Patrik Johansson is capable of? No. But it’s heavy metal, pure and simple, and at that, it certainly delivers.
Standout tracks: Estonia, September Black