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Frontiers (2013)
Rating: 8/10

The Murder Of My Sweet frontwoman Angelica Rylin expands her repertoire with Thrive, her debut album as a solo artist. Citing influences such as Robin Beck and Ann Wilson, Swedish singer Angelica embraces her AOR side here, allowing her voice to soar and roar through the album’s 12 tracks.

The album includes a number of guest appearances including Jesper Strömblad (ex-In Flames / The Resistance) and Matt Guillory (James LaBrie), as well as songwriting and co-writing credits from the likes of Magnus Karlssson, Harry Hess, and more. In a way, this is like the Place Vendome albums because much of the “Frontiers Family” all sort of come together to bring Thrive to life.

What you get here is exactly what you’d hope to hear if you enjoy the above names. This is pop-edged, thickly produced, melodic hard rock. We already knew that Angelica had a powerful voice, but in this context she really takes it over the top. This musical context allows her voice to explode on the choruses in particular. ‘To Your Rescue’ and the album’s first single, ‘Breaking My Heart’, are great examples of this. The driving, keyboard-laden anthem ‘I Am Strong’ is another excellent example. She really just lets loose throughout these songs, sounding far more rocker chic than she does in the more haunting The Murder Of My Sweet material.

There is a lot of material here that isn’t overtly rockin’, but keeps a mid-tempo pace that makes it perfect fodder for rock radio. ‘This Kiss Is Just For You’, ‘Rain On My Parade’ and ‘Take Me To Your Heart’ all fully embrace the classic AOR sound that bands like Harem Scarem, 80s Heart, Giant, Alias and Hardline are / were so damn good at.

If you are a fan of emotionally charged ballads, Angelica has your back as well. While there aren’t as many ballads as you’d expect, there are a couple. ‘Can’t Stop Love’ feels like an early Giant song, featuring a desperate, broken-hearted vocal claiming victory over it all with the big chorus goodness that AOR fans love. It’s really strong and escapes a lot of the usual cheesiness lyrically, aside from the title. ‘Losers In Paradise’ is its less explosive counterpart that, unfortunately, feels like it’s going nowhere.

Overall, this is a very strong album. If you don’t like that pristinely produced, every-note-is-perfect, smooth AOR sound then this won’t win you over. There is a surprising amount of focus on the guitars though and the touch of modern sounding synths that smatter the album keep it from sounding dated. I really dig Thrive. Angelica is a powerhouse vocalist that really gets to be a powerhouse on this one.

Mark Fisher

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