Norwegian dynamo Jorn Lande may not always spring to the fore of metalheads' minds, but he's enjoyed a long and satisfying career doing what he does, which includes a rock opera project with guitarist Trond Holter last year, "Dracula - Swing of Death". Jorn's impeccable chops always demand attention, and while he works on the follow-up to his last solo album, "Traveller", the new record targeted for release next year, the workhorse vocalist drops an interim covers romp, "Heavy Rock Radio".
Jorn reportedly came armed with 40 potential cover songs for this release and pared it down to the 12 appearing here. Originally the concept of "Heavy Rock Radio" was to create a jukebox-themed haul of "Jorn-ized" pop rock classics. Keeping in mind HELLOWEEN already beat him to the punch with "Metal Jukebox", Jorn's "Heavy Rock Radio" (like HELLOWEEN's) isn't your prototype covers record. Only if Jorn was able to pirate his way onto Sirius/XM could a track list as diverse as this one wedge its way onto the airwaves.
He tackles Ronnie James Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark" and QUEEN's "Killer Queen", two metal and hard rock standards befitting a project of this nature. But Frida's post-ABBA Gen-X angst hit "I Know There's Something Going On"? Okay, so HELLOWEEN did ABBA's "Lay All Your Love On Me" on "Metal Jukebox", fair enough. Metalheads have long been friendly toward JOURNEY, but "Don't Stop Believin'"? Or what about the EAGLES's "Hotel California"? Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill"? One-time LITTLE RIVER BAND vocalist John Farnham's "You're The Voice"? Um, wow?
Give the man credit where it's due. "I Know There's Something Going On" is an unexpected success. He keeps the sulky slide tempo of the original, but JORN toughens it up with his muscular pipes and some added oomph to the guitars. His take on "Running Up That Hill" is equally superb. He delivers a stellar performance, letting the bass and organs hum loudly overtop the hard strumming. The whole thing sounds like Ronnie James Dio did it in secret, for fun. While bringing up Dio, Jorn does a solid, stepped-up version of "Rainbow in the Dark" that's not as effective as his Kate Bush cover, but it's still a pretty good thumper.
"Dracula - Swing of Death" naturally put Jorn into a theatrical frame of mind, and it serves him well on "Killer Queen", which carries the full cabaret swing and frisky bass lines of the original. Jorn's wise not to go anywhere within Freddie Mercury's higher ranges, though harmonizing just fine in his own low, gravelly pitches. Style points awarded to Jorn and his players for heavying the hell out of "Hotel California". Here they ditch the original's reggae rhythm, opting for a perpetually stamping metal groove. The uglier, spit-flung (Jorn spritzes his mike all over the album, for the record) tone on this version befits the EAGLES's lyrically implied terror zone.
On the passable side is Jorn's slow-rolling, key crushed take of FOREIGNER's "Rev On The Red Line", which at least has a sparkling guitar solo to give it some pep. Professionally assembled and expressively sung, Jorn's "Don't Stop Believin'" is as cutesy as the original, but a couple of digs shy of JOURNEY's flair. His trip through Paul Stanley's "Live To Win" has soul and a crushing beat behind it, but it's a pedestrian (if loud) walk-through. Surprising that Jorn's brave hoist of IRON MAIDEN's "The Final Frontier" has barely enough staunch behind it, considering this should've been a vehicle for Jorn to soar with. Forgiving the omission of the accompanying tribal rhythm intro "Satellite 15", the instrumentation behind Jorn's "The Final Frontier" lollygags warily instead of driving with a purpose. Jorn sings just fine, but there's not much thrust for him to punch over.
"Stormbringer" being the little DEEP PURPLE MKIII engine that could and nobody cared about until recent years, Jorn and his band seize the moment here and slam it down with glee. A BLACK SABBATH cover being mandatory from any metal performer, Jorn stands by Ronnie James Dio and chooses "Die Young". It's a savvy choice to close out "Heavy Rock Radio" with, and as with "Stormbringer", the assemblage rises to the occasion.
This oddball cover selection stands to wonder what songs Jorn had in mind that didn't make the cut. Considering the man's claimed to be Norway's biggest musical export since A-HA, we're all but begging Jorn to metal-up "Take On Me". On second thought, we'll take a pass on that and instead high five him for proving that Anni-Frid Lyngstad was onto something after hanging up her dancing-queen boogie shoes.