Jono Moulds checks out the new album from Big City for The Rock & Roll Circus.
Frontiers Music Srl released Big City's new album, "Sunwind Sails" on January 20, 2023. Hailing from Norway, Big City plays exquisite melodic hard rock with metal influences.
2021's "Testify X" was the first Big City album to feature the band's extremely talented new vocalist, Jørgen Bergersen. Jørgen had cut his teeth in a Europe cover band, which will give you a sense of his vocal style, and quickly impressed when singing original material for Big City. On the band's new album "Sundwind Sails", the band takes the formula they've established on preceding releases and kicks everything up a notch, pushing their sound forward and accentuating their collective talents.
Big City was originally put together by guitarist and songwriter Daniel Olaisen. His plan was to use a vast amount of song ideas and 80's metal influenced guitar riffs that he had stockpiled over the years for a batch of songs with the right players. Frank Ørland, who also played with Daniel in Scariot (prog/thrash/heavy band featuring Communic and Spiral Architect members), was an obvious choice to bring to Big City as the second guitarist. Frank Nordeng Røe (Withem, Maraton, session drummer for Circus Maximus and Leprous) was brought in on drums after being discovered by Daniel via some internet research. The band was then completed with Jan Le Brandt on vocals and Geir Inge Olsen, who was brought in as a session bass player.
The band's debut album, "Wintersleep", was initially released in 2014 and later re-released by the Greek label Rock of Angels in 2018 as part of a deluxe edition of their second album, "Big City Life". Big City played their very first live shows the same month of the international release, including Norway Rock Festival and Rock the Boat with Miguel Pereira (Withem) joining the band as their new permanent bass player.
In 2019, the band started working on a new album and brought in a new singer, Jørgen Bergersen from Rock the Night (Europe cover band) and the new demos caught the interest of Frontiers who moved swiftly to sign the band. In July 2021, "Testify X" was released and met with a warm reception from the melodic rock community.
Now, the band is prepared to deliver their newest slice of delicious melodic hard rock in the form of "Sunwind Sails", which will surely see their star burning even brighter!
Review by Jono Moulds.
After a melancholic opening acoustic guitar intro, accompanied by an extremely proficient, yet melodious guitar part, the first song up – ‘I’m Somebody’ ‘rattles’ into life with a militaristic, marching drum pattern that bullies the rest of the band into submission. From the get-go, there is obvious skill and technique to be admired. With all that said, the opening verse certainly moves into a more commercial feel, as the musical support ‘settles’ to allow ‘Bergersen’ the space to demonstrate is vocal prowess. As for his style, there is a bit of ‘Joey Tempest’ in there, but this is only to offer an immediate benchmark or comparison for those who are unaware of the band. The chorus is upbeat, sending a positivity throughout, made even slicker by that well placed keyboard line (I think its keyboard) that hooks you in quickly. An extended and inventive bridge leads us into the first guitar piece and as promised right at the start of the tune, it’s a high gain and technically astute solo, that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but lays down a marker of things to come. An extremely interesting start, where the band appear to have adopted a hybrid sound made up of highly accomplished playing (a la ‘Dream Theatre’ dare I say) with an added splash of commercial nous.
‘Sons of Desire’ begins at pace and once again we have a mixture of a commercial sounding hook that manifests itself within some incisive guitar licks that leads us into verse one. Licks are then replaced with some good old fashioned power chords, that ‘fizzle’ with energy whilst ‘Bergersen’ puts in another solid and impressive vocal display. Indeed, as we enter what feels like two pre-choruses, his vocal appears to go up a notch and at one point we ‘drift’ once again (albeit for a moment) from full a metal vibe to more of a hardcore/thrash feel. As the chorus kicks, the song swings back around to a full-on metal sound, that incorporates a great melody line throughout. The solo work on the track is once again of a high technical standard, that gives ‘Olaisen’ the allotted timeframe in which to show his wares, and then some. A shout out to ‘Røe’ on drums, as it feels like he has some personal vendetta against them, as he bashes the living daylights out of them from start to finish. Solid track.
Quite a lengthy, yet encapsulating introduction to ‘Human Mind’, that weaves a riff which sounds like it meanders between major and minor chords, without losing its central theme – love it. As with the last song, the opening riff is given a ‘time-out’ as we hit the opening verse and is replaced with more power chords to drive the tune along. The pre-chorus comes along in quick fashion, and gives some lightness to proceedings, where either a guitar or keyboard riff is added as the lift in this section – works well. The chorus hits the spot on first listen and takes the uplifting feel of the pre-chorus and adds even more positivity and sweetness into the mix, helped, by well positioned support vocal. As the chorus ‘sharply’ completes itself, a minor chord heralds a complete change, as we hit a musical bridge that features guitar licks and riffs galore – interesting section. Another re-run of verse, pre-chorus and chorus follow straight after (why wouldn’t it?). After this we have another musical bridge, but this time it’s completely different to the first and sets up the tune’s guitar solo. After this, there is small acoustic section, before the chorus is played until the songs end. A diverse and complex tune but works an absolute treat.
The strange titled ‘Collin's Looking for A Hideout’ is up next, which starts off with a menacing riff, that’s deep and eerie and gathers pace (in no part to that of the bombastic drumming of ‘Røe’) right up until ‘Bergersen’ opening line ‘Shot to death by a silver bullet’. Where some of the initial tracks on this album have offered ‘lighter’ segments, this has started off with a rawness and edge that has yet to emerge. The song moves menacingly from verse to bridge to pre-chorus, all of which are well-constructed and as you would have now guessed, guitar heavy!! As the chorus lands, a melody line is introduced, which cuts through perfectly, and gives the tune some much needed harmony in amongst the bitterness and anger that has built up in the early stages. During the song, it must be stated that ‘Bergersen’ delivers big on this tune, his vocal sounding strong and commanding in all areas as he screams and reaches deep within his soul to produce a great performance.
The delicate sound of an opening acoustic guitar presents us with the next song up ‘Diamonds in the Rough’. As ‘Bergersen’ kicks things off, the style and initial arrangement of the tune directs his vocal into a different sphere, one that’s not to dissimilar (to my ears, at least) to American AOR bands from 70’s (e.g., Boston, Kansas etc.). Even after just a few lines, there is a clarity and tunefulness in his vocal that belies the aggressive metal approach we’ve heard so far – mighty impressive. However, it’s all changed a little while after this ‘low-key’ intro, as a superb keyboard hook (Think ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ by DIO – it’s got that kind of influence – awesome) hits you from nowhere and takes the track on a new course. Verses are filled with heavier guitar riffage, but the track never loses any of its charm and instant likeability, which is driven home even further as we go from pre-chorus to chorus. The re-introduction of the keyboard line/hook within the chorus itself is genius and is commercial rock at its very best. The guitar solo (as with all of them on this album) is packed to the rafters with speed and flamboyance, to the point where it begs the question just how fast someone can play – it’s frightening. After solo, and if my ears do not deceive me, there is a bass solo, that beggar’s belief, it’s probably as fast as the actual guitar solo!! Great song, has to be a single and a huge crowd favourite.
A buoyant and upbeat feel to ‘Now’, where crunching guitars collide with a sweet, positive sounding guitar lick that has more than a fair share of commerciality about it (Pop Rock start folks!!). The elegant and choral support vocal just adds to this, as we easily glide through the first verse. As we effortlessly slip through the opening minute, there is a great example of ‘Bergersen’s’ vocal range on show, as he simply ‘scales’ through a pre-chorus line with ease and power – very impressive. The chorus, albeit commanding and chest thumping, isn’t going to win any lyrical contest, as it comprises of the title of the song throughout. Saying that, it’s ‘fit for purpose’ and does exactly what it says on the tin. The bridge is a repeated guitar part, that has some super bass lines propping things up, which is played at some speed and with a lot of technique yet fits in perfectly at this juncture – made me smile at least. Top album track, very strong with a syrupy melody.
‘After the Raid’ rips into action with an ‘Ozzy – Bark at the Moon’ influenced guitar riff, that once again crackles with energy and statically charged metal madness. From this intro, ‘Røe’s’ drumming is nothing short than ‘rabid’ as it sounds as if he’s acquired extra limbs to be able to maintain the speed at which he plays – monumental. This is full on metal in your face, with just a ‘twist’ of harmony, that lift’s it from the molten mass that’s being produced. A pre-chorus that’s dominated by some nice guitar touches kind of lulls you into a false sense of security as more ‘lunacy’ by ‘Røe’ ‘pummels’ you into the chorus with an almighty force, which is so powerful that at one point I had to check that my door was still securely on affixed to its hinges. There is a bit of everything within this tune, so if you’re looking for some classic 80’s style metal, tinged with some harmony, then this track is going to smack you around the face, but leave you smiling.
And so, to the album’s title track, that of course being ‘Sunwind Sails’ which opens with a with another well-constructed guitar lick, that has a touch of mystical Eastern magic stitched within its metallic fabric. The opening verse immediately hits you with some great vocal melody, while there is some muted guitar ‘chugging’ taking place as its main support. A prolonged pre-chorus keeps things bubbling along, ably enhanced by some further examples of harmonious vocal, that covers this section like a warm blanket on a cold night. The chorus is almost like third element or act, as verse, pre-chorus and now chorus are quite distinct in their arrangements, yet, in saying that, they all seem to blend perfectly as one ends and the other begins. Drifting, quickly through the song, there is no doubt that its roots are embedded with metal, but there is more enough on offer here to suggest that the tune moves into classic AOR territory. An interesting and extremely well put together track. Excellent.
And so, onto ‘Silver Line’, that opens with some scorching guitar work, but which quickly subsides into a bass and drum ‘rumble’, with only a repeating guitar riff as company. This builds up continues for over a minute into the tune until we get to the opening verse, where the direction changes, as rhythmic power chords and a layer of synth lay the foundations for ‘Bergersen’ to ‘do his thang’. Once again, the vocal provides the song with its strength and rawness, as guitars add in some ‘sweetness’ with a series of licks, whenever possible – works a treat. This no more evident that within the chorus and the outro from the chorus, as the mix of vocal grit and musical arrangement is demonstrated to superb effect. There’s even time for ‘Bergersen’ to conjure up some vocal gymnastics, as we drift out of the chorus, as the guitar riff sublimely comes back in to set up the next verse - love that. Every solo on this album so far, has been of a highly technical nature, and there is no difference to be noted on this tune, as we get an extended barrage of highly proficient, high gain guitar work. The bridge instantly stops the song its tracks, where it softens and sets the scene for the tunes ‘pièce de résistance’ which comes in the form of another chorus and the final strains of ‘Bergersen’s’ vocal prowess.
And just like that we arrive at the final song on the album – ‘Sparks of Destiny’ with its clean, chorus laden intro and beautifully sounding lead break added over the top. However, ‘Røe’ is the catalyst for the songs change of pace and bearing, as heavy drums build into a roll, and we are off once again to familiar terrain. To these ears at least, the first verse sounds like it’s the chorus, and conversely, as this concludes, the next section sounds like the opening verse, but hey, I’m just listening and enjoying the track, so who knows? With all that in mind, as we finally arrive at the chorus (at just over two minutes in) it feels as if there have already been four distinct sections/arrangements laid down by the band!! They certainly like to give you value for your hard-earned money – WOW!! What a way in which to wrap up the album.
As the introduction alludes to, the album is heavily influenced by those bands and songs from the 80’s, but having checked out the full album, for me, there’s more going on than just throwing that comment into the review.
As you’ve read, each member of the band is highly skilled on their respective instrument and that alone takes them a notch or two above any sole reference to 80’s metal. Bergersen has an exceptional and powerful vocal, that gives each tune a cutting edge, whilst allowing the band to be able to find the spaces in which to showcase their undoubted musical skills.
There is also a variety to be found within each of the songs and as I sit here writing this review, I’m finding it very tricky to think of another album that I’ve checked out that has so much going on within every song.
Melodious, harmonious, powerful with obvious style and technique, oh, and a batch of songs that stand out. That’ll do for me.
Jørgen Bergersen- Vocals
Daniel Olaisen – Rhythm, lead, & acoustic guitars
Frank Ørland – Lead, rhythm, & acoustic guitars
Miguel Pereira – Bass
Frank Nordeng Røe – Drums & percussion
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