Released: 2012, SPV/Steamhammer
Less than 18 months after the release of Fullforce’s debut ONE, the band returns with the follow-up album NEXT LEVEL. New guitarist Stefan Rosqvist replaces CJ Grimmark, but otherwise the lineup remains intact. After a successful but short tour with Edguy supporting ONE, the band was ready to get back into the studio and present their new material. Guitarist Stefan Elmgren explains, ““We have grown and feel confident that our new material will appeal to a much wider audience. “ONE was a little more complex stylistically, while NEXT LEVEL sounds more straightforward and compact.”
While that is a fairly accurate description, it does not completely tell the whole story. ONE was a heavier album, while NEXT LEVEL is much more accessible, even commercial in places, sporting two ballads when the previous album had none. Unfortunately, “Smile At The World” is a pretty worthless tune, a power ballad of the most insipid kind. But on an album with 13 tracks, there are bound to be some missteps and for the most part NEXT LEVEL is an enjoyable album from a talented band. “Hate Love Drop It” is a heavy tune with a catchy and exotic Middle Eastern flavor, a bit of an experimental departure that shows the growth and maturity of the band. “Courses Of Life” is the Rainbow worship song, Elmgren and Rosqvist channeling their inner Ritchie Blackmore for the opening riff.
While there are still unmistakable elements of power metal, Fullforce has moved much closer to melodic metal with occasional flourishes of power metal, particularly in the keyboards. Mike Andersson definitely shines with his melodies and forceful power helping strengthen many of these songs. Production wise I have no complaints, everything is clear and competently recorded. I do enjoy this album, but I cannot shake the feeling that this could have been better. ONE had heavier and more compelling tunes, while NEXT LEVEL embraces the soft side more than I would have liked. Ultimately, NEXT LEVEL is definitely a solid and respectable album showcasing a modern melodic style of metal that is very welcome and appreciated by me, and doubtless many others. I suspect that like the first album, this one will grow on me with each listen. A fine album and a great way to close out 2012. Recommended for fans of modern melodic metal like Secret Sphere, Silverlane and Sinbreed.