As unfortunate as it is to see guitarist Michael Denner not be included in the recently announced Mercyful Fate reunion, at least he’s staying busy with the release of this full-length debut album. In Amber has inevitable shades of the darkness pioneered by his classic efforts, but it ultimately takes direct inspiration from shred-friendly 70s metal. Whether Denner’s Inferno is trying to show groups like Ghost how it’s done or just digging into their roots as players, it’s done with a certain sense of homecoming.
Predictably enough, Denner’s Inferno is as based around the guitar playing as their name would suggest. His signature tricks are placed front and center and reinforced by more open influence from such heroes as Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker. The riffs and gallops are noticeably less aggressive than anything Mercyful Fate ever released, but the tone still provides a sinister overcast, and the leads are always elegant.
Along with an organic production job, the other musicians play important roles in shaping the In Amber’s mood. Chandler Mogel’s vocals are somewhere between Ian Gillan and Joe Lynn Turner, putting in an AOR character that sounds pleasant without getting too limp-wristed. I do find myself wishing the rhythm section had more power behind it, especially when you consider drummer Bjarne T. Holm’s involvement in other Denner projects, but their performances never feel too dumbed down.
The songwriting plays up a certain duality, coating the album’s light and dark tendencies in an overall melodic sheen. “Fountain of Grace,” previously seen on the EP of the same name, shares the most kinship with his past in its doomy riffs, subtle organs, and the choruses’ reaching falsettos. On the flip side, a couple songs end up in borderline pop territory with “Taxman (Mr. Thief)” standing out the most. Other tracks such as the galloping “Matriarch,” the psych-tinged “Up and On” and “Pearls on a String,” and the crunchy “Run for Cover” put in their own flavors.
While Denner’s Inferno might’ve benefitted from some extra oomph, In Amber is a pleasant journey through a well-worn style. The combination of 70s rock and classic metal can risk sounding watered down, but the production is vibrant, and it’s great to hear the guitarist’s unique quirks holding up so well. There are plenty of newer bands who can do this sort of thing better, but it’s always nice to see a well-executed retro take with a familiar face involved.
“Fountain of Grace”
“Taxman (Mr. Thief)”
“Run for Cover”