Having lent his voice to such projects as Yngwie Malmsteen, Therion, and Candlemass amongst countless others, Mats Leven steps out as a solo artist with Skyblood. The style of this project’s self-titled debut predictably reflects his extensive resume, happily dispensing melodic hard rock with doomy pacing and symphonic metal frills. The scope is lofty but not so grandiose as to become overwhelming.
Leven’s vocals inevitably end up front and center, driving the hooks and dynamics with lower-pitched verses and melodically raspy choruses, but there’s more to the instrumentation than window dressing. The drum work is surprisingly busy, not the most technical playing but with a certain hustle to it, and the orchestration provides some pleasant layering. Of course, this does result in the guitar work getting buried in the mix, but the playing itself is pretty solid.
And with this album being based more on catchy vocals than commanding riffs, it’s nice to see it succeed on that front. “Skyblood Manifesto” might run a little too long as a prelude, but “The Voice” immediately makes up for it with its wistful layout. From there, “The Not Forgotten” (I think the word you’re looking for is ‘unforgotten,’ Mr. Leven) puts in the most impactful earworm, and I appreciate the moodiness of songs like “One Eye for an Eye” and “Out of the Hollow.”
Considering how many singers with ‘hired gun’ reputations have a hard time standing on their own without assistance (ironic), it’s great to see Mats Leven do exactly that with Skyblood. The album isn’t quite in the league of his best appearances but proves his talents as a performer and writer quite well. It’s not the deepest material out there, but the songs are quite memorable while allowing for further absorption. Leven isn’t the kind of singer to be lacking work anytime soon, and Skyblood is proof of exactly why.
“The Not Forgotten”
“Out of the Hollow”