Nils Patrik Johansson made a strong first impression as a solo artist with 2018’s Evil Deluxe, but it was easy to think of the album as a dumping ground for outtakes from his other projects. His second effort takes the complete opposite approach, boasting a narrative about the 1986 assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme with more complex music to match. There might be influence from his time with Wuthering Heights to go along with the established Lion’s Share/Civil War template, but The Great Conspiracy is very much its own entity.
Understandable with the conceptual format, this album’s scope and structures are more dramatic and complex than its predecessor. There aren’t any off-time prog rhythms or instrumental tangents, but there’s a concerted effort to toy around with dynamics in a way not commonly seen in such a straightforward style. Songs like “March of the Tin Foil Hats” and “The Great Conspiracy” feature the power metal bombast one would expect, but moments like the classical intrusions on “One Night at the Cinema” and the brief calypso break on “Prime Evil” flesh out the album’s character. It’s also nice to see the atmosphere allow for smooth song flow without relying on shorter interludes.
In the grand tradition of concept albums like Operation: Mindcrime, Johansson also remembered to supplement his ambitions with some catchy songwriting. “The Baseball League” and “Freakshow Superstar” are the most distinct tracks in this regard, the former pairing its bouncy swing with an especially catchy chorus and the latter triggering Battle Beast associations with its in your face electronics and the rapid-fire duet hooks. It can admittedly feel a little silly at times, but nothing sounds out of place.
And with the album featuring the same core of musicians as Evil Deluxe, it’s great to see so much talent and chemistry on display between them. The vocals inevitably draw the most attention given the name attached, but the other players are just as integral in shaping the experience, if not more so. The heightened keyboard presence helps enhance the theatrics without getting too overboard while the drums and rhythm guitars pull off some intensely fast runs. The swelling leads throughout are also quite inspiring and go a long way in reinforcing a proper ‘band’ dynamic.
I expected The Great Conspiracy to be an enjoyable heavy metal album, but I honestly wasn’t prepared for how strong it would actually turn out. I wouldn’t call it the next Mindcrime by any means, but it is refreshing to see Johansson offer a more ambitious, quirkier take on his normally straightforward style. His interest in the subject matter is made abundantly clear, and the effort put into the songwriting and musicianship really help endear it to listeners like your humble narrator who are largely unfamiliar with it. This could very well be the best album that Nils Patrik Johansson has ever been a part of.
“One Night at the Cinema”
“The Baseball League”
“March of the Tin Foil Hats”