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Johan Kihlberg’s Impera – Spirit of Alchemy

Johan Kihlberg’s Impera
Spirit of Alchemy
by Mark Machlay at 25 March 2021, 6:30 AM

Swedish band IMPERA has taken on the rather cumbersome name change of JOHAN KIHLBERG’S IMPERA since their previous album continues on with some of the hardest working hard rock and heavy metal musicians in the business. The creation of IMPERA began in 2011 when Stockholm born drummer Johan Kihlberg wanted to strike out on his own and forge his own path after working for 30 years in the music industry together with acts such as KISS, THIN LIZZY, EUROPE, RAINBOW and MOTLEY CRUE. At first the band was seen as a super group with many well-known, prominent Swedish musicians. But after their third album “Empire of Sin” in 2015, Kihlberg decided to let it be known and obvious that he was exerting more control of the band and attached his name to the beginning, starting to steer the band away from the more pop and glam orientation and into heavier, yet more cinematic directions. Ever since, Kihlberg has been known for assembling many different musicians to create his works – now totaling six albums including an original soundtrack for the short move The Rage.

Continuing with the name rebrand, JOHAN KIHLBERG’S IMPERA moves into, as mentioned, heavier territory. With the departure of longtime singer Matti Alfonzetti, the band moved away from the more melodic, sugar and softness into heavier vocals stylings with Jonny Lindkvist of NOCTURNAL RITES this time around. Besides Kihlberg, the only other original lineup member is Mats Vassfjord but only provides bass for one song. Pontus Egberg of KING DIAMOND also plays bass on one song, but John Leven – a member of Swedish hard rock titans EUROPE since its beginnings – provides the majority of the bass lines. LION’S SHARE guitarist Lars Chriss and keyboardist Kay Buckland return for their second album alongside Kihlberg. Finally, renowned drummer Snowy Shaw is behind the skins, famous for his history with KING DIAMOND, MERCYFUL FATE, and SABATON. The band is a bit streamlined from their last release – boasting over 12 members on 2018’s “Age of Discovery” – but a bit more than their first three albums when they got it done with a four man team of simply vocals, guitar, bass and drums. It seems the group is still in an evolution.

With 2021’s “Spirit of Alchemy” Kihlberg seems to be seeking a balance between the more arena rock style of the first trio of records and the ruder, more raw heavy metal style of classic heavy metal bands with a cinematic twist. The question many ask is if it’s pulled off well. As I said, the band still seems to be in an evolution. The addition of a dedicated drummer that isn’t Kihlberg seems to be a huge boon as the drumming is in-the-pocket, heavy and powerful. But Khilberg seems quite taken with a cinematic approach as is obvious with the orchestral flourishes on opener “Nothing Will Last” and the transitions between styles feels jerky, like the time wasn’t taken to mesh them well. It will be felt throughout the album and culminates in the epic closing “Battle”, a keyboard-driven instrumental that despite a few problems in the middle, left me with a positive feeling towards the album. However a major detraction is the third to last track “Lost Life to Rock’n’Roll” an unfortunately one note, mid-tempo NWBHM tune. There are shades of MEGADETH and METALLICA on “When Souls Collide” starting with a clean intro into chuggy heavy guitars with some fabulous solo work, as well as “In Heaven”. It’s well produced and even got me to nod my head in appreciation for some of the classic nods to old styles and tunes but I want to see a more coherent integration of Kihlberg’s influences.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 6
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Nothing Will Last
2. Read It and Weep
3. All About You
4. When Souls Collide
5. In Heaven
6. What Will Be Will Be
7. Lost Your Life to Rock’n’Roll
8. No
9. Battle
Lineup:
Johan Kihlberg – Mastermind
Lars Chriss – Guitars
Jonny Lindkvist – Vocals
John Leven – Bass
Snowy Shaw – Drums
Kay Backlund – Keyboards
Mats Vassfjord – Bass on “Lost Your Life to Rock’n’Roll”
Pontus Egberg – Bass on “In Heaven”
Record Label: Metalville Records
     


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