BIG CITY – Big City Life (Daniel Olaisen series)
We continue the Daniel Olaisen series with the 2nd album from Big City. To refresh the ones who may not have had the chance to read the review of the debut, Daniel Olaisen, who is best known as the founder and the main guitarist for the Norwegian death metal ensemble Blood Red Throne and secondary for groove thrashers Zerozonic, formed Big City, in 2009, for love of the 80s hard’n’heavy bands such as Def Leppard, Whitesnake and The Scorpions, and the quartet, which for the recording of "Big City Life" consisted of Jan Le Brandt (vocals), Daniel Olaisen (guitar), Frank Ørland (guitar), Miguel Pereira (bass) and Frank Nordeng Røe (drums), debuted with the excellent "Wintersleep" which was not followed by any live performances whatsoever but the focus was, instead, on creating the follow up. Daniel Olaisen has really blown me away with his performance and creativity on the debut so has the sequel confirmed Big City, denied them or took them to new hights?
To answer that question in one sentence – "Big City Life" is easily bigger, more melodic, more intricate, more fun and more versatile than "Wintersleep", which, as the title suggests, is exactly what Olaisen & Co. were going for, (especially considering the choice of a city for the cover – my sweet home Chicago from which I am currently separated and dearly miss, but in any case, definite a huge city which is a type for bigger and better things). While the opening title track takes me by surprise chiefly because of its Mötley Crüe swagger who I am not a big fan of, the song is somewhat redeemed by a poweful "Youthanasia" Megadeth transition, progression and the ending, but still I hope for better things to come. Indeed, "Crying In The Night", with its superb Queensrÿche/Dream Theater vocal melodies and a double chorus, the second of which recalls Scar Symmetry, brings back all the charm of the debut while it’s clear, already at this point, that the follow up is a heavier affair, and I suspect David Scott Mustaine of Megadeth would have not thrown this track out of the aforementioned "Youthanasia". "Daemon In The Dark", with its catchy chorus a’la Megadeth’s "Addicted To Chaos", is similar in structure but slightly simpler and I am a tad dissapointed that the initial melody is not repeated, but that feeling quickly goes away as the song progresses, another standout full of earworms which take hold of your mind and heart.
At this point, my theory of sound for this album is inconvertibly solidified as "Rocket Man" starts: this album appears to be heavily influenced by 1992-1999 Megadeth, especially "Youthanasia" (1994). True, both the "Rocket Man" and the subsequent "Stars Surrounding" are also more progressive than anything Big City has ever done before, clear nods to Steve Hogarth-led Marillion, the former more like "Holidays In Eden", the latter, "Seasons End", but while Daniel Olaisen timidly and briefly wove through Megadeth-ian thrash in-between "Wintersleep" fabric, on both tracks he goes full on thrash to the extent that I fight the urge to check the liner notes for Mustaine guest appearance. And I shall see greater things than these.
Now, there is no doubt that "From This Day" is the greatest AOR song ever. It has all the best elements of Def Leppard’s standouts such as "Animal", "Love Bites" or Queensrÿche’s "I Don’t Believe In Love" and even recalls the stylings of Pantera’s "This Love", while keeping that elusive line between rock and metal buried in the sand. Every single note is just perfect. Lyrically, it is as cathartic as "Love Bites" and as emotionally and mentally freeing as "I Don’t Believe In Love". It is quickly becoming my personal anthem and those who know me personally know why. But the best song on the album has got to be "Running For Your Life", no wonder Big City chose it for a video single. There is not a trace of AOR or hard rock here, just pure classic heavy metal somewhere between Iron Maiden’s "Piece Of Mind" (1983) and Judas Priest’s "British Steel" (1980) although it, too, recalls more punk rock-ish New Model Army’s "The Hunt". Again, every note is perfect and the solo, the solo simply melts the skin right off the old bones! These two tracks deserve their own paragraph and that is precisely why they got it!
Another testimony to Olaisen’s compositional prowess, "Tower Of Babylon", lyrically waxing somewhat Biblical, structurally strikes a balance between Queensrÿche (the characteristicly syncopated booming bass) and recent Evergrey, but then Daniel breaks the track for a flamenco solo worthy of (but of course!) Charles Michael Schuldiner in Death’s "Crystal Mountain", not surprisingly since the spirit of Chuck lays heavy on this song more than any other. "Home Again", a perfect closer, is a ballad ode to a dearest friend who’s standing on the precipice of two chasms: depression on the left and despair on the right, about to break in two and fall in, but his friend is having none of it pulling him right back to the warmth of the caring and concerned life companion. Just as beautiful as the lyrics is the music, recalling the likes of Queensrÿche’s "Silent Lucidity" with Jan giving the performance of his life. All I know is I’d love to have his pipes!
As for the flaws on this album, there are just three, two of which are the title track and "Forgive Me Now". The former I have already discussed earlier and the latter,while brilliant and moving lyrically, musically just strikes me more as a prelude or a break from, possibly both, but mostly it strikes me as an unfinished track with good potential, very oddly austere instrumentally, stylistically similar to Nevermore’s closing title track from "Dreaming Neon Black". Finally, after a few revolutions it becomes clear that Jan Le Brandt’s increasingly John Michael "Ozzy" Osbourne-sque vocals, should the band continue in that vein, could begin to pigenhole the band which is likely why, shortly following the album’s release, Jan was replaced by Jørgen Bergersen (who invokes John Francis "Jon Bon Jovi" Bongiovi Jr., if the new teaser "Running Away" is any indication) for the recording session of the new material. Since all three of the perceived flaws are pretty minor the deduction is a mere 0.5 a point.
As for Daniel Olaisen, his generous gift of this double album (Wintersleep/Big City Life) made a believer out of me that this once wildly popular style can and does have a wonderful future in capable hands of a man who can play anything he chooses to embody his boundless musical ambitions in. Knowing, therefore, already enough of what Daniel Olaisen is capable of I shudder to think what’s in store for us. I, for one, can hardly wait.