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Various Artists : Listen To Your Metal Heart - A Metal Tribute To Roxette

A bold idea, with decent execution - but, sadly, Roxette's material is far too shallow to translate into an underground Metal context.

Well, weirdness. Roxette??. Yeah, I remember them making it as a pop band back in the '80s: a pair of pretty Swedes, one of whom (Marie Fredriksson) had a pretty decent voice, the other (Per Gessle) was the most unconvincing pretend guitar player of all time. Their most popular single ('It Must Have Been Love') soared to fame on the back of trite rom-com Pretty Woman, which was about the last time I knowingly heard anything of them. Apparently, they went on to reinvent themselves in a 'pop rock' vein - 'rock' in this instance meaning AOR/stadium lightweights like Pat Benatar and Heart - and continued until ill-health forced Fredriksson to retire in 2016.

I was only briefly reminded they'd ever existed when listening to Russian Gothic Doom band Revelation's 2001 album 'Expulsion From The Paradise', which originally included a cover of 'Listen To Your Heart'. Perhaps - as it was a recent GSP reissue - that's what inspired this tribute. Or perhaps GSP are just huge fans of the band...not impossible, given they shifted a total of something like 75 million albums worldwide, mostly in Europe. Slightly oddly, there are two versions of the tribute: the digipak and jewelcase editions share exactly the same name and cover art, but have completely different track listings, and there's no double-disc variant to unite them. The bands vary quite widely, too - definitely not a selection for Doom purists, or even especially Doom-heavy.

It was something of an uncomfortable experience refreshing my memories of the originals. Obviously, I've never owned anything by Roxette, which meant having to surf YouTube...and putting up with having random, equally insipid, pop sounds of the '80s and '90s chucked into the playlists. In fairness to the Swedish duo, they weren't completely dreadful. They were just by-the-numbers mainstream pop, with all that entails: primarily the requirement that it should be as catchy as possible to appeal to as wide a global (sales) audience as possible. Fine on its own terms, but you're never going to find a whole lot of hidden depths and angles to explore within an anodyne but chirpy rhyming verse/chorus structures and an earworm hook or two.

Which is why, by and large, both versions of this album make for quite painful listening. There's nothing exceptional about the source material. By design, it's simple, disposable, mass-market singalong stuff - in other words almost the exact antithesis of the musical strengths and directions to be found in the underground Metal scene. The contexts in which those can find a convincing overlap are few and far between - and, much as I hate to say it, that means the bands I like the most, and who stayed truest to their own interpretation, fare the worst. Both Arrant Saudade and Somnent, for example, are hamstrung by the sheer triteness of the lyrics they're presenting as Death/Doom growls. MetalBlack fall at the hurdle of trying to turn a cheesy synth line into Black Metal aggression. Revelation struggle with both. And all of them suffer a little with trying to make a basically simple and upbeat melody line sound like something from the underground. Arrant Saudade come out of it best, burying the worst of the lyrics in guttural inaudibility and getting a reasonably downbeat version of the main riff going.

Normally, I'd be all in favour of cover versions bringing something different and radical to the table, but in this instance that really hasn't worked well. But then, nor has sailing closer to the originals (though it does avoid the difficulty of trying to inject a new dark aesthetic into unsuitably lightweight material). As you might expect, that's easier for the Gothic Rock/Metal contingent, who are generally starting from a closer musical perspective to begin with. Sadly, it's not much better fare, largely relying on putting a slightly downbeat Indie guitar'n'vocal twist on proceedings (The Nameless Cult), or amping up the drama of the synths a little (Seduced By Suicide), leaving them in that awkward territory where they don't do enough to personalise or improve on the Roxette versions. You'd also have to be a real Anfel afficionado, given that they contribute six tracks in total (including the solo piano versions by co-founder Denis Dionis Lobotorov). These latter mainly serve to demonstrate - as if it needed any reinforcing - that instrumental versions of pop songs generally shine a stark light on how weak and shallow the underlying compositions actually are. So, if you're the sort of person who'll ride up and down in a lift all day because you like listening to tinny Richard Clayderman elevator muzak, these are definitely for you.

Don't get me wrong, here. I'm not criticising the bands involved: actually, they're a pretty decent collection of submissions, as far as that goes. The contributors have clearly put effort into reworking and performing the tunes, and in that respect it sounds thoroughly professional, well-presented, and the packaging - for both versions - is tidy and stylish. To give credit where it is due, there are even a few tracks where the marriage of source and interpretation creates something more noteworthy. Strigampire picked the right track in 'Dangerous', and turned it into an appropriately uptempo punky, sneering anthemic beast pulsing with dynamic guitar lines. Dominia's inspired use of violin and piano for the melody leads gives an off-kilter and slightly psychedelic spin to 'Wish I Could Fly'. And, surprisingly, Deos - one of Daniel Neagoe's many projects - manages to hit a sweet spot with a Clouds-esque clean-vocalled Funeral Doom-lite interpretation of 'It Must Have Been Love' which carries far more gravitas than the original.

Sadly, those highlights don't redeem the fundamental mismatch between concept and compilation - which is that there was precious little Metal and even less darkness in Roxette's heart, a fact that these covers, however sincere and well-intentioned individually, demonstrate in spades when taken as a whole. It's music from an entirely different aesthetic, and it simply doesn't translate well into this context. Ironically, it did get me thinking that you perhaps could make a Doom/Pop crossover work, as long as you started with a more suitable source. Even just sticking to female-fronted bands of the '80s: the sneering nihilistic rock'n'roll vibe of Blondie, Toyah's demented sci-fi wailings, the dark post-punk narratives of Siouxsie And The Banshees, or even possibly the liting melodies of Abba (be in no doubt, Bj÷rn UlvŠus was a genuinely genius minor-key songwriter) would all be more workable matches than Roxette's solidly second-division, post-facto revionist and unexciting take on the genre.

If you really have to have a version of it, I'd suggest the less-Doom-oriented digipak option isn't as objectively disappointing, though, honestly, that's not much of a recommendation. Neither is this, but while I was reminding myself of the originals on YouTube, 'November Rain' kept appearing in the recommended playlist feed...well, if you're one of those sad, lost souls who can't get enough of the overhyped plastic awfulness that was Guns'N'Roses, brace yourself for a treat - this largely ends up in the same sort of pop-metal ballpark, and it is at least better than anything ever touched by the hand of W. Axl Rose. So, despite damning 'Listen To Your Metal Heart' with the faintest of all possible praise, I still have to say: bold idea, decent execution, just - sadly - the wrong band to base this style of tribute on.

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Reviewer's rating: 4.5/10


Tracklist :
Jewelcase Version
1. A Sorrowful Dream - Spending My Time
2. The Nameless Cult - Sleeping In My Car
3. From Autumn - Almost Unreal
4. Strigampire - Dangerous
5. Arrant Saudade - Listen To Your Heart
6. MetalBlack - She Doesn't Live Here Anymore
7. Somnent - Crash! Boom! Bang!
8. MP - Joyride
Bonus Tracks
9. Anfel - Fading Like A Flower (Instrumental)
10. Anfel - The Center Of The Heart (Instrumental)
11. Denis Dionis Lobotorov - Vulnerable (Piano)

Digipak Version
1. Anfel - Fading Like A Flower
2. Deos - It Must Have Been Love
3. Dominia - Wish I Could Fly
4. Lost In The Storm - I Don't Want To Get Hurt
5. Nightmare Council - Things Will Never Be The Same
6. Ole Alexander Myrholt Project - Stars
7. Wolfheart - The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye
8. Revelation - So Far Away
9. Seduced By Suicide - How Do You Do
Bonus Tracks
10. Denis Dionis Lobotorov - Fading Like A Flower (Piano)
11. Denis Dionis Lobotorov - The Center Of The Heart (Piano)

Duration : Approx. 53 minutes (Jewel)/48 minutes (Digipak)

Visit the Various Artists bandpage.

Reviewed on 2019-03-10 by Mike Liassides
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