The last time I heard anything from Norwegian band Fatal Fusion was 2013’s The Ancient Tale. It was sold to me as Dream Theater with Mellotron. It sounded to me, more like Rush with Alex choosing to play vintage keyboards. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. However, what put me off the album, and why I guess I never really returned were the vocals, which were full of horribly cheesy affectations to my ears. Fatal Fusion began as a blues band, and that origin remained a part of the music of The Ancient Tale, with hints of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. I guess this is why I tended to compare the music more to Rush than to Dream Theater. This year’s album, Dissonant Minds, is far closer to Dream Theater than Rush, though. Well, perhaps a jazzy and psychedelic Dream Theater/Genesis hybrid, where Steve Hackett is on guitar, rather than John Petrucci.
The opening of the first track, Coming Forth by Day, attracted me more than anything on the whole of the previous album I had heard from the band (they have released another album in the interim, in 2016, but I’ve not listened to that). It’s a strong opening, that bodes well, as I admit I took this album on for review with a little reluctance, knowing my previous experience with the band had not been entirely positive. As ever, the keyboards of Erlend Engebretsen are lush, and full of expression and emotion. I’m loving it. Some beautiful acoustic guitar from Stig Selnesin in the third minute, over a malevolent background hum. It’s the threat within the music that has held my attention, and yet when all threat seems to evaporate in the fourth minute, I’m still with the song. And then the singing begins. But, you know, it’s not as bad as I remember. In fact, I have no problem at all, until the chorus. The strained, rough sung chorus just doesn’t work for me. The verses sound natural, and the chorus just sounds forced and fake, and as a result, cheesy to me. I wish Knut Erik Grøntvedt would stick to the singing style he uses for the verses, but that’s just me. I’m sure there a legion of Fatal Fusion fans who love his way of singing.
Still in song one, but it’s a long one, which gives plenty of opportunity for some changes – and I love the change around the ninth minute. It’s the first time the drums of Audun Engebretsen have a chance to stand out and impress – and impress they do, as the threatening tone returns for the first time, since the song began. Lasse Lie’s bass joins in, and the rhythm section shine – even as the other instruments soar over them. The vocals return, and again it sounds to me like Grøntvedt is attempting to sing in a voice that doesn’t come naturally to him. But I have to reiterate, that as much as I have some difficulty with the vocals, it is nowhere as much of a problem for me as it was with a The Ancient Tale. The vocals are relatively sparse, and the music is strong. As the song begins to fade out, I am aware that I’m not really ready for it to end.
Lie and Engebretsen lead us into Quo Vadimus with some very nifty playing. I hate to say it, but again I’m loving the track, right up until the point where Grøntvedt starts singing. It’s not bad, but I just wish he wouldn’t use the gruff tone, when he sounds so good singing without it. With or without his singing, this song has a bit of a jazzy vibe that I really like, thanks largely to the rhythm section. Even when there’s some bluesy guitar flying over the top, the beat keeps things from turning too blues. And, it’s at this point that I realise – of course, Grøntvedt is a blues singer. It’s not that his vocals are forced, so much as they’re forced into music they don’t really fit into. Would I enjoy his gruffer vocals if they were in a different musical setting? I honestly don’t know, but I suspect I might. This new appreciation, however, doesn’t help me with enjoying them in this track. (Sorry.)
There’s a dramatic change of pace with Beneath the Skydome, which works as short, transitional piece. Quiet, atmospheric and reflective, it becomes more minimalist as it goes on, until returning with an insistent marching beat. The last note fades, and there is nothing until a bell starts tolling the start of Broken Man, Pt.2. (The first part of the song, after some investigation, appears to feature on Fatal Fusion’s debut album. I’ve not yet listened to it.) Unfortunately for me, this return to a theme from an earlier album also seems to herald a return in sound to the earlier album I have heard (The Ancient Tale), and the first five minutes don’t do a lot for me. Grøntvedt’s vocals do soften at this point, and the song begins to become more enjoyable, but it’s another minute before I get to the point where I can actually say I like it, I guess that it the good thing about a song of this length, as it does have a chance to redeem itself. Apart from the first five minutes, this is actually a good song, with Grøntvedt’s best singing.
This isn’t an album I’m going to rave over, but it’s considerably better than I anticipated. I’m going to assume any fans of the band will lap it up, and those who may have passed the band over in the past might want to give them another go. There’s enough of interest here that I will be checking out whatever comes next from Fatal Fusion, as well as their previous album. Heck, I might even revisit The Ancient Tale.
01. Coming Forth By Day (14:23)
02. Quo Vadimus (7:41)
03. Beneath The Skydome (4:22)
04. Broken Man Pt.2 (16:43)
Total Time – 43:09
Knut Erik Grøntvedt – Vocals
Stig Selnes – Guitars
Erlend Engebretsen – Keyboards
Lasse Lie – Bass
Audun Engebretsen – Drums, Percussion
Record Label: Apollon Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 10th July 2020