Sorvik, population 451, is a tiny village in northern Norway. It’s hard to imagine a less likely origin for a metal band. But maybe not. The Wikipedia entry for the village reflects that Sorvik is known locally as a “metal-community” and boasts that several well-known bands have roots there. This brings us to Tomorrow’s Outlook, a Sorvik-based band with big aspirations and big talent. As the band readily admits, their 2012 debut album, entitled 34613, may have been too ambitious for its own good. But it was an enjoyable melodic metal effort inspired by the likes of ‘80s Crimson Glory, Lethal and Dio and featuring guest vocal appearances from such luminaries as Graham Bonnet and Michael Kiske. After six long years, the follow-up, entitled A Voice Unheard, is complete and poised for worldwide release via Australia’s Battlegod Productions on April 6, 2018.
From the outset, you should know that Tomorrow’s Outlook have an unconventional configuration. The three members/writers include bassist Anders Stenseth, guitarist Oystein Kvile Hanssen, and manager/co-writer Trond Nicolaisen. A session player handles the drum parts, and the lead vocals are parceled out on a song-by-song basis among a trio of special guests. The big name here is legendary Primal Fear wailer Ralf Scheepers, who magnificently belts out six songs on A Voice Unheard. Five tracks are performed by Tomorrow’s Outlook’s countryman, the excellent Tony Johannessen (of the band Thunderbolt) who brings a Dickinsonian flair to the proceedings. The third singer, American Scott Oliva (known most recently for his work in Reverence), the lone vocal holdover from 34613, lends his pipes to the superb cut “Outlaw.” For this kind of arrangement to succeed, the guest singers have to be engaged with the song material and not just going through the motions to collect a check. Fortunately, all three vocalists appear to have gone “all in” on this project, with Scheepers especially delivering a glorious, other-worldly performance every bit as intense and inspired as anything you’ve ever heard him do before. For example, I get shivers down my spine when I hear him sing the semi-ballad “The Enemy,” utilizing every facet of his exceptional range, emotion, expression and power.
What is most impressive about A Voice Unheard is not the roster of guests (which also includes Roy Z, who mixed the album, and Heir Apparent’s Terry Gorle, among others), but the quality of the compositions. Whereas the songwriting on 34613 became bogged down at times, A Voice Unheard moves effortlessly from strength to strength, one well-constructed, memorable melodic metal song after another. The songs crackle with energy, Hanssen’s delightfully up-front guitars have plenty of bite and gallop and melody, and the tunes successfully find that sweet spot between classy European traditional power metal and ‘80s U.S. heavy metal. Those who follow my reviews know I typically highlight a few standout songs, but try as I might I simply can’t do it here. The material is so compelling from front to back that if I started name-checking particular tunes that I love, I’d have a list of seven or eight songs in the blink of an eye. It also bears noting that there’s a lyrical concept threading its way through the album. Promotional materials tout A Voice Unheard as being steeped in “a dark concept about an oncoming apocalypse and a solitary soul on a doomed mission to prevent it.” Tomorrow’s Outlook even employ two skilled voice actors to add narration / voice-over bits to advance the storyline. There’s a lot to digest here, and in the few days I’ve been listening to this album I haven’t yet delved fully into the lyrical concept, but it appears to be presented in a way that is interesting without being overbearing or distracting from the killer music. That’s the right balance to strike, because the lyrical concept is there for those who dig it, without getting in the way for listeners who just want to rock.
After 10 songs and nearly an hour of original music, A Voice Unheard shifts gear into covers mode for the final two tracks. And what glorious covers they are! First up is “Darkside of Aquarius,” one of my favorite songs from Bruce Dickinson’s classic Accident of Birth album. Johannessen has big shoes to fill here, standing in for the Air Raid Siren himself, but he acquits himself well and does justice to this great song. More bands should cover Dickinson solo material, dammit! Things get even more exciting with the second cover, which sees Tomorrow’s Outlook tackling a song by Aria, Russia’s biggest and best heavy metal band. They arranged for an English-language translation of “Slave to Evil Force,” the lead track on Aria’s godly Hero of the Asphalt LP from 1987. The kicker is that Aria drummer Maxim Udalov performs on this version, and both Udalov and Aria bassist Vitaly Dubinin lend their talents to the “Darkside of Aquarius” cover. Wow! Tomorrow’s Outlook have told me they have high hopes for future Aria-related collaborations. Fingers crossed that these grand ideas come to fruition. The western world needs more Aria!
With A Voice Unheard, the little unconventional band from Sorvik “Rock City,” Norway just might make serious waves in the international heavy metal community. It fulfills the promise and the glimmers of brilliance exhibited on 34613. It’s a remarkably well-written, well-executed slab of melodic heavy metal that should appeal equally to both the Euro power metal crowd and the ‘80s melodic metal fanbase. To be sure, with its running time of 72 minutes, A Voice Unheard is a demanding listen. Perhaps the best compliment that can be given is that the album doesn’t feel anywhere near that long. Keep your eyes peeled too, because the best may be yet to come. Tomorrow’s Outlook have already completed 70% of the writing process for their third album, with a fiendishly dark and bloody lyrical concept to boot, and have plans to construct a live lineup to enable the band to hit the road and bring their music to the people. I can’t wait.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~