Some of the names have changed, but the mission of DREAM EVIL has remained the same on "United", the group's fourth: Deliver quality power metal with a classic '80s attitude and impeccable melodic sensibility. Newcomer and lead guitarist Mark Black is a more than sufficient replacement for Greek wunderkind Gus G. The newbie's soloing soars across the heavens in traditional heavy metal form. The appropriately named Pat Power also does an admirable job of filling Snowy Shaw's big shoes on the drums. Besides, with super producer and guitarist Fredrik Nordström at the helm, it is no wonder that "United" maintains the quality standard achieved on the first three albums.
Like previous albums, the success of "United" comes down to two very important ingredients: big riffs and even bigger choruses. Right off the bat, we get an unabashedly metal-worshiping anthem called "Fire! Battle! In Metal" that immediately conjures images of a packed arena audience shouting the chorus in unison. And man, the riffs and leads are hot as hell. Also up-tempo and sporting a bigger hook, "Blind Evil" is easily an album highlight for its memorable chorus. The title track is a tough mid-tempo stomp with yet another memorable chorus. In fact, you can pretty well assume that melody is a central element on every track. Not every song is a grand slam (i.e. "Back from the Dead" and "Higher on Fire"), but you'll find no duds either. Bonus track "My Number One" is a cover of a song that won Greek performer Helena Paparizou the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. The cut features former members Gus G. and Snowy Shaw too. Pop-based and quirky, the band gives the tune some punch and it serves as an interesting way to finish off the proceedings. And yes, Nordström's production results in a muscular guitar tone and tight rhythm section sound, but who on earth would be surprised to read that at this point in the man's career?
As much attention as players like Nordström and (on past albums) Gus G. have gotten in the DREAM EVIL camp, it's high time that vocalist Niklas Isfeldt is recognized for his golden pipes. The guy can flat-out sing! His upper-range delivery can make even the blandest melodies come to life. His command of patterns is outstanding and his ability to squeeze every ounce of passion out of a single note is laudable, to say the least. That simple choruses on songs like "Kingdom at War" and "Doomlord" can seem so captivating owes as much to Isfeldt's delivery as to the songs' melodies.
"United" has nothing to do with musical trailblazing or genre reinvention. It's all about classic metal guitars and catchy choruses. Not quite as good as "Dragonslayer" and "Evilized", but a better overall disc than "The Book of Heavy Metal", album number four from Nordström's gang is guaranteed to have any lover of classic heavy metal and melodic hard rock nodding in approval. DREAM EVIL once again makes it cool to raise that fist high in the air and sing along. "United" is a rockin' good time. By the way, the first pressing of "United" will include a bonus CD with five exclusive songs.