At a time when dubious reunions and the promise of an easy paycheque have dragged dozens of crusty old musicians out of retirement, let’s be thankful for bands like Mårran. Uniting three legends of the Swedish 1970s and 80s hard rock scene – Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Göran Edman, November drummer Björn Inge and master producer/keyboardist Max Lorentz – the Stockholm-based outfit take classic 70s sounds and infuse them with a charge of fresh blood. Bassist Morgan Korsmore and talented guitarist Ludwing Larsson, both in their early twenties, are the real driving force behind Mårran and their energy and vitality have clearly transferred to the veteran performers in the band.
Sonically, Mårran’s self-titled debut release lies somewhere between blues, hard and classic rock with heavy progressive overtones in the form of Lorentz’s Hammond organ, which features prominently on most tracks. The most immediate point of reference is perhaps Grand Funk Railroad and influences from songs like “Shinin’ On” and “Walk Like A Man” are also very much in evidence. There are nods too to Led Zeppelin, Cream and Free but despite the vintage tones, Mårran aren’t afraid to experiment with the form and blistering guitar solos on “Folkvisa från Helvetet” and other tracks have a surprisingly modern feel about them.
The album features half a dozen standout tracks, though it’s not the most immediate of records and this reviewer found that it took several listens to start to appreciate the level of songwriting talent on display. The monster riff that drives “Gärdesbrud” is strongly reminiscent of US rock band Clutch, with Edman’s vocals (in Swedish on all tracks) really taking things to the next level, while “Tänk” om channels the ghost of Jim Morrison and “Folkvisa från Helvetet” veers off into Lynyrd Skynyrd territory. There’s a very real sense that Mårran have cherry-picked the very best ideas of the emerging hard rock scene in the early 1970s and run with them to create an album that’s as rich in diversity as it is in sheer instrumental prowess.
Mixing a record like this was always going to be a challenge given the myriad of different influences competing for airtime. Thankfully, veteran Swedish producer Max Lorentz has done a good job here, carefully balancing vintage 70s sounds with the increased volume and clarity expected by modern listeners. Hammond organ and guitar are beautifully balanced against each other, fading in and out as one or the other takes the lead and adding a warm, resonant depth to each song.
The low end has received just as much attention and more straightforward rock numbers like “Syster Blå” and “Gärdesbrud” come alive thanks to a meaty bass tone. Some impressive panning work on the percussion creates enough space to ensure that other instruments don’t feel suffocated but without emasculating Inge’s drumming in the process. Though the roots of Mårran’s debut go back four decades, there’s a freshness and vibrancy to the album that feel reassuringly modern.
It’s difficult to find fault in a record that wears its heart and heritage so proudly on its sleeve but there is a sense, come the last few songs, that things have maybe gone on a little too long . It’s not so much that ideas begin to wear thin but that the band has reached the limits of what it’s possible to do within a musical framework that’s at least forty years old. While this album is clearly a love letter to an era of rock history, Mårran are in danger of becoming restricted by the conceits of the genre. Future releases will hopefully see the group stray further outside the lines.
All that said, Mårran’s debut record is as fine a tribute to the hard rock legends of old as you’re likely to hear this or any other year. Fans of recent work by Opeth and Pain of Salvation will find a fascinating window on the music that inspired those bands to rediscover the 70s, with enough fresh ideas to make it an interesting listen in its own right. Aficionados of vintage rock, meanwhile, can enjoy a record that keeps the spirit of the time alive and proves that the old guard can still learn a few new tricks.