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Universe III “Universe III” Album Review by Banyon G.

Universe III band

Who is Universe III?   That is a good question.  To answer that, we must go back to the early 1980’s, to a legendary first-wave Swedish heavy metal band called Universe.

Universe was formed in 1982 in Upplands Väsby, Sweden, a breeding ground for hard rock back then. The members were Kjelle Wallén (Vocals), Per Nilsson (Guitars), Michael Kling (Lead Guitars & backing vocals), Hasse Hagman (Bass), Anders Wetterström (Drums), and Freddie Kriström (Keyboards). They played around Sweden for a few years before recording their self-titled album in 1985. After some line-up changes, they continued to play and record a few demos before disbanding in 1988.

Their first record was a Swedish metal classic, but one that appears to have been overlooked here in America. I personally did not discover it (on You Tube) until 2017.   If you are anything like me, you sometimes pour through You Tube, message boards, and used record stores, looking for some lost musical gem that you might have missed over the decades.  Well, this 1985 album IS that gem we missed in the 80’s!   It has that old school charm and comprises everything from power and speed metal to classic hard rock and fervent ballads.  All in that wonderful Swedish style, of course – that mix of classical drama and fiery, melodic hard rock with creative riffs and phrasing.   Aside from the solid songwriting and performances, singer Kjell Wallen’s plaintively emotive singing and Michael Kling‘s melodic and fluid lead work highlighted an otherwise delightful record.

By the time I discovered this debut record, I assumed that Universe was lost to history after so many years had passed.  But surprisingly, it turns out the band had reunited in 2002 – minus Kjell Wallen, but with new vocalist and lyricist Andreas Eklund (ex-House Of Shakira).  The reformed band eventually released their 2nd album “Rock Is Alive” in 2018 on Germany’s Pride & Joy label, but under the different band name of Universe InfinityPride & Joy also reissued their 1985 debut on CD for the first time in 2018.  

The Universe Infinity material was a surprise at first because it sounded like modern AOR and nothing like the 1985 album, although it is still high-quality material.  Stylistically the band had made a shift to the kind of music that is the template of many of the bands on Frontiers Records – i.e., upbeat, melodic hard rock with a very polished, Americanized sound.  I was not thrilled with the change at first – especially since there are so many bands playing that style – but upon listening to that album again recently, I can appreciate it for its quality and musicianship.

And now here we are, 6 years after that 2nd album – and Universe is back again, under another new name!   They are now Universe III.   Initially they had promised that this new album (simply titled “Universe III,” also on Pride & Joy Records) would be a mixture of the styles and sounds of the first 2 albums.  That sounded intriguing and I was excited at the prospect of hearing what they would produce.

Turns out, that is not what we get here after all.   It is clear from listening to Universe III that the old school, classic metal from the 1980’s version of the band is long gone.  But is all lost?  No, not at all.  There is still a lot of very good material here.

What we have here on “Universe III” is more high-quality melodic rock, but with a sharper edge, more emotional intensity, and a slightly darker tone than on 2018’s “Rock Is Alive.”

Another change is that the band had parted ways with Michael Kling during rehearsals (for reasons unspecified), and he does not appear on this new album.  Per Nilsson more than capably manages all guitar duties, although his style is somewhat different from Kling’s and the solos sound more carefully constructed and prepped.

In terms of material, the album took a while to grow on me, but I have come to appreciate it after a few listens.  I like that the songs are varied in style, and they are all very well-crafted.   This is epic, Scandinavian melodic rock with a dark edge and there are no songs that I want to skip.  The songwriting and melodies often take a fresh approach, and the advantage to that is that I can return to the album again and not get bored by it.   Stylistically the music has a timeless, classy quality.   One can hear influences and minor similarities with bands like Journey (“I Am”), Revolution Saints (“Hanging By A Thread”), and others like Soledriver, Europe, Jaded Heart, Eclipse, 220 Volt, Mercury Fang, and even some earlier hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple (“Too Late”), Rainbow, and even Def Leppard-meets-Crimson Glory-by way of The Beatles (“It’s Time”).

My favorite songs here are three of the heavier numbers, “To Serve And Protect,” “Too Late,” and the haunting “It’s Time,” as well as the memorable power ballad “Why” and the energetic AOR number “Casa De Los Pollos” (the 2nd single).

I must give big props to the rhythm section here, as they do a superb job, as do all the musicians involved.  The bass is clear and booming, and the drumming is like clockwork.  Andreas Eklund also does a great job singing, as he did on “Rock Is Alive.”  He sounds different than he did with House of Shakira, but the voice fits nicely with the direction the band is going in.

As usual with favorite Scandinavian bands, I wish I could visit their country so I could see them live.   That would be a treat.   In the meantime, we must give a lot of credit to a band like Universe III because they are still going strong and have a lot to offer after a remarkable 42 years.

Banyon’s Rating: 8.5 / 10

universe III album

Track listing

  1. I Am
  2. To Serve And Protect
  3. Casa De Los Pollos
  4. Why
  5. Hanging By A Thread
  6. Rise Above
  7. Liquid Confidence
  8. Dream Of Better Days
  9. Too Late
  10. It’s Time

Line-up:
Andreas Eklund (Lead and backing vocals), Freddie Kriström (keyboards), Hasse
Hagman (bass), Anders Wetterström (drums), Per Nilsson (Electric and acoustic guitars)

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