As everybody knows, the best revenge is living well. Anette Olzon has long since watched her NIGHTWISH experience dissolve in the rear-view, but there is still a strong sense that the Swede deserves another solid shot at glory. There was nothing wrong with first solo album 2014's "Shine", nor with the two records that she made as part of THE DARK ELEMENT, of course. Fans of the more symphonic and sweetly melodic side of Olzon's music were certainly well served by the latter project's self-titled 2017 debut and 2019's "Songs The Night Sings". Meanwhile, fans of unashamedly proper, balls-to-the-wall singing were given a choking dose via 2020's "Worlds Apart": her collaboration with leather-throated powerhouse Russell Allen. Nonetheless, "Strong" is immediately identifiable as the sound of Olzon in her element, as all the trappings of the past melt away and that perennially underrated voice is finally free to let rip over 11 sharp, crafted and melodically irresistible pop-metal smashers with ANETTE OLZON plastered across the billboard as the undisputed main event.
Firstly, "Strong" is surprisingly heavy, in the best possible way. There is no doubt that these songs all live or die on the strength of their chorus hooks and snappy arrangements. But while many in the symphonic metal world favor the crisp tones of melodic power metal, these songs are underscored by something approximating the grinding, futuristic thud of melo-death. Coupled with Olzon's best and most versatile vocal display to date, "Strong" kicks a preposterous amount of ass from its opening moments, and until its glorious, wildly melodramatic conclusion. Even the centerpiece ballad, "Sad Lullaby", goes off like a nuclear explosion.
"Strong" is all about the songs. Opener "Bye Bye Bye" is so strident and speedy that it takes the breath way, before the first of many platinum-plated choruses lifts things to an even greater height. Recent singles "Sick of You" and "Fantastic Fanatic" are equally immaculate. Olzon sings with newfound conviction, armed with killer melodies and buoyed upon waves of scorched-earth riffing. Another single, "Parasite", is the fieriest of them all, as refined pop sensibilities collide with cutting edge pomp. In contrast, "Catcher of My Dreams" is the album's balls-out heavy metal anthem, with power-thrash riffing as its driving force and a chorus that would have graced any '80s old-school classic. Meanwhile, a more opulent tone is adopted for "Who Can Save Them", wherein a dash of prog metal splendor adds extra richness to the color palette and Olzon casts a chameleonic spell in a gothic duel/duet with a growling Johan Husgafvel (bassist, and the singer's husband).
Closing with two more inch-perfect pop-metal gems — the galloping storm of "Hear Them Roar"; the downbeat but dynamic "Roll The Dice" — "Strong" is devoid of filler, dense with charm and absolutely bursting at the seams with big, shiny metal songs. The best thing Olzon has put her name to since "Imaginaerum", a decade ago, this is living well in sonic form. Strong is about right.