Jacob Holm-Lupo – Guitar, synths, percussion, programming
Ole Øvstedal – Bass, Guitar
Lars Fredrik Frøislie – Drums
Silje Huleboer – Vocals (tracks 1, 2, 5 & 6)
Ina A – Vocals (track 4)
Leah Marcu – Vocals (track 7)
Maria Grigoryeva – Strings (track 7)
Ilia Skibinsky – Saxophone (track 1)
Bjørn Riis – Guitar (tracks 3 & 8)
Alexander Stenarud – Vocals (track 9)
1. In the Streets 4:55
2. Slow Run 5:30
3. A Question of Re-entry 6:06
4. Nightwings 4:37
5. Fairground Sunday 2:36
6. Under Thunder 5:21
7. The Curfew Bell 3:35
8. A Maelstrom of Stars 6:40
9. What’s It Gonna Be (CD bonus track) 5:20
The Opium Cartel are back with their third full release in ‘Valor’, an eight track album (9 tracks if you include the bonus track for the CD) spearheaded again by the band’s songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Holm-Lupo. Holm-Lupo has teamed up with several notable musicians to bring this latest work to life such as acoustic duo Ole and Silje, with Ole Øvstedal providing cover on bass and guitar whilst vocalist Silje Huleboer has a prominent part to play on vocals throughout the album. On drums we have Lars Fredrik Frøislie, who has collaborated with Holm-Lupo before on drums with Holm-Lupo’s other band White Willow but is better known for his keyboard duties with prog group Wobbler.
Certain tracks have certain elements that call for other specialists like the opening track ‘The Streets’ which uses the saxophone skills of Russian-Israeli saxophonist Ilia Skibinsky, who has made some contributions to some high regarded jazz musicians such as Randy Brecker and Larry Graham. Each track has its own charms but the common theme is a leaning towards nostalgic alt-synth pop sounding music that would easily make a home throughout the 80s, although there are many more modern sounding yet still framed firmly in the past. Take the track ‘A Maelstrom Of Stars’ as an example. This track has some extended instrumental passages but sounds like ‘Division Bell’-era Pink Floyd. The guitar sound just oozes this period of David Gilmour’s guitar and the sound arrangements fit that as well.
The rest of thesongs barring the bonus track fits quite consistently with one another, albeit with various individual elements. There’s a soft synth-pop theme that is politely complimented by Silje’s soft and delicate vocal melodies. There’s an ease to this as her range is not overtly tested and there’s a balance achieved through this without excelling to any great degree. The album as a whole is rather safe and doesn’t push any boundaries but it’s based on nostalgia rather than a purpose to explore new territories. Some of it is rather excellent like the instrumental ‘A Maelstrom Of Stars’ and the opening track, which had some very nice instrumental parts like the saxophone and the bass lines. I also quite like the near funk opening to ‘Under Thunder’, however the tracks don’t fully absorb me and it becomes a bit of a borefest.
There are some good parts and others that are just too safe and therefore unexciting. Jacob Holm-Lupo clearly has talent but I was hoping for more and I really hoped this would be a bit more guitar-centric rather than it being seldom a focus. They were aiming for something specific and I would say they have achieved it but it’s just not something that’s much use in the modern age. Nostalgia is everywhere of course, so to me, this is just jumping on the bandwagon rather than trying something new and exciting. The Opium Cartel are not alone in this but it’s a time where we should be exploring more rather than for digging up the past. I’m sure there’s more to this project and perhaps next time, they’ll push the boat out a little.