'Villain of the Piece' is like a bipartite playthrough with one end highlighting a motorcycle cruising hard-rock aesthetic, and the other fathering a southern swoon, swaggering to an acoustic guitar and the country drawl that comes appended.
It's the latest album from the Swedish songster Johan Ruborg, who's on his way to becoming one of modern rock's innovators.
His latest amalgamation of sonics has a potent magnetism to it, with character-driven lyrics and affluence concerning storytelling that can captivate any audience. What's most infatuating about this playback is how effortlessly Johan juggles between heavy-rock anthems and country-inspired ballads from track to track.
Opening up with a hefty dose of high-tension and scintillating wattage, the Swedish rock-star inaugurates his playback with a story that leaves an impressionable afterglow, before detouring into more calm and balmy waters not too far in.
"You Made Me A Criminal," is the scintillating rock anthem that initiates 'Villain of the Piece," with a story following a society-made lawbreaker, strung out on amphetamines, wearing a bulletproof-vest and equipped with a 38, who gets barred-down by the law; capsizing his quest for redemption and reparation. It's a good taste of the hard-knocking nature behind Johan's rock n roll treasures, which feel like the authentic gems on this latest album.
The heated journey continues on through tracks like "Hard Streets." Here, Johan outlines the picture of a bad-ass raised in an urban jungle, who steals his first car at seventeen and takes life at the age of twenty-five, with an extreme propensity of high-octane living as he navigated life in a less than the safe environment. Johan seldom uses electric guitars for anything less than a hot-blood riff or a steamy solo throughout the album's playback.
"Blood Meridian" is another track that benefits from the deep-plunging, southern-route hard-rock aesthetic that festers within 'Villain of the Piece.' It's the highlighting track on the album, coming in super-stocked with Johan's heavily saturated croons drifting over a fiery instrumental backing on a hot-blooded 'desperate times call for desperate measures' ethos, and landing like a raging stadium anthem held tight with industrial drums, overdriven amps, and lighter flames waving in the distance as far as the eye can see.
On the other tailpiece of 'Villain of the Piece," Johan delivers a contrasting framework for songs like, "I'd Rather Be Alone With You," a song reminiscing about a past love, festooned with synergizing acoustic guitars, home-bound bridge sections, and Johan's direct southern-tinge, garnished with a low-registered tone that warms the heart and soul.
Though these unique singles come from worlds away, compared to the leather vest trimmed Harley Davidson coasting sub-cultures that the opening track perfectly encapsulated, his influential roots of the south come baring the benefits of shifting audiences perspective.
Embellishing his album with a full stretching experience, where listeners get to know all the sonic capabilities behind Johan's talents. "When The Going Gets Tough," comes steadfast on the cadence of a marching snare drum, with acoustics strings and prismatic vocal harmonies working in tandem to drive the infatuating melody homeward, while Johan's calls out in longing to be reunited with the woman he loves.
It's a well-balanced ballad that grows on you as Johan's dynamic electric guitar resurfaces for a waft of the melodic display, while the marching rhythms chaperone listeners into another Nashville-winking hit titled, "Good Days Ahead." Corralling all the best melodies for a catchy top-line about better days, and making the best of what you've got, this is Johan's terminal song on the LP, and it's a feel-good anthem that anyone can sink into. Liberated with gooey harmonicas, prismatic acoustic guitars, and a well-rounded rhythm section, Johan soars across the expanse of the mix like a man who just seized another shot at happiness.
In searching for an injunction, 'Villain of the Piece' fares strongest when Johan puts all in his eggs in the storytelling basket, and particularly when a hard-rocking soundtrack is driving the wheel. He finds drive and impulse on in the scintillating "You Made Me A Criminal," retreating to one his most well-known settings: on the highway, dejected, and grueling over the sonic exudation oozing from his amp. And just after the all-embracing hug of "I'd Rather Be With You," there's the power track "Blood Meridian," an example of the best elements of this playback, where Johan embraces his rock n roll intensities and invests in the boiling-point storylines he unveils so captivatingly.
"The hate of man," he sings in the most eminent frontiers of this track, with a deep-seated voice, "became the testament of a now fatherless son." Whatever southern leaning, Hardrock festooned aesthetic Johan might singing on top of, he always sounds tapped into something special, filled with poetic purpose and astonishing purity, following wherever his creative intuitions guide him.
Johan Ruborg sounds like himself but split into two variations: one half, a hard-rocking motorcycle riding anti-hero, and the other, a country swooning heart-throbber.
What were some of the most powerful emotions you remember tapping into for the performances you've captured on 'Villain of the Piece?'
I think this album really captures a raw and very soulful experience since it's almost exclusively recorded live in only a couple of days. For me, It was a combination of time pressure, determination, and musical instinct that gave the songs it's raw power.
'Where did most of your songs on 'Villain of the Piece' find their initial origin? Was it a few MIDI notes on a DAW, a melody stuck in your head, or a poem/story begging to come to life?
I write all my music on guitar, so it always starts with a line, a melody, or just a phrase, then the idea of the story slowly begins to unfold. Almost every song on this album is written in a first-person narrative. Like 'You Made Me a Criminal', a song about a drug mule, based loosely on a guy I've met. Then you got a song like 'Blood Meridian' which is inspired by real events that took place at a solid waste plant in Houston in 2015. The title to that song is actually from one of my favorite books by Cormac Mccarthy, I thought it would be a fitting title for the scenery. I like to work as a movie director on my songs and build imagery for the listeners to navigate through. Not just lyrically but also musically.
Can you walk us through your thought process behind incorporating hard-rock-driven songs amidst tracks that have more of a southern aesthetic on 'Villain of the Piece'?
I grew up listening to 'album rock'. You know the classic rock albums that had the whole spectrum of songs, the 'up-tempo rocker', the 'heavier song', 'the ballad'. So I always loved the idea of recording albums that are diverse in its own musical genre. Also, guitar-driven music and especially hard rock have always been just as close to me as folk, blues, and country music.
Can you tell us about some of the most impactful learning moments you can remember encountering throughout the production of 'Villain of the Piece'?
As an independent artist you have to accept the limitations of your resources, then you have to learn to accept the actual end result or the finished 'product' so to speak. I've come to realize that it doesn't need to be fancy, expensive studios and overqualified producers to make a great album that you're proud of. It's all about working with committed people and believing in your own songs.
If you could give us a few words that would act as the prologue to the musical and emotional experience behind 'Villian of the Piece,' what would you say and why?
It's very much a statement. A tribute to all the music I grew up listening to, about reviving guitar-driven music in a kind of plastic and digitalized mainstream industry. It's also about these characters I'd like you to meet, the 'villains of the piece'. They're often displayed in difficult situations and maybe with a less promising outcome than for your 'average Joe'. Still, there's always some fighting spirit left in there, an underlying sense of faith and a small ounce of hope, but in the end, I guess it's only rock n roll isn't it?