The second in Sarayasign mainman Jesper Lindbergh‘s proposed quartet of albums written around the fictional world of Saraya, The Lion’s Road finds the band consolidating the gains made by last year’s splendid Throne of Gold elpee.

Indeed, Throne of Gold was so splendid it landed the band a berth aboard the good ship Frontiers, guaranteeing that this album will find more doors open to it than it’s predecessor. That has to be a good thing, but has it changed the way the band goes about it’s business for album number two?

To the untrained ear, the answer to that will be a no, which will be a big relief if you were as big a fan of Throne Of Gold as I was and am; Rather, the band have honed their approach here, focusing on making the heavy parts heavier (though no less melodic), giving the album overall less of an AOR feel and steering the band towards more progressive waters. Think Evergrey, maybe, as a convenient comparison to the overall sound and feel of The Lion’s Road.

The downside of this is that there’s nothing here to compare to the sheer, gonzoid AOR mayhem of ToG‘s standout cut If Only For Moment, a song which for me stands out as absolutely one of the best written anywhere by anyone in the last decade. But, after living with the album for a while now, that would really appear to be the only negative I can think of. Superb tracks like Blood From A Stone and Will You Find Me still carry the emotional heft of album number one’s best work, but, when added to the overall punchier, more hard hitting feel the band have adopted over the album as a whole you’re left with a feeling that this is a band more complete, more rounded and indeed just better than it was last time we heard from them. Stefan Nykvist goes from strength to strength here, cementing his position as one of Euro metal’s most commanding voices, but this isn’t just a one man show. Peter Lundin contributes some truly mighty lead work, backed by the bass and keyboard contributions of Daniel Lykkeklev. And then of course there’s the visionary drummer-guitarist-prime mover Lindbergh, coming up with the concepts and filling in all the musical gaps. Together they form quite a team – and The Lion’s Road is quite an album.

The Lion’s Road releases on August 11th.