It has been quite a while since Norwegian pop band A-Ha released an album. In 2010, when they announced their breakup there was no dry eye left among the fan base. One of the biggest 80s acts has built over the years, their position on the music scene and having them around has become some kind of a privilege or rather a tradition.
Me, unlike my mom, was one of those who felt moved by the breakup and I hardly believed that they would come back, I was left broken-hearted. But thanks to the ones like my mom, the spark of hope was still there. And it was ignited into fire with the announcement of the reunion for Rock In Rio, later on it continued as a world tour and at last but not the least an album Cast in Steel was set to be released back in 2015.
Anticipation for the record was almost unbearable, what would it sound like? Have they changed their style? Would it be any good?…These and many different questions were crossing (not only) my mind. This band has (un)fortunately created their own style in the past 30 years on the scene and therefore they are expected to release an album that would reach that standards. And it is not (in any case) an easy task to accomplish especially not in their position. When anyone says A-Ha I immediately think of melancholic Scandinavian melody of their East of the Sun, West of the Moon  and Memorial Beach  albums, mixed with their 1985 debut Hunting High & Low tunes, which perfectly sum up their entire musical career that is about edging in between deep blues and sky sunny heights.
When Cast in Steel was released I got a feeling of uneasiness. What if they do not meet the expectations? When listening to new records you have to put everything away and switch your mind off.
With the opening song playing, the album-titled track “Cast In Steel” one is not entirely blown away. It’s playful with an optimistic tune in the background, immediately reminding me of the Foot of the Mountain  album. Although when you get the song under your skin and you realize what the lyrics are about, a sudden feeling of sadness hits you straight away and you get nostalgic for the past and strangely open for the future.
Then the first single that was released comes on, called “Under the Makeup” and it’s the time when one is sure that A-Ha is back with all the majesty. The orchestral arrangements of the song sends chills down your spine. The voice-work of Morten Harket is perfectly laid upon the violins and it changes dramatically from black depths to ear-caressing heights filling it with the feelings. But it is one of the songs that gives you feeling of A-Ha’s real comeback.
“The Wake” is one of the two songs of the album written by Morten Harket, that is quite obvious if you know his solo work. Peter Kvint contributed on the song (he is known for working with Harket on his solo albums) and it seems like it is not exactly fitting onto this album. And this is the main thing about this record – it seems as though it was done by three independent musicians, who developed their own styles within the past years and it seems difficult for them to mix it together.
With the first seconds of “Forest Fire” you want to just get up and dance your heart out. It is that song that will get you up on your feet and twist you around. The keyboard playing in the background reminds the one of 1985 when in the similar way the synths in “The Sun Always Shines on TV” were played.
When “Objects in the Mirror” comes on you get a slight feeling of getting back to Minor Earth Major Sky  era. What’s more, it is one of the lyrical highlights of the album. It contains the metaphors typical for Magne Furuholmen’s writing as well as the bridge with the spoken word in the background which is notable in his previous work. But these are the details making it worth to give the album a chance.
When it comes to “Door Ajar” this song is interesting for its opening (“Door Ajar du-du-du-du”) and the way the melody changes from verses to refrains, where the song changes thoroughly into a completely different tune.
Another song that has the same problem as the third song on the album is “Living at the End of the World” where the influence of Harket’s solo work is obvious. But overall the song feels as a nice album insider.
The highlight is “Mythomania” for its perfect fusion of the brand-new with the old-school sound of A-ha and Furuholmen’s typical mastery. This all wrapped in a synth sound covering the lyrics with a mystery and some kind of a tangible pain. “You caught belief, like some disease. No words can save ya, ‘cuz you’re all alone, you’re on your own in Mythomania.” The collaboration of Harket and Furuholmen on the track is a marvelous work.
“She’s Humming a Tune” is a piece created by Paul Waaktaar-Savoy. The whole work is underlined with the ‘extraterrestrial’ melody completed by ballad-like lyrics and beautiful guitar arrangements in the outro. Waaktaar is a musician who knows exactly what he’s doing with his music and where he wants to get.
“Shadow Endeavours” seems like it was cut out of their Foot of the Mountain  album. But the lyrics are precisely descriptive, pointing at the world and society of today and it almost hurts you to admit how bad it really is (the world, I mean). As it usually happens on songs arranged by Paul, the outro is incredibly elaborate and good, and I would say that it is the best part of this song.
It almost seems that the second part of the album is more A-Ha like, because “Giving Up the Ghost” is that “true” A-Ha song born in hands of Harket & Furuholmen together, which gives it a very different feeling. It is as if it is 1984 again and boys are locked in the studio and all they want is take over the world because everything is possible, if they try hard enough.
From the very first second one knows that “Goodbye Thompson” is Waaktaar’s baby. I would say it was highly influenced by Analogue  “Halfway Through the Tour” and I appreciate it for its refrain vocal arrangements, but the song itself feels you with uneasiness and feels (from time to time) a little bit uncomfortable.
On a bonus disc edition, you can find another song that is not a remix of their previous work called “The End of the Affair” and with all honesty I can say that the song should have got on the album, as it is way better than some of the songs on the record. Simple string arrangements and light drum beats aligned with melancholic lyrics by the voice filled with emotions. It sounds like a beautiful lullaby for those warm summer nights
Overall, Cast In Steel album has it strengths as well as its flaws. Its opening and closing tunes are as great as they can be, but the album itself lacks something on the inside. It lacks the passion to work together, to do everything TOGETHER, to collaborate and co-operate as three musicians being in one band, as they used to before. I’m not saying that the sound of the album should be like in the early days, definitely that is not the point, all I am saying is that it sounds as they were forced back to studio, as they were not working on it as a band but as the individuals outside the band creating a compilation of their solo works. It’s one of those records, when you almost want to give up (I stress WANT, because in fact you NEVER do give up) at first, but soon you realize that it needs the time to get under your skin, just like a good whiskey needs its 12 years to get the better taste.