10 essential Scandinavian AOR albums

Covers from eight classic Scandinavian AOR albums
(Image credit: Frontiers/earMusic/Virgin/EMI/Polydor/Polygram/CBS)

Scandinavia has always been a hotbed of musical talent, not least within the melodic rock/AOR genre. From the mid-80s, the region has spawned countless  acts that easily matched or beat their US counterparts.

When you consider that Sweden, Norway and Denmark boast a combined population of fewer than 20 million (even less back in the 80s), it makes the sheer number of acts to have sprung from the area even more staggering. It was then, and remains to this day, a vibrant scene that, even through the ‘grunge’ days, continued to produce many quality releases. Ask any melodic rock fan to name their favourite Scandinavian group and you’ll get countless names thrown at you in quick succession: Treat, Glory, Swedish Erotica, Madison, Spellbound, Talisman, Stage Dolls, TNT, Dalton, Skagarack, Da Vinci, Alien... The list is seemingly endless.

Although most of these bands never really broke through outside of their home countries, their impact is still felt throughout the melodic rock world to this day. Despite the inevitable shifts in musical culture and trends, there is an active and bustling melodic rock scene in Scandinavia. Bands such as H.E.A.T., Miss Behaviour, Poodles, Houston and Work Of Art who, alongside some truly memorable recent releases from the old guard, are all carrying the torch for the next generation of melodic rock fans.


Europe – The Final Countdown (1986)


Few who saw it will forget the first time they saw poodle-permed Joey Tempest leading his equally fluffy bandmates through the video for The Final Countdown.

Although that title song would top the charts in 18 different countries, the Swedish band’s third album is far more than a one-trick pony. Rock The Night and Cherokee kicked like the proverbial mule, Danger On The Tracks was a fine slice of serrated-edged pomp, and Carrie was a top-notch ballad.

The album’s popularity was too much for guitarist John Norum, but after a period of inactivity the classic line-up reformed in 2003.

Buy The Final Countdown now

Fate – A Matter Of Attitude (1986)


Maybe a left-field choice for some, seeing as this was the band put together by Mercyful Fate guitarist Hank Sherman, but the fact remains, this is a quality melodic rock album. Released in 1986, A Matter Of Attitude, the band’s second album, is packed with Scandi-AOR gems such as Hard As A Rock, I Won’t Stop, (I Can’t Stand) Losing You, Limbo A Go-Go and the brilliant Summerlove. It is the jewel in their crown. 

TNT – Tell No Tales (1987)


Finding American singer Tony Harnell was the catalyst that propelled ‘big in Norway’ rock act TNT to the global stage. His debut with the band was a solid affair, but with the arrival of Tell No Tales in ‘87, TNT got everything right. 10,000 Lovers, Everyone’s A Star, the grandiose ballad Northern Lights, As Far As The Eye Could See… it would be fair to say the band’s cup runneth over! Harnell’s exemplary performance is matched at every turn by Ronnie le Tekro’s immense guitar playing. The follow-up, Intuition, didn’t quite match this classic, but it came oh-so-close.

Buy Tell No Tales now

Alien – Alien (1988)


If ever a band were cruelly robbed of their chance to shine it was Alien. Landing a global record deal less than a year after forming in 1986, followed by a Gold-selling single (a cover of The Marbles’ Only One Woman), ensured their 1988 debut was a hotly anticipated release, only for the rug to be pulled from under them when the band’s singer, the phenomenally talented Jim Jidhed, quit a few short months later. A true shame as this is remarkable record. Just check out Brave New Love, I’ve Been Waiting and the stunning Tears Don’t Put Out The Fire for proof.

Buy Alien now

Stage Dolls – Stage Dolls (1988)


Norway’s Stage Dolls were a cult phenomenon within AOR circles thanks to a brace of well received albums, but it was on 1988’s stunning Stage Dolls that everything fell into place. From the opening wallop of Still In Love, through to the melody overdrive of Love Cries on to the gorgeous melancholy of closing track Ammunition, there is very little to fault here. Led by the gravelly tones of ace songwriter Torstein Flakne, the Norwegian trio would never quite reach these heights again – though they gave it bloody good go, especially on Stripped, which arrived the following year.

Buy Stage Dolls now

Talisman – Talisman (1990)


After being fired from John Norum’s band, former Yngwie Malmsteen bassist Marcel Jacob (sadly no longer with us) set about putting together what would become Talisman’s debut album. Enlisting another fellow Malmsteen alumni in the shape of vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, Talisman saw the light of day in 1990 and, although not an instant hit, would earn the band a Gold record by the end of the year. I’ll Be Waiting proved to be the stepping stone, becoming a huge hit in Sweden (much to Jacob’s surprise) but Just Between Us and Break Your Chains are equally good songs.

Pretty Maids – Jump The Gun (1990)


The Danes had already put in a solid shift at the coal face when they released this album in 1990. Their previous album (the wonderful Future World) had seen them ratchet up the melody and had enjoyed a MTV hit with the single Love Games. With the subsequent, Roger Glover-produced Jump The Gun, the band’s label believed the band would finally break worldwide. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, but it’s wasn’t through lack of quality material: Attention, Lethal Heroes and the heroic power balled Savage Heart are all prime-time melodic rock gems.

Buy Jump The Gun now

Work Of Art – Work Of Art (2008)


A Swedish three-piece who took the timeless Toto template, polished it to a hi-gloss sheen and released one of the most fantastic debuts in modern melodic rock history. The effortless power of über-vocalist Lars Safsund (one of the finest singers I’ve heard in a long while) matched the incredible collection of songs perfectly. The insanely catchy Why Do I? is a perfect AOR delight, while Once In A Lifetime, Her Only Lie and Carmelia (which wouldn’t have been out of place on Toto’s classic Isolation album) underline just how good this record is.

Treat – Coup De Grace (2010)


Few would have expected an album of this quality from Sweden’s Treat at this stage of their career, but Coup De Grace pulled out all the stops and more! Coming 18 years after their last studio album, the re-formed Swedish five-piece shattered all expectations with this release. Standouts include Roar (also the theme to the Monster Galaxy Facebook game), the fantastic Skies Of Mongolia, No Way Without You and, arguably the best song in their already impressive canon, Paper Tiger. It might have been a long time coming but boy it was well worth the wait.

Buy Coup De Grace now

H.e.a.t - H.e.a.t II (2020)


The more things change, the more they stay the same. H.e.a.t have been proudly wearing their hard rock bona fides since forming in Uplands Vasby in 2007. Where their initial run of albums, featuring original singer Kenny Leckremo, are great, they truly hit their stride with the recruitment of former Swedish Idol winner Erik Grönwall. 2020’s H.e.a.t II remains their crowning glory, a sparkling slice of arena-worthy melodic rock that parties like it’s 1989. Grönwall has since departed for Skid Row, with the returning Leckremo returning to take his place, but the good times show no sign of slowing down.

Buy H.e.a.t II now

Classic Rock

Classic Rock is the online home of the world's best rock'n'roll magazine. We bring you breaking news, exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes features, as well as unrivalled access to the biggest names in rock music; from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple, Guns N’ Roses to the Rolling Stones, AC/DC to the Sex Pistols, and everything in between. Our expert writers bring you the very best on established and emerging bands plus everything you need to know about the mightiest new music releases.