Latest Review Summary
|Heaven And Earth Dig||Quarto Valley Records|
Heaven And Earth is the brain child of British guitarist Stuart Smith, a lifelong fan of Richie Blackmore, Deep Purple, Rainbow and all things classic rock. The first album under the H&E moniker featured the cream of the crop as far as vocalists go – Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner, Richie Sambora, Bobby Kimball (on the second pressing) and Kelly Hansen. The second album featured just Kelly Keeling on vocals and the following EP featured Paul Shortino.|
So it is no surprise to see that on the band's official third release, another vocalist is in the picture. This time it is Joe Retta - and what a find he is. With a raspy and soulful tone not unlike Joe Lynn Turner, Joe takes the material on offer here and makes it his own, with a powerhouse performance.
The lineup has solidified also, with the great Chuck Wright on bass, Arland Schierbaum on Hammond B3, Richie Onori on drums and of course Stuart Smith at the helm on guitars.
If the pedigree of these guys couldn't deliver a knock-out classic rock album, then no one could. Thankfully that isn't a problem.
Dig makes a powerful statement that the band is back and better than ever.
What I really love about this album is the authentic, analogue feel it has. That big 70s hard rock sound, filled with organ and authoritive guitar work that such bands has Rainbow and Purple featured. Not to mention a rhythm section to die for.
The album takes a few listens to click – some of it on the first listen yes, but all great albums are ones that grow over time.
After the expected pomp-friendly intro, the bravado of the opening track Victorious takes control. The six minute track is everything you'd expect from H&E – big, authentic and filled with guitars and a pounding rhythm, plus that unmistakable organ sound that bands like Rainbow and Deep Purple brought to the mainstream.
Victorious starts with a flourish before pulling back a bit, only to build as the songs goes on, with vocal discovery Joe Retta in full control. At some point he hands over to guitarist Stuart Smith who takes the song to another level with some inspired soloing.
No Money, No Love quickly follows on, with a more commercial feel and a more rapid pace. This is the most obvious track for a single and so it is. The song is great – a big authentic 70s rock song with a memorable chorus and layers of guitars and organ over a tight rhythm section.
I Don't Know What Love Is is simply a monster ballad. Straight out of the Joe Lynn Turner song book, Joe Retta delivers a stunning vocal that takes the song where it needs to go. The emotion of the song is great and once again harkens back to a real old-school way of music.
Man & Machine is a more simplistic statement, which does just one thing – it rocks. The hard driving beat of the song matches the subject matter – the car, and driving it fast. A big bluesy hard rock song.
House of Blues is a long, slow rocking track that bases its sound heavily on 70s blues and once again that authentic Rainbow-esque style. It's not a ballad, nor a rock song; it's one of those organ drenched blues tracks that H&E are known for.
Back in Anger is a good pace lifter after the long previous track. The guitar and organ swirl around each other and the rhythm section grooves. This is another great track for vocalist Retta and Stuart Smith delivers another great solo.
Waiting for the End of The World is the perfect sequel to the last track – moving down in tempo, but equally impressive in its 70s rock roots, complete with some Richie Blackmore style acoustic work and a driving chorus. The song has a certain darkness to it that appeals.
Sexual Insanity is a moody song that builds, with some dramatic passages of music surrounding a charged chorus.
Rock & Roll Does is one of the album's biggest rockers. It is certainly the fastest and features some great harmonica intermixed around the rest of the song's groove based tempo. A simplistic rocker at heart, a good fun addition to the album and well placed within the sequence of tracks.
A Day Like Today is one of those oddball tracks that Heaven & Earth have managed to produce over time – again based on Stuart Smith's various influences of the 70s. This baroque style piano/vocal ballad, complete with acoustic guitars and mandolins, violins etc… I love it. Richie Blackmore would no doubt rate this is favourite song of the album.
Good Times continues a run of what I think are the album's best songs. This frantic paced rocker isn't as heavy as earlier tracks, but works so well. I love the percussion within this song, with emphasis on other things than the straight drum sound.
And closing this epic album is the perfect epic ballad Live as One. It runs Four and a half minutes, but feels like 8, as it builds from a slow start to a huge finish with Joe Retta delivering one of the best vocals of the album. This is a power ballad in the vein of Foreigner or Styx in the 70s, with a vocal orchestra blowing the song apart towards the end.
It should have been longer!
|Steve Lukather Transition||Mascot Records|
As a solo artist, guitarist, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, Steve Lukather has always walked diverse path, never turning in the same record twice.|
However, the man affectionately known as Luke has found a nice groove over the course of his last 3 solo records, with producer CJ Vanstone a key factor in creating a monster sound and some of the best produced and mixed records my ears have had the pleasure of knowing.
The trilogy of records started with Ever Changing Times, continued with All's Well That Ends Well and now reaches to Transition.
And while it features the same musical base as the last album and that unmistakable high-tech, high class performance, this album has its own soul.
Transition is to me, a far mellower vibe than we are used to with Luke. It's an introspective record that sees its author coming out the healthier side of a period of mourning. So the songs have their usual outstanding lyrical depth that few artists achieve and some soul searching moments are laid bare for all to witness, but some of the songs have a very positive energy to them, despite the mellower and laid back appearance.
Even the album's opening epic, the title track Judgement Day, has a slightly reserved feel to it. But the guitar work is nothing short of amazing and the biting lyrical content will have someone's ears burning.
The funky Creep Motel is similarly themed, with some terrific instrumentation giving it depth beyond the norm. Again the lyrics make you thankful you are not in the firing line, but that's what we love about Luke. Always honest.
In Once Again and Right The Wrong, we find two of the best and most heartfelt ballads Luke has ever written. They run back to back and display some gut wrenching angst and the intense arrangements make them two outstanding tracks.
The mostly instrumental Transition features some stunning guitar work and leads into the more positively themed Last Man Standing, itself a sonically joyous tune, the pace more restrained.
Do I Stand Alone is the albums only regulation uptempo rocker, with a great little pop chorus, making it one of the most instantly likable songs of the album.
Rest of The World is a slow bluesy number that features another side of Luke and some stunning guitar work.
Unfortunately I'm not that interested in the closing instrumental cover of Smile, despite some fine string plucking from Luke.
That closes the album for me with the weaker track, but the class within those songs has meant that this album has been on steady rotation now for 6 months, and few other albums can boast that claim.
|Covered Call Impact||AOR Heaven|
Let us never underestimate the joy that is listening to Goran Edman in full melodic rock vocal glory! Swedish rockers Covered Call come back with their second album, this time featuring Goran Edman at the helm, replacing fellow Swedish metal crooner Thomas Vikström.|
Without any exaggeration, the opening two tracks on this album represent the genre at its finest, with two of the most joyously melodic and compelling tracks of 2013 blowing the speakers apart. And those vocals! Melody in every word…
Lorraine is simply a powerhouse anthem and When The Lights Are Out is a mellower, yet equally engaging track, especially with the brilliant chorus.
It just keeps on delivering with the great mid-tempo AOR anthems Think About All Times and Look Into Your Mind, plus the darker, more urgent and heavier Hold On all just oozing melodies. And those vocals!
And so it continues… I think every track is a winner, right up until there's a bit of a left turn on the last two tracks for some reason, which suddenly sees an earthier, rawer guitar driven sound immerge. Stop right there guys! You had it right on the rest of the album; don't feel the need for a change.
The last 2 tracks are ok, but they don't match the melodic bliss of the rest of the album. I'll forgive them the experimentation as the rest is just so good.
|Bai Bang All Around The World||AOR Heaven|
What a difference 18 months can make. I panned the band's last album – the songs were ok, but the production was just horrible and ruined any chance of the record having any lasting power. In fact, I haven't played it once in the last 18 months.|
But, things are entirely different for this little beauty. The band has obviously spent a lot of extra time on songwriting and the production problems of the last album have been forgotten.
This is a monster album for fans of anthemic, in your face melodic rock, with that Def Leppard style of layered harmonies and the Mutt Lange style production. What I didn't notice last time around, was that the vocals of singer Diddi Kastenholt have a distinct resemblance to those of the Stage Dolls' Torstein Flakne.
So what I'm hearing here is Adrenalize era Def Leppard with Stage Dolls lead vocals! It's quite a tasty mix to be honest. The album is completely over the top of as far as anthems and choruses and indeed energy also.
The frantic pace of the first two tracks Everybody Everywhere and Gonna Make It will leave most folks out of breath.
Crazy is slower, but no less catchy and a song names after their own moniker sees some Joe Elliott moodiness in the vocals. Bai Bang is every bit the Def Leppard rocker.
How About Now is a huge ballad with hands in the air harmonies and hooks.
Raise Your Hands and Summertime are two more killer anthems with a moody edge, but layered chorus harmonies to the hilt.
Now You're Gone is darker still and quite intense and perhaps the heaviest track of the album.
All Around The World pounds through the speakers with more hooks and a chorus that never stops, while Get It On closes the album with a fierce guitar riff and another thumping beat.
|Stala & So Play Another Round||Escape Music|
Sampsa “Stala” Astela (former lead vocalist of Finland's kings of quirk Lordi) and fellow bandmate, bassist Nick Gore are the main pair behind Stayla & So, a quirky and different band that almost defy being defined. There's some Lordi style exaggeration, a lot of old school 70s groove and some strong doses of power pop and glam also.|
Dare I say that not only is vocalist Stala an acquired taste, but so is the entire album. And overall I remain unconvinced, despite a few really catchy songs on offer. No, that doesn't entirely make sense, but there are simply some songs that despite being very catchy that I don't like! I'm not sold on the vocals either to be honest.
The opening Rock Until I'm Done and Tokyo Delights are two songs that just can't not be liked. Especially the opening anthem. Great stuff. But The Boys And Having Fun and Never Again I don't go for at all, despite some good melodies on offer.
Back Together is a nice ballad, while Alrite Tonite is total 80s power fuzz-pop, but the vocals take some getting used to.
I much prefer the feel good melodic rock of Life Goes On and the harder guitar driven All Alone. The second ballad All She Wrote is pretty good too.
The bonus tracks include the non-starter Pamela and an acoustic ballad cover version of the Ozzy tune Shot In The Dark. Now that's an interesting twist…
|Snowfall Cold Silence||Escape Music|
Snowfall is the new melodic hard rock project for singer Lee Small (Phenomena, Shy) and bassist/keyboardist/songwriter “PB” Riise. Mixing anthemic hard rock and bluesy with keyboard filled Scandi AOR, the project sees Small in his full-blown Glenn Hughes rock vocalist mode, which is never a bad thing.|
The sound quality and clear mix is guaranteed when produced, mixed and mastered by Mr. Dependable: Martin Kronlund, so Snowfall gains another credit there. Lastly the songs – good, punchy, strong performances here and chorus hooks that develop over time.
What Snowfall offers is some really punchy melodic hard rock that requires several listens to best appreciate. The choruses are there, but not immediately obvious apart from a few “instant” tunes like the huge opener Don't Drive Me Home Tonight; the big ballad Heaven's Not Up There, the layered vocals of Jack Of Diamonds and the punchy rock beat on I Won't Be Lonely Anymore.
And the second to last song Alexandria is possibly the catchiest song of the entire album. Should have been closer to the top I think.
Elsewhere it takes a little time, but the king of this album is Lee Small and his monster vocals. Just check out the tone on the big groove-rocker Oscillate.
The orchestral and slightly progressive The Vesper Bell closes the album on an impressive note.
The album could perhaps have used another uptempo tune or two, as mid-tempo groove is the most prevalent throughout.
|Whitesnake Made In Japan||Frontiers Records|
Made In Japan is a good value set. There's two audio discs and the live DVD on offer, but disc 2 is not a continuation of the live show, but rather outtakes from the band's soundchecks (Love Will Set You Free, Steel Your Heart Away, Lay Down Your Love, Evil Ways – rougher, but still enjoyable versions) and no less than 4 acoustic versions of tracks from the last couple of albums (Fare Thee Well, One Of These Days, Good To Be Bad, Tell Me How).
The main disc is a 12 track live compilation of the band's appearances in Japan October 2011. Upon checking the exact set lists for those shows, it appears only the Deep Purple cover of Solider Of Fortune has been dropped from this 73 minute disc (time constraints obviously).
That makes the set list all that more puzzling, as it draws heavily from the latest album and the Good To Be Bad release (no problems there, both great albums), but instead of drawing songs from the past, we get 13 minutes of silly guitar and drum soloing. I guess David Coverdale gets to rest his well-worn vocals for a bit there.
Yes, David sounds worn, but wouldn't we all after so many years of delivering the goods. In reality, he still delivers more than most his age and that tone of his is something that won't ever be replaced.
|Amaze Me Guilty As Sin||AOR Heaven|
Sweden's Amaze Me – for the record – is one man band and producer Peter Broman and vocalist Conny Lind. I had really high hopes for a new Amaze Me record. Their past life was summarized in a nice collection from AOR Heaven earlier in the year, but if anything, that collection only highlighted how far audio recording quality has come since Amaze Me was last making music a decade ago. The fact was that they didn't really cut it back then, despite some amazing songs and sadly, they still don't cut it in 2013 with a production style that hasn't improved any.|
While some of the performances here have been captured quite nicely and some of the songs hold true promise, the fact is that the overall mix is horrible and general arrangements within the songs just confuses matters more.
Vocals are up front too far in one song, then buried deep in others. The drum sound is clearly programmed, which doesn't fly anymore in this day and age.
The guitars are also part buried in the mix and part front and center elsewhere.
In a nut shell, the album sounds too busy. Take the song With Or Without You. Love the premise of it – love the hook and the potential of the dramatic chorus. But the execution is just a mess. Too much going on and none of it sounding like it's in the right place.
The almost catchy Guilty As Sin is the same. It's just a mess.
Production issues aside, the songs themselves are quite diverse. There's some pop rock, a little traditional AOR and some harder moments. Plus a couple of songs that are fairly contemporary. But there is no common sound between them all and the quality, to be blunt, isn't what past Amaze Me records had.
The songs were always the element that made an Amaze Me record bearable in the face of bad production.
With that missing here, there isn't much to get excited about. Sadly.
|Stryper Second Coming||Frontiers Records|
Normally I'd call these kind of releases – re-recordings of “greatest hits” – die-hard fan only affairs. But there is something about the freshness of this collection of tunes that might just go beyond the fan-only base and serve as an introduction to the band for newcomers.|
Stryper have been gaining renewed popularity in the past few years since reforming, on the back of the very good trilogy of releases Reborn (2005), Murder by Pride (2009) and their covers album The Covering (2011).
You've got the original lineup still in place here covering songs from their original EP and the first two full length albums.
Being that those songs are now considerably aged, one would have to say that the production here is far superior and the punch in the bottom end matches that extra power the band has delivered on their most recent albums.
I'm not going to go into individual songs here, as they are all part of Stryper history. Fans will know them by heart, but for newcomers, this is a very good look into the early days of the band, with today's production quality.
What I will discuss further is the two brand new songs included here.
Bleeding From Inside Out is an emotional, yet powerful rock semi-ballad with a groove driven chorus featuring tons of guitars and that modern day Stryper sound.
Blackened is a solid melodic rocker with a pretty commercial feel to it. Sounds like prime 80s commercial hard rock, with a contemporary feel.
Both are very good tracks.
|Pretty Maids Motherland||Frontiers Records|
The Danish hard rock band follows up their acclaimed Pandemonium release in very fine style here, taking all the energy and style from their last album, applying it to 13 brand new songs, which really are more melodic than ever.|
The power and production crispness from Jacob Hansen remains as does the always probing rhythm section, the raspy vocals and some metal driven guitar riffs. But at the heart of the album are some very fine melodies, keyboards mixing with the vocal and guitar hooks to craft truly memorable songs.
The Danish rockers have been around since the early 80s, but really are in a golden period of their history. The band knows what fans want and are delivering it: power, melody and passion.
Highlights from the album are numerous and pretty much run the gamut of the whole album. This is an extremely consistent record with no real fillers in sight.
But my personal favorites include the opening bombastic Mother Of All Lies; the double kick drum fuelled anthem The Iceman; the more melodic and soulful Sad To See You Suffer; the reflective and symphonic-infused Infinity; the high energy title track Motherland and the brilliant heavy ballad Bullet For You.
The heavy groove of Who What When Where Why is also a good track to play ultra-loud and the closing 5 minute Wasted is one of the album's most layered tracks.
|De La Cruz Street Level||Frontiers Records|
Australia's De La Cruz just announced the departure of their guitarist/producer Casey Jones. Not the way one would prefer to celebrate the launch of your debut album, but that as they say – is life.|
The guitarist may be gone (along with his production credit), but his and the entire band's contributions to their album Street Level are captured forever.
This debut is an impressive one, but there is room to move as far as honing their skills and making the jump from a good cult hard rock band to a worldwide draw. They can make it happen. First of all the guys have to work out who they are. There's a little personality conflict here as far as mixing up styles; from the glam-sleaze infused opening few tracks to commercial pop/rock and back again.
At times they are channeling Def Leppard – right down to vocalist Roxxi's Joe Elliott mannerisms and the layered backing vocals (Legions Of Love, Gimmie Love, Dreaming). At other times the guys think they are Cinderella (on the screechy World's Collide) or perhaps Motley Crue (S.E.X.).
And there are times where the band has their own style of commercial 80s rock and sound most comfortable. Cherry Bomb sounds pretty disposable lyrically, but you can't fault the catchiness of the material. The commercial and catchy Set The Night; the reflective ballad Shine and the anthemic Turn It Up are best examples.
Most of the time you feel as if you are listening to a compilation sampler of 80s hard rock artists, which really isn't a bad thing at all, it's just a little harder to keep up with the styles and song influences as they vary.
For a group of young guys, their musical prowess is unquestionable. Some solid performances here and some terrific guitar work.
The one soft spot in the band's armory (besides the departure of Jones) is vocalist Roxxi. His voice doesn't always carry the same authority as the music and it will be interesting to see what comes of the shakeup.
|Great White 30 Years - Live From The Sunset Strip||Frontiers Records|
The jury is still out for me as far as Terry Ilous fronting Great White – despite my long held high regard for the singer and indeed the band overall. The latest studio album pushed me further towards the negative, but this 30 Year Anniversary Concert has gone song way to repairing that damage. There's only 11 tracks on here, which is probably my only main gripe – this 74 minute show can hardly cover the band's amazing legacy in just that number of tracks.
Thankfully they do stick to the biggest hits though, with only Back To The Rhythm included from recent years.
The rest is prime Great White classics such as Lady Red Light, Big Goodbye, House Of Broken Love (on which Terry really excels). As with the last album, the overall vibe is still fairly laid back in comparison with how the band rocked in the 80s, but the performances are still perfect.
|Bon Jovi What About Now||Universal|
If you ever want to review an album that will divide the reader base and leave you damned either way you favor, go pick any of the last few Bon Jovi records.|
The band still has a devoted fan base, but equally has just as many detractors calling for the band to be publically stoned for selling out their rock roots.
So where does one start with What About Now?
It's too easy to just shit on the band for selling out and redefining the term “rock” to mean anything plugged in – without the actual need to “rock” in the proper sense of the term. First – much respect to the band for still being viable in this day and age. They can still shift 100k records in the USA and they sell out stadiums around the world.
You just can't take that away from them. They may be the Jon Bon Jovi band since reforming a decade or so back, but it works for them and the other guys don't seem to have much to say about it. I was set to rant on about the under-utilization of Richie Sambora's immense talents, but after his last solo album, the blame for Jovi's mellowing can't be squarely laid upon the frontman.
I loved Have A Nice Day; thought Lost Highway, Bounce and Crush were okay and hated the most recent album The Circle.
So there seemed little chance I was going to appreciate anything within this one. So I'm surprised to find that there are parts I'm enjoying and a couple of songs I rate highly. But there is far too much filler yet again and the ballads kill the momentum of the album – especially with the overburdened Deluxe Edition. Should a Bon Jovi album really be relegated to a few great songs per release?
The ongoing mellower tone of the band these days really does give them the appearance of being on auto-pilot.
The album mixes the country/acoustic vibe of Lost Highway with the more recent modern rock tone of The Circle and H.A.N.D., but adds little more urgency in some of the songs, not to mention a few very likable choruses.
But there is filler here too. I could safely live without ever hearing another Bon Jovi ballad as long as I live, and nothing here changes my mind there. So I'm skipping Amen, Thick As Thieves, and The Fighter and also give Room At The End Of The World a pass. Seriously – what rock band ends their albums with 2 ballads in a row?
Then there's the “deluxe edition” which two more shiteously slow, horrible and countrified ballads. And that opening track – guys – that's simply I'll Sleep When I'm Dead slowed down to old man pacing. This is easily the worst Bon Jovi lead single/opening track in history. The cliché ridden track is so utterly predictable and slow paced, plus it wastes a decent Sambora lead break on a weak chorus.
On the good side of the ledger for this album is the ultra-moody I'm With You, with its dark and menacing edge, plus the excellent modern U2/Coldplay pop/rock of What About Now and Pictures Of You which both deliver strong choruses and some decent guitar parts.
I also rate That's What The Water Made Me (what the hell does that mean?) and the Lost Highway “leftover” What's Left Of Me.
And Army Of One is another fine brooding number with a rock edge that could have been better executed, but good try anyway and a favourite of mine.
Beautiful World is a total rip-off from Matchbox Twenty, but catchy enough and the Deluxe Edition adds one decent extra – the uptempo modern pop/rocker With These Two Hands.
The JBJ Band seem so comfortable in their slacks and skivvies with one eye on retirement, they are never likely to look back at the skin tight leathers at the back of their closet. Take each release as it comes for what it is and try and pick out a few new great tunes to stick on that ever changing "Bon Jovi Best Of" playlist.
If I was Bon Jovi or a similar band I;d be asking myself this: "how many fans do I have now that are with us because of what we did in the past? And how many of those are happy with what we are doing today? If the answer is not all of them, then get back to doing what you did when you were at your best."
|Crashdiet The Savage Playground||Frontiers Records|
After the quite superb Generation Wild album, expectations for the Swedish hard rocking glamsters to deliver again was at fever pitch. So what did the band do? A complete 180 of course! Anyone dead set on a continuation of the last album found themselves accosted by this fierce, raw, stripped right down, in your face opus of fury.|
I've heard some negative reviews about this album, but I'm totally sold on it. The attitude within can barely be contained by the speakers and the delivery is nothing short of menacing.
It may be totally raw and barely produced, but the songs just rip your heart out and the style chosen can't hide their brilliance.
Tracks like Change The World and Cocaine Cowboys and the hate filled Anarchy just rip and tear. Then there is the monster anthem California which is simply one of the best sleaze anthems of the last few years.
The lyrical attack in Lickin' Dog is as compelling as the catchy chorus and the onslaught reaches a crescendo with the double time pounding rhythm of Circus.
This is truly an exhausting record to rock to. Sin City and Got A Reason don't give up the relentless energy, nor does the more melodic Drinkin' Without You.
The groove driven Snakes In Paradise grows on you and is followed by the similar Damaged Kid.
Excited offers up another catchy hard rocking chorus before the ultra-raw Garden Of Babylon delivers another essential hook and chorus.
Closing the album without skipping a beat for the entire 62 minutes is the punkish thrash of Liquid Jesus.
|N.O.W. Bohemian Kingdom||Escape Music|
Nothing better than reviewing an album by an artist who knows what he has to do in order beat the album before (in this case, the N.O.W. debut Force Of Nature), and doesn't stop until that has been achieved. So what I'm saying here is that the new album Bohemian Kingdom is in every way a step up from the already impressive debut.|
It has taken album writer, bassist and mainstay Alec Mendonca three years to achieve that, but the album sounds all the better for the time taken to get it right.
First up – the production is a big improvement – more evenly mixed and featuring a snappy rhythm section and vocalist Philip Bardowell's voice sounds even brighter in the mix, the man is in terrific form. The songs are also exactly what you'd hope for in a sophomore album – equally as catchy but ever more powerful and complex, showing growth as a writer and an artist for Mendonca.
Opening with the fastest and most rocking track I have heard so far from the outfit, I'm Alive signals there is to be no holding back here.
The moody I Feel Divine follows – perfect for Bardowell's voice and is wonderfully produced.
Of course there are comparisons to 70s Foreigner here and Don't Go Now and the anthemic killer ballad Strong Enough are great examples of that and also of N.O.W. at their impactful best.
The anthemic Mary-Ann is a great feel good track that is perfectly balanced by the quality Foreigner-esque ballad Tonight Is The Night.
The title track Bohemian Kingdom is one of the more complex of the album and takes a few listens to absorb, but what a chorus and great tempo.
Leon's Going Soft continues the dramatic passage of the album that concludes with the sweeping Cassie's Dream.
The album closes with the near-8 minute epic No One Can Feel It's Over – a ballad, but with slow and building parts and orchestral backing for good measure. A big ambitious track and I think it fits the mood of the album perfectly.
I think 50 minutes is the perfect length for an album as long as there are no fillers and Bohemian Kingdom certainly doesn't. A Triumphant return for Alec Mendonca and his vocalist partner Philip Bardowell.
|Diamond Dawn Overdrive||Frontiers|
There's a lot of PR around for these guys and they are doing their best to raise their profile with some gigs in their native Sweden. This is yet another example of classic old-school keyboard driven melodic rock/AOR from Scandinavia.|
More catchy songs, more catchy melodies and feel good choruses surrounded by sweet harmonies and the unmistakable feeling that 1988 is just around the corner.
The single Take Me Higher is terrific and the even more uptempo Cryin' carries on the building tempo of the album that slows briefly before going into overdrive for the mid-album sequence of Indestructible, Turn It Up, The Hunter and Give It All. These four tracks are probably the most consistent of the album as far as energy and chorus highs.
The dramatic ballad Don't Walk Away is the sole tearjerker of the album before the album closes with the keyboard-heavy punch of Powergames.
There is some great songs here and Scandi fans will have to pencil this one in for purchase. The only thing I will say is that the band is not yet at the level of fellow Swede's H.E.A.T., Work Of Art, The Magnificent etc.
I think vocalist Alexander Standell needs to work on his tone and accented delivery more while the band cook up some knockout choruses.
|Player Too Many Reasons||Frontiers Records|
Did the world really need a new Player album? Peter Beckett continues to be one of those much respected underground AOR figures, but Ron Moss??|
Well, it's been a long while in-between drinks for the AOR/Westcoast outfit and Too Many Reasons is their first album since the early 80s.
Not a lot has changed, but fans would be expecting that. Beckett is in fine form running the band through 13 new tracks – all co-written, produced and played on by the talented musician. He handles lead vocals on all but 2 of the tracks, leaving partner Moss to provide vocals on 2 tracks and play some bass.
Of interest to AOR pundits is the appearance of Steve Plunkett, co-writing much of the album with Beckett and mixing several tracks.
There are a few fine AOR tunes here – the opening trio of songs all rate highly for different reasons.
The uptempo Man On Fire and the moody Precious rating the highest. Others, like the Moss sung You're My Addiction could have fit onto any Rembrandts record.
Some of the other tracks wander too far into Westcoast pop for my liking.
There are other highlights like the uptempo yet moody To The Extreme and the rousing Life In Colour; yet for each highlight there is a sleepy all-too-slow filler to match (A Part Of Me, The Sins Of Yesterday, Kites) and the completely unnecessary revisiting of that woeful 1978 pop ditty Baby Come Back.
|Sebastian Bach ABachalypse Now||Frontiers Records|
A good value package this, with 2CDs featuring a different Bach concert each disc and a DVD featuring the visuals for those 2 shows and a bonus third show.|
Bach's a great frontman, filled with attitude and a takes the audience by a scruff of the neck approach and fans of his most recent solo album and the Skid Row classics get a mix of both delivered here.
His band kicks ass, especially young guitarist Nick Sterling.
As far as the overall product though – I'm not sure how much of this performance is actually an untouched “live”, performance.
Bach's vocals seem overdubbed at times – especially noticeable on the DVD and the repetition of 3 shows from the same tour throws up 3 very similar set lists and the performances don't vary.
So not really a knock out essential release – more so one for the die-hard Bach fans.
|W.E.T. Rise Up||Frontiers Records|
Jeff Scott Soto, Erik Martensson and Robert Sall, with the help of Eclipse's Robban Bäck and Magnus Henriksson, produce what must be the most anticipated melodic rock album of 2013.|
And naturally enough, they do not disappoint, with some of the finest examples of powerful melodic music this genre can deliver.
I think this release is a little different than your normal debut album sequel scenario.
First, the band has to work up something that will challenge the brilliance of that first album. Secondly the first album was written entirely by Erik Martennson with his writing partner in Sweden and this time vocalist Jeff Scott Soto was always going to be more involved in the writing.
Lastly, the fans got to know what exactly W.E.T. musically stood for on their debut, so and the guys have lost that surprise wow factor.
Therefore they must deliver some cracking songs as well as take the listener forward.
I think the guys have for the most part delivered on those points. There are some songs on Rise Up that are so breathtakingly phenomenal, had the whole album been filled with such, I'd have to rate it 105. But there are a couple of moments where I think they played it safe and not quite every track blows my mind. But, we are talking about W.E.T. here – the very best is expected from them and from the musicianship, production quality and overall melodic joy encountered within this album, they are still head and shoulders above the competition.
Production is immense and the layers of harmonies are even bigger than the debut.
I'd like to single out Jeff Scott Soto for his vocal performance here. The vocals are right on the edge of his (huge) range and they sound so 'in the moment', with emotion as well as power. I'm sure I am hearing some one-take performances here.
Opening the album is scintillating fashion is the Journey-esque brilliance of Walk Away, a song so rich in melodic goodness that it pours from the speakers. This song was to be buried back further in the album, but I campaigned for it to be the opener (over the band's preferred option Bad Boys). I'm so glad it made it here as it is just glorious. It just makes me happy by listening to this.
Then without any break, the album segues straight into another amazing song Learn to Live Again, which is another multi-layered hard rocking anthem of epic proportions, with Erik and Jeff trading vocals at the verse intros. Another song that defines what melodicrock.com is all about. 105/100!
Rise Up is one of three tracks written after the initial album's 12 tracks were completed (yes, there are 3 more songs out there folks!). A grandiose intro and really moody verse promises another classic, and while I love the song again, the chorus perhaps doesn't reach the peaks of the first two tracks. That said – all albums need light and shade and this is a small change of pace.
Love Heals is the first of two big ballads on the album – both thunderously huge in their delivery and emotion. But for me – this is the weaker of the two ballads and is a little more straight forward as far as its structure. Again, I like the verse a little more than the chorus – the JSS vocal is awesome and the mood haunting.
The left-off metal ballad Bigger Than Both Of Us would have been perfect here instead.
What You Want is another WTH moment. No, more like “how the hell” – as in how the hell did anyone write a song so fricken fantastically awesome. Hardly my best example of journalistic writing there, but the song is so intensely brilliant, it's all I could come up with to convey my love of this multi-layered, mid-tempo AOR anthem.
The Moment features another high-octane, uptemo anthem with a killer verse with a very likable chorus. Once again, I probably like the verse and the song structure as a whole better than the short chorus hook – but killer stuff and big riffs and vocals from Erik and company.
Bad Boy – the proposed opening track of the album – is one that I already see has drawn mixed comments from fans. I love the song itself and the heaviness of it. But I'm not a fan of the lyric and that's after I have lived with it for more than 6 months, It was one of the 3 first demos I heard from the initial writing sessions and I wasn't blown away by it then either.
On The Run is a super heavy, hard rocking track with guitars everywhere and a simple ear shattering drum beat. A hard impact verse and equally impressive chorus. Just a monster rocker featuring a huge vocal. Wonderful.
Broken Wings is the track I thought might be cool to close the album with. But here it is and I'm just glad it's on the album anywhere. I love the anthemic guitar riff that kicks it off and the moody verse that follows. And the closing minute or so is trademark Erik Martensson guitar soloing. It's perhaps my favorite 1 minute passage of the whole album. It should have gone longer! The only thing – the riff is so instantly anthemic, I expected the chorus to be even bigger. It wasn't.
Shot is another really hard hitting punchy rock anthem with a dramatic and demanding verse before a more anthemic chorus. Love it.
Still Believe In Us is the pick of the ballads on Rise Up. This is a monster ballad with heart, passion and emotion and probably should have been up first of the two ballads. Extraordinary vocal and big chorus. Melodic perfection.
Instead of a big drawn out conclusion, the album ends with the relatively short, but awesome hard rocker Still Unbroken. Urgent, big chorus, lots of vocals and a big tempo lifter for the close. Another great track (and huge solo) without doubt.
Essential for fans of the debut and all things JSS/Erik related and lovers of fine fine melodic rock with kick.
|Snakecharmer Snakecharmer||Frontiers Records|
Any album featuring one of my favourite vocalists in Chris Ousey (Virginia Wolf, Heartland, The Distance and solo) should not take this much work to appreciate.|
It's taken me way too long to get into this album and I fear many won't have the same patience I have. And I don't think it's going to have lasting staying power like the amazing Ousey solo album from 2011.
At the end of the day, I don't rate it among Chris' best work, even though the pedigree of those involved should almost guarantee is classic status without even hearing it.
Whitesnake's Micky Moody and Neil Murray; Thunder/Magnum drum Harry James; plus British classic rockers Laurie Wisefield and Adam Wakeman are all pedigree players.
But I'm not feeling the warmth of this album I should.
Chris sounds amazing, the production is great, the playing impeccably good…but the songs don't drive this from good to great.
Several songs fall into that dreaded plod-rock syndrome that I hate with a passion – the go nowhere pace that classic rock and metal is too often handicapped with.
Say no more than the opening track My Angel. Terribly slow for an opener. The following track Accident Prone is far far better and a highlight for the album.
To The Rescue features a nice Ousey vocal, but again plods with a pretty crappy chorus. And so it goes. The choruses are weak, but the music and performances are top notch.
Blues driven rock is the order of the day and this release will suit fans of that genre more than lovers of traditional melodic rock.
Turn Of The Screw is a great little boogie rock n roll number and Stand Up also picks up the tempo.
Guilty As Charges is also another one of the better album tracks.
Nothing To Lose is the album's only ballad – an acoustic driven melodic track that I think might just be the best of all the tracks here, with a classic Ousey vocal up front.
Additionally - the songs are just too long for what they deliver. 5 and half or 6 minute plodding blues rockers just don't work when several are featured on the same record.
|Pink Cream 69 Ceremonial||Frontiers Records|
I had absolutely no idea that it had been 6 years since the last Pink Cream 69 album. I guess Dennis Ward and David Readman have still kept their prfiles high with their many other projects and duties that it hadn't seemed like the band had been away at all.|
But they are back – and with them is the trademark sound and style that sounds so immediately at home. Dennis' ultra-smooth production and David's dark and moody vocal tone plus the unquestionable talents of the well-seasoned band lineup are a joy to listen to.
With that all said, it took me quite a few listens to get into the album. I don't think it holds up the quality of the awesome Sonic Dynamite or Electrified releases, rather sitting comfortably alongside their last release In10sity.
For the most part, the album is very consistent and still delivers what you'd expect from the guys. I still find a couple of songs mildly annoying though (another PC69 quirk?) – I'm not too fond of the single Special or the following track Find Your Soul.
But the opening duo of Land Of Confusion and Wasted Years are nothing short of glorious Euro-melodic hard rock.
And the slightly more melodic The Tide is awesome also. The groovy Big Machine is classic PC69 through and through.
Elsewhere Let The Thunder Roll has a strong melodic hook; Right Or Wrong is classy; I Came To Rock is a little cheesy, but, er…”rocks”; and King For One Day is perhaps the most AOR track on the album – very enjoyable.
Superman is an ok mid-tempo rocker to close the album – with a little Van Halen influence in there perhaps.
|Rage Of Angels Dreamworld||Escape Music|
Rage of Angels is the brainchild of original Ten keyboard player Ged Rylands, who played on the band's first three studio albums and the double live CD 'Never Say Goodbye', not to mention the now classic Hugo debut.|
This is an ambitious project recorded over a decade in-between other duties, touring with Tyketto and session work including the debut album from Lover Under Cover.
10 melodic rock songs are featured here – a lot of music and a lot of guests. The album runs 70 minutes which means these songs are all quite lengthy.
Some are too long to be honest. A little editing could have tightened up this album a bit.
But others are over before you are ready – such are the quality of the melodies and I do like some epic tracks in a melodic rock style.
Dreamworld is a keyboard heavy, guitar friendly mid-tempo 7 minute epic featuring the fine voice of Matti Alfonzetti. Definitely the kind of song that you'd hear in the opening stages of an early Ten record.
See You Walking By is simple melodic bliss in a dreamy AOR style sung by Harry Hess that could have easily been lifted from the debut Harem Scarem record. It will be a fan favorite I imagine.
Through It All is a punchy rocker with a blues edge and a wailing guitar effort. Vocalist on hand is Robert Hart, who in this instance sounds a lot like Bob Catley. In fact, the whole song sounds like one from the early Catley solo records.
The single Over And Over features Danny Vaughn on lead vocals and is a happy go lucky simple AOR anthem, which I find very enjoyable.
Falling is another lush keyboard/guitar mix mid-tempo melodic rock song that again could fit onto an early Ten album. This time Ralf Scheepers is on vocals and sounds remarkably like Gary Hughes in the lower register.
The Beating of Your Heart is a long slow ballad with David Reed Watson on vocals and Tommy Denander on guitars. A soaring conclusion makes it a worthwhile inclusion.
Spinning Wheel is an 8 minute rocker that doesn't have the production quality of some other songs and is filled with swirling progressive keyboards and a ton of other effects. Simply put – way too long.
Requiem for the Forgotten Soldier is a 7 minute instrumental featuring some classy guitar work from Ralph Santolla, Martin Kronlud, Vinny Burns and Xander Demos. It's ok. But coupled with the last track which was only 'ok' also, makes for a 15 minute passage within the album that I could give or take (aside from Vinny's brilliant slow solo).
Closing the long album is We Live, We Breathe, We Die again features the great Robert hart on vocals and more classy guitar from Vinny Burns. An intense slow to mid-tempo track, the 9 minute running length takes some getting into.
One for fans of the early Ten and Bob Catley solo records and traditional British AOR/melodic rock.
|Jorn Symphonic||Frontiers Records|
I've been quite critical of Jorn's increasingly predictable output in recent times. So upon hearing he was releasing another “compilation” of solo tracks, I sighed and resigned myself to dish out another “please explain” review.|
Symphonic contains no new music from Jorn – it does include an unreleased Dio cover that didn't make the album of the same name a while back, but the tunes have been remixed to accompany a full orchestral accompaniment.
So, consider me quite surprised when I was nearly blown out of my chair with the power that these arrangements and what the simply stunning symphony orchestra brings to these songs.
From the opening strains of the strings firing up to Jorn's majestic voice blasting through the speakers I was hooked.
The unreleased Dio tune Rock N Roll Children is immense as is the brooding The World I See.
Burn Your Flame is simply manic, Man Of The Road epic and again we hear Jorn roll out Time To be King. This might be its best format yet. Third time lucky?
And how big is Mob Rules? Epic.
However, now that this is done, no more retrospective releases please!
|Edge Heaven Knows||Escape Music|
Edge is yet another Swedish melodic rock outfit, the kind that (sadly) can easily be overlooked as featuring no one of note and delivering music that we really have all heard before. Another faceless melodic rock outfit in a very crowded market. |
That sounds overly harsh, but it's not anything against the band themselves. It is simply the state of the market right now and the sheer volume of music that fans have to digest. And sadly unless you have some kind of selling point, albums like this can very easily be overlooked.
I guess that is where I come in. My position gives me the opportunity to champion younger bands like this and point out to potential fans just what they might be missing.
So while this album appears plain wrapped as far as marketing opportunities go, the fact is they are very good and what they do. And the songs are as strong as just about anything else out there right now. Yes, there is nothing new here, but that's what we want sometimes and there is a quality to this I like.
This is an album equally divided between guitar driven and keyboard lead tunes with a strong vocalist who has a mid-range voice.
Production and mix quality is very good – I think any label could release this and be proud.
They take a few songs to warm up, but once you hit Nowhere To Hide, your ears are starting to take notice. Then the ballad Get Over It hits and you'll be paying attention - a great, melodic and impactful mid-tempo rock ballad.
I Believe In Love is the light and breezy contrast with a strong chorus.
There Is No Other Way puts the band into high gear and gives some fellow Swede's real competition in the melodic rock stakes. And so it continues. Very good stuff all-round.
|Lionville II||Avenue Of Allies Music|
European AOR project Lionville has now morphed into a proper ongoing band and that's exciting to see, as the debut was a great slice of pure Euro-AOR with all the needed elements of a classic old-school release – sweet vocals, harmonies, lots of keyboards and some subtle guitar riffing and soloing to toughen up the sound.|
I'm pleased to report that the second Lionville album sees everything about the debut stepped up another notch or two - better songs, great performances, better production and more consistent overall.
The step up from the debut is much like the same difference between the two Work Of Art albums.
And it's no coincidence that Work Of Art is the main comparison here, as both bands feature the outstanding lead vocals of Lars Safsund. His voice is just made for AOR and I can't get enough of it. And Alessandro Del Vecchio has done a wonderful job of producing and mixing this album, plus contributing with Stefano Lionetti on what can only be described as a saturation of beautifully executed keyboard parts.
Opening the album is the punchy keyboard drenched All We Need with its sugary sweet harmonies.
The Only Way Is Up features perhaps the hardest riff of the album and another smooth chorus.
Another Day is a beauty of a track, with a strong Toto/Seventh One feel to it and a rising chorus.
Higher is almost as sweet – with more blissful AOR that reminds me heavily of Street Talk at their best. Lots of harmonies here and Chicago's Bill Champlin joining in on lead and backing vocals.
No Turning Back is a soft and emotional pure AOR ballad with a Westcoast heart.
All This Time is more uptempo and reminds me of Work Of Art. Another terrific song and picks the tempo up after the ballad.
Next To Me is one of the album's best tracks with a great hook and chorus melody, not to mention the memorable verse.
Waiting For A Star To Fall is perhaps one of the cheesiest songs to ever come out of the late 80s, but Lionville turn it around into pure AOR class with extra guitars and a punch missing from the original.
Don't Walk Away features one of the best vocals of the album, moody through the verse and soaring for the chorus.
One In A Million is pure joyous AOR once again as is Shining Over Me.
Open Your Heart is a more restrained closing track that again reminds me of Goran Edman and Street Talk when tackling breezy Westcoast material.
I would think this would be called a great album by just about anyone's standards.
|Gene The Warewolf Rock N Roll Animal||Frontiers Records|
I'm still not sure what to make of this album. That's as far as personal taste goes and what I think fans of melodic rock in general will think. The reason being is that it's a pretty varied record – with some parts really appealing to me and others a little annoying.|
The band as I see it tries to be everything. Serious rock band, party rockers, modern rock and pop and sometimes all at the same time. Their image clearly signals that they are not taking things seriously and there is no doubt that this is a solid quality rock n roll album – but will it appeal?
The music is all over the show!
Wicked Love is a party anthem; I Only Wanna Rock N Roll is Kiss meets AC/DC; Superhero is modern pop/rock in a Waltham meets The Darkness kinda way, complete with falsetto vocals and an annoying chorus; yet Heart Of Steel takes a similar path, but to me is one of the album's highlights. Strange stuff.
Rock N Roll Animal is back to AC/DC hard riffing; I've Got The Love is more power pop/Kiss 70s rock; Ruffneck Woman is just a fun rock n roller without lasting power; Light Me Up is a more serious rock ballad and is another strong number.
The trio of songs at the end of the album are the good hard rocker Firecracker; the left of center but catchy as hell Give It Up and The Ballad Of Gene – a 70s pomp epic unlike anything else on the album.
|Liberty & Justice The Cigar Chronicles||Indie|
Liberty & Justice continue their upwards trajectory with their most ambitious release to date. The Cigar Chronicles is a 2 disc set of 13 originals and 13 cover tunes. The main focus for me here is the set of original tunes, as I'm so impressed with the result here.|
This is without doubt, the project's best album to date. Founded by songwriter Justin Murr and backed by guitarist/producer JK Northrup and special guests, the new album features the best production yet (by a mile) and some really engaging songs – punchy, hard hitting, contemporary melodic metal/hard rock, all with memorable choruses and some terrific individual performances by the guests assembled.
And JK's guitar work is all over this record – both with attention grabbing solos and hard hitting riffs that drive the songs.
Highlights out of the originals are the heavy anthem Devil His Dues (Derrick LeFevre Vic Rivera, Michael Feighan & Barry Graul; the straight ahead melodic hard rock of The Greatest (David Cagle, Mark Allen Lanoue & Brad Stetler); the powerful rock ballad Under Construction (Eric Dover, Mark Kendall, Ian Keith Hafner & Eric Ragno); the uptempo melodic rocker Been There Done That (Ted Poley & Richard Kendrick) and the melodic rock of Grace (Michael Bormann, Phillip Bardowell & Mark Slaughter).
Then of course there is the last ever Jani Lane fronted track Sin, which is still heartfelt.
Daddy Long Legs (Louis St August & Tim Gaines) is also super catchy and the rock ballad Tomorrow (Terry Ilous, Ron Wikso, Alessandro Del Vecchio & PK Mitchell) is cool too.
Now – the covers. This 'disc' has been mixed by CJ Snare. I'm not so much a fan of these. Sure, JK rocks these songs to a previously unimaginable point, but for the most part, the songs selected should never had had a life to begin with. Included here are some of the worst musical abominations forced upon the ears of the world. Ever.
Ok, so I like I Can't Dance (Stevie Rachelle) and Pride (CJ Snare) and Kip Wiger's Staying Alive is just sublimely brilliant. In fact, it's legendary! And Dancing On The Ceiling (James Christian) is a pretty interesting rocker that doesn't much resemble the original Lionel Richie track at all.
But songs like Ice Ice Baby (Shit Shit Baby!); YMCA; Blame It On The Rain, You're So Vain (Faster Pussycat will never be topped) and Bye Bye Bye should have been crossed off back at the pencil on paper ideas stage.
And the Goo Goo Dolls' classic Iris should never be turned into what Tony Harnell has done with it. Sorry Tony!
Strangely though, I quite like Mmmm Bop redone with Jamie Rowe. It suits him!
|A Perfect Day A Perfect Day||Frontiers Records|
This Italian hard rock/progressive rock outfit is another band that is hardy to definite and review. A Perfect Day is a modern/contemporary sounding band with strong melodic passages of music intertwining itself around the rest of the music, which is largely melodic metal, delivered in an intricately progressive way.|
The songs aren't overly long as one might expect in a project like this, allowing for additional melodies and chorus hooks to present themselves without the lengthy instrumental passages progressive albums sometimes have.
It takes a lot of listening to get into this album. A few quick listens are simply not enough.
The intelligent arrangements and somewhat mellow and moody approach to songwriting are the reasons to be drawn back in. And the album is very well produced and mixed.
Initially my biggest concern was for the lead vocals, which I didn't take to at all. They definitely take some time to get used to as they simply aren't as dominant as they could be. The singer's tone isn't overly melodic, yet the chorus and overall songs can be.
Another album that requires listening prior to purchasing, due to the fact the style won't suit everyone and the lead vocals are a somewhat of an acquired taste. Good for what it is, but maybe not quite so great to make everyone pay attention.
|Y&T Live At The Mystic||Frontiers Records|
21 tracks over 2 CDs celebrating the 30th Anniversary of one of the West Coast's most legendary rock bands. You can't really go wrong can you?|
Recorded at the iconic Mystic Theater in San Francisco in November 2011, and covering material from most of their career, this Y&T set is a pretty much essential purchase for fans of the band.
The recording is a tad rough – but that's how I like my live recordings. No BS or overdubs here – just the raw live performance warts and all.
Y&T are such a seasoned band, so there isn't much in the way of warts. But there's plenty of loud rock n roll and it's all been captured in a pretty good way, allowing for the volume to be cranked high like it should be.
|Asia Resonance||Frontiers Records|
Another Asia album means another Asia live album. So this is it. And this time it comes as a 2CD/1DVD set, so nice little bit of value there for Asia fans – who are going to be the only ones interested in this affair.|
But be aware this release is from the 2010 Omega tour, not the current XXX tour, so I guess we have yet another live album still to come! To be honest…it sounds great and the audio is well recorded and I have no doubt that this will sell a bunch.
But to these ears the band are going through the motions and one look at the DVD reveals a band glued to their spots and a highly unmoving crowd that looked as if they were there to watch a concerto, not a rock concert.
And the Omega album was pretty disappointing for me, the energy just wasn't there. But without the visual distractions, the music sounds smooth and these 4 guys are truly great musicians.
All the hits are here as usual, interspersed with three tracks from the Omega album. Good value but hardly essential.
|Black Country Communion Afterglow||Eagle|
This album really should get a more detailed review, as it is arguably the band's best of their 3 records to date. But time marches on…|
The best aspect of this record is the cohesiveness of the material. So full credit must go to Glenn Hughes for that, as he was the sole writer this time around. He brings his A-Game here, with a record that sounds like a mix of Led Zeppelin, 70s Deep Purple and his own solo sound – most closely resembling the awesome Addiction record – all with a monster groove.
That groove comes from Glenn and also drummer Jason Bonham, who is all over this record again with his relentless time keeping. I really do think he's one of the best drummers in rock n roll.
The album is more uptempo across the whole record this time too, plus Glenn really sings his absolute heart out.
And the guitar work of Joe Bonamassa is a revelation as always. Derek Sherinian gets plenty of time to prove that he is the next generation Jon Lord.
Honestly – these are just four of the best rock musicians on the planet and together they just create beautiful music. They may not be a chorus band, but they make up for the lack of traditional anthems with true rock n roll groove.
And my feet simply don't stop moving from the start to the finish of this album.
Song highlight are obviously plentiful, but my favourites are the absolute groove of Midnight Sun, the frantic Confessor, the blues Bonamassa co-sung Cry Freedom, and the arty Zeppelinish Afterglow and the closing 70s Zep Fest of Crawl.
Just tremendous record all-round and utterly essential for fans of the 4 guys involved and the past two records together. Hughes fans will delight in his larger role on this record and are rewarded in spades. There has to be more BCC music. There will be. They are the most authentic rock band on the planet right now.
|Yngwie Malmsteen Spellbound|
Yngwie, Yngwie, Yngwie, Yngwie. When will you learn old boy! Spend a penny (unfortunately that's what this album sounds like, and yes, I do mean the old colloquial phrase) and hire a bloody producer! And a mixer! And a singer! And a freeking drummer!|
Holy crap, if there ever was an example of an album featuring an oversupply of over-indulgence and over-confidence, this is it.
The reality is though that coming off the back of a series of albums that haven't set the world on fire (another thing you could do with this record), something this bad surely has to be a career killer.
This is the end of the line for Yngwie Malmsteen as we know it. And that's the only good thing about this record.
I don't want to be unnecessarily mean to Yngwie. I've always appreciated the guy's talents and I actually like his shredfest playing a lot of the time. I also like his guitar tone. And I think Odyssey with JLT and the albums with JSS are brilliant. But that was a long time ago.
In recent times we had the awful War To End All Wars and Relentless and now this. How many stinkers is one artist allowed to deliver?
Yngwie – you cannot produce or mix music. Stop the madness!
This largely instrumental shredgasm affair cannot be judged on its merits as the sound is simply so bad, you can't bare to listen to the whole album in one sitting. It simply hurts my ears. It sounds more hollow that Paris Hilton's head.
The guitar playing is there, but it sounds like the guitar is plugged directly into ProTools without any kind of quality testing.
Then there is the fake drums that are almost impossible to hear (thank God I guess). Rick Springfield demoed his Working Class Dog album by playing drums on a pillow in his lounge room and still that sounds better than this.
Then there is the horrendous mix. You can hear guitar obviously, but the rest is just a mush of noise. Drums and bass just sound like droning WWII plane engines.
Then there is the singing. My God! Pavarotti he is not. Thankfully the mix is so bad, the out of tune mumbling can hardly be heard, but it is something I won't forget in a hurry. And it's only on 3 tracks (too many).
I have no idea who Yngwie listens to – but if he ever reads this review – call me! He seriously needs someone to stand up to him and say “Sir, this is just shit.”
He needs A&R control, a proper band and a real actual producer. Nothing short of joining a proper band, or hiring Joe Lynn Turner and taking time to make sure he records the best album possible is going to save his career from oblivion.
Yngwie – you're fired!
|Bon Jovi Inside Out||iTunes|
Bon Jovi come out of nowhere and release their first exclusive to digital release – a live compilation album recorded over the past few tours and featuring an even mix of new tracks and old classics. Awesome to hear Blood On Blood for example and Keep The Faith is also fabulous, even if Jon Bon Jovi is phoning it in from his backstage lounge.|
The band is as tight as a piranha's jaw and can be seen to be on auto-pilot, but you can't fault the songs they have delivered over the years or their ability to still crank it out to an ever enthusiastic crowd.
It's My Life and Have A Nice Day kick ass and I'll Be There For You and Wanted Dead Or Alive still send a shiver up my spine. Like them once, still like them, never liked them….respect must be paid to Bon Jovi for lasting the distance, even when serving up the odd turkey instead of a golden egg.
This is a nice compilation of tunes featuring enthusiastic audiences. Shame they cut the crowd noise in and out between tracks though. Hate that.
|FM Only Foolin' EP||Riff City|
You won't find too many EPs that run this length. This is another essential purchase for fans of FM and British AOR in general. The two new songs are cracking good stuff, especially the very appealing Rainbow's End.|
Then there is a marvelous FM-ized cover of Ozzy's Shot In The Dark, which really actually harks back to Wildlife, the band vocalist Steve Overland was in with bassist Phil Soussan. The song was demoed at the time and played live, but when Soussan took it to Ozzy, he left off the Overland co-writing credit. So they are really covering themselves right?
Anyway…the EP also adds no less than 5 lengthy, perfectly recorded live tracks from the last tour. And man, does the band sound fantastic on these. I really needed reminding what a killer live act these guys are.
And rounding off the long EP is an 8 minute Extended Version of the single Only Foolin' – I miss these kind of things.
Go get it! Simple…
|Sapphire Eyes Sapphire Eyes||Avenue Of Allies|
Sapphrie Eyes is the new project (from Sweden of course) featuring Alyson Avenue's Niclas Olsson, pairing this time with vocalist Thomas Bursell (who sings on all but 3 tracks), who Niclas worked with on Second Heat some time back.|
As with everything that Niclas has been involved with, this is another classy set of melodic rock/straight ahead Scandi-AOR tunes.
This is the sweet and sugary stuff AOR purists eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I must say that it might just be the best work that Niclas has been involved with yet.
You just won't find better than the brilliant You're My Wings (Mikael Erlandsson on vocals) and I Want You To See Me and the raspy, tougher Only Feel Love.
The monster ballad Can't Find The Word sees Erlandsson going to the edge of his range to great passionate effect; while Cloudscape's Mike Andersson takes over lead for the mid-tempo melodic rocker A Man The World Can Do Without.
The synth heavy Lay Down My Arms closes the album with a moody edge.
It's perfect Last Autumn's Dream/Alyson Avenue hybrid and one that fans of Scandi AOR should immediately investigate. Another very worthy traditional style melodic rock release from the groovy Avenue Of Allies label.
|Wheels Of Fire Up For Anything||Avenue Of Allies|
Two and a half years after their debut album Hollywood Rocks, Italian rockers Wheels Of Fire return with their second record Up For Anything. The band has learned and grown from their debut, playing a lot of live shows and clearly getting a better handle on what it takes to create better records in the studio.|
Because on Up For Anything, the band improve upon just about every aspect of the debut. The Bon Jovi friendly rockers use the same approach as the debut – uptempo, feel good melodic hard rock with an anthemic feel – but they add better sound and performances and better songs. This is just good commercial 80s influenced hard rock with a European touch.
There isn't anything here that stands out as unique, but it is nevertheless a fun listen and will definitely find some fans – Johnny Lima, Bon Jovi, Firehouse and the like.
|Danger Zone Undying||Avenue Of Allies|
Italy is fast becoming the new hot bed for emerging melodic rock bands. The latest is Danger Zone, who with their second album in hand, are ready to rock your world with an old-school 80s hard rock sound. The guys mix up a little bluesy rock with some straight forward American style hard rock, with a raspy singer that sounds a little like Paul Shortino.|
The album sounds quite impressive sonically and there's a good dose of harmony vocals throughout. The raspy, gravelly vocals with the slight Italian accent might be a bit to get used to, but the quality of the songs makes up for any issue there.
The best thing on offer here is some big crunchy guitar parts and some energetic songs. Fans of European hard rock with an American edge and gravelly, yet appealing lead vocals, should check this out.
It's very good for what it is.
|F.E.A.S.T. Strong, Wild and Free||Avenue Of Allies|
Avenue Of Allies have been feasting (sorry!) on a slew of great releases in this, the back end of 2012. A number of them are sophomore releases from their artists – F.E.A.S.T. being yet another. Like their label counterparts, this Italian melodic hard rock outfit have also stepped up their game and delivered an album that tops their debut.|
This is an energetic old-school hard rock release in the vein of Whitesnake, Dokken and maybe Ratt, with a raspy higher pitch vocal that also brings in some AC/DC comparisons. This is a guitar record. Lots of guitar! And lots of riffing on that guitar. But it also features a solid rhythm section, very solid production and most importantly some catchy material.
For fans of honest, no bullshit hard rock with a slight European flavor – check these guys out.
|Sven Larsson Bad Mad Man||Aveue Of Allies|
Street Talk guitarist Sven Larsson is back with solo album number two. He's been busy contributing to other AoA releases such as Lionville, Sapphire Eyes and Coastland Ride. Here he gets to shine on his own, with some polished melodic rock/AOR tunes.|
The opening track features Sven on vocals himself – the very impressive Dance The Night Away is pure Westcoast AOR. Sin City features Street Talk vocalist Goran Edman in his usual fine form – same too with the 7 minute prog-friendly mid-album track Missing Link.
Thomas Eriksson features on the impressive prog-AOR track Missing Link, which is another album highlight.
The second half of the album sees the heavier tone abandoned for a softer, more laid back Westcoast set of songs which for me aren't as captivating as the first 6 songs. The album is more or less split into two personalities.
But there is no denying the talent of Larsson, nor the quality of the production here.
Two instrumentals will appeal to fans of Steve Lukather and his style of letting the guitar do the talking.
|Jimi Jamison Live At Firefest||Firefest|
Jimi's already scored a perfect 100 for his new studio album, so as if to back up the fact that he remains one of the scene's best ever vocalists, comes this live album from Firefest 2010.|
Backed by members of H.E.A.T. and guitarist Tommy Denander, Jimi ripped through one of the best sounding sets of Firefest history, filled with classic songs from Survivor and his own solo career.
I give Tommy Denander a hard time sometimes for his repetitive guitar sound, but here he sounds absolutely fabulous. The guitar work is terrific and the soloing more impressive and looser than you hear on his records and the energy in which the band delivers these songs largely comes from the way Tommy attacks these songs.
Caught In The Game and It's The Singer Not The Song take the crowd from zero to a hundred before the melodic anthems High On You and Is This Love give the crowd time to sing along.
The guitar intro to Didn't Know It Was Love was the only moment I wondered what Tommy was playing, but once the song cranked in, it was glorious.
I love the fact Jimi throws in the song A Dream Too Far from the Empires record and backs that up with the then new solo classic Crossroads Moment. Brilliant stuff.
If that all isn't enough, the last quarter of the set features the all-out melodic rock bliss of Rebel Son, Burning Heart, Eye Of The Tiger and Jimi's solo hit I'm Always There.
The mix is brilliant, the rhythm section is pounding, the keyboards are right up there clear and fresh and Tommy just plays all over these songs.
Not only is this set one of the best ever Firefest has seen, it's made one of the best live albums in a long long time. I just can't recommend this enough.
PS. There is an accompanying DVD. Get them both!
|Kane Roberts Unsung Radio||Unsung Records|
This neat little Kane Roberts Firefest release comprises of 2CDs featuring music from the various sessions that would become the Phoenix Down record. The first disc is the actual Phoenix Down project recorded for Now & Then Music in 1999.|
The album was well received at the time and it features a few absolute cracking melodic rock anthems. I think the production at the time was good, but it now sounds a little below par due to the improvements in many productions since and the fact we are now used to and expect grade A sound every time.
Some great songs though, none better than the manic Reckless and Love Gone Wrong (written with Jim Peterik).
The interesting part of this set for collectors is Disc 2 – unreleased demos from the time – including three more co-writes with Jim Peterik. Blue Highway in particular standing out as a winner. Some good unheard tunes here and a must have for fans of Kane Roberts.
The quality is great too. Very good sound for demos. Kane adds vocal commentary in-between many of the tracks, which is always good to hear, the only thing I would say here is that there is nowhere within the nice booklet or cover that shows what track numbers songs are on Disc 2, so it's a bit hit and miss to find certain songs among the commentary.
Who would turn down 11 unreleased Kane Roberts tracks? Go get it!
|Pete Lesperance Fade Into Stars||Indie|
This should also be given a bigger review, but it one sense, not that much room is needed to describe this new solo album from the great Harem Scarem guitarist. This album is not Pete's usual fare, nor anything close to the melodic rock of Harem Scarem. So some may be disappointed. But Pete has made no secret of his direction here, so fans that follow Pete were well aware this was to be a change of pace.|
What it is, is a laid back, stripped back pop orientated singer/songwriter album, with acoustic guitar and piano taking a more prominent role. The style established, it won't be for everyone at all. But to those that like a dose of contemporary, mellower singer/songwriter material, Pete hits the spot.
His voice has a great tone as always and the songs – while taking a little more time to grow perhaps – do have strong appeal. For fans of Rubber-lite.
|Eric Martin Mr. Rock Vocalist||Sony Japan|
Mr. Rock Vocalist is the latest installment of the Eric Martin invasion of Japan series. The singer is bigger than Elvis there and his Mr. Vocalist series (1, 2 & 3 + Christmas and Live releases) can now be added to with Mr. Rock Vocalist (Volume 1, no doubt).|
This is a little different to the Mr. Vocalist series as it features a full rock band belting out some great tunes with that unmistakable voice up front. I don't have any credits, so I have no idea who the band is, but they sound great and the production is modern, crunchy and in your face.
The material is the same as the other Vocalist releases – contemporary Japanese pop/rock songs, converted (sometimes from Japanese lyrics) for Eric to sing – more in his solo vein.
The style is a little pop/punkish, hard rocking mostly, but also straight forward melodic rock in places. I wasn't familiar with any of these tunes previously, so it sounds like a fresh hard rock album in the vein of Eric's Destroy All Monsters solo release.
Not all of it flows from track to track as a 'normal' solo album might – this feels more like the compilation of songs it is. But it rocks and Eric sounds great, so I guess that makes it another must have for fans.
No sign of a release outside of Japan at this stage though.
|Mr. Big Raw Like Sushi 100||Victor Entertainment|
Raw Like Sushi 100 – the special box set double disc live release from Mr. Big costs a packet, but is worth every cent. The live performance on this album is just awesome. The production is raw and in your face as the band charts through their whole career (except the Kotzen albums), celebrating their 100th show in Japan.|
The set list is stunning, with all albums featured and a stack of tracks from the What If… album included. They all sound brilliant and the band is simply on fire. The interplay between Sheehan and Torpey and Gilbert is something to behold and there is just something about listening to these guys play live together that totally does it for me.
It's now out of print – but there is now a 2CD only set in HQCD that is cheaper to buy and still in print. This needs to be purchased Mr. Big fans. You need this! The Box Set contains the DVD from the event too. The guys are simply the tightest band on the planet.
|Various Artists Addicted To Mr. Big (Tribute)||Nat Team Media|
Those folks in Spain like Mr. Big too! So much so that they went and made a tribute album to them. Addicted To Mr. Big features a bunch of bands no one has ever heard of (outside of Spain at least) and one we have heard of – Guru. |
Love those guys, and they tackle two songs on this 11 track tribute.
And the 2 best songs at that – they rip through Daddy Brother Lover Little Boy and Addicted To That Rush. And they sound killer doing it!
But that's about the only reason for general rock fans to buy this. Elsewhere is very much a hit and miss affair though. Mainly miss. You've got varying production quality, varying performance quality and a few very heavy accents going on too, but at the end of the day, none of the actual songs suck as they are all classics, right?
Er…well, Malos Tragos do try and kill To Be With You with their frenetic punked up “interpretation” of the ballad and they unfortunately appear again killing Green Tinted Sixties Mind also. I could do without ever hearing those covers again.
Junts (?) do a pretty decent version of Shine (even in production is horrible); Just Take My Heart gets a female symphonic take; Colorado Bulldog gets whipped within an inch of its life by growling metal band; Wild World sounds as genuinely Spanish as the Inquisition itself; Lucky This Time is pretty straight forward and the singer sounds as if his life depends on getting it right; the band Litus have an attempt to get To Be With You right; and Little Too Loose by Victor Estevez is stripped back to a swampy acoustic blues number.
Very varied and very iffy overall. It will take a true die-hard Mr. Big fan to appreciate this set. The Guru tracks save the day (and my ears).
|Trail Of Murder Shades Of Art||Metal Heaven|
Trail Of Murder is a new Swedish melodic metal outfit that features the welcome return of vocalist Urban Breed, together with guitarist Daniel Olsson, drummer Pelle Åkerlind (Bloodbound). This debut album is an impressive affair for fans of melodic metal or tougher hard rock, especially those that have followed Urban Breed through Tad Morose and Bloodbound.|
There's a lot of attention paid to the songs here, which are tough, moody rockers, but all with hooks to remember. There are some really good songs here – very melodic despite the heaviness of the music. Stand outs include Shades Of Art, Lady Don't Answer, Carnivore, I Know Shadows and the brilliant heavy anthem Not For The Faint Of Heart.
One of the best heavy (yet melodic) albums I've heard this year. Fans of Urban Breed and Bloodbound and European melodic metal need to check this out.
|Delta Goodrem Child Of The Universe||Sony Australia|
The Aussie songstress that folks were beginning to doubt roars back with one of the very best female fronted pop albums I've heard in years. There isn't much rocking going on here, but it is perfectly produced modern pop/power pop with some simply stunning songs.|
With a recent break up behind her, these songs are incredibly personal and at times, bitingly emotional. And the thing that makes this album so appealing is the almost impossibly good vocals. They are stunning to the point of being breathtaking. Her range is insane.
Highlights are plentiful. There is the opening rock anthem Child Of The Universe; the channeling of Stevie Nicks on the moody Touch; the haunting piano ballad perfection of Wish You Were Here; the Kelly Clarkson inspired Knocked Out and the absolutely brilliant feel good Standing On Top Of The World.
Then there is the gut wrenching piano/vocal only of I'm Not Ready, which will rip your heart out with unworldly vocals that haunt you long after the song has finished. One of the best pure ballads I have ever heard. That's followed by the Kate Bush like angst filled uptempo pop/rock song Hunters And The Wolves. And that's just the first 7 tracks. Phew.
Fans of female fronted melodic music and contemporary pop needs to find this album whatever you do. The special edition comes with a bonus disc of acoustic versions. Just awesome.
|Docker's Guild The Mystic Technocracy - Season 1||Lion Music|
Its taken me forever to review this album – mainly because I simply didn't know what to do with it. It's one of the more eclectic prog rock releases I've covered here, so now I must attempt to review it. Basically it is 80 minutes of unconventional epic classic rock, progged up to within an inch of its life. And this is only part one of five!!|
Over to the bio: “Docker's Guild is the solo effort of Douglas R. Docker, who put his talent and writing skill into The Mystic Technocracy, an opera which unfolds over 5 seasons. The first season, called “Season I: The Age of Ignorance”, sees the participation of worldwide acclaimed musicians like Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth / Joe Satriani), Magnus Jacobson (Miss Behavior), Tony Franklin (Blue Murder), Guthrie Govan (Asia), Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), John Payne (Asia), Göran Edman (ex Yngwie Malmsteen, Karmakanic), Amanda Somerville (Avantasia / Epica), Tony Mills (TNT/ Shy) and many others…”
This album is really quite amazing. But it takes a lot of time to get into it and to understand it. Both John Payne and Tony Mills deliver some great vocals and the music, while challenging, can be quite catchy too. Eventually!
Fans of Yes, ELP, Dream Theater and Genesis will find interest here. There are some truly confusing moments within the album, but then there are passages of just pure melodic brilliance (such as track 6 Judeo-Christian Cosmogony. Catchy title eh?)
The album is exactly what it says on the tin – “lives on its own sounds which is a very personal mixture of progressive roots played and crafted by mainly AOR musicians.”
The songwriting and vocal arrangements have also been inspired by melodic rock and AOR acts, mostly Asia and Journey. There is a distinct 80s feel to many tracks too.
Tracks range from 2 to 11 minutes in length.
There is so much to listen to here that I was initially gun shy about sitting through multiple listens, but once I did, I was suitable rewarded. For those that like it quirky, but melodic.
|Adrenaline Mob Omerta||Elm City Music|
Shame on me for not reviewing one of the year's best metal albums before now. It is one title that simply fell through the cracks. This is another one of those tough, uncompromising types of records that just blasts energy from the start to the finish.|
Vocalist Russell Allen sounds menacing and fierce throughout and drummer Mike Portnoy makes up for his disappointing departure from Dream Theater with a powerhouse performance of non-stop rhythm.
This is a super heavy album and it barely stops to take a breath. Allen uses his “gruff” voice here – he's in full metal mode as opposed to the smoother vocal used on the Allen/Lande records.
The band's cover of Duran Duran's Come Undone is quite inspired too. It's one of those moments where you sit up and go, sure….this works! Who would have thought?
Overall, a truly solid, uncompromising melodic metal record.
|Rival Sons Head Down||Earache Records Ltd |
This one of those releases that folks will either love or hate due to the direction of the material. As a reviewer, I have to keep an open mind for all styles, even when they aren't necessarily my day to day listening choice. Rival Sons is one such release. I'm not usually a retro rockhead. I'm a 80s kid primarily. But this is so good – it might just convert me – temporarily at least!|
Rival Sons send me so deep into the 70s that a psychedelic, doobie smoking, rainbow colored donkey with flared pants and an afro could walk by and it wouldn't seem out of place. This is boogie rock n roll country with heavy Bad Company, Free, Led Zep influences throughout.
The vocals are clear and appealing in that Paul Rodgers, Wolfmother style and the production and associated retro effects and occasional distortion is so authentic, it sounds like it was recorded on Haight & Asbury in 1973.
The songs are really appealing for the style and if the above descriptions bring curiosity, then check this out. It's one of the better retro albums I've heard.
|Gypsy Rose Poisoned By Love||FNA Records|
Yes, this is the same Gypsy Rose, whose debut album Prey found itself a fan base at the turn of a decade 20 years back. This is an archive release – as FNA Records do so well – with a couple of new versions of classic songs (Poisoned By Love and Don't Turn Your Back On Me Now) plus two brand new original mixes of those 2 tracks and a host of other unreleased tracks that fans of the band will appreciate.|
Sonically speaking, the quality is very up and down – some great and a couple that are barely listenable (but clearly great songs). Fallin' is a classic in the making – shame it sounds so horrible here.
And there is 2 new solo tracks from vocalist Michael Ross included which show another side to the singer. An interesting addition to the band's known recordings and one for fans of that debut to check out for sure.
|Creature To Boldly Sleaze||FNA Records|
Creature were being driven by famed Kiss manager Bill Aucoin during the 80s, so it's no surprise to see a heavy influence from the kings of glam in these songs. Add in some Slaughter and Faster Pussycat and early 80s Crue and you might get an idea what the screechy lead vocal style Creature are all about.|
This is high energy, in your face glam hard rock with a typically early-mid 80s sound and production values to match. And the high pitch vocals are a matter of taste.
Another archive release – but one that fans of this era might find some enjoyment from. There's definitely a few fillers here and the sound is pretty thin, but if the idea of a band having an oversized Sleaze-O-Matic machine on stage in which “a pure, virginal school girl stepped into the machine where the dial was cranked to ten, and a rock-n-roll slutty metal chick stepped out”…then check this out!
|Kidd Blue Big Trouble (Expanded)||FNA Records|
This is an expanded edition of an archive release for US rockers Kidd Blue. This release adds six more never-before-released tracks to the Big Trouble album.|
First to the original album – a collection of unreleased, but professionally recorded demos that were tracked in the mid-late 80s. The band really had it going on back in the day and were unlucky not to have been picked up alongside the likes of Warrant, Ratt and Bon Jovi. These are demos, so the sound is a little hollow and thin, but it is still good enough to crank and enjoy and FNA did a cool job of remastering the material.
Some good songs here for collectors of the American “hair” scene from the 80s.
The additional 6 tracks are a further step back in production quality – but not in song strength. Would like to have heard all these in official label release quality.
Another one for fans of 80s archives to check out.
|Tragic Romance Hollywood Daze||FNA Records|
Formed in late 1987 in Los Angeles, Tragic Romance was a bruising yet soaring powerhouse that rocked both the Sunset Strip and the coolest and darkest underground clubs LA had to offer. The band swapped their glam-ish look and style for a darker sound in the early 90s but never got off the ground despite fan and critical acclaim in their native city.|
You've got two brand new tracks here – which is always a nice addition. Little Miss Innocent and Shameless are both pretty good uptempo 80s sounding glam rock tunes. The rest of the tunes are quite varied from glam/hard rock to semi-experimental early 90s alt-rock – showcasing the band in transition. Those songs are however not another attempt at a grunge-cash in. They are just quirky.
It kinda reminds me of Bang Tango in places. The recordings aren't quite as solid as other FNA releases, but it certainly has its place in the annals of rock history.
|The Godz Mongolians||FNA Records|
Crunching guitars, raspy vocals and in your face American rock n roll. That sums up The Godz, a band that has been going since the 70s and has influences from other such icons of that era – ZZ Top, Kiss and the like.|
This 10 track “archive” release is composed of 7 tracks from the import-only album I'll Get You Rockin' (released only in Europe) and includes three new tracks (Criminal Minds, Mongolians, Burning Bridges). The original Mongolians release came out in 1987.
So you know what you are getting folks – a high energy mix of 70s and 80s American rock that takes no prisoners.
The material has aged yes, but it's not nearly as dated as some other material of that era and the 3 brand new tracks are as authentic as the rest of the bands material.
|David A Saylor City Of Angels||AOR Boulevard Records|
David A Saylor - one man AOR machine. Yes, everything on this release is played, written and produced by the man himself. That means a fair slice of programming and no real emphasis on any one instrument – besides his voice of course.|
Thankfully his voice does make up for the lack of real drums, it's a pretty likable pure AOR voice – deeper perhaps than what is the norm. I'm thinking John Parr-lite.
David once fronted Push UK and works as an acclaimed vocalist in Spanish speaking territories. This album is a very soft and sweet pure British AOR release.
There is a few covers amongst the originals. Hands To Heaven is very familiar yet I can't recall where from (great ballad); Inside Love is a crunchier melodic rocker and I Don't Want To Wait Anymore is a cover of the Tubes' ballad.
In-between these are some very good songs, albeit very very laid back.
At 40 minutes in length, it's about just right. Any longer and it might have dragged due to the slower tempo.
|Cannon Burning Love|
This is a traditional old school metal album with double kick drum rhythm throughout and a raspy screechy vocalist doing his best to sound like singing.|
It's ok, but doesn't do a lot for me, despite the inclusion of some big guitar moments and some crunching 'eavy metal moments.
Production is passable – nothing outstanding – but decent enough.
Songs – much the same. It's very much a take it or leave it release for me and I would think many others also.
|Fraze Gang 2||Indie|
Brighton Rock's Greg Fraser is the man behind the band – fronting the band and playing guitars, not to mention producing the album. And for the betterment of the tunes, Beau Hill handled the mixing and mastering.|
So it's a solid, tight melodic hard rock record on offer here. Brighton Rock fans will definitely find a lot to like, even with the deeper, less seasoned vocals of Fraser up front.
This reminds me of other guitarists turned frontmen albums like the cool Paul Dean release and the Steve Jones solo album Mercy.
Guitars definitely rule the day and the album has a contemporary vibe, with some crunching guitars proving to be the album's driving force. It's a no nonsense release – think AC/DC kind of attitude.
|Fatal Smile 21st Century Freaks||FS Records/GMR|
Gruff, brash, take no prisoners, in your face….you name it – Sweden's glam/sleaze/metal kings take control from the first note and don't let go for nearly 50 minutes.|
Welcome To The Freakshow is a pretty apt title. The band play an uncompromising style of Euro-metal crossed with Shotgun Messiah, Motley Crue on speed, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath…you get the idea.
It's not for everybody as this album (the band) is pretty different, but that said, you won't find a better sounding record in this genre – the sound is huge and it really bursts through the speakers, grabs you by the neck and beats you senseless.
For those that like it louder than loud and bigger than big.
|Jackyl Best In Show|
Best In Show says the title on the cover. Not likely. This isn't even the worst in show. This wouldn't even get on the “show” short list. Jackyl were a pretty decent band back in their day, with the raspy screams of singer Jesse Dupree. I heard someone describe this as the best album since their debut. Sorry, I can't understand that at all. It sounds out of date and out of step with what other bands of that era are delivering today. |
This sounds rough and under produced and I can't say any other songs really stayed with me past the listening time of the album. The brazen sleazy lyrics have dated badly and the voice of Dupree has seen better says if this is anything to go by.
Jackyl die-hards only.
|The Order 1986||Massacre Records|
1986 is the name of the fourth album from Swiss rockers The Order. The fact that I've been here 15 years and have missed their prior 3 albums probably doesn't bode well. |
They are signed to Massacre Records, but I haven't seen any promo or push for this album at all. And while they guys are clearly basing their music and attitude back in 1986, sales of this album won't match what could have been 20 years ago.
Sales probably won't match expectations now even, as there isn't much here to gain traction in an overcrowded market place.
The band's hard edge guitar riffing style is straight out of the Dokken, Motley Crue and Van Hagar playbook, except this is more a little league album, not good enough for the major leagues.
The production is ok, but the singer isn't the most appealing and we've heard everything here before.
Long Live Rock N Roll they sing. Indeed, but it isn't likely to live on through these guys.
|Andy Rock Into The Night||AOR Heaven|
Greek guitarist Andy Rock (of Wild Rose) sets out on his solo debut to deliver an album of softer pure AOR instead of the Bon Jovi style rock of Wild Rose. This is all very nice and such and Andy has an ok voice. But the main problem here is that it has all been done 10,000 times before and done better at that.|
Really, there is nothing wrong with the album at all, but it's very familiar and I simply don't think the market place has enough room for albums that don't stand out or offer something a little special, otherwise they just get lost in the crowd.
Plenty of fluffy keyboards here and some soft tone guitars. The vocals are ok – not great – and the material doesn't surprise at all.
Nothing wrong with it at all, just nothing new on offer.
|Flying Colors Flying Colors|
Quite a few musicians asked me what I thoughts of this album – as they all love it. And that's the best description I can give here. This is a true musicians album. With the brilliance of the guys involved (Neal Morse, Steve Morse, Portnoy, Dave Larue and Casey McPherson), there is no question about how great the performances are here, nor how fabulous the sound/production is.|
It's truly a work of art.
But appeal will certainly be something else. The musical style is all over the shop – from progressive hard rock, to classic rock to introspective ballads to acoustic to extended jams…to just plain, er, well “different”.
This no not an easy album to get to know, but there is no way to measure how cool it is to sit back and just absorb talented musicians doing what they do best and playing off each other.
So without any further deep analysis, I'll just say that if you like to hear the best of the best doing what they do best – all wrapped up into a very diverse range of rock influenced styles…..check this out if you haven't already.
|Fatal Force Unholy Rites||Metal Heaven|
Metal Heaven wisely picked this up for retail distribution after it was initially offered for digital sale. |
This melodic metal album is the brainchild of Torben Enevoldsen, who has enlisted the vocal talents of Michael Vescera to handle the intensity of this album's material.
Well produced and well mixed, plus with the established voice of Vescera in control, the second Fatal Force album is definitely one for metal fans to check out. It's not too heavy and harmony vocals add some additional melodies to the chorus and verse hooks.
|John Parr The Mission||Indie|
The Mission is JP's new studio album and I think probably an essential purchase for fans of the British singer. Mixing it up between melodic rock anthems and soft acoustic numbers, John sounds in great voice and rips through some great tracks.|
The only problem is the stop/start nature of the material – swapping in and out of acoustic mode, the album doesn't always flow as well as it could.
The album varies quite a bit in production quality too – this sounds like it was recorded over several studios/variants in conditions.
But there is definitely something about Parr's voice that I have always loved and it's nice to hear a number of full band/uptempo numbers on here, even if the acoustic driven tracks could have been cut back by one or two.
No complaints about lyrical depth though – many songs here take on the subject of troops at war and paying tribute to them. A very worthy subject.
Recommended for Parr fans. His best in a while.
|Richie Sambora Aftermath Of The Lowdown||Dangerbird|
Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora finally releases a third solo album after two acclaimed previous releases, his last one being as far back as 1998. Obviously the guitarist has been kept busy in Bon Jovi, but as some fans question that band's ability to rock, many have been anticipating this solo album as an answer to that problem. This is a complex record.|
It is complex because it doesn't reach the highs expected of it…and it also features some strange production choices and due to the diversity within, the sequencing of tracks makes for a very chop and change flow.
But at the same time, there are a few absolute classics that only Richie could deliver with his passionate vocals and very personal songs.
I really love some parts of this record and merely accept some other parts. This is after rating Richie's 1991 debut Stranger In This Town as one of the great mood albums of the 90s.
It is an album best tackled track by track.
Opening with the expected swagger of guitars, Burn the Candle Down has all the hall marks of a great Sambora rock track, but is nearly destroyed by the completely unnecessary use of distorted and effects driven vocals. A very strange decision in my mind.
The feel good redemption themed anthem Every Road Leads Home to You is an instant classic for me and what I expected more of in this album. Sadly it's the only track like it.
Taking A Chance On The Wind has energy, but the rootsy blues rocker doesn't fit into this position in the album. I would have relegated it further back.
Nowadays sees Richie try out his forth style in four tracks. No wonder this album was hard to get my head around initially. The modern pop-punky style of this fat rocker also features some distorted vocals and isn't a natural fit for Sambora's style.
Weathering the Storm is a slow blues ballad with a good chorus and is a likable song; I just feel it loses some impact due to Taking A Chance On The Wind being a similar vibe.
Sugar Daddy is yet another sharp left turn and this one is down the wrong road. Who wants to hear Richie doing peach-fuzz psychedelic 60s music with distorted vocals? The actual base song itself is ok – but the choice of direction and production is puzzling. It could have been a great straight ahead rocker. And what's with all this vocal distortion and effects? Richie has one of the most soulful voices in rock n roll and it kills me to hear it buried beneath all this crap.
The soft acoustic ballad I'll Always Walk Beside You finally features a stark and honest, raw lead vocal and the listener is rewarded.
The modern rock ballad Seven Years Gone is another classic Sambora ballad with another killer vocal. But again – choice of sequencing could have been better.
The thumping rocker Learnin' How To Fly With A Broken Wing is an effects free modern rocker that could easily fit onto a recent Bon Jovi album and be the stand out track.
The 6 minute plus long slow ballad You Can Only Get So High is another misplaced track in this badly ordered album, but what a wonderful song. Soulful, emotional and inspiring…a stand out vocal from Richie.
Closing the official album is yet another ballad (really that's one too many now) and it's also the least effective. The short, slow acoustic driven 70s inspired track just doesn't gain my attention at all.
There is the bonus track Backseat Driver, which is a needed rocker, but again it's spoilt by effects on the vocals, despite a pretty decent chorus.
While there are some stand out classic tracks, those songs are surrounded by a number of fillers and as stated, the distorted/modernized vocal effects really do take the shine off several tracks. The album gets better after repeated listens, but it doesn't come anywhere close to the brilliance of Stranger In This Town and even ranks behind the mellower Undiscovered Soul.
|Aerosmith Music From Another Dimension||Columbia|
This is the same kind of deal as the recent Kiss album. Iconic band; two very distinct histories (70s era, 80s and beyond); a fan base where it is going to be impossible to please everyone; and an impossibly high expectation from everyone.|
First the good points – thank God Aerosmith are not wasting time with blues tunes, covers albums, solo projects or anything other than what they should be doing together. It seems forever since a proper new studio album from the clan was on offer.
Getting together with their old 70s partner – veteran producer Jack Douglas – someone who knows the band and how they work was a great idea, although those that immediately presumed this would be a 'back to the 70s' sounding release will be disappointed.
Now the bad – too many tracks. There is no evidence of self-control here, both with the diverse nature of the material and the sheer length of the album. And Joe Perry on vocals? Sorry mate – you had your shot as a frontman on your solo album. That's not what anyone buys an Aerosmith record for.
Another popular topic among fans is the number of ballads on the album. I fully understand people want the band to rock (as do I), but when the ballads are actually better quality than some of the rockers, you can hardly question why they are included.
It all comes down to too many tracks and no quality control. Less can be more folks.
The album gets off to a powerful start with the swaggering Luv XXX, which draws on the band's most commercial sound of Pump and Get A Grip.
The bluesy Oh Yeah gives us some 70s flared pants to wear, while Beautiful is a classic and quirky 'Smith rocker.
I wouldn't have introduced a ballad so quickly, but the largely acoustic driven Tell Me is an ok moody track.
Out Go The Lights is full tilt Aerosmith swagger, but not one of my favourite tracks on the album.
Legendary Child is a cool song and I like it – but it's kinda ironic to see bands sounding great again using old tracks (this one is an outtake from the Get A Grip sessions). It's funny how old tracks can remind you how off target the recent material has been.
If the material that preceded this wasn't so average, this would still sound like a leftover. Today it sounds like a hit!
What Could Have Been Love is a hit single in anyone's language. A great ballad and great Tyler vocal.
Street Jesus is everything I want to hear out of Aerosmith in 2012. Cool, driving, swagger, guitars, fast, quirky. Love it! Why not more of this guys?
Sadly momentum is hauled immediately with an unnecessary ballad featuring Carrie Underwood. Not what I want from the band.
Lover A Lot heads straight back to the groove and the swagger that sounds natural for the band.
Another ballad with We All Fall Down – classy, but the track sequencing here does the band no favours.
The last 4 tracks I won't even review. Well, Another Last Goodbye closes the album with one of the best Tyler vocals in years and some beautiful orchestration. But the three tracks preceding it feature two horrible Perry vocals and another waste of time ballad.
There are an additional 3 bonus tracks floating around, but one is a waste of time, the other is a horrid bluesy Joe Perry vocal and the third is another (average) ballad. Don't waste time paying extra to get those.
So…this is how I'd pull together this album into a pretty good listen (but still missing a couple of extra great rockers so one more ballad could be dropped): LUV XXX, Beautiful, Street Jesus, What Could Have Been Love, Legendary Child, Lover A Lot, Tell Me, Oh Yeah, We All Fall Down, Out Go The Lights, Another Last Goodbye.
|Issa Can't Stop||Frontiers|
Issa delivers her third album in pretty quick time, this time taking a slightly different route – gaining herself a new backing band and producer (Alessandro Del Vecchio and his Italian friends) and also banging out a 12 track collection of obscure AOR classics.|
The upside of covering such songs as this – none of them can be ruined. Their classic status has long since been established and they are all great songs. No question.
The downside – for the same reason, it's very unlikely that any of them can actually be improved upon.
And while Issa certainly has a very good crack at these songs – one is constantly reminded of the originals and for the most part the originals can't and won't be beaten.
But, these are quite obscure tracks generally, so perhaps there is a percentage of the audience that hasn't heard some of them. Those folks will definitely be at an advantage for enjoying this album, as comparisons won't get in the way of just appreciating what's on offer.
And what is on offer is an album that (much like Issa's first two albums) is a professionally produced selection of very smooth tunes, all delivered in a pretty uptempo AOR-by-numbers fashion.
Issa has a great voice though and it's nice to hear a female vocalist tackle 12 previously male sung tracks.
But that in itself raises another question. Some songs just can't be covered by a female lead vocal when or ears have been previously trained to hear a male voice signing these songs.
So why not dig up some obscure female fronted AOR songs to throw into the mix?
At any rate – there are still some impressive efforts on here; the highlights of which are the opening track Can't Stop (Aviator); Power Over Me (Atlantic); Wherever I Run (Regatta); If You Ever Fall (Tone Norum, Mystic Healer) – nice guitar soloing; Dream On (BLVD); State Of Love (Mark Free) and These Eyes (21 Guns) – mostly because it's just such a freeking amazingly phenomenal song.
Not quite working quite as well - Just A Wish (21 Guns); Do You Ever Think Of Me (Message, Unruly Child); Stranded (Tangier); Heat Of The Night (Worrall); I Won't Surrender (Tower City, Steelhouse Lane).
The selection of songs is pretty varied, but surprisingly cohesive too. Definitely one for fans of female fronted melodic rock – even better if the tunes are less known to you.
|Soleil Moon On The Way To Everything||Frontiers Records|
Not an album to crank if you are on a 10 hour interstate drive, but perhaps one for relaxing to after a long day at work. The Larry King fronted American pop/rock act delivers a fine album of adult contemporary Christian themed music that is mostly ballad and pop/rock styled, with a laid back sense throughout, but fronted by some strong lead vocals.|
For those that thought vocalist King sounded overly gruff on the recent Michael Thomason Band release (that's me for one), it's quite surprising to hear him sing so smoothly here and with such a delicate tone at times. Pity he didn't bring this style to the MTB album.
As I said, this is very laid back and largely acoustic driven, but very finely produced. So it's a matter of taste and mood as to whether this will appeal.
It's probably a little too adult contemporary for some, only the opening track and Burn & Down really get into third gear.
The last three tracks are from the band's debut which was never released outside of the USA. Those are three really good tracks too.
|Lover Under Cover Set The Nigth On Fire||Escape Music|
Just how I like my Scandi melodic rock – a little darker and moodier than the usual fare and delivered with a crunching guitar sound and a thumping rhythm section. Then there is the always fabulous raspy presence of Mikael Erlandsson (Last Autumn's Dream/Salute).|
This new band is formed by Mikael Carlsson – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards and Vocals with Martin Kronlund (Gypsy Rose, Phenomena, Salute) – Guitars; Perra Johnsson (Coldspell) – Drums and special guest on keyboards: Ged Ryland (ex-Ten). A powerful line-up for a powerful album.
Fans of LAD will find a lot to like about this – especially if you'd prefer that band to be a little heavier and fans of the Salute album will be even more impressed here I think.
There's only 1 ballad (the closing track A Nice Day) and 1 mid-tempo AOR track (Too Good To Be True) and the rest is guitar fuelled Scandi melodic rock.
The best of those tracks are the opening My Best Friend and the brilliant Angels Will Cry; the fast paced Flash In The Night; the double time Who Needs Love and its immediate neighbor Crazy For You (one of the chorus highlights of the album) plus Crime In The Line.
For me the last few Anberlin albums have all been excellent, but also fall just a little short of expectations generally. Probably because the near perfect Never Take a Friendship Personal and Cities albums are almost unbeatable, my expectations have been set impossibly high.|
I really dig this band. Vocalist Stephen Christian has one of those wonderfully melodic, yet powerful tones that I tend to gravitate towards and the messages the band delivers via their songs are both thought provoking as well as likeable.
The fact is they haven't ever delivered a bad album and Vital is another wonderful slice of high energy modern rock angst.
This time out the band has stripped back a little and turned the guitars way up – much as the opening salvo from Cities. So the opening really had me excited.
Self-Starter and Little Tyrants kick ass before things turn my introspective with the quirky Other Side.
Someone Anyone sees the band dive back into the full frontal assault and delivers one of the band's best tracks in a long time.
Here's where I lose things a little. Intentions is high energy still, but more driven by effects and programming. It's followed by another programmed track, this time a dreamy kind of ballad – it just sounds like two different bands at work here.
Desires is an ultra-heavy modern bombastic tune contrasted by another dreamy programmed mid-tempo track.
I'm losing the thread of this album with the back and forth nature of styles being employed.
The next two tracks are more familiar Anberlin and match the first few tracks before the closing ballad God, Drugs & Sex turns things on their head again.
There is clearly two different aspects of the band at play on Vital and mixing the two hasn't necessarily worked.
|Neal Schon The Calling||Frontiers|
Journey guitarist Neal Schon recorded two separate solo albums in the last year or two and kept them on ice until his band Journey's current studio album Eclipse had run its course.|
Now the first of the two is formally released. The Calling is an all-instrumental affair and features the rather tantalizing line-up of Schon (all guitars, al bass) teamed with old band mate and drumming legend Steve Smith once again and Igor Len on the occasional keyboard parts.
Much like Eclipse, this is a guitar lover's paradise, albeit in a different vein to the Journey album.
This is Schon in free form expression, shredding all over this 53 minute opus, but also allowing breathing room with some spectacular slower moments like the short Irish Field and the full length True Emotion – which reminds me of my favourite Schon solo album Late Nite.
The subtle nuances of Smith's drumming forming around Schon's soloing is something to behold as expected. And Schon's bass parts make for a powerful rhythm section with the original Journey drummer.
|AOR LA Temptation||AOR Heaven|
I could almost include this album as a twin review with the Chasing Violets release. As previously stated, it shares 7 songs with that album as well as 5 exclusive numbers. The difference here is that each of the songs features a different guest lead vocalist.|
Frederic Slama has produced perhaps the finest AOR release to date, with a little more emphasis on guitars and a melodic rock direction. The Westcoast bias of earlier release has been dropped, which might disappoint some fans of his earlier work.
No Margin For Error -the song that just pops up everywhere - features Phillip Bardowell in a very fine vocal performance.
Above Suspicion is Goran Edman at his very smoothest.
From L.A To Paris is a classy ballad featuring Chris Ousey.
A Heartbeat Away is a heartfelt mid-tempo ballad with James Christian at the helm.
Silent Victory doesn't do a lot for me, mainly due to the rough sounding vocal from Paul Shortino.
I think I prefer the Chasing Violets version of No One's Gonna Hurt Me Anymore but Second Chance At Love is a nice smooth Goran fronted track again.
Out On The Streets features the horrible vocals of Paul Sabu in a track that is quite out of place on the album as a whole.
Hold Back The Dawn is a pretty long track that doesn't go anywhere for me.
The Price To Pay is Goran again, so that's always great and puts the album back on track. Not as well produced as some earlier tracks, but a good song.
Outside Heaven is a bit rough again (is that Sabu?) and the album ends with a rather uptempo poppy track When Darkness Falls, which is pretty enjoyable.
|Chsing Violets Outside Heaven||Perris Records|
French AOR group Chasing Violets is essentially Frederic Slama (of AOR fame on songs, production, instrumentation) and about 300 other special guests such as Tommy Denander (of course), Paul Sabu, Goran Edman, Philip Bardowell, Rick Riso, Jerry Hludzik along with two fabulous female vocalists – sisters Sarah and Melissa Fontaine.|
Essentially this is another AOR (the band) album with female vocals. And if lined up against the brand new AOR album LA Confessions, this works as a twin release.
In fact, on closer inspection, both albums share seven of the same tracks.
And whereas a few songs appear in duet form on this album, they are stand-alone lead vocal tracks for the guest stars on the AOR record.
Cheating somewhat there? Perhaps – there will be some that don't want the same tracks twice, but in this form they are dominated by the Fontaine sisters, so the sound is a little different even if the instrumentation backing track isn't.
Whatever the circumstance, this is another fine release from the stable of Mr. Slama.
There will be few better smooth pure AOR style songs this year than the opener I Can't Love No More and No Margin For Error (there's that song again) sounds just as good with female vocals.
The Price To Pay is a rockier affair with some really nice guitar soloing and duet vocals from Phillip Bardowell.
Goran Edman is mixed into the set in Above Suspicion, the duet of the track he sings alone on the AOR release, another stand out song.
The album turns more guitar driven melodic rock as it goes, as pure AOR itself seems to be a harder and harder style to sell, but this release offers a little of both and no matter the style it is all very smooth indeed.
|Dante Fox Lost Man's Ground||Indie|
This is how I like my female melodic rock. UK AOR act Dante's Fox have released this album independently and I hope that pays off for them.|
It is of course an essential purchase for fans of female melodic rock; but at 7 tracks, it's a bit short to be hailed a great “album”.
So we'll call it a great EP. But it's a good length EP. The new DF songs are a little longer this time around and a little more complex too.
Who Stole The Innocence is a typical edgy rocker from the band; Go Where Your Heart Is features a softer sung vocal, but some nice hard edge guitar work and soloing; Secrets is a song that grows on you each listen; I Can't Sleep is a breezy anthem, which is well placed before the near-7 minute long Lost Man's Ground, a darker and heavier number with a strong drum presence and an appealing lead vocal throughout.
Then there is the excellent fellow epic, the 7 minute This World, which is the most progressive I have heard the band sound – apart from the contrasting feel good chorus.
An excellent all-acoustic Goodbye To Yesterday and a radio edit of the title track complete the 8 tracks on offer here.
Essential for fans of Dante Fox in the past and definitely needs to be checked out if female melodic rock appeals. A few extra songs would have made this an album proper, but it is still amongst their best work to date. And at 43 minutes, it's longer than some albums anyway!
Ok, we all know Heart won't ever return to their commercial 80s style, but that shouldn't dismiss the need for the gals to write a damn chorus once and a while. Fans of the group (ie. The Wilson Duo) and their 70s output will of course find this new collection of rocked up, guitar driven tunes somewhat more to their liking and even delightful perhaps?|
But those like me that joined the group's fanbase in 1983-1985 will be aghast at the sheer lack of hooks, memorable melodies and sweet female driven anthems. Heart has simply forgotten what a chorus is. They instead seem content on one line choruses with a slight instrumental break as buffer before the next verse starts.
Yes, it's very nice to hear Nancy Wilson crank that guitar a little bit – this is a very raw and direct sounding record, with guitars well up in the mix.
But the pace….well the great classic 70s rock Led Zep Plod style continues.
I think the title track Fanatic is rather special, but when it's followed by several similarly paced tracks, it loses its shine.
Walkin' Good is a sweet melody and it's nice to hear the sweet and luscious voice of Nancy Wilson up front again. But stuff like the dragging Skin And Bones and Pennsylvania, not to mention Rock Deep and Corduroy Road just bore the tears out of me.
I know there's already some claiming a 'best of 2012' finish for this album in personal lists, but it won't make mine.
After 3 albums in a row of drab, slow, 70s inspired Zep folk/rock, me and Heart are pretty much done.
And I absolutely adore the Heart, Bad Animals, Brigade trilogy. Some of the finest female fronted melodic rock ever right there. Even before that the band delivered some 70s rock classics I admire. But this album and the band's recent output has nothing to do with anything musically memorable or remotely enjoyable.
|Matchbox Twenty North||Atlantic|
In a word – disappointing. So much more was expected after a gap of too many years and the last release featuring just 7 new tracks (albeit, very good ones). The lead single She's So Mean hinted at the classic rock MB20 greatness fans know, but the album is just so disappointing to these ears.|
The brilliant, building Parade is a quality track in anyone's terms. But when it's lined up to open the new album, it's an immediate indicator that the band circa 2012 has not come to rock. Following the brilliant lead single is an equally mesmerizing ballad Overjoyed, followed by the annoyingly dance friendly/Maroon 5 sounding Put Your Hands Up – as catchy as it comes really, but certainly a step away from the band's core sound.
Our Song is a step back towards the classic pop/rock feel, but it falls away after that.
The band has just gone too far into the pop arena for me.
English Town is a solid track with a little guitar in there, but from there it's all slowish pop songs or ballads.
The deluxe/international version adds a couple of more decent tracks, but then it gets into the whole 'too many tracks/too many fillers' syndrome. The best 12 tracks were certainly not selected for the core version. Disappointing.
|The Angels Take It To The Streets||Liberation Music|
I love The Angels (or Angel City as they are sometimes marketed as internationally). They are the leading purveyors of the Aussie pub rock sound alongside AC/DC. But The Angels had an edge that even AC/DC didn't have at times. Frontman Doc Neeson scared the shit out of you on stage, he was that menacing.|
The band is unquestioned legends here in Oz. But as is sometimes the case, the vocalist (Neeson) stopped getting along with everyone else and has been for some time touring with his own version of the band, except he as a vocalist and performer has seen better days sadly.
So it was exciting to hear of the band's most defining line up of Rick & John Brewster and Chris Bailey doing their own thing (they own the The Angels moniker) and even more inspired was bringing on board Screaming Jets frontman Dave Gleeson. The hard rocking Gleeson is a natural fit for these guys and the live shows have been received very well.
So what went wrong in the studio?
I guess these old guys forgot to rock. This is a truly uninspired album that I doubt will have any lasting effect on long time fans.
When you open the album with a mid-tempo acoustic driven song, it doesn't install confidence.
Wounded Healer has a more hard edge Angels sound to it and Gleeson does sound great, but he still sings well within himself and the whole tone of this song and the album as a whole is one of restraint.
Since when were The Angels a polite band? Lead single Waiting For The Sun has a little crunch, but again, more restraint. It's the best song here too.
After that comes some of the most boring rock music ever to come out of Australia.
Only No Sleep In Hell mid-way through the album shows any sing of life – apart from the band covering themselves (When The Time Comes and Small Price) – why do this?
And the band covering Elvis Costello is like being stabbed in the ears with a pair of Costello's dorky little spectacles. It's a true insult.
Boring. That's a word I never thought I would use with The angels. But it is what it is. Slow and largely boring. Thankfully there is a 2 disc edition with 14 live tracks from 2012, which covers the band's more memorable material – with Gleeson on vocals. I much prefer that over this highly uninspired collection of new (and covered) tunes.
|YoungBlood No Retreat||Eonian|
Pressing play with the Youngblood album No Retreat is like stepping through a portal onto the pavement of the Sunset Strip circa 1988. This material was recorded between 1989 and 1991, taking just that little bit too long to complete before Seattle took a giant turd on the head of good rock n roll. The bulk of the songs were recorded for Sony/Epic in 1989, ready for a major label debut.|
I'm not sure which is a more puzzling question – why wasn't this released back in the day, or why has it taken so long for it to be unearthed now? This album is one of the best examples of bygone days to emerge in recent years.
Straight out of the American hard rock hand book (1988 edition), comes 16 tracks of high energy rock n roll, delivered with a high pitch vocal that fans of Slaughter, Steelheart, Sweet FA, Warrant and the like will appreciate.
Production is amazing – and the mix fully pro and ready to go.
As an “album”, 16 tracks is probably too much, but this release is more of a compilation of the band's recorded material and it shows that they really did get the shit end of the luck stick.
There's no reason to think that this album wouldn't have sold a cool half million or more back in the day. It just goes to show that talent doesn't always get you across the line in this business. Luck and good timing also goes a long way.
|Steve Harris British Lion||UMe|
This album sounds as if it was recorded inside the chamber of a vacuum cleaner on “full suck” mode. Any and all trace of high end phonics have been sucked out and what is left is a muddy, distorted, horrid sounding mash of faint vocals ridden over by Harris' unmistakable chunka chunka chunka bass riffing.|
I could imagine a few songs here having some likability if they could only be heard properly. And what's with the vocals? They are so wimpy of an album of this kind.
So the songs are average, the vocals are pretty terrible and the production is nothing short of an embarrassment for someone of Harris' standing.
There's another thing I cannot fathom – why this album has been getting some great reviews! Maybe it's me then, but I can't find anything that makes me want to keep playing it.
|Hart The Conqueror||Indie|
Hart was formed in Oslo in early 2012 by Norwegian singer Rock Hart and Beautiful Beast's Julian Angel on lead guitar.|
These guys are clearly inspired by the classic 80s LA Sunset Strip sound, but aren't quite sure if they are an Axl Rose/Guns N Roses kind of band or a full-sleaze outfit with vocals to match Tom Kiefer.
Well, that's on a good day if they are lucky. The vocals for the most part here are screechy, painful and totally lack the power of the accompanying riffs.
The riff'n'blues style mixed with 80s glam is ok, but the songs just don't hold up over the length of a full album. There are a few good sounding tracks here, the opening two are the best, but then it's mostly downhill from there.
Average production, average songs, and terrible vocals.
|The Darkness Hot Cakes||Wind-Up|
You either love them or hate them. I'm prepared to like them – I don't mind the tongue in cheek self-satire of their sound and the over the top approach, the band's debut Permission To Land was really something quite extraordinary.|
But at some point the drama surrounding the band overtook the music and the guys seem to take themselves too seriously. So after a while they break up, go solo, do nothing, get back together again and try and recover the magic.
They do at times, but there's also some filler here. 15 tracks is just too many songs for every one of them to be winners. The sound of this album is a lot rawer than the polished debut and more a 'live in the studio' kind of feel.
There is no doubt they rock – the riffs are there and the pace is pretty in your face.
Overall, an ok album, but nothing that will ever convince the doubters and nothing close to the quality of the debut.
|Savage Sons Of Malice||Indie|
I didn't know what to expect from a brand new Savage album, but within thirty seconds or so, I liked what I heard. This is one of those old-fashioned albums – old as in old-school and not as in out dated.|
This kind of hard rock/NWOBHM doesn't date – it's just classic metal.
The only thing you need to adjudicate is whether the production is any good – yes, indeed, this is a hard hitting powerful sounding record.
Secondly – are the songs any good – yes again. There's nothing new or mind blowingly original on offer here, but it does what it says on the box – it rocks.
This riff driven record delivers plenty of highlights and moves along at a pretty decent pace. The only this is that following the kick ass opening track, there follows two plodding tracks that don't impress.
So I would have reworked the sequencing a little once again, but at the end of the day, this album is filled with exactly what you'd hope from an 80s British metal band. Just with the added bonus that it sounds pretty fresh and energetic.
|Jimi Jamison Never Too Late||Frontiers Records|
Well, I guess this result isn't the shock of the year after my unadulterated praise for the album over the last few months.|
It's finally due to hit retail shelves this week so and might I recommend you grab your copies now before stock runs low, because this is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the last few years and a truly classic record to my ears.
Jimi Jamison's last solo album saw him teamed with former Survivor band mate Jim Peterik to write and record an album for him. The momentous Crossroads Moment was an amazing record that was packed with quality songs. It perhaps had a couple of songs too many, but Jim Peterik's writing blitz for the album bought out so many great songs, the decision on what to leave in or out was almost impossible.
That album featured a definite Survivor-esque tone, but more so it favored Jim Peterik's post-Survivor writing style – which is just as fabulous in my mind, he can do no wrong.
Despite being entirely written by someone else, the Never Too Late album sounds to me like a more natural Jimi Jamison solo album.
Yes, it has some really strong Survivor moments, but it also really suits his voice to a tee and gives us another reminder of who Jimi the solo artist is.
Never Too Late features the writing, musical and production talents of the unbelievably inspired Erik Martensson, himself fresh off the success of the new Eclipse album and still riding a wave of popularity thanks to the W.E.T. and Toby Hitchcock releases.
There is something about Erik's ability to really nail the direction of the music for the singer in question. The Hitchcock album was tougher than expected, but the heavier, more urgent tone really brought out the best in Toby.
And with this album, Erik pulls back a little to a space where Jimi gets to sound as powerful as he has ever sounded, but as melodic as ever also.
Everybody's Got A Broken Heart is a fresh and energetic uptempo opener, with an updated 80s feel and some Survivor riffing. Great chorus and great vocals from Jimi.
The Great Unknown has a good dose of keyboards in the mix, but what immediately stands out for me is Jimi's awesome vocal. Nice to hear that emotional rasp in there, which adds grit to the song. And the chorus? Out of this world folks!
Never Too Late sounds like it might be a ballad to start with, a simple piano line plays behind Jimi's vocal (which again sounds awesome), but the song soon picks up exactly how those Survivor anthems used to. And once again, in typical Martensson fashion, the chorus explodes as the song goes into overdrive.
I Can't Turn Back has a really moody synth intro and an equally restrained vocal. But it builds slowly and soars as a hard edged lead guitar takes over. Another big 80s sounding song with a modern feel.
Street Survivor is one of the albums heavier tracks and really packs a punch after a couple of melodic rock anthems. It has the feel of an opening track, but I like it's positioning here. It's urgent, it rocks and Jimi delivers a huge vocal.
The Air I Breathe is a hit single in waiting. A stirring sentimental ballad, the song builds perfectly as it goes and the chorus is simply massive. Yet another compliment here for Jimi's vocals (which he co-produced by the way – great effort), which soar to heights not heard in years.
Not Tonight is one of those instantly perfect songs. The type of song you love from the first line and just gets better. And the chorus is another monster. This reminds me of something that might have worked for Bryan Adams (Waking Up The Neighbours era). A typically 80s song - wide open and breezy and impossible not to sing along with.
Calling The Game sees yet another anthem delivered, albeit a more direct and rocking one, with an urgent feel and more piano melodies entwined around the guitar work.
Bullet In The Gun is a tougher, harder rocking tune that might have fit on the Toby Hitchcock album – a typical Erik Martensson number this – which of course makes it brilliant. The song actually has a guitar/piano tradeoff that would have fit on the Crossroads Moment album. And more big vocals and a big chorus of course! Heaven Call Your Name is my favourite ballad of Jimi's in a long time. The vocal is haunting, emotional and beyond powerful. The song itself is a melancholy tribute to loved ones passed and yet another career highlight for Jimi. The closeout is epic.
The album closes with the tough uptempo rocker Walk On (Wildest Dreams). The verse has a driving beat and a pulsating vocal, which gives way to a very melodic chorus where keyboards play a bigger role. A really strong statement to end a perfect album.
This is a tough one to review. In fact, I generally don't like reviewing albums like this – iconic artists with long careers, delivering albums you already know fans are arguing over and no one absolute verdict has been reached.|
I've heard everything from “their best album since Creatures Of The Night” to “absolute shit” to “even better than Sonic Boom”, and “not as good as Sonic Boom”.
How does one write a review for an album when you know you are going to get crap from fans no matter what you write?
Be honest I guess….and that's what I do and that's been my motto since Day 1.
In this case, I see both sides of the argument. There are some great tunes here, but I also think there is a lack of self-control and discipline.
So what I hear on Monster is a band desperately trying to be as loud and as in your face as possible late in their career. And they succeed there, but at what cost?
The album is 12 tracks of non-stop hard driving sex-n-rock-roll. The band beat you over the head with track after track of high octane testosterone. But there is no balance either. It's all in your face. There is no room to breathe within the record – it's just relentless! Personally I like a little light and shade within an album.
I'm not a fan of multi-singer albums with only a few exceptions. But we're all used to that with Kiss, so it's no great problem to find 4 vocalists on Monster, with drummer Eric Singer handling one of the album's best tracks in All For The Love Of Rock N Roll.
And guitarist Tommy Thayer handles lead on the groovy 70s rocker Outta This World. Is it a coincidence he sounds like Ace?
The rest is the usual back of forth between Paul (the melodic one) and Gene (the gruff one). But when the gruff one sounds better than the melodic one, there might just be a problem. Paul Stanley's voice is horrible live and even in the studio here it's along long way from the glory days. Shame as I've always found his voice very appealing and his last solo album was great.
Song wise there's some cracking tunes on here – all delivered in the same 70s heavy style that is the band's origins and where they headed back to on Sonic Boom.
There's also a touch of their angst album Revenge in here and some early 80s Kiss too. But that's what you get when you've been around for 75 years. A mix of everything.
Highlights for me – from Stanley - the stomping Last Chance; the anthemic Hell Or Hallelujah and Freak.
From Simmons – Wall Of Sound, Devil Is Me and Eat Your Heart Out (killer guitar work from Tommy here).
Only song I really hate is Shout Mercy – can't stand that chorus and the backing vocal hook.
|Tango Down Identity Crisis||Kivel Records|
Tango Down's new album - their third - might just be the surprise package of 2012. The band's last album Damage Control was solid and enjoyable, but now some 3 years since its release, I'm struggling to remember any song from it.|
But that won't be the case for Identity Crisis. There are two or three songs here especially that I probably won't ever forget, such is the strength of the chorus and song overall.
But that's not to say there aren't other highlights within this album. It is in fact, very consistent throughout and at 10 tracks and just 38 minutes, there is no room for fillers and none are presented. Only guitarist Scott Miller and drummer Keith Michaels have appeared on all 3 albums.
David Reece, the voice of Accept, Bangalore Choir, Reece/Kronlund and now Power World is the new man up front and I have to say, after being somewhat skeptical of his potential fit with this band, it seems it was an inspired choice.
Hopefully this fresh line-up and album will set the guys up to move forward and perhaps perform live and re-group for a sequel in time.
Not only does Reece bring a certain toughness to the band that they didn't have before, but the band also gives Reece some more melodic tunes to sing, which I think is awesome. Nothing better than some melodic rock with attitude.
Writers on the album are many – Scott Miller of course is involved with most tracks, but friend of the label Jace Pawlak again delivers some fine writing (he really needs a big project of his own soon) and other writers include Paul Logue, Erik from Bombay Black (the band's Ty Sims produces), Christian Tolle and Reece himself.
Production is amongst the best quality I have heard from any Kivel Records release – there's a nice hard hitting approach on this album that I have often asked for in other Kivel Records reviews. Nailed it this time guys!
The album kicks off with two ass-kickers in the fast moving, beat heavy Crying to Me and the more melodic keyboard accompanied Alone (very 80s track there).
I'm not quite as enamored with Dream Child, not sure why, but I can say that the old fashioned backing vocals work well and are very well mixed into the album as a whole.
Blame is one of those classic tracks I referred to up front. Immediately likable and featuring a big melodic chorus. It features one of my favorite Reece vocals since the debut Bangalore Choir album.
Corners of My Mind is another very melodic and very classy song. It's slower to the point of almost being a ballad, but still rocks a little. Very strong melodies and a nice keyboard fill under the guitars.
Enlighten Me is a little darker and features another strong chorus and a moodier vibe. Didn't click with me first up, but gets better and better.
Back to Life is yet another instantly memorable 80s melodic rock anthem made to feel more contemporary by the strong production. It features a wonderfully moody Reece vocal and great chorus with a perfect blend of guitars and keyboards.
Hearts Catch Fire is an old school hard rocker for sure. From the guitar riffs to the Dokken-esque backing vocals and the pumping bass line. I like the chorus a lot, but I'm not a big fan of plodding rockers and this is one of those.
Calling Out picks up the pace and adds a little extra melody from the previous track. Another strong riff and another strong track.
Magic Pudding is another 5 minute plodder so to speak. Not a favorite of mine. And that's probably my only issue with the whole album. There's 2 or 3 tracks of this pace already and that makes this one a little superfluous. I would have liked to seen the album close with a more rousting barnstormer like the opening track. Small point.
It's a great sounding release with one of the best production/mixes of any Kivel release and David Reece is the perfect fit for the music on offer.
Some hard rockers and some melodic anthems make for a pretty good balance.
|Rick Springfield Songs For The End Of The World||UMe North America / Frontiers Records Europe|
Perfect. Songs From The End Of The World is a masterpiece. Not just for Rick Springfield fans, but for anyone that can identify with wonderfully crafted modern melodic rock; emotional and energetic power pop; and brilliantly produced music that features layers upon layers of intricately mixed instruments and vocals.|
I just can't fault this album. Some will suggest that's no real surprise, but despite my dedicated RS fanboy status, in 16 years of covering all Rick's releases, I am yet to award a perfect score. That's because I hold Rick at an impossibly high standard based on so many classic albums over the years and I can normally find one or two ways I wish things were a little different.
Karma came close at 99, Shock Denial Anger Acceptance a 93, Sahara Snow scored an 85 and The Day After Yesterday only managed a 73. As you can see, that's a pretty unbiased set of numbers. But no holding back this time. This album delivers in so many ways and finally lives up to my always high expectations in every department.
I never reviewed Venus In Overdrive formally, as I was the one that signed Rick for the European release with the label I was working A&R for at the time. But it was an absolutely superb album of course and some of the songs within were all-time classics as far as Rick is concerned. The writing partnership with Matt Bissonette really brought the best out in both writers. The album's first half was absolutely perfect and it was only a couple of 'left-turns' on the second half that I think hindered the album's flow and direction. I would have given it a 95.
No such concerns with Songs From The End Of The World. This is a track for track masterpiece that despite being somewhat diverse still stays on the same musical track throughout.
And as usual, all the trademark Rick Springfield quirks are in play – short choruses followed by longer ones further into the song; out of nowhere bridge diversions; hands in the air sing-along parts and incredibly intelligent and complex song structures on top of deeply thought out lyrics that as always; delve deep into Rick's psyche.
Karma was an album of personal discovery and reawakening. SDAA was largely an album of angry, bitter songs sung with aggression and resentment. Venus In Overdrive was an album of reflection, which has segued into this new album – which as usual lays bare some of Rick's personal demons – but this time it is presented in an almost upbeat fashion – as if Rick has come to terms with his life and what it entails and accepts that it is what it is. And these songs are the result.
With an immediately hard hitting riff, Wide Awake is our first taste of Rick as a 63 year old artist existing in 2012. He makes a mockery of his age with a song (and a whole album) of spirited songs oozing energy that some 20 year old kids would have a hard time keeping up with. This song is a bombastic modern hard rocker with layers and layers of music and vocals – and that's just the verse. The chorus explodes and delivers at least another 2 or 3 layers of guitar parts plus some keyboards. It's simply immense and his most upbeat intro track since Perfect (2004), Calling All Girls (1982) and Love Is Alright Tonite (1981).
Our Ship's Sinking defies words. But I'll try… The intro guitar riff might suggest that it's 1981 again, but the massive wall of sound says 2012 is here and now. What follows is a brilliant verse vocal that literally explodes into a massive chorus that just gets bigger and better every listen. Then throw in the additional bridge and the whoa, whoa sing-along harmonies and more choruses and it's simply melodic rock bliss. Words cannot explain how much I love this track.
“If I'm the one that caused your shipwrecked life, then hold my hand right to the fire….” Wow. Rick's best rock anthem ever?
I Hate Myself is this album's trademark commercial, big chorus sing-along single. Venus In Overdrive had What's Victoria's Secret and SDAA had Will I? Despite the title, I Hate Myself is fun fun fun and the chorus is again a perfect wall of sound with Matt Bissonette's bass playing in the fore.
You And Me is the album's big ballad, but even then it rolls along at a pretty decent rate. This is a musically lush modern rock ballad, contrasted by a raw lead vocal until the chorus comes, when things get multi-layered once again and Rick takes on some falsetto harmonies. It would fit alongside One Passenger from VIO nicely.
Gabriel (as in the arc angel) is yet another amazing track, sentimental and emotional and features a vocal that fans of 70s Rick might find familiar. It's a real throw back to Wait For Night on the verse and the heavy use of acoustic guitars. It is a ballad in sentiment, but quite uptempo overall. The chorus and rest of the song is again layered with acoustic and electric guitars and features a short guitar solo in there too.
A Sign of Life reminds me of I'll Miss That Someday mixed with Time Stands Still, both from VIO. A thoroughly catchy and melodic modern rocker that is heavier, faster than both previous songs and features an even bigger pop anthem chorus that is as instant as it is complex.
My Last Heartbeat is an effects filled super complex heavy modern rocker with a darker vibe and intent through the verse which is then totally swept away by an ultra-commercial multi-layered anthemic chorus before turning modern again. Complex and wonderful at the same time!
Joshua (this time named after Rick's son) is the perfect contrast to My Last Heartbeat – a fast paced happy go lucky pop/rockers with a message with a sentimental heart. Typical Rick chorus/bridge/anthem chorus formula.
Love Screws Me Up is a modernized and rocked up version of the Karma offcut that was included in the SDAA Limited Edition (in demo form). The reworking done here is true to the original, but it's totally made over to fit the style of the rest of the tracks and the multi-layered instrumentation. It fits into the album perfectly and is yet another uptempo sing-along anthem.
I Found You is another truly original and amazing track for Rick. It has the darkness of 3 Warning Shots from VIO, but an even moodier balladesque delivery. Just when you think it's all dark and questioning lyrically, the chorus blooms with a message of love and dedication in a very commercial hook.
Depravity is another really interesting track - very modern and quite heavy and follows on from the very modern stylings of I Found You, but more uptempo. Super intense, but with another (dark) catchy chorus.
One Way Street is another wow moment for me. This is yet another career highlight as far as I'm concerned for Rick. With the flowing urgency of Bob Seger's Hollywood Nights and the brooding lyrical intensity of World Start Turning from Rock Of Life, this could almost be Rick's sequel to that iconic track. The chorus is a complete 180 from the verse, with its modern pop beat and 60s guitar riff underneath, which is followed by yet another hey-hey sing-along passage. Glorious guitar playing, huge chorus and follow-up bridge, plus some inspired lyrics. And the closing minute twenty is just all anthem.
Let Me In is a really beautiful sentimental ballad with acoustic guitars and keyboards the driving forces behind the song. It has the same emotional vibe as I Found You and You And Me and is well worth finding. Astute fans will recognize the keyboard sound from within the Karma record.
My DUI is a very odd track that takes a few listens to appreciate. It has a groovy hard beat and some intense pissed off lyrics. It has a certain Living In Oz vibe to it believe it or not (the title track to the 1983 album), but thoroughly modernized and filled with effects. The very simple chorus goes from odd to cool after a few listens! And the police siren is back from 3 Warning Shots!
The Bug is almost not a song, clocking in at just 2 minutes precisely. But it's amazing how much music can be fit into those 2 minutes. This is a super heavy and tuned down uptempo modern rocker, and it still manages a catchy chorus, even if it's only several seconds long!
I Hate Myself (Acoustic) is just what it says on the tin, a stripped back version with a raw vocal and more emphasis on the submitted fan sung chorus hook. I like. Nice contrast to the original version.
Top that with some wonderful songs and the usual personal lyrical approach you've come to expect from Rick and equally impressive contributions from all musicians involved (drummer Rodger Carter and Bassist Matt Bissonette in particular) and you get a well-rounded, engaging, energetic album that as a lifelong fan of Rick's…I just cannot fault.
|Ten Heresy & Creed||Frontiers Records|
The new Ten album comes at a time when the guys really need to consolidate just what they stand for and solidify an ever changing line-up.|
And I think this album does somewhat address both those questions, but at the same time, Heresy & Creed is a very good album that is hindered by a poor choice of sequencing and therefore a middle section that really tests my patience.
There are some moments of greatness here, but a few fillers also. With a few tweaks (which the digital age does allow), the result is a very strong Ten album that should please the majority of their fans and prove that the band can continue to add to their legacy for some time to come.
The band has made a few mistakes in recent years and this album almost covers them – if not for a couple of clunkers.
Heresy & Creed introduces us to yet another Ten line-up, but let me say that from the power witnessed within this album, this line-up is the strongest since the original (and best line-up) and guitarist Dan Mitchell is a real demon. He fits perfectly into the sound and style of the band and is the best guitarist featured on a Ten record since the departure of Vinny Burns.
Great to hear John Haliwell back shredding and the rhythm section of Steve McKenna (welcome back also) and new drummer Max Yates gives the songs the necessary backing power they deserved.
This album sees Ten ramp up the sound to match that of the heaviest of their catalogue, such as Spellbound and Babylon.
The songs are all pretty epic with 6 of them around the 6 minute mark and none shorter than 4:10.
The opening bombastic double shot of melodic metal in Arabian Knights and Gunrunning are two of the toughest tracks I've heard from Gary Hughes in a long time.
The Lights Go Down makes it 3 for 3 to kick off the album, with this track feeling like a great old-school Ten hard rocker.
Raven's Eye is another classic Hughes/Ten track, building from a haunting intro into a mid-tempo moody epic. This is the best opening sequence to a Ten album since Vinny Burns left.
Right Now is where things start to unravel for me though. The mid-tempo plodder misses the mark hook wise and I think would have been better relegated to bonus track status.
I'd rather have seen a ballad about now and the latter album track Another Rainy Day would have been perfect.
In fact, this is where I'd start reworking the entire track sequence as following Right Now is the brilliant fast moving Game Of Hearts followed by the epic ballad The Last Time, which as good as it is, I still think it is too long for this point in the album – I'd have dropped it down the back more.
The Priestess is another track I'd drop entirely. I just can't warm to the lyrics and the whole song falls into that annoying plodding pace again.
Insatiable is also a little dodgy in the lyrics department, but I love the song. The mood and the pace are classic Ten and I think Gary's vocals are also very appealing.
Now to that great uptempo ballad Another Rainy Day – a perfect old-school Ten melodic song and lost in the album this far in.
Unbelievable is another fired up rocker and along with the last couple of tracks sees the album reach the highs of the opening quarter.
The Riddle is another great ballad – dominated by piano this time as it builds into the type of epic ballad we've come to know from Gary Hughes.
I have had the benefit of hearing the Japanese bonus track I Found Love. This is a killer haunting piano ballad whose inclusion would have made this album even better and balanced out the “metal” with the “melodic” a little more – creating what I believe would have been a really killer song list. I would bring in this track and relegate Right Now to the bonus track.
So for the record and for those interested in alternative theories, my ideal track listing would have been:
- The Gates Of Jerusalem (Instrumental), Arabian Nights, Gunrunning, Lights Go Down, Another Rainy Day, Game Of Hearts, Raven's Eye, The Riddle, Insatiable, Unbelievable, The Last Time, I Found Love.
Or without the JP bonus track: The Gates Of Jerusalem (Instrumental), Arabian Knights, Gunrunning, The Lights Go Down, Another Rainy Day, Game Of Hearts, Raven's Eye, The Riddle, Insatiable, Unbelievable, The Last Time, Right Now.
|Night Ranger 24 Strings And A Drummer||Frontiers Records|
Night Ranger wrap up an amazing 18 months featuring sold out tour dates, a triumphant double hit on the UK and their best studio album in years. Now to celebrate 30 years as a band, the most iconic tracks of their career are delivered live and acoustic style in front of a friendly intimate crowd in San Francisco. There's a lot to like about this release.|
First of all, the songs are stripped right back and tweaked ever so slightly for the acoustic delivery and the energy is turned right up. The infectious energy of these guys, with a line-up that has now stabilized thanks to the brilliant Joel Hoekstra and new boy Eric Levy on keyboards, flows through these songs like never before.
Predictably, all the hits are rolled out here, pretty much mirroring the set list the band has taken out on the road with them for the last couple of years.
That means there aren't any real surprises here, which is probably my only disappointment. It would have been great for the die-hard Ranger fans like me to hear some deep cuts like Night Ranger, Seven Wishes, Colour Of Your Smile, Rumours In The Air or Interstate Love Affair included.
The upside is that these songs featured are so well versed, the guys could play them blinded folded and gagged, so what you get is a super sick performance with some of those ingrained quirks that constant touring brings into the songs.
This Boy Needs To Rock is given a chorus reworking; When You Close Your Eyes is raw and emotional; Growin' Up In California has all the energy of a new song and The Secret Of My Success is transformed from a keyboard heavy track into an acoustic dream.
One of my all-time favorites Sentimental Street is preceded by a wonderful keyboard solo and features a brilliant vocal and then segues into the Four In The Morning – another all-time classic melodic rock song.
Things stay laid back thru Let Him Run/Goodbye and Forever All Over Again.
Then it's all hands to the six strings as Don't Tell Me You Love Me unleashes shredding from heaven. Sister Christian and Rock In America show just what masters of the guitar Brad and Joel are – the shredding and plucking is unbelievable.
The album closes out with the recently revived 80s Don Henley hit Boys Of Summer. The Hooters have been covering it also for the last few years. Another solid version that stays true to the original with some great harmonies.
And did I mention how insane the harmonies are throughout? This is just one great live band – unplugged or in full flight.
Touch Of Madness remains out there as a bonus track for collectors – I'd really have liked to have seen that included. The bonus track issue really leaves fans short sometimes.
|Dare Calm Before The Storm 2||Legend Records|
Dare are truly one of my favourite AOR acts of all time. Nobody does moody and emotional like Darren Wharton. It goes without saying that the debut Dare album Out Of The Silence remains one of the best AOR records of all time.|
The heavier follow up Blood From Stone is also a cracking record and the original release of Calm Before The Storm (1998) is another brilliant record.
But since then we've only had three more studio albums of varying success - Belief (2001), Beneath the Shining Water (2004) and Arc of the Dawn (2009). That's a long time between drinks for fans of the band. On par with Def Leppard's rare output actually.
The music of the last three albums become increasingly softer and more Celtic influenced, so the fan base has become increasingly vocal about a return to a rockier path.
Which brings us to the year 2012. I'm quite sure frontman Darren Wharton isn't going to appreciate some of my comments that follow, but I have to call it as I see it…as a fan…and he knows how much I love the band.
Calm Before The Storm 2 is a record that gives me quite conflicting emotions.
First – the good. It sounds great. The total re-recording of the album has given Darren the chance to give the album a fuller production and while the delivery is no great departure from the originals, the production is sharper, the mix is crisper and the guitar parts stand out as the most obvious improvement over the original album. So mission accomplished as far as that goes.
There are some slight tweaks within a few songs – Walk On The Water's chorus is sung a little differently and several of the songs have a minute or so cut from their original length, but with little overall impact.
Backing vocals are improved also; case in point the track Someday.
The two new inclusions (Still In Love With You is left off) are the songs Precious (some nice guitar work here and strong chorus, good track) and Cold Wind Will Blow (another really solid song, previously released as a bonus track on the original European release).
Now for the not so good. The question of 'why?' comes to mind. The guys have spent a whole lot of time and expense recording this album again from scratch, but for what gain?
I'm guessing half of the fans of the original release will buy this again, but I can't see it appealing outside the already established fan base. Is there really that great of an advantage to re-record an album that already sounded pretty damn good as it was? I understand the reclaiming of publishing rights and control over the material, but again…at what commercial gain overall?
For me as a fan – it merely makes the time of waiting for an album of all new material that more frustrating. That's mainly because of the time Dare takes to do anything.
If we already had a new album released last year, then this wouldn't seem so strange to do. If we absolutely knew we'd get a new studio album in the next 6 months or so, then the same would apply.
But it's already been 3 years since the last album and do we now have to wait the traditional 3-4 years between albums for whatever comes next? That's stretching the patience of fans a little too far if so.
For me Calm Before The Storm was an album I already played half to death back in 1998-1999. I know every note, hook and part of it. Calm Before The Storm 2 therefore took me all of 2 plays to be familiar with it and another dozen plays to enjoy the songs again, but now I'm ready to move on.
Therefore the shelf life of this album for me has been 4 weeks and now I have to wait how long for the next release? That's my main issue here and I apologize for raising it, but I reckon others are going to feel the same way.
But for those that have had the original from day 1 – there isn't much extra here to get excited about for long.
|Impera Legacy Of Life||Escape Music|
An impressive line-up of Scandi talent can be found on the debut Impera album. Dummer JK Impera has played with Bruce Kulick, Graham Bonnet, Vinnie Vincent, John Corabi, Brian Robertson; bassist Mats Vassfjord has appeared with Vinnie Vincent, John Corabi, Scaar, Grand Design, Laney's Legion and vocalist extraordinaire Matti Alfonzetti is well known for his own solo records as well as Jagged Edge, Scott Gorham, Skintrade, Road To Ruin, Red White & Blues.|
Then there is guitarist Tommy Denander, who has played on every other Scandinavian record known to mankind.
This new project is planned to be an ongoing affair it seems, with production on the debut by Lars Chriss of Lion's Share fame, who gives the album a thumping and crisp sounding result.
This is a good album absolutely. But I also see some points that to me are immediately obvious and if addressed would make this band an even more attractive prospect for the future. And they definitely have a future.
The first is Tommy Denander. With Tommy on guitar you already know the sound that the whole record will have. His guitar tone has barely changed in the 15 years I have been reviewing his releases and it's the same again here. The rhythm guitar parts that comprise the bulk of the album are all the same tone that we've heard on all his records from Radioactive to Frederiksen/Denander, to Spin Gallery, AOR, Robin Beck…the list goes on.
This is not saying anything about him as a player – I think this record is one of the highlights of his playing to date. There are some storming riffs on this album and I'm actually excited to hear him playing some heavier material. And I must say that there are several absolute blinding guitar solos within the album. More please Tommy! I'm just suggesting that to make the jump to the next level, there has to be some more variation in tone in the future.
Additionally, some of the songs here are quite simple. They rock yes, but there aren't a whole lot of big choruses to hold on to and some of the songs have very basic structures and can sound a little repetitive.
Vocalist Matti Alfonzetti is one of the top voices of Sweden and I'll happily listen to him sing anything, any day. But I do think the material on this album leaves him singing within himself at times. The choruses don't lift like one might expect and that leaves Matti singing on autopilot at times. I think the repetitive nature of a few songs leaves Matti with nowhere to go. At a mere 39 minutes, the album felt as if it lasted 50.
Turn My Heart To Stone opens with a crunch and some groove orientated guitar from Tommy. A great sounding lead break too and Matti sounds fabulous as always.
Kiss Of Death is the highlight of the album for me – nice riffing and fast paced tempo with one of the album's stronger choruses. Guitars everywhere here.
The promising start is temporarily halted with the pretty slow and repetitive Break The Law.
The much stronger and groovy Shoot Me Down is a tempo lift and a good hook and double kick drum chorus.
Sunset Rider is another groove heavy track, but the chorus is barely there.
Tell Me is somewhat better, but the pace and chorus follows the previous track.
More Than Meets The Eye is a furiously paced rocker with a sensational Denander solo, but the groove based chorus is again pretty simple.
Is This Love is back into the simple mid-pace style of some other tracks. No chorus, but some great background riffing from Tommy and a fine solo.
Show Me The Money is a pretty good song. The chorus isn't huge, but it works and the song is another of my preferred tracks. A little Eddie Van Halen in there perhaps Tommy?
If there was any doubt over Show Me The Money, then Deadend Street definitely sounds like early Van Halen, I know Tommy's a big fan there. Great guitar sound here – Tommy needs to do more of this. Matti contributes a good vocal here and a decent chorus too.
|Pink The Truth About Love||RCA|
Some will cringe at the mere inclusion of pop/rock/dance songstress Pink in these pages, but I think she's fabulous. Most of the time. Yes, it's true that I harbor a secret obsession for her to hook up with Butch Walker for a full album rather than just a few tracks per release (which are always among the album's best tracks), but that will likely never happen due to her need to cover as many musical bases per album as possible and not alienate anyone. That means that for me, each album will always contain a few duds, but at the same time, there are always a few gems too.|
Pink is one hell of a vocalist and performer and her best quality is the unshakable conviction of her commitment to each song.
On The Truth About Love there is some 17 tracks to pick from if you include Deluxe Editions etc… Of those, I can live with about 13, which is probably her best ratio since the utterly brilliant I'm Not Dead album.
Favourites on this album are the moody, but powerful opener Are We All We Are (co-written with Butch Walker); the hit single Blow Me; the moody Try, which has a truly great chorus; the big ballad Just Give Me A Reason; the happy go lucky True Love; and the pop/punk anthems Walk Of Shame and How Come You're Not Here; the absolutely blinding acoustic ballad Beam Me Up and the 'regular' album closing ballad The Great Escape – what amazing vocals.
Average – the over programmed title track and Where Did The Beat Go. Just ok tracks.
Absolutely waste of space tracks are Slut – surely included for shock value only and the heavy dance beat of Here Comes The Weekend (with Eminem).
The deluxe edition adds 4 tracks, the first three are produced and co-written with Butch Walker. My Signature Move, Is This Thing On and Run are all kinda moody and all very good modern pop songs. Not sure why they were relegated to bonus features.
The Final Days is a happy go lucky acoustic/synth singalong. Another cool song.
|Pride Of Lions Immortal||Frontiers Records|
After a few years away, Pride Of Lions returns with the same formula that saw three previous albums gain considerable traction in the melodic rock fan base.|
And album number 4 sees the band right on song as far as what fans have come to expect from the pairing of Jim Peterik and Toby Hitchcock, along with Jim's regular group of ace session players and engineer Larry Millas.
And despite this being the 4th solid and consistent album in a row for the guys, Pride Of Lions still has their detractors. Mainly because the Jim Peterik penned songs dare to break out of the genre and challenge listeners to broaden their range as Jim dabbles with songs featuring a theatrical flair, lyrics of hope and inspiration, plus a certain pomp-rock aspect.
But that aspect is just one part of POL's sound. The other half is nothing less than classic melodic rock, blending 40 years of songwriting experience in the genre with touches of 80s Survivor style brilliance.
And making the songs come to life is powerhouse vocalist Toby Hitchcock, whose range and similarly theatrical delivery make him the perfect muse for Peterik's songs.
And it should come of no surprise that I remain a firm and dedicated fan of Jim Peterik's songs – he can do no wrong in my eyes, even when he channels his youthful enthusiasm into anthems some might deem a little over the top – or dare I say – cheesy lyrics.
That's not a word I would use though, not when you know just how passionate Jim is about his songs and the message of hope he tries to deliver within them.
That all said, Pride Of Lions also has a very dedicated following among the AOR fans and for those, I say this album is squarely aimed at them.
This album is for me the group's best since their classic debut. I think it is the best produced album to date and one of the most consistent in terms of song quality, despite being another very diverse set of tunes once again.
And Toby sounds unnaturally amazing throughout. His growth as a singer has come so far in his time together with Jim.
Some question why Jim Peterik is singing some parts of the album when a vocalist of Toby's ability is right there with him. But I think that's part of the groups charm and Jim's deeper vocals contrast the highs of Toby's voice.
Musically the album Immortal has it all. Pomp, AOR, theatrical twists Andrew Lloyd Webber would be impressed with and of course a couple of sentimental monster ballads.
In the straight ahead AOR category, you just don't get better than the rocking title track Immortal; the breezy feel good anthemic bliss of Delusional (the message of which I unapologetically love); Shine On - with the deep contrasting operatic vocals of the opening giving no indication of the anthem to follow; the fast and furious Vital Signs (yes, written for that Survivor album in the 80s); and the brisk rocker Ask Me Yesterday that closes the album with a bang.
Moody, mature melodic rock doesn't get better than the brilliant Tie Down The Wind (more inspiring lyrics); the dramatic Coin Of The Realm; If It Doesn't Kill Me and Sending My Love – a track that really does have a Survivor feel.
Ballads don't get any bigger than Everything Money Can't Buy and the heart stopping Are You The Same Girl.
The album features more guitar riffs than previously and a great drum performance courtesy of Kelly Keagy on six of the album's tracks.
But for those of us that are – a bright and energetic selection of songs, terrific performances, inspiring lyrics and some first rate pomp-melodic rock.
|Dokken Broken Bones||Frontiers Records|
Dokken return with their third album with guitarist Jon Levin at the helm. Jon really deserves so much credit for keeping Dokken alive since he joined. He is the spark of energy that drives these tunes and his guitar playing cannot be undersold. He really is a star. And once again he stars on Broken Bones.|
Over the past few years the quality of Don Dokken's vocals have been called into serious question, with other singers used in the studio to cover the high notes and various insults thrown at the singer when he appears live.
And once again he is the weakest link on this record, but that said, he knows this and sings well within himself, keeping a relatively low and dark vocal tone on the songs with Mark Boals on hand to provide solid backing vocals and some of the required squeals.
I think people in general (and fans in particular) no longer expect much from Don and rather concentrate on the work of Levin, which as stated, is outstanding.
The album is also very well produced I must say. A nice clean sound and good crunch around the lead guitar riffs.
The opening salvo of the storming Empire and the moodier Broken Bones give longtime fans a lot to get excited about. True, quality classic Dokken songs.
The pace seems to slip a little with each song, but the quality is still there with the dark and heavy Best Of Me with its appealing chorus and the slower, but equally dark Blind also delivering.
Then comes two Don penned songs (the other originals are all Jon Levin/Dokken compositions). Waterfall and Victim Of The Crime are just slow plodding tracks that feature very plain chorus breaks (if you could even call them a chorus).
Burning Tears rescues things somewhat, even if the pace remains incredibly slow. It might have stood out even further if not for the previous couple of tunes.
Today is a curious inclusion and marks 4 songs in a row with a slow tempo. The “folk rock ballad” was originally recorded by Jefferson Airplane. I don't like it at all, but it gives Don a chance to sing in a comfortable range.
The last 3 songs of the album perk things back up to where I'd prefer the whole album to have been.
The rocker For The Last Time sees the tempo lifted finally and a strong chorus returns.
Fade Away is mellower, but features a solid guitar performance and a catchy refrain too. Tonight closes the album much as it started – with an uptempo flourish and some classic Dokken riffs.
|Magnum On The 13th Day||SPV Records|
I adore Magnum. I don't love all their albums though. Most! Just not all. But the decade from 1985 that spawned On A Storyteller's Night, Vigilante, Wings Of Heaven, Goodnight LA and Sleepwalking. 5 for 5 run that barely any other artist can match.|
Six great albums if you include Rock Art (and 4 of those are all-time classics for me – Storyteller, Vigilante, Wings & Sleepwalking) is something to be immensely proud of, but many fans are still holding on for one more classic. Magnum have come mighty close in form of On The 13th Day, the brand new album that sees the band continuing to grow still after all these years.
I didn't get into the first couple of post-reformation albums much and rarely play. But last year's The Visitation was a big step up and now this takes things even further.
This album is more varied than ever, giving a taste of all kinds of Magnum history including the very early days, right up to their last album. The guys give their best shot at pleasing most longtime fans with a mix of what they are best at.
I have only 2 issues with the album overall. I still miss that big string of anthemic choruses and pomp backed tunes. More keyboards too!
I think songwriter Tony Clarkin is still resisting a return to the old style as no album since reforming has touched on the style that carried the band through the 85-95 decade.
Secondly – the sequencing is not what I would personally have gone with. I don't like the order of the songs as the band has chosen. I think it makes the album a little choppy, but overwhelmingly, I do like the songs themselves.
Opening with a slow plodding 7 minute rock song is never going to float my boat and I just don't think it sets up the album properly. Especially when the band has been accused of overdoing the plodding pace in recent albums. Instead, I'd close the album with this epic – just as the band has done in the past.
Blood Red Laughter is a fine uptempo melodic rock song with some tasteful Bob Catley vocals in play.
Didn't Like You Anyway is another pretty slow track, but it's quirky in only the way Magnum can do, especially with the guitar riff. And the chorus picks up the pace to make it a winner.
The 6 minute title track is terrific – I like this track a lot and its one of the best post-reunion songs delivered to date. It gives off a Sleepwalking style vibe.
If On The 13th Day is one of the band's best recent tracks, then So Let It Rain must be the best. What a terrific feel good pomp rocker and what a great sing-along chorus. More of this please lads!
The super heavy and ultra-dark slow rocker Dance Of The Black Tattoo is another great track, but I don't like where it sits in the album and I don't like it following the breezy Let It Rain. I'd knock it back a few tracks, but great heavy song.
Shadow Town is another uptempo feel good song with plenty of keyboards and a little of the good ol' pomp about it. It's a good change up after the heaviness that was the last song.
Putting Things In Place is undervalued at track 8. I'd have pushed it further up the album to act as the ballad after some uptempo openers. This is a lesson in Moody Rock Songs 101. Terrific melancholy song with lots of keys and a great Catley vocal again. An album highlight.
Now Broken Promises is such a fine track, but totally out of place. I would have had this right up the front of the album. It features a nice growing into that bursts to life in typical modern Magnum style and would have been a great way to set up this album with the song I would have opened up with - See How They Fall. The quirky track with a menacing lead guitar into would have been a killer opening track and gets to the point so much quicker than All The Dreamers.
From Within is another wonderful mid-tempo AOR style song with a passionate vocal. I'd have placed this before All The Dreamers as the last two songs on the album. A winner at any rate and a strong chorus.
For the record – there's my best attempt at re-sequencing the album:
1) See How They Fall 2) Broken Promises 3) So Let It Rain 4) Putting Things In Place 5) On The 13th Day 6) Didn't Like You Anyway 7) Shadow Town 8) Dance Of The Black Tattoo 9) Blood Red Laughter 10) From Within 11) All The Dreamers.
|Bonrud Save Tomorrow||Escape Music|
A new label, a new singer and a new attitude. That sums up the sophomore release from US guitarist Paul Bonrud and his band, which now features the raspier tones of Rick Forsgren on vocals.|
And moving away from the more pure AOR of the debut, Save Tomorrow is a far grittier release, blending some great commercial melodic rock moments with harder edge material that allows Paul to show off is guitar skills to far greater advantage.
The hard rock aspect of this album is also more contemporary sounding, but don't confuse this for being too heavy or a modern rock record. No, it is just classic hard rock with a contemporary edge in places.
It's also still very melodic and very likable and thank to producer Keith Olsen, sounds a million bucks.
This really is one of those albums that could so easily slip through the cracks between better known artists, which would be criminal, as the album stands on its own and delivers a thoroughly cracking good selection of songs and deserves to be heard by all.
The hard rocking We Collide is a monster song and the thumping production and classic “metal” voice of Forsgren gives this album the kind of Dokken vibe that Dokken themselves can't reach today.
The menacing riff heavy Bullet in the Back is even better and simply thumps through the speakers.
American Dream is classic 80s hard rock while Save Tomorrow takes a raspy vocal and turns the album back towards a more melodic rock/AOR territory. A killer chorus makes this a worthy title track.
Liquid Sun is a more contemporary sounding slow burn rocker, again contrasted by the feel good melodic rock of I'd Do Anything.
Last Sunrise continues the back and forth nature of the middle album sequence, turning heavier again, with its counterpart, the very catchy Torn Apart switching back to the lighter side.
Blinded is as gritty as the album gets with a memorable riff and strong old school hard rock chorus. As expected, Dominoes is lighter and breezier with some sing-along moments.
You're The One is a terrific Bryan Adams style melodic rocker and End of Days is a slow starting moody rocker that flows into a great chorus to end the album with another highlight.
Special mention of the awesome artwork comissioned by Paul especially for the album and the change of logo distances Bonrud from that "Journey Scarb" theme that pops up so much.
I think that everything about Save Tomorrow is better than the debut – more consistency in songwriting, better production, a style that really suits Paul and singer Rick and more energy throughout. A highly recommended album for all melodic rock fans.
|Redline Vice||Escape Music|
These UK rockers released their debut album independently, finding some traction in the market and setting themselves up for better things. Well, this new album is those better things in action.|
I'm surprised how solid an album this is. This is a fast moving, hard rock album with a melodic metal approach at times, especially with the aggressive lead vocals of Kez Taylor who gives it his best Ronnie James Dio inspired blast, song after song.
Three of the first 4 tracks are all flat-out rockers and I must say that the album really grabs my attention.
This is old, old school classic melodic metal. This is 80s meets 70s classic British stuff that fans of Iron Maiden, Dio, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and the like.
Battle Cry and especially King Of The Mountain blow my socks off. No Limits and the more restrained Twistin' The Knife also impress.
There is a ballad in the midst of all of this and it's the fabulously sung Cold Silence (complete with orchestral backing) that inspires. And of course, it turns heavy – that's just the way it has to be!
The Edge Of Falling is another stong song with memorable chorus and riff heavy commercial approach.
We Came To Rock closes the album with riffs galore. If the message isn't clear enough – this track seals the verdict.
|Threshold March Of Progress||Nuclear Blast|
UK progressive metal outfit Threshold has been through a few singers, but for me it was the dynamic vocals of Mac that defined the band in their recent years, which is only when I started discovering them.|
So with the band's first album without Mac (RIP), I'm still listening for his vocals to take control. This time around, progressive vocalist Damian Wilson – the man behind the earliest days of the band has returned.
Style wise the guys have picked up where the marvelous Dead Reckoning (2007) left off. So perhaps this could be considered a mix of the old and the new, but make no mistake – the result is powerful progressive rock at its very best.
Nothing is perhaps as catchy as the massively infectious opening track (and single) Ashes, which is one of the best progressive tracks I have ever heard and is trademark Threshold.
The Hours does give it a run for its money – all 8 minutes plus of it! Another truly epic prog number.
The impassioned That's Why We Came is another highlight for me, which is bookended by The Hours and another classy 8 minute epic in Don't Look Down.
The relatively short and to the point Coda is another late album highlight.
For me this is where the best of the album lays. And we haven't even touched on the 10 minute masterpiece Rubicon that closes the album.
Return Of The Thought Police took a long while to grow on me. Initially I thought it too slow to follow the awesome opener.
Staring At The Sun is also fairly slow, but the glorious chorus makes up for any pace issues.
Liberty Complacency Dependency and Colophon are both solid songs also.
They do Dream Theater better than DT do themselves and the production is just amazing.
There is so much music to absorb here, so be prepared to spend a lot of time on this record for it to pay off. Some just don't have that time. But it is worth it.
I do think the album is a little mellower than expected after such a long gap between records and I don't rate it quite as highly as Subsurface or Dead Reckoning. Plus I'd love another anthem or two like Ashes, but the overall result is still a great progressive rock album.
|Kix Live In Baltimore||Frontiers Records|
These kind of releases are very squarely aimed at established fans. Nothing about this release is going to bring on new fans of Kix.|
But for long time fans it is good to see the guys back and they sound as energetic as ever.
The CD/DVD set represents good value for money and the 12 tracks covered hit on all the best known songs.
The 16 minute Yeah Yeah Yeah is a bit over the top though – the spoken crap through the middle is a little juvenile.
And I don't rate this the best live recording ever either. It's a bit rough and ready and it won't be something I come back to.
But I look forward to a new studio album in 2013.
|Eclipse Bleed & Scream||Frontiers Records|
Ok, so I'll just throw this out there. This is one of the very finest hard rock albums I have heard in my time running this site. I expected a lot…I mean an awful lot as the last Eclipse album was well deserving of a perfect score also…but the guys have topped it again. I feel honored to review it. Swedish rockers Eclipse released one of the best albums of 2008 in Are You Ready To Rock and now they have perhaps delivered the finest album of 2012.|
The production on this album is just immeasurably good. I mean absolutely amazing. The mix is glorious, with obvious hooks giving light to less obvious twists beneath the many darker layers to absorb.
The guitar sound is so intense that my ears reach 'warning-light red' each playback. This is one of those monstrous albums that deserve to be ranked up there with the likes of Whitresnake's 1987, Masterplan's Aeronautics and Steelhouse Lane's Slaves Of The New World. Genre defining greatness.
Some people make their minds up after 1 listen. Others judge on soundbytes alone. As this album is only released this week, I expect a few will naturally question the overwhelming enthusiasm I have for this album – but trust me – I've been living with it for 2 months or more now and I'm still completely addicted to it. Grab it, play it in full, play it again and again and be forever hooked.
Everything about this album appeals to me. Every note makes me smile and when you consider the aim of any artist is to grow and develop their sound, Eclipse has done precisely that over the course of 4 albums dating back to the 1999 debut.
Each album has progressed naturally from the last and each one has upped the ante a little too. On Bleed & Scream, Eclipse does that once again.
It's almost as if every ounce of their being has been poured into the songs and the perfect execution of them. And for those that think Eclipse is a one-man show, think again.
Erik Martensson is a genius, without question, in my mind (here he does vocals, guitars, bass, co-writing, mixing, co-producing, mastering). But his partner in crime Magnus Henriksson (guitars, co-production, co-writer) is just as important a factor, the duo working tirelessly over a four year period to get the songs for this album perfected.
Drummer Robban Back has an almighty sounding kit on this album, pounding away relentlessly and with Erik on bass, he provides a powerhouse rhythm section to fuel these wonderful songs.
It does take a little time to get to know all parts of this album and the many ins and outs of each song, but there is so much to listen to within, but what rewards come for the listener.
At first the heaviness and intensity caught me off guard. But now it sounds so natural for the guys.
Track By Track:
I initially thought Wake Me Up wasn't the best song to kick off the album, despite a powerful explosion of sound right up front. But listen after listen only proved me so wrong. It's a masterful song to kick off the album, with the absolute ear shattering intensity of the drums being one of its strongest points. The other is the raging guitars and shredding nature of the solos. The chorus is simple, but grows and the vocals are awesome. It takes but 1 minute to set up a new sound for this album and the band generally. The perfect introduction.
The huge wall of sound that is Bleed And Scream only intensifies the album further with the fast rolling melodic hard rocking title track. A massive chorus this time with soaring vocals and more pounding drums….plus more obvious keyboards (from Johan Berlin, who is also superb throughout). This has to be one of the Songs Of The Year for me. It has everything I love about rock n roll in it – pounding rhythm, huge guitars, soaring vocals and a ton of melody. And what a great guitar solo!
The pace doesn't let up for one second with the arrival of Ain't Dead Yet. In fact, it just gets faster. The double kick drum hard rocker has an epic feel to it and the riffs come think and fast. The only thing I love better than heavy riffs, is heavy riffs accompanied by a really likeable melodic vocal and Erik has that totally covered. I love the higher pitch style with heavy music.
Battlegrounds is another epic song that reminds me of prime Whitesnake 1987 era hard rock. John Sykes eat your heart out. The verse hits hard and the chorus is as catchy as they come. The chorus is a definite salute to Gary Moore as is some of the riffing.
A Bitter Taste is an absolute revelation for me and for Eclipse fans. It's heavy, it's big, it's melodic gold. The song starts heavy, and then slows before building to a magnificent fists-in-the-air anthemic eruption. But then it's slow again before it fully erupts into a two minute guitar frenzy of soloing and double kick-drum madness. My only wish – that it kept on going by returning back to the slower way the song started. Immense!
You might think the pace would ease a little by now, but no. The big drum intro of Falling Down and the furious pace that follows shows how much the band are here to kick your ass. Riffs as furious as John Sykes at his best and Roland Grapow in Masterplan are the name of the game. All with the ever melodic vocals of Erik.
S.O.S is heavy as usual, but perhaps a little easier on the intensity and perhaps the most commercial track on the album, especially with another great anthemic chorus.
Take Back The Fear sees that the sonic blast of this album intensifies further with another flat out furious rocker. In fact, it might just be the heaviest track of the album.
The Unspoken Heroes features another great chorus and yes, more uptempo in your face guitars and vocals. It's a little progressive in nature and super catchy with layers and layers of music to unravel.
About To Break is the only song that might be classed as a ballad on the album and even then, it's pretty heavy despite it's more emotional base. Great melodic vocals again, subtle keyboards and a knockout soaring chorus once again.
Closing this immense statement of an album is the equally brilliant and hard rocking After The End Of The World. Another fine heavy rocker and big vocal/guitar tradeoff and the closing 2 minutes of the song is somewhat “out there”, but suits the intensity of this whole epic album by ending it on a 'calm' note.
As stated – one of the finest albums I have featured on this site and one I have no hesitation in awarding full points – the first such occurrence for 2012.
|Hess Living In Yesterday||Frontiers Records|
It's the battle of the ex-Harem's as both Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance release new solo albums this month. While Pete goes the mellower singer/songwriter route, Harry Hess produces, writes and delivers what is essentially a 'missing' Harem Scarem album - a moody mid-tempo slice of melodic rock bliss that doesn't stray far from the style of recent Harem Scarem albums Higher and Hope.|
The album moves away from the modern pop of Just Another Day and focusses more on modern melodic rock with a bigger emphasis on electric guitar.
The album does concentrate on moodier mid-tempo numbers and overall isn't an anthemic uptempo album as such, but the songs are just brilliant and in typical Harry Hess style, his vocals and additional harmonies are layers deep in emotion and power.
At 10 tracks and 37 minutes, there is no padding and no filler – it's straight to the chorus every time.
Harry sounds as strong as ever and definitely gives his voice a harder edge than his debut solo release.
Opening with the uptempo and anthemic Living In Yesterday, the album turns moodier with the wonderfully catchy Reach For You, but remains uptempo.
The passionate and emotional It's Over and the harder edge Don't Leave Me are both truly classic moody Hess at his best and lead into the big orchestral ballad What If.
These last three songs are all pure brilliance.
The stomping melodic rocker Nothing Last Forever lifts the tempo and the mood before another lush mid-tempo ballad Falling Down delivers another knockout melody.
I Live For You seems safe enough until a powerful chorus vocal and hook lifts the song into another realm.
I Don't Wanna Want You (co-written with Tommy Denander) has to be Harry's audition song for Pink or Katy Perry. I can so hear this song on modern pop radio sung by any number of Top 40 artists. As commercial and as modern as it gets and a slight left turn from the rest of the album.
Where To Run is a monster orchestral ballad to close the album. Moody as hell and drenched in emotion. An album highlight amongst many other great tracks.
|Loverboy Rock N Roll Revival||Frontiers Records|
So, after releasing one of the best examples of old-meets-new music in the form of the last Loverboy album Just Getting Started, the band returns a couple of years later with only 3 new tracks and a host of re-recorded hits.|
Now that really does suggest to me that the band is admitting defeat as far as realizing how much effort can go into new material only to have it largely ignored.
The commercial failure of Just Getting Started is nothing short of criminal and blame must fall at the feet of the band's chosen record label at the time for their absolute lack of promotion of the album and the band's subsequent reluctance to play any of the new songs live.
So what we have here is 3 new songs to go with the recent trend of re-recording classic hits to regain publishing rights from past draconian major label contracts.
But what appears pretty straight forward on the surface actually has a little more depth and I think in turn will appeal to a greater number of people if given the chance.
First to the new songs – 3 very good songs here, 2 absolute winners and a what-could have been. Let me explain.
In early 2011 the band teamed with famed producer Bob Rock once again to record two brand new tracks, one of which was the uplifting rocker Heartbreaker, released as a single later in 2011, which was nothing short of classic Loverboy. The modern sound had been shed and the band sounded in top form with a song that should have been a hit.
The other track was kept on ice until now. No Tomorrow is an equally impressively produced monster ballad with a melodic verse and a big hook chorus.
The third track is in fact the opening track Rock 'N' Roll Revival. No one can fault the message in the song and it is a quality tune with a decent singalong chorus. But the production (self-produced by the band) is utterly horrible and unforgiveable in this day.
I can only surmise that it was rushed, as the band self-produced Just Getting Started with no issues and also the re-records featured here. The mix is a mess, the song lacks impact and the repetitive cymbal crashing is totally distracting. A waste of a good song sadly.
The quality of Rock N Roll Revival had me very worried about the quality of the re-records, but thankfully there is no issue there. I am in fact, quite blown away by the awesome energy the band has managed to harness with these 9 songs.
Rather than stay faithful to the original studio versions, the band has decided to showcase these songs as they are performed live. According to Paul Dean on the album's EPK, some of the versions here are live, although where and when is impossible to pick as the liner notes provide no information. It does feel as if you are listening to a live show, apart from the lack of audience noise. The band add extra solos, fills, Mike Reno throws in a few extra lines and the band generally stretch out on some of their classics.
The approach is heavier and punchier and I like it a lot.
Most noticeable is Working For The Weekend, which simply sizzles; Lovin' Every Minute Of It, which features a fantastic lengthy extended guitar solo and drum fills; more shredding extra guitar during Kid Is Hot Tonite; Queen Of The Broken Hearts (a personal favourite) is heavier than ever with a really hard hitting riff and Hot Girls In Love is stretched to 8 minutes plus with a 3 minute instrumental closing jam, which some might say is a little pointless as it has little to do with the song, but those guys can play.
Other than that, I love the vibe and energy going on here and I love 2 of the 3 new tracks, so for this long time diehard Loverboy fan, Rock N Roll Revival gets a thumbs up.
|Rush Clockwork Angels||Roadrunner Records|
Clockwork Angels is Rush's latest opus – a band that seemingly never tire – despite being on the road on and off since 1974 and delivering some of the most acclaimed progressive rock in recorded history.|
So what does a band with such pedigree have to offer in 2012? Plenty it seems. Clockwork Angels is an absolutely amazing album of sheer power and energy, delivering vibrant new sounds, familiar melodies and some indescribably complex passages of intense music cover 65 minutes of compelling progressive hard rock.
While it would be fair to say I am some way behind in delivering this review, I'd rather say this record was undergoing 'extensive additional evaluation'. Or, in simpler terms, I needed more time with it! For one cannot “rush” a Rush review. There is simply too much to take in and this is one of the band's most complex albums ever.
Ok, so it's anything but commercial and I for one would love to see a return of the Rush “chorus years” of Hold Your Fire, Presto and Roll The Bones.
I still love what I'm hearing here, but it really did take a lot of work to get to know this record. I fear that casual fans won't give it that extra time needed – if so they are going to miss out on a real gem of a record.
There are some quite extraordinary passages of music within this album. Complex and thought provoking and one is occasionally left puzzled over how the band came up with some of the side journey's these songs take.
As I stated, the downside is that the record as a whole is seriously non-commercial. At least on initial impressions. It really takes some work to get into these songs, but once you put in that hard work you can appreciate the amazing performances.
And credit goes to all involved for a wonderful production and seriously crisp mix. The drums of Peart, the thumping bass of Lee and the ear splitting riffs of Lifeson are simply amazing. The drum sound in particular is stunning on this album and I find myself marveling over Peart's performance constantly.
As the time would indicate, this is a long album and apart from a couple of songs under 4 minutes, the rest are 5 mins plus including four 7 minute epics. So once you've spent a month with this album – what stands out the most?
Aside from the obvious mention of individual performances, the songs that stand out the most include Caravan; Carnies; the mellow/heavy blend of Halo Effect; the thumping bass of Seven Cities Of Gold and the classic style Rush of The Wreckers – easily the most commercial song of the album and something that reminds me of Roll The Bones/Test For Echo era.
Headlong Flight is also a terrific track and the twisting melodies of Wish Them Well also rates highly.
The Garden has a beautiful haunting quality to it and closes the heavy, bombastic album with a sense of calmness.
|Triumph Live At Sweden Rock||Frontiers Records|
Love Triumph, adore Rik Emmett, was happier than anything to see the band come back together in 2008 for the Sweden Rock Festival performance, but why on earth has it taken 4 years to get this released?|
This is a nice, clean and well mixed live concert of that one and only appearance. Sadly the band hasn't been seen since. Anywhere.
A few points – for me, the CD is far more enjoyable than the DVD. There is something about the appearance on the DVD and the syncing of the audio that just doesn't seem right.
The second point is that the set list was deemed disappointing by a lot of folks following the event. There are only 10 tracks in 70 minutes with every track featuring extended jamming and soloing. It just seemed a bit excessive when so many other classic Triumph classics weren't given any chance of inclusion for this one off special event.
I find it easier to put the CD on and work away with it playing in the background than some other concert performances which demand attention throughout.
Rik Emmett still sounds great and the individual musicianship is unquestionably good.
The question posed is that how far outside the diehard section of the fanbase will this set appeal to? My guess is not far.
|Place Called Rage Place Called Rage||Escape Music|
For the uninitiated, Place Called Rage is a low key “all-star” project from 1995 – recorded at the peak of those ugly grunge years. Many mistook this release at the time for a modern rock release, when in fact it is really an ultra-bluesy retro/classic rock record. One that could easily be mistaken for a “lost” Little Caesar album in fact. The all-star band consists of New Jersey natives Al Pitrelli: Guitars; Tommy Farese: Lead Vocals; Danny Miranda: Bass; Chuck Bonfonte: Drums.|
Vocalist Tommy Farese is a dead match for Little Caesar's Ron Young and the style is very familiar too. Hard blues rock with smokey vocals and plenty of riffs and a certain swagger in the delivery.
Nothing is as catchy as the uptempo blues rocker I Know Where You Been, but there are still plenty of good tracks such as the swampy ballad Take It Lying Down and the acoustic driven tracks Someday and Can't Find My Way Home.
There is also a few fillers like the slow and tedious hook free What These Eyes Have Seen.
Jenny Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a fine ballad with some piano added in for good measure.
The style of this album limits the appeal somewhat, but it still sounds pretty fresh today after some 17 years since its original release.
|Empires Of Eden Channelling The Infinite||Indie / Music Buy Mail|
Empires Of Eden is the very ambitious third album from mastermind Stu Marshall (guitars, writing, production). Joining him here is one of the more impressive guest line-ups for one of the many metal projects that come and go.|
There is something about the Empires Of Eden project that will not only help this release stand out from the crowd, but should also help establish the name as one of those must-hear albums due to the sheer quality of what's on offer.
Channelling the Infinite is a mind-blowingly heavy record – a true representation of traditional metal at its absolute best.
Of the vocalists involved, not all may appeal (Udo the most obvious in my mind), but there is something within each song that does work, making the whole record something of a head banging epic.
There's over an hour of super intense metal and screaming vocals, loud pulsating riffs and a rhythm section heavy enough to cause brain hemorrhaging. Stu Marshall is to be commended for not only a monster production and a bulk of the instrumentation, but for writing some really compelling songs.
Importantly, this doesn't sound like a one man show musically. The mix plays an important part as does powerhouse shred drummer Jasix Prowlingwolf.
Although I wouldn't say there are any weak spots, highlights within the album include the intense This Time (vocals by Steve Grimmett); the thunderous Hammer Down (painfully screeched vocals by Udo Dirkschneider); the triple time Judas Priest metal of Channelling the Infinite (vocals by Sean Peck); the super catchy Lions for Lambs (vocals by Alessandro Del Vecchio) - complete with AOR harmonies; the equally commercial Your Eyes (Mike DiMeo) and the metal onslaught of Born A King (powerful vocals from Danny Cecati).
|Liberty & Justice Hell Is Coming To Breakfast||Roxx Records|
It's hard to believe that the Liberty & Justice name has been around 20 years now. Their early days seem to have been almost incognito compared to the strong online presence the band has these days and the big names stalwart Justin Murr attracts to be part of the line-up.|
More recently Justin has paired up with guitarist/producer JK Northrup to helm the band and take control of their sound. That can only be a good thing as my biggest complaint about these albums in the past has been the mixed styles and sound quality within each release.
I really do admire the songwriting of Murr; he comes up with some memorable tunes – even if they are all over the musical planet at times (modern, pop/punk, melodic rock, AOR and even metal).
And teaming with JK has also added a new dimension to the songs. We'll get the full benefit of that with the upcoming 2CD set The Cigar Chronicles.
Meanwhile Hell Is Coming To Breakfast is a compilation of 7 tracks that won't make that set plus 5 other alternative mixes/rarities from the endless cycle that is the L&J recording machine.
And as usual, there's a mix bag here (songs and production), but for the most part, the songs are enjoyable and memorable. Even when one of my lesser liked vocalists in Donnie Vie sings on Madhatter I like the results.
Murr and Northrup have a knack of bordering on modern sounds with a classic rock heart. The Johnny Lima sung rocker Whack A Mole is one of those.
Thankful Heart sung by Philip Bardowell is an absolute melodic rock gem – it's hard to reason why this track didn't fit onto the Chronicles set!
JK's own sung Nakatomi Plaza is a tribute to Die Hard the movie and contain the duo's usual tongue in cheek lyrics.
Get Down is a good one for fans of Tony Mills, very catchy but perhaps lacing in production quality a little.
The previously unreleased David Cagle sung You Memory Just Won't Do is a sweet acoustic ballad and Thy Will Be Done is sung by Jamie Rowe in authorative fashion.
Jack Russell delivers a great vocal on Monkey Dance (Alt. Mix) and Jani Lane makes his final vocal appearance on the heat wrenching track Sin.
|Jeremey Frederick Every Little Thing||Indie|
Jeremey is best known for his work as tribute artist and in the rhelm, best known for fronting Journey tribute band Frontiers and for also getting a shot ot fronting the band post-Steve Augeri. He scored a co-write on the song Never Walk Away from Revelation.|
This is his debut solo album and shows off the range in his voice as well as his penchant for sounding like a latter era Steve Perry.
Can't You See He's Gone is a memorable way to kick off the album, a uptempo feel good pop/rocker with some small comparison to Journey's I Can See It In Your Eyes.
Every Little Thing has a more organic feel to it and Jeremey's vocal has a soulful, moody touch, but the best part of the song is some great guitar work and a feel good hook.
Stay is a classic Perry soloesque number – with soul turned up a notch for an enjoyable pop ballad.
Lotus has a strong vocal and piano and another catchy chorus, but some added programmed beats makes it seem as if two different songs are playing at the same time during the verse. Interesting effect, but the song might have been better off as a stripped back piano lead vocal number.
I Think I Know is a slow bluesy and sultry song that takes the album in another direction again. Some soft brass accompaniment gives it a jazzy feel at times.
What Can I Do is a light and breezy melodic rock song with more Steve Perry comparisons at the ready and a catchy chorus to hold onto.
Hoping For You is another ultra-slow, but classy soulful vocal track with more Perryisms throughout. Some nice harmony vocals too.
Goodnight Song sees the album flip flopping between slow and sultry and breezy pop/rock. More tasteful guitar work here and a mid-tempo beat.
A 1 minute prelude seeps into the closing ballad This Is Your Life. What a way to close the album and what a monster ballad. Complete with big harmonies and a hook worthy of any mainstream artist or even Mr. Perry himself.
Musically speaking, there is a lot of depth to this album and a lot of that credit must to go to Jeremey who played a lot of the instruments here. But also to the undeniably awesome duo of Vic Rivera and Eric Ragno who both appear throughout the album, Vic in particular supplying drums and guitar parts for several tracks.
|John Taglieri Lucky #9||Indie|
John Taglieri straddles the line between classic rock and modern pop, with a sense of the singer/songwriter style about him. His recordings stretch back a dozen years, this being release number 9, with some full length albums and some EPs to his name. This is another EP – 6 tracks of no frills American pop/melodic rock. I have admired John's work for some time now and really like his tone – a mid-range tone somewhere between Danny Wilde and Johnny Lima.|
And he also delivers a similar style to Danny Wilde – that acoustic driven happy go lucky pop sensibility, often slowed down for sentimental reasons or sped up and electrified for the harder hitting numbers (Losing Me, I Never Knew).
But where John is at his best is those mid-tempo semi-acoustic pop rockers (Without You, Make Me Believe and the slightly epic Not Gonna be My Life).
A strong and consistent release.
|Driver Countdown||Metal Heaven|
There are few better melodic metal messengers than the trio of Rob Rock – vocals, Roy Z – guitars and Ed Roth – keyboards. On the latest Driver release they are joined by Aaron Samson - bass guitar and Reynold "Butch" Carlson" – drums – the same line-up as the comeback Sons Of Thunder release. This is another solid all-metal affair with much of the same ingredients as the Herman Frank release – with the added bonus of Rob Rock's hell raising vocals and Roy Z's crunching guitars and skilled knowledge working in the studio.|
For that reason this is a big sounding release with all the power and crunch expected of Rob Rock and the Driver name. However, I'm not feeling this album as much as I do the Herman Frank. The sound is there, the power is there, but I'm not sure the songs are strong enough overall.
There are a few definite highlights like Countdown and Feel The Fire and I do like the fact there are a couple of slower tracks to mix up the album a little.
The best of the metal ballads being Always On My Mind.
But there are a few fillers also – and I thought the opening two tracks were two of the weaker numbers included. Normally you can safely bet on those tracks being among the best.
|Herman Frank Right In The Guts||Metal Heaven|
In a nut-shell, it does exactly what is says on the tin – gives the listener a kick in the guts! German guitarist Herman Frank's new solo album rips through 50 minutes of high octane traditional heavy metal with an equal dose of booming vocals, double kick drum madness and wailing guitars that shred faster than an industrial wood chipper. Yes, it's completely over the top in places, but what else would you expect from the guitarist from Accept, Victory & Moon'Doc?|
I'm not sold on all the tracks and the tempo is quite relentless, but as far as a traditional metal release goes, this does tick all the boxes and is well produced. Vocalist Rick Altzi wasn't involved in Herman's debut solo album Loyal To None and his involvement here is I think a bonus for the album and for fans. Very strong and dominating vocals, which is needed with power metal albums such as this.
Waiting, Roaring Thunder and Right In The Guts are all first rate metal tunes and the album as a whole is consistent enough to recommend to fans of heavy music.
|Paul Sabu Bangkok Rules||Z Records|
I think it's now time to admit that one time AOR “legend” Paul Sabu is more or less going to be better known for a double dose of half-baked performances at ZRock 2012 and delivering a range of croaky pseudo-metal albums than he will be for delivering one mega-AOR album in the form of Only Child some 25 years ago. His career started slowly and built up with a couple of compelling solo albums before Only Child placed him into the lofty position of cult-AOR royalty.|
He's had his hand in a dozen other classic albums as player or producer, but on the solo front, I sadly no longer rate his work. The new album is Bangkok Rules – a record of pumping hard rock that thankfully dials back the metal of other recent releases, but fails to match any past melodic glory.
First of all – Paul's voice is shot. If this is as good as he can sound in the studio, then it ain't going to get any better. The vocals are gruff, raspy and shouted at times.
The songs – there's a lot going on here, but none of it is produced well enough to let the layers breath and at times I found myself struggling to break through the sonic onslaught to pick out the melodies – several going on at once at times.
It's a messy, noisy record with songs that don't fulfill potential and vocals that struggle to add anything to the song, let alone control them.
|Jakob Samuel Past Present||----|
I love Jakob's voice. His tone is just that likeable range that's perfect for emotional melodic hard rock. Stepping outside his band The Poodles for this his debut solo album, Jakob uses the lack of rules and boundaries to deliver a true “solo” record.|
Nothing worse than a solo album that merely repeats the formula of the band the artist is stepping outside of. But you have to have the songs to back it up. Much like the Joey Tempest solo albums (a better example of how to do 'solo'), this record sees Jakob strip things back into a mellower vibe, experimenting with various styles and moods.
It is quite the departure from The Poodles, so I wouldn't recommend it blindly for fans of that band. This is a very mature and diverse record with some brilliant adult pop in places (Stars And Grace; Carry On – complete with horns) and a most haunting piano ballad If Tomorrow Never Comes.
And at times he reaches into adult contemporary/Westcoast territory with When I Close My Eyes, I Am What I Am and 70s retro pop (Together, Vagabond Shoes).
The quality is undeniable, but the likability at times, is. As much as I like 3 or maybe 4 tunes here, the rest I struggle with simply due to their eclectic delivery or style, plus the fact that I am not finding the necessary hooks to draw me back in.
A majority of tracks may be in a slow pop tempo, but that doesn't worry me. I'm simply not warming to the songs themselves, despite a few standing out as quite brilliant.
|Jaded Heart Comon Ground||Fastball Music|
There are those that stopped following German rockers Jaded Heart with the departure of singer Michael Bormann, there are others that started up with new singer Johan Fahlberg. And there are those that have appreciated both incarnations. Whatever camp fans might be in, the band post-Bormann are a different beast, metallizing their sound a little further with each release. Common Destiny – now the band's fourth with Fahlberg – is the band's heaviest yet and perhaps the best since Helluva Time, which was the band's first with the new singer.|
So the band carries on with their Eurocentric melodic metal mission. The biggest difference between Jaded Heart now and then is their commerciality. The Bormann years were far more commercial, while the band now will find it difficult to get airplay using this approach. But that's not a bad thing if crunching hard riffs are what you are looking for.
With You and Saints Denied give the album a big hard rocking start, mellowing only slightly for the more melodic Into Tears.
I Believe and the almost anthemic Life Is Beautiful are the closest tracks the band gets to commercial here, with the tracks Run And Hide and Are We Mental quickly diving back into the hard riffing.
Higher softens up for some acoustic guitar before turning to a hard rock chorus and Fire And Flames closes the album with more tough talking hard rock, but a pretty catchy chorus to end on a high.
The band's strongest release since Fahlberg joined the ranks.
|Christian Tolle Project The Higher They Climb||Fastball Music|
Guitarist/writer Christian Tolle has his third studio album released earlier this year. He has stepped up just about everything here, with a beefier, heavier sound, better production and some high profile guests taking the roles as vocalists. You have David Reece, Paul Shortino and Michael Voss all handling a few songs each. The style is hard rock with a sometimes bluesy edge, but an always-pumping rhythm.|
Michael Voss appears on each track with his lead or backing vocals and it's nice to hear David Reece singing anything. The album took a while to grow, but is pretty consistent and well produced for a smaller name artist.
It may not stand out as obviously as some other releases, there hasn't been much PR behind this, but it is well worth checking out – especially if you are a fan of the vocalists involved.
|Hydrogyn Private Sessions||Indie / Music Buy Mail|
On the strength of these songs and the energetic performances on this album, US female lead hard rockers Hydrogyn have every chance of leading the genre alongside better known artists such as Halestorm.|
Unfortunately they aren't going to get there until they lift some aspects of their recording/production style.
I really do like this album and I've played it a lot. And I was contemplating it for MelodicRock Records. But the one thing holding it back is an awfully dark and muddy guitar sound that gives the album a somewhat hollow sound where the vocals and rhythm section don't fare as well in the mix. That said, singer Julie has come leaps and bounds as far as a charismatic frontwoman and her vocals here are easily the best of the Hydrogyn releases so far.
And the song quality is also a big step forward – and as I stated – puts the band right up there with others in the field. Despite my questions over the guitar sound this is still a very compelling melodic metal/hard rock release with some killer songs.
Something To Say and Forbidden Kind deliver a one-two metal punch; with Scream backing them up with a more melodic approach.
The ultra-moody I Don't Know How is a very commercial track as is the Kiss inspired hard rocker Heated Nights.
Elsewhere on the album, Don'tcha Walk Away packs a punch; It Doesn't Matter features a huge vocal and fine guitar playing while Roseline's Song is easily the band's most heartfelt and emotional ballad to date. Some wonderful lead vocals here from Julie also.
A strong set of songs and individual performances that doesn't quite hold up in the final mix. A clearer, cleaner mix would elevate these songs into the next level. But for fans of female fronted hard rock, there's still a lot on offer here.
One more thing, they need to back off somewhat on using sexed up images of Julie as the main visual selling point of the band. It might just be getting to be a bit much.
|Bangalore Choir Metaphor||AOR Heaven|
Shame on me for being late with reviewing another fine release from David Reece and company. On Metaphor David is joined again by Andy Susemihl and Curtis Mitchell (guitars) and Danny Greenberg (bass), with drums handled this time by Rene Letters.|
After several weeks I am still struggling to complete this review. I tried to review it a month ago too. The thing is – there is nothing wrong with the album whatsoever. It is a touch more melodic (or at least not as heavy) as Cadence and is produced really well.
I'm just struggling to get into any of the songs after the brilliant Reece/Kronlund release of last year.
None of the songs here are demanding my attention after several plays and with so many other releases out there right now, this album has never been able to find itself in any kind of rotation with me. Don't Act Surprised was featured on MRCD7 and still stands out as a highlight and I like the swamp boogie of the unusual Never Face Ole Joe Alone.
Fools Gold is pretty good too. In fact the second half of the album is stronger than the first half and that's perhaps where the problem lies.
The first half doesn't fire for me and I prefer the Cadence and Reece/Kronlund records for my fix of the great David Reece.
|Luley Today's Tomorrow||AOR Heaven|
German singer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Klaus Luley is best known for his time in the hard rock act Tokyo and the better known cult fav's Craaft. Now after some 20 years he has teamed with producer/bassist Michael Voss (yes, him again!) to produce an album under his own name. I'm struggling to give comparisons here for those new to the Luley name. Sometimes you get to the point where you have heard so much music you know this is familiar, yet can't quite put a finger on why.|
Basically this is Voss-friendly European uptempo melodic rock. Mountain Of Love definitely has that Casanova/Michael Voss production style and harmonies while the quite excellent melodic pomp rocker Slippin Away reminds me of early Fair Warning.
The ballad Livin' In The Night reminds me of Mikael Erlandsson/Last Autumn's Dream. Tokyo has a Scorpions/Rhythm Of Love vibe and a Voss style chorus.
As you can see, it's all quite diverse, yet still very cohesive and consistent throughout.
There's a couple of fillers towards the end of the album, but generally speaking this is a solid European style melodic rock record with a little of all of the above blended in.
|AOR The Colors Of LA||AOR Blvd Records|
Frederik Slama and Tommy Denander team up for yet another AOR album – AOR being the name of the project series, which spans some 10 albums now (one of which is a best of). Two things about these AOR projects – the name says it all – plus there are always plenty of high caliber special guests. This time those names include vocalists - Joe Pasquale (Jenny At Midnight being a wonderful melodic song); Jerry Hludzik (another pure 80s keyboard AOR track with great vocals and chorus hook); Steve Newman (Kimberley sounds remarkably like a great Newman track); Joey Summer (Under Your Spell is heavy on keyboards); the always reliable Philip Bardowell (Brittany is another super smooth Bardowell ballad).|
Phil also sings on another two tracks – the great You're My Obsession and the punchy Just One Kiss On Your Heart. Rick Riso features on a fine Glenn Hughes style AOR song (Halo Of Light) and a jazzy Westcoast pop track too (Teach Me To Love You Again).
Musican guests include Lukather, Landau, Thompson, Tolle, Goodrum, Foster and Friestedt. Names so familiar on the AOR/Westcoast session circuit you don't even need their first names! Mainly they provide the album's guitar solos.
I've been pretty hard on some of the past AOR releases due to inconsistent song and production quality and although there is a variance of styles here, the album is clearly very well constructed and leans more towards straight ahead AOR than Westcoast.
And the production is perhaps the best to date also, making this album a very good prospect if you want traditional, great sounding AOR style music with strong vocal performances and catchy melodies.
|Silence City (Days) & City (Nights)||Perris Records|
French melodic rock outfit Silence is essentially the duet Bruno Levesque and Ben Venet. Such has been the distance between their last album and now that they had tracked 20 songs for a new album.|
The result has been released via Perris Records in the form of two separate 10 track albums City (Days) and City (Nights).
What isn't known and isn't a big deal, is that I was in fact going to sign the band to MelodicRock Records, but due to a number of delays on my part, the band decided to go with Perris and release the albums quicker. Absolutely no issue with that or the lads as these are great songs and I'm glad they found a home for them. I hope Perris has been able to push them as much as they deserve.
What I would like to say is that I personally felt that 20 tracks was too many to unload on the public and had my own plan to condense that down to a single disc release of maybe 13-14 songs and make it a really knockout disc.
I'm very proud of the guys for delivering what they have here. The quality of production, songwriting and the performances here are all well above that of the debut and some of these songs in particular and just terrific old-school moody European AOR tracks that I think could find a large audience.
However, 10 tracks with a couple of fillers multiplied by two does, I think, take some impact away from some of the other tracks that really stood out to me as very special. The songs on both albums have no differentiating factors style wise – both have some beautiful songs in that moody, mellow AOR style that Dare and Mark Spiro have both perfected.
The City Nights album is perhaps a little more uptempo and features 2 or 3 slightly heavier tracks.
For the record – these are the best tracks of both volumes that I call absolutely essential – Beggars Day, Crashing Down, Ghosts, Goodbye To The Old Days, Out Of The Dream, End Of The Day, Business, Memory Of Blue Eyes, Guardian Angel, Insomnia, Footprints, Drifting Away, Just One Kiss On Your Heart.
And yes, Just One Kiss On Your Heart also appears on the just reviewed AOR album – that version featuring Philip Bardowell on vocals. Check these guys out. If you buy digitally, perhaps you can make your own 'perfect' AOR record.
They finally did it! Since reuniting, it has only taken 2 previous Asia albums; 5 Icon albums (3 studio and 2 live), plus a solo album or four between them, but the Asia founding duo of John Wetton and Geoff Downes have finally created an uptempo album!|
And what a contrast from recent releases. This album just bursts through the speakers as the songs live and breathe on their own without the need for the occasional prod to the listener to wake them up.
Even the ballads on XXX have an uptempo flow and are enjoyable to sit through.
And the production on XXX is nice and spacious. It's not compacted down into a mesh of instrumentation – everyone gets a chance to be heard here – a sometimes forgotten ideal in this world of over-compressed music. Downes' keyboard and organ parts flow beautifully in and around the songs while Steve Howe's guitar solos seem to have more impact here than recent albums. Of course Asia is never going to be described as a hard rock band, so talk of this album being uptempo and “rocking” must be taken in context. It's all still relatively mellow compared to other artists reviewed here, but Asia fans can rejoice in an album that inspires movement, instead of curing insomnia.
The songs remain long – 5 are over or near 6 minutes in length. But this time they don't have the appearance of dragging.
Tomorrow The World is a feisty opener for these guys; Bury Me In Willow is a moodier piece with some inspired organ work and a more uptempo chorus; No Religion harnesses more guitar and energy than I have heard since the band's debut; Faithful is mellower, but still features an uptempo rhythm which I think makes the song.
I Know How You Feel is another layered track which captures the best of the band's early sound once again; Face On The Bridge is a brilliant and highly memorable song (despite the video!) while the 'lite progressive' of Al Gatto Nero is both catch and challenging at the same time.
Closing the album is the lyrically biting, yet musically 'up' of Judas and the ultra-moody, and progressive Ghost Of A Chance. Two more real quality tracks.
|Wigelius Reinventions||Frontiers Records|
Terrible name for a band, but they are Swedish, so all is forgiven. Yes, this is another release under the 'Swedish Melodic Rock' banner. And more or less, it is another pleasant example of Scandi-AOR with punch.|
Wigelius uses the tried and true, much used formula that has delivered a whole host of albums over the last 4-5 years. For everything that is good about this album, there is still the overall feel that it feels all a little too contrived and fails to deliver anything that will help it stand out in a crowded market.
That said, there are some songs here that are still a real joy to hear. Talking About Love is a melodic gem as is the anthemic Next To Me (so utterly familiar, yet it still sounds good); Too Young To Fall In Love is another sweet harmonic chorus that sticks and Right Here, Right Now also sounds like I have heard it before.
The acoustic ballad Love Can Be Too Much is perhaps the stand out track of the album as vocalist Anders Wigelius isn't buried under a ton of production and his voice really shines.
Elsewhere the tracks are all enjoyable to a point, but a little safe at the same time.
|Million $ Reload A Sinner's Saint||Frontiers Records|
This is a really good record in many ways. It features a big production, kick ass guitar attack and a thumping rhythm section. It harks back to the good old days of no bullshit rock n roll in the same vein as classic rockers AC/DC and more recent bearers of the flag such as Shakra and Buckcherry. There's a host of swagger filled guitar solos and big riff moments and there isn't a ballad in sight. The band has a strong dose of sleaze rock to fire up their engines too.|
Sounds perfect right? Well, yes…for a certain audience.
The gruff raspy scream of vocalist Phil Conlon isn't the easiest on the ears and he doesn't vary his delivery up much. The band concentrates on riffs more than they do big hooks, but it's still an enjoyable ride.
Take Blow Me Away for example. The verse rocks along with a decent melody and approaches the chorus, the guitars give way for what could be a massive hook, yet there's nothing there but a simple one or two line chorus. That's where the band could have lifted this album from a solid, enjoyable affair to a stand-alone 2012 highlight.
Best tracks include the more melodic Bullets In The Sky; the almost-ballad Broken and the chugging riffs of It Ain't Over.
|Prayer Danger In The Dark||Escape Music|
Finland's Prayer return after a 7 year absence. No offence to the guys, but a 7 year absence by a small time melodic rock band means you have been long forgotten except for a handful of close fans. If anyone can remember the band's debut Wrong Address, you'll be doing well. Frontman, writer, co-producer and rhythm guitarist Tapani Tikkanen keeps busy outside of Prayer, but the band really has to start over.|
So Danger In The Dark is the new album, which delivers a quirky mix of Scandi-AOR and keyboard driven progressive pomp. I rated the debut pretty highly and praised the strong vocals within. I'm not sure if this is a step backwards, or my tastes have changed, or perhaps in the intervening 7 years since the debut, standards have been raised exponentially – if so Prayer have failed to lift with them.
[Time out – I'm going back to listen to Wrong Address again…]
Ok, I'm back. The band has gone backwards. This isn't nearly as strong as the debut with production quality not even close and whereas on the debut the vocals were quirky, here they are annoying. It was good to hear that album again and reminded me of why I rated it strongly. But here I'm just not feeling it. I think it is the strength of the songs mainly. The pivotal opening track doesn't have the punch that it should, nor the vocal power the debut had.
The stop/start beat of Get What I Came For is just painful to listen to and the closing track It's Not The End is just terrible.
In between is some pleasant ness, but nothing that stands out as essential or anything that will remain on any 2012 playlist for me.
|Gun Break The Silence||earMusic|
Welcome back to Scottish rockers Gun. It's been way too long, especially seeing that their last studio release 0141 632 6326 (1997) was rubbish. Unfortunately the band's dynamic and authorative frontman Mark Rankin remains in seclusion, so lead vocal duties have been taken over by the band's own Dante Gizzi.|
Let's be very very clear. This album bears no resemblance to the Gun of old. Perhaps the danceable beats compare to 0141 in part, but this is an entirely new affair and will disappoint anyone looking for a repeat of the absolutely classic triple-play of Swagger, Gallus and Taking On The World.
But that said – this is one example of a band that has set out to reinvent itself and by the results on this album, might just succeed.
Once you abandon the idea of the Gun of old and adopt an an open mind – this album stands on its own rather well. There are some really fine songs within such as the moody Caught In The Middle; the simple amazing pop brilliance of Break The Silence and the catchy fuzz-pop-rock of 14 Stations and Lost & Found.
The moody How Many Roads builds to a compelling climax and No Substitute is as catchy as anything on modern radio today.
The album is a different style yes….more contemporary pop/rock than old school melodic rock, but it does have that certain ingredient that draws you back in and I must say it is impeccably produced.
|Slash Apocalyptic Love||Dik Hayd|
The problem with being late to a review on a big title like this is often that it has already been judged by fans and critics alike and everything that needs to be said has been said. But I can still add my 2 cents worth for those that like to compare notes.|
I think the overall reaction to this record has been very positive and I'm not about to upset the boat there. It is a very good album and a solid piece of work featuring some of Slash's best songs and guitar work since the GNR days. But there are a couple of elements that could have made it even better. I like the album a whole lot better than his last album as it doesn't try and be too trendy, nor does it swing through a stack of different styles and vocalists.
Settling on Myles Kennedy as the single vocalist for the album was the smart thing to do. Still, Kennedy's vocals are an acquired taste and I can find him a little screechy at times.
And I don't think Slash has the best ability of drawing the best chorus peaks out of his songs. Standing In The Sun might be the one big exception as that chorus is awesome (as is the riffing). Shots Fired (which closes the regular album is great also. I don't think this is an album I personally will be playing much, but I can't deny the quality of the production and guitar work on here.
The deluxe version at 61 minutes is also about 10-15 minutes too long.
|Valerie Valerie||Hellish Records|
Everyone has a soft spot for the music being churned out of Sweden in recent years. Adding to that list is another newcomer – Valerie. The name comes from guitarist/lead vocalist BT Valerie. This album is 4 guys, 8 songs and that very tried and true 80s Scandi melodic hard rock sound. The only thing is…this album just isn't very good. There's only 8 songs, so no room for fillers and I'm afraid there are several.|
It always pains me to say that as I know how much effort goes into writing, recording and releasing any product. But BT's vocals just aren't that strong and the accent on them is distracting. The backing vocals stand out for all the wrong reasons too. The production isn't the best and the songs…well…not only have we heard all the cliché's before, but we've heard them all done better than on here.
Heat Of The Night sees the band doing their best Van Hagar impersonation, but the vocals just don't match. Heat Of The Night has a nice enough riff, but horrible lyrics.
The commercial rocker When Two Hearts Collide is the pick of the bunch.
|Miles Of Will Wild Ride EP||Indie|
You wouldn't expect anything but quality from the names Champlin and Schon right? Except this time around it is the offspring doing the work – Neal's son Miles (guitar and vocals) and Bill's son Will on keyboards and vocals. The duo also wrote the 5 tracks featured on this EP and produced it also. Being that this is an EP, any rules of what one should and shouldn't do are thrown out the window. No clearer is that made than with the jazzy pop of the opening track Haters. Great intelligent lyrics and some mature arrangements beyond their years greet listeners. Not to mention some very fine vocals!|
The quirky guitar tone of Now You Are Alive picks up the pace a little further. There's a certain blues influenced swagger to the tune and some really appealing vocals. Wild Ride is perhaps the climax of the EP tempo wise and what a glorious song it is. This is a commercial, radio friendly modern rocker that builds to an engaging chorus that should be on radio. Now!
Fangs is a darker and heavier number, showing yet another side to the guys' sound, more biting lyrics and a terrific urgent vocal. Time & Place is another commercial rocker with a moodier vibe and another hugely infectious chorus that deserves radio play.
In a word – exceptional. The only thing I hate about EPs is that when they are as good as this, you want more. And soon please guys. This is a wonderful debut.
|LA Guns Hollywood Forever||Cleopatra|
The “genuine” LA Guns as I refer to them – the line-up with vocalist Phil Lewis and drummer Steve Riley in the mix – is back with a new Andy Johns produced record Hollywood Forever. Retaining the band's theme of all things slutty and glamtastic in the land of Hollyweird, the guys deliver a high energy album of busy rock n roll that mixes the sound of the debut album with that of Waking Dead & Tales From The Strip, the last two records the guys recorded with Johns.|
There is also an additional emphasis on the punky delivery that was present in Vicious Circle. The whole album has a rough and ready feel to it. The production is minimalistic without sounding cheap and the overall vibe of the album is pretty loose.
Opposing the loose and trashy punk rockers are some heavier and darker numbers which is a great contrast in tempo and in mood for the album. A couple of moody ballads in typical LA Guns style round out the contents of this rather good and enjoyable LA Guns album.
It may not be their best written or best sounding album, but the Phil Lewis fronted LA Guns remains a compelling and worthwhile investment for long time fans.
|Richard Marx Inside My Head||Frontiers Records|
He's good isn't he? Richard Marx is one of those guys that can just sing…and write one hell of a pop/rock tune. And while he's not in the limelight himself like he was in the late 80s, he is very much a part of everyday radio play having written a ton of pop & country hits for other artists spanning the last decade. In-between churning out those hits he records for himself and this album is a neat compilation of his best work from underrated solo releases Emotional Remains, Duo and Stories to Tell. And there really are some superb songs featured.|
Take the almighty ballad Through My Veins (from Emotional Remains). If there was ever a song that deserved worldwide hit status it's this haunting song with an exquisite vocal.
Modern pop in the veins of the last Brian Howe album or Rick Springfield's Venus In Overdrive is what Marx does best and there are no better examples than Always On Your Mind (the one new track recorded for the Duo album); the fast and furious power pop/rock of All Over Me and Part Of Me; plus Done To Me and Over My Head.
Classy ballads like the aforementioned Through My Veins are in abundance also, with Like Heaven and the big new single Wouldn't Let Me Love You.
Other new tracks include the great opening mid-tempo melodic rocker Had Enough (co-written by Jason Wade of Lifehouse) and the funky pop of Come Running.
And Chad Kroeger of Nickleback asserts his influence on the catchy modern rocker On The Inside (also featuring Chris Daughtry in the writing credits).
As a bonus a second disc of re-recorded hits is included. It's a nice accompaniment to the newer songs and reminds us of the class writer that Marx has always been. I can't say there's a lot different about the re-records, but doing so places the publishing of the featured songs back in Marx's hands and control.
|Jorn Bring Heavy Rock To The Land||Frontiers Records|
Never far between album's, Jorn's latest is very much as expected once again. Yes, it's typical Jorn - the guitars sound the same, the drums sound the same, the approach is more or less the same as the last 2 or 3 or 4 albums and the production is again identical.|
So what sets this album apart from the preceding efforts? Well, not much really. He has most definitely caught the Axel Rudi Pell “If It Ain't Broke, Don't Touch It” school of thought, but do Jorn's fans have the same patience of those of ARPs?
I'm still torn between getting frustrated at Jorn for not fulfilling his God given potential, or just appreciating what he does deliver.
As it stands, this is one of his better solo efforts, but still falls short of his classic work in Masterplan, The Ark and Millenium (still my favourite). What's pleasing to hear on this album is a general lift in tempo. There are a couple more upbeat numbers here, reducing the number of plodders, which dominate Jorn's solo work. However, the sequencing of this album does not help his fans any.
A softly sung vocal intro, followed by the heavy plodding title track, which would sound more impressive had the Dio-esque plod-metal tempo not already been done to death in previous albums. Then we are hit with a slightly more rocking 8 minute epic, plus a really quite uninteresting cover of Ride Like The Wind, which for me was done well by Saxon a long time back and won't be topped.
So for me it is track 5 when this album really gets rolling. And thankfully it rolls along in fine double-paced time with the awesome Chains Around You.
The metal ballad The World I See is equally as good, even if we are back into go slow mode.
Re-doing Time To Be King (from the last Masterplan album) seems a little odd, but this fits into the album pretty well and rocks along at a good pace.
The awesome hard rocking Ride To The Guns follows and is an album highlight for me alongside Chains Around You.
And acoustic/electric melodic rock Black Morning gives Jorn time to show he can still sing quality melodic rock.
I Came To Rock is another decent uptempo rocker that gives the album its needed balance.
Bonus track Live And Let Fly is a pumping uptempo melodic rock track that closes the album on a high and adds to that tempo push Jorn needed.
|Circus Maximus Nine||Frontiers Records|
Noway's progressive rock act Circus Maximus have delivered two impressive albums to date, but it is this – their third album – where they really come of age. Nine is a deeply complex and compelling album, which is not an easy to grasp slice of instant gratification. It requires time, concentration and some intensive dissection of the songs on offer.|
Opening with a 10 minute epic and closing with two more epics, these songs surround some shorter, more direct tunes, but each one has its own place in the slow of the album and twists that need to be learnt. Vocalist Michael Eriksen is already a favourite of mine in this genre for his melodic approach and clear tone. And he shines better than ever here too.
The rest of the band are equally impressive, with some of the best instrumentation outside of Dream Theater and a hard hitting approach that surrounds the listener with a wall of sound.
And the production I must say is absolutely first rate – it is a dominating sound that benefits from a clear, crisp mix.
The 10 minute Architect Of Fortune really does fly by considering its length; Namaste is heavy and prime stuff for fans of Dream Theater; Game Of Life has probably the most memorable hook of the album and Reach Within is the most melodic tune of the album.
The tempo switching within I Am is awesome and I love the power of The One.
And as previously mentioned, the sweeping epic Last Goodbye is a monster way to close this classy opus.
|Hartmann Balance||Avenue Of Allies Music|
German hard rock vocalist Oliver Hartmann bursts back onto the scene in a big way with a new label and his 4th solo album. His debut was a masterpiece of mood and angst that immediately established him as a solo star after many years fronting bands like At Vance and Empty Tremor.|
Out In The Cold was a genre defining release, so it was no real surprise when the follow up didn't quite match up and then the third album turned Hartmann in a more modern direction. But with Balance, Oliver Hartmann delivers his second masterpiece – an album that is every bit as compelling as the debut, albeit with a more positive emotional slant.
Balance finds Oliver in a more positive mind, yet he still manages to capture the listener into an emotional grip that carries you through the whole album. This is a seriously good set of songs that is equally split between upbeat melodic rock anthems and heartfelt slower tunes.
The style is straight ahead European melodic rock, much akin to the debut and I think this is an album that simply begs for attention from all.
The album opens with the foot stomping hand waving anthem All My Life which is a joy to hear.
Like A River is a moodier, darker but still upbeat rocker with a certain Shinedown feel to it, especially with Oliver's vocal.
You Are The One is another great anthem, pumping the feel good adrenalin into your ears and Fool For You is another solid rocker with a strong chorus.
Elsewhere in the album there is the moody mid-tempo rock ballad After The Love Is Gone; a slightly progressive rocker in Save Me; the absolutely gorgeous From A Star with a brilliant matching vocal; a heavy cover of the Tears For Fears hit Shout and two amazing ballads to close the album – Time To Face The Truth and The Best Is Yet To Come.
Both have an emotional core that sucks you in and feature two great vocal performances along with great melodies.
|Europe Bag Of Bones||earMusic|
Europe have been very consistent with their output since reforming and while each album has contained a little filler, they have managed to cross that line from “80s rock nostalgia”, to a still relevant and credible contemporary classic rock act. On their latest Bag Of Bones, the band further enhances that reputation by teaming up with the classic rock producer of the moment – Kevin Shirley.|
Shirley has been all over that bluesy 70s classic rock sound with Black Country Communion, Joe Bonamassa, Black Crowes and his work with Led Zeppelin. Now it's Europe's turn to dial back the clock. Bag Of Bones is a great sounding record for fans of loose, live feeling 70s rock, with a ton of Hammond accompanying bluesy hard edged guitar and a certain swaggering attitude.
It's a slight change of direction and just like the band's last few albums, it is another record that doesn't really play to the convention of playing up to catchy choruses.
In many ways it is a very uncommercial record with a lot of music to get to know first before appreciating the songs.
The driving Riches To Rags; the slow but effective Not Supposed To Sing The Blues or the Glenn Hughes-esque blues rocker Firebox are all very credible songs.
Bag Of Bones is a killer song of two different styles and the slow and heavy grind of My Woman My Friend really expand upon the band's musical history.
Doghouse is another of the more catchy songs included and Mercy You Mercy Me is one of the rarer times the album kicks into higher gear.
Bring It All Home is a classy blues rock ballad to close the album.
|Polution Beyond Control||Escape Music|
Amazing – a Swiss band that doesn't sound like AC/DC…no wait a moment…yes they do. That was close! They just do it in a more contemporary and modern rock influenced vein. Polution delivers this, their second album after the quite good debut Overheated. |
The band picks up where they left off, updating their sound a little further and turning slightly punkish in places.
Gruff lead vocals and punchy guitar riffs are the order of the day. It's not really my taste generally, but it is done quite well and there is no disputing that the album sounds sonically good and the guitars punch through the speakers.
Third track in Live Until You Die turns mellower and even more modern and could have a shot at modern rock radio if given the chance. A nice little anthemic chorus too.
The same can be said about the ballad Flying, although the verse is a lot tougher than the chorus.
Truth be told – I'm not a fan of this guy's voice and that's probably the only downside to this album. It reminds me a little of Chad from Nickelback and I truly hate his voice (sorry Chad fans!).
This is another short album – especially for 12 tracks, but they all clock in at 3 minutes or so and there are 2 'intro' pieces at under 1 minute.
|Oxygen Final Warning||Escape Music|
You won't believe this, but here is more 80s influenced Swedish melodic rock! Yes, the country whose melodic rock well never runs dry delivers up yet another new band, this time in the form of Oxygen, a Scandi rock group that delivers powerful, commercial, feel good 80s style AOR.|
Already released in Japan under the 'Niva' name and titled 'Gold From The Future', it's really the second Niva album (the first being from 1995). Not sure why the change of name for Europe.
The guys have a good production behind them here and I'm trying to work out just who they sound like. The strong guitar sound mixed with a high octave vocal reminds me of the last Departure album.
It also has a good dose of Grand Illusion about the vocals and some of the more pomp moments like Gold From The Future.
All in all, this is a very consistent and pleasant melodic rock album with a strong vocal performance from Tony Niva and some songs that are extremely easy to listen to. Janitor Of Love is just a bit silly, but catchy as an opener is supposed to be; but Anything For You and When Tomorrow Comes are definite highlights.
I Remember is a sweet ballad as is Best Days Of Our Lives. The title track Final Warning is a bid more challenging - a progressive chorus switcing to a melodic chorus.
The album closes with the upbeat and uptempo pomp rocker You.
|Lita Ford Living Like A Runaway||SPV|
Lita Ford has a monumental task of overcoming one of the worst records in recent memory in her last album Wicked Wonderland. It was obvious to all at the time that the album was glory ride for then husband Jim Gillette. Thankfully Lita realized this and threw him out along with most of the out of character influences of that hideous record. |
She's now back on track with the very enjoyable Living Like A Runaway. It's a far more enjoyable record with some tough contemporary rockers mixed in around a few more classic melodic rock songs that she was best at delivering in her early career.
It may not be her best album, but it certainly excises the demons of Wonky Wonderland.
Backed by a band that includes the awesome guitarist/songwriter/producer Gary Hoey, the album mixes old and new alike with some very personal and insightful lyrics.
The opening salvo of the heavy and contemporary rockers Branded and Hate show that Lita can still deliver hard rock with attitude. Same with Devil In My Head and Asylum.
Other highlights include the wonderfully melodic and beautifully sung Living Like A Runaway; the dramatic acoustic ballad Mother and the feel good rock anthem Love 2 Hate U. I'd like to have heard more like these 3 tracks especially.
However, there are still some lingering hangovers from WW – namely the quite modern and effects filed The Mask and the modern groove rocker Relentless. And the 10 track regular version of the album closes with the utterly shiteous ultra-programmed A Song To Slit Your Wrists By. But the good far outweighs the bad here.
There's 3 more tracks floating around as bonus tracks, but I have not been serviced with those and can't comment.
German rockers Axxis must have a fanbase, as they are still around after 20 or so years. But you seldom hear them discussed in any detail. Sadly they might now be discussed more than ever for all the wrong reasons. |
Once again a band has taken time out of writing new material to delve into the murky waters of recording covers. And once again a band has found itself delving into some truly horrendous choices for songs to include.
This album is another real WTF moment. I mean covers of Boney M, Celine Dion and Opus. Opus????
The guys narrowly get away with a fairly straightforward cover of the Yes classic Owner Of A Lonely Heart, but Boney M is just horrifying. Boney Bloody M! Hideous.
And when they take on The Bee Gees and the predictable Staying Alive, well…they do it seriously! Can you believe that?! Sorry guys, go check out Dweezil Zappa & Donny Osmond's cover – now that's how you do the Bee Gees.
Their Kraftwork cover it just plain shit. Billy Idol's growling hit White Wedding has zero menace and on the Phil Collins cover it sounds like the singer has his balls in a vice.
I could go on, but I won't. Well I will, but only so far as to mention My Heart Will Go On, which it possibly won't after hearing the cover of Celine Dion's monster tear jerker. The only thing being jerked in this case is the patience of this band's fanbase. The vocals here are absolutely ghastly.
The album closes with a Kiss cover of I Was Made For Loving You that the Village People couldn't have done in a more feminine way. Awful.
Sack management. Fire the label. It's the only way out for Axxis. I can't imagine one single fan being impressed by this load of old cobblers.
|Dee Snider Dee Does Broadway||Razor & Tie|
Arrggh… How am I supposed to deal with this? Well, Dee has credit up his sleeve for a career high on integrity and class. And a whole lot of charm. And he's actually appeared on Broadway. So he gets a little leeway here. But not too much.|
To be honest, it's done pretty well. But who in their right mind is going to be playing this? I mean more than once. My guess is not too many.
But it's a bit of a laugh and might be good at parties (after the guests are drunk though please).
Some of the numbers are done with a straight face (no mean feat) and some ham it up a little. All of them are backed with traditional Broadway instrumentation such as horns and brass, but accompanied by a kick ass rock band too.
Cabaret is pretty hard to swallow; but The Ballad of Sweeney Todd is almost metal and a bit of fun; Big Spender features Cyndi Lauper and is horrendous; the full on jazz of Mack The Knife is almost as bad as the original. Dee sure ain't Louis Armstrong.
Music of the Night [From Phantom of the Opera] featuring famed violinist Mark Wood is probably my pick of this outing and features a truly big vocal from Dee. Impressive.
Luck Be a Lady Tonight [From Guys and Dolls] feat. Clay Aiken is a sure fire party hit and is heavier than I ever expected it could be done. Impressive Clay Aiken vocal too. Man, am I really typing this up?
Ok, enough is enough…
Die-hards only folks…and drunk people at parties with access to iTunes.
|Gotthard Firebirth||Nuclear Blast|
I think those that know this site and know my reviews are aware that I don't normally dwell on issues such as line-up changes and new singers in well-known bands too much. There have been some truly strange decisions made over the years, but some equally good ones. The absolute bottom line however, is the resultant output. Are the songs what they should be and has the band delivered its best?|
Under very trying circumstances that no one would wish upon any band, Swiss legends Gotthard had to do the unthinkable upon the untimely death of frontman Steve Lee and had to replace a vital part of the band's sound, energy and writing style.
The band took their time and found a Swiss born/Australian raised singer to fill the might big shoes of Mr. Lee.
Enter Nic Maeder. And the result is in. Firebirth is an apt title and the album is definitely still very much Gotthard, as Maeder has a wonderful Steve Lee like vocal style and delivery, but the songs are a little hit and miss.
The problem for the band is they not only have to replace an iconic frontman, but they are also on a roll with three great albums in a row – Lipservice, Domino Effect and Need To Believe. How can they top those and create a new path forward at the same time?
The band decided to opt for a rougher, less polished live sound for their new album. It is indeed that. But after 3 super slick albums, it might sound a little too rough for some and it's true that the production isn't very slick at all. But my main issue with the album is the lack of big hooks and memorable choruses.
There are some great songs within the album, but it is nowhere as consistent at the last 3 albums have been. Couple that with a pretty raw sound and I'm less impressed than I hoped to have been.
Track By Track:
Starlight – I like the heaviness of it and the riff and Maeder sounds great. The chorus may not reach expected heights, but it's a solid opener.
Give Me Real – I like the heavy groove of this song a lot. One of the album's best tracks and a decent chorus.
Remember It's Me – absolutely terrific ballad with more polish than the rest of the album and I don't think anyone disputes it is a winner.
Fight – back to the heavy and groovy, but the song doesn't really go anywhere. Nice guitar solo, but slow, boring chorus.
Yippie Aye Yay – Kind of a bizarre title/lyric and chorus for this little sing along commercial rocker. Not bad and still pretty catchy.
Tell Me – Beautiful acoustic/piano ballad with a terrific vocal and added orchestration.
Shine – Mid tempo melodic rocker with a pretty solid chorus and hook.
The Story Is Over – Back to a heavier old school Gotthard sound with Maeder doing a big Steve Lee vocal. Not a huge chorus, but decent and another good song. Strongest point of the album is the last 4 tracks.
Right On – Bon Jovi style hard rocker that is ok. It doesn't really have the anthemic qualities it should have had.
S.O.S. – Not really into this track much. It's a punchy hard rocker, but not into the chorus despite a reasonable moody verse.
Take It All Back – A mid-tempo rocker that doesn't really go anywhere, with a chorus that doesn't stand out.
I Can – fast and furious rocker but again, another chorus that doesn't work, making the last part of this album sound like the band has recorded just that couple too many tracks.
Where Are You – acoustic ballad about the late and great Steve Lee. A nice track and the sentiment is unquestionable. But not the best ballad I've heard from the band.
I like the groove and heavier feel of the album and through the first two thirds of the album, there is only a couple of weaker tracks. But it comes undone after track 8 and limps to the finish.
|Hardline Danger Zone||Frontiers Records|
Hardline has only 4 albums over 20 years to their name, but the voice of Johnny Gioeli is something I always look forward to hearing. Sure, we can hear him on the Axel Rudi Pell albums, but it's on the Hardline albums that Johnny really sounds in his element. On the new album Danger Zone, Johnny sounds as good as I have ever heard him. This is a phenomenal vocal performance and I rate this album the second best (after the classic debut) to carry to Hardline moniker.|
Despite the II and Leaving The End Open albums receiving mixed responses from fans, I still appreciate both records. II was a little hit and miss, true; but Leaving The End Open was a really solid record even if it took the sound in a more contemporary direction.
For fans of the debut, Danger Zone takes things back to basics. So much so that it is infact an entirely new band behind the album – headed by Eden's Curse alumni Alessandro Del Vecchio (also of Edge Of Forever and Shining Line fame) on keyboards and writing duties and Thorsten Koehne on guitars.
I'm not going to make an issue of the change in line up at all. If you look at all 4 albums, there is only one common thread through them all – that is the voice of Johnny Gioeli. He is Hardline and this is the band's most melodic/AOR album to date.
Sure, the sound is more European AOR than the American melodic hard rock of the debut, but the songs shine and Johnny's vocal performance seals it.
It's a pretty long album at nearly an hour, but of the 12 tracks, there is only a couple that don't work for me. The rest are terrific and there are a couple of absolute blinders in here.
The opening anthemic salvo of Fever Dreams and 10,000 Reasons set up the album and make a big statement. Classic melodic rock is the name of the game.
10,000 Reasons might just be one of the best Gioeli sung songs ever. Massive!
The 6 minute long Danger Zone is a tougher slice of melodic rock; while Here's What I Want is a rare track where I don't like the chorus.
Stronger Than Me is a strong mid-tempo ballad with a terrific vocal.
Never Too Late For Love (covered previously by Phil Bardowell and Mark Free) is a track I could also do without – only because I'd prefer an all-original in its place.
I Don't Want To Breakaway is a little left of center also – not a favourite.
But the rest of the second half of the album is wall to wall classic melodic rock. Stay, Please Have Faith In Me, Show Me Your Love and The Only One – all great songs.
|Great White Elation||Frontiers Records|
It doesn't add up. I have every Great White album and still have a soft spot for the band, despite feeling the momentum of the band was slipping after the last two relatively laid back releases. I much prefer the band when they have an edge; even their older ballads had that edge. And I have all of Terry Ilous' work also. XYZ and solo, I love his voice.|
But together, I'm not feeling it. I don't think the manner in which Terry is singing on this album suits him and the band's slide into middle of the road oblivion continues with their third album in a row of really laid back bluesy rock, rather than rock with a blues edge.
After 20 years of rocking with attitude, the band has fundamentally changed course and now sounds stale and boring to these ears.
Even on the best tracks – the medium tempo rockers Feelin' So Much Better, Shotgun Willie and Heart Of A Man the magic ingredient is missing.
On Resolution and Lowdown, the plodding is so deliberate and painful; it feels as if the songs are 10 minutes long. And there is the problem across the whole album. Of 12 tracks, only 5 are in the 4 minute range, the rest are 5 and over. The songs (and the album as a whole) are simply too long.
On the slower tracks, Hard To Say Goodbye has a heartfelt vocal and feel as does Promise Land and Love Is Enough. But the tempo of the album is already under such duress, these slower tracks can't shine.
Love Train is near impossible to get through.
|Wig Wam Wall Street||Frontiers Records|
Wig Wam kicked off their career with two magnificent albums that are now classics of the genre. Their third album Non Stop Rock N Roll saw them tinkering with the formula a little and the result was a less consistent album than previously delivered.|
Now on Wall Street, it seems the band are trying too hard to be clever or that little bit different, that they seem to have lost the plot and the very sound they caused such an impact with.
There are still a few signs that the guys can deliver classic anthemic melodic rock with a Scandinavian glam twist, but elsewhere I have to wonder what they are trying to achieve.
I was still blown away by some of these tunes though.
Wall Street and OMG! (Wish I Had A Gun) are classic Wig Wam in all their glory. And The Bigger The Better is Wig Wam meets Slang era Def Leppard for another fun uptempo track.
Victory Is Sweet and Bleeding Daylight are both darker and less anthemic, but work around the other tracks well…with the footnote that they aren't as strong as previous ballads.
Then things just get a little confused. Tides Will Turn is a Queen-esque falsetto ballad that doesn't work for me; Wrong Can Feel So Right is a perfect high energy AOR anthem; One Million Enemies is an effects/programming filled rocker that falls flat and Try My Body On is a groove orientated rocker that's pretty heavy, but also filled with acoustic guitars. I've tried, but I just don't like it.
Natural High is a feel good (if not odd) little rocker, but the chorus is a killer.
And closing the album is a moody guitar instrumental Things Money Can't Buy. I don't buy Wig Wam albums for instrumentals. Sorry guys.
As far as sequencing, the album just feels up and down and all over the place.
I can really appreciate Wall Street, OMG, Natural High, Bigger The Better and Wrong Can Feel So Right. But the rest is take it or leave it, depending on my mood and that's not the Wig Wam I love.
|Shinedown Amaryllis||Atlantic Records|
Shinedown have quickly become the modern rock band for me. They have everything I love about music – passion, drama, energy in spades and melodies big enough to hang your hat on. And best of all – they are unique. So many modern hard rock/metal bands out there have the same droll tone, but Shinedown, with their enigmatic frontman Brent Smith just ooze attitude and soul. And they are heavy!|
Everyone called their Sound Of Madness album a genre defining masterpiece and I agreed. I still love it and the attitude within hasn't been matched until now.
Sound Of Madness was seemingly unbeatable. And the band themselves said they wouldn't make another record until that one could be topped – Smith suggesting it could be years away. Well, its 4 since Sound Of Madness, but if you take out the extensive touring time, it hasn't felt like a long wait. So when news of this new album being underway came through, I was skeptical.
But man, these guys are on such a roll. This another absolute masterpiece as far as I'm concerned and after weeks and weeks of seriously heavy rotation, I'm satisfied to call this album even better than The Sound Of Madness. In my eyes at least.
The same energy, attitude and passion is there and the album contains the same super heavy intensity and hard rocking feel as the last album, yet at the same time I feel it is a slightly more mature and more polished performance.
That's certainly the case for Smith, who sings with less of a rasp than on Sound Of Madness, delivering some truly magic vocal performances that are even more melodic than ever. It's as if he sings within himself this time and for me it really works!
I have to say that the production on this album is simply monstrous and the use of a full symphony orchestra on 5 tracks gives the album a major lift and those tracks are so lush in the instrumentation, I simply get lost in those songs. I even love the somewhat debated self of center first single Bully.
But for me the best tracks come mid-late album, even though there isn't one tune on here that I could call filler. Each track is a winner, but some I still anticipate more than others.
Adrenaline is a monster opener once again; Amaryllis is the first to employ symphonic backing and is catchy as hell.
But it's Unity that truly blows things apart in the biggest way possible. Heartfelt, emotional, powerful, symphonic and a simply gorgeous over the top bridge to chorus set up.
Enemies answers the beauty of the last song with a more aggressive edge and lifts them tempo into a frenzy.
It's Not Alright is another symphonic masterpiece and carries the pace of the last song, but with more melody.
Nowhere Kids keeps the album on that absolutely manic pace until the brilliant hard rock ballad Miracle pulls things back a little.
I'll Follow You is another glorious ballad with big harmonies and big hooks and a melancholy feel that drags you in.
For My Sake rocks with aggression once more before My Name cranks the album back into super overdrive.
Closing the album is another absolutely killer ballad in Through The Ghost. Another absolute captivating track with an amazing vocal and some intense orchestration.
|Halestorm The Strange Case Of||Atlantic Records|
Four albums have really stood out for me this year – HEAT, Van Halen, Shinedown and this little gem! Halestorm literally storm back into action with their second studio release, which takes everything that was glorious about their debut and cranks it up at least 3 notches. However they will follow this up I have no idea. But this is killer melodic rock/hard rock/melodic metal, all three styles neatly packaged into this blindingly great album. I've had this in constant rotation along with label mates Shinedown for weeks now and it shows no signs of tiring at all.|
Halestorn is fronted by the wonderfully charismatic Lzzy Hale, who has the voice of an angel and can scream like the devil…in some cases, using both to great effect within the same song.
To quote my Shinedown review – this album has everything I love about hard rock in it – power, passion, attitude and melody.
And the connection to Shinedown goes deeper, with the band touring with them and also occasionally sharing song co-writers.
The album sounds absolutely stunning thanks to Mr. Howard Benson, a producer I often fail to appreciate due to what can be some pretty bland production efforts from him over the years. But here, everything sounds perfect and credit must go to the studio and mix engineers.
The album sounds like it has all the energy of a live band, yet the polished finesse a studio record should have.
And I love what the band has done with the running order. They smack you over the head with four of the best super-intense hard rock songs in a row, and then chill you out with three beautiful ballads in a row mid-album. Then it's back to finish you off with some commercial hard rock at the end.
Listening to this record from start to finish is a must do and restores some of the faith I have in artists that still believe in the art of creating an album rather than a bunch of iTunes singles stuck together. Highlights of the album are indeed the whole album. Not one duff moment to be heard at all here.
Love Bites (So Do I) and Mz. Hyde are simply insane. Attitude you can't teach.
I Miss The Misery is a hit single in waiting if radio could dare play anything so heavy and Freak Like Me is as modern, yet melodic as it comes.
Slowing things down are three very different ballads. The largely uptempo and lush Beautiful With You is something Heart would be proud to call their own; In Your Room is mellower still and by definition a pure melodic rock song; Break In is simply stunning. Beautiful lyrics and beautiful emotional vocals from Lzzy. Another hit single.
To ease back into the heavier groove Rock Show builds you in and is a rather commercial rocker with a great chorus.
Daughters Of Darkness is just the band getting down and dirty, as is the very modern but hugely appealing You Call Me A Bitch Like It's A Bad Thing.
American Boys is about as commercial a hard rock song you can get and the chorus is melodic bliss.
Here's To Us is a fricken gem of a track. Heartfelt and emotional yes, but ass kicking at the same time. More outstanding vocals, truly great. Noteworthy to see Glee has already snatched up the track and used it well (even if it's altered to fit that PG format).
|H.E.A.T. Address The Nation||earMusic|
Swedish new-era melodic rock saviours H.E.A.T. blew people away with their debut album which came out of nowhere a few years back. It was a modern day melodic rock masterpiece, no doubt. Their second album Freedom Rock saw them take the foot off the accelerator, with a more varied release and a less satisfying production style. It was still very good, just not close to the impossibly brilliant debut.|
A couple of years of vocalist turmoil saw them replace original singer Kenny Leckremo with Swedish Idol winner Erik Gronwall, who was impressing folks all on his own. And who could forget his Idol audition vocal when he blew apart Skid Row's 18 & Life.
The hugely anticipated result is album number three - Address The Nation - a record that takes us back to the super tight production of the debut and the razor sharp anthemic style of those songs.
But it adds in the different vocal style of Erik, so in reality, the new H.E.A.T. album is once again one with its own personality.
But let's get right to the point – what a freeking amazing album it is! The guys have absolutely nailed it again with this gem of a melodic rock release, with its world class production and 10 'get to the point' tracks that are over way too fast.
This album to me is the sum of parts made up from the likes of Giant, Def Leppard and Eric Martin.
Breaking The Silence builds like any good opening anthem should, but nothing prepares you for the mammoth heights this song soars. Erik simply sounds incredible as he reaches notes impossible for mere mortals. Thumping drums, killer guitar solo and fist thumping rhythm, all with that monster chorus. Melodic rock perfection!
The lead single Living On The Run is intro'd by a classic 80s keyboard fill, and again builds through a reasonable restrained verse. But the chorus is nothing short of glorious again. You just can't turn this type of song up loud enough.
Falling Down is the third big rocker in a row and while it isn't quite as massive as the two songs prior, it features a very effective vocal and another very catchy chorus.
I doubt anyone will challenge The One And Only for anthemic power ballad of 2012. This is yet another monster song and more signs of melodic rock perfection. The emotion in Erik's voice is amazing and the song's chorus is out of this world. And the high notes being touched are simply not fair! No one can sing along to this in tune!
Better Off Alone is a hard edged driving rocker with another hugely melodic verse/chorus where both guitar and keyboards get their time to shine.
In And Out Of Trouble sees the pace drop back for a moment. This is a really commercial 80s pop/rocker complete with saxophone and a simple, sing-along chorus. Shades of Eddie Money with that sax going strong.
Need Her is a simpler straight forward rocker with another instant chorus and solid beat.
Heartbreaker picks up the pace and takes us back to the 80s again. A feel good mid-tempo rocker complete with big harmony vocals once again.
It's All About Tonight is another album highlight for me (even though there are no weak tracks). It just has that swagger and groove you can't teach bands. A pumping rock track that builds to a climactic chorus and those big harmonies again, not to mention Erik's amazing vocals.
Downtown is the album's “left turn” track. Its moody, it's subdued and it has a haunting feel to it. And as subtle as the chorus is compared to others on the album, it always stays in my head afterwards. A nice chance of pace to close what is an amazing album.
|Tyketto Dig In Deep||Frontiers Records|
Tyketto return for their first release featuring the original line-up since the band's second album Strength In Numbers back in 1994. To say this release has been hugely anticipated is a massive understatement, so it is probably one of those albums that will be heavily debated amongst fans over the coming months.|
I've had an interesting time getting to know this album. It took more time than I anticipated and I think I have reached a conclusion that will stand as accurate as could possibly be. So after many many plays, I say that while this is a very strong melodic rock record, there are also a few disappointing factors that come into play.
First – it's great to have these guys back as a band and it's terrific to hear the booming voice of Danny Vaughn in this format, plus that crunching guitar sound of Brooke St. James. This is a worthy album for most fans of Tyketto, but at the same time it isn't as pure a Tyketto album in the style of the monster classic debut Don't Come Easy and the also classy Strength In Numbers.
Yes, the band has updated their sound – but only slightly – and that's not an issue for me here at all. What I hear on Dig In Deep is more influence from the band Vaughn with only touches of classic Tyketto. Danny Vaughn's solo style is the dominant force here and interestingly I think his vocals have been influenced by his long stint in the Eagles tribute band he tours with.
Dig In Deep is part hard hitting Tyketto and part mid-western acoustic driven melodic rock – which in itself isn't a problem, but those looking for a repeat of the harder edge Tyketto such as was the case with Don't Come Easy, aren't going to get it here. And that massive drum sound isn't in place either.
There are a few songs that find the band rocking hard, but overall appeal will be for those that also liked the stripped back and more acoustic driven sound of those Vaughn albums.
And while there are a few simply stunning songs on this new album (as hoped), there is also a couple of tracks I found harder to appreciate and definitely took some time to grow on me. The guys are a lot older now and I think the urgency in the songwriting is not there as it was in the early days.
Track By Track:
Faithless is the opening track, first single and instant stand out from the album. Easily the best track, it is also the heaviest track, the most recognizably 'classic Tyketto' track and the most anthemic. If there were more tracks like this on the album, it would have been almost impossible to beat for album of the year.
Love To Love mixes electric and acoustic throughout, but falls into the heavier side of things with electric guitar dominating. A strong vocal and guitar riff make it a winner, but the chorus could be bigger.
Here's Hoping It Hurts is a lyrically biting song with some icy words for someone out there. Love the lyrics and the chorus is super catchy. Electric and acoustic guitars take even honours but it still remains an uptempo track at heart.
The mid-tempo Battle Lines features a strong harmony chorus, but the song itself is more a stripped back/earthy Vaughn influenced track.
The Fight Left In Me has a kick ass guitar soloing intro and sounds like it might just explode. But it sadly manages to remain restrained within itself. The hard edged guitar riff is great to hear and the chorus is super catchy again, albeit in a more laid back acoustic driven way before electric guitars kick back in again.
Evaporate is yet another track that bounces back and forth between electric and acoustic influences with the chorus definitely a Vaughn styled acoustic singalong in Danny's best mid-western delivery.
Monday is another acoustic dominated mid-to-uptempo track. Catchy chorus, but yet again it's another track with that stripped back midwestern rock influence that seems to be ingrained into several tunes.
Dig In Deep is a far more powerful track with a heavier vocal and more electric than acoustic guitars and a somewhat progressive drum rhythm.
Sound Off is one track I struggled with and continue to do so. The verse is classic Tyketto, but the chorus is awful. I just don't like it. Hard to appreciate the verse so much only to be hit with a disappointing chorus.
Let This One Slide is another mid-uptempo track that sounds closer to classic Tyketto and it remains another of my favorites. A good strong chorus too.
The album closes with another track I haven't warmed to. This Is How We Say Goodbye is a slow acoustic ballad that could have come from any Vaughn album and just doesn't work for me.
|Jeff Scott Soto Damage Control||Frontiers Records|
Jeff Scott Soto returns with his new Damage Control album – a self-reflective title which the singer freely sings about in the album's title track. “Forget about my vanity, this is damage control…”|
It's an interesting state of mind for the singer to be in. Jeff's referring to his last solo album which was a left turn from the melodic hard rock base that he has built his career upon. However different the last album might have been, Beautiful Mess was still a brilliantly crafted album of pop, rock and soul that was both haunting and deftly personal at the same time.
But it didn't appeal to a wider audience (as unfair as that might be) and Jeff decided over time that his legacy must remain in rock music where he belongs. The success of the W.E.T. project only strengthened that belief amongst his fanbase.
So here we have Damage Control. An album that for me is an interesting contrast. First of all – the album seems so amazingly tight and cohesive, packed to the rim with everything JSS is known for and is best at. But it is all done with such a smooth delivery that it seems almost effortless. It's just how well Jeff does this stuff.
Damage Control is to me the ultimate – the definitive – JSS album. If someone was to ask me what Jeff Scott Soto was all about – this is what I would be playing.
But not the standard release. This album is available in an 11 track regular version and a deluxe 14 track (plus DVD) package. The regular version does not tell the whole JSS story, nor does it sound as balanced as the deluxe version.
See, Jeff was a metal singer in another life sometime back. We all know he can do smooth, we all know he can do AOR and melodic rock in blissful quality. But he can also do heavy. The deluxe version adds 3 important – no, vital – tracks to complete the whole Damage Control picture. Two contemporary metal tinged tracks and one AOR ballad. That helps make this album the complete picture of whom JSS the artist is.
And helping Jeff deliver the good is a stack of great names, including guitarist Joel Hoekstra (Night Ranger, Rock Of Ages), who co-writes a couple of tunes; drummer Casey Grillo (Kamelot) and special guests Jamie Borger and Nalle Påhlsson (Treat) and Dave Meniketti (Y&T).
Track By Track:
Give A Little More is a moody and intense introduction to the album, modern guitars and a great attitude, but a melodic verse and swagger filled chorus.
Damage Control has that same hard edge to it, but in a smooth, super-produced way. The lyrics are excellent and the layered vocals and harmonies are trademark JSS production sound. There is no mistaking who this is and he means business. These tracks take off where Lost In The Translation left us.
Look Inside Your Heart is the first of several more straight forward melodic rock tracks that mix the sound of this overall production with the classic AOR of Prism. The chorus here is perfect and layered with Jeff's own backing vocals.
Die A Little has to be one of the picks for Song Of The Year. Everything about this track is perfect JSS-AOR and I love it to pieces.
Take U Down is where metal Jeff takes a stand. It's the perfect counterbalance to the AOR of the last tune. The tuned down guitars and heavy beat/shredding riff drive this song into the heaviest places Jeff has visited as a solo artist. And it's only part of the deluxe version. Great energy here and the closing sequence is brilliant.
If I Never Let Her Go steers us straight back into AOR mode and while it might seem that the album's cohesiveness could come undone here, it just doesn't. It's a very smooth transition despite the different styles. Another great mid-tempo melodic anthem here. Tears That I Cry is a more urgent rocker with a melodic heart, but a heavier exterior.
BonaFide is the big ballad of the album and what a ballad it is. Heartfelt, emotional and that big big soaring chorus that longtime fans will love.
Elena is another of the deluxe bonus tracks, but this isn't heavy in any way – it's another perfectly crafted, smooth as silk melodic rocker with a big catchy chorus.
Krazy World is a more driving, guitar heavy rocker with a big beat and an infections chorus.
How To Love Again is yet another smooth uptempo melodic rocker, catchy chorus and harmony vocals included. Longtime fans will love.
AfterWorld turns back to the heavy vibe again. Not the catchiest track on the album, but it fits into the flow of the album well and cranks up that guitar again.
NeverEnding War is another ballad of sorts, but not a power ballad – a more intense moment of reflection and overall, a really class song.
Afraid To Die closes the deluxe edition album by crunching our ears into submission with the heaviest and perhaps most alternative sounding track Jeff has released to date (under his own name).
|Trixter New Audio Machine||Frontiers Records|
Ridiculed by some for their million selling debut, then revered for their anthemic melodic rock masterpiece Hear! Trixter split not too long after that and haven't made a record together in 20 years. But far from inactive, the guys have been doing their own thing to far more critical acclaim than their original band was ever given credit for.|
Steve Brown is a constant force with his one man shows, Van Halen cover band and melodic modern rock bands Throwan Rocks, Soaked, 40ft Ringo and Stereo Fallout; plus bassist PJ is with modern rockers Ra.
So after touring together again and releasing new and archive live material, it was finally time for Trixter to record again. The result – New Audio Machine – is an album of two different styles, but both work together and both sound great.
Given that the guys had all been in modern rock projects prior to this, I had a natural expectation that the new studio album would reflect that. It does in a few places (which is a small part of the album's personality), but the far more dominant personality within this is big sounding, old-school party hard rock!
It really surprised me how old-school this sounds in places and how much old fashioned energy the record has. For example, the opening cut Drag Me Down just blows me away with power. With swagger and attitude more suited to Lynch Mob or Motley Crue, the album's acoustic intro explodes into a bonafide hard rocker.
Then it's straight into Get On It, with more bombastic drumming, hard riffing and another attitude laced chorus.
Dirty Love is so 80s it isn't funny, mixing AC/DC riffing with Def Leppard style harmonies.
Machine is straight out of the AC/DC stadium filler handbook, giving this album a truly dynamic and explosive start.
Live For The Day is the first track to showcase the “otherside”, that is a more modern and contemporary approach, with a more complex structure and a more laid back approach. I don't have writing credits, but I know Glen Burtnik is on here somewhere – I'd swear that this is his moment. A terrific mid-tempo ballad of sorts.
Ride goes straight back to the Def Leppard style harmonies and the harder edge guitar style.
Physical Attraction is another old school rocker, but I'm not into this track as much. Doesn't grab me and the chorus is pretty weak.
But in contrast, the next song and lead single Tattoo's & Misery is an anthemic masterpiece mixing old and new, working perfectly.
The Coolest Thing is another fabulous track and another with a more contemporary style that could see it at home on radio anywhere.
Save Your Soul is a fist punching hard rock anthem with a good chorus and lots of harmonies.
And closing the album is Walk With A Stranger, a pretty simple rocker that isn't quite as sharp as some other tunes, but I like the chorus and its energy.
|Jack Blades Rock N Roll Ride||Frontiers Records|
Jack Blades is back in the game with his second solo album. And the good news for fans is that the album continues on the great work of the last Night Ranger album and blows Jack's debut solo album out of the water.|
Backed by an all-star cast of friends and familiar names, the diverse, but rocking album features Night Ranger alumni Kelly Keagy, Joel Hoekstra, Brad Gillis and Eric Levy, plus guests Will Evankovich, Brian Tichy, Christian Cullen, Alan Hertz plus Jack's own son Colin Blades.
This album has a much more cohesive feel than Jack's debut, which wandered a bit too much. But it still has a diversity that sums up Jack's musical influences and despite featuring all Night Ranger members; it has its own unique feel.
There are fist pumping anthems such as Back In The Game, Rock N Roll Ride, Love Life, the groovy Rise And Shine and the brilliantly anthemic Born For This.
The acoustic driven tempo of Shaw/Blades is touched upon with the retro vibe of West Hollywood (written with son Colin); Don't Give Up (with its Grade A chorus) and Anything For You – featuring perfectly harmonized lead vocals from Robin Zander during the chorus. Having heard this, I think Mr. Zander and Mr. Blades should talk about future collaborations.
There is only one proper ballad and that is the killer Hardest Word To Say, with a chorus to die for.
Say You Will is another anthemic rocker and Hey Now is an acoustic pop song to close the album.
|Crazy Lixx Riot Avenue||Frontiers Records|
I love both of the first two Crazy Lixx albums – the last one New Religion is still one of the best albums of its kind to come out of Sweden in recent years. Their mix of thumping hard rock with Def Leppard style anthems and some of that glorious Swedish attitude was gold to my ears.|
But 2 minutes into Riot Avenue, I knew something had changed (besides the lineup), the style of the first two records was out the window.
Gone are the Def Leppard and Kiss influences, instead the band are now on the dirtier, straight ahead, raw, rock n roll vibe of AC/DC meets Buckcherry.
The pomp and anthemic choruses have been replaced with simple structures and there are noticeably less harmonies and more scream-induced lead vocals.
On the plus side, the production is razor sharp and the album rocks harder than ever before. The new duel guitar feed makes things louder and more in your face.
But for me – the songs are just not there like they were.
There are a still a few absolute gems here - Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Young Blood and Riot Avenue are clearly the three best tracks, but after opening the album with those, it's all downhill.
The songs simply sound too much the same and I really have struggled with big parts of the album. The mid-tempo gritty rocker Heatseeker has a good chorus as does Sweet, Bad & Beautiful, but the rest…sorry.
The album closes with a big 6 minute heavy ballad, but again, nothing like the quality of the first two albums.
|Tom Galley - The Creater Of Phenomena Awakening||Escape Music|
The title of these last couple of “Phenomena” releases has always confused. "From Tom Galley, the Creator of Phenomena”? That to me just says that this album is loosely based on his original concept and he has little to do with it. And it seems this is the last of these so titled albums, so go figure. I have no writing credits, so I have no idea if Tom has any part in this album, but of all the credits I do have, he is only listed as co-producer.|
The rest – and the absolutely bulk of this album – belongs to Martin Kronlund and the Kronlund Backing Band team of Imre Daun and Henrik Thomsen + guests. But what a list of guests!
To review the album, one has to delve into each of the songs. Some work, some don't and overall the album is a little disjointed, but does feature some fine melodic hard rock moments.
Smash It Up (Lee Small: Vocals, Mat Sinner: Bass, Magnus Karlsson: Lead Guitars) is a slow, but hard rocking track with some solid Small vocals. Not obviously catchy, but it hangs in there and sticks in your brain.
Reality (Toby Hitchcock: Vocals, Mike Slamer: Lead Guitars) is a nice mix of talents but again, isn't the catchiest tune I've ever heard and Toby's at the gruffest point of his vocal limits here.
Homeland (Rob Moratti: Vocals, Martin Kronlund: all Guitars) is the great song from the classic Glenn Hughes album From Now On. Interesting to hear someone like Rob sing it in that far higher octave. It works, but hard to match the original.
Going Away (James Christian: Vocals, Tommy Denander: Guitars) is the pairing of old friends Tommy and James and is a pretty moody rock track.
Gotta Move (Ralf Scheepers: Vocals, Christian Wolff & Tommy Denander: Guitars) is one of the better and more memorable tracks. Pretty heavy too, but Ralf uses a very melodic tone here.
How Long (Lee Small: Vocals, Martin Kronlund: Guitars), features more great vocals and continues the rather uncommercial and left of center style of the Phenomena legacy.
Shake (Mike DiMeo: Vocals, Martin Kronlund: Guitars), nope, doesn't work for me. Too plodding without ever making a point.
Fighter (Terry Brock: Vocals, Steve Newman: Guitars and backing vocals) is again uncommercial and intense, but Terry manages to make a positive vocal mark with his track.
Dancing Days (Niklas Swedentorp: Lead Vocals with all Coldspell members), is pretty decent and in the traditional mold of the early Phenomena albums.
Stand Up For Love (Chris Antblad: Vocals, with JAVA Gospel Choir) has Chris Antblad's pop/rock stamp all over it. A nice little song, but the softer pop nature of it is totally out of character with the rest of the album.
|Departure Hitch A Ride||Escape Music|
The sound of a new Departure album takes me back to when I first started this site and all the best “new AOR” was still coming out of the USA. Their debut came in 1998 and the last album was as far back as 2001! And this, being album number 4, sees Mike Walsh using singer number 4. It makes a relationship between albums a little hard to follow when there is a new singer every time. |
This time around it is Swedish singer Andi Kravljaca (Silent Call) who straightens out his style to match the straight forward pomp-AOR of Mike Walsh's compositions. This is a very well produced (by Mike Walsh) and mixed album (mixing by Martin Kronlund again) and it packs a more powerful punch than the previous albums.
It also has a more European feel thanks to Kronlund's mix and Andi's vocal style.
The first half of the album moves along beautifully with the AOR/melodic rock delight of Nowhere To Go, You Don't Need To Do This Anymore and the organ drenched Waiting For Rain To Come.
Solider Of Fortune and LuvSick seem to have a simpler mid-tempo style, but it is the intense, but more personal Roses that sticks out for me in this mid-album run.
It was here that the album fell away for me initially and I really had to work hard to get through it for the first several listens. I just don't think the songs in the second half are as strong as the first half.
However, Fly has a good chorus and the big ballad Without You is also ear catching – maybe because it sounds like a complete rip-off of Bon Jovi's I'd Die For You.
|Furyon Gravitas||Frontiers Records|
British metallers Furyon are touted as one of the bands for the future and certainly have the pedigree and backing to make it. The band formed out of the ashes of melodic rock outfit Pride (although there's no mention of this in the band's bio), changing course to this more contemporary metal vision. Probably a wise move by the guys knowing the state of the melodic scene financially, but fans of Pride must realize that sound has been left totally behind.|
This is modern metal with retro influences of Alice In Chains, Black Sabbath and others.
Gravitas is a very challenging album to get into. It's very heavy which is ok, but also very contemporary, which is harder for me to like, especially with the vocals.
It's dark and grungy and it is absolutely singular in its hard hitting approach. There is some brilliant musicianship going on here and some very long songs (6, 7 and 8 minute tracks alongside 3 and 4 minute songs). Intelligent songwriting and thinking man's metal, yes, absolutely. Something for all? Not even close. I love the tight sound and the intensity of the record, but the style isn't for me personally and because of that fact, I know a number of other melodic fans will find it challenging too.
The vocal style isn't to my liking either, but there is no doubt Matt Mitchel's range and exceptional delivery will impress modern metalheads.
|One Man's Trash History||As Is|
Interesting album. The initial press info was never clear on just who was behind this project, despite the very prominent advertising of Jimi Jamison as the frontman. The band is formed and run by German guitarist Frank Zahl. The rest of the band is German also and Jimi has been recruited as frontman. Jimi and the band received quite a bit of local traction in Germany for the lead single Restless Kind.|
It's kinda strange to hear a German band so obviously influenced by the American contemporary country scene, but whatever the case, it is done well and Jimi's vocals are perfectly matched for the music. He's no stranger to dabbling in the southern brand of pop.
So while a few of the tracks are straight ahead pop/rock, the majority have a country-ish tinge, with a couple of tracks attracting a southern boogie vibe.
An open mind is needed in places and secondly, the production is pretty sparse in places and the mix isn't always balanced in favor of certain instruments.
There isn't a lot of layering going on here and it can occasionally sound a little thin.
But at the heart of things is an album of impressive songs – mixing a southern brand of melodic rock (Real Thing, The Restless Kind, History, Lose My Mind, Out Of Control) with country/pop (Meadowland, She Shines) and a few country ballads (Through Your Eyes, Tears In My Eyes).
The two bonus acoustic tracks just further strengthen the country vibe of the album.
|Frozen Rain Ahead of Time||Avenue Of Allies|
Frozen Rain belongs to Belgium's Kurt Vereecke, who founded the band and plays keyboards, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals. The debut album is now four years old and the line-up is slightly different here – most notably with the inclusion of established vocalist Carsten Schulz. The debut was a very loose sounding record in a traditional European AOR style. It definitely had its charms. |
The new album is somewhat of a different beast all-together. In fact, aside from appealing to generally the same audience, this is a brand new band.
The sound is more uptempo and tougher overall, melodic rock instead of AOR and Carsten changes the whole dynamic with his vocal style.
This is now closer to Evidence One which will please some considering that band put their album plans on hold. The songs are also longer, allowing some expanded instrumentation.
Highlights over the album include the uptempo Forever, where guitars and keybo