|Bang Tango From The Hip||Perris Records|
This is another album I have had trouble warming to. Basically I haven't got a lot of patience for albums that don't sound as sonically good as they should these days and the new Bang Tango is perhaps the roughest release of the band's career.|
I absolutely adore Dancing On Coals, that album was a truly original piece of work in a time where there were a lot of carbon copy bands making waves.
Of course this is a completely different line-up than back in the heyday. The guys at times capture the spirit of the original band on occasion, while at other times they move towards a rougher punkish delivery.
I think the thing here is that I'm just not sold on the songs. The opening rocker It's All Ok works pretty well as does the mid-album Mother Mary and Get Used To It, but elsewhere, such as One More Spin, Go Go Go and the very rough Carry Me Up don't work for me at all.
And at a mere 31 minutes playing time, there is no room for fillers at all.
|Quiet Riot Rehab||Chavis Records|
I have had this for a few weeks now and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I think I must just accept that it is not for me.|
I have read several reviews for the album, all of which are very positive. And I can see where these people are coming from, as the record has a definite style and feel and I think the band has realized their goal of making a new record with a fresh sound and brining the band into the 21st Century. But, personally speaking, I'm not sure I want to be there with them. I still have fond memories of the band's old school sound and to hear them modernize with tuned down guitars and a certain retro flavored classic rock meets 70s blues feel is something I'm not getting into.
The record has a very organic live in the studio sound, and singer Kevin DuBrow sounds pretty good in this setting. I think once you get your head around the style change and the new heavy, raw sound, things improve and there are some strong songs on offer.
However I can imagine some folk won't get that far as this is a very different beast to the Quiet Riot we all remember.
|Royal Hunt 2006 Live||Frontiers Records|
Royal Hunt's new "live" album features 15 tracks and 90 minutes of music over the two discs.|
But what is on offer is pretty good stuff, even if it the release is aimed squarely at established Royal Hunt fans.
The tracks picked concentrate on the John West era of the band, with a few old classics thrown in for good measure. West covers those as he does everything – with gusto.
He is one hell of a singer and I enjoy everything he appears on.
This live set also features new members Kenneth Olsen (drums), Per Schelander (bass) and Marcus Jidell (guitars). The band doesn't skip a beat, with mainstay Andre Andersen still running the show.
Recording quality is very good, although a little on the raw side, which I state as a positive, as I hate polished and overdubbed live albums, unless that is part of a concept.
So, the record feels nice and live and there is plenty of energy coming through the speakers, helped by an enthusiastic audience. The show was recorded/filmed at St. Petersburg's Music Hall in Russia – new frontiers for the band that has been going well over a decade now.
Then there is the DVD. Film quality is good – the new line-up of Royal Hunt can be seen enjoying themselves and hammering out the classics. It is a solid live show and decent quality DVD release. By now most will be aware that I had reservations about the lead vocals - not the quality of them - but the fact that the pictures are sometimes out of sync with the audio coming through. That lead me to believe that perhaps they were fixed after the fact - it happens all the time, but in this case John West personally guarantees that everything you hear is 100% live, which is why he should be applauded for a great performance, and why I enjoyed the CD as much as I did.
I still have an issue with the out of sync pictures, which for me does take away from the overall enjoyment of the DVD portion of this live release. I will stick to the CD when I need a fix. I know some fans agree with me on this and some others disagree strongly. It will come down to personal taste as to whether these few problems take away from the release, but it remains a quality performance by the band.
|Hotwire Devil In Disguise||NL Distribution|
German melodic rockers Hotwire return with a new release that I think will find a place with fans of European melodic hard rock and especially the already established fans of the band.|
The band delivers a strong set of songs – some a little heavier with a strong groove and some more lightweight poppier numbers. When they rock, I got a small taste of House of Shakira and at other times a more Bonfire style German melodic rock.
The band works best when on an uptempo setting; I didn't enjoy the mellower tracks as much, even though the ballad Wonderland has a nice AOR hook and melody. Hot Love is also skippable as it features a totally and obviously programmed sound.
Interesting that the guys should cover the Jimmy Barnes classic Ride The Night Away – cool song, but doesn't really work with a German accent. The rockers Skytrain and Escape are two examples of the band doing their best work, as is the excellent opening rocker Waterfalls.
A solid album, but a little up and down as far as style and impact.
|Suzi Rawn Naked||SonyBMG|
This is a great little modern pop/rock release for anyone out there that wakes up one day and feels like hearing Harem Scarem with a female vocalist.|
Except we aren't talking Mood Swings or Human Nature here – we are talking Harem doing their Rubber style modern rock or more precisely – a sound that falls into comparison with Harry Hess' solo album Another Day and Pete's own Fair Ground project.
This is produced by, played by and in part, co-written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance and features a very commercial modern pop sound that Harem fans will know all too well.
The vocals of Suzi Rawn (Canadian Idol finalist) are very welcomed and she works the material very well. Some of this is pure Harem Scarem, even to the point that she covers two Harem tracks brilliantly (and poppier) – Don't Come Easy and Understand You (both from Overload).
Pete's guitar tone is unmistakable, so if you love the Overload album, the band under the Rubber moniker and the guy's own solo projects, then this is utterly essential. If you are more old-school Harem, then take a listen first.
|Bombay Black Anger Management||Kivel Records|
I like this album a lot – it beats the band's debut for songs, production and energy. This American melodic hard rock outfit knows a good time and is happy to let you come along for the ride on their good fun party rock album, filled with tongue in cheek lyrics and in your face riffs.|
Highlights include the opening trio of songs - the rocker Without You and the poppy Better Off Dead (again with those lyrics!) and the very melodic Out Of Your Mind.
More fun with Every Time I Think Of You and then there is the album highlight – the big in your face Forget About It.
The good fun, old-school rock n roll continues throughout the album – undoubtedly a more consistent and quality filled release than their debut, which I thought had potential, but not quite the songs.
The guys close the album with an acoustic driven bonus track titled U Suck, which is more fun and games at someone else's expense.
Having had the recent advantage of seeing the guys live, I was surprised to see how incredibly energetic the band was on stage and was amazed at how heavy these songs sounded live.
All I can say is that the next step for these guys on their way to stardom is to capture that raw energy on stage and have it translate into the studio. Do that and the guys will deliver a killer record.
Tribe Of Gypsies
Dweller On The Threshold
The guys deserve a longer review than this, especially give that their sound is so complicated, original and not easy to describe.|
If you know the band, you know their style and let me tell you that the new album delivers everything they are renowned for and the quality of the songs and production is everything fans would hope for.
If you are new to the guys, track 1 might suggest to you that they are a metal band with tribal influences – which of course, is true to a point, but there is so much more.
They are a very diverse outfit that rock, but with strong Latin and South American influences, much of which comes through in the band's intense and complex percussion arrangements.
But that is just the start of it. There's modern rock, Sanata like classic rock, soulful ballads and straight ahead rock all featured here.
Ride On is a menacing rocker to open the album; Desolate Chile is eclectic rock; while Stop Bombing Each Other is the band at their most diverse.
The ballad Halo sees a more soulful side of the band come to the fore, but still the complex percussion base remains, not to mention the delicate guitar work of Roy Z.
Perfectly produced, never stagnant in its delivery and certainly not for everyone, but one hell of an interesting listen.
|Black Label Society Shot To Hell||Band Of Beer Inc.|
Zakk Wylde at his brutal best. We al know he can't sing – but we're over that now – right? Shot To Hell ranks as one of Zakk's best records to date and sees him in full swing following on from the very good Mafia release. |
There's nothing new on here that we haven't heard before, but it is done well and the songs are as strong as ever. I like his style and I love that guitar tone…all we need is another classic Ozzy album with Zakk as the true partner in crime.
If you enjoyed the last coupe of albums, then this is more fine attitude laced metal fare.
|December Radio December Radio||Slanted Records|
December Radio are doing all the right things – afterall, they have a Grammy nomination now. They are modern rock, but this still struck me as heavier than your average modern rock outfit. The guitars are tuned down, the vocals are familiar and the sound all very contemporary – so much so that you can hear this on radio – but there is also that heavier elements that might appeal to more than modern rock fans.|
There are some big rock moments here (Can't Hide, Greed, Table), and then on the other hand the guys turn in a very commercial ballad with an acoustic base (Drifter, Least Of Three).
So mix a little Pearl Jam, a little Nickelback and some AC/DC riffing and you might get something close to these guys. Interesting sound and some accessible, commercial songs on hand for modern rock fans.
|Anarion Unbroken||Majestic Rock Records|
Australian metallers Anarion further prove that Melbourne is the metal capital of Australasia. This is a powerful, traditional style metal album that fans of Iron Maiden would easily appreciate.|
The 9 track, 45 minute album is super intense and filled with a double kick-drum assault that Accept would be proud of.
I like the fact the vocals are strong and commanding, occasionally reaching for a scream, but in most cases, holding a firm tone and a good melody. The guitar work is pretty special too – lots of riffs and lots of solos.
Again a brief review, but definitely an album worth checking out for fans of traditional melodic metal such as Maiden and Priest.
|MSG Tales Of Rock N Roll||Armaggedon Music|
I should have reviewed this months ago, but I just couldn't face it. I know there are some die-had Schenker fans out there that will take great offence to this, but this album is dull.|
Not even the track featuring my favourite MSG vocalist – Robin McAuley – can inspire me. This is simply Schenker by numbers – certainly not a fitting tribute to 25 years of (mostly) amazing rock n roll.
It seems each release gets worse for Mike, so where to from here? I know I'm not alone in this view as I have read all the reviews I can find of this overly long record – none of them are great. And what was Michael thinking in joining all the songs together?
It's hard enough telling one track from another anyway – this sounds like one long hour long song. Sorry, but I long for the days of UFO or even Perfect Timing perhaps.
|Bob Seger Face The Promise||Capitol Records|
Faced with the promise of new material, I was really excited to hear this album. But much like the Tom Cochrane album just reviewed, the best part was the anticipation built up over years of waiting.|
Sadly the finished product could not deliver. The album sounds great and Bob himself is in fine voice and there too are some fine songs within this album. Just not enough of them and not of the quality we have been previously spoilt with.
And with so many releases to listen to across a wide range of styles, I simply found that I wasn't interested in returning to this album after the first couple of weeks.
That says it all really. If the class of Bob Seger cannot draw me back in, then there must be issues with the songwriting. I hope it isn't as long between the next album as it was for this one. All in all, nothing bad at all....just a little safe and predictable.
|Various Artists Rock The Bones Volume 4||Frontiers Records|
Frontiers Records releases the latest in its line of compilation albums – this one Volume 4 of the Rock The Bones series.
31 tracks are featured over 2 discs, the first concentrating on recent releases, such as John Waite, Ten, Glenn Hughes, Survivor, Shark Island and Shooting Star to name a few.|
The second disc features songs from just released albums and a couple coming up in January, offering a nice advance taste of albums from Hartmann, Jorn, Kelly Keagy, Danny Vaughn and just released tracks from Slamer, Talisman, Winger and Pretty Maids.
All in all, a good value compilation if picked up cheap and chock full of mostly high quality melodic rock and AOR. No unreleased material however will make this irrelevant for those likely to purchase many of the albums featured.
|Various Artists MTM Music 10th Anniversary||MTM|
Same deal for this compilation – this time it is MTM's turn to gather the best of their recent and upcoming releases to showcase. Featured here are new tracks from Zeno, Shiva, Jani Lane, AOR and Rain.|
Two bonuses here – the inclusion of unreleased bonus tracks from Fate, Relapsed, Silver and Vengeance offer something for fans to collect, although several other tracks are also marked unreleased –merely because the corresponding albums have not been issued yet – such as Brett Walker and Robert Louden.
The second bonus is a second CD of 15 tracks, promoting the best tracks of MTM's last 10 years.
Can't say I agree completely with their selection – the label has been responsible for a whole host of killer tracks over ten years, but there are some genuine highlights here from the likes of Danger Danger, TNT, Rick Springfield, Dare and Jaded Heart. No unreleased material on the second disc.
Both compilations here offer something similar, yet different, but both offer a generally good oversight of some quality melodic rock. Check them out...then buy the albums!
|Donnie Iris & The Cruisers Ellwood City||Primary Records|
American rocker Donnie Iris returns after a 9 year hiatus with a fired up new studio album that sees Donnie rocking in fine form.|
Also returning is the band's original drummer Kevin Valentine (Cinderella, Kiss). The record is diverse in that it moves from rock n roll to soulful pop to straight ahead commercial ballads. Then there is the few left turns such as the boogie influenced Rocque Fantastique.
And I'm not sure about the cover of Soul Man though – especially as the album's second track. Seemed out of place to me and killed the momentum of the opening track.
I think Iris fans will walk away happy and content that their man is back and sounding like he never left. To an outsider however, this rather odd collection of pop rockers might be a little hard to get into.
Whispering Jack 20th Anniversary Edition
Australian AOR icon John Farnham was a mainstay of the Oz music scene before Whispering Jack was released some 20 years ago, but it was this album that made John a household name and indeed, an entertainment icon downunder.|
This remains the biggest selling Australian album of all time and deservedly so. The high-tech AOR/pop album has a gently-does-it appeal that saw every man, women and even a few kangaroos own a copy.
Now 20 years on it has been remastered and repackaged with a bonus live DVD from the Whispering Jack Tour. The DVD has been available previously as a VHS tape and broadcast on TV and remains a classic live concert to watch – the power of this man's voice is insane. This release makes for a great package and the mid-price tag makes it even greater value for lovers of 80s high-tech AOR.
|Twisted Sister Twisted Christmas|
If you are going to do a Christmas album – if you really absolutely must do it – then this is the way it should be done.|
Twisted Sister have always played up to an image and this CD continues that trend, this time rearranging some Christmas classics to now rattle along to the original music of past Twisted hits. For example – the band's best known hit We're Not Gonna Take It is now O Come All Ye Faithful – also the first single from the release.
It is a bizarre listen – and at best is a lot of fun if not taken seriously. At worst it is perhaps a little tragic, but hey, it's the holiday season, so you have to give the guys a little slack!
Above all, it is well produced and sounds ok, so if you are looking for some hard rock to ring your Christmas bell, you best be advised to check this one out.
|Billy Idol Happy Holidays||Bodog Music|
If you are going to do a Christmas album – if you really absolutely must do it – then this is the way it should not be done. |
This is utterly horrendous. Shite even.
When Billy Idol is thinking clearly and on song, he rules - Whiplash Smile, Rebel Yell, Devil's Playground. But he is capable of making some questionable decisions through his career – Cyberpunk being the most obvious.
But now there is this new gem! What the hell was he thinking?
Ok, so there is a market for Christmas albums, but who in their right mind wants a punk/hard rock icon to do an utterly and totally serious Christmas album? Why not rock or punk it up in the same vein as Twisted Sister has?
Billy Idol is all out on his own here – no wonder, as I would think his band ran for the hills when presented with the concept for this record.
So, a solo Billy proceeds to run through 17 (yes, 17) Christmas favourites, all completely serious and all completely devoid of any kind of Idol type attitude. Billy Idol does Frank Sinatra doing White Christmas, Silver Bells etc, not to mention the gem Frosty The Snowman! (?)
Good God! If you want a nice, family friendly, sweet and cheesy Christmas recording, buy Frank Sinatra. If you want rock n roll attitude, buy Twisted Sister, A Very Hairy Christmas, Lukather's Santamental or the Screaming Santas.
Do not under any circumstances, buy this.
|My Chemical Romance The Black Parade||Reprise|
This is a thoroughly enjoyable modern rock album which mixes the popular modern punk-rock sound of bands like Green Day with a more complex classic rock style that brings influences like Queen, Meatloaf and Styx into play.|
The album is riding high atop of many charts around the world, which is no surprise given the style and the look of the band – extremely commercial and contemporary to say the least.
It's a great album for what it is – commercial modern rock – but what I really love about this release is that it is exposing kids to some music which isn't filled with simple, throw away riffing.
It is showing a younger generation that music is much more than a 2.5 minute pop song and that it can be far more complicated, layered and in-depth.
Take the lead single Welcome To The Black Parade. While the delivery is borrowed from Green Day, the band's songwriting depth is evident with Queen-like pomp and guitar parts and Meatloaf tempo changes, not to mention Styx-like layered vocals.
Definitely a promising sign that there is an audience for a rock band that doesn't go by the book – well, not at least the current book.
|Harem Scarem Human Nature||Vespa Music|
You can say what you like about any perceived bias towards Harem Scarem over the last few years in my reviews, but take a look at their creative output over the years – especially in the last 4 years since they took up the Scarem quest again – they are simply untouchable!|
The band has appealed to just about all melodic rock lovers over the years, so with each release there is a wide discussion about styles, sounds and individual preferences for different records throughout the Canadian bands career.
Everyone has their favourites, and I continue to be blown away by their consistency. You can guarantee that every album will feature at least several new classic melodic rock songs and a few fresh twists too.
This band keeps it interesting and for me, they deliver everything a melodic rock fan could want in a new record – soaring vocals, big choruses and a huge production every time.
Preferences for direction and style aside, you cannot argue that each and every Harem Scarem record is the pinnacle of melodic rock quality.
The band's last few albums have been extraordinary and I'd stack those albums up against any other artist for consistency.
I feel of lot of what I have just written is for the purpose of justifying my enthusiastic endorsement of their music – but the fans don't need any convincing – so onto the contents of Human Nature.
Harem Scarem have – in the past – received a few less than stellar reviews from me (the first Rubber album for instance was a little hit or miss, as was Big Bang Theory), but this is another total class release as far as I see it.
I said the same of Overload, but to my surprise, the majority seemed to disagree on that one! I guess many did not appreciate the band's move into darker, less commercial realms, but as a fan of the much underrated Voice Of Reason album, I saw Overload as a natural mix of the past and the band's more recent work. And I have always dug Harem's underlying dark vibe.
My views aside, the voice of the fans reached the band. Human Nature is therefore classic Harem Scarem in every sense.
This is a far more melodic release and sees the band pump out some huge AOR harmonies, while mixing the production style and direction of recent work such as Weight Of The World and Higher.
A band that has been recording this long is not likely to copy any one style, instead finding their music evolving into a mix of everything from their past. Human Nature is just that – its part Harem Scarem, part Weight Of The World, part Higher, part Mood Swings and even part Rubber, but always melodic and filled with hooks.
Track By Track:
Album number 11 opens with that familiar guitar sound we've come to love and we are away. Human Nature isn't in the band's usual style of opening with a punchy rocker. This is a mellower starter that builds to a glorious classic harmony filled Harem Scarem chorus.
Making the point that this album is less on the hard rock and more on the melody, the title track does the job perfectly and becomes yet another instant Harem classic.
Next Time Around is a little more urgent and rolls along at a nice pace. Once again, it is a perfect example of a great pop song – and does what these guys do best – gets to the point quickly. A mellower verse again gets rocking come chorus time - one I might add has a definite Mood Swings and Higher feel to it.
The rock ballad Caught Up In Your World features another warm and inviting vocal from Harry, introduced by a hard edge riff, which returns for the chorus. This is an emotional track that features some fine guitar work from Pete.
Reality is a straight forward mid-tempo melodic rocker in classic Harem style, with another great riff and melodies flying everywhere. The chorus reminds me of the very melodic run of tracks on second half of the Higher album.
Hanging On is an absolute monster ballad. This track rivals the best ballads the band has recorded in their illustrious past and overflows with passion and emotion. I love it and rate it as one of the best ballads of recent times. Comparing the band's recent ballads, this is better than All You're Getting (from Overload) and Higher (from Higher) and is up there with This Ain't Over (from Weight Of The World) for class.
The bridge and harmony vocals just add to the power of the song, which features a very demanding lead vocal.
Don't Throw It Away returns the album to a slightly rockier path, but still bathed in melodies. A punchy riff is accompanied by a swathe of harmony vocals and the chorus is another big and classic melodic Scarem anthem.
Just as every Harem album in recent times features some injection of more modern influences, so to is there a track borrowing from Queen. The moody and mellow rocker Give Love / Get Love is such a track. It's familiar, yet a little different at the same time and the punchy chorus is a clear tribute to the vocal styling of Queen.
From there we delve into this album's modern rocker – 21. This moody and harder hitting track is reminiscent of the style and mood created on Overload. It isn't as melodic as much of the rest of the album, but has its place and as already stated, I do like the darker side of the band.
Starlight is typical of the band and won't be of any surprise to long time fans. It is of course, another solid track and acts as the required light and breezy melodic rocker with the catchy chorus, designed to punctuate the more left of center tracks around it.
Going Under is a great catchy commercial modern melodic rocker and although it compares with the band's second Rubber album (Ultra Feel), it is so instantly catchy, I can't imagine any Harem fan not digging this.
Tomorrow May Be Gone closes out the European release in perfect and absolute magic form. This uptempo melodic rock anthem mixes up those Mood Swings influences with something like Killing Me from Weight Of The World and Lost from Higher.
One of the best tracks from the new album and a smashing way to finish any record.
There are always calls for the guys to repeat their classic Moon Swings album, but they haven't yet – and without that line-up back in place, they are unlikely to either.
Rather this line-up has delivered the best possible fan pleasing album they can and I believe that has been achieved. Not quite a perfect record and perhaps nothing we haven't already heard from the guys, but hell, they just do this stuff so well.
PS. I just got through listening to Overload again – man, I still love that record!
|Zion Zion||Frontiers Records|
Zion is the comeback vehicle for Canadian AOR legend Freddy Curci. Freddy's career harks back to the late 70s with Sheriff, but is best known and best loved in these circles for the utterly classic Alias album.|
Two solo albums and the heavily traded demos for the unreleased second Alias album only added to the aura surrounding Curci's famed pitch-perfect vocals.
An announcement many moons ago about a comeback rock album from Curci raised a lot of interest and a great deal of excitement.
But how long have we now waited for this release? The most recent update on Freddy's very up to date website is from 2003 and states that Zion is nearing completion!
So after more than 4 years waiting, it is with great anticipation that Zion is finally delivered to hungry fans.
And because of that anticipation, there is going to be great disappointment upon hearing this album. It is simply not of a standard you would expect from someone of Freddy's pedigree and background.
It disappoints in almost every department - from the average production quality, to the lack of killer songs to a very sub-par vocal performance, which at times is hard to listen to.
Since the original announcement, Curci has suffered health problems where he feared he wouldn't be able to sing again, but why exactly this album took 5 years to complete is anyone's guess.
It certainly doesn't sound as if 5 years of effort went into it. And I say that with a very heavy heart, as I am a huge fan of Freddy Curci. I own everything…and when I interviewed him a couple of years back, I found a very warm and humble guy to talk to.
But the hard fact remains that this album is simply not what it should be.
The original master was so bad I considered it unlistenable. Since then the recordings were sent to producer Dennis Ward to be remastered.
Ward did a good job there – he evened out the album's sound and gave it some sense of professionalism. But while he can remaster the sound, he can't re-record some of the performances within, nor could he re-write some of the songs.
And frankly, some of the production still suffers here, with poor tones affecting guitar and drum parts and lead vocals that at times sound as if they were recorded in a shed.
It's all very upsetting for me as a long time fan to state these facts – and I imagine just as upsetting for the poor record label that invested considerable money and time in this venture.
Track By Track:
All It Takes Is A Minute should be a contender for Song Of The Year. But it's not because it is simply assembled badly. I could forgive the hollow guitar sound and the crappy repetitive cymbal noise, but the chorus – which really could have been a monster – comes and goes with little effect due to some poorly arranged vocals and out of place harmonies. Then there are Freddy's lead vocals, which at times sound as if they were recorded in the shed out back, and at other times sound horribly strained. A tragic, if not criminal waste of a potentially great song.
How Much Longer Is Forever is a new version of a track recorded originally for the second Alias album. Again the song suffers sound issues, it appears muddy and a little muffled, again with the vocals being the worst offender. To be honest, the original demo is far superior in quality. On that track Curci's vocals are amazing. They simply are no longer what they once were.
The second half of the album has some more redeeming features, but for now it just gets worse. The modern rock influenced One Man Alone is horrible. And overly loud and bombastic intro is simply messy and the vocals are nothing less than painful to listen to. They are strained to the point of being unlistenable and clearly out of tune in other places.
The uptempo rocker Dangerous is a little easier on the ears. The sound is still muddy and the guitars hollow, but at least the vocals sound more comfortable.
I'm Running Home sees the required elements of a good song align more favorably. This is a big rock ballad with a catchy chorus and a nice pick up in tempo towards the end. I'm not sold on the guitar sound, but there is some nice soloing here.
Everybody's Watching is possibly the heaviest thing I have ever heard Freddy sing and I like that vibe. The sound is still muddy, but the song at least has real attitude. This features a tough vocal and considering the earlier tracks, I am surprised Freddy holds it together.
No Surprise is produced by Fabrizio Grossi and has that all too obvious guitar/drum sound he carries everywhere with him. A little modern rock influence creeps in here again including some vocal effects. The song really doesn't feature any great hook and is pretty forgettable.
The Sky Is Falling is a straight ahead melodic rock with a terrific chorus and a better sound that I wish was carried through the whole album.
The Devil's Dance is an intense mid-tempo ballad with a great lyric, solid hook and some passionate vocals at last.
Who Do You Think You Are is another dark rocker with strong harmony vocals and a decent lead vocal. There's an Alias vibe to the track, but updated for the current year.
Crash The Mirror is the darkest and most confronting song of the whole album. A great way to close out the record – the slow, moody and intense rock track features a piercing vocal that I wish there was more of on the album. It's not the Freddy Curci of old, but the song has balls.
|Cosmo Alien||Frontiers Records|
The name Cosmo is now synonymous with AOR legends Boston. Fran Cosmo is of course one of the main voices behind Boston's last couple of studio albums and was frontman for Orion The Hunter (formed with Boston's Barry Goudreau).|
On the last studio album Corporate America, Fran was joined by son Antonio (or Anthony), a partnership they have continued on into their own band.
Naturally with so many connections to Boston - a band that defines classic rock – one could be forgiven for expecting the musical output of Cosmo to be of a similar nature. No so. Herein lies a challenge to the record label.
With expectations of a classic rock themed album along the lines of the bombastic, melodic bliss of Boston, how does one advise that this album is nothing like Boston, nor in the same musical realm?
If anyone buys this album on the strength of the name alone, with expectations of what they guys have delivered in their roles with Boston, you risk disappointment.
Cosmo is not pink and fluffy – Cosmo is a modern rock band and in keeping with that, Alien is filled with tuned-down guitars, at times aggressive riffing and modern rock production effects.
There are a couple of melodic tracks here – not surprisingly they are the highlights of the album for me.
The heavy rock ballad Don't Tell Me Your Lies has touches of classic, pomp and modern rock plus those Boston harmonies, and quite an epic feel. The chorus vocal is something else too.
Helicopter is an acoustic driven pop rock ballad with a glorious chorus and some well-timed lush harmony vocals.
Woman is also more melodic rock friendly, but compared to elsewhere on the album, these songs almost seem out of place.
The consistent theme throughout the record is for aggressive riffs, a Led Zeppelin-goes-modern rock style of sound. Go no further than the opening track Communication for an updated tribute to the kings of hard rock.
When I Close My Eyes and No Surprise are highlights of the modern portion of the album, but the rest are largely forgettable for me. The songs and more importantly, the choruses are just not consistently strong enough. And that I think is the album's biggest problem – lack of killer songs.
|Rain Stronger||MTM Music|
In order to review the second Rain album I had to return to the 2002 debut to refer my memory. That album has always been held in high regard by myself, but it is quite a different animal than the new album Stronger.|
In fact, it wasn't until I completed my playback that I realized how different it was.
There are many common threads between the records – the line-up being the most obvious – but both records have distinctly different feels.
The debut was a catchy little album that featured a predominately acoustic base. It was written mainly by guitarist Lars Forseth and album contributor Sonny Crow.
Then there is Stronger – an album that generally sounds as if it is a heavier affair with a more contemporary sound and a much more pronounced contribution from singer Michael Bormann. He is responsible for delivering 5 songs himself and is involved in co-writing the rest of the material with lead guitarist Tore Moren and the rest of the band at times.
The album's heavier edge is driven by a more obvious electric guitar component. In fact, the acoustic side seems toned down and then there is the darker more contemporary tone in place on several tunes – that's to start with though. As you get to know it, the album mellows somewhat and you can hear elements of the debut shine through.
Track By Track:
Do You Like It is somewhat of a surprising track to kick off the album - dark, slow, heavy and nothing like anything from the debut. It's probably a good choice then, as it sets up the feel and general approach of the album as a whole.
The song itself features a strong, memorable vocal and although simple, the chorus remains catchy.
Insobriety lifts the tempo a little and isn't quite as dark as the opening track. There's definitely a Jaded Heart feel about this one which takes a few listens to appreciate.
Get Over It is intense. That menacing guitar tone returns and the piano part is almost spooky. The track picks up speed and while the chorus isn't big or instant, it makes its point.
This is probably a good point to lighten the mood a little and Crazy does just that. A little acoustic works accompanies a strong verse melody and the catchy chorus sees electric guitars beef up the sound.
I'd Die For You is a pure power ballad with all the trimmings. A slow intro, a build up to a powerful ending, an emotional vocal and chorus – this could have fit easily onto any Bon Jovi album of the last 10 years.
Flesh And Blood has that darker vibe again, yet a relatively free flowing tempo. It also features a great raspy vocal, some nice harmonies and a very strong chorus. It is one of my favorites of the album.
Let Me Be Your Favorite is a straight ahead melodic hard rocker and positioned well within the album.
The Other Side is another very fine power ballad and comes at a juncture in the album where things take a softer turn.
Deserve It is a feel good melodic rocker that could easily have come from the debut.
Right By Your Side is a largely acoustic driven track that gives Bormann a chance to shine with a killer vocal. It also gives the last part of the album a vibe similar to that of the debut.
Lovesong closes out the album with another ballad – but this time a more uptempo rock ballad that again sounds like it was recorded for the last couple of Bon Jovi records.
|RockStar Supernova Supernova||Burnett/Epic|
The much talked about second season of RockStar ended as most had guessed – with the pre-picked Lukas Rossi "chosen" as the band's singer, edging out 15 other contenders. |
The show was thrown together in the weeks approaching deadline as the band producers really wanted (Alice In Chains) weren't interested. In flies Mr. Reality Tommy Lee, who through most of the show couldn't have appeared less interested – unless giving a few of the female singers suggestive remarks.
He brought one time GNR guitarist Gilby Clarke with him and also former Metallica bassist Jason Newstead. In the producers chair and helping arrange, write and formulate the debut album for the band was Butch Walker – although he had the good sense to only appear on one episode of the TV show. The music for the debut album was recorded while the show ran and extra work -including (obviously) the vocals - was added towards the end and after the show.
The result – an album as equally confused as the show was and with about as much lasting merit.
The biggest problem with this album is that is just doesn't serve anyone.
Modern rock fans aren't going to buy this. Melodic rock fans aren't going to warm to the modern influences. Nu-breed fans will just buy a Butch Walker album and get the real thing and fans of Motley Crue, GNR and Metallica are quite likely to die laughing when they here songs as lame as Leave The Lights On.
This gets my vote as the cheesiest song of the year and something that would never be seen on any other album featuring these guys.
The opening track It's On shows a little promise, the modern rock vibe and gnarly vocal summing up vibe created on the Rock Star TV show.
Be Yourself (and 5 Other Clichés) is pretty good too – but let's face it – it's a Butch Walker tune that probably wouldn't have been deemed good enough to make his own solo albums.
It's All Love is also an ok track if not a little bland – a moody modern rock ballad that I could hear on radio and sees vocalist Lukas in good voice.
Can't Bring Myself To Light This Fuse has the potential to be a monster ballad and features a surprisingly subtle vocal, but again, it sounds like a Butch Walker reject.
Headspin made its debut on the show and is probably the band's best chance of any airplay. This is a solid commercial modern rock ballad.
So they are the ok songs. Now for the songs that make you think WTF?
Underdog is a horrible modern rocker out of step with the rest of the album, going nowhere and doing nothing for the album whatsoever. The chorus riff was the theme song for the show, but nothing else stands out as remotely catchy.
Make No Mistake...This Is the Take is another lame track that sounds messy and without any redeeming hook.
Valentine goes absolutely nowhere and Social Disgrace follows the same path. Bland and forgettable modern rock that could be attributed to any number of other bands out there.
The album is pretty bad throughout, but guys save the worst for last. The Dead Parade is just horrid and one of the worst songs of the year. The chorus doesn't match the verse, the intro doesn't match the song and the bridge sounds like a piece of yet another song. Just horrible.
There is just no personality on the record. The band was created out of nothing and clearly hasn't carved out a niche for themselves. Perhaps that will come from touring and then recording a second album, but if the first one fails and there is no record label, who would they actually make a record for?
I believe the biggest insult I could give the album is that it is largely pointless. It doesn't really cater to anyone and the song quality is that which would embarrass the members of the bands these guys are/were attached to. Despite talk of a follow-up album already underway, will anyone even care about this release enough to warrant a sequel? I say not.
|Final Frontier Freelight||Escape Music|
Canadian saviours of pure, unadulterated 80s AOR, Final Frontier return for album number 4. It's the band's third label for their 4 albums, something I find a little perplexing. Granted the label involved for the first 2 albums was Z Records, but a band that delivers a high quality classic style AOR album at regular intervals, all of which are appreciated by fans, should not have to worry about what label they will be on from release to release.|
I hope that the guys find some comfort and satisfaction with current label Escape Music.
In a sense this is a perfect album for Escape, a label built from a consistency on concentrating on AOR releases of a classic 80s nature.
Final Frontier does not reinvent the wheel. They don't reinvent anything in fact. This is AOR by the numbers – no surprises here, but no disappointments either.
Fans of the band's first 3 albums get more of the same here.
Freelight is perhaps a little tougher than the first three – it features a more pronounced rhythm section and some impressive riffing from guitarists Mladen (Von Groove) and Lawrence Falconer. Mladen also provides bass and keyboards – the latter of which is, as usual, all over the record.
Rob Moratti as usual delivers his flawless high pitch vocals, really going over the top in a few places! He has one seriously high voice at times.
The album really gets off to a flying start, with the first 4 tracks flying along at good pace.
The title track Freelight and the moodier Foolish Pride work best of these tracks for me, but it is the classic AOR ballad of I Hope You Don't Mind that really delivers.
Bringing back memories of mid-80s soundtrack hits, the sentimental ballad should be a fan favorite.
Someone's Watching You is very close to the 80s sound of Survivor, as is the poppy feel-good All The Way.
Nothing Is Easy is another very familiar sounding ballad, but the formula is fail-safe.
I also rate the darker and more aggressive The Witches Mask and the second bonus track – the emotional, stripped back ballad Delia.
If you haven't warmed to Rob Moratti's voice and the Final Frontier style through listening to their first three albums, then nothing Freelight offers will convince you to change your mind. But, if you have found a spot in your heart for these guys, the Freelight will definitely impress.
|Riot Army Of One||Metal Heaven|
Sometimes the best surprises come from expecting nothing. That's no slight on the good name of Riot or their long history, but I really didn't have any expectations either way upon receiving this album.|
But I've hardly stopped playing it ever since. With Army Of One, Riot have delivered one of the melodic metal highlights of the year.
Once again I find myself pondering why some albums work and some don't. It all comes down to the songs.
There are 12 great songs here and I like the way they have been sequenced. The album tends to flow from the harder rocking tracks to more melodic tracks and back again, but with a consistent guitar presence there to keep things balanced.
There is the frantically paced opener Army Of One which leads into one of two very melodic songs, sandwiched between another solid hard rocker in Blinded.
Those melodic tracks are: Knocking At My Door - a curious track to succeed the opening track, but it's infectious harmony filled feel good chorus is the perfect folly for the album's heavier intentions. Then the stand out melodic rock of One More Alibi features a terrific chorus with Mike DiMeo's warm and raspy voice doing a top job.
It All Falls Down rocks at double-time again, moving into the soulful rock ballad Helping Hand.
The Mystic then provides an excuse for guitarists Mark Reale and Mike Flyntz to duel at length.
Shine is another great melodic metal track with double kick drums wailing and the voice of DiMeo powering along in a way fans of Mats Levin will definitely appreciate.
The reflective instrumental Stained Mirror follows, which leads to the album closer – Darker side Of Night - another solid rock track with a great melodic chorus.
You can't really explain that in words, but it just sounds like the band's confidence is high throughout the record. It's funny to review this with the knowledge that Mike has now joined Masterplan. That will prove to be an interesting listen sometime next year. In the meantime, enjoy this!
|Tom Cochrane No Stranger||Universal Music Canada|
Canadian Hall Of Famer Tom Cochrane is one of my musical heroes. Right up there with Rick Springfield and John Waite, Cochrane is a gifted singer/songwriter who has the ability (like those mentioned alongside him) to get directly to the heart of the matter and deliver moving, emotionally effective music – be it when he is rocking, delivering a feel good pop rocker, or getting deep on a powerful ballad.|
I rate 1987's Tom Cochrane & Red Rider and 1995's Ragged Ass Road as absolute classics, with several other albums not far behind.
That's why it breaks my heart to speak of this album as a disappointment, but it is – in a big way.
It has been 8 years since Tom's X-Ray Sierra and in that time it seems that Tom has caught old-man's disease. He has forgotten how to rock.
Actually, I can forgive the lack of rockers on the album, as that is just one side of Tom's musical personality. But the album is weighed down by slow and lackluster ballads, and relies all too much on an acoustic tone instead of Tom's usual electric fired delivery.
The album as a whole sees a more stripped down approach taken. There are few overdubs used and a more live-in-the-studio feel is present.
Tom's done this before mind you – he already has an acoustic live album to his name –which worked a treat, but the songs here just don't hold up as strong enough.
The album's opening track – The Party's Not Over is a sure fire commercial hit – and the albums only real uptempo rocker. Even here the more organic approach is evident, but the raw honestly in Tom's voice is a good trade-off.
But from this point onwards it is all ballad territory. I'm quite fond of the second track Glide, which as the title suggests, glides through the speakers and offers fans a feel good mid-tempo acoustic driven sample of the more mature songwriter Cochrane has become.
Next up While You Are Young might have done something for me – especially with the classic slide guitar and old-school Cochrane feel to it – but by the end of the album it gets lost among the sheer number of slow songs featured.
White Horse is another song that on its own has a lot of merit – a raw, honest vocal and a charming folkish influence, but in the scheme of the album has its impact limited. A slow track surrounded by slow tracks has difficulty in standing out.
The adult contemporary mid-tempo rock song Didn't Mean is the first single – an odd choice I thought, given the tempo. I should have guessed it meant that the album would not be what I was hoping for.
I speak of my frustration with the dominance of ballads on this album. Two tracks that stand out as definite highlights match the slow tempo of the album, but offer something a little different.
Rough and Tumble is an acoustic song, but it has some fire in its belly – fitting it seems, as the song pays tribute to the Canadian troops fighting overseas and also makes several references to Cochrane's musical past. Great song…
Another ballad follows up next, but Out of My Head is one of the very best ballads that I have ever heard Tom Cochrane sing. Raw, emotional, heartfelt and a beautiful chorus.
Deep Breath follows, unfortunately continuing the album's ultra slow pace, but without the hooks of the last couple of songs. It kills the momentum built by the tracks before it.
Northern Star is better – still acoustic driven, but with a little more spark, a strong chorus and finally some electric guitar too.
The last three songs are 3 of the more interesting tracks I have heard from Tom and proof that he can still turn it on and deliver in a harder hitting style – if he so chooses.
The three songs run together, taking a similar musical theme of distorted guitar and bluesy vocal.
Starting with Since You Left Me, the song swaggers through to the instrumental Colour Blue and into a cover of the psychedelic 70s rocker Spirit in the Sky. I really don't like that song (probably due to ass-silly cover of it recorded in the late 80s), but I respect what Tom has done with it here and in sequence with the other 2 tracks, works a treat.
I sure as hell hope it isn't 8 years until Cochrane decides to record again and next time – pick up the pace a little Tom.
|Richie Kotzen Into The Black||Frontiers Records|
Speaking of modern rock as I was in the Cosmo review, here is a guy that knows how to do it well. Better than just about anyone else in this scene and he does it with both passion and aggression, something not easily accomplished.|
And all the while Richie Kotzen keeps it melodic and accessible.
Kotzen's style may not be for everyone, but to his fans I would think this album will rate as one of his best ever. Richie picks up where the Forty Deuce band album left off and adapts that albums style to his solo delivery.
The album is summed up by the opening track You Can't Save Me - brooding, intense, lyrically biting and passionate beyond belief. Richie lightens the mood just slightly for the great rock track Misunderstood, featuring one of his best vocals to date.
The Shadow is cool too, but for different reasons. More classic rock melodies over a bluesy, yet commercial base.
Kotzen's love of blues shines through even further on the moody ballad Till You Put Me Down.
Highlighting the excellent way this album has been sequenced, that moody theme continues through Sacred Ground, but this time in the form of an angst ridden rock anthem.
Rounding out the album is the seemingly happy go lucky acoustic driven Livin' In Bliss and the blues rock My Angel.
Into The Black sees Kotzen write, play and produce every note of the record. It is a personal statement and a challenging one at that. 10 songs, 7 or 8 different vibes, but one great performance.
|Martin Briley It Comes In Waves||MTM Music|
American based, but English born singer/songwriter Martin Briley isn't your average melodic rock artist. In fact, he isn't really a melodic rock artist at all. This is another curveball release from MTM that doesn't fit into the usual melodic rock mold. Briley's album is melodic, but in more of an acoustic driven folkish way. |
The album is very laid back – there are maybe 4 uptempo tracks, with 3 of those rocking along at a nice pace and the remainder of the album residing in slow to mid-tempo acoustic pop territory.
He has a strong singer/songwriter vibe going on, the kind that mixes the rather anti-AOR entities of Elvis Costello and unplugged era Eric Clapton with a sometimes more AOR friendly Westcoast bent.
The album is a one man band affair, with Briley performing and programming all of the album's musical contents.
The guy knows how to write great lyrics. This is a very personal and reflective record. Check out the tongue in cheek Church Of Disney and Me And My Invisible Friend.
The very pop/rock It Comes In Waves, Church Of Disney, Fake Horizon and Invisible are the highlights of the record and offer AOR fans some sweet, lad back harmonies, but elsewhere such as I Don't Think She Misses Me At All, I find the album a little too soft, too slow and definitely too nice.
|Paul Stanley Live To Win||Universal Music|
It's taken nearly 20 years, but Paul Stanley has finally delivered his second solo album. Being familiar with the passion of some Kiss fans, I have no doubt there are some out there that have been looking forward to this release since the week after his debut was available.|
Built up over the last year or so as the Kiss album Kiss never made, or the greatest album of whatever year it would be released, Paul's new album finds itself desperately needing to live up to pre-release hype and expectation.
I think Live To Win delivers to the believers, but will fall short for the uninitiated. It also wavers a little unevenly between styles, at times not sure which way to drift.
There is a lot to like about this album and overall, it is a very respectable piece of work. That said, there are obvious areas where things could and probably should have been improved, and then there is that question over the updated sound/production.
Paul has desperately tried to fuse the classic Kiss style with a full-on modern rock approach and on parts of this album it works, but who is he really trying to appeal to?
Kiss fans will buy anything and outsiders or casual fans will just be listening for great melodic songs.
I'm not sure anyone looking to buy this album would choose a modern rock direction over a more classic sound. And if Paul updated things to be more commercially appealing, then he is listening to the wrong people.
Thankfully the album does feature some very good songs.
Track By Track:
Kicking off the album in fine style is the title track Live To Win. The down-tuning is obvious from the first riff and the modern approach might have been of concern for some if a chorus from heaven had not punctuated proceedings.
You can't ask for a better or catchier rock n roll anthem than Live To Win, which blends modern production effects and guitar tones with Stanley's classic sense of knowing what makes a song great.
Lift takes a darker turn and emphasizes the updated production values even further. The fact the song remains at mid-tempo and the chorus isn't as instant as the opener means that it could be a take it or leave it track for some. But it gets better with each listen and makes for a good partner for the opening track.
When Wake Up Screaming kicks in, one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Stanley has abandoned the classic Kiss style entirely. Loops, heavy guitars and effects provide the foundation, with Stanley's very likable voice providing the melodies.
I love the very melodic tone of the verse - raspy and stripped of layers - moving then into another great anthemic chorus.
Everytime I See You Around is both the first ballad of the album and the first reference to the sound and style that made Stanley a household name. This is a classy and classic Kiss style ballad that should please all fans. Added string orchestration bolsters the sound and atmosphere.
Bulletproof is the second almost-Kiss classic in a row. This track could have made an appearance on Revenge, Hot In The Shade or even Crazy Nights. It is classic commercial hard rock without the modern influences to scare off long time fans.
All About You sees Paul Stanley tread a thin line between the modern rock influences of the opening tracks and the more classic sound of the last couple of songs. Either way, the song has a good uptempo beat and a big chorus. Not that I'm overly impressed with the chorus…this to me is one of the more throw away tracks on the album.
Second To None is anything but throw away. This is one of the best ballads of the year and is classic Stanley at his finest, emotional best. A soft verse gives way to a monster chorus with soaring vocals and more orchestration. Perfect!
It's Not Me features more production samples and a half-way sound similar to All About You. Not a bad track and a good uptempo chorus, but another song that seems to go half way without fully committing. It could have been either heavier and even more updated, or more classic in style.
Loving You Without You is the third ballad of the record and another example of what Paul Stanley does best – deliver heartfelt songs with a positive message in a commercial melodic hard rock style that millions love.
Where Angels Dare is another strong uptempo commercial rocker. The song builds early to a strong chorus and finishes the album in style.
But, viewing what is on offer I would have to say that I think most Stanley fans will be happy. A solid and enjoyable album that proves Stanley is the creative force behind Kiss. This is infinitely better than the Gene Simmons solo album, but could have been even better still.
|The Andersson Mills Project Crank It Up||Z Records|
I consider myself a fan of Tony Mills – his endeavors with Shy have always been rated highly here and the new China Blue project he is singing with is off to a very promising start with one song on the new MelodicRock compilation. 2007 will also deliver a new Mills fronted TNT album, so that should be interesting.|
But this, I'm afraid to say, is just dire. I respect Tony a great deal and have always found him to be open to criticism and varying opinions. But this really is a horrid release – but perhaps not for the most obvious reason.
I'm an advocate for any artist to stretch their wings and experiment if they so wish and that is what Tony Mills does so here. Mills has previously dabbled with jazzy pop on his last solo album, but on this occasion, in cohorts with Swedish guitarist Linkan Andersson, the duo take a real left turn as far as what fans might usually expect.
The Andersson Mills Project is primarily comprised of authentic American punk – influenced by the genre's 70s roots and delivered here with a definite enthusiasm for the style.
It is going to take quite a bit of work for melodic rock fans to get their ears around a CD dominated by punk rhythms and modern rock influences, but the albums main problem doesn't stem from there.
The style issue still allows room for a few songs to stand out as quality pieces and there are some things here that Mills fans can enjoy.
I have been dancing around the main issue of contention. Everything else aside, the biggest problem with this album is that it sounds like shit.
The production is just abysmal and I can only surmise that it only has been released because Z Records are desperate for anything to add to their release schedule.
The sound quality within this record varies greatly but rarely rises above demo standard, tainted at times by massive distortion and a tone that just hurts to listen to for any length of time. Take Skin And Blood for example. Yikes.
The album takes a small turn towards a more familiar melodic path in the second half, passing through nu-breed in the middle. But will anyone get that far into the record? Nothing But Poison and Head On Collision give Mills fans some reward, but how many listeners or potential buyers will make it past track 3?
|Kevin Lee Flip The Switch||Sigus Records|
Kevin Lee's musical history goes as far back as the early 90s with his Lonesome City Kings release via MCA. Since then he hasn't let up and tours constantly and has released one other full length record and a 6 track EP.|
Lee is your classic American mid-west rocker. The Chicago native soaks up the musical influences of that city to produce an uptempo guitar driven record with pop/rock comparisons to Cheap Trick and Henry Lee Summer (without the twang). Simply put - old school harmony and melody with today's production delivery and modern rock energy.
I think this is his best album to date and will appeal to both straight ahead melodic rock fans and those partial to modern melodic pop/rock.
Highlights include the nu-breed rocker Built To Burn; the mellower and straight up Brett Walker-esque melodic rock of Save Me Tonight; the glorious pop All I Want is rocker with a great chorus hook; the glammy Hollywood Trash and Can't Believe You're Mine.
The album is consistent throughout, but you can't beat the first 4 or 5 tracks for quality.
|GPS Window To The Soul||Inside Out Music|
It is really a shame how things worked out for the last concoction of Asia. The band really hit their straps with the Silent Nation release and anticipation was high for the follow-up, which was near complete before being scuttled by the re-union of original Asia members.|
Still, that gave vocalist John Payne and fellow current Asia cohorts Jay Schellen and Guthrie Govan the impetus to get creative on their own project.
For all intents and purposes, GPS is a natural progression from the musical base established by Silent Nation.
I have read opinions of this album favoring it over Silent Nation and others that still prefer the Asia record. I'm in that camp, but the difference is barely negotiable.
Both are great records and GPS is going to bring a lot of joy to fans of that line-up.
Ryo Okumoto (from Spock's Beard) steps in to replace Geoff Downes on keyboards and is the perfect man for the job.
This is quite an epic album and one with considerable rewards for listeners willing to invest a little time in it. There isn't a track under the 5 minute mark and several around the 7 minute mark.
It has a definite progressive and harder edge – more so than the last Asia album, while at the same time carrying over the melodic sensibilities of that line-up, not to mention the killer rhythm section, thanks to Payne (bass) and Schellen (drums).
Opening with the edgy 7 minute rocker Window To The Soul, the album turns left into Asia territory with the lush 8 minute AOR track New Jerusalem.
It gets even more melodic and rather emotional on the classy 8 minute rock ballad Heaven Can Wait, which features some raspy, emotional vocals.
Other album highlights include the Asia-esque Written On The Wind; the rich arrangement of I Believe In Yesterday; the commercial rocker All My Life, complete with 80s feel; and the closing hard rocker Taken Dreams.
|Fatal Smile Neo Natural Freaks||GMR Music|
Swedish rockers Fatal Smile may not be a household name, but they deliver the bang for the buck and definitely deserve higher accolades.|
Back with their second album, the guys have turned it up 2 or 3 notches to produce a hard hitting, powerhouse melodic metal album with elements of classic European hard rock and Metallica like metal grunt, all wrapped in a contemporary delivery.
This is not for the faint hearted, but for those that dig European hard rock / melodic metal, you will do well to check these guys out.
Neo Natural Freaks is 10 tracks and 42 minutes of power.
From the opening riffs of the furious title track, to the aggressive Crash And Burn; to the thumping ear crunch of Learn Love Hate to the catchy punk riffing of Common People and the straight ahead hard rock of closing track 11th Hour – this album all attitude, all rock n roll and fuelled by the dynamic performances of guitarist Y and vocalist HB Anderson (ex-Scudiero).
|Ruffians Desert Of Tears||Metal Heaven|
US metal merchants Ruffians return after splitting in 1989 to complete unfinished business. What they deliver in pretty standard melodic metal with a European influence in their sound. |
The record doesn't strike me as anything more than an average everyday release and it is made all the more average by a very ordinary singer who spends just a little too much time shouting.
The band have obviously been raised on a diet of Iron Maiden, as the chug chug chugging of the guitar riffing is prime old-school Maiden. The acoustic It Ain't Over offers some respite from the riffing, but I wouldn't call it a ballad.
I Believe and Day Of The Champion are probably the best picks, but the album does tend to plod along at the same pace throughout.
|Billy Falcon Made Man||Indie|
Singer/Songwriter Billy Falcon returns for a new studio album that perhaps could be his best since the breakthrough Pretty Blue World release more than 15 years ago.|
Joining him is guitarist Bryan Hall, drummer Johnny Telucci and bassist Michael Spears (Blue Tears), who together make for a powerhouse bad – even if it is executed in a stripped back and acoustic dominated form.
Billy retains the usual southern country / mid-western pop base as his musical theme, but Made Man has feistier edge thanks to some more uptempo and electric based tracks – not too mention a discernable energy flowing through the speakers.
From the opening southern rock of the title track Made Man, the album sounds comfortable – like the guys are on a mission, armed with the knowledge this album features a great set of songs.
There's the laid back, but electric driven soul of Sugar; the Tom Petty influenced Happy Hour; the emotional honestly of The Only One That Doesn't Know, a track which runs right into the contrasting free flow rockabilly of Better Than A Girl; plus the sparse, almost entirely acoustic double of the album's last two tracks.
|Big Cock Big Cock||Driver Wild Music|
World's worst band name, or good attention seeking tool? Your call, but either way, the name is pretty apt, as Big Cock sing classic 80s style hard rock songs, primarily involving the subject matter covered by their very name.|
If the band's name is too subtle, perhaps subtle song titles such as Fucked Up, Every Inch Of My Love, Booze & My Baby, Rock Hard, Let's Make Love or Ride On Me will convince you.
Subject matter and lyrical content aside, Big Cock, featuring Lynch Mob's Robert Mason on vocals and King Kobra guitarist Dave Henzerling (a k a David Michael Phillips), deliver some great fun, take no prisoners old-school American hard rock.
Big Cock rock like the 90s never existed. A simple guitar/bass/drum backing is accompanied by the sleaze friendly vocals of Mason.
This is the band's second album and sees the guys repeating the formula of the debut. If you liked that – then this is an easy sell.
Highlights this time around include the attitude filled Real Man, the opening rocker Fucked Up; the sleazy Ride On Me; the piss-take cover of Paul Anka's She's A Lady; and the double time Guns N Roses styled rock n roll of So Easy Bein' Me.
There's even a ballad this time around – the warm and fuzzy Every Inch Of My Love.
|Fraze Gang Fraze Gang||Indie|
Brighton Rock guitarist Greg Fraser returns to action with his new independently released outfit Fraze Gang.|
The guitarist turned singer puts in a good performance here, with a whole album of swirling riffs and solos and an old-school melodic hard rock feel to the music.
And as it turns out, he is a pretty handy vocalist too. We are not talking smooth as silk here, but his tone and energy throughout the album is highly enjoyable and when he slows things down there is a definite warmth to his voice.
In fact, Greg reminds me of a fellow Canadian guitarist turned occasional vocalist – Loverboy's Paul Dean. But that's not all – there must be an affliction between kindred spirits, as I also compare the sound of the album and Greg's voice to Journey guitarist Neal Schon's solo work – especially where he sings on his classic Late Nite album.
If it is not Schon's vocals I'm thinking of while listening to this album, then it is on some of the more straight ahead hard rocking moments of this album that I am reminded of Paul Dean's solo album from late 80s Hardcore – especially the tone of Fraser's voice.
So if you mix both those influences with the classic Brighton Rock sound – not that of their Love Machine record – you'll get some feel for how Fraze gang sounds.
Blow Me Away is a fine old-school rocker with a bluesy swagger; Savior and Broken Hero pair up as a couple of very good more melodic tunes; Rainbow Eyes is a fine power ballad, although the production isn't as sharp as it could be; Paradise and High Life are both cool rockers that again bring Paul Dean comparisons; Stargazer is another very melodic track with a good hook and Roll With The Punches is another very strong mid-tempo rock ballad.
There is another side of the album that comes to light on certain places. There is a slight bluesy influence over the whole album, but that pushes through on three tracks - Sugar Daddy, You Had It All and Hot Rod. These unfortunately don't quite work for me.
|Zeno Runway To The Gods||MTM Music|
God, it's that bloke again! Vocalist Michael Bormann makes up for a quiet 12 months with his 3rd record in 2 months. And there is still Redrum to come early next year!|
In this case Bormann is the guest, providing the vocals for the songs written and played entirely by that talented German chap Zeno Roth.
Zeno takes his time writing and recording new albums…a lot of time, so it is no surprise to find that some 8 years have now passed since the last album Listen To The Light.
A lot in the world has changed in that time – all expect for Zeno's style. He picks up exactly where he left off in 1998 – Runway To The Gods is a natural successor to Listen To The Light.
As expected from fans of Zeno, this is a record dominated by intricate guitar play. Solos, riffing, overdubs and even more soloing and following that comes the swirling keyboards.
Bormann simply steers the songs where they are supposed to go and gives them the added personality required.
The album opens in typically bombastic style with Fanfares Of Love, a song that begins with a flurry of guitars and simply gets more complex and over the top as it goes. The concluding minute and a half of this rocker is simply ridiculous! (I mean that in a good way!)
Climb The Sky pulls things back a little and Land Of Illusion gets a little more melodic again. One thing is for sure – the 80s influence and the sound of previous Zeno records lives loud and strong in this new record.
Highlights from elsewhere within the record include the big 6 minute plus rock ballad Runway To The Gods; the uptempo and pomp friendly Refugees (Longing For Paradise); the frantic and hard rocking I Feel – I Live and Purify, which features a killer vocal.
The album also features to instrumental tracks - Sunset Birds Flying Home (Celestial Touchdown) and Sogno Di Angelo. Both are ok, but being a vocal fan, I find myself skipping these.
|Wetton/Downes Icon II - Rubicon||Frontiers Records|
Two dodgy live albums had left me a little blasé about the Asia duo's new studio album. |
Mr Wetton & Mr Downes produced a rich, lush and very fine example of up to date AOR with their debut. Maybe it was a little slow, but it was quality. Then those two live albums really killed my enthusiasm for the guys.
But the opening strains of this album renewed by enthusiasm in a heartbeat as this is what they do best and should stick to.
The Die Is Cast and Finger On The Trigger finally see the guys get out of first gear and into a more uptempo realm. These are two seriously good songs. Both tracks make a great start to the album and for are 2 of the best tracks from the pair in many years. And for whatever reason, they both have an unmistakably 80s feel to them, something that it thought the debut didn't make obvious.
Following on from those tracks, Reflections is another musically rich track and a very smooth ballad.
I'm not sure what to make of the double-header that follows though. Two songs in a row feature John Wetton duetting with a Anneke van Giersbergen of The Gathering. To Catch A Theif and Tears Of Joy are both very slow and while both a quality pieces, they sound more like excerpts from a Wetton solo project.
Shannon sees the album get back on track, with the sound returning to the more expected.
The soft, but layered harmonies and detailed orchestration of The Hanging Tree and The Glory Of Winning are (as the song suggests) both winners for Wetton/Downes.
The album drops the tempo through the mid-section and only picks it up to the point of where the debut sat for the remainder of the record. I would have liked to have heard a couple more faster moving tracks like the opening pair.
That said, the closer Rubicon may be stuck in that same mid-tempo sphere that the guys find comfortable, but it is a fine track to close the album.
Add in those two killer opening tracks and a more pronounced 80s influence through the record and you get an album that comes closer to the original Asia sound than any album since that band's early days.
|Thunder Robert Johnson's Tombstone||Frontiers Records|
Being free-agents has allowed British rock greats Thunder the freedom to do as they please. That has seen them fall into a very productive period which has seen three albums released in relatively quick succession since the band first stormed back with Shooting At The Sun.|
Thunder know what formula works for them and over the last couple of albums have concentrated on delivering songs in their traditional guitar driven style, with that unmistakable hard edge and a bluesy swagger.
Robert Johnson's Tombstone continues that Thunder formula, so instantly you know who it is from the opening 30 seconds of the album and also that it will be a winner with fans.
The very nature of the style and sound of this album hits the spot with this long time Thunder fan, and the sound quality (thanks to the well trained ears of Luke Morley) is equal to the best albums the guys have recorded.
The only thing left to dissect is the quality of the songs. And the band don't disappoint there either, although I wouldn't rate this album quite as highly as the last two.
Once again Thunder knows what works, so fans get the usual blend of high energy rockers with punchy guitar riffs (Dirty Dream, The Devil Made Me Do It, Andy Warhol Said, Stubborn Kinda Love) and the odd blusier number (What A Beautiful Day, Last Man Standing and the title track Robert Johnson's Tombstone).
And no one should forget to mention the soft acoustic driven ballads which start slow and end with a bang (A Million Miles, It's All About You) and the very tender and reflective ballad My Darkest Hour, which shows an emotional maturity in the vocals of frontman Danny Bowles.
I might add for whatever reason I feel necessary, that the album title is not the best the band has come up with and the cover art is just plain silly. There – I've said it now!
|Pretty Maids Wake Up To The Real World||Frontiers Records|
Great record this one – but I had to re-check what I was listening to a couple of times. |
Danish rockers Pretty Maids have re-grouped after a 4 year break and returned with a fresh, updated sound that could see them pick up some new fans. The band's sound has been updated a little and the album swaps back and forth between the expected European melodic hard rock and some modern rock influences.
The changes within this album work well for the guys and I don't think they are at risk of losing any old fans, as at the heart of the record is some good old-fashioned, likable songs.
The band sticks to their tried and true sound on the opening rocker Wake Up To The Real World and the double time rocker Why Die For A Lie and the in-your-face Terminal Violence, not to mention the slow and moody Perfect Strangers.
I Am The End is a mixture of modern rock and melodic metal which works quite well for the guys. It has an aggressive yet melodic feel and the vocals of Ronnie Atkins are perfect for the style.
The mid-tempo modern rocker As Guilty As You sees the sound modernized even further while at the same time, the melodic hooks are turned up again. Such A Rush is classic European melodic rock while Where Beauty Lies is a passionate and heartfelt rock ballad.
And the closing number Another Shot Of Your Love is a great melodic rock ballad, with a thoroughly commercial hook.
|Michael Bormann Conspiracy||Indie / NL Distribution|
One of the melodic rock scene's favourite vocalists is former Jaded Heart frontman Michael Bormann.|
He's had some time away, but now returns with not one, but four new projects, the first of which is his brand new solo album Conspiracy. Not surprisingly the album's lyrical content is dominated by the singer's frustration in being ousted from the band he fronted for many years.
But thankfully for Jaded Heart fans, Michael continues on as a solo artist in much the same musical vein as the last few Jaded Heart records.
The songs featured here really are very good. Some quality melodic hard rock and some fine ballads. The only problem for me is that at times the guitar sound sounds a little thin in places, especially on the heavier tracks where more bottom end is needed.
This reflects on the overall production quality.
I think there is some great guitar moments on here though – plenty of solos and some great standout riffs.
Highlights from the alum include the opening title track Conspiracy, a lyrically biting affair with a hard hitting chorus; Stand Up, which has a great Jaded Heart style chorus and some fine lead vocals; Two Of A Kind is a good ballad in duet with (I believe) Anette Blyckert from Alyson Avenue; Living Just A Lie is one of Michael's best rocking anthem's in a long while…great stuff indeed.
The album mellows at this point for a few good more laid back rock tracks. Reaching Out is another high quality track, this time a more reflective rock ballad and On Man One Soul is a perfect moody, venom-laced rock track.
So This Could Be You continues that moody dark vibe and Amazing is a bluesy power ballad of sorts. The closing number Samirangel is a haunting acoustic piece which closes the album in melancholy style.
|Love Child Soul Collector||Escape Music|
Love Child is without any doubt the first rock band I have reviewed that herald from the land of Liechtenstein. This European melodic hard rock outfit have pretty much got things right as far as getting their music across in the best possible fashion, with decent production quality and an even mix.|
The band's guitarist knows his way around his instrument and the band's general rocking approach can be appreciated.
Two things need work though. The band just need that little something extra to draw the listener back in for more after some impressive riffs and a decent sound. More consistency in the choruses is what I speak of.
The other thing is that the singer, for me, isn't someone I would spend a lot of my time listening to. The accent on his vocal isn't my thing and I generally just don't like the rough and gruff approach.
The singer is ok, but you must be tuned in to his style and method of delivery to apreciate.
After rocking out for the opening 4 tracks (in pretty good style) the band get a little more melodic on Sunset Rider. It suits them. This continues through No Return and Battlefield, making the mid-section of this release the highlight for me.
Promised Land is one of the better rockers, played out in fine traditional European hard rock style and Midnight Train features some good melodic guitar work.
|Styx & The CYO One With Everything||Frontiers Records / Universal|
I didn't have any real expectations for this live record – yet another diversion from the band releasing new studio product (5 live albums and a couple of compilations in between a mere 2 studio albums) – and it is sadly only a portion of the whole live event. You'll hear and (obviously) see more on the DVD release.|
I imagine most Styx die-hards will be happy, as it certainly is a quality release. Just a couple of issues however –
First problem is the repetition of the same old songs again. The Styx catalogue is so vast and yes, there is only 75 minutes available for a single disk release, and yes, you can hardly leave some of these tracks off – but overall I found the track list to be less than inspiring.
Secondly, while I was one of the few that found the band's last record – the covers release – to be enjoyable, I'm wasn't a fan of the 3 individual tracks chosen to represent that album here.
Those points made, the album is still enjoyable for what it is and Styx are a lean mean touring machine and as always are tight as hell on stage – even with the addition of a whole orchestra of extra members.
That orchestra is the very reason for this release. This live performance comes from a pairing of the band with the Children's Youth Orchestra, who add that symphonic touch to the band's music – which let's face it – is a very natural fit.
At times these extremely talented kids are the driving force behind the songs, but at other times they are being drowned out a little.
Highlights include what they do with Blue Collar Man…fabulous; as is the extended Fooling Yourself and newer track One With Everything – itself a great little melodic anthem with a technical hook. The extended instrumental break with the orchestra here is musical class.
The two news songs are Everything All The Time, which has a lot of energy and a decent hook. The studio cut ballad Just Be doesn't do anything for me though. Tommy's voice sounds as strong as ever, but the song doesn't have that 'play me again' hook to draw you in.
The closing 4 tracks – Crystal Ball, Too Much Time, Miss America and Renegade are a sure fire way to end with a bang, 4 classics back to back with the orchestral twist adding some freshness.
|Iron Maiden A Matter Of Life And Death||EMI|
Good album - much better effort than the last one and an improvement in sonic quality also. In this case I have handed over the review to Mick Ward, whose metal reviews are occasionally featured here. He is a massive Maiden, fan, so who better to analyze this release. Over to Mick:|
Review By Mick Ward.
'For the passion, for the glory, For the memories, for the money, You're a soldier, for your country, What's the difference, all the same…These colours don't run, from cold bloody war.'
Once typical barnstorming opener Different Worlds makes way for These Colours Don't Run it becomes quite clear that Maiden are out for blood. These veterans haven't sounded so bold, angry and dark, nor as energetic since in their 80's heyday. A Matter of Life and Death is a chaotic album of exceptional proportions, epic ambitious and brimming with certainty. It muscles its way in with such controlled aggression even repeated listens don't ease the burden of selecting the better tracks. A Matter of Life and Death is certainly the most consistent and convincing Maiden has sounded for a very, very long time!
The album mostly focuses on the chaos of war, but I can't remember when Iron Maiden has sounded so lyrically compelling. Not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves, the band has delivered a stirring, thought-provoking album, one that never sounds forced. If the lyrics above for These Colours Don't Run didn't convince you, for credentials look no further than Steve Harris' For the Greater Good of God.
'Are you man of peace or man of holy war, Too many sides to you, Don't know which anymore'.
Or its closing lyrics…
'He gave his life for us he fell upon the cross, To die for all of those who never mourn his loss, It wasn't meant for us to feel the pain again, Tell me why…'
The progressive leanings on A Matter of Life and Death are out front and almost every song contorts and ascends into something that, while typical of Maiden, also manages to remain stimulating and unique.
Some may be disheartened by the longer than lengthy songs on offer here, but when considering the depth of each of these tunes, it can be appreciated why this is. Whilst The Pilgrim is a storming number reminiscent of the Powerlsave era that clocks in just over five minutes, at the other end of the scale The Legacy for example cracks the nine minute mark. Yet The Legacy is crammed with such impressive progression and brilliance it is worth its every second.
Song-wise the only possible glitch is the inclusion of the Dickinson solo sounding track Out of the Shadows. With its sly wink back to his very own Tears of a Dragon amongst others, the tune is slightly alienated from the rest of the album due to nothing more than sounding like you've heard it before. Other than that, it's a fine song. To put it simply each song on A Matter of Life and Death is worthy of mention and dissection but I don't have anywhere near the space here to do the songs the justice they truly deserve.
Take it as a given that each and every composition is magnificent and shows Maiden are finally moving forward while at the same time ensuring to respect their history.
The idea not to mix the album was wise. In doing so the album doesn't come across as over produced and remains raw and live, helping the band to sound tight and like a unit. And if on occasion Dickinson sounds like he is straining then that's good because he sounds real and better for it! He hasn't sounded this good, so cutting, so insane and brilliant in years.
The packaging is top notch (make sure to grab your limited edition with DVD bonus!) and it is quite fitting that while the album boasts some fantastic artwork typical of an Iron Maiden album cover, the band are photographed in normal attire in an everyday setting, no window dressing, just letting the music speak for itself.
Oh, and on that subject matter of war… Here then stand the victors!
|Talisman 7||Frontiers Records|
Someone once wrote to me and said I had a bias towards Jeff Scott Soto and Harem Scarem. Sure, but I prefer to think of it as a bias towards great music and as far as I am concerned these two artists rarely put a foot wrong.|
So read whatever bias into this you may, but I don't think for one second that any long time Talisman fan is going to disagree.
Sure, not all may agree with my assessment that this is Talisman's best record ever, but I am supremely confident that it will at least rank as one of the band's very best for all fans.
And with vocalist Jeff Scott Soto's foray into Journey, there is for the first time in a long time, a whole stack of new fans about to discover this side of his musical personality.
These folk could not have picked a better album to come on board to, as Talisman 7 delivers 11 classic melodic hard rock tracks that collectively add up to a truly wild ride through the many facets of Jeff and Talisman's history.
The best thing about 7 is the fact the band sound as fresh as if this was there debut album, yet it draws on the experience gathered over 6 previous studio albums and some 15+ years together.
Musically speaking the album touches on all the band's recognized trademarks and a few of Jeff's own, while trying a couple of new things which I think will really impress listeners.
The guys took their time writing this record and it shows. I think it is the most consistent album from the band as each of the 11 tracks delivers something different and no sooner do you get to the end of the record, you want to play it again from the start.
Marcel Jacob is a revelation on this record, providing most of the guitar parts as well as his usual impressive bass work.
Track By Track:
The modern almost punky feel to the opening of the album with Falling initially caught me off guard, but feels natural once you get to know the album. JSS' powerhouse vocals drive the song through its thrashy beat into a chorus that also gets better each spin and features a nice punchy rhythm section.
Nowhere Fast kicks off with one of the more thumping bass lines in recent memory and slips into a classic Talisman groove, accompanied by a quirky guitar riff that sets up the song melody. The chorus is more instant and one I love hearing. Jeff's vocals are his typical style - attitude laced with soul and really are quite something. He sounds so at home and so comfortable with this material.
Rhyme or Reason has the same production vibe and style, not to mention the same moody groove as the band's previous cover of Seal's Crazy. The sultry vocals and the intensity of the bass and guitar interplay are not the most commercial of combinations, but anyone that knows Talisman knows this groove and the song is a real grower.
End Of The Line features another killer bass riff which opens up into a flurry of drums before a truly funky rhythm and lead vocal takes over the song. The chorus is pure JSS gold – layered vocals, great lift in tempo and vocal range, all the while rolling along with a classic groove.
The 1 I'm Living 4 is one of the places within the album were the band try something new. And boy, does this track work. This is a new Talisman classic and for those Journey fans coming on board, this is where that band could take some lead from. The song is a mid-tempo melodic rocker, featuring a wonderfully soulful lead vocal that starts low and builds throughout the song.
There is an underlying soft and sultry vibe and that unmistakable Marcel Jacob groove, but it is all wrapped up in a feel good melody that is impossible not to love first listen.
On My Way is more or less classic JSS. A perfect answer to the last couple of moody tracks, this uptempo pop rocker is a feel good anthem with a perfect commercial pop chorus. Given the intensity of the album as a whole, this is a great mid-album circuit breaker.
Forevermore is one of two big ballads on the album. Talisman generally aren't known for their sentimental ballads, but here they deliver two cracking examples. This is a brilliant ballad with a big harmony filled chorus and some nice piano parts. Definitely more comparable with JSS solo material, the band makes it their own with that classic groove.
Succumb 2 My Desire is perhaps the funkiest Talisman track ever. And that's saying something. This has such an infectious groove, it is simply impossible not to dig it.
There are a few different parts to the song – the soulful funk rock of the verse, the uptempo groove of the bridge and then the even faster chorus. Then there is the brilliant James Brown funk of the latter part of the song which I can't get enough of.
Shed A Tear Goodbye is another track which I think is something as little different for the band – which let's face it – has never been afraid to try something different. A soulful intro bursts to life into another uptempo, very commercial rock track with a great verse-bridge-chorus set up. The songs has a definite feel good vibe to it and the chorus is one of the more instant featured on the album.
Troubled Water is a mix of classic Talisman groove, with a more modern musical base and production style. A more straight ahead rock verse gives way to a funky chorus, which then morphs back into the next verse. It is an interesting song that keeps the listeners attention.
The band closes the album with the second big ballad. Back 2 The Feeling is a soulful and passionate rock ballad with a killer vocal and some fine guitar work.
|Winger IV||Frontiers Records|
This is an interesting one. Not too many expected to even hear a new Winger album in 2006, so the fact I'm sitting here reviewing this is a feat in itself. Winger left the scene on the back of a killer album – Pull. It is an album that has become a cult classic – I think a majority of the band's fans claim the album to be their best ever – which I for one agree.|
Sadly though, grunge had already hit and the band's new found intensity and maturity on that record was only heard by a fraction of what the potential audience should and could have been.
So with unfinished business at hand, the band has reformed the Pull line-up, with the edition of an extra musician in Cenk Eroglu – who contributes keyboard, guitar and FX parts to the new album.
The new album is something a little different again. The downside of Internet leaks means that many have already heard this album and just as many have already posted their opinions of it. And those opinions sure are varied. It seems there are some fans that are struggling with this CD and I do understand those comments, but I have a few of my own.
IV picks up more or less where Pull left off – adopting the same intensity and moody mature delivery style, but also ventures into some new territory that may give some fans pause before accepting.
This is far from an instant album and even once you get to know it inside and out, it remains a mood album. It is not something I am going to or can play at any given time, but rather when the mood fits. Pull was a little like this too, but perhaps more mysterious.
IV is both modern contemporary and classic rock – there are songs that touch on both elements and at times it does so during the same song.
There are some openly commercial moments and some truly dark and contemporary passages which will require some listening to.
At first listen to the record I thought it was super intense and in some parts it is, but with time it sows some quite mellow and commercial moments. I find that the album doesn't feature as many individual highlights as Pull did and is not quite as ground breaking with the songwriting. I also find that this album makes for a better listen when played start to finish without interruption.
Track By Track:
The opening track Right Up Ahead is a prime example of the band at its most intense, complete with Pull style acoustic intro, soon engulfed by a heavy guitar riff. The song takes a few listens to get into with the chorus making itself better known with each listen.
Blue Suede Shoes is an interesting choice to follow the heavy opening track. While equally intense and moody, strip this track and you more or less get a rock ballad with modern teeth. The added vocals and musical effects simply add to the mystique of the track.
Four Leaf Clover is one of my favourite tracks. A simple guitar riff and a flowing melody and catchy chorus make for a very accessible and commercial rock track.
M16 reverts back to the heavy intensity of the opening track. I like the heaviness, but can't say the chorus does a lot for me.
Your Great Escape is an uptempo rocker with a less intense feel and even a breezy feel to it. It is the most commercial rocker on the album and sounds somewhat like a throw back to the band's early years.
Disappear is another super intense moody rocker, with a modern vibe and a chorus that doesn't penetrate as well as some others.
On A Day Like Today is another of the extremely commercial tracks on the album. This is a breezy acoustic driven pop ballad with the intensity of Kip Winger's solo records and the commercial likeability of Winger's early work.
Livin' Just To Die has modern elements, but the heart of this song is a straight forward rocker with a twist.
Short Flight To Mexico has a heavy down-tuned guitar riff driving it, but the chorus is far more upbeat and commercial hook.
Generica is a track I can see some fans disliking, but I like its programmed robotic feel. It interests me and keeps my attention in a hypnotic kind of way. Can't Take It Back closes the album in typically dramatic and moody fashion. This mid-tempo rock track sums up Winger 2006 – a song that needs time to grow on you and isn't openly catchy, but provides enough to draw the listener back in for more.
Perhaps a couple of extra tracks in the vein of Who's The One or Blind Revolution Mad might have given it a more instant attractiveness. I like this record and know others will also, but I also expect the very nature of the album and its style to bring extensive debate among fans.
|Meatloaf Bat Out Of Hell 3||Universal Records|
Ah…yes indeed. I haven't heard anything quite like this since…well, since Bat Out Of Hell 2. Nobody does it like Meatloaf. No one throws themselves (literally) into each song with as much passion, heart and power as the big man himself.|
For whatever reason, the records recorded in-between the Bat records don't come close to these three records.
When the Bat Out Of Hell moniker is used, Meatloaf applies himself to the concept with a passion that is missing from his other records.
In the end I think it all comes down to the songs and the fact Meatloaf believes in the songs used on each occasion. And of course we have the masterful Jim Steinman to thank for that.
Each of the 3 Bat records has been a little different and Bat 3 is no different.
Bat 1 was produced by Todd Rundgren and featured the songs of Jim Steinman; Bat 2 was written and produced entirely by Steinman and Bat 3 is a mix of the previous 2 – Jim Steinman was to produce but things got complicated and lawsuits ensued.
The end result was that Meatloaf gets to use 7 Steinman songs with hitmaker Desmond Child stepping into the producers chair. Keeping the thread between albums going, Todd Rungren also contributed, credited here for "Vocal arrangements by Todd Rundgren."
Bat 1 is legendary of course, but Bat 2 was an absolute masterpiece and my favourite of the three records. Jim Steinman gets the credit for that - his arrangements and attention to minute detail made that record an event. Jim's unique songs are what made Meatloaf great – although it is Meatloaf's unequalled passion that brings these songs to life.
Both artists achieve their best when they work together, so I was very skeptical about this release once I learnt that Steinman wouldn't be producing. Desmond Child is no slouch – he is an accomplished producer and also knows how to get the best from the artists he works with. However, he doesn't have that same Steinman flare for the dramatic.
But with Steinman's song contribution and Todd Rungren on board, the team assembled have managed to surpass my expectations and deliver a great album that is still worthy of the Bat Out Of Hell moniker.
Yes, Bat Of Out Hell 3 is a clear winner for Meatloaf and while I still miss that extra flair and attention to detail that Steinman brings to the studio, this album works so well and Meat is in absolute cracking vocal form, and as per usual, throws everything into the delivery of these songs.
I'll go through each track, but aside from the 7 Jim Steinman songs there are 7 others to comment on. Thankfully and wisely, the guys behind the album and in particular Desmond Child, have managed to come up with some killer songs that fit the Bat format and Meatloaf's larger than life vocal style and work will in conjunction with the Steinman originals.
The production is huge – absolutely over the top pomp rock glory – with particular attention paid to the Steinman trademarks such as backing vocals, orchestration and instrumental passages. While these trademarks are present, at times you can tell that Steinman wasn't at work himself, but this I think is as good as it could possibly be without him involved in the studio.
Track By Track:
Naturally the album opens in typically dramatic style, but for the first time ever on a Bat Out Of Hell record, a non-Steinman song gets the nod. On a couple of occasions this album sees Meatloaf gets all modern on us and The Monster Is Loose is one of those occasions. The 7 minute hard rock epic was written by Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx with Desmond Child and John 5. It's quite the modern rock marvel, with super intense, super heavy down-tuned guitars and added production effects, but it really works in the scheme of this album and gets things off to a powerful start.
There are parts within the song such as the mid-song bridge where things mellow out and take on a decisively Steinman-esque twist.
Blind As A Bat is written by Child with James Michael and again features the hallmarks of a Steinman/Meatloaf classic. A dramatic vocal intro builds to a more pacey verse before an absolute gem of a chorus bursts through. I love this song and the passion in Meat's vocals are second to none. A perfect song for the album and proof that a great deal of thought has gone into getting the songs for this album just right.
The first Steinman song of the album is the classic rock ballad It's All Coming Back to Me Now. Unfortunately sometimes referred to as a Celine Dion song (she did cover it with the help of Steinman), it is rather a song written for and featured on Steinman's all female star project Pandora's Box (Virgin Records, 1989). A couple of the songs from that album also appeared on Bat 2.
This track is a duet in typical Meatloaf style – this time with the up and coming rocker Marion Raven. She has a great voice and suits the song perfectly.
Bad For Good reaches even further back into the Steinman archives – this time being the title track from his only solo album in the early 80s. Queen guitarist Brian May guests here – his contribution obvious – the intro and outro guitar riffs plus a classy mid-track solo are worthwhile additions to the song.
Meatloaf and producer Child stay true to the formula, style and personality of the original version of the song and I must say the updated version with Meatloaf's voice is killer. A great song that lives on again although I think Desomond Child underplays the important piano parts of the original.
Cry Over Me is a Diane Warren song. Now Dianne is a wonderful songwriter, but she has a bad habit of getting far too syrupy at times. Meatloaf has used her before – lastly on the Couldn't Have Said It Better album, but this song is a Meatloaf classic in waiting. A very powerful and emotion filled rock ballad, the songs is memorable from the outset.
Bat 2 featured a couple of left turns and I'm pleased that Bat 3 is the same – with both turns delivered at the hands of Steinman. In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King is a completely over the top aggressive modern rocker with that Steinman flair and some lead guitar parts from Steve Vai.
No one but Meatloaf could pull this vocal off – heavy, modern and out of character with the album it would seem, but it fits the flow of the album perfectly and adds to the whole theatrical experience a Bat album should be.
The sort instrumental Monstro (written by Child/Holly Knight/Elena Casals) is an orchestral segway that brings the dramatics of the last track together with the high octane, melodic rock anthem that is Alive.
I love this track. Perfect Steinman without even being written by him. Child/James Michael/Holly Knight and Andrea Remanda are responsible for this pure rock anthem with a huge chorus and some of that classic rocking piano that both previous Bat albums featured. Add in additional orchestration and a flying tempo and a classic is born.
Following this over the top rocker is a hard task, but again, the perfect song has been chosen. If God Could Talk (Child/Marti Frederiksen) is a mid-tempo rock ballad with more dramatic flair and orchestration and fits the flow of the album perfectly.
If It Ain't Broke, Break It is another of the album's left turns and again features a heavy, tuned down guitar sound. I didn't actually pick this for a Steinman song, but it is…and something akin to his Pandora's Box release where a couple of songs go heavy/high-tech. I have never heard brass mixed with modern rock, but here you have it. Completely over the top, but for some reason it works.
What About Love? Is another gem of a song from outside the Steinman circle. The Child/Frederiksen/Russ Irwin/John Gregory song is classic Meatloaf – changing tempo and featuring a female lead in places (courtesy of Patti Russo). Generally uptempo and featuring more classic Bat piano work, the song reminds me of Bat 1 in places. A strong chorus and those ever changing tempos make the song – especially when it gets even faster!
The dramatic and orchestral Seize The Night is another Steinman classic. Nearly 10 minutes in length, the song mixes Objects In the Rear View Mirror with Life Is A Lemon and even some Everything Louder – in other words, classic Steinman. The song has several different parts and passages, but you know the drill.
The Future Ain't What It Used To Be is another old Steinman solo album remake and again is kept very faithful in this version. Brilliant song made even better with the power and energy of Meatloaf.
Cry To Heaven is a short vocal only track written again by Steinman. I'd swap this with The Future to close the album, as after all the over the top moments, this seems just a little simple to close the album with. Pretty song, but perhaps the only disappointment for me on the whole record.
The team assembled has done the right thing by Meatloaf and the good name of Bat Out Of Hell, and I think the majority will be impressed by this record.
I'd still love to hear more brand new Steinman songs though…and perhaps one more outing with the big man…
|Europe Secret Society||Sanctuary Records|
Europe reformed in 2003 and released their comeback album Start From The Dark in 2004. Their chosen musical direction created the usual debate among fans and left some out in the cold.|
I actually thought they updated their sound quite well. The mix of modern influences and a darker sound mixed with some of the band's commercial appeal generally worked for them. But I thought their main downfall was a lack of killer songs. Half the song was extraordinary, the other half rather ordinary.
Secret Society is another interesting album that in many ways mirrors its predecessor.
Again the band continues with the same style and direction – pushing it a little further still and again the album will cause great consternation among fans. My take is that those that loved Start From The Dark will probably rate this one even higher and those that didn't warm to the last album will continue to be left cold.
And just like Start From The Dark, the new album still suffers a little from lack of killer songs. Overall Secret Society is a much stronger and generally more consistent record, but where it adds more depth, it actually lacks one or two tracks that really blow your mind, like the opening few tracks of Start From The Dark did.
Where there could be improvements - I would certainly drop the vocal effects from Joey Tempest's lead vocals. He is an amazing singer and I have no idea why there are so many on this record. Plus the boasting of more keyboards on this record doesn't sound like it came to fruition.
And again, just like the last album, this record features a stronger first half and a slightly less dominating second half.
I'm pretty much sold on the album's first 5 or 6 tracks. The opening rocker Secret Society has a modern feel and some interesting musical twist, but is largely a straight ahead guitar fueled rocker.
Always The Pretenders is precisely what I'm looking for as far as this band is concerned and is hard rock gold in my book. More tracks with this intensity and memorable hooks is what the album needed to make classic status.
The Getaway Plan is harder and more contemporary, but still features a cool chorus and strong guitar riff.
Wish I Could Believe is a strong modern rock ballad with another good chorus and well placed orchestral parts.
The mid-tempo modern rocker Let The Children Play mixes in some retro classic rock and takes some time to get to know, but again, delivers with a decent hook.
Human After All is another good song, but a bigger, stronger chorus such as Wake Up Call could have lifted it further.
From here the next few songs all are worthy of inclusion and are part of what makes this album so consistent throughout. But they aren't in the same league as Start From The Dark, Always The Pretenders and Got To Have Faith for example.
Highlight of the latter part of the album for me is probably the very melodic and commercial Forever Traveling and Devil Sings The Blues features some stellar guitar work.
If I could pick 5 songs from Start From The Dark and 5 or 6 songs from Secret Society, then I think you would get your perfect 100. Overall, a solid and very enjoyable record from a band that is proving to be a force some 20 years after forming. That's a rare feat.
|Skid Row Revolutions Per Minute||SPV|
Skid Row have an identity crisis. Their first album without venerable frontman Sebastian Bach was a bit hit and miss. The quality of the songs was there, but the direction was not. Part old school, part modern rock, it made the band appear indecisive as to what they should be doing.|
The guys are now back with album number two featuring frontman Johnny Solinger. It seems they have the same problem with indecisiveness, but this time they also lack the quality of songs, making this album rather a mess.
Making the situation even worse for long time fans is the fact that the band barely acknowledge their traditional sound, this time flip-flopping between modern hard rock and nu-breed inspired 3-chord punk.
Throw in a couple of hillbilly rockers and the Skid Row as we once knew it is perhaps lost forever.
I'm not saying every track on this album is bad – there are a few moments where the song demands attention and the guys certainly rock with passion and attitude.
The opening track Disease is little more than noise to me and the punk fuelled Another Dick In The System doesn't do much more, although the angst levels within the song are intense.
Then there is the frantic hillbilly rock of When God Can't Wait, which is more Green Day goes country than anything I would expect on a Skid Row record.
In fact, it isn't until the grinding hard rock of Shut Up Baby I Love You and the rocked-up cover of The Alarm's Strength that this album really gets my attention.
The punk metal of White Trash has a good groove and a frantic rhythm and then there's You Lie. This is the dorkiest, hokiest "metal" track I have heard since Leppard's classic Stumpus Maximus cover of Please Release Me.
Except this is an all-original number. This is the ultimate hate song wrapped up in an uptempo, feel-good country jamboree. You have to love the sentiment of the song and I love where the band takes it, but how can anyone take it seriously?
But what's worse, there is two versions of the track on the album. The album closes with the same song – some 3 seconds shorter and with no discernable difference between the two. Some bonus track!
Pick of the whole album for me follows hillbilly hour. Nothing is a track that gets closer to the heart of what this band is capable of and is an example of where the whole album should have been going.
Out of the 5 Skid Row studio albums available, if you had to pick only one to listen to, would it ever be anything other than the debut or the essential Slave To The Grind? All in all I gave Thick Skin a solid workout but now the review for this album is done, RPM just got shelved for good. And that's disappoints me greatly.
|Nexx Another Dawn||Angel Milk Records|
There aren't too many Spanish AOR groups floating around and just as few viable AOR acts that feature a female lead vocalist. Nexx, of course, are both of the above and further to that, one of the very finest pure AOR acts around today.|
The band's debut was a tribute to super songwriting and great performances, all wrapped into a great package. The album was critically acclaimed and the band's accompanying live performances were raved about.
So the guys had a lot to live up to with their all important second album. Another Dawn sees the band on a new label and with a slightly adjusted line up.
Adjustments aside, the guys pick up where they left off with Colours and deliver another mega-smooth, perfectly executed, slice of mature adult contemporary AOR.
Another Dawn is once of the best examples of female fronted AOR I have heard in years (or at least since their debut!) and certainly the smoothest.
The band have kept upon the same path set they set out on with their debut, but maybe with an even more refined sound than before.
The guys have obviously matured together and while I paint this album as a very smooth slice of AOR, it is not without some energy and some fine guitar work.
The album kicks off with the most uptempo and obvious rocker of the album. Critical is classic European AOR with a fine vocal from Patricia and a hook big enough to hang your hat on.
The angst filled Hey Father features a more subtle guitar riff and some superb harmonies throughout. The chorus is as strong as anything the band has delivered to date.
Like The Poet is an interesting track. The hook is far from immediate, but rather embedded within the song and more obvious with repeat listens. The song features a nice mix of keyboards and guitar and a very strong and clear lead vocal.
Control In My Life is nothing short of a beautiful female fronted AOR ballad. Soft and sultry and better and better each listen. The vocal hook is instant and the addition of strings and prominent piano parts makes for AOR brilliance.
Far Away is a nice straight ahead guitar driven pop rocker that lifts the tempo of the album a little approaching the halfway point. A more urgent chorus helps the song stand out.
Praying For A Life continues a mid-album rock phase, with some more fine guitar driven AOR.
The title track Another Dawn is a more subtle pop flavored track that features more string arrangements and a detailed sonic landscape. Not an immediate track, but one that certainly has a lot to offer thanks to its various layers.
Again is reminiscent of the debut – a simple uptempo pop rocker with a strong guitar riff and a great feel good chorus.
Caught In A Trap is a little darker and moodier and features a tasty little chorus hook that shows off Patricia's accent probably more than any other track, but it works for me.
Guiding Star is purely and simply a straight ahead uptempo AOR rocker.
Shine is an acoustic ballad that closes the album on a soft note. Not bad, but not a personal favourite despite the raw emotion of the song.
Control In My Life (Reprise) is another does of that magic ballad, this time with the instrumentation removed and more orchestration and strings added. Wonderful! Second time around the song still remains a highlight and should be on radio if there were any justice in the world.
AOR may be a dirty word to some, but when it is as good as this, it is hard to reason why it isn't selling far more units than it currently is.
Boulevard Of Broken Hearts
Here is another album from MTM Music that I just don't get. The album is the vision of Swiss producer, singer and songwriter Holggy Begg. Holggy was part of the team behind Oni Logan's recent solo album and this record carries the same earthy, acoustic vive of that record.|
The thing is - Holggy has a bloody awful voice. At times I am not sure if he is singing or trying not to throw up. It really is that bad. Thankfully he must be aware of this and only sings lead on three tracks. But he does pop up from time to time through the album.
Singing the rest of the time is a range of special guests – Marc Storage (Krokus), Gary Barden (everything), Michael Voss (everything else) plus Aino Laos to name a few.
The album lacks direction. And it certainly lacks melodies. It isn't melodic rock, it isn't hard rock and it really isn't acoustic pop either. I guess it is a bit of everything, but then the music is so varied and the singers are alternating from track to track, one isn't left with much of a flow to grab onto.
I think the only upside of this album is a few select tracks that you can play on their own, but as an album, I won't ever play this from start to finish again. I had a job to that enough times to do this review.
Highlights are obviously the two Marc Storace tracks, although don't expect anything nearly as heavy or rocking as Krokus. Broken Hearts is an acoustic driven pop rock song with a good melody, and First Way Out a more hard hitting track, but isn't quite as memorable.
The two Gary Barden tracks are also ok – Dreams and The Open Sea are moody rock tracks, especially The Open Sea.
As you see there are a few definite highlights with the 13 tracks featured, but some absolute dogs too and the rest of the album for me is largely forgettable.
|Dacia + The WMD Dacia + The WMD||MTM / Psycho Active|
MTM Music has reactivated their alternative rock sub-label Psycho Active in order to unleash a new wave of left of center rock artists on the world.|
The concept did not work at all originally, mainly due the fact that the type of record buying public that is reading about and looking for MTM releases are generally not the type that are going to be looking for anything remotely alternative.
So the label has that challenge in front of them again – to reach a new audience within their existing barriers. Good luck guys.
I guess there is a chance of this happening and also a chance of converting some traditional melodic rock buyers with the right kind of album.
Tourist is an example of getting it right. Dacia is an example of getting it wrong.
The album may open with a fine modern rock anthem in Who's To Say, which is quite melodic all things considered. But merely 1 minute into the second track Rockabilly Bitch it all goes terribly wrong.
Who in their right mind would chooses to listen to a song like this? A heavy groove, some rapping vocals and a lame attempt to sound like Pink meets Gwen Stefani goes metal. Not me…
Stop And Stare tries to undo the damage of that second track, but by now, how many potential buyers are left listening? This is quite a smooth modern rocker in fact, with a nice chorus melody. Perhaps there I a chance for this record still….
But them the album falls back into a heavy aggressive rap-rock groove and I'm lost for good.
There are a couple of other cool tracks – the modern metal of Live To Tell has some value; My Reality has a decent hook; and the big metal ballad Losing You which features Motorhead's Lemmy is a decent track.
The bonus video clip to the alternative metal of The Communist sure won't convince me otherwise either.
The album is produced by Skunk Anansie's Ace, so that should give some indication to the musical direction, but I'll take that band above this any time.
Never In A Million Years
Vocalist John Wetton and keyboardist Geoff Downes are two icons of the melodic rock world. I guess the Icon moniker the guys chose came to them easily. |
They have earnt and deserve the utmost respect for having longevity in their careers that has led them on a path back to their current point – working together after forming Asia together some 25 years ago.
Their debut Icon album together was filled with some fine adult contemporary AOR. A little laid back, but still, highly polished and very smooth.
I look forward to the guys' delivering their second studio album next month, but I have to admit complete disinterest in their output in-between records.
hey really are milking this partnership, as since the debut the guys delivered an EP, a truly horrible acoustic CD and DVD and now an almost equally dull full live concert release.
Of the 15 tracks featured here, only a handful get out of first gear and manage to find a pulse.
I know that if you want to be rocked you should perhaps instead see Iron Maiden live, but there are so many slow tempo tracks in this set that I am not sure who would still be awake to hear the more rousing final numbers such as Let Me Go and Open Your Eyes.
The Heat Goes On sounds great as does Only Time Will Tell and the classic Days Like These, but elsewhere it is all very laid back and very 'AOR-lite'.
Ain't Crying For The Moon
Time already for another Kingdom Come album or at least another Lenny Wolf release. As is the case with the last few albums, this is more or less all Lenny's doing – from the vocals to the majority of the instrumentation.|
Although Lenny boasted that this would be the heaviest KC album ever, there remains little difference from the past few records.
Yes, it is heavier and more driven by a modern guitar sound, but the tempo is exactly the same as previous records as is the songwriting style.
Of the last few albums I do find this to be the more enjoyable, but Lenny truly needs to get some other people on board. Some co-writers and a full band to back what is a great rock n roll voice.
Until he does that, Kingdom Come records are going to be for established fans and nothing else. As far as some track highlights on this record –
Ain't Crying For The Moon is an interesting track – it comes in two parts – a heartfelt ballad portion before turning heavier, but all the while remaining dark and intense.
This Is My Life finally lifts the tempo a little and features a nice little chorus melody. Bon Scott is an obvious tribute to AC/DC, both lyrically and musically. Removed The Sting is a nice heartfelt ballad too.
A couple of things I could have lived without though - Look At You closes with a 20 second silence so to give a break before the two bonus tracks. Pointless. Hate silence on songs in this age of MP3.
Across The Universe is a soft pop cover of the Beatles classic – nothing special and the new 2006 version of Get It On merely updates the sound to fit this album – modern rock with a slower tempo.
One other small matter that isn't relevant to those buying the retail version of this once it is releases - this review copy came complete with skips, jumps and audio hiccups at the request of Mr. Wolf. Absolutely crazy decision – almost as crazy as those promos with the voice over every minute to interrupt concentration.
If you are going to offer promo copies to journalists to review you album, then give only to those you trust. This is not the way to fix internet leaks – it only pisses off those you are trying to impress. Next record that skips and jumps all the way though won't get reviewed.
However, out of the last 2 or 4 records, I'll take this one above those because Lenny is a talented singer and this record is a passionate one.
|Tourist The Relevance Of Motion||MTM Music|
As stated previously, MTM Music has reactivated their alternative rock sub-label Psycho Active to give themselves the ability to release some records outside the melodic rock field.
Modern rockers Tourist released this album independently in 2005, so many will already know of it. But now with a full European deal through MTM, perhaps now more will be able to hear it.
Some 18 months since originally reviewing this album, I can't say I have gone back and played it once. But that is more an issue of the number of new albums I must always absorb before reviewing. Now giving this a listen I can instantly remember what I liked about it back then and can't say that I have wavered from my original views.
Over to what I posted originally -
But there is a number of strong releases in the modern rock genre deserving of some attention.|
Tourist is one such band. This US act has released their new album independently, sadly ensuring that they won't get the media coverage they deserve.
Their brand of guitar driven modern rock is every bit as good as their counterparts such as Foo Fighters, Hoobastank, Shinedown, or even Anberlin.
These guys are on the heavier side of things and the sonic bombardment from a duel guitar attack and an intense lead vocal is unrelenting.
Jacob's Ladder, Stay and the very anthemic rocker Everytime We Touch all would sound at home on modern rock radio.
LRT and New Radio slow it down a little, but keep the aggressive undertone of the album.
Only the closing track It Just Doesn't Matter doesn't quite work – the acoustic ballad seems a little out of place. Enhancing the quality of the songwriting is a monster production, all tied together by a super crisp mix from the great Mike Fraser.
|Leverage Tides||Elements Music|
The rockers of Finland are really turning it on this year aren't they! The good word on Brother Firetribe is still spreading, and given the band are finally getting a full European release, those good vibes are only going to continue.|
Now there's Leverage – set upon the world to kick our asses!
Leverage is a heavier prospect than the more AOR friendly Brother Firetribe, but there is more than one similarity. This album is more in the league of Masterplan – powerful yet very melodic hard rock/metal.
The whole album oozes a powerful energy that few other albums emulate and the songs themselves are full of life and passion, not to mention good choruses, powerful guitar riffs and swirling keyboards.
In Leverage, the keyboards play a support role rather than being the dominate force of the album such as on Brother Firetribe.
On this album the guitars are more in your face and dominate the musical landscape.
There is another aspect of this album which simply deifies all expectations of quality. The vocals of one Pekka Heino. Fresh from his outstanding performance as lead vocalist for Brother Firetribe, Pekka kicks it up another notch here – delivering a powerhouse vocal with all the finesse and power of Jorn Lande, but with an even more melodic edge, which still reminds me of Cheap Trick's Robin Zander at his most powerful.
The production is first rate, the mix is tight and intense and the whole aura of the album is one of the highest qualities, enhanced further by the kick-ass rhythm section.
There are no fillers or weak moments on this CD, just 10 brilliant melodic metal tunes. But within those are still a few amazing highlights.
The album opener Fifteen Years is an intense melodic metal anthem with a terrific chorus and a powerful lead vocal which just oozes passion and power. A ripping guitar solo and a thumping rhythm section make it a metal highlight for 2006.
Superstition and Horizon follow, Horizon being a moody and super intense metal ballad with layers of music to get through.
But it gets even better – the one-two punch of Dreamworld and Follow Down That River ensure that this album is elevated from great to classic.
These are two uptempo metal anthems that Masterplan would be proud to all their own. Truly two fantastic tracks with strong choruses and pounding intensity.
Stranger sees the guys pull back the fierceness for a more reflective mid-tempo ballad, followed by a quite commercial straight ahead rocker in Sails.
To pick out one last highlight, I'd have to jump to the closing track Gone. Once again it is super intense and wrapped in a supersonic musical blanket, the song smolders along with the glorious vocals of Heino delivering the songs melody.
One for those that love it heavy and love it melodic and where you have keyboards dominating Brother Firetribe, here the guitars are in control. A perfect set of inspired releases.
|TNT Live In Madrid||MTM Music|
DVD Review: Bonus Audio CD included in package.|
This to me is not a great live album. It is a great collection of TNT songs – who could argue with any set list that contained brilliance such as 10,000 Lovers, She Needs Me and Intuition?
But it is just not a true live recording and watching the performance up close only magnifies the effects used to create the TNT live sound. And beyond that, there is no way that the audio from this DVD hasn't been touched up big time in the studio.
It is well known that TNT (and may others) use programmed backing vocals for their live concerts, giving them the ability to match the original versions of the band's harmony rich classics. I do respect the band's wishes to go that route in concert.
TNT is certainly not alone in doing it. Fans demand perfection from their artists and some of these classic songs are simply impossible to replicate live as they were recorded.
But I'm one that would rather that any artist go completely live and only reproduce on stage what is humanly possible – giving the songs a true, raw, live, warts and all sound.
That said the energy and first hand experience of a live concert can see these things overlooked and forgiven.
It is a little different when sitting back in the comfort of one's own home, watching the concert on DVD. Those "enhancements" are only magnified and watching the guys fake their vocals puts me right off watching.
The whole piped-in backing vocals thing just looks fake. That issue is made all the more obvious and off-putting by watching the guy's front up to their microphones pretending to sing, while the backing vocals are clearly from their original studio recordings.
It takes away from the performance and just doesn't seem real. To be honest, I'm not even sure all of Tony's lead vocals are live from the night.
Everything about this live performance is just a little too slick and a little too polished and personally speaking, I don't like it.
To speak of the concert itself for a moment, what you get is a pretty slick performance on a relatively small stage at a club in Spain. The filming is crystal clear and the crowd is enthusiastic.
The band runs though a true hits package that includes a few early classics (10,000 Lovers, As Far As The Eye Can See, Intuition, Downhill Racer, Seven Seas etc) and a few newer classics such as She Needs Me, My Religion, Black Butterfly and Invisible Noise.
The 85 minute set is probably missing a few important songs, but this fact would not be so important if the band and Tony were still working together. Now they have split, it makes the need for a definitive live concert ever more essential.
I'll have to see what Mr. Harnell makes of my comments, but suffice to say, I doubt I'm going to be very popular with the now departed TNT frontman.
|UFO The Monkey Puzzle||SPV|
UFO are back with their latest studio album, the second to feature guitarist Vinnie Moore, not to mention a well received live set.|
After finding their way a little on the last album You Are Here, the boys deliver a much stronger record in Monkey Puzzle.
The album doesn't offer anything unexpected or out of character for the band, but it does deliver 11 strong blues tinged rockers that is more or less going to be everything UFO fans expect from the band.
What makes this album better is the consistency in the quality of the songwriting and the tight sound the band has developed after a lengthy tour getting comfortable together again. It also signals the return of drummer Andy Parker, after stand-in Jason Bonham took up with Foreigner.
The album didn't throw out any classics first spin, but on repeated listens I found each song to be more engaging and as a body of work, the album flows effortlessly from start to finish.
The overall feel of the album is fairly laid back, but the band is clearly at ease with themselves and I'm finding more guitar riffs and melodies in this album than I have heard in quite some time.
The production is perfect for what the band needs – solid sound, evenly mixed, but without the life being squeezed out of the performance. This still sounds like it could have been played live in the studio.
Highlights of the album include the classic UFO bar room rocker Hard Being Me, which opens the album; the moody organ drenched Who's Fooling Who; the hard edge rocker Black And Blue; the very melodic and relaxed Drink Too Much plus one of my new favourite UFO tracks - Good Bye You - a song that is a little more laid back and features a memorable chorus and great overall vibe.
Nothing unusual or original here, just quality songwriting and an engaging set of performances. Something about this album just works for me.
|Alibi Misdemeanours||Escape Music|
Alibi is another new British melodic rock outfit, again fronted by popular guitarist Vince O'Regan. This is more Vince's baby, whereas Eden is more Nick Workman's.|
It more ways than one, Alibi is the sequel to the two Pulse records and sees that band's sound used as the foundation for Alibi's debut. This picks up more or less take up where Pulse left off.
Joining Vince is Pulse bandmate Andy Mills on bass and James Wright on drums.
Vocalist Rick Chase hails from Double Cross, a fine British melodic rock band in their own right. His vocals are perfectly suited for this material and with any luck Vince has found a line-up that will exude less drama than the goings on within Pulse.
The album contains some really superb straight ahead melodic rock and AOR, all with a classic British AOR influence.
And I mean really superb song writing! These are some very fine, very catchy typical melodic rock songs that will definitely find the ear of a lot of fans.
However the production quality again remains an issue – as it seems to be with every O'Regan produced record. I just keep getting that tinny drum/keyboard sound and despite a drummer attached to the project, a drum machine vibe too.
Sonically it is mastered with an emphasis on a thin rather than the big fat beef sound it deserves. I swear that at times one can hear tape hiss on the playback. I would prefer to concentrate on the positives of the project, which are the songs.
That said, I believe the guys kick off the album with one of the weakest tracks. Get Ready is maybe my least favourite track of the entire album.
I much prefer the Def Leppard Photograph vibe of Masquerade, which has a fine chorus hook, and the more urgent No Reason.
The rock ballad Gabrielle has a big Firehouse / American rock feel to it and is a taste of an era past.
By Your Side is a superb mid-tempo melodic rocker with a great chorus melody and lead vocal.
Out Of Love sounds distinctly like a Double Cross melodic rocker and is another strong track.
Who's Foolin' Who sees this band carve out their own sound with another impressive hook while Yesterday's News is another good ballad. It has an old school Poison ballad vibe to it too.
Nothing Changes is reminiscent of a couple of earlier tracks and that Double Cross vibe. Another album highlight even though it doesn't deliver anything we haven't heard before.
Lost On The Inside offers plenty of keyboards and some nice guitar soloing, even if the production is very thin. A good chorus hook again too.
The acoustic driven Why is an ok mid-tempo ballad, but not equalt to the strength of the rest of the material.
The album closer is a cover of Neil Young's Rocking In The Free World. Tobe honest, I could do without Alibi's version. Once you have the original and Van Halen and Bon Jovi covering it, anything else isn't going to match.
|Eden Open Minds||Majestic Rock Records|
Eden is a UK melodic rock band that features Nick Workman, vocalist for one of my favourite bands Kick, and guitarist Vince O'Regan (Bob Catley, Pulse, Alibi).|
I'm a big fan of Nick and I'm pleased to hear anything he releases, be it with Kick or solo.
Eden is an interesting album – it mixes traditional British melodic rock with a more adventurous edge, which sometimes sees the guys head off into a more experimental range. If I'm honest with myself, it isn't the easiest album to listen to – it doesn't adhere to any typical melodic rock boundaries, instead challenging listeners to pay attention with additional instrumentation and some unexpected musical passages and pace changes.
Workman's lead vocals are what sells this record for me. It's not an easy album to describe, but I don't think it would be unfair to suggest that it is part Kick, part Pulse, part Led Zeppelin inspired classic rock and part something a little different again.
The album differs from Kick in that it is not as modern in feel – definitely more classic rock, yet with an aggressive edge at times that gives it a heavier vibe.
Helming the sound is the Tommy Denander of British rock – Vince O'Regan. I've not always been enthusiastic for his production skills, but his guitar playing is of the highest caliber.
True to form, I'm not sold on Vince's production of this album – the whole guitar/keyboard/drum sound is much as it always is – a little on the tinny side – and not beefy enough. Those familiar with Pulse and the last Catley album will know it well. Sadly my enjoyment of those two albums were affected by poor production.
However, this alum is a lot more comfortable to listen to, so credit where it is due.
As far as the song highlights - Close Your Eyes isn't the big melodic rocker you might expect to open any album, but it gets better each listen.
The moody Fools Parade is a more instant track and the closest thing here to Kick. A great chorus melody and lead vocal add to the intense feel.
Chase The Sun features a strong lead vocal and an interesting and somewhat adventurous passage midway through the song, plus some fine guitar work.
Heads Up is a great all out rocker as is the even faster paced All Fall Down, which is another track that has a sparse sound that becomes better with each listen.
On a softer note, How Far You Are is a terrific ballad, filled with and emotional vocal and great melodic hook. The album closes with the varied and intense rocker Erase And Rewind.
A beefier sound might have helped deliver the message the band envisioned, but at the end of the day, it is a piece of work the guys can be proud of. It will be down to the individual tastes of Kick fans as to how this rates with them.
|Mikey Jones The Light Of Day||E-Z Sounds|
While Kick vocalist Nick Workman was off working on his record, band mate and guitarist Mikey Jones was working on one of his own.|
The Light Of Day is the debut solo album for the Kick guitarist, which like Eden, is a little of the traditional Kick sound mixed with something new.
Both Nick and Mikey have experimented a little with their solo albums and let's face it, Kick do the same with their albums, so don't expect straight ahead melodic rock here.
The Light Of Day is a little closer to the sound of Kick than Eden is, then adding even more mood and intensity.
Mikey does a fine job here as lead vocalist, not to mention adding some pretty intense and intricate guitar parts.
My only problem is that I don't think the vocals are clear enough in the overall sound. They are either hidden by effects all the time or lost in a muddy mix. I think perhaps Mikey underrates his abilities, but I think the very fine songs of this album would have benefited even more had he believed in himself to push the vocals to the front of the mix.
Taking a look at some of the tracks - Suffocating really pushes boundaries, but at its heart is a catchy keyboard hook. Who…? is an instantly catchy melodic rock which is probably the most commercial track of the album and my favourite.
Drunk On Emotion is more sentimental in nature and has another strong chorus.
No Tomorrow follows the mood of the ballad, but picks up the tempo a little while delivering another good chorus, even if the vocals are a little too processed by effects.
As One is another strong and moody ballad while the title track and Swear Blind continue the moody mid-tempo feel set by No Tomorrow.
I'm not sold on Lament, but the feel good duo of Summer Daze and The End Of Time closes the album closes the album on a nice anthemic kinda feel.
There are 2 hidden bonus acoustic tracks which I will leave as a surprise for those that grab the album.
|Felony First Works||Escape Music|
One of the more pompous and overblown intros in recent memory will be the first thing listeners get to hear of Swiss rockers Felony.|
This band's sound is hard to describe, but I'll do my best. Progressive pomp melodic hard rock? European Symphonic pop/prog?
Whatever the banner you choose to slot the band under, there is a lot going on within this record. Too much for some I'm sure, but to break it down, fans of light progressive with a big symphonic pomp twist will be wise to check this out.
The band also features both a male and a female lead vocalist. They don't take individual songs, but rather both sing in and around each other on each track.
It makes for an interesting listen, but again, won't be for everyone. Their vocals are well matched as they duet and also sing in unison through various parts of the album.
The biggest problem with so much music going on and some very complicated vocal parts is getting it all into place. Wisely the band has chosen the highly regarded European producer Sascha Paeth to work magic for them – a move that pays off.
Regardless of personal taste, this album sounds very well put together and mixed evenly and cleanly.
Track highlights? It is a pretty consistent album to be honest. The music must suit the ears of the listener, but the title track Felony, plus My Way, Justice and the big ballad Promising Heart all deliver strong melodic moments.
|Planet Alliance Planet Alliance||Metal Heaven|
Planet Alliance is an apt name for this project. A stack of European melodic metal stars have formed an alliance to record this record.|
Stars of Cloudscape, Last Tribe, Ozzy Osbourne, Hammerfall, Freak Kitchen, Narnia, Rob Rock and more gather under the watchful eye of Magnus Karlsson (Last Tribe, Allen/Lande) to produce something similar to Karlsson's recent work such as Starbreaker, Allen/Lande and Tony O'Hora.
Far from an instant album, this one takes a lot of listening to and in the end doesn't quite reach the heights that Karlsson's previous work has. It has the same style, but not the same substance.
For the names involved, it could be a better album than it is, but I think that all comes down to the songs featured. Karlsson has set the bar impossibly high with his previous work and while this album features a similar style and theme, it just isn't as memorable as the aforementioned recordings. I think the album repeats itself a little and for whatever reason I am not warming to the voice of vocalist Mike Andersson (Cloudscape) as much in this context.
Looking through the tracks, The Real You is a knockout opening track – the most commercial and instantly memorable song of the album, with a slight gothic overtone and a killer double kick-drum tempo.
Remember Me also features a strong chorus, but it required a few listens to get into properly.
Ain't No Pleasin´ You is one track I don't think works as well as intended. It doesn't flow as well and the chorus isn't the most likable.
Calling My Name is better from the outset. A frantic pace and instantly cool guitar riff/song melody. A good chorus, but some killer guitar work.
A Taste Of Paradise is an example of where the album begins to sound a little same-ish.
The Quickening is a nice variation – a slower, moodier approach and one of the album's best tracks.
Divided We Stay and It's Your Cross To Bear offer more of the same as earlier tracks, but perhaps without the standout choruses.
On a brighter note, The Great Unknown and Where To Go are stronger tracks and are the best of the second half of the record.
Competition in the market place is stiff and with this release I tend to think that I have heard it before. That said, what I do hear, is mostly still very good and the sound quality is unquestionable.
Time To Take A Stand
This is a rather interesting release. A lot of work has gone into this, yet I remain unsure of how much the traditional melodic rock fan base will go for this.
And I'm even more unsure of how much I personally will play this once the review is completed.|
This is one of those records that will appeal to a specific section of the rock fanbase and not so much outside of that circle.
Moonstone Project is a hard rock blues rock record based around the talents of Italian guitarist Matt Filippini, who also co-writes all but one track here – that track being a cover of Free's Fire & Water.
What makes this a project is the number of guest stars and man, this record has an extensive list of names. A different vocalist handles each track and lining up are James Christian, Glenn Hughes, Kelly Keeling, Graham Bonnet, Eric Bloom, Paul Shortino and Steve Walsh.
Guest musicians include Howie Simon, Ian Paice, Carmine Appice and Daniel Flores.
The album is obviously a true labor of love for Fillipini. It is extremely well played, sounds sonically solid but is it likeable enough?
There is an air of self indulgence here and the album can be slow paced plodding at times…but if the right fanbase are targeted; (ie traditional blues rock fans), then there is bound to be some impressed punters around.
The album kicks off with a fairly laid back blues rocker Slave Of Time, featuring Kelly Keeling. I don't think it is one of the album highlights, but does set up the overall theme and style of the album for listeners.
Not Dead Yet features Graham Bonnet in full raspy vocal force. The tempo is better suited to getting the momentum rolling and might have been a better album opener.
Fire And Water is an average cover of the Free track featuring Italian vocalist Enrico Madidini.
Rose In Hell and Where Do You Hide The Blues You've Got both feature Glenn Hughes in full blown blues mode. You know Glenn can sing this stuff in his sleep and does an admiral job here. The former rocks a little faster, the latter is a slow blues number.
Beggar Of Love is an uptempo blues rocker featuring James Christian. Not a bad track, but not the usual fare for Christian.
City Of Lights – featuring Steve Walsh – has an appealing chorus hook and some great vocals for fans of Steve's.
Pictures Of My Lonely Days features Paul Shortino and is a pretty classy old school blues rocker with a solid hook.
On The Way To Moonstone is a full blown 70s psychedelic rocker featuring Eric Bloom and Chris Catena on vocals. Again, quite an accomplished track, but not one I will play too often.
But, be warned that this is a blues project and is best suited for fans of that genre.
|Rekuiem Time Will Tell||Majestic Rock|
Rekuiem are a British melodic metal outfit that rock like its 1983 and there's no holding them back. |
A couple of tunes pull the tempo back to reflect a little, but for the most part, this is an in-your-face metal outing, with tempo matched only by the flaying guitars.
What I like about this album – besides the overall old school vibe – is the guitar playing. The sound is a little thin, the bass is too far back in the mix and the guitar could be chunkier, but Steve Slater can shred, no doubt.
I'm also enjoying the classic metal voice of Paul Parry, who while playing tough guy throughout the album, can still deliver a good vocal melody.
Highlights include the great classic metal opener Nightmare; the semi-acoustic/semi-metal ballad Time Will Tell, which transforms mid-song; a cover of the legendary Sabbath tune Paranoid; the energetic Angel Of Sin and the epic closer Sacrificial Wanderer.
Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler guests on Warewolf with a blazing solo, which should give people another clue as to the band's direction.
|Slamer Nowhere Land||Frontiers Records|
Mike Slamer only releases a new album every couple of years for a good reason. They are all total quality releases. In fact, they are all perfect! The man is a perfectionist and a production genius.|
Mike's best accomplishment in the melodic rock world to date has been the two Steelhouse Lane records, more precisely the second one Slaves Of The New World.
That was an incredible melodic rock record that I always wish I gave a perfect 100 to, as it continued to grow on me past the review time and is still has not lost any of its brilliance…and remains a record I recommend to all to buy without hesitation.
So many fans have been looking forward to a new Steelhouse Lane record. While that is unlikely to ever happen, Mike has still kept making records with two studio and one live album with Billy Greer's Seventh Key project.
Seventh Key was a slightly different beast to Steelhouse Lane – same Slamer trademarks and same perfect production style, just a little different manly due to Billy's own personal influences over the record.
Looking to get back to making records for himself, Mike Slamer teamed with Strangerways/The Sign vocalist Terry Brock to form Slamer. This band is different beast again, albeit one with definite similarities to his recent work.
In fact, I would describe the Slamer debut Nowhere Land as a direct cross between Steelhouse Lane and Seventh Key. There are influences from both present.
Brock certainly makes his mark here, but also present is Billy Greer, who contributes some very prominent harmony vocals. Incidentally, Brock helped out with harmony vocals on the last Seventh Key album, so you can see the crossover style here.
The album is more proficient as far as progressive elements and has more technical nuances than Seventh Key. Over however, I think this is a far mellower album than I expected, or perhaps than it could have been. That really isn't a bad thing; it merely means one must perhaps be a little more selective as to when to play it. It is more a mood record than the 'play anytime' Steelhouse Lane records.
One thing is for certain. This album features some the very finest guitar playing and finest AOR solos that I have ever heard. Mike Slamer's control of his instrument is unparalleled as far as I am concerned. Every track features a new reason to be amazed – be it a technical shred, progressive lick or slow, controlled emotional solo. Amazing just does not cover it.
Not one note or syllable is out of place here, which is a testament to his technical genius. The record is ultra smooth and produced to perfection. There are a couple of small issues that prevent this album from reaching a perfect score.
The biggest surprise for me is perhaps the vocals of Terry Brock. His voice is awesome – on this album he sounds smoother than ever. He sounds a million bucks here. I must add however, that in some way, his rough, raw and raspy edge has been polished over somewhat. There is part of me that misses that edge.
And that same notion applies for the whole album. It is simply so tightly produced and is so slick in the delivery that I can't help but feel the edge of Steelhouse Lane is missing.
The other thing I found is that the momentum of the album is not helped by the track sequencing – rocker / slower / rocker / ballad etc. A revised order where the tempo did not alternate might have offered a better slightly better flow. Minor points for what is really a technically perfect slice of melodic rock.
Track By Track:
As is morally and contractually required – all Slamer albums must feature a classic 'big intro' - one that builds the tension before the opening song bursts to life. This album is no different. The intro to Nowhere Land features some mighty guitar riffs and a slight progressive touch. Once underway Nowhere Land lets the listeners know that Slamer is going to be packed with - well...everything you expected!
Nowhere Land bobs and weaves its way through 6 minutes of harmonious vocals and changing landscapes, mainly painted by some serious guitar theatrics and a pounding rhythm section.
The tempo is immediately pulled back to allow a slow guitar solo to set up Strength To Carry On. This is an amazing track that couldn't be more packed with melodies. The tempo may be slow, but the hooks are glorious. The soaring chorus is the most obvious reference point, but there is so much to listen to throughout the track, including a mid-song bridge, intricate guitar parts and subtle melodies that become known after repeated plays.
It's back to high octane levels with the rocker Not In Love. A 90 second passage of progressive guitar plays kicks the song off before falling back into a more familiar groove. The verse swaggers along, and then the killer chorus – backed with harmonies galore – bursts through the comfort zone. This is another 6 minute track, so there are a few diversions along the way. Certainly not your average formulaic melodic rock!
The 8 minute ballad Come To Me is something out of the ordinary once again. I'm not big on the tempo going back and forth between fast and slow on alternative tracks, but this stuff is just so good. It's nearly 2 and a half minutes into the song before we hear the voice of Terry Brock, with the atmosphere and the tension being built constantly. Brock's voice is so smooth, so emotionally charged and the chorus is once again layered with rich harmonies. Some fine soloing closes out the track.
Time to rock again and the groovy Higher Ground quickly becomes an album favourite. Brock sounds just a little bit grittier here and rocks it a little more - as does Mike Slamer with some hard edged guitar riffing and a good strong song tempo. But the chorus! AOR glory of course! The song features more amazing guitar solos and some truly out of this world uplifting layered vocals towards the end of the track.
Jaded follows the album formula and starts slow. Terry Brock never sounded so smooth and sweet as he does here and Mike's guitar playing is eloquent to say the least. Out of nowhere there appears a heavier, faster and more intense bridge / chorus double play that as it continues on keeps getting bigger and bigger and is another example of perfect high-tech AOR.
Beyond the Pale is another slow and dramatic song that takes a few minutes to build before some fine laid back guitar soloing and moody keyboard parts take the song into its second half. Not a lot of singing within this one – it's more an epic movie score type of song. It features more haunting and emotional vocals from Terry and more hidden melodies that reveal themselves with time.
Runaway again starts slow. More slow guitar soloing builds a fairly sparse track before various layers are added and the song builds to another orgasmic multi-layered chorus that rocks a little harder. This song concludes a mid-album triple play of sultry, moody AOR that appears very laid back to start with, but gains intensity as you get to know the album.
Audio Illusion is a much needed straight ahead melodic rocker. The song is all hooks and all high-tech harmonies and layers and layers of instruments. I'm not sold on the hook, but I love the fact the lyrics are having a dig at the modern day pop music industry.
Perfect Circle is part of a hard rock double play that closes out the album. Great hooks, great harmonies and a strong chorus and a relatively straight forward approach.
Superstar is even better. This is straight out of the Steelhouse Lane hand book and is the heaviest and most hard rocking track of the whole album. I could have used another couple of tracks like this – dramatic, intense and a little progressive also. It rocks!
|Sunstorm Sunstorm||Frontiers Records|
Joe Lynn Turner has forged a long and successful career playing classy blues driven hard rock. He has fronted Rainbow and Deep Purple and won worldwide acclaim.|
But the one album that kick started it all remains a fan favourite to this day. And that album wasn't a hard rock or a blues rock album. Joe's solo debut Rescue You was a glorious slice of pure melodic rock that showcased a side of JLT's voice we haven't heard a lot of over the years.
Beneath that gravelly authentic rock voice there is a smooth, soulful and totally commercial side to Joe that finally gets to shine again on Sunstorm.
Sunstorm is a project built around Joe and the decision to showcase his AOR voice in its best possible light – a return to the Rescue You album stylistically, yet with production values matching today's sonic demands.
Instead of putting pressure on Joe to write an album of new songs capturing an old vibe, the label worked through a song list of classic and unreleased AOR songs with Joe which both parties thought would best capture his melodic side and deliver fans a quality AOR release. Boy, did they get that right.
The songs chosen range from a few AOR classics, a few more obscure tracks and some unreleased songs from the desk of Jim Peterik (Survivor, Pride Of Lions, Kelly Keagy).
The songs selected are a very special set of songs.
But none of this would matter if those involved couldn't get the sound right. In steps Mr. Perfect - Dennis Ward. Dennis produces, adds backing vocals, bass plus additional guitars and keyboards. The man is a machine. Also featured are Uwe Reitenauer on lead guitars, Chris Schmidt on drums and Jochen Weyer on keyboards.
The powerhouse band adapt perfectly to the AOR material and add an extra dimension of power to Joe' delivery. The band also gives this release a slightly European feel, which is no problem at all for me, as frankly - the Europeans have kicked the USA's butt this year.
The album is utterly and totally melodic in that pure AOR sense and it retains an 80s soul, but the kick-ass band and tight production give it a quality that makes it contemporary enough to compete with the best releases of 2006.
And Joe Lynn Turner? Where does one start with the compliments? Basically he just sings his absolute bollocks off here and sounds like an angel driving a Leopard tank – demolishing these songs with the gusto of a 20 year old.
Track By Track:
Keep Tonight is a perfect opening track, an AOR guitar riff kicking off a track that is bathed in keyboards. True to the edict of the album, this is pure AOR with a 80s feel, but not an outdated 80s production. A catchy chorus and some ultra smooth vocals set the album up beautifully.
Fame And Fortune picks up the tempo a little more and continues the guitar/keyboard dual going. This is straight ahead melodic rock, performed perfectly.
Heart Over Mind is one of two classic tracks lifted from Van Stephenson's breakthrough AOR masterpiece Righteous Anger. This emotional and powerful ballad suits Joe to a tee and I have seldom heard him produce such a smooth, soulful and emotional lead vocal.
This Is My Heart picks up from the ballad brilliantly. This begins a powerful one-two punch of AOR gloriousness. This song remains subtle and mid-tempo through the pure AOR brilliance of the verse and bridge, until a more powerful rock chorus takes over.
Then there is the amazing Strength Over Time – a song full of heart and soul and most importantly – glorious AOR hooks! It just keeps building and building and Joe's vocals are so good that this song will be up there with the very best come the 2006 Awards.
The album needed a slight reprieve about now; otherwise emotional exhaustion might set in! Another You is the perfect foil. I don't even have to see the song credits to know this is a Jim Peterik tune. This is one of Jim's adult contemporary style numbers that doesn't have a feature chorus, but rather runs along a set melodic story path.
The best thing about this album is the song sequencing. When working with a selection of songs written by various outsiders, the biggest challenge is to place them into a sequence that sounds as if they were written for the one album. Dennis Ward does that perfectly here, so just when needed, a big rocker is delivered to get the album's momentum rolling again. That rocker is of course Van Stephenson's in your face anthem Fistful Of Heat.
Love's Gone Wrong pulls thing back one notch but keeps the album rocking. This is another perfect fit for the album and for Joe. A snappy guitar riff, melodic verse and bridge, then a punchy keyboard filled chorus. Quit simply – more glorious old school AOR!
Night Moves is a more straight forward melodic rocker with a heavier delivery and a tough rocking chorus.
Time to head back to some more glorious and classic AOR in the guise of Danger of Love. A mellow but very melodic verse kicks into a great AOR chorus with yet more astounding vocals from Joe.
Making Up For the Last Time is a mellower more sentimental mid-tempo ballad that fans of old school 80s AOR will love. The prefect love song for a summer movie soundtrack.
To close the album we get a song many will be familiar with. The Jim Peterik/David Carl ballad Arms Of Love. This is a nice sentimental way to close the album and again showcases a very fine and smooth vocal from Joe.
This album features a killer set of songs and some amazing performances. It is a real crowd pleaser for those that partake in this melodic music scene and even if you don't own a single JLT album – this might just make you aware of what a special vocalist he is. Sunstorm is my brand new favourite ever JLT release.
|Avalon Avalon: The Richie Zito Project||Frontiers Records|
Avalon in the name bestowed upon the new Richie Zito project. But this is a little different than what might normally be expected of the famed producer.
Avalon sees Zito return to his musician ways, playing guitar, bass, synth and even a mandolin, all the while producing the affair and writing the material.
Check the production credits for Zito, you will always see that he is a very hands-on guy – helping with the co-writing and adding additional instrumentation to the albums he works on.|
Here he gets to do it all, except sing. That's where AOR fans get a real bonus. Richie calls in all his friends from past projects and it is these singers that make the album what it is.
Zito is one of my favourite producers of all time. His work and his style are perfect to my taste. I don't think there is a more technically superior producer in the business and all his albums sound a million bucks! All except for this project! Yes, the one thing that confuses me most about Avalon is the occasionally questionable production quality.
One would think that Zito would have the ability and every desire to ensure something with his own name on it was as sonically perfect as his more famous work.
I think it all comes down to budget. Richie is used to working with major labels and major dollars. It is sad and unfortunately reality that there simply isn't the interest for an album like this outside these circles normally covered by this site.
So it all comes down to smaller budgets and smaller resources. That sad, the production really isn't that bad. It's just a little rough in places and across the album it does vary a little.
What exaggerates the problem is that the main two culprits are the opening track and track 3. The better produced songs are further back in the album. Plus, coming off a month of listening to Mike Slamer, just about anything is going to sound rough!
Track By Track:
Blue Collar opens the album in fine pure AOR style with a very smooth Hugo vocal up front. The production quality sounds a little rough to me, but the song is entirely enjoyable and features a very memorable and instant chorus.
Is He Better Than Me just adds more quality music to the great time vocalist Joe Lynn Turner is having these past few years. This is a great 80s sounding classic melodic rocker that starts slow but builds to a very commercial and catchy chorus. JLT sounds great as usual and the track itself is a perfect match to his own Sunstorm record.
Eddie Money makes the first of two appearances on Nightmare, but as much as I love Eddie, this track is very rough around the edges and I think it misses the mark somewhat. To jump to later within the album, it is on I Put My Life In Your Hands that everyone redeems themselves. This is a classic Eddie Money song and sounds like it could have been lifted directly off the brilliant Can't Hold Back record.
Jumping back to the middle of the album, Oh Samantha is a very fine AOR ballad featuring a finely tuned Joseph Williams. Great for JW fans.
Avalon is a moody, but uptempo AOR rocker featuring the always fantastic Danny Vaughn. Quite simply, this track is a must for all Vaughn fans.
Eric Martin contributes two lead vocals to the tracks of Avalon and he does not disappoint. The mid-tempo melodic rock anthem Life Got In The Way is a little rough as far as the sound quality, but brilliant for its melodic qualities.
Eric also closes the album with the very smooth pop ballad I Don't Want To Want You. Once again…essential for Martin fans.
Blue Monday again features Hugo, but alongside him is Giorgio Moroder. It's mainly Hugo here and the song is another fine uptempo melodic rocker.
The retro ballad Forever I Will has a touch of the blues and features Richie Kotzen. It is a little out of character from the rest of the album – such is Kotzen's distinct style and delivery.
At the end of the album we fine two amazing pure AOR tracks with the great Philip Bardowell on vocals. The another ballad Can't Forget You and the more straight forward Good Things Take Time are both very catchy and very memorable example of great AOR that mirror the sound of Bardowell's own solo album of last year.
The fine vocal performances and the satisfying sequencing of the songs makes for a very easy to listen to album and all in all, this is another must have for fans of traditional AOR.
|Taz Taylor Band Welcome To America||Escape Music|
Who is Taz Taylor and his band? That question is about to become easier to answer as once this album is released as Taz and Co. should find themselves on the receiving end of some new fans and a greater public profile.|
Taz is a British guitar player that moved to the US in the late 90s and has been working on this album ever since. He has hooked up with a fellow Brit in Graham Bonnet – famed vocalist for Alcatraz and Rainbow.
Taz is a fan of the classic hard rock style displayed by UFO, Rainbow and Michael Schenker and those influences play out over this record.
This record offers melodic rock fans a taste of classic British hard rock in the form of a gritty guitar dominated record that also features some fine lead vocals from Bonnet.
Bonnet has probably seen better days as a vocalist but this album represents one of his best performances in a long time.
The album is also very nicely produced. It is clear and evenly mixed, but not too polished as to remove the gritty edge such an album needs.
Star of the album for me though is Taz himself. While he may not be a household name, he makes a strong mark here with some impressive guitar work. There's a certain shred and solo component, but overall the album feels very restrained and well constructed. There are also a few very enjoyable passages of slower more delicate soloing, such as the cover of Gary Moore's classic Parisienne Walkways.
Highlights amongst the album include the rocking opening track Fighter's Fist; the melodic friendly Radio Luxembourg; the moodier Haunted – which features an intense vocal and Wall Of Sound, which is think sounds like classic UFO.
|Sammy Hagar Livin' It Up||Rhino / Cabo Wabo Music|
Sammy Hagar has always followed his heart and once again on Livin' It Up he proves to be his own man and changes things in a way that not everyone is going to get or accept.|
I expect very mixed reviews for this record from the press and fans alike, as you are either going to get it, or you ain't. I get it. Totally.
Even before talking to Sammy about this album, I could hear the conviction and passion behind it. After speaking with the Red Rocker, I can attest to his passion, comfort and total self belief in what he is doing.
In recent years Sammy's live shows and his life in general have drifted towards embracing the Mexican way – sun, surf, beach and tequila. Sammy has two of his own theme bars, his own exclusive tequila beverage and a growing legion of fans that are with him all the way.
The only thing missing was to take this lifestyle theme into an actual record. Livin' It Up is now documented proof of the change within Sammy Hagar. He's as happy as a pig in shit and he wants to tell the whole world.
He does so with a thoroughly infectious record that you really just can't help but like.
Unfortunately some fans are just not going to be able to get past the change in musical direction and in some ways this record hands Sammy's critics the ammunition they have been looking for.
I don't think Sammy's lyrical style has changed too much here, but there are more obvious lifestyle references dotted throughout the record, to the point where this could be considered a concept record about embracing everything that is good within Sammy's life.
There is a noticeable country twang through the record that has and will leave some scratching their heads, including a couple of full on country tunes and the majority of the album is driven by an authentic earthy and acoustic vibe.
Take the style aside and you are able to analyze the performance. And that's where Sammy gets major credit. You can really hear the energy and the electricity within this record. Producer Bob Daspit has captured the band in a raw, live atmosphere, but at the same time has ensured that the record has a crisp, sharp feel that Sammy's recent solo recordings have missed.
The record sounds perfect and Sammy's individual performance is one I would rate among his best.
His voice has seldom sounded so in shape - smooth and comfortable, yet also delivering that trademark rasp and the odd scream like it was recorded 20 years ago.
Track By Track:
Opening the album is the infectious groove of Sam I Am, which frames the album perfectly from the outset. A little slide guitar, a little twang and a classic Hagar vocal drive a catchy as hell hook.
Living On A Coastline slows things down with a beach boogie vibe. A relaxed happy lyric is delivered with conviction by Hagar. The feel good harmonies and a catchy chorus suck you in. The opening two tracks are vital to the message being delivered here and they leave you with no doubt where this album is going.
I imagine some folks might stop right here, but you will be missing some fine music if you do so.
Mexico is a more rocking track, driven by a grittier lead guitar and some Santana like drum rhythms, especially later in the song.
The breezy mid tempo rockers The Way We Live and I Love This Bar compliment each other perfectly before the Kenny Chesney/Sammy Hagar written One Sip pays further tribute to the fine Mexican way.
Making a resprise appearance is Halfway To Memphis (from Not 4 Sale), this time easily the most country themed track of the album, complete with slide guitar, that distinctive twang and a laid back acoustic delivery.
There are a few covers once again on Livin' It Up. I Love This Bar covers the Toby Keith hit but may as well have been written by Hagar himself and Rainy Day Women covers the Bob Dylan classic – once again more or less true to Hagar's lifestyle philosophy and is here perfectly adapted to the feel of this record.
Then there is Hagar's adoption of the Staple Sister's classic Let Me Take You There – a the track you have already heard and in its position gives the album a nice uptempo lift.
Sailin is a relaxed and happy acoustic pop song, not quite a ballad and not quite a country tune. It features a sweet vocal and more feel good vibes. Someday is a short acoustic country ballad that closes out the album and the story contained in relaxed fashion.
Those looking for a glimpse of the lyrically more intense Sammy, evident on Marching To Mars or with Van Halen might have to rely on those records for your fix.
|Rob Lamothe Long Lazy Curve||Livewire/Cargo|
To some degree Rob Lamothe remains an unsung genius. To those that 'get him', his music is poetry and his lyrical insights are matched by few.
Rob may be best known for fronting the Riverdogs, but his solo work is a growing body of amazing music – but is more marginalized as far as who it will appeal to.|
Rob solo is more singer/songwriter in approach and is largely acoustic driven with a sometimes folk-ish approach. In his favor, Rob really has a raspy, haunting quality to his voice which facilitates raw pure emotion flowing through to the listener.
Take a listen to a track like Ashes To Ashes. Rob's warm raspy vocal sucks you in to his world, a place where you believe every word you hear.
I'm happy to report that this album is a little more uptempo than the last couple, which is something I was certainly hoping for.
Romeo's Barbershop, with its chorus hook and electric guitar riff is an album highlight as is the more acoustic, but uptempo pop rocker Good Enough For Me.
Til Forever Is Over may be a little too country for some, but its raw energy and honesty are engaging. The album closes with three laid back songs penned and entirely played by Rob. More testament to his talent, but I prefer the fuller band tracks of the rest of the album.
The album is produced by Canadian veteran Tom Treumuth and sounds sonically balanced and fresh.
|Joseph Williams Two Of Us||WHD Entertainment|
This album was slated for release some two years ago but disappeared without explanation, leaving me to believe it was off the radar for good.
But here is this Japanese only release, with a new title, but the same 11 tracks within. |
Joseph is one of the great AOR vocalists there ever was, his time with Toto perhaps the best known and more recently his two Vertigo releases. On this album Williams allows his vocals to be the main focal point of the album, accompanied only by a grand piano on each track, hence the title if one was to hazard a guess.
It is safe to say that Joseph's vocals are not as smooth as they once were. Time has lowered his range and given him a raspier delivery. And in a few places Joseph avoids going for that big note – most obviously on Unchained Melody.
Still, the passion and emotion that he carries is still there and some of his fanbase will appreciate this. I do call myself a fan, but in this case I find it hard to get very passionate about this release.
I am not a big fan of covers albums and one filled entirely with ballads is not something I am going to play too often!
50 minutes of slow piano ballads is just too much for me. There is some real cheese here – Because You Loved Me, We're All Alone, Can't Help Falling In Love and Save The Best For Last the worst offenders.
There are a few famous rock ballads – Everything I Do (I Do It For You), Don't Want To Miss A Thing and I Can't Fight This Feeing all desperately trying to hold my attention.
But in the end – they don't and I find myself longing for the pure AOR strains of Toto's Seventh One.
|Demon Angels Time Of Confusion||Perris Records|
Demon Angels is a new band that on this occasion features the great Robin McAuley on lead vocals. The band appears to be a piecemeal kinda of affair, with the rhythm section based in Italy (where their parts were recorded) and then American guitarist Chris Falco and featuring "special guest" lead vocalist McAuley – also responsible for putting this all together and producing the album.|
But as special guest, Robin delivers all the lyrics for the album with Falco providing the music.
Anything Robin appears on is going to have instant appeal as he really has a great voice for this kind of music. And for the very reason that Robin sings his ass off here, the record is made all that much better.
To be honest though, without Robin I doubt this album would have scored a record deal. It just isn't that memorable. The music and the riffs and even the lyrics have all been heard before a hundred times.
The production is ok, average…but the uptempo songs rock and the guitars are nice and loud, which saves it. Then there's Robin's voice. He sounds great on this material which is classic style hard rock and is some of the heavier material I have heard him sing since MSG's Save Yourself.
Highlights include the double time rocker Let's Dance which features some great guitar work, the opening groove of Gonna Get It and the more melodic Victoria. The second half of the material on offer is nowhere as strong as the opening 4 tracks.
|Andy Logan Ride||KOAN Records|
There's some good singer/songwriter stuff around at the moment and former Little America guitarist/vocalist Andy Logan delivers another one of those albums.|
This is his second full solo album and sees him on form. Andy has a dark and raspy voice, and stylistically delivers a mix of Little America style Americana mixed with a darker more southern mix of s blues, country and rock essence. There's also a little acoustic country in there and a pronounced soulful vibe.
This is far more bluesy and roots based than the more commercial Little America and I think this album has a certain limited appeal – which in itself it just an observation, but probably a shame, as the musical credibility displayed here is no less valid than the best of another melodic rock artist.
If the last Charlie Sexton album appealed and Rob Lamothe is also a favourite, this is more like a Midwestern meets Southern USA version of Rob's sound.
This album features 14 short and honest tracks with some fine slide guitar and some raspy narrative vocals.
|Edguy Rocket Ride||Nuclear Blast|
Some will wonder why the hell it has taken me so long to review what is one of 2006's best metal releases. Easy – the band's record label. Yes, I got the promo, but be buggered if the whole thing isn't completely ruined by a lame voice over every minute or so, reminding you what you are listening to – fading the music in and out to do so – even during the choruses!! Dickhead record labels…|
That's just too bloody annoying sorry… so I never reviewed it. Now I have purchased the original retail version so I can write a review without wanting to throw the disc out the window.
Originally released in January, Rocket Ride is Edguy at their best.
The album is immaculately produced and is a true in your face melodic metal album.
The crunch of guitars is almost worth the price of the album alone. Mixed with a pounding rhythm section, the songs really do jump through the speakers. But what makes this album for me is the band's extra attention to detail come chorus time. There are more harmony vocals on here than on some AOR albums and each song has a definite chorus to remember, which is what draws the listener back for more.
This German melodic metal outfit has come up with some great material here and the production is truly world class.
The opening track Sacrifice is immense and more than 8 minutes in length, but Wasted Time, Return To The Tribe and the mellower and very melodic Save Me and Superheroes all deliver classic riffs and melodies too.
The band doesn't sound like Masterplan, but they do have the same philosophy as far as including hooks and melodies within some bone crunching hard rockers. Check them out.
|Evergrey Monday Morning Apocalypse||Inside Out|
This is another killer album from a few months back that I want to give a little press to.|
Sweden's Evergrey have changed their approach a little for this release, which sees the band toughen up and modernize their sound somewhat.
This is a hard rocking metal release, but one that's very melodic and has a unique style. The guitars are uncompromising and in your face, there are modern production effects and occasional overdubs, yet never does the band forget to include a melody and a good chorus hook.
Evergrey have dark and moody style which is almost gothic at times, and their delivery is also mixed - aggressive, sometimes progressive and sometimes just straight ahead melodic hard rock/metal.
Which ever way you look at it, they are delivering something cool and different and given that this album is so well produced, they offer a quality product when at times it is hard to find something original to check out.
|Choirboys Big Bad & Acoustic||Liberation Music|
This is how you do an acoustic record…brilliant. Strip it back totally, re-arrange only when absolutely necessary and put down some straight-to-tape emotional and appealing lead vocals.|
What's more…include your very best and well known tracks and a few classic album cuts, plus a couple of quirky covers.
All the band's classic tracks are included here – from the rockers Struggletown, Run To Paradise, Boys Will Be Boys and Empire. A few of the ballads are also stripped down – Never Gonna Die and Cold Outside being favourites.
A couple of covers – Bad Boy For Love (Rose Tattoo) and the Vanda & Young penned Hey St. Peter.
Perhaps there is only the singer that remains in the band, but live and on record here they put in a great collective effort and this is perhaps my favourite of all the Acoustic Blue releases to date.
|Jon Stevens The Works||Liberation Music|
Jon Stevens is a little different. One of my favourite singers on the planet, he continues to be his own worst enemy in misunderstanding what the public want of him.|
We want a new rock record or a new Noiseworks record. But for whatever reason (only Stevens knows the answer) these never come. Now we have this unplugged record, which is half brilliant, half crap.
The Noiseworks tunes were destined to be stripped back for acoustic purposes and here Touch, Take Me back, RIP, In My Youth and Simple Man all sound brilliant. Hot Chilli Woman, Miles And Miles and Freedom are not far behind, all driven by Stevens soul driven power rock voice.
But no Stevens record would be complete without a self indulgent portion, so the record buying public are once again subjected to some of the horrid R&B that was his featured on his solo album Ain't No Life For The Faint Hearted, which sold next to no copies.
Basically I feel like skipping through the middle 5 tracks of the album to avoid these tracks and get back in the swing at track 9 when the Noiseworks classics continue.
No one wanted to hear Stevens do the horrible Doors cover Light My Fire once and they sure don't want it again (now in stripped back form) here. Rock Mr. Stevens…please ROCK!
|Inxs Switch (Tour Edition)||Burnett / Epic|
This is purely and simply a cash-in CD and I have a pronounced dislike for such releases. Inxs are about to hit Australia for a full tour so naturally a Tour Edition of their hit album Switch appears just in time.|
Thankfully this is one cash-in that delivers some value. This is now a 2 disc set with the original album and a bonus disc.
On the bonus disc is 4 live tracks – Pretty Vegas, Hot Girls, Devil's Party and the essential Hungry. All good versions and good honest live recordings. Then there are 3 video clips – Perfect Strangers (the new single), Afterglow and Pretty Vegas. Additionally there is a very interesting 30 minute documentary – the Making Of Switch.
All very good viewing, with the downside of it being CD Extra formatted, rather than a DVD you can watch on something other than a PC.
Switch was a very good album that remains so and these extras are a nice incentive for those that don't yet have the album or those that truly have to have everything.
But as per usual, it is a deep shame that record labels and artists continue to reward the lazy fans. Those that bought the album immediately have to buy it all over again for the bonus features while those that couldn't be assed initially now get a cool bonus. That just doesn't seem right.
|Ten The Twilight Chronicles||Frontiers Records|
Multiple line-up changes and dodgy re-recordings of past hits aside, Ten still have a passionate fanbase and a considerable catalogue of material many bands would be proud to call their own.|
I have said before and I'll say again, not too many bands of the recent era can boast as many albums to their name as Ten can. This is the band's 8th album of all new material and after giving their last album – the 10th Anniversary re-recorded hits release – a bit of a bollocking, I am happy to report that Gary Hughes and the gang are all but back on track with this release.
I'm not sure how appealing an album of re-recorded hits is anyway, so if you are one of those that have just been collecting the new studio albums as they come along, this will sound like the band has not skipped a beat since their Return To Evermore release.
There is a slightly different feel to this album, but with Ten that has often been the case as they have moved through their 10 year history and into their 11th.
I really like this release, but then again, I have liked every Ten release (of new material at least!) to date.
This album is going to appeal to those that liked the band's earliest couple of releases and the last studio album. Fans of the heavier middle period of the band's history – such as Spellbound – might not be as enamoured with this album.
And while I think the band is definitely back on track, I wouldn't go so far as to call this release classic – just very good.
I'd like to take this opportunity to hail this album as lead guitarist Chris Francis' best work in the band to date, with some fine soloing throughout and a nice mixture of sounds and textures used. John Haliwell's riffing as usual holds it all together.
The 12 minute Prologue and opening track Rome sets up the album and while not overly catchy and certainly rather long, it drifts into The Chronicles which is pretty much a classic Ten track – Gary Hughes' dulcet tones, soaring guitars and a great chorus hook.
The song's structure and method of moving between verse and the chorus is trademark of what Ten have done in the past. The familiarity will be appreciated by fans.
The Elysian Fields is all too familiar also - but in a good way. It is nothing I haven't already heard before, but this 7 minute ballad has a sweeping, haunting quality not unlike the band's early sound mixed with Return To Evermore.
Hallowed Ground gets the tempo back up and rocking again. A glance at the CD indicates another epic is upon us, this one running some 10 minutes. A nice guitar fuelled 2 minute intro lines the track up nicely.
Its some 5 minutes into the track before the full bridge-chorus-hook set up becomes totally apparent, but it's worth the wait. A nice guitar solo launches the track into its next phase, but at about the 7 minute mark things begin to wear a little thin as the track merely repeats earlier parts. There is no need to make this an epic for the sake of being epic. The track isn't that classic it needs to be this long.
This Heart Goes On is a typical sentimental Ten ballad with all the necessary elements – heartfelt vocals, piano, stand out guitar lick. Surprisingly, as much as I like the song, the chorus is nowhere near as big as past ballads.
Oblivion amounts to what is my first real surprise of the album. I dig this album and the songs, but there really aren't any surprises – until you get to this track.
Oblivion is one of the most commercial and openly upbeat tracks I have heard Gary write and perform. This is a cracking uptempo pop/rocker with a nice guitar riff and a brilliant chorus. Some seven minutes long, the track still ends too soon and I just love it.
The Twilight Masquerade heads back into more familiar territory. While getting off to a slow start, the typical rocker does build and brings a memorable chorus-bridge double once it hits its mark.
Tourniquet is somewhat different for the guys. This is another lengthy rocker, but the guitar sound is far dirtier and grittier for the lack of a better word. Gary's vocals remain smooth throughout and the chorus is ok, but the guitar rules this track.
Born To The Grave is also a little different. Typical Ten in its delivery, but a little left of center as far as the sounds of the melody and the layers within the song. It makes for an interesting listen, although at the end of the day it is not among my favourites of the album.
Closing the album is another epic…well, 7 minutes and bit at least. When The Night Is Done is a slow starting moody piece of music that builds slowly during its run. No major chorus hook here, but subtle vocal memories and a lush, layered approach to the music.
It certainly has an epic feel and closes the album in a mildly dramatic fashion.
Still, there are some new Ten classics to be enjoyed and I think the die hard fans will be more than happy with the results.
The production quality is back on track and the real drum sound makes a welcome change from the Anniversary release. A couple of bigger choruses are about all I could ask for.
|Fair Warning Brother's Keeper||Frontiers Records|
Fair Warning return after a break some fans thought might be permanent. The band broke into two side projects – Dreamtide and Soul Doctor – both offering something a little different from the traditional FW sound.|
But fans always want the original and I am happy to say that Fair Warning pick up exactly where they left off with their comeback album Brother's Keeper. The band hasn't changed anything. Brother's Keeper mixes the best of 4 and Rainmaker and sees the band use the same guitar sound, vocal style and production feel as their past records.
Everything that the band is known for is back - the guitars are big, the keyboards swirl in the background, Tommy Heart is in fine voice and the overall production has that epic feel. Don't Keep Me Waiting kicks off the album in fine uptempo bravado – typical Fair Warning.
Generation Jedi continues the big rock feel before the sentimental ballad All Of My Love gives fans something to wave their lighters to.
Rainbow Eyes lifts the tempo a little, but the rocker Push On Me puts the album back in overdrive.
Wasted Time is a strong ballad, albeit a rocking one. Another highlight is the mid-tempo Once Bitten, Twice Shy, which is a nice change in the album's general formula.
The bonus track Still I Believe is one of the album highlights and I'm glad it was included. It is one of the more melodic and commercial tracks of the album.
All I Want To Do is a nice poppy kind of way to close the album, but adding 6 minutes of silence at the end before a 30 second Bavarian chant blasts through the speakers is not a wise move in this age of iPods and MP3 files.
Two small points to add. Firstly, I'm sure long time fans will wholeheartedly disagree, but I think the 70 minute playing time is, in this case, a little too long. And the band's guitar sound – the tone these guys use isn't for everyone, but I suspect the established fan base who are used to it will be buying this without hesitation.
|Axel Rudi Pell Mystica||SPV|
Ah, the ever reliable Axel Rudi Pell returns for another mythical goblin inspired romp through the European hard rock Kingdom of Predictabilia.
I really do like this album, but then again, why wouldn't I? Axel once again takes the blueprint of the last 5 albums and adds new riffs and new lyrics to create this, the 6th studio album to feature Johnny Gioeli on lead vocals.|
I have liked every one of these albums as they are all essentially the same - a short guitar intro, 9 tracks, 2 epics…a couple of slower tracks and some great melodic hard rockers.
I don't know if there is a point where you could justifiably start to get annoyed that essentially the same album is released time after time, but if it ain't broke – why fix it? And this album is no different.
I think there is a good portion of Axel's vast fan base that would riot if his album veered off the set path. Mystica is immaculately produced, well executed, features solid performances and if you like the past albums – there are 9 more classic ARP songs here.
The differences or stand out points of this release? Well, Johnny Gioeli sings his ass off. There really are some fine vocals on here and some of Johnny's best extended screams that I have heard. His voice is perfect for Axel and is the thing I look forward to the most. Here he certainly does not disappoint.
Song wise…no surprises, but Rock The Nation works particularly well for me, as does Living A Lie and the big ballad (with some fine guitar work) No Chance To Live.
This passionate ballad and the title epic track Mystica feature some utterly brilliant vocals from Gioeli and it really is hard to ignore the infectious nature of the songs.
The score reflects the quality of this album and the fact it all but matches the quality of recent releases. Deduct 20 points if you were looking for something different!
|Lunatica The Edge Of Infinity||Frontiers Records|
Lunatica are one of those take it or leave it kind of artists. You have to be into their vibe to be into the album. Their vibe however, is one that does have a considerable fan base. European Symphonic hard rock is a market of its own with a slew of band's vying for the fan dollar.|
Lunatica have taken steps in the right direction to become a bigger name. I'm not sold on every track here and I think they need to work on their hooks a little further before breaking into the big time.
What appears a fairly innocuous listen over the first couple of plays comes to life once you get to know it a little better and that's when the passion of the guys becomes evident. But the strong opening doesn't quite carry through the whole record.
Sons Of The Wind is a great example of doing everything right – a powerhouse arrangement, authorative vocals and some dramatic symphonic passages of music.
The rock ballad Who You Are features some sultry vocals before crashing into something larger than life – this is perhaps the album stand out and definitely the track I would be promoting as a single.
Out! is darker and more edgy and reminds me of Evanescence. In fact, comparisons to Evanescence and also Nightwish are inevitable given the band's style and their female lead vocalist. Lunatica might just have the ability to compete with them though.
I spoke of the need for stronger choruses and I think that is highlighted through the middle of the album before the double kick drum fired Worlds Unleashed grabs your attention.
Former Asia frontman John Payne contributes a fine passionate duet on Song For You, while personal favourite Oliver Hartmann appears in duet on a refrain of the closing track Emocean. However, the same song twice in a row diminishes his contribution and I would have dropped the initial version entirely in favor of the one featuring Hartmann.
It's So Easy - GNR Tribute
I like the guys at Versailles Records, but I think these tribute albums have reached their use-by date.|
A few guest stars appear for each volume and the rest is made up of the same names and faces and at times, the same tracks from past releases re-appear.
In the case of this Guns N Roses tribute, the notable names are Jizzy Pearl, Tracii Guns, Gilby Clarke, Joe Lynn Turner and Phil Lewis. Trouble is, the quality is just too varied to make a consistent release.
Highlights include Drama Queen Die's Think About You, the ever reliable Richard Kendrick's version of You Could Be Mine and then Jizzy, Tracii, Gilby and Randy Castillo join forces for Sweet Child O Mine, which is more or less faithful to the original and the vocals of Jizzy sound pretty cool.
On the other side of the coin Joe Lynn Turner appears as part of The Slashtones doing Pretty Tied Up. I love Joe but bloody hell, this track sounds like utter shite and he might regret being involved on playback. The sound quality is horrid and the backing vocals laughable.
And that is the biggest problem with this whole project. The sound quality is for the most part very average.
Hearing little known bands such as Valerian, Radio Vipers and Joe Town perform songs other well known artists have already paid tribute to just doesn't add up to an essential purchase.
|Shark Island Gathering Of The Faithful||Frontiers Records|
The return of Shark Island…who would have ever thought it? This is a great thing for fans of the band, unanimous in their belief that the band's career was cut short before they ever reached their full potential.|
There remains such a passion for the band's debut album Law Of The Order that this release is bound to find it's way into many hands.
Those that didn't pick up on the band first time around get a second chance here, but I feel that the majority that will be impressed with this release will be those long established fans.
This is a very interesting release. It is not entirely as I expected it would be, but after living with it for some 2 months now, I could not imagine it being anything else.
First a little background – before eventually splitting up, the band wrote and recorded a staggering amount of demos. Many have grouped these tracks and one certain grouping was being traded as the band's unreleased second album.
Truth is, things never got that far. The great number of demos were just that and no second album was ever recorded. Until now.
Gathering Of The Faithful is the result. Frontman Richard Black proclaimed that the band would first have to go back before they could possible move forwards, so on this album, the band's choice of 13 of their best original demos were gathered and re-cut from scratch.
No polishing or re-mastering here - these are 100% new recordings and in some instances, completely new arrangements of some well traded classics. As a long time fan of the band, these songs are very familiar. The 2006 arrangement and fresh treatment of them however is not.
I think fans that know these songs will be of the same opinion I have. At first the new arrangements took some getting used to. I was very surprised on at least a couple of occasions. The band have put a new spin on a few tracks here and the production and overall sound quality is perfect for the band. It is clear and mixed brilliantly.
The band individually sounds as good now as they ever did. The vibe might be a little more laid back in places and the album is definitely a more mature piece of work, but the class of the band as writers and as musicians shines through in every way.
Several tracks have a more acoustic base and a raw, stripped back feel, yet the attitude of the debut remains.
The feeling of a mellower album is probably exaggerated by the relatively relaxed way the album starts. Blue Skies and Tomorrow's Child are acoustic driven and somewhat easy going compared with the angst of the debut.
Then there is the sultry The Stranger, which although slow in tempo, is a more riff driven track and features that trademark Richard Black snarl.
The uptempo pop/rocker Go West typifies this album. It has the bluesy swagger of the band's traditional sound and a great little chorus, but is more relaxed in the overall vibe.
The rock ballad Welcome Goodbye is a very cool update on the original demo. Haunting, soulful and totally commanding of the listener's attention, the song features a warm but edgy vocal and spells out why this band means so much to fans.
The subtle, smoldering rocker Life Goes On sees the band dabbling with their Led Zeppelin affinity and is another testament to the musical ability of the guys.
Down To The Ground is one track that hasn't been changed much from how it was written. I saw this track performed live by the band once in 1992 and to this day the melody remains familiar to me. This is classic rocking Shark Island and I love it.
Looking For The Sun has been updated beautifully. It was always a sentimental ballad, but this version features a brilliant vocal and a terrific updated arrangement. Another highlight.
Heaven has been rocked up a little and given a slightly more modern guitar sound, but still rocks as it always has and is another typical Shark Island rocker.
If I Had A Dream is another of my long time favourites songs of the 'lost demos'. In this case it has been given the most dramatic facelift of all the tracks. The uptempo anthem rock ballad has been turned on its head to be a soft, subtle, emotional and haunting ballad, with an acoustic guitar and a raw, emotional vocal delivering the message.
It has taken the most getting used to, but is such a classy song in every way.
Will To Power is another traditional bluesy Shark Island rocker and like Heaven and Down To The Ground, could easily have been lifted from the debut. Same could be said of Need Your Love and Temptation, which fulfill the trend of the album getting heavier as it progresses. These two dramatic hard rockers have been updated with a more contemporary sound, but the style will be easily recognizable to long time fans.
Shark Island devotees finally have another album they can wrap their ears around and imagine most will be impressed. What cannot be mistaken is the class of the performance and production, which helps bring some classic songs into the now.
|Brother Firetribe False Metal||Spinefarm Records|
Its Finland's turn to deliver a classic old school style melodic hard rock album wrapped up in a contemporary delivery and backed with a monster production and retail promotion.|
Sweden has The Poodles and Norway has Wig Wam. Finland has Brother Firetribe, the band formed by Emppu Vuorinen – guitarist for symphonic metal band Nightwish.
The band also features an amazing vocalist in Pekka Ansio Heino – a melodicrock.com regular and all-round good guy.
Emppu brings some of the symphonic flavor of Nightwish to Brother Firetribe, especially with the dramatic keyboard passages that dominate this record. The band has a flair for the dramatic and it's interesting to hear keyboards billed equally with the guitar parts.
Swirling keyboards take command and along with the extremely likable vocals, drive the melodies, while the guitar is used primarily for supplying the underlying riffs and when the occasion calls for it, some flashy solos.
The band's sound is reminiscent of the big American 80s synth driven high-tech production, at times reminding me of some of those classic American soundtrack anthems. This style is mixed with the band's European roots for a truly unique, yet familiar sound. Think early Bon Jovi meets Treat with a dash of Cheap Trick and Van Halen for good measure.
Vocalist Pekka has a commanding voice that at times sounds a little like Cheap Trick's Robin Zander in his 80s hard rock mode. No wonder that the guys sound so comfortable covering Cheap Trick's rock anthem Mighty Wings, from the Top Gun soundtrack. It sums up the band's creed totally.
As for the songs themselves, the guys can't do a thing wrong. This is an album packed with one great track after the other.
The album opens in dramatic style with the moody synth drenched Break Out, moving seamlessly into the sentimental rocker Valerie, which delivers a knockout chorus.
I'm On Fire is a moodier again and features a more restrained verse before one of the year's biggest choruses blasts through the speakers with the deafening roar of keyboards, guitars and massive vocals.
The powerful and emotional ballad Love Goes Down has a dramatic flair, while Devil's Daughter lightens the tone a little.
My pick of the entire album is the big dramatic anthem rocker Midnight Queen which bursts through the speakers from the first note. The commercial beat and tone of One Single Breath is a good choice as the single, but every track stands on its own here.
Lover Tonite has that dark synth driven Cheap Trick feel again, Spanish Eyes is a little darker again, but still hits hard and closing the album is Kill City Kid, a track which is more guitar dominated than any other on the album and packs a real punch, featuring another big over the top chorus.
Essential stuff for long time readers of this site and yet more proof that European bands are kicking major ass.
|Saracen Vox In Excelso||Escape Music|
Saracen has been doing their thing for some 25 years now. At this point the only original members are vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow, but ask just about anyone and they would say the signature guitar and vocal sound are the most important ingredients to any band.|
This British melodic, symphonic hard rock band has a style of their own and a certain unique way of doing things and I must confess to not being pulled in on previous occasions.
For someone not sold on a particular band, what harder a prospect could there be than be faced with reviewing a 73 minute concept album about the history of the Knights Templar?!
To my surprise, this was easier than I anticipated. That is because Vox In Excelso is a very fine record indeed and one, despite it's subject matter, is far more accessible than you might think. The sound quality is also excellent. The album is tightly performed and well recorded, with a powerful sound and clear mix.
The lead vocals of Bettney are both authorative and graceful and help drive the melodies home.
What I don't like is the female narrative every song or two, important in one sense to help convey the complex and lengthy story line, but annoying at times also.
The music here is dominated by guitar and those strong vocals, but there is also a boat load of swirling keyboards and a lot of additional texturing, such as haunting backing vocals, dark and moody acoustic effects and an instrumental or two.
The album has been very well put together and as concept albums should, flows easily from start to finish.
Symphonic rock fans get their bit (Where Was Their God, Priory Of Zion), hard rock fans get plenty to chew on (Meet Me At Midnight, The Order) and fans of epics get the 9 minute Mary to dissect.
The first 1000 albums will be available in special edition booklet format, rather than the conventional jewel case presentation, which will make for a nice complete package to deliver the story in.
|Evil Masquerade Third Act||Escape Music|
I'm surprised to see that after two pretty ordinary albums, the band actually found a label interested enough to give them a shot at album number 3.
It seems however, that band mastermind Henrik Flyman was determined to top previous efforts and set about working hard on the songwriting and then concentrated on the production quality.|
Thankfully I am happy to report that he has done a fine job at improving both. This album sounds far superior sonically than either of its predecessors and the songwriting is also several notches above what I expected.
The best change of all is new vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Time Requiem). He brings a far more commercial European metal feel to proceedings and the mostly over the top warblings of the band's original singer are gone.
The subject matter and the delivery of the songs - classic demons and wizards style neo-classical metal stereotype material – is still somewhat larder than life and definitely an acquired taste.
But there is a certain restraint shown here not previously evident and as stated the quality of the songs and the production make this quite listenable – more than I can say about the first two records.
Stonelake is the Swedish duo of Jan Åkesson (instruments) and Peter Grundström (vocals). The band has roots going as far back as the mid-80s, but only recently did the stars align in favor of the guys recording their first album.|
And quite a debut it is too. The band's own bio describes their sound as accurately as I could - melodic hard rock in the vein of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, but later era acts such as Whitesnake, Van Halen, Journey, Riot and Dokken.
The end result is a powerful guitar driven melodic hard rock record which is big on melodies as well as riffs and featuring some powerhouse higher pitch vocals along the lines of Tony Mills, Tony Harnell and Rob Moratti.
The band has quite a groove too, and impressively, they don't have the feel of a duo. The quality production gives the guys that full band sound. Once through the intro, the double hit of You Strike Me With Love and Saint Or Evil gets the album off to a heavy rocking start. Riffs dominate, but very melodic choruses and some soaring vocals make them very memorable.
All I Need is a more keyboard friendly AOR number, with a more laid back commercial feel.
Mistreated Heart makes for a great blend of the two styles so far – a big groove and solid hard rock riffs, but lots of keyboards and a big AOR chorus.
Mason (The Miracle Boy) retains the hard rock heaviness, but is another very accessible melodic rocker with another strong chorus and some serious guitar work.
Walk On The Rainbow walks that heavier path as the opening songs of the album did, while Only One Reason and Call My Name feature great choruses and a certain commercial flair. Reason features a ton of keyboards surrounded by some big riffs while Name is all riffs!
Wonderland closes the album with one of the heaviest and hardest hitting tracks of the album, with a double kick drum rhythm pounding furiously along with some swirling keyboards.
|Dragon Sunsine To Rain||Liberation Music|
I tried, I really did try. I love Dragon with a passion. I grew up listening to them and they deservedly remain Australian rock icons. It was with deep sadness that their fans saw the demise of the band when lead vocalist Marc Hunter died on cancer in the late 90s.|
I was very surprised to see the Dragon name resurface. All the original band are gone aside from Marc's brother Todd. Now he has decided to get back to what he loves and that's great. Too much talent to waste doing nothing.
Todd's back playing the Dragon classics to re-launch the band, delivered here in this unplugged full band setting, featuring new singer Mark Williams – the fellow New Zealander who is best known for his hit single Show No Mercy and his vocal coaching on Australian Idol.
The songs here are all genuine classics….I love every one of them. But hard as I try, I can't get into this album.
The biggest hurdle for any act to overcome is the replacing of a singer and in Dragon's case, the singer was not only the backbone and heartbeat of the band, it was his unique voice that made these songs the classics they are.
Without him it is obviously not going to be the same and no one would expect it to be. But I don't like William's voice here. He's a soulful cat, no doubt and has a fine voice in itself, but for these songs it goes nowhere and simply acts as a barrier to enjoyment. I don't like what he has done with the songs and I had a hard time getting through the album at all.
Case in point the beautiful Age Of Reason (originally written by the band but covered by John Farnham). This track is the one song to feature an archive recording of Marc Hunter. Bloody hell, it sounds utterly brilliant – powerful and emotional. The inclusion of this track is a double edge sword for the band. It is the best song of the album, yet it highlights just what is missing from the rest of the vocals.
|Hydrogyn Bombshell||DA Records|
The much hyped Hydrogyn have been making waves for some time now, their debut album Bombshell recorded and produced by the great Michael Wagener.|
Lead by the saucy Julie, this American hard rock outfit has a classic hard rock sound. I'm hesitant to make comparisons to anyone, but the sound is traditional American melodic hard rock with a slight 80s feel, but a contemporary up to date production thanks to Wagener.
I guess fans of Wagener's past work with Skid Row and Dokken and those that like female lead vocals will find definite appeal here.
Musically the album is mostly uptempo and guitar driven in your face stuff, with Vesper's Song kicking things into high gear from the outset.
Blind has a certain intensity to it; Look Away SP is more aggressive and contemporary; Love Spoke is very commercial with a great pop hook; the straight forward AC/DC cover Back In Black has since been replaced with a Skid Row cover; Whisper and Come Back To Me are the album's ballads and make for a nice change in tempo.
One concern for me is that the band is using Julie's femininity to promote the band as a whole. She is only part of the very tight package that makes this album work.
|Violent Divine Violent Divine||Chavis Records|
I think the first thing I noticed about this album was the big guitar sound and just how crisp and clear it is. |
The guys have a nice little sound here, mixing old school American hard rock (Motley Crue, Guns N Roses, Ratt) with more updated contemporary influences (Nickleback, Foo Fighters, Shinedown).
The vocals of Michael Ahlstrom have that modern rock drawl, yet the driving rhythm section is more in line with what you might hear on Motley Crue. The riffs come thick and fast and the songs are really quite accessible.
The guys have great energy here and credit to the guys for capturing a raw, live feel in the studio and retaining a high quality production sound. The Morning Show and Levitate both have the swagger and modern rock credibility to be heard on radio just about anywhere, plus have cool choruses to draw in the listener.
This stuff is far better than any Nickleback, Creed or even Jet perhaps.
Let's Go has a punky rhythm LA Guns might deliver and Ghost In The Machine rocks hard. I think the quality drops a way a little on the last few tracks – at least as far as the chorus and melodies go. The tracks themselves still rock.
|The Poodles Metal Will Stand Tall||Lionheart|
There is a real renaissance happening in Europe, with some young guns doing great business actually playing traditional melodic hard rock. What a concept!|
The likes of Wig Wam, Brother Firtetribe and The Poodles are uniting old and new fans alike and collectively are kicking America's ass.
The Poodles are 4 of Sweden's best session guys (members of Talisman, Lions Share, Zan Clan, Dalton), who first started playing together as a cover band to huge audiences. Best known to readers to this site will be guitarist Pontus Norgen who is famous for his work in Humanimal and Great King Rat among other things, and incidentally is also Europe's live sound guy.
Metal Will Stand Tall is an apt title. Along with the two aforementioned artists, this album sees the guys deliver the best style and attitude of the classic era of commercial hard rock mixed with an updated and gigantic production sound.
There is no reason why any fan of the old school glory days shouldn't like all three albums as all three are equally brilliant.
Where The Poodles are a little different from Wig Wam and perhaps even The Darkness is their approach to the music.
The Poodles are a little darker, a little more serious and a little heavier than Wig Wam and more guitar orientated than Brother Firetribe.
A few tracks stand out first time around, but a dozen listens in proves there are no fillers present at all. This is a pretty varied album and the change in vibe between tracks takes a little getting used to.
At first glance, you would perhaps deduct that the album is not as consistent or cohesive as the awesome Wig Wam album, but after living with this for a few weeks I'm inclined to think it is every bit as good.
I generally prefer things a little darker and moodier and while there are a couple of great feel-good party rockers here (Metal Will Stand Tall, Number One), the overall vibe is more serious and tracks like Echoes From The Past, Night Of Passion and Shadows all rock hard and feature very memorable choruses, but also have a serious edge to them.
The band has their own way of doing things. Take the intense moody rock ballad Song For You. It features the same dark groove apparent throughout the album, but in a twist features guest vocals from Jonas Samuelsson-Nerbe, who I guess is the Swedish answer to Pavarotti!
The uptempo and anthemic Lie To Me has a strong contemporary edge and Rockstar is a brilliant melodic pop rocker with a slow beat and quirky melody. Even the cover of Ultravox's 80s new wave pop hit Dancing With Tears In My Eyes has a darker, more menacing twist.
The big power ballad of the album closes things out. Crying is a radio hit in waiting and complete with orchestral parts ensures the album ends on the highest of highs.
I love the crunchy guitar sound, I love the very melodic but powerful lead vocals and i love the pounding rhythm section.
Downtown - Journey Of A Heart
As most should know, John Waite is one of my all time favourite singers and songwriters. His music means more to me than most artists and I remain passionate about his best work.|
However, I am at a point where I am losing my patience with him as an artist.
Journey Of A Heart is an album of re-recorded Waite "highlights" and for the second time in a row, fans are served up an album that includes a meager 2 new tracks.
But that is not my only frustration. For the second album in a row, another new version of the classic, but over cooked Missing You is included. John has such a rich catalogue of inspiring rockers and heartfelt ballads, but it seems his legacy is being tied to this one track.
And for the second album in a row, one of the two new tracks is a Bob Dylan cover (John's third Dylan cover overall).
It has now been 5 years since the last all-new studio release Figure In A Landscape, itself not a classic, but at least it was all new music. Long time fans deserve something more fulfilling than this.
I honestly don't know who is going to buy this album. I suspect it's only real appeal will be among casual fans in Europe that have not had the desire or the ability to purchase last year's self-released The Hard Way record (which featured several remixes of the Figure In A Landscape album, 2 new tracks and a new acoustic version of Missing You), or the hard to find duo of Temple Bar (bankrupt label) and the original release of Figure In A Landscape (bankrupt label).
The bulk of the material for this release comes from those 3 albums, plus a couple of classic Babys tunes (Isn't It Time and Headfirst) and Bad English's When I See You Smile.
Die hard fans have all but 2 of these songs already, so in their case, they will be looking towards the substance of these new versions to see what spin John has put on them.
That unfortunately unfolds another problem. As the title suggests this is a collection of John's more laid back songs, more ballad friendly and peppered only with a couple of rockers – the two Babys tunes to be precise and the pop/rock of the opening track The Hard Way and the mid-album Keys To Your Heart.
The rest are all laid back ballads. On top of that is the stronger than usual country influence over the music.
You'll hear slide guitar and a country twang on several tracks, such as In Dreams, Downtown and the all-acoustic When I See You Smile.
Missing You in this instance is a duet with country crooner Alison Krausse and is all but a bonafide country ballad.
For long time die-hards fans like myself, there isn't much here that screams essential.
There isn't enough difference between the originals and what's included here - perhaps these are a little more organic and live to tape. The more uptempo conclusion to the classic Downtown is an interesting twist, but aside from that, it is all very straightforward.
Although I don't care for the Dylan cover Highway 61 it is genuinely authentic and Waite's vocal is one of passion and self belief. You can hear that he loves the song and the style of vocal. But I don't see the fans adopting Waite's enthusiasm for the track or the artist.
There remains one high point for me within this album. The other new track is an all new original from the writing partnership that brought you Downtown (perhaps John's best song ever?) and New York City Girl (another classic).
Yes, Glen Burtnik returns with another song and yet another classic from his work with John. St. Patrick's Day has all the passion and beauty of Downtown and is without doubt a stunning track that I believe all Waite fans will adore.
Why don't these two guys just make a record together already??
John Waite doesn't have to be the rocker for me to be satisfied. I just have to hear that voice of conviction and that haunting emotion that was so evident on Temple Bar and on parts of When You Were Mine. This album doesn't have any of that passion.
I mentioned breifly the choice of material. John has such a vast catalogue of unreleased material and I am totally confused as to why none of it has been tapped into. There is at least 15 tracks that are of the same style and feel as Temple Bar - a definite fan favourite. If John was not keen on writing new material for an album, why not tap into those treasures rather than dish up this all too familiar set of songs?
Additionally - if you are going to do a career retrospective, go the distance and fill up the CD. There's another 20 minute of spare time that could have been utilized here. There are only 11 tracks here, as a 35 second instrumental should never be classed as a song. 11 relatively laid back tracks just seems somewhat lazy.
As for the score - well, sound quality isn't in question; the songs themselves are all classics aren't they - but I think the song selection as such is very safe and there is no way I can give the overall album any better than I have, and I think most long time fans will agree.
|Shooting Star Circles||Frontiers Records|
US melodic rockers Shooting Star return after way too long with a new studio album – minus one lead singer - but with an equally good one stepping into his shoes.|
Gary West and Keith Mitchell have both held the mike for the band, but in deciding to reform again now, the guys had to make an important choice. Who would best represent the new material and help the band move forward?
In my mind they could not have picked anyone better than AOR favourite Kevin Chalfant (The Storm / Two Fires). Kevin has one of those instantly likable voices and is perfectly suited to the melodic friendly material featured on this album. If anything, he takes the material to a new level and into a more AOR friendly area.
There is a natural earthy timbre to this album and the songs themselves are marvelous. The 10 tracks featured are thoroughly enjoyable and although varied, are held together by some strong performances by Kevin and guitarist Van McLain and some fine choruses. I don't hear any fillers in play at all.
The songs move from guitar driven Midwestern melodic rock (Runaway, Trouble In Paradise, Temptation) to straight AOR (Without Love, George's Song, What Love Is) via a little southern rock n roll (Everybody's Crazy), sometimes reflecting an 80s vibe and at other times a more timeless classic rock feel (Borrowed Time, I'm A Survivor – which features some shredding guitar work).
The only problem with this album is the production quality. It does these songs and the guys performing them, no favors whatsoever.
The whole album sounds very hollow and the mix is not at all consistent, varying from track to track. While the quality of the lead vocals is not in question, the tone sometimes is. At times they have a tendency to sound as if they were recorded in a cupboard and the guitar sound is also quite muddy.
Worst offender though is the truly pedestrian drum sound. It kills the impact of the rhythm section completely and therefore knocks some of the power out of these songs.
It's great to hear Kevin back in the melodic rock business and I'm hoping his partnership with the band continues for a long time to come. But next time, perhaps a bigger recording budget and name producer might achieve a better overall result.
|Stephen Pearcy Stripped||Sidewinder Music|
I have been pretty critical of the last couple of Pearcy releases. His chosen solo direction is definitely not to my musical taste and I questioned how many old fans of Pearcy's would really be into his current fare.|
No such problems with this album. What better way to connect with the past than actually cover the past in an intimate live setting.
Stephen has been involved with the VH1 Stripped series from the outset and continues that collaboration with this live unplugged album, recorded in March on LA's Sunset Strip.
Pearcy and band (including the always cool Chuck Wright on bass and Scott Coogan on drums) rip through 12 Ratt classics including Slip Of The Lip, Way Cool Jr, Lovin' You's A Dirty Job and of course, the essential Round & Round.
What makes the CD ever more interesting and more personable is Pearcy's commentary between tracks and interaction with the audience. His rock drawl and couldn't care less kinda attitude suits the delivery of the songs and the whole rock n roll persona Pearcy is known for.
|Heed The Call||Metal Heaven|
More bloody Swede's! What, does every band in that country have a recording deal? Per capita, I seriously know of no other country with so many great bands of various genre's all doing so well.|
Heed are a little different from the traditional fare featured here. But still well worth checking out if the style fits the taste. Heed play a blend of modern rock and Scandi influenced melodic metal.
Singer Daniel Heiman has a very likable voice and adds power, finesse and melody to these bone crunching modern hard rockers.
Singer Heiman and guitarist Fredrik Olsson decided to leave their former band Lost Horizon to form Heed and one can only hope the guys go on to gain as much momentum as Lost Horizon had in Europe.
They have carried over much of that band's sound, but perhaps making it a little more contemporary again.
One cannot argue with the song quality either. I Am Alive gets the album off to a flyer with some in your face guitars and menacing vocals; Last Drop of Blood remains dark and intense, but the vocals are more melodic; Salvation features some astounding powerhouse vocals and The Other Side pegs it back a little for a more melodic moment.
The album closes with the acoustic ballad Nothing. A Nice showcase for Daniel's voice, but don't bother sitting thru 10 minutes of silence for 2 minutes of pure metal aggression that is hidden away at the end of the album.
|Vengeance Back In The Ring||MTM Music|
So while fans wait for a new AC/DC album, they can sit back and soak up some good old-fashioned guitar driven accadacca style rock n roll courtesy of Dutch legends Vengeance.|
Armed with a crystal clear production (thanks to Mr. Everywhere, Michael Voss), a thumping rhythm section, in your face guitar riffs and a perfectly raspy Bon Scott style lead vocal, Vengeance re-appear after a long hiatus to deliver one of the more enjoyable straight ahead hard rocking records of the year.
Absolutely no frills here – just 11 in your face rockers - guitars everywhere and just a few keyboard parts – all delivered with more energy and enthusiasm than I anticipated.
What is most surprising is the all-star team on board to help create the album.
The album is made up of songs co-written by Michael Voss with frontman Leon Goewie, plus other contributions from Paul Sabu and Mat Sinner.
The Sabu contributions are of the more melodic of the album (the moody Captain Moonlight and the keyboard dominated Now And Then), while the rest of the album just rocks!
From the outset, this is all old school rock n roll – Back In The Ring, Holy Water, Bad Attitude and Cowboy Style are all great fun.
|Deacon Street II||MTM Music|
As we all know, guitar great Tommy Denander is one busy little bugger, with his hand in about 138 different pies.|
Deacon Street is the excuse to gather material into one place from many of those projects. The first release gathered a round of unreleased songs that were not suitable for the individual projects they were recorded for.
Same goes with this second edition. Songs written for projects still needing a home have found one here.
So in line with the many great people Tommy works with, this album is filled with great names such as Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), Steve Morse (Kansas, Deep Purple), Reb Beach (Winger, Dokken), Bruce Gaitsch (Richard Marx, Madonna, Peter Cetera), Bill Leverty (Fire-house), Daniel Flores (Sha-Boom, Faro, Philip Bardowell, Speedy Gonazales), Vinny Heter (Radioactive), Tony Franklin (Blue Murder) and more.
Featured lead vocalists should all be familiar to followers of Denander's work. They are Thomas Vikström (Talk Of The Town), Andreas Novak, Johan Fahlberg (Jaded Heart), Chris Antblad (Spin Gallery), Geir Ronning, Peter Sundell and Stan Bush.
This is pretty easy to review – if you are a Denander fan and have all the Radioactive, Sayit, Talk Of The Town and Rainmaker releases – then why are you even reading this review? Go get it.
The quality of the songs and the sound quality is not in question – both sound great and I cannot see any Denander fan being disappointed.
There are some great AOR tunes such as the almost perfect opener Beautiful Chardaine (Peter Sundell of Grand Illusion) and also Now We Cry For You (Stand Bush), plus a couple of superb Westcoast ballads like I Give This Promise (Chris Antblad).
The only downside of the album for me – and it's not an insignificant issue – is that the various singers/players and the fact the songs are from different sessions and different studios, creates an album with an ever-changing vibe.
Oh, and I could have gone without the cover of Action by The Sweet. A rather overdone track, but the cover of Paul Stanley's Easy As It Seems is more enjoyable and very authentic.
|Street Talk V||MTM Music|
Street Talk was the last album I played in the office Friday afternoon and now Monday morning it is still buzzing around in my head.|
Leaving the legacy of this band where it was would have been a great waste of talent, but band founder Fredrik Bergh is not one to skip on quality and did not think he could raise the budget required to do a new album justice.
MTM Music wisely saw the value of the Street Talk name and came to the party and 18 months later here we have the new album.
To cut right to the chase, this is the best Street Talk album to date. While none of the 5 albums vary greatly from the straight AOR/smooth Westcoast path, this album still stands out for a couple of important reasons.
V is an album which I think is more consistent than any previous Street Talk release. While the musical path is no different, the extra time taken writing and recording the album means that the quality of the songs featured is better than ever. There is not a single filler on this album and I'm not sure I could say that of past releases.
Upon first inspection I think the listener will spotlight two particular tracks as the album's standouts. That's what I did, but second listen in there were now 4 highlights. Then 6 and now I have different favourites depending on my mood.
The other key to the consistency of this album is the wonderful, classy and faultless vocals of Goran Edman. He puts in possibly the best – if not the smoothest – vocal performance of his career on this record and is a joy to listen to.
And even better, Fredrik drops his predisposition to use at least one other vocalist per album, so Goran gets run of the shop here and that helps this album even further.
I often find the inclusion of different vocalists counter productive to the flow and consistency of an album, so I'm thrilled that Goran is the only man featured here.
More credit also to Bergh for an impeccable overall sound. While all the Street Talk albums have sounded very good, this one sounds truly great. It is layers thick with keyboards and subtle guitar parts, not to mention the perfectly mixed lead vocals and layered harmonies. What makes the album great is the thumping rhythm section, which really drives this record – not only through the uptempo numbers but also during the soft ballads.
Track By Track:
It is impossible to isolate the best tracks, which is certainly a compliment to the quality of the album. So one must talk about them all…
Responsible is about as up-tempo as it gets for Street Talk and so it is that this feel good rocker kicks off the album. Gloriously bathed in melodic vocals and pepped up by a simple guitar riff, the song just glides, with the more pressing chorus lifting the tempo further. One of the best AOR tracks of 2006 without doubt.
Don't Believe is somewhat moodier and less obvious, but just as melodic and equally glorious once you get to know it. Another cracking AOR classic that is the precursor to yet another gem in If I Could. This, along with Responsible is the two tracks I picked out as brilliant from the first listen. The verse grabs your attention, but then the chorus blows you away. Another 2006 classic.
At The End Of The Day is one of the band's best and smoothest ballads to date and another vocal jewel for the resume of Edman.
Family Business matches the tempo of the opening number and ensures this album is just that little bit pacier than previous albums. Goran again soars on the great chorus.
Just A Little Appetizer is extremely catchy, but creeps up on you…it's one you'll be humming without knowing it hours later.
The mid-tempo Westcoast pop of Something's Gotta Give is yet another smooth-as-a-baby's-bum track with yet another strong chorus.
Slow ballad time again with Groundhog Day – the chorus takes awhile to arrive but won't be forgotten when it does. Back to a quick fire tempo with the rocker Sniper, which as the title suggests will capture you in its sight and knock you out.
Oh Maddy reminds me of Journey on their Raised On Radio smoothest and is one of my favourite album tracks. Fabulously smooth and eloquently delivered. Closing out the album is the feel good pop rocker Brother Sun And Sister Moon, with a uptempo beat and a warm feel.
|Cloven Hoof Eye Of The Sun||Escape Music|
Perhaps one of the forgotten bands of the massively influential NWOBHM movement of the last 70s and early 80s, Cloven Hoof seemingly did everything right as far as writing good songs and getting out and touring, yet they would not be one of the lucky ones.|
The band never had a stable line-up and all that remains today is one original member – bassist Lee Payne – who has put together a new line-up for this new studio album.
To be honest, I am not sure of the motivation behind this new record and I had no expectation at all going into it.
Payne has joined with Phenomena creator and acclaimed producer Tom Galley to record the new album.
Having no expectations can be a good thing, as the band does not have to live up to any preconceived notion. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised and have come to like this album a lot.
Like no time has passed at all, the line-up assembled grasps the original concept of the Hoof's NWOBHM sound as if it was still 1983. Things have been updated a little of course, but essentially, this is a classic style British melodic metal record that I think will bring back some great memories for fans of the era and genre.
New vocalist Matt Moreton has a voice in the higher register, but a decent growl also and definitely does the material here justice.
After a couple of warm up tracks, I think the album falls into a very consistent groove from track 3 and for whatever reason, it think the sound quality also picks up here. The crunching hard rock of Eye Of The Zombie would do most metal bands proud.
Highlights for me would be the more melodic and harmony backed Cyberworld; the classic British hard rock of Kiss Of Evil, which features a great lead vocal; the metal angst of Absolute Power and the power groove of King For A Day.
The album is closed out in the same way it opened, ok but as strong as the middle – leaving the best tracks running 3 through 7.
|Surveillance Angelstation||Escape Music|
Although it took a few good listens, I like what is on offer here – musically speaking. It has that straight forward British melodic hard rock feel, with some good songs and strong melodies to appreciate.|
I also like the lead vocals of Lee Small. He doesn't hide the fact the Glenn Hughes is a clear and obvious influence over his style, and at times I hear some classic Hughes featured – both vocally and with the musical direction.
The songs themselves have a lot to offer. Traditional British rock for the most part, but some nice twists and a few original passages of music.
What I don't like is the production. This album sounds awfully hollow – especially with the lead vocal compared to the rhythm section - and the mix is really quite harsh on the ears.
The drum sound is lacking any major influence over the album and the guitars sound very muddy. These aspects take away from a lot of the possible enjoyment.
In Motion is a solid and catchy rocker to kick-start the album, but the mix problem is evident right off the bat.
Burning is a more intense and an even heavier rocker, with a little Iommi / Hughes influence.
Reflections, Messiah and The Primitive Soul are three tracks which use a more commercial melodic rock style, but the sound also changes – especially on Reflections - to a tinny, hollow style.
Middleman returns to the more aggressive style of the opening tracks, as does the sound, only highlighting the difference in sound throughout the album. Truth and The Holy suffer from the production quality badly and cannot be appreciated fully because of this.
|Cheap Trick Rockford||Big 3|
I know I'm a week or two late with this review, but as the album was only released officially the week before last, I think I can still get away with it.|
The one advantage of running a little late is the benefit of reading other opinions and hearing from readers about an album.
While I'm not one to ever change my view based on what others think, it is nice to know that I am on the same wavelength as it appears I am with this release.
From all reports to date, Cheap Trick has turned in their best album in years. Some are saying the very best since the late 70s, but as I am still a great fan of some of those gems from the 80s, so I'll agree to a point and name Rockford as the band's best album since the brilliant commercial rock of Lap Of Luxury.
On the band's last couple of studio albums, an attempt has been made to cover all aspects of their diverse career, with an equally diverse set of songs featured.
Perhaps the band was trying too hard to please everyone.
The last album Special One was especially disappointing, with some weak songs played with little conviction. A lot more time was taken putting this album together and it seems the guys also placed far less pressure on themselves.
When bands can afford to give themselves such creative room, I think the results always speak for themselves. That is very much the case here, as Rockford not only features the best set of songs from the band in a long long time, it also rocks more than they have in some time!
The guys sound in vintage form and as melodic as ever, as power pop anthems dominate the album, filled with hooks galore.
Rockford features all the essential Cheap Trick ingredients, starting with those needed driving rockers, such as Welcome To The World, Give It Away and the riff driven Come On Come On Come On.
Melodic rock anthems appear in the form of Perfect Stranger and the very Lap Of Luxury-ish pop/rock of If It Takes A Lifetime and This Time You Got It.
Of course, no Trick album would be complete without a tip of the hat to the ultimate power pop band The Beatles. The retro pop ballad O Claire fulfills that obligation as does the more uptempo pop rocker Dream The Night Away.
The more laid back and reflective All Those Years is a pleasant tune that breaks the tempo up a little late in the album.
Outside the box a little is the quirky as hell, but equally catchy rocker One More and the heavier groove of Decaf, which closes the album in style.
|House Of Shakira Live At Firefest 2005||Lion Music|
Ah, me old favourites….these guys won me over with their completely out of the box debut, which mixed the odd African tribal rhythms with Scandi melodic hard rock, all delivered in an over the top Journey styled AOR frenzy. Amazing mix and the guys have only got better with time.|
This is their first ever DVD, recorded at the 2005 Firefest show in the UK. It is also Lion Music's first foray into the new media format and credit to both – this looks great.
The band was fabulous on the day and ran through a set list of fan favourites and cuts from the current album First Class.
The PA mix on the day left the guys a little perplexed, but all was captured on master tape for this release. Given the opportunity to alter the levels after the fact means that while this is 100% live, it now also sounds 100% brilliant.
Whether the guys are rocking hard (Uncontrolled, Hey Lord), delivering massive anthems (In Yours Head, You Are, Method Of Madness, Morning Over Morocco) or playing it a little retro (Wings), they are always having fun and always delivering the tightest possible performance.
You would expect nothing less from this now very experienced and well oiled melodic rock band.
The vocals for this live show are also something to witness – featuring both the band's original and current lead singers on stage for this special event, plus the fact the rest of the band all sing harmonies makes this all the more memorable and sweet on the ears.
The DVD footage itself is just about all you could ask for. Multiple cameras, clear visuals and for the most part, good attention to detail featuring all the guys individually and collectively. There is some strong close up shots as well as a mix of pull back shots of the whole stage.
The stage set up was pretty simple, but the performances certainly make up for that.
As for extras – the DVD includes a nice 6 minute bio piece with brief interviews and all the videos of the band filmed when they were known as The Station (pre-HOS). Essential for fans.
|Glenn Hughes Music For The Divine||Frontiers Records|
Glenn Hughes works longer and harder on just about every solo release of the last few years, yet you can set your watch as to when they will appear – on time and as regular as ever. Now that sounds like it is a dig at Glenn – it sure isn't – as true to Glenn's claim, each album of the last few years does sound better than the last and like a little more effort has been put in.|
It is just that being a prolific writer and also someone that knows his way around a studio, it doesn't take forever to get a new record done. Brilliant for eagerly waiting fans…
Since moving away from the more straight ahead hard rock that kick-started Glenn's major comeback with such albums as From Now On and Addiction, he has slowly evolved from recording albums with set musical themes and has moved into a style zone that instead balances his influences.
The Way It Is, R.O.C.K. and Songs In The Key Of Rock saw Glenn finding his way, but it wasn't until Soul Mover that he nailed it. The perfect blend of soul, funk, R&B and rock was at last achieved.
If Soul Mover was the album where Glenn perfected his own solo style - which started off back in the funk zone of Play Me Out in the 70s - then Music For The Divine is where he moves it further forward. This is an even better sequel to Soul Mover.
This is a seriously good record, with an intense vibe and some of the best songs of Glenn's solo career to date. But it is far from an instant record. Glenn's records seldom are.
There are a few standouts early in the piece, but 6 or 7 listens in and every track has its own place and its own groove.
I think long time and true fans of Glenn Hughes will really dig this record. Anyone with a particular affection for Soul Mover will certainly find this a very worthy companion to that record.
Perhaps not all that have loved certain past Glenn Hughes records will love this. I'll always class From Now On as my all time favourite Hughes record, but I am also realistic that he is unlikely to make a record like that again. Those looking for the hard rock or AOR Glenn should not expect to hear that here. On board with Glenn here is long time guitarist JJ Marsh and back again is the Red Hot Chilli Peppers duo of percussion master Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante.
The Chad Smith/Glenn Hughes pairing is a masterful one, the guys compliment each other beautifully and the relationship the two formed on Soul Mover matures here.
Speaking of the music within the album – The Valiant Denial gets things off to a fairly restrained start. Rather it is the utterly brilliant Steppin On, with its snappy groove and in your face attitude really getting things rolling.
What I love about the structure of this album is the tempo changes within the songs. Monkey Man, Black Light and the brilliant This Is How I Feel all do double-takes within, with chorus melodies well outside where the verse lead you to believe you were heading.
Things turn psychedelic 70s on This House and reverts a further decade back from that on parts within Frail.
The album grooves its way through several other tracks, all with their own merits.
The only blip on the radar with this release is the cover of Nights In White Satin. On it's own it's another great cover by Glenn, but I'm not sure it fits within the scheme of this album. It is the only track recorded outside these sessions and sounds like it.
Closing the album is the quite superb orchestral flavored The Divine, which sees Glenn at his most seductive vocal best.
|Vertigo 2||Frontiers Records|
Joseph Williams returns to his Vertigo project for an encore performance, with the Fabrizio V.Zee Grossi production machine in tow.|
Former Toto vocalist Joseph Williams has a golden set of pipes and AOR fans welcome any release with open arms, as they don't come along too often.
The debut Vertigo release was one of my favourite albums of 2003. Vertigo 2 is in many ways, a little brother to that of the debut. Most facets of the original have been reproduced here, which will be pleasing news to those that were looking forward to a follow-up; however it falls short on matching the brilliance of that first record.
This is an album of very enjoyable classic AOR featuring a selection of hand picked songs that are designed to impact with the listener instantly.
This is a chorus driven record – every track has a punchy, instantly recognizable chorus and one song flows to the next in quick fashion.
For that reason, I felt familiar with this album from the outset and I felt like I knew it well after just the second listen. I generally prefer albums to grow on me, but for those looking to get straight to the chorus, this album delivers in spades.
Overall I have to say that it is another very welcomed release from Williams and certainly slots into his catalogue of albums very nicely. It is extremely catchy and the songs seems perfectly suited to his voice.
The opening half of the record feels like a greatest hits record – one great chorus after another – In The Blink Of An Eye, All For You, Hold Me and Part Of Me are all similar in tempo and style and all feature a strong chorus.
Hold Me being the stand out of these opening tracks – the subtle chorus breaking into a great chorus makes it an instant winner.
The slightly more laid back Holy, which appears mid-album, is perhaps my favourite of all – Williams really owns this track.
The big ballad of the album is Save It All For Me, which I believe will be a fan favourite from the record.
At the same time as I sit back and enjoy the record for what it is, a few nagging doubts linger. Something isn't sitting quite right here.
Perhaps it is the production - I began to grow tied of the V.Zee Grossi sound a year or so back. Too many releases in two short a time span and most of them sound very similar. That same issue is present here – his take on how the overall album and in particular how the guitars sound is not something I love. On top of that - I think the production here is far less polished than the debut and in places it almost feels rushed.
And the songs that comprise Vertigo 2 are all very similar. The pacing and the tempo at which the album flows is pretty slick and before you know it, you are mid-way through the album and then it's over. At 39 minutes, the album could have used another big ballad and another mid-tempo track to round it out.
I love uptempo albums – but a balance must be struck in order to give the record the best and most even flow.
The last nagging doubt is the vocals of Mr. Williams. Perhaps it is the rushed nature of the record which I mentioned earlier, but he sounds a lot rougher than 3 years back and has a much raspier take on this record. At times I felt like he was shouting his way through some of the parts.
I must comment about the lyrical or spiritual connection between the songs on this album. It seems Joseph has chosen songs with a stronger spiritual connection and several contain openly Christian references, none better or more obvious than the closing track There's A Reason. A truly fine track and once again, a track you can just tell Joseph believes in.
But it could have been a tighter ship with a few changes and doesn't quite match the brilliance of the debut.
|John West Long Time...No Sing||Frontiers Records|
The voice of Royal Hunt returns with his forth solo album and second for Frontiers. This album signals a definite and noticeable change of direction for the hard rock singer, both stylistically and also in the way West delivers his vocals. |
This record turned my head for all the wrong reasons to start with. I wasn't sure I liked it at all and it has taken a dozen spins to get a handle on it and slowly it is growing on me. But there is definitely some areas I'm still not sold on.
Gone is the progressive melodic metal feel and gone is the powerhouse vocals that were responsible for making West one of my favourite metal singers. In its place is a more contemporary sounding record – a more modern production style with an updated guitar sound and a simpler somewhat stripped back song structure, with almost no progressive elements present.
While it can be said that this is a more melodic CD, it is not in the traditional sense of the word. Some of the songs are very melodic, but in a more restrained way. The choruses are not immediate at all and require a lot of listening to appreciate.
West's voice is also rather different. It's far bluesier and has a more soulful edge, but in doing that, some of the edge has been removed and I find myself thinking I am listening to Richie Kotzen rather than the voice of Royal Hunt.
I have very mixed feelings about this CD. While it isn't in a style that I prefer, you cannot deny that everything West does is done with class. The sound quality here is amazing - the production is slick and in your face and the musicianship within is the best it could possibly be.
And it's almost unexplainable, but the record has a certain intensity that draws you in. Once you get to know the tracks, there are some definite highlights.
Best of the album for me is the dark and heavy opening track Fade, the similarly dark Over My Head and the soulful Falling Down. The mid-tempo commercial rocker Set Me Free is good also, with Lonnie Park's keyboard parts really giving the song depth.
Give Me A Sign is another twist, drawing on a 70s classic rock vibe.
As the CD progresses the songs become more laid back and the choruses appear even less obvious, so you really must give this album time to develop. The star performer on this record is really the guitar playing rather than the vocals. I found myself on several occasions really getting into the musical base, before warming to the vocal style.
At times there is a definite lack of John's big booming voice, but it is replaced here by a more laid back, soulful and almost alternative style vocal.
|Pride Of Lions Live In Belgium||Frontiers Records|
This is a simple review. Pride Of Lions fans are going to love this and need this live release – both the CD and the DVD. The quality dictates that it must be an essential purchase. Those that have not yet fallen under the spell of Jim Peterik's post-Survivor AOR vehicle will probably not find what they are looking for in this release.|
Simple. Ok, I had better elaborate somewhat…
A little effort has been put in here, making it a really nice package for fans.
With two albums and a couple of EPs to their name and a handful of special live appearances Pride Of Lions have been building a strong reputation for quality old-school AOR.
On this release the guys behind the scenes get to shine as much as anybody else. Some of Chicago's finest make up the backbone of the band and on stage, despite limited preparation; they are as tight as a pair of undersized leather pants.
Jim Peterik also shines, with the live environment allowing him a little more freedom with his guitar tricks. He really is an under-appreciated axe-slinger. As well as tackling the best tracks of the two studio albums to date, the guys also get to drag a few golden oldies out of the closet. Survivor classics The Search Is Over, I Can't Hold Back and Eye Of The Tiger are given a run and vocalist Toby Hitchcock gives them his best shot. He isn't Jimi Jamison, but then again, few – if any – could be.
Of the POL tracks, the opening track It's Criminal really rocks, with an extended guitar solo going well into the close of the track.
Sound Of Home is a bonafide AOR classic as is The Courage To Love Somebody and they shine here. As do the aforementioned Survivor classics – the 8 minute Eye Of The Tiger especially glorious.
I also love The Gift Of Song…by the close of the show Toby has really loosened up and the superb album track really goes over well live – despite the inclusion of the necessary pre-taped orchestral parts.
Complaint time – fading of the crowd noise between tracks on live albums just bugs the absolute crap out of me. This is a live album, not a studio greatest hits and doing this really kills the momentum of what is supposed to be a free flowing experience.
There is already 2 discs in play here – extended out the gig and break it off into the second CD. Don't cut the crowd next time please.
The second disc is one for the real fans. Comprised of bonus and unreleased studio cuts, it features:
The gritty Reckless Love was originally released as Japanese bonus track from The Destiny Stone; the ok ballad Stand By You comes from the Sound of Home EP; as does the groovy So Deadly.
The subtle, but powerful ballad Surrender To The Night comes from the Japanese bonus track to Pride of Lions and the rocker Dark Angel was previously unreleased, besides being offered as a download on this site a while back.
The heartfelt ballad Black Ribbons (Voices Of The World) is dedicated to the lives lost in the Spanish terrorist attack is from the EP released especially for the occasion.
Closing out the bonus disc is a favourite of mine, Feels Like Another Planet – a sparse track which features a powerful vocal.
On the DVD Toby's stiffness is more evident. He is still growing as a singer and a performer and you can see him loosen up during the show to the point where I think he's actually enjoying himself and not thinking so much about what he is doing – especially towards the end.
The audio and video quality is unquestionable and is possibly the best live DVD from Frontiers to date. A great picture, lots of angles and a spotlight on all on stage makes it a very enjoyable watch. All in all, the DVD is a better example of the live show as there are no breaks and you get the full concert experience.
|Cloudscape Crimson Skies||Metal Heaven|
For a metal outfit, Sweden's Cloudscape are pretty slick. There is barely a note out of place on this album, their second following last year's strong debut.
To my ears the guys have improved on just about all aspects of their debut. Production is first rate, the performances all but flawless and the songwriting appears more proficient. More hooks, melodies and a lot more layers of instrumentation – from swirling keyboards to big drum fills and guitar solos galore.|
The band's sound reminds me a little of a more aggressive Mind's Eye – another Swedish progressive melodic metal outfit and also a little Allen/Lande in there also.
Highlights from the record include Shadowland which features a great lead vocal and a strong chorus hook, not to mention a dramatic setting. It is one of the more commercial numbers, surrounded by the darker and heavier numbers such as And Then The Rain… and Shapeshifter.
The frantic rhythm of Psychic Imbalance still allows room for a good melody and Someone Else is another strong track mixing progressive and hard rock elements.
|Gotthard Made In Switzerland||Nuclear Blast|
Everyone's current favourite Gotthard follow up their fabulous last studio album with a live recording from the ensuing tour. The Swiss rockers really got themselves back in the game with their last album and other bands would do well to look at the formula used to make it happen.|
They delivered an album of great songs in a style that fans wanted to hear and bugger me, it actually sold a stack! What a concept…
Anyway, live in their homeland of Switzerland, this album sees the guys run through 17 tracks – the best of their back catalogue and all the current favourites from Lipservice.
All We Are, Dream On and Lift U Up all sound larger than life in concert and still sound fresh and exciting.
Past classics like Hush (the Deep Purple cover), Heaven, Anytime Anywhere, One Life One Soul and Top Of The World crunch through the speakers, sounding as good as ever despite line-up changes within the band.
|Mother's Finest Live At The Villa Berg||MTM Music|
Mother's Finest are a band rarely mentioned on this site. It's not that they aren't musically worthy – they just haven't been on my personal radar and they haven't been making records.|
The funk hard rockers return with this live album that also includes 4 new studio cuts.
These are the band's first new tracks since 1998 and see them retain the same groove as what made them famous.
With a dual female and male lead vocal attack, the 4 new tracks feature 2 rockers and 2 soulful ballads, one of each for the two vocalists.
A ground breaking band in their day, the band's roots hark back to the 70s and that influence continues to shine through. They were rocking out and breaking ground long before Red Hot Chilli Peppers even formed.
The live recording sounds fine – nice and even in the mix and very clear in sound quality. At 17 odd tracks, it also covers the band's best material and is definitely something established fans will and should want to get.
For those unfamiliar with the band – better check the soundbytes first.
But, regardless of label, Mothers Finest fans should investigate this with haste.
|Bonfire Double X||LZ Records|
Bonfire's last studio album was so bad it nearly put them out of business. It put them in a position where nothing less than an absolute classic was required to get them back to the top of the heap.|
Double X is not that album, but it at least gets the band somewhat back on track. The guys return to the same hard rocking sound used prior to the horrible Free album.
The only problem is that it does not address the very same issue the band's fans have had for a decade now – a desire for the guys to return to their very best – the sounds of such classics as Fireworks and Point Blank.
Double X will please long time fans that stayed patient, as it returns to the band's straight ahead European hard rock sound and is more or less, a melodic friendly record.
The album itself sounds great – sonically much better than Free. The guys produced it themselves and their individual performances are of a high standard – as one would expect.
The songs themselves still need some work. I still don't hear enough big hooks and there are no real rocking anthems or high flying harmony vocals as there were on the band's earliest albums.
When they rock – the just rock – such as on Day 9-11, But We Still Rock, Right Things Right and Bet Your Bottom Dollar. I could use some bigger choruses here and the guitars are more or less riffing without much flair – not too many theatrics in play here.
On this album the guys actually sound their best when they slow it down a little. The mid-tempo and acoustic driven Cry For Help has a great chorus; What's On Your Mind is a great little pop/rock anthem and Notion Of Love brings back memories of the band's best years.
The big ballad of the album Blink Of An Eye is included twice – a little unnecessary. The 6 minute regular version is "enhanced" by a nearly 8 minute extended version that closes the album. Once would have been enough fellas!
And a special mention for Rap Is Crap. Yes I agree completely with the lyrical sentiment of the track, but it's pretty average at best and didn't they have a little rap influence on one track from the last album?
|Phil Soussan Vibrate||Puss in Blue Records|
Phil Soussan is a session great and also the former bassist for Beggars & Thieves, John Waite, Vince Neil and Ozzy Osbourne to name just a few.|
This is his first solo record and is a very diverse and eclectic collection of songs that will appeal to those that look for something different and appreciate the singer/songwriter approach to melodic pop/rock.
Highlights for me include Open Your Eyes, a glorious melodic number with a great hook; Friend By My Side is funkier and in Richie Kotzen friendly territory; In America is more laid back and subtle and reminds me of The Rembrandts; Smile features a more upfront electric guitar sound and a strong lead vocal and the Celtic ballad She Couldn't Cry.
In the same way Richie Kotzen's solo records sound completely different to that of his work with the likes of Mr. Big, so to does Phil's solo record in relation to his past work.
It has a similar vibe to that of Kotzen – a player who knows a lot more than he is normally required to perform and lets loose now he has the chance. Guests include Toto's Steve Lukather, Simon Philips, Steve Porcaro and David Paich along with Richie Kotzen, Gregg & Bud Bissonnette and more.
|Def Leppard Yeah!||Universal|
Ok, so you see the score. Now just why is it so? |
I think this is the strangest scenario for writing a review that I have encountered in my 10 years running this site.
It all began when I gave what was perceived as an unfavorable preview of the album from a leaked unmastered copy some 18 months back.
The comments themselves were not that bad. Sure, a few tracks descriptions were, but overall the sentiment I expressed was that of disappointment in the whole covers album concept and to this day don't believe it does Def Leppard any favors.
My comments were taken personally by none other than band frontman Joe Elliott who unloaded on me publicly and has continued to do so on several occasions since then. The latest swipe came only this week…this from a band that actually holds position #1 on my all time favourite albums list. Yes, Hysteria is my favourite record of some 5000 CDs on my shelves.
So, here is a band that I love; using a concept for an album that I generally loathe; with a frontman who is openly attacking me whenever prompted; and with fans and readers taking sides, ready to pounce to add their 2c worth once this review is posted.
Joe says I am not a real journalist. I'll take his comments on the chin, but the reality is that I was actually one of the very few outlets that supported the X album and gave it a rave review. I went against the grain with that and to this day believe it was a criminally under-promoted record and could have done much bigger business had it been given the chance.
Had I given more positive comments in my 2005 preview of this album, the whole debate that ensued would be moot. But I didn't and since then this saga has taken on a life of its own, fuelled by Joe's taunts and my amusement in passing on those comments to readers.
And here we are at last…
Lets be blunt - I am expected to hate this album. I am expected to react to Joe's silly taunts and dig the knife in now it is turn for me to have my say with this "official review".
But you know what, I don't hate this album and I still love the band. Maybe not the singer so much, but the band, sure.
I don't hate the album, but still hate the concept. I stand by all of my original comments that I think this is a waste of the band's time and merely a stop gap measure between studio albums.
If this album was churned out in quick time 12 months after the last album X, then I would be far more understanding.
I was slated by Joe for reviewing a half finished album. Not true. The retail version in fans hands today is no different than what I first heard, although now the album has been properly mastered, giving it a much brighter and engaging sound, but I never criticized that aspect of the recording.
The final released product doesn't disguise some very laid back performances and a distinct lack of Leppard-isms within the recording itself.
When it comes down to how the band wanted to do this, the guys are placed in a 'damned if they do, damned if they don't' situation. Stay true to the originals and you are just copying, but venture too far away and you are being disrespectful. It's a hard call, so I say why not avoid those issues in the first place and concentrate on new material?
This album is a very 'true to the original' type of tribute release. The songs are faithful reproductions of how the original tunes sounded.
And I must say, being familiar with most of the songs covered here, the band has captured the spirit of these original songs rather well.
How much any given fan is going to enjoy the actual songs is another matter. I expect many long time fans will enjoy it as something different from the band – but how many will still be playing it 3 months down the track?
I have purchased my copy of the album, but once this review is finally completed, I don't expect to play it again. Ever! Having said that, I'm still playing X after 4 years and I'm still playing Hysteria after 19 years!
Track By Track:
Opening the album is 20th Century Boy (T-Rex). Uptempo yes, but still fairly restrained. I think a reasonable choice to open the album. It sets up the pace and the feel of the overall album.
Rock On (David Essex) has been chosen as the new lead track, most probably as it is one of the most recognizable songs to American fans. And let's be honest here – America is where the band sees its fortune these days. The better chart result there first week in and the great response to the band's upcoming tour there shows where the money is to be made.
The track itself is an updated, but faithful rendition which suits Elliott's softer vocal approach used on this album. Unfortunately I think it is one of the more forgettable tracks of the album having heard it covered plenty enough before already. I do like the lead guitar break mid-track though.
Hanging On The Telephone (Blondie) is one of my favourite tracks of the album and one of the few instances where I think the band have improved upon the original. This version is more polished and the chorus harmonies suit that of the band. Same goes for the lead guitar. A catchy song made even more enjoyable.
I have already praised Waterloo Sunset as a great track to cover, how could anyone go wrong with The Kinks? The tone and the delivery is near perfect and I think this is probably my favourite track on the album and perhaps the only one I would pick out to include on a self-constructed Def Leppard compilation. The most 'Leppard' of all the tracks covered.
Hell Raiser (Sweet) is a good change in tempo. The album needed a rocker at this point and that's what you get. I'm not a big fan of this glammy track though. It's just a little…well, I can't take it seriously and the added vocals from The Darkness' Justin Hawkins just compounds that problem.
10538 Overture (ELO) is a track that I don't think goes anywhere. Def Leppard are famous for their hooks and this track just doesn't have one. Curious song to include and not one I enjoyed then or now.
Street Life (Roxy Music) is more in keeping with the band's sound and this track rattles along at a fair pace. Still no major chorus hook and another track I'm not sold on.
Drive-in Saturday (David Bowie) sees the album in a bit of a hook-free run. The song returns to the laid back vibe. I like Joe Elliott's lead vocal here. I'm not a fan of the original track or this version still, but I do like the tone of Joe's vocal and his performance here. You can tell that he believes in the song. Some nice instrumentation, but the song just doesn't have that flair expected from Def Leppard songs.
Little Bit Of Love (Free) is a good choice for the album and a chance for the band to include a good commercial rock track that most will be familiar with.
No album paying tribute to the best of British classic rock would be complete without a track by Mott The Hoople. The Golden Age Of Rock`n` Roll is Leppard's choice here and I can't argue with that. It is a bit of a throw-away rocker, but it's all in good fun.
I'll stick with my original comments about No Matter What (Badfinger) - a pleasant mid-tempo pop song and similar in vibe to Waterloo Sunset. Ok, but not essential.
And my feelings are identical regarding He`s Gonna Step On You Again (John Kongos). This is a tired old rocker that I could live without. I believe I called it dreadful back when I first heard it and my feelings haven't changed. Doesn't suit the band at all and I could easily go on without ever hearing the song (in any form) again.
Don't Believe A Word (Thin Lizzy), is far better. Better suited for the band, better suited for the album and a classic song that couldn't be done badly. It also suits Joe and the band and is another of my favourites from the album. Still love the Andy Taylor version the best though.
Stay With Me (The Faces) is a great fun rocker and Phil adds his deftly tuned best Rod Stewart vocal impersonation here. A good fun track and a good way to close the album, but I have another issue with this track. It has appeared elsewhere before and I believe most die-hards fans would already have it. With several other tracks available for inclusion, why not relegate this to bonus track status?
I won't comment on the various bonus tracks available in various formats here as quite frankly, they are not part of the album for the vast majority of those purchasing this.
Without being flippant, I think the album is fairly enjoyable in the now, but largely forgettable in the long term. And the most disappointing aspect is that it will probably be another 2 years until we finally get that proper new studio album we all long for.
I reviewed this album without any prior reference to my original comments some 18 months back. I found those again after I finished this review and re-read them. What I found really surprising is that most of the comments – both good and bad mirror those I typed out originally.
I still love the same tracks as then and I still really dislike some of the others. Joe may have lambasted me for reviewing a 'half finished album', but my views then are almost identical to the retail version available now.
Proof that this album was a flawed concept from the start. I am just not a fan of covers albums – not when new material would be much preferred. Case in point - two of my favourite artists ever - Rick Springfield and Toto. I didn't rate their covers albums highly either. For long time Leppard fans there is already the numerous covers used as B-Sides and Joe's own Cybernauts release (which I reviewed here).
The upside of all this? The band is now free from their US record contract and can plot a new course from here.
Despite the ongoing rhetoric I believe I have put my opinions forward in a respectful and fair manner. I expect many might disagree with what I have said, but let's just see...
And that's it for this Tasmanian review...
|Queensryche Operation Mindcrime 2||Rhino Records|
Review on this occasion by Mick Ward.|
Typically full of twists and turns, the plot line for Operation Mindcrime II is rich intricate and involved. Whether you love or despise this incarnation of Queensryche is beside the point, for what the band has delivered here is quite the effort, dressing this sequel up in what resembles the sounds of an 80's era Queensryche while continuing to evolve and not duplicate themselves. A daunting task and first impressions would have the listener convinced that the band have succeeded in remaining faithful to the original in both story arc and its delivery. Yet while the plot should enthrall, the music and song delivery require closer examination.
Too often the melody lines which Geoff Tate sings veer on the side of pop, reminiscent of those on his Geoff Tate solo album and distance themselves from the obvious attempt by the musicians to put some metal back in the band. Also, on too many occasions a strong opening riff gives way to a softer song or, for want of a better word a ballad. Regardless of the story lines' requirement for these moments of fluff, MCII is flawed by the inclusion of too many of these softer moments.
MCII is less metal and more hard rock with a creative edge. However, having said that, the venture into new territory is occasionally quite extraordinary. The unfamiliar style of Re-Arrange You is absolutely wonderful, its exceptional chorus and driving verses leave you wanting more. Fear City Slide reeks of Empire era Queensryche and, aside from its rather unusual, bordering on awful pop sing-a-long chorus, the song is quite the number.
The idea of sharing vocals with Ronnie James Dio on The Chase, in theory is brilliant, but the reality should have challenged its performers so much more, the song lacks in dynamic and by no means does it showcase either vocalist's true ability. Good but could have been so much more!
When seeking the reason behind such a subdued performance, consideration needs to be given on how this album came about - allegedly Tate made use of storyboards to structure the story preparing it for a more theatrical presentation. So perhaps here lies the problem. Whereas the first Mindcrime captured you with its sensational songs and musicianship whilst at the same time working cohesively with an intricate and compelling story, MCII puts the story first and has instead been drafted from concept to song, thus resulting in a more crowded and at times forced atmosphere, the story getting caught up in its very own theatrics and leaving less room for the music to breathe.
Thankfully many of the tunes push through this small barrier, tracks such as the dark and brooding Hostage and the catchy and sharp delivery of The Hands send the listener on a definite trip down metallic memory lane proudly giving a wink to anything from the Rage for Order to the Promised Land eras. Put simply both tunes are brilliant!
The slightly fumbled yet kick ass I'm American launches the album out of the starter gates and while it reeks of a deliberate attempt at capturing the spirit of the first Mindcrime, it is a galloping rocker in its own right. Rejoice!
One also cannot ignore the intensity and uniqueness of Murderer, perhaps too obscure for the casual listener; Murderer borders on chaotic but its driving bass and progressive style make for one of the strongest moments in Queensryche history.
Thankfully there are plenty of guitar solos and some shared, although unlike the songs from which they come, the solos fail to ingrain themselves in your head daring you to duplicate them on your own six string like those of years gone by, which leaves the album a tad unfulfilling in this regard, but they do complete the songs and its damn pleasing to hear 'em none the less.
Unfortunately, being the prime architect for the album, Tate will likely take the brunt of any negativity that comes their way but on a positive note his performance is flawless. Regardless of less range, he relishes the emotions of MCII and hasn't sounded this dark, angry or convincing on a release since the release of Promised Land.
Executed to perfection with a fat production that dabbles in yesteryear while staying very in the now and giving MCII the dramatic effect it requires, the band have indeed thrown down a worthy album. If it's the Mindcrime tag that has caused this sudden darker and much better Queensryche to appear or re-appear, whichever way you see it, then for that we should be thankful. With the changes the band has had to endure, newcomers Mike Stone sharing guitar duties with Michael Wilton and Jason Slater taking on production values finally sees the band settling into a sound and style which most fans should embrace.
Masterpiece? Dramatic swansong or a rebirth of sorts? Time will tell.
|House Of Mirrors Desolation||Escape Music|
House of Mirrors are a Finnish melodic hard rock/ metal band that have been around for over a decade now, but only broke through with their 2004 debut.|
2 years later the follow up is upon us and while it is an enjoyable and sometimes impressive release, it seems the lessons of the debut haven't been learnt and the end result is an album that doesn't quite match its predecessor.
The band's main problem is diversity. As with the debut, the guys don't quite know what direction to take, resulting in an album that covers straight ahead hard rock, melodic metal, pomp and even AOR.
There are actually some very likable tracks included here and the guys can certainly write and play without any question. But when the styles jump around so much, it doesn't give the listener any time to settle in.
The album's first three tracks are all hard rocking European melodic metal, with the opening track Desolation the highlight there.
Then there is the about face on Where Are You Now, a glorious pomp/AOR ballad with hints of Boston and Journey present.
Waiting In The Wings then sounds like Europe in their commercial 80s heyday, before On The Red Line returns the band to a heavier footing.
Gone With The Summer sees another about face – this is an acoustic driven ballad with a touch of flamenco guitar!
A trio of mid-tempo commercial hard rockers follows with a big power ballad in Heart To Heart closing the album.
Still, I have heard a lot worse and accepting the changing styles, enjoyed this album for what it offers. There is still room for the band to improve and deliver a great album though.
|Empire The Raven Ride||Metal Heaven|
Empire haven't previously set my world on fire and perhaps don't quite do that once again here. But this is definitely their best release to date and I think their most consistent also.|
The band's 3rd release sees them hit their straps, with their most memorable material on hand and on this occasion truly working as a band unit and not just another all-star project.
Vocalist Tony Martin sounds in top form, with some authorative and at times menacing lead vocals…a performance that I think I prefer over his recent solo album.
Rolf Monkes has a nice guitar tone featured on this record – tough and heavy without being too dominant or relying on down-tuning to portray angst.
10 tracks and 40 minutes of intense European hard rock is on offer here, kicking off with the Martin era Sabbath-like drama of The Raven Ride, flowing into the slightly less intense Breathe.
Satanic Curses is the next track to gain my attention – a slow, dark and moody metal track fans of Martin will love.
There are a few fillers featured, but the hard rock ballad What Would I Do? is a quality song and nice mid-album tempo changer.
The more commercial Changing World follows on nicely and the rather bizarre chorus vocal of Maximum makes that quite an interesting track.
The uptempo I Can't Trust Myself is about as commercial as Martin or Empire has come and will appeal to hard rock fans across the board.
|Winterstrain Return To The Mirror||Z Records|
Winterstrain are a Norwegian hard rock outfit who count British singer Tony Mills among their biggest fans. Tony has helped the guys out with backing vocals and additional harmony vocals. His involvement however, should not draw you to compare these guys to Shy, although the backing vocals are at times quite rich and in that higher range.|
The guys are most definitely a hard rock / progressive outfit, although the lead vocals are very melodic and most enjoyable.
I think the guitar tone is a little out of balance with the rest of the album, it sounds a little hollow in several places, but guitarist Arnulf Ovre does offer some of the best riffing this side of Yngwie Malmsteen.
This is another band that delivers a very diverse album. There's a little prog-metal (The Family Secret, Rumours At Speak), there is some dramatic hard rock (Another Time, Another Day In Your World) and at times some lush orchestral style moments (Leon, Broken Defence).
Then there is the epic closing number Sail which mixes all of the above into one.
|House Of Lords World Upside Down||Frontiers Records|
So there is a little controversy to this album. I think once any House Of Lords fan gets through the album for the first time, any doubts will be erased.|
House Of Lords caused a stir with their last studio album The Power & The Myth, perhaps for the wrong reasons though. The record found its fans, but a good portion on the traditional HOL fanbase were unhappy with the change in style and direction taken by the band.
It wasn't just the style - it was also the time taken in getting the record done and singer James Christian also came under fire for his vocal performance.
World Upside Down is some quirky way is an apt title for this new album. Since the last record, everything in the HOL camp has been turned upside down. In comes a new line-up...the record was written and recorded in quick time...and stylistically the band reverts back to everything that made the HOL name great.
One could argue that the new line-up isn't truly House Of Lords, but there will be just as many, if not more, that will argue that the last album with the original line-up didn't sound anything like what was expected of the band.
World Upside Down however is totally House Of Lords in sound and direction. James Christian steers the band through rocky waters into a glorious bay of harmonies, wailing guitars, huge choruses and a big fat production sound that sees this album stand proudly between the self-titled debut and Demon's Down.
This is a bloody fine melodic rock record and everyone involved deserves a little credit. This is a very energetic record and literally jumps from the speakers. James Christian sounds amazing – as good as I can remember and certainly the best since Demons Down. New guitarist Jimi Bell plays all over this record - riffs galore, but some great solos and blazing overdubs too. Jeff Kent and BJ Zampa supply a hearty rhythm section and Jeff double-dips with some traditional House Of Lords keyboard parts.
Original keys man and band founder Gregg Giuffria returns in a cameo role, with several keyboard passages included, but his influence over the record is easy to pick. His advice to the guys on production and keyboard sounds means this record retains the feel of the original band.
Track By Track:
A nice typically overblown intro in the form of Mask Of Eternity opens the album, signaling the band's intentions with this record - blazing guitars and an epic production.
These Are The Times is a strong opening track and a typical HOL styled uptempo melodic rocker. A strong chorus is amplified by some big vocals and a hearty guitar riff. Welcome back guys!
All The Way To Heaven is another trademark HOL track, but this time relying on the band's knack of serving up a rock anthem wrapped up in a moody, angst filled delivery. Some big backing vocals, a very melodic chorus and a quirky lyrical theme familiar to the band add to the track.
Field Of Shattered Dreams is a huge power rock ballad with a chorus that seems to go on forever and features some amazing harmony vocals. Lyrically it is a message for all those serving their country overseas during this time of conflict.
I'm Free is probably the most contemporary song on offer. It is a heavier and darker rocker with an aggressive edge in the vocals and lead guitar. Less emphasis on the chorus here, which helps vary the record.
All The Pieces Falling is an acoustic driven ballad and a more traditional sounding track. A heartfelt ballad that builds in tempo, while adding more and more soaring vocals.
Rock Bottom steers the album back into uptempo hard rock territory, with a big groove and a big attitude. A bit of a throw-away rocker, but good fun nevertheless. The guitar riff reminds me of that true HOL sound.
Million Miles is just brilliant. This is everything I love about James Christian and House Of Lords – uptempo and over the top. A cool guitar riff is thrown in and the song is extremely melodic during the verse and a big melodic anthem chorus. Love it.
Your Eyes continues the melodic bliss. This starts slow and remains mid-tempo and is a ballad of sorts, but a rock ballad with another big harmony filled chorus. A nice guitar solo just adds to the enjoyment.
Ghost Of Time makes the album even better again. Some moody keyboard parts and a smooth guitar riff start the song off before it turns uptempo, very melodic and very passionate. This rocker has a superb chorus and follows on perfectly from Million Miles - the two songs remind me of the closing tracks on the band's killer debut - where every song was more melodic than the last and you couldn't believe one killer track just followed the other.
My Generation turns up the heat again with a grittier, dirtier rock sound along the same lines as I'm Free, but with a bigger and better chorus and lots of drum rhythms. It makes for a nice circuit breaker between anthems, but not a personal favourite.
S.O.S is that other anthem which adds to the gloriousness of Million Miles and Ghost Of Time. Incredibly commercial and utterly brilliant – through the verse, the chorus and the big finale.
World Upside Down closes the album brilliantly on a somewhat reflective note. This track is a mid-tempo ballad with a little orchestral padding which lifts the melody beautifully.
Something lacking from Power & The Myth was big choruses and big vocals. This album has both. The backing vocals on this record in particular are immense, with James, wife Robin Beck and guest Terry Brock all supplying some huge vocals.
This record is the very definition of melodic hard rock and for me blows the last album and even James' 2 solo records out of the water. Easily my second favourite album of the year thus far and I'm guessing the best of the year in many other fans eyes.
|Goo Goo Dolls Let Love In||Warner Bros.|
My first Goo Goo Dolls record was A Boy Named Goo. A later-comer to the band yes, but that album made an immediate impact and remains my favourite from the band and one of my all time favourite modern rock albums. Subsequent releases have been a little weaker each time, but remained enjoyable.|
Dizzy Up The Girl was solid, but didn't quite have the raw power of Goo. Gutterfower got off to a flyer, but fell away towards the end.
With each record the band has mellowed a little, but with Let Love In, the move is more pronounced. The bands' success with mid and slow tempo songs has obviously influenced their thinking, with this a far more mature and mellow record.
I love a mellow record as much, if not more, than the average melodic rock fan - fabulous for certain moods and emotions.
But when it comes to the Goo Goo Dolls, I want an album full of their classic rocking sound. I want high-powered angst…I want a wall of melodic guitars and I want passion and urgency in the delivery of their anthems for the misunderstood.
Not on this record. With the exception of perhaps the opening track, Let Love In sees a band that has grown older and become all to comfortable.
I know this record is going to have a lot of fans and I don't mind going against what may prove to be the majority…we shall see.
But for me, the band has lost the intensity that drove albums like A Boy Named Goo and Superstar Carwash.
The band doesn't abandon their trademark sound, it has merely been tempered and acoustic guitars now share equal billing with the plugged in variety.
If you like the band in a mellower setting and have a preference for their ballads, this very slick record is going to appeal. The vocals of Johhny Rzeznik are certainly some of the more likeable and melodic of ay modern rock band.
But, if like me, you prefer them in a heavier setting, prepare to be disappointed.
Track By Track:
The new single Stay With You is an easy pick for an opener and the track to promote the album. It opens with all the passion, fanfare and fire you would expect of the band. This track is the closest to the band's most classic sound which really came to be on A Boy Named Goo. A fantastic, guitar fuelled wall of melody with a killer chorus, this is destined to become another classic for the band.
The title track Let Love In has an interesting intro. A different approach for the band, with lots of production effects lying underneath a soft vocal before the song bursts to life with a very commercial melodic chorus. It's hard not to like the track, but it does suggest that the band are no longer an angst filled modern rock outfit, but rather a more comfortable 'happy' band!
Feel The Silence mellows even further. We are on a slowing path here and this mid-tempo pop rocker has a feel good chorus, and replaces angst with a more mature sentimental emotion.
Better Days is the song we all know from late last year. This very commercial modern rock ballad has a great chorus of course, but I was never fully sold on this track then and haven't changed my mind.
About this stage I'm dying for a rocker. We is the GGD of old? Each track on the album has been mellower than the last and this climaxes with the ultra slow acoustic driven ballad Without You Here. I'm not a fan of this track at all. The album has slowed to a crawl after an initially promising start.
Listen sounds every bit a classic GGD rocker and could easily fit on any of the last 3 albums. Finally a great rock track, however, it does get knocked back a notch as bassist Robby is on lead vocals here. Thankfully it at least matches his input from the Boy Named Goo album and is his best vocal track of the last couple of albums.
Give A Little Bit is another track we have all heard already. The song was the one new studio track from the 2005 live album release and should not have been included on this album. We all own it already…move on…
Can't Let It Go is yet another acoustic driven mid-tempo pop rocker. It is an ok song, but again I'm searching for a killer rocker in amongst all the mid-tempo tracks.
We'll Be Here (When You're Gone) is a moody, modern rock track. It could have been darker and heavier still, but gathers a little fire towards the end.
Strange Love features Robby again. He is back to his average raspy vocals and this doesn't impress as much as his first track.
Become is yet another slow ballad and one without any redeeming virtues. I find it too plain and boring and is a repeat of what's already on offer elsewhere within the album.
Nice for an unobtrusive, safe, commercial modern rock record, but is that really what the Goo Goo Dolls are all about? My hope for this genre now falls back to Mitch Allen for his solo debut. Please let it rock!
|Newman Heaven Knows||Escape Music|
Englishman Steve Newman returns in quick time for album number 5. I have always enjoyed Newman's albums and without doubt each one has been that little bit better than the one before.|
The last album Sign Of The Modern Times was his best to date and left him with a lot of work to do to match or surpass it.
Steve made a slight change of tact for this album. Everything except for the thumping drum beats are from Steve. A truly hands on effort this, with keyboards, guitars, bass and vocals all coming from the man himself.
I'm not sure who mixed this album; whether it was Steve or someone else, but whoever is responsible did a cracking job at ensuring all the instruments get equal room to breathe and be heard clearly.
The sound is classic melodic rock with that 80s influence snapping at its heals, but is in no way dated or routine. I'm pleased to say that Newman has eclipsed himself again and Heaven Knows is easily his best album to date.
The stars of this record – the songs themselves. These are the best set of songs to make a Newman record yet and are the most instant also.
Normally I require a little time to grow into Steve's records, but on this occasion I only needed a second spin to be sold on the contents.
Track By Track:
Heaven Knows is a cracking uptempo melodic rocker to get things underway, with a smooth chorus giving way to a lush chorus mixing keyboards with guitars and harmony vocals.
Higher is a little more subtle, yet features a harder edge guitar riff and the chorus comes in two parts and is classic Newman.
Aint Gonna Cry Forever is possibly the best Newman song ever! What a killer chorus! I just love it to death and think it is an example of the very best classic British AOR can offer.
Move On is a little heavier and has a certain groove. It changes the pace of the album to date but still features another great chorus.
The mid-tempo ballad The Way You Love Me is another great example of how simple and familiar melodic rock can still be so effective when done with passion and quality.
Following the mid-tempo ballad is this slower power ballad. Learning To Live again features a monster chorus and again is one of Steve's best ballads.
The Circle picks the tempo up again to how the album opened. And yet again - another strong chorus.
This Time has a big groove to it and some nice guitar parts. Not as strong a chorus here, but not close to being a filler either.
Wait takes a few listens to get to know and works well at this point of the album.
Never Meant To Fall In Love is a uptempo melodic rocker with a groovy verse and a straight AOR chorus.
Sport Of Kings is a heavier and darker track that shows another side of Newman. A good chorus gets better with each listen.
On Any Other Sunday is a tribute to the victims of the 2005 Tsunami. This acoustic ballad closes the album on a strong, yet sentimental note.
What it is though, is a very fine example of classic style, 80s influenced British melodic rock and in my opinion, Steve Newman's best and most consistent effort yet!
|Jeff Scott Soto Essential Ballads||Frontiers Records|
Well of course they are essential! Everything Soto is essential these days in my book and I expect Jeff's fans will line up accordingly for this release.|
The thing that I truly love about Jeff's music and his vocals is his passion. Whether he's rocking or crooning, there is an unmistakable passion involved that really helps the listener connect to him.
You can really hear Jeff connect with the lyrics and with the song – nothing is just simply sung.
In the case of this album it's Jeff the crooner in action. Gathering 13 of his finest ballads and 3 unreleased gems from the famous Slam sessions, the album is definitely one for established fans, but possibly also for those that remain curious about Jeff's work and are looking for a place to start.
Some of Jeff's work can get pretty diverse, so this fairly straightforward collection of slow and mid-tempo melodic-friendly ballads is a brilliant intro to one side of this performer.
Tracks here are garnered from Jeff's 3 solo albums and some EP cuts. Despite being a 16 track collection of ballads, the tempo is not limited to slow.
You have brilliant traditional power ballads in the form of If This Is The End, Don't Wanna Say Goodbye and Till The End Of Time; the famous cover of Journey's Send Her My Love; to smooth sultry numbers like This Ain't The Love, Still Be Lovin' You and then there is the more diverse side of Jeff, as displayed on the soulful funk of 4U and the glorious acapella styled Sacred Eyes and By Your Side – two tracks I rate as some of Jeff's very finest vocal work.
As for the new tracks – Through It All is an acoustic driven pop ballad; Last Mistake is a gem, a very commercial uptempo pop/rocker with a fabulous vocal and chorus and Another Try follows that perfectly, delivering another fine catchy pop song.
The addition of a few unreleased tracks – one of which is a real gem – and some EP cuts makes this a nicely crafted compilation and good all-round value. Did you expect me to say anything less?!
|Fate V||MTM Music|
Danish rockers Fate have varied their line-up over the years and their comeback album V features vocalist Per Johansson who was on board for the band's previous release Scratch N Sniff (recently re-issued by MTM).|
The band has again hooked up with old producer Tommy Hansen, who has gone on to considerable production fame. He ensures this album sounds a million bucks. The sound is big, the guitar sound is right in your face and the mix is near perfect.
The record has all the ingredients of a classic Fate record and an overall world-class production quality. However, to create a classic you need 2 more ingredients - great songs and a great lead vocal.
This is where things get a little more complicated and where this album might cause some debate among fans.
Firstly – the songs. I can't complain about this too much. I like what I hear and in keeping with the big production sound, the songs match in rock attitude. There are some big riffs on offer and some strong melodies and choruses.
The opening rocker Butterfly is about as big as they come and the more restrained Everything About You is catchy from the outset.
Burned Child delivers another strong melody in two parts and I'll Get By is classic Fate in its melodic approach.
The slower rock ballad Life offers another side of the band and delivers another huge vocal in the chorus, while Memories Won't Die is a strong uptempo rocker.
What I have avoided mentioning thus far is the album's main negative and no doubt, its biggest talking point. The vocals of Per Johansson are something fans are either going to accept or reject. His voice has certainly changed since his last appearance with the band. One could suggest that the years have not been kind to Per, but whatever the circumstance, his voice here is a lot rawer and raspier.
He screams his way through a good portion of the album and that's going to turn some people off. What shouldn't be an issue now requires a warning – you will have accept and appreciate these harsh/raspy vocals in order to appreciate this album to its fullest.
|Fatal Force Fatal Force||MTM Music|
Within the Fate review I stated that the band had the songs, but perhaps not the vocals. Fatal Force is the other way around.|
They sure as hell have the vocals – delivered with fire from the impeccably fabulous Mats Levin – but they perhaps do not quite have the song quality required to make this an essential purchase.
The brainchild of prog-metal / instrumental guitarist Torben Enevoldsen (Section A), Fatal Force was born out of the need to find a home for some more traditionally melodic hard rock songs.
Torben performs all guitar, bass and keyboard duties and adds a fine support cast for his vision. Mats Levin (Dogface/Treat/At Vance/Yngwie) is perfect on vocals while man-of-the-hour Daniel Flores joins in on drums.
Torben produces and supplies all music, while Levin supplies the lyrics.
It might have been a good idea to include Levin a little further, as this album has just about everything a European melodic hard rock album should have – but the songs could have been stronger had they had the input of someone more used to working with commercial structure. Torben's penchant for instrumental works seems to work against him here.
Opening rocker Caveman does have a strong chorus, but the flow of the song doesn't make it an easy journey to get there. The same could be said of Domino.
Far Away and No Question both feature similar tempos and style's – dark, contemporary rockers with slow pacing and restrained choruses.
The mid-album songs Out Of Fuel through Everyone all rock with a similar pace – a ton of sweet guitar riffs and some authorative lead vocals, but all of these tracks suffer from the lack of memorable hooks. It's not until Insanity that a truly memorable chorus kicks in.
The album closes with one of the better tracks on the album – the aggressive and powerful Eye To Eye, which features a great vocal from Levin.
Tommy Hansen is again called upon to produce and mix and as per usual delivers a product with a solid, even sound and big sonic impact.
|Oni Logan Stranger In A Foreign Land||LMC / Indie|
I'm quite the fan of Oni Logan. His work on the first Lynch Mob album was stupendous and I always thought his subsequent absence from the hard rock scene (apart from the very late released Violet's Demise opus) was nothing short of a crime.|
In 2006 Logan finally returns, albeit in a form few fans will expect.
My first impression of this