|Avril Lavigne Under My Skin||BMG|
Make no mistake - Avril was under a whole world of pressure to come up with another chart topping mega-success, but the girl has made a mockery of her young age with a truly great set of songs that will ensure this album doesn't carry the sophomore jinx. Featuring production and writing help from Rock God Butch Walker and several other high profile names, Avril expands her repertoire with a darker, heavier and moodier album with a lot more attitude and some very personal songs.|
What's best of all is to see her name alongside the writing credits for each and every track a route so often shunned by other chart topping stars.
Her vocal range is tested and expanded successfully and the songs of Under My Skin have hit written all over them.
I'm very impressed by her willingness to push the boundaries a little and experiment beyond the frame of the expected hit single format. At times the maturity expressed with the songwriting is nothing short of fantastic.
The use of several producers to create this album means the styles are a little different throughout. This can sometimes be rather off-putting to the listener, and while it is evident here, the album has been constructed in the best way possible to minimize this and as a result it flows cohesively.
Track By Track:
Take Me Away is a classic opening track utilizing all the expected ingredients hard hitting guitars, snarling vocals, a big chorus and the first sign that Avril's voice has matured since her debut.
Together is the first surprise of the album. This is a dark and melancholy rocker, with some haunting effects such as Tori Amos style piano and a Kate Bush sense of going right over the top. The chorus is simply massive a huge guitar fuelled vocal that soars over the top of the song and shows what a great vocal talent Avril can be.
Don't Tell Me is the single everyone knows. I still love the track to bits and love the emotional vocals and the excellent lyrical theme. A big hand to co-writer and producer Butch, who is all over the track.
He Wasn't is a punk fuelled modern pop rocker with attitude. The chorus is punk-pop, but the chorus is as commercial an anthem as one could expect, a la Sk8ter Boi. Expect this to me another massive single.
How Does It Feel is a personal favourite. This is a massive ballad, with powerful and emotional vocals far beyond the singer's age. And the right turn the track takes mid-track sends the track right over the top.
My Happy Ending is the new single and another Butch Walker co-write. Simply put, it's another hit single and a great example of modern pop/rock.
Nobody's Home is a mid-tempo, emotion filled rock track that starts slow and builds to another great chorus. It picks up tempo from there and continues through a series of bridges and choruses. Great track with another powerful lyric.
Forgotten has a really dark vibe to it it features a slow, haunting intro, which builds slowly into an angst filled song, with another powerful chorus which reminds me of Alanis Morrisette at her angry best.
Who Knows is another massive hit single in the waiting. Watch for this one The chorus is somewhat laid back and reflective, featuring a cool electric/acoustic combination. The chorus is something else though a feel good, anthemic sing along if ever there was one.
Fall To Pieces is a good, catchy mid-tempo pop rocker. More simplistic than several other album tracks, but most welcome due to a very catchy chorus.
Freak Out is a mid-tempo modern rock track with a heavy, catchy chorus that features a great vocal and an impressive wall of guitars.
Slipped Away closes the album perfectly. This is another classy, heartfelt power rock ballad. The track continues to build throughout and is a fitting climax to a great album.
|Stan Bush Shine||Frontiers Records|
For his brand new solo album Stan has plugged that electric guitar back in and returned to the very polished melodic rock sound that most fans favor. This is a simple, stripped back rock n roll record with a strong melodic rock/AOR feel that fans of the classic Barrage album will be pleased to hear. |
This is a back to basics album. Ten tracks - all within the 3 to 5 minute range and all getting to the point in quick time memorable choruses and vocal hooks quick to jump in.
The style mixes the AOR of Every Beat Of My Heart with the more mature pop of Language Of The Heart and the guitar driven feel of Heaven.
Stan is in top form vocally and the best thing about the album is the clear and crisp production which allows all elements room to breathe.
Best of all, every track has a great chorus and additional memorable moments such as extra vocal hooks or great guitar riffs.
And the performances are just perfect for the songs. Is it any wonder why? Some of my very favourite musicians are involved, including guitarist Tim Pierce and drummer Kenny Aronoff. The line-up is rounded out with Matt Bisonette on drums and Curt Cuomo on keyboards.
Track By Track:
Shine is a first rate guitar driven pop rocker with a feel good message.
Falling is a slightly heavier and darker rocker, with that classic moody Stan Bush feel.
I Will Be There is a bare bones mid-tempo pop rocker with a mellow verse and a more edgy guitar driven chorus.
I Turn To You features another great riff and strong vocal. The extended chorus is subtle, but befitting the song.
What You Mean Tonight is the first ballad proper of the album. Typical Stan Bush, which is a good thing indeed.
Say It Ain't Love returns us again to the simple, but classic melodic rock style of Every Beat Of My Heart. The chorus picks up the pace a little and will please long time fans.
Have You Ever Believed continues the stripped back uptempo pop rock vibe.
Do It All Over is an album favourite. This is an anthemic uptempo pop/rocker in classic Stan Bush style.
The Chance You Take is another Every Beat Of My Heart style AOR anthem and adds to the class of the closing moment of the album.
When I Dream closes the album perfectly. Another classic, classy Stan Bush, slow but moody rocker with a great chorus hook.
Another album that cleverly doesn't over do itself and features just enough tracks to make it long enough without any fillers. Easily his best album since Every Beat Of My Heart. Perfect melodic rock/pure AOR.
|Ten Return To Evermore||Intensity Records|
It's actually been two years since Ten's last studio album, Far Beyond The World. Being that Gary Hughes is always busy with different projects and last year was consumed with the Once And Future King releases, I didn't think I had missed the band during their time away.|
But one listen to Return To Evermore and I was reminded of just why I love the band and in fact, how much I had missed hearing new material.
Ten have their own unique sound, and Gary Hughes has his own distinct vocal style. The pairing of the two is something that really works and has impressed me since their debut album in 1995.
While always retaining their "sound", the band has varied their delivery in recent outings, heading in a heavier, more direct approach with the songs.
However Return To Evermore is a return to the band's trademark styles epic rockers mixed with vocally complex, layered AOR anthems and power ballads.
This album is a return to the sound of Name Of The Rose and Ten, with a little of The Robe thrown in. And naturally, there are a couple of new twists too, but the end result is another cracking album that will appeal to the band's long time fans and those that adored the layered melodic bliss of the debut.
This album also sees the debut of guitarist Chris Francis. He's been on board for a while now and played all over the Once And Future King epics, but this remains his first Ten album. His sharp guitar work insures the band doesn't miss a beat from its past with guitar great Vinny Burns.
Before delving into a track by track analysis, there is one thing I did find with this album. It rocks where needed and the ballads are lush, but the mid-tempo AOR tracks are just superb. They are so utterly commercial, it will be hard for anyone to dislike the material on offer here.
The album also has a fairly relaxed vibe. The urgency and the more aggressive nature of the last couple of albums isn't here. And I for one like this approach. It's just an enjoyable melodic hard rock record that you can take on face value. Track By Track:
The album opens with the 8 minute plus epic Apparition, which is pretty much classic Ten in every way. The slow intro, the building tempo, the flailing drum and guitar parts and a few tempo changes; all bound together by a great melody and a memorable chorus. Oh, and did I mention the big guitar solo?
The track moves directly into Dreamtide, thanks to some well placed keyboard fills. A tight guitar riff kicks things along in a fairly relaxed manner before Gary's vocals give the song a direction. Another great chorus features heavily throughout the 6 and a half minute track. Another example of classic early Ten.
Evermore is a more intense, uptempo track and gets the groove going with some Celtic style keyboard fills a la Gary Moore. The pace is rocking, the guitars are filling the speakers and I love the chorus. It's a big harmony filled affair that will invoke sing-a-longs whenever played.
Sail Away is a magic ballad, no question about it. Typical again of early Ten, this one features strings, piano and a monster chorus that cannot be removed from one's consciousness once heard. An album highlight.
Starting with an acapella intro, Temple Of Love could be mistaken for a big rocker about to explode. But surprisingly it's in fact a very commercial, very simple and enjoyable pop rocker. The album is quite varied throughout and this is just another example.
Even The Ghosts Cry is another album gem. Again the intro hints at something different, with a guitar solo issuing in the song, which then appears in a burst of pure AOR melody. This is classic AOR, with layered vocals, prime keyboards throughout, a hugely melodic guitar riff (and killer solo), and best of all, a monster chorus that is as catchy as anything released this year.
Strangers In The Night continues the moody AOR passage of the middle of the album. This is a lower, slightly darker rock track with another strong chorus, all played down a little bit after the over the top nature of the preceding track.
Evil's On Top Of The World sounds heavy, and although it features a strong guitar riff, it's actually equally driven by acoustic guitars and keyboards. Another prominent chorus, but not my personal favourite of the album.
The One is another uptempo rocker with a strong keyboard fill and a more urgent, intense feel. Another good chorus makes the track, which is perfectly placed within the album.
Lost Soul is a very enjoyable, good fun uptempo rocker with another memorable chorus and some great lead and rhythm guitar work.
Stay A While is an acoustic ballad which turns heavier and darker. It flows quite nicely and is more reminiscent of recent heavier Ten tracks.
The album closes with something a little different. Tearing My Heart Out is easily the band's most modern sounding track ever, with a revised, aggressive guitar tone driving the song. The structure is slightly different and the chorus is certainly something new. I'm impressed to hear such a change of approach and enjoy this song, but at the same time, I'm glad the whole album is not in such a vein.
Wild Seed Of Mother Earth
Heavier, darker and bordering on metal on occasions, this really sees guitarist/writer Dario Mollo deliver something a little different. On hand is vocalist Glenn Hughes who as per usual sings his heart out. This is something a little different for him also though. This is a heavier tone and style than his usual bluesy hard rock delivery.|
He handles it with ease of course, but the material is definitely more challenging. I'm really enjoying hear him sing something different.
Make Believe is a great opener and not far from what we are familiar with, but it's Dying To Live that sends things over the top. Gruff, urgent and darker vocals really add an edge to this already heavy, chunky guitar driven song.
If you don't concentrate on what's on offer this could almost sound a little loud and overbearing. At times I though it was just a little noisy, with so much going on within each song. But on further investigation things fell into place and my admiration for the album grew.
The album features some in your face, furious rockers such as Still Evergreen and Make Believe alongside darker and more intense tracks like Atmosphere and Can't Stop Falling (which features a highly original mid-song interlude).
In addition to those, there are a few unexpected twists such as the sparse, but intense Wild Seed Of Mother Earth and the relatively easy going My Eyes Don't See It and the haunting softer closing track 16 Guns.
It's heavier, more complex and more original then the debut and sees Glenn Hughes challenged vocally. This features some of the heaviest material of his career. At times everything does sound a little bit too much, but repeated listens helps the album evolve.
Welcome To Hollywood
Glen Burtnik is one of the original AOR Gods. His first two albums Talking In Code and Heroes And Zeroes set benchmarks for others to imitate and to this day are held in the highest regard.|
His other solo ventures have been a little more laid back and acoustic driven, which saw a continuation in the admiration and respect for his songwriting abilities, but those first two albums remain the favourites of the melodic community. Glen has spent the last few years in Styx, touring and featuring on their last studio album Cyclorama, not to mention his first stint with the band, on the Edge Of The Century album.
In between solo albums and Styx duties, Glen has always written and recorded demos and there remains a wealth of unreleased material locked in vaults, not to mention quite a number of tracks being traded around the demo circuit. Over the past 12 months or so, Glen has been busy recording his first solo album since 1996's Palookaville.
Glen promised two things for this record to update his sound and to make a rock record. He has kept his promise, as this record rocks, but in a seriously updated way, with a definite modern rock vibe in place.
However, Glen hasn't forsaken melody this album harks back to his very best melodic out put on Talking In Code and Heroes And Zeroes just with an updated feel.
Basically, this is Glen's best album since those two early records no doubt about it. In fact, this is truly a work of art. You know how some albums rock solidly great, but very straightforward? This album feels and flows like a work of art. There are intro's, outro's, interludes between tracks and extended musical plays that entwine tracks together. It's an album that sets you out on a great voyage.
The production and sound quality is second to none. It sounds a million bucks and the added sound effects and musical layers over the basic tracks really gives the listener something to appreciate. This is a record that requires multiple listens in order to get to know and with each listen, something new is revealed. I love records like this. But there are a couple of small criticisms which take a little away from the end result.
The record is seemingly split into two halves, with the more straight ahead melodic rock and traditional Glen tracks ending with track 10, Cry. The last few tracks are when Glen takes on his artistic license and experiments a little sometimes it works, but on a couple of occasions I think melodic fans will decide it doesn't.
As I said, Glen has updated his sound and seriously rocks. The hard hitting guitars sound fabulous and the updated effects feel quite at home with the new sound.
But there are a couple of occasions where Glen breaks into a rap-vocal, one time detracting from an otherwise very melodic and passionate song The Muse.
The main offender is the aggressive alternative rocker When The Shit Hits The Fan, which to be honest I have no time for at all. It's only 2.42 long, but I don't feel that it has any place on this album. Glen has one of the genre's great voices and disguising it in vocal effects and spoken rap vocals is just wasting God given talent.
The other small issue I have is the origins of the songs themselves. It's been some 8 years since Glen's last full studio album, yet there are a few songs here that are from Glen's songwriting archive some of which have been well traded by Glen fanatics and therefore will already be known to some. Tracks like Roses, Another and Super Boy are not new and then there's Glen's own solo version of the track he wrote for Styx - Kiss Your Ass Goodbye. That's 4 tracks some fans might already be familiar with. It's a minor point, but when die hard Burtnik fans such as myself are craving as many new songs as possible, it is a little disappointing.
Track By Track:
Super Boy is a slow to start guitar driven rocker with a big fat bass/rhythm sound and several production effects featured to build tension. An acoustic verse features more effects, which suit the track. Come chorus time the song explodes from the speakers after a vocally melodic bridge. A strong start to the album and a song that places the new Glen Burtink stamp firmly on the record as a whole.
The 101 is a brief segway into the title track Welcome To Hollywood, which quite simply is a new Burtnik classic. This is a brilliant lyric, cleverly arranged and powerfully executed within the song, with a huge guitar fuelled chorus and some classic lead vocals.
Another is another' Burtnik classic. Again slow to start, this mid-tempo pop/rock track feature some of Glen's best singing, with his vocal acrobatics providing the hook and bridge leading into the chorus, which is a truly memorable song in the best tradition of Glen's work a la Heroes And Zeroes and the tracks of Retrospectacle.
BAM! is a sultry mid-tempo rock track. Solid, but not an album favourite, it features some unusual textures and a few additional production effects. A modern pop song is my best description.
Kiss Your Ass Goodbye is a classic rocker, I just love this tune. I also like this version better than the Styx track, only because it has even more Glen in it. But there really isn't much difference from the original this is a very faithful rendition.
Heart In A 3 is a great chance of pace, without letting the tempo of the album fall. This is a moody mid-tempo rocker, with some more outstanding vocals from Glen. This is another traditional Glen track that has been updated and modernized.
Intermission is exactly as it says a 1 minute cooling off before the best track of the album bursts through the speakers. Roses (formerly known as Roses For The Working Girl) is a flat out, feel good rocker with all the trademark hooks and melodies required of a classic Burtnik track. This new version has been seriously updated from the original demo, with more guitars, more vocals and a faster tempo added.
Cry signals a change of pace and the end of the first half of the album. This is a soft, slowly moving and very passionate songwriter ballad.
When The Shit Hits The Fan is that track mentioned before! A heavy, alternative, effects filled rap-rock song. Next
Spiritual War runs just over 1 minute in length. It continues the aggressive stance of the last track, with a brief vocal over a sharp guitar riff.
Flash Before Your Eyes continues the arthouse portion of the album. This 2 minute track summarizes the tracks that have come before it, with lyrics and melodies of previous tracks woven into its complex new age vibe.
All That's Yet To Come is a little gem for long time fans. This is a sparse track featuring only Glen's vocal with no accompaniment. It's a haunting and passionate vocal that really appeals to me, which leads directly into the Celtic influenced modern pop of
The Muse. This is another gem of a track, featuring more passionate vocals over a wildly different track compared to anything from Glen's past. I remain disappointed he breaks into a rap-vocal, but it's a unique song that deserves credit. Muse (Slight Return) is another out there example of the wild ride this album takes you on it's a 1 minute uptempo pop track featuring a Gospel choir. Yes, seriously!
I don't think every track works, but credit given, this album is a true work of art and the production is fabulous. Effects, fills, segways and cleverly placed tempo changes make for a really interesting listen and there is some satisfaction in purchasing an album that has had so much effort put into it.
Not Glen's best album ever, but his best since the early days and those first two classic releases. Now, let's not have a six year gap until the next record!
|SR-71 Here We Go Again||Nippon Crown Japan|
A new line-up, a new label, old attitude. The band has returned to the punk/pop nu-breed attitude of their much loved debut and for the most part, dropped the more aggressive, heavier edge of the follow-up Tomorrow. Not that there was anything overly wrong with the sound of that album but the songs were just not strong enough.|
Principle songwriter and frontman Mitch Allen has truly redeemed himself this time around, with a great collection of modern rock tunes that ooze class, melody and hooks.
SR-71 were the poster boys of the nu-breed movement after their classic debut, with this album destined to put them back on the map.
The band is different now, being that the line-up of the debut is all but gone, but the vibe remains intact.
This is expertly produced, uptempo power pop mixed with a punky attitude, modern rock feel and plenty of melodies.
Most fans will be familiar with the already released Axl Rose, which is a definite indication of the album's vibe. There are the lighter, tongue in cheek rockers like Rose, 1985 (classic lyrics), Here We Go Again and 15 Minute Idol (featuring John Allen on vocals) which pump the album along at a fine pace.
Then there are the darker, moodier and more intense numbers like All American, Everything and best of all - In Your Eyes, which is without doubt one of my picks for song of the year 2004. It's certainly the best nu-breed rocker I've heard in a long time and its melancholy darkness just sucks me in.
It's just a great listen and a great collection of songs - aside from the tongue in cheek country twang of the hidden track. I could do without that!
A special mention goes out to Mitch Allen for some truly great satirical lyrics.
Fans of the band should not be disappointed I'll wager that the vast majority will find this a far superior album to that of Tomorrow and it will certainly give the debut a run for its money.
Overall it's a little darker and certainly heavier than Now You See Inside, but easier going than the sonic attack of Tomorrow. Basically it fits somewhere in between, featuring some very catchy and rocking tunes.
|Velvet Revolver Contraband||RCA Records|
No-one is going to make me love this album. It just doesn't do anything for me at all. I don't think it will be rated a classic, but I could be wrong! There will be a great number of people that will enjoy this album and it will certainly find a range of new fans.|
This is a good honest modern rock album, of which Slash is clearly the star of the show. But I don't think it has the charisma, or lasting abilities that Guns N Roses or Stone Temple Pilots had.
I'm a huge GNR fan and was hoping that this would be a partial return to the glory days of the band. I'm realistic enough to realize it's never going to be a carbon copy of GNR, but my expectations pretty much went out the window when I heard Weiland had been hired as the vocalist. That move was a clear indication this would be a modern rock project and that's exactly what it is.
But, I believe it could have been much better. I think the biggest problem is vocalist Scott Weiland.
I don't like his vocals to say the least and I'm not overly excited by the musical content. It's produced to perfection and all involved play their hearts out, but I'm still not sold on it.
It's like the Brides Of Destruction album all over again. I knew the albums would go head to head this year, but I am surprised that I feel almost the same way about both.
Before anyone reminds me it isn't 1988 anymore, let me remind you that I think there are plenty of killer modern rock albums available that feature strong, authorative vocals and memorable song hooks.
There were some reports the album featured no guitar solos not true, there are a few fine solos on Contraband. My views are mainly due to the style of the songs and the vocals behind them. This is no frills, in your face, aggressive modern rock.
|Stage Dolls Get A Life||Musicbusiness|
Stage Dolls have more in common with Def Leppard than just their breezy high-tech pop/rock style. Twenty years together, there have only been 5 studio albums previous to this, not to mention frontman Torstein's solo album. |
Each album is therefore met with much fanfare and applause and this album is no different. Once the band got to work in January, it was written and recorded in fairly quick time. Great for fans and even better that the album sounds like it has benefited from several more months of work, being that it features such a big sound.
This is classic Stage Dolls and classic AOR. For fans of breezy, feel good melodic rock with that big punchy high-tech feel such as artists like Bryan Adams and Def Leppard, it just doesn't get much better than this.
The songs are perfect and as simple as they are, the production feel and the band's delivery of them gives the whole album a much bigger feel.
In all honesty, this could be the band's best ever album. Dig was fantastic, but a little more laid back, Stripped was classic, but featured a few fillers and the self titled Stage Dolls was a little short at only 9 tracks.
The album opens with the anthemic rocker 24/7, and then cruses right into what is one of 2004's best songs Running Back To You. Song writers take note this simple, moody AOR ballad has it all.
The album continues to grow with the uptempo pop rocker Get A Life, which features a perfect Def Leppard style guitar riff and anthem chorus.
Someone Like You is a great sentimental ballad and You're The One is another perfect feel good rocker (even though it has already been featured on the recent Good Times compilation).
There isn't a dud track on the album every track is a winner for fans of pure, classic AOR and high-tech melodic rock. But most notable is the brilliant mid-tempo moody pop rock of Naked In The Rain, the heavier Def Leppard of Everybody Wanna R&R and the perfect melodies of Only.
A big production sound and the band's commitment to strong material means that the band are classic and contemporary at the same time. Essential for fans of the lost art of big budget pop rock.
|Pete Lesperance Down In It||Marquee/Avalon Japan|
Harem Scarem's other mainman Pete Lesperance guitarist, co-writer and co-producer - has stepped outside the Harem name on many occasions, but never for his own benefit.|
Finally now, his debut solo album has been created and released sadly only to a Japanese audience thus far.
Pete's solo style isn't a surprise, nor is the quality of the album. Neither Pete or Harry have ever disappointed, and this is no exception.
As expected, this is a hybrid of the more recent Harem Scarem production style and the modern pop sound of the two Rubber albums, plus the feel of Harry's own solo album.
Mix a little classic modern pop/melodic rock with the fabled nu-breed musical description and add a dozen high class songs and you get an album that is essential for fans of the style and of Harem Scarem in general.
Pete's singing was previewed on each of the two Rubber albums, but he really comes into his own here, his voice perfectly crafted to fit the tone and style of the moody, modern melodic pop/rock on offer. You won't find better examples of perfectly crafted pop as the opening track Scars and the essential title track Down In It.
The album is dominated by Pete's well known guitar sound, and the trademark Harem rhythm section of Barry Donaghy (b/vo) and Creighton Doane (ds/vo), but there are moments where the plot changes. Boy Without A Clue is a heavier, more aggressive rocker, Say You Will is perfect modern pop with a monster BBMak style hook, and Where U Want Me is as close to Harem as you could imagine.
The album closes with the obligatory instrumental, a trademark of Pete's.
The modern pop/rock style of this will dictate that not all Harem fans will enjoy the ride, but if you own and enjoy the Rubber albums, this is every bit as good, if not even better than those. Style aside, the production is perfect and there isn't one filler track amongst the lot.
You're So Lucky
Two very fine nu-breed styled rock albums are reviewed this week. While SR-71 are returning to their roots, London Calling are releasing their debut, which should see the band really capture the attention of modern melodic rock fans.|
The voice behind the band is former Guardian and Adriangale frontman Jamie Rowe. This is where his heart truly lies in 2004 and therefore his efforts are concentrated on making this band work.
Don't expect Jamie's vocals to match those of the past. There are elements for sure, but this is more along the lines of SR-71, 40ft Ringo and Mars Electric.
There is nothing worse than a modern rock outfit with a lame vocalist, so Jamie's powerful vocals are part of the reason why this album is so satisfying.
The other reason is the great songwriting. Naturally a love of all things nu-breed and punk/pop is needed to appreciate what's on offer here, but that given, the songs are very strong indeed.
Melodies throughout, catchy hooks and some very fine choruses indeed. The opening track is a great example of what's on offer, but look no further than Beautiful Day for a glimpse of pure anthemic pop genius. The chorus is just such a winner and the vibe isn't far from classic melodic rock.
New Sensation has a strong feel good groove, So In Love is a moody ballad with a 70's vibe, Misfit Song is a great breezy softer sounding pop song and Song About Nothing is pure Blink 182.
Another recommended album for fans of nu-breed and modern pop and certainly another highlight in Jamie Rowe's career.
|Scorpions Unbreakable||Sanctuary Records USA / Phantom Europe|
The Scorpions have returned with an album that will largely impress those eagerly awaiting a return to the band's melodic rock best.|
The guys had a lot of work to do to impress this time around, or risk becoming totally irrelevant. Their last couple of albums haven't benefited from experiment, and the last Eye To Eye, was utterly horrendous. This is not a total classic, but it is a very solid collection of rocking tunes that retains an updated feel especially with the guitar sound, but is based more upon their classic melodic sound and song structure.
It takes a few listens to get into, but it's most definitely a melodic hard rock album. And that in a nutshell, is why fans will be impressed.
The album features a varied range of tracks, which work together well. There's the darker, modern rock of the opening tune New Generation, the more classic uptempo hard rock of Love Em Or Leave Em, Borderline and Blood Too Hot, the moody mid-tempo melodic rocker Deep And Dark, and the classy big piano ballad Maybe I Maybe You. The album closes with an aggressive rocker Remember the Good Times which is something a little different again.
The strength of the songs is what fuels this album. Completely the opposite to the absolute lack of inspiration behind Eye To Eye.
What's on offer here is an updated classic Scorpions styled hard rock album.
Melon Demon Divine
Swedish guitar hero Kee Marcello is best known for his part in three Europe albums as well as a stint with the mid-80's band Easy Action (which also featured vocalist Zinny Zan on the debut album) and later in Red Fun.|
But he has also recorded a previous solo album 1995's Shine On.
Some 8 years later a new album is ready for release - the intriguingly titled Melon Demon Divine. While Shine On was a fairly laid back and sometimes acoustic driven record, MDD is anything but.
This is a heavy rock monster, which sees Kee plugged in, turned on and cranked loud.
And what is really interesting about this record is the sound. Kee has clearly realized that it is 2003 and not 1983 and has updated the sound, the tone and the songwriting process to accommodate a more modern rock feel, which suits this album down to the ground.
What holds it all together apart from some inspired guitar playing and solid vocals is quality songwriting without forgetting memorable hooks and melodies.
True that some of the tracks require several listens before the melodies become more familiar, but I find that in most cases, when that happens, the album's lifespan on my playlist is considerably longer and those that are instantly gratifying then instantly forgettable.
Track By Track:
Pre-Fix is a simple mood introducing intro. It runs smack into the pounding heavy rock of E.M.D. Everyone Must Die. This is a super heavy rocker, with tuned down guitars and a really dark feel to it. Kee's singing to the limit of his range, with a smacking drum sound adding impact. But within the heaviness is a simple, but great chorus that is equally heavy and changes the tact of the song - featuring a great melodic vocal.
Enemies is just as heavy, but not quite as frantic, nor as dark. The guitar tone is still very deep and the song's verse is quite modern in its feel. A slight rap-vocal leads to a big guitar riff and vocal bridge that leads to the heavy melodic rock chorus, which is instantly memorable. The song has a couple of different personalities that mould perfectly together. Very intelligent songwriting which keeps the listening intrigued and wanting more.
Blood starts off very tentatively. A subtle guitar riff and soft vocal moody verse lead into a chorus which crashes through the speakers. Heavy again, but the most melodic of the three songs so far.
Epic kicks off with an acoustic guitar for the first time. The track sounds like a Goo Goo Dolls style mid-tempo pop/rock ballad. This track is modern rock friendly, with a chorus that is pure commercial heaven. Layers of vocals and a great hook make it a special feel good track that would be at home on modern rock radio anywhere.
Raptor starts with a dramatic flair and dives into the heaviest riff of the album thus far. The super heavy guitar riff is tuned down to the darkest possible tone, with the song remaining that way, even right through the brief chorus. No big hooks in this one, but a great mood changer to the album as it is so far.
If is a little experimental, playing around with varied riffs and no real verse structure. However, the chorus surprises me for being far more catchy within a song that really otherwise wouldn't be! Another example of the interesting song structures featured on the album.
Falling Apart isn't one of the better tracks on the album, but the chorus remains catchy and memorable.
Hey Romeo is a killer track. Something more traditionally melodic was needed about now and this track delivers that and more. This is a classic sounding melodic rocker, with a huge anthem chorus and more killer guitar riffs. The song gets bigger as it goes and features a great solo.
Evil Ways is back to the super heavy and dark ways of the album's early tracks. This track is a little faster pace then others and rocks along at a great pace and features some frantic drum/guitar rhythms. But not only that, it features a killer chorus.
Tattoo For Patto is another change of pace. This is a mid-tempo bluesy bar room rocker that features another strong hook and original vibe.
Comin' Home returns to the dark heavy guitar vibe of the opening few tracks, with a more laid back ballad-esque verse that builds to a big anthem chorus that features a great hook and some pounding drum/guitar riffs.
Ride On is an epic, uptempo heavy rocker that features a more classic heavy rock sound. Another enjoyable track.
Added to the Frontiers European release are two bonus tracks not featured on the promo copy. They are: The instrumental version of Raptor, from the soundtrack of the US motion picture Blood Shot, and Can I Be The One co-written with tennis star Niklas Kroon, the Tennis Masters Cup official theme song, are bonus tracks exclusive on the European version of the CD.
|Razorback Animal Anger||Massacre Records|
Razorback features quite an established line-up of names. Rolf Munkes and Chris Heun on guitars, Marcus Bielenberg bass and Pierre Fienhold drums. Best of all, the sometimes under-appreciated voice of Snakes In Paradise frontman Stefan Berggren on vocals.|
Stefan has one of those voices which is perfect for either AOR, melodic or hard rock. In this case, its hard rock and easily the heaviest material he has sung on.
This is prime European style hard rock, featuring a great heavy dual guitar attack and pounding rhythm section.
What I really like is the fact not every song is pedal to the metal. The pace is varied and the songs allow Stefan to really sing to the best of his abilities, rather than just howl over the top. I swear at time I thought I was listening to classic Ronnie James Dio and at other times a bit of Iron Maiden. This is heavy stuff in places so much more so than the lightweight Snakes In Paradise, but every bit as classy.
Each track has something to offer come chorus time it gives the listener something to hang on to along with the guitar riff and the addition of some harmony vocals really creates an inviting atmosphere.
The band covers the classic Snakes In Paradise mood-rocker Fire And Rain, done true to form here, only heavier. The rest is all original material.
|Helix Rockin' In My Outer Space||Indie/Online|
I'm still not sure what the actual line-up of this Helix album is, aside from vocalist Brian Vollmer that is. I'm thinking it might just be him actually, as the sound of this album does not resemble classic Helix in any way rather it mirrors Vollmer's own solo projects from the last few years. [Line-up since aded]|
That issue aside, I find that the use of the Helix name packaging these songs together is a blight on the classic Canadian hard rock outfit.
The guys released a couple of patchy albums before going their own ways in the early 90's, but in the mid-late 80's, they were on fire, delivering 2 or 3 really classic melodic metal albums.
This is nowhere close. It's rough, it's raw, it's badly produced and poorly mixed and the vocals are as gruff as could possibly be imagined.
I don't find any of the songs catchy enough to comment on, and the performances are all over the place or badly mixed at any rate.
|Vick Lecar Bad Influence||Indie|
I'm a fan of Vick's music and he is also a genuinely nice guy. He's keen to promote this album not as a straight covers album, but as a personal interpretation of some favourite classic rock tracks.|
I accept that, but add that one would hope that is the case in most instances anyway. Vick's interpretations are all pretty rocked up this album is best played at loud volume.
The tracks selected are also very interesting a good cross section that features tracks from Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Queen, Santana and Rainbow.
The delivery however is a little varied, and a changing production quality often hampers the ability of some songs to sound their best. This is generally a raw, loud and in your face affair. Sometimes it sounds a little too loud (Let It Ride) and occasionally the delivery could have used a little subtlety such as Sanata's Hope Your Feeling Better.
Additionally Queen's Tie Your Mother Down is not good at all sorry Vick, but the vocal pronunciation during the chorus should not have gone on record.
There are some highlights though and this is where Vick shines. Stormbringer, Out On The Tiles and Long Live Rock N Roll all rock out and provide some enjoyment. And naturally, the album features some fine moments of guitar shredding.
|AOR Nothing But The Best||Indie|
AOR is basically Frederik Slama and guests. But the dude really knows how to pull those guests! |
This best of compilation adds 3 new tracks, remixes older ones and re-masters them all. That means that this is the band's best release and an ideal way to introduce yourself to them.
As the name suggests, the style of music is pure AOR and smooth Westcoast laid back pop with an equal fill of keyboards and guitars.
The guest musicians involved read like a who's who of the soft music scene Fergie Frederiksen, Tommy Denander, Goran Edman, Chris Demming, Steve Overland, David Roberts, Bruce Gaitsch, Michael Landau, Steve Lukather, David Diggs, Richard Page, Vinnie Colaiuta, Pat Thern, Michael Thompson and more.
Should you already have those, the remixes and new tracks featured here will be a big enticement.
|LA Guns Rips The Covers Off||Mascot Records|
Covers albums...are they evil? Are they necessary? Are they a necessary evil? I'm not a huge fan of them, but I do own a couple of classics the best I can think of being Andy Taylor's Dangerous album.|
Basically it's an excuse for the band to have a bit of fun and earn a little money without the pressures of writing a batch of new songs. There are a few covers outings around at the moment, so the public could become a little jaded as can the reviewer! But LA Guns are one of the first out of the current block of covers releases, so they get the benefit of the doubt.
So providing the songs selected fit the band's persona, the production and sound is fitting any regular studio release and the band are indeed having fun, they can get away with such a release.
Thankfully LA Guns make the required grades on this occasion. This is their second foray into covers, their first being the Cuts EP from the early 90's.
The production while fairly stripped back and raw is solid enough and in keeping with the band's standards. The songs are an interesting selection that also fit the ideology of the band's history and it's clearly evident the band is having fun. Some work, a few don't.
New guitarist Stacey Blades makes his presence known, tearing it up throughout the album. Phil Lewis sounds in his usual great voice, so that's about all one could ask.
Favourite tracks include the cover of Australia's own Angels and their classic Marseilles, Rose Tattoo's Rock N Roll Outlaw (another Aussie classic) and Saxon's Wheels Of Steel.
Dislikes Tie Your Mother Down is a bit average and certainly well overdone already and Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man is a little out there.
And the two bonus live tracks are little better than bootleg quality, so regardless of the live energy they portray, the sound quality brings down the album.
Beneath The Shining Water
Dare to me are a classic AOR band. Their debut album Out Of The Silence is an all time classic especially as far as British AOR goes. |
The follow-up Blood From Stone was a stab at arena style harder rock, but remained very enjoyable - spoilt only by a muddy production.
On Calm Before The Storm the guys returned to a mellower tone and was popular among fans. The last album changed direction yet again. Belief was more diverse than previous outings, touching on Celtic influences and more traditional tones, while being more stripped back than the normally multi-layered production.
Frontman, writer, vocalist and instrumentalist Darren Wharton has always painted a lush and vivid canvas with his deep and reflective lyrics and his unmistakably haunting musical layers.
Beneath The Shining Water is no different it again features multi-layers of lush keyboard and guitar passages and further layers of vocal melodies and accompanying harmonies.
The album is richly produced, immaculately mixed and sounds every bit like a traditional Dare album.
Style wise it mixes the laid back Celtic tone of Belief with the more straight ahead AOR of Calm Before The Storm. Everything an avid Dare fan could ask for with one notable exception truly memorable songs.
I am still enjoying the album, so I don't want to appear too harsh, but the individual songs of Beneath The Shining Water just don't have enough individual personality. There is almost no differentiating between them.
Sea Of Roses is a solid opening track, but with a worrying ease, you will find yourself up to track 5 the very personal U2 styled The Battles That You've Won without blinking.
There just aren't enough dominant choruses on offer to be able to separate what tracks you are listening to. In addition to that all10 tracks on the album are of the same pace and tempo. This is an album of almost identical tracks. So it's an easy album to like, but also an easy album to get lost in.
There are places where the songs sound as if they are just about to break out into a big chorus or pace changing bridge, but that never happens.
And that's a disappointing aspect to an otherwise very smooth album.
It's just too slow and too much the same and given the slow pace and laid back ballad feel, it's not an album to listen to when wanting to get fired up.
I have rated all previous Dare albums very highly and continue to enjoy those releases. However even though the quality of this album is unquestioned, I don't rate it as highly as any of the other albums as I already have this album in the form of Calm Before The Storm and Belief.
|House Of Shakira First Class||Lion Music|
I've been a long time supporter of these guys right from when I heard their classic Journey styled debut and had my socks blown clear off.|
Their follow up On The Verge wasn't as consistent, but saw the band developing and reaching for a more unique sound.
3 combined the best of both those worlds, with anthem filled rockers and ballads combining with a tougher direction and a certain musical quirkiness that has become their trademark.
On First Class the band continue their faultless musical standards, but 3 may still get my nod as personal favourite just because it features a few more of those over the top anthems I am a sucker for.
But, First Class is - critically speaking - probably the band's best; it's a more cohesive record, managing to combine all the band's much loved elements into one tightly written and produced package.
To define this band is a challenge, as their styles and influences are both diverse, but to newcomers, there would be no better place to start than on First Class, because it features a little of everything.
It's the band's most varied record, while remaining consistent in sound featuring lots of little production effects and oddities that the guys are now famed for. It also includes a couple of the band's heaviest rockers yet, plus a couple of great acoustic ballads, a few darker, semi-modern tracks and of course, a few of those anthems of pure melodic AOR bliss.
The production is flawless and proof that any band could sound like a million bucks given the right studio and engineer and the right quality of song writing there are no fillers on offer here at all.
Something I love about this band is their song titles. One can't begin to imagine what each song sounds like from the titles given and within the song itself, the title is not always used or turned into a chorus hook. They really know how to craft a great song.
Track By Track:
Ain't Your Crowd is a left of center opening track but with these guys, nothing is ever 100% by the rules! It's a rocker, but mid-tempo, with some fine Eddie Van Halen styled riffs, moving into a mellower verse before building to a guitar driven chorus that takes several listens to best appreciate. A good song that becomes a great song.
Uncontrolled is the band at their fired-up, hard rocking best. It's fast, furious and over pretty quickly satisfying those that love it loud. This will make a classic live track.
You Are is one of those tracks that defines House Of Shakira. Quirky, very melodic, layers thick with instrumentation and effects and absolutely blissful come chorus time. This is one of the band's trademark AOR anthems, with layers of vocal harmonies sending it right over the top.
Hey Lord will be another great live track, as it's driven by a great uptempo rhythm and hard edged guitar riff. It rocks along sweetly before diverting through a tempo changing bridge into a another big harmony filled chorus.
Black And Blue Skies (Part 1) is a totally acoustic driven track that again showcases the band's talent at songwriting and that vocal sound! Building to a full band track mid-song, the song gets bigger and louder and is another clear winner.
Creep is the band at their heaviest and sees a darker, more modern guitar sound filtering through. The verse has a mellower, somewhat dramatic feel, before the chorus bursts through and rocks out, with more harmonies and memorable hooks driving the song home.
Black Barn is a little different again, but will be familiar in style to longtime fans of the band. It's a guitar driven mid-tempo rocker with a dark edge and well placed harmonies and another strong chorus.
State of Grace is a lighter, more easy going track, which is uptempo in nature and equally driven by electric and acoustic guitars. The chorus is a breezy, feel good romp and is once again layered with harmony vocals.
Landing is an odd little track which is seriously one of the album's best tracks. It's a guitar driven rocker with a mid-tempo swagger and a somewhat left of center verse structure. The without warning the chorus bursts through with what must be the biggest harmony vocals of the album, making this one of the biggest anthems.
A rough mix of Celebration Bound was featured on the first MelodicRock.com CD. This is a tighter mix as expected and is another great rocking uptempo anthem from the guys.
Sunshine Song is something a little different from the guys, starting mellow, but turning heavier and dramatic in true Led Zeppelin orchestral fashion. It's the band's epic clocking in over 6 minutes and featuring lush arrangements and changing tempos throughout. A brave move with a positive outcome indeed.
Chicago Blue closes out the album with a ballad. This is a great emotional acoustic ballad with a really passionate and emotional vocal that is the highlight of the song.
Bands like House Of Shakira are what will ensure there is still a melodic rock scene in 2014. They trade on the past, while moving forward in their own original way. I hope more people can realize just what a first class outfit these boys are. They deserve to rule the world!
House Of Mirrors
Night Flight To Paradise
Finland's House Of Mirrors have been a working band for 10 years, but only now have they had the chance to finish and release their debut album.|
The guys have their own sound, but one that will still be familiar to fans of European melodic rock.
The guys remind me of such European melodic rock acts as Eclipse and vocalist Goran Edman in his Street Talk, Kharma and John Norum roles. Not to mention other such Scani-rockers like Europe and Treat.
House Of Mirrors' album is comprised of simple melodic rock in the European style, with an easy going nature that rotates between guitar driven rock tracks and lighter keyboard filled AOR.
There's a touch of Yngwie bravado in the guitar playing and a strong lead vocalist in Pekka Rautiainen to drive the well crafted songs.
Spirit of Freedom is a good, catchy album opener, with a solid chorus and well placed keyboard fill.
Glory Days is darker, moodier mid-tempo track. Heart Is The Key features a tougher guitar driven sound, but a lighter harmony filled chorus.
Deep Inside is the album's first ballad - very smooth and featuring some good harmonies.
Top Of The World is a breezy, up-tempo keyboard driven commercial rock song.
Deliverance and Alive are both more stripped back simple rock tracks. Not one of the album's best tracks. Long Lost Love is a tasteful acoustic driven ballad with a strong lead vocal.
Searching For My Soul rocks things up a little, with a heavier and more urgent approach.
Night Flight To Paradise is a solid rocker with some flashy guitar work featured alongside some good harmonies.
Move On is another solid straight ahead rock track with a good chorus - a strong note to end the album on.
I rate it a good, solid album with a selection of strong songs that will find some fans out in the community. Another strong release from Escape Music. Fans of the labels' other releases should also embrace this one.
Edge Of Forever
Feeding The Fire
Edge Of Forever have come up with a winner for their debut album. While it doesn't cover any new territory musically, it does feature song strong performances and some strong songs.|
Style wise, it may have been heard before, but at the same time, there really isn't anything like this on the market right now, so it will attract some well deserved attention.
The guys play a brand of melodic European hard rock with a neo classical 80's styled shred twist, a la Yngwie Malmsteen.
The guys enlisted vocalist Bob Harris of Axe which was a golden move, as his vocals suit the dramatic, guitar driven songs.
Jeff Scott Soto provides a guest duet vocal on Prisoner, which further fortifies the classic Yngwie Malmsteen comparisons.
There are a couple of longer, more epic rockers featured both Mother Of Darkness and the big ballad The Road We Walked On clock over 6 minutes and gives Bob Harris a chance to stretch his vocal abilities.
The double kick drum of Bloodsucker is prime neo classical melodic metal, while I Won't Be A Fool No More proves that the best material hasn't necessarily been reserved for the first half of the record. Jeff Scott Soto pops back up again with some powerhouse backing vocals.
The album was produced by Marcel Jacob, so the Yngwie Malmsteen and Talisman comparisons are even further entrenched.
The production is solid without being too busy or too slick everyone has some room to breathe here and my favourite aspect of the album is that it's 10 tracks only, with no padding, no fillers and nothing that doesn't rock.
The guys are hard working and have already started work on their next album, which will be produced by Bobby Barth. Nice to see that happening, as too many artists piss around for far too long between albums.
|Shortino / Northrup Afterlife||MTM Music|
Jeff Northrup and Paul Shortino team up for the second time together the first being the acclaimed 1993 hard rock outing Back On Track, which was re-released with bonus tracks late last year.|
Don't expect a carbon copy of that album, as Afterlife is a little different. After all, it is 11 years later and the guys have matured.
Back On Track was a great American hard rock album with traces of blues rock. Afterlife is a far more refined and somewhat mellower affair. It has its share of rockers, but the majority of this album is classy, but simple, pure melodic rock.
I hasten to add that this style suits the guys down to the ground and the album as a whole is definitely more accomplished than their first and also some of the best material from either of the guys. They work beautifully together and one can only hope it won't be another 11 years before we hear a third album.
This is a dark and very personal album with some inspired and haunting lyrics from Northrup, with Shortino's warm and raspy voice proving a perfect cohort.
Track By Track:
Here I Am is a good rocking opening, with the distinct Shortino rasp in control.
Afterlife is a gem of a melodic rock track moody, dark and very melodic with a great chorus hook.
Like A Stone is a soft piano ballad with a gut wrenching vocal from Paul. Very haunting.
It's time to rock again and Crazy Mind proves to be one of the album's heavier tracks, rocking with a big guitar driven Led Zeppelin swagger. The song also featres Johnny Edwards on a lead vocal duet his voice adds weight to an already strong song and is very reminiscent of the JK Northrup album from a couple of years back (which featured Edwards).
Feel Again is a mid-tempo melodic rock with a big chorus and great melodic vocal hook.
Crossfire sees a return to the hard edged Led Zep vibe of Crazy Mind.
Slave is moodier and darker and somewhat mellow, while still managing to rock quite nicely.
Gypsy Soul is another moody mid-tempo rock track with another strong chorus.
Mark My Words picks up the pace a little, just as it was needed. This is a sharp and pacey guitar fuelled instrumental that fits the album quite well.
As I Fall is a little different it has a modern rock vibe and Paul sings this with a different tone that both suits him and suggests the guys are capable of bending the rules quite successfully.
Prisoner is a great acoustic ballad with a big sentimental chorus that should please and impress fans of the duo.
Couple these elements with a highly polished sound and a great production, which makes Afterlife a very enjoyable melodic rock release.
Madmen + Sinners
Tim Donahue has spent the best part of 3 years writing and recording this new album, which is a major step up for him as songwriter and performer.|
Madmen & Sinners is a concept album that flows through it's story with ease.
It's predecessor was Into The Light, which featured Hurricane vocalist Kelly Hansen. This is a far more intense record.
Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie is perfect foil for the music Donahue has laid out. Neither totally progressive in nature, nor totally metal, the material lies somewhere in between a moody and atmospheric combination of melodic metal with progressive twists, powerful vocals and intense instrumentation.
What's more impressive is that Donahue provides most of that instrumentation and mixes it superbly so as never to sound like a one man band.
What I like best about Dream Theater is their ability to capture a melodic hook and deliver it with uncompromising power. That is mostly the case here, although a couple of tracks with a stronger or more recognizable chorus would have been a bonus. There is a lot of music to digest and a few extra hooks would help that.
Track by Track:
Million Miles is a good way to start any album a 7 minute hard rocker with plenty of challenging rhythms and beats to impress most fans of LaBrie and indeed fans of progressive hard rock in general.
Let Go is a great little 2 minute track that features a big fat organ intro, which gives way to a soft acoustic backed vocal, which in turn delves back into the organ and leads into my favourite track of the album - My Heart Bleeds.
This is an epic and moody rock track that takes nearly two minutes to build to it's summit before rocking out. Classic early Dream Theater and European melodic metal at it's finest.
Feel My Pain is a straight up, double kick-drum fired rocker. A strong lead vocal and some fine guitar work are the highlight of the track.
Morte Et Dabo is a rather unusual Gregorian chant style track that runs 2 minutes and leads into a short spoken work passage before kicking into another dark and moody track, Children Of The Flame. This is a heavy progressive rocker with some intensity and a middle section solo that will impress fans.
The End is a mid-tempo rock track with a moody chorus hook and some atmospheric music accompaniment.
Wildest Dreams is a near 6 minute acoustic track with a little more chanting thrown into the mix, but is generally a nice soft track to break the intensity of the album.
Master Of The Mind is a classic Dream Theater style progressive rock track that clocks in a little over 7 minutes.
Madmen & Sinners is the culmination of the rest of the album. This 15 minute plus epic takes in all moods and aspects of what came before it and finishes the album off with a bang.
It's rather dark, very moody and could have used a couple of extra hooks, but overall is a fine piece of progressive music. And James LaBrie could not have been a better vocalist pick.
|Eclipse Second To None||Frontiers Records|
Swedish rockers Eclipse are back with a follow-up to their debut album of 2001. The band were applauded for their debut, which was an excellent slice of Scandinavian melodic rock, featuring some superb light and fluffy choruses.
A few changes have been made to what's on offer with new album Second To None. |
The band has toughened up their sound and are noticeably rockier this time around, with a beefed up production further supporting the cause.
Everything about this album is better than the debut. A tougher delivery a more urgent tempo and a swag of great Scandinavian hard rock songs.
The debut may have been more AOR friendly, but this album has a more cohesive and consistent feel and should cross over to fans of heavier acts.
Always Standing starts the album with a chunky guitar riff and a strong vocal delivery that reminds me of a European version of Badlands with the awesome Ray Gillen at the helm. A super catchy and harmony filled chorus takes the song right over the top.
All I Do features a slamming drum rhythm and a particularly strong moody and melodic lead vocal.
Track By Track:
Second To None starts in the vein of a Def Leppard style rocker before a groovy rhythm section and a sharp lead guitar guide the track through to a heavier and darker chorus that is a good contrast to the opening two tracks.
Street Of Gold has a 70's rock heart and swaggers along with a thumping bass rhythm. A good chorus helps the darker rock track fit into the album perfectly.
I'll Ask For You is an unusual ballad. It retains the powerful approach of the rest of the album, but has a sentimental heart especially during the softer verse, before turning heavy during the chorus. Add some strings and a piano and you get one interesting ballad.
Nothing Between Us is a flat out hard rocker with intense guitar riffs and a powerful lead vocal, with several production effects adding to the atmosphere. A brief double bridge segment mid-song provides the only big hook of the song, but it works a treat and underlies the intensity of this record and the lift in overall songwriting quality.
Road To Forever is a pure melodic rock anthem and a gem of a track. It features a Van Hagar style guitar riff and an instant chorus which is reminiscent of their debut. Driving the song is the same tough attitude behind the rest of the album.
Body And Soul is another about face for the album. This is a tough, slightly modern hard rocker with a swaggering beat and a drum rhythm that sounds very much like the Motley Crue song Dr Feelgood.
It's time for another pure melodic rock gem and Something You Do is just that. It has a moody start and features a laid back verse, but come chorus time, it's Def Leppard in full stadium rock form.
Season of Life isn't one of my favourite tracks. It just doesn't stand out enough, but retains the same tough rocking approach of the rest of the album.
Better World is a nearly 3 minute long acoustic ballad which really wouldn't have fit in anywhere else within the album, so is therefore a perfect choice to close out the album.
|Kick New Horizon||Majestic Rock Records|
Kick are one of the most underrated bands on the planet. The British hard rock rockers have a sound which encompasses the best of traditional British melodic hard rock and a more radio friendly slice of modern rock not to mention their own unique sound.|
One particular thing I like about this band is their vocalist. His melodic friendly tone is refreshing over so many other modern vocalists that 'talk' over the music or sing in that banal tone that drives me nuts.
There is nothing I like better than a record that pushes the classic melodic rock format into the new millennium, but retains the power and the characteristics of the past.
Kick seem to do it with ease and on New Horizon they might just have recorded their best album to date. It's also great to see the art of tasteful guitar soloing hasn't been lost on these guys. It's been a source of frustration to me that this album has been completed for more than a year, but is only now being released. I have no idea why any label would not have jumped on it sooner even a major label. But thankfully wise decisions were made at Majestic Rock Records and the album is upon us.
Kicking off with one of the two tracks from 2002's EP, Electric Storm should be familiar to most. This is a rocker with a modern feel, enhanced by some well placed synth and production effects. As expected the vocals are powerful and direct and the lead guitar work helps keep it melodic.
New Horizon is a heavy modern rocker with a darker tone, but come chorus time its classic hard rock all the way. A cleaver and well orchestrated track with a great guitar riff underlying the tone.
Paralysed is the second EP track to be included on the album and is still a clear winner. I loved this track when it first appeared and my love for it remains just as strong. As the track develops it just gets more intense and that chorus with the soaring vocals just blows me away.
Something To Hold On To is another instant classic. What a gem of a track powerful, intense and emotionally damaging. This classy rock ballad builds from a moody intro into a soaring modern rock anthem that U2 would be proud to call their own.
High acts as a tension circuit breaker. It's been an intense ride so far and this easy going, feel good straight ahead rocker changes the pace nicely.
Power Within gets the tone of the album back on the dark and moody path taken by the opening tracks. Another memorable track, this mid-tempo rocker relies on more production tricks and a strong vocal to guide it.
Forever Yours is another classic. This is a highly original track that has an atmospheric modern rock intro, before a killer lead guitar riff appears and leads the listener into the powerful song that gets better each listen. Cleaver arrangements, great songwriting and that guitar riff make the song very memorable.
The acoustic driven Watch Me Fly acts as another great change of pace in the album. This sentimental rock ballad intensifies mid-song into a full band effort, featuring a fantastic vocal driven chorus.
Access Denied is another highlight this time it's a foot to the floor hard rocker with a strong modern rock vibe. The guitar riff, the dual acoustic/electric approach and a hard rocking chorus prove to be a memorable combination. The funky, semi-alternative Bone is one track I'm not quite sold on, but it could grow on me in future months, although the chorus is just as strong and memorable as elsewhere on the album. In 2 Deep closes out the album in a truly hard rocking fashion. It's one of the more aggressive tracks on the album and runs at double time most of the time! Not the catchiest chorus featured on New Horizon, but there is a great mid-track bridge and guitar solo that impresses.
|Crossfade White On Blue||MTM Music|
Crossfade's excellent White On Blue might just be the smoothest album of 2004.|
Following some excellent work with Street Talk, vocalist Goran Edman (Mr. Westcoast) was picked up to front this new project, which was formed by guitarist Lars Hallbaeck and keyboardist Richard Stenstroem.
The band is rounded out with drummer Per Lindvall and his brother, the bass player Sven Lindvall.
It's a bit of a rarity to have a full band featured on a Westcoast release so often programming and sythn elements are used to cover missing players.
Not here this recording spares no expense and the listener is richly rewarded.
Being a Westcoast/soft pop AOR release means it will not appeal to everyone. No blazing guitar solos here. But there is some phenomenal songs featured and some flawless performances by all involved.
There are no weak tracks or fillers here as long as you like things soft or softer!
The Day The Music Died is simply superb. It's a wonderful slice of rich, textured AOR/Westcoast with an instant chorus and some very enjoyable musical passages. Goran has rarely sounded better or more on song.
Did You Really is straight from the Toto song handbook. Fans of early Toto, not to mention Toto IV and Fahrenheit will love this track. I can almost hear Bobby Kimball singing this.
Flying is even jazzier a breezy pop number with Sax and Trumpet making an appearance along with Congas and Bongos mid-track. Classic stuff for fans of Steely Dan and the like.
Deeper Shade Of Love is a super-sweet piano ballad with a fine vocal and nice sentiment, not to mention some great harmony vocals later on it the song.
Thorns Of Life is another classy Mr. Mister/Toto style AOR track. I particularly like the piano parts within the song.
Don't Really Matter is another uptempo pop/jazz number and closing the album is You, a track that could rate as the album's best. It's certainly the rockiest, with a strong guitar riff supporting Goran's powerful vocals. At the center of this great track is an instantly catchy anthem-like chorus.
A very good debut and as stated at the top of the review one of the smoothest records of 2004.
Welcome To The Show
I don't like the cover, I don't like the name of the band and the story behind the concept and music featured on this album is just too damn weird for my liking!|
But that said Welcome To The Show is not a bad album for fans of European metal.
Evil Masquerade started with guitarist Henrik Flyman having more and more frequent nightmares and translating those into songs featured here.
Original Royal Hunt vocalist Henrik Brockmann lends his talents to the project, which is probably the best aspect after the flaying guitar riffs and solos which saturate the vocals.
As expected, the music of Evil Masquerade is uncompromising it's in you face, it's fast and furious and it's angry. What nightmare wouldn't be?
A strong production and even mix of keyboards, guitars and that endless Yngwie Malmsteen neo-classical style of delivery complete with double kick drums throughout helps the album come together.
There are a few odd little touches in the very theatric delivery of the tunes which could make some listeners cringe or laugh, but it's not enough to damage the overall album. It makes for an interesting listen at any rate...
There are a lot of releases in this genre out there, so sample before committing to it.
|Panik A Page Torn||Escape Music |
These guys have a great sound. Panik hail from Canada, but don't have a sound that could necessarily pin them to a set location.|
I agree with press comparisons to Matchbox Twenty, Seven & The Sun, Goo Goo Dolls and even Nickelback. I'm not sure about the Audioslave reference in their bio - these guys aren't as intense, nor as heavy or as modern as those guys, but I would add modern pop/rockers MilesAbove to the comparisons.
These fellow Canadians share that love of catchy pop rock harmonies with a modern twist and also share producers in Corey Mcfadyen. And add in the softer side of the these guys are fairly laid back with the overall tempo of their songs, but they certainly know how to write a catchy song.
Track By Track:
Crush is a solid album opener and sets up the album.
Find A Way is a gem of a track. It's a commercial modern rock track with a very melodic instant chorus that I could see working on any radio playlist in the world.
Amazing is a mid-tempo rock track with a softer chorus and mellow vibe. Again the layers with the track and the excellent lead vocals and catchy chorus make for a memorable track.
Gear Girl is mellower again, and sound wise heads into a Nickelback ballad vibe. Another strong (but short) chorus is featured.
It's about time for a rocker and Harder is just that. This showcases the harder edge of the band, but remains a fairly easy going pop rocker.
Die For You is another mid to uptempo number that sounds a little like a more modern U2. An interesting song with a strong lead vocal performance.
Another Thing Coming is believe it or not, a cover of the Judas Priest classic. This is the heaviest track of the album and is a good fun track. It would be cool to hear live.
Fly is a tough rock ballad and one of the better slower tracks on the album. A powerful musical accompaniment helps the overall intensity.
Friends is another catchy mid-tempo modern pop track.
Middle is a little tougher clearly more aggressive than some other tracks, especially with the lead vocal.
Life Worth Living is a laid back pop rocker along the lines of several other tracks on the album.
In A Moment is a tougher more actively guitar driven track that showcases another aspect of the band's sound and is a good positive track to round out the album.
|Power Quest NeverWorld||Frontiers Records|
Power Quest is a very interesting band. The line-up is half English and half Italian, with British keyboardist Steve Williams the founder of the band. Formed as an outlet for his melodic power metal compositions, influenced by the likes of Stratovarius, Rhapsody and Freedom Call, the band have already achieved some success, and were the subject of some furious bidding by excited Japanese labels.|
Of notable interest is Italian vocalist Alessio Garavello. He has a very powerful higher pitched delivery, but does not suffer from any accent or language barriers.
So often the delivery of vocal lines can be difficult for someone singing a language they are not native too.
But not so here it's very clear and precise and is a large part of the reason why this album works so well.
The other is the diversity of the music. The guys are clearly melodic metal merchants, with some furious double kick drum epics on offer, but there is another side too.
The band aren't afraid to offer up some straight ahead rockers to balance the more complex tracks and are very keen to use as many hooks as possible.
Take Temple Of Fire for example. Fast and furious, but instantly memorable with a pace changing chorus and some over the top vocals.
Edge Of Time is even more straight forward, with a song that heads straight back into the 80's, employing a keyboard sound reminiscent of British melodic rock circa 1985. It's interesting to hear a band of this type do such a thing.
For Evermore is the same an interesting change of pace within a largely heavier and guitar driven album. Rather good really!
Into The Light is an album highlight for me power lead vocals, smooth drumming and a catchy hook and guitar riff. It sums up what these guys are all about, which is good songwriting and flawless performances, coupled with excellent album production and a smooth mix.
The most out there track of the relatively straight forward album is the closing track a 10 minute plus epic which like all good progressive rock songs covers all bases soaring vocals, frantic double speed passages, keyboard fills, softer pace altering intermissions and surprisingly, there is still room for a catchy chorus!
In fact, they have their own attitude and style which really should be sampled, but best of all, they write very good songs for the genre in which they fit.
|Spin Gallery Standing Tall||Atenzia Records|
The make-up of, and concept behind Spin Gallery is quite interesting. The band features three lead vocalists, with one Christian Antblad providing the bulk of lead tracks, with Kristoffer Lagerstrom and Magnus Weidenmo harmonizing and swapping for a lead vocal on a few of the album's tracks.|
The music is almost entirely provided by the very talented Tommy Denander, who co-wrote most of the album's songs.
The production budget was obviously quite adequate, as the album sounds as full and as rich in texture as one would hope for as good as any major label release.
What this album represents is one of the finest examples of its kind currently in the market place.
The music is very smooth high-tech pop/AOR, all tightly produced and flawlessly executed.
The production style and multi-layered vocals give the album a very modern pop vibe, which is why it has found chart success in their native Sweden.
Style wise we are talking commercial Pop mixed with Westcoast, plus touches of modern pop and some traditional AOR for good measure.
Fans of Tommy Denander, Mr. Mister, Joseph Williams era Toto, David Foster, King Of Hearts or Chicago will find a lot to like about Spin Gallery.
Fans of modern pop acts like Invertigo, Martin Stenmark, Jamie Meyer and the like will absolutely love this.
Track By Track:
Standing Tall is as catchy as anything on any radio playlist right now. Perfect Westcoast/AOR with pitch perfect vocals and a nice little guitar riff from Tommy Denander.
Heartache is a groovy, more pop orientated track featuring all three vocalists - meaning the harmonies are layers deep. A catchy chorus, but a much more pop orientated song for those into sweeter things.
Am I Wrong is another uptempo pop track, this time with a hint of Joseph Williams era Toto and a very strong commercially friendly chorus.
I Still Recall is one of my favourite tracks. This is a haunting, musically sparse track with strong layered vocals driving the track. At times especially in the chorus it sounds like Go On era Mr. Mister and has that Richard Page style vocal.
No Looking Back is a little tougher and a little darker and makes for a good change of tempo at this point in the album. A strong lead guitar break is the backbone of the track.
My Heart is simply a perfect ballad. This Clif Magness penned track is a soft and haunting pop ballad that has charm oozing from every line. A wonderfully sentimental and vocally rich track.
Satisfied provides another well timed change in pace. This uptempo pop rocker lifts the album beautifully after the ballad before it and the chorus is one of the better anthems of the album.
Need To Be Free is another ballad of sorts, but a layered mid-tempo one that flows very easily through the speakers.
Living Without Lovin' is another very smooth and rather technical track certainly not your standard pop fare! A good chorus and some smooth musical chops make it an interesting track. And the lead guitar break is pure Steve Lukather.
Waiting In My Dreams is a cover of a Mr. Mister track from their unreleased fourth album Pull. Very typical of the band back then and fairly true to the Mr. Mister version.
To Hell And Back is a catchy uptempo pop rocker that features a nice AOR anthem style chorus and more layered vocals. It's one of the album's stronger tracks.
The soft Westcoast ballad Grace closes out the album. Fans of Tommy will be very familiar with this track, having already been featured on the debut Radioactive album and also as an instrumental on the MelodicRock.com Vol. 1 CD. To be honest, another new track would have been a better fit. The band do a very nice job of the track, but third time around is maybe one too many for the song.
Deacon Street Project
Deacon Street Project
Tommy Denander is back with yet another project. Deacon Street is another high point for Denander, and stands alongside the last Radioactive album and Spin Galley's debut as some of his finest work.|
What is the Deacon Street Project? Basically it's a gathering of friends by Tommy Denander and writing partner Chris Demming, who put together this guest list of AOR artists to record a bunch of tracks written, but yet not recorded on any of the other Denander projects.
Featured on the album are people like Jan Johansen (Ignition), Jamie Meyer (Popstars), Bruce Gaitsch, Marcel Jacob, Magnus Weinemo (Spin Gallery), Lars Chriss (Lion's Share), Jeff Northrup (XYZ) and Sayit.
This is a classic style AOR album, with a full production job applied this is not a collection demos, just unrecorded songs that were not used elsewhere.
Classic AOR in the vein of Toto and a little of a Giant influence, but with that unmistakable Denander sound as used on Rainmaker, Radioactive, Sayit, Blind Alley etc, included.
The tempo is mixed, with a couple of uptempo rockers, a few mid tempo ones, but also several slow, moody ballads the best of which is the excellent Before I Loved You. This track is a true AOR gem and will rate as one of the year's best tracks.
A cover of Toto's Mad About You is another indication of Tomny's love of the band and his ability to play Steve Lukather, however the sound quality isn't as strong as elsewhere on the CD.
The opening track is another highlight pure Giant style melodic rock, especially that trademark guitar riff.
I mean this with the utmost respect, as Tommy Denander's output of late has been of the highest quality but there is such a thing as saturation and with such a distinctive guitar/production sound, there will be a limit to how many albums fans can or will want to buy. Though, I can't imagine anyone passing on this project.
Maybe not quite as cohesive as some other releases, but a well put together package nevertheless and as usual, it features some fine hooks, choruses and lead guitar parts.
|Chris Catena Freak Out!||Indie|
This is Italian vocalist Chris Catena's debut album. Chris comes from a musical family his father a famous tenor. But Chris' passion lay in rock n roll and his preference was for the most classic foundations of hard rock British blues based hard rock.|
It's an interesting sound that is the result of Chris' passion and his upbringing - I can't help but think his father's abilities have shone through to the son, as his voice at times has the definite approach of a tenor!
Take Crazy People for example it sounds like Glenn Hughes meets Ken Tamplin meets Pavarotti. Unique, original and highly enjoyable.
The album's style is rooted in blues drenched hard rock taking influences from such luminaries as Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Glenn Hughes and even a Gene Simmons fronted Kiss.
Catena has a dark, rich voice that could cross genre's. His delivery style isn't going to be for everyone, but it is unique and well worth a listen.
The album features 15 tracks, which means there is a lot to listen to and digest, but that also equals great value for money.
There is also some substance to each track. There are up to a dozen guests on some tracks, with names galore featured. That makes for a lot of music and true enough, each track takes repeat listens to get to know and each new listen appears to bring something new to the listener's ears.
The amount of guests featured and the fact that parts were recorded all over the world could amount to a logistical nightmare, especially with the mixing of the album.
But Chris seems to be a talent behind the boards also, as this album is well mixed and balanced.
Another feature again due to the guest roles on the album is the amount of free flowing musical interludes during songs. Quite often tracks will break from their paths to delve into an instrumental or solo passage before returning back on course to finish. It makes for some interesting listening.
Track by Track:
Crazy Man sounds like a track from the last Ken Tamplin album, with vocals and guitars going everywhere. A very catchy rocker with Kelly Simonz, Tommy Aldridge, Vitalij Kuprij and Frank de Groot all guesting. The song features a great instrumental mid-section.
Freak Out Tonight is a duet with Glenn Hughes and also features Bruce Kulick, Tony Franklin, and a funky horn section. Throw in lots of organ and a funky beat and a typical 70's Glenn Hughes style funk/rocker is complete.
Hey Man (Freedom Calls) is another uptempo funky blues number with a strong melody that features guests Stevie Salas and Tony Franklin, among others.
Lady Starlight is a mid-tempo rocker featuring Bernie Marsden. Not one of the album's stronger tracks, but enjoyable nevertheless, thanks to a strong chorus.
Desire is a mid-tempo funk rocker in the vein of Trapeze and Prince. It's a little laid back for me. Duran Duran's John Taylor guests on bass.
Take Me Away is a faster paced, straight ahead rock track that gives the album a needed tempo lift. Dave Meniketti guests on guitar. A strong chorus is the song highlight.
To A Friend is a bluesy ballad with that hint of Pavarotti again. Very 'expressive' I believe is the term.
What You Gonna Do When Your Love Is Gone is a funky rocker and a duet with Jeff Scott Soto. Stevie Salas returns on guitar and Chester Thompson appears on drums.
Sweet Talker is a cover of the funked up track from Whitesnake's classic days. What better track to have Mickey Moody and Bernie Marsden guesting on, along with Chuck Wright and Eric Singer. Quite a line-up!
Don't Stop Running features Kelly Simonz and Tommy Aldridge again and is more or less a straight up mid-tempo rocker.
Follow Me is a very soulful, almost Gospel like organ drenched rocker.
Gimme Your Love features Stevie Salas and John Taylor again, this one again featuring a funky beat and some 70's inspired Hammond organ.
Getting Tighter is a cover of the classic Deep Purple track again features Stevie Salas, Virgil Donati, both playing all over the track.
The Stronger You Are, The Harder You Fall features Eric Singer, Chuck Wright and Bruce Kulick, and is Kiss influenced classic 70's hard rock track.
Closing the album is the almost epic blues rocker It's A Long Way To Go. The track features the great John Lawton in a duet with Chris and is a very cool way to finish the album. A little over the top, a little bluesy and a little rock a perfect summary of what the album as a whole offers.
A well produced and well written set of songs and a fine debut by anyone's standards.
|Double Cross Time After Time||TB Records|
Double Cross are a British melodic hard rock outfit whose music is the very definition of British melodic rock and AOR.|
This is a very enjoyable album for a number of reasons. The style of music is a hybrid of Dare, Ten and Pride, with their own signature style not forgotten.
The band don't deviate from the traditional style of delivery for UK melodic rock, but that guarantees instant attraction for fans of the style and the fact that it's done very well indeed will only further their cause.
The band has several things going for them. The album features a well balanced production and each member of the band can be heard thanks to an excellent mix.
The guitars play off with keyboard fills, but still drive the songs and it's great to hear some solo breaks wherever possible.
Vocalist Rick Chase has a perfect voice for the songs on offer, which is the other strength of the record. The guys know their craft and have recorded 12 very memorable tunes that all feature distinct choruses and memorable hooks.
At times the band sound like Ten, in the style of their debut, and at times the tempo is stepped up a notch or two into a heavier realm such as on Valley Of The Kings and the almost progressive in nature Time After Time.
The majority of the album is comprised of classic mid to up-tempo melodic rock and tracks like the very catchy opener Reach Out, How Do We Know and When We Were Young are first-rate rockers with a strong AOR vibe.
Then there is the classic lighters-in-the-air ballad When Two Worlds Collide which sends the album through the roof.
Two other ballads are featured on the album, but both are pretty rocking, all things considered. Only The Strong is a sentimental favourite and One Lonely Night is a dark and moody rocker.
A solid production, some very memorable songs and a varied but consistent delivery are the backbones of this very good album.
|Hobbit All For The One||Indie|
Review By: Phil Ashcroft|
There's an interesting story attached to Texan pomp merchants Hobbit. Having had their 1st, 2nd & 3rd stabs at fame and fortune between the years of 1977 and 1985, the Tolkien-influenced foursome finally gave up the ghost after a string of record company promises saw recordings languishing in the vaults, seemingly forever.
However, after a 14 year hiatus, the original line-up of Paul Turk Henry (bass, vocals, guitar), Gene Fields (vocals, guitar, keys), Richard Hill (lead guitar, keys), and Rusty Honeycutt (percussion) decided they should finally do something with the music they'd recorded.
The albums Two Feet Tall and Rockin The Shire were remastered and independently released, and two years later with Lord Of The Rings fever at it's highest ever level, the band entered the studio for the first time in 18 years to try to do justice to one of the greatest stories ever told. Their self-styled Fantasy Rock is the perfect vehicle for a project of this type, and while the band have dabbled in Tolkien-esque themes before, this time they ve thrown caution to the wind and jumped in with both big hairy feet!
Lord Of The Rings will no doubt be seen by some as a ridiculous concept to try to set to music, especially as Hobbit have done it complete with narration and a whole host of background noises and character voices. What they ve also managed to do is be faithful to the book (no missing Bombadil's here!), and instil a passion in the lyrics and their delivery that overrides the urge to guffaw, except of course the bits that are meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Even if you can t get into the late 70's/early 80's pomp sound of the band, you can't knock their attention to detail or the phenomenal amount of work that's gone into making this CD such a complete tribute to something that has touched so many.
Musically they're a bit of an enigma. Sounding not a day more modern than Equinox to Grand Illusion era Styx at their heaviest, or Yes/Starcastle at their lightest, while the elitist in me wants to compare them to bands like Rail, The Hunt, and Morningstar. Is that any clearer? I thought not!
A track by track review would be pointless as there are 32 different tracks, 20 of them are individual songs or instrumentals, while some are just dialogue and are untitled. To be honest the style is dictated mostly by which part of the story you're at, and as it's a concept album in the truest sense of the word, there's plenty of scope for light and shade. From the joyful pompy opening of Everywhere and In The Shire, to the serenity of the Eleven cities Rivendell and Lothlorien, and to the depth's of despair in the Mines Of Durin, Echoes of Mirkwood, and In Mordor, all heavier and menacing but no less tuneful. Every piece conveys the appropriate mood, sometimes the folkiness of Jethro Tull or early Heart (The Wind and the Way and Hey Bombadil), and sometimes something far darker and more sinister (Nazgul and Witch King), each one sung in character and with additional spoken voices in the background for atmosphere.
The sheer volume of work that s gone into this is impressive, and made all the more charming by the fact that the narrators can't seem to stay in whatever accent they're supposed to be speaking. But all this would be pointless if there were no songs, and thankfully the guys can write a catchy tune or 10.
There are some standard melodic rock moments among the Gene Fields sung hooks of Everywhere, and especially Destiny Chaser, not to mention the all-too-short and uplifting farewells with it's killer guitar solo, and half-a-dozen or so decent ballads. On the other side of the coin it's the darker Paul Turk Henry vocals, left-field arrangements, and superb basslines of Echoes Of Mirkwood, Mines of Durin and the brilliant Whispers Of Gollum which score the highest.
Lyrically Hobbit have done the books proud with all the relevant character and place names incorporated, and while it s not the best produced album around, it's adequate considering the sheer amount of instrumentation, voices, and background noises that are heavily layered throughout.
|Empty Tremor The Alien Inside||Frontiers Records|
Review By: Phil Ashcroft|
After a lengthy gap since 1999's Eros & Thanatos , Italian prog-metal band Empty Tremor have finally found a replacement for departed singer Giovanni De Luigi and are about to release The Alien Inside through Frontiers records. In the past, as enjoyable as Empty Tremor were, they still lacked that vital spark that would take them into the big league. For the most part they seem to have addressed the problem by slightly simplifying their sound, as well as employing the talented ex-At Vance singer Oliver Hartmann, whose deeper rich tones are a significant improvement on De Luigi's higher, somewhat shrill, delivery.
There s no doubt that in prog-metal circles Dream Theater's Images & Words changed the world as we know it. Many bands have tried and failed to emulate that sound, most would even argue that DT haven t matched it since either. The likes of Vanden Plas, Shadow Gallery, and recently the excellent Dreamscape have come the closest, and now Empty Tremor and their talented keyboardist Daniele Liverani (Genius, Khymera) have thrown their hats into the ring with this valiant attempt.
All the trademarks are there, the big drums of Stefano Ruzzi, the intricate riff-work of Christian Tombetti and Marco Guerrini, the athletic basslines of Dennis Randi and the exquisite keyboard prowess of Liverani himself, but it's through Hartmann that ET have unearthed hooks where there were none before.
Not that this is a masterpiece of Dream Theater-like proportions, but the band have grown to take in different sounds and styles, and have learned that sometimes less is more. As a result, the album is more mature due to the band s ability to take a step back and use the instrumental flurries sparingly rather than beat you over the head with them for the entire duration.
My main problem with The Alien Inside is that a) there's nothing original here, and b) the last song is totally unnecessary and detracts from the total enjoyment of the disc.
Let me explain with a track by track:
The Alien Inside - Big symphonic Dream Theater-type sound with many time changes, very long intro before the vocals come in but Oliver Hartmann s rich voice is perfect for this style. A good attempt at a Metropolis style song.
I Found You - Lighter and more melodic with great keyboard sounds and nice harmony vocals. Guitar crashes in later on, but a simpler and more melodic approach on a great song with superb vocals and guitar solo. An album highlight and one that will be played frequently for years to come.
A New World - Another big symphonic rocker with a retro Kansas vibe about it. Some fluid guitar work and Vince DiCola/Kerry Livgren-style melodies, good vocals, and not a million miles away from what Shadow Gallery do at their most cohesive.
Who You Really Are - More Dream Theater/Shadow Gallery instrumental interplay with a simple vocal melody that works really well. Chunky guitars and busy drums with Hartmann doing his best Dio impression. Great instrumental mid-section on which Daniele Liverani shines on keyboards, see if you can spot the bit from Jeff Scott Soto's Stand Up.
Don't Stop Me - Another Metropolis -style song with a straight commercial vocal line and a superb performance from Oliver Hartman. The simple vocal/tricky instrumentation thing really works well and the guitar work is particularly appealing.
Stay - Simple Eric Martin-style acoustic pop song on which Hartmann does a great job. Nice harmony vocals again and a nice change of pace.
The Love I've Never Had - A more recent and heavier Dream Theater sound with Hartmann singing at the bottom of his range. Musically, the same themes that are used on the opening track keep re-appearing. Lots of frantic double-bass drum work and John Petrucci chord progressions that eventually segue into a reprise of The Alien Inside.
The Alien Outside - The same theme yet again but by this time it s wearing a bit thin, it builds nicely but ends up being far too repetitious. It s a good melody but flogging it to death doesn t make the listening experience any better.
|Magellan Impossible Figures||Inside Out Music|
Review By: Phil Ashcroft|
This new Magellan CD, their 5th, came as a bit of a shock for a couple of reasons. Firstly because they released an album last year, and with leader Trent Gardner involved in so many other things (Mullmuzzler, Explorer's Club, and the Leonardo Project to name a few) there's usually a three or four year gap between Magellan releases.
Secondly, and even more strangely, it's not through Magna Carta, the label that's put out all Gardner's previous work, and with whom the man himself seemed inextricably linked. The change of label is, on the surface, surprising, but delving deeper the split with his previous label was less than amicable and has left the band in considerable debt. If Gardner's trying to raise the band's profile in Europe, after all it's the biggest market for Progressive Rock, then signing with Inside Out is the best move he could have made.
The good news is that Impossible Figures sees Gardner's excellent run of form continue without a hiccup, and while the album still features his unusually quirky time changes and varied mixture of musical directions, most of the songs continue the more straight-ahead and hard-hitting direction of last years Hundred Year Flood epic.
Aided as usual by Trent's brother Wayne on guitars and basses, and augmented by excellent local Sacramento drummer Jason Gianni, the CD seems a bit disjointed at first as there are only six actual songs and three short instrumental preludes. However, with repeated plays it becomes obvious that the instrumental bits (Gorilla With A Pitchfork, Bach 16, and the Kansas-like Confessor's Overture) set the scene for the three most outstanding pieces of music that follow them. Trent Gardner's keyboards are the main focus as usual, and his Keith Emerson meets Kerry Livgren melodies are all over the lengthy Killer Of Hope, which twists and turns in Gardner's inimitable manner, never staying in one place for too long but returning frequently to the catchiest bits. Wayne Gardner is no virtuoso, but a skilled team-player who provides some modern sounding riffs that prevent the huge synth-led numbers from being too retro, although at times he can be so like Steve Howe it's untrue. The whole mix is somewhere between Dream Theater and early Kansas with plenty of light and shade.
Late For Church is catchier still with Gardner's ever improving voice showing that working on Steve Walsh's album has rubbed off on him. Lyrically it's all very introspective with religious overtones, but far from being preachy and it's left to the listener to interpret the song as they wish. Musically though it has elements of the old and the new, with Gardner's complex vocal melodies being entirely his own. Hymn For A Heathen continues the same lyrical theme and is a great piano-led opus that wouldn't sound out of place on Song For America or Leftoverture.
If it's mind-boggling variety you crave, A World Groove has everything from African rhythms, World music, pan pipes, funk & rock, and that just takes you up to the first chorus, and if that isn't enough the harmonies are a dead-ringer for Ambrosia.
So far so good, but in the great Magellan tradition of inconsistency the CD takes a dip with the less cohesive Counterpoints, where some superb ELP/Kansas moments are spoiled by some funky sections where the lyrics don't seem to fit.
Also album closer Feel The Cross is very dark sounding with a fuzzy noise that's closer to the Canadian FM's electric mandolins than guitars. Also they choose to finish the song with an acoustic guitar/bass part that's too close to Yes' Starship Trooper for comfort. I may be wrong and it may be meant as a tribute, but either way it doesn't really work.
|UFO You Are Here||SPV|
UFO return with the legacy of their past behind them a new line-up has emerged out of the departure of Michael Schenker and it seems he won't be back this time. But never say never in the land of UFO, where anything is truly possible.|
Joining band regulars Mogg, Way and Raymond are guitarist Vinnie Moore and drummer Jason Bonham. Both Moore and Bonham have extensive and respected histories and although their joining UFO is a little surprising, both fit the band rather well.
The overall energy of the band seems to have lifted, with the songs of You Are Here all representing an air of positivity it's clear to see the band enjoyed recording this album.
Sound wise, Bonham's authorative drumming ties in beautifully with Pete Way's bass playing and Vinnie Moore proves himself to be a great fit for the band, helping UFO cover their blues rock roots, while also providing all the required guitar acrobatics expected of any role that Schenker previously played.
The production from Tommy Newton is also fitting not too over the top, nor too technical or crisp, but nor is it rough or loose where it shouldn't be.
However, there are a few points to be made about the album.
I found myself getting half way through the album without realizing how far into the album I had come. There is a distinct lack of memorable choruses in play. Where there are choruses, they are short and rather featureless. The instant hooks of classics like the early days and recently Walk On Water are not present.
I like the sound, I like the delivery, but their definitely needs to be some work done on those choruses!
Additionally, thanks to some information from long time Vinnie Moore fans, some of the tunes included on this new album are his old solo demos. Maybe the band are a little out of ideas then?
More work is needed on the overall songwriting - the rest the band has nailed down.
I also hope that this line-up can stick it together for a while to come yet, as there are some promising signs of what is possible.
|Snakeryder D.O.A.||Metal Mayhem|
Snakeryder hail from New Jersey and have recorded an album of classic 80's styled, first in the air, hard rock.
Like 1988 continued on without an ending, this guitar driven slice of hair metal will impress those that keep one ear open for anything featuring the classic vibe of this genre.|
With a whiskey-soaked rasp, vocalist AJ Fedz brings warmth and familiarity to the sound, which combined with plenty of melodic guitar riffs and some well placed harmonies, makes for some pretty easy listening rock n roll.
As the bio suggests, thoughts of Y&T and Cinderella come to mind, but additionally, this album might have something very positive to offer fans of other bands of the era such as Julliet, Motley Crue, Paul Shortino and even early Von Groove.
The album's sound is well placed in the 80's decade, but the production is impressive enough to avoid any suggestion of being dated.
Most of the album rocks at a good pace, with just one mid-album ballad providing a change of pace.
Nothing that hasn't been heard before, but certainly good enough in quality to ensure that it will reach a number of classic era rock fans and have them humming away to a new name.
The Bulletboys were never better than on their killer debut, but since then they have been a little hit and miss, with not all fans agreeing on what album represented the band's best work.|
Last heard, the BB's took and indie route in recording a very loose and raw surf-punk style album called Acid Monkey. It was certainly not their finest hour!
The boys are back now, albeit, not close to their original line up, but at least closer to their original sound. They remain an independent act, marking the record through their own website.
Sophie sees the band return to their party rock best, a sound that isn't far from any early David Lee Roth fronted Van Halen album which was always their best trademark comparison. There are a few modern/alternative tricks turned within the album, but for the most part charismatic frontman Marc Torien and guitarist Tommy Pittam stick to the formula of their early days.
The only problem is the quality of the overall package. The style is loose, raw and in your face which is fine but the quality of the recording or overall sound is well below average. At times it sounds too loud and a little distorted and the mix can sound pretty muddy in places. It makes it very hard to appreciate the song themselves.
And at a little over 32 minutes in running time, the value for the buck comes into question.
|TNT My Religion||MTM Music|
It's a tough call. Its 2004 does a band attempt to recreate its glory days by returning to the sound fans have called for, or do they continue to try and update their sound in an attempt to reach new fans and appeal to programmers of today's rock.|
The best possible outcome is an album that is based around a band's classic sound, but yet manages to incorporate fresh new elements and updated production values to create a blend of the best both worlds. Take Danger Danger's last couple of albums as two of the best examples of this approach working in their favor.
Many bands that take this route fail due to poor songwriting. Regardless of style, you can't make a great record without memorable songs.
As is often the case, yesterday's best bands struggle to match their past form or move so far away from it that few are happy.
But not so TNT. After two quite experimental releases, My Religion sees the band make the toughest of calls they have returned to their much loved classic sound, while not forsaking the advances they have made as songwriters and performers.
In short - they have nailed it.
My Religion is such a breath of fresh air; it will have others lining up to emulate its design and will be used as a yardstick for other releases for some time to come.
TNT have reached into their past and brought back the power, the style, the melodies and the harmonies from such classics as Tell No Tales and Intuition. They have mixed those elements with an updated and more contemporary production and a seriously rejuvenated kick-ass delivery.
The performances on this album are also something to behold. Tony Harnell has never sounded more powerful. What's really pleasing is the variety in Tony's vocals. He has a fabulous ability to deliver a gut wrenching growl one moment and an ear piercing scream the next. This album sees the return of the much loved high-pitch vocal and accompanying harmonies, especially come chorus time, but with new warmth and depth to the overall vocal. I seriously think Tony just gets better and better.
Ronni Le Tekro is also on fire. His guitar riffing is at times as heavy as it has ever been, really driving the songs of My Religion. Special mention of the soloing must be made. Within this album are some of the best guitar solos I have heard in many years and it's great to see an album with a contemporary feel, big choruses and guitar solos! Far too many artists have forgotten that this is an important aspect of any rock album.
And the rhythm section of Morty Black and Diesel Dahl have never sounded better.
The album features a collection of fabulous songs they all have their unique individual identities, yet flow perfectly together and make up an extremely cohesive album.
The production quality is nothing short of a world beating, major label standard.
If only more albums sounded as good as this and had as much life and zest to them.
The album was produced by Ronni Le Tekro and Tony Harnell, but an important factor is the mix by famed producer Tommy Hansen. Tommy could not have done a better job of piecing the parts together and has balanced the vocals, guitars and the rhythm section perfectly.
The fact is that My Religion is a masterpiece. A perfect album. I just can't get enough of this. It's one of the very best I have had the pleasure of reviewing since I started this site and is easily one of the best melodic hard rock records in recent years. Whenever I have had to take a ride over the past 4 months, the only album that has come on every single journey has been this one.
And it's the whole package to great artwork, great songs, great sound.
After several weeks of continuous playing, there are still new elements to the album to discover and as each week passes, a different track is named as favourite. There are several moods within the album, which keeps things really interesting and brings the listener back for more. It's musically interesting, quite complex and definitely challenging, yet remarkable accessible.
Track By Track:
I wouldn't call Invisible Noise a predictable album opener. It bursts out of a short intro with a trademark Harnell scream, before falling into a mid-tempo groove. Tony's vocals are powerful, yet subtle and the track features a simple but effective chorus melody. Add in some random guitar soloing and a mid-track break and you have a really interesting track.
She Needs Me is just killer - a real feel good anthem. This is one of my favourite TNT tracks ever. It features a dark and heavy guitar riff and a truly powerful lead vocal that simply explodes come chorus time, with a monster hook and that trademark high-pitch delivery. The beefed up rhythm section and dark and moody feel to the track accompany the song's theme perfectly. Surely this will be a main contender for Song Of The Year.
If She Needs Me is TNT 2004, Lonely Nights has the vibe of early TNT, with a style that wouldn't be out of place on Intuition. The chorus is another burst-through anthem, with more soaring vocals and a great Queen style guitar solo mid-track. A sing a long favourite and one of the more traditional style TNT tracks on the album.
My Religion is perfectly placed as the dark, hard-edged, aggressive rocker, with Ronni's guitar riffs right in your face. Tony's lead vocals have a menacing edge to them and take my word for it don't stand anywhere near the speaker when he let's scream before the guitar solo. Ear bleeding stuff! One of the album's heaviest tracks and a fantastic example of a more aggressive and hard rocking TNT.
Fans will be familiar with Give Me A Sign which was also featuring on last year's EP. This version has been remixed into character with the rest of the album, with a more prominent lead vocal and even more guitar further up in the mix. It was one of the two best tracks on the EP and fits in perfect context with the full album. Perfectly is the album's first ballad. This is classic Tony Harnell powerful and soaring vocals take the track right over the top, especially during the sentimental chorus. The song starts acoustically and builds throughout, into a full band track by the end. There's a hint of Tony's Morning Wood project about this song.
After the ballad, You'll Be There gets things rocking again, with a strong mid-tempo pop rocker with a real groove and a happy go lucky feel to it. The chorus is very subtle, but gets better and more obvious with repeat listens and will be another favourite for melodic fans.
Flow is a brief acoustic segway into the moody hard rocker Live Today, another track from the EP. This was my pick as best track from the EP and again, it fits perfectly into the scheme of the album as a whole. I never get tired of hearing this, with Harnell in great voice and letting fly with a dark and aggressive lead vocal.
Changing tact is Everybody's Got A Secret - another track that is destined to be ranked a fan favourite. Like Satellite from the EP, this track features a very pop groove and has a distinct 80's feel to it. The uptempo, feel good pop/rocker with an instantly catchy chorus, will be one of the easiest tracks to appreciate and is a great balancing track to the darker and moodier elements within the album.
Everything U R features another classic TNT guitar riff, but the song itself is a little different and shows yet another personality within the album. It's not the most immediate track, but rather is another grower, with a simple, but effective chorus.
The last full track of the album is the haunting ballad Song For Diana. This is unlike any other TNT track I have heard. The Celtic styled ballad features a sparse, but complex arrangement and a female vocal from Tony's talented wife, to accompany his lead vocal, which really draws the listener in.
The Last Word is another short and simple instrumental piece which closes the album.
All said and done, the album flows perfectly from the opening to the closing, with each track between another gem. It's one of the best albums TNT have ever recorded and quite possibly the best ever. I've had their classic Tell Not Tales for 17 years now, so My Religion has a lot to live up to, but so far it's doing a brilliant job.
I can't imagine any TNT fan not impressed with this release. It's just that good. In fact, I can't imagine any rock fan not impressed with it.
House Of Lords
The Power & The Myth
Like no other band I can think of, House Of Lords have endured more obstacles while putting this album together. There were problems securing the rights to the name again, Gregg Giuffria pulled out at the last minute and the recording time has been spread over nearly 3 years or 8 if you include the very first demos recorded for a re-union.|
With such a long wait, expectations were high, which is why the result will find opinions mixed and extremely varied. There's a lot to like about the new House Of Lords album their 4th overall and first since 1992's Demons Down. However, those positive attributes aren't necessarily the same ones the majority of fans are going to be looking for.
The name House Of Lords conjures immediate thoughts of power melodic hard rock with soaring choruses, bombastic and pompous arrangements and glorious lead and harmony vocals, all bathed in a rich layer of keyboards.
The Power & The Myth has little of any of this and therefore could disappoint those looking forward to a sequel to any of the band's previous albums.
And James Christian's vocals fail to add any spark to songs that really rely on him to lift them.
When you take a look at it, House Of Lords have never recorded the same album twice. House Of Lords, Sahara and Demons Down are all quite different from each other, yet the band always ensured the albums featured the common thread of the elements already mentioned above and most importantly they always featured extremely memorable songs.
The massive debut album is one of the all time great melodic rock masterpieces, filled with anthem after anthem. Sahara was tougher and heavier and more guitar dominated. Demons Down was the quintessential big budget, big production American melodic hard rock record.
It should be no surprise that The Power & The Myth is quite different again. Not only that, but its some 12 years later. One should expect a new and updated approach, but it's also fair to say that one could reasonably expect some of the band's most loved traits be included.
The Power & The Myth is one of 2004's most highly anticipated albums. The fan base knows what they want, but the band clearly has their own desires.
House Of Lords are one of my all time favourite bands because no matter the style, the hooks and anthems have always been there. But this time around things are definitely a little different. More work than ever is required to get into this album.
This is a modern melodic rock record, with a distinct retro vibe and strong hints of Zeppelinesque flair. The instrumentation from Chuck Wright, Lanny Cordola and Ken Mary is more intricate, technical and features a slight progressive flair. Not your typical 80's rock arrangements, that's for sure - which is a positive thing. There is no greater joy than listening to musicians who know their craft, really stretching their chops and clearly enjoying it, as Chuck, Lanny and Ken are doing here.
But the down side is that a few elements from the past are missing. Gone are the big anthems. Gone are the multi-layered hands in the air choruses and gone are the layers of harmony vocals.
I admire the band's desire to move on from everything that the past held, but I don't think the fans will be so open minded.
Most alarmingly, the vibe of the whole album is quite flat. Despite the challenging and complex arrangements, the songs remain quite laid back. And the main reason for this is the vocal performance from James Christian.
James is heralded as one of the greatest melodic rock singers ever, but his performance here is one of the worst I have heard from him. I am not sure why this is so, but there is a distinct lack of passion on this album. The lead vocals are very business like - more like a hired hand than a passionate member of the band. It just doesn't come close to comparing with his efforts of the past.
I can't help but think Christian recording his vocals in Florida and the absence of Gregg Giuffria has left the album without that magic ingredient that their past albums contained. The keyboards that are a part of the album are just not prominent enough.
The songs from The Power & The Myth are gathered from the 1995 re-union, right through to freshly written tracks from the last couple of years.
Although taken from various sessions, the songs are pieced together very well and the album manages to flow quite smoothly from start to finish.
Track By Track:
Today opens the account for House Of Lords 2004. The track has a softly building into, which features a raspy and laid back vocal, surrounded by some cool instrumentation and a slightly progressive touch. The chorus bursts through the dark mood of the track, but is over before you know it. It's quite subdued, but gets better with repeat listening and is one of the better tracks on the album. The track's retro vibe continues during the end instrumental passage, which features a synth-string arrangement.
The track leads directly into All Is Gone, which is a little tougher and again features some intelligent musical arranging. But the chorus is too flat and doesn't bring a suitable break from the rest of the song. Am I The Only One has an interesting intro, with a Middle Eastern feel to it. The track itself keeps on course from its laid back intro. It's a slow to mid-tempo rock ballad with a lush arrangement, but no major hooks.
Living In Silence features a solid drum rhythm to open the song, followed by some fancy guitar work from Lanny Cordola. The whole rhythm of the track makes for interesting listening, but the chorus isn't memorable at all. James does sound like he has come to life a little, with some added vocal trciks, but fades again quickly. This track reminds me a little of an updated Sahara sound. It's certainly more aggressive than the first few tracks.
There must be something a little amiss when one of the most powerful tracks of an album such as this, is an instrumental track. But The Power And The Myth is just such a track, with a sense of urgency lacking elsewhere. It's a musically brilliant little passage that wouldn't be out of place on a Rush album and leads perfectly into the next track.
The Rapture is another Middle Eastern flavoured track one which has it's origins in 1995. This is another track that would fit the Sahara album and sees James Christian in much stronger voice. Still, the style of the track is somewhat different from the band and despite some great arrangements and a perfect production, might not translate to classic House Of Lords fans. But I like it a lot I like the transition from the instrumental to the track and I love the complex musical base.
Man Who I Am is probably the album's most accessible track. This is a sweet mid-tempo pop/rock ballad that features a good melody and a memorable chorus, as well as a fairly lush arrangement with Ken Mary sounding particularly good. The strings and add orchestration and depth seldom seen in melodic rock, making this track an album highlight.
Bitter Sweet Euphoria is a track fairly well removed from anything the guys have done before. The guitar work from Cordola is fabulous, as is the thumping bass from Chuck Wright. It continues to prove that the album's second half is stronger than the first, but could have used a bigger chorus and a more powerful vocal. Mind Trip is another song featuring strong instrumentation and some excellent production effects, but due to it psychedelic rock feel might again see some traditional HOL fans again feel a little alienated. But the second half of the song sees some of the band's most intricate jamming to date. Lanny, Chuck and Ken take on a truly progressive sound and let fly. It's pretty clear the guys are enjoying this chance to flex their musical muscle.
The track moves directly into the album's closing track - Child of Rage. This serious song about child abuse is another album highlight.
I'm told this is a JC vocal from several years ago, when the track was originally demoed. And I have to say that his voice doesn't sound any better on the album than right here. This is the JC of old and a burst of true the passion that the rest of the album could use more of. The track itself is a mid-tempo ballad with an earthy, retro vibe and a memorable chorus.
The performances by Chuck Wright, Lanny Cordola and Ken Mary should also be praised. The guys have all expanded their repertoires over the years and a higher standard of technical proficiency is evident here. In short their performances rock!
But the songs in general just aren't as strong, nor as catchy as they could and should have been. The album takes a lot of listening to and does continue to get better as you get to know it, but it still doesn't come close the three classics before it.
The flat performance from Christian and the fact that the whole sound and style is so far removed from what the band was much loved for means that the majority of fans are going to come away from this disappointed.
It remains a musically interesting album, but really misses some bigger choruses and more memorable songs.
|Danny Danzi DanziLand||MTM Music|
Danny Danzi's back! But what took him so long? There is no simple answer to that question there were the record label problems, the constant band line-up changes and not to mention the recording, re-recording and the re-re-recording of the album's tracks.|
You see, Danny is a perfectionist and he just kept going until he was happy absolutely determined to keep working until his acclaimed debut Somewhere Lost In Time was topped. And without and shadow of a doubt, Danny has topped it and well and truly kicked its butt. DanziLand is better than the debut in every way as any important follow up should be. Better songs, much better production, a better performance and wow, take a look at the artwork!
Danny plays his heart out here, with guitar riffs all over this album. Every possible space has been filled with more layers of guitar and some of the best soloing I have heard in a long time.
Danny's talents as a guitarist must not be underrated. He really does give the big boys of shred a run for their money, but never at the expense of a good song melody.
The production is also impressive. Produced by Danny with Wayne Davis, the album has been assembled perfectly, with a clear and even mix allowing all the layers to breathe.
But by far the biggest improvement over the debut is Danny's vocal performance.
He has really improved his range and the delivery of his voice and the songs benefit from that with more added layers of harmony vocals taking it really over the top.
Both attributes add warmth and soul to the overall album.
Track By Track:
Such an album as this deserves a big build up and the intro Welcome does the job admirably. That leads straight into the fast tempo'd double kick-drum stomper DanziLand. This high octane hard rocker gets the album off to a flyer, but it's Eternity that really will turn heads. This Journey-esque melodic rocker has melodies and riff's going everywhere, a highly memorable and melodic chorus and some sweet harmony vocals throughout.
Just A Matter Of Time is a 6 minute moody rocker, with a soft and subtle intro and verse, before a Van Hagar style chorus kicks in. The track also features lots of guitar fills and a killer solo.
Let It Go appears to be the first ballad of the album and impresses with a heartfelt vocal before the full instrumentation kicks in, turning the song into a bit of an emotional mid-tempo melodic rocker.
Only The Strong Will Survive should be familiar with most Danzi fans it has already been featured on samplers from his previous label Z Records and current label MTM. The song is a solid straight ahead rocker.
Wild & Dangerous features a dose of cool acoustic guitar during the verse, but the chorus is all electric and rocks nicely. Classic hard rock for guitar fans.
Time Passes By is the album's big power ballad, which in accordance with the rest of the album, also rocks! This is a nice sentimental track, with a great lead vocal and some more impressive guitar playing, albeit a little slower in tempo.
Destiny is a more European style hard rocker with a dramatic almost symphonic feel. The track features some more flashy guitar playing and sees more great harmony vocals come chorus time.
Fool is another solid, straight up hard rocker with a slight retro vibe to it.
All Or Nothing is a track more dominated by keyboards and has a classic 80's feel to it. The uptempo melodic rocker has an easy going feel to it and features a feel good chorus. It's one of the album's coolest tracks.
What About Us closes the European version of the album. This is a great tribute to the events of September 11 and is an acoustic driven rock track. It's another side of the Danzi sound and a very cool last track.
But an album of this quality will help his cause and should see his name a top of many Best Of 2004 lists. The style of the album is something there isn't a lot of right now, so I imagine this will be eaten up and truly appreciated by fans.
|Pink Cream 69 Thunderdome||SPV|
Fans of European melodic hard rock need look no further for a contender for album of 2004 than Pink Cream 69's newie Thunderdome.|
The guys know what works for them and what works for their fans and Thunderdome is simply a combination of those two things.
This is loud, in your face and pumped up hard rock with attitude.
This amazingly is their 9th studio release. Their previous best - in my humble opinion - was the brilliant Sonic Dynamite, with their last album endangered not quite topping its predecessor.
But now the band has done just that and along with Sonic Dynamite, Thunderdome will rank as two of their best albums.
It will be down to fan preferences as to what the majority think, but personally speaking I have found Thunderdome to be their most enjoyable album to listen to and review.
Vocalist David Readman is in fine voice and as usual the production by bassist Dennis Ward is close to flawless.
The guitar work from Alfred Koffler and Uwe Reitenauer is as powerful and hard hitting as ever and Ward along with drummer Kosta Zafiriou provide the foundation to the band's uncompromising and increasingly copied sound.
Whether it's on the hard hitters like Thunderdome or the darker That Was Yesterday and Retro Lullaby, or the high octane rockers like Here I Am, the band deliver the goods.
Changing the pace a little is That Was Yesterday - a great rock ballad in the best tradition of the band and features a great chorus hook and a strong lead vocal.
Shelter is also a very commercial track that features a big hook and catchy singalong chorus.
And for the record, I personally hate the song My Sherona and would be happy to never hear it ever again as long as I breathe. But the band has PC69'd it and true to form, it rocks hard and is a lot of fun. Still, I'll continue to skip over it each time!
Axel Rudi Pell
Kings & Queens
Axel Rudi Pell doesn't vary the blueprint for his albums very much, but he does consistently record and release great albums, pleasing dedicated fans each time with more of his own brand of European hard rock.|
The band line-up for Kings & Queens is exactly as has been for the last couple of studio albums, which means Hardline vocalist Johnny Gioeli is back for his forth studio album.
The formula for the last few albums has been an intro plus 9 tracks, including a couple of power rock ballads, a speed demon or two and a couple of extended epics with a few straight ahead hard rockers filling the gaps.
Kings & Queens holds true to this formula, and again it provides a great listen and is highly enjoyable as always.
Flyin΄ High really shreds for the opening track, with Cold Heaven, Strong As A Rock and Only The Strong Will Survive providing the straight ahead and uncompromising hard rock portion of the album, with plenty of great riffs and some power house vocals from Gioeli.
Forever Angel is a great heartfelt power ballad as is the epic Sea Of Evil, which clocks in over 8 minutes.
Legions Of Hell is the album's other epic, a great dark and moody rocker running nearly 9 minutes.
What's most enjoyable about Kings & Queens is Axel's guitar sound. He's changed the tone just a little over the style of the last few albums - harder edged than ever, with an even more commercial hard rock style.
|Bowes & Morley Mo's Barbeque||Frontiers Records|
It's tantamount to the talent of singer Danny Bowes and writer/guitarist Luke Morley that the pair can be the driving force of hard rockers Thunder, yet work together in such a different atmosphere as Bowes & Morley.|
I must admit to preferring Thunder over the pair's blusier and R&B themed side project, but it still has definite charm. Their self titled album was somewhat of a disappointment to me, but continued to grow - even after the review was completed. After much thought, I concluded that it was a disappointment mainly because I craved a classic Thunder album so much.
Thankfully, that was delivered in the form of the excellent Shooting At The Sun.
With that desire fulfilled, I was more willing to accept a new Bowes & Morley album and have enjoyed it more then I did the debut.
The guys have a fantastic relationship and play off each other effortlessly, which shows on this album. Nothing seems to have taken any effort and the whole album has a laid back, breezy soul/blues feel.
Chris Childs (also from Thunder) appears on bass, Mario Goossens (Hooverphonic, The Others) on drums and Mark Taylor on keyboards/organ.
The album is comprised of originals and a few covers including Stevie Wonder's Living For The City (a perfect version) and Ann Peebles' I Can't Stand The Rain a track I am not a fan of, even though this version is rather spirited!
Add some jazzy piano passages (On A Day Like Today), some laid back acoustic tracks (Since I Left Her and the ballad Illogical) and the odd rocker (How Could You) and you get the picture of a very diverse album.
For me, the guys don't sound any better than when they are really getting into the free flowing 70's blues on Waiting For The Sky To Fall.
Danny Bowes proves to be the master of all styles, and Luke Morley shows his talent runs deep. But fans of the harder edge of Thunder will certainly need to preview this before venturing any further.
|Shylock Welcome To Illusion||MTM Music|
MTM introduced a few new German acts to hard rock fans over the last year or so Shylock being just one of them. It's hard work to launch new acts, so it's pleasing to see a few of these guys with follow up albums due in 2004. This is when we get to see if the band has potential to go on with the job or fade as another forgettable face of hard rock.|
It's pleasing then to say that Shylock are the first to have a second album out and fall into the category of those most likely to rock on and continue to draw new fans.
Their debut album despite featuring an awful CD cover showed great potential.
Welcome To Illusion takes the band much further and elevates them to a must-watch band in the European hard rock scene.
There remains an accent with the delivery of the lead vocal, but it's a class above the debut and still a very strong vocal. Fans of early Bonfire will know what I mean.
Highlights on the album include the mid-tempo melodic rocker But I Like It, the album opening rock track Welcome To Illusion and the darker and heavier Revolution.
The moody rock ballad Lose You, the interesting rocker Tomorrow and straight up hard rock of Guilty are also very enjoyable.
The album is very well produced and sounds as good as others in the genre like Shakra and Bonfire.
However, 15 tracks in this case is about 3 too many. The band have done it all by about track 8, so the second half sounds a little too familiar and the album would have benefited from being cut back by a few tracks.
Brides Of Destruction
Here Come The Brides
The debut Brides album will be released shortly with a blaze of publicity, but will that have any impact on the CD buying public outside of the individual guys fan bases?|
The band features bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Tracii Guns, drummer Scot Coogan and vocalist London LeGrand. London is the least known of the four his is a new comer to the LA hard rock scene after failing to break through in his native Georgia.
The album has a feel of a number of contemporary and classic influences, with a little of the past from Sixx and Tracii Guns (Motley Crue and LA Guns), in a heavily updated contemporary delivery this record is as much alternative modern rock than it is classic hard rock.
After many listens, I'm still not sure what to make of the whole affair. It rocks like crazy, as a monster attitude, yet I personally haven't warmed to it at all.
Maybe it's the vocalist. As with several other examples in recent years, some classic hard rockers have chosen the path of a more modern rock/alternative vocalist. For the most part I don't like his tone or his delivery. Just not melodic enough for my tastes the style is far to harsh.
Here Come the Brides was produced by Steve Bruno and mixed by Steve Thompson, an ever powerful duo that has worked with some of the biggest and the best. The quality of this album's production is therefore very good, but surprised me for it's rawness and overall simplicity. The band is clearly going for that 'live' in the studio feel.
So it rocks, it's modern and it packs an in your face attitude. What about the songs? No problem with quality, although there may be a filler or two of the 9 tracks featured.
The song style might not be for everyone though.
You've got the punk influenced modern rocker Shut The Fuck Up to open the album does anyone really need a song with a title like this anymore? Following that, comes the frantic Guns N Roses styled rocker I Don't Care (a highlight), the heavy semi-industrial I Got A Gun, the LA Guns influenced alternative rocker 2 Times Dead and the modern rock/rap Natural Born Killers, which I quite dislike.
The uptempo punkish Life is better it features a better vocal and an almost nu-breed style chorus. Revolution is also pretty cool, with another good Guns N Roses style hook, but a much rougher production quality.
Only Get So Far closes out the album with the only slower track of the album a psychedelic styled rock ballad. It's ok, but the vocals don't sell the song.
At 37 minutes in length and with most of the tracks already available in bootlegged demo form, there isn't enough on offer here.
Still, there is something about the album I don't warm to and I don't like vocals on several of the tracks. I don't have to like an album to see that it has definite appeal and will predict a few will wonder why I just don't like the album as much as I should. Personal tastes folks!
|Faithfull Light This City||Vinny Records|
Melodic rockers Faithfull have been picking up a lot of attention and have been doing good business in Europe and Japan. |
For good reason too, as their debut album is quite impressive. The band is from Portugal and features vocalist Sergio Sabino, formerly of Evidence.
There isn't anything here that will challenge the tried and true formula of commercial stadium rock of the 80s, but in this case, that's a good thing.
With a singer that sounds alarmingly like Paul Laine, the band run through a collection of 12 high energy, old fashioned rock n roll songs a la Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet or Danger Danger's Four The Hard Way.
The production is also impressive. It could always have been more impactful and a little tighter, but on a limited budget, the guys have recorded and album that sounds every bit as good as many others out there and better than several more.
What makes the album really work is the quality of the songs. Included are lots of hooks, catchy melodies and a few choice opportunities to raise your fists and singalong.
Best investigate these guys and tracks like the opening rocker Light This City, the moodier follow up There's No Turning Back and the hands in the air feel good rocker All I Want, All I Need.
The guys are also not afraid to tackle a ballad or two, but the main influence on Light This City is mid-to-uptempo melodic hard rock.
The album is very consistent, very enjoyable and very well written for fans of classic late 80's era melodic rock. A solid production and classy performance enhances the quality of this album, which rates as one of the better debut album's in sometime.
|Velvet Dreams Velvet Dreams||Vinny Records|
Velvet Dreams is a band formed in 2001 by Italian singer Max Mucelli and half-Scottish guitarist Richardo Walls. |
The band features a classic hard rock sound, heavily influenced by their European location, but also featuring a touch of the old English AOR style.
The music is well produced courtesy of Carlos Creater and in places features several layers of guitar riff's and solos and the added touch of acoustic guitars for extra texture.
Unfortunately the good work that has been put into recording the album is largely undone by a horrible vocalist and some wonderfully dodgy lyrics.
I never enjoy reporting such things, but the fact is that the vocals on Velvet Dreams are just not up to an acceptable standard. They are heavily accented and at times the lyrics are just shouted or spoken over the top of the music.
Comparisons in the bio are made to Jorn Lande, which may be true as far as the tone and style, but these raspy vocals are more spoken than sung. He is not anywhere close to being in the same league as the great Mr. Lande.
Then there is the lyrics ..do yourself a favor and skip Shouting, Standing In A Bar and Up Yours.
|Reckless Reckless||MTM Music|
Reckless was formed in 1993, forming out of the band Line Up with Patrick Axelsson as frontman and lead singer. |
Line Up released one album in Sweden and Reckless went on to record and release their only album in Japan in 1994. Now it gets a wider European release via MTM Classix.
I'm afraid this is another album that just isn't in the league of being labeled classic.
It's ok for what it is, but it isn't an all time hard rock classic by any stretch.
Reckless' album is comprised of 13 straight-up, 80's style trans-Atlantic commercial hard rock songs, with plenty of guitar riffs flying about, interspersed with keyboard flurries and some raspy hard edged vocals.
There's nothing wrong with the album at all. In fact, it's a powerful, well produced slice of melodic hard rock, featuring competent performances and a balanced, somewhat crunchy production.
It's just that a 10 year old album isn't really as essential as the whole range of great new releases currently available. If there was a shortage of this stuff then it would certainly rate higher.
For those that already own the CD or have burnt copies of this rarity, three added bonus tracks are a good incentive for purchase. Overall, a solid, enjoyable album, but nothing quite essential.
|M3 Classic Snake Live Vol. 1||Little House Music|
Mickey Moody and Bernie Marsden seem to be going through an identity crisis. |
In their quest to be recognized as the real soul of classic era Whitesnake (which they are) the guys have, in recent years, been known as The Snakes, Company Of Snakes and now M3.
The M3 line-up consists of Moody and Marsden, plus vocalist Tony Martin, bassist Neil Murray, drummer Jimmy Copley and keyboardist Mark Stanway.
Despite introducing the new name and the classy new line-up, I am still not convinced of the need for this release.
You see, of the 11 tracks there is not much that hasn't already been featured on the previous live releases from The Snakes and Company Of Snakes.
In vocalist Tony Martin the guys have found a great guy and a seasoned performer. He does the material justice, but I can't help but wish Jorn Lande or Stefan Berggren was being featured instead.
The performance is flawless, but the vibe feels a little flat. It's time the guys put more energy into creating new classics rather than dishing out the old via more live albums.
This is one for the die hard fans that must have everything, but I don't rate it essential to all Whitesnake or Moody/Marsden fans.
|Coastline Coastline||Vinny Records|
Coastline are yet another melodic rock act out of Sweden, and another that feature a female lead vocalist. Their bio states influences from the likes of Darby Mills, Survivor and Tone Norum. That's a pretty fair call, but add in fellow Swede's Alyson Avenue and Broke N Blue also, not to mention Fiona at her pink and fluffiest.|
This is feel good, lightweight AOR with touches of Westcoast in places.
The 80's pop/rock style and keyboard friendly strains of Coastline's music will be heaven for those that adore breezy mid-tempo numbers with sweet harmonies and tasteful guitar riffs.
There is nothing here not to like especially with the quality of the song writing. The performances are also on song, with the mix favoring the lead vocals, keyboards and then guitars. The production isn't big budget, but is strong enough that it doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of the album.
If you enjoyed the Nexx album from last year and the others noted within the review, then Coastline is a worthy album to search out especially if female fronted AOR is your thing. The solid production is further enhanced by some catchy song writing and particularly enjoyable and pleasant lead vocals from Helena Rosendahl.
|Various Artists None Blacker - Tribute To Metallica||Perris Records|
It's no secret that I am tired of tribute albums, so this new one from Perris Records didn't get me too excited.|
This tribute album says it features members of Every Mothers Nightmare, Lillian Axe, Near Life Experience and some other less heard of artists.
EMN's Rick Ruhl is featured vocalist on Wherever I May Roam and Steve Blaze is vocalist on Master Of Puppets.
In fact Steve Blaze is the only member from either Lillian Axe or NLE involved, so once he and Rick and Jeff from EMN are taken out of the equation, there are no other name players involved.
The sound is average and the performances are about the same. I'm not sure who this will appeal to my guess is a few die hard fans of the artists involved, but there are all too few details about the album given.
I wouldn't recommend this to Metallica fans, as these are straight up versions that you would better served by listening to the originals.
The CD isn't long enough, with only 9 Metallica tracks included, the rest of the CD filled with song samples of the band's featured. It makes the CD more of an promotional advert than an official release.
|Tesla Into The Now||Sanctuary Records|
Tesla really had a job ahead of them to come back after so long apart. The band's problems were widely publicized, none more than Tommy Skeoch's drug addiction.|
Time has also moved on and 2004 sees a whole new playing field compared with the time when their last studio album was released some 10 years back.
But the guys took the challenge of a return very seriously evident in the time it has taken the band to write, record and chose this selection of songs.
I'm very pleased to say that I don't think the band could have done any better and have really made a great album for these times.
It's more contemporary than I anticipated it would be, yet retains enough of the classic Tesla sound to please fans and perhaps prove to be a fresh force on commercial radio again.
Tesla's band members all had their own solo things going, with Jeff Keith and Tommy Skeoch's Bar 7, Frank Hannon's Moon Dog Mane and Brian Wheat's Soulmotor both featuring more modern approaches than Tesla's classic hard rock sound.
I see the songs of Into The Now garnering influences from both Bar 7, the super heavy Soulmotor and the band's own classic sound - molding those styles into something fresh and new.
Into The Now is also heavier than anticipated and also uses more of the modern rock style tuned-down guitar riffs, but it's Jeff Keith's fabulous vocals and the band's rhythm section that remind us of what the band always sounded like.
Track By Track:
The band breaks into the album's heaviest and most modern track to open the album. Into The Now certainly let's listeners know where the band is at. The track features dark and heavy guitar riffs and a deeper than usual rasp from vocalist Jeff Keith. The chorus doesn't break the sonic attack at all. It's relatively short, but effective. There isn't any big guitar solos, but rather some production effects and vocal filters used mid-song. All very effective and cleverly done to prove Tesla can update and remain cool.
Look @ Me kicks off and closes with the same snappy guitar/drum beat. The guitars aren't quite as tuned down as the title track, but remain heavy and pack a punch. The chorus remains short, but is more typical of what we expect from Tesla.
What A Shame is even closer to the classic sound of the band's past. The chorus is stronger than either of the opening tracks and the song features that unmistakable electric/acoustic hybrid the band is famed for. A great song that has strong potential for rock radio.
Heaven Nine Eleven changes the pace of the album nicely. This is a dark and groovy hard rocker with a strong hint of the classic Tesla sound, just heavier. Things are varied up a little by the use some vocal effects during the chorus and a perfect build in intensity to the heavy chorus break. This track is another great example of the band updating their sound and using cleaver production techniques to blend the old with the new.
Words Can't Explain could be lifted from just about any of the band's past albums, given that's its acoustic driven with a riff-heavy chorus. The song builds and gets heavier as it goes and is really one for the old die-hards. Another potential hit song.
It wasn't surprising to see Caught In A Dream used as the album's first single. It's easily the album's most commercial track and is a really enjoyable acoustic ballad with a big chorus hook.
Miles Away is an interesting track. It clocks in over 6 minutes and is a lyrically touching track utilizing an acoustic verse, before launching into a heavy guitar riff bridge. Another musically intelligent and interesting track.
Mighty Mouse is a straight ahead rocker with a modern twist. Not the best or my favourite track from the album. Got No Glory is one of the album's heaviest tracks. Featuring a killer guitar riff, the song isn't one of the more melodic, relying more on the impact of those guitar riffs.
Come To Me is another acoustic driven, laid back number with a good chorus hook. While it is acoustic driven, it's another track that sounds new and features a great lead vocal.
Recognize is another darker and heavier track, even if the tempo is pretty slow. The song has a bridge-chorus set up, where the tempo picks up, with an aggressive guitar riff.
Only You closes the album with another new twist. This is an all acoustic track with strings and a truly haunting feel.
Into The Now really is a great example of a classic band moving into the present, but without abandoning what is expected of them their classic sound.
|Jaded Heart Trust||Ulftone Music|
It is widely regarded that IV was Jaded Heart's best record. No surprise then that the band has chosen to return to the more hard hitting approach of that album.|
The last opus The Journey Will Never End was still very classy and largely enjoyable and I rated it highly. But it was a little more diverse and somewhat softer than the band's previous efforts.
I don't believe there was any undue pressure on the band to deliver, but for whatever reason, they have really nailed it with Trust.
The band has really put in a superb effort. Everyone is on song. Popular vocalist Michael Bormann sounds better than ever, really launching himself into the vocals. Guitarist Barish Kepic serves up some of the band's toughest riffs and best solos and the rhythm section is as tight and as powerful as they have ever been. Then there's the harmony vocals - easily the most satisfying in the band's career.
From 13 tracks, there really isn't any song that lets the listener down. There isn't any let-up in intensity, with the opening rock anthem Anymore and the more urgent Feels Like Home really kicking things into high gear from the word go.
There are some lighter moments to vary the pace, but those tracks, like Burning Heart, still have massive intensity. Throw in a couple of big Def Leppard style anthem ballads in the form of Love Is Magic and If I Lose, add a couple of slower, moody rockers like Masquerade, Trust and Let It Rain and you have a perfect balance to the uptempo hard rockers like Hating You and Jaded.
I can't compliment the band enough on their selection of songs and the power of the delivery on Trust. These are quite simply, the best songs the band has recorded.
My only small compliant is the record at times sounds too loud. Maybe it was the mastering, but at times it sounds a little distorted and just too loud. Rightly so that this record should be played and appreciated at high volumes, but let the listener control that.
It's probably nothing you haven't heard before, but seldom is it done so consistently well. Jaded Heart fans are going to eat this up and new fans won't be far behind.
|Avalon Japan / Z Records UK|
Final Frontier are back for their second attack, with scant regard for the fact that it's 2004. The Second Wave is aptly titled, as listening to the album is like the 1980's all over again. Vocalist Rob Moratti and guitarist Mladen Haze (Von Groove) provide the backbone of the album both providing the music and writing all the songs together.|
The band's debut was an enjoyable keyboard filled jog through the early 80's AOR sound that made Foreigner and Journey stars.
On The Second Wave, it's more of the same, with tracks on offer sounding like they could have been lifted from any 80's release from Styx or the previously mentioned Journey and Foreigner.
What's even better about the new album is the songwriting. While there has been no attempt to veer from the style of the keyboard friendly early 80's, the songs themselves contain better hooks and even more memorable choruses. There are plenty of moments to catch the listener's attention and reel them in. The beauty of each track is instantly recognizable thanks to well placed melodies and vocal hooks.
The album's direction is evident from track 1, but get into it a little and uncover the singalong gems like Somebody's Gotta Pay The Price, Lydia and the utterly essential Lost Inside A Dream. After The Fall is the band's big radio ballad and would have been guaranteed a spot in heavy rotation if it was 1985!
My main criticism of the debut was the thin production, which remains an issue with this release. But I'm sure that fans of early 80's AOR will be happy to overlook that factor in favor of some infectious singalong rock n roll. And thank God the artwork is better!
|Street Talk Destination||MTM Music|
0681 - 88
Over the course of three studio albums, Sweden's Street Talk compiled a strong catalogue of music. The band has also gathered momentum with each release, peaking with their last studio album Restoration, which also featured Hugo alongside Goran Edman as a vocalist.|
Destination is a fitting title for this Best Of compilation. Has the band reached their final destination, or is this just a stop on their way to world domination?
Sadly the world is likely to remain dominated by the likes of Britny Spears, but those with good taste will still hold Street Talk dear to their hearts.
All three of the band's albums have featured Goran Edman on vocals - the centerpiece of this set of songs. Also featured are the two Hugo tracks from Restoration and two tracks from Kristian Andren - those lifted from the debut.
Rounding out the compilation are two instrumental tracks not previously available in Europe and the added incentive of two brand new tracks.
The first new track on offer is the mid-tempo, guitar fuelled AOR anthem Astray. Goran Edman's vocals have seldom sounded better, or smoother. The track is layered with sweet harmonies and hooks and is among the finest the band have recorded. Fitting then, that this song makes its debut on a Best Of compilation.
Made For Paradise continues the uptempo and more guitar driven feel of the new tracks on offer. This is another feel-good pop rocker with a memorable chorus and is another example of perfect European AOR.
|Shadowman Land Of The Living||Escape Music|
ESM - 098
FM vocalist Steve Overland has never been far from the news, keeping busy with a range of guest appearances and lead vocal spots on a whole host of tribute records and other projects.|
But he hasn't, until now, fronted an all new studio album for some time. This collaboration with Heartland writer/guitarist Steve Morris is therefore very welcomed.
Shadowman features the talents of Overland and Morris with Chris Childs (Thunder) Bass; Harry James (Thunder) Drums. Departure's Mike Walsh also guests.
There probably won't be a finer example of moody atmospheric AOR this year, with each track featuring a strong chorus and the performances of all involved particularly good.
It's normal to put one of the best tracks up front, but in the case of Shadowman, the very best track of the album kicks things off. However, there isn't anything that quite matches the excellence of the uptempo AOR anthem Those Days Are Gone. It really is a first rate AOR track with lots to like and an expected strong lead vocal and some great soloing from Morris on guitar.
There are still plenty of tracks to enjoy on Shadowman and lots to like from the performance of Overland.
For example, the guitar driven mood rocker Medicine To Me is a highlight, as is the ultra smooth ballad Touched By An Angel, which features another great lead vocal performance. Gypsy Heart and Land Of The Living both feature memorable choruses and some of the smoothest melodies this side of an Asia album.
But it's not until track 9 that another truly uptempo number comes along. The album overall is a little too laid back and in need of a couple of tempo changes to break the continues mid-tempo flow.
|Blind Alley Infinity Ends||AOR Heaven|
Blind Alley is a Swedish 3-piece that features all members performing lead and backing vocals. The band comes out of the ashes of the popular band Fortune and Shadow Play.|
What the band offer over their 13 track album is a selection of 80's inspired, traditional Scandinavian AOR.
The material is very light and fluffy and places - typical of the keyboard friendly 80's and a little moodier and guitar driven in other areas.
The band sail through a range of poppy uptempo numbers and moodier mid-tempo tracks, with keyboard and guitar parts getting equal billing.
My best description is to that of Fortune and other Scandinavian pop/rock outfits like Sahara and T'Bell (also AOR Heaven releases) and Rainmaker.
There is a certain Westcoast pop element to some tracks that will compare to the smooth side of Toto and projects led by Tommy Denander.
The vocalist is very pleasant and is easy to listen to, as are the songs featured here.
The album however does feature a lot of programming - so if that is an issue for you, take a listen to the soundbytes first.
|Shiva Desert Dreams||MTM Music|
Shiva have doen what all good bands should do deliver an album that builds on their debut, while moving forward a little. But some might find the band have moved too far forward, with a far heavier and more contemporary sound employed on several tracks.|
Their first album was a great example of Swedish melodic hard rock, with lead vocalist Anette Johansson one of the finds of the year. I described the album as a heavier and Scandinavian version of Robin Beck.
On the band's follow-up, Desert Dreams, things are a little different. The sound has been modernized slightly and the guitar attack has been beefed up considerably.
It takes more than a couple of listens to get your head around the new sound, but it does become more familiar each listen and you do come to a point where this and the debut don't sound too far apart.
The opening three tracks are actually the most modern and the most aggressive, before the remaining songs revert to a more melodic rock friendly style.
That said, there are some good hooks within the heavier tracks, but they are wrapped in a modern feel some may not be so willing to adapt to.
Once you arrive at Complete Strangers and the haunting rock ballad Losing My Child, the Shiva that impressed on their debut is clearly evident.
Passenger Of Life continues the powerful and passionate melodic rock, while Crucified provides a hard rocking burst.
The album closes with another modern tinged aggressive rocker, but the guys don't forget to include a chorus hook and a memorable guitar riff.
The guys are trying to move forward in a scene that doesn't always appreciate such ambition. But the bottom line is that the band have recorded another strong set of songs that sounds fresh and inviting for the year 2004. It may not quite have the strength of the debut, nor the same melodic rock base, but it certainly rocks.
|Erika Cold Winter Night||MTM Music|
Erika's Cold Winter Night was originally released in 1990 albeit to a limited release in her native Sweden. There were four more albums after that before she retired from the business for a while. This debut has been remastered and re-issued by MTM Classix.|
As expected of any album in 1990, this features a heavy dose of keyboards and light and fluffy melodic rock, all delivered in traditional by the numbers Scandinavian style.
The album will appeal to fans of female fronted rock albums and is filled with breezy feel good numbers, but nothing that would have me rate it against many of the better known albums of the same era.
First husband Yngwie Malmsteen makes an appearance on guitars, which will be of interest to fans of his but don't expect a shred-fest.
Much of the album has a programmed feel to it, which hasn't helped the aging process.
This does now sound a little dated and will appeal to those that felt something for the album at the time.
|Seventh Key The Raging Fire||Frontiers Records|
Seventh Key is Kansas bassist Billy Greer and Streets/Steelhouse Lane founder/producer/guitarist Mike Slamer.|
This is their second album and to get right to the point, is better than the debut in every way. This sensational slice of pure melodic hard rock features better songs, better production, better arrangement and best of all, one hell of a vocal performance from Billy Greer.
The debut album was fabulous in its own right, but like all follow-ups, an artist must strive to improve and that has indeed been done. Any fan of the debut is going to be well impressed with this release.
The one detail on the debut that I didn't warm to as much was Billy's vocals. It might have been the fact that the album was the next from Slamer to follow the utterly essential Steelhouse Lane Slaves Of The New World album, which featured awesome vocalist Keith Slack.
On The Raging Fire, Billy's performance comes close to that of Slack's.
There is increased warmth in his voice, increased strength and a real conviction it the delivery. There are some spine tingling moments on this album, which shows the partnership between Greer and Slamer really maturing.
Mike Slamer's guitar style and production sound has always been detectable, but over the course of the two Steelhouse Lane albums and now two Seventh Key albums it has become legendary.
The Raging Fire contains all the tricks expected a deep, full sound - worthy of any major label release - coupled with layers of harmonies and bombastic time changes, bridges and the all important over the top choruses. And don't for get guitar solos there are some awe inspiring solos throughout the record another testament to Slamer's ability.
Track By Track:
What better way to open any album than a guitar fuelled uptempo rocker? The Sun Will Rise is exactly that a perfect pump your fist in the air, harmony filled, feel good rocker. Nice also to hear a big guitar solo right in the middle, before the song wastes no more time in getting back to the chorus.
Always From The Heart starts slow, with Billy's vocals floating over a soft acoustic intro. The song builds in mood and tempo and bursts into a huge high-tech fill which leads into another memorable hands-in-the-air chorus. It's one of the album's most commercial tracks and very reminiscent of the debut.
You Cross The Line is an interesting track. This is one of those great Slamer production moments when the melodic rock envelope is pushed a little harder than usual. This is a dark and moody track which starts softly, but explodes into a fired-up rocker with another bridge-to-chorus hook combo which delivers the knockout punch.
An Ocean Away is a simpler uptempo rocker with a cool lead guitar riff and a strong vocal. The chorus flows easily and is slightly more melodic than the tone of the overall track. Another highly memorable and enjoyable track.
The Raging Fire is another less than straight ahead track clocking in at 6 minutes and featuring a dark moody vibe to it also. The verse is rather haunting, with an eerie piano "riff" adding to the feel. The relatively short chorus features some tough guitar riffs.
Sin City returns to the straight ahead feel of the opening track and An Ocean Away. A simple, guitar driven rocker which balances the quirky tracks perfectly.
It Should Have Been You is the album's only real ballad proper. The track has the vibe of a classic Foreigner ballad, with a moody verse, layers of keyboards and harmony vocals and a heartfelt anthem chorus which would sound at home on any good rock radio station.
Run is a classic style hard rocker with Def Leppard-ish production and Eddie Van Halen lead guitar sound. Mix that with a little Steelhouse Lane and you get the picture. However, it's not the album's best chorus.
Pyramid Princess is an epic styled hard rocker, also with a dark edge, but a huge production job that includes some bombastic drum passages and a high-impact chorus. One of the more dramatic songs of the album.
Winds of War is another slow to start track. I really like the way these guys build the songs and this is no different. It starts slow, but through the 6 minutes plus, builds to quite a tasty rocker.
However, every note on this album was written and recorded to please the fans and I believe they have done that with some outstanding songs and inspired performances. Terry Brock adds backing vocals, which give the harmonies even more depth.
A brilliant album that will please just about everybody.
|Jack Blades Jack Blades||Frontiers Records|
Jack Blades is one of my all time favourite artists and even more importantly, is regarded one of the best songwriters in the game. Night Ranger's albums are all regarded as personal favourites, as is the debut Damn Yankees album.
Then there's the also impressive Shaw/Blades album, the second Damn Yankees and Jack's work with other artists including Alice Cooper, Journey, Aerosmith and Great White. Quite a resume already, but not content with that, Jack thought a solo album was well overdue and this is the result.|
Joining Jack on the album is fellow Night Ranger buddies Kelly Keagy, Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson, along with Tommy Shaw, Neal Schon, Damon Johnson, Michael Lardie, Warren De Martini and of course, son Colin Blades.
Guitarist Sam Eigen is however the backbone of the album. With Sam on guitars and Kelly Keagy on drums throughout most of the album, the remaining players all fill guest roles. Neal Schon plays lead guitar on Sea Of Emotions and To Tough The Sky.
Jack's album is a highly anticipated release for the melodic music community.
In recent years, Jack has varied his style of writing to cover not only classic hard rock and AOR, but also modern and acoustic pop.
So it was with some interest that we all waited on news of what direction this solo album would take.
The answer is the songs on Jack Blades are not restricted to any one style.
Over the course of the 11 tracks, Jack touches on all past styles covered and even adds a couple of new flavors. This makes for a varied and interesting listen and I think the album is compiled quite well it does have a natural flow. But that doesn't mean fans are going to like each and every track which for me was the main disappointment of the album. I was anticipating every track being another JB classic and that just isn't the case.
I must say that I have had to work really hard on getting to like this album, which in itself was a surprise. This album is a grower and really does require a lot of listening.
It's more laid back than I anticipated, with several tracks along the Shaw/Blades style.
But then it's also heavier than anticipated in other areas, with 4 tracks leaning towards a modern rock vibe.
The production is sound, but it's not as high-tech as previous releases such as Night Ranger and Damn Yankees. But then again, this album isn't recorded with the budget those major label releases were recorded with.
Track By Track:
Opening the album in the best possible way is the pure melodic rock anthem Sea of Emotions. The track was written by Blades with Neal Schon. The track was originally planned for inclusion on Journey's Arrival album, but is thankfully aired here. The style is such you can easily imagine Steve Augeri signing it. The track is an up-tempo feel good melodic rocker that also features a lead vocal by Kelly Keagy during one bridge.
Shine On and We Are The Ones are the two tracks included on the album that were originally recorded for the ditched third Damn Yankees album.
Shine On features a dual lead vocal between Jack and Tommy Shaw. The song itself is an uptempo modern rocker, with a dark and heavy tone. The track doesn't really match anything Damn Yankees have recorded before, nor Jack for that matter. The verse is something different - a spoken rap of sorts, with a sparse arrangement which leads into a heavy and bombastic chorus filled with tuned down guitars. The chorus hook is relatively short and takes some time to grow on you, but surely does.
We Are The Ones is also moody and heavy and features the same dark guitar tones. The verse has an aggressive edge and is again influenced by modern trends. The song builds to the chorus, which unfortunately is not a highlight of the Blades repertoire.
Many Blades fans might find this track too modern for their tastes and indicates why the third Damn Yankees album would have been so different from the first two.
Don't Want To Be Alone Tonight is a much more melodic friendly track and one that will be a crowd pleaser. The Schon/Blades composition is a direct about face from the tracks before it. This is a stripped back acoustic driven ballad with a memorable chorus and an updated feel to it, but one that suits the vibe of the song. Sometimes You Gotta Have Faith is another acoustic driven track - this one more in a breezy pop vein than the ballad before it. This is another track with a modern Beatlesque vibe, but remains in touch with the style that was the Shaw/Blades album. Add a catchy chorus and the song becomes an album highlight.
To Touch The Sky is another Schon/Blades composition and another track that was earmarked for the Arrival album. And just as with the opening track, this has Journey stamped all over it. The melodic rocker features several layers of vocals and hooks not to mention an extended bridge and chorus arrangement. It takes a few listens to get to hear everything that is going on, but is a gem of a track. More tracks like this might have been cool.
Who You Want To Be sees the album head back into modern rock territory. Starting out as an acoustic Night Ranger style pop song, the chorus bursts through with that tuned down guitar sound again and a Sunshine Of Your Love style retro vibe. Not a band track, but lacking that hit factor so many of Jack's songs have.
Someday has that Shaw/Blades vibe. It features a strong acoustic sound and layered harmony vocals in the style of that album. Basically it's an enjoyable, breezy pop rocker.
The laid back acoustic driven ballad Breaking It Down has a definite Beatles retro pop vibe and sounds as if it could have been lifted from son Colin's debut album. Funnily enough, the song was a result of the pair writing together.
Time for another complete turn around in style. On Top of The World is a heavy, slow moving modern rocker that features a chorus that sadly isn't very catchy. If anything, you will dig the vibe of the song as a whole, but for me, this is not a track I warmed to.
The most interesting aspect of the track is that the line up also features Kelly Keagy, Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson, but sounds nothing like Night Ranger!
Nature's Way is an acoustic cover of the tune by 70's prog-rock act Spirit, from their 1970 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. It's another laid back Shaw/Blades style track that some fans will love and others won't.
I think its ok, but not an album highlight and a rather soft way to close the album.
The album is solid without doubt, but isn't the anthem packed classic it could have been. On a positive note, the album contains a few real gems that all JB fans will enjoy.
The styles are so varied, on occasions it's obvious the album is taken from different sessions.
But those that appreciate a little variety in their music and prefer something that isn't as predictable, nor safe, will find a lot to like within this set of songs.
Train Of Thought
Review by Phil Ashcroft:|
Love them or hate them, Dream Theater are a band who make music for themselves. If the fans want to come along for the ride then that's fine, but with the exception of parts of Falling Into Infinity, it's music made without concession or compromise. That statement probably isn't entirely true and integrity doesn't always go hand in hand with being on a major label, but even though I've no idea how they've managed to stay true to themselves AND appease the label, I'm certainly glad that they have.
After the rather eclectic collection of songs that was Six Degrees, the band have this time opted for less variety and more cohesion, a unified sound that's both incredibly direct and hard hitting, but no less technically demanding for both the listener and the band. To compare it to past albums it's part Scenes From A Memory, and part Awake...the heaviest parts!
Containing 7 songs, 5 of them well over 10 minutes long, Train Of Thought could have been too much for even the most hardened prog-metal head to cope with, but what DT have done is basically leave the over-the-top instrumental bits in, but simplify the songs around them. By songs I mean the bits where James LaBrie is actually involved, and despite the length of the tracks it's heartening to note that there are an awful lot of lyrics in the booklet.
Kicking off with a Black Sabbath riff (or the riff to Black Sabbath to be precise), the relatively short As I Am soon turns into a Metallica-like affair. With a great chorus, both musically and lyrically, and with Jordan Rudess taking a back-seat, John Petrucci's playing is very direct and it's the closest thing they've done for a while to a straight rock song. It's also immediately apparent that LaBrie is in excellent voice, probably his best since Images & Words, and that Mike Portnoy is definitely not underplaying this time around.
On to the longer tracks, This Dying Soul returns to the punchy riffs and multiple time changes of old, while the vocals are aggressive and the insistent hooks of the song even include a processed rap vocal that actually works. Rudess scores his first points with a couple of manic solos and some tasteful piano, while Petrucci complements him with some pacy riffs and shredding solos.
The pace is brought down a little for the outstanding Endless Sacrifice, which has a gentle verse and crunching, almost Nu-Metal, chorus. LaBrie is outstanding again and the instrumental interplay is a throwback to Metropolis. Honor Thy Father, on the other hand, has all manner of weird and wonderful things going on, crystalline metal riffs, off-the-wall vocal lines circa Rage For Order, odd rhythms, spoken dialogue, soaring vocal melodies, and even a keyboard solo that's a dead-ringer for Rick Wakeman. Intense is not the word.
Things are broken up nicely by the short gentle ballad Vacant, on which LaBrie's voice has a haunting, breathy quality. It's a simple theme built around bass, piano and cello, and leads nicely into the album's instrumental, Stream Of Consciousness. Dynamic and moody, and in the great tradition of Erotomania and Hell's Kitchen, the instrumentation is razor sharp and the many tempo changes don't change the fact that it's a superb succession of memorable tunes.
Saving the longest for last, In The Name Of God is heavy and atmospheric, but also relatively simple. It's a typical closing epic with tons of melody, some serious shredding in the mid-section, and builds up to a stirring climax in a similar way to Finally Free, right down to Rudess' simple piano. LaBrie pulls off a stunning vocal yet again and the song benefits from the simplicity of the arrangement, and the sharpness of the production.
|Neal Morse Testimony||Inside Out|
Review by Phil Ashcroft:|
After Neal's shock departure from Spock's Beard (for reasons which will become apparent), it's perhaps surprising that he's managed to get an album out so soon, let alone a 2 hour plus concept album of sorts. The man himself admitted to being tired and drained after the amount of work he put into the Beard's last opus, Snow, but nevertheless has wasted no time assembling something that's even bigger and more overblown again. Testimony is the story of Neal's adult life, and the slow realisation that despite living his dream of being a professional musician, there was something missing that was making him unhappy. That something was God.
This resulting album is not an easy listen, especially lyrically, but there is enough of Neal's whimsical songwriting in evidence to appeal to even the most hardened agnostic. Thankfully Neal has chosen to stay away from both the 'hard-to-get-hold-of' Christian record labels, and the simple pop of his solo albums, and stick to the sprawling progressive epics he made his name with, and the excellent Inside Out label.
In true prog-rock style he's divided the 29 tracks (or 31 on the limited edition) into five lengthy sections, each one depicting a different period of his life and his state of mind during that time. A track by track rundown would be rather pointless, especially as some melodies are repeated in different songs, but the mix includes short and long instrumentals, orchestral pieces, upbeat rockers, ballads, and technical instrumental workouts, sometimes all in the same song. A lot of it is straight from the Spock's Beard songbook, including some stirring keyboard-led anthems like Wasted Life and Oh, To Feel Him.
Neal also knows how to rock-out a little, which considering the drums on the whole album are by Mike Portnoy, it would be foolish not to. Colder In The Sun for instance has the trademark Spock's Beard synth sound and intricate vocal harmonies, while the majestic Prince Of The Power Of The Air fairly gallops along like his former band at their rockiest.
There's a guest guitar solo by ex-Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren, obviously a big influence on Morse not only musically but also spiritually, and who also left his band after having trouble balancing his love of God with being in a rock band. Livgren makes his presence felt on other tunes that he doesn't even play on, particularly the instrumentals Overture No2 and Interlude, not to mention the blatant Kansas rip-off piano on In The Middle and the violin solo at the end of the catchy Break Of Day.
Musical departures include a New Orleans jazz section in The Storm Before The Calm, and the gospel bluegrass of Take It High, but elsewhere it's the simple balladry of I Am Willing, The Land Of Beginning Again and Somber Days that appeal the most. A special mention also for the epic pairing of Long Story and It's All I Can Do which score highly in a Trick Of The Tail-era Genesis kind of way.
|Rush Rush In Rio||Atlantic/Anthem|
Review by Phil Ashcroft:|
I'll spare you the history lesson as Rush is a subject that I could rant on about ad infinitum, and usually do. Rush, you see, are my favourite band, and have been since 1977 when I caught the first 3 of my 28 Rush shows, not bad for someone from an island where they hardly ever go. Suffice to say that this is the triple CD of the DVD of the comeback tour in support of the comeback album, Vapor Trails, and also Rush's first ever mini-tour of Brazil. Despite the problems they encountered, as detailed in Neil Peart's excellent sleeve notes (equipment arrived late, band didn't soundcheck, cameras and recording equipment weren't tested etc.), the band practise what they preach by showing grace under pressure. However, Geddy, Alex and Neil aren't the only stars of this extravaganza. Take a bow the 44,000 strong Maracana Stadium choir who provide the loudest singalong since AC/DC's If You Want Blood, even during the instrumentals.
As with the Test For Echo tour the show is divided into two sets, the first set (disc 1) being just over 70 minutes of mostly shorter songs, and the second (discs 2 & 3) lasts almost an hour and three-quarters including many revisited epics. Great care has been taken to represent as many Rush studio albums as possible, only Caress Of Steel and Hold Your Fire have nothing included, but the tracks played are a great cross-section of their celebrated career.
Taking disc 1 first. It's great to see them kicking off with Tom Sawyer, although the sound at the beginning isn't really powerful enough for the song's dynamic chord changes, and also neat that after so many live albums there are still quite a few songs appearing on a live disc for the 1st time. The version of Natural Science that ends the disc is awesome, as are criminally under-rated tracks like The Pass and Bravado. Hell, even New World Man comes across really well, and the crowd singing along to YYZ is superb. Old favourites like The Trees, Freewill, and the last-minute addition of Closer To The Heart are played faithfully, but even on these the crowd reaction differentiates them from earlier versions. Disc 2 is mostly newer material with the Vapor Trails trio of One Little Victory, Ghost Rider, and Secret Touch, all sounding better in the live environment, accompanied by 90's tunes like Driven, Dreamline, and the instrumental Leave That Thing Alone. The highlights on this disc include Neil's drum solo (how many drummers can you say that about?), an excellent acoustic reworking of Resist, and a particularly spirited 2112.
With the new stuff out of the way, disc 3 is almost totally retro. From the sublime Limelight, through Alex's mad rant during La Villa Strangiato and the obligatory The Spirit Of Radio, to the bizarre mixing of By-Tor And The Snow Dog and Cygnus X-1, everything is delivered faultlessly. As the set ends back where it all started with Working Man you can almost feel the band winding down while simultaneously rocking it up.
All in all a superb set that's familiar enough to please casual fans, but at the same time sufficiently different from what's gone before to appease the aficionados. The musicianship is, as usual, top-notch with Alex Lifeson in particular playing better than ever, and considering Neil Peart didn't play the drums for two years before this album and tour, he's lost nothing.
Criticisms? Well yes there are some. While personally I think the boisterous crowd adds bags of atmosphere to the proceedings, I can understand why some are complaining about them drowning out the music at times.
Also, there's absolutely no doubt that Geddy Lee's vocals are far too low in the mix, and with Lee and Peart being only too happy to walk away and leave Alex Lifeson and James (Jimbo) Barton in charge of the audio, I'd be interested to know if Geddy's entirely happy with it.
The DVD doesn't seem quite as unbalanced, but I'm not sure if that's just because it works better in 5.1 or because I'm just overlooking it because of the superb visuals. On the other hand, maybe it was the recording conditions because the 'bootleg' versions of Between Sun And Moon, and Vital Signs from the US dates, sound so much better.
Lonely At Night / Salute
Escape Music have worked hard at getting the two albums released by Orphan and have put them together in another of the labels neat digi-pack releases.|
A nice little package for fans and a welcomed step into the past for fans of early 80's AOR.
Orphan at times remind me of pop/rock/AOR outfit Taxxi who at the time were also making waves in the USA.
The similarities hold true with the style and delivery of the keyboard drenched early 80's rock, and the dark and moody tone of the songs and in particular, the vocals.
Some comparisons can also be made to former Rainbow keyboardist and singer/songwriter Tony Carey, who was another fine portrayer of the moody keyboard driven melodic rock style.
The re-mastering undergone here has resulted in a nice clear sound that has helped breathe new life into the material, some 20 years old.
There are no bonus tracks on offer, which leads me to believe their probably wasn't any, as in the past, everything possible has been included on these re-issues.
Both albums feature some catchy AOR numbers, with the first album dominated by keyboards and the second a little harder edged.
An easy way to puck up two old gems in one place and at a very reasonable price.
|Statetrooper Statetrooper||Escape Music|
Escape Music is at it again with another good re-issue from the lost-on-LP vaults. |
This time it's Statetrooper, a band fronted by Gary Barden and formed in the mid-80's. The album was released in 1987 as a vehicle for Gary after his departure from MSG. Sessions for the album had started some two years earlier with a slightly different line-up. Sadly this album was the band's only release, with Gary retiring from the music scene (at the time) after its release.
The music is prime mid-80's UK hard rock, with a mix of guitars and keyboards surrounding Barden's powerful vocals. Guitarist Jeff Summers knows a good riff and offers plenty over the course of the original 9 tracks. Only 7 studio tracks were recorded with 2 live tracks rounding out the original 9 track LP release.
The style is now a little dated, with this album not aging as well as some others. But this will sound as fresh as the day it was released to fans of the original album.
I have to mention that the sound quality isn't as crisp or clear as previous Escape re-issues. One can only imagine that the masters were not in great quality. The live tracks are the worst offenders, but will still hold strong appeal to fans of the band. The packaging is however, up to the label's excellent standards and is fully restored.
Good news is that the band continues to work on a new studio album for late 2004.
|Transatlantic Live In Europe||Inside Out Music|
Review by Phil Ashcroft:|
When Neal Morse left Spock's Beard just over 12 months ago it was thought that it would be the end of the band. As it turned out, the remaining members decided to continue without him. However, while that band already had another keyboard player and another lead singer, Neal's other outfit, Transatlantic, didn't, meaning the end of the band, for the foreseeable future at least.
In it's short life Transatlantic released two studio albums, the first (SMPTe) promoted by a small US tour which was recorded and released as Live In America, while the second studio album (Bridge Across Forever) brought about a European tour in 2001, hence this CD and DVD.
Recorded in Tilburg in Holland, the show ran for over two and a half hours even though only six tracks were played. If you're not familiar with the band that may sound excruciatingly boring, but each of the pieces, 4 of which clock in at the half-hour mark, has many different parts that are like individual short songs pieced together.
In Transatlantic, the four participants, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), and the aforementioned Mr. Morse, abandoned the forward-thinking music of their respective groups in favour of a 70's progressive vibe taken from a mixture of their influences. The most obvious inspirations for this project are early Genesis, Gentle Giant, and Pink Floyd, with a definite Beatles vibe in some of the vocal melodies, although each of the guys own bands get a look-in too.
Performance-wise you'd struggle to find a quartet as talented as this, although they're actually a quintet as they're joined by Pain Of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow on additional guitar, keyboards, and vocals. Considering the short rehearsal time for this tour their tightness is impressive, particularly the four (or five) part vocal harmonies that run through Bridge Across Forever's lengthy bookend tracks, Duel With The Devil and Stranger In Your Soul. Morse, Stolt and Gildenlow are obviously familiar with the lead vocal role, but Portnoy sounds reasonably good too, and Trawavas ....er ....adds another voice.
The music twists and turns, sometimes joyous, sometimes melancholy, and sometimes even at the point of being aggressive, but even though it's a joint effort, Morse's and Stolt's contributions are pretty obvious. The ballad We All Need Some Light (Morse) is well played and easily the shortest song on offer, while My New World (Stolt) would sound the same if done by The Flower Kings.
The Beatles influenced Suite Charlotte Pike is doubled in length by the inclusion of some relatively obscure cover versions in the middle, while the whole thing comes to a triumphant close with the epic All Of The Above, possibly their best song with more infectious musical bits than you can shake a stick at. The musicianship of Morse, Portnoy, and the surprising Trawavas, is superb, and even Stolt, who I'm not really a huge fan of, plays some great guitar, and it's obvious that the band had some sort of chemistry going on that comes through in the music.
The DVD footage is very clear with some interesting camera angles, including one behind Portnoy's bass pedal for all you drum anoraks, but the music is so technical in parts that most of the shots are of the guys in deep concentration with little band interaction or any movement at all. The lighting is competent and the sound mix is superb, although as I said Portnoy's voice is very good indeed, suspiciously so. Unless you're very into the music you'd get very little out of the concert, but for what it is it's very good indeed.
The 2nd DVD has some interesting stuff, not least of which is their performance of Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond from the NAMM show, but the most interesting thing is the documentary. There are interviews with each member at various points of the tour, rehearsal clips, and several bits of tomfoolery, like the Red Bull chant before going onstage. There's footage of Morse leading them through the Beatles songbook on the tour bus, and an awesome clip of him doing the title track of Bridge Across Forever at the soundcheck. It was also mindblowing to hear that they wished they'd routed the tour backwards, as the superb show I saw at London's Astoria was the most under-rehearsed and shambolic set they'd played on the whole tour, despite having the biggest and most appreciative audience.
Last Autumn's Dream
Last Autumn's Dream
Last Autumn's Dream is the interesting combination of Swedish AOR singer Mikael Erlandsson with former Fair Warning guitarist Andy Malecek. Providing the backbone of the band and this album is the popular session trio of Ian Haughland, Mic Micaeli and John Levin all of Europe fame.|
It was the idea of Erlandsson's Japanese label that he record a harder rock album and Frontiers Records have smartly picked this up for Europe.
LAD is an overall solid album even better being that it's a debut. It's nice to see Malecek back in business after his other Fair Warning buddies surfaced in Dreamtide.
Erlandsson is a classy singer who is capable of adapting to different situations. His earlier work was pure Westcoast/AOR, while earlier this year he delivered a wonderful album of modern pop/AOR. His voice is ideally suited for what Last Autumn's Dream is all about.
As expected the album mixes influences from all those involved, with some of Erlandsson's fine melodic flare especially in the delivery of his vocals evident, as is some of the guitar driven pomp of Fair Warning and the power rhythm of Europe.
Essentially, LAD is a collection of powerful European styled melodic hard rock tunes with a strong melodic base. The powerful trio of Levin, Micaeli and Haughland provide their usual highest quality performance and give a real edge to the material.
Track By Track:
Again and Again opens the album with in the exact fashion and with the required gusto one hopes for. The uptempo keyboard/guitar filled rocker sets the album up nicely with some powerful vocals and a great hook filled chorus.
Doin' Time is an exclusive bonus track for Europe. It's a nice addition, but I'm not sure it fits the flow of the album at track two. It's more reminiscent of Erlandsson solo and might have been better towards the end of the album. Still, it's a mid-tempo 80's style AOR track with another great chorus hook.
Guardian Angel is the first big ballad of the album. It features a lush arrangement that highlights the power of Erlandsson's voice before building into a big sing-along anthem.
Break The Chains (Of Destiny) features a lengthy guitar intro before rocking to life as one of the album's best tracks. This is what I would have liked to have heard a little more of. This track really rocks and the raspier, edgier vocals really suit the music.
Blink Of An Eye is a breezy, feel good melodic rock track that's quite the opposite of the more it's more intense predecessor.
Talk To Me ups the intensity again, with a good powerful mid-tempo rocker with another very strong chorus.
The One is a soft, sentimental ballad that fans of solo Erlandsson will enjoy. Solid, but not as good as earlier tracks.
I Never Let You Go is another album highlight. And no surprise, it's another darker, moodier rock track with a gritty and powerful chorus.
High Up rocks as hard as Break The Chains and features more strong vocals and a tough hard edged guitar riff come chorus time.
Movin' On is another breezy mid-tempo pop number that again reminds me of the solo style of singer Mikael Erlandsson.
Going Home is a rocked up mid-tempo ballad to farewell the album. Pretty much typical European melodic hard rock with a sentimental twist here nothing new, but enjoyable nevertheless.
There are a couple of small issues the album has that seem fair to raise. Firstly, Erlandsson sounds fabulous when he is pushing his voice with the harder edge delivery required by this project. But it could have been pushed even further. The best tracks here are the darker, heavier ones.
And secondly, the production could have been a little sharper in places. It's solid, but not as clear nor as crisp as it could be on a few tracks. It's only really noticeable as there is so many things going on within the music. Minor point.
Those two things aside, it's still a fine slice of melodic music and will be rated highly by fans of those involved.
The songwriting is high quality, even if it's nothing unexpected. What the band does is set things up nicely. Now it would be great to see them go on and do another album, but with a mind to making it even more intense and classy, like this album is in places.
Destroy All Monsters
I'm going to raise the rating of Eric's olo album to a must buy 90. It's only 2 points from my original review of the Japanese release a couple of months back.|
But with the benefit of hindsight and more listening time, I believe the album deserves that push to 90.
It turns out that Destroy All Monsters is actually more musically consistent than it's predecessor, with a common thread throughout all songs and given time and an open mind, it has more to offer under the surface than first realized.
That all said, my initial review was still very positive and I still agree with everything that was written. This is a more modern styled pop record, but it remains very melodic and very catchy and the style of delivery suits the tone of the album.
I still prefer I'm Goin' Sane as an album and a musical direction, but this is another fine addition to the Eric Martin solo catalogue and is therefore a must buy for fans.
Eric's new solo album comes only 12 months after his last which is a very short time considering the time between past solo albums.
I'm enthusiastic that the former Mr. Big singer is on a solo roll. The I'm Goin' Sane album was the beginning of a change in direction for Eric. It was an album with an updated feel and a modern rock faηade. But the album retained a melodic rock heart, even if it was in a more aggressive form.
The album was part nu-breed, part modern rock and partly drew on Eric's own distinct sound.
Destroy All Monsters uses the sound of I'm Goin' Sane as its launching pad, but is further removed from Eric's past. This album signals the singer's intentions to move in an even more contemporary direction.
There are a number of points one can make about the new album.
The sound is far more stripped back and a lot rawer than the last album. It seems to have been very simply recorded it has a definite live feel to it.
The aggression of I'm Goin' Sane is also gone this is a little more laid back. And it's definitely more pop than ever before.
The songs are also simpler. They too have been stripped of any unnecessary padding. There are no big overdubs or special effects and the structure of the songs is uncomplicated.
Essentially these are pop songs delivered with a guitar fuelled enthusiasm. Distorted pop as Eric calls it. What portion of Eric's traditional fan base will want to move forward with him?
As far as song quality Eric has a unique talent that is rivaled by few other songwriters/performers. For these songs as simple as they are remain catchy and memorable. But I did find the hooks and choruses harder to find this time around.
You really have to work hard to get to know the songs, but once you do, you are rewarded with some great hooks. A few of the songs don't work as well as others. Personal taste will determine that for each listener.
I just don't think the choruses are as strong as the last album and there is certainly a lack of any big anthems like Goin' Sane or Untouchable.
Track By Track:
What's The Worst That Could Happen opens the album. It's a familiar sound for those that enjoyed the last album, as it's one of the closest tracks to the lighter moments featured on that. Immediately Eric employs some great vocal hooks in the verse and the chorus is instantly infectious.
Kansas is very modern pop. Stripped back and simple in its delivery, it reminds me of the first Rubber album. I'd prefer something heavier, but the song does have its charms especially in the chorus, which is seamlessly entwined into the song itself and is over just as you realize it started.
I Woke Up Too Late is a slightly harder edged track which is more in tone with the last album and features a cool lead guitar riff. This is another album favourite and has a bound-along feel good guitar and drum beat driven chorus. An album highlight.
Janie Won't Open is a darker, mid-tempo modern rock track that is really rather catchy. This is one of the sleepers on the album getting better with each listen. It's that quality of songwriting that comes through, even when you are not sold on the style of the delivery.
Where Are You continues the dark modern pop vein of the last track and that of Kansas. The chorus is fairly laid back and doesn't grab me just a little too slow.
You're Too Good For Him is an album highlight. This falls back to Eric's well known love of acoustic driven tracks. This ballad features some beautiful lyrics and has a haunting quality and a smooth vocal that should hook the listener first time around.
Living In Back And White continues the laid back theme of the last few tracks. It starts as a slow rock track, but changes to an acoustic chorus which in contrast to the verse, is very smooth and very memorable.
It's definitely time to rock again and Something There does just that. This is an uptempo pop/rocker with a feel good heart, just like the opening track. The chorus is also one of the better on the album.
What If is a short nu-breed/Rubber style modern punk rocker with a brief chorus and a more aggressive feel. I Can Die Now has an also reggae beat, as the song swaggers along in a rather laid back fashion. It has a relatively catchy vocal hook, but I'm not sold on the song alone.
Burnin' In My Mind is a cool track. It's a good uptempo rocker with a distinct chorus that will please long time fans of Eric's.
If is another uptempo nu-breed punk rocker that features some strong vocals, but no defined chorus as such. Not a band track to close the album though the tempo and strong vocal are certainly attractive features.
It features some more great songs and plenty of melodies, but they require a little more playback before their charms are revealed. Some fans aren't going to warm to the latest style. But Eric might in turn, find some new fans.
|Influences & Connections Volume 1 - Mr. Big||Frontiers Records|
Influences & Connections was previously reviewed a few months ago after its release in Japan. Frontiers Records have picked it up for Europe and will release it at the much fairer price January 19.|
I've had a while to live with the album now and I am happy to keep all initial comments regarding the release. The below text is my original review.
There is one change to the European release from Frontiers and that is the addition of a bonus track.
Thank God someone was wise enough to add Alive & Kicking, featuring the supreme vocal talents of Glenn Hughes. This is without doubt the best track of the entire album and a welcomed addition. When I heard Glenn was doing this song, I was gob smacked to learn it was left off the Japanese release. I still don't understand why, but thankfully it's included here and is well worthy to be called the album's best track.
It remains faithful to the original, but with the addition of the usual Hughes vocal acrobatics. Great stuff.
And I still feel that it's a slight on the name Mr. Big to leave Eric Martin totally out of this project.
This is a very interesting release. A little curious also.
I was really looking forward to it and now that I have lived with it for a week, this review will reflect a lot of positives, but also a few negatives, as I was a little disappointed with the overall result.
I'm a huge Mr. Big fan, so the idea of the guys in the band re-recording their own tracks with outside guests was somewhat appealing.
The fact that singer Eric Martin has been totally cast aside though does leave a bad taste. He could easily have re-recorded one lead vocal or provided backing vocals along the way. But no the obvious personality issues within the band are all too evident with his absence.
The choice of guests was also interesting. Some inspired, some not so. I'll comment on those within each track description.
While the album as a whole is enjoyable, the track selection could possibly have been better and the running order also altered. It starts off slow and struggles to get out of first gear for the first few tracks.
Major credit however, must go to producer Pat Regan. The music itself sounds a million bucks and sounds every bit the major label production job it is.
The base band for most of the album is Lanny Cordola on guitar and Chuck Wright on pass, with Pat Torpey on drums. They do a great job.
Track by Track:
The album opens with one of the slowest tracks on the album. I would have though this would be better placed in the middle of the running order. Mr. Big is a very slow track and doesn't start the album with the usual pizzazz Mr. Big records are treated to.
Having said that, there's nothing wrong with the track. Guest singer is the rather brilliant Paul Rodgers, who of course was responsible for the original song with Free.
The rest of the band is comprised of the guys of Mr. Big, which make the track sound massive, with Billy Sheehan's bass all over this track. The track was never written by Mr. Big, therefore is a cover of a cover, but being the band's namesake, I'll let that slide.
Take Cover is one of my favourite Mr. Big tracks ever. So it was always going to be tough going to improve on the original, which features a magic Eric Martin vocal.
Here the songs features the guys of Kings X. Doug Pinnick is singing and at least does an admirable and unique interpretation, but it's a long way from the passionate vocals of Martin. The intense vibe of the track however, is kept in place.
The first uptempo rocker of the album is Colorado Bulldog. Featuring Joe Lynn Turner up front, this version is a little flashier than the original, thanks largely to Marty Friedman and Lanny Cordola's guitar parts. Joe does his usual solid performance, making the song his own.
I have a problem with the track Wild World. Firstly, it's the worst song Mr. Big ever recorded and is another cover of a cover. I really hate this song. I didn't even like the Eric Martin version of it! John Waite is featured vocalist and it's a shame to waste his contribution on this track. Would have much rather heard him sing Just Take My Heart or To Be With You or Take Cover even .now that would have been something special.
In any regards, this is a nice and pleasant version, which is maybe better then the previous Mr. Big version. Like on his album Temple Bar, Waite has a unique and enjoyable way of interpreting covers. Still hate the song though
Price You Gotta Pay features a ripping bass line from Chuck Wright and the always awesome Glenn Hughes on vocals. Guitars are by Lanny Cordola and the solo by Steve Lukather. Yes, this track rocks! The version is more stripped back and blusier than the original which I still prefer but it's always great to hear Glenn sing like this.
Promise Her The Moon is an album highlight. This sweet ballad was another favourite of mine, this time featuring the always on song Ann Wilson. A sweet pop ballad.
Time to rock again with another Mr. Big classic - Addicted To That Rush. The guys have turned this into an uptempo swampy blues rocker, with Billy Sheen on lead vocals and Chuck Wright shredding away on bass. The rest of the band is the last Mr. Big line-up.
An interesting version, which varies from the original quite nicely.
Just Take My Heart features another classic melodic rock voice Mickey Thomas. He plants his own stamp firmly on the track, which again features Wright/Cordola and a solo from Gene Black. This doesn't vary from the original much, but Mickey Thomas fans will love it.
Shine is a step backwards. It's a classic track, but hearing Dogstar (Keanu Reeves, Bret Domrose) rework it is hard on the ears. Comparing the lead vocal to Eric Martin is like comparing Lemmy with Steve Perry. Skip
Crawl Over Me is another track that was included on the last Mr. Big studio album. This version sees drummer Pat Torpey take lead vocal and Matt Sorum take over the drum stool. Like Addicted, this is more a good fun version. A good rock track.
To Be With You is another bluesy version of the original. Richie Kotzen takes over lead and Steve Salas provides the solo. A cool version that's enjoyable, while not overpowering the original.
Green Tinted Sixties Mind is another personal Mr. Big favourite. The original was a perfect slice of melodic pop and helped the band sell a truck load of their breakthrough Lean Into It album. But this version is bloody awful. Donnie Vie is responsible for the horrendous vocals and the song is overall rather lifeless and bland. Take out original songwriter Paul Gilbert and vocalist Eric Martin and the major is gone.
Daddy Brother Lover Little Boy ends the album on a high note, with Joe Lynn Turner back for another go. Faithful to the original, this uptempo rocker differs only with the inclusion of Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar, who not surprisingly shreds throughout. Good fun.
Included in the first pressing is a bonus DVD of behind the scenes 'making of' footage. Sadly, it's only 7 minute long. Yes 7 minutes. The interviews are brief, but interesting, but it's all over before it starts and there is no actual footage of in the studio performances.
I hear a full length DVD is planned, with extra music included, but I'll be wary of buying it based on this extract.
For the most part the performances are first rate, aside from a couple of dodgy vocalists.
The production is also first rate and execution is also very good, but a few tracks just don't have the life and vibe of the originals and a couple of tracks might have benefited from better placement.
And points off for not including the other Glenn Hughes track that was recorded for the album. The great man doing Alive & Kicking would have been even better than Price You Gotta Pay and a mile better than Green Tinted Sixties Mind.
Enjoyable, but overall - considering the quality of the originals and my love of all things Mr. Big a little disappointing.
|Mike Tramp Rock N Roll Alive||Ulftone Records|
Mike Tramp is rounding off the most recent chapter in his career with this double live release which was recorded in Denmark recently.|
His latest tour has been in support of his solo album More To Life Than This and this live set reflects that, with several tunes included from that album. Also included is some memories from recent times and the past tracks are gathered from both other solo albums and from Freak Of Nature and White Lion.
I hate polished live albums, I love them raw, dirty and truly live but at the same time, I hate albums that sound badly mixed or don't represent the artists true live sound. Thankfully this album straddles the fine line between those two opposing sides and represents what every good live album should sound like.
This is a perfectly captured club gig at Copenhagen's legendary Pumphouse Club - with an enthusiastic crowd in attendance and well oiled band on the stage.
The recording is obviously quite stripped back and unpolished and missing the studio tricks of the original versions, but replacing that is a raw energy that brings the songs to life in a fresh new way.
Tramp fans will already be familiar with the tracks. They are performed in a pretty stripped, loose fashion, with a few bits and pieces changed as the songs are delivered.
In particular, I think the most inspired performances are evident on If It Ain't Gonna Rock, Falling Down, Mr. Death, I Won't Let Go, Better Off and the White Lion tracks Wait, Little Fighter and Broken Heart. Also included is an extended cover of Rocking In The Free World which features a cool tribute to some other classic rockers and a good solo version of the White Lion ballad When The Children Cry.
In my own personal opinion I would have liked to have seen another couple of tracks from the Recovering The Wasted Years album included, as that is definitely the best album of Mike's career. Otherwise, the track listing is pretty flawless.
I do have to say something about the CD cover. After two really good packages from Mike, this cover is a little underdone!
|Skin & Bones Speak Easy||Metal Mayhem|
Skin & Bones are sadly no longer a going concern, but maybe the feedback from this release will encourage the band to have another shot.|
Singer Johnny Vance is now a solo artist, but I have no idea where the rest of the band are.
Speak Easy is a compilation of all the band's recordings - and a very fine one at that. The band recorded one full length album and a 6 track EP, both of which are included here.
Tracks 1 to 5 and the last track off the CD belong to the Madhouse EP and tracks 6 to 16 are the original Not A Pretty Sight album.
Madhouse was a self produced EP and sounds a lot rougher and rawer than the polished album material. The budget clearly wasn't in place to achieve crystal clear results, but the songs remain highly entertaining. The band know how to write great songs and if attitude filled rock n roll is your thing, these guys deliver all that and more.
Tracks like the big ballad anthem Mr. Downtown really should have been all over radio back in the day.
The Not A Pretty Sight album is very hard to find these days, so it's great to see it available again. The album was produced by Duran Duran's Andy Taylor and was co-produced and engineered by Mike Fraser. It's obvious to see some good money went into the recording and the results are as good as you could hope for. It's very slick hard rock indeed.
This set of 10 tracks is perfect early 90's sleaze hard rock with a touch of stadium rock and glam in the mix.
Andy Taylor's influence over the sound is clear to hear. He has a knack for tight, high quality recordings and this is no different. It's perfectly mixed, sharp and clear.
For anyone following Andy's work, you will hear direct comparisons to the sound and style of his Dangerous solo album and the other band he was recording at the time The Almighty.
At times this album sounds like a younger brother to the Taylor produced Soul Destruction album and tracks like the semi-acoustic Cover Me With Roses could easily have been included there.
The Road Less Travelled
Most times an album from a group I have never heard of before will get a preview spin in the CD drive, before going back to it at a later date.|
But Secret Smile's material is so strong it stayed in the drive for a complete spin and then I went back and played it again. This little gem comes out of the blue, but is set to make it's mark thanks to the strength of some good songs and instantly likable melodies.
The band recorded this last year I believe, with the engineering help of AOR star Jeff Canata.
The musical style is very much a mix of traditional 80's AOR and keyboard friendly melodic rock. That alone will guarantee it finds a strong following among those that frequent this site.
The opening track Into The Night features such a pleasant melody that it should rank as one of the year's better tracks, but it's not alone.
Stop & Go also contains a great hook and some luck keyboards; Just One More Time is a memorable and sentimental acoustic driven ballad; Around is a great two-paced track with a big chorus, with Tell Me Why and Come In From The Rain also impressing with their easy going nature.
The production isn't big budget, but it's evenly mixed and perfectly assembled thanks to Jeff Canata, and contains good doses of guitar and keyboards. Lead vocalist TJ Gabriele has a great mid-range tone that does the songs perfect justice.
It's nice to hear some traditonal style AOR that isn't related to the Journey sound for a change.
|TNA Branded||Kivel Records|
TNA fit in with the Kivel Records stable of releases very easily. This is another good example of American guitar riff driven 80's hard rock that could easily be sat alongside fellow Kivel releases such as No More Johnny, Damn Cheetah or Pyn Siren.|
The band's debut album Finger On The Trigger was released a couple of years back and offered some good 80's inspired American hard rock.
Branded is much the same, except it presents us with a selection of songs that are definitely more powerful and better produced than the debut.
The band rely less on sounding like other artists and are more true to their own sound, which is guitar driven late 80's/early 90's style American hard rock.
It's not the catchiest record ever released, but contains some solid melodies and some inspired guitar playing and if anything, is very consistent throughout and will get better each and every listen.
Track By Track:
Society acts as an intro into Lies, Guns and Violence, which contains a great hook and lead guitar riff, but both are featured in the verse rather than the chorus - which could have been catchier. The track is still a solid guitar driven rocker though.
Do You Remember is a far mellower and darker number, with a great verse vocal and a chorus that features another memorable vocal hook. Overall, a very cool moody mid-tempo rock track.
Walk Before You Crawl is very much a homage to early Van Halen. This is a party rocker with a gruff vocal and some inspired Eddie VH guitar riffing.
Rain has another feel to it again. This is an uptempo, but more melodic and moody rock track who's best feature is the lead guitar riff.
9 Lives is a semi-acoustic mid-tempo track with another strong vocal and a short, but catchy chorus.
Feel It features a harder edge vocal and a slight modern feel, and could be a track that is rated better by listeners each listen. It's not an instant track by any means. Great guitar riff.
Eva's Song is an enjoyable 2 minute guitar instrumental.
The Sound is another uptempo rocker, but could have used a better chorus.
Scream is a good heavy rocker and closing the album is Kill Your Idols, a track which finishes off the album nicely. It's one of the more aggressive and high-octane tracks of the album.
|John Sloman Dark Matter||Majestic Rock|
This is a challenging record. It's not a stock standard release in anyone's definition and features a wide mix of styles and moods.|
John Sloman has been around the rock n roll block. He was previously frontman for legendary Welsh rockers Lone Star, then was vocalist with Uriah Heep and Gary Moore, and worked with UFO and Todd Rundgren.
This new solo album is a very dark and somewhat moody record and won't appeal to fans of the light and fluffy side of rock. It will however appeal to those that search out the unusual and love the challenge of analyzing very personal lyrics and deep songs.
The best way I can describe this release is comparing it to Richie Kotzen especially on his most recent release Change.
John's vocals aren't a world away from those of Richie's and his knack for delivering varied, but consistent material is paralleled with the talents of the acclaimed Kotzen.
Joe Public for example is simple blues influenced pop rock, while New Day is heavy alternative and Room At The End Of The Hallway is more akin to a retro Jimi Hendrix style song.
|Sayit Louder||MTM Music |
This is Sayit's third solo album, but you have heard much more from him than these three albums. There is also the guest spots on albums such as Radioactive, Prisoner and Jim Jidhed.|
This is another example of smooth melodic rock from the Tommy Denander stable of friends and family, so there should be no musical surprises for anyone who purchases this. Vocalist Geir Ronning is well known, Tommy produces the album, as well as co-writing it all with Geir and Sayit and Chris Demming provides backing vocals.
This is probably the best produced of the three Sayit albums and the best too. The songs are that little bit stronger, featuring more memorable choruses and the use of just the one vocalist help the cohesiveness of the album.
It's also a little tougher, with more emphasis on the guitar taking a dominant role in the music. Lead guitar is right up in the mix with the vocals and the sound is more melodic hard rock than Westcoast/AOR.
The great Tony Franklin guests on bass on a few tracks. There is no mention of what tracks however, so keep your ears open.
Some tracks work really well (The Queen, I Am King especially) and a few others don't as much. The main problem with those that don't work is the lack of a bigger chorus hook or musical impact come chorus time. It's something Tommy has nailed on his last couple of projects, but needs further work here. The best songs are the ones with the monster choruses.
|Far North What?!||MTM Classix|
Another MTM "Classic" re-issue, but a band I have never heard of up until now. I thought I was pretty well versed as far as what albums in this genre are definite classics or sought after rarities, but this was a new one for me.|
So I listened with great interest, but sadly have failed to be inspired. This album was released in the early 90's, but suffered withdrawal soon after as the label at hand went bankrupt.
So here is our chance to get the album again. This Swedish AOR group sound like their album was recorded in the early 80's, featuring lots of swirling keyboards and some rather "pop" vocals in the vein of several European AOR acts of the early-mid 80's.
On top of the pleasant, light AOR/pop style delivery of the keyboard dominated songs is some Yngwie style shredding guitar solos, which come as some surprise. It's done in a way so as not to be out of place, but it doesn't entirely match the vibe of the songs.
Sadly, I just can't warm to the album. The production is ok - typical mid-80's style European AOR mixed with an occasionally tougher guitar driven passage - but the songs themselves just don't grab you.
The choruses aren't strong enough and the general melodies don't rate as classics by any measure.
And I'm not sold on the vocalist either.
|Doc Holliday Good Time Music||MTM Music|
When one looks forward to a release from a melodic label such as MTM Music, you can generally anticipate the style of music that will be present. Well, be warned with this one! If you are not already familiar with Doc Holliday, either through one of their previous releases or MTM's issuing of their Best of The 90's CD, the band are NOT hard rock, melodic rock nor AOR.|
They are American Southern rock. Nothing heavy or in your face here, just relatively laid back guitar/organ driven blues/boogie. I have no idea where this album fits into the general scheme of MTM's stable of releases. They are widening their horizons clearly, but I can't imagine traditional melodicrock.com readers will be so willing to do the same.
The album itself is average. It's far too laid back to get me excited - I much preferred the recent Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd releases. If you like blues/southern rock then this is worthy of some soundbyte downloads to check out, but listen before you buy.
|Last Tribe The Uncrowned||Frontiers Records|
Metal with choruses love it! The key to any great album is strong songs memorable hooks and good choruses. No matter the style of how heavy the music, there must be something for the listener to hang on to.|
These guys nail it. I can hardly believe they are on their third album already. The first two impressed and this is no different. The guys play their own brand of European melodic metal, adding little twists and turns to keep it ever more original, keeping fans heading back for more.
So we have the good songs add a powerhouse vocalist, a pounding rhythm section and world class production and it doesn't get much better than this.
Like Masterplan, Last Tribe know how to craft a great song without sacrificing good riffs and memorable choruses.
And like Masterplan they vary the delivery of the songs. Some songs are straight ahead power metal. Some have a leaning towards neo-classical, some have a slight progressive edge. All have melody and class.
Track By Track:
Healer opens the album. This is a powerful, uptempo opener with double kick drums flailing away over the powerhouse delivery of the guitars. The chorus is almost instantly catchy, which is a great feat for such a heavy approach. A very memorable opener.
The Uncrowned is slower in pace and somewhat darker, although the pace picks up as the song goes. The inclusion of some keyboards and a harmony filled chorus make the song sound a little more commercial than you would normally expect. Another catchy and memorable track.
Sacrifice is a heavy Dream Theater style ballad. The chorus and layers of harmony and musical filling make this one of the best metal ballads of the year.
The Chosen One picks up the pace again. Things never really slowed down, but the delivery of this song again builds the intensity of the album. This is a pretty long track with some superb guitar soloing and a heavy as rhythm section. But always there is melody and hooks.
Otherworld is another heavy rhythm section fuelled rocker. The chorus isn't as strong as other tracks, but it still makes for good listening.
April Sky is a brief one minute interlude. It's a nice segway into Sound of Rain which starts softly, but quickly builds into a mid-tempo heavy rocker with another solid chorus.
Only the Innocent is a real uptempo number, with the drums seemingly going another pace higher again! A dramatic song, with plenty of progressive touches and some solid melodies.
Call of the Tribe is a heavy mid-tempo guitar driven track featuring more frenzied double kick drum action and some inspired guitar soloing.
Full Moon closes out the album. No let up in intensity or heaviness here. Another good track with a simple, but memorable chorus melody.
|Bon Jovi This Left Feels Right||Island Records|
Bon Jovi's new re-recorded Best Of release is more a question of "what if?" rather than what is. What could have been, rather than what is on offer.|
I'm quite open to hearing new interpretations of past hits, but it's a huge double edged sword. How do you pay homage to tracks already made classic and adopted by many as personal anthems, yet do something different enough with them to warrant the exercise taking place.
I was quite interested in hearing this, but as has been the case with the last 3 Jovi releases the promise held isn't necessarily repaid.
Don't get me wrong this is very slick. It's very well produced and flawlessly executed. But it just don't have any wow factor.
I am a fan of Bon Jovi's past acoustic renditions of their mega-hits. The guys have done it numerous ways live over the years, with the occasional bootlegs and live B-Sides well worth collecting.
In this case it seems the band have been most concerned with updating their sound and modernizing the delivery of these classics. While listening to the songs, I the majority of my thoughts drifted towards wondering what could have been, or wishing particular songs were different to what they are.
This seems to be a little too cleaver for the sake of being cleaver in places, then rather bland in others.
It must be said that the production here courtesy of the super smooth and high-tech friendly Pat Leonard is first rate. The layers of instrumentation are lush and the band couldn't have picked a better producer to help them modernize the songs with various effects, tricks and modern pop traits. But how will the fans feel about this?
Track By Track:
Wanted Dead Or Alive is probably the most dramatic transformations and opens the album. It's an interesting version, but in my mind falls short of what could have been much like several other tracks here. I don't like the fact that the verse features Jon's vocals filtered through various effects. I do like the super heavy guitar/drum rhythm that kicks in occasionally and would like to have heard more of that. I'm also left to ponder where Richie Sambora is vocally. This became and continues to be a huge song for him and Jon to duet on live. Why not do the same here?
Livin' On A Prayer is one of the band's best ever songs and a personal favourite. Here it has been stripped right back to a slow tempo ballad with an atmospheric chorus that suits the song. It's not a long way from what has been done by the band live. That's the good news. The bad news is once again where's Richie? The song is a duet with a female lead vocalist. Why not again take the opportunity to feature the very underrated vocal talents of Mr. Sambora? Oh well, minor point, the song actually works really well. It would be hard to kill a classic such as this!
The new Bad Medicine is sultry mid-western ballad with a slightly country-ish tinge to it. The bad news is that the verse simply has no vitality. It's as flat as a roadkill rat.
It's My Life features some nice instrumentation a beautiful harp to open, some haunting piano throughout and some lush synth/string effects over a very laid back vocal. This track works a treat and is very enjoyable.
Lay Your Hands On Me is another old personal favourite. Here it features a rich acoustic layer and a strong, but restrained softly sung lead vocal giving the track an almost Gospel feel. Maybe it would have been cool to take it all the way and develop that angle further?
You Give Love A Bad Name has been turned into a swampy blues ballad, with at times, a horrible twang in the lead vocal. Not sure what JBJ was trying, but I don't like his delivery on this track. The track is again stripped of much of its natural energy.
Bed Of Roses was and remains a ballad. It's had strings and a more pronounced piano part added to it and has been jazzed up with some slick production techniques, but otherwise remains pretty much the same.
Everyday is been turned into a modern ballad of sorts. It picks up the tempo mid-song into an acoustic pop track with a slight country feel.
Born To Be My Baby is another mid-tempo tune that is a few notches slower than the original and features several layers of guitars acoustic and bass and is another track that seems to have had the life sucked out of it. Another intervention from Richie Sambora could have given it a lift and returned some intensity.
Keep The Faith was a watershed song for the band. It signaled their re-invention back at the early 90's. Not so here. This time we have a soft, slow acoustic ballad that has a style that has been done 2 or 3 times already on this album.
I'll Be There For You is another original ballad that is featured. This one has had a bit of work done to it now more in a Beatlesque style with a couple of extra layers of effects and a soft, raspy vocal from JBJ.
Always closes out the album. The band has chosen one of the better tracks to ensure the album ends on a high note. This track remains a ballad, but has been made even more intense and modernized by some good production effects and a new layer of keyboard dramatics. A good sentimental ballad that has been intensified and made that little bit darker.
The main problem is the pace. Bon Jovi again prove they are getting too old to rock with a 12 track collection of ballads. Some tracks work extremely well, but as an overall album, it's just a little too laid back.
The bottom line is that I must question how much I am going to listen to this. I'm still playing New Jersey, Slippery When Wet and Keep The Faith today many years after their release. I can't see myself playing this next month, let alone years from now.
Once Upon Our Yesterdays
Doogie White and Sten Morgensen are back for Cornerstone album number three.|
The band, through their first two albums, has really gathered a huge following. The debut was a slice of great intense, dark AOR. Last year's Human Stain was a lot heavier and more intense again.
And now Once Upon Our Yesterdays is different again. Good to see the line-up has remained in tact, with Mike Tramp guitarist Kasper back, as well as drummer Allan Sorensen.
In some way, the album falls between the styles of the two albums. I am not yet sure where fans will rank this album. I'm leaning toward it being their best to date. The songs are just fabulous and Doogie's vocals are nothing short of amazing.
Some fans will be a little alarmed to hear the album isn't as heavy as Human Stain, but that doesn't mean it wimps out. It remains tough, in your face hard rock, just a little more straight-ahead, for lack of a better description.
The most notable thing about the album is the super clean, tight and balanced production. It makes this a far less complicated album. There is a lot going on musically, but it seems stripped back, with an open and accessible sound. Each track is filled to the brim with melodies to listen to at every turn. This really does come across like a major label release.
Track By Track:
Welcome To Forever is a good opener. The track has the necessary and expected - instrumental intro/build up before kicking in. When it does you will notice it's not as heavy as it could be, but still features a furious kick drum and a really clean guitar riff. Doogie moves straight into high gear as does the rhythm section.
The song features a strong and memorable chorus with a strong lead guitar riff.
When The Hammer Falls is a tough, hard rocker with a great lead vocal and some intense guitar play. The chorus is as menacing as Cornerstone can be, but its Doogie's huge vocals that rule the track.
Passion To Warfare is a mid tempo rocker that features an interesting intro before launching into another super tight guitar riff. The chorus is rather smooth and moody affair, with Doogie taking on a different tone.
Hour Of Doom features another great vocal performance. This is a somewhat lighter, but more uptempo rocker with a chorus that takes a couple of listens before becoming one of the albums' best. This track has a great melodic bridge and some snappy lead guitar before retreating back into a less intense verse.
Man Without A Reason is nothing short of a beautiful ballad. Doogie takes it to a new level without doubt with some powerful, passionate vocals. The song itself it fuelled by some great slow bluesy lead guitar soloing and a really strong melodic hook.
21st Century Man fires things up again with what might be the heaviest track on the album. Organ, drums and guitar all kick into high gear with a big lead vocal. The song itself is pretty simple uptempo European hard rock at it's best. Once Upon Our Yesterdays is another cool track. It's dark, heavy and slow track that builds intensity through the moody verse to a slightly heavier chorus.
The uptempo rocker End Of The World features a strong Celtic vibe. A monster rhythm section and a strong lead vocal keeps the track rolling along. The track is one of those really musically intense tracks that isn't an instant hit, but a solid album track.
It's time for another ballad. Some Have Dreams is acoustic to start, before the full band kicks in to fire it up a little. The song features more great guitar parts and a strong chorus that gets better each play. Nice to hear a big dose of Hammond organ in the mix too.
Scream closes the album. The song runs through a short guitar intro before bursting to life. This is another big epic feeling rock track with a powerful, intense sound that features another fabulous vocal. Surely this is Doogie's best work to date.
No major chorus, but a super intense song with layers of melodies to get to know.
This is not a hit chorus type of album. The album is best enjoyed by playing it start to finish rather than picking out individual songs. It is a great melodic but heavy rock album. I can't imagine many/any better European hard rock albums appearing this year.
|Johnny Lima Made In California||Frontiers Records|
Johnny's back! Well, he never really went away, he just took a hell of a long time to get this new album finished. This is his third and is the follow up to the much acclaimed Shine On album, released in 1999.|
Has it been worth the wait? Of course it has! This album isn't perfect, but it is his best album to date and will please his patient fans completely and with any luck, will open him up to some more new fans.
Mr. Lima is supremely talented, playing most of the albums parts himself, as well as writing, mixing and producing it himself. Due to his painstaking desire to get everything perfectly aligned, the album at no stage sounds like a one man band. This is a big sound, big production and big classic melodic hard rock! If only all artists took as much time to make sure things were perfect. Mind you, let's do it a little quicker next time Johnny
Made In California takes up exactly where Shine On left off more fired up, American stadium rock, with a couple of sentimental lighters-in-the-air rock ballads to round out the album.
The production is more complex, but the songs remain pretty simple. It's easily accessible stuff for fans of the classic melodic rock sound.
The album features some fantastic bombastic harmony vocals, which I know is something Johnny worked hard on. The best parts of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Winger are combined to deliver a rollercoaster ride of high energy rock n roll.
On the down side there isn't really anything to talk about, aside from the fact we have waited 4 years for only 11 songs that run a total of 37 minutes. A couple more tracks would have been nice, but we'll forgive Johnny as long as another album is delivered this time next year!
Track By Track:
Made In California opens the album with a nice hard guitar riff. The track is a mid-tempo hard rocker with a good dose of in your face vocals, riffs and some accompanying keyboards. A nice opening with some good fun lyrics as is always the case with Johnny.
Best Night Of My Life really cranks the album into high gear. This is an uptempo melodic rocker, written about Johnny's first appearance at The Gods festival. This track has everything visitors to this site look for in melodic rock songs. A big sentimental feel good chorus, with an instantly likable hook, layers of guitars and keyboards and a mass of harmony vocals. An album highlight.
The Chosen One is a short, moody rocker. Vocal hooks are the key to getting into this track. The sound isn't as clear as the opening tracks, and the chorus pretty brief, but like I said, the vocal hooks work a treat.
Go On, Go Away is a breezy feel good pop rocker with another instantly likable Def Leppard style layered chorus.
We've Got Tonight is a mid-tempo Bon Jovi styled ballad that is another album highlight. Johnny's lead vocal and the subsequent harmony vocals are fantastic and the sentiment of the song will see it on many playlists for some time to come.
Another Girl is possibly no definitely the best track on the album. It's also the most tongue in cheek lyrically great stuff. The song itself is the most uptempo number and is pure Def Leppard pop-metal. A huge anthem chorus with an additional lead guitar break sends the vibe right over the top.
From the best song of the album to well, the worst. Sorry Johnny, but I'm not a huge fan of the cover of the Beatles track Help. It's done in complete parity to the style of the rest of the album this is Def Leppard does The Beatles, but I'm not a fan of the song and would have preferred another original track.
Love Ain't Enough sounds great from the opening riff. This is another big pop/rock anthem that would fit easily on Def Leppard's Euphoria or Adrenalize.
The album's big power ballad is the very sentimental Something About You. This is another album highlight and maybe Johnny's best ballad ever. It's just a great mellow ballad with a big feel good chorus that again sees the man in fine voice.
Where Are You Now is an interesting track. This one is a darker, moodier rock track that gets bigger as it goes. The chorus is surprisingly light and melodic compared to the darker vibe of the rest of the track.
Welcome To My Paradise closes out the album. This is another darker style track, with a solid chorus and a powerful delivery. A good rocker to close the album.
|Toto Live In Amsterdam||Eagle Records/Video Arts|
My favourite Toto live album there have been 3 since 1993 is that first one Absolutely Live. I just love the vibe of it. I was a little disappointed in Livefields and held no major expectations for Live In Amsterdam. There is an accompanying DVD, but that is yet to arrive, so let's talk about the CD release.|
Sadly, to get the full release, you will have to import the Japanese version at great expense, as it's the only territory that is getting the full track listing on a 2CD release.
But, it's well worth it, as Toto really deliver the goods here. The sound is immaculate and the band is as tight as they ever have been.
I still don't think the track listing is ideal, but that's more a reflection of my personal taste and my love of other Toto tracks not featured. The band cram as many tracks in as possible my adding 1 and 2 minute versions of more than a few tracks in medley form, which works great in the context of the album, but might also leave fans of those songs wanting more.
But Toto have a huge track list to select from and the gig can't run 5 hours, so this is maybe the best way to deal with that issue. A definitive 3CD live release might be cool one day though.
The tracks that are included in full 6 of the 17 tracks on CD1 and most of CD2 are just brilliant.
Girl Goodbye is a great intro, which builds the mood and the tempo (as well as highlighting the wonderful band harmonies), while Gift With The Golden Gun really fires up and some of Steve Lukather's guitar parts are fabulous. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was one of the better tracks on the recent covers album and again showcases what a master guitarist and king of mood Lukather is.
Bodhisattva is perfectly suited to the band's jazz rock roots, but I really don't like the song. Skip
Africa is nice and raw and a little improvised. It certainly raises the roof on the venue. More great harmony vocals build the atmosphere again.
Next follows a David Paich solo and another medley which is again as tight as a goldfish's butt. Die-hards will love this. Hydra follows and is as good a display of tight musicianship as you will find.
The rest of CD is an improvised medley, which includes Lion and Till The End - two of my favourites, so I was definitely left wanting more here.
CD2 kicks off with the big Lukather sung ballad I Won't Hold You Back awesome.
Rosanna is equally appealing and although a little rough around the edges, is equally enjoyable.
Afraid Of Love is big and bombastic, Hold The Line goes completely over the top. Great stuff.
Possibly my favourite Toto track ever is Home Of The Brave. The chorus, or high impact part of the tune is not totally suited to Bobby's vocal range, but the track gets a good work out here.
Closing the album is White Sister, the cool hard rocker that is perfectly placed and really sees the band rocking out. I can't imagine a better way to close the album.
Definitely a return to form after a disappointing covers album and far superior to their last live album. Can't wait for the DVD now
|Damn Cheetah Primal||Kivel Records|
Damn Cheetah is another band that has their roots set in the past. They are a band that has been around in the NY scene in the late 80s/early 90s and the material on this release sounds exactly as it was back then. |
The songs certainly have origins back then, some written and recorded back in the day and completed now for a release in 2003. Why not? Well, I can't find any good reason, as the songs within this debut are well worthy of release. Some tracks are also new, which explains why the styles within the album are varied.
The raspy angst filled vocals of Les Brown are the album's strong point. Style wise the vocals and indeed the music could be compared to Skid Row, Cinderella, Shark Island, XYZ, AC/DC and While Lion.
The band has a certain swagger to their music, mixing heavy blues with straight ahead 80's hard rock.
Highlights include the hard rocking blues attitude of Maybe Tomorrow; the haunting ballad Forever And A Day, which would have been a MTV hit had it been released in the heyday; the David Coverdale vocals of the Whitesnake inspired heavy rock anthem Love Thunder; the powerful rock ballad Without Your Love, which mirrors Skid Row; the swagger of King Of The Hill and the Cinderella/Shark Island rock of Gimmie Gimmie.
|Styx 21st Century Live||CMC/Sanctuary|
Styx are really sailing close to the edge with this release. Someone needs to stand up and explain why songs from two previous live releases are being re-packaged without any warning to consumers. |
The mere fact that fans are stuck with another live album already was bad enough, but to view the track list is nothing short of a major insult to dedicated fans of the band.
Already we have had Arch Allies and the expanded version of that, in At The Rivers Edge. Then the substandard Styxworld was released.
Now the final insult 21st Century Live features 9 of the same tracks that appeared on Styxworld and just the 1 single additional track Renegade which in turn has already appeared on Arch Allies!!
What the hell is that about???
Guys you are ripping fans off blind with this kind of trickery. Styxworld needs to be withdrawn from sale immediately. That album was an average live release to start with, now it's re-packaged as a new release!!! I can't believe I'm sitting here writing this.
For a band of Styx's heritage, it's just plain thievery. I will not accept any attempt for anyone to blame the record label for this release. Clearly it's Sanctuary Records behind this, but if the band's name is on the CD, then they are responsible for it.
What's even worse is the fact the band have just finished a full US tour supporting a brand new album, yet not one single track from this tour is represented here. Why?
A fitting tribute to the departure of Glen Burtnik would have been the release of 2CD set of a complete 2003 show. The only single redeeming feature of this release is the fact there is a DVD included with an alternative song list. But wait! The majority of the live DVD tracks are again a tricky re-package from the already released Arch Allies DVD!! 2 tracks are from the 2003 tour (Kiss Your Ass Goodbye and These Are The Times) and Yes I Can is a studio footage video and there's also a 2001 version of Criminal Mind the Gowan solo track.
The band should be ashamed of this pointless release. The good work they did with the release of Cyclorama and the positives of the 2003 tour are being soured by this foul release.
|Wild Horses Dead Ahead||Z Records|
Wild Horses released one album titled Bareback in 1991. It really didn't do a lot of business. The band's claim to fame was that they featured a couple of guys that left Kingdom Come at the peak of their publicity trail. That was guitarist Rick Steier and drummer James Kottak both who were also in Warrant.|
The band was rounded out by vocalist John Levesque and bass player Chris Lester. On this set of recordings it's bass player Jeff Pilson along for the ride. He also played on the debut.
What I am not sure about was when these songs were recorded. I believe they are all unreleased tunes that have been polished up for release now.
I certainly don't see Steier and Kottak taking time out of their busy schedules to record a new Wild Horses album for little money.
Tell tale signs are the differing tones and production qualities between tracks. Certainly this was not recorded all in one session.
Singer Levesque was last seen fronting a band called Shout, which had a release through Escape Music several years ago.
I'm no big fan of the debut, nor this album. It sounds ok, but to some degree I found some of the tunes a little bland. But there are some highlights. What's This Thing has a certain Van Hagar swagger to it as well as a stronger chorus, which is welcomed.
Rebel Road is also a strong piano rock ballad.
When Will It End has a Bon Jovi / Aerosmith blues rock vibe to it and Ride On also gets points as it's the best produced track on the album.
One for fans of the debut as this is clearly material that followed on from those sessions. But not strong enough to gather too many new fans.
|Heartplay The Album||VDS Music|
There are a few archive releases around at the moment and Heartplay is another. But this one doesn't delve back too far it was originally released in 2001. Why it wasn't picked up for wider exposure then I am not sure, but here we are now anyway.|
Who is Heartplay? Well, they were a one-off project from Finland that features none other than Urban tale singer Kimmo Blom up front.
The band certainly isn't far removed from the sound of Urban Tale, mixing the most commercial AOR of the band's debut album with a softer smoother Toto Seventh One sound.
This is very smooth AOR. The album's songs are all very easy going; pleasant and relatively laid back Westcoast/AOR. The quality of the songwriting is good enough to ensure that there will be a new range of fans for the Heartplay album, even if there likely won't ever be a follow up.
It's always good to hear Kimmo's voice, but there are also good performances from the keyboard player Sakari Solli and guitarist Tuomas Wainola.
Bonfire are really giving their fanbase something to talk about with this album. The reaction has been rather mixed and it's taken me more than a few listens to decide for myself.|
Bottom line is that I am disappointed. But I'm not a die hard Bonfire fan, so I can have some appreciation for some of the tracks here. I know others that have been alienated by this release though.
Why? Because the album really lacks energy. The band has updated their approach to a more modern, sometimes darker style than the sound their 80's melodic hard rock heyday.
The guys have a deal with BMG to release this across much of Europe, but it's not ground breaking or different enough to garner any new fans. But it's unfortunately different enough to displace original fans looking for some solid European Bon Jovi style hard rock.
It will be interesting to see what the wash up is after this release has been out for a while.
To be blunt the quality of the songs, style aside, just aren't strong enough. The album as a whole has a modern feel, but is rather laid back in reality. Many of the tracks are slow to mid-tempo at best.
The opening track On And On is the album's heaviest and also the most modern and aggressive track, but the chorus just goes, well on and on.
The poppier I Would Do Anything 4 U is better it features some solid guitar playing and a good solo and a catchier chorus.
What About Love? is better again. This acoustic driven modern pop/rocker features a good moody vibe and a memorable chorus.
Rock 'N' Roll Star (Born To Rock) kills the momentum built by the last couple of tracks. This modern rocker just doesn't rock.
This album is a mixture of hit and miss. Free is a hit. A big hit. This is my favourite track on the album. Free is a big rock ballad with a modern feel to it, but a great rocking chorus that is pretty much an instant hit.
Preachers & Whores is another song about wanting to rock, but just doesn't have the energy or a cool chorus required to make it work.
Love Can Conquer All is an easy going mid-tempo ballad that has a better sound and a catchier chorus.
Give A Little Love is similar in tempo and approach. No need for the same song twice, even if it is ok.
September On My Mind is a little heavier and has a more modern tone. But is that lyric really saying " we are all American "? Clearly this is a homage to Sept. 11, but the track really doesn't include any memorable hooks. Friends closes the album. It's unfortunately a long and featureless acoustic ballad.
The style aside, the tempo is too laid back and most of the songs lack any major hook to reel in the listener. A few highlights, but not good enough for a band with such a long history.
|Steelheart Wait||Z Records|
This release is a case of good news, bad news. The good news is the album will now be more easily available, after an extremely limited indie US release and a short lived Asian release. Further good news is the fact that the running order will mirror the US indie release which was far superior than the rather bland Asian running order.|
And lastly on the good news front you won't have to pay a silly price to own this.
Which is a very good thing, as the bad news is that the album really isn't overly special. It's certainly a long way from the classic debut and rates a distant third behind the band's first two albums.
The line-up has little in common with those first two albums; this is really Mike Matijevic's project. Style wise, it's far more contemporary mixing modern melodic rock with more classic rock tones, with a strong Led Zeppelin vibe on several tracks especially the more uptempo ones.
It's musically adventurous, quite complex and well written in places, but I fear that the majority of fans won't warm to the sound or direction.
The main cause for alarm for fans of the band's original sound will be the lack of big choruses or any sleazy anthem rockers.
By now you will be familiar with the album's opening track We All Die Young, which was re-recorded by Mike for the Rock Star movie. This version is the original and slightly more laid back.
Live 2 Die rocks nicely, but in a modern and experimental way that won't appeal to some fans. Ahh Song is pure Led Zep with a modern twist.
Electric Chair is an acoustic driven track that features a strong vocal and modern Led Zep sound.
Wait is a very laid back ballad, but nothing in the style of the old-school power ballad that might be expected.
Garden Of Delight is another musically interesting track, mixing that Led Zep feel with layers of acoustic guitars. Some interesting rhythms and beats are featured, but there's no distinct chorus in sight.
Take A Little Time is a heavy, aggressive modern rock track. Good chorus, but average effects filled verse.
Say No More is a heavy, slow to mid-tempo moody track that features strings and a strong lead vocal.
Shangrila is another Zeppelin influenced track no real major cause for excitement.
All Your Love is much the same except in ballad form. Again, nothing that's really catchy or amazing.
|First Shot Midnight Madness||Escape Music|
First Shot features the quite talented Canadian singer/songwriter Marc LaFrance. He has recorded an excellent solo album and the first album from these guys.|
It's time for another, which features more songs from the vaults. Like the debut, this is a major trip back into keyboard driven 80's pop rock.
In fact, this is even more 80's than the From Out Of Nowhere and From The Hip releases. This is prime early 80's stuff, with big choruses and hooks, all delivered with a soft rocking feel good sentiment.
This release is not as cohesive a collection of unreleased tunes as the first album. The production quality and style varies throughout and it's plain to see that the tunes come from different sessions.
But that's a minor point as an archive release, such is expected and the fans that this is aimed at are bound to embrace it with some passion.
Highlights are the infectious opening breezy rocker Dealer Of Love, the soundtrack perfect ballad Somewhere In Time; the Starship/Mickey Thomas styled moody rock ballad All Through The Night; then Henry Lee Summer styled Don't Take Me For a Fool and the uptempo jazzy pop of It Must Be Magic.
Walking Through Walls
This is another re-issue from the good folk at Escape Music. It's been quite a year for re-issues, especially from Escape. |
Body Electric are (were) a Canadian outfit a duo infact - Bob Buckley and David Sinclair, who play, write, produce most of the album themselves. Helping out is Marc LaFrance on backing vocals.
The band was originally known as Straight Lines and released two albums under that name before changing to Body Electric. An album and an EP followed before this album was released in 1987.
The bio compares the sound of the album to Mr. Mister, Think Out Loud and Richard Marx. Can't argue with any of those, especially Mr. Mister, with the album's programmed high-tech feel comparable. Not vocally though. There is no Richard Page involved here!
This is mostly jazzy pop rock / AOR, with further comparisons to Go West possible.
I am familiar with most classic releases, especially out of Canada, for which I have a pet love of. But I was unaware of Body Electric and this is my first taste.
To be honest, I can't say that they appeal to me personally.
What's great to see is the inclusion of 5 unreleased bonus tracks. That makes for a great value re-issue.
I also read in some passage about the band that the album was produced by Bob Rock. Not so. The band produced the album themselves, with Bob mixing two tracks and the talented Mike Fraser mixing and engineering the rest.
|Renegade Back From The Dead||Renegade Sounds|
Renegade are a Canadian group that for some reason have kept this album under wraps since it was recorded between 1987 and 1989. The CD is a collection of 8 unreleased recordings 3 of which are outside projects, but all tracks feature the vocal talents of Marty Sippola and the musical talents of Jim Buckshon.|
Think back to the era of the mid/late 80's and press play. You'll find yourself there again, surrounded by Glass Tiger, Platinum Blonde, Boulevard and now Renegade.
This is a great walk down memory lane, with 8 songs bathed in glorious sways of keyboards, big vocal harmonies and very radio friendly, lightweight vocals.
A couple of tracks rock a little harder, but the majority are straight up keyboard driven AOR.
Vocally I'm reminded of Alan Frew, musically the above artists are a fair representation.
Although not recorded on a big budget, the songs have a high-tech feel in places, largely due to the drum programming, which was so prevalent at the time.
John Lawton Band
Sting In The Tale
|Classic Rock Legends|
John is best known for his role in Uriah Heep in the 70's. He has also recorded a project with Ken Hensley in 2001.
This is his band's brand new album, which not surprisingly is centered around 70's classic rock with a heavy blues twist.|
This is a very well put together album. The production is smooth, but raw enough for the blues rock songs to breathe a little. The mix is clear and even, possibly favouring John's vocals a little.
The album is dominated by guitars, but is nicely varied in its delivery. The tempo changes around and there are as many straight ahead rockers as there are slower blusier numbers.
I'm impressed with the opening track, the rocker Written On The Wall, the bluesy Lately and the quite pop track Tracks Of Time. That in particular is a very catchy number.
|The Millions Million Dollar Rock||Z Records|
The Millions are the first band to be released on the Z Records modern rock sub-label Stealth Records.|
The band is from the power pop capitol of the world Cheap Trick's hometown of Chicago, Illinois.
As expected, that's pretty much what's on offer musically. Cheap Trick / early Enuff Z Nuff inspired fuzzy guitar melodic pop rock.
Add a few punkish overtones and that nu-breed vocal delivery and you will be getting familiar with the band's sound.
There are some catchy moments within the album. Gimmie Gimmie is one of the more pop tracks and also the catchiest on offer. It's on these lighter tunes the band excels. The heavier tracks tend to drown out some of the melody. Brand New and Heather impress.
Elsewhere it sounds a little too much the same and the vocalist and guitarist don't vary their delivery enough to help more songs stand out from the pack.
|Clay Aiken Measure Of A Man||RCA|
American Idol runner-up Clay's debut album has all the marketing and major promotional tools behind it, so it's most pleasing to hear it's a pop rock album. |
The guy clearly is a good singer and has the backing of the American public behind him already. No wonder this album sold 850,000 units first two weeks of release. Amazing what a bit of PR can do for an artist!
Aiken's debut album is a super slick selection of commercial modern pop songs, with a couple of syrupy ballads and a couple of more uptempo pop/rockers thrown in to round out the package.
The songwriters used include Desmond Child, Clif Magness and the great Aldo Nova, so you know there are no dud tracks on offer here.
It gets better with each listen and is really a very enjoyable collection of feel good modern pop songs. It's not really AOR. It's modern melodic pop, but that's as close to AOR that a major label will get to in 2003.
The opening track Invisible is simply amazing the Desmond Child penned anthem is a clear album highlight. I Will Carry You is sweet mid-tempo modern pop ballad, and Touch closes the album with another good melodic track. In between it's pop ballads and smooth rhythms.
|Sun Caged Sun Caged||Lion Music|
This Netherlands based band are about to get some progressive rock fans very excited. This new Lion Music release could well rate as one of the best progressive releases for 2003. |
The album features 9 tracks and 60 minutes of pure metallized progressive rock that fans of Dream Theater will immediately warm to.
The band's style is not unsimilar to that of DT, with the James La Brie style vocals over a tough guitar sound that is intertwined with keyboard swirls and an ever changing rhythm section.
While the band can't claim to be as original as DT, they can be just as entertaining in places, with some strong individual performances, plenty of chops and changes within each song and some good vocal melodies and song hooks.
The production is solid, and of a classy standard smaller budget releases sometimes have a hard time achieving. There is only one slower song the closing track Unchanging, but there are segments within the other tracks that slow down for a period of time. Always good to help break up the album and create breathing space.
Defenders Of The Crown
This is Human Fortress' second album, following up from their solid debut Lord Of Earth And Heaven's Heir.|
Much like the debut, this example of European melodic metal competes well with the big boys of the genre. Tommy Newton is again behind the production, which is tough and uncompromising. The album is a little more intense than the debut if that's possible. This is very serious stuff and features the highly entertaining vocals of Joti Parcharidis.
He has a theatrical quality to his voice, ranging from a gruff Bruce Dickinson style delivery to a more over the top Rob Halford style. I can't pick between this and the debut, so I'm giving it the same mark.
Balance Of Power
This is the band's brand new studio album the first without singer Lance King. This is the band's fifth overall and John K is their third singer.|
The band's last album was really very good indeed. Perfect Balance was an apt title.
Now Heathen Machine attempts to take the band even higher than before. John K has a Geoff Tate style high pitch vocal and fits the band pretty well. This certainly has a certain Queensryche feel, not to mention a little Rob Halford.
There's still plenty to like here, even if it doesn't quite match the intensity of the last album.
|Pride Of Lions Pride Of Lions||Frontiers Records|
For those that have been living under a rock, Pride Of Lions is the new Jim Peterik melodic rock vehicle that features Jim alongside new discovery, vocalist Toby Hitchcock. Toby's just 25, but is happy to jump aboard Jim's first foray into traditional straight ahead melodic rock and AOR since Survivor. Yes, it has been that long!|
Jim has of course been as busy as he ever was, writing and producing with many artists including Kelly Keagy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special and of course the monster debut Mecca album.
But this is the first time he has performed and released his own AOR project since the late 80's.
Since his departure from Survivor, Jim has toured and recorded with the reformed Ides Of March and released a debut album for his classic rock styled World Stage project.
In 2001 Jim hooked up with Joe Vana to co-write and produce the awesome Mecca album, which also featured Toto's Fergie Frederiksen.
That helped build a fresh desire to return to where Jim's heart lays traditional 80's style melodic music.
Pride Of Lions is a real mixture of influences. It's a combination of everything Jim has done in the past, with a couple of other 80's influences included.
The primary musical influence is clearly that of Survivor. This could almost be the follow up to Too Hot For Sleep, while elsewhere there are touches of Vital Signs and When Seconds Count.
Then there's the World Stage factor. Jim has a naturally earthy feel to his songs, and that shone through with the Midwestern style of the straight ahead classic rock of World Stage. That continues here, as does the dual vocal approach on that album.
Jim can be heard here trading lines and verses with Toby on several tracks and it works perfectly. The rough bluesy vocal of the master over the sweet harmonies of the young apprentice.
There is also the Mecca factor. Just as that album included two lead singers, it had a track pattern of rocker/ballad/rocker/ballad. To some extent, that is also a feature here. It works well, as the songs are all perfectly crafted, but I do think there is one occasion where it hurt the momentum of the album.
And just to prove he's the master at just about everything, Jim's written a couple of tracks that sound like they could have been included on Toto IV.
I would be remiss not to talk of the new boy here Toby Hitchcock. This is Toby's first assignment as a vocalist and he passes it with flying colors. His voice is youthful, yet powerful and suits the music included here wonderfully. His voice can be compared favorably to that of Toto's Bobby Kimball and Survivor's Jimi Jamison, not to mention a little of Starship's Mickey Thomas. But one of the biggest vocal comparisons when Toby isn't flying into the high notes is to that of Mecca's Joe Vana. Yes, the two sound like brothers. Toby's debut is impressive, but as a young vocalist, he still has some developing to do. Which is scary really, as you can tell he's fresh, but his range and his tone is already fantastic. The only thing that will come with experience and with age is further warmth to his voice.
Another important note about the album is the amount of guitar featured. On several tracks the guitar riffs come flying thick and fast. It features some of the most fired-up Peterik guitar parts since .well, ever!
Track By Track:
The album opens with the perfect mood setting intro, which bursts into the guitar driven It's Criminal. Toby's opening lines are commanding and authorative and set the album up perfectly. The song is pure Survivor a melodic verse and then a chorus that comes from nowhere, all the time building the intensity of the album. Although it's a fairly simple track, everything about it oozes class and for no other reason than it's perfectly crafted, the song is instantly planted in your head. Brilliant.
Gone gives the impression it might be a ballad, especially with the piano intro. But the track fires up into a moody mid-tempo pop/rocker. Jim takes lead for the first verse, with Toby joining in for the bridge and then taking over completely for the massive chorus, which is another instantly catchy hook.
There is no mistaking Interrupted Melody for anything other than a big ballad. The soft piano intro, the orchestral musical accompaniment and yes, strings. Like many Peterik songs, this one has another strong verse-bridge-chorus arrangement and as each chorus comes around, the intensity of the song builds. Perfect melodic rock, with some fine harmony vocals throughout.
It's tracks like Sound Of Home which make life worthwhile. This is a textbook AOR anthem, with every ingredient included for fans of the old-school sound to get excited about. There's the driven guitar riff, plenty of keyboards, a melodic verse, building bridge and then a chorus that just goes right over the top! Jim sings the verse, with Toby coming in to take the chorus into overdrive. Magic stuff and one of the top contenders for song of the year.
It's at this point in the album I would have liked another uptempo number. Prideland is a first rate slow to mid-tempo rock song, but the tempo was really on a roll after Sound Of Home. Despite that observation, Prideland is still very cool. It's a stripped back, reflective and somewhat soulful track that would have been at home on World Stage. Jim and Toby share vocals, and sound right at home together. The song features some fine soft guitar playing, as it builds throughout.
Unbreakable is a straight ahead rocker, with plenty of guitar going in all directions. Toby's vocals are again commanding, while Jim's guitar playing is fabulous. Lots of little riffs and rhythms throughout. The tone of the track is quite dark and just that little bit aggressive. But the end of the track is what does it for me this is pure shred-fest stuff, with guitars and vocals all over the place. A great rocker and nice aggressive number!
Reverting back to a more laid back feel, First Time Around The Sun is something a little different. The tempo is slow to mid-tempo, but the track is no ballad. Rather it is a pomp-ish, jazzy pop number that could have come from any early Toto album. Toby is dead on for Bobby Kimball, while Jim does his best David Paich. And to add to all that the song is as catchy as hell!
Keeping the pace of the album flowing well is Turn To Me. This is another example of perfect straight ahead melodic rock/AOR with a major 80's keyboard slant, but a nice guitar riff for texture. Another pure Survivor track, this one features Jim and Toby trading verses and winds up with some great solo guitar work.
Madness of Love is a mid-tempo and moody rock track that features more strong lead guitar riffs and another duel vocal performance. The verse is soft, the chorus is far more intense. Hard to compare this track another World Stage style track, but more melodic and definitely Survivor-ish.
Love Is On The Rocks is another classic piece of keyboard driven 80's rock a la early Survivor and Toto. The verse remains fairly stripped back, then there's a bridge that builds to a slightly more powerful chorus. Pure 80's pop here.
Last Safe Place is a classic ballad. Classy all the way and if the world was fair would find itself on the biggest movie soundtrack of the year and would be a #1 hit. This is a fabulous lighters-in-the-air romantic ballad that features a big vocal from Toby and a chorus that's an instant hit from the start. Another album highlight!
Music And Me closes the album in the same manner that Rick Springfield has done on a few occasions with a storyteller track and an autobiographical one at that. The song basically describes where Jim's heart lies and what his music means to him. And for that reason, many will relate easily to this.
The song itself features Jim upfront initially, with Toby joining in. This is a powerful track that is mid-tempo throughout, but builds dramatically through the mid-section guitar-fest, then switches tempo up another notch during a bridge section - before switching back to how it started. A rollercoaster ride if you will, much like most of this album!
It's also a long album the 12 tracks run just over an hour and the songs themselves aren't short. They all run 4 to 6 minutes.
The great strength of the album is the diversity of the music. There are big ballads, moody mid-tempo tracks, soaring AOR anthems and guitar driven rockers. Something for everyone that loves old-school melodic music.
Jim Peterik's songs once again come out as the winners in all this, but let's not forget the fabulous vocal talents of Toby Hitchcock, who is seriously only going to get better and better.
To sum up this is really the stuff. This is the kind of album I live for. This is why I do this website - so I can pass on the good word about classic melodic rock and AOR albums like this. And this is classic. The debut Pride Of Lions album is everything we hoped for and expected of, the great Jim Peterik. Just about perfect, but certainly 100% classic!
|Perfect World Perfect World||Frontiers Records|
Perfect World is the new vehicle for Hurricane and former Unruly Child vocalist Kelly Hansen.|
This is a covers album with a difference. The tracks are fairly obscure to the general public and certainly to some fans of Hansen, but feature the vocalist giving his best vocal interpretations.
The album features the same team behind the recent Joseph Williams fronted Vertigo album. The concept of a backing band recording new versions of previously written songs and handing over those tapes to a singer to add his vocal to is not one everyone will warm to, but the fact is, the concept has delivered two very fine melodic rock albums in quick succession and there is no reason to think the high quality will not be continued in future releases. The band is lead by multi-instrumentalist and producer Fabrizio V.Zee Grossi together with Alex DeRosso and JM Scattolin on guitars and Biggs Brice on drums.
They do a fabulous job thanks largely to the direction and production techniques of Grossi. As with the Vertigo record, he has captured the essential melodic rock classic sound, but updated it with programming and production effects, vocal filters and a very smooth, often subtle delivery of those tricks.
I don't think going through every track and its origin is overly important. Fans of various artists will pick up on this. But the Perfect World album contains tracks previously recorded and written by Amanda Marshall and Eric Bazilian, Pink, Paul Alan, Natalie Imbruglia and Plumb.
Kelly is no stranger to singing covers he has appeared on several tribute albums over the years. He his very adapt at placing his own mark on someone else's songs and does just that. These songs are made into his own and despite not having a hand in writing them Hansen sings with all his passion - making them ever more memorable.
Track By Track:
Here With Me is a classic to kick things off. Soaring vocals and a huge chorus allow Kelly to shine and put the listener on notice this is going to be a good album!
The song is pure melodic rock more AOR tinged than Kelly has sung for some time and his voice just sounds so good. The production effects help the song - and the album as a whole reach new ground, without alienating a single listener.
Leaving Lonely is a moodier track, with a slightly more laid back feel, but an equally catchy verse and extended chorus both featuring strong vocal melodies.
Just Like a Pill is the only really obvious cover on the album. This track was of course a smash hit for Pink, herself rather capable of belting out a rock tune when she wants to. But again, Hansen makes the song his own and carries the song on the back of a great vocal.
I Believe In You is a mid-tempo ballad with some fine guitar play from Alex DeRosso and a monster chorus that would not have been out of place on a Hurricane album.
Out Of Bounds continues the ballady feel of the last track, with a more stripped back song that comes to life in the chorus. Well suited to the album and the rest of the songs, but not a favourite.
Something uptempo was needed about now and You'll Be Gone is almost that. Starting slow, with a soft vocal and guitar riff, the track cruises until the chorus rises a notch or three.
Someday Soon is a first rate uptempo rocker, with a modern feel encompassing vocal filters and a Def Leppard X vibe. Then there's the great anthemic lead vocal and chorus hook. An album highlight.
Do You Love is a big romantic ballad. This is lighters in the air time, but it's also not over the top rather it holds a subdued and subtle approach.
I Need You is another ballad of sorts. Featuring some of those modern influences, the moody verse builds to a rock chorus, with a darker and heavier feel, while Hansen keeps his performance more restrained than elsewhere on the album. It makes for an interesting song and one that pushes the boundaries of traditional melodic rock.
Overnight Sensation again starts slow and builds, but is essentially another slow to mid-tempo mood rocker. A catchy chorus, but a subtle one for sure. This is one of those tracks that needs to grow.
Broken closes the album with another ballad. As is the theme with the rest of the album, there's nothing predictable about the song it's a mid-tempo ballad with smooth vocals and a punchy chorus.
Mind you, this hasn't been recorded on the cheap. Fabrizio is a much in demand session guy and producer. His work here is again immaculate.
If the right songs are selected and it's put together with the same quality as has been done so far with Vertigo and Perfect World, then I don't see why this idea should continue.
Perfect World is a great example of traditional melodic rock and AOR being brought into new territory with the help of some excellent production techniques and the adopting of some current pop and rock covers to a more melodic rock feel. A job well done and another highlight in the career of Kelly Hansen.
|Hardline Live At The Gods 2002||Frontiers Records|
This is the third live release from the Gods 2002 show. The two previous releases - Harem Scarem and Jeff Scott Soto have both impressed, as the bands did on the night.|
Both albums were very enjoyable and an accurate representation of each band's performance on that night and as such, were eagerly snapped up by fans.
I don't think any band put on a band show that day. The sound was fabulous, the energy electric and the crowd were on fire (for a Gods crowd!).
Hardline were no different. Their line-up included 9 people on stage the now 6 piece band and 3 backing vocalists. The sound was full and frontman Johnny Gioeli was a total madman on stage, taking control of the crowd and ripping through the set.
However this live release is not quite in the same league as the previous two Gods releases.
The energy and sound of the band hasn't translated to this record. The obvious problem that I can hear with the release is the mix. It just simply isn't as good as the previous two releases and for that reason the performance loses impact. I imagine it must be a total nightmare to mix so many personnel on stage into something that sounds great on record. But it was done live on the night so it should be possible for the record.
The main problem due to the mix is the vocals. Johnny of course sounds great, but his vocals and those of the backing vocalists are way up in the mix and the band especially the guitars in places - is somewhat drowned out. The backing vocals come and go, but are now more an annoyance than an added dimension as they were on the night.
In the killer ballad Face The Night, the backing vocals are painful to listen to. Too bad, as it's a classic song and was delivered with a lot of passion by Johnny.
In The Hands Of Time isn't much better.
On a brighter note, the material from the band's classic debut holds up well and Josh Ramos gets his turn to shine like the rock God he is.
One additional thing - the intro by DJ Pandora should have been edited out, as it adds nothing to the release and just reminds fans that were there, how every intro on the night was the same. Yes, all the band's were jetlagged we get the picture.
The added bonus of 3 non-album tracks helps make the release more appealing and are a good conclusion to the album. Hypnotized is a Led Zeppelin-esque blues rocker that wouldn't be out of place in a Van Hagar live show; Only A Night (acoustic) is a wonderfully stripped back version of the classy ballad from the last album and Mercy is another bluesy retro track that is largely acoustic driven.
Mercy and Hypnotized are interesting tracks, but you will see why they were not included as part of the last album's make up. Cool, but a little out of character for the name Hardline.
Permission To Land
Where does one start with this then?! The Darkness is a band surrounded by double standards and contradictions.|
The music isn't overly original but it kicks ass. The melodies and hooks are first rate but the vocalist delivering them is frightful. The production is certainly not a big budget one yet the promotional push behind the band is huge. Welcome to the world of The Darkness.
This UK band released 2 indie singles before being picked up by Atlantic worldwide for the release of this, their debut album.
They have caused a stir everywhere they go, as like 90's pop counterparts Oasis, they know what buttons to push.
Folks either love them or hate them, but to their credit, one listen and you'll never forget them. Now that is the single most important ingredient to their success so far. They have an image and an angle to play off and it's working a treat. My main argument with this band is this if they didn't have a kooky singer, would they be getting all the attention they are getting? Of course not but out of their success, some good might come for others .maybe
If they had a different singer, or had vocalist Justin Hawkins refrain from those way over the top falsetto notes, they would be a better band in the eyes of the many I'm sure. But probably one without a record deal! That's the sad reality of music these days labels, management and media love and angle, and Justin's kooky vocals are a very definite angle to exploit.
I suspect the band are quite aware of the way they would be perceived and were well aware of the best way to attract attention and are taking that all the way to the bank.
What started off as a piss-take has blossomed into a genuine hit and there's no turning back for them now. And why would they want to? The guys will continue playing it up to the maximum, taking the piss and having a blast, while making a ton of cash along the way.
So just what is the fuss about? Why is The Darkness being talked about with such passion? Take a listen one piece of advice, sample the tunes before you invest in the album.
The music of the Darkness is something mainstream media have somewhat ignored and is certainly something not accustomed to being at the top of the charts.
The band really know their stuff and have delivered 10 tracks of high energy, feel good 70's / 80's inspired hard rock, touching on influences ranging from AC/DC to the Rolling Stones and Queen.
And when he's not going completely over the top, Justin's vocals and the pop edge of the music compare with 80's Brit-pop chart toppers The Cure.
What makes the band "special" is singer Hawkins. His vocals appear normal for only a short while before disappearing into a range not tempted by many males, not to mention those falsetto acrobatics that even make Freddy Mercury look straight.
Like a metalized version of The Cure's Robert Smith, the vocals are delivered with little regard for the path the musical base is taking. These vocals are all over the place and are the one reason the band is causing the fuss they are.
Take them or leave them they are what drive this record. If you can adjust your ear drums, the benefits of some fine songs can be appreciated.
The AC/DC styled opener doesn't do a lot for me, but the hooks of Get Your Hands Off My Woman are more attention grabbing. But it's also the most over the top vocal on the album no wonder it is the lead single. It's here that Justin's vocals are the hardest to take, which is a shame, as the song has a lot to offer.
Following on though, Growing On Me is an absolute gem. Hawkins even manages to keep the vocal straight for the most part. It's the most accessible song of the album and one of the best pure rock anthems of the year. Seriously!
I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Love Is Only A Feeling and Givin' Up are all equally infectious. Like a tumor, this album just keeps infesting itself in your head and won't let go.
Great tunes really, but it's all about whether you "get" the vocals. Yes, he's a shocker, no doubt and taking the piss .but if you like the vocals, the album as a package will be impossible to resist.
I love the fact some great, straight ahead rock n roll is getting played on radio and in clubs and I love the fact some Eddie Van Halen inspired guitar solos are included. When was the last time you heard a guitar solo on the radio?
What I don't love is the fact there are better bands out there that will remain ignored and more than deserve the money and attention Atlantic is showing these guys. And I have a small hesitation in supporting a band that really is just laughing at us. But good luck to them I guess
Let's be honest. If this had been released on one of the melodic indie labels, the band and the label would have been laughed out of town by now. But somehow, being on Atlantic Records gives the band instant credibility.
The production is pretty raw, but the energy and attitude coming through the speakers is really quite addictive. But those vocals! Oh boy .
Will The Darkness prove everyone wrong? Will the general public tire of their style as quickly as they tire of mainstream pop acts? Will the band prove their musical credibility with a monster second album? Only time will tell. But right now, expect the band to be everywhere, expect the debate to continue long into the future and don't expect either side of the love them/hate them clubs to give an inch!
They certainly are not the saviours of rock n roll - that is just absurd, but they do have people talking and they might just open a door or two for others and that is something I can appreciate.
BTW - My score - 90% for the Music, 10% for the vocals!
|Colin Blades Colin Blades||Connoisseur Records|
It's taken several months for Connoisseur Records to bring this album to a release stage, but it's finally available now, if only via their website only at this point.|
Colin is of course the son of Night Ranger's Jack Blades and this is his much anticipated debut. And seriously folks this is a very fine debut.
Colin is still a young bloke, but his musical maturity is far beyond his years. He has clearly learnt the craft of fine songwriting and has developed into a fine artist in his own right.
His influences range from the obvious he sounds not unlike his dad and has a similar songwriting flair to the not so obvious. He clearly appreciates the classics, as several tracks on this debut have a strong Beatles feel, while others touch on the acoustic driven singer/songwriter style of such greats as Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and even The Rembrandts.
Produced with the help of Jack and Matchbox Twenty producer Noel Golden, the album features some very strong songs that will appeal to fans of acoustic driven singer/songwriter style albums. Several tracks have the same vibe as the mainly acoustic Shaw/Blades album. Except in this case, Colin provides his own harmony vocals.
Opening the album is one of the more uptempo numbers on the record. The happy go lucky pop rocker Been Too Long has a wonderful chorus hook and strong lead vocal, which highlights the warmth in Colin's voice as well as his range.
All I Ever Ask is a strong acoustic ballad in the style of the Beatles. A definite Lennon/McCartney vibe here.
Say Goodbye Again is another acoustic ballad, but this time in the style of the Shaw/Blades record and a definite match to Jack's softer vocal style.
Far Far Away rocks a little harder this one features a dual electric and acoustic base, with a more urgent vocal and another strong chorus.
White Holiday is the album's lead single and no surprise why. This is an acoustic pop song that showcases a very mature songwriting style that could find itself on adult contemporary radio anywhere in the world right now.
Elsewhere on the album, the brilliant haunting ballad Million Miles is wonderful. A soft vocal is mesmerizing, while the string accompaniment is ideal.
Are You With Me Or Not brings the tempo to the forefront again with a great uptempo number, My Own Life is an lyrically brilliant and intelligent pop song and Norah is another perfect Beatles pop song with Danny Wilde style vocals.
Pride Of Lions
Sound Of Home (Single)
Jim Peterik signals his return to his AOR roots with Pride Of Lions a new melodic project built around Jim and newcomer vocalist Toby Hitchcock. |
This single sets up the release of the highly anticipated debut album perfectly, featuring the album's biggest anthem alongside two additional non-album tracks.
Also included is a video for the lead track, which is just a sensational move. I hope we see more of this.
As the song and the music goes, well hold on to your hats folks, as Pride Of Lions is easily Jim's best work since the Survivor glory days. A review of the album will follow early next week.
Sound Of Home is currently vying with Harem Scarem's Waited for song of the year.
You just don't get any better than this. This fired up melodic rock anthem features a wonderfully melodic verse (featuring Jim Peterik's vocals) before disappearing into the stratosphere with a chorus from heaven.
New boy Toby plants his mark on this track with a monster vocal that recalls the best of Jimi Jamison and Bobby Kimball not to mention a little Joe Vana (Mecca).
The bonus tracks aren't as high energy, but they are just as classy.
So Deadly is a soft and reflective ballad featuring both Jim and Toby at the mike. The song features a classic 80's Survivor style chorus.
Stand By You is more fired up, with a distinct Toto/Styx style progressive beat and another strong anthemic chorus.
The Eyes Of Alice Cooper
Alice is back with his third album in quick succession for Spitfire Records.|
But unlike Brutal Planet and Dragon Town, The Eyes Of... features a more stripped back and under-produced Alice Cooper.
The album was recorded relatively live in the studio, with few overdubs, giving the album that very raw, stripped back sound. It's quite rough around the edges, which is in direct opposition to the intense and complex musical approach of the last couple of albums.
This is the stadium rocker Alice, paying homage to his 70's and 80's roots, albeit with a slightly more modern style.
This is not a classic album, but it's far from being ordinary. In fact, it's very good indeed and up to Alice's usual high standard. Lyrically Alice is still on song, not taking himself too seriously and taking jabs at himself and society.
Sound wise it's varied. What Do You Want From Me is tough and rocking in style, while Man Of The Year has a punkish quality to it.
The single Novocaine is a mid-tempo commercial melodic rocker with a good chorus hook, as does the breezy Love Should Never Feel Like This. The mid-tempo rocker Bye Bye Baby employs a bit of brass, Aerosmith style.
As usual there are a couple of curve balls included in the package. Be With You Awhile is melancholy ballad, the soft and spooky This House Is Haunted is rather quirky to say the least and The Song That Didn't Rhyme is a popish ballad (of sorts).
Then Backyard Brawl is almost modern/alternative.
Alice is the master of variety and delivering killer performances. And that's the case here too.
Cooper fans will have no trouble embracing the songs featured here. Casual fans will have favourites, but could dislike others. It's nice to hear Alice drop it back a notch from the brutal intensity of recent records and offer something for the fans of straight hard rock that still has a contemporary sound.
Running Out Of Lies
Midnite Club is a revitalized version of the band Mr. Hate, which ceased to exist after record label USG folded in the late 90's.|
The driving force behind the band is singer Carsten Schulz and guitarist Stephen Seger both originally from Mr. Hate.
The band to me sounds like a heavier or hard rock version of AOR favourites Frontline. No surprise then that Frontline/Evidence One guitarist Robby Boebel is a gust on this album.
This is one of the better examples of German hard rock currently in the market place. A few other examples are also featured in new reviews. The main reason the guys stand out from the crowd is the songs. Strong hooks and memorable choruses help the songs stick.
But the downside is that it isn't anything we haven't heard before and is another variation of Frontline, Domain and Evidence One. It rocks harder than Frontline, but doesn't have the firepower of Evidence One. Rather it fits in-between, much in the style of Jaded Heart.
The inclusion of a cover of Duran Duran's classic Wild Boys doesn't do it me as much as it should have, but it's a rocked up version for sure.
It's actually the mellow track Ticket To Silence that impresses me the most. Great melodic track.
If you like the aforementioned bands, then Midnite Club has something to offer you.
It contains better songs than a couple of comparable current albums, but doesn't reach the highs of previous releases from the personnel involved. Solid German melodic rock.
|Petra Jeckyl And Hyde||In Pop|
A revitalized Petra, featuring vocalist John Schlitt and with guitarist Bob Hartman back in the fold has come out rocking on their new album.|
Kicking off with the title track Jekyll And Hyde, the momentum is clearly with the band as they rock harder than they have in years.
Schlitt sounds in fine form, as does the whole band. The sound of the album is crisp and evenly mixed, with vocals and guitars both way up in the mix! The album is really in your face.
The band's history is long and detailed and it's remarkable they are still together, not to mention firing up so well after all these years.
The lyrical message is no different to that of any previous Petra album strong Christian messages. But the fire in the band's belly came as a surprise.
The opening track is the definite highlight for me, but also appealing is Would'a, Should'a, Could'a, which features a snappy beat; Perfect World, which is nice and heavy, but contains a good vocal hook and the very catchy heavy beat of Test Of Time.
Only on track 9 - 'Till Everything I Do do the guys slow down. This acoustic driven pop ballad is a nice change of pace and features a strong melody.
My only issue 10 tracks running only 31 minutes. I hate padding, but this album could have used with a track or two more.
|Triumph Live At The US Festival||TML Entertainment|
It's amazing to hear how strong this live recording still sounds some 20 years on. Triumph's classic material has always held its own and this short Best Of set is testament to that.|
The performance on the day was rather special and thankfully it was captured by the powers that be. Countless bootlegs exist of various performances on the day, but it's taken until now for a CD to be officially released by anyone! This release was possible thanks to the band's active members Mike Levine and Gil Moore remixing the original master tapes.
They have done a great job the recording here is crisp and clean and beautifully balanced between capturing the energy of the band and some of atmosphere from the 500,000 strong crowd present that day.
Far from being dated, this sounds fresh and vibrant and will come as a great addition to the collections of all Triumph fans.
The band runs through the tracks featured much as expected, with a long guitar solo and some additional adlibbing adding to the running time.
Classic German heavy rockers Victory are back! Or are they? Who knows really. SPV describes the return of original vocalist Charlie Huhn's to the band's line-up as only a "guest appearance".|
What the future will bring is anyone's guess, but Charlie puts his stamp firmly and squarely all over this record. Instinct finds the band in fine form, rocking harder than ever. This is classic German heavy rock / melodic metal, performed as if the last 15 years never happened. Yes, it's been 15 years since Huhn last took his place with the band.
The band featuring Huhn alongside guitarists Tommy Newton and Herman Frank, bassist Peter Knorn and drummer Fritz Randow sounds as good as ever and thanks to a fine production have delivered a collection of songs most fans would have to be happy with.
If you haven't previously been a Victory fan, or perhaps haven't even heard of them, this is worth checking out. Huhn's dark, strong and somewhat bluesy vocals suit the straight ahead German hard rock of the band's style.
Huhn retains his role in the US as the current lead singer for Foghat (since 2000), but will play some select dates with Victory in support of this release. One hopes he enjoys it so much a follow-up will be planned. Based on this, it's something the fans will certainly look forward to.
Astral Projector / Back Down To Earth
Flared pants and afro's on white boys were the order of the day at the time these two classic albums could be found on LP store shelves.|
Originally released in 1978 and 1979, these two Canadian 70's pomp albums have found their way to CD thanks to the good folk at Escape Music.
And just as they did with FM and Sugarcreek, a digipak CD package has been put together, housing both albums and a booklet with lyrics, credits and some nice liner notes.
A tidy little package for sure. Musically Zon were as pomp as they come, comparing to fellow Canadian's Prism and the better known Styx!
The sound here is fantastic the re-mastering is first rate and the albums both sound fresh and vibrant.
I am the first to admit that 70's pomp isn't my area of expertise and never will be. I'm an 80's kid at heart. But there's no denying the quality of the songwriting and music on offer here.
Michael's debut album is being released independently after it was also financed by himself. Good job! Michael's name might be familiar to some already from his work on the Toto tribute album Fanfields another self-financed indie release.|
This debut album is straight out of 80's territory, with an equal mix of guitars and keyboards over light and pleasant musical accompaniment.
The style of the album is European 80's AOR and reminds me of many of the albums that were being released independently in the mid-90's.
Guitarist, producer and drummer Michael uses various singers on the album, but holds the consistency together with some strong songs.
Included in the line up of singers is Phil Vincent (on the very Toto-ish Hold On Me and the Winger-ish Telling Lies), Ed James (Better Days), Tony O'Hora (Praying Mantis)(on the very anthemic Dreams For Tomorrow, [which also features Jeff Pilson on bass] and Two Hearts). Urban Tale vocalist Kimmo Blom is featured alongside Bryan Wooley on the uptempo melodic rocker Call To Glory. The verse is ok, but the chorus (featuring Blom) is very strong and an album highlight.
Toto's Giant Journey is an instrumental track paying tribute to three of the biggest bands of the genre.
There is a lot going on within each song. It takes multiple listens to get to know the tracks and absorb everything, especially with the big anthem of the album, Dreams For Tomorrow.
|Silver Intruder||Point Music|
The great charm of Silver's first two albums was the left of center approach of the band. Andreas Bruhn of Sisters Of Mercy was the driving force behind the band's quirkiness. |
Andreas doesn't appear to be a musical contributor this time around, rather only committing to some songwriting. That must be the difference between the band's first two records and this one.
Regardless of circumstance, this album just sounds more straight forward and less original than before.
Featured on the this album is the large line up of Gary Barden (Lead Vocals; ex-MSG, Statetrooper, Praying Mantis), Bernie Torme (Guitars; ex-Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne, Desperado), Don Airey (Keyboards; Deep Purple, ex-Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Gary Moore), Bertram Engel (Drums; Peter Maffay, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Palmer), Bob Daisley (Bass, Ozzy Osbourne, Rainbow, Gary Moore), Colin Hodgkinson (Bass; Schon + Hammer, Whitesnake), Michael Voss (Guitars; Demon Drive, Casanova, Mad Max, ex-Bonfire), Marco Minnemann (Drums; Paul Gilbert, ex- H-Blockx) and Tommy Denander (Guitars; Radioactive, AOR, Prisoner).
An extraordinary line up of talent, but I still found the album to be a standard slice of European hard rock and overall a little flat.
There are a few good tunes Drowning is a good rock ballad, the epic How Does It Feel has a nice moody feel, Kismet is a lighter pop moment and I Don't Love You Anymore has a good riff and harder edge.
|Domain The Sixth Dimension||Point Music|
The new Domain album sees the band continue of the path set by its predecessor The Artefact, released last year.|
This album is even heavier though really pumping through the tunes in mostly uptempo hard rock fashion, with only the one ballad in play the enjoyable One Perfect Moment.
Kings Tears is an uptempo pompous tribute to the band's earlier days, while the majority of the remaining tracks are in your face German flavored hard rock.
Vocalist Carsten Schulz is a busy man these days, with vocal duties also being performed for Midnite Club and Evidence One.
He has an ideal voice for the material, which moves between melodic metal and Axel Rudi Pell style pomp/progressive metal.
I am not sure the band will break any new ground sales wise with this album. There is so much great quality European hard rock around these days and I fear this won't stand out enough to those not already converted to the band.
|Seven Ten Love And War||Metal Mayhem Music|
Seven Ten's debut album has been sometime in the making and to the relief of the band has finally been released just recently by Metal Mayhem.|
The band have that traditional American 80's stadium hard rock style, that bands like Quiet Riot, Steelheart and Motley Crue were famous for.
This is going to appeal to old school fans who like it loud and a little over the top.
The strength of the band is their knack to come up with a good chorus hook and a strong guitar riff. Just as Talon's debut album took us back to the glory days of LA hard rock, so does Seven Ten.
In Live For The Day the songs slows mid-track for a spoken word story to remind me of the sleaze rock attitude of the 80's.
Cross My Heart is the album's big ballad and is very much in the Steelheart vein.
Love In A Bottle is very Quiet Riot, especially with the vocal delivery.
Tied Up In Love has a great vocal hook and some nice harmonies.
The band's only weakness is the production quality. That's the only small problem this album has, otherwise it's a very good debut.
It could have used a little extra production punch especially with the rhythm section and the mix in general just to give the songs showcases their best chance to appeal to fans, as they deserve that.