|Guns N Roses Chinese Democracy||Geffen Records|
It's hard to know where to start with this one. This is one of those albums I just love reviewing (note the use of sarcasm) – because I'm screwed either way!|
There are so many passionate opinions on this band from just about every quarter, so no matter which way I review this, I will hear from someone unhappy about something! Guaranteed.
Chinese Democracy - the most expensive record ever made…the longest wait for any new album by a band…the most number of band members coming and going and contributing in some part…the most epic record ever…or perhaps the biggest flop in all rock n roll history?
All valid comments or questions raised in relation to Guns N Roses' most talked about Chinese Democracy release.
Is it the best rock record ever released? No. Is it Guns N Roses? Not in the standard image of the name, no. Worth a 13 year wait? Absolutely not. But a complete disaster? Some will say so, but objectively speaking, no…it certainly isn't that. Its actually rather good all things considered, but it has so many things stacked against it that even if it was Dark Side Of The Moon or Physical Graffiti, it would still attract the same amount of criticism.
There are some very worthy moments on this album and some truly epic soundscapes. But there's also a few ingredients missing. It doesn't make sense for a record that has taken so long to be released to be under done, but it almost feels unfinished in places.
To really accept this record for what it is, one must put the name Guns N Roses out of your mind. GNR has always signified dangerous rock n roll to me and Chinese Democracy may be grand, adventerous and truly epic, but dangerous it isn't.
The album is the sole vision of frontman and vocalist Axl Rose and for that you must give him credit. But at the same time, he must also be responsible for any shortcomings.
I have not rushed into a review of this record. I note that major press outlets must quickly pass judgment and I think generally speaking the critical feedback has been understandably mixed.
But I have chosen to live with it as long as possible to best get to know the record.
I must say that Appetite For Destruction has been on my shelf for the full 21 years since it was released. I was one of the first to purchase it, before the hype kicked in and it remains an all-time classic for me and an album I still admire. Such a record was a snapshot of an era and could never be repeated, so I never expected such with Chinese Democracy.
There is a certain intensity about this record, but overall I found it to be mellower than expected. And due to the length of time it has taken to get this out, some of the industrial and programmed elements of the music doesn't sound as innovative as it could have. Had this record emerged in 2000-2002, then I think it would have sounded more groundbreaking.
Some have hailed this record as a work of art that will influence the way music is made and help bring rock back to the fore. I don't see that in any way. Any big selling rock record is a good thing, but this isn't likely to influence a new generation of kids.
What is missing for me is the big riffs and the big choruses. Every track of Appetite yielded a killer hook and Use Your Illusion had that experimental style, but still with that dangerous edge.
But Chinese Democracy is not a hit single kind of record. Individual songs are not necessarily the way to appreciate this record. It sounds better played as a whole, from start to finish…certainly not an iTunes friendly release in the day and age of kids picking out individual songs of an artist.
That aspect I really like…as I feel the art of creating a musical landscape is dying in some way. But in-between there are not enough peaks and valleys for me. Not enough light and shade.
Track By Track:
I'm not sure what kind of intro would best suit an anticipated album such as this, but the title track Chinese Democracy kicks off pretty much as expected. A slow building intro, then a riff to break through the mood, followed by a shrill scream and a loud burst of musical exuberance. Axl varies his vocal delivery to great effect and guitar solos run left and right over the base riff of what is a fairly solid and aggressive hard rocker.
Shackler's Revenge takes the industrial influences to the forefront, together with a gruff spoken vocal and effects dropped in everywhere. The chorus isn't an epic hook, but is driven by a good guitar sound and when Axl takes his voice up that octave or two, you get a reminder of what this band was once all about.
The uptempo rocker Better is an unusual track. It seems to be the fan pick, largely due to a verse with a certain swagger and attitude, but for some reason I am just not warming to it. Perhaps I was affected by the demo leaks from the last few years and decided I had no great interest in the track.
The first ballad of the release is the decidedly 70s sounding Street Of Dreams. Mixing November Rain with Axl's known love of Wings and Paul McCartney, the lead vocal is definitely something fresh and interesting. The piano and acoustic guitars help paint a picture, but this song is all about Axl and his passionate delivery. I wasn't sure what to make of the track to start with and perhaps I'm still not sure. But it is an epic piece of music crammed into just 5 minutes. Changing tempos, orchestration, guitar work reminiscent of Slash and the whole 70s pomp element is certainly a lot to absorb. I would have liked to have herd this song pushed even further into 7 or 8 minutes and let Axl's ideas fully flourish.
If The World is another truly curious piece of music, with an album hip hop beat driving orchestration and a fairly whiney vocal. There is no real chorus and to me the song sums up just about everything traditional fans might hate about this album.
There Was A Time flows from the last song with another programmed beat kicking things along. The nearly 7 minute track is driven by a much harder edge guitar sound and further orchestration. The verse and general song structure is interesting and this is definitely a worthy epic. The closing couple of minutes of musical intensity are the strongest part.
Catcher In The Rye is another big rock track that is part ballad, part frenzied guitar epic, with both parts featuring a healthy dose of piano. Again, no huge or definitive chorus, but some interesting musical decisions that hold interest while getting to know the album, but perhaps not for a long time after.
Scraped is a busy, guitar fueled rocker and at 3:30 is the shortest track on the album. Again, no big chorus or defining moment, I feel as if this track comes and goes without making a mark.
Riad N' The Bedouins has an intensely moody intro filled with effects, before an angry vocal and big riff take hold. Once again the chorus is a change of pace within the song rather than a defined riff or lyric hook. That's symptomatic of the whole album and it is a style that some are really not going to like.
The 6 minute moody Sorry is a big rock ballad with a dark heart and its own individual personality within the greater album. Once again, I'm not sure I'll be listening to the song for any length of time once this review is done.
I.R.S. is one of the more legendary tracks of the album, with demo versions leaking early in the game. I like the track and the lyric cuts deep.
The big rock ballad Madagascar kicks off with an epic feel, hinting of what might be to come. But while the song does build and feature more orchestration and multiple layers of instrumentation, I don't find myself warming to the track. And the historic spoken word drop-ins mid-track doesn't add anything to it. And did we really need to hear the line "failure to communicate" yet again?
This I Love has been touted as the ballad of the album. A heartfelt piano ballad with a powerful and emotional lyric and vocal from Axl. And yeah, it is good for sure. The orchestration is immense and the vocal something we haven't heard from Axl before. Tasteful guitar solos add atmosphere rather than derailing the intent of the song.
Prostitute is an interesting closer with several different approaches during the 6 minute stay. There an underlying moodiness to the track and some interesting instrumentation again (as there is throughout the album) and generally speaking the melodies within the song demand repeat listens.
There are a couple of classics here and a few fillers also. It is better than I expected for sure, but how does any record possibly live up to the hype of years worth of fan anticipation. In many ways the myth and legend of Chinese Democracy has proved to be greater than the actual release, which is probably the least surprising element of this whole crazy chapter of rock n roll history.
One way or the other, for better or worse, this album will certainly be remembered.
|AC/DC Black Ice||Columbia|
I'm a bit late for this review, so most opinions have been formed already. It will be interesting to read the interactive reviews once this gets posted online.|
AC/DC are an institution and remain one of the most revered bands in rock n roll history. They are one band that has stayed true to themselves over the years without ever following any number of trends that have formed around them.
Their ever reliable sound has earned them respect and their critics, but there is something comforting about getting a new album and just knowing how it is going to sound before you even put it on.
And no matter what the quality of the overall material, there is something joyful about hearing that guitar riff once again.
Few bands in all history can stack their catalogue against AC/DC, so all that remains is to analyze the contents of their latest opus, some 8 years after the last studio album.
And no surprise…it's more of the same familiar riffing, gruff vocals and that simple rock n roll formula which has served the band well over 30 years.
Will this album compete with Back In Black, High Voltage, TNT or Fly On The Wall? No…of course not, but it still sounds great and 15 new 3-minute bar room rockers are always welcome.
There's no Thunderstruck on here either, but there are some groovers. Not sure Runaway Train was the most inspired opening track or single and AC/DC unfortunately still suffers from the plods, with 3 or 4 too many tempo killers on this record. It should be no surprise then, that my personal favourites are the songs that kick it into high gear like Anything Goes, War Machine, Wheels, Stormy May Day and Rocking All The Way.
|Robert Berry The Dividing Line||Frontiers Records|
It has been a monster year for Berry fans. I'm still spinning the amazing Alliance album from earlier in the year and now a brand new solo album is upon us. Robert Berry has one of those amazing voices that just sounds melodic in every sense – each line and each harmony sounds so natural it is a joy to listen to.|
The Dividing Line is a fine collection of songs that is typically Berry. A little pomp, a little progressive, but always 100% classic style melodic rock.
I'm not as impressed with the overall production quality of this album vs the recent Alliance album, which sounded as clear and crisp as any record in recent times.
This is a littler rawer and I guess just a little different with Berry handling most of the instrumentation himself, but the quality of the songs and the vocal performance are nothing short of sublime.
The title track is a great uptempo intro to the album, but the more dramatic and classic Berry pomp sounding One Good Man is even better.
Same goes for the easy going melodic rocker Listen To The People, which could have easily been lifted from any of the Alliance albums.
A Life Worth Livin' is pure melodic bliss with an old school Bryan Adams kind of feel – I'd like to hear more of this from Berry, what a killer song. Alliance band mates Gary Pihl and David Lauser guest on this track.
The moody keyboard driven Can't Let Go is another winner and I Gave You The Best Of Me is another Alliance-style track.
Young Hearts is another great uptempo pomp rocker deserving of special mention. The hunting ballad Wait is one of those tracks that sends shivers up one's spine.
|China Blue Twilight Of Destiny||Frontiers Records|
Mr. Everywhere – keyboardist Eric Ragno – appears again on another fine melodic release. But rather than just appearing, this is Eric's baby, with him involved in the planning and execution of the album's grand plan and co-writing the songs along the way. Hell, he even produced it with JK Northrup mixing.|
The China Blue path has been a varied one over the years and even with the last piece of the puzzle added (vocalist Tony Mills) it wasn't plain sailing to get a release.
But that day has come and for fans of all those involved there are pay-offs here.
For fans of great melodic songwriting there is plenty to enjoy here with some fine songs on offer. Not your average AOR fare by any means, these songs are a little more challenging and absorbing and take repeat listens to get to know.
For fans of Tony Mills, here is an album that showcases his talents in the best possible light – intelligent AOR with soaring harmonies and thankfully no tango inspired ditties to confuse things. For fans of Josh Ramos you get more Journey-esque lead breaks and some naturally appealing solos and riff driven songs.
And for fans of Eric – plenty of swirling keyboards and piano fills and some truly interesting musical arrangements. Doug Odell and Zane Petersen provide a muscle bound rhythm section that gives the songs the power they deserve.
So not your average AOR release here – there are layers of music to unravel as you go and the whole record has this moody vibe that gives it a certain intensity and a sense of the unexplored creatively speaking.
And with that go some songs that aren't your usual hook/chorus format. Some of these songs are far from instant, but that's why repeat listens are required to get to know everything within.
Of the more instant tracks are the epic opening What Do You Need But Love, delivering a caustic lyric wrapped in a memorable chorus; the more straight forward anthemic I Feel Like Dying and Changing Ways; the Journeyesque ballad Don't Be A Stranger and the uptempo Take Me As I Am.
The more challenging aspect of the album is portrayed through songs like the very melodic So Wrong (great musicianship here), Crimes Of Passion and the breezy Passions.
The Last Goodbye is also a fabulous instrumental featuring Josh and Eric doing their thing together. I'd like to hear more of that…
|Valentine Soul Salvation||Indie|
Two Hugo fronted albums in the same year? Must be a good year! AOR fans rejoice as 2008 continues to deliver great music from all facets of the scene.|
AOR has been somewhat overshadowed in recent years, but hits back in 2008 and Valentine add to the crop of must have CDs.
Valentine 2008 follows the musical path of Hugo the solo artist. This is to my ears more or less a new Hugo solo album stylistically. The original valentine album was a little tougher and a little heavier.
This 11 track album is filled with glorious AOR anthems and mid-tempo ballads which the band has written over the years – both new and old tunes.
The two Hugo releases this year (Ramos/Hugo & Valentine) make interesting comparisons.
The Ramos Hugo album could have used some more defined chorus hooks (which this album has plenty of) and this album could benefit from a better and tighter production (which Ramos Hugo had).
Of the two albums I'll listen to this one more I think, just due to the nature of the songs and how catchy they are.
Ramos/Hugo was a grower…this one is an instant good fun record and more in keeping with Hugo the solo artist as we have come to love him.
Not all of these songs are new, but the whole album was recorded in 2008. Yes, it could have used a bigger and better production; especially with the drum sound (isn't that always the way?).
But I love these songs. The hands-in-the-air classic 80s sounds of Dream On The Way, Soul Salvation (great vocals!), Wait and the stand out anthem Every Time You Go Away are all wonderful.
On a moodier note, Pickin' Up The Pieces delivers a tougher sound as does One More Chance with it's lush chorus and great harmonies.
I'll Be The One is more acoustic based and has an almost country tinge to it. I think it offers a nice change of pace and showcases a different side of Hugo's vocals.
Love Is All We're After is a kind of moody wistful pop rock ballad and an interesting way to close the album. Ballads are of course included and Love Song is one of the better for the year, I really like this one and it features another big Steve Perry like performance.
Pages is a slower moodier track and features another class vocal.
|Lost Weekend Fear And Innocence||Escape Music|
British melodic rockers Lost Weekend have bounced around labels over the years and now find themselves with another new home in Escape Music.|
What Escape have managed to do that the other labels haven't, is provide the band with a great producer/mixer in Martin Kronlund in Sweden. This is the band's 5th album and easily their best sounding to date.
This album has more punch and a clearer sound than any album before it and the mix is perfectly balanced. You'd expect no less from Kronlund.
The band has their own melodic rock style that has drifted over the years and here things change a little again. In fact, as they turn to a heavier direction, I think is the sound they should adopt permanently as it suits them very well.
What I hear on Fear And Innocence is a sound closer to the likes of Gary Barden/MSG/Deep Purple. In fact, so strong is the Gary Barden influence, I had to check the writing credits for his input. But no…it's all down to the band's principle songwriters Dave Thompson and Paul Utterly.
I like the blues based rock of this record. It is heavier than past efforts, but still very much melodic and the production matches the tougher approach.
The songs themselves aren't the type of anthemic rockers that are of instant appeal, but more straight forward mid-tempo rockers that grow on you after several spins.
Highlights to these ears include the excellent ballad Father And Son; the traditional rock of Back Street Living; the punchy Life With The Lid Taken Off and the double time stomper Another Lonely Night In Tears. The moody Only The Strong Survive is also worth a mention.
|Hope All Of My Days||Escape Music|
Just who is Hope and what have they done with Bryan Adams and Keith Scott?|
To answer the first question, Hope are a new Swedish outfit with a long list of studio credits to their individual names, but collectively this is their debut release.
The second question - well it seems singer Henrik Thomsen has hijacked Bryan's voice box and his sense of songwriting and delivers a true Reckless/Waking Up The Neighbors style performance here.
Add in a little Stage Dolls to give the band their European influence and you should get the picture. And at the same time guitarist Mats Johanson seems to have a penchant for the style and sound of the great Bryan Adams guitarist Keith Scott.
These guys will obviously be right up there in the best newcomer of 2008 stakes and I can see the band attracting an instant fanbase with this release.
It is very well produced, very well executed and while a little too laid back in places, is still a very attractive traditional sounding melodic rock record.
I'm not sure that heading into a slow ballad straight after the rousing opener I Want You is a good move, but things are quickly put back on track with the Reckless rock n roll of All Of My Days – a song that is so Bryan Adams that you might think both Adams and Scott are guesting.
The lush ballad Bring Down The Stars is quite something and the orchestral arrangement adds texture.
The more urgent uptempo rockers You Could Be Mine and See The Sign are familiar, yet fresh and potential hits given another time and decade.
The soulful and more laid back Come Alive is one of the best slower tracks, while the catchy and stomping Baby Don't Cry has a tempo and beat I would have liked to have heard more of.
|Talon Fallen Angels||Kivel Records|
Talon is back after a short 6 year wait! Sadly their original singer Michael O'Mara has departed, which was a disappointment to me – I thought he had one of the better high-range vocals about. But into his shoes steps the very capable Chandler Mogul.|
I must admit I had a harder time adjusting to his vocals than I anticipated. I don't think they fit into parts of this album as well as on other parts, but overall I like his energy, attitude and upon repeat listens the overall performance.
What the band has done is nailed the songwriting. And they should have too…they have had long enough!
These are some very catchy melodic hard rock tunes, from the opening metal fury of Fallen Angels and the mid-album rocker Paradise; to the lighter-in-the-air ballad Baby Jane and the anthemic All I Ever Needed; and the more commercial melodic rock of I Won't and What About Me.
Burn is possibly the closest song to the style of the debut, but the new sound isn't far removed and it is still Talon all the way.
Production values are ok – not as strong as the debut which was a particular strong point of that release – but a little looser and not as crisp overall.
|Faith Circus Faith Circus||Kivel Records|
Faith Circus hail from Norway and frontman Marc Ferrano has a very melodic and soulful approach to the singing. This is classic style melodic rock all the way, with sweet harmonies and big hooks all the way.|
Simply glorious are the anthemic Tried And True, the opening rocker Back On Love, the lush AOR of Hold On and the slower Rain On You. The building ballad Half The Man is yet another highlight. The vocals that glide over the music are superb and thoroughly listenable. But the whole package needed tightening up and a better mix.
And that is one of the great frustrations of working in this scene is hearing albums like this – chock full of cracking melodic hard rock tunes that are really enjoyable, well written songs, but suffer from a less than amazing production.
That isn't the main point of this review, but it is frustrating when it happens, and it happens a lot. The main problem here is a drum sound that lacks power and guitars that are too low in the mix generally.
But the songs…well, no complaints there and overall this remains an album to put on want lists due to the strength of the material.
Guests include Steinar Krokstad/drums (ex-Stage Dolls), Morty Black/bass (ex-TNT), Dag Stokke/keyboards (TNT), Tore Moren/guitar (Jorn), Steinar Hagen/acoustic guitar (Return) and Tony Harnell/background vocals (ex-TNT).
|Nickelback Dark Horse||Roadrunner|
I nearly fell off my chair when I read master producer Mutt Lange had teamed up with Nickelback to help produce their new album.|
Of all the bands in the world, Mutt chose to make a rare appearance on this release. Interesting… I know I'll get hate mail for this, but I have always rated Nickelback as one of the more boring modern rock outfits around. They are like the Hootie And The Blowfish of modern rock – as bland as they come.
But, if anyone can make Chad Kroeger's voice bearable, it would be Mutt.
And sure enough…Mutt's magic is alive and well and all over this record. Not only does Kroeger sound ok (sorry, you won't get anything more than that out of me there), but this album features the biggest, baddest and fattest sound the band have put to disc to date.
The rhythm section on this album is simply stupendous and literally blows out of the speakers.
And even better Mutt joins in the songwriting adding co-writer credits on 5 tracks. I never thought Nickelback would be comparable to Bryan Adams and Shania Twain, but that commercial FM radio influence Mutt dictates sees several tracks here sounding at home on either of those other two artists' own records.
I do think the lyrical content of the record is banal at times…the sexual innuendo is a little lame. But you just can't fault the monster sound and the fact that your feet are tapping along with the record from note 1.
Something In Your Mouth (gee, I wonder what?) is a monster rocker and the lead singer Gotta Be Somebody is classic Nickelback.
Burn It To The Ground has a beat Motley Crue and AC/DC would be proud of and the ballad I'd Come For You (Mutt co-write) is a modern rock radio hit in waiting. I expect that to be the next single.
Mutt's magic is again in play with the monster ballad Never Gonna be Alone (another single and hit) and the curious Def Leppard/Shania Twain hybrid boot-scoters Shakin' Heads and This Afternoon.
If Today Was Your Last Day is a strong mid-tempo acoustic modern melodic rocker with one of my favourite vocals on the album.
There are fillers though – Next Go Round being the worst culprit and the lyrics to S.E.X. are horrible.
|Jimi Jamison Crossroads Moment||Frontiers Records|
I have been looking forward to reviewing this album for months, so it is a little disappointing for me not to be able to get this done prior to the album's release.|
But here we are now…
The upside of this review is that the folks out there that made it a priority to grab this album as soon as it was released will now have had the time to live with it for a while and hopefully will come to the same conclusion as I have – that the album is a melodic rock masterpiece!
I heard the original demos to some songs on this record more than a year ago and have lived with other tracks for several months, which gives me the ability to know this record inside and out and I truly can't see how anyone could not think this was a wonderful record and one of the very best of 2008 and any year for that matter.
My admiration for both Jimi J and Jim Peterik is no secret, but at the same time both artists have over time delivered material I thought could have been improved upon.
Not so in this case – I think the extended process of writing and recording this album has allowed the duo to nail the material.
Jimi Jamison's last vocal effort was on the Survivor release Reach. It was one of those releases that I felt could have been so much better and Jimi's own vocal performance was mixed. Perhaps it is down to the producer behind the project knowing just how to get the very best performance out of the singer, as Jimi sings better here than he has since the days of Too Hot To Sleep.
And in writing for his old partner, Jim Peterik has dug deep to deliver the best and most consistent set of songs since prime era Survivor and the debut Pride Of Lions release.
I believe the production and general sound quality on this album is also the very best since the 80s with a solid rhythm section driving the songs and a range of guitar and vocal overdubs really fattening out the sound and giving people something new to hear each time they listen.
The sound of the album is no great surprise – it mixes Jimi Jamison's classic AOR voice with the Jim Peterik sound established since his days in Survivor.
The general style mixes classic Survivor with Pride Of Lions (after all, those musicians remain the core backing band here) and touches of Jimi solo material (Empires) and Jim's own pomp/theatrical leanings.
For me it is a very natural and organic sound and re-establishes Jimi as a solo force. It also in my mind, blows the last Survivor album out of the water and equally, is more impressive than the last couple of Pride Of Lions records.
In other words – everyone delivers and delivers impressively.
Song highlights are many. I rate every track on this album depending on my mood – there are no weak tracks at all. But as my mood varies I do have certain favorites at any given time – once again the sign of a strong and consistent record.
To single out certain tracks and not mention others feels like I'm being disrespectful to those not mentioned, such is the quality of the record – so I'll just mention them all!
Battersea – the opening rocker proves Jimi can still deliver rock with a punch and guitarist Tommy Denander deliving that punch with some inspired riffing.
Can't Look Away – a hard hitting song about the poor and society in general, featuring a gritty hard rock guitar riff. Catchy song, but more so after repeat listens.
Make Me A Believer – pure 80s Survivor with a frantic pace and some great keyboard fills.
Crossroads Moment – one of the songs of 2008 or any year for that matter. This is a timeless classic that is urgent, warm and consoling, uplifting and inspirational. I absolutely adore this song and it rates as one of the best JP songs I have heard.
Bittersweet – pure 80s soul with a cameo from Mickey Thomas. Jimi's vocals are superb and the chorus another 2008 highlight.
Behind The Music – the song that kicked it all into gear (along with Crossroads Moment). Classic Survivor here and another killer track.
Lost – one of the great ballads of the year and one of Jimi's best vocal in a long time.
Love The World Away – A soaring rock anthem at a cracking pace to really drive the album into higher gear.
She's Nothing To Me – the choruses just keep getting bigger. This is a classic Pride Of Lions style rocker, just with Jimi sailing over the top.
As Is – One of the very best ballads Jim has written and sang with perfect emotion by Jimi. What a monster chorus and a heartfelt message delivered with a ton of vocal passion.
Till The Morning Comes – A driving mid-tempo melodic rocker with another strong chorus and another classic Survivor style track.
That's Why I Sing – a mid-tempo feel good melodic rock anthem that for me is another highlight. A simple and joyous song.
Friends We've Never Met – absolute brilliance! Singing about the bands fans and the audience at a live show, this track deserves to be the closing encore song. It just gets bigger and bigger and the blazing guitar work towards the end is stunning.
A perfect live song and a really energetic way to bring the album to an almost conclusion.
The honors of closing the album for real go to When Rock Was King, another quirky song that features several guest vocalists such as Dave Bickler, Mickey Thomas, Mike Reno, Joe Lynn Turner and Don Barnes. It is a novelty song that reflects on the glory days of rock n roll and is an enjoyable, less serious song.
Bonus tracks for various territories include the moody rock ballad Alive, which keeps the quality of the album's main material.
The Japanese bonus track is the more effective and haunting Streets Of Heaven, reflecting on those loved ones lost. A smooth and emotional vocal and a worthy track to add to the album.
|Sammy Hagar Cosmic Universal Fashion||Roadrunner|
I don't think I have to explain my longtime fanboy sentiment held towards Sammy Hagar. I hold him in high esteem and consider a few records featuring his vocals up there with my very best ever - (VH's 5150 and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge; solo albums I Never Said Goodbye, VOA and Standing Hampton).|
But in recent times Sammy has become a bit of a mystery artist – you never quite know what is coming next or what style it will be in. And in some ways Sammy continues to confuse his fan base with this release.
After devoting himself to being the hard rock Jimmy Buffett on Livin' It Up (itself a very fine record if you could handle the style), Sammy returns to hard rock here, but fails to convince with an album that appears almost thrown together.
Not 4 Sale was a loosely recorded set of tunes, but at least had focus. Livin' It Up was the same, but the style wasn't for all.
Sammy at one stage flagged recording a bunch of stand alone tunes, releasing them individually. That's what this album sounds like. And as an old school Hagar fan, it doesn't really work for me. Perhaps it would if all the songs were of stand-out quality, but this is a very mixed bag.
The opening tune – the title track Cosmic Universal Fashion – is horrible. Not a great way to start any album, but a Sammy album featuring a driving programmed beat and some semi-spoken rapping vocals with filtered effects and the like…good grief!
Next up is a change of tact again in the only two Planet Us tunes re-recorded (Sammy's near-project with Neal Schon).
Both Psycho Vertigo (original track Vertigo renamed) and Peephole are true to the original vibe of the Planet Us demos – serious, loose, raw, 70s based groove rockers with a dark and very uncommercial vibe.
Peephole was done better by Soul Sirkus, but the guitar playing here is still intense and Sammy's vocal is amazing.
Then there's another change of style with the straight forward hard rocker Loud, which turns back the clock to the Ten 13 'party rocker' Sammy.
Fight For Your Right To Party continues this party vibe. The Beastie Boys cover deserves to be rocked up and rolled out, but I think it works better as a live track than a studio album cut.
Switch On The Light is a pretty average tune again – a bluesy rocker with a crap chorus.
When The Sun Don't Shine is an acoustic ditty that was probably rejected from the Livin' it Up album for not being strong enough. The Hawaiian Islands vibe sounds even worse here. Horrible.
There is never time to get comfortable with any style while listening to this album and 24365 is no different. This is another harmless party rock tune with an amusing vocal, but really…why?
I'm On A Roll is much the same – a 2 minute Van Hagar novelty style filler that serves little purpose, but on its own is a little bit of fun.
The last track – again seemingly dumped on here to fill up space is a live medley of two classic Van Halen tunes - Dreams and Cabo Wabo. Both have been radically restructured into acoustic ballad/sing-alongs. Horrible way to close any album and even worse, the last 2 minutes of the track is nothing but some Sammy acapella and crowd singing. Messy.
|Thunder Bang!||Frontiers Records|
We should never take bands like Thunder for granted. They are the kind of band that don't take a lot of the glory and yet pop up consistently each 12-18 months or so with a new album, which in most cases is consistent with the high quality the band has offered in the past.|
Thunder's last album was in 2006 and like this, was a solid collection of classic sounding tunes that serviced fans, keeping them happy.
Bang! won't win Album Of The Year (but might be in the running for worst album cover of the year once again) and for me doesn't rank as their very best, yet it delivers most of what you wish of a Thunder album and should keep fans happy until next time.
Bang is a fairly commercial slice of Thunder rock, slightly softer than the last couple of albums as a whole, but still filled with great vocals, big guitars and that trademark rhythm section. I do think the songwriting is a little weaker than past efforts and I found myself over this album pretty quickly.
On The Radio is a cracking classic Thunder single and yes, it isn't likely you will hear that on the radio.
Stormwater is a likable rocker too, but the next few songs don't really hit the spot for me, which is unusual considering my past appreciation of everything Thunder and especially their killer debut.
It is the bluesy acoustic driven rocker Have Mercy that next appeals, followed by the soulful ballad watching Over You.
The Zeppelinesque rock of Miracle Man and Turn Left At California showcase a band willing to experiment while Love Sucks is again, pure classic Thunder.
The closing song Honey is among the best on the album, but overall they are a few songs short of a solid album.
|Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force Perpetual Flame||Rising Force Records|
I seem to have a love hate relationship going on with Yngwie. He remains an iconic figure in the guitar playing world, his speed and ability still mesmerizing a legion of fans and I respect that unquestionably.|
There are some albums I swear by (Rising Force, Marching Out, Odyssey, Attack) and some I am less enamored with (War To End All Wars, Unleash The Fury, Facing The Animal).
After the massive kick in the pants Yngwie was delivered by fans following the abysmal War To End All Wars he delivered big time on Attack. Unleash The Fury saw a less impressive set of tunes turned in (but you have to love the title and Yngwie's sense of humor); this time we have some good songs on Perpetual Flame, but a disappointing sound quality.
The production is not as bad as War To End All Wars, but it does deliver varying quality throughout. You think someone with such a massive focus on guitars, would nail the best tone possible for his records.
And new singer Tim Owens is a curious selection. Yngwie has always paired up with fine vocalists and this is still the case with "Ripper", but he shines as a true metal vocalist, and I have always found Yngwie to be a hard rock artist.
I don't think the vocals are a natural fit on this album. We all know Yngwie writes all the songs and the vocalist is just a hired gun, but in most cases they try and blend into the album as best they can. I don't hear that here.
And what is with the opening track? Tim's vocals sound as if they were recorded with him phoning them in from Gibraltar. It improves after that thankfully. Live To Fight is amongst Yngwie's most menacing tunes and you can't fault Yngwie the guitar player.
If I close myself off to the vocals and concentrate on the riffery, then finer soloing you will not find anywhere.
|Tesla Forever More||Frontiers Records|
Tesla's return to active duty came with the acclaimed Into The Now release, an album that saw them update their sound like so may others before them, but I think in a manner which worked for the band at the time. It was a strong album in my mind and I still think that today, although opinion is somewhat divided over that.|
Forever More sees the band cementing the position of guitarist Dave Rude in the band (who replaced Tommy Skeoch after Into The Now).
Last year's covers release Real To Reel is behind them and new material awaits.
This album continues the contemporary leanings of Into The Now, but the masterful production, direction and co-writing of Terry Thomas (Giant, Bad Company, and Tesla's own Bust A Nut) steers the album back towards the band's legacy sound.
The guitar sound is still fairly contemporary and is tuned down to some degree, but the overall approach is far more in keeping with the classic Tesla vibe and coupled with some truly great songs, this makes Forever More the best Tesla album since Psychotic Supper.
The opening hard rockers Forever More (mid-tempo), I Wanna Live and One Day At A Time (both uptempo) signal the intentions of the band to shake off the modern tag that Into The Now received. Nothing but classic Tesla all the way.
The moody So What is the perfect blend of old and new and would have been a hit single 10 years ago.
From here the album takes a moodier turn with some really intelligent songwriting mixing hard rockers with acoustic driven mellower tunes, but all with a focused intensity that makes the album as a whole a great listen. The ballad Fallin' Apart is particularly brilliant.
All Of Me picks up the tempo again, but also provides a break in the intensity.
The First Time is a moody track turn rocking anthem that harks back to the old days and is an album highlight.
Pvt. Ledbetter is a raw, emotional look at war and in this case, the Middle East. The poignant lyrics are among the best I've heard from Tesla.
In A Hole Again rocks things up with a wall of guitars and The Game is the second hard rocker to end the album on a powerful note.
|Newman Decade||Chrome Dome Music / Indie|
10 years of Newman is celebrated in this fine 2CD set featuring all new recordings of 17 album tracks from across the years and a second CD of 14 never before released songs, also freshly recorded this year plus 3 alternative take tracks.|
34 tracks over 2 discs is a terrific way to pay tribute to a fine performer, songwriter and singer and an all-round top bloke on top of that. Of the album tracks re-recorded you'll find some fabulous melodic rock tunes, many of which have featured in my year-end Best Of lists over the years.
Steve Newman has re-recorded them beautifully and with advancements in technology perhaps even better than the originals in places.
It's just great to have them all in one place. It makes you appreciate just how many great tunes Newman has delivered in 10 years of recording.
Now the really astounding aspect of this release is that Steve has uncovered 14 tracks that were never included on any of the past albums. These tracks have been freshly recorded and basically amount to a whole new Newman album in their own right.
And far from being cast-offs, there are some more great tunes here that Newman fans are really going to appreciate.
Coming Home Tonight, Life After Love, Can You Hear Me Now, World Comes Down and Don't Say Forever are all classic British melodic rock tracks and well worthy of the Newman badge.
And damn, is that really my mugshot in the album artwork? Higher standards should have been upheld in that case!
|Eden's Curse The Second Coming||AFM Records / Metal Mayhem|
One of the most talked about bands in the last 18 months hasn't let the accolades of a well received debut deviate them from their attempts at world domination.|
The debut record was one of the very best records of 2007 and one of my personal favourite hard rock / melodic metal albums of the last few years.
So the guys had a lot to live up to as far as delivering a sequel and in my mind they have delivered with The Second Coming.
I have had the good fortune of living with this new album as long as I did the debut before reviewing, so I feel that the playing field is level as far as comparing the two releases against each other. And I don't want to unnecessarily reference back and forth as this is a fine album in its own right. What I will say is that the debut had the advantage of taking us all by surprise and there was certain spark to that record that captured the imagination of many – me included.
I think this album is actually better produced – it truly sounds amazing. There are more guitars, more backing vocals and more just about everything else, not to mention an even bigger bombastic approach, but there is still something about the magic of any band's debut album.
There are a couple of times within the first half of this album that I am not as glued to the speakers as I was the debut.
The intro is a short instrumental piece I could live without and I find myself being annoyed by the vocals of Pamela Moore on the track Angels & Demons, despite its pounding verse and catchy chorus.
Just Like Judas has a damn catchy chorus too and that pounding rhythm section is simply phenomenal as are the harmony vocals, but again…I think the chorus overstays its welcome a little.
Those are just a couple of small issues. The rest of the album I have nothing but praise for. The bombastic opening Masquerade Ball is classic melodic metal; Sail On is a wonderful tempo changing melodic rocker with a really lush arrangement and a blazing guitar solo towards the end – a definite highlight and one of the band's best song to date; Lost In Wonderland is a killer harmony filled aggressive rocker with more over the top guitar work and a cool Mike Eden vocal. I love the short bridge into the chorus…keeps bringing me back for more.
West Wind Blows is slightly less intense, but keeps the momentum going and really sees the album reach the levels anticipated.
Signs Of Your Life is simply a lush harmony filled melodic hard rocker and is part of a mid-album run of absolute hard rock perfection.
Man Against The World is an intense acoustic driven ballad that impresses and beats any of the slower tracks off the debut. The addition of piano and almost an orchestral feel adds to the atmosphere.
Raven's Revenge signals that it is time to rock again, which a hard edge riff right off the bat, followed by a thumping furious drum beat. And the guitars – simply everywhere!!!
Lost Soul is an almost epic that builds from the start and less instant, but rather intense vocal and chorus hook. It still pumps energy through the speakers and the layers of vocals are almost unrivalled.
Games People Play is a little darker and again features a sonically ear shattering arrangement. Good solid chorus that gets better each listen and more of those fabulous harmonies.
Ride The Storm relies more individually on the vocal charm of Eden (who sings great throughout), surrounded by a swirl of guitars, and works great thanks to a well crafted chorus hook. A great way to close out the European album on a high. The closing minute is brilliant.
The US bonus track Prisoner Of The Past is another aggressive uptempo rocker with another really strong chorus and hooks everywhere. Well worth having!
The end result is the same – as catchy as hell and impossible to get out of your head. Another winning album. Metal power - AOR hooks.
|Eclipse Are You Ready To Rock||Frontiers Records|
What the melodic rock world needs is more albums like these. Swedish rockers Eclipse features the punch with the melody and the power with the emotion.|
This is one of the best sounding records of the year and it is packed with great songs.
This year has been so filled with wonderful releases; I haven't had time to review the crap out there. Thankfully there is a ton of great music to keep me otherwise occupied and Eclipse has just added to the pile.
I'm a fan of this band since day 1 and their two previous albums have been really enjoyable slices of European melodic hard rock. But this time they have nailed it. This to me is the album Europe could have made if they stayed a little truer to their original sound and only updated a little.
Eclipse has moved into a new era with this more contemporary sound, but they never once abandon the melodic base they created on the first two albums.
This is also heavier and more focused than ever before. And the sheer wall of sound that blows out of the speakers leaves many others for dead.
This is a classic European style melodic hard rock album with a monster sound and a old-school melodic edge thanks to vocalist Erik Martensson. His tone is so easy on the ears.
At the heart of the record are some great songs that barely contain the energy of the guys performing them.
Highlights on the album are numerous – there isn't a weak track here at all, but to name a few – The opening trio of Breaking my Heart Again, Hometown Calling and To Mend A Broken Heart are all among the finest songs of the genre this year and all contain great choruses.
The urgency of Hometown Calling and the melodic power of To Mend A Broken Heart will rank highly come the end of the year.
The power that is Under The Gun is mind blowing – the rhythm section and the hooky chorus are perfect.
The anthemic Unbreakable is the hit single Europe could have used on Start From The Dark. Perfection!
And just when you think it can't get any better Million Miles Away bursts through…another high powered melodic gem with a killer chorus.
The fast moving and riff filled Call Of The Wild is the last but not least tune and a great pick for blowing things over the top to close.
|7th heaven USA-UK||NTD Records|
Chicago natives 7th heaven should be no strangers to those that follow this site. Their acclaimed Silver double CD was a popular favourite for many and is still being discovered by new fans to this very day.|
The band's high-tech AOR friendly sound mixed with a dose of Def Leppard stadium theatrics and layers and layers of vocals have them worshipped in the US Mid-West, but with every release their profile and stature grows.
The band plays hundreds of shows each year and was part of the first MelodicRockFest in South Bend in 2007.
The line-up has changed since Silver, with vocalist Keith Semple (South African born, raised in Ireland) taking up residence in the USA as the new lead vocalist.
He is the perfect fit for the band and judging by the writing credits and the quality of the songs, has made an immediate impact with band founder, guitarist Richie Hofherr.
This band always delivers the goods and they always deliver great value.
Silver was a double disc of tunes and USA-UK features 18 tracks.
Not all tracks are new however – there are 6 tracks brought back and re-recorded from the Silver disc that now feature Semple's lead vocals.
If you are new to this band and are going to hear tracks like Cellophane, Gravity, Kill The Cycle, Undone, While You Dream and Ghost Of Me for the first time – boy – are you in for a treat.
Personally I'd rather the album feature all new material only, but as stated, the band delivers value every time and there is still 12 brand new tracks to enjoy.
And yes folks…they are every bit as good as the Silver material and dare I say – even better.
To me the band sounds more focused this time around and there is less experimentation within the sound and more sticking to what they do best – and that is delivering the music Def Leppard fans have been waiting for since Hysteria.
In fact, if Def Leppard went more AOR after Adrenalize, this is exactly how they would sound.
7th heaven is pure melodic bliss. Every song is layered with backing vocals Mutt Lange would be proud of the continuous melodies and hooks within the underlying instrumentation and the lead vocals.
The band's sound is a little programmed at times, but that's their high-tech style that has been constant since the start. The fact is they deliver some of the best classic melodic rock songs of the year on this album.
Better This Way is a smooth mid-tempo AOR anthem that has a monster chorus and a radio friendly riff that would have been a smash hit in any other decade. A monster!
The ballad Still Here has plenty of production effects and more soaring vocals through a wonderful chorus.
The mid-tempo Gave You My Heart is sentimental and uplifting at the same time and This Summers Gonna Last Forever is simply the backyard anthem Bryan Adams has been trying to write for the last decade. One of the brightest and most uplifting songs of the year. Perfect!
Save Your Life is another uplifting song with a rapid fire guitar riff about empowering yourself – great message and another catchy chorus of course.
Hand On My Heart is a lush pop ballad and the rockier Winning It All has a definite Silver vibe to it.
Oh So Really Old works will with its added angst and catchy melody; Tragedy is a nice tempo changing mood piece and Dream Of A New Day is more uptempo pop with more great sing-along lines.
|Shadowman Ghost In The Mirror||Escape Music|
At last Shadowman finally sounds like the sum of its parts! Vocalist Steve Overland (FM) and multi-instrumentalist Steve Morris (Heartland) team up for their third record as Shadowman, but possibly the first that sound exactly as I had hoped the guys would – the perfect blend of current era Heartland mixed with classic FM.|
This is easily the best of the three Shadowman records and personally speaking it is already my favourite Steve Overland record to date.
In a year where the stakes have been set high, the guys deliver another high classic melodic rock release that should rank as essential for all fans of FM, Overland and Heartland.
This is a more uptempo record than previous releases and slightly heavier also, but still very much melodic rock. They aren't trying to be heavier than needed (such as the last Heartland record) nor too soft (such as the last album).
This is perfectly balanced, engaging melodic rock, with energy and spunk and I love it.
The rhythm section is a particular highlight here, with Thunder's Harry James really belting out the numbers. Steve Morris is filled with the great riffs that I thought were lacking on his last couple of record and Steve Overland simply sounds utterly phenomenal!
This is one of the performances of the year.
The record is mixed to perfection by Tommy Hansen and just sounds world class in every aspect.
And credit to al, the songs on offer are the most engaging and catchy of the three records to date and some of the best material Morris has delivered full stop. I hope his run of inspiration lasts into the next Heartland record.
Highlights are many once again – song of the year for 2008 is going to be a nightmare to adjudicate.
Road To Nowhere and No Mans Land are both high on energy and big on rock and feature some outstanding choruses.
Bad For You slows it down a little to inject some classic FM soul into proceedings. Colour Of Your Love is again high energy and catchy, catchy, catchy.
The soulful and anthemic Fire And Ice is another highlight, especially the killer lead vocal. I've Been Wrong Before is simply one of the year's best ballads and just drips soul and emotion. Blues City has another instantly catchy hook and great uptempo flow.
Little Miss Midnight is classic old-school Overland and closes the album with a bluesy uptempo swagger.
|Honeymoon Suite Clifton Hill||Frontiers Records|
It's great to hear any new material from Canada's Honeymoon Suite. I have always had a soft spot for these guys and still worship classic albums Racing After Midnight and The Big Prize.|
The band took a left turn in recent years with a modern influenced Lemon Tongue, which fell short due to weak songs, while vocalist Johnnie Dee released a much stronger solo effort in the same vein.
An attempt to repackage Lemon Tongue in Europe with some different tracks as the Dreamland record won more approval, but it was news that the original line-up was back together that got fan hopes up.
And thankfully those expectations have been met with the new album Clifton Hill.
But to be clear – I don't think this is an album that recaptures the glory days entirely, rather it updates the bands classic sound to a more contemporary setting without sounding too modern or outside their comfort zone.
There is no mistaking that this is a Honeymoon Suite record. Part Monsters Under The Bed, part Big Prize and part new, this record features some very catchy moments and some great uptempo melodic rock and some of the band's best songs in over a decade.
There are also a number of moodier mellower tunes that surmises the band's sound over the years.
Listeners are hit with a one-two punchy of crunchy melodic rock straight out of the gate as She Ain't Alright and Tired O Waitin' On You deliver knockout riffs and big hooks - the latter being one of the band's best tunes in years.
The curiously titled Riffola harkens back to he band's mid-tempo moody best and Ordinary is a classic ballad in anyone's books.
The House beefs up the tempo with another cool chorus before Why Should I again delivers mood and angst as only this band can.
Down 2 Bizness is a good straight ahead rocking track, but the more left of center and contemporary Sunday Morning misses the mark and doesn't match the quality of the rest of the material.
That's All You Got is a little loose, but the vibe gets the album back on track and the chorus has a strong hook.
The moody and mellow Restless is another class ballad with a great lead vocal from Dee.
The mid-tempo and somewhat dramatic rock ballad Separate Lives is the closer and is a decent track.
|Ramos / Hugo The Dream||Frontiers Records|
This is another highly anticipated release for the AOR community and once again I don't think it will disappoint – depending on what you expected from the record in the first place.|
Hugo is of course the Hugo – solo vocalist and also frontman for Valentine and Open Skies, and well known for his uncanny comparison to legendary vocalist Steve Perry.
Ramos is none other than guitarist Josh Ramos from The Storm and Two Fires, who is generally regarded as an understudy to Journey's Neal Schon.
So two strong Journey-esque musicians teaming up for an AOR album? Sounds like a winner. For the most part it is.
What surprised me a little though is the fact the album took several listens to get to know. I kinda figured this would be an instant hit, but the songs took more time to learn and the chorus melodies weren't as in your face as I anticipated. And generally speaking, the direction of the album itself is very safe. There are no surprises on here.
But now I'm 20 or so listens in I can better appreciate everything the album has to offer.
The smooth Perryesque sound of Hugo and the rush of Ramos' guitar solos are just part of what makes The Dream an enjoyable ride.
This is quite a long album – there's 53 minutes over 10 tracks here, so it does take some time to learn.
I was alarmed a little to see Fabrizio Grossi at the helm, as I grew very tired of his production techniques and the way he captures guitar and drum sounds generally.
Yes, there is a little of his influence here, but clearly it is well above the quality of some more recent projects. That said…there is still room for improvement here. The album is largely uptempo and slows quite effortlessly between tracks. It is very smooth and filled with melodies and harmonies.
I would have liked some more distinctive lifts when it came to the choruses, but after repeated listens those choruses are clearly present.
You're Not Alone and All That I Dream both kick the album into high gear from the get-go, while The Dream heads into a more lush AOR mode.
In fact, The Dream has a distinct Don't Stop Believing vibe to it.
I'm not so much into Fools Game, I think that song runs far too long and is without a great chorus.
Bring Back This Love is better and returns to the uptempo style of the opening two numbers.
I Don't Want To Say Goodbye is another track that drags a little, but again, the following track when You Get Lonely is better focused and has a stronger chorus.
Strangely, for an album of AOR songs, In The City is the only real ballad and this one is filled to the brim with Perry and Journey trademark references.
Tomorrow is a fired up rocker with one of the best choruses of the album. I might have opened the album with this had I been making the decisions.
The 8 minute closer I Can Take You is slower in tempo, but not really a ballad. It's more a pop song. It could use a better chorus, but the last 2 minutes of guitar soloing from Ramos is worth the admission price.
Josh Ramos is all over this record – his guitar playing a definite highlight and there are more solos on here in and around the songs than I think any Ramos record to date. Keyboards courtesy of Eric Ragno also flow effortlessly from start to finish and have a very natural sound.
|Uriah Heep Wake The Sleeper||Universal|
It really is a joy to listen to this album. I am a casual Heep fan – more of an observer even. But I own a few of the band's albums from the 80s/90s and on Wake The Sleeper, only the drummer has changed from the line-up that recorded Raging Silence in 1989.|
What I like about this album is that apart from the production techniques used to give it a sonic sound fitting with today's setting, it could have come from just about any era within Heep's long career. It really is classic Uriah Heep in every way and I'm loving it.
The frantic and over the top intro track certainly got my attention, but from the first line of Overload, with the thumping rhythm section and the trademark keyboard swirls of Phil Lanzon, you just know Heep is back.
Their first album in 10 years sees the guys strike with a classic collection of songs – pumping hard rock anthems such as Overload, Ghost Of The Ocean and Tears Of The World (great chorus!); Groovy 70s inspired blues rockers like What Kind Of God and Angels Walk With You and there's even a few straight ahead melodic rockers for good measure such as Book Of Lies, Light Of A Thousand Dancers and Heaven's Rain.
Bernie's Shaw vocals are as warm as ever and Mick Box tears it up...whatmore could you ask for?
|Jayce Landberg Break The Spell||Escape Music|
I'm pretty much a fan of everything that Swedish vocal God Goran Edman sings on, apart from the really progressive material he sometimes indulges in. His melodic rock/AOR and hard rock releases are hard to fault – he's just one of the great vocalists out of Europe.|
On this occasion though we have an album that falls a little short. Jayce Landberg is a Swedish guitarist and composer and has delivered a very traditional sounding European 'guitar shredders' hard rock album.
Goran's best efforts aside, the material here is a little weak and the production is also fairly raw.
Fans of Yngwie Malmsteen and the like will find some joy in the guitar tricks and the wailing solos and Goran of course delivers a decent lead vocal.
But it doesn't match the quality of other records in the market place this year and they might struggle to find a decent audience.
Jayce is a fine guitarist, but some help in the songwriting department is needed to lift his beyond standard fare.
All in all - not bad… A decent record for its kind, but limited in appeal due to a couple of weak points. Definitely some promise however for a follow-up record should it happen.
|Joe Lynn Turner Live In Germany||Frontiers Records|
I'm running out of descriptive nouns to use in my reviews of live albums! There has been a few lately – most of them record entirely, or in part, at last year's United Forces Of Rock festival in Germany.|
Headliner Joe Lynn Turner gets his go now, with a backing band comprising of…well, I have no idea! There's no info on the promo, nor the press release for the album.
But at least we know it's JLT up front and he's belting out a set of songs we all know him for, interspersed with some tunes of the current studio album Second Hand Life.
The sound of the recording is great – live, raw and crisp without any hint of overdubs, yet clear enough to hear everything.
The performance on the night is also top quality and high on energy.
The trademark tunes such as Death Valley Driver, I Surrender, Street Of Dreams and Burn are all rolled out, but it is also cool to hear album tracks such as Your Love Is Life, Blood Red Sky and Power Of Love included.
It is a fun show and JLT sounds great – so the end result is thumbs up for fans, which is all these live releases are aimed at.
|TNT Atlantis||Bonnier-Amigo/Metal Heaven|
Well…it's less annoying than the last album – that has to be a plus right?|
The kafuffle surrounding the last TNT album is well known and documented and I'm not going to spend much time reflecting on that. What I will say is that I still consider that album completely unlistenable and the songs really annoy the crap out of me.
The new album is for the most part more of the same, but better quality songs - if the style is of appeal. The retro experimental pop style has been retained and the songs are once again all over the planet (and sometimes off the planet). But – at least there are some likeable songs on this record and I couldn't say that about The New Territory.
That said, I will likely never listen to this album again either now the review has been written and I consider that a shame, as TNT were a band I would anticipate new releases from.
TNT have had their share of WTF moments through their history – the Firefly album was unpopular with fans and the cover of What A Wonderful World on All The Way To The Sun are just two examples.
Sadly the questions raised following the last album have fallen on deaf ears.
The band didn't listen to fans and one now has to accept that TNT is now a different band than what it was under the reign of Tony Harnell.
On a positive note – this album sounds better recorded and better produced than the last, but the songwriting here is still so left field it will require an absolutely acquired taste to appreciate. Good luck to all…
Track By Track:
Hello Hello is somewhat in keeping with the band's sound and at least has a hard edge riff underneath the song. Filled with Queen like harmonies that may not be to everyone's liking, but the song is ok.
An ok start yes, but doesn't take long for the bizarre to kick in and as early as track two we are already on a left turn. The mid-tempo Peter Sellers Blues is a fairly diverse and quirky tune with some interesting lyrics. But like the last album it is just too annoying to ever be played over and over.
Babys Got Rhythm continues the left of center obsession of the last 2 studio albums. This is a bizarre, fast moving pop rock track with a restrained chorus and an annoying piano riff popping up now and then. And is that a short sitar solo late in the song??
I absolutely hate Tango Girl. This jarring left of center rocker with a psychedelic vibe features a really annoying vocal that attacks my ears with a pitch that will cause damage if I have to hear it ever again. Horrible chorus, horrible verse, horrible lyrics.
Me And Dad is a little brighter. Leading off with an acoustic intro and a soft and soulful vocal, the song actually draws you in with its vocal warmth. The chorus unfortunately spoils it and the Queen-isms again appear out of nowhere. The mood builds and I really like the vocal. At nearly 8 minutes in length, you just know the track is going to turn bizarre at some point and that happens of course. The epic pop ballad has its moments and while I don't really like the chorus, the first half of the song has strong appeal.
Atlantis is an uptempo rocker that (for this album at least) is relatively straight forward in nature. There isn't a strong enough chorus to draw me in, but nice to hear a hard edge guitar sound again instead of the psychedelic noodlings of previous tracks.
The Taste Of Honey is one of those tracks that to me doesn't really mean anything, has another annoying chorus and generally daft lyrics. No real appeal sadly.
Bottle Of Wine is back to the psychedelic guitar sound and is another really annoying song. The chorus, the clapping, the shout-outs and the lack of structure.
Missing Kind is a darker number with some more familiar guitar sounds in play, but the song just goes nowhere. The soft chorus doesn't have any redeeming hook and the verse just plods along and on and on and on…
Love Of My Life I like. It has an instantly likeable riff and some straight forward and easy going vocals. And it has a good strong chorus at last!!! This is maybe as close to the "old" TNT as we have heard yet from the Mills fronted line-up. Decent song and there's even a "normal" guitar solo.
Well, normal didn't last long…Had It Lost It Found It is another jarring track to close the album. More strange melodies ensue and I can't say there is a lot to like here. The chorus is awful.
Vocalist Tony Mills does a good job with the material on offer and he should be no means be blamed for the band's decisions. But someone needs a reality check. And quickly.
|Queen + Paul Rodgers The Cosmos Rocks||EMI|
I normally like to live with major releases for as long as possible to give the best and most accurate review possible. And tis album really required some work on my part to appreciate some of the songs on offer. It shouldn't be this hard, but I guess I'm still not sold on the nature of this partnership and the absolute bottom line is that the style of this album is not what I wanted to hear from the Queen name in 2008.|
I think the production is unnecessarily rough and raw and from start to finish and I'm surprised and disappointed at the lack of trademark Queen-isms in the sound.
I have loved this band for years and still regard the loss of Freddie Mercury as one of the most emotional of all the musicians that have unfortunately passed away.
The decision of the band to move on is one I can absolutely accept – it is afterall, what they do in life. But the pairing with Paul Rodgers has never sat well with me.
I rate Rodgers as one of the great singers of a generation and love his voice...as a solo artist and also with Bad Company. I just don't accept his style is a good fit for Queen.
To me it doesn't matter it the CD cover says Queen; Queen + Paul Rodgers or Queen + Mickey Mouse. If it has the word Queen up on the marquee and features Brian May and Roger Taylor, then there is instantly going to be some expectation of the sound, style and quality of the music within.
This album to me is Queen + Paul Rogers, but minus much of the Queen.
Brian May's wonderful rich and warm guitar tones are missing for the most part and the layered harmony vocals of Queen of old are all but gone. In its place is a stripped back Paul Rodgers blues rock record.
And overall, when compared to the output of both Paul Rodgers the solo artist or the Bad Company singer and also the past material of Queen – this record simply isn't as dynamic or exciting.
Track By Track:
Cosmos Rockin is I guess the closest thing to a traditional Queen sound on the record, but May's guitar is well back in the mix and the song isn't the catchiest I have ever heard.
Time To Shine is a good song – albeit a good Paul Rodgers solo song – but it is a real tempo killer coming after the opening track. Sadly it sets up the tempo of the whole album.
Still Burning is another relatively slow paced blues rocker that for me just plods along with a chorus that doesn't deliver the goods.
Small is another slow track – this time an acoustic ballad. But it is a stronger track and Rodgers voice sounds immaculate. I like the chorus hook, but again, as a whole the song really is a Paul Rodgers solo track.
Warboys is a moody subdued rocker that finally gives May a little time to shine late in the track. Interesting track.
We Believe is a mid-tempo ballad that fires up a little mid-way through and finally we get to hear a little of that Queen harmony vocal magic.
Call Me is happy go lucky pop song that Queen have done before and is just a little to sugary sweet for my tastes, but showcases a mid-album passage of music containing the best songs on the record.
Voodoo is a truly boring slow blues song that goes nowhere.
Some Things That Glitter is yet another slow track that is quite stylish, but is lost amongst the congestion of slow paced songs on the album. The vocal is soulful and we do get to hear that trademark Brian May sound (a little) late in the track.
C-Lebrity was the first song released and has a more recognizable Queen/May sound. I still don't rate it as a great song…just ok. Hate the chorus.
Through The Night is yet another slow bluesy song, again showing who was really in control of this album's direction. This song would have been more favorably received if not surrounded by tracks of a similar pace. It's one of the better slow tracks on the album and features some nice guitar work late in the song.
Say It's Not True is a pretty good soft ballad that builds to a more rousing and inspired finished. Good to hear Brian's vocals in there too.
Surf's Up...School's Out is noting short of absolutely hideous. A complete waste of time and effort and a further blight on whatever it was the guys were trying to do with this album.
I didn't like the live album from a year or so ago and although a fan of all parties involved, I just don't get this pairing and the resultant album of new material is to me, very flat. The album's tempo is too slow and the lack of traditional Queen elements is alarming.
I didn't expect a classic sounding Queen album, nor do I expect the guys to repeat past history, but together as a unit I just don't think they delivered quality songs or the spark that you would expect based on the talents of those involved.
|Shinedown The Sound Of Madness||Atlantic|
A lot of great things have been said about the third Shinedown album and I'm here to back that all up. This is a monster modern melodic rock album and among the best I have heard in my time reviewing the genre. Yes, the down-tuning is there and it is everything a modern rock album should be - but what great songs.|
It seems that everything has come together for the band on this, their third release and first since 2005.
I just love the energy of this record. It's in your face and it is aggressive when it needs to be, yet features several mellower tunes that allow vocalist Brent Smith to really shine.
And the production is immense. This album features one of the more impressive 'walls of sound' that I have heard and a precise mix gives it all room to breathe.
The guitars really are all over this record and while it is modern rock, the down-tuning isn't as obvious as other artists and the aggressive, yet melodic lead vocals are a particular joy to listen to.
The opening hard rocker Devour does just that, swallowing the speakers with the intense wall of sound that lifts another notch again with the punchy chorus.
Sound of Madness is another attitude laced high spirited aggression filled rocker with a great chorus and layers of additional instrumentation.
Second Chance is a monster modern rock ballad with orchestration adding to the atmosphere and a surprisingly melodic lead vocal.
It is an impressive start to the album, but what is more impressive is the fact it doesn't stop there, rather it continues track for track until the last note of the album.
Other highlights include the frantic overdrive of Cry For Help, a song simply drenched in guitars; the big hard rocking ballad The Crow & The Butterfly; the more restrained, but still energetic If You Only Knew, which is this time fuelled by a flurry of acoustic guitars.
What a Shame is a hit waiting to happen on modern rock radio; Cyanide Sweet Tooth is as intense as it gets; Call Me uses a bare lead vocal and strings to convey the emotion within.
The special edition of the album features 3 bonus tracks, all of which are high energy heavy rockers and help balance the album's slower parts out with a big finish.
In places this album reminds me of the spirit and attitude and even the delivery of Gun's classic but underrated Swagger record – just with a 2008 sound and guitar sound. Take another listen to that album and appreciate how ahead of their time Gun was.
And you know what - it's a really loud album without being one of those overbearing, badly mastered noise-fests. It really is beautifully recorded and mastered.
|Bob Catley Immortal||Frontiers Records|
Charged with fronting yet another album, the man of the moment Magnus Karlsson has dug deep to deliver another album of classic melodic hard rock / metal songs that will do his reputation no harm whatsoever. But this time, Karlsson takes a back seat to Dennis Ward, who handles the majority of the guitars on the album - Magnus controls the keyboards. Interesting decision, as without investigation, the guitar sound is exactly that of Karlsson.|
This time Karlsson's muse is legendary British vocalist Bob Catley. Now Bob has recorded some great albums over the years since his solo debut The Tower in 1998. That album remains the one to beat as well as the fabulous When Empires Burn from 2003.
I think Immortal ranks up with those two albums as among Bob's best. Karlsson was an inspired choice to work with Bob, and despite the risk of writing overload, he delivers exactly what was expected with the material used.
If there was to be any negative in relation to this album it would be that there are no real surprises on offer – it is classic Catley vocal wise and trademark Karlsson songs. So no surprises and nothing we haven't heard from either artist before, but the pairing really works.
Immortal features a dozen great hard rocking songs with that vocal passion that Bob delivers and importantly, a huge production that does justice to the performances and compositions.
This is one of Catley's heaviest solo albums to date and I'm pleased to see Ward stepping in to deliver those monster riffs. Song wise, I think these tunes really suit Bob and some really heavy songs are given a big melodic twist.
Highlights from the album include the storming epic opener Dreamers Unite, with its thunderous rhythm section; the less intense, but equally catchy We Are Immortal; the utterly sensational melodic hard rocker End Of The World, which features one of Bob's great vocals and chorus hooks; Open Your Eyes, which features another great chorus and completes an opening twenty minute blast of class.
The metal ballad The Searcher continues the quality, with a soaring chorus and heartfelt vocal; Light Up My Way is classic Karlsson song with a ton of guitars and melodies; You Are My Star is pure melodic bliss and the more menacing Haunted provides a little extra grit late in the album when the last couple of tunes were beginning to sound a little too familiar.
The big orchestral ballad Heat Of Passion closes the album in fine style and is another killer Catley vocal.
|Crown Of Thorns Faith||Frontiers Records|
It has been a few years between drinks for Crown Of Thorns and I think some even questioned if there would be another album. The band has had a somewhat varied career in regards to their album output. At times classic, at times delivering a few too many fillers in-between glimpses of brilliance). Recorded with a million dollar advance budget, the band's debut is one of this genre's all time classics and I think few disagree with that.|
Karma and Lost Cathedral is where the band has got it right and Breakthrough and Destiny Unknown are where I think they missed the mark a little. On Faith I think the band delivers the goods once again and matches the quality of Lost Cathedral, making this their best album since 1998.
However, it isn't quite the album I expected either. It is a fairly laid back release all things considered and those looking to hear a record with the edge of the debut may be disappointed. What the guys have done right is the production – this is a great sounding release with a big sound and the mix is perfectly balanced.
The songs themselves are also all quality. As stated, the direction and general pace of the album overall might disappoint some, but there is no doubt these are some wonderfully smooth and melodic AOR tracks. They also reveal several layers of vocals and instrumentation on repeated listens.
The opening rocker Faith has that classic COT sound and that crunchy guitar riff that could have been used a little more through the album and All In My Heart is a pleasant uptempo melodic rocker.
The double headed delivery of the ballads Living In The Shadows and The One perhaps slows the momentum of the opening half of the album, but they are still great songs.
Living In The Shadows is slow ballad with a good chorus and The One is class AOR. The crunch returns with the old school sounding Rock Ready – the album could perhaps have used another couple of tracks in this vein.
Another ballad already with the big AOR anthem Believe Me. And despite the pace slowing again, this is an album highlight and wonderful sentimental ballad with a killer chorus. Is it just me – or does the volume of the next song Nobody drop in volume? A dull track at any rate unfortunately.
Stay With Me picks the tempo up again and features a memorable chorus.
All I Want to do is yet another ballad, but again…a great one. Lush production and a killer chorus make it another AOR highlight.
Rocking again with the track Home Again, which reminds me of the Lost Cathedral album at its best. The chorus is pure AOR.
The album closes with yet another slow ballad and again the band delivers, but it is a case of too many ballads lessening the impact of this track.
|Extreme Saudades de Rock||Frontiers Records|
I've had this CD nearly 2 months now and still I'm trying to get my head around it. Some days I dig it, some days I don't. It's not the Extreme I prefer (I love the debut and Pornograffitti, but it was downhill after that for me), but it is Extreme – albeit in a rawer, stripped back and experimental format.|
This is a very diverse record. I guess in simplest terms this is a band reunited and excited to be together again, throwing everything they have ever represented into one record.
It makes for a loose and energetic record, but also one that is hard to define and given that it is so varied in direction, it has been no surprise to read may varied opinions on this – from trash to classic and everything in between.
And after all this time I'm still on the fence. I like some parts of this album and appreciate the musical integrity of other part, but there is also a few tracks I don't like. Extreme have always been a musically diverse group and I guess there was a large proportion of fans looking for the band to return to the sound of their first couple of records.
That's not the case here, but to hear Gary Cherone in full rock voice again is a joy and together with Nuno Bettencourt, is something special. The album is definitely an interesting mix of tunes.
Kicking off is the opening rocker Star, which mirrors Queen's Tie Your Mother Down but has an instant likeability – and you just have to love the guitar solo and Gary's vocals.
The ragged, retro groove of Comfortably Numb is typically Extreme in nature, even in this stripped down mode. The Led Zeppelin inspired bluegrass of Take Us Alive is another head turner and won't appeal to all, but it remains undeniably interesting.
Run – which this time borrows from Bowie's Fame during the verse – is another groover with a catchy chorus. The gritty, but nevertheless heartfelt Last Hour is another left turn.
Typically Extreme-ish King Of The Ladies is as annoying as it is catchy, again showing the ying and yang of this record.
Then there are some moments of 70s retro groove like Slide and Flower Man which will either be loved or hated by fans.
Ballad wise we have the haunting ballad Ghost, which sounds soemwhat like Cherone's solo output and the softly sung Interface, which is one of the album's highlights.
|Elevener When Kaleidoscopes Collide||AOR Heaven|
Swedish AOR outfit Elevener features the talents of M.ill.ion's Johan Bergquist (vocals, keyboards, bass) and Andreas Brodén (guitar, drums).|
The duo is responsible for all the music appearing on this debut album. In a year packed with impressive releases, Elevener do their very best to be included in the leaders pack, delivering an album of smooth, uptempo European AOR with a twist.
That twist is primarily the vocal style of Johan, which doesn't have a dynamic appeal to me, but there is no doubt he knows a great melody and this album is packed with them. The band's sound is a mix of European 80s AOR with a dash of Asia and Toto and even a progressive pop edge at times.
You will be doing well to find a more impressive old school AOR anthem like This Heart Of Mine opening any album this year, a chorus as instant as you can get. The equally energetic Say If You Want pounds you over the head with the chorus so often you won't ever forget this one either.
The ballad I Still Remember is filled with keyboards and vocal layers and I think will rate well with AOR fans.
All I Did features another strong hook, but the vocals grate on me a little here. All Of My Life is a more impressive and likable ballad.
The 80s Toto keyboards of Waking Up Without You will also appeal to traditional AOR fans. Could It Be You is one of the fastest paced tracks on the album and gives the last part of the album a lift. And the bombastic Asia-esque There She Goes sees the album close with style.
|Silent Call Creations From A Chosen Path||Escape Music|
Another Swedish hard rock outfit! Who would have thought? No surprise…the band is another class outfit. This is a solid release with an interesting style and one I think will appeal to quite a few.
Silent Call's debut was recorded in Stockholm and features a classic European melodic metal sound, with some progressive elements.|
The album has a powerful production and a clean mix allows the many layers to breathe. The album features an orchestral flair to the arrangements and some big over the top moments.
The opening track has impact, but it is the next two that work for me – the intense Outcast and I the soaring progressive metal ballad I Believe In Me, which reminds me a little of vocalist Tony Mills and Goran Edman (who actually appears on the album as guest backing vocalist).
The material here isn't as instant or catchy as some other releases, but a solid sound and strong performances from the band and a Dream Theater influenced sound will find appeal in the market place.
The songs I find most appealing are the more dramatic passages in the album such as the sound of Long Comes The Night.
The moody ballad Can't Breathe, which employs some acoustic guitars, was another track that stood out from the first playback.
|Dreamtide Dream and Deliver||AOR Heaven|
Some 5 years since their last album (where does the time go), German melodic rockers Dreamtide return for another side dish of Fair Warning mixed with the pomp AOR of Magnum.|
The guys have employed a really hollow guitar sound on this album – evn more so than their first two records, obviously intentional and part of the band's "charm" I guess, but the overall production style and quality is not going to appeal to all.
There's a lot going on within any Dreamtide album and as usual this took several listens to appreciate.
The guys have taken a slightly different musical path here. This is a more diverse record than the two previous Dreamtide releases, this time incorporating a more pop feel on a few tracks. The opening melodic hard rock/pomp salvo of A Fool's Crusade and I Don't Wanna Wait are as fine as you will hear from the guys.
The mid-tempo melodic pop ballad Same Star and the soulful, smooth and quite impressive ballad Dancing When The Night Falls showcase the other side of the band, while the big bombastic rhythm of Your Beat and King Of Scum wrap around them.
The mid-section of the album turns mellower before To Everybody returns the albums sound to a bombastic heavy beat.
|Charing Cross We Are...||Metal Heaven|
Charing Cross are yet another Swiss hard rocking outfit who have been floating around in various forms for some 20 years. For whatever reason, no album has been recorded until today. This is a pretty decent debut too.|
Filled with 11 hard rocking tracks and one ballad, the We Are Charing Cross is representative of typical European hard rock/melodic metal that can be found in abundant quantities these days.
The production is certainly a credit to the band – the rhythm section pumps through the speakers and the guitars are loud and in your face. The Bruce Dickinson styled vocals of Peter Hochuli are also very strong, although heavy on accent, which isn't for all.
Kick Ass Rock N Roll offers the most clichéd lyric of the album, but also one of the strongest choruses. Burn The Sun has a catchy hook also.
The melodic Can't Have It All stands out and the ballad Long Time Ago breaks the tempo of the album at a good spot.
Plenty of riffs to be found here and decent choruses also, making this worthy of checking out, but perhaps not original enough to put their head above a very crowded playing field.
|From The Inside Visions||Frontiers Records|
I'm not always sold on these project releases, where an artists sings a selection of tracks picked out for them, as I believe it makes it harder for the artist to make a connection with the songs and therefore sound convincing when delivering them.|
From The Inside is a little different as Vaughn was directly involved in writing songs for this and also the debut album. Plus there's something about the passionate voice of Danny Vaughn that seems to transcend any obstacles possibly thrown at him.
The debut From The Inside release was an almost perfect display of emotionally charged melodic rock, with Vaughn singing as if his life depended on it.
What I like about From The Inside was that Vaughn dived into the songwriting process with producer Fabrizio Grossi and has again together penned half the songs for this album.
If any criticism could be leveled at the first release, it would be that it could have featured a better mix/overall production. Visions is album number two for the Vaughn/Grossi team, with Eric Ragno joining in on keyboards (his contribution both noticeable and valuable) and House of Lords star guitarist Jimi Bell has also been recruited to beef up the sound.
And it is fair to say that he has done exactly that – the guitar playing here has more authority then the debut.
Production wise, I'm not sold on the way Grossi makes some instruments sound, especially the guitar. That said the sound really punches through the speakers thanks to a Tommy Hansen mix. So in that sense, in keeping with the debut, this is one of the best sounding records to date for Grossi.
While I rate this a better sounding release, I still prefer the debut due to the nature of the songs featured on that record.
There are some absolute melodic rock gems to be found here and again Danny Vaughn is singing like the vocal God he is. Highlights are plenty and the record overall must fall into the must buy category for fans of traditional, expressive European/US hybrid melodic rock.
Highlights from the album include:
The opening duel salvo of Light Years and Making Waves would be winners on just about any record in recent memory, with Making Waves up there for me as one of the best melodic rock songs of the year.
And the power ballad If It's Not Love is sensational and sees Vaughn deliver one of his best vocals ever.
The fast moving and attention grabbing 21st Century has another brilliant chorus and memorable verse and the drumming of Peter Lobo and soloing from Bell really propelling this track.
And as the opening two tracks delivered a one-two punch, so to does 21st Century and Days Of Hunger together. Another killer vocal, hook and melody here.
Moment To Moment has a distinct Tyketto vibe that I'm sure Vaughn fans will appreciate.
And One More Night In Heaven is another very strong ballad that perhaps could easily fit House Of Lords.
Telemetry closes the album off with a happy go lucky vibe that sums up the album as a whole.
|Land Of Tales Land Of Tales||Frontiers Records|
Fresh blood is important, so I'm pleased to see Finland's Land Of Tales get a shot with a strong label such as Frontiers.|
These guys deliver traditional style European melodic rock with touches of 80s keyboards and melodies, but a contemporary enough production to avoid any chance of being dated.
Keyboards match guitars in the mix and vocalist Kristian glides over the top.
At times the sound is purely commercial melodic rock, other times touches of symphonic rock creep in. I think that style is in the blood of most Finnish artists, they do it so well.
There is a definite accent on the vocals and the delivery style and tone make them very unique. I'm not sure they will be to everyone's liking, but there is no doubt they are a good match for this material.
The opening melodic rocker Silence gets your attention immediately while other tracks take some listening before getting to know.
The album overall is a fairly moody slice of European melodic rock. Highlights include that barnstorming opener, the mid-tempo ballad Outlander; the acoustic driven ballad Wasted Chance; the moody punch of Choose and the more anthemic So Long.
The haunting ballad Fading Away is also worthy of a mention.
A few of the other songs blend into each other and could have benefited from a better chorus or change in tempo.
|Appearance Of Nothing Wasted Time||Escape Music|
Interesting album this. Not quite sure what to make of it, even after a dozen listens. Swiss metallers Appearance Of Nothing are throwing a bunch of musical styles at the wall here and some stick, some don't. This is part melodic metal, part progressive, part gothic and part…well, not sure!|
The vocals are really an acquired taste and I'm not sure I have that taste. The deep, expressive and sometimes symphonic tone of Swiss vocalist Pat Gerber are over the top to say the least. He joins with bass player Omar to provide the album's lead vocals, but there seems to be a major difference between the pair, which in this case doesn't work.
The vocals fly from gruff to angelic inside a few seconds and on The Gambler even turns to a death metal style shout before the more melodic chorus.
I'm just not sure it all fits together and will appeal to the audience the album is aimed at.
It's all very dramatic – but is it effective?
Drifting Away is an example of shifting styles. A slow moody rock song featuring these big varying vocals command the first half of the song before a progressive metal style shift bursts through mid-song.
Wasted Time is an acoustic ballad before we turn back to progressive metal on Wrapped In Silence.
For me the record is juts too varied without ever settling on one style or one vocal pattern. And there a too few defined chorus melodies and just too much tempo/time changes to ever get a firm grasp on the songs themselves.
The best part of the album for me is the extended instrumental passages of the closing section of the album, where the band displays plenty of progressive prowesses without the vocals getting in the way.
|Starbreaker Love's Dying Wish||Frontiers Records|
The debut Starbreaker album turned some heads. It repositioned vocalist Tony Harnell into a new realm and set him up to continue a respected career outside the confines of what he was best known for in TNT.|
The heavier melodic metal direction suited Tony perfectly and the pairing of him and star guitarist Magnus Karlsson could not have been better.
Love's Dying Wish sees the band deliver a slightly different release, keeping the base that was the debut and adding some new elements.
Different yes, but just as good and perhaps even better. A revised line-up step up and place themselves well and truly on the international hard rock/metal landscape.
I love everything this album has to offer – it is even more diverse than the debut, it is darker and more aggressive and it has a monster sound that outshines the first album and the added production effects makes it very contemporary and open to a wide audience.
New bassist Jonni Lightfoot is all over this record, with a thumping beat that meshes with drummer John Macaluso to deliver an ear crunching rhythm section.
Magnus Karlsson is also a revelation. He has never sounded so heavy and aggressive, yet the riffs continue to help drive the melodies behind the songs.
The choice of a further tuned down contemporary sound again helps make this record a modern commercial hard rocking masterpiece. I'm not normally one to advocate the down-tuning of guitars, but in doing so on this record, the guys give themselves a whole new attitude that just sells itself.
Tony Harnell has also made the interesting choice of delivering more vocals in a lower register, with a menacing rasp at times, making those trademark higher pitch melodies and squeals even more effective and powerful when they arrive. And there are plenty of them…but they are used to blow the songs apart with soaring vocal lines rather than drive the song that way from the start.
And the constant use of harmonies throughout only helps these choruses stick in your head. The strength of songwriting is what really makes this album a revelation.
There simply are no secondary songs – every track is a winner and the ones with seemingly less melodic drive are perfect foil for the songs that follow and in their own way have embedded melodies that grow on you with time, showing the true depth of the material here.
Hard to pick out highlights here as every track has a melody and a good chorus and some songs have different roles to play.
The punishing modern metal vibe of the opening two songs End Of Alone and Evaporate set up the tone of the album and allow the fabulously intense and dramatic Love's Dying Wish to blow through the speakers. The chorus here is classic Tony Harnell.
Unknown Superstar is as catchy as Tony Harnell can be.
Live Your Life has a thumping beat, a menacing vocal and another magnificent chorus; Evaporate has a dark tone mixed with an uplifting riff which makes for a great listen; Changes Me is simply phenomenal. The moody intro building to a thumping beat and a gigantic chorus which makes this one of the songs of the year for me.
Building A Wall has a subtle melody that grows with each listen and This Close is a powerful ending to a powerful album.
There is a lot going on here and the more contemporary direction might not appeal to some, but at the heart of this album are some killer songs and killer performances. This is a world class hard rock record. Bring on album #3!
|Motley Crue Saints Of Los Angeles||Motley/Eleven Seven Music|
One would normally expect to have more to say about a Motley Crue release, but this one almost speaks for itself. It is so systematically a "Motley" release that describing it track by track is more or less pointless!|
The bar has been set high for 2008's best albums, so the pressure has been on everyone to deliver. Thankfully Motley Crue find themselves in a similar predicament to several other icon acts this year – ready for a kick ass record.
And they deliver!
Based lyrically on the band's past as described in the biography The Dirt, the album was written in most part by bassist Nikki Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars.
Musically speaking this is about everything you could ask from a band with such a colorful history and long career in 2008. It isn't the best produced album of their career or perhaps the most commercial, but it is 100% Motley Crue.
The rawer sound and the sometimes punkish hard rock are symptomatic of an album recorded with few overdubs and a true live feel. And that means the energy just pours through the speakers. There's a lot to like here and everyone delivers solid performances.
Vince Neil in particular delivers some great vocals and the vibe is really classic good fun, good times, sleazy rock n roll. The lyrics are a laugh to listen to as the band chronicles it's journey from the early days in LA.
Highlights include the frantic hard rocker Face Down In The Dirt; the extremely melodic old-school sounding Down At The Whiskey; the more contemporary 'old meets new' hard rock of Saints Of Los Angeles (which has a huge Dr Feelgood style sound); the moody intensity of MF Of The Year; and the classic Crue double header of Just Another Psycho and Chicks = Trouble (Girls Girls Girls era sound) also impress.
The punk rock Goin' Out Swinging has a great energy and cool chorus and is a fine way to close the album.
|Pleasure Dome For Your Personal Amusement||Escape Music|
This is not your typical melodic rock release, nor your typical Ted Poley release. In fact, it isn't really a Poley release at all. It is project put together by Charlie Calv (Shotgun Symphony/The Way) along with fellow East Coast rockers David Tsien (guitars), Ed Avila (bass) and John Hummel (drums).|
The album is also a conceptual release, with a story spanning the length of the album's 12 tracks (2 of those being abbreviated instrumentals).
The record has a cool sound – Charlie always delivers great sounding records and it is great to hear Ted Poley singing outside his comfort zone and in a more aggressive manner to which we normally hear him.
It is far from an instant record and far from a straight forward musical arrangement. At times progressive, at times aggressive, but never too heavy or too far from the guy's musical roots.
The first lead vocal for Ted is Trapped and he really delivers a powerful vocal here, even if the song itself isn't defined by a traditional verse/chorus arrangement.
One And Only is a more straight forward and traditional melodic rocker with a commercial Poley chorus.
The Aura That Surrounds You is another challenging progressive/aggressive melodic hard rock tune that offers something different, but will not to be everyone's tastes.
Praying For A Miracle again head back into familiar commercial territory with acoustic guitars driving a strong melodic base. Continuing the pattern of commercial/complex, Always Tomorrow again mixes things up, but the chorus here is very likable and one of the highlights.
This is where things go a little south for me. Three songs here - a female lead vocal is the most prominent over two of the tracks and the middle one is an instrumental.
Ted Poley takes a back seat and it is not until the heavy progressive track 10 Return To Zero that he returns to the fore.
Save The World is the last vocal track of the album and I like the vibe of the track and the aggressive uptempo beat, but a stronger chorus would have been more desirable. There are some cool melodies in play within the track and layers of instrumentation.
|Ronni LeTekro Kingdom Of Norway||Escape Music|
This is a hard one to review. Personally I'm not into the record at all as it displays most of what I didn't like about the last TNT record.|
But – it is a solo record and not a TNT record, so the predefined expectations going in are a little different and Ronni should be allowed free range to cover various musical influences.
Solo records are all about exploring other musical spheres and Ronni does just that on this eclectic set of songs.
No one would argue that Ronni is not a fabulous guitarist with a unique style and feel and a great sense of melody. But his solo work is not for everyone.
The last TNT album I felt was an extension of his personal experimentation and this album takes it several steps further.
Here he travels a very diverse path that comprises of experimental hard rock to psychedelic pop and even some tunes that simply are so bizarre they defy musical explanation.
|Soul Doctor That's Live||Metal Heaven|
This live album was recorded in part from the United Forces Of Rock show in Germay last year and other shows from the last 18 mpnths across Europe.|
It is now Soul Doctor's turn now to deliver a live album to die-hard fans and this 13 track set should appeal to most of those.
Similar to the compliments dished out for the previous live releases, I can add that Soul Doctor's set has also been well recorded and sounds alive and energetic on disc, a true raw, live sound and some of the band's best tunes.
Vocalist Tommy Heart delivers a warm and raspy vocal and keeps the crowd enthusiastic throughout.
Blood Runs Cold, Eatin' On Me, Laugh In The Face Of Danger and Get It On impress for their energetic deliveries.
|Marcello-Vestry Marcello-Vestry||Avalon Japan|
It has been a cracking year for melodic rock and AOR with plenty more still to come. The 2008 MelRock Awards will be a headache beyond headaches!|
Adding to the welcome dilemma of picking out the best releases of the year is this little gem. Marcello Vestry is another slice of glorious classic melodic rock, with the finest traditions of this genre firmly entrenched in the performances, songwriting and production – all of which are world class.
And so they should be with the likes of those involved. There are reasons this release is being described as Danger Danger's little brother.
Vocalist Frank Vestry has been around several years and is best described as a cross between Paul Laine and Ted Poley (Ted's higher tone and Paul's rasp).
Guitarist/Keyboardist Rob Marcello is of course a current member of Danger Danger and fellow band mate Bruno Ravel has co-written most of the material with the lads as well as producing the album and playing bass. And we all know Mr. Ravel turns in quality productions don't we?
Just like H.E.A.T and Brother Firetribe, this is a step back into the golden age of driving melodic hard rock music, where the hair was big, but the music bigger.
Europe has been turning out the finest melodic music in years in recent times, but now it is time for the Americans to fire back with this release straight out of 1990. A little has been made of the less than serious nature of the lyrics on here – this is all about the girls, the music and what a mix of the two does to a person! No harm there.
What is important is that this album kicks ass and is a fantastic representation of everything most of this site's readers love about music.
Big guitars, soaring vocals with layers of harmonies, keyboards and driving rock songs mixed with a couple of big 80s ballads.
I love the slightly raspy tone of Frank Vestry's vocals, which really resonate with me; and Rob Marcello is all over this record. Guitars flaying and solos flying.
And the thumping bass of Ravel coupled with a tight production mean this album sounds a million bucks and fits right into the Danger Danger catalogue between Screw It and Four The Hard Way (pretty much replicating the style of the dual Cockroach releases).
The opening trio of Fireworks, Ready Or Not and All I Wanna Do Is U are melodic rock anthems complete with keyboard fills, guitar solos and memorable layered choruses.
All I Wanna Do Is U is perhaps the most anthemic.
Gone is the first big ballad of the album, but an uptempo rock ballad at that. And a big rock song if you know what I mean. It stars mellow and builds quickly to a fabulous chorus.
Without You is pure layered melodic bliss and Live Life is straight out of 1988.
The more sentimental ballad of the album is What You Mean, which reminds me of the debut Danger Danger release.
Another trio of uptempo rockers closes out the album with One More Night the last track and perhaps one of the albums best with its driving beat and killer AOR chorus which doesn't miss a beat.
|Harem Scarem Hope||Frontiers Records|
Harem Scarem are one of those bands within this music scene who have an immensely high profile due to the number of albums they have released and the high regard in which people generally hold the band.|
When the band does release an album – everyone checks it out – and therefore you get to hear a lot of opinions. Lots of them. Not everyone is always happy, but one has to say that considering the ever changing musical route the band takes, keeping the majority happy, a majority of the time is something to be proud of.
Even some of the band's most die-hard fans can't be pleased all the time, but Harem Scarem is simply one of the most consistent and likable melodic rock bands I have ever covered.
After 11 studio albums and some 20 years making music together the guys have called it quits and this is the last album to be released.
Frustration at not being able to follow the musical direction they want and repeated calls for the band to simply repeat the formula of their most loved records have eroded the enthusiasm of Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.
But they have given fans one more record to enjoy (and no doubt debate) and Hope is that very optimistically titled record.
I'm not sure what fans were expecting from a final Harem Scarem record. I think some thought the band might finally give in and repeat the formula for Mood Swings as a farewell gesture; others thought they would deliver an album of uninspired by-the-numbers material.
Neither is true. The band close out their long and illustrious career with a challenging album that has a much darker mood than their previous, more upbeat album Human Nature and a contemporary sound that will see several songs compared to the Overload and Voice Of Reason albums.
The guys haven't played it safe here, but there are a couple of moments where you can't help but think that they could be doing this sort of thing in their sleep.
There are a few songs here that work so well that they will rate amongst my favourite songs the guys have recorded in recent years.
There are also a couple of songs that I could possibly live without, so I expect the usual fan debates to be as strong as ever.
Hope continues the production and sound style of the band's output since Weight Of The World and slots in nicely alongside Higher, Human Nature and Overload.
In my simple and plain view - if you have continued to follow Harem Scarem over the years – you will like this. Simple.
The songwriting is of the band's usual high standard and the production likewise.
Track By Track:
The kick off is Watch Your Back – probably the most classic Harem Scarem styled track on the album. Darker and moodier than Human Nature for instance, but with a great commercial chorus in typical Scarem style, it could easily have slotted into the last release or any of the last 4 albums.
Time Bomb is one of the tracks I continue to struggle with. Mostly because of an irritating repetitive cymbal through the verse that is a trademark of drummer Creighton Doane, but here it is so prominent in the mix it takes away from an otherwise adventurous modern melodic rock tune that sees Harry singing falsetto in the chorus.
Hope starts with a classic Lesperance riff and dives right into the moody and dark Overload style of melodic rock. The chorus is to me, reminiscent of Weight Of The World, so the mix of both is appealing and works well.
The next few tracks are where things get darker and heavier and represent my favourite part of the album. Days Are Numbered has a slow moody verse, but cracking beat and a soaring chorus that is completely addictive.
Dark Times is clearly more aggressive both with the intense vocal delivery and the choppy guitar riff. But a thoroughly melodic chorus shines through and takes the song in a different direction before the intensity of the verse returns. No one does melodies like these guys.
Beyond Repair is intense and heavy again, yet in a more restrained fashion to that of Dark Times. Moody and intense, but mellower through the verse, this time the guys rollout the angst and harder riffs for the chorus. A perfect contrast to that of Dark Times.
Never Too Late eases up on the angst for a bit. This is a more traditional HS melodic rocker with melodies flowing through the verse before a short tempo changing chorus changes tact slightly.
Shooting Star is the first of two big ballads and the way this one starts is reminiscent of everything we know and love about Harem Scarem. The vocal matches the recent output style of the band, as does the big chorus which features another killer melody.
Calm Before The Storm is another big uptempo rocker with a dark edge and a flurry of drums and guitars. Modern in its vocal approach and thumping drum beat, but once again, the guys deliver big time when the chorus arrives.
I love the dark and moody acoustic driven ballad Nothing Without You. It reminds me of the Overload album again, with the slight Beatles influence and some orchestral backing and is another big classy Harem ballad.
Both the Japanese and European versions close off with their own exclusive acoustic bonus tracks that don't add any real value to the albums, but are nice enough.
I've been accused in the past of consistently giving these guys high scores, but when an artist delivers quality almost every time, then why should they not be recognized for that – even if the style diverts from the expected sometimes.
That all said, I'll stick to the script and simply close off this chapter of melodic rock history by stating that Hope is yet another high caliber release from the band that will suit the vast majority of die-hard fans who have appreciated their talents over the years.
Thank you Harem Scarem.
|Gypsy Rose Another World||Escape Music|
I haven't been a fan of everything vocalist David Reece has been involved in over the years, but I am a fan of everything Gypsy Rose founder Martin Kronlund has done.|
I am definitely a fan of Reece's work in Bangalore Choir, which I thought was one of the more intelligent records released out of the USA in the early 90s.
So the mix of these two personalities has a lot of appeal to me and I think that translates into the record delivered.
This is an energetic melodic metal release with Kronlund's typically bombastic European approach, featuring a tight rhythm section, plenty of guitars and swirling keyboards.
Reece sounds exactly as expected – gruff and raspy, yet with a controlled tone that adds a melodic edge to the intense vocal.
The opening riff-tastic double kickdrum fired Final Call is a great slice of European metal and the moodier, slower Nothing Really Matters is more dramatic and intense.
Keeping the intensity with a pace inbetween the opening two rockers is Angels, which has the most obvious chorus of the three.
When I Call Your Name is a metal ballad that reminds me of Bangalore Choir.
Don't Look Back is one of the album's more bombastic tunes as Reece takes Gypsy Rose in a fresh direction.
Just as Fired started to sound a little repetitive, the thumping A Little Ain't Enough fires up the album again.
All The Way To The Sun features the most instant and anthemic chorus of the album as we hit a solid run of late album tracks, including the moody angst of A Million Miles and the frantic pace and bombastic nature of Liar.
Another World is a little too much and a little repetitive again, but the closing straight ahead hard rocker Hellhammer is more enjoyable.
|Silent Rage Four Letter Word||Frontiers Records|
You know, bands will just make the albums they 'have to make', but whoever is in charge of selling it has to face up to the facts. Promoted as a 'natural progression' from the band's classic 80s melodic hard rock release Don't Touch Me There, this album is nothing like that release, and at best could only be described as a distant half-cousin, once removed.|
There are a couple of Four Letter Words that could describe this release. The stark reality is that I don't see fans being happy at all with this.
There are several issues at play here. First has already been mentioned, I don't hear classic Silent Rage here. What I hear is an updated, modernized version that has more in common with the contemporary music scene.
Second is the production. Gilby Clarke's style is obviously a long way from that of the band's former partner Paul Sabu. This record is rough, raw and stripped back to the point that some tracks sound like demos and the style of his production is a hundred miles from the stadium rock of the band's Sabu controlled work.
Then there is the songs themselves. I just don't like them. That's really hard for me to say, as Jesse Damon is a true talent and I love his solo work and past Silent Rage records.
But these songs are simply not very likable. There are no big choruses, no stand out hooks and the delivery of them is so rough, and it is really hard on the ears.
And finally – yes there is more – the use of three lead singers across the album is further off-putting and makes the record even harder to get into.
The raw, punkish modern rock of You Could Be The One opens the album and sends up that red flag immediately. The bridge to the chorus is awful and the verse is messy.
Four Letter Word offer some glimpse into how the band used to sound, with that slightly Kiss-like vibe, but the production is just too raw.
Man Or Machine and Feel My Love are just plain awful – both for different reasons, but both dreadful songs.
The acoustic driven Close Your Eyes is slightly better and more traditional in its sound, but it's not until Nobody Knows that you get another ok track.
The closing track Trouble has a little energy to it – but that's about it.
|Polution Overheated||Escape Music|
This is an interesting release. The name of the band, the artwork and their picture suggested something heavier and while the lead singer does sound as if he has been swallowing razor blades, this is a solid and very well produced hard rock record.|
Yet another Swiss band here and it really must be something in the water there as how many Swiss bands come off with a huge AC/DC influence? (Krokus, Shakra to name two).
Add Polution to the list. They sound like a AC/DC meets a commercial Metallica hybrid, the gruff vocals matching the intensity of the guitars.
Reality, Same Shit Different Day, Paid Soul are all heavy AC/DC style hard rockers with attitude to match.
Overheated is a gem of a pub-rocker with a simple chorus and a driving riff.
In fact, the acoustic ballad Don't Know sounds well out of place in amongst the rest of the riffing. The slower bluesy Going Down is a better way to mix up the tempo.
Five Years shows a slightly different attitude and is an album highlight. I think the guys sound best when the pull it back just a little, as they do here.
|Richie Kotzen Live In Sao Paulo||Frontiers Records|
Live In Sao Paulo is a another fairly simple release that will be of little appeal to any uninitiated Kotzen fans, but an immediate magnet to long time devotees.|
This is another live album that doesn't require a lot of text to convey the contents.
It isn't the clearest or best recorded concert I have ever heard – this is truly a raw, live recording, but damn…can this boy play!
Nearly 80 minutes of music over just 12 tracks here, meaning there is plenty of extended jam passages and a ton of guitar solos.
You have to appreciate the atmosphere on this record – the fans are all singing along and Richie just soaks it up and his performance is inspired to say the least.
Funk, ballads, rock and soul all pour through the speakers as we get taken on the wild ride that is Kotzen's musical influences.
|White Wolf Live In Germany||Escape Music|
White Wolf returned to active duty last year with their good comeback Victim Of The Spotlight. They went on to play the United Forces Of Rock III Festival in Germany and this release comes from that set.|
I have to say – this is a cracking live recording. Nice and raw, in your face and energetic (based on the band's performance) and above all else – loud!
The guys showcase several songs from the recent album and then delve into the back catalogue for some fan favourites with Don Wolf in very strong voice throughout.
It is absolutely no reflection of the contents of this album – but there simply isn't much that needs to be said about this live album.
So I'll keep it short and simple and leave it to the fans of the band to go out and buy!
|Frozen Rain Frozen Rain||Avenue Of Allies Music|
Avenue 08 01 0001
I like this record. I can't help but like it – it's so, well….nice! The pink and fluffy brigade is in full force on this, the debut Frozen Rain album, which comes after a 5 track sampler late last year.|
Frozen Rain is more or less the brain child of Kurt Vereecke from Belgium. He plays keyboards, synth bass and provides backing vocals as well as mixing much of the whole project.
Helping him out is a relative 'who's who' of the AOR world, with Tommy Denander striking yet again on guitars (yes, you know the guitar sound this will have already); Daniel Flores (drums); Guido Priori (from Myland, on backing vocals); Steve Newman guests on rhythm guitars as does Jim Santos (Norway).
There are still several more involved that round out the full band performance.
This album is completely and entirely a traditional European 80s AOR release. From the light vocals to the fluffy keyboards and the sentimental subject matter within the lyrics.
The band doesn't try to take on any new ground or put a new twist on something they know already works. It is al very familiar and safe, but sometimes that's what works.
The guys change vocalists throughout, which makes things a little hit or miss, which is perhaps my only real complaint here.
The opening track is ultimately a very catchy AOR anthem that I can't fault. I think fans of European AOR will enjoy this. Wire Of Love is also very enjoyable – both featuring vocalist Johan Waem. His last vocal Little Angel is also good – he's the standout vocalist on this record.
Music Keeps Me Alive is perhaps a little cheesy (as is Park Café), but you can't fault the flow of the song or the way it captures the classic 80s AOR vibe.
The ballad My Heart Believes It's True doesn't work for me, I think largely down to the vocalist Ollie Oldenburg – same goes for his closing ballad Tomorrow. The vocal on the more up-tempo On The Run works better, but his vocal on the similarly tempo'd Your Love isn't a favourite either.
Johan returns towards the end for another solid European AOR track Red Light Zone (featuring Steve Newman).
Never Be A Fool Again is one of the albums better tracks, with a slightly moodier feel, but still heaps of keyboards.
|Bret Michaels Rock My World||VH1 Classics|
This release is purely and simply a cheap and lazy cash-in at the expense of gullible fans and potential newbies thanks to his auspicious reality debut on Rock Of Love.|
Now, here's the problem. Bret has spent two years selling himself (or at least his loins) on that low-brow reality show and it only makes sense to cash in on that wave of publicity with a new solo album.
But rather than put in any real effort, Bret instead throws together a massive 3 new songs and cobbles those together with 9 tracks from his past two solo records.
It has been 3 years since the last album and 3 new tracks is all that could be mustered up.
Go That Far is of course the theme song from Rock Of Love and is a fairly likeable melodic rocker with that dose of Bret Michaels spirit. Shame about the crappy production.
Driven sees him fall straight back into the hard edge rockabilly/country vibe that has flowed through all his solo work and Start Again is a straight up, predictable pop/rock/country ballad.
The rest of the songs don't even warrant reviewing, as they have been out before and for several years at that.
Remixed or remastered, they still don't hold a candle to Poison's output (the dreadful last studio album aside) and the country vibe can be either take it or leave it for listeners.
Bret's first two solo albums were ok….nothing great, nothing terrible, but nothing worth rehashing yet again. To do so again here is just plain lazy, opportunistic and well…lame.
|Krackerjack Rock On!||Indie|
Denmark's Krackerjack have created a cracker (or should that be kracker?) of a classic rock album here, which infuses the best parts of the 70s rock vibe with a loose, contemporary production and a general sense of fun. These guys hail from Denmark, but they seem to have a fair sense of what 70s British rock was all about. If Airborne and Jet can make a career of sounding like someone else, then a more original outfit surely should rate highly with fans.|
These guys feature a very likable vocalist with a decent range, songs smothered in organ, all driven by a riff-tastic guitarist. The band's sound is very organic and very true…hence the comparisons to 70's classic rock like UFO, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple.
The title track Rock On! is perhaps the high point of the album – what a fantastic feel good song, with an old-school vibe. Lonely is classic Deep Purple – Jon Lord organ and all; Blame It On The Little Big Horn is perhaps my least favourite, but maybe because of the slow tempo.
Back Together has a very commercial melodic rock chorus, drenched again in tons of organ. The obligatory epic is delivered with the 7 minute plus Hungry Boy, while Lullaby is anything but!
A strong production, but not a super slick style. Simple, loose and raw, it suits the energy of the band and the songs on offer here. Fans of 70s classic rock should check this out as there is a lot to like.
|Rev Theory Light It Up||Interscope|
Wow, this is one out of the box. A sophomore album on major label Interscope sees US melodic metallers Rev Theory getting the full push. I expect this will turn some heads too.
Imagine if Harem Scarem went metal and dropped some of their layered vocals. Rev Theory might be just what you get.|
Driving guitars and a modern rock production are at the forefront of this big sounding album, but a raspy melodic vocalist makes it very listenable with a performance matched by the quality of songs on offer.
And I'm pleased they sound just that little bit more original than the dozen other standard modern rock outfits out there.
Hell Yeah is a storming opening track and the chorus defies the heaviness of the song. The guys prove they can mellow out with the commercial acoustic ballad Broken Bones reminiscent of Daughtry.
Wanted Man is another intense and fierce modern rocker and the closing Far From Over sends chills up your spine. A great performance, monster production and 2008 has another winner – this time in the modern melodic metal category.
|Hardreams The Road Goes On||Perris Records|
Italy's Hardreams dish up a serve of traditional melodic hard rock here, with American label Perris Records taking on the band worldwide. Good solid material here, but the accent of vocalist Manu Esteve could possibly put some people off. It is a very strong European accent and is audible throughout the album.|
Musically speaking the album features an uptempo set of songs with guitars and keyboards equally represented. The production is ok – fairly even mix and while not the best I have heard, it isn't an issue of any concern.
Apologies is a strong guitar driven melodic rocker; Rebel Heart has a solid chorus and likable melody; My Last Desire is a good mid-tempo AOR track but on We're One I had to read along with the lyrics to understand what was being sung!
Some good some bad, but generally some very familiar music and songs here. Solid and traditional AOR that might have stood out a little more any other year but this year.
|King's Call No Alibi||Artist Service|
I have no idea where these guys come from, but they sound British. This is an interesting classic rock release with a musical sound influenced by 70s rock (Thin Lizzy).|
The band has a definite moody vibe, but what strikes me immediately is that the guys actually sound too laid back. Being laid back is great, but when the songs are begging to be played as if they should be punching through the speakers, then the laid back vibe is working against you.
The sound is also a little muddy which surprises me as famed producer Chris Tsangarides was behind the desk on this. The drums are a dull beat rather than a definite thump and the vocals are not as prominent in the mix as should be.
I like the moody drawl of the singer and the melodies within the songs, but it all sounds delivered without any spark.
There really are some fine songs here and a better production and more urgent vocal performance might have created another melodic highlight for 2008.
|Deliverance As Above - So Below||Retroactive|
If intense Christian metal is your bag, then here's something to check out. This is super heavy, super sonically charged and true all-out American thrash metal. |
Early Metallica with a slight modern rap-metal influence that made Korn superstars is in place here and to be honest, this does nothing for me whatsoever.
Production quality is reasonable though and sonically it is a very in your face set of songs.
I like it heavy when the mood fits, but I'm not enough melody in these songs and I'm not getting into the vocalist at all. Just not a singer in the sense that I appreciate and need in order to appreciate any set of songs.
|Clusterhead Times Of No Trust||Artist Service|
Another metal band with a singer I am having a hard time getting into here. The guys have an interesting musical style here – modern European metal, but almost with an industrial twist in their influences.|
But I just can't get into the raspy, gruff and strained vocals. The press release describes the singer has having a warm melodic voice. Bloody hell. Er…no.
Again, press statements describe the band as being compared to Bonfire, Axel Rudi Pell and Pink Cream 69. I just don't hear this at all. I hear the raspy vocal, but none of the warmth or the needed melodies to draw me back for repeat listens.
Sorry, but this one just grates on my ears.
|Journey Revelation||WalMart (USA) / |
Frontiers Records (Europe)
Music means so much to so many people and there is no denying that Journey's music invokes the passions of fans like few bands are capable of.|
So any new release by an iconic band such as Journey is surely going to stir these passions once again. When that new release is the debut of yet another lead singer…add a little more emotion again.
In fact, I doubt any other release this year will invoke as much passion and emotion as this release.
I thought long and hard over what territory and issues this review should cover and decided that at the end of the day it should really just be a review of the music on hand and therefore only cover the music.
Sometimes one must completely close off any thought not directly related to the music in order to deliver an unbiased view point.
Journey's decision to hire Philippine frontman Arnel Pineda was not met with universal acceptance or praise. It was in fact, entwined in unfortunate controversy, but this band is not known for its smooth transitions between singers!
However, the decision has been made and Arnel seems like a very genuine guy with a warm and likable persona. And there is no doubt he can sing. One thing Journey does well every time is pick great singers to work with.
Many reviews are complicated. So many angles to discuss and sometimes there is a lot to digest. None more so than for Journey's newest Revelation, which not only drops a disc of new material at our feet, but also a second disc re-recording the band's classics.
Now things are complicated enough in Journeyland – just covering new material and a new singer, but the classics too? This is going to take a while…
The new material –
There was talk in 2006 of the band planning to first do an album of re-recorded hits before thinking of any new material. I am thankful that decision was axed as it is hard enough for any singer to withstand the ever present pressure of the Perry legacy.
The best foot forward is new material – let the new guy stand on his own feet and show the world what he is capable of.
Revelation mixes both those ideas. That's both good and bad or at least there are pro's and con's for the decision, but no one could argue that the Revelation package is not utterly sensational value.
Whether it is the WalMart package with 22 tracks and a new 2008 Live DVD or the European Frontiers Records release, which is missing the DVD, but adds an extra tasty new studio track – this is great value for fans.
Let's be honest here. The new material disc of the Revelation package needed to be good. Bloody good.
The band disappointed many with the disjointed Generations release; the Red 13 EP was under produced and it has been nearly 8 years since the release of the band's only other post-Perry release Arrival.
I'm pleased to say that Revelation is bloody good. No….bloody great!
I was completely open minded going into this. As stated – there are always issues with Journey – that's just the way it is, but they remain one of my favourite bands and Revelation doesn't disappoint.
In fact, it exceeds those expectations I was trying not to have and delivers big time.
A few points to make before delving into each track on the record.
First and most immediate is the production. Take a bow Kevin Shirley.
This is Kevin's best work with Journey, surpassing the ultra smooth Trial By Fire and the feel good ballad heavy AOR of Arrival.
As smooth as Arrival was, after several years of constant playback, after listening to Revelation for some time, I was surprised how it now feels as if Arrival lacked kick.
That's where our next accolade comes in.
Stand up Deen Castronovo. You sir, have delivered your best performance since Hardline's 1992 debut. Deen kicks it on this album like I have never heard him deliver for Journey. He is a valuable contributor to the harmony vocals with this band and on this album, but let's not forget his main role – drummer – and he really makes an impact here thanks to a masterful performance and I am guessing, some guidance from Kevin Shirley.
Ross Valory slots in there as he always does – with little fanfare, but alongside Deen really delivers the punchy rhythm that drives this album.
Jon Cain's piano sound is also the best I have heard for many years – mixing keyboards and piano and taking us back to the band's 80s sound without ever being dated.
Neal's shredding is beyond words at times and he really must be counted as one of the greatest guitarists ever.
Arnel – now where do I start with Arnel? If anything, this album proves to me that Arnel is his own man and is not just a Perry clone. Yes, he gives the band that Journey/Perry sound, but on the original material he really does stand on his own two feet and his voice shines through. His voice...not Steve Perry's.
Many have questioned Arnel's ability to deliver on the rockier Journey tracks. In a live arena perhaps that will still have to be proven over time, but on record, he really shines and delivers a performance with grit and with emotion.
Yes, he absolutely nails the ballads in a more Perry style tone, but I love the rock tracks where his voice is more natural and unique and has this raspy edge at times which I feel is an integral part of delivering the song's emotion.
Every singer has their own individual style. What creates that style is unique to each singer – their background, their upbringing, their nationality, their influences.
Not all people are going to like the style of a certain vocalist and I expect there will be some that don't like Arnel's own style. But for me – he works wonders here and after all those months of horrible YouTube videos – here he is – bigger than life and positively booming through the speakers. His voice sounds so much bigger on this record.
Track By Track:
As expected it is a soaring Neal Schon guitar riff which guides us into the new record. Immediately Deen's drum sound strikes you – something which really drives this record. Never Walk Away is a classic Journey AOR anthem. From the same handbook that brought you Be Good To Yourself, Higher Place and Never Too Late comes this uplifting rocker.
Arnel Pineda also places his stamp on the song from the opening bars. I can hear the Perry tone, but I'm instantly impressed that this is no clone and Arnel seems free to use his regular tone for the new material.
The chorus is one of those instantly likeable affairs and I love hearing the vocals stretched to the point of a raspy edge coming through. That is even more prevalent in verse two – where Arnel really sounds terrific to these ears.
The only thing I'd change here would be the level of the backing vocals through the chorus. They are there in classic Journey style, but noticeably muted compared to what they could have been. The mix of flailing guitar riffs and thick keyboard fills towards the end is perfect and the song wraps up with a nice closing thump.
There is a part of Journey's musical DNA that seems to require the injection of really sappy lyrics at designated points and Revelation is no different. After such a kick-ass opening, it's a shame that the brakes have to be jammed on immediately after. Like A Sunshower is actually a pretty decent song if you can get past the fruity lyrics – especially through the chorus.
This is a really soulful track and Arnel does his best Perry here. It seems to me that he saves his very best "Perry" for the ballads and the re-records, but is very capable of holding his own voice on the rockers. That fact may surprise some.
A drop in Schon riff and a classy solo makes the song even more memorable, but I do have a problem with its positioning within the album.
The last minute of the song is actually pretty old school Journey…a little less structured and somewhat free flowing.
The gritty string plucking Schon intro of Change For The Better got my attention from the very first listen and continues to impress. And just as Steve Augeri had the defining lyric of his tenure with the band on the opening line of Higher Place; this to me (through fate alone it seems) seems to be the lyric that defines Arnel's place in history. "Down low as far as I can go with no where left to turn…" through to the chorus hook "it's my life and a change for the better." Things sure are better for Mr. Pineda!
This song is for me what defines Journey as a great band. I love this and I love the vocal. Its one of my favorites from the new album, gritty and emotional in places, yet smooth and soaring in other places.
And the chorus delivers big time. Castronovo thumps his way through while Cain's keyboards fill the sound like it was 1983 all over again.
Schon's gritty riff all the while lies underneath the song giving it the menace it needs.
And to give Cain a keyboard solo before the bridge just sets this song up as classic 80s Journey, all the while retaining a contemporary feel thanks to Shirley's masterful production.
Neal Schon's extended guitar solo followed by a brief lull that builds to a bombastic close makes this song feel like a mini-concert and I can only hope that the band dares to roll this one out live this summer.
Thank God that track is followed by another rocker - Wildest Dream has one of the album's heaviest riffs and opens with a furious Deen Castronovo beat and another defining Schon riff. I love the verse and the song builds nicely. The chorus is a little simpler than I originally expected and it was sometime before I warmed fully to it. Still I feel that there could have been an opportunity here to fill in the chorus with a few more words or some bigger backing vocals. The lack of doesn't take any away from the song, but it could have perhaps added to it.
Listen carefully and you can really hear the raw edge of Arnel's vocals and Jonathan Cain is flat out pounding that piano, which reminds me of the way he attacks his instrument in Ask The Lonely. Love that…
Another big solo, that pounding piano and more manic Castronovo muscle help complete the song. This and Change For The Better is the heaviest I have heard from Journey since Frontiers.
I really questioned the need to re-do Faith In The Heartland for this record, but as Wildest Dream closes out and this song quickly builds, I can see why it has been included. It was the classic song from Generations and I see this not as a slight on Steve Augeri's great vocal, but perhaps a decision by the band that the sub-par production quality of Generations didn't do this song justice.
I wouldn't like to compare Arnel's vocal to that of Augeri's, but Arnel does do the song justice and his booming voice is as loud as ever here.
What really impresses me about this song is the adjustment in intent. Rather than it being an AOR anthem, as it was…this now sounds more deliberate and urgent and Deen Castronovo's drumming is simply stunning.
He rules this song and once it hits the 5 minute mark, he and Schon just take this baby over. The progressive drum fills and the understated guitar soloing in the background are joined by some more simple but effective piano parts, making this a real treat for the ears.
I can't recall the last time I thought to myself, 'we could actually use a ballad at this point' on a Journey record, but after nearly 15 minutes of pounding rock n roll, the classic piano ballad After All These Years is a welcomed break in the tempo.
Once again I find myself impressed by Castronovo's drumming, taking me back to thinking how he delivers live on some of the ballads. That power is what drives the song forward.
Arnel does his very best Perry vocal again, but not in a way that mimics the iconic singer. This is purely and simply – a classic sentimental Journey ballad that features one of those trademark Schon guitar melodies and hands in the air type chorus not unlike several songs before it.
More swirling keyboards, a driving beat and more classic Schon propel the tempo back into the red. Where Did I Lose Your Love is a moody rocker that is typical of the band in recent years, only better.
I love Arnel's voice here – very true to the Perry tone – and very smooth indeed for a rocker. His delivery and the mix of guitars and keyboards again takes me back to the Frontiers era. And to back that up – mid-song Neal infuses a riff that is classic Journey – that type of riff that just embeds itself in your brain like the solo in Send Her My Love.
And again we get treated to a bombastic drum solo to close the song. This album really does feel like a concert at times. I love the energy that emanates from the speakers.
I wasn't ready for another ballad, but What I Needed isn't a straight forward Journey ballad. It has a soulful edge that begins slowly and builds to quite a rocking and emotional chorus, completed with some more tasteful piano playing.
Again Arnel is driven to the edge with a powerful vocal that sounds like prime era Perry, calling on him to show soulful finesse and raw emotional power – check out the vocal following Neal's solo. Classic.
What It Takes To Win starts with an ominous moody edge and you just know something special is coming. Sure enough it does. And the power and passion of this song has remained with me since the first playback and is a favourite from the album (even though highlights are many). I read somewhere that Cain had to fight to have this song included – good thing he did, it would have been my second pick of all the songs lined up for inclusion.
Best part of the song besides the restrained, yet fast moving Schon riff, is Arnel's passionate raspy vocals. This is where he shines as his own man. The further he pushes it, the better he sounds. I'm absolutely blown away the guys even leave some feedback from Neal's guitar in the mix. Further proof of the live feel this set of songs has and how it does sound like a concert. Cain's piano again adds texture and rounds out the sound along with the thumping rhythm section (sorry to Ross for showing no love until now).
The guitar solo is fabulous and leads to another great melodic bridge that makes the song. Again – check out the emotion in the vocal and the thumping Castronovo drumming.
Time for another big power ballad and it is my humble opinion that Turn Down The World Tonight is the best of them all and possibly the best Journey ballad in the post-Perry era. This is a nice big, powerful piano lead ballad with a classic Journey vocal. If other songs belong to Neal, Arnel or Deen, this is Jon Cain's moment. Some beautiful piano drives this song and Neal's slow soloing towards the end, with the addition of some orchestration make this a monster ballad.
The first Journey instrumental in many years closes the US disc of new material. The Journey (Revelation) is a slow building showcase for Neal Schon.
And just as it should, it reminds of something from Neal's solo career, most immediately something off the brilliant Late Nite album.
The European only bonus track is Let It Take You Back, a reasonably laid back rocker that features a nice crunchy guitar riff and an Augeri-ish lead vocal.
An effects filled bridge leads to a chorus that doesn't lift the tempo at all – it just kind of slots in there. I could have used a more impactful chorus to be honest and the song, while a pleasing addition for die-hard fans, is probably the weakest track of the set, and its relegation to bonus track status is not a surprise.
So, good for die-hard fans and pleasing it isn't another ballad – but also not strong enough to lift the points rating any higher than the US release.
The Re-Records –
This is the interesting part I guess. The controversial part of this 2CD set and the part that will probably be debated more than the new material or anything else for that matter. The band's motivation for doing this is clear – get out from under the various strings and conditions that control their original songs.
They aren't the first to do it and certainly won't be the last. In fact, Kiss are doing the same right now.
This move allows the band to license these versions to various projects and it also allows the band to showcase their new singer and just how close to Steve Perry he can come.
A few facts before a few opinions.
Unlike the new material, which was 100% produced by Kevin Shirley, the re-records were produced by Kevin with Jonathan Cain & Neal Schon. Shirley told me that Jon and Neal did the basic track recording, with Cain helping to guide Arnel through the vocal process. Shirley came in after that and helped complete the process and adding his special touch.
The re-records have a slightly less polished feel to that of the original material. Let's face it – the band has been playing these songs for centuries now and all could probably do it in their sleep with little problem.
So this disc has a distinct 'live in the studio' feel.
The songs almost play themselves. They are well produced and played (as expected), but don't quite have the sonic punch of disc one.
I guess here the songs are being performed as like they originally were (in the 70s and 80s), whereas the new material has a more contemporary setting.
Arnel really does an amazing job with the vocals. He sings like a man possessed (with the spirit of Steve Perry as expected) and his booming voice lifts the songs.
His performance is really quite amazing and a contrast to the natural tone of his voice demonstrated on the original material.
That said – there are parts here I didn't appreciate as much and his voice occasionally doesn't quite flow over the lyrics like Perry's did. But how could anyone stack up fairly against one of the best vocalists that ever lived? Impossible…
This set of songs is very much a straight forward copy of the originals, with little deviation or additional new flair. That is a little disappointing…and for that reason I personally don't have a lot of time for these versions.
Now, that's not saying there is anything wrong with them either. They are all classic songs afterall and all of the above comments and the actual quality of the songs is all positive. What it comes down to is individual tastes and needs.
Personally I wouldn't be spending a lot of time with straight forward re-recorded hits no matter what singer. And for that matter – no matter what the band. I just don't see the point for die-hard fans.
This isn't a slight against Journey – just the general concept. I haven't had a lot of time for other artists doing the same thing either.
What I would have preferred is a disc of classic hits updated, or stripped back to acoustic or something just a little different. How about with a symphony orchestra? Now that would be cool… Then again, if that was done…the band wouldn't have these versions to license out.
Picks – Be Good To Yourself (nice solo Neal), Any Way You Want It, Stone In Love and of course the big ballads Faithfully and Open Arms.
And consider this – Be Good To Yourself is 22 years old and finally only now features the bass playing of Ross Valory.
I don't want to be too hard on these versions or this concept. Like I said, people will have their own take on this and they'll either take it or leave it.
Had this disc some out on its own I would have been less favorable with my overall views, but coupled with a live DVD and a set of 11 or 12 fantastic new songs, how could anyone really complain – especially at the price point being offered in the USA or the standard 2CD price for Europe.
This therefore is my opinion.
I haven't always agreed with the decisions made by the band, but it is hard to argue any point when you are holding a disc of this quality.
The new material is some of the best songs I have heard from the band in many years.
No, it doesn't break any new ground, but it does continue the classic spirit of Journey in the very best way possible.
Many fans don't want new ground – not from a band some 30 years old.
I think the guys have done the best possible job in delivering a set of songs that is true to their 80s sound, and with some magic desk-jockeying by Kevin Shirley, has delivered a contemporary sounding record that positively jumps thought the speaks with energy not heard since Escape and Frontiers.
I wasn't expecting such an energetic and engaging record – at least as far as the new material goes and I'm happy to admit this goes above and beyond my expectations.
As a stand alone release, I think the disc of new material might top Arrival, which was a real classic.
Now, the score…
The new material is as close to perfect as it gets. Considering the play-back it has received so far - it still sounds fresh and engaging each listen.
I'd rate Disc One - Songs 99% with Production a perfect 100.
The re-records are a little more difficult. All classic songs obviously, but the production is not as sharp. If I'm fair, I would have to say that they are done well, but at the same time won't be played that much at all. So Disc Two - Songs 90% and Production about the same.
Live DVD not yet reviewed, but 14 tracks from Vegas 2008 adds great value. Mix that all up with the emphasis on the new material and I'll give this package 97%....
|H.E.A.T. Heat||StormVox Records|
The European 80s rock revival continues with yet another fabulous release to remind us that the glory days can still be recaptured in a way that can be delivered to today's music listeners without sounding like it was recorded in a shed during the 80s.|
This is just wonderful stuff again – making 2008 a real stand out year for the melodic genre, when previous years have all been dominated by melodic metal.
And yes, this is yet another Swedish outfit who sound like they rolled straight out of 1988.
There have been a lot of track old-school releases in the last several months and over the last couple of years with the likes of Wig Wam, The Poodles and Brother Firetribe.
H.E.A.T. sound the most obviously 80s of all the recent releases, but the production and delivery is not dated – just classic.
I really am stunned at the number of great songs around this year after I struggled to pick the best songs of last year. And once again, there isn't a weak track here.
This is classic European influenced 80s melodic rock – an album filled with keyboards, harmony vocals, guitar solos and blazing anthems. Unbelievable!
What I really love here – besides the ultra sharp and crisp production – is the lead vocals. Classic melodic rock tone – mid-range, but capable of delving lower for those moody parts, then soaring high and right over the top for the big choruses.
Backed with harmonies throughout the album, the mix of vocals keys and guitars is simply melodic bliss to these ears.
I swear this could have been released by Atlantic Records in 1990 and sold 2 million CDs.
Highlights are numerous – There For You and Never Let You Go set the scene – soaring choruses and classic 80s melodic rock a la early Europe, with the groove of Winger and Giant. Add some Treat and even Wig Wam and the word essential comes to mind.
The American sounding AOR of Keep On Dreaming keeps momentum up and the big ballad Follow Me is straight out of the Giant songbook.
Straight For The Heart is straight back into uptempo anthem territory.
Cry is another fine ballad and Feel It Again remains me a little of Canadian rockers Haywire. Bring The Stars has another massive chorus layered in harmonies.
Essential for fans of the genre that started this whole website rolling.
|Jorn Lonely Are The Brave||Frontiers Records|
I have just about everything Jorn has recorded for himself and with other projects over the years and consider myself a devout fan.|
His new solo album Lonely Are The Brave is another solid hard rocking record with a great familiar sound. I think Jorn has worked hard to create his own solo sound and this album is instantly recognizable, following on from The Duke and Jorn's dual 2007 releases.
I rate Jorn as one of the finest vocalists in the world, so I guess that is why I always expect more and I still find myself waiting for a defining classic from him.
This is another solid album – don't get me wrong. But the majority of the album is delivered in the same classic Jorn slow to mid tempo metal rhythm that fans will recognize instantly and 9 new songs is just not enough in this day and age.
In fact, with one song – Hellfire – from the Beyond Twilight project, that leaves us with just 8 new songs. Take out a couple of fillers and 6 other great songs does not make a perfect release.
The songs that really do stand out as classic melodic metal anthems are the opening title track Lonely Are The Brave. Jorn takes a less intense hard rock approach on this track and it works. Night City features that familiar pounding slow metal groove and an intense vocal – both familiar traits of Jorn the solo artist.
War Of The World has a two pronged tempo and more intense vocals, the instrumental passages of the song being the highlight.
Shadow People is the only track to really turn the tempo up and for that reason alone I like it.
Soul of The World is an intense bombastic mid-tempo metal track, but I have heard it before. Same with Man Of The Dark. Promises rescues the album at this point though. This is classic Jorn and classic European melodic metal. What a vocal!
The Inner Road lifts the tempo a little and takes a more straight forward approach like the opening track. Cool, but a bigger chorus could have lifted it further.
|Revolution Renaisance New Era||Frontiers Records|
Revolution Renaissance is the oddly names new project for Stratovarius founder and controller Timo Tolkki. Tolkki has had an interesting few years – much of it in turmoil – but this is the new direction for him, coming out of writing session for what was to be a new Stratovarius album.|
Featured vocalists on the new album include Tobias Sammet (Edguy), Michael Kiske (Helloween & Place Vendome) and Pasi Rantanen (Thunderstone).
This is an interesting album and I think fans of melodic metal or European hard rock will find quite a lot to like here.
To me this material seems more accessible than some of the Stratovarius material – certainly it is more straight forward and a little more instant.
For me, the best part of this album is singer Michael Kiske. After copping some criticism for his past 2 solo releases, Kiske bounces back here with a controlled and perfectly executed performance on 5 tracks.
His highlights include the European rocker I Did It My Way which features a sharp vocal that appeals in so many ways; the ballad Angel, which features a trademark soaring vocal and is well placed within the album.
Then there is Keep The Flame Alive – a Celtic ballad of sorts that features a very sultry an controlled vocal, followed by Last Night On Earth which is a straight ahead hard rocker with a strong hook and some tasteful guitar soloing.
Also appearing Tobias Sammet who rips through the uptempo metallers Heroes and Glorious And Divine.
Pasi Rantanen has an interesting raspy timbre that I like a lot and reminds me of Tony Martin (Black Sabbath). We Are Magic is a catchy uptempo hard rocker and Born Upon The Cross is almost perfect Sabbath material.
|Overland Break Away||Escape Music|
This is an interesting release. Billed as Steve Overland's solo debut, the singer for FM, Shadowman and The Ladder enlists the help of Grand Illusion's Anders Rydholm who performs guitar, keyboard and bass duties, as well as producing and arranging the album. But it is not just Anders' baby here as Steve Overland co-wrote the material with Anders in the style he wishes to take his solo work and Steve later spent time in Sweden recording his vocals, so it really is a joint project and all can be proud of the result.|
And following previous Rydholm projects, Overland has that same high-tech, programmed/pomp AOR feel that fans of his work will love.
Steve Overland fans will see their favourite singer involved in an album of catchy melodic rock songs which differ in sound and style from recent Shadowman and The Ladder releases.
This is not an instant album – it takes several listens to absorb everything that is going on. Programming and production effects play a strong role in the character of this album, but layers of keyboards and some outstanding guitar work by Ola af Trampe bring it all together.
At times it feels as if the lead vocal doesn't quite match the flow of the song, but it improves with each listen as it is merely a case of getting to know how the songs flow.
There really is a lot going on within each song and the more one listens to it, the more each layer reveals itself and I find something new to listen to each listen. That doesn't happen to often, this album has a huge sound.
As usual, Ander's influences of Styx, Toto and classic pomp AOR filter through, this time with the soulful vocals of Overland to guide it.
While the opening two tracks are ok, it is the third harder rocking uptempo thump of Break Away that really captures my attention. This is a seriously rocking tune with a great chorus. And the drumming of Gregg Bissonette is simply stunning.
Like A River continues the quirky high-tech AOR and features another strong chorus.
The slower Look Into Your Eyes continues the layered Toto-esque approach.
The uptempo AOR anthem After The Fire is one of the album's strongest tracks and this album is quickly becoming one of my favourite from both the Overland and the Rydholm catalogue.
The fast but moody Evangeline is yet another strong track and the changing tempos within keeps the listener on the edge of their seat.
Heartache Calling is pure 80s melodic rock with a great soaring vocal chorus and guest Steve Newman on guitars.
Lost In Paradise is a rock ballad of sorts with a monster chorus and another of the album's many highlights.
Closing the album is the only proper slow ballad of the album Until Forever Comes. It has a more laid back and easy going vibe over the rest of the material and after an intense series of songs, is a nice way to close the album. Another good chorus too.
|Michael Bormann Capture The Moment||AOR Heaven|
Michael Bormann's 2007 solo album Conspiracy was a fine collection of inspired melodic hard rock songs let down in part by production that didn't match the quality of the songs.|
It was immediately evident on Capture The Moment that Borman had corrected the production issue, but I initially questioned whether the songs were now as strong. Over the course of getting to know the album, those fears were also allayed.
Capture The Moment delivers another fine set of songs, which get better with every listen and are now backed up by a much bigger and tougher production sound.
Bormann has one of those voices that engages the listener – his raspy, but warm tone guided Jaded Heart to several classic albums and now he delivers his best record to date outside that band.
When Push Comes To Shove is a relatively safe way to start the album – this is very familiar territory for Bormann. Friends For A Lifetime maintains a mid-tempo, but hard edged approach – this one straight out of the Jaded Heart songbook.
The moody and somewhat dramatic Come Take Me Higher helps create intensity while the catchy Live Your Life picks up the tempo just about when needed.
The big ballad I Wanna Hear Your Voice is classic Bormann and will delight fans.
Love Is Magic is another top classic ballad that Jaded Heart fans will love. Elsewhere on the album Bormann maintains the same consistency as the first half of the album.
Even over 14 tracks the album doesn't drag. It does become a little familiar in places – a change up in tempo here and there might be nice next time around.
Mid-tempo rockers are the name of the game here and that is why the album takes a little more time to get to know. But there is no denying there are some fine melodic hard rockers here – Glory And Pain is great; Doing Or Not, Just For A Little While and the slower ballad Still Haven't Found It are all classy tunes.
|M.ill.ion Thrill Of The Chase||Metal Heaven|
Its been a long time between drinks for Sweden's Million, but with a new label, a new year and now new record, it is all systems go once again. I always liked these guys, I felt that had something a little different to offer in a market crowded with European hard rock / melodic metal.|
Thrill Of The Chase reaffirms that belief, although the first couple of tracks did make me question that assertion.
The guys play it a little safe for the opening tracks, but that isn't to say that they don't deliver in their own right. The frantic double kick-drum pace of Thrill Of The Chase and the pounding Menace To Society are as solid as they come and will appeal to fans of European hard rock.
The band's own sound and personality come into play more prominently on The One Above, a wonderful uptempo organ drenched rocker with a soulful chorus.
And it continues with Lonely In A Crowded Room, that great vocal becomes more melodic and offers fans some true originality.
UFO is a quirky double-time rocker with more layered vocals; From Heaven To Hell features a memorable chorus hook; Through The Eyes Of A Child is another great song, with strong chorus and that old Million sound.
Beware Of The Wolf flat out rockers and Need To Believe is a strong closer.
|Eden's Curse Seven Deadly Sins||Metal Mayhem Music|
Eden's Curse burst onto the scene in 2007 with a debut album that won a lot of fans and almost immediately established them as a player on the scene.|
The band are already up to their necks in recording a brand new studio album for release in October, but in the meantime the guys are keeping busy with a great work ethic, recording this 7 track acoustic indie release.
Like many other readers of this site, I love a good acoustic release and this is one of the better ones I have heard.
This EP takes the hard rocking attitude of the debut album and 7 songs from that release and turns them on their head. This is no ordinary stripped back release that depends on a vocal and an acoustic guitar. No sir…this EP has attitude. This is a full blown acoustic band in play, with layers of acoustic guitars, a more restrained but ever present bass contribution from Paul Logue and acoustic drums to fatten out the sound.
It has the attitude of a full electric release, but simplified and all acoustic. And the change really does give these songs a new lease on life.
Judgement Day stays true to the rocking album version, but with acoustic guitars filling the sound.
Eyes Of The World is almost a different song with the arrangement beneath the vocals.
Stronger Than The Flame features some inspired acoustic soling from guitarist Thorsten.
Don't Bring Me Down takes an intense song and lead vocal and contrasts that with a laid back arrangement and some funky bass fills.
Fallen King was one of my favourites from the debut and the intro that accompanied it has joined it here. So we get some bonnie highlight influences – acoustic style – before an energetic acoustic blast of this hard rock anthem.
A couple of comments to round out this review. The instrumentation on this acoustic release would rival the full electric backing tracks from many other releases. The guitar work is simply stunning…acoustic or electric, Thorsten is a guitar legend in the making.
And finally the ever sprightly vocals of Michael Eden. I like the energy of his performance again here – the same energy that poured through the speakers last time around. His full on approach here is a fascinating contrast to what is supposed to be a stripped back affair. It really works....and the production and mix courtesy of Mr. Logue is fresh and crisp.
|Night Ranger Rockin' Shibuya 2007||King Records|
With the Night Ranger line-up now stabilized after a couple of years of movements based on members coming and going and filling in…we get a look back on the band's 2007 tour, which featured Blades, Keagy and Gillis alongside Reb Beach (guitar) and Michael Lardie (keyboards).|
Unbelievably, for a band renowned for their killer live shows, this is their first ever full concert release, spanning 2CDs. Past live release have all been edited.
This Japanese show is in support of their Hole In The Sun release and sees the guys deliver a set list packed with hits interspersed with no less than 5 tracks from the new album.
This I love – you have to play new songs to promote new material and when there's 20 tracks on offer, 5 new ones isn't a push at all. Other band's on the nostalgia circuit need to take note.
The recording is just how I like it – fresh, raw and to these ears, hasn't been messed with besides a decent mix.
The band has that youthful energy and the performance here is great. One could expect that of a group that has been playing the same hits now for 20 years, but you can just hear the guys still enjoying it.
Blades and Keagy are in great voice and Reb Beach's guest role here gives the songs a slightly different feel.
Just to touch on the new songs a little – with the exception of Tell Your Vision, they absolutely work brilliantly and sound killer alongside the standards.
I'm not sure what it is about Tell Your Vision – it still rocks, but it doesn't sound as natural alongside the other cuts from Hole In The Sun.
Now Drama Queen – that on the other hand works the best and the wall of guitars sounds frantic. The ballad There Is Life is a natural fit (as is Forever All Over Again from Neverland) and the modern rocker Whatever Happened sounds just as comfortable.
The barnstorming rocker You're Gonna Hear From Me is a great companion to the set closing Rock In America. And nice to hear one of my favourite songs from all time – Secret Of My Success – albeit in a simpler rocking frame of mind here.
|Tempestt Bring 'Em On||Metal Heaven|
When Jeff Scott Soto takes you under his wing, it must suggest that there is something of worth on offer - musically speaking.|
And true enough, Brazil's Tempestt caught the eye of Mr. Soto and he liked them so much he joins them for a duet here and has subsequently toured with them.
I like this too – this is European melodic metal, but with a commercial feel and although from Brazil, the regional influences don't seem to penetrate the music.
The guys aren't just metal – there are progressive elements in play here and it is pretty clear that they really know their instruments well.
And I particularly like the tough, no nonsense vocals of "BJ". A hard raspy voice, yet still retaining a melodic feel and capable of rounding out the songs come chorus time.
Highlights include the opening rocker Faked By Time, which builds tempo and intensity; the straight up progressive metal of Bring 'Em On; the metal ballad A Life's Alibi; the epic 7 minute plus Enemy In You (featuring some great guitar playing) and the super intense pounding of Fallen Moon.
The JSS duet appears on Insanity Desire – a gritty, slow to mid-tempo metal track. I haven't heard JSS sing like this for a while and I think fans will dig it.
|Peter Friestedt LA Project II||Zink Music|
We're all over the show this week – classic melodic rock, AOR, metal and now even Westcoast!|
So…here's one for the pink and fluffy brigade. Yes, this has been the year for melodic music – be it traditional AOR, melodic rock, or the upturn in Westcoast releases on the market.
Swede Peter Friestedt is a class Westcoast guitarist and multi-instrumentalist and his record here gathers many established names of the scene such as Joseph Williams, Bill Champlin, Bill Cantos (lead vocals); Randy Goodrem (Piano); John JR Robinson (Drums); Tommy Denander (Guitar).
If smooth Westcoast pop with jazzy influences is not your bag, move on to the next review.
If you have a penchant for the laid back vibe of this type of music, then LA Project II is definitely worth a listen.
To these ears this is one of the better examples of the genre and is immaculately produced.
The vocals are beautifully placed in the mix, the instrumentation is lush and the added ingredients like horns, brass and flute all help round out the production.
Joseph Williams features on two tracks (Where To Touch You and One More Night) and naturally those are my two favourites – he sounds far more at home here than the recent covers project.
Bill Champlin appears on perhaps the catchiest of all songs featured here – the uptempo soft AOR of Cheyenne.
There is plenty of classical piano and I'm also appreciating the raspier lead vocal of Lou Pardini n the jazzy pop (and Toto-esque) Love Is Gonna Getcha.
Strictly a mood music release, but a very well recorded, written and produced record.
|Miss Crazy II||Ronnieland Records|
Produced by Ronnie Borchert and engineered by Johnny Lima, mixed by both fellows…you can just about guarantee that this album will both kick ass and appeal to many readers of this site. And it sure does….in both cases. US sleaze rockers Miss Crazy have delivered an album that out-sleazes most of their competition and finally takes competition from the genre born and bred in the USA, back to the Scandinavians who have been doing a better job of it in recent years.|
Miss Crazy are as Californian as Motley Crue and LA Guns, as sleazy as Faster Pussycat and Pretty Boy Floyd and deliver their songs with all the energy and dedication of Cinderella. The rasp of vocalist Markus Allen Christopher take me back to the last 80s and the LA sleaze scene, dominated by Motley Crue, Faster Pussycat and LA Guns. Each note of this album does the same.
This is prime time sleaze and is well recorded and produced to deliver an in your face approach and the best out of these songs.
Highlights include the moody intensity of The River; the free flowing rock of How Long Now; the commercial hard rock of How; the manic grind of Can't Sleep and the cool melodic bliss of I'm In The Mood. The album pulls back the intensity for one brief track – the closing pop ballad My Shining Star.
4 songs in 41 minutes showcases that there is no padding here or on any song. It's get to the point and then back to the grind.
If the aforementioned bands appeal – then this will no disappoint. The gruff vocal style is not for everyone, but like I said if faster Pussycat appeals, then you already know the style. A winner for sleaze fans, no doubt.
|Big Cock Motherload||Driver Wild Music|
I could almost cut and paste my review of the first Big Cock album and paste it right here. Why change a winning formula when it works? I do struggle to find a lot to say about Big Cock – but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The guys still have the worst band name in rock n roll, but the music is pretty simple to describe. And the name does say it all.|
The third album continues the trend of AC/DC inspired sleaze rock, with lyrics that make Kiss sound like poets and an attitude LA Guns only wish they could rediscover.
The theme of past records is also continued. Song titles like Bump And Grind, Slave, Get A Load Of Me and Breaking My Balls pretty much sum it up.
The team of guitarist Dave Henzerling (King Kobra, Keel) and vocalist Robert Mason (Lynch Mob) are match made in heaven (or hell) and deliver another solid album of memorable sleaze rockers.
If you have the first two, you need the third…if you haven't yet discovered the band, then start anywhere – all three albums contain consistently well produced and enjoyable old school rock n sleaze.
|Biloxi III - In The Wake Of The Storm||Indie|
Biloxi's third record is somewhat of a sad affair as lead vocalist and founding member Clyde Holly died during the stages of the recording. The band decided after some time to complete work on the album as a tribute to Clyde. So you have that thought hanging over you while listening to this and his presence is felt throughout. He managed to record most of his guitar and keyboard parts before his untimely death, but only 2 lead vocals. The remaining vocals are handled by Mark Allen Lanoue, who joined after the band's last 2002 release.|
The problem here is that there are some decent songs, but not the quality of the band's first two releases. Plus, the production and style is varied to say the least and I'm not sold on the lead vocals of Lanoue – World being a prime example of a song that could have used a stronger vocal.
Clyde's two lead vocals are on Broken – which has a kind of modern slant to it and the cover of The Police's Synconicity II, which is a great song in itself, but a little odd here. The acoustic ballad Saints And Angels is enjoyable and On The Otherside is ok (and no one can deny the sentiment) but elsewhere I really am struggling with this release.
I'm not finding enough in the songs to draw me back and the vocals are just average.
|Liberty & Justice Independence Day||LNJ Records|
I have enjoyed the past Liberty & Justice releases, but always felt the need to comment about mixed production values and the need for better overall consistency.|
For whatever reason, this new acoustic release is by far the most consistent release from the band. It is hard to keep things consistent when recording through different sessions and having vocals flown in from artist studios all over the world.
Like the Eden's Curse EP, this album is acoustic but in full band mode, which gives the listener a lot more to grab on to and I really have enjoyed the songs featured here.
Highlights include Doubting Thomas (John Corabi); Soldier (Kelly Keagy & Mark Slaughter); Independence Day (Kelly Kealing); Praying For A Mircale (Ted Poley) and Addiction (Jani Lane).
The production is again varied with some songs sounding and working better than others – that could still be improved, but overall, there is better consistency here and I rate this the best of all the recent LNJ albums.
|Daniel Nelson Daniel Nelson||Avenue Of Allies Music|
For the first time in a long while there are some quality Westcoast releases on the market. Westcoast done properly is most definitely an acquired taste and isn't for fans of melodic metal!|
A step down again in pink and fluffiness from even AOR, Westcoast done well features plenty of jazzy moments, a little brass perhaps and some smooth, inoffensive lead vocals…all wrapped up in a flurry of well constructed guitar parts.
This 5 track release is all of the above – Nelson's vocals have a pleasant mid-range tone to them and the guitar playing of Nick Brown have that required % of Steve Lukather influence all Westcoast releases deserve! Songs – all fairly laid back as expected, 3 jazzy pop rockers and 2 soulful ballads.
Worthy of investigation for fans of the smooth and laid back genre.
|Glenn Hughes First Underground Nuclear Kitchen||Frontiers Records|
Glenn Hughes has now officially out-funked himself. With every album he becomes a little more empowered towards becoming the funkiest white man on the planet and the fact that parts of this album could be the soundtrack of the 70s suggests that he has reached his goal.|
For fans of Hughes the musician – or more precisely – Hughes the funkster, this album is superb as always. I feel that this album has a mellower heart and more soul, and less of the rock attitude that Glenn infused with the last couple of records.
This pure pop, soul and funk. In fact this album is so 70s, Led Zeppelin making out with James Brown at a soul convention could not have out funked the Hughester.
The attention to detail really does put it in the position of being the true sequel to Hughes' 1976 album Play Me Out. From the funky organ, to the horns and brass, to the swaggering sexuality of the tunes, this is truly shag carpet stuff.
That's the good news for fans of his direction in recent years. This is one authentic album and credit to Glenn for reaching this level of musical enlightenment.
Unfortunately for fans of Glenn the rocker, there is almost nothing here left to grasp to in the desperate hope he will reprise From Now On or Addiction.
I class myself as a fan of anything Glenn does, he is just that good.
I liked the last couple of albums very much – where the funk was still coming through mixed with rock, in preference to this one – just because I find this a little too mellow overall and consumed by funk and soul.
Favorite tunes for me include the harder hitting and snappy funk of Love Communion; the smooth opener Crave; the attitude filled Never Say Never and the rock attitude of Too Late To Save The World.
Chad Smith adds his typically sharp and dramatic drumming, which is all over this record and tell me Hughes himself isn't the master of the bass? His thumping rhythm is also all over this record and works in perfect tandem to Smith.
After Play Me Out, Feel, Soul Mover, Music For The Divine and now FUNK, I have my complete Glenn Hughes funk n soul collection….now I want some more rock! Is that selfish of me? After all, Glen Hughes is the voice of rock right?
|Kip Winger From The Moon To The Sun||Frontiers Records|
Kip Winger established his solo credibility with an astonishing debut album back in 1996.|
Thisconversationseemslikeadream was a left turn from Winger the band, which turned a number of heads and saw a more mature and reflective Kip Winger writing from the depths of his personal emotions.
It established Kip's solo sound, which he carried into his second album Songs From The Ocean Floor. That album was a little harder to get into, but still, the emotion and the complex melodies carried within further added to Kip's solo reputation.
The proper third solo album (if you leave acoustic releases aside) sees Kip experimenting further with his sound, creating not just an album, but an artist statement that rivals an orchestral film score for its musical scope and complexities.
Kip's solo work is not for everyone and this album is unlikely to convert any skeptics, but for those fans of the first two albums, this is along the same lines. I would describe From The Moon To The Sun as more of a mood release – it doesn't lend itself to being perfect for playing on any occasion – rather it demands playing at certain times. I find this album to be the mellowest of the three to date, but it really does take you on a journey should the mood fit.
Opening the album are two of the finest pop/rock songs you'll ever hear. Every Story Told and Nothing are intense and dramatic songs wrapped in layers of acoustic guitars and orchestral effects. These are two of my favourite Kip Winger songs ever – they really hit the spot.
Things turn more towards the more traditional acoustic ballad with the emotional Where Will You Go and Pages And Pages, which is one of those film score style tracks.
Unfortunately some of the good work of the opening half is undone at track 5 with a grinding 5 minute plus instrumental that is dominated by strings and piano. Like the soundtrack for a black and white film noir from the 30s, I think this tune kills the flow of the album completely and I now skip it each time. I would have closed the album with it.
In Your Eyes Another Life starts to get things back on track, albeit slowly. The slowly sung track matches the ultra slow tempo of Pages and the instrumental Ghosts, before finally lifting a little with a moody and dramatic chorus melody.
Runaway and California are more likeable acoustic driven dark pop songs and get the album fully back on track.
What We Are is another left turn, a kind of psychedelic 70s pop tune, followed by the slightly left of center One Big Game, dominated by vocal effects.
Why is another gem…a long passionate and moody ballad with some great effects and melodies.
Reason To Believe is a stripped back and effects filled pop rocker that could easily be heavier with the addition of electric guitars.
You can't go past the debut for brilliance, but there are a few new classics here too.
|Michael Kiske Past In Different Ways||Frontiers Records|
This is a hard one. I'm not even sure fans of former Helloween singer Michael Kiske are going to take to this, so what hope is there for those that were never fans? |
Zero…so move to the next review if that includes you.
Kiske has a great voice…but his desire to move away from his past has not pleased all.
His appearance alongside Dennis Ward on Place Vendome was hailed as a major success and I can only imagine this release is being tolerated to ensure a second Place Vendome album is completed.
So, what we have is a selection of 10 Helloween tunes, stripped back to an acoustic premise and one stand alone new solo track to close off the album.
You are really going to have to be a die-hard Helloween fan to live through this. I just don't think the higher pitch vocals work over an acoustic base. It is too much. The album is well produced, but the choice of style limits this to die-hards only.
I do like the new track Different Ways a little more, I guess because the song was written for the album is tends to suit the style more.
|Fires Of Babylon Fires Of Babylon||Metal Heaven|
Following last year' Rob Rock solo album (finally reviewed here) comes a similar sounding project under the moniker Fires Of Babylon. This project features vocalist Rock again, alongside Lou St. Paul (Winters Bane), bassist Kelly Conlon (ex Death), and drummer Robert Falzano (Shatter Messiah).|
You get the picture – melodic metal with all guns blazing. This was a project put together with the vision of writing an old school 80's power metal album and that's exactly what the guys have done.
Riffs galore, a pounding rhythm section and the all-powerful vocals of Rock up front.
The subject matter is heavy (Biblical) and so are the riffs. But each song has its own feel and Rob Rock is incapable of delivering a bad performance.
All that needs to be established is if the songs have the strength of appeal. Yes, they do. I wouldn't call this commercial material by any stretch, but each song is well structured and features a riff to grab on to and a chorus melody to learn.
|Myland No Man's Land||Valery Records|
It has been a strong year for traditional AOR and Myland help further the cause. Coming from Italy, the group features vocalist Guido Priori, who is best known in this scene for a Journey tribute record that was floating around as a promo a year or two back.|
Now he has a band and an album of originals that naturally relies on Journey influences for their sound and his Steve Perry tone vocals.
I would compare Guido's vocals more to former Shy vocalist Tony Mills or even Rob Moratti of Final Frontier. You get the idea though – very high pitched AOR vocals.
I wasn't sold on the Journey project at all…the production was average and the vocals grated on me and if I'm honest, I must say that I'm still not huge on the vocals – they feature a heavy accent and can be a little too concentrated on the high octaves without much lower register the balance them out.
But this is a much better performance than the Journey tribute album and a far superior production. In fact, the solid production lifts it above several competitors.
And the material itself is very likable.
The 10 tracks on offer here all feature decent choruses, lots of guitar and plenty of solos and a healthy dose of mid-80s keyboards.
Guests on the album include guitarist Kee Marcello and Tommy 'everywhere' Denander, but nothing should be taken away from the Myland lads themselves, who have put together a solid AOR album here.
Best tracks include the 6 minute plus opening AOR anthem Anytime; the keyboard heavy The Wind Of Late September, with it's pink and fluffy chorus; and the uptempo Age Of My Dreams. Perhaps the best track of all is the mid-80s Perry-like Love Leaves You Lonely.
Interestingly there are no actual ballads on the album. Sometimes at least one is a good way to help balance the album or provide a circuit breaker for the uptempo tracks. Still, pure AOR lovers will find little to complain about here.
|Robin George / Glenn Hughes Sweet Revenge||Krescendo Records|
More Glenn Hughes, this time a blast from the past as recordings finally surface from his shelved project with Robin George, completed in 1990 just as Glenn was launching his comeback.|
This is an interesting snapshot of a time of change for Glenn. His vocals as usual are well worth the price of admission, but I can't say that I think the whole album is a winner.
It has dated quite badly considering the year it was recorded – perhaps it is the programmed feel of the tracks and the fact Robin George plays all instruments.
There are some good tracks - American Way has one of the better chorus structures; Don't Come Crying is cool for it's more aggressive stance; and Haunted should already be known by Hughes fans as the only song that was released from these sessions at the time – making it to the Highlander 2 soundtrack.
I simply don't think the material is strong enough and that is the bottom line as far as why it was never released back in the day.
Some 18 years later it will hardly set the world on fire either, but for fans of the duo, it is good to have this material available to help complete the collection.
|Shannon Angel In Disguise||MusicBuyMail / Artist Service|
Time for some French hard rock with attitude. Sure…why not! In fact these guys are quite the impressive package and remind me a little of the style of melodic European hard rock that Pink Cream 69 deliver.|
The opening track Do You Know? sure packs a big punch, both in attitude and sound quality. The rhythm section hits hard and the guitars are up in the mix and in your face.
Vocals are supplemented by some good harmonies during the chorus time, the style a raspy, powerful mid-range delivery.
I don't think the band's name does them any favors, but this album should get the attention of fans of PC69, Krokus and Hurricane perhaps…
What you get here is 13 tracks of high energy traditional melodic hard rock, albeit with a European slant, but produced beautifully.
|Joseph Williams Tears / Smiles||WHD Entertainment|
IECP-10124 & 10125
If I hear one more Joseph Williams piano/vocal covers albums I think I will puke. The one from 2006 was bad enough, but in late 2007 the double dose of Tears and Smiles were unleashed on an unsuspecting Japanese public. He must have got a decent payday for this, as there is no other reason why this former AOR icon would lower himself to sing through no less than 24 horrible covers (12 ballads and 12 lighter pop songs).|
Covering the likes of Beach Boys, Donald Fagan, Phil Collins, Leo Sayer, The Eagles, Paul Simon and even Keane shows that these releases are softer than N'Sync performing in a pillow factory (maybe they should, we could smother them).
I'm not sure which I hate most - the fact that one of my idol's sounds so utterly bored shitless doing this middle of the road pop, or the fact I spent money on buying these two CDs to round out my collection.
If one god thing can come from this, are my wise words to all Joe Williams fans to avoid these CDs like the plague. PS. The two worst album covers ever.
|The Street The Divine Debauchery||MusicBuyMail / Artist Service|
The Street hail from Salt Lake City in the US and play a healthy does of high energy old-school sleaze rock n roll.|
I really dig the vocals here – Sebastian Bach style Skid Row delivery with a heap of attitude and some memorable riffs and song choruses.
The band mixed commercial Metallica with Skid Row and Motely Crue and that old-school American hard rock sound. I'm quite impressed with the songwriting and the passion these guys have. The material is just about there, but the biggest problem for The Street is the production quality of the album. The sound is far too thin and a little tinny and the guitars lack impact due to this. The drums don't sound that great either – overall the poor sound kills the potential the kick ass songs have.
If you can get past a thin production, there are some cool songs here and decent performances. The vocalist is a potential star.
|Rob Rock Garden Of Chaos||AFM Records|
Released late last year, but until now missing a review, this new Rob Rock album is as furious as ever. Rock sounds amazing – his voice just pierces through the metal onslaught with power, finesse and importantly – melody too. The double kick drums pound and the riffs come fast, but Rock always sounds perfect.|
The songs are co-written by Roy Z again, and he co-produces, but the riffs and main production credit here belong to CJ Grimmark. I like CJ's tone and I think he does a great job throughout the album.
I am not going to compare this to past Rob Rock albums as time has since past to delve in too deeply to the record.
But I wanted to mention it here incase anyone had forgotten about it and restate that as far as melodic power metal album go, you can go no wrong here with Garden Of Chaos.
|Def Leppard Songs From The Sparkle Lounge||Universal|
There is a phenomenon one must first overcome before reviewing any Def Leppard release. It is a two-pronged affliction - first there is the pre-album "Euphoria" that one experiences – a result of excessive happiness due to the fact an album is actually being released. Then there is the post-album "Hysteria" that comes from the initial playback of the new album. Such emotions caused by the end of multi-year wait for new music can at times cloud judgment of the new music on offer can lead people to be more complimentary than they otherwise would a few months down the track.|
This phenomenon is not unique to Def Leppard fans, but with albums consistently years apart, it is a common feeling I know fans suffer from and will relate to.
So with this in mind, I have been giving this album a thorough workout for nearly 2 weeks now. Yes, I got an advance copy a week before it was released.
I don't like to rush out reviews for the sake of getting them done on time and in past cases I have had a lot of listening time to judge records before posting a verdict.
Both X and Yeah! were with me a while before reviewing – in the case of the latter, I think we've covered that saga beyond all necessary boundaries.
I have lived with this album for a shorter period than those 2 albums, but I am confident that after a couple of weeks of absolute hammering, I know this album inside out and feel comfortable with the final verdict.
What makes this album easier to review, is the fact that there really isn't that much to it. Not compared with past albums at least. No 70 minutes to get to know or 13 or 14 tracks to absorb and no multi-layered intense production to tend with.
Songs From The Sparkle Lounge is a simple, stripped back 11 song, 40 minute affair that is pretty much memorized after a dozen listens.
There is an interesting contrast between two iconic British rock acts both releasing new albums at the same time after a several year wait for new material.
Whitesnake has decided to use their classic sound to the best of their abilities, mixing the best elements of their past history.
Def Leppard on the other hand have decided to continue on the stripped back 70s glam influenced path that they started out on with Yeah!, mixing things up a little more for this album of all new studio material.
Yes, the band rocks harder than they have for sometime, but I'm not sure it is as memorable. I think this album is a good fun record – much the same vibe as was intended with Yeah!, but at the end of the day also I think this album lacks a true direction.
The style is varied, but I don't think the album goes far enough in any one direction, it just hovers in between. Take a look at the first three tracks - you have Slang, Euphoria and Yeah! all represented. It sends a confusing message to fans.
In the past when the band has experimented, it has alienated some fans and caused considerable debate, yet those two record where experimentation was most obvious (Slang and X) remain strong favorites to many and to this day hold up as well as anything else in the band's catalogue. Personally speaking I'll play Slang and X over Euphoria and Adrenalize any day of the week.
X was heavily criticized by some for being too soft, but you have to give immense credit to the band for being so focused on that recording and the songs within. It remains a travesty that a larger section of the public weren't made aware of that album.
Even on Yeah! – as much as I dislike the majority of the record – the band was at least focused on a set direction. I don't get that same feeling here.
Track By Track:
It's always best to kick off any album with a little gusto and Go does just that. This heavy rocker has an almost industrial feel to it at times, a modern vibe that throws the listener back to the days of Slang, complete with loops and production effects that give this track the feel of Rocket for the 21st Century.
Nine Lives is the most openly commercial Def Leppard sounding track on the whole album and therefore an obvious choice as lead single. It could easy fit on Euphoria and is the song that best represents the band's classic sound.
The use of Tim McGraw in the mix doesn't bother me at all – his role is minimal. I do feel sorry for the guys being accused of following Bon Jovi, when this idea was probably hatched way before JBJ headed to Nashville. It's just that the wheels move slowly in the DL camp.
C'Mon C'Mon is about as simple as any song gets. This is straight out of the Yeah! songbook, with the band following that album's 70s rock tribute, with an original of their own. A pounding beat and a simple rabble raising chorus should see this as an easy fit in the band's live set. It's a mood song…sometimes I'm in the mood for it, sometimes not.
Love is the album's only ballad and that I think is a good move. And credit to the band, for their ballads have managed to stand out as something different each time. Each record Bon Jovi releases you get the same couple of ballads you have heard before and simply don't need again, but both this song and Long Long Way To Go stand out as very original ballads.
Now Love is original in the sense that Def Leppard haven't recorded a ballad like this before, but not quite so original in that the sound and influences mirrors that of band favourite's Queen – another act the guys respect immensely and another sign that Songs From The Sparkle Lounge continues to mirror the influences of the Yeah! record.
I like the overblown mid-song passage and I like the guitar solo and I especially like Joe Elliott's vocal here. He makes this song work. But this song typifies the overall feel of this album - there could have been more. I would have taken artistic license and gone right over the top with this song and blown it out past 7 or 8 minutes.
Tomorrow continues the loose, raw and glam-ish vibe. This happy go lucky pop rocker has that distinct Def Leppard sound, yet with poppier influences and a sound that mixes Euphoria, X and Yeah!
Same too with Cruise Control – another very 70s sounding rocker that to me mixes the modern rock sound of Slang with X during the verse, then converts to Yeah! style during the chorus. The chorus is fairly restrained, but a melodic verse and additional bridge add weight to the song, but at the end of the day – it's not memorable enough for me.
Hallucinate sounds promising to start, with a nice hard edge riff kicking things off. Then it's back to the raw, stripped back style of production. This sounds like a rougher, rawer version of a song that could have been included on X, had it been further polished up.
It's a likable song, and features another nice guitar solo in there, but perhaps is a little underdone.
Only The Good Die Young is an interesting song. I like the Elliott vocal that kicks off the verse – a nice hook and lyrically it sounds like a carry on from the same subject that influenced Photograph all those years ago. A happy sounding mid-tempo pop/rocker with a strong, but simple chorus and more traditional DL sound.
Bad Actress will surely be the most talked about rocker of this whole album – completely infectious and hard not to love. Again, it is very stripped back in comparison with past albums and another blatant "tribute" to the glam rock acts of the 70s. Hard not to love this one though, with the tempo sweeping you up and dragging you along for the ride.
Dodgy lyrics aside, it's a lot of fun.
Come Undone is a solid enough rock track, but at the end of the day it doesn't do a lot for me personally. I'm not feeling the chorus and it just seems to be lacking direction.
Gotta Let It Go is much better. This is one of my favourite songs on the album, even if this time they did borrow from Bon Jovi (the Have A Nice Day riff anyone?)
I like the modern influence and I like the added aggression of the song. Something that is missing from the rest of the album – true attitude!
Songs From The Sparkle Lounge does sparkle at times, but overall it lacks the spark and direction seen on previous Def Leppard albums. It is a bit of fun to listen to, but I don't see a serious depth to the songwriting. The record is quite likeable, but I truly exepect opinions to be quite varied in both negative and positive directions.
I thought it may have been wise for the band to do something akin to what Whitesnake have done, and that is concentrate on appealing to their core audience and deliver an album based on days past. Maybe the band doesn't want to listen to calls for Pyromania 2 or Hysteria 2, but those calls remain and they won't go away.
This album is just a little too varied in direction, but the bulk of the songs sound almost like a reaction against the longer, polished and more intense X record. Short, simple and instantly catchy are all fair comments, but I like my Def Leppard music to have more depth and take time to get to know it. I played X for months, even more so than Euphoria, but this album I know off by heart already and I think I'll be ready to move on from it within weeks.
Still a respectable score, but this ranks behind most other DL albums for me. It is far superior to Yeah! though...and it is nice to hear new material at last, but I did expect more from one of the icons of the industry. And I hate to imagine when we might all hear the next studio album from the band...
|Whitesnake Good To Be Bad||SPV|
The return of a classic band always brings huge expectations, but more often than not, the end result is something short of fan expectation. On the odd occasion, the band manages to exceed expectations and I believe Whitesnake has done just that.|
I have talked before about what inspiration or influence lies behind a band delivering a great album. I guess having knowledge of what made the band great in the first place and a desire to revisit one's best are the two main prerequisites.
David Coverdale has spent the last few years touring with his latest band line-up – yet another chapter in the evolving story of Whitesnake. The band is as tight and as ready as they are ever going to be and that translates into the recording here.
While the line-up features the dual guitar attack of Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach, the absolute star of this album is Doug Aldrich. His writing partnership with David Coverdale has reaped rich rewards for fans.
What I find most fascinating about this album, is that the duo have brought the very best out of each other and Good To Be Bad represents a broad cross section of all the previous Whitesnake incarnations.
I and I think a number of other fans have been taken by surprise at the ferocity of this album after the relatively lackluster new studio tracks added to the live release from 2006 and Coverdale's increasingly mellow output in recent years.
The simply massive production delivers a wall of sound and in your face guitars reminiscent of the band's biggest selling album ever – Whitesnake (1987); but not to be outdone, Doug's bluesy riffs and David's warm and raspy vocal brings back memories of Slide It In and even 70's 'Snake. Then you have the biggest surprise of all for me – a huge nod of the head to the Coverdale Page album, with some very tasty slices of Page-esque Zeppelin riffing spread amongst the album.
Drummer Chris Frasier makes an immediate impact in the band with a powerhouse performance and bassist Uriah Duffy simply hammers that rhythm section home.
Sonically bombastic and pompous in all its glory, the opening hard rocker Best Years blasts through the speakers like no other Whitesnake album has opened since 1987.
Filled with thumping basslines, wailing guitar solos and a Coverdale vocal unrivaled since Coverdale Page, this really kicks off the album fine style.
Can You Hear The Wind Blow is similarly in your face and establishes a fresh sound for the band today. All For Love and A Fool In Love further carve out the new band's sound in a hard rocking way.
As mentioned, there are a few tracks that head back to the Coverdale Page / Zeppelin influenced sound and Call On Me is the first track to do that. The title track Good To Be Bad even more so (do I hear a little Slow & Easy in there too?). It has a real Zeppelin feel to it and the guitar work is simply fantastic.
Lay Down Your Love is the most obvious of all the Zeppelinesque tracks, but when it is done so well, who is to argue?
All I Want All I Need is the first ballad of the album and again is one of the best ballads from Coverdale in years. The other ballads both offer different textures. Summer Rain is smooth, acoustic and sultry, while Til The End Of Time is darker.
Got What You Need is a frantic hard rocker that defies the age of vocalist Coverdale, with a truly energetic blast.
Coverdale's voice may not quite be what it was, but the job of any band in the studio is to produce the very best sounding record possible and on Good To Be Bad, Coverdale sounds better than he has in years. How these vocals were achieved is irrelevant, the fact is they have been delivered and sound great - even if a little raspier and a little lower in register.
Doug's bluesy hard rock injection is a shot in the arm for this band and a perfect match it seems. I can't see too many fans being disappointed with this release.
|Brother Firetribe Heart Full Of Fire||Spinefarm|
Sometimes, something a little special comes along for fans of a bygone era. Finland's Brother Firetribe have really pulled out all the stops to deliver an album of glorious keyboard filled AOR that sounds more American in places than many American bands sound these days.|
There isn't a note I don't like on this album and I find myself swept up into the rush of passionate songs and over the top harmonies every time I out it on.
A great album pulls the listener in and I simply cannot listen to this without the desire to sing along with every track.
The band has evolved since their debut album False Metal (now repacked and re-released as Break Out). That was a cracking debut, but this album has more of everything. More keyboards, more guitars, more hooks, more vocals and more energy. I think that last one of the key – more energy. The songs just burst through the speakers and beat your ears with the melodicbat.
The debut was great, but I found myself favouring singer Pekka Ansio's other band Leverage over that release. But this is just pure melodic magic and of the 2 Leverage and 2 BFT releases, I now have a clear favourite.
I think the band have found their groove and refined their sound. This time around the songs pull you in thanks to some wonderful chorus hooks and equally good verses, which provide great contrast to the soaring choruses.
I know this style of record will not be for everyone, but the 80s influence and keyboard drenched sound, coupled with layers of guitars and harmony vocals and songs that remind me of the glory days are enough to make this one of the best albums of the last few years – for me.
There are two sides to this record – but both blend perfectly together. There is the more dramatic and powerful side of the coin, which comes from the band's European influences and that heavy synth and somewhat symphonic approach Finnish bands have.
The opening rocker Who Will You Run To Now is a prime example, adding an instantly likeable chorus and a powerful vocal to top things off. The darker and moodier Game They Call Love fits this mold as does the pounding title track Heart Full Of Fire, which features a duet lead vocal with Nightwish's Anette Olsen and so many swirling keyboards.
The rocking Going Out With A Bang; the darker Out Of My Head and the closing big beat stomper I Am Rock are all part of this dramatic side to the band.
On the other side of the coin is something a little lighter – a great contrast to the darker moments – and that is some wonderfully commercial keyboard driven pop rock.
There is no better example on this album or perhaps anywhere than the glorious and engaging Wildest Dreams, which will be hard to beat for song of the year. This is what it is all about for me – passion, emotion and a chorus from heaven.
And while you spend 3 second bemoaning the end of this melodic gem, another fires up and drags you into its own world. Runaways is keyboard heaven circa 1985 and Pekka's raspy vocal is blissful. And yes…another chorus from AOR Heaven.
The album's big ballad is Play It From The Heart - a European sounding affair, moody and compelling and another great chorus. Heard It On My Radio is a track Gregg Giuffria would be proud to call his own. I haven't heard such fluffy keyboards since Giuffria's Silk & Steel.
And the cover of Chasing The Angels would make Mike Reno proud. More AOR glory.
What I will say is that if you are a die-hard Giuffria fan or just long for the days of classic keyboard filled AOR, then the sequel to Silk & Steel has finally been released and it is called Heart Full Of Fire.
|Magnum Wings Of Heaven Live||SPV|
Wings Of Heaven Live is a fitting tribute to the 1988 namesake album. Long heralded as not only one of Magnum's best ever records, Wings Of Heaven also stands as one of Britain's best melodic rock moments.|
This 2CD set comprises the entire live show that toured the UK in late 2007 in celebration of the upcoming 20th Anniversary of the classic album (now upon us).
The new set list includes the full Wings Of Heaven album played in full as part 2 of the show and an opening set leaning heavily on the band's last studio album Princess Alice & The Broken Arrow, interspersed with a few classic Magnum tracks like the iconic Kingdom Of Madness, How Far Jerusalem and All England Eyes, plus album favourites Back Street Kid and Vigilante.
I wasn't sold on the last album, but in this setting the songs take on a little extra life and sound more at home amongst the better known numbers.
It is an enthusiastic performance by the band, who after a few years back together seem to be hitting their stride in a live environment.
It is the Wings Of Heaven album that draws us here and the performance of that is fantastic - how cool to hear songs like Don't Wake The Lion, Wild Swan and One Step Away alongside more regularly played anthems Days Of No Trust, It Must Have Been Love and Pray For The Day. Brilliant for Magnum fans.
As with all recent Magnum releases, no matter what positives, there is always a 'but…'
And the 'but…' with this release is the decision to remove crowd noise between tracks?
I just don't understand that. The drop-outs between songs simply kill the atmosphere and cuts the flow of the album – especially during the in-sequence Wings Of Heaven set.
I can understand the need to cut conversations between Bob Catley and the crowd out to fit the set onto a CD, but there is space left over here and why not at least leave the audience cheer in between tracks?? Strange stuff indeed.
|Overdrive Let The Metal Do The Talking||Lion Music|
Metal in your face! Time for some old-school 80s power metal thanks to Sweden's Overdrive, back together with original members of guitar duo Janne Stark (Locomotive Breath, Mountain Of Power) and Kiell Jacobsson, bassist Kenth Eriksson and drummer Kenta Svensson. The new vocalist is Per "PerilOz" Karlsson who has a fine set of lungs on him.|
This is classic Priest/Maiden style old-school metal, with enough riffs to keep Yngwie fans happy and enough squealing to keep Impellitteri in business for years to come.
The most noticeable thing about this release to me – after the onslaught of furious guitar riffs – is the overall wall of sound. The production is crisp and clean and full. It really helps put these songs in the best possible light.
Tracks like Let The Metal Do The Talking, Army Of Darkness and Chasing Highways offer a high-octane rush of guitars and intense vocals that will keep metal fans in raptures.
Then there is tracks like Fight To The Finish, Bring Me To Submission, Deceived and Gravy Train pull it back a little and rely more on song structure and some melodies to deliver the goods. The album seems equally split between the two approaches and that's perhaps what makes it work so well.
Reincarnation is an intense melodic metal track that features a guest vocal from Italian rocker Chris Catena. It's probably the heaviest I have heard him sing and is an interesting track.