|W.E.T. W.E.T.||Frontiers Records|
It has been more than two years since I handed out a perfect score. I don't do these things lightly. But there is no doubt in my mind that this album represents the highest quality possible – the songwriting, performance energy, production are all perfect in my eyes and most importantly, I feel that this album pushes the melodic rock genre forward. |
Without forward movement we are all doomed to do nothing but reflect on past glories and we can't do that forever. Albums like this are exactly what is needed to keep the genre fresh and invigorated.
I have had the advantage of having this record since June, so it has well and truly had time to sink in and grow on me. I have been listening to it almost continually since then and still want to keep putting it on over and over. I have different favourite songs from week to week and haven't tired of one track on here.
If the 700 news blurbs have escaped your attention, W.E.T. is Robert Sall (songwriting) of Work Of Art representing the 'W'; chief brains trust and multi-instrumentalist/guitarist/producer/songwriter Erik Martensson from Eclipse representing the 'E' and songwriter/vocalist Jeff Scott Soto representing the 'T' as in Talisman.
The band evolved from an idea out of the Frontiers Records office, who had the continued desire for JSS to deliver a melodic rock record, when the singer wanted to expand his solo name into other styles.
Eclipse and Work Of Art were two of the bands of 2008 – both of which delivering critically acclaimed albums that were also snapped up by hungry fans.
With the project line-up settled, demos were commenced and it wasn't long before genuine chemistry developed and the project become a band.
The songwriting here is nothing short of brilliant. Chief writers Erik Martensson and Robert Sall along with Miqael Persson with have assembled an amazing array of songs.
Performing the songs, you get the very best of Jeff Scott Soto's power and passion, and the master Erik Martensson is simply on fire. The Eclipse album was a monument to melodic hard rock craftsmanship, but he's gone one step further here.
What I love is that the album contains moments of AOR passion, but isn't restricted to just being an AOR release. There are some truly heavy moments here, which are made more commercial and catchy by the team involved.
And this isn't an old-school release. Erik's ability to update that classic sound and drive it into the future with powerhouse rhythm and production effects makes this an equally classic and contemporary release.
Track By Track:
Invincible starts off very calmly and builds…sounds very melodic…then bang! We're underway. Great sounding guitars, powerful rhythm section, vocals right up in the mix and JSS sounding more melodic than he ever has. More so than Eyes, more so than Prism. He's back into that higher range and really pushes his vocals to the limit, yet it sounds absolutely natural and 100% engaging. And you know you can't help but sing along – in fact, to the whole album. I'm always tired when I get to the end of this record from singing along.
One Love is simply brilliant. Pure melodic rock songwriting brilliance. The verse features some memorable vocal lines, but the chorus soars higher than ever expected and goes right over the top – all layered in harmonies.
Brothers In Arms is – like most of the tracks here – another glorious slice of harmony drenched melodic rock in the finest tradition of the genre. The chorus is immense again and the mid-song bridge/instrumental passage is powerful, moody and hard rocking, all within the same two minute setting. And the final chorus just blows the lid off everything to date.
It is time for a chance of pace and Comes Down Like Rain is just that. A soft, sultry vocal whispers over some subtle instrumentation. The first chorus is almost not there – it sends chills up your spine and it isn't until 2 minutes into the song that things blow up. And what a heart wrenching chorus it is. Things turn heavier with a big guitar solo before going completely soft again – brilliant songwriting again in play.
Running From The Heartache is pure Steve Perry/Journey, or pure classic AOR at any rate. Smooth, mid-tempo keyboard drenched AOR with another killer bridge/chorus arrangement and harmonies through the roof.
After smooth American AOR of the previous track, the urgent I'll Be There has a more European feel to it, but is equally melodic. And yes, another bloody huge chorus with a big soaring JSS vocal, reaching into those higher than high ranges again. The latter half of the song is filled with solos and gets heavier, leading perfectly into two of the heaviest tracks on the album.
Damage Is Done just rocks. The sound isn't far from Eclipse and represents another European twist. The straight ahead rocker is a definite 'album track', but is placed perfectly to make the flow of the album just brilliant.
Then…it's The Who….no its Whitesnake! The intro to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is is just pure energy and the verse vocal is stamped with authority. The chorus isn't as big as some earlier tracks, but the tempo and direction of the track makes it equally infectious.
The last part of the album goes heavy, melodic, heavy, melodic…and One Day At A Time is the track to take a breather on. Holy shit does this song get to me. This is the big power ballad of the album and features a chorus with harmonies to high I never thought I would ever hear JSS sing like this. This is noting short of stunning and one of the great ballads of the last few years.
Time to rock again and the heaviest track on the album is the double time rhythm of Just Go. With a pumping riff kicking it off and a raspy vocal throughout, the song powers along, albeit with a prominent keyboard riff joining in. The chorus is furious and the drumming outstanding.
My Everything sees the guys step back into pure American AOR, in a similar vein to Running From The Heartache. More layered harmonies, backing vocals a big chorus make it yet another winner.
This breathtaking album closes with one of the songs of the decade. If I Fall is W.E.T.'s very own Don't Stop Believin'.
Clocking in at over 6 minutes, this is pure feel good, uptempo AOR gold! It starts slow and builds with a Neal Schon-like guitar riff, piano, drums and then that vocal. Steve Perry is back and singing his lungs out. The song sounds like it could have come from Trial By Fire or Perry's For The Love Of Strange Medicine, but the chorus is pure Escape! Harmonies, layers of vocals, a feel good lyric and JSS' monster voice.
Even better the regular song structure winds up at about the 3 minute mark and guitars take over. JSS sings the hamonies over an extended Journey-esque lead guitar break that runs until the song closes. What a stunning way to finish the album.
This song is a huge middle finger to Journey – as if to state – 'hey, you wanted the heritage sound, here it is…' Soto has never sounded so soulful and powerful as he does here. Steve Perry goes metal…
I have only ever handed out perfect scores on 7 previous occasions and the last was 3 years ago! (Danger Danger x 2; Harem Scarem x 2; TNT; Toto; Mecca). That's how much I believe in this album.
|Winger Karma||Frontiers Records|
It was the amazing Pull album that had me thinking Winger were truly an underrated band and it was Kip's solo album Thiscoversationseemslikeadream that convinced me that Kip was a genius at capturing moods and emotions and was always going that one step further creatively in order to create a masterpiece.|
Winger's comeback album IV provided fans with something more to chew on, although some didn't like the taste as much as the band's earlier work.
But on Karma, the band comes full circle, retracing the uptempo stadium sounds that influenced the first two albums, and mixing that with the intensity and darker mood of Pull, plus a little of the contemporary vibe of IV.
The result is a highly contagious and engrossing record that should please fans of every era of the band's history – this truly is one album for the fans.
Karma is a tough, gritty hard rock record, with more emphasis placed on guitars than just about any other Winger release. It also features Kip almost growling into the mike on occasion – reinforcing a tough, 'live in the studio' feel that the songs resonate.
For the record – there are still plenty of Kip's silky smooth vocals too and some passionate balladry, but for the most part, this is just a great, in your face, loud rock n roll record.
The opening riff-tastic salvo of Deal With The Devil and Stone Cold Killer are two of the hardest rocking Winger tracks to date and really get the heart pumping.
Big World Away is one of those modern/meets melodic tracks that could have fit onto Winger IV, but has the melodic chorus of something off Pull. Kip's verse vocal is almost a rap/shout – only he could get away with this! The song has an amazing late bridge guitar solo that further demonstrates the dominance of guitars on this record.
Come A Little Closer is another astounding track filled with production effects, layers of vocals and melodies. Another moody old-meets-new rocker.
Pull Me Under just flat out rocks! The chorus is melodic bliss and the dual finger shred guitar solo is breathtaking.
After a series of rather short songs, the album finds its first epic in the 6 minute Supernova – a slow and sultry song that takes a while to hit its peak.
Always Within Me is another moody, slow starting track that could easily have come from either of the last 2 albums, with the added bonus of an amazing chorus.
Feeding Frenzy is dark, heavy and gives the album a hard rock hit before closing with two more reflective, intense epics.
The first being the 6 minute ballad After All This Time – an earthy, organ filled slow rock ballad with some classy soloing throughout.
Then the 7 minute kicker Witness. Wow! What a massive haunting musical landscape with lush vocals, layers of instrumentation and then a beyond massive guitar solo from Reb Beach – the guy can seriously play. One of the best solos in recent memory here.
Closing the album is a two minute piano instrumental First Ending.
|Jaded Heart Perfect Insanity||Frontiers Records|
On their third studio album with new singer Johan Fahlberg, Jaded Heart has once and for all ditched the sound that made them popular to start with.|
Gone is the melodic rock/melodic hard rock sound of the Bormann era. They have gradually stepped into a heavier arena and with Perfect Insanity the transformation is complete. Jaded Heart is now a melodic metal outfit, competing with the likes of Edguy and Yngwie Malmsteen.
There is a surprising amount of shredding on this record (in a good way), but also not enough emphasis on killer hooks for the choruses.
The unfortunate thing here is that no matter how good this album might have been, it will still divide the fan base as some of the melodic rockers will simply not want to hear a metal outfit. The album needed to be an absolute classic to bring in new fans and I don't think it is convincing enough to do that.
Perfect Insanity is a monster sounding record – the production really is quite special. And the guitars are world class, ear damaging quality. And Johan's vocals do suit this new direction. There is a lot to appreciate on this record.
But at the end of the day, the band fall short (once again) on the songwriting. The first half of the record kicks ass, but then it kinda runs out of steam. That's if you are still listening due to the style change.
Love is a Killer is a terrific big heavy anthem with the necessary harmony in the chorus to make it a winner. Fly Away is about 2 minutes too long, but still remains a solid metal track.
Blood Stained Lies is another good double-time rocker with decent chorus and some harmony vocals.
Tonight is the band doing it slower, while retaining the heaviness. It works ok. Freedom Call is a classic Yngwie shred fest, which those fans will love.
One Life One Death is the big ballad of the album, but I just don't feel the sentiment coming from the band here.
The last couple of tracks struggled with melody and hooks and from this point it just gets harder to keep the attention on the songs - Hell Just Arrived being the exception.
|Salute Toy Soldier||Escape Music|
What a great pairing of artists! The ever raspy, yet passionate and powerful vocalist Mikael Erlandsson (Last Autumn's Dream, Solo) has joined forces with the super producer/guitarist Martin Kronlund (Dogface, Gypsy Rose, Overland, Radio Silence) to produce a glorious rocking AOR album.|
In place is the busiest production team in the business – the Kronlund Choir I'll call them – making this a solid and perfectly balanced recording, making one of the year's best and most powerful AOR albums.
The opening uptempo bliss of Lost In A Dream and Cheated are two of the best, most energetic AOR/hard rock anthems of the year – just glorious!
Running Away With You and I Am Your Prisoner are tougher, slower and more direct, while I Really Want You In My Life is kind of in-between as far as style – a straight forward melodic rocker.
Toy Soldier is a terrific mid-tempo and moody rock ballad that connects well to the more urgent, but equally moody Steel Desire.
Be A Star and Dynamite roll along at a reasonable pace – not album highlights but not fillers either.
Yesterday Always Been Gone picks up the tempo again and features a strong chorus and nice riff.
It's My Time is a cool mid-tempo AOR track with another strong chorus and the album closes with the passionate and epic mid-tempo rock ballad Follow The Sun – another terrific song and lead vocal.
|Overland Diamond Dealer||Escape Music|
Steve Overland is becoming the wandering gypsy of melodic rock. From The Ladder, to Shadowman, to his duties back with FM, to his own solo brand Overland. He's a man on a mission after several years in the wilderness.|
The first Overland release was a partnership with Grand Illusion's Anders Rydholm. The style was heavily driven by Ander's own Grand Illusion pomp quirkiness, but was a good, if not different fit for Steve.
Now for the second Overland release we have a completely different team on board and we find Steve Overland back into his comfort zone, producing, straight forward soulful British AOR. The primary writing and performance partner here is the much respected Norwegian rocker Tor Talle. Tor handles all guitars and keyboards and co-writes the material with Steve Overland.
And for the remaining backing band and production - yes, it's the Martin Kronlund production team yet again! But you really can't argue with the quality they deliver and Martin always makes his records sound great – even when moving across different styles.
As stated, Diamond Dealer is a more traditional British AOR record. The first Overland was quite confronting and heavy in places, but the name of the game here is….smooth!
Yes, smooth vocals…smooth songs…lush production and majority mid-tempo songs. The quality is unquestionable and Steve sounds in perfect voice – really solid.
The only issue I confront from time to time during the album is a slight lack of variation in the pace. Minor point.
Highlights from the album include the Bon Jovi-ish groove of Train, Train; the glorious AOR of You Lift Me Up (one of the best Overland sung songs in a long time); the smooth 80s influenced Where Is The Love; the soft ballad Brave New World; the uptempo City Of Dreams, which features a great chorus; the supper slick I'm Still Breathing; the anthemic AOR of Hearts Don't Lie and the big closing ballad Coming Home (featuring some great guitar work).
|Kimberley Dahme Can't A Girl Change Her Mind||Escape Music|
Kimberley Dahme is best known for popping up into the Boston camp and being part of the band's current touring line-up and the poorly received Corporate America record.|
Her biggest offence was being responsible for the awful country track that featured mid-way through that album. Completely out of place and style.
That song appears again here – on Kimberely's own solo album. Not as bad this time around as at least it is in the correct setting.
For her solo album, Kimberely doesn't disguise her style and nor should she have to. But no matter how much she is painted as a girl that likes to rock, or how much this album is described as a country rock album – I don't buy either description.
First and foremost - this is a country record. It may have some pop tendencies and an occasional uptempo song that features some "rock" guitars, but it is still country.
Much of the album is layered in acoustic guitars, southern twang and even one track with no musical accompaniment at all.
Think Bonnie Raitt without the grit or Shania Twain without the Mutt. The guest list is as long as the CD itself, with such names as Gary Pihl & Tom Scholz (Boston); Glen Burtnik (solo and Styx), Dave Uhrich, Timothy Gaines and many more.
For what it is – the album is very well recorded and sounds well mixed. The instrumentation is well balanced and Kimberley's vocals are likable.
The album is fairly slow in pace and I can't seem to get past the first few tracks on any given listen. On the times I have spun it through for review purposes, I couldn't wait to get done with it.
|Foreigner Can't Slow Down||Atlantic Rhino / WalMart|
This is not the record I expected from the band. After the release of Too Late a year or two back, the band's first new tune in years and one that sounded as if it came straight out of the 70s, and after several years of solid touring, I figured a new Foreigner album would be pretty hard rocking and reminiscent of their earlier works.|
Not so! But that isn't a bad thing; it is just not what I expected.
Instead, the new album is an ultra-smooth collection of slow and mid-tempo numbers that features an immaculate production and some fine performances.
Some 15 years on from one of my Foreigner records ever, I see this album as a natural successor to Mr. Moonlight.
Track By Track:
It's evident from the first 10 seconds of the new album that this is a high-tech affair and not just Foreigner sticking to a retro theme.
The rocker Can't Slow Down is a blast of energetic melodic rock with an anthemic 80s feel, yet delivered with today's best production effects and layers of instrumentation.
The guitar stands high in the mix, yet not so much as a hard edged tool, but rather as a lush layer of melodies.
But the true highlight here – as it is throughout the album – is the vocals of singer Kelly Hansen. He has fronted the band for several years now, touring continuously and sounds amazing here – bringing his own style, but the familiarity of a close Lou Gramm tone to the album.
In Pieces is a moody slow to mid tempo ballad with a sultry verse and an emotional chorus with an immaculate vocal.
When It Comes to Love is another ballad – and the first single from the album. It especially reminds me of the acoustic driven style of the Mr. Moonlight album and a little of the tempo of Say You Will off Inside Information.
This is another great tune and one you can't help but sing along to. Nice to hear the Foreigner horns in play – they also feature prominently through the record.
Living In A Dream is my pick of the album. A more guitar driven tune, the song has a sultry base, and a great guitar tone. Kelly sounds amazing as he lifts the song into orbit for the bridge and verse. A high-tech rocker with horns, guitars, harmonies. Perfect stuff!
Yet another ballad kills the flow of the album a little here. 3 ballads in the opening 5 tracks knocks the album off balance a little. Definitely a little too laid back.
Still, I Can't Give Up is a different kind of ballad. We've had moody, light and breezy and now we have the big, emotional piano ballad. Another strong and really well produced song with amazing vocals and a nice guitar solo riding under the last part of the song.
Thankfully the tempo heads into high gear for the tech-rocker Ready. Mick Jones has an interesting tone and style throughout this album – not as riff based as previously has been the case. Case in point the solo during this track.
Again Kelly makes his presence well known with some effect filled vocals in the verse giving way to a burst of high range melody.
Give Me a Sign is a mid-tempo guitar fuelled rock track that again sounds like Mr. Moonlight in places. The laid back verse bursts to life with a jazzy rock feel and horns blazing through the chorus. I'll Be Home Tonight is another ballad and perhaps one of the album's best. This is a slow to mid-tempo number that features a slow verse but more rousing chorus. This is a real 80s style rock ballad.
The song Too Late has been around for a while now and has been routinely played in the band's live set. This classic 70s rocker in vintage Foreigner style was how I expected the album to sound like, but rather the guys took a more contemporary approach. For that reason, this now sounds a little out of place, but there is no denying the class of the track and Kelly's ability to hone in 70s Lou Gramm.
Lonely is another one of my favourites from the album. Kicking off like a lost track from the 80s, the song glides along until the chorus kicks into high gear. Not a huge hook, but something that simply can't be erased from your mind.
As Long As I Live is yet another ballad – this album really is dominated by the slower pace. But of course…another classy song. I just wish this rocked a little more than it does. Still, the tempo of this ballad is above that of the others and the passionate vocals of Kelly are a joy.
Angel Tonight stars relatively laid back, but has a wonderful more rocking chorus with a higher vocal and instantly memorable hook. The song picks up as it goes along and features one of the better guitar solos of the album. Another highlight for me.
Fool For You Anyway is – like Too Late – a little out of place stylistically. The only studio remake to make this set is a more laid back, blues and jazz kinda remake. Kelly sounds amazing of course and the production is perfect, but to me it closes out the album on the wrong note.
The music though – that's top notch stuff. Foreigner fans have to be happy with this album. Some will complain about the lack of rock on here – me included – but the performances and immaculate production are nothing short of sensational. I could say it is the band's best album in years, but it is their only album in years! Welcome back guys.
|Kiss Sonic Boom||Kiss/WalMart|
Kiss are back! Well…they have their first studio album in many years at least. It is hard to declare Kiss 'back' when they never really went away. Kiss Inc. has kept fans busy with tours, merchandise and an ever-constant media presence.|
But this is the first look at new material for fans after solo albums from Stanley and Simmons in recent years plus a range of archive DVD collections.
Kiss has done precisely the right thing here – they have made an album for the fans and for themselves. No towing any record label line and no attempts to follow a particular trend or update their sound unnecessarily.
Mind you, if there is any trend developing, it is one towards being cool for just being yourself and for more organic classic rock records. So Kiss under the command of Paul Stanley set about making a classic Kiss record for the ages.
I think they have achieved that too. Importantly this sounds like a real band record and everyone gets some time in the spotlight. The production, while not the crispest ever, has a big sound and is authentic in that it captures the energy of the band and songs and reflects the style of the band through the ages.
The triple pack release adds value for money for casual and die-hard fans alike, but the real interest for all is the new material.
Track By Track:
Modern Day Delilah is the single we've all heard – the tune that reintroduced the band to the world. Tough, uncompromising and both contemporary and classic at the same time. Catchy without even trying.
Russian Roulette features Gene singing as well as, well…as well as Gene "sings". And I love the guitar tone on this one. Unmistakably Kiss and nice and clean. I prefer the double time bridge that leads to the chorus, which plods a little, but still a very good straight ahead rocker.
Never Enough to me sounds like 80s Kiss without the tinfoil production. Paul sounds in terrific form here and the chorus is pure anthemic pyro-inspired rock n roll. One for the live set list surely?
Gene is back to front the dirty 70s rocker Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect). This is the best example of 70s Kiss on the record I reckon. Self-indulgent lyrics, an instant chorus and a tasty guitar solo in there also.
Stand is another 80s style song with a more 70s inspired production. Anthemic arena rocker with classic Kiss traits. Gene and Paul duet through the track, but you have to love the chorus.
Hot And Cold features yet more Gene lead vocals. Curious that his role in the album is so prominent given that Stanley apparently had full creative control. Not the greatest vocalist in the world (or anywhere else), Gene still manages to carry the integrity of the song – more 70s inspired dirty rock n roll. Not to be taken seriously lyrics are the name of the game.
All For The Glory is a track I really dig. More bombastic 70s rock here and a big over the top chorus. Absolutely love the dirty guitar tone here (and killer solo), plus the faster tempo. Eric Singer sings his heart out and puts his hand up for future vocal duties with a strong performance.
Danger Us is another really strong rocker that features more inspired guitar playing and a strong Paul Stanley lead vocal. More silly lyrics that seem to work (this is Kiss afterall!). The latter half of the album proves to be delivering the goods more than the opening half.
Despite being one of the heavier rockers on the album, I'm An Animal is one of the album's totally duff tracks I'm sorry to say. The band delivers a massive 70s groove, but Gene's vocals aren't overly appealing and the chorus for me is completely forgettable.
When Lightning Strikes is much better. Digging this one still – featuring Tommy Thayer on vocals. His tone fits the band well and sounds very comfortable. A good commercial chorus ensures this feel good rocker works.
The album closes with Say Yeah – another uptempo rocker featuring Paul Stanley. I see this tune as old meets new, 70s meets 80s and classic Kiss all the way. Love the chorus – one which could easily have been included on Stanley's very good solo record.
It's not the perfect record or the second coming. Nor I don't rate it as the best Kiss album in 30 years, but I do rate it as one of their best. It is a true statement from the band that they are still very much relevant; still capable of kicking ass after all these years; and can still write and play their own music!
Now, if only today's immerging bands could be forced to take a few lessons from these veterans, we might all be better off.
|Lita Ford Wicked Wonderland||JLRG Ent. |
Lita Ford returns from her island retreat to unleash her own special brand of high energy girl power rock n roll upon the masses. Not quite.|
An album like this may have made a few waves in 1998 (not among the long time fans though), but in 2009 someone should have told Lita that it is ok once again to make music from the heart and just be true to who you are/were – for a while there, Lita was the Queen of melodic hard rock. For me the trio of releases Lita, Stiletto and Dangerous Curves were the pinnacle of her career.
The days of having to sellout to trends is over – the music industry is on its ass and the remaining loyal fans that still buy CDs just want their favourite artist to be themselves. To rock out like 20 years has never passed.
You know, everyone is getting older and bands seldom make more than one album every couple of yeas, so why are artists pissing away valuable time trying to be something they aren't?
There was a time during the mid-late 90s where just about every stadium rock act tried to step out of the box and cash in on the trend of going modern.
But how many bands actually recorded something credible or worthwhile?
I can count on one hand the ones that worked. The rest stood out as turds amongst roses.
In recent years common sense has finally prevailed and most bands have realized that it is better not to piss off what fans you have left and instead try and cater to those fans by delivering the music they want – the music that made these bands great in the first place. How could Lita Ford not be aware of this? Maybe she had to make this record just for herself.
My biggest gripe here is that this is not a Lita Ford album. Seriously – she is barely heard on some tracks. Instead, this is a Jim Gillette vanity project.
Jim is Lita's husband and the former frontman of indie metal act Nitro.
Now, had the album been credited appropriately or given a project name, you could forgive the pair for getting self-indulgent and doing whatever they like. Fans could then like it or lump it. But under the Lita Ford banner, there are expectations. Long time fans are expecting classic Lita and that is simply not delivered in any way.
Regrettably, she talks through many of the songs, let's Jim handle the majority of the choruses (which in some cases are almost non-existent) and barely manages to remind anyone of how she used to rock. This is one heavy record mind you – the heaviest Lita has ever sounded, but it ain't classic rock.
The other issue I have with this album is the lyrical content and inspiration behind the songs. It's cringe-worthy. The ultra-sexual interplay between Jim and Lita is way over the top and the nature of Jim's creepy vocals just makes it sound ever more strange.
This collaboration may be great therapy for their relationship, but it is the fans that will be left needing therapy to recover from listening to this. You can almost hear them having sex while writing and recording the album.
Track By Track:
Crave – a barrage of tin drums and samples with spoken word vocals over the top before Jim Gillette's Neolithic vocals destroy an already bad chorus.
Piece (Hell Yeah) – Lita speaks more than sings once again until Jim takes over with a really whiney vocal that make Axl Rose sound like a Rhodes Scholar.
Patriotic SOB features more horrible whiney vocals, but at least Lita sings for a bit.
Scream For Me features some heavy grunge inspired guitars and a horrible programmed drum sound. One of the more reasonable choruses where Jim stays out of it and Lita sings.
Inside – utterly horrid. Lita barely appears on this track, leaving Jim to "sing" about having sex with his wife. The vocals really are appalling.
Wicked Wonderland – More or less just heavy down tuned guitars and effects. Or just noise to these ears. Terrible chorus…tuneless.
Indulge is one of the worst tracks I have heard in years. Effects filled vocals and programmed effects that make no rhythmical sense.
Love – more tuneless noise – almost the exact same song as Patriotic SOB!
Betrayal – more noise. Bombastic rhythms and muffled vocals – especially from Jim.
Sacred – slower, but utterly tuneless again. A ballad that just drones on.
Truth – hate the modern style, but at last a song where Lita takes control and actually sings during the chorus and gives us a small glimpse at who she used to be.
Everything – total mess. Nothing but shouting and computerized noise.
Bed – yet more of the same programmed effects and muffled vocals. As for the lyrics? Spread them baby? Lick my fire???
Garden – it is the same songs over and over on this album. Sounds like a punk/grunge version of SOB again.
Push – "You're so hot…the way you do it I lose control….push push…feels so tight…you'll get yours after I get mine…" No further comment necessary.
I don't mind updated and fresh sounds coming from any artist, but it has to make sense. I needed to hear more of Lita singing and much less of Jim's vocals….fewer effects and computerized "enhancements" and more melodies – heavy or otherwise.
So long without a record and now a real out of character return – this could prove to halt any comeback before it ever gets started. And for fans, that's a real let down.
|Night Ranger Big Life||Yesterrock Records|
After three albums with producer Pat Glasser, the band made a conscious decision to move on and teamed with the super-slick Kevin Elson for album number four – which would prove to be even more commercial than the band's already platinum catalogue. Big Life featured more keyboards and a huge arena sound. And while I love every single album this band has ever made – this is the one I'd pick out for my desert island stranding.|
The utterly immense and cocky title track Big Life is a monster in itself, but the orgasmic hard rocker Color Of Your Smile is pure perfection. Carry On and I Know Tonight just make the album even better – how can one album feature so many anthems?
Add in the brooding epic Rain Comes Crashing Down; the lush mid-tempo AOR of Love Is Standing Near and the heartfelt ballads Better Let It Go and Hearts Away and you have the perfect melodic hard rock album.
And to round things off, the single best movie soundtrack anthem of all time – Secret Of My Success. Heaven! My only issue with the album is that it was never long enough!
This 2009 re-issue has been remastered in Germany and sounds great. While it doesn't quite match the 24-bit Japanese remaster of 2008, rarely anything can. It is still louder and punchier than the original CD release and given the far cheaper price over its Japanese counter part, offers great value for Night Ranger fans.
|Night Ranger Man In Motion||Yesterrock Records|
Man In Motion was the counter-action album to Big Life. Heavier and more guitar driven, it was the band's attempt to insure they didn't get pegged as a pop/rock act after the success of Big Life.
Minus Alan Fitzgerald for the first time, this hard rocking album is another gem – albeit in a different way to that of their preceding albums.|
The opening trio of anthems – Man In Motion, Reason To Be and Don't Start Thinking are three of the best ever tunes to open any melodic rock album. And think about it….no band aside from maybe Giant in their prime could match these anthems.
More urgent in nature and featuring only two slower tunes – I Did It For Love & Restless Kind – this is Night Ranger at their aggressive hard rocking best, with Gillis and Watson trading swirling licks back and forth. The rest of the album isn't as concentrated on choruses as the opening three tracks, but there are still melodies everywhere. And Woman In Love still kicks my ass after all these years.
The 2009 German reissue matches the quality of Big Life and certainly packs a much bigger punch than the original 1988 disc.
|Think Out Loud Think Out Loud||Yesterrock Records|
Think Out Loud is one of those must have releases for fans of 80s Westcoast/AOR and high-tech pop/rock. Featuring the acclaimed talents of Peter Becket and Steve Kipner, the album features high profile guests such as Steve Lukather, Paul Jackson Jr, Randy Goodrum, Bob Marlette and Michael Landau.|
Heavy on keys, synth and programming in the same way as many albums of the mid/late-80s were, the stars of the album are the dual vocals of Beckett and Kipner. One sounds a little like Starship's Mickey Thomas, the other more in a John Parr/Fee Waybill vibe.
Musically the album touches on Chicago style Westcoast and John Parr/Starship pomp rock, with a Mr. Mister high-tech programming feel. Not traditional straight ahead AOR as such, but some great song moments. Generally fairly laid back in approach and leaning towards pop, a fine album for its time (1988).
|From The Fire Thirty Days And Dirty Nights||Yesterrock Records|
This 1991 release passed me by at the time and I admit to not eve having picked it up since. So this Yesterrock re-issue is fresh to my ears, but still sounds pretty damn good. Produced by Jean Beauvoir (Crown Of Thorns) and featuring his bandmate Tommy Lafferty (guitars), the album has a strong production and a mix of 80s hard rock and early 90s melodic hard rock/AOR. In fact, it sounds not unlike several albums that pop up on indie labels still today. |
Highlights include the opening track Hold On and the big arena style rock ballad Tears Cried In The Rain. Only 9 tracks and 37 minutes here and a couple of fillers, so it isn't as essential as some other re-issues, but due to the personnel involved remains an interesting part of r'n'r history. Recorded in 1991, it sounds its age, but compared to a lot of albums reviewed here, still sounds fresh enough.
We've all heard it before, but that's not to say that this isn't still a decent album in its own right.
|Clif Magness Solo||Yesterrock Records|
We all know Clif Magness the song writer – in recent years churning out work for Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion, Hanson, Amy Grant and The Urge.|
His debut solo album originally came out in limited numbers in 1994 via Empire Records Sweden. This Westcoast/high-tech AOR release features co-writers like Steve Kipner (Think Out Loud), Martin Page, Jay Graydon, Glen Ballard – who also all guest on the album. Clif plays most of the instruments and handles programming (the album is another example of how good programming can work).
He has a great voice – shame there hasn't been more solo work from him. Ballads It's Only Love, Hold Me Lee Anne, Only You and What's A Heart To Do are all great examples of the genre; while pop/AOR anthems Footprints In The Rain and One Way Out are classic AOR. One Way Out was previously covered by Eric Martin for the movie soundtrack Caddyshack 2.
The majority of the album is smooth Westcoast/pop. The 2 quality bonus tracks are both uptempo melodic rockers and sound like previously unreleased tracks with less polish than the rest of the album.
|Blvd. Blvd.||Yesterrock Records|
I have the band's second album Into The Street, which contains some outstanding and near perfect AOR and a couple of my favourite songs ever. Because the debut was overshadowed by that release I hadn't given it much time until this remastered re-issue hit my desk. Since then I have rediscovered the charm of this album and got to know the songs better than I did originally.|
The vocals of David Forbes is what drew me into the band to start with and same goes today. He has one of those pitch perfect AOR tones that just eats the melodies alive.
A heavily programmed slice of commercial American AOR – the debut Blvd release features the utterly brilliant AOR anthem Dream On, the soundtrack friendly Western Skies, the bombastic In The Twilight, the good fun When The Lights Go Down and the frantic closer You're For Me.
Not as consistent or as legendary as the second album, but absolutely necessary for all collections with a missing gap next to Into The Street. The true definition of American 80s AOR.
|Ted Poley Greatestits||Indie/Ted Poley|
Danger Danger front man Ted has always kept himself busy and it has, at times, been hard for fans to keep up with his many guest appearances, given that some of these appearances have been on records not widely released. Here, Ted does a great job rounding up many of these appearances to appear on the one release alongside his favourite songs from his own solo albums.|
You get the best tracks of solo albums Collateral Damage and Smile, plus tracks from his band projects Poley/Rivera, Melodica, Bonemachine and Prophet. Then there are songs from the guest spots on such albums as Pleasuredome, JK Northrup, Jack Frost and Jun Senoue. Then there is the added value of two new 2009 demos and an out of print Christmas tune, plus an original Smile demo.
33 tracks over 2 CDs – chock full of the larger than life Mr. Poley. Essential I dare say! So in closing – yes, Ted Poley does indeed have the Greatestits of any frontman I've seen!
|Jeff Scott Soto Prism||Frontiers Records|
Jeff's second solo album Prism is all about the AOR baby. His most commercial and 80s sounding album in his catalogue, the album is filled with melodic rock gems – not too heavy, not too light. It was the first album to really launch the JSS solo name and introduced the world to Howie Simon and Gary Schutt. And it hasn't been the same since!|
This special edition re-issue features 6 bonus tracks – The soulful Good Love and 2012 (from a shelved project with Ricky Phillips), the acoustic Journey cover Send Her My Love and 2 cracking live rock tracks – Again 2 Be Found (from the Humanimal project) and Stand Up (from Rock Star). Bonus tracks conclude with the Prince inspired soft soul of 4 U. One for those that prefer it pink and fluffy.
|Jeff Scott Soto Lost In The Translation||Frontiers Records|
Lost In The Translation was a tougher and heavier record, written and recorded after the JSS Band had been touring extensively and had gelled as a unit. I still don't like the uptempo AOR of Believe In Me as the lead track – it sounds nothing like the rest of the album, but was an attention getter due to Neal Schon's guest appearance on the track. It sounds much better about 3 or 4 tracks into the album.|
The rest of the album is superior and a truly great hard rock record. More contemporary in its approach and feel, yet as melodic as ever. A powerful, hard hitting record.
5 bonus tracks available here – the gritty Turned The Page, left off the original album; the feel good mid-tempo ballad As I Do 2 U; the haunting and vocal rich This Ain't The Love; a rock ballad Lonely Shade Of Blue and a raw, live acoustic version of Soul Divine, featuring Jeff and Howie.
Terrific value for JSS fans and a complete package for those yet to take in this great, contemporary, yet commercial melodic hard rock record.
|Allied Nation Touch And Go||AOR-fm|
This 5 piece US hard rock band hail from the Bay Area of California and feature a no-nonsense hard rocking approach that fellow Bay Area bands as Y&T possess. These songs were demoed from a period of 1986 through to 1991, before the band disbanded in 1993 – no doubt giving up all hope of a deal once grunge killed rock n roll.|
They were attraction attention at the time and were popular amongst European fanzines and underground press. Keyboards mix with guitars and the very melodic voice of singer Jeff Nation makes this an easy listen. The only problem – the production is horrible. Yes, they are only studio demos, but the quality is not such that this can be cranked to the volume it should be. The tracks are polished as much as possible, but they are hard on the ears at times.
Great songs here…but sadly the band never had the chance to make a proper great sounding record.
|Thrills Front Page News||AOR-fm|
US pomp rockers Thrills recorded this, their 2nd album in Los Angeles in 1981. The band came back into the limelight a few years back with Rewind/Song Haus Records re-issues, but this album comes courtesy of UK archive label AOR-fm. There are no notes about remastering, but the transfer from original tapes sounds pretty clean to my ears, with the band's authentic sound kept in place.|
Fans of 70s AOR and early 80s pomp rock should check this out, or better still, those already with Thrills records in their collection have the chance to upgrade here. The album hasn't dated too badly considering how old it is. A worthy re-issue from a talented band.
|Liberty & Justice 4 All: The Best Of||Versailles Records|
Christian rockers Liberty & Justice are formed around founder and bass player Justin Murr, who has an incredible ability to draw in some supersized special guests to complete the line-up for each record the band has put out. There's been 3 previous albums featuring the likes of Lou Gramm, Kelly Keagy, Jamie Row, Michael Sweet, Sebastian Bach, Tony Harnell, Ted Poley and Kelly Keeling to name a few.|
The style of the album is hard rock/alt rock – all with a Christina theme – and a strong dose of contemporary sounds and some left of center experimentation. Not every track is a winner and some of the experimentation is anything but what a hard rock fan might want to hear. But Justin has learnt as time goes by and the new album due soon should easily be the best to date.
Some great individual performances and songs here, but the production is truly mixed – from the good to the almost unlistenable. Most are fine though and the band has improved with every release. This is the best of the 3 albums to date and 4 new tracks – released late last year – but I believe the best is still to come.
|Danger Danger Revolve||Frontiers Records|
They're back! Whilst seemingly always never far from our minds, it has been a staggering 9 years since the last all-new Danger Danger studio album - Return Of The Great Gildersleeves.
We've had the long lost Cockroach release, Live & Nude and Rare Cuts to keep us occupied, but everyone wanted to see if Danger Danger could still bring the magic with Ted Poley back in charge of the mike.|
Was there ever any doubt?
Bruno Ravel has developed into a truly great producer and it is a wonder we don't see him behind the desk on more projects. I hope we will. He brings his magic to the new album, which sonically sounds about as good as you could hope for.
With the knowledge that a new record was always going to sound great, it was just waiting on discovering if the band would favor the sound of the Ted Poley fronted debut and Screw It, or lean towards the darker Paul Laine era, which included two of this genre's best ever albums in Four The Hard Way and Gildersleeves.
Wisely, the band have opted for a mix of both era's, with the fun and the easy going nature of the first two albums combining with the more contemporary production style of the last 2 studio albums, not to mention that compelling, understated darker edge.
It works great for the band. There is nothing unexpected here – which in this case is good, just more classic Danger Danger material.
So the album sounds a million bucks, the guys are all playing their hearts out, but of particular note are the lead vocals of Ted Poley – he has never sounded as good as he does here.
The added production bells and whistles brings the band up to date, but at the heart of the album is classic D2 – albeit perhaps a little more laid back than 20 years ago.
Track By Track:
With an ear blasting thump we are away. What we get is the same powerful production and deafening rhythm section from the last album's with Ted Poley's classic AOR vocals riding over the top. That's What I'm Talking About is a typical feel good anthem with a soaring chorus and tasty guitar solo.
Ghost of Love is a driving rocker with a slightly darker feel and a catchy fast paced chorus and a thumping bass line.
Killin' Love is a great dark and moody rocker. A little slower and more intense, but I love this side of the band and Ted sounds fantastic singing in this moodier range.
Hearts On The Highway is simply a classic Danger Danger hard rocking anthem and one of the best songs for 2009. Love that chorus…love everything about this track. Perfect.
Time for a ballad. The acoustic driven Fugitive is sentimental, melancholy and thoroughly enjoyable. Another great vocal from Ted too.
Keep On Keepin' On steps backwards into old school D2 style. This sounds slightly different in style to most of the other material. I wonder if this song isn't an unused track from the past? In any regard, it's still a solid feel good rocker, which fans of the debut will love, but not a knockout.
Rocket To Your Heart really gets my attention. A moody and somewhat contemporary ballad that turns heavier during an anthemic chorus. I could hear this being part of the last couple of albums too. Very cool song.
Time to relax the seriousness for a moment with a typical mid-tempo D2 tongue in cheek rocker in F.U.$. Great verse, great chorus and a good fun track.
The mid-tempo rock track Beautiful Regret is one song I'm still struggling with a little. It just isn't as instant as some other tracks and one of the least catchy songs of the album.
The rock ballad Never Give Up is much better – full of class, full of emotional and another great lower register vocal from Ted. A perfect chorus.
The best way to end a Danger Danger album is with a classic old school party rocker and Dirty Mind is just that - classic D2 and great hard rocking attitude.
And the production – wow – if only all records sounded this good. The only downside to a new Danger Danger release is the knowledge that Ted Poley will likely be up to Greatestits Volume 4 before we see the next D2 album. Keep the momentum going lads!
|Gotthard Need To Believe||Nuclear Blast|
Maintaining their reputation as one of hard rock's most consistent and reliable bands, Switzerland's biggest ever rock band Gotthard return with another crowd pleasing album of anthems and emotional rockers.|
When any band has been around some 17 years, each release will cause some debate amongst fans that have a particular allegiance to a particular album.
I am of the opinion that these guys can pretty much do no wrong. While their pinnacle was the amazing Lipservice album, the follow up Domino Effect was almost as infectious, if not as commercial as its predecessor.
Need To Believe fits somewhere in between. It has the song strength and anthemic qualities of Lipservice, but retains some of the darker, more contemporary slant of Domino Effect.
One thing is for certain – the production is amazing, the band sounds brilliant and once again the album is chock full of songs that draw you back for repeat listens, time and time again.
Track By Track:
The heavy retro Led Zep riff of Shangri-La sets up the album in that tough and uncompromising way, but the soaring chorus was an immediate hit with me.
The faster tempo of Unspoken Words is to me classic Gotthard – powerful, hard hitting and Steve Lee's raspy vocals, all building to a massive chorus. Perfect hard rock.
The slow and moody, yet hard rocking title track Need To Believe makes it 3 for 3 as far as great choruses go.
Unconditional Faith eases up on the intensity, with a mostly acoustic driven pop rocker.
I Don't Mind rocks with a heavy hand and that Gotthard intensity. A decent chorus yes, but more so in that 'album track' vein.
Break Away has a certain hard rock swagger before a big commercial chorus bursts through. Another great song.
Don't Let Me Know is the first real ballad of the album and features the emotional intensity and killer chorus that we expect from this band.
Right From Wrong is just a great hard rocker with a big riffing chorus.
I Know, You Know is another solid album track with yet another original chorus and leading guitar riff.
Rebel Soul rocks hard and fast. And another great chorus makes this a real hard rock album.
Tears To Cry is a big rock ballad to close the album. The style that starts slow and builds to a flurry at the end.
I stated this album slotted in between the last two studio albums and that's exactly where I rate this, although I will forever regret not giving Lipservice a higher score when originally reviewed. I just though the last 2 or 3 songs killed the momentum of the album as a whole. Here though the band don't out stay their welcome and 12 tracks makes for a very tidy and hard rocking release. The angst and attitude of Domino Effect, but with the choruses and melodic sensibility of Lipservice. Great stuff!
|House Of Lords Cartesian Dreams||Frontiers Records|
After two albums in quick succession that followed the same winning formula, House Of Lords frontman James Christian sought to infuse some fresh blood into the songwriting process for the band's latest album – enlisting the help of long time friend and collaborator Mark Baker (House Of Lords, Mark Free, Signal).|
The result is an album that follows in the footsteps of acclaimed albums World Upside Down and Come To My Kingdom, yet deviates more so than either of those two records, mixing up the approach of the songs and removing any possible predictability without losing the feel of the last two records.
The band remains the same – so the guitar and rhythm section retain the same sound as the last two records, but the songs here are more varied in pace, less obvious when it comes to the choruses and more original as far as stepping 'outside the square' with changes in tempo and song structures.
Mark Baker has given House Of Lords a fresh coat of paint, helping the band continue their legacy and bring back a couple of missing elements. It was needed in order to deliver 3 albums in 4 years and remain in the forefront of fans minds.
Cartesian Dreams is more dramatic and progressive than the last two albums, but retains the big sound of those albums and the classic HOL sound that Power & The Myth is now infamous for abandoning.
Another interesting extra ingredient here is the more prominent role played by Christian's wife, singer Robin Beck.
Robin supplies a lot of the album's backing vocals and also mixes in with James' vocals to supply some of the higher range notes within songs. It is a very subtle change, but if you listen carefully – it's definitely there.
She also duets with James on the song Repo Man.
The choruses here are less obvious and rather than being in your face on every track, such as they were on Come To My Kingdom, this time to have to listen harder and get to know them as the albums becomes more familiar.
Tommy Denander also brings his melodic credentials to the party, co-writing and playing on Sweet September and Never Never Look Back.
Track By Track:
The thumping and dramatic mid-tempo title track Cartesian Dreams has an almost progressive feel to it and delivers a powerful, rather than over the top chorus to set up the album's intentions.
Born To Be Your Baby retains the cheesy girl-crazy lyrics that I was hoping would disappear, but you can't argue with the raspy lead vocal here, which sounds as fresh as the band's debut. A big riffing bridge and catchy chorus makes it an anthem worth appreciating.
Desert Rain is raw hard rocker with guitars everywhere – acoustic and electric. A fast paced verse slides into a moody chorus with an instantly likable anthemic vocal.
Sweet September is a terrific big rock ballad with soaring vocals and harmonies everywhere, sliding from soft and slow to big and bold.
Bangin' features some truly questionable lyrics, but you still can't help but like the hard rocking approach, the thumping rhythm section and a catchy bridge into chorus arrangement.
A Simple Plan features a heavy groove and a commercial chorus.
The moody Never Never Look Back is a very heavy track featuring layers of swirling keyboards and vocals in an almost progressive setting. Not an instant chorus, but I love the arrangement and the fact it is different.
The Bigger They Come is a fast moving big classic House Of Lords anthem in the style of the last 2 albums with a monster chorus.
Repo Man is another change of pace, this time featuring a heavy, yet laid back groove. Robin Beck joins in during the chorus for a unique duet style delivery.
Saved By Rock is about as cliché as it comes lyric wise, but the way it is performed here, you can't help but feel the guys believe every word of it. All in all, it remains another catchy song.
Joanna is one of the main tracks to remind me of the Sahara album and older House of Lords. This is one for long time fans and features another strong catchy chorus.
The Train is a laid back acoustic driven rock ballad, with a great lyric and a sentimental heart. A nice way to close the album.
|Europe Last Look At Eden||earMusic|
In my reviews for the two Europe albums released since the band reunited, I have really found a few sensational songs on each record that I would rate amongst my favourite from the band, but also some true filler.|
Both albums rated ok due to those songs and the fact that I found the band's move into a contemporary sound quite credible, vs. some other acts that have tried and failed.
Some fans have not liked the new direction and I can definitely appreciate that – those probably won't like this album any more than the last two.
The band keeps it close to the formula of the last two albums here, maintaining that contemporary down-tuned style and some ultra heavy riffs compared to what they used to deliver.
But at the same time, they change this up just enough to make it stand on its own. Last Look At Eden features a more 70s driven retro sound, heavy on orchestration and big rootsy, blues grooves.
While I still prefer several of the standout tracks on the last two albums; I do think this album is the best of the three and certainly the most consistent.
I think the fillers here are minimal and the highlights plentiful.
The only thing I would ask for is more emphasis on some big melodies and a few more instant hooks. There are a couple of instances where the song stops for a more melodic interlude (Gonna Get Ready the most obvious), where the melody itself seems almost at odds with the rest of the song and the slide in and out of the interlude doesn't seem natural. More attention here would make a perfect Europe album closer to reality.
As far as this album goes – intense is the best description. It's so heavy in places and the guitar riffs rule this record. Simply a monster guitar sound! The Beast being a prime example of just how powerful!
The title track Last Look At Eden is probably my favourite track here – a melodic chorus used to great effect.
Gonna Get Ready rocks hard; Catch That Plane, Only Young Twice and Mojito Girl are all pure heavy groove; and the ballad New Love In Town is a really cool example of a contemporary rock ballad.
I love the orchestration and intensity of No Stone Unturned (should be a single) and In My Time is a 70s Zep style ballad.
U Devil U and Run With The Angels are perhaps the weakest point of the album for me.
|Lynch Mob Smoke And Mirrors||Frontiers Records|
The unfortunate thing with pre-release hype is that it can sometimes steer fans in the wrong direction – something that where I am personally involved – I take great care with.|
This album was hyped as the natural follow-up to the band's critically and fan praised debut Wicked Sensation. I don't see that at all.
Besides having original vocalist Oni Logan back in the fold, I don't see the comparisons. The style is far more contemporary and features less sleaze than Wicked Sensation did and even Oni is signing a little differently these days.
Now, that said – it isn't necessary for this album to match the debut in style, just be aware, that contrary to reports, it doesn't. But Oni - the guy is a natural star and his vocals are always engaging.
The album itself is quite varied in style and still misses that certain edge that the debut had. Much of the album is very uncommercial and takes repeated listens to get anywhere close to knowing the ins and outs of each tune and just where the melodies lie.
21st Century Man is a strong opening track that sounds as close to Lynch Mob as you'll probably get in 2009.
Interestingly, the following two tracks are slower and more bluesy in style. Closer perhaps to Oni's solo record.
It then not until the slow and bluesy Let The Music Do The Talking that I get truly inspired again by the material. And this is mainly due to a fabulous slow solo during the song.
The hard rocking The Fascist is another winner and Where Do You Sleep At Night is another strong vocal track and decent chorus.
We Will Remain rolls along at a good speed with a bluesy rock base.
Before I Close My Eyes is also a good anthemic rocker that reminds me a little of Gregg Fulkerson.
|The Poodles Clash Of The Elements||Blistering Records|
Their debut Metal Will Stand Tall was a sensational, attention grabbing slice of melodic hard rock Scandinavian style, but the heavier follow up Sweet Trade lost a little of that magic, although still got played almost as much as the debut.|
Clash Of The Elements sees the band back on top with an album that blends the best of both worlds – a heavier, punchier sound, but equal attention paid to the quality of the song writing and making sure those choruses really deliver.
My one problem here is that the band kicks off the album with a really poor choice of song. Too Much Of Everything hasn't got the punch or the quality of the rest of the album and in my view, the attempt here to be commercial up front fails the album as a whole.
Second track Caroline is a far superior track and a true ass-kicker. Its monster beat, monster chorus and contagious spirit would be a perfect album opener. I skip track 1 each time this CD goes on.
And Like No Tomorrow is the perfect follow-on from Caroline. Less intense, but another huge chorus and immediately likeable.
One Out Of Ten is a monster ballad as most will know by now, followed up by another ear crunching rocker in I Rule The Night.
Elsewhere on the album Give Me A Sign is as good as anything off the debut – perfect commercial hard rock with an anthemic chorus; the moody ballad Can't Let You Go follows 3 individually diverse album tracks; and then the best track of all – the absolute monster anthem that is Don't Rescue Me. Brilliant!
The album closes with a double shot of hard rock and then another anthem ballad Wings Of Destiny, which features some fantastic vocals and harmonies. Another killer track from an album that already delivers several classics.
The new general release version of this album from Blistering Records contains an acoustic version of the track I Rule The Night and two additional video clips (I Rule The Night and Like No Tomorrow).
|Altaria Unholy||Escape Music|
Unholy is the Finnish band's forth studio album. They have come a long way since the debut album Invitation (2003).|
This time around the style has changed slightly, less metal than the last couple of albums and more straight ahead guitar based hard rock. There's a little less of the dark overtones and the gothic influence and more effort placed on rocking and rolling.
Alterior Motive is a really enjoyable faced paced hard rocker; while Warrior stays heavy, but eases back on the juice a little.
Unholy Invasion makes it 3 winners in a row to kick off the album – flurries of guitars and that gruff Paul Sabu like vocal weaving around each other.
The Lake is a dark acoustic based rock ballad with that Alice Cooper theatrical feel.
Danger Zone is another solid hard rocker and Steal Your Thunder is quite remarkable – the pop/rocker sounds like it came from 1985, something very different for these guys.
The fast paced Wind Beneath My Wings (not a cover thank God!) is pretty commercial again as is Never Wonder Why.
|AOR Journey To LA||Escape Music|
Journey To LA is the latest all-star vehicle for French musician Frédéric Slama (guitars, keyboards) – teaming again with his long time buddy Tommy Denander (all instruments) and a string of special guests who appear for various solos and of course to supply lead vocals for the songs on offer.|
This time around we have Philip Bardowell, Steve Overland, Bill Champlin, Fergie Frederiksen and Dane Donohue on lead vocals.
Other guests include: Steve Lukather, David Williams, Eric Barkdull and Bruno Levesque (Guitars) plus David Diggs and David Getrau (Keyboards).
Journey to LA features some really good vocal performances, none better than from the primarily vocalist on the album Philip Bardowell. Phil handles 8 or so lead vocals and it is his material that sounds the most convincing - more Lou Gramm styled AOR here from him.
Steve Overland produces the goods for the opening track Waiting In The Darkness and Fergie Frederikson does his own vocal best on Desperate Dreams – one of the album's more energetic tracks.
Most of the material is straight forward AOR/melodic rock – very good straight forward AOR! The majority of the album could easily fit onto any Radioactive album or indeed, the last AOR release.
Never Surrender is a challenging 8 minute melodic rock epic that stands out from the crowd and the forgettable style detour Westcoast/jazz of West Into The Sun is at the other end of the scale.
The big problem with this album is that some great songs and great vocals get lost in a jumble of bad production and predictable instrumentation.
This is straight out of the Tommy Denander 1999 production handbook, with programmed drums and that particular guitar and keyboard sound.
I don't like to slight Tommy or any hard working musician, as I realize there is no budget for this style of recording. In the past I have made allowances for that. But it is 2009 and this style is now sounding really dated – unless it's done really well and with a big budget.
|Reece Universal Language||Metal Heaven|
Interesting album this. I wasn't sure what to expect – whether it was to be an all in metal album or hard rock. The result is something in-between, with heavy moments probably outweighed by more straight ahead hard rock numbers, but always those raspy Reece vocals shines through.|
This is a lot less intense and screamy than the recent Gypsy Rose album and more in line with the vocals of Bangalore Choir than Accept.
The album opens with a big chunky rocker in Before I Die, but the mid-section of the album is quite laid back – more a groove dominated style. Flying To Close To The Flame and Fantasy Man have good choruses and strong vocal performances.
There are some acoustic driven tracks in Rescue Me and Once In A Lifetime before the album starts to rock hard again with the excellent We Were Alive.
More acoustic guitars mix with electric on the equally catchy Flesh and Blood and then dominate the ballad Queen Of My Dreams – featuring one of the best vocals of the album.
Yellow closes out the album the way it started – with a big groovy riff.
PS. Utterly without question, the worst cover art of 2009 so far.
|Crash The System The Crowning||Frontiers Records|
Crash The System is a new project featuring song-writer Sören Kronqvist (keyboards, rhythm guitars, and bass) and drummer/producer Daniel Flores (Mind's Eye)(drums, guitars, bass, keyboards, strings and backing vocals). The album features some of the best vocalists in the business – a who's who of the Swedish rock scene – Göran Edman (Yngwie Malmsteen, John Norum, Brazen Abbot), Mats Levén (Yngwie Malmsteen, Infinite Mass), Thomas Vikström (Talk Of The Town, Candlemass) and Björn Jansson (Ride The Sky, Tears Of Anger).|
The album features some wonderful straight ahead AOR tracks and grittier melodic rock numbers, with the vocalists in question the stars of the show here.
But the whole album does sound like a project release rather than an established band as the production quality is quite varied throughout – from tight and balanced to loose and varied in volume. Plus at times the songs sound like they have been recorded in different studios and pieced together.
That may or may not be the case, but that's what it sounds like to me. The drum sound in particular sounds thin and programmed at times, which surprised me given the considerable talents of Daniel Flores.
Highlights from the album include the Mats Levin sung rock anthem All Because Of You; the poppy feel good I Still Believe In Love (Thomas Vikstrom); the utterly wonderful Mysterious sung brilliantly by Goran Edman; and the punchy Angel Of My Heart.
The Goran sang Broken Glass is also another great melodic rocker, but the chorus kills it a little, with an annoying keyboard riff attempting to replace the word “ass” in the line “simply just kiss my…” Not that cool.
|Outloud Outloud||Frontiers Records|
The first I heard of this band is when vocalist Chandler handed me a CDR backstage at Firefest 2008 after his performance with Talon.|
I respect Chandler's abilities and thought he did as best a job as he could with Talon, but the fit wasn't quite right. I wasn't sure about what the CDR would contain, but gave it a spin upon arriving home.
I was completely and immediately blown away from the first listen and was so impressed I did everything in my power to sign them to Angelmilk before things there disintegrated. Thankfully the fine folks at Frontiers Records felt exactly the same way and this, the band's debut album, is now to be released shortly.
Simply put – this is one of the finest debut albums I have heard in sometime and my love of the album has only increased over the months that I have been playing it.
American Chandler Mogel joins forces with Firewind keyboard/guitar player Bob Katsionis with his band mate drummer Mark Cross along with Jason Mercury (Bass) and Tony Kash (Guitar).
Outloud deliver a hugely energetic and stylish hard rock album with one foot firmly planted in the best of the 80s, but the other foot right here in the present, using the best recording gear to make a monster sounding record – smartly using Tommy Hansen's genius ear to bring it all together in an earth shattering mix.
There is just so much power and energy within this record, you can't help but to sing-along, tap-along…whatever…and feel utterly exhausted by the end, only to want to crank it all over again from the start.
Outloud match the sleaze of Lynch Mob with the balls of Skid Row and mix it with the individual style of bands these guys are otherwise known for – Talon and Firewind. But in my mind this surpasses both those bands and has become an absolute favourite of mine for no shit ballsy melodic hard rock.
Track By Track:
What I Need is a frantic double timed hard rocking track that Bang Tango or Lynch Mob could easily have delivered in 1988. Catchy as hell in its own right, but surpassed by the brilliance that is the anthemic stadium rocker in waiting We Run. Utterly glorious!
The old time piano/guitar dueling on yet another uptempo rock Tonight proves that these guys aren't just getting lucky with a couple of cool tunes – they know how to write consistently memorable tunes. Another wonderful chorus, layered vocals and a stomping beat.
Search For The Truth continues the energetic run of rockers and I can't recall a recent album that had 4 back to back gems of this quality to open proceedings.
But let's not stop there. This Broken Heart is a wonderful acoustic ballad that gives the listener a minute to catch their breath. Chandler's vocals here are just wonderful and more emotional than anything on the Talon record.
Breathing Fire starts fast and gets faster, with that storming rhythm section again at the fore. Another strong chorus here on a song that's just different enough not to repeat anything already done on the record.
Wild Life is another old school hard rocker with a 80s heart AC/DC style riff. A very simple song with a simple chorus, but again…different than any song before it. This album has variety and consistent fusion. A rare trait.
The riff rocker Broken Sleep is a classic album track – not immediate, but still welcomed each time it comes around.
Out In The Night sees the tempo cranked into double time again. No big chorus here – an energetic hard rocker and more a glorified 4 minute guitar solo with lyrics!
Lovesigh is another chance to take a break from the sonic onslaught. This is another emotional acoustic ballad with some passionate vocals. Interesting that the two slower tracks on the album are both acoustic ballads. Very old school and very much appreciated here.
Outloud is simply a balls-to-the-wall hard rocker with riffs, screams and a double kick drum onslaught designed to completely drain the listener of any energy left remaining and destroy ear drums. Sensational stuff!
A fabulous debut album from a band that has a real future ahead of them. Expect to hear a lot more from these guys.
|Stryper Murder By Pride||Frontiers Records|
Prior to this I only owned two Stryper records. In fact, I also own the two Michael Sweet solo records as I think he is a very engaging vocalist. But Stryper were always a little too over the top for me. It was their Against The Law release that got my attention and their comeback album of 2007 – Reborn – was quite something. I viewed it as one of the few older bands that updated their sound with full credibility in tact.|
So now I own three Stryper records and I think I have the best 3 of the lot. I think Murder By Pride is a fine record and sees the band retracing old steps without giving up too many of the steps taken forward on the last release. Once again for me the biggest appeal is the voice of Sweet.
This is a pretty diverse record, but I think it ticks all the right boxes to satisfy long time fans of the band.
The opening track Eclipse Of The Son certainly didn't give me a sense that the band were returning to anthem rock – this punk rocker is a little messy and might have been better suited elsewhere within the album.
4 Leaf Clover and Peace Of Mind are more fitting – the latter being a true to form cover of the Boston track featuring guest Tom Scholtz.
Other highlights include the aggressive and contemporary sound of title track Murder By Pride; the mellower and more melodic duo of Run In You and Love Is Why; Alive and I Believe are both very fine ballads – the latter being heavier and the former being more passionate – but both cool tunes.
The closing track My Love My Life My Flame is a haunting piano ballad with another superb vocal.
Elsewhere it's a little give or take….the production here is rougher and rawer than on the Reborn album and the style a little lost between two worlds.
|Cheap Trick The Latest||Big 3|
Cheap Trick for me, are bouncing between almost nailing it, and falling considerably short. Of the last 3 albums – Special One hinted only occasionally at brilliance, but missed the mark due to inconsistency, while the very impressive Rockford was almost that classic you know the band are still capable of.|
Unfortunately on The Latest we get the reverse bounce again and end up with another Special One – again in places demonstrating absolute pop brilliance, yet elsewhere failing to deliver and even worse, some tracks simply don't go anywhere at all.
On the plus side, for me it doesn't get any better than the opening tracks. In fact, 4 of the first 5 tracks are all gems.
The slow haunting Sleep Forever is an unsuspecting intro to the pulsating melodic rock of When The Lights Go Out, which is anthemic Cheap Trick at their best. Following the band's love of all things Beatles, Miss Tomorrow mirrors the psychedelic sounds of the 70s, wrapped in that unforgettable slick power pop the band are famous for.
The punk/surf-pop of Sick Man Of Europe has been featured prominently in the launch of this album and I still can't figure out why – utterly horrid in my opinion.
These Days is a lush Moody Blues style 70s pop ballad and another highlight.
Here is where the album loses the plot a little. An uninspired ballad is followed by a frantic rocker that might appeal if it was longer than 1.20!
Another surfer rocker in California Girl doesn't interest me at all and then it's another lackluster ballad in Everybody Knows.
The whole second half of the album swings back and forth between brash pop rockers and ballads, but I really don't find anything of lasting value here to want to come back to.
The closing ballad Smile is pretty nice and at least has a solid chorus.
|Howard Leese Secret Weapon||Frontiers Records|
I became an instant Leese fan on discovering Heart in 1985 – on the back of their monster comeback album for EMI. I was one of the second wave of fans to jump on the bandwagon as they moved through their commercial hit maker stage. Leese was the cornerstone of a hard edged guitar attack along with Nancy Wilson.|
Since departing the band in the 90s, Howard has kept busy touring with Paul Rodgers/Bad Company. Plans for his solo album were being talked about as far back as 2002, so it is fair to say I was expecting a pretty groovy record.
Unfortunately I am left very disappointed by this release. I just find that it lacks the spark I expected from such a great player.
That doesn't imply Howard lacks anything as far as his talent and the guitar work laid down on this record. I just feel the songs lack energy and that takes away from his playing.
The mixture of styles here and the swapping back and forward between vocal tracks and instrumentals makes it a very disjointed record, never flowing with the ease an album should. Plus the overall laid back tempo makes it a very slow record indeed.
I expected a blues based rock record, but what rock we get is a very slow 70s bluesy set of songs mixed with eclectic instrumentals (that remind me of Mark Knofler soundtrack compositions) and reflective acoustic driven pieces.
The record fails to get out of first gear and at 50 minutes in length there simply is not enough power to impress. Of the vocal tracks the opening smoldering rock n blues of Alive Again featuring Joe Lynn Turner has a decent riff but never gets going; The Vine is another pleasant rock ballad featuring Jimi Jamison; In These Eyes is another slow but appealing blues track features Keith St. John on lead vocal. Just where is that guy the rest of the time?
I've Been Leaving You (Andrew Black) and Hot To Cold (JLT and Deanna Johnston) just fail to leave any impression at all.
The highlight for me is the blues ballad Heal The Broken Hearted featuring a sensational Paul Rodgers soulful lead.
The instrumentals run from 48 seconds to four minutes, but there isn't any I am likely to play again now this review is complete. Rada's Theme is probably the best – Mark Knofler meets Kenny G here.
|Geff Land Of The Free||Metal Heaven|
Geff is yet another project I had lined up for Angelmilk Records and I am appreciative that Georg at Metal Heaven found the guys a home. |
If there could be a Swedish supergroup of session guys, you'd have all these guys on the short list – Mr. Everywhere Goran Edman (Vocals)(Glory, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Norum, Street Talk, Kharma); Per Stadin (Snake Charmer) – Bass; Anders Johansson (Snake Charmer, Hammerfall, Yngwie Malmsteen) – Drums and Mats Olaussson (Yngwie Malmsteen, The Ark, Evil Masquerade, Kamelot, John Norum) – Keyboards.
The glue holding the band together is guitarist/songwriter Ralf Jedestedt. He put the band together and is already holed up working on album number two. Geff perform a blend of classic Scandinavian hard rock and unconventional melodic metal with a quirky twist.
It isn't progressive, but it sure isn't straight forward. It's not metal, but it's heavy enough to damage ear drums. Confused? Don't be…as pulling the whole affair together to appeal to the masses is Goran Edman, whose vocal brilliance again shines through here – lead and harmony vocals alike.
I don't think there are any filler tracks on here, but there are some that stand out a little from the pack. The fast and frenetic opening Xtacy is surely one of them – the very best of Edman on display and a great expo of keyboard fills too.
Living Generation is a rock solid groover of a song with a simple riff, but big harmonies and a rich organ.
Land Of The Free is fast and furious and almost impossible to keep up with the drum beat. This harks back to Goran's work with Yngwie.
Crusaders features a brilliant vocal and an urgent melody and is just that little bit quirky…an interesting track!
Grey Goo was so utterly perfect I asked the guys to include it on the MRCD5 compilation. Simply stunning and a chorus that can't but infect the listeners mind.
|Radio Silence Whose Skin Are You Under Now?||Escape Music|
With all the great hard rocking releases around at the moment, it is hard to find something more soothing to give my ears the occasional rest they need. Plus I'm not always in the mood for melodic metal at 9am. My first love has always been AOR, so with fewer soft/AOR releases around at the moment, I am even more appreciative of the new Radio Silence, which hits on that true sound of genuine British AOR.|
Radio Silence is basically the project name that vocalist Alistair Gordon uses. The line up from the first album has been replaced by Swedish producer Martin Kronlund's production team.
But that's not a bad thing - what makes Radio Silence great is Martin and his band's ability to switch gears from the hard rock they have normally deliver, toning it down here to deliver a high-tech 80s styled album.
And Alistair sounds great – the melding of both talents and some very catchy songwriting makes for a compelling listen. There are some really intelligent songs featured on this album and it isn't AOR by numbers at all. There are rockers, ballads and in-between, but all delivered in that relatively laid back British AOR style.
Hand To Mouth is a very smooth and sultry opener while Mosquito is just about perfect uptempo catchy AOR at its commercial best. Wall Of Silence harks back to the mid-80s with it's keyboard presence the primary factor – not to mention the great chorus. Staring At The Sun is another slice of moody melodic bliss, almost a ballad, but not quite.
But it doesn't stop there – the tunes keep coming and the following trio of tracks are all worth individual honors. Another World is a stunning moody AOR track that reminds me a little of 80s Glen Burtnik, while Shotgun Love picks up the tempo a little, adding a bluesy vibe to the album.
Anyway The Wind Blows is another first rate ballad. The only track on this album that is anything less than essential is the acoustic cover of the Beatles track Hide Your Love Away.
|Mind Key Pulse For A Graveheart||Frontiers Records|
Italian prog-metal is definitely not my strong point, most often due to a wayward vocalist or overbearing accent in the delivery. I can't even recall the band's debut album now, which isn't a good thing, but there is no way I will forget this, their second album. New vocalist (or returning vocalist) Elio Fierro Jr. is someone the band has worked with previously, but never on record.|
He has a tremendous voice – big booming vocals along the lines of Jorn Lande and Ronnie Dio and simply rules this record.
He turns some long and complicated prog metal numbers into something palatable for the listener, providing the needed melody while the other guys do their thing. And believe me – they can play. Boy can they play.
The songs range from 2 minutes to over 9 minutes in length and run the complete gamut of progressive metal 101, with a more melodic twist on the chorus melodies and vocal hooks.
You can't go past the opening twisting rocker Sunset Highway for progressive melodic brilliance. The more commercial hard rock of Crusted Memories is a nice break in pace and sounds very Jorn-esque.
Graveheart is also a standout track with another monster vocal and metallic beat.
Eye Of A Stranger is a more commercial track before the epic Now Until Forever turns experimental/fusion, mixing Toto with Dream Theater. The semi-acoustic New Generation rounds out the record.
|Constancia Lost And Gone||Frontiers Records|
Just who is Constancia? Another one of these Scandi gems, is who! Featuring former Scudiero/Token keyboard player Mikael Rosengren in partnership with guitarist Janne Stark and vocalist Andromeda singer David Fremberg, these guys play their own brand of Scandinavian melodic rock/hard rock with a ton of keyboard fills, big heavy riffing and a thumping rhythm section.|
The style is heavy and almost progressive in places, but the melodies and the choruses are pure melodic rock.
The punchy hard rock of Fallen Hero is an ideal way to open the album and set up the record. It is commercial metal at its catchy best – these songs getting better and better after each listen.
Blind is no better example – heavy and aggressive, yet the chorus is short but glorious burst of pure AOR. This reminds me a little of Jorn Lande in his early melodic/prog rock days.
Dying By Your Flames is another spirited track wrapped in swirling keyboards and attacking riffs, smoothed over by some powerful, yet soul-fused vocals.
Save Me is one of the more dramatic tracks on the album, driven by a dark and dirty riff, vocals providing the necessary melodic hooks.
Noone Like You is more commercial and lightens things up a little; while Life Is A Misery is a dramatic and hard hitting melodic metal ballad.
Wish I Could Fly is another glorious melody filled track with progressive leanings.
|Steel Panther Death To All But Metal||Island|
Steel Panther is the latest name for Ralph Saenz and his party hair-rockers formerly known as Metal Skool. I'm guessing they are trying to widen their appeal past their residency on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. On this album they set about to offend just about everyone with expletive laced lyrics about partying, heavy metal, sex, girls, lust, drinking, playing loud and more sex.
It's like Motley Crue, Skid Row, Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Van Halen all rolled into one with the lyrics of Kiss and the sleaze of LA Guns.|
Performance wise, there is no faulting this. It is energetic, engaging, filled with killer riffs and monster vocals and a huge rhythm section. Not to mention the money spent on the production. Yes, it is a joke, but it is done so seriously you can't help but get caught up in the energy of the record. But the lyrics do wear thin quickly and there is stage where some songs get skipped as they are just too over the top for repeated listens. If you can turn off paying attention the lyrics, then you might get more mileage out of this.
On the first few listens the lyrics are utterly hysterical and are truly art in their own right. And this really is a great sounding record – amazing even – and the way the band rip off the genre in every way possible, yet still make it sound original is a true sign of genius.
However I can't help but pause and wonder how good a record these guys could really make if they weren't about taking the mickey at every chance and really tried to do something in this vein seriously – sort of like what Wig Wam and The Poodles have done in Europe.
The Saviours of American rock n roll? No way – no band taking the piss this much is ever going to resurrect the rock n roll scene, but next party I have will feature this disc prominently. In its proper place this is a lot of fun, but not for many other occasions.
|Simple Minds Graffiti Soul||Sanctuary|
I had to go back and research the quote from frontman Jim Kerr prior to the release of this album as I couldn't believe my ears. He is quoted as stating: “Stylistically, this is a truly vibrant rock 'n' roll album that's bursting at the seams with quite possibly the most ballsy pop songs we have written in years.” What a load of utter codswallop. Not only does this album fail to deliver anything remotely rock n roll, there is less vibrancy here than a dildo with flat batteries. I'm convinced Jim Kerr has lost his voice as he spends most of this album whispering his vocals and seldom raises any of the passion found on classics such as Once Upon A Time, Street Fighting Years and Real Life.|
There is some guitar fire present in the first three tracks, but seldom elsewhere. It pains me to say, but Kerr is the weak link here. His vocals are just flat and boring. The general instrumentation throughout is lush, filled with programmed effects and layers of overdubs, but the sense that the song is in control is gone. Rockets has a decent hook and at least Stars features some classic Charlie Burchill riffs.
But the rest….I just can't see myself playing this album again – and that comes from someone that wore out the cassette of Once Upon A Time.
These guys were one of my favourite bands 1986-1995. Emotional songs, inspired lyrics and a sense of purpose that made every record an anticipated event. But of the last 3 albums I can't recall one song I've gone back to. I'd go as far to say I might include Rockets or Stars in a self-compiled Best Of, but the rest….no chance. Time to get passionate guys….or give it up.
If I still had to explain who Chicketfoot are, then I would suggest you were reading the wrong website! So I will pass on the history lesson for hard rock's newest “supergroup”, but it is safe to say that they are, by pedigree, truly deserving of the term.|
To say the hype machine was in overdrive for the debut album from Sammy Hagar, Chad Smith, Joe Satriani and Michael Anthony is an understatement.
Thanks to some savvy advance marketing and some bizarre statements from the likes of Hagar, who stated the group could rival Led Zeppelin – expectations were high.
I'm happy to say that for my opinion those very high expectations have almost been met, which equates to a pretty damn good record.
What the album lacks in knock-them-dead songwriting, it more than makes up for in groove. There is a definite avoidance of big chorus hooks here, but groove is the order of the day.
I'm not blown away by every song but boy…the electricity of the performances here is second to none and you can't help but be drawn in by the amazing energy emanating from the record and the individuals involved. When I play it – I play it loud and love every minute of it. But at the same time, it's not an album I'll play every day.
Hagar sounds as good as I have heard him in recent years and back to his Van Halen best.
Michael Anthony proves why he was the missing element on the VH-Roth reunion with some fantastic backing vocals and screams and his bass playing is phenomenal. What was Eddie VH thinking in ever dissing the man's talents??
Chad Smith forms an unbreakable bond with Anthony to provide the biggest, baddest, fattest rhythm section in rock n roll.
Joe Satriani proves that he is indeed one of the finest guitarists in the world in any genre and gives EVH a true run for his money.
Each puts in a career defining performance and it is all captured absolutely magnificently by producer Andy Johns.
I can see why Hagar used the Zeppelin analogy. Andy John's signature Zep vibe and the retro sounding loose rock n roll of the material here definitely has that classic rock 70s feel. Perhaps if Led Zeppelin hadn't already done everything possible previously, this record would be regarded as more groundbreaking. Today it isn't, but it still sounds fresh and invigorating.
I had some reservations that the overall tempo of the album was a little plodding, but the groove is just so infectious.
If you look at the debut Mr. Big album, as good as it was, it has the same feel – a group of musicians getting to know each other's groove. But on album number two, after extensive touring and living together – getting both tighter and looser at the same time – the band exploded into brilliance and perhaps that will be the case with Chickenfoot's sophomore release.
Right now though, Chickenfoot's debut certainly doesn't play by the rules. The dark and intense opening track features a very subdued chorus almost undefined to the rest of the song, but some amazingly intricate guitar parts and a sense that you could almost be there in the studio with the band as they laid down these tracks. The closing soloing is outstanding.
The power groove of Soap On A Rope is intense and the interplay between the guys in the last minute of the song is something special.
Sexy Little Thing, Oh Yeah and Runnin' Out keep the groove momentum going with some catchy moments before the semi-instrumental Get It Up sees the guys really let fly.
Down The Drain is one of those very special moments in music that allows the listener to witness a very special group of musicians just jamming away and you can literally feel the smiles on their faces as they go about it.
My Kinda Girl is the feel-good uptempo number of the album and Learning To Fall is the serious and sentimental moment.
I'm not so much into the extreme retro vibe of Turnin' Left or the funk/boogie of Future In The Past, until the second half of the song turns more intense.
The bonus track for the LP and the Japanese release is the semi-acoustic, loose blues rocker Bitten By The Wolf. An interesting track showcasing a different side of the band, but definitely worthy of being a 'bonus track' and not on all forms of the album.
I will say though - the packaging although a novelty - is absolute shit. If you are going to do something special, make it look a little better than a piece of cardboard with a CD wedged in-between.
|Magnum Into The Valley Of The Moonking||SPV|
Few bands are definitely worthy of the tag legendary, but UK pomp/rock/AOR outfit Magnum definitely fit the bill. With a history dating back to the mid-70s, the guys are well and truly part of British rock history. This is the band's forth release since reforming earlier this decade. The three releases preceding this have had both plus and minus points. There has been some fine additions to their song catalogue, but also some filler moments and in places a lack of the band's classic sound.|
Of biggest concern has been the lack of pomp choruses and a seemingly repetitive slow or mid-tempo plod.
Into The Valley Of The Moonking fixes a couple of those problems, but at the same time sees the band dealing with a new problem – a below standard production and mix.
Worst offender is a completely intrusive and annoying programmed cymbal sound that appears louder than everything else, while singer Bob Catley's voice comes across as underdone and low in the mix.
As has been the case in recent years, the track sequencing is questionable again here. I would not have opened with the very familiar mid-tempo plod of Cry To Yourself, despite it being an enjoyable song in itself (cymbals aside). It would have better fit coming after the more energetic All My Bridges and Take Me To The Edge.
Second track - the very 70s sounding All My Bridges - pretty much sums up everything Magnum. This is the kind of tune that has been missing since the reformation and the uplifting tempo is a welcome change of pace over recent releases. The song closes with a classic Mark Stanway keyboard fill reminiscent of Wings Of Heaven – I'm not sure why this sound couldn't be used more.
Take Me To The Edge is something the last 3 Magnum albums haven't had at all – a guitar fueled hard rocker. A gritty uptempo rocker, this song sets up the album (aside from the cymbals again) and reminds me of the Rock Art album.
The Moon King is another great Magnum track – slow and bluesy to start, but featuring an uptempo pace change for the chorus before dipping back into a moody verse. Unfortunately though, the verse sounds as if Bob Catley phoned his vocal in from the Bahamas. Not sure why it sounds the way it does – the verse is ok.
A similar mood carries over into No One Knows His Name, which also comes to life on a great bombastic chorus.
In My Mind's Eye is a well timed change of pace. Despite that annoying cymbal again, the song retains the passion, mood and pomp that Magnum songs are famous for.
Time To Cross That River is another slow track – not quite a ballad as such – but very very moody. Not sure why the 'powers that be' chose a live audience cheer to intro the track. It sounds daft.
This is where another rocker sound have burst to life, but that might be too much to ask of Magnum in 2009! For the reason that this is 3 slow tracks in a row, I feel If I Ever Lose My Mind gets a lost a bit despite a slightly more impactful chorus.
A Face In The Crowd is yet another slow track, but an acoustic driven ballad that features a magic chorus. A great sentiment here and should have been re-arranged in the track sequence to feature after In My Mind's Eye.
Feels Like Treason gets things up and rocking again finally with a fast and fan-friendly vibe. The chorus is catchy and the lead riff instantly memorable.
Blood On Your Barbed Wire Thorns is er….Magnum at their AC/DC best? Yes, it seems so. Reminiscent of Rock Art again perhaps, this straight up guitar driven rock track again features a dodgy cymbal track and interestingly, some bar-room piano, and is something different for the guys. I'm sure fans will be varied in their opinion of this track.
|Vindictiv Ground Zero||Escape Music|
The debut Vindictiv album is only a year old and showed great promise for progressive/melodic metal fans. Back already with album number two, the band's mastermind Stefan Lindholm has blown me away with this new record – far superior to the already impressive debut.|
This is perhaps my favourite heavy music release of 2009 to date! I can't get enough of it and making it even better is the use of two of my favourite vocalists out of Europe – Mr. Everywhere Goran Edman and Oliver Hartmann. Not to mention Mark Boals taking command on the track Venom.
I really hope people give this album serious attention as it is produced immaculately and really does sound a million bucks – and featuring some of the best songwriting for the genre this year (alongside Saint Deamon).
The progressive fills will make Dream Theater fans take note and the lead vocals will make Goran Edman fans weak at the knees and perhaps fans of the many other Yngwie Malmsteen vocalists over the years.
Keyboard parts are equally impressive, with Royal Hunt fans in need of checking this out.
What I like best is the fact each song has a defined chorus and a great hook. This is a supper long record with a ton of trickery and fast playing, but it always comes back to the hooks.
Modern World is heavy and aggressive, features time changes and swirling guitars and keyboards, yet come the chorus it is all melody.
And Ground Zero is even better – this song just kills me. I love it. Heavy, powerful and layered with instrumentation, then a killer chorus in two parts with a soaring vocal throughout.
Reach Out sees Oliver Hartmann return to his metal roots and sounding a million bucks here with another strong chorus and raspy, passionate vocal.
Golden Gate is a near 8 minute track filled with solos and double kick drums, and another chorus that signifies a change of pace and layered harmony vocals.
Venom is almost Royal Hunt in its feel and features plenty of metal riffing.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee talks of contradictions in the lyrics and the same could be said of the song itself. Heavy…yet melodic, progressive...yet straight forward. And plenty of soloing.
The 7 minute plus I'm Back Home features Oliver Hartmann again in fine metal form. Another very melodic chorus is surrounded by double kick drums and prominent keyboard parts.
No track under 7 minutes for the back end of the album, so you can imagine the intensity of the music on hand. Martha's Song is a moody number that gets better each listen as you get to know it; Overshoot Day is a supper complex progressive number with more Goran brilliance; No Matter What is over 8 minutes but almost feels commercial in nature and Oliver Hartmann closes the album with the big metal anthem The Sacrifice.
|Praying Mantis Sanctuary||Frontiers Records|
Definitely not what I was expecting. I didn't even recognize the band for a while. Praying Mantis have turned in a very solid album here bordering on commercial in nature – mixing hard rock elements with more straight ahead melodic rock and even some AOR melodies – albeit delivered with a more powerful base.|
The band is another act with a long rich history – one with different selection of lead vocalists and other musicians along the way. But they are still here. The founding Troy Brothers are still the foundation of the band, so the direction is not going to be too unfamiliar to long time fans.
Mike Freeland is the new vocalist, who suits the tone of the new music. He should – he had a major hand in writing a lot of it.
The band retains that British hard rock vibe, but the smooth nature of the vocals and the albums overall production will see some crossover appear here from the USA and other areas.
There are some truly memorable hooks embedded within this album – none better than the acoustic driven rocker Restless Heart. The fast tempo So High motors along before the tempo changes for the slower, sentimental ballad Lonely Way Home which features a great lead vocal and chorus.
Fans of NWOBHM will still find plenty here to love – such as the trilogy of fast and furious classic rock themed tracks Touch The Rainbow, Threshold Of A Dream and Playing God.
Highway is a touch of melodic brilliance, with a real AOR heart, big chorus and singalong lyric.
Closing the album is the more progressive Sanctuary, adding some grit to proceedings.
|Lou Gramm Band The Lou Gramm Band||Frontiers Records|
The great Lou Gramm returns after far too long in the recording wilderness. A great many things have happened in Lou's life since he was last heard on CD and even more so since he last fronted Foreigner.|
There was his departure from the band; a life-threatening brain tumor and recovery from that; getting his voice back in shape and along the way he also became a born again Christian.
Lou Gramm is a survivor and it is with this new Lou Gramm Band line-up and CD that he re-launches his recording career and firmly stamps his new beliefs at the very heart of the record.
This is in every way a Christian rock album, with the lyrical theme consistent and prominent throughout. Some may take issue with that, as there are many Christian recording artists out there that write lyrics with far more subtlety (Giant, Guardian, Jim Peterik), but at the same time you have to respect Lou for the direction he has taken here. He obviously believes very strongly in his faith and part of his return to the scene is bringing that message to old and new fans alike.
The lyrical theme does affect my listening preferences for this record. It is not off-putting at all, as I find some of the lyrics very inspiring and uplifting. But I would say that due to the nature of the record, for me it is very much a mood thing. I need to be in a certain mood for it and when I am, I happily listen to Lou's message and get enjoyment from it.
Vocally speaking, this record surprised me to be honest. Due to the much publicized debate over the quality of Lou's live vocals over the last few years, I wasn't necessarily expecting too much of this record.
While Lou does sound different than his heyday and certainly carries a gruffer delivery, he also manages to throw in some classic Gramm vocals in each song and his trademark tone is definitely recognizable.
The songs themselves again surprised somewhat. I expected a more laid back record given the nature of the material, but this little record rocks!
The songs aren't too far from the Lou Gramm/Foreigner style we know and love and the new band delivers some convincing performances, lead by much respected guitarist Don Mancuso. Talking songs - Baptized By Fire could have slotted into either of the two classic Gramm solo albums as could the groove laden Made To Be Broken.
The very melodic Willing To Forgive features a nice hook and That's The Way God Planned It is a really superb inspirational ballad.
(I Wanna) Testify doesn't grab me so much while remaining a good uptempo number, but the track Redeemer grinds on my ears big time.
Lodged in-between those two tracks is the superb dark mid-tempo rocker So Great.
Single Vision is a terrific happy go lucky pop/rock tune, while some necessary grit and classic Gramm is present on Rattle Your Bones.
Perhaps track of the album is the monster ballad You Saved Me, which closes the album. Absolutely amazing chorus and some inspirational vocal and musical orchestration lifts the track even higher in the latter stages.
It's Not Too Late is a European Bonus Track, but I am yet to hear that so can't comment.
|Jorn Spirit Black||Frontiers Records|
I have said it many times before – Jorn is one of the great hard rock vocalists of all time and definitely one of my favourites.|
But I have come to await his releases with less anticipation each release. I simply find that Jorn the solo artist is now spending a great deal of time repeating the same formula over and over. As with the most of his solo albums fans only get 9 new tracks and of those tracks, one is normally “borrowed” or updated from past recordings.
And the songs are much the same slow to mid tempo plodding style, something which has really become an issue with me now, as when Jorn fires it up he is untouchable (Sunset Station, Gate Of Tears, Worldchanger and the Masterplan material).
But as with all Jorn releases, this still a quality release and something I will play consistently for a period. The new album is Spirit Black and sure enough, the formula is once again in play here. 9 tracks, most of them hard, heavy and slow to mid-tempo. No surprise to find myself thinking half the album has gone by, only to realize I'm only on track 3.
The first 4 songs of the album are all good, with Spirit Black and Road Of The Cross stand out for me. But there is nothing more that I would love than a double time kick-drum fuelled opening track from the great singer.
City In Between is a slow intense rocker with a somewhat softer veneer than the first half of the album and features a great melodic chorus and lead vocal.
Then for the first time in a long while the tempo picks up…Rock N Roll Angel is a more traditional hard rock track than I have heard from Jorn in a while and I love it – great vocal melodies.
And wham! Burn Your Flame finally sees Jorn into overdrive. The song could be complete shit and still appeal due to the tempo finally reaching furious, but thankfully it isn't.
World Gone Mad continues the uptempo flurry of the second half of the record and is another solid, simple hard rocker with another good chorus melody.
Another plodder closes the album, but the intensity of the vocal and the manner in which it is delivered makes it stand out among other plodders in Jorn's repertoire.
Always consistent and better than most, but long time fans are still waiting for that classic, which has been on the verge ever since the debut solo release.
|The Trophy The Gift Of Life||Frontiers Records|
The Trophy is a new project collaboration between vocalist Michael Bormann (who you know so well) and guitarist Todd Wolf (Human Fortress).|
The duo wrote all the material together, performed most of the instrumentation for the album between themselves and Michael produced and mixed it. Keeping it all in house, the guys had the ability to focus on what exactly their vision was and the listener is in turn rewarded.
For Bormann fans this is a no-brainer – solid production, great mix and some terrific lead vocals. The songs themselves are for the most part very catchy and lean towards the style of Bormann's recent solo albums, but with a heavier twist and some updated production effects, mixed with the moody material that made up the Rain project a few years back.
This is a more contemporary sounding release thanks to the extra programming tricks, drum loops and at times a more tuned down guitar sound.
But at the heart of the album are some really catchy songs with strong melodic hooks.
When The Nightmares Wake Me Up, Justice and the ultra moody Rescue Me all stand out as some of the best Bormann material in recent memory. Other stand outs include Gloomy Days, with its smooth rolling verse and hook driven chorus; the dramatic The Way I Am and of course the opening title track The Gift Of Life.
|Ilium Ageless Decay||Escape Music|
Ilium is a melodic metal outfit from Newcastle Australia that has recorded three albums prior to this release. The band don't reinvent the wheel or deliver anything we haven't heard before, but they do benefit from the fact respected vocalist Mike DiMeo joins them for this recording. The one time Masterplan vocalist and much loved Riot frontman lifts this album above the spectrum it might have otherwise fallen under. These days you need that extra something to gain people's attention and Mike does just that with a powerhouse performance. Being mixed in Germany by the great Tommy Hansen doesn't hurt either!|
68 minutes of power ensues, with guitars and keyboards often dueling it out for listener's attention. DiMeo's vocals demand attention and the songs reap the rewards.
I do find that having nearly 70 minutes of music on here is a bit much. The songs to tend to blend onto each other some of the time and the record is a little too one paced. But, that said….fans of Riot, DiMeo, Masterplan and even Impellitteri will find plenty on offer here and the consistency of the songwriting and overall production quality put it ahead of the competition.
Song highlights for me are the double time opener Mothcaste; the progressive in nature Hibernal Thaw; the furious and lengthy Xerophyte; the slower and symphonic Eocene Dawning and the keys/guitar dueling on The Little Witch Of Madagascar.
|Saint Deamon Pandeamonium||Frontiers Records|
You know the Swede's have a handle on how to do all things as best as can possibly be done. And this Swedish mob – releasing their second album here – might just have one of the best metal releases out there currently. This easily overruns the competition for intensity in performances, huge wall of sound and best of all for me – some really appealing higher range lead vocals.|
Higher range in this setting works for me and vocalist Jan Thore Grefstad soars along with the best of them. But he also delivers some really strong harmonies and simple verse lines. Immediately I'm caught by the clear and appealing chorus melodies, matched by an equally pleasing set of riffs and some deafening drum beats.
The opening two tracks set up the metal onslaught, but Pandeamonium switches gears nicely to reveal a more symphonic and moody side to the band. And the huge metal ballad A Day To Come is something else.
Way Home is about as melodic as it comes in this genre and Magnus Karlsson fans will appreciate the tone of the song. As for flat out metalling – go no further than the triple-time mega riffs of The Deamon Within.
Closing the album is a cool straight ahead hard rock track Fear In A Fragile Mind, which shows another side of the band again.
|Pathosray Sunless Skies||Frontiers Records|
Yet more in your face metal coming out of Europe. Every way you look right now there are metal releases coming from all labels. So with a lot to sift through, only the bands with something new or definitively great to offer are going to stand out. Does that work for Pathosray? Yes, I think so, but more so for progressive metal fans than an across the board appeal.|
The record sounds really tight thanks to a Tommy Hansen mix and the Italian band does well to create a fairly universal sound appeal which is perhaps why they are getting some attention in US metal circles.
At 50 minutes in length you get some serious musical chops on display, but the record doesn't run too long and overstay its welcome.
A darker vibe than Dream Theater, with vocals to match, Pathosray do well to deliver a sonic blast of riffing while keyboard swirls add texture throughout.
|Eruption All Screwed Up||Escape Music|
Eruption are a local Aussie hard rock outfit – the main force behind the group being an Italian guitarist (moving to Australia to break into the music scene) and a local boy on lead vocals. There's no programming here – the rest of the band positions are filled by special guests and the whole affair was tightened up by the always consistent production talents of Martin Kronlund in Sweden.|
I wouldn't call Darren Grant the most electrifying vocalist I have ever heard. His delivery is fairly plain, but he suits the music on offer and the bar-room hard blues rock style of the album.
The band previously did the pub circuit playing Van Halen, Guns 'n Roses, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Kiss covers and the like. And that's where the style of the album comes from – AC/DC, Rose Tattoo meets GNR, Kiss meets 70s Aerosmith.
The opening number isn't anything to get excited over, but second track Bad Girls is a far more rewarding bar-room rocker in the style of AC/DC that features a much more convincing lead vocal. Leopard has an interesting feel, with a little Paul Stanley meets Brian Johnson vocal in play.
Naïve sounds a little like The Angels (and vocalist Doc Neeson in places) while Natural High is the band's take on a stadium anthem.
Nine Year Old Child is a solid enough rock ballad while Reflection goes all out.
|Invictus Persecution||Escape Music|
This French metal outfit delivers a melodic metal album that delivers on riffs, gruff vocals and a pounding rhythm section, but falls short on songwriting.|
For whatever reason, I just find this album tough going. Perhaps it is the tone of vocalist Frederic Glo or perhaps it is the fact I can't find much to hang onto with the songs in order to draw me back for repeat listens.
The only change of pace is the acoustic ballad Face To Face (Part 2) mid-album, which is interesting in its own right, but a bit out of place here. Otherwise it is loud, brash, filled with guitars and more guitars and totally in your face.
Typical European metal, but without the cross-border appeal of some other artists.
|Tony Harnell Cinematic||Indie EP|
As former TNT vocalist Tony Harnell develops a career outside of his long time band, a solo release is the perfect accomplice to his and Magnus Karlsson's Starbreaker project. There are a couple of things in development for Tony, but late last year this EP was released and I really should have reviewed it before now.|
The EP is a diverse and eclectic collection of 5 solo demos that outline the directions open to Tony to follow under his own name. Picking up in the vein Starbreaker left off is Out From Under The Black Cloud, which is modern meets melodic.
The Show is something that could almost fit on a recent TNT record, being that it is a little quirky and psychedelic in a Beatles kinda way.
I Don't Want Anything is maybe the most left-field tune I have heard Tony sing and a deeper vocal gives a truly melancholy feel to this alternative pop tune.
Cinematic starts in a similar fashion to how the last track ended, but revs up for the chorus, which is more familiar to the last Starbreaker album.
One Way Ride carries that familiar vocal, but musically is sparse and experimental and turns semi-industrial for the chorus.
Unholy is another dark and moody track with a contemporary nu-metal vibe and one could imagine further orchestration under the song to build it further.
I won't rate the production here, as it is clearly marked Demos Only, but that said – there is nothing wrong with the sound quality at all and the songs are certainly an interesting taste of Tony Harnell the solo artist.
|Hardline Leaving The End Open||Frontiers Records|
It was 2002 when Hardline II was released and I gave it a 90% rating. In hindsight that was a little high, but I still find myself admiring some aspects of that album and I know my appreciation for what the guys were trying to do found me in the minority when views on that record are aired.|
The band was trying to update their sound, but didn't have the production quality in place and perhaps pushed the envelope too far considering the style of the debut, which fans were anticipating a repeat of.
Several years in the making, there were times when I figured the third album Leaving The End Open would never appear.
And when it did I also figured it would be almost impossible to resurrect the Hardline name yet again after a 7 year wait. Whether there is ever a Hardline 4 remains to be seen, but at least the guys have corrected a number of mistakes made with Hardline II.
Having already established a more updated sound on Hardline II, it seems easier to accept the style of the new album.
Leaving The End Open has little in common with the classic hard rock of the debut. The ballads come close, but elsewhere the updated sound of the last album is continued, but with a more convincing melodic friendly approach at all times, making this a very credible contemporary melodic rock record.
If the word contemporary has always scared you off, then this album probably won't change any perceptions, but for those that are willing to hear a band grow and mature, this should provide plenty of highlights.
As with Hardline II, I expect a number will dislike this record and the reviews will feature the polar extremes of both sides of the coin. Count me in the positive column.
Leaving The End Open is a somewhat mellower than expected record, with the emphasis on slow and mid-tempo numbers, but it still rocks in places.
The aggressive contemporary rocker Voices opens the album with authority and a contrasting melodic chorus that gets better with every listen. Lots of hidden melodies within this track. Falling Free follows a similar path – a contemporary theme, but a strong classic melodic chorus that flows effortlessly.
Start Again is a classic Hardline style ballad that could have been placed on either of the two albums preceding this one.
Pieces of Puzzles is one of those tracks that classic AOR fans will hate – a tough contemporary exterior, but get further in and there is a very melodic and catchy bridge and chorus to enjoy. Bittersweet is a dreamy atmospheric track that features some fine Neal Schon moments courtesy of guitarist Josh Ramos.
She Sleeps In Madness is probably one of the weaker tracks on the album – it again features that modern and dark edge, but a less discernable chorus. This adds grit to the album, but AOR fans will struggle with this one.
On the other hand, In This Moment is an AOR dream – a beautiful ballad accompanied by piano and a superb Johnny Gioeli vocal.
Give In To This Love returns the album to a modern and dark edge, with a melody that takes time to get to know, but remains effective.
Before This flip flops the album back to classic AOR. This is a nice building song that climbs to one of the best anthemic choruses of the record. One of the highlights as classic meets modern in a groovy way.
As has been the pattern, the album turns darker again with Hole In My Head. Another question mark for lovers of old school melodic hard rock, but it continues that interesting contrasting pattern of styles that the second half of this record has.
And closing the album is another monster ballad. The title track of the album is a really superb piece of music and Johnny's emotional vocal and Josh's highly melodic guitar work make for a killer song.
Plenty to enjoy here in both light and shade for those that are open minded, although the ambitious song designs are not full appreciated due to a production quality that doesn't match up. The cymbal and overall drums sound doesn't penetrate like it should (once again) and the mix is a little muddy in places.
|Sunstorm House Of Dreams||Frontiers Records|
While Hardline caters for a more diverse audience, Sunstorm, the project that pairs superstar vocalist Joe Lynn Turner with members of Pink Cream 69 is perfect for the die-hard fans of classic melodic hard rock/AOR.|
I love this record for entirely different reasons than the Hardline release – this one caters to my love of big keyboards, big guitars and big choruses…all in a style that while never dated, could easily have come out in 1989.
JLT sings his ass off here and the production is a perfectly balanced wall of sound. The songs covered here are from various sources, the main winners being the amazing duo of Tom & James Martin.
The brothers are responsible for the opening trio of songs – Divided, Don't Give Up and The Spirit Inside – simply three of the best songs I have heard Joe put vocals too and sum up everything I love about melodic rock. Three cracking rockers with huge choruses and great melodies throughout.
Then we are hit with the fast and furious anthem I Found Love which is an AOR fan's wet dream surely. What a great old school rocker and what a great chorus.
4 for 4 so far….few albums in recent times have kicked off with such quality.
Say You Will is the first ballad from the album and is from the pen of the great Jim Peterik. JLT delivers a great vocal, but I'm not as sold on this song and although every bit as classy as the other tracks, I'm not sure it was the right style for this album.
Another Jim Peterik track follows, but this time it's all rock n roll. Gutters Of Gold was originally featured on my very first MR compilation (with a vocal from Jim himself) and is a great in your face rocker with JLT in full flight. Could perhaps have been a little more urgent in delivery though and I might still prefer the original. The rhythm section here almost blows through the speakers. Very cool. The Only Child (JLT/Sabu penned) track Save A Place In Your Heart follows and will be popular with traditional AOR fans.
The uptempo anthemic melodic rocker Forever Now steers the album back into the same territory as the opening 4 tracks and for me returns the album back to its very best.
Jim Peterik steps in again with another ballad Tears On The Pages which kid of stops the momentum created by the last track, but I prefer this quality ballad over the first.
House Of Dreams might have been better suited to follow Forever Now as it is another Martin Brothers track and another cracking melodic rock highlight.
Closing the album is the big ballad Australia's Jimmy Barnes made his own. Walk On was originally written by Turner and Desmond Child, this is slick late 80s power ballad stuff and Joe does another great job here.
|Taz Taylor Band Straight Up||Escape Music|
The debut Taz Taylor Band CD featured the always interesting vocals of Graham Bonnet. It was well received and featured a mix of classic blues hard rock in the vein of Rainbow, UFO and MSG. Same applies for album number two, expect this time around vocalist Keith Slack (Steelhouse Lane, MSG) is up front.|
The name Keith Slack immediately reminds me and I'm sure many others, of the iconic Steelhouse Lane records, but don't get his performance on those records confused with what else he can do. I kinda of did, so the first listen to this album was hard to get through. On Straight Up, Keith is in his fully fledged raspy, blues drenched, screaming, angst mode. It was hard on the ears to be honest. Translated – nothing here at all for Steelhouse Lane fans or smooth AOR lovers.
This is a hard driving blues inspired hard rock record with vocals to match. In fact, Slack's gruff and raspy vocal delivered here is almost impossible to recognize.
But in a way, it does suit the music on hand. Loose, raw rock n roll with plenty of solos, plenty of MSG inspired riffs and plenty of in your face moments. The opening couple of tunes don't do a lot for me at all I'm afraid.
But on One More Night things improve and Slack delivers a nice Coverdale style vocal with more melody in his voice and in the song itself.
What You Need features a similar vocal and a chorus that takes the song back a notch. I like this a lot.
And the blues groove of In Harms Way sees the band hit their stride. I just hope the opening couple of tracks don't scare folks off.
Never Letting Go is probably the album highlight for me, straight ahead riffing and a nice vocal lead chorus with the best hook of the record.
The album trails off a little in the closing stages, but ends with a fine instrumental called Straight Up.
|Highest Dream Far Away From Here||Escape Music|
Interesting album this. Escape Music have a knack of picking classic style AOR releases, but ones that are not immediately likable – rather they get better with repeated plays. Brazilian melodic rock out Highest Dream is no different.|
To be frank, I hated this first listen. What hits you immediately is the lead vocals of Riq Ferris. I really didn't like his heavily accented vocals at all and still struggle with them on some tracks.
That aspect could definitely turn people off, but those willing to give the guys a chance will find a record of early 80s AOR, with keyboards and pink and fluffy melodies the driving force behind the songs.
The harsh accented tone of the opening track gives way to a warmer more likeable vocal of Can't Fight Hearts, which features a delightful chorus straight out of 1981.
Helpin' Hand and Far Away From Here both offer strong choruses and more early 80s AOR.
All I Want is a little more progressive in nature, but equally dated in style. Reach Higher features some grandiose keyboards not unlike Asia and a great layered chorus.
There's even a couple of fine ballads in Love Makes You Cry, featuring strings an acoustic guitars and the closer Never Be Apart which really sounds straight off a 80s movie soundtrack.
The album features a decent production – dated in style yes – but not in sound quality.
|Mr. Big Next Time Around (Best Of...)||Atlantic Japan|
Mr. Big – or rather their Japanese record label – celebrate the band's return with a new Best Of compilation. Pretty standard stuff these days really. A band kicks into action and immediately there's a new Best Of available (not to mention the papersleeves re-issues and new DVD releases!). But hey – that's cool – we love these guys and they remain one of the best 'supergroups' of the era. Next Time Around is an 18 track compilation of best tracks and I'm not here to argue the finer points of those selections.|
The freshly remastered tracks sound fantastic and great to see some personal favourites included here – Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy, Take Cover, Addicted To That Rush, Alive And Kickin', The Whole World's Gonna Know and Colorado Bulldog.
The attraction of this compilation for die-hards (besides the remastering) is the 2 “new” tracks.
Well, the title track Next Time Around sounds like absolutely classic Mr. Big because it is absolutely classic. Taken from the 1993 sessions that resulted in the Bump Ahead album and produced by Kevin Elson, the song is a welcome breath of fresh air and sounds like it could have been lifted from the Lean Into It record.
Hold Your Head Up is another archive track restored for this occasion and is of course the Argent cover and sounds pretty cool actually. Paul Gilbert makes the track and it rocks pretty hard.
The bonus DVD collects tracks from the previously issued VHS releases (coming soon to DVD) and gives us another reminder of what a great live band Mr. Big are (4 live tunes and 4 video clips are featured).
Sadly there isn't a new clip to promote the title track of the compilation included as part of this set - out now on YouTube.
|Chris Laney Pure||Metal Heaven|
Swedish hot-shot producer and songwriter Chris Laney has branched out to record his solo debut and is set to take the hard rock world by storm. This opus hits the mark from the opening riff and just gets better and better. |
This is one of the big surprises for 2009 so far for me. Laney channels the sleaze of Motley Crue (Dr. Feelgood era), the production might of Def Leppard and the guitar power of Metallica; mixing these elements with the classic Swedish glam of Zan Clan, Crashdiet and Crazy Lixx.
Laney's vocals are brash and abrasive, always powerful and really suit the attitude of this record, although they may not be for all.
As expected the production is absolutely massive and the mix perfectly balanced.
The harmony soaked hard rocker Situation opens the album with a slamming groove, while I Dunno sees Def Leppard heavier and glammier than ever.
The furious rocker Make You Cry is something Motley Crue wish they could still write and the slower and moodier rock ballad The Stranger In You is Kiss meets Def Leppard with those huge Leppard harmonies.
Fire & Ice is even better – total groove in the verse turns to total anthem and angst in the chorus.
I Hate Your Guts and Pissed At What Ya Missed are total in your face attitude filled aggressive rockers with that dark edge and passion that some of the best known bands of total just fail to bring to the party.
Get You Down is another Def Leppard style mid-tempo hard rocker, albeit with more sleaze and growl than the band are known for.
Elsewhere Last Man Standing is a total rock hit if I ever heard one – a big Kiss style chorus and commercial appeal in spades as has the powerful ballad Skin On Skin.
|Oliver Weers Get Ready||Target Records|
Denmark's Oliver Weers delivers a big brash hard rocking record from the Whitesnake/Gotthard school of big guitars and even bigger vocals.|
Vocalist Weers and his guitarist/songwriting partner Soren Andersen have created a fine debut album here by sticking to a tried and true formula of big riffs and a booming voice riding over an immensely powerful rhythm section thanks to hired help from two of the best in the business – Tommy Aldrich and Marco Mendoza.
These two rhythm legends really ensure this album has a monster sound and the power that Weers and Andersen needed to best portray their songs.
Sounding a little like Paul Stanley meets Glenn Hughes, Weers delivers a powerful and energetic vocal performance here.
I'm not sure the choruses are as strong as they could have perhaps been, but I am sure that the record couldn't sound any better – it really packs a powerful punch.
The songs themselves are standard European melodic hard rock, but done with an energy and passion that shines through.
Calling Out For You, Hands High, Even Giants Cry and First Day Of Our Life all fly along at lightening pace backed with those booming vocals.
Will You Be Mine proves that the guys can slow it down and the acoustic guitars, moody vibe and more soulful vocals make for a nice tempo change – as does the Rainbow-esque grind of Crawling Back Again.
Angel rocks with fury and features a cool chorus; Coming Home is one of the more commercial moments of the record and sounds quite contemporary; and the album closes with a spirited cover of the Queen classic Show Must Go On.
|Great White Rising||Frontiers Records|
I've always been a Great White fan, still rating Once Bitten, Psycho City and Twice Shy as a trilogy of releases showcasing the best of the band and their knack at delivering menacing blues driven hard rock. Their original line-up reunion album Back To the Rhythm was a decent album with some more inspired moments, but with the sense that vocalist Jack Russell was singing well and truly within himself these days.|
That feeling is confirmed with the new album Rising. The album showcases the classic sound of the band – uptempo blues 'rockers' mixed with more laid back ballads and slow tempo 'rollers'. But the overall feeling from the record is a fairly laid back one. There is a definite lack or energy in places and even the rockers are generally laid back.
For the record, I'm a big fan of Great White's ballads over a number of years. They have really delivered some classy soulful tunes.
But now I feel there is absolutely no venom left in Jack Russell's voice. He was the master of delivering that menacing growl (Gonna Getcha for example), but is now singing well and truly within a set (and safe) range.
I still like the sound of the album and considering that I own every Great White CD released, it is safe to say there is still plenty here for fans like myself to enjoy.
Situation, All Or Nothing and Loveless are the pick of the rockers while the ballads are well represented. The best of those are Last Chance, I Don't Mind and Only You Can Do. The keyboard driven Is It Enough is also a nice change of pace.
However, there are a few tracks that just plain annoy – Shine and Down On the Level both have utterly terrible choruses and Danger Zone is just a weak rocker compared to the band's glory days. And the cover of the Stones' hit Let's Spend The Night Together adds nothing to the record.
|Impellitteri Wicked Maiden||Metal Heaven|
Finally an album that delivers exactly what was expected and hoped of it! And finally a ball-busting album with grooves big enough to damage ear drums.|
Impellitteri doesn't reinvent the wheel here, but rather the star guitarist reunites with the original (and the best singer) he worked with in Rob Rock and turns back the clock to give fans the best and most traditional sounding Impellitteri album since the metal masterpiece Answer To The Master.
Wicked Maiden is a hit on a few levels. First the performances are golden – Rob sounds amazing fronting the band again and Chris Impellitteri is simply all over this record with riffs, flurries and solos everywhere.
But most importantly, the songs are there. The last album showed promise, but experimentation with style put some fans off. This time it is all classic Impellitteri. Back to the 80s, back to the classic sound and style, but never is it dated.
Just big riffs, screaming vocals, harmony vocals in all the right places and some genuinely catchy choruses.
Albums like these do have the tendency to sound very similar from track to track, but I'm pleased to say that almost every track here has its own feel within the traditional Impellitteri framework. Wicked Maiden features Rob Rock at his screaming best and guitar flurries everywhere; Last Of A Dying Breed is simply brutal and Weapons Of Mass Destruction is snappy and ear crushing.
Garden Of Eden and High School Revolution is like the mid-80s was only last week and so it goes on.
There isn't a second on this album which isn't full of energy and delivering melodic metal in the most positive light.
|Wetton Downes Icon 3||Frontiers Records|
I have given the partnership of vocalist John Wetton and Geoff Downes a fair bit of leeway in recent years. The first two Icon releases were cool, if not a little soft and the two live albums were utterly horrible. Then the last Asia album was also far too laid back, but still featured some quality tunes. I was positive in my review as I knew many would love it and many wouldn't – and that was about how the split went. |
So, with a view to looking at this release as another record fans of the duo should love, I dive in and have come up disappointed again.
This is another well crafted and recorded album and the performances themselves cannot be questioned, but the song quality simply isn't there and the record is way way too laid back.
The trilogy of songs Green Lights and Blue Skies, Raven and My Life Is In Your Hands creatute what amounts to a 10 minute lullaby until the last track finally kicks into second gear for a minute or two. Only Twice The Man I Was, Never Thought I'd See You Again and Don't Go Out Tonight really lift the tempo past leisurely.
There is an audience for records like this and these guys have more than their share of eager fans to eat up anything they release.
I do appreciate and admire the talents of both, but I have heard better elsewhere from both of them and will stick to the first album (which I rate the best) and some classic Asia in between. This is definitely not a record for those that love a chorus to hit them as often as possible.
|TXS Transmission X||Escape Music|
Evolving from Norwegian rock band Hush, TXS play a similar brand of commercial melodic rock that mixes the traditional 80s sound with a slightly more contemporary delivery.|
The style is thoroughly European – a strong Scandi feel resonates through the writing and the song melodies. And most obviously in this case, the lead vocals are heavily accented at times.
In fact, there are a couple of songs that could be strong contenders that I am somewhat put off from due to the pronunciation issues. Breathe You Out being the very worst offender. Terrific song, but the pronunciation during the chorus constantly annoyed me.
Another curious decision by the band was to cover the Scandi penned song Unbelievable, which most will recognize as part of Def Leppard's X album. The band unfortunately opens themselves up to comparisons with that version and the Leppard effort will win every time.
Elsewhere though, you can find some pretty fine moody melodic rock with hints of Def Leppard, Kip Winger (vocally at times), Stage Dolls and of course Hush.
Production is solid, especially with the rhythm section pumping through most songs although a real drummer would have added extra crunch.
Who Will You Run To is a great AOR anthem to start proceedings; Time To Say Goodbye and Kicking Leaves are both fine contemporary commercial ballads with different approaches - but both featuring big chorus hooks; Rat Trap and Chameleon Man are harder rocking tracks with big grooves and the album closes with a tear-jerker in Stay.
|ColdSpell Infinite Stargaze||Escape Music|
Interesting record this. Diverse in places, yet quite cohesive generally from start to finish. The self-produced album sounds great thanks to a Tommy Hansen mix (the guy can do no wrong) and vocalist Niclas Swedentorp has one of those easy to appreciate styles not unlike Ray Gillen, John Sykes and Mats Levin.|
There's a touch of Badlands in there, some Blue Murder (if given a European metal feel) and perhaps even Deep Purple (if they too, were heavier and from Sweden!)
Lots of organ, lots of groove and lots of energy…not to mention plenty of guitars and a monster rhythm section.
I dig this album. It wasn't immediately catchy and took some time to live with before I found myself with their songs stuck in my head. But they did stick.
The moody and heavy mid-tempo opener Keep On Believin' is all class; the bluesy and faster paced Solid Ground rocks and then there is the Badlands groove of Ravin Mad which I love. Good chorus and such a cool groove during the verse.
The hard and heavy Eye Of The Storm is classic Mats Levin and once again grows on you with each listen. Straight Things Out is another classy rocker before the first mellower track of the album kicks in. Greed is another great rocker with a strong chorus (one of the best of the album).
The pace doesn't let up in the closing stages of the album, but it is around track 9 that things do tend to become a little familiar and some more variation would have been advantageous. However the album closes with the title track Infinite Stargaze, which is another highlight for me and clocking in a 7 minutes is a definite statement to close the album.
|Street Legal Bite The Bullet||Frontiers Records|
Not too many bands will go 9 years between their first and second albums and live to tell the story. Let alone their waiting fans! |
But too many years later the guys are finally back. Let's be honest here – the only chance they guys had was to deliver a cracking good record and one that outshines the debut. And I think they've done just that.
Bite The Bullet isn't as heavy as the debut Thunderdome, rather it is a little more refined and mature even, but it still packs a punch and is a very fine melodic hard rock record in every way.
While we sit back and contemplate the possibilities of a new Thin Lizzy album, I highly recommend you spend that time with Street Legal.
Bite The Bullet mixes the classic British hard rock influences of Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake (both the Lynott and Coverdale comparisons are uncanny), with that typical Scandi twist to round things off.
The band include a few covers into proceedings – the storming Stage Dolls rocker Loadin' Up, which is given heavy treatment; the ever popular Michael Sembello pop rocker Maniac which is again rocked up and the very curious decision to include a version of the tongue in cheek Bad News 'masterpiece' Warriors Of Genghis Kahn.
All good fun and the band don't take themselves too seriously here. But the real strength in the album is the original compositions.
The Whitesnake styled rocker (written by Tommy LaVerdi) Somebody Up There Likes Me is cool, but the Thin Lizzy mid-tempo blues rocker Unconditional Love is pure gold.
Shadow In My Heart could be a classic Coverdale sung MTV ballad and Bite The Bullet could have come straight off the band's debut. Starship Trooper and Trapped are both Lizzy styled uptempo melodic rockers. The Battle Of Kringen is an interesting instrumental, with the epic heavy ballad/rocker Silent Tear closing the classy album off.
|The Hooters Both Sides Live||Hooters Music|
I wasn't overly impressed with the last Hooters studio album – the songs just weren't there, but remain a loyal and faithful life long fan of the band. Both Sides Live is a 2CD independent release featuring two very different live recordings.|
The first disc is a full live show from The Electric Factory, November 2007. Featuring the usual staple of Hooters classics and several cuts from the new album, the set sees the band in their usual energetic and captivating form.
I love live records from this band, as they normally mix things up just that little bit and the added energy from the stage always lifts these songs into a new experience for fans. This set is no different – thoroughly enjoyable.
The second disc is a live acoustic show recorded in the studio in front of a select audience. Knowing the talent of these guys and their history of tight, inspired live performances, The Secret Sessions should have been absolute gold.
But rather, I was very disappointed in this concert. Having just credited the band with their great ability to mix things up, the changes made to some classics on this recording have stripped the songs of their identity and the magic that made them great in the first place.
25 Hours A Day kicks things off and has it's chorus melody all but decimated. Same for the iconic All You Zombies. The mood and spirit of the song just isn't there.
Johnny B doesn't fare much better. It is so frustrating to hear amazing songs delivered in such a bland and monotonous way. One of my all time favourite Hooters songs Satellite is also butchered to the point where the original melody is almost unrecognizable. Only And We Danced comes close to the spirit of the original.
Of the newer material, the band seems less willing to mess with the formula, so you get stripped back versions of the album tracks. Morning Buzz being one of the worst Hooters songs ever.
I'm Alive and Time Stand Still being the two best songs of that album and about the only songs from that set I would ever include in a Hooters greatest hits package – I did enjoy their inclusion here.
|JSS Beautiful Mess||Frontiers Records|
Beautiful Mess is anything but. In fact, the album, which marks Jeff Scott Soto's switch to a more organic soul-rich sound, could well be his personal pinnacle for performance and emotion.|
Signaling a change of direction a couple of years back, JSS has been intent on capturing the best elements of his many musical influences, which have always been on show in some parts of his prior solo career.
Pop, Soul, R&B and funk have all played a part in the JSS sound, but now they are front and center, with rock taking a backseat.
Beautiful Mess is a collaboration with Swedish songwriter/producer/musician Paulo Mendonca, largely recorded in Sweden.
I know there will be some JSS fans that might on the surface have a hard time accepting the direction change or the mood of the album. But the more you listen, the more the music appears as simply a natural progression from the sound we already know and love.
The main difference in the record – aside from the obvious production effects, sampling and various bells and whistles, is the fact it is simply a more mature and mellower, reflective Jeff Scott Soto.
The album reflects a particular state of mind and the performances ooze passion and emotion and for that reason, I loved the record from the first note. It is just so honest and real – and positively electric in its delivery and tone.
Track By Track:
21st Century is a snappy, effects filled modern pop rock track with a sultry vocal and a lush production and a catchy melodic chorus. A perfect set up for the record ahead and the new JSS direction.
Cry Me A River is a mellower, more reflective soulful pop/rock track with a slightly funky undertone.
Gin & Tonic Sky is simply one of the best songs JSS has ever put vocal to. This is a soulful, emotional and passionate pop ballad with some fabulous harmony vocals and an unforgettable chorus – not to mention the inspired lyrics. Outstanding vocals, from the softly sung beginning to the more powerful finish.
Hey is a largely acoustic based song and again features a sparse arrangement, with only the absolutely necessary instrumentation playing a part. A rockier chorus and more prominent guitars add a little muscle. Another wonderfully reflective track.
Broken Man is yet another inspired and touching acoustic driven ballad with a ton of soul and some delicate, well-placed harmony vocals. Another classy track and another killer vocal.
The first "half" of the album closes with a slight change of musical course. Opening with some of the more reflective mellower tunes in the new arsenal, JSS now rocks it up a little with a more modern rock friendly tone on the funky, effects filled rocker Mountain.
That is closely followed by the modern rock anthem Our Song, which while dressed up in a contemporary setting, is probably the closest thing to JSS of old on the album. A great hands-in-the-air chorus comes at a perfect time in the scheme of the album.
Eye and Bring It Home might be a couple of tracks that the traditionalists could struggle with – funky, driving pop/rock with a R&B base. Still, a well written song is a well written song – no matter the style and these have their own style of catchiness.
Testify is another track that has a familiar air to it – a funky rocker with a Prince influence – drawing on Jeff's debut solo album Love Parade and his occasional style deviations since that point.
Wherever U Wanna Go is a song of contrasts – a slow, mellow verse and an upbeat pop chorus with a great hook. Really works well and is another album highlight.
Kick It is an acoustic driven modern pop track with a changing pace and a tempo that builds through the song to a rousing almost retro pop styled finish.
Heart Starts Healing and Take You Over With Me are both easy going, free flowing pop/rockers with a more traditional sound, while also matching the "new" JSS.
The bonus DVD is a very worthwhile addition to the package, containing 4 different music videos and a 20 minute discussion about the new album from JSS, whilst also cruising thru the corridors of the NAMM show, with countless guests making an appearance.
JSS is all over this as far as style and influences and he sings his heart out. Paulo contributes some world-class pop production tricks and instrumentation and together they deserve to take on the world and win. Hopefully established JSS fans will all appreciate the work that has gone into this record and I'm also hopeful it will draw in a new range of fans.
|Place Vendome Streets Of Fire||Frontiers Records|
The debut Place Vendome album was quite a revelation. Vocalist Michael Kiske (Helloween) fronting a band featuring most of Pink Cream 69, performing commercial melodic rock/AOR.|
Sensational idea...and the melodic meets hard rock feel of the album ere met with universal praise and delivered two of the very best AOR anthems of the year - I Will Be Waiting and Too Late.
So what has album number two got in store for us? Thankfully more of the same.
This album seems just that little heavier, perhaps edgier is a better word, but just as melodic as the debut. And the strength of the songs is unquestionable.
I really haven't bought into Kiske's softer solo endeavors, they have either been too strange or too soft, but here he is back into absolute monster form, with some superb vocals and soaring harmonies.
The stellar production of Dennis Ward and the complex keyboard melodies of Gunther Werno make this affair a multi-layered and intriguing listen.
The more you listen to this album the better it gets (which was also true of the debut), but what I sense from this release is that it is even more consistent from start to finish and there simply are no fillers or weak tracks here.
I'm not sure what album I prefer, so I'll happily award the same points here as I did the debut and call it even.
Songs within the album are written by guys responsible for some of the better melodic music of recent years – Torsti Spoof (Leverage), Robert Sall (Work Of Art), Magnus Karlsson and Ronny Milianowicz (Saint Deamon).
Streets Of Fire is the necessary 'muscle track' to open proceedings and delivers a great chorus straight off the top.
My Guardian Angel is another Magnus Karlsson gem and full of hooks and a great heavy AOR chorus. The mid-tempo rocker has a dark heart and moody feel.
Completely Breathless is a terrific, complex slower track with another strong chorus and a really good lead vocal.
Follow Me comes from songwriter Robert Sall and is another album highlight. A straight forward mid-tempo AOR track with a hard edge riff driving the song. Yet another great chorus.
Set Me Free is more attractive AOR/melodic rock with an intense and moody feel.
The tempo bursts to life with Believer, a double time uplifting melodic rock anthem with a great hook and a feel good vocal. Yet another outstanding track.
Valerie (The Truth Is In Your Eyes) is again instantly recognizable as from the pen of Robert Sall. The Westcoast styled AOR track sounds like a new Work Of Art track and the chorus is glorious. A Scene In Reply starts slow and reflective and builds into a monster chorus – classic AOR and filled with layers of vocals and keyboards alongside the guitars. Love it!
Changes features yet another big chorus and more perfect AOR, with the verse featuring a nice raspy mood vocal.
Surrender Your Soul is nothing short of glorious traditional AOR in the purest sense. This uptempo, feel good track is another album highlight and the vocal is just great.
Dancer takes on a moodier edge, with the bridge building up the song before a heavier chorus delivers another set of memorable hooks.
Closing this amazing album is the big ballad I'd Die For You. Slow and haunting to start, the song builds before some amazing guitar work kicks the song into overdrive and an anthemic close.
|Balance Equilibrium||Frontiers Records|
Balance were a much loved pomp/hard rock outfit from the early 80s, recording 2 studio albums that retain their cult following. Featuring guitarist Bob Kulick and vocalist Peppy Castro and keyboardist Doug Katsaros, the band is back after a 20+ year absence, bringing many of the songs planned for their never recorded 3rd album for a fresh take in 2009.|
This album should have been a home run, but rather it is a merely a base hit. Bob Kulick has spent the last decade as an in-demand producer, churning out many tribute records for various labels.
So it is curious as to why this album is well and truly under-produced. It is rough in places, sounding perhaps more like unreleased demos than a polished up new studio record.
I get that the guys have set out to mirror the sound of their first two records, but I think the rough sound is just a reflection of rushed recording rather than a genuine attempt to recapture past glories.
The other problem with this record is the all important vocals of Peppy. They are for the most part, well…awful. Raspy, strained and struggling throughout, Peppy's vocals just haven't aged well and he is the main weak point of the album.
It was hard to listen to at first. After a while you get used to it, but how many won't bother to persist? There really are some badly fluffed notes and areas where the vocals grate on your ears as he tries to capture the range of the band's first 2 records.
There are some redeeming qualities about the record though. The songs mainly.
They are the definite highlight of the album. The songwriting is indeed classic 80s pomp rock, with some delightful hooks and truly memorable chorus melodies.
This record really is a throw back to the 80s with a traditional keyboard infused melodic rock sound mixed with some Stan Bush style AOR vocal melodies and tones.
And despite a rough production and some (at times) painful vocals, you can't help but sing along and the songs do stick on your head.
Winner Takes All for example is a cracking melodic rock anthem, with a moody edge.
Breathe is a nice swirling keyboard dominated early 80s throw back; Crazy Little Suzi and Walk Away toughen things up; Who You Gonna Love has a certain pomp swagger to it and Forever is another great track straight out of 1982.
|Last Autumn's Dream Dreamcatcher||Escape Music|
Swedish melodic rockers Last Autumn's Dream really have become one of the most consistent and reliable acts in the scene currently. Each year there is a new album and each album is guaranteed to contain a few cracking tracks to add to any future "best of" compilation.|
The rhythm section of Talisman and star vocalist Mikael Erlandsson along with Fair Warning guitarist Andy Malecek again deliver a high spirited, energetic collection of Scandi-AOR/melodic rock, with the trademark rasp of Erlandsson soaring over the pomp-esque anthems.
Similar to how bands like Harem Scarem and Heartland turn out consistently good material, it is hard to know where to place this album in the ranks of the band's overall catalogue, but safe to say it sits close to the top as far as crunchy production and quality of songs.
Highlights include the storming opener, One By One, featuring a great over the top chorus akin to old school Fair Warning and some soaring vocals; the even faster paced but more restrained melodic rocker Hold On To My Heart and the gloriously moody mid-tempo rock ballad Frozen Flower.
A few tracks in the middle roll along with ease without blowing me away, until we get to Your Kind Of Loving. An urgent feel, a strong chorus and lots of mood heralds a string of great tracks to close the album – the catchy The Last To Know; the more dramatic When Love Strikes Down; and the dark and moody Who Needs Love.
The more easy going Me & You continues the good run and the closing When My Love Has Left Your Heart is a great way to close any album, with a rousing guitar solo driven finish. A definite high point to end on.
|Evil Masquerade Fade To Black||Escape Music|
I guess I have to concede that these guys aren't that bad. After all, they continue to make records and they must be selling, otherwise they wouldn't continue to get label deals.|
I have struggled with these guys from the start, but they have improved over time and now with new singer Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Time Requiem), the dramatic flair of guitarist Henrik Flyman's songs is allowed to flourish further.
The double-time beat and Dio-esque overtones of this metalfest are clear, but I still struggle to find any solid, memorable hooks to come back to in repeat listens.
At times inspired rifftastic metal, other times simply noise…these guys are still a 'take it' or 'leave it' proposition.
Best tracks - Darkness Within, which features a good melodic guitar riff; the metalfest Powertools and the opening pounder Lights Out.
|Bad Habit Above And Beyond||AOR Heaven|
I can't see any Bad Habit fans being disappointed with this release. The band's first in several years sees them pick straight up where they left off, with their own brand of Scandi-pink and fluffy pop rock.|
Above And Beyond is an album of perfectly produced and crafted Scandinavian high-tech AOR/pop. A lot of production effects and programming is in play throughout the record, giving it a very contemporary pop feel, but the guitar parts and the structure of the songwriting push the songs into that needed classic AOR direction.
I Don't Want You, I Don't Want To Say Goodbye, Let Me Tell You, My Confession and Above And Beyond are all classic AOR hooks, dressed up in a contemporary production.
Let Me Be The One, A Lot To Learn, Never Gonna Give You Up and Surrender are all more polished pop tracks while I Believe sees the band turn the guitars up a little more for a heavier, moodier track. More like this might have been even better.
This is a very pink and very fluffy. The cheese factor is in play a little, but it's Bad Habit, so you know what to expect.
The songs are happy, the mood is up (even when it's down) and the tempo flows effortlessly from song to song.
The accents of lead singer's is occasionally raised by myself as an issue in the overall enjoyment of an album and its funny that Bad Habit's Bax Fehling has one of the most noticeable accent twangs of any lead singer I listen to, yet the quality of his delivery allows me to forget about that.
|Tall Stories Skyscraper||Frontiers Records|
The debut Tall Stories record is another of this genre's cult classics, recorded and released just after the peak time for the format (1991), but still managed to gain a lot of fans who anticipated a follow-up. It never came. |
Just as the tsunami of flannel shirts rolled in and washed over the aqua-net covered shores of traditional melodic rock, Tall Stories were holed up in a New York studio recording album number 2.
The almost overnight abandonment of melodic music left many a band high and dry and Tall Stories were yet another victim. The album was shelved and the band disbanded.
Vocalist Steve Augeri went on to front Tyketto briefly before making a huge impact with Journey. Guitarist Jack Morer continued his path in music as a professional musician in NYC. Bassist Kevin Totoian continued playing clubs and various bands as he still does today and drummer Tom DeFaria left the business.
Interest in Steve Augeri's past work from Journey fans meant that interest in tall Stories never waned and once Steve left the band, talk turned to what Tall Stories could do again.
The master tapes of this album were dusted off and the remastering process was started. Unfortunately the condition of the tapes meant that the drum parts were no longer usable, and various session guys were brought in to re-record those parts.
The rest of the material is the original and authentic 1993 recordings.
The debut Tall Stories album was hailed as an enjoyable slice of Journeyesque melodic rock. Much has been anticipated as far as the second album – let's face it, it has been a long time coming. But sensing a changing tide of musical expectation back in 1992, the second Tall Stories album was always going to be a different beast.
The band wanted to experiment and improvise…to loosen up a little and explore different musical avenues.
And they sure did… Skyscraper is finally available and has more in common with Led Zeppelin than Journey.
Had this album been released in 1993 I don't think it would have been received very well. Most bands trying their hand at styles outside expectations found themselves on the end of a heavy criticism and fan backlash.
But in 2009 I think enough time and passed that this album will find some good support, probably for different reasons than was originally imagined back when it was recorded.
This is not a melodic rock or AOR record and should not be considered as such. Nor is it a straightforward release or one that should be compared to their debut album.
That unfortunately will count a lot of listeners out. This simply is not going to be of appeal to many readers of this site. And it is in some ways, disappointing that the glorious AOR of the debut is not replicated here.
However, for its lack of commerciality, the album still features a lot of positive aspects and is chock full or musical integrity. The quality of the performances is beyond question.
Jack Morer's complex guitar parts – both electric and acoustic – plus the powerful steam train vocals of Steve Augeri are something to witness.
This is not a hit-singles kind of record. At times it isn't easy to listen to – it is challenging and is better appreciated as a whole entity, from start to finish.
Even then a couple of songs don't work so well, but there are some gritty gems in amongst the tunes here that offer fans of classic/retro rock some truly classy music.
Highlights on Skyscraper include the opening rocker Tomorrow – retro vibe on hand, but possibly the most straightforward number on the album; the heavy blues of Clementine, featuring a terrific groove that mirrors the changing sound of the day; and then the classic rock ballad All Of The World – which has the vocal feel of the debut.
No Justice has a 70s pop feel to it and also a nod of the head to the style of song Mr. Big sometimes included on their albums as a tempo changer.
Where it might get a bit harder for traditionalists to appreciate things is on the slow, Leppelin retro rocker Original Sin (which I like) and the acoustic drenched Pictures Of Summer.
The retro-heavy and effects-filled River Rise is another complex track (particularly with the rhythm section) and is challenging, but rewarding at the same time.
Eternal Light is perhaps the weakest of the tracks, even with its swirling guitar riff.
The sparse and bluesy jam You Shall Be Free is going to be an instant turn off to classic melodic rock fans, but retro fans that appreciate what Extreme sometimes offer may appreciate this. Another cool vocal at any rate.
I also really like the powerful and haunting rocker Stay, which crosses between Zeppelin inspired retro rock and current commercial hard rock.
|Places Of Power Now Is The Hour||Frontiers Records|
Places of Power is the very natural pairing of guitarist/musician Bruce Turgon – the long time right hand man to Foreigner's original lead singer Lou Gramm and for a time part of the Foreigner line-up himself.|
He also joined Lou in the harder rocking Shadow King project and his debut solo album was a mirror image of the sound from that project.
The vocalist for this project is Philip Bardowell, a phenomenal singer with a distinct ability to sound like Lou Gramm.
Places Of Power is therefore a natural continuation of the sound that Turgon has developed over the years.
I said at the time that the Turgon solo release was the sequel to the Shadow King record – which it was – and now we have a 2nd sequel as such.
This is a hard hitting melodic rock/hard rock release with strong performances and some outstanding vocals on offer.
The moody edge that Shadow King carried is continued here, even down to the keyboard sound, which mirrors the style of that project.
The only disappointment is the drums are programmed and the sound at times is not as crisp and clear as could have been. It would have given the album an even better edge over its competitors.
As it is, Places of Power still has a lot to offer – especially for those familiar with Turgon's and Bardwell's previous albums for Frontiers Records.
Highlights from the album include the layered vocal harmonies of In Your Wildest Dreams; the heavier and more dramatic Make Me Believe; the extreme Shadow King styled pop/rock of Desires Of Our Hearts and the more theatrical Secrets.
The biggest anthem of the album is The Passage, which simply soars and is perhaps the pick of the album.
The Lou Gramm inspired Hard To Love You also works well and the vocals in Light Of My World are fantastic.
Elsewhere the album could possibly have used a couple more big choruses such as The Passage and a tighter drum sound would have worked wonders.
Places Of Power is a powerful record and a good start to the 2009 Melodic Year.
|Vision Divine 9 Degrees West Of The Moon||Frontiers Records|
This is one of those over the top symphonic metal skewered projects that fans will either take or leave.|
The Italian band is produced by Timo Tolkki, who has given them a full even sound (no mean feat considering the material).
The style is progressive and symphonic melodic metal, with both elements evenly in play – sometimes both at the same time. The material is intense, but not overly heavy.
What makes this one harder for me to appreciate is the vocals. The heavily accented and over the top delivery of Fabio Lione is not appealing.
I just can't get into them at all. Violet Loneliness is the best example of why.
Musically speaking the guitars pack a punch and the rhythm section pounds away as the tunes change pace and style throughout the album.
The songs featured are fairly complex in nature and it requires several listens to get to know. Nothing unusual for an album of this style.
I would have preferred some more defined melodies on a few songs. I guess when one is put off so badly by the vocals, you look for other elements within the record to appeal.
The keyboard arrangements are intense, that is for sure and the orchestral feel of the album gives it depth beyond the standard.