Thursday, February 2, 2023

ROCK BLOG #11

One album that has dominated my playlist is the new one from CROWNE, "Operation Phoenix" (RRRRr). I liked their first one but this one is even better - not a dull track in sight and a couple of definite highlights of this year! 

The songs are mostly written by Jona Tee (of H.E.A.T.) and Alexander Strandell (Art Nation), and I don't think these are leftovers from their main bands. If they are, then somebody is making strange decisions, as these are fantastic songs that would make any album stronger. 

Crowne is finding its' own voice somewhere between the two bands mentioned above, and I would add Jona Tee's metal project New Horizon to the equation too. 

My favourite tracks are the moment are the title track and "Super Trooper", which might make you think that it's an ABBA cover, but it's not. It does have a lot in common with Abba, it's a cleverly written and insanely catchy song.



So, last week I wrote about the new VV album and said that I wasn't sure how to rate it. I've played it a couple of times, and I think it deserves a RRRR rating. Sure, on the second half it starts to drag a little, with several slower songs in a row, but it's still a very enjoyable album. I like it more every time I play it, I seem to find something new each time. I even like the instrumental track "Zener Solitaire", very Twin Peaks-like.

Today I've enjoyed a day off, and I've been listening to a lot of music. Some FB posts have lead me to check out early eighties' material from HENRY PAUL. He's well-known as a member of country band BLACKHAWK and Southern Rockers THE OUTLAWS, but his two 80's albums "Anytime" (with Henry Paul Band) and self-titled solo album are very much in the AOR vein. On "Anytime" he collaborated with Jim Peterik of Survivor/Pride Of Lions fame. The title track of the album is an AOR diamond, check it out!


 



Thursday, January 26, 2023

ROCK BLOG #10

This is the tenth ”Rock Blog” so far, and the first of 2023, the ”Best Of 2022” episode not withstanding. The first weeks of the year aren’t the busiest time when it comes to new releases, but a few albums have been released already, and I’m going to take a look at some of them.

HIM was a very successful band with their ”Love Metal” sound, one of Finland’s biggest music export success stories. They broke up a few years ago, but the band’s mastermind VILLE VALO has just released his first solo album ”Neon Noir”, under the monicker of VV. I’ve played it a few times and it’s an interesting record. Less metal (more love?) than HIM, it offers a cinematic atmosphere and some fine melodies. If you’re after three minute hits with ”Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” mentality you might be disappointed, but in a certain mood this album works quite well. The again, some of the songs just flow past me and leave no trace whatsoever… I’d say at the moment this gets a RRRr rating, but it could turn into 3 or 4 R’s, we’ll see.


ISSA’s new album ”Lights Of Japan” (RRRR) is another solid effort from her. This time the songs have been penned by her husband James Martin, his brother Tom and the album’ s producer Michele Guaitoli (Visions of Atlantis, Temperance). The Martin brothers used to be in Vega, but rather than traces of that band I heard echoes of their work with Khymera. There's also a slight retro wave vibe in some of the songs, and I wouldn't have minded if that had been explored even further. Favourite tracks: ”Live Again” and ”Fight To Survive”.



I was looking forward to the new BEYOND THE BLACK album, but after the first spin of the self-titled album, I was a bit disappointed. None of the songs really grabbed me like the hits from the previous albums, but I think I’ll give it another chance.


TEN released a new album ”Something Wicked This Way Comes” last week, and I’ve only played it once, but I can already say that it’s a good one. Not necessarily as good as last year’s ”Here Be Monsters”, but good anyway. I’ll get back to this later. 


Tomorrow is again Friday, and a bunch of new albums will see the light of day. CROWNE and ARCTIC RAIN are the ones I’m most looking forward to. I might have something to write about them in the next blog entry. Until then... rock on!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

THE AARON CLIFT EXPERIMENT – “The Age Of Misinformation”

Rating: RRR

Label: Aaron Clift Production

Review by Martien Koolen

"The Age Of Misinformation" is the fourth album by the experimental rock band The Aaron Clift Experiment and the sound of this multi-faceted quartet is a weird blend of classic rock, modern rock, progressive rock, jazz, and even classical music. Think of notorious bands like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Weather Report, Opeth and Porcupine Tree. 


This new album, a concept album about the COVID lockdowns and its influences, features eight tracks of which the longest one "Bet On Zero" clocks over the ten minutes mark and is the best song of the entire album by far! On this track the four-piece band is “assisted” by a big brass band consisting of six trumpet, trombone, and saxophone players, making this a real musical highlight of this dark album. 


"Rise", if you listen very carefully, reminds me of Genesis’ "In The Cage", while "Malaga" is a kind of arena rock, upbeat song with guitar picker Anthony Basini in the spotlight. The album ends with an emotional, but rather bittersweet, cheesy ballad called "Weight Of The World". 


"The Age Of Misinformation" is in my humble opinion not really a progressive rock album but more a mix of soft, melodic rock music trying to be progressive and sound progressive. Another thing that you really have to get used to, or not, is the typical voice of Aaron Clift, which, at least to me, sounds too monotonous, making it very hard to listen to this album in one take; but then again it is only my opinion, so decide for yourself. Listening tip: "Bet On Zero"!


Web site: www.aaronclift.com  
Facebook: www.facebook.com/aaroncliftmusic 
Instagram: www.instagram.com/aaroncliftmusic 

YouTube: www.youtube.com/aaroncliftmusic  

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

ROCK BLOG #9 - The Best of 2022 and then some.

 2023 is here and it's time to take a look at last year. The Covid-situation started to get better... and then the madman in Moscow decided to start a war. A humanitarian crisis, an energy crisis, prices of everything going up... not a great year. I can only hope that 2023 will turn out to be a year when things start to change for the better, but somehow I'm not particulary optimistic. But that's enough doom and gloom, let's concentrate now on nicer things, like riffs, melodies and such!

There were a lot of new albums released in 2022. During the pandemic many artists had the time to create new music, and indeed, several veteran bands released critically acclaimed new albums. I have to say that for me, they were mostly disappointing. Scorpions, Def Leppard, Journey, Magnum, Bryan Adams... some people were really excited about these albums, but I didn't really warm up to any of them. The continuing trend of having 15-20 songs on an album isn't something that I enjoy, it usually means that the common thread is lost and there are several fillers. Gimme 10 great songs instead, thank you very much! 

Frontiers Records have been very profilic in releasing albums, and they've put out several albums which made it to my "Top Albums of 2002" playlist. Then again, the constant flood of releases from them has been a bit overwhelming, especially since many of them have been put together by the same people. The label has a rooster of talented songwriters and producers, but if they release dozens of songs per month, the quality cannot remain on a high level. Looking at my lists, most of the project albums featuring "the usual suspects" ended up on the "Second Tier" list. 

The best one of Frontiers' projects was also a return of a veteran band - GIANT. With Perfect Plan singer Kent Hilli as their new frontman, the band released a solid album, with songs mostly penned by Alessandro Del Vecchio, Pete Alpenborg, Kristian Fyhr and Kent Hilli. None of them are original members of Giant of course, but I think they were able to capture some of the magic of those classic two first classic Giant albums. You may debate whether "Shifting Time" is a "real" Giant album, but if Dann Huff has given it his blessing, that's good enough for me. 

Let's check out some other "Bubbling Under" albums which I haven't reviewed elsewhere, before I get down to listing my Top 10.



GHOST released a popular new album "Impera", and some people thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, but I wouldn't go that far. It is a good album, and some of the songs are brilliant. "Spillways" is my favourite from it. RRRR.

RONNIE ATKINS has been going through some hard times because of his health, but he's a true fighter, and released a solo album and one with NORDIC UNION this year, both decent platters. The title track of his solo album "Make It Count" is one of my favourite songs of 2022.

RICK ALTZI released his first solo album "All Eyes On Me, and it was a bit of a surprise for me. I was expecting a heavier, power metal type of a thing for some reason, but it was a melodic hard rock album with touches of Dokken and the likes. Interestingly, the songs were co-written by Pete Alpenborg and Ulrick Lonnqvist, both from the Frontiers' songwriter pool... moonlighting?

RECKLESS LOVE returned with the controversial "Turborider" album. The electronically enhanced sound didn't appeal to some, but I like it. Some of the songs are very catchy. This album is just a killer track ot two short of making it to my Top 10.


My old favourites DARE and FORTUNE put out new albums as well, "Road To Eden" and "Level Ground". Both solid albums. Late last year we recieved the sad news of the death of Fortune's vocalist Larry Greene, may he rest in peace.

Finnish rockers BAD BARON debuted with an album called "Ace Of Hearts". They kind of remind me of an AOR version of LORDI - some excellent songs with huge choruses, obviously influenced by the great songwriters of the 80ies, like Desmond Child and Jack Ponti. The vocals are at times a bit one-dimensional, but this is definitely a band to watch.

With NEW HORIZON, H.E.A.T. keyboard player Jona Tee showcased his Power Metal side. Former H.E.A.T. vocalist and current Skid Row frontman Erik Grönwall joined his former bandmate, and the results were pretty convincing. "We Unite" stands out as one of my favourite metal songs of the year.

The following bands also released strong albums (rating: RRRR) in 2022, most of them I have reviewed in the ROCK BLOGS or separately: Battle Beast, Lionville, City Of Lights, Find Me, Rust'n Rage, FM, Black Swan, Crash Diet, Palace, H.E.A.T., Generation Radio, Cleanbreak, House Of Lords, Collateral, Perfect Plan, Richard Marx, Fallen Sanctuary, Wildness, Captain Black Beard, 91 Suite, Grand, Mad Max, Stratovarius, Threshold, Gathering Of Kings. I'm pretty sure I forgot some, but I'll add them later... 

Now, on to the TOP 10:



10. DEGREED: "Are You Ready" - This band is just getting better and better. Now they've maybe taken a page or two from H.E.A.T. and gone even more anthemic, but I'm not complaining!

9. CHEZ KANE: "Powerzone" - A good follow up to last year's debut, again penned by Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx.

8. TEN: "Here Be Monsters" - The best TEN album in years, with some amazing melodies from Gary Hughes. A full review available.

7. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: "The Garden" - a truly fine project featuring an all-star cast and fine songs. There's a sequel coming!


6. DYNAZTY: "The Final Advent" - the modern metal machine that keeps on delivering hookladen hits, one after another. 

5. AVANTASIA: "A Paranormal Evening With The Moonflower Society" - Another massive album from the modern-day Jim Steinman, Tobias Sammet.

4. TREAT: "The Endgame" - Anders Wikström doesn't get enough credit for his immense talent as a songwriter. Album after album, he comes up with these melodies like no-one else. I'm just thankful he has time for Treat, because he could easily be churning out pop hits and making shiploads of money... 

3. KISSIN' DYNAMITE: "Not The End Of The Road" - A good example of how you can take tried and trusted elements yet come up with something that doesn't sound dated or tiresome. Some very catchy songs on this one.



2. SEVENTH WONDER: "The Testament" - the masters of Melodic Prog Metal did not disappoint. A wonderful display of musical virtuocity but more importantly, superb songwriting.  A full review available. 






THE ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

REMEDY: "Something That Your Eyes Won't See" - a perfectly crafted selection of fresh new melodic rock from Sweden.  A full review available.

Friday, December 16, 2022

ROCK BLOG #8

Yeah, I wrote one ”full-sized” review earlier this week… I rarely hand out the full set of R’s so I thought REMEDY required a review of their own. Now I’m back in blogging mode, and I’m trying hard to remember all the things I’ve thought I should write about.


A cult classic AOR album was reissued last week, with a limited run 0f 200 CDs. Originally released in 1988, ANNICA’s sole album ”Badly Dreaming”  was a bit of a holy grail in CD format, before being reissued by MTM Music in 2004. The original copies on Lighthouse label are still highly collectible. I haven’t had any version of the album in my collection for a while, so I thought I’d get this reissue just to fill a hole. It’s an important part of the history of Finnish AOR anyway. The album is on ”Lipposen Levy ja Kasetti” label, a subsidiary of the Finnish record store chain Record Shop X (https://www.recordshopx.com) and it comes in a digipak. The printing quality of the artwork is surprisingly sub-standard though, but the remastered CD sounds good.


Still looking back at last Friday, it was a good day for new single releases: BROTHER FIRETRIBE released their magnificent ”Man On A Mission”, Harry Hess and FIRST SIGNAL came up with ”Never Gonna Let You Go” and ISSA’s ”Live Again” impressed me too. This week’s new singles include ”Look For The Rose” from TEN, ”Unity” from Arctic Rain, ”Chemistry” from LeBrock and CREYE’s ”Breathing Fire”. And damn it, ”I Can’t Hold On”, the QUIET RIOT song with Kevin DuBrow on vocals is very good. One of the best archival releases of this year!


A couple of weeks ago CROSSBONE SKULLY premiered their first single ”Evil World Machine”. It’s a project by Tommy Henriksen, but I guess the most noteworthy thing about it is the producer MUTT LANGE, who returns to the scene. Sure enough, the song has a strong AC/DC / Pyromania vibe.


Here’s a YouTube playlist I made for this week!




Monday, December 12, 2022

REMEDY: "Something That Your Eyes Won't See"


Rating: RRRRR

Label: S-Rock Music 2022

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

If an artist releases a new album in late December, there's a good chance that it won't have time to make it to different "Best Of The Year" lists. Swedish newcomers REMEDY might suffer a little because of that, as the release date of this album is December 16th. That does not change the fact that this is the best debut album I've heard in years and my personal favourite album of 2022. It could be one for your "Best Of '22" list too, so wait until you've heard this!

Formed by guitarist Roland "Rolli" Forsman, the band has been around for a year or so I believe. They've collaborated with songwriter Soren Kronqvist, who's written songs for many melodic rock artists such as Sunstorm, Issa and Wake The Nations. I haven't seen his name in the credits that much lately, but this album might explain that - he's saved his best ideas for Remedy!

While Remedy aren't offering anything revolutionary to the genre of melodic hard rock, they don't sound like "just another Swedish melodic rock band". Some of the songs have definite metal edge, which reminds me of Yngwie Malmsteen's "Odyssey/Eclipse"-era, although without the over-the-top Yngwie-isms. "Scream In Silence", "My Devil Within" and "Thunder In The Dark" are good examples of their heavier side, yet still very melodic and catchy.

Then there's "Marilyn". A girl's name in the title is as AOR as it gets... and when a song starts with a staccato keyboard intro á la Bon Jovi's "Runaway", it's usually a winner in my books! This one's no exception, the chorus hook is wicked!

You might be familiar with "I Wanna Have It All", which is the first song released. This slightly Harem Scarem'ish rocker does have it all, great guitar work, fine vocals from Robert Van Der Zwan, massive hooks...

There are two ballads on the album, "Lifeline" and "Sundays At Nine". "Lifeline" is a good one, but somehow it pales in comparison to "Sundays At Nine". It's simply a breathtakingly beautiful song, even though the lyrics are very out of the ordinary and tragic. The song describes a man's last phone call to his wife from a plane that is about to crash. Now that's something I have never heard in a rock song... but for me this works, thanks to the amazing melodies this song is blessed with.

What else? The production is powerful, colourful and massive, just the way I like it. Is there anything I could complain about... well, the band name isn't the most original, there are at least a dozen Remedies out there. But I guess that's something we can live with!

https://remedymusicsweden.com/

https://www.facebook.com/


Thursday, December 1, 2022

ROCK BLOG #7

It’s been a curious week, as I have received not one but two promotional CDs! These days the promotional efforts of artists and labels center around digital delivery and the flood of links to download material is endless, way too much for anyone to handle. I totally understand that it’s way cheaper to use digital services, especially considering the ever-growing shipping costs. But then again, the physical product will surely get a bit more attention than a link among dozen others. 


The first album came all the way from the States, and it’s called ”Inland Empire” by ECHO US. It’s a one-man project by Ethan Matthews, apart from bass guitars on one track he’s played and sung everything on the album. 


I’m a not a major progressive rock fan, but I’m enjoying this album more than initially thought I would. It’s immaculately produced and played, and the overall vibe of it is relaxing and soothing. There are some very enjoyable melodic compositions here, and while this can be filed under ”prog”, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult or too complicated for anyone to enjoy. Sure, some of the songs are a bit weird and chant-like, but even in those songs there’s something strangely appealing. https://www.facebook.com/echous.net/


ANCIENT FLAME are from Finland, and they also sent me a CD to check out. ”Blood Stained The Barren Land” is their debut album, and they describe it as ”traditional melodic heavy metal with some oriental influences.” The band has two very capable vocalists in Petteri Urmas and Kirsimarja Alonen, with voices that compliment each other quite nicely. Their music is somewhere between Black Sabbath and Nightwish, and at times their songs reminded me of the Christian Metal band HB, musically that is. The oriental themes here and there add a little spice to the songs and go well with the lyrical themes about Sumer and Babylonia etc. 


The fact the album opens and closes with heavy and pounding songs might explain why the overall feel of it is rather heavy and gloomy. There are uptempo songs on it, but the slower ones seem to dominate. I guess this a recommendation to some, as this certainly isn’t ”happy metal” with sing-along choruses! Not that it should be, I just enjoy my metal a bit more melodic, one might even say ”cheesy”.  ”Blood Stained The Barren Land”  is one for the True Metal fans.





COLD DROP from Denmark have their debut album on the way, to be released in February on Lions Pride Music. They contacted me and asked politely whether I could check it out. Well, they caught me at a good time and I promised to do that… They play no-frills hard rock, think Gotthard, AC/DC with a melodic twist, Tyketto… Good vocals, solid playing and production. My favourite songs are the mid-tempo ”Broke My Heart” and the opener ”Sweet Lucille”. The band does not get any extra credit for song titles though - they’ve got both ”Looking For Love” and ”Hold On” on the album! :)





Back in the AOR land, there’s been a few new things I want to write about. REVOLUTION SAINTS has gone through some line-up changes, and now  Dean Castronovo is joined bu Joel Hoekstra on guitars and Jeff Pilson on bass. The first single from this ”2.0” version is out, and it’s called ”Eagle Flight”. I think the song is good and Castronovo’s great vocals are always a joy to listen to. Still, I hope there are even better songs on the forthcoming album.





KHYMERA is back. I’ve been a fan of this project since the second album, when Dennis Ward became the vocalist. New album ”Hold Your Ground” is due early next year, and I can’t wait. The first single ”Firestarter” is very promising.






One of the potential albums of the year 2022 is the debut from Swedish band REMEDY. The release date is Dec 16 so it’ll probably make a bigger impact only next year though. So far they’ve released two songs, ”I Want To Have It All” and ”Scream In Silence”. I’ve heard one additional track which is easily as good as the other two, so I have really high hopes for the album, titled ”Something That Your Eyes Won’t See”.





Moving away from AOR, there’s been a major new metal single, the talk of the town… yes, I’m talking about ”Lux Aeterna” by METALLICA. I just had my first listen, and… the bass drum sound is very intruding! The song itself is fast-paced and energetic, not bad. Not that memorable though.








Tuesday, November 22, 2022

ROCK BLOG #6

The flood of new releases doesn’t seem to slow down. I’m trying to keep my head above water but failing miserably… but it is what it is. Let’s check out some of the new albums:

The name CAPTAIN BLACK BEARD might suggest that we’re dealing with a Running Wild-influenced ”Pirate Metal” band but that’s not the case. They’re Swedish and they play melodic hard rock and do not have parrots on their shoulders or eye-patches. I liked their previous album but after just one spin, I think their latest one ”Neon Sunrise” is even better. They kind of sound like a very energetic hybrid of all most of your favourite Swedish bands, so check ’em out!





The SARAYASIGN album has been out for a while, but I haven’t given it a proper listen until now. It’s one of those curious album which I should like, but can’t really get into. If you like Perfect Plan, there’s a good chance you’d like this, because they’re pretty similar stylewise. Nothing wrong with their songs or production, but… just OK.


GRAND are another new Swedish AOR group who have just released their first album. They represent the lighter side of Scandi-AOR á la Work Of Art, Care Of Night and Creye.There are two songs which really stand out: ”Stone Cold” and ”Once In A Blue Moon”. They both went straight to my ”Highlights of 2022” playlist. The rest of the material isn’t too bad either, so I’ll give this album RRRR rating. 





I used to like JADED HEART, but over the years we’ve drifted apart. I decided the give their new album ”Heart Attack” a chance, but maybe it’s too late for us. There’s still some hope as some of the songs are quite good (the opener ”Blood Red Skies” and the title track for example), but the semi-thrash metal of ”Lady Spider” isn’t what I want to hear from Jaded Heart. 


JOHNNY GIOELI’s latest project is called ENEMY EYES. With a more metallic edge than Hardline, the promo blurb say it’s a new chapter for him. Sure enough, the opening track ”Here We Are” is a very impressive slice of melodic metal, reminding me of Avantasia. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there, and there’s nothing really exciting about the rest of the songs. They’re heavier than the usual Frontiers project material, so fans of Johnny’s work with Axel Rudi Pell might get a kick out of them. 



Thursday, November 10, 2022

ROCK BLOG #5

Let's walk down the Park Avenue which leads to... SKID ROW! I've been listening to "The Gang's All Here" again, and unfortunately it doesn't grab me the way I hoped it would. The sound is great, Erik's great but the songs... there's nothing drastically wrong with them, they're better than most of the band's recent output. Most of the start with cool, driving riffs and Erik Grönwall belting it out like a rock god, but once they get to the chorus, the hook swings but it misses the target. A fistful of melody, something to remember, I guess that's what these songs would have needed to become new Skid Row classics. Reluctantly I give this RRR and a bit.

I try to listen to a lot of the new releases, but sometimes it's nice to revisit some old favourites. This week I've listened to the debut JOE LYNN TURNER solo album "Rescue You", which is a minor AOR classic. It might sound a bit dated to some of you, but I'm old and I don't mind! "Losing You", "Endlessly" and "On The Run"... what's not to like? I did check out his new album "Belly Of The Beast" too, co-written and produced by Peter Tätgren of PAIN. I was afraid that it'd be some sort of an industrial experiment but no, it's just heavy and dark, and not bad at all. 

One day I was in a bit of a synth wave/retrowave mood, and listened to some LEBROCK, who mix melodic rock and synth wave sounds quite excellently. Based on their song "Runaway", Spotify created a playlist for me and I made one wonderful discovery - "Tonight" by SUNSET NATION. The album it's from was a bit of a mishmash of stuff that's too pop for me, but this song rocks! Listen yourself:


Yesterday's discovery is something that's not what I usually listen to - some might call it "easy listening"  or whatever, but strangely enough this song made a huge impression on me. The song is called "Never Let You Go" by a Brazilian artist called Sergio Mendes, and it features vocalists Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller. The song, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, has been dubbed as "the most complex pop song of all time" by producer Rick Beato. I actually found this via his YouTube channel, which is highly recommended. Some of his "What Makes This Song Great"-videos will make you appreciate your favourite songs even more. Anyway, back to the subject - at first glance (or rather listen) "Never Gonna Let You Go" might sound like just another cheesy early 80's pop ballad, but just listen again... the song's full of wonderful key changes and it has more melody than a thousand contemporary hits. Awesome songwriting. 





Friday, November 4, 2022

ROCK BLOG #4


This week’s most played album in my headphones and speakers has been the second CHEZ KANE album ”Powerdzone”. Again produced and written by Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx, the album follows the path of the debut. We’re talking very 80’s influenced hard rock and AOR, you’ll hear influences of many of the big names of the era. The album has been getting mixed reactions, but I like it almost as much as the debut. Maybe it doesn’t have as many killer tracks, but then again the debut had a couple of clearly ”skippable songs” for me, this one doesn’t have those. My favourites include ”Guilty Of Love”, ”I Just Want You”, ”Powerzone” and ”(The Things We Do) When We’re Young In Love”. Rating: RRRR and a bit. Maybe even a half r.

RICHARD MARX’ latest album ”Songwriter” is a long one, with 20 songs. I was positively surprised that many of them are rock songs, including the edgy ”Shame On You” and ”We Are Not Alone”. Both of them are co-written and co-produced by his son Jesse Marx. Is it a case of son making sure that daddy doesn’t forget to rock? I don’t know but I like it. A few of the songs have a country vibe, some are more pop and there are a few ballads, including one co-written by Burt Bacharach, a man behind dozens of evergreens. 



And from the smooth sounds of Richard Marx we move on to POWER METAL! Yeah! ”Terranova” is the first album from FALLEN SANCTUARY. Serenity vocalist Georg Neuhauser and Temperance guitarist Marco Pastorino joined forces for this project. Their mission was to create catchy metal with socially conscious lyrics. I think they’ve succeeded. Musically they have created something kind of fresh out of familiar elements. They sound a bit like Sonata Arctica, only more accessible and catchy. 



Retro flashback: in 1985 HEART released their self-titled album. It was a huge success and brought the band back into the limelight. Hits from the album include ”What About Love”, ”Never” and ”These Dreams”. I have had the album on CD for a long time, but yesterday I bought an used vinyl copy. I am not a vinyl junkie, but the vinyl is the format to listen to this album. It sounds much better than the CD. Apparently there are a couple of remastered Japanese versions, but the regular editions are very thin-sounding, not a lot of low end.


Thursday, October 27, 2022

ROCK BLOG #3



So what’s going on in the rock world… Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe are bringing the Stadium Tour over to Europe. A Finnish date has been released, they’ll be at Rockfest in June. Not in Helsinki though, even though it says so above! Hyvinkää is the place.


Mick Mars will not be playing with Mötley, John 5 is rumoured to be the replacement but there’s no confirmation of that yet. I don’t know what to make of that… I would have liked to see Poison as a part of this European leg too, because I haven’t seen them live yet. 


Just so that you know, I’m not even trying to provide you up-to-speed news, there are sites who have the resources to do that. I merely comment on some things when I feel like doing so :)


Back to the normal programming then… I’ve given the latest PERFECT PLAN album ”Brace For Impact” a few spins now, and while it’s good, it’s not quite as good as the previous one.  I recall that I gave it the full 5 R’s.”Brace For Impact” is a solid RRRR album, some very good songs but also a few which don’t really do much for me. The heart-stopping, mind-blowing hits are missing.


In between the new stuff I’ve played a few golden oldies too. Would you believe I haven’t had CINDERELLA’s ”Night Songs” on CD until last Sunday? I had a hard time believing it too, but thankfully that hole in my collection has been fixed now. ”Night Songs” might not be one of my all-time favourite albums, but it does have two of my all-time favourite songs: ”Shake Me” is a perfect straight-forward hard rock song and ”Nobody’s Fool” is one of the finest ballads ever. 


What is a ”Sell-out” album? Maybe an album where the band goes for a more radio-friendly sound, possibly uses outside songwriters to add some mainstream friendly touches to their songs. These albums were common in the eighties, when older bands or their labels started to chase chart success, sometimes succeeding (Heart anyone?), but mostly they failed to reach new audience AND alienated some of their original fanbase. Sellout albums are my guilty pleasures, I have a soft spot for what some might call ”corporate rock”…BLUE ÖYSTER CULT’s ”Club Ninja” is one such album which I recently bought. It has a commercial sound and outside songwriters, but it didn’t really break the charts back in 1986. Still, ”Dancing In the Ruins”, ”Perfect Water” and the two songs from Bob Halligan Jr are excellent melodic rock. Probably not what BOC fans wanted though.


I’ve played the new STRYPER album once, and I have to say after the very good ”Even The Devil Believes” I was a bit disappointed in ”The Final Battle”. It’s too early to pass final judgment, but like I said about Perfect Plan, the heart-stopping, mind-blowing hits are missing. Maybe these hooks need a little more time. 


AVANTASIA! ”A Paranormal Evening With The Moonflower Society” is a bit of mouthful as a title, but who cares when the music’s good! Now that Jim Steinman is no longer with us, Tobias Sammet is carrying the torch for theatrical, unashamedly pompous rock. And he doesn’t repeat himself as much as Steinman used to do. 


Certain songwriters have the kind of melodic sensibility which appeals to me, and Sammet is one of those. He can create versatile, atmospheric music and superb hooks. With the help of some of the finest vocalists in the world, this album goes straight to the top 5 of this year’s releases. At least a RRRRr rating for sure.


That’s it for now, sometime next week ”I’ll be back” with my thoughts about Chez Kane, Wildness, Richard Marx, Fallen Sanctuary, Queensrÿche or at least some of them. And maybe some others. 

 

Friday, October 21, 2022

ROCK BLOG #2

We just returned from London, where we saw H.E.A.T., Collateral and Mason Hill. More of that gig later, in the form of a full-blown concert review. 

A couple of interesting new albums were released last Friday, PERFECT PLAN and SKID ROW. I really haven’t had the opportunity to listen to Perfect Plan yet, but Skid Row is playing right now… and the first impression is that they’ve gone back to the sound of the debut and Erik Grönwall sings great, but the hooks aren’t immediate. Maybe they require a few more spins… the jury’s still out.


( --- fast forward some 24 hours -- )


So I started writing this entry yesterday (Thursday), and now it’s Friday again, which means that a few new albums have been released… and I haven’t even had the time to check out last week’s releases properly! I’m now playing one of the new releases, the ”Re-wired” album from Collateral, which I actually bought from the aforementioned gig. It’s basically their debut album re-mixed and a lot of famous guests added, people like Jeff Scott Soto, Helen Hurd, Danny Vaughn and Phil X. Some of the songs  feature completely new vocals by the guests, some of them are duets and some feature instrumental contributions from guest musicians. As a bonus track there’s the new single ”Sin In The City”. If it had been just a re-issue with one additional track it would have been a bit of a pointless release, but now that every song has something extra, it’s worth a purchase even for those who have the original album. 


A quick look at the list of albums to check out: Avantasia, Stryper, Chez Kane, Wilderness, Perfect Plan… sheesh, not enough hours in the day, but I’ll try. 


I’ll be back!

Thursday, October 6, 2022

ROCK BLOG # 1

Since it seems that I don’t have the time to write ”full-blown” reviews, I’m going to give these blog entries a go. Kind of like those mini-review things I’ve done, but even more free-form, and not limited to new releases. So it’s going to be random ramblings about the stuff I’ve been listening and whatever!

First of all, a couple of major Finnish releases: The Rasmus and Stratovarius. Granted, I have only played them once or twice so these are my first impressions.


In my opinion THE RASMUS haven’t released many interesting songs since ”Black Roses” album in 2008. I quite liked their Eurovision Song Contest entry ”Jezebel”, co-written by Desmond Child, and had high hopes for their new album ”Rise”, especially knowing that Desmond is involved. Well, he has co-written and produced three songs, and they are my top picks at the moment. The remaining songs self-penned songs are are isomewhat ”eerie” and mostly mellow, but I need to listen to them more before passing judgement. So far, I’d say this is better than the previous two albums...




STRATOVARIUS then… it’s been seven years since ”Eternal”, and it seems that this ”short break” has revitalized the band. The band has come up with an album full of catchy and energetic songs. This went to straight to my ”Top Albums of 2022” playlist! Standout track after a couple of spins: ”Firefly”.


FANS OF THE DARK released a good debut a couple last year, and now they’ve released their second effort, which draws influences heavily from the horror movies. With only eight songs it’s a bit short, and while most of the songs are pretty good, only ”Night Of The Living Dead” really stood out. A minor disappoinment maybe. 


”One 4 The Road” is the fourth album from PALACE, and it’s a smooth and polished effort. I like Mike Palace’s work, and this album is no exception. ”Fifteen Minutes” is the biggest hit of the album for me. Maybe I rate the previous album a bit higher than this one, but a solid piece of work anyway.


CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is a project put together by Bruce Mee of Firefest / Fireworks Magazine as a tribute to his mother who passed away a while ago. Bruce has gathered an impressive list of vocalists to sing on the album, including Doro, James Christian, Jeff Scott Soto and Robin McAuley. Despite different singers on each song, the songs kind of fit together really well. They’re mostly written by Swedish songwriter Mikael Rosengren, with a few covers thrown in. Out of the originals, at the moment my favourite is ”Trick Of The Light” sung by Headpins’ Darby Mills, and when it comes to the covers, ”Never Gonna Make Me Cry” originally by Fierce Heart is an absolute gem, sung by James Christian here. I’ll give this album a RRRRr rating!


A surprise album that made it to my  ”Top Albums of 2022” playlist is the debut from CLEANBREAK. It’s another project but together by Frontiers Records, with vocalist James Durbin (American Idol, Quiet Riot), guitarist Mike Flynz (Riot, not the quiet one) and current Stryper rhythm section of Robert Sweet and Perry Richardson. They’ve recorded this album under the supervision of Alessandro Del Vecchio, but thankfully it doesn’t really sound like what one would expect. The material is gritty but catchy heavy metal. 


What else have I been listening to? Some of my recent purchases include the 5-CD ”Original Album Series” boxset from LOUDNESS, which features their major label albums released between 1985 and 1991. I started from the later albums, and damn, ”Soldiers Of Fortune” is a good one! With American vocalist Michael Vescara behind the microphone, one could argue that the band has lost some of their Japanese charm, but I like the album. It kinda sounds like ”Lynch Mob meets Steelheart” at times. Then again, I remembered why I didn’t remember anything about ”On The Prowl”, although I’m sure I’ve heard it before. It’s rather average, stylewise not that different to ”Soldiers” but the material isn’t very strong. The 1987 album ”Hurricane Eyes” still features original vocalist Minoru Niihara, and it’s a decent album. I guess die-hard Loudness fans regard it as a ”sellout”, as the band introduced keyboards and sweet harmonies to some of the songs. 


I picked up Stevie Nicks’ compilation album ”Timespace” for a couple of euros, as I’ve not really paid attention to her material before. I was surprised to find out that it had songs written by Jon Bon Jovi and Bret Michaels on it. Still, I’m not actually that fond of her voice, so this might not be a keeper… might give it another spin.


I came across the GLENN HUGHES album ”From Now On” at my favourite second hand store Alfa Antikva  the other day. I only knew the video song ”Why Don’t You Stay” and the fact that Europe members were involved, and noticed that Bruce Gowdy had produced it, so I thought I’d give it a go. And… well, I still liked the ballad mentioned before and a couple of others, but I think this will end up in the ”for sale” bin. 


The debut from BADLANDS… I heard it back in the day and wasn’t that impressed, but every now and then the album surfaces in conversations online and people are often very much into it, so now when I had the chance to grab it for a reasonable price I did. Can’t say that anything has changed, it’s still not an album for me. Great musicians and fine vocals from Ray Gillen, but the songs are just too… bluesy and Zeppelinesque. The CD has already found a new,  hopefully loving home.


That’s it for now!


Thursday, September 8, 2022

MAD MAX: "Wings Of Time"


Rating: RRRR

Label: ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records 

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Can you believe that Mad Max are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year? Yep, it's true, and can you believe that after all these years, they've come up with an album that's one of their best ones? I wasn't expecting this either.

The band had a good run of few years during the eighties, with "Stormchild" and "Night Of Passion" making some waves in Europe. They made a short attempt at reunion in 1999 with "Never Say Never" album, and in 2006 they reformed for good. The albums they've released since then have been of varied quality, and at times it seemed like they were a bit lost, looking for direction. The first years of reformation they re-branded themselves as a Christian Metal band, but slowly they've moved away from the religious lyrics. They've also tried to re-capture the vibe of those two albums mentioned above with "Another Night Of Passion" and "Stormchild Rising", but didn't quite succeed.

With main songwriter and vocalist/guitarist Michael Voss now out of the picture, guitarist Jurgen Breforth has taken over as the "captain" of this ship. Under his command, the band has finally mangaged to re-capture the vibe of their best eighties albums. There are even some obvious lyrical nods to the "good old times" with songs like "Days Of Passion", "Heroes Never Die" and "Stormchild Rising". The latter wasn't on the album by the same name... confused yet?

New vocalist Julian Rolinger is very impressive, he's no Voss clone but I'm sure he can do justice to the old songs. And the new songs - they're good! There are plenty of catchy riffs and good choruses, which have been missing from the band's recent output. Some favourites of mine are "Days Of Passion", "A Woman Like That" (which does owe a little to Rick Springfield), the harmony-laden, Nelsonesque "When It Stops" and "Miss Sacrifice".

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Thursday, August 11, 2022

H.E.A.T.: "Force Majeure"


Rating: RRRR

Label: Ear Music 2022

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A lot has happened in the H.E.A.T. camp since the release of "II", their excellent previous album. The promotional efforts and the tour were pretty much swept under the carpet by Covid, and later that year vocalist Erik Grönwall left the band. In true H.E.A.T. tradition, his replacement was an old band member, the original vocalist Kenny Leckremo.

With "Force Majeure" the band doesn't take steps back to the sound of the Leckremo-fronted first two albums, but continues on the path started with "II". This is probably their hardest rocking album to date, and the pop influences of "Into The Great Unknown" are pretty much gone.

After the first spin I was quite disappointed. Only a couple of songs really stood out, and a couple   I didn't really like at all. I've now lived with the album for a few days ( and seen the band live last Sunday), and things have clicked. I won't lie to you, this isn't my favourite H.E.A.T. album but it's not a disappointment either.

The album starts with familiar material, among the first four tracks you'll find the three singles released so far, "Back To The Rhythm", "Nationwide" and "Hollywood". They're all hardrockin' songs with big choruses and I can assure you that they work perfectly live. Somewhere between the singles is "Tainted Blood". It's not among my favourites, and it reminds me a bit of latter-day Europe.

The mid-tempo "Harder To Breathe" had me puzzled at first, but in the end I came to the conclusion that it's a pretty clever track, with an unusual chorus. "Not For Sale" is classic H.E.A.T., an anthemic track with a kingsized chorus. 

"One Of Us" isn't a cover of the Abba song, but a Leckremo-penned power ballad. And a good one! "Hold Your Fire" didn't grab me at first listen, but I've grown to like it more and more. A bit of a Leppard meets Europe vibe in it I think. "Paramount" is another peculiar song, with a interesting fanfare hook. I do like it, even though it's not necessary a highlight of the album.

"Demon Eyes" is a bit of a departure from the normal H.E.A.T. sound, as it's more in the vein of early eighties Dio and that sort of things. A fast, hard-hitting metal track with not much of a chorus hook to speak of... not for me, but I think this song will have its' fans. 

"Wings Of An Aeroplane" closes the album in grand fashion: it's a stunning track with a massive, layered chorus, easily one of my favourite tracks from the album. 

Hopefully the band has somehow reached the "heaviness level" they desire, because I really don't want them to go to a more metal direction. If anything, it would be awesome if they could bring back a little bit AOR for the next one. But whatever they do, I think they'll provide us yet another quality album.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2022

CATS IN SPACE: "Kickstart The Sun"

 

RATING: RRRRR

Review by Alan Holloway

Cats In Space are not your common or garden moggies stuffed into a space suit. These kitties are purebred rock and roll, releasing four studio albums so far that have showed a great talent for writing catchy hooks and bringing the best of 70s glam and pop kicking and screaming into today's MP3 players. 'Kickstart The Sun' is their second album with seasoned stage singer Damian Edwards, but the first that was actually written with him, and there's a lot of cat fans out there holding their breath in the hope that the chemistry demonstrated on 'Atlantis' will blossom even more here.

One thing they haven't done is lost any ambition, with 'Kickstart The Sun' rolling in at around sixty five minutes. Of course, the danger with this is there's plenty of room for songs that perhaps should have been culled, but I have to say that of the thirteen full songs here (plus shorter opening and closing tracks) there really aren't any that I feel the urge to skip.

The title track is split into three parts, with a minute long album intro joined by a two minute reprise at the end. The main song site nicely in the middle, six minutes of panic and hope as the intrepid catstronauts try to get the sun working again, thus saving the world! The album itself starts with a triple helping of absolute 'proper' Cats In Space bangers, with opener 'King Of The Stars' managing to make seven minutes seem like three, so upbeat, guitar fuelled and catchy it is. First single 'Poke The Witch' follows, a really catchy and quite quirky satire on modern life, with second dingle 'Teenage Millionaires' after that, a guitar led song with an irresistibly catchy chorus and more melody that a Top Of The Pops compilation album.

At this point, it's quite clear that Damien is well and truly part of the band, really searching for new peaks in each vocal performance, the climbing them with seeming ease. 'Goodbye To The American Dream' follows, playing very well to his stage strengths, a story led track that starts slow but has a chorus with bounce and a few horns that balances out the slower verses perfectly. The first ballad is '1,000,00 Miles', about being stuck in your spaceship and missing a special someone. The simple, mostly piano, accompaniment allows Damien to carry the whole thing on his own talents and it's a beautiful song that would have fitted nicely on Styx's 'The Mission' album. 'Fifty One Pillow Bed' is a much more typical 'Cats-lite' effort, just a simple, catchy and fun love song in the same vein as 'Magic Loving Feeling' from the last album. It may not be deep or emotional, but it's a cracking mid paced song that does exactly what you want, from the rich vocals to the uplifting guitar solo in the middle.

'Charlie's Ego' may well be my favourite here, even though it's really a three minute piece of fun about a faded star who doesn't get much work these days but is still a big star in his head. I love the lyrics, the bouncy keyboards and the fact that Damien gets to sing a verse as Charlie himself, totally changing his voice as he does so. It's a type of song that Cats In Space do so well, like 'Sunday Best' from the last album, and sounds like something from a really fun musical. After the excellent, layered title track, 'A Big Balloon' continues the space theme that is in several songs, though it's a relaxing, acoustic track that feels just right after the heroics of the previous one. 'Smoke & Mirrors' brings back the bounce and a real seventies feel at the same time.

'Hero' is the most sparse track on the album, a slow track with only piano behind Damien, allowing him to really go for it on the emotion and power stakes, and it's genuinely breathtaking to listen to , another that you can imagine being performed on stage. The album closes with a couple of more upbeat songs, and 'Last Dance Saloon' is the most ELO song that ELO never recorded, something that's quite deliberate. It's a fine, upbeat song that shines in part due to the wonderful keyboards that blend with the bouncy guitar solo. A proper crown pleaser, I can see this one being a real hit in concert, though it's certainly got plenty of competition elsewhere to get on the set list. Final track before the title track reprise is one the band themselves are VERY proud of, 'Bootleg Bandoleros'. At eight minutes it's the longest song here, but as with 'King Of The Stars' it at no point outstays it's welcome, telling the story of those who would nick creatives hard work, from the time when home taping was killing music to the seeders and downloaders of today. There's a South American feel to the flamenco acoustic guitar, giving way to electric at the three minutes forty mark, at which point the song gets a nice injection of energy though still isn't afraid of an introspective moment or two. Of course, there's a cool guitar solo, too, as well as a section for the crowd to stamp their feet and clap. This one's got it all, folks!

I thought that Cats In Space would find it hard to follow up the excellent 'Atlantis', but with 'Kickstart The Sun' they've actually surpassed it. An album that mixes emotion, storytelling, seriousness and simple fun equally well, resulting in a whole that works on a great many levels, musically. At it's heart, though, it's a Cats In Space album, and if you've ever enjoyed what they've put out before this is a must buy.

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