Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DALTON: "Pit Stop"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Vrooom! After spending close to 25 years in the Pit Stop, the race is finally back on as the Swedes are finally ready (or not) to impress the Scandi-Rock fanatics with their latest offering to the Gods of AOR. Indeed. Pedal to the metal and kindly move/step aside H.E.A.T. as the geezers are back in town and this time it's personal.

Originally formed in very late 85/early 86 when drummer Mats 'Dalton' Dahlberg decided to leave TREAT, the band recorded two albums in the eighties before grunge came and swept it all away. Now they're all back together (the original line-up) and the sonic display and production by Eric Mårtensson (Escape, W.E.T.), one of the better sounding records to come out of the Italian label as of lately.

Opening track, "Ready Or Not", Scandi-Rock and classic Dalton meets AC/DC and Bosse Lindmark sings better than ever with just a hint of barbwire nowadays. Rather typical AC/DC-like background vocals too. The parp attack of "Hey You" gets you in the eighties mood in no time as Ola Lindström really let the keyboards rip. There's plenty of retro keyboards throughout the album and there's absolutely no need to worry about any weird influence or sound on Pit Stop. In fact. Most songs are from 1989/1990 and originally intended for the third Dalton album. Well. This is the third studio album by Dalton, but you know what I'm getting at.

The classy "Don't Tell me Lies" was on the RAW debut album and the same goes with 50/50 and TGIF. "Follow Your Dreams", smooth Dalton rock at their best. "Up & Down", catchier than the plague (ouch!). "Bad Love", yet another keyboard shocker with a retro sound. "One Voice", simply just one of those perfect sing-a-long melodic rock anthems with a message and touching lyrics. "Here We Are", starts up right away with its massive choir and the nearly British sound of the 80's (U2, The Alarm, Simple Minds) meets the traditional Dalton style. The rhythm section (Dalhberg & Anders Lindmark), tighter than ABBA-Agnetha Fältskog's pants in the 70's and the guitar work by Leif Westfahl adds plenty of attitude and spark to the compositions.

Final verdict: The third biggest melodic hard rock act out of Sweden in the eighties has certainly recorded an album better than any Europe album post-reunion. Oi! Tempest. I believe it's time to get back to your roots (Wings Of Tomorrow, Out Of This World) and stop messing around with your second rate '90's Dokken' sound. Give the people what they want, the lads of Dalton are now officially in the race and way a-head of you suckers.

Billy IDOL: "Kings & Queens Of The Underground"

Rating: RRRr
Label: BFI Records/Playground 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The idle idol's return to the recording studio at the approx. same time when there's a new book and autobiography to promote (Dancing with myself), surely no coincident? Not that we complain or do we? Nah. Quite the opposite really. It's nice to know that some things never change. Blonde, wearing leather and that evil sneer, and as always with his trusty sidekick at the six-string, the Atomic Playboy a.k.a. Steve Stevens. It's the familiar feeling as well as the rock n roll tradition? The Father Christmas of rebel yells and white weddings?

Speaking of Christmas (even though it's no longer political correct?). It's just around the corner and there's a great song by Frankie Goes To Hollywood that Swedish Television always used to air during the holidays (The Power Of Love). Well. Track seven, "Eyes Wide Shut", take most of its influence from that particular 'Power' song. Billy even sings/sounds like Holly Johnson and the verse(s) and overall feeling of the two songs are scary alike at times. However, the chorus part is way different.

It's otherwise a solid effort and especially since I had worries that Billy Idol might have gone haywire and off the deep end. But no, the blonde x-punk is still waving the eighties flag and it's the same radio-friendly rock slash pop as always. Opening track, "Bitter Pill", perhaps just a bit too slick and polite and not enough of the punky attitude? Pretty nice anyhow and it's American made rock with no intention to upset his old fan base. "Can't Break Me Down", yet another slick rocker. "Save Me Now", starts out just like an old Thompson Twins tune (Doctor Doctor) before it's transforming into classic Idol. The synth heavy "Postcards From The Past" kicks like a mule, while the title track takes a long hard look at the golden years and career of Billy Idol.

 Final verdict: Nothing stunning, nothing new or out of order, but a solid Idol album with darn solid material.

GRAND DESIGN: "Thrill Of The Night"

Rating: RRRR
Label: AORheaven 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

This was the album with which the Swedes of Grand Design would break on through to the other side and thus bringing down the reign of extremely high-pitch vocals and Def Leppard rock for the next century. However, they no longer sound like Leppard wannabees (if they ever did? I haven't heard the first couple of albums) and if anything it's the mix of Heavy Pettin, The Poodles, and just the hint of 220 Volt and TNT - early Harnell era.

Then again... the utter mad Glasgow legends of Heavy Pettin sounded an awful lot like Def Lep at times and singer Pelle Saether (ex. Zello, Unchained, Mindjive, Schizophrenic Circus, etc.) work in the same range as Hamie and the Poodles dude (hi-hi-high on emotion). The two guitarists, Dennis Vestman and Janne Stark (Overdrive, Locomotive Breath, etc.) are trading licks and tricks of the melodic NWOBHM tradition throughout the album and drummer Magnus Ulfstedt (Torch, Talisman, Mitch Malloy) bashed skins like as if he friggin' hate drums and wants to kill them all.

They start up the album with "U Got Me Good" and Hamie's probably laughing away in Scotland as it's spot on Heavy Pettin with a healthy dose of Yngwie Malmsteen (the main riff and guitar work). "Rawk N Roll Heart Attack" is more towards Def Lep but in reality it's perhaps more like Dynamite Sex Dose and Glorious Bankrobbers. I'd also like to point out, there's hardly any slick Mutt Lange rock to be found on this record. High N Dry? yeah, to a certain degree. Heavy Pettin, absolutely!

Bloody'ell. I notice that Erik "The Void" Mårtensson (Eclipse, WET) co-wrote two songs and he's literally everywhere nowadays (thus why I named him 'The Void'). "Thrill Of The Night" is however a very intense, powerful, and catchy album and a LOT better than expected to be perfectly honest. Recommended if you're into above mentioned acts and proper high pitch (melodic metal) vocals.

CELEBRATING Jon LORD: "Various Artists"

Rating: Live
Label: earMusic 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Celebrating Mr. Hammond a.k.a. John "I'am the Walrus" Lord. No longer with us in the flesh only in spirit. However, the music and the reputation as the greatest(?) keyboard player ever will certainly live on as long as there are hard rock fans walking around on this planet. The good news first. Proceeds from sales of these CDs and DVDs benefit the Jon Lord trust, set up to fund projects to stop cancer or whatever (no, I didn't get the press release). The bad news. I seriously doubt the man himself would have picked these songs to celebrate his years as the musician?

CD 2 is just another Deep Purple (of today) concert with the following tracks: Uncommon Man. Above And Beyond. Lazy. When A Blind Man Cries. Perfect Strangers. Black Night. Hush. The latter the all-star turn-out with Bruce Dickinson, Rick Wakeman, Phil Campbell, Bernie Marsden, and Micky Moody. It would have been more interesting to have the Deep Purple members performing music from the Lord's solo albums and other projects of the past. Now it's just more of the same. Oh well.

CD 1 do feature a couple of oddities though and the first couple of tracks are the most interesting ones in my opinion. Paul Weller (The Jam) sings "Things Get Better" and "I Take What I Want" (feat: Micky Moody) from the Artwoods daze/days and it's a lot more fun than listening to the same DP stuff. "Silas And Jerome” and "I'm Gonna Stop Drinking" are from the Paice/Ashton/Lord project and both sung by Phil Campbell from The Temperance Movement. Paice, obviously behind the kit and Bernie Marsden at the six string. Then you have Glenn Hughes and Bruce Dickinson singing Purple songs. No sign of either Blackmore nor Coverdale though. Nice and cozy, but hardly essential stuff.

BULLETRAIN: "Start Talking"

Rating: RRR
Label: AORheaven 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

After Bullet... here's Bulletrain. What's next? Bulletin? They are all Swedes though and they are all very true and loyal to the sound and fashion of the eighties era. Formed in the south of Sweden (Helsingborg) in 2006 and consisting of Sebastian Sundberg (vocals), Mattias Persson (guitar), Robin Bengtsson (guitar), Niklas Mansson (bass) and drummer Jonas Tillheden, the five are now finally releasing their debut album at AOR Heaven.

They have that 50/50 mix of Sleaze and Melodic Hard Rock and you may just notice similarities to previous Swede-acts such as Nasty Idols, Snakepit Rebels, and Swedish Erotica. Perhaps not quite the classic Scandi-Rock record but it feels a much more complete album than several other releases in this particular genre of rock. Nonetheless, I still believe that "Start Talking" could merely benefit from another top notch uptempo track or three in the vein of "From The Bottom Of My Heart". This is one helluva cool and catchy tune and definitely up there amongst the very best of them.

The typical but-darn-catchy power ballad, "Even With My Eyes Closed", gets you in the heart every time and it's the wicked lighters in the air moment. What? Excuse me. Nokias in the air? [kindly replace the suggested brand with your personal type of phone]. Sadly I have absolutely no idea what they're singing about on "Dicing With Death"? I believe the singer could either slow down here or work on articulation?

The album was produced by the duo RamPac (Crashdiet and Mick Mara) and mixed by Buster Odeholm and it sounds good. The decent debut and I'm sure we'll hear plenty more and better records from these guys in the future to come. Not too shabby.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Teri TIMS: ”Teri Tims”

Rating: RR

Label: Z Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Who’s fooling who? ”It’s been a long time coming but finally we can confirm that Teri Tims debut album will be released during September of this year through Z Records.” A-hem. I reviewed this album already in December 2001. Almost 13 years ago! Nothing much has changed, even the cover photo is the same, just slightly photoshopped. I guess I can just use my original review. Let’s take a look at it:

”Let me start this review by saying that Teri Tims is probably the best female vocalist to have emerged from the AOR scene during the last few years. She has a voice that can be described as a combination of Alannah Myles, Shania Twain and Debbie Davis (of cult AOR band Witness), and I might add that she has got the looks to match too...Paul Sabu, his husband and the producer/co-writer of this a album is talented guy too, having produced and penned some excellent songs for the likes of Silent Rage, Alexa and Only Child. Unfortunately, 1 + 1 isn't always two, this time it's more like 1 and a quarter!

There are two major problems with this album: the songs and the production. I would say that the thin and lifeless production is the biggest flaw, I think that a more vivid and powerful sound might have helped a few of the songs to come to life, but now they just sound like pre-production demos. The programmed drums and the metallic guitar sounds do not appeal to me at all. Actually, the closest reference soundwise would be those early Shania Twain demos that Mr. Sabu also produced.

When it comes to the songs, there's at least light at the end of the tunnel: there are a few quite good songs here, like the awesome AOR track "Midnite In Your Eyes", very Sabu-like "Rock Hard" and the new country-ish ballad "Home Is Where The Heart Is". However, many of the other songs do not have hooks sharp enough to raise them above the dull production. And what the hell is "I Can Never Dance Enough" anyway? A country rock track with a Nu-metal chorus?

If it wasn't for Teri's brilliant vocals, my rating would've been lower. The next time around I sincerely hope that Teri and Paul will a) write quite a few songs as good as "Midnite In Your Eyes" and b) hire a drummer for gods sake!”

I don’t know whether all or some of these songs were re-recorded, remixed or whatever, but they still sound uninviting, sterile and lifeless. Teri’s fine vocals are the only saving grace of this album. And to be honest, I don’t know how I rated this album as worthy of 6 out of 10 (the system we were using back then), on the strength of three decent songs (the "awesome AOR track" above may be stretching it a bit) and good vocals… otherwise, I still stand by my original review.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jimmy BARNES: "Hindsight"

Rating: Comp.
Label: Mascot 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

I'm not entirely sure why I enjoy this as much as I do? It's just another compilation album? Not quite right as the ozzie legend and friends are celebrating the 30 years as the solo artist with reworking his old tunes with the help of some of the musicians he's met along the way. Jimmy Barnes is a national treasure down under and sadly not as appreciated in the rest of the world? You could probably add John Farnham to that list for that matter.

To be completely honest. I still haven't heard a single album with Cold Chisel and that's probably like cursing in Church in Australia? I do have close to most of the Barnes' solo albums though and whatdoyouknow, not a single track to be found on this comp from one of my favorite albums with the man, "Freight Train Heart". Hells bells. Jimmy co-wrote several of those tracks with Des Child, Jim Vallance, and Jonathan Cain and Neil Schon of Journey fame. The latter two are actually guest appearing on Hindsight and the tracks "Going Down Alone" and "Working Class Hero".

Other guests includes Keith Urban, Baby Animals, Tina Arena & Joe Bonamassa (Stone Cold), The Living End (Lay Down Your Guns) and Steven Van Zandt (Ride The Night Away). Add to this his family (Mahlia Barnes, Diesel) and you're in for a treat. The pipes are still intact and "Lay Down Your Guns" is (still) one helluva' tune with all that pushing and showing going on. Suze & Baby Animals does a smashing duet out of "Time Will Tell" and the same goes for Urban and "Good Times". Definitely worth the revisit since there's plenty of top notch belter vocals to be found. No worries mate. Joe Cocker down under to the rescue once again. What a little ripper!

PHI: "Now The Waves Of Sound Remain"

Rating: RR
Label: Gentle Art Of Music 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Art-Rock from Austria? The power trio of PHI are signed to the label owned by RPWL (Gentle Art Of Music) and "Now The Waves Of Sound Remain" is an album that sprawls across many different genres and styles. The songs are generally slow, atmospheric, dark, and rather moody. They have that Tool meets Rush meets Alice In Chains meets Porcupine Tree sort of sound going on and they are certainly groovy and progressive at the same time.

Lengthy passages and power drumming are merely to be expected as the three continues to explore the boundaries of rock on their second album release. They have clearly set themselves an agenda to be as quirky and arty as possible, unfortunately not always blessed with clever song material though.

In fact. Their sonic tapestry might just be a tad too invert and dare I say boring to please this particular reviewer. The structure of their arrangements are mainly if not solely focused on the band instead of the actual listener a.k.a. buyer of their product. It's designed for a reaction of the extremes at the dark and moody side of Prog/Math. Music intended to upset the listener? as the compositions are either stuck at second gear or simply just not going anywhere.

Some of the time-changes and breakdowns are darn interesting though and it's clear that months of effort have gone into 'Now The Waves Of Sound Remain'. The title track is also something to build on for the future (10+ minutes of Progmageddon). Nonetheless. It's sadly just not enough to keep us interested in the long run.

KORIA KITTEN RIOT: "Rich Men Poor Men Good Men"

Rating: RRR
Label: GAEA/PrescriptionPR 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Reikko. Toimi. Vänskä. Rahkonen. Anttila. A group of killer Goblins and Uruk-Hais from the Tolkien saga? Nah. There's no need for alarm. Koria Kitten Riot simply hail from Helsinki/Finland and these are very traditional names over there. The indie Rock/Pop act recorded their third album, "Rich Men Poor Men Good Men", in Berlin and it was mastered by Doug Van Sloun (First Aid Kit, Bright Eyes, She & Him). It sounds like a million bucks considering the budget and it goes hand in hand with the quirky material and arrangements.

They certainly have the ability to blend Indie Rock with singer/songwriter and quirky folk/country stuff. There's a rather sinister slant to the lyrics as they deal with everything from mass murderer, the sinking Titanic, to the alcoholic violinist and what not really. Exploring the world through other people's eyes and dreams seems to be the main plot here, it's a varied album with many different colours and faces. The story-telling of Reikko works in the old tradition of singer/songwriter and there's plenty of pedal steel, mandolin, and soft keys to be found on this record.

There's really so much variation across the CD that's it's difficult to pin down the sound of Koria Kitten Riot. They claim to take influences from artists such as Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel? (no, we haven't heard them) and Wilco, but this does not tell the entire story of the band. Have a closer look at the material and you might just pick up everything from Tom Waits to 80's indie pop and laid-back moments such as Everything But The Girl. Overall this is a solid album with excellent production and very decent material indeed.

BULLET: "Storm Of Blades"

Rating: RR
Label: NuclearBlast 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Originally known as Teaser, Bullet was formed in 1978. Discovered by Dieter Dierks in 1981, signed with Polydor and recorded their debut album in 82 (produced by Dierks). Wait a minute... these guys are from Sweden and it's clearly not the same act that gave us "Execution" and "No Mercy". Still they have the Teutonic display and attitude and it's very much the sound of (original) Bullet, Accept, Priest, and the hint of AC/DC. What's more. They're signed to Nuclear Blast in Germany and singer Hell Hofer (really? now they're just taking the piss) comes out sounding like the bastard son of Udo Dirkschneider and Brian Johnson.

The artwork (see cover pic) is straight from the back catalogue of any Heavy Metal act of the 80's and the same can be said about the riffs. Maybe I'm missing the point completely here, but I can't imagine why this platter would appeal to the heavy metal kids? Sure. They are very traditional and a couple of moments such as "Hammer Down" and "Coming In Loud" are some of the funniest pure Heavy Metal tracks as of lately. However, it's cliche-villé and deja-vú-town at its highest population and we've heard it all before (way too many times).

The drumming powers the album along at what seems like a steady beat and the guitars are louder than hell. Yet there's something missing? Well. If anything. They brought out the trad. heavy metal fan in me and I believe it's time for another spin of Restless and Wild... ahhh... fast as a shark!!!

John TAGLIERI: "Days Like These"

Rating: EP
Label: HeadfirstEntertainment/Vanity 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Last time out I reviewed an release by John 'Tag' Taglieri and was asked who he? I believe the short answer was former Jersey rocker gone soft(er) and more towards the style of country and the singer/songwriter genre. Not entirely correct since we are now at his 12th release, "Days Like These", and the 6-track EP is sort of the return to his roots and melodic rock. This is not old school or strictly uptempo by any stretch, but it's darn nice and professional done.

Recruiting musicians such as Kenny Arnoff (John Mellencamp, Bob Seger, etc), Eric Ragno (Alice Cooper, Paul Stanley), Rich Redmond (Ludacris, Kelly Clarkson), makes this a neat packaging and simply just a nice surprise. Truth be told. Taglieri is no stranger to the concept of Jersey Rock and the Bon Jovi connection is definitely present throughout the EP. I believe they recorded the album titled "These Days" and several tracks will have you thinking about the group and their sound from above mentioned platter and forward on up to present date.

For instance, laid-back tunes/ballads such as "Thin Air" and "Finish Line, as close as you ever get to Jon Bon Jovi without actually meeting the man. That's including rough vocals and everything. Closing track, "Toasting The Man In The Moon", is however a really dodgy tune and hardly worth the bother. It's all well and good taking the melodic route, but when there's no point or edge to it, it seems like a bit of waste of time. Overall a nice little EP and Tag still manage to come up with some nice material.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

IN FAITH: ”There’s A Storm Coming”

Rating: RRRRR

Label: Rocktopia Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

UK-based In Faith is the collaboration of vocalist Pete Godfrey, guitarist Tony Marshall and drummer Pete Newdeck. Especially Marshall and Newdeck are quite well-known figures in the melodic rock scene, the latter as the ex-drummer of Eden’s Curse and the frontman of Tainted Nation and Marshall as the guitarist of Contagious and Vaughn and as one of the key figures of Firefest. Supergroup? I don’t know, but they’re pretty damn superb anyway!

A few people have already rolled out the superlatives in their reviews of this album, and I can’t help but join the praise brigade: ”There’s A Storm Coming” is possibly the best debut album I’ve heard in years, and definitely one of the top albums of this year.

”Radio” opens the album and it can only be described as one of the best Winger songs they never recorded. Everything about the song reminds me of Kip & Co… the flashy guitar work,  Pete Godfrey’s very Kip-like phrasing and timing, the melodies… still, as much as it reminds me of Winger, the song itself can not be accused of being a carbon copy of any particular song of theirs.

The AOR gem ”Does It Feel Like Love” offers some really fine melodies and a completely different vocal style from Godfrey, who reveals another side of his voice. The official Firefest anthem ”Church Of Rock’n’ Roll” is the only song that has been previously available from the band. When I first heard it a year ago I thought it was a good song but not necessarily anything more. Now having listened to it a few extra times, I’ve got to admit it - it’s damn catchy in a sinister, subconscious way… you never know when you catch yourself singing it. Autograph meets Winger…

The first of the ballads is called ”Where I Wanna Be”. It’s a big power ballad with massive, harmony-drenched chorus. Maybe a touch of Harem Scarem there, possibly. ”Addicted” contains a killer riff and a killer chorus, while the second balladic track ”If That’s What Love Means” has a bit of a contemporary edge with some cool, moody keyboards. The stomping ”All Or Nothing” isn’t a favorite of mine, but it’s still a pretty cool song with a Hardline vibe. ”In Flames” has another great riff and a chorus to match it. The dramatic ”A Million Ways” is another winner. ”Leave Me Alone” is the third ballad-type of a song, and clearly the weakest of the three. That doesn’t mean that it’s a turkey though, it’s nice enough.

One of the stronger tracks is saved for the last: ”Bitter End” contains another monster riff courtesy of Tony M. and another huge chorus. Elements of vintage Dokken, Harem Scarem, Winger… maybe with a touch of Scandinavian AOR somewhere in between?

Yes folks, I think we’ve got something special here. The only problem with this album is… how on earth can In Faith top it with album number two? Not that I’m asking them to… it’s enough if they release an album that’s only as good as this one!

Monday, October 6, 2014

WILD ROSE: ”Hit’N’ Run”

Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Blvd Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A couple of months ago I reviewed David A. Saylor’s solo album, and said that I’d like to hear him sing in a bit more hard rocking style. That’s just what he does with Greek melodic rock band Wild Rose. ”Hit’n’ Run” is the band’s third album and Saylor’s second one with them.

Wild Rose aren’t exploring the boundaries of the AOR genre with this release, as they’re pretty much sticking to the tried and trusted formulas. Somehow they still manage to breathe life into them. A lesser band could have turned these songs into a real snoozefest, but Wild Rose play them convincingly. Saylor’s soulful vocals are excellent and Andy Rock’s lively guitar playing adds a nice metallic edge to the music. Not to mention the keyboards by Dirty Haris, which ”make my day”, if you excuse the pun…

Wild Rose play traditional AOR that reminds me of acts like Drive She Said, FM and Alien. Just by looking at the song titles one might think that they’re even a little bit too traditional - ”Don’t Walk Away”, ”Stay”, ”I’ll Be There”… they aren’t going to win any prizes for ”original song titles”. The lyrics are more of the same, typical AOR fodder with heartache, declarations of love and other relationship stuff. It’s the music that elevates this to the next level, the songs are well-crafted melodic rock with strong melodies.

If I had to pick just one song from the album, it would have to be ”Give In To Me”, which reminds me of Desmond Child’s songwriting. Thankfully I don’t have to, so I can mention a few other rather fine AOR tracks, such as ”Stay”, ”Can’t Wait On Love” and ”Together”... good stuff.

Friday, October 3, 2014

VEGA - 'Stereo Messiah'

Label: Frontiers
Reviewer: Alan Holloway

When Vega release a new album you can guarantee that several reviewers will say that it has “Album of the year potential”. Vega, you see, don’t get bad reviews, at least not in the melodic and classic rock press. ‘Stereo Messiah’, out later this month, is their third album and I can guarantee that the trend will not be broken, mainly because it really does have album of the year potential. There. I’ve said it.

‘Stereo Messiah’ works solidly on the principle that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Built firmly on the soaring vocals of Nick Workman, the songs all play to his strengths in the best possible way. These are the sort of songs that you can start to sing along with almost straight away, as the choruses are uniformly massive and catchy. Workman himself is like a more restrained Geoff Tate, taking hold of notes and flying round the room with them, without a doubt one of the finest vocalists the UK has to offer.

Along with eleven new compositions, there’s one cover version, namely Def Leppard’s ‘10x Bigger Than Love’. The version here doesn’t add much to the original to be honest, but the original is one of Leppard’s best of the ‘Slang’ period so it’s a pleasure to listen to. Whereas the Vega tracks have a natural smoothness to them, the Leppard track is more crunchy and bouncy and it feels odd that a ‘guest’ track should be one of the most memorable on the album. Hmmm…

Elsewhere we get ten new solid rockers and a ballad to close the album with. To be honest, every one of the faster tracks is spot on, and will delight existing fans. ‘All or Nothing’, ‘Ballad Of The Broken Hearted’  and ‘Gonna Need Some Love Tonight’ are all HUGE in the chorus area and immediately hook the listener. The rest are not far off, making ‘Stereo Messiah’ yet another highly accessible Vega album that will get in your brain after the first listen. My only criticism is the final track ‘Tears Never Dry’, as it, for me’ is a rather limp (if lyrically moving) ballad. It would work better with a little beefing up, I feel, but for now it might just fall off of my iTunes list.

If you like Vega you’ll be anticipating the release of ‘Stereo Messiah’ with good reason. It stands up against the previous two releases with ease, and should end up on many a top ten list at the end of the year. This is solid British melodic rock with balls bigger than King Kong, so if you haven’t been introduced to Vega yet this is a good time to remedy that. 


Label: Waterfront Records
Review By: Alan Holloway

When writing a press release, it’s important to bung in the name of a few massive bands in the hope that the reviewer will be lazy enough to agree with you. It does help, however, if your band could reasonably be compared with the bands you use, whereas the trio of Black Sabbath, Def Leppard and AC/DC on Mattersphere’s press release are as out of place as Chris Rock at a KKK meeting.

Australian newcomers Mattersphere are certainly a band in the classic rock vein, but unfortunately don’t cut the mustard musically. Creatively, ‘Mattershpere’ is a black hole of uninspired riffs, token guitar solos and as much musical flair as a broken metronome.

So what’s wrong here? For starters the production is overly biased towards the vocals, and this doesn’t help when the vocals are not very good to start with. Vocalist and songwriter (handy to have just one person to blame) Eddie Deakin can stay in tune okay, and doesn’t shout or grunt, but his voice lacks any empathy or passion (I’m sure he has it, I just can’t hear it). The songs themselves could have come from any pub rock band you’ve seen in the last thirty years, with the only saving grace some good, if functional, guitar solos.

Whilst Mattersphere are fully competent at playing their instruments, the songs and vocals mean they are unlikely to garner much positive attention outside of their immediate social circle. The best thing about the album is the cover, so avoid.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Rating: RR

Label: Nightmare Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Don’t know why, but I was expecting something quite different. Modern metal or proggy art rock or something, because of the band name and the artwork probably… instead Six Minute Century gives us an album that sounds like it could have been released in 1987. By a band that’s not quite sure about their direction, so they’ve thrown all their influences into the mix. That means that they play somewhat progressive, at times thrashy, melodic power metal.

Vocalist Chuck Williams steals the show more than often, but not necessarily in a good way. His vocals are definitely an acquired taste, slightly reminding me of Lizzy Borden but way more piercing. I guess it’s down to the songs too - if he had more interesting melodies to sing, I could probably tolerate them better. I do like Lizzy Borden…

Somewhere along the line we’ll get an instrumental track with the bass player Michael Millsap being the main soloist. Not the most usual choice, and probably because of that ”Czardas” is one of the better tracks of the album. I thought I heard some familiar melodies of some Finnish folk songs in it, but I might be wrong…  anyway, a little bit later,  in the track number 11, ”Hell’s Gate”, the Bass Solo makes a comeback.

”Wasting Time” is an ambitious album, there’s plenty of tempo changes, furious playing and high-pitched singing. Unfortunately the songs don’t have much in the way of hooks or anything else for me to hang onto. Recommended for those who like their eighties’ styled metal kind of complex and anti-commercial. And bass enthusiasts.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

FLYLEAF: "Between The Stars"

Rating: RRRR
Label: earMusic/Loud&Proud 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

I'm a sucker for simplicity. Then again. The same goes for complexity. So what's my point? I guess... great music is great music no matter genre or style. Yeah. Let's move on. Flyleaf are at the same tricky situation as when Nightwish replaced Tarja T. and thus the old saying of 'you can't please them all', etc. Simply wave goodbye to singer Lacey Sturm and the alternative/metal sound of the past (including the deranged cookie monster in the background) and say hello to Kristen May (ex. Vedera) and their new Power-Pop sound.

I like this a lot actually. Very poppy, sunny, funny, catchy. The hooks and keys are literally flying across the album as it seems to be tailor made for their new vocalist aka Vibrato May. The completely new band, you say? Sort of. Possibly also the most anticipated CCM album of the year and the real surprise in my opinion. First single, "Set Me On Fire", the heaviest track off the album and it's still softer than a kitten. Power-Pop heaven starts with track two, "Magnetic", vibrato May at her best and it's all about the hook. It def seems like they're ready for a new and challenging direction

"Platonic" sounds like an improved version of The Cardigans and the mix of indie rock/pop. "Head Underwater" is just fun and uplifting stuff (very poppy). "Sober Serenade", one of those lift your hands towards the sky anthems and power-pop to the extreme. The pure 80's styled tracks of "City Kids" (which actually sounds like Stevie Nicks doing the Flyleaf cover) and "Blue Roses" (Belinda Carlisle doing circles in the sand) are just catchy and radio-friendly to the extreme. Not to mention the super fun, "Home", that in all honestly could have been the work of anyone from Taylor Swift to Miley C. "Avalanche", excellent power-pop and Kristen does the Stevie Nicks and Belinda Carlisle-light thingy (vibrato) with her voice again (yeah, baby!). "Ship of Fools", great alternative power-pop.

Also included on the Euro release is the demo (Tied To The Broken), an live version of "City Kids" and the two bonus tracks of "The Haunted" and "The Wedding". A total of 18 tracks and merely just a couple of fillers. Power-Pop supreme, baby! They are definitely turning over a new leaf and I like it.

The SIXXIS: "Hollow Shrine"

Rating: RRR
Label: Glassville/Border 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The SixxiS from Atlanta, U.S. of A are a bunch of highly talented and entertaining musicians, blending heavy, alternative, and Prog Rock on their debut album, "Hollow Shrine". Consisting of Vladdy Iskhakov (vocals/violin), guitarist Cameron Allen (winner of the Bend-Note Guitar Competition in Paris), Mark Golden (bass, synth), JBake (drums) and Paul Sorah (guitar), they are all experienced musicians having performed with artists such as Mariah Carey, Ledisi, Divinity Roxx, Ashton Jones, Jennifer Holiday, Angie Stone. etc

The project was started on June 6th, 2006 (06/06/06). When one of the guys noticed this, the band decided to take advantage of this coincidence and be creative with the name. What about the music? Well. "Hollow Shrine" is a complex and intriguing creature. When it all fits together, this album is a entertaining piece of craftsmanship, blending Prog, the heaviness of Tool, and the hint of the Eastern European. Vocalist Iskhakov is in fact from the former Soviet Union (there's however no need to worry about any accent in case you were worried), and growing up with Easter European music had a huge effect on his songwriting.

I wouldn't file this under "Prog" though since it's really more about emotion and power but not to the point to where it would get overbearing. Also, a sound that had an inner intensity and simply just heaviness and at times even sadness about it. "Dreamers" which opens the album mixes some intense riffs with sections that are clearly out there and different from your ordinary metal album. System of a Down did something similar in the past, but it's definitely their own sound and not some riff-off or copy act. "Waste Of Time" takes you on a journey through East and all the twist and turns of Mother Russia. The instrumental "Coke Can Steve" is impressive work and more like Jethro Tull on super-steroids. I'm especially fond of the quirky rock of "Opportune Time" and "Out Alive". Very melodic and at the same time smack on heavy.

Final verdict: Interesting and ambitious work and The SixxiS are definitely on to something greater here.

FREAKINGS: "Gladiator"

Rating: RRR
Label: Indie/Thrash 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Mosh! Mosh! Mosh! Argh!!! I love the smell of old skool Thrash/Speed in the morning me. It's so FreaKings good to get up early out of bed and headbang along to the vicious melodies found on "Gladiator". Thankfully there are still acts out there such as this utter mad power-trio from Switzerland. They still believe in Thrash Metal. In fact, they named a song after the genre (track seven) and the chorus simply goes and I quote, "This Is Thrash Metal - Thrash Metal Attack". What more can you ask for really?

"Life is hard, blunt and merciless. Sometimes unjust and not fair. Nobody said it would be easy. But do not give in, do not give up". The lyrics to "The Life" speaks of the struggle and obstacles in your way, but there's help to be found, a well-chosen statement since there's a christian bibel and CCM connection to the three of FreaKings. Never overbearing or too much as they keep things simple and very much metal.

Bible quotes and the odd vision were always fodder for the mad Thrash scene after all? Listening to vocalist/guitarist Joe conjure up his finest Kreator, Tourniquet, Slayer, Deliverance, and S.O.D. style and shouts, alone worthy of your attention. The above bunch were all wicked bands so anything bearing their influence is well worth a gander. It's strictly old school Thrash and there's absolutely no need to worry about any modern growls or stuff. Just to clear up any possible confusion (surely not?). This is well worth a look and listen (at the link below) if you're into above mentioned acts and the late 80's/early 90's sound and genre. Neat!

Monday, September 29, 2014


Rating: EP
Label: Indie/Lillye 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Lillye from down under (that's Sydney/Australia) are just about to alert their local government since there's a wild banshee on the loose. Seriously. The absolutely wicked vocal performance by Virginia Lillye is merely comparable to the Irish battle goddess of, the Morrígan. Soaring killer vocals as she switch from fragile to aggressive in a mere split second. Truly a wild spirit and a messenger from the underworld.

Power and emotion are the key ingredients on their 5-track EP. They have that hard edge rock style 'ala Skew Siskin meets Paramore meets Saraya, and I noticed that Virginia spent some time in years in Germany performing in stage productions and bands, before returning to Oz. It's crunchy, guitar fulled angst where the distinctive, almost bewildered voice stand alone between you and certain death. Indeed. In legend, the banshee is a fairy woman who begins to wail if someone is about to die.

I especially enjoy the tracks, "Under" and "Mistakes", proper belter performances by Virginia and it's very much Saraya on steroids. She combines the rough with the smooth and I believe it's merely a question of finding out if the band are supposed to target the melodic or the cross-over fans? Don't get me wrong though. Personally I enjoy the slightly twisted stuff such as "Who I'm Meant To Be" and "Tttalk" (really should be titled 'Wake Up'?). Here's that voice that Frontiers should employ for their next female fronted project. Recommended.

MR BIG: "The Stories We Could Tell"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

I'm the massive fan of the vocals by Eric Martin. One of those fine singers that send shivers down the spine with excellent performances on every single album that he's ever recorded. Dude's got Soul as well as the Blues running through his veins and it's always a pleasure to hear him sing. Mr Big on the other hand has always been the hit(s) and miss(es) kind of band in my opinion.

Why, you say? Well. The soft and slow/mid-tempo songs are always so-o-o much better than the rockers and it's sometimes like if they're not even trying to come up with as great uptempo tunes? It's weird since they have the superb guitarist in Paul Gilbert, amazing bass-player in Billy Sheehan, kick-azz drummer (Pat Torpey) and it's not like I'm against groove or simply grooving along to melodies. It's just that I expect better uptempo songs from these guys than for example, "Satisfied", "The Monster In Me", "What If We Were New" or "The Light Of Day". They are boring, standard blues compositions that are going no-where really (if you want killer 70's uptempo groove from Frontiers this year - try California Breed).

Opener "Gotta Love The Ride" is a fun uptempo tune and "I Forget To Breathe" is the great old school blues with a special nod to the late sixties/early seventies and the hint of Hendrix. "It's Always About That Girl", excellent big rock too. However, it's (as always) the softies, "Fragile", "The Man Who Has Everything", "East/West", and the simply amazing "Just Let Your Heart Decide" that saves this from being the complete bore. And no, I don't want them to become Michael Bolton or something. I just wish the uptempo tracks would match the quality of the softies.

ELECTRIC EARTH: "Leaving For Freedom"

Rating: RRR
Label: Tyss Music 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Swedish Groove rockers Electric Earth are "Leaving For Freedom" on their latest release. They (still) tread the fine-line between seventies rock and the more post-grunge sound. It's basically all about the finding the ultimate "groove" while keeping it heavy and dare I say alternative? Well. They come across as the cross-over act with potential to attract fans in both camps.

At first impression it would be darn easy to simply file them under Stoner Rock, but there's more to their compositions than just your average stoner material. Perhaps not too original. They are however a spiteful mix of Ozzy Osbourne in The 2000's, Soundgarden, Seattle/grunge, and fellow Swedes of Mustache, venting all their collective agony against everything and everyone. It's fuzzy guitar work and solos, hard working, tight rhythm section, and grungy/bluesy vocals by Peter Gottlieb.

It's their 4th album release and the Swedes are gaining themselves quite a reputation as the solid and fun live act. Perhaps a couple of too familiar moments during the ten original tracks offered here? Nonetheless. Electric Earth has penned a solid collection of tunes, some of them might even remind you of Soundgarden at their most commercial period. "Bad Motor Alive" is certainly better than any other Bad Motor song out there and the guys show a soft spot for melody. I do however miss that extra, top notch, special song and moment(s). Final verdict: Solid groove.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ANGELS OR KINGS: ”Kings Of Nowhere”

Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

AOK. That’s a name I remember from the pages of Kerrang!, the UK rock magazine I studied religiously during my teenage years. I always thought that it was a bit stupid name for a band, but what was written about them raised my curiosity. If I remember correctly, they were hailed as one of the great white hopes of British AOR, a band that surely would be signed sooner rather than later. Well, the band did get the elusive recording contract, but only later. Much later. 25 years later!

Yep, the AOK band name has been changed to a much cooler sounding Angels Or Kings, a new superb vocalist Baz Jackson has been recruited and the band has finally recorded their first album. Not only that, they recently won themselves one of the best gigs any AOR band could ask for - the opening slot of the last ever Firefest! Not too bad.

If a band is chosen to open Firefest by the most dedicated AOR fans on the planet, it’s simply not possible that the band in question would suck. The Firefest fans know their AOR, and let me tell you, Angels Or Kings can proudly stand alongside the bigger names in the bill. They are that good.

”Kings Of Nowhere” sounds just like it could be a forgotten AOR jewel from 1989, with absolutely no ”modern” sounds, loops or whatnot. And I’m talking about a real forgotten jewel, not some polished demos… no, this album sounds like it could have been produced by Neil Kernon during his most profilic ”AOR producer” years. Lush harmonies, swirling keyboards and everything else you could ask for. What’s more, the band has the songs to match the production. There’s the FM’esque duo of ”Any Other Girl” and ”Same Star”, Shy-meets-Valentine-like ”A Harder Place”, ”Someone To Save Me” which reminds me a bit of Alias with a British edge… my favorite of them all is probably ”If Her Tears Would Talk” with its’ fantastic keyboard riff and superb chorus. I could go on, but maybe it’s enough to say that you won’t find a really weak song among the 12 tracks. If there’s something missing on this album, I’d say that the band hasn’t written a truly great ballad yet. The two slower songs here, ”Real Life” and ”A Night Like This” aren’t too bad but to be honest, they’re the ones I’m most likely to skip.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SOUND OF ETERNITY: ”Visions And Dreams”

Rating: RRR

Label: MelodicRockRecords 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

So does MelodicRockRecords have an office in Spain? The label seems to sign all Spanish AOR bands these days! Sound Of Eternity is one of the latest signings, a female-fronted rock band with a strong Christian message.

Unlike most female-fronted AOR bands, Sound Of Eternity doesn’t sound much like eighties’ Heart or Robin Beck. They’ve got a decidedly modern sound which reminds me more of the likes of Within Temptation or Fireflight, only less symphonic. Although they occasionally wander into rather ethereal world, most tracks do feature edgy and powerful guitar work. I assume that the powerful edge has something to do with the fact that one Erik Mårtensson mixed and mastered the album.

It seems that half of the songs on the album are rather hard rockin’ AOR tracks, while the other half tends to float into that aforementioned ethereal world. Beatriz Aranda sings like an angel, while the accompanying music carries an ambient aura, allowing the listener to float too… while the lighter material is suitable for certain moods, I do prefer the harder-edged songs. Highlights include ”Call To Action”, ”My Saviour” and ”Broken Heart”, even though it must be said that the first of them has a chorus that does sound an awful lot like Treat’s ”Paper Tiger”.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

DARKYRA BLACK: ”Dragon Tears”

Rating: R
Label: Unsigned/Self Released 2014
Review by Rich ”The Meister” Dillon

Sometimes around the Rock United round table there are new releases up for the review choice from any of our writers.  And sometimes a few of those releases sink to the bottom of the barrel as they are not striking on a first listen and no one reviews them.  Unfortunately that’s the case with Darkyra Black’s Dragon Tears.  The album that was released back in February is a ”Gothic interpretation of a geisha like tale that ends in tragedy, love, loss, lust, betrayal and revenge”.  Darkyra herself is Australian born and recruited the session musicians for the record with the assistance of the company Online Recording Masters based in Athens, Greece.

This is a lengthy recording with ten of the twelve compositions being well over five minutes runtime, many higher than six and one near ten minutes.  The description of ”cinematic metal, gothic metal, art metal and symphonic metal” on Darkyra’s website and Facebook page had me cringing before I even spun the CD.  The opening track ”Madoka’s Lament” has a moody and dark brooding feeling to it created by the sombre piano notes.  I less than enjoyed the track finding it heavily operatic and basically painful to listen to.  The pleasantly titled ”Lullaby of Death” was no different.  I was able to make it through ”Eyes Wide Shut” but had to abort listening during ”Japanese Frankenstein”.  I mean no disrespect to the musicians and songwriters here; I just really, really don’t enjoy this type of metal.

Bottom line:  I love Darkyra Black’s voice, but not the musical arrangements nor operatic style.  I would love to hear her sing some good straight ahead metal or hard rock, but that would probably make her cringe.

SKYSCRAPER: ”Elevation”

Rating: RRR
Label: Ghost Dancer Music/Cargo Records 2014
Review by Rich ”The Meister” Dillon

New band on the scene Skyscraper contains some names that you've undoubtedly heard before.  Helmed by Martin Kronlund (Dogface/Joe Lynn Turner/Lover Under Cover) the melodic rockers consist of vocalist Lee Small (Shy), bassist Dave Boyce (Airrace/Quireboys), guitarist Tor Talle (Joe Lynn Turner/Fergie Frederiksen/Rob Moratti) and drummer Imre Daun.  There has been quite a bit of buzz surrounding this upcoming release and after a listen to the CD I found that the comparison to Bad English to be quite accurate.

”Sail Away” leads the pack of fourteen tracks with an upbeat tempo and tons of vocal harmonies a melodic chorus and some delicious guitar work.  The lead single/video for ”Monday Morning” can be seen now via YouTube and is another in the vein of the opener, a great representation of the whole album.  In the first of two songs breaching the five minute mark ”Fay Wray” is a masterpiece of interwoven harmonies.  The rest of the album follows suit displaying some excellent AOR style music with the haunting vocals of Lee Small.  Aside from what Iíve already mentioned some other high points include the 80ís flavoured ”Walk Through Fire”, the Bad English/Alias sounding ”Playing With Fire” and ”Sweet Little Sister” where the guitars are a little more forward during the chorus.  The low points to me are the sappy ballad and longest running track ”Everybody Cries Sometimes” and the slower paces of ”Through the Eyes of Liberty” and ”Runaway Hearts” (which also appears acoustically as the final entry) mostly because I generally prefer a harder edge to my rock/metal.

Overall a solid melodic rock effort and worth the price of admission for fans of that genre.

JAMES LABRIE: ”I Will Not Break”

Rating: R
Label: Digital EP 2014
Review by Rich ”The Meister” Dillon

Canadian born vocalist James LaBrie is best known as the long time voice of American progressive metal band Dream Theater.  La Brie auditioned and was chosen over 200 other hopefuls for the spot fronting Dream Theater appearing on their second album Images and Words and has remained in the band ever since.  Aside from other projects outside of Dream Theater LaBrie has issued five solo albums, the sixth being the EP I Will Not Break which dropped earlier in the year.

”I Will Not Break” first appeared on his 2013 full length Impermanent Resonance and after muffled fading vocal intro explodes with a ferocious thrash riff and of course LaBrie's operatic vocal prowess.  The next two, ”Unraveling” and ”Why” both originally surfaced on the European digipak edition of the aforementioned 2013 release.  The final track of 2010ís Static Impulse, ”Coming Home” gets an alternate mix, but not being familiar with the original canít say whatís different or better, I just know I donít like this.  ”Jekyll or Hyde” and ”Just Watch Me” are demo versions of songs that also appeared on Static Impulse.  The final three inclusions are again retreads from the 2010 album with ”I Tried”, ”Over the Edge” and ”Euphoric”.  This time however they are electronica remixes, something that should never be done IMO.

Bottom line: there's nothing new here and this is not a release for any other than the rabid LaBrie/Dream Theater fan.

Monday, September 22, 2014

WORK OF ART: "Framework"

Rating: RRRR+
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Work-o-fart? Absolutely not. 'Framework' will clearly not go by like a you-know-what in the wind. Definitely worthy of the Work Of Art moniker and concept as it's strictly uplifting and fun melodies of the eighties. Stronger, better, catchier - would be a prefect description of their latest effort as the Swedes have found their own groove and sound here. I know it's popular to mention Westcoast and Toto while talking about WOA. However, there's sooo much more to "Framework" than first meets the eye/ear. It's basically just the lovely mix of AOR, Power-Pop, Hi-tech, and the hint of Toto and Chicago. If anything, WOA follow in the great long line of Swedish traditional Pop/Rock music and strong melodies. Well. At least in my humble opinion.

I guess I just have to mention cult Power-Pop acts from Sweden such as Big Money and Fingerprints. They both had a knack for coming up with the goods and really catchy material. "Framework" works on the similar basic level and audience only featuring more of the pure AOR sound of course. It's layers and layers of the massive and huge 80's production and sound. Glossy keyboards and guitars. It's one impressive hook after the other and they have steadily built a reputation as one of the most interesting and fun acts on the Frontiers label and roster.

There's plenty of AOR and soft-rock explorations on this record and I absolutely love their more progressive side of "Shout Till You Wake Up" and "The Machine". WOA has always had an immediately impact and point to their compositions though and the opening tracks of "Time To Let Go" and "How Will I Know" are no exceptions. Uptempo, fun, tailor made for the AOR dance-floor. Check out the nearly danceable guitar work by Robert Säll. The hi-tech westcoast rock of "Hold On To Love", probably the best song Chicago and Toto never recorded in the late eighties. Lars Säfsund does his best 'Peter Cetera meets Joe Williams' impression and it's just perfect melodic bliss. "Natalie", one of those great moments in the grand AOR/Westcoast tradition of songs named after a woman. The boppy-poppy, "The Turning Point", magical soft-rock, and "My Waking Dream", the moody ballad suited for Tracks (classic radio show in Sweden).

 Two words to sum it all up: Catchy Fookin' Hooks. Well. That's three... but, who's counting? Highly recommended.

STRYPER: "Live At The Whisky" (DVD/CD)

Rating: Live
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The yellow and black attack is back. Stryper - rocking since 1984 and still a force to be reckon with. Performing at their home turf, the famous 'Whisky A Go Go' on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The same place and dressing room where they first met Kevin Dubrow (Quiet Riot) as he kicked the door open and told them to stop using so much hair-spray. Poor Kev must have been jealous of all that hair (R.I.P.). I guess they were using too much hair-spray anyhow.

Recorded live in October 2013 during the "No More Hell To Pay" tour and album, which featured all the original band members for the first time since Against The Law. Indeed. Watch all the serious riffing courtesy of Oz Fox, the thumping bass of Tim Gaines, and the visual timekeeping of Robert Sweet (drums). The latter, no longer sideways as he's facing the audience like the rest of them. The trademark harmonies and soaring voice of Michael Sweet, still flying across the room and set (just like an eagle) and may not have lost that much in quality and strength in the last/past 30 years. But let's face it. Some of the Alvin & the chipmunks like harmonies (Calling On You, Free, etc.) are difficult to recreate and handle live on stage. Nicely done though.

Starting up the concert with the massive-riff and head-banging of "Legacy". The yellow and black are coming across more like Barren Cross than Stryper actually. They are definitely "Marching Into Battle" with a blunt axe and a thrashing melody. "You Know What To Do" certainly gets the crowd and melodies going. I'm surprised to see exactly how much of the lead guitars are down to Michael as I always thought that Oz did most of them? The sound is "Loud N Clear" even if the drums and bass could need the extra fat and beef. The stage banter goes through the routine of 'how many of you has/hasn't seen us before live' and M.Sweet's comment and reply of 'Why, man?' 'You just figured. I'll wait 30 years and catch them when they're old'. Well. Here's your chance to catch them when they're old on DVD. They are still tossing out bibles into the audience (see Robert prance around like a tosser) and they are still providing a jolly good time. What ever happened to all the ballads of the past? Not a single one of them (Honestly, Lady, etc.) and at least one of them were one of the most requested songs on MTV when you could still give them a call/ring.

Bonus material DVD: The videos of "No More Hell To Pay" and "Sympathy". Plus the short interview (Nashville All Access) when they (Michael actually, the rest are just standing there) speak about their latest album. 'It feels like we're at our peak'. All the tears, blood, sweat, and prayers that went into the effort of recording. Their fans. 'We have some of the best, if not the best fans in the world. They're so die-hard and they've been there since day one'. I also noticed that Frontiers has managed to screw-up the track list order (simply replace 'The Rock That Makes Me Roll' from #9 to #12). It's otherwise the nice experience of the no-longer-quite-as-much yellow and black and it's 16 tracks of christian hair-metal at its peak. And remember, "when things are going wrong you know who to blame"... sigh.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

YES: "35th Anniversary Concert Songs From Tsongas Special Edition"

Rating: Live
Label: Eagle Records 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The "Songs From Tsongas – The 35th Anniversary Concert – Special Edition", contains an extra 70 minutes of Yes from their performance in Lugano, Switzerland in 2004. YES played the outdoor festival with a stripped down stage set and full on rock versions of the acoustic tracks from Tsongas (Massachusetts). Indeed. The unplugged section done in a similar style as their acoustic DVD, clearly the worst part with Tsongas in my humble opinion.

I'm not keen on watching some of my favorite YES songs as the mellow bonfire gathering (Zzz!). For instance, "The Meeting", Wakeman and Anderson hanging and waiting around on stage for the others to come up one by one as they continue with not-so-fun acoustic versions of "Long Distance Runaround", "Roundabout" and "Owner of A Lonely Heart". etc. Now you can skip them and instead watch the Lugano show. Excellent. I only wish they could have performed "Wonderous Stories", "Time Is Time", and "Show Me" in their original versions too. But sadly no such luck in Lugano.

The 35th Anniversary Tour in 2004, was in fact the last (?) tour by the band to feature the classic line-up of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White. The Tsongas concert shows a massive stage, designed by their long-time art-work and cover man, Roger "Art Machine" Dean. They walk out to the playback of "Firebird Suite" and kick-off the show with "Going For the One" and Steve Howe's lap guitar. The geezers are strictly professionals and there are not many of the long and at times boring solos in the set. Yet they all get a turn in the spotlight. The impressive original vocalist may not be able to reach those really high notes and pitch of the past. However, it comes with aging and every vocalist experiences it. Squire does beautiful bass work and lines on "Turn of the Century" and Howe plays the breathtaking solo in "Yours Is No Disgrace". Wakeman is perhaps not as animated as in the past?

The only real downer with the original release? Hardly the wink nor smile, or even the nod of appreciating from your fellow band member. Strictly business and Wakeman and Anderson left the band after the tour. The BluRay, highly visual quality and the simply flawless production. The total running time of 252 mins. - the perfect work-out and YES marathon. Highly Recommended.