Friday, August 21, 2015

ROYAL HUNT: ”XIII - Devil’s Dozen”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Royal Hunt have been on a winning streak since DC Cooper re-joined the band. After first couple of spins it seemed that ”XIII - Devil’s Dozen” would mark the end of it, but now that I’ve played this more, I’ll have to say that they’re still winning.

This third album since the reunion might not be quite as good as the previous two, but there’s not a lot to complain about either. Okay, there aren’t any super-catchy ”hits” here, but the quality of the songwriting still remains on a high level. Lots of melodies, lots of drama and lots of orchestration. I have a feeling that this album will take a few more spins for me to truly appreciate it.

The album sound BIG, the orchestration is impressive as are the choirs. DC Cooper is still on fire, he’s truly one of the most versatile vocalists out there. At times his vocal acrobatics border on being too quirky, almost in Serj Tankian fashion!

Favourite songs of mine include ”May You Never (Walk Alone)”, the gigantic ballad ”Until The Day” and ”Way Too Late”. I have to mention ”How Do You Know” too - a Royal Hunt song that’s only 3 minutes and 16 seconds long? It’s a rather fun, simple and bouncy number anyway…

Sunday, August 16, 2015

BAXNUG: ”Ergonomic Rock”

Label: Baxnug 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

No. No. No. I have just spent several valuable minutes trying to listen to ”Ergonomic Rock” by Baxnug. I won’t waste too many minutes on this review.

I tell you this: according to the bio ”Baxnug is the musician that invented the kangaroo’s tail for human beings”. Go to the website for more info. ”The band founded a new musical genre, called ergonomic rock, where all songs were composed leaning on the tail, saving all the energy to create the purest rock worldwide”. I see.

”Ergonomic rock has the following characteristics…To give well-being to those that listen to it”… well, I don’t feel nearly as good as I did before listening to this album. It’s a chaotic collection of mostly whispered vocals, some grunts, recycled metal riffs and disturbing drumming.

To make my life more ergonomic, I will now delete these files from my computer.


Rating: RRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Dennis Churchill Dries was the vocalist in White Sister and Tattoo Rodeo, two bands that still have a strong cult following. White Sister played pomp-AOR while Tattoo Rodeo was basically the same band but with a more bluesy hard rock sound.

Dennis hasn’t been active in the music business for a while, apart from two Firefest appearances with White Sister. A couple of years ago we heard that he was forming a new band with Paul Sabu, ”Lost Angeles” I think it was called. He withdrew from it later, but the collaboration with Sabu has continued and Sabu is very involved in this album.

The glory days of Mr. Churchill Dries may have been three decades ago, but his voice is still in incredible shape. Fans of his vocals won’t be disappointed in his performance. Musically this album is somewhere between his former bands. It doesn’t have the bluesy/southern vibe as much as the Tattoo Rodeo albums but it isn’t as pompous, polished or catchy as White Sister either.

There’s a saying that someone could ”sing the phonebook and make it sound good”. I’ve never really understood that - for me it’s always the song that comes first. Yes, a great vocalist can elevate a song to the next level but even my favorite singers have songs that I don’t care for. Now I’m not saying that the songs on ”I” are bad, they’re all rather likable and DCD’s vocals definitely help. But to be perfectly honest, none of them really stand out. Closest things to ”greatness” are some of the ballads, which really showcase DCD’s fine vocals and heartfelt lyrics - take ”So Good To See You” and ”Pictures” for example. Close, but not close enough.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

JETTBLACK: ”Disguises”

Rating: RR

Label: Cherry Red 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

I liked the previous Jettblack album quite a lot, but ”Disguises” leaves a lot to be desired. It sounds like Jettblack has left the party and gotten upset about something - or everything. The tongue-in-cheek attitude of ”Raining Rock” is gone -  ”Enemy”, ”Slaves”, ”Kick In The Teeth”, ”Broken Bones” - yeah I got it, these are not party metal anthems. Unfortunately, along with the more light-hearted subjects the band has also lost its melodies.

The band’s ”Tesla meets Metallica” sound on this album could work if the songs were better, but these songs are frankly a bit boring. A shame.

CARE OF NIGHT: ”Connected”

Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Here’s one that almost got away… released early this year, ”Connected” found its’ way to the ”to be reviewed” folder but for some reason didn’t get the attention it deserved. Until now, that is.

Care Of Night are from Sweden, and 3 of the 5 the band members used to play much heavier music in Seven Tears. When the Tears stopped falling back in 2009, Kristofer von Wachenfeldt (keyboards), Jonathan Carlemar (guitars) and Fredrik Lager (bass) wanted to play something smoother and more melodic, thus Care Of Night was born.

A demo produced by the Wigelius brothers (from the band Wigelius) got them a lot of attention in 2013, and led to them being signed to AOR Heaven. With a line-up completed by vocalist Calle Schönberg and drummer Linus Svensson, the band hooked up with the Wigelius bros. again, and started working on this album in 2014.

Care Of Night represent the smoother side of contemporary Swedish AOR, and their closest ”relative” is probably Work Of Art. Add a touch of Alien and Bad Habit to the mix and you’ve got a pretty good idea of their sound. Very polished, lots of immaculate backing vocals and swirling keyboards topped with Schönberg’s superb vocals.

It has taken me quite a few spins to really get into this album. The opening track ”Cassandra” was an instant hit, but the others sounded merely ”nice” at first. I was beginning to wonder whether they were actually too nice and polished, but in the end I couldn’t really resist the likes of ”Heart Belongs”, ”Contact” and ”Give Me Strength”. The two slower tracks were the ones that couldn’t really work their magic through my defenses - ”Dividing Lines” tried hard with its Chicago-like smoothness while the first 4 minutes of ”Say You Will” went for a ”More Than Words”-type of an approach, followed by 3 minutes of full-blown mid-tempo AOR assault. Too bad the song itself didn’t have an interesting enough hook.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

ART NATION: ”Revolution”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Aor Heaven 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A couple of years ago a new Swedish AOR band Diamond Dawn released their rather good debut album ”Overdrive”. The band could have been called Diamond Dusk just as well, as their story ended later that year. Two new bands were born out of this ”separation”, and Art Nation is the one that features the former Diamond Dawn lead vocalist Alexander Strandell. The other band is called Streamline and they are also working on new material.

If you liked Diamond Dawn, you’ll probably like Art Nation too. There hasn’t been a drastic change in the music style even though some of the songwriters may have changed. Art Nation still play melodic, hook-driven rock with big keys, guitars and vocals and they do it well. ”Revolution” might not actually offer anything revolutionary to the melodic rock genre, but I think it’s better than ”Overdrive” and most probably one of the best Scandi-AOR albums you’ll hear this year. Yes, at times the band does sound a lot like H.E.A.T., but I could think of much worse musical crimes they could have committed.

The positively enormous opener ”Need You To Understand” sets the pace for the rest of the album. Guitarists Christoffer Borg and Johan Gustavsson throw in some wicked shredding and Strandell adds some spectacular vocal acrobatics to the song, which itself boasts one of the biggest choruses I’ve heard lately. Other highlights include ”3000 Beats”, ”Down Wait For Salvation”, ”Here I Am”, ”All In”… plenty of good stuff. Okay, the bluesy ”Wage War Against The World” sounds like it could’ve been taken from the latest couple of Europe albums and doesn’t really appeal to me, and I haven’t warmed up to the ballad ”Look To The Sky” or the Hammond-driven rocker ”I Want Out”, but the remaining tracks are all top-notch. Except for the intro of ”Start A Fire”, which sounds like a computer alert or an ancient phone ringtone!

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Rating: RRR(R)

Label: TDMH 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Paul Stead and Mark Stephenson were the core of SACRED HEART, who put out a few of self-financed albums few years ago. The band’s sound was very much in the Firehouse/Warrant vein, although without the polished major label production. Eventually the band called it quits, but now Paul and Mark are giving it another go with The Darker My Horizon.

With TDMH, the guys have updated the style and the sound to something a bit heavier and more contemporary. Paul Stead names Chad Kroeger of  Nickelback as one of his main influences and you can easily hear that, many of the songs have a strong Nickelback vibe. Thankfully Stead & Co have been more influenced by the melodic side of theirs instead of the dumb beer-driven ”dude rock”. And yeah, the ”old” influences are still lurking in the background, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

With 15 songs, ”Acquiesce” might be a bit too long an album for its own good, but it’s still the best bunch of songs the guys have come up with so far. Let’s put it this way - one can put together a solid 10 or 12 track ”four R” album out of the songs. Hence the rating.

Compared to the Sacred Heart material there’s more variety in these songs, apart from the Nickelback’ish songs there’s semi-acoustic melodic rock á la Firehouse (”Summer Time”), late eighties’ type of a power ballad (”I Can’t Save You”) and a delicate piano ballad ”In The Dark”. The weirdest song of the album is the closing track ”Rest In Peace” which fuses EDM elements with rock. It could’ve been a successful combination if the song itself had had a lot more meat around its bones, now it sounds more like an outro.

The production is pretty good, although some of the keyboard parts have been criminally buried under the crunch of the guitars.

Monday, July 27, 2015

TRUCKER DIABLO – ‘Rise Above The Noise’

Rating: RRRR

Label: Off Yer Rocka Recordings

Review By: Alan Holloway

After seeing them live a couple of years ago, I sort of forgot about Belfast boys Trucker Diablo, just remembering that they had been a great live band. Apparently they went on indefinite hiatus last year, but the force of rock is too strong in these ones and they’re back with a surprisingly mature yet still balls out third album that deserves a wider recognition than it will probably get.

At their core, Trucker Diablo make kick ass heavy rock, often similar in style to the stuff Nickelback used to do so well before they go so shite. To dismiss TD as Nickelback-lite would be doing them a great disservice, however, as they are so much more than that. ‘Rise Above The Noise’ features several big, catchy rock tunes, my personal favourite being ‘Girl In The Photograph’ which is an unashamed tribute to Thin Lizzy, with a wonderful twin guitar melody and fantastic chorus. ‘We Stand Strong’ is a chest beating romp that brings The Poodles to mind but is better, whilst ‘Party Like They Started The End Of The World’ does just what it says on the tin.

Elsewhere, we see the other side of Trucker Diablo, most notably in ‘Where Angels Fly’, a soulful ballad that would bring a tear to a Lemmy’s eye, and ‘Take Me To The River’, which again slows the pace but adds a Southern Delta blues edge as well as a satisfying crunch. The thing about Trucker Diablo is that the very last place you would expect them to come from is Ireland, their sound is so worldly. The band are tight, vocalist Tom Harte has a powerful and emotional voice, and in all honesty there’s not a duff song here. They’ve moved on from being a party hearty band into something more structured, and it’s a successful move. ‘Rise Above The Noise’ is a very accessible album that shows a band who have matured but are still very capable of rocking till they drop. Highly recommended. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mark STANWAY: "Close To The Mark" (book)

Mark Stanway 2015
Review by The Bailey Bros

Having known Mark Stanway personally for many decades and hung together at his home I can say with all honesty this book is a true account of the musician and family man we all know and love. It makes a change to actually read a book that’s been put together by the artiste without the gloss and constant reference points and attention to detail a ghost writer would insist on. It’s just like sitting at the pub and Mark reeling off yet another funny story, they all equate to a very amusing and entertaining read. 

The legendry story of Phil Mogg (Lead vocalist in UK band UFO) gets yet another confirmed eye witness account that he did fall off stage drunk and break his leg but with some extra bits added on which are hilarious. Whilst he’s reminiscing he’s also revealing the huge list of stars he’s played with such as Robert Plant, Phil Lynott, 3M with the original Whitesnake players Murray, Marsden and Moody, also Alvin Stardust etc. He will however be best known for his time in Magnum, a great British rock band still going strong today. 

The book also reveals his long time friendship with leaders of Hells Angels and there’s a tale about a haunted recording studio where his friend “Jimmy the Toad” performs an exorcism shouting at the evil spirits whilst waving his dick about in the air in every haunted room.  By all accounts it worked. 

For a first time author Mark has done ok, with a book that doesn’t offer a big insight into his childhood and background; it rather focuses on life on the road. It’s been an interesting journey and I’m sure there will be a follow up book to this but don’t leave it too long Mark, whilst telling you about his friends the phrase "Sadly departed" appears way too often and highlights the need to enjoy life to the max. 

Get your copy from , grab a beer, sit back and enjoy.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

BON JOVI: Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning (single)

Rating: - (single)

Label: Universal Music 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

”Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning” is a surprise release from Bon Jovi, and according to the press release it’ll be featured on the band’s new album ”Burning Bridges”. According to Billboard Magazine it appears that the album isn’t a full new studio album but ”an album for the fans”, whatever that means. A full album of new music is due out in 2016.

This new song is written by Jon Bon Jovi, producer John Shanks and former (?) guitarist Richie Sambora. It’s an instant, easy-going pop-rocker that sounds very familiar right away. As the title suggests, it sounds a bit like a sequel to ”Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night”, more uptempo and upbeat though.

I have to say that I do like it, at least it’s a simple uptempo song with a catchy hook.
Is it a new Bon Jovi classic? No way. Although it’s a nice song, it’s really lightweight and there’s no guitar solo to speak of. And let’s face it, the chorus is really similar  to that of ”Gotta Be Somebody” by Nickelback…

KILPI: ”Juggernautti”

Rating: RRRR

Label: KillBee Records 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

For the last 12 years, Kilpi has been a bit of an oddity in the Finnish Metal scene. There are bands that play 80ies styled melodic metal/hard rock and there are metal bands that sing in Finnish, but only Kilpi has combined those two things fairly successfully.

The band’s previous album was released as long as 6 years ago. In my books, that album (”Pirun Merta”) was a bit of disappointment. I’ve got the CD here in front of me, but I can only remember about two of those songs… vaguely. Never mind, the Metal Juggernaut that is Kilpi is rolling again, and have released their best album since ”Kaaoksen Kuningas” (2006).

Although the band is proudly endorsing Heavy Metal, on ”Juggernautti” they are flirting with AOR more than before. Sure enough, the likes of ”Juggernautti”, ”Revanssi” and ”Tie Helvettiin” are old-school metal tracks (think Accept, Priest, Maiden), but the keyboard-drenched ”Päivä Kerrallaan”, ”Kielletyillä Teillä” and the majestic ballad ”Lautta” showcase the band’s melodic side quite nicely. And yes, the band has somewhat returned to their earlier sound - the keyboards make a welcome return.

I understand that the language is limiting the band’s appeal to some of our international readers, but I’d still ask you to to give the band a chance - the music is fine melodic metal and hard rock.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

GAMMA RAY: "Heading For Tomorrow" [Anniversary Edition]

Rating: Re-issue
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Heaven can wait 'til another day. Cause there ain't no reason to leave. The world is a stage where we all can play. Another fine reason to live and heaven can wait". It's been 25 years since you first heard the call and lead single off Heading For Tomorrow. Classic, catchy, power metal if ever. Kai Hansen formed Gamma Ray with ex. Tyran Pace vocalist Ralf Scheepers (now at Primal Fear) after leaving Helloween (at their very peak) in 1988. In fact. Scheepers was thought of as lead vocalist of Helloween. The band asked him round about the time of Walls Of Jericho to join them, but Ralf declined the offer as he didn't enjoy their full-force speed/thrash metal at the time.

Originally released in 1990 (February 21), the double set Anniversary Edition includes all ten tracks (remastered), plus all B-sides and Japan tracks from the album: "Mr Outlaw", "Sail On", "Lonesome Stranger" (disc: 1). Add to this 12 extensive bonus tracks on disc 2 such as live in Japan 1990 versions of "Heading For Tomorrow" and "Space Eater". Demo versions with Kai Hansen on lead vocals of "Money", "Sail On", "The Silence", "Heaven Can Wait". Not entirely sure about the Karaoke and instrumental versions though? Simply mute the vocal track(s)??

Hansen lived in a tiny flat in Hamburg at the time and practically slept on his 24-track recorder. He sound proofed the room and was able to do all pre-production work. He wrote most of the material for the release with the exception of "Free Time" (the Tyran Pace leftover) and the Uriah Heep cover of "Look At Yourself". The first one a proper Power/Glam anthem (if there is such a thing?) while the latter doesn't fit the Gamma-concept and should not have been included in my humble opinion. Occasionally Ralf's voice slips into quirkiness (The Silence), but it's such a superb epic power/pomp ballad that you won't mind the strange vocal lines. Extensive liner notes, all the lyric, and just the classy Anniversary release of the first of many fine Gamma Ray albums. This is actually one of their weakest efforts and it's still must have in your collection. "We are heading for tomorrow. But we don't know if we are near. Will we beg steal or borrow? Will we ever lose the fear?".

SAGA: "Best of 1978 - Infinity"

Rating: 2CD Comp.
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Ellery Sneed had one great need. To do everything just right". Absolutely brilliant or worst Saga compilation ever? "Your pathway grow dark. Was clear at the start. You're not. You're not. You're not alone". It's up for debate! "Look at him running there's so far to go. He's very short of breath and he'd said don't be late. Just don't be late".  I'm not sure if we're going to come up with any final conclusion or verdict this time. "No one can stop you now. Tonight you're on the loose". Now & Then - The Collection. 1978 - Infinity. "Scratching the surface. You better come up for air". features 21 tracks and that's one song from/off each and every Saga (studio) album.

From the self titled debut in 1978 to Sagacity in 2014. "I can see by the look in your eyes. You're searching your heart once again". It's difficult to pick your favorite Saga tracks and moments. "How does it feel in your wildest dreams". What's worse. "As time goes by. There's only one thing I have come to realise. The time goes by". It's mission possible if you're only allowed to pick one song from each album? "The security of illusion. I can't explain but you must observe". Thus why it's merely a naughty little teaser of all the classics. "Steamroller - sit up, sit down, sit up".

Monday, July 13, 2015

The V: "Now Or Never"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The V aka Veronica Freeman (Benedictum, The Rods) and her first solo album "Now or Never". The hunger's on, a predator in stilettos. You won't string this power vocalist like a marionette. It's energy in high heels and favorite shows are Women Scorned and Deadly Women and not not the lame housewives of bitchville. Indeed. The music is loud, basically what people normally would file under Melodic (heavy) Metal in the eighties. There's no keyboards to be found on this record and it's guitar rock with the excellent singing voice of Veronica at the very centre of attention.

I know it's not always to best intention to name drop acts of the past. However, Headpins. Lee Aaron. Lita Ford. Leather (she sings additional lead vocals on 'Kiss My Lips') are names that pop up while listening to this fine album. Slightly heavier than your normal AOR Frontiers release, it's nice to get something that scratch, kick, and bite. Don't get me wrong though. There are plenty of hooks and sing-a-long melodies to be found and perhaps it's nitpicking to get into the whole discussion about style vs. genre?

There is a Stryper connection once again (see Frank DIMINO review elsewhere on this site) and while Oz Fox didn't hit the mark, Michael Sweet is spot on with a couple of tracks written especially for The V. The majority of tracks are written by Freeman/Pete Wells and some of them are spooky close to the sound of Headpins. My hat off to Nigel Bailey this time as he provide a wicked tune (Ready To Run) that reek of dangerous curves and Lita Ford. The latter probably down to Veronica as it would no doubt sound very differently with Bailey behind the mike.

Closing track, 'King For A Day', the duet with Tony Martin (Black Sabbath) and a real stomper. But it should really be Queen For A Day? Yeah? No? Play it loud sucker!


Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

There's two sides to every story and the same goes for "Mind Radio". Promoted as the new solo album by Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge, Blue Murder, John Norum, etc.), this is just as much the latest project by Frontiers in house guru, Mr. Alessandro Del Vecchio. The man is responsible for production, the keyboards, as well as writing/co-writing seven out of twelve tracks on the record.

It's the hit and miss kind of affair as usual where opening track, "This Love Our Paradise", Del Vecchio at his best and also the clear winner of all the tracks composed by the man. Catchy, poppy, AOR with just the hint of the JLT fronted Rainbow. I'm also fond of 'Love Will Tear us Apart' (Del Vecchio/Shotton/Keeling) with its airy sound featuring both acoustic and electric guitars. It's otherwise rather average material from your slightly overrated songwriter.

The other side of the coin? Three songs originally written by Keeling and Jack Ponti during the heydays of Baton Rouge. They had enough of songs to make 10 albums and these tracks were all included on the Jack Ponti Presents - Volume 1 album back in 2003 (Majestic Records). I'm not quite sure why they decided to re-record these three instead of any unreleased material? "Monkey House" is about this spooky old mansion near a river where Jack lived. It was kept off the Baton Rouge debut and it's a decent enough rocker with a touch of evil. "Who Do You Run To" was written after the debut was mixed and Vic Pepe was a big part of this song and he was a big part of Baton Rouge. Just not enough of room for him and Ponti's ego in the credits though. This is a really catchy number with a typical hook 'ala the debut album.

Two songs by Robert Säll (WET) and they are both good/nice but hardly groundbreaking stuff. "Frozen In Time" truly is a fine AOR number while 'Ride Out The Storm' may lack stamina and a decent hook. There you go. Bits and pieces of this and that really and final verdict has to be, 'not too shabby', but could have been so much better. Give Ponti  a call next time and simply have him co-writing the entire album with Keeling?

DIMINO: "Old Habits Die Hard"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Frank Dimino, originally known as the lead singer of Sweet Mana from Heaven, Angel were later discovered by KISS bassist Gene $immons who secured them a deal with Casablanca Records in 1975. I can't say that I've enjoyed the ANGEL music of the past and I still haven't heard all of their albums. But one thing's for sure. This does not sound like Angel music and you won't find any pomp. Basic meat and potato rock in the 70s style meet second rate Saxon material of the early/mid 80's.

Dimino has co-written four tracks with Stryper guitarist Oz Fox and the opening two are their work. First up, the song and dance number of 'Never Again' (Oz Fox/Dimino). The refrain is beyond silly as they keep repeating the words 'Never Again' eight (8) times. Listening to this and you're soon bound to agree with the title. Never again indeed. 'Rockin' In The City' (Fox/Dimino) goes through several stages of eighties metal and rock where the Hammond organ is the only thing that may differ from your average Saxon tune. Not too shabby though and Dimino might just even sound like Biff Byford here. Mid-eighties Saxon featuring organ? Yeah. Pretty close to core actually.

"I Can't Stop Loving You", Saxon meet Heavy Pettin? "The Rain's About To Fall", dull and boring rock. "Even Now", the fine semi-ballad and also the proof that Diminio is still in nice vocal form. Guest musicians include well known names such as Paul Crook (Meat Loaf), Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister), Rickey Medlocke (Blackfoot), Punky Meadows (Angel), Pat Thrall, etc. Decent/bland effort from the former Angel.

WARREN HAYNES: "Ashes & Dust"

Rating: RRR
Label: Provogue/Mascot 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom Ashes & Dust, a darker side to the singer/songwriter music being more than hinted at as it's a completely different side to/of Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule). Dipped in melancholy, folk, and rootsy rock, the bittersweet and overall understated story of the album reek of Americana and the old US of A.

Stories and songs that wouldn't normally fit his daytime project and band. Thus why Hayes decided to bring in the New Jersey based Americana act of Railroad Earth. Together they have created the whole she-bang from arrangements to acoustic guitars, viola/violin, banjo, and all of the instruments strongly connected to proper folk music. The basic starting point might just have been Country, Bob Dylan and The Band or even Neil Young, but the music is older than that. It dates back to Ireland and various other places around Europe.

To be perfectly honest though. A couple of these tracks could/would easily fit The Allman Brothers and the slide-work of Haynes takes you on a journey through backside America. I'm especially fond of moodier tracks such as "New Year's Eve", while the honky-tonk inspired, "Stranded In Self-Pity", too much of the piano bar stuff in my humble opinion. You simply have to put up with the nonsense as far from everything that glitter is gold. A very solid effort and something to consider if you're into Americana and Haynes.

BIOSCRAPE: "Psychologram"

Rating: RR
Label: OverDubRec. 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Bioscrape, the Italian quartet are on a secret mission to destroy all humans with Psychologram. Intense, powerful, hardly groundbreaking, but those who align themselves with satanic noise and extremely harsh growls from the underground should give this a try. At first I can't help thinking this would be superb stuff if not for vocalist/growler "J" as he ruined an otherwise great metal album.

However, you might just learn to appreciate this more after a couple of days though as it got better with each spin, up to a certain point of course, don't be a smart ass and give me the 'perhaps you should spin it a couple of more times' remark. They have a great Prong meet Tool styled-groove going on at eleven and there's plenty of complex time and tempo changes, gang background vocals, and power riffing. I wish they could include more clean vocal singing next time though as it's tiresome in the long run to hear "J" spit and growl like a rabid dog on acid.

POWERWOLF: "Blessed & Possessed"

Rating: R+
Label: Napalm Records 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Wolfie has clearly lost his power? The howl is like a long and constant feeling of deja ´vu and there's not enough of bite? The songs basically remains the same and merely the titles has changed since last time around. The album doesn't have much or anything to offer in the way of originality. But what about hooks and sing-a-long moments? Well. The formula and arrangements follows a similar path known as memory lane and we've been down that road way too many times. They have managed to rub out all the power in the studio and replaced it with generic metal. Don't get me wrong. It's bombastic stuff with huge background harmonies and speedy guitars. It's just so been there, done that, and I guess you could compare this with AC/DC in the era of approx: 1982 to 1989 and again in 1992 to... whatever (The Razor's Edge is a great though). They record an awful lot of albums that sounded the same only worse than previous effort? Did they care? The real failure is of course the quality of the songs. Only a few of them have a spark in the dark and it's not enough Powerwolf to light up my day.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

AREA51: "Judge The Joker"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Devil's Own Music 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Japan. Nippon. Why everything ever so slightly connected to the place is considered as fascinating and fun? First of all. Hardly everything about the land of the rising sun is fun. Stereo-types and all that. But I honestly believe that we love Japan because it's so different from the rest of us. That's it. Plain and simple. It's different. Unique. The mythical place with its own tradition and rules. Thus why I can't get enough listening to Kate Cain on the latest Area51 album. Not a single word in the English language and merely the song title give us the hint of what she's singing about. Nonetheless. Yours truly end up in awe of the angelic voice and rock solid performance.

"Judge The Joker" is the fourth album by the band/duo and its overall leader, the highly technical guitarist, Yoichiro Ishino. He's the instructor of the guitar department of Japan's Musician Institute (MI) and has worked with Eizo Sakomoto (Anthem) on his solo albums. Guest musicians are drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork), bassist Mike Lepond (Symphony X) and keyboardist Matt Guillory (James Lebrie /Dream Theatre). Previous albums feature guest musicians such as Rob Rock (Impellitteri) and their latest effort has once again been mastered by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Symphony X, etc).

The arrangements and compositions? Ultra melodic and frankly just catchy Neo-Classical rock! Bags of attitude and flashy guitar work and perhaps the Swedish touch of guitarists and acts such as Nation, Glory, and of course Yngwie J Malmsteen. The Vampire's Agony, Over The Rainbow, Falsa Luce, Call My Name, The Devil's Own, etc. are all top notch songs with marvelous drive, flow, and classy fretwork. Cinematic indeed and the great mix of neo-classical and the soundtrack of your video game. Recommended.

SAVATAGE: Return To Wacken"

Rating: Comp.
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Celebrating the return to the stage of one of the world's greatest progressive metal bands? That's the slogan from a band that we dismissed in 2002, but have come back with this very release and the 2015 summer appearance at the Wacken festival. Return To Wacken is however not the live release, featuring studio versions of Savatage's greatest hits and classics including Jon Oliva's personal memories of Wacken Open Air 1998 and 2002. That's a bit strange? But it's a nice compilation and according to the booklet, Jon Oliva thinks of Wacken as and I quote, "something that can only be experienced, there is a feeling you get there that that I am not sure you will feel anywhere else in the world."

Track listing, based on their two previously performances at Wacken, there's absolutely nothing to complain about as they are all classics. Hall Of The Mountain King and Prelude (from the album Hall Of The Mountain King). Gutter King and When The Crowds Are Gone (from the album Gutter King). Believe and Tonight He Grins Again (Streets A Rock Opera). Chance (Handful Of Rain). Edge of Thorns (Edge Of Thorns). The Wake of Magellan and The Hourglass (The Wake Of Magellan). Dead Winter Dead (Dead Winter Dead). Eleven tracks of pure class and the booklet include all of the lyric and the two page Wacken write-up by Jon Oliva.

To start going through all of the tracks is a waste of time and space as every one (perhaps with the exception of Dead Winter Dead) is absolutely killer. It's up to you to decide if you need the comp. But one thing's for sure, this is the perfect start to the level one beginner about to play Savatage for the very first time. "Another sleepless night. A concrete paradise. Sirens screaming in the heat. Neon cuts the eye as the jester sighs at the world beneath his feet... It's a Gutter Ballet".

FOREIGNER: "Greatest Hits Live"

Rating: Live
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

It's all about the live gig, musicianship, hooks and sing-a-long memories of the past. Melodic hard rock in an old-fashion way and style. Recorded live in 2005, Foreigner are about to unleash all the fury of songs such as Head Games, Cold As Ice, Waiting For a Girl Like You, That Was Yesterday, Urgent, Jukebox Hero, I Want To Know What Love Is, Hot Blooded, etc. You know, the same old hits as always and what's worse, this very concert has already been released as part of the 2CD version of Can't Slow Down (see review in our archives).

The scene is set perfectly by Kelly Hansen's (Hurricane) rich voice cutting through the hits like a knife through butter. Hansen sound great on vocals and the other six musicians are going through the tracks with ease and finesse. However, the ambassadors of AOR are not doing themselves any favors by re-releasing this live effort. The album smacks of a dubiously motivated attempt to lure the fan into buying this. But since there's already a copy in the household of every die-hard fan, I'm not sure it's going to end up well. Got to admit, the songs are classics, the live performance decent enough, but do you really need this?

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: "Michael Armstrong"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Right Track Rec./Universal 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Pay extra attention fans of Soft-Rock and West Coast of the mid/late seventies era. Michael Armstrong and his self-titled debut album will take you on a trip to the days of lushly arrangements with layers of background harmonies. Featuring iconic musicians such as Albert Lee (Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton) on guitar. Peter Howarth from The Hollies on backing vocals. Guitarist Elliot Randall (Steely Dan) and saxophonist Ed Barker (legend in his own time). Add that this album was produced by Keith Bessey (10cc, Elton John, Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey, John Wetton, etc.) and you're in for a massive shock treatment and surprise.

It's soft rock at its nearly best and you'll constantly be reminded of 70's acts such as Billy Joel, 10CC, Jackson Browne, Wings, Leo Sayer, Elton John, etc. A vintage sound from the exiting new U.K. musician and massive Chelsea fan (Armstrong recorded the popular Chelsea fan song the other year). It's piano rock from a storytellers point of view and Michael's lyrical wit and honesty lift these tunes onto a level rarely heard in the digital era. No worries mate. There's of course the CD release as they did send me a disc.

It's difficult to pick fave tracks or highlights as it's very much the album effort. I love however the Supertramp rock of "Iris". Killer track. 14 tracks and that's including two fine covers and versions of Allentown (Billy Joel) and Maybe I'm Amazed (Paul McCartney). A couple of tracks are borderline AOR but that's exactly what you'd expect from the soft-rock album. Highly recommended if you're into above mentioned artists and catchy piano rock of the 70s. What a nice and fun summer album...

DAGOBA: "Tales Of The Black Dawn"

Rating: RR
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Dagoba deliver well-crafted, well-played and powerful metal with crunchy guitars, and over the top cookie-monster vocals. Tales of the Black Dawn should no doubt attract hoards of ogre, goblin, orch, and troll. Hobbit, dwarf, elf, and human, may however find their extreme rock a tad too noisy? Let's ditch the Tolkien themed nonsense from now on shall we? Let's focus on the music.

Produced by former Machine Head band member Logan Mader (Five Finger Death Punch, Soulfly, etc.), the French act sound better and angrier than ever. Tortured guitar lines and massive drums that sounds like fire breathing dragons in the sky. They throw the occasional tantrum as well as some fashionably growl type vocals into the mix and even indulge in the odd macabre styled arrangement. It's clearly not enough to please this particular reviewer as it smack of desperation. Not to mention that it's so dated and 1998, which also happens to be the year we last enjoyed this kind of compositions.

They may just lack the ability to intrigue the listener and have them wanting for more. Several tracks goes through the motion and it's actually difficult to tell them apart.

NEAL SCHON: "Vortex"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Provogue/Mascot 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The ninth and tenth full-length solo album from Neal Schon (Journey, Bad English, Santana), the 2CD instrumental effort (thus why it's album #9 and #10 according to Schon) that features complex rock songs and a wondrously layered journey through the depths of Schon's psyche. And magical fingers, don't forget the fingers, since it's hammer time. Speaking of Hammer, the legendary keyboardist (Jan), a big part of the record, there's even the epic jam track entitled "Schon & Hammer Now" on disc two. Add to this drummer Steve Smith and his tribal work and you're all set for 18 tracks of classy instrumental rock, fusion, and the jazzy groove.

Hands down or up? I find it extremely hard or difficult to type down all of Schon's flashy moves and tricks on paper (okay, it's a computer screen). For instance. Take the opening track Miles Beyond as the perfect example and antidote to my shortcoming. The tone and control in the track is almost of an atmospheric degree, and there's something truly enthralling about the track. Less is more, but ever so bold and intriguing. It's a tribute to Miles Davis and his fusion sessions of the past.

Total control throughout the record as Schon uses his axe economically and doesn't resort to dull metal chords or riffing. The singing guitar is a joy to hear and you can tell that he's having a blast recording instrumental fusion. Crystal clear production and sound and basically perfect background music as you're watching Real Housewives on mute (you don't ever want to hear them bitch) or in this case typing on your PC. Sheer class.

TRIXTER: "Human Era"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Truth be told. I haven't been too kind on poor Trixter in the past. In fact. I gave their comeback album (simply do the search) a proper kick to the teeth and I'm not keen on their first two albums for that matter. A couple of great tracks here and there, but never a solid album. Well. Lo and behold, it's 2015 and here's the effort I've been hoping for as the Trixters are back with their best album up to date. To quote the fitting lyric from the title track of Human Era, "Here we are now so much older. A little wiser and so much bolder. Here we are now not dated. A little torn yet far from jaded".

There's no such thing as dated (unless we're talking about production) when it comes to music. It's the circle of life. Musicians borrow, copy, and steal melodies from their old heroes and that goes for every genre and style. There's no such thing as "new" music, it's all been done before. It's just a matter of trying to sound as original as possible without actually being originals. Too many musicians and not enough notes in the world to be unique after 60 years of rock n' roll.

So what if Human Era isn't groundbreaking stuff. It's simply just the fun and super catchy party album with one massive hook after the other. Talk about out of the blue and straight to the top of melodic hardrock albums of the year. Are you fed up listening to the latest Bon Jovi albums? Try this for size as you'll end up with a big grin all over your face. It's got that feeling of Firehouse and their first two albums (which I love), Bon Jovi, and of course Trixter, but on steroids since every thing's bigger and better than in the past.

"Rockin' To The Edge Of The Night, Crash That Party, Not Like All The Rest", body hit after body hit and you're down for the count in no time. "Beats me Up", the lovely semi-ballad inspired by Cheap Trick no doubt? "Good Times Now", sing-a-long anthem by Steve Brown and the sort of stuff that Bon Jovi should be doing. "Midnight In Your Eyes", nearly perfect mid-tempo rock with tasty lead guitar and wicked hook. The complete 360 (huh?) and thus also the opposite to all of their other albums. Great!

BEAUVOIR/FREE: "American Trash"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Read all about it! Dynamic duo from Crown of Thorns reunited under the moniker of Beauvoir/Free. American Trash or universal hiccup? I had my sights on this one for a long time as I've always enjoyed the work of Jean the Swede. The stuff he recorded with Micki on the COT debut gets a spin every now and then. It's just a grand old solid record with songs that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Thus why I can't help feeling extra disappointed by the material on American Trash. The absolutely best things about the record? The excellent lead and background vocals, the production, and the tasty guitar work. I actually prefer the softer material and numbers such as "Just Breathe" and "Never Give Up", since the majority of uptempo tracks are simply not up to normal standard of Beauvoir and Free.

We've learn to rely and trust on Beauvoir as the quality songwriter through the years with credits such as solo hits, KISS, etc, etc. "Cold Dark December", the wicked mid-tempo track similar to the style of the COT debut. "It's Never Too Late", yet another great semi-ballad or if you prefer slow song. But again, there's something missing from the original ingredients and American Trash is sadly stuck in second gear. The title track, not even worth mentioning because of its annoying 'yea-yea-yea' refrain or rather lack of the latter. It's hardly trash, but definitely not the K.O.

HOUSE OF LORDS: "Indestructible"

Rating: RRR+
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Indestructible and irresistible? The House Of Lords of present date are always going to face struggle... considering that keyboard genius Giuffria is nowhere to be seen/heard. The current line-up of James Christian (vocals), Jimi Bell (guitars), Chris McCarvill (bass), BJ Zampa (drums), are going at it without a keyboardist in the band and don't expect to find much or any of the sweeping ebony/ivory work of the past. Merely the toned down pattern in the background and guitarist Jimi Bell, who co-wrote most tracks, in the foreground with Christian's still rather strong soaring vocals above.

The ballads are the only tracks where the keys are upfront and they've been known to go out on tour without the keyboardist. It's a darn solid line-up and album for that matter, but there's no proper Pomp. Not necessarily a bad thing. I just wanted to make things clear, in case you've been out of the loop for a very long time. "Indestructible" isn't far off from the band's previous releases as of lately, sound-wise, a little darker melodic rock, more direct and to the point than their first two albums.

Guilty of losing a lot of their keys, they make up for it in quality songs that offer plenty of hooks and staying power. It's melodic hard rock that you can trust and rely on as you won't end up feeling disappointed at the end of the record. Christian, a little rougher, and not quite as high-pitched any longer. However, he's one of those vocalists that you also can always rely on for that matter. He make the instant impact and managed to stay/sound alert and hungry throughout the album. Kudos to wifey Robin Beck as she deliver background vocals as well as higher notes with technical finesse. Final verdict: Good stuff and not to be completely ignored by the masses.

POSTCARDS FROM JEFF: "Modern Language"

Rating: RRR
Label: PrescriptionPR 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

What's all this, then? Mail from Manchester? Postcards From Jeff? Modern language? I must be out of touch as I can't recall the geezer? The debut album takes you on a vivid journey of melancholia and brooding rock. This could do as the soundtrack of the weary citizen of Manchester and Joss Worthington, the singer, producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, behind the Jeff moniker teamed up with filmmaker Steve Glashier after releasing his debut album. Steve's videos have formed a kind of abstract concept movie accompanying the record.

An elegy for cinema revealing stolen glimpses of another world, another life. Each track a cinematic snapshot, shifting and shimmering in a flickering film light, capturing the timeless claustrophobia and psychodramas of small town suburbia. A soundtrack to a world wrapped in a rich language of isolation, of disconnection and delicious melancholia, where characters reach out to connect but miscommunicate with every step, staring into the darkness from the tree lined streets, out across the windswept moors and epic cloudscapes to a coming storm.

It's emotional indie pop/rock with basic arrangements and atmospheric keyboards. The ten tracks on the record may cause the overall feeling of Twin Peaks meet Sigur Ros meet Brian Eno meet Mercury Rev. It's like staring into the universe and discovering planet Jeff where everything is the exact opposite to your expected response to indie melodies such as these. This world is not reality and there's more to these melodies than first meets the eye... ehh, ear.

You need time to spin this sucker over and over again and then let it all sink in for a week or two. Easy-listening? hardly. But the reward is darn pleasing in the end. Cinematic and disconnected - it's postcards from Jeff. We expect many more in the years to come.

TERRACE: "We Fall Together"

Rating: RR
Label: PrescriptionPR 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Simon Lock (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Alex Cooper (guitar, keys) and Kalani Polson (drums) formed Terrace in 2010 with intent that Terrace will make music that doesn't obey the fickle music scene. Too many sub genres confuse the palate and create short lived trends. Instead, why not make music that can reference the past, lighten the future and live in the present?

"As a band, we have one main goal, which is... to create and play unpretentious dance music that pays no attention to current fads. Rather than follow the rest of the herd, we pull strongly from our deep roots in House Music, Techno, Funk, Disco, Brit Pop, Post Punk, and Ambient and throw it all together in one ear pleasing mix." From opening Special Place to closing Caisse Tete, there's rockier elements drifting into the synth pattern, staccato percussion, the sax sound, the 80s Spandau Ballet meet the 90s house.

It's all very transcending and tracks seem to blend together like ecstasy at the docklands. The result is perhaps just a tad too bland as they could benefit from having more tracks in the style of 'White Heat'. Level 42 goes house could work as the basic description. Meh.