Friday, August 29, 2014

SKINTRADE: "Refueled"

Rating: RRR

Label: AOR Heaven
Review: Rich Dillon

It’s always rather interesting when a band’s release is billed as a reformation and comeback album, yet you’ve never heard of them before this.  Being from Canada that was the case for me with Swedish rockers Skintrade and their February/March 2014 released Refueled album.  The band was originally formed in 1992 issuing two albums, Skintrade in 1993 and Roach Powder in 1995.  Four of the five original members, Matti Alfonzetti (vocals/guitar), Stefan Bergstrom (guitar, backing vocals), Hakan Calmroth (bass) and Hakan Persson (drums, backing vocals) reformed in 2011 due in part to demand from the fans.  Only George Bravo (guitars, backing vocals) was absent from the reformation causing Alfonzetti to take over Bravo’s guitar duties.

With uninspiring album artwork, the twelve track “comeback” album starts off crashing with the high energy of “Monster”.  The album follows suit filled with fast paced straight ahead hard rock anthems like “Liar” and “Pay In Blood”.  “Hardcore MF Heartattack” is the standout track for me here with it’s breakneck pace (your head should be banging and neck definitely sore by this point of the album).  “Close My Eyes” begins slower and more melodic before erupting with a grinding riff before the one minute mark and “Getting Away With Murder” starts out with a throbbing talkbox riff.  By the time I get to “Mountain” the songs are beginning to get lost in one another and sounding very much the same, even the ballady “Been to the Bottom” fails to hold my interest.  “Worse Than Wasted” (possibly a theme song for my younger days) followed by “Dying In Your Arms” perks me up again, but its short lived as “Wild One” is probably the worst cut in the collection.  The final track, “Look Me In the Eye”, shuts things down on a high note as this track could have replaced a few others earlier in the roster.

Definitely some great songs and potential for the future….let’s see what you got next Skintrade.


KIRK: "Masquerade"

Rating: RRR

Label: Mausoleum 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Switzerland’s Kirk has issued their sophomore effort, Masquerade, more than a decade after the debut album.  They originally formed in the late 90’s resulting in a 2003 debut recording, The Final Dance, but losing the drummer to health concerns forced them into hiatus.  Self described as melodic heavy metal with progressive influences, the songs are epic with big soaring vocals and many tempo changes that just cause me to get lost as I listened to the lead track, “Devil’s Claw”.  “Supersonic Speed” was much along the same lines and I would imagine that Kirk would appeal to those who are rabidly in the Dream Theater camp as opposed to someone like me who pitches his tent on the fringe outskirts of that style.  With that being said, the album takes a turn and track #3, “Masquerade”, is an awesome song, more straight forward with a great opening riff and catchy chorus.  “Eternity” screams of Queensryche at points throughout its 6:40 runtime, as does “Fight or Die”.  “Nothing Else But Lies” again showcases vocalist Thomi Rauch’s Geoff Tate (in his younger days) like similarities and features another melodic vocal chorus.  “Time” leads us through to the slower paced beginnings of “Tragedy” and  Masquerade closes up nicely with the three pack of “Face in the Crowd”, “The End of the Universe” and “Fallen Angel”.

Strange for an album for me to dislike the first two tracks, but persevere through the recording and end up loving the rest!  Top tracks “Masquerade”, “Nothing Else But Lies” and “The End of the Universe”.


NIVA: ”Incremental IV”

Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Tony Niva and his merry men have recorded their fourth album of pink and fluffy metal. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being pink and fluffy! ”True Metal” people will despise me for calling this ”metal” at all and maybe they’ve got a point, but frankly I don’t give a damn. This is Cotton Candy Metal, sticky sweet and lightweight, but delicious and addictive! :)

Okay, I got carried away a bit but there’s some truth to the nonsense above. Niva’s music is indeed sweet, airy and instantly likable. Tony’s high-pitched vocals may not be for everyone, but in my opinion they really suit these songs. They just wouldn’t be the same without his soaring vocals.

So what do we have here? Well, there’s plenty of uptempo material with catchy melodies, a few ballads and songs that are somewhere in between. My favorite track is ”Coming Back To You”, the album’s closing number which is a mid-tempo track with some surprising elements. It features probably the heaviest riffs on the album, yet the melodies are pure pop or even schlager (is it ”dansbandmusik” in Sweden?). The song brings back memories of my childhood, when occasionally I had to endure Finnish schlager music at home or in the family car… I still have no desire to listen to Kake Randelin or the likes, but apparently the kind of melodies they were singing appeal to me when given a hard rock ”makeover”. I’m  slightly worried.

Other highlights include the high-energy, uptempo tracks like ”Crush”, ”Magnitude” (the previous album’s long-lost title track?) and ”Lost And Found”. I also like the gloriously melodic ballad ”Travel Back In Time”, ”Only You”, ”The Reason Why”… actually the only song I tend to skip is the second ballad ”All By Myself”, which is just a bit too sweet even for an old wimp rock fan like me. Granted, some of the faster tracks tend to sound a bit too similar to each other, but at least they’re all pretty good.

https://www.facebook.com/nivasweden

RICK PRIEM'S PRIME - S/T


Rating: RRRR
Label: Avenue Of Allies
Review By: Alan Holloway


Okay, so you may not have heard of Rik Priem, but he was the guitarist in Frozen Rain, and is joined on his debut solo/project by that band’s well respected vocalist Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz. Priem himself hasn’t been around much, but it’s instantly obvious that he’s certainly spend more than a few years learning how to play the shit out of an electric guitar.

The album kicks off with the now obligatory intro piece, although this one’s nearer three minutes than the usual one and is, of course, eminently skippable. Aside from this there’s twelve tracks, all of which have a fair bit of meat on them. This means a fifty minutes plus album, and as usual with such length there’s an overall feel that it’s about two tracks too long. This is not to say there’s any rubbish here, because Rik Priem and the lads have produced a very strong debut indeed.

In general the music is hard and heavy with a strong melodic base, propped up by Schulz powerful vocals and Priem’s deft guitar work. Things could have been very middle of the road, as there’s a lot of this sort of stuff around, but the quality of songwriting shines through at every opportunity, throwing serious riffs and catchy choruses all over the place, as well as a few sneaky slips into power prog territory. I have a special fondness for the instrumental track ‘Chameleon’, which showcases Priem’s talent beautifully without resorting to being another dull widdle-fest.

I’m reminded of some of Malmsteen’s solo work, along with plenty of other late 80’s and early 90s bands who produced great and often under appreciated albums. It’s always good when someone manages to merge properly powerful heavy rock with genuinely catchy AOR without sacrificing either style at the same time. Although I feel the name is a bit rubbish, what’s inside more than makes up for it, and this is certainly worth a listen regardless of what type of rock music you are into.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SECRET: ”The End Of The Road”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Melodic Rock Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Remember the Spanish AOR band 91 Suite? Jesús Espín (vocals) and Iván González (guitar) have ended their long hiatus and formed a new melodic rock band called Secret. Their rather pessimistically titled debut album ”The End Of The Road” has been getting some serious spinning in our household lately, and I guess it’s safe to say that it won’t be the end of the road for these guys.

Fans of 91 Suite should pick this up, because the musical style of Secret is quite similar. There are a couple of interesting twists and turns though. Let’s go thru the tracks one by one.

Opener ”Here With Me” made me think that Secret might be a completely different animal to 91 Suite. It’s an uptempo, hard rocking track that reminds me of a mix of Winger, Extreme and Van Halen. Guitarist Iván González is on fire and throws in some serious axemanship, yet the song doesn’t turn into a shredfest. There’s plenty of melody and hooks in it. It’s one of my favorites.

”Since I Fell For You” is a more AOR-type of a song and very good at that, very Journeyesque. ”Just To Hear You Say” is an AOR song too, but there are some country elements in it, kinda like a warning of what’s to come…

”Give Up The Fight” starts with a heavy riff, as if to wash away the taste of country guitars of the previous song. It also features Nick Workman of Vega on guest vocals. A good one.

The ballad ”Trust In Someone” sounds like an Aerosmith ballad from the nineties, not that special for me but good if you like that kind of stuff. ”I Believe In Love” is a decent AOR song, but maybe a little ”AOR by numbers”. ”When You Really Love Someone” is probably the most ”shocking” song on the album, as the country elements are pushed to the foreground. It’s basically an ok song, but with the slide guitars and a sugary chorus it kind of sticks out like an abandoned stetson in a cactus. And the guitar solo… way too hillbilly for me.

”Peace Of Mind” more than makes up for the country assault. It’s a killer AOR track with touches of early Bon Jovi and possibly my favorite track of the album. ”Wherever You Go” is a decent ballad, while ”Out Of My Life” is another AOR gem with cool keyboards and a late eighties’ vibe. ”Bring You Down” has more of a modern rock style with a slower chorus than the verses - something that hardly ever works for me. The album closing track ”Angeline” is a ballad that reminds me of Stryper at first, but then turns into something different. Stylish guitars from González again.

So there… it’s not the end of the road, but maybe the band is at a crossroads. Should they explore the more country’ish direction or stick to AOR, or maybe go for a harder sound á la ”Here With Me”? The country road could be the most lucrative, but for completely selfish reasons I hope they don’t choose that… I’d be happy with a mix of AOR and harder edged stuff. Even a little bit of that country stuff will do, as long as they don’t start rapping!

https://www.facebook.com/SecretMelodicRockBand?fref=ts

MISS BEHAVIOUR: Double Agent

Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Keyboards! Keyboards! More keyboards! The most keyboard-drenched AOR album of 2014 could very well be the new Miss Behaviour one. And it’s not a bad thing! Add some smooth but rockin’ guitars and high-pitched  vocals and you’ll get the idea. With a sound that reminds me of such acts as  Bad Habit, Return, Fortune and Brother Firetribe, the guys in Miss Behaviour have come up with the best album of their career so far.

I really like the fact that Miss Behaviour haven’t taken the easy road of merely trying to rewrite hits from the past. There’s a nice amount of originality in these songs, both musically and lyrically. For example, it’s quite refreshing to listen to an AOR album that has at least half of its’ songs titled somewhat uniquely. Okay, there’s ”Edge Of The World” and ”Don’t Let It End” and a couple of others that have been used before a few times, but I can’t recall hearing a song called ”Corporation Arms” or ”Love Reflector” before. What’s more, the band’s melodies aren’t completely recycled material, yet they possess enough familiarity to be instantly likable.

My favorite song seems to change every time I listen to this album, but at the moment it might be the power-pomp ballad ”Corporation Arms” or the title track. I actually like them all, although on more than one occasion I get the feeling that the band is somehow holding back. With majestic keyboards parping away, the choruses could just as well match the pomp and glory. Now there are times when they are just too nice, too polite. No reason to be polite when it comes to choruses - we want ’em explosive and over the top! But anyway, this is a very good album.

http://www.missbehaviour.se
https://www.facebook.com/Missbehaviourofficial

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FROSKULL: "Froskull"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Indie/Groovestand 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Surprise CD of the month! Froskull and their absolutely great "space-age indie Prog" from the heart and home of Country/USA (Nashville) which includes retro elements resembling Yes, Rush, ELP, and King Crimson, but with dramatic changes, fusion moments, and electronic undercurrents 'ala Peter Gabriel's solo albums and the hint of Japan (the band and not the continent). Indeed. The brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Stephen Rockford Hammond (SRH from now on) and Froskull has shared the stage with a spectrum of artists from Nashville Country stars Chris Young and Lee Brice to Derek St.Holmes? Anyhow, it's simply just the exciting project as their self-titled debut album goes through several different stages of progressive as well as experimental rock.

Seriously people. Don't let the bloody awful artwork scare you away (see pic up, right) as this is far from the dodgy music as the CD cover might suggest. Vocal harmonies and compositions are huge and inventive and the overall great production sits nicely in between the dynamics of the arrangements and its analog fatness and sound. The guitar work of SRH hit most of all the notes, complex scales and arpeggios of the traditional prog as well as the more shredding approach of the 80's guitar hero. At times the A+ work of the very classy cross-work project and vocals are clearly inspired by the emotional mix of Jon Anderson (Yes), Peter Gabriel (Genesis) and Robert Smith (The Cure).

Opener, "A Thousand Years", technical and refreshing Progressive Rock. "Wait", friggin' marvelous music in the style of Peter Gabriel meets 80's YES meets the great sound of the Froskull. "Alabaster", super impressive instrumental piece with acoustic and electric guitar, bass-work 'ala Tony Franklin and driving percussion's that gives it the royal treatment. "Should Have Known", mainly Prog, but also bits and pieces of fusion, 80's acts such as Japan (bass-lines), and simply just the fun mix of elements and styles. "The Road To Sto-vo-ker" if Coheed and Cambria ever decided to go all fantasy and prog-rock and record the album with YES. "Report From Ganymedia", more of the great fantasy, Art-rock of the 70's with the modern touch. "Bardo 3" with its eight part vocals, deep synth and bass, liturgical singing, and layers upon layers of voices, takes you on a progressive rock journey to Japan. "Perihelion", diverse, catchy, complex, and highly technical stuff.

Final verdict. I can't praise this enough and it's not far away from the 5th R as in rating. Twelve tracks of pure joy intended for the open-minded (prog) rock fan. Here's something for the Euro labels to sign up asap. Check out soundclips at Amazon or links below. Highly Recommended!
www.froskull.com
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Friday, August 22, 2014

CIMINO: "Angels & Animals"

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

(Catchy) Kick azz rock 'n roll from Kansas City? Yes Sir Indeed. I'm as surprised as the rest of you, however, you can' still rock in America according to these guys. No strangers to Sleazy Rock and grinding guitar work, Cimino come out swinging like Pete Way (bloody UFO) after another punch up with Michael Schenker. It's heads down in gutter town and turn your amps up to ten and never turn down again.

They have the attitude of 80's youth gone wild and acts such as Jane's Addiction, L.A. Guns, Love/Hate, Backyard Babies meets Shinedown and Buckcherry. Their latest album, "Angels & Animals", this is deliciously sleazy and furious from the smashing opener of "Anarchy" to the closer of "Shine". "Start All Over" is like a proper kick to the head and the track, "Animal" is gutsier than most. Not to mention that several other tracks are just top notch material worthy of your attention.

The song "Fame" might just remind you of Backyard Babies and their "Brand New Hate" album and song. "Never" is just the perfect kick azz ballad (really?) and story of being too young and too in love to care, with the chance to look back and see from years of hindsight. Vocalist/guitarist Kyle Cimino sings with the sprangy rock attitude as well as the mere hint of the Enuff Z'Nuff dude. I'm not sure touring with the Nigel Dupree band (son of Jackyl front man Jesse James Dupree) is something to brag about though? Don't you just hate the Jackyl and their chainsaw song? But hey. What ever rocks your boat.

The bottomline: One of the finest sleaze/attitude rock albums as of lately. Cimino certainly deserve to be on your must-hear list. Highly Recommended and make sure to check out the below links for more info!
www.ciminoband.com
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CIRCLE II CIRCLE: "Live at Wacken"

Rating: Live
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Savatage... excuse me. Circle II Circle and their first ever live album recorded at the 2012 version of Wacken Open Air in Germany. The band from Tampa Bay, Florida, US of A, featuring the former Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens, has been around the block for over 10 years by now. Yet they've managed to ignore all of their music and playing it safe by performing the majority of the songs from Savatage's old album "The Wake of Magellan".

I do type the majority of the songs, since the mad geezers at Wacken could not provide them with the time to perform the album in its entirety (see full track listing further down the page). Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy this live album, Savatage's old album, as well as the strong vocals of Stevens. I just find it strange that Circle II Circle would ignore their own music? especially since Stevens (as far as I know) did not compose any of the Magellans and thus no chance of cashing in on the material. Hardly any banter in between tracks and merely the following statement from Stevens: "It's nice to be back at Wacken. We started with Savatage and now it's Circle II Circle. But what the f**k! We're still doing this what you want to hear and that's what matters, right?", end quote.

The weird part/stuff aside, "Live at Wacken" (official bootleg) is the rather impressive live album and opener "The Ocean/Welcome" sets the tone and standard for the entire gig. Pompy, epic progressive power metal with Stevens at the centre of attention as he deliver vocal performances of the highest school and order. The production honestly feels like the real deal for most part and I've always been fond of Savatage's Zak Stevens' era and albums. Even if I hold 'Edge Of Thorns' as best of them all. The nice reminder and album prior to the Savatage reunion at Wacken 2015.

Tracklist: [1. The Ocean/Welcome [2. Turns To Me [3. Morning Sun [4. Complaint In The System (Veronica Guerin) [5. The Wake Of Magellan [6. Anymore [7. The Hourglass [8. Blackjack Guillotine.
www.circle2circle.net
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

MARTINA EDOFF: "Martina Edoff"

Rating: RRR
Label: MRM Production 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Huge eighties mane and hairdo - check. Skin-tight leather pants and overall wicked outfit - check. Striking the classic rock pose in booklet pics - check. Alright then. Let's start up the engine as the Edoff is ready to takeoff on a journey through space and time. Martina is the rather familiar session and backing vocalist from Sweden with several big names and world tours on her track record. You'll find Edoff on many of the 90's Swedish Dance/Pop hits (Cherion productions) and artists such as Ace Of Base, Dr. Alban, E-Type, etc.

Don't go thinking that her solo album must be Euro-Dance pop though. Nothing could be further from the truth. More recently, you'd find her singing on Novak and Escape Music releases and her first and biggest love - classic melodic rock and especially the Wilson sisters and Heart. According to Martina, their self-titled release 'Heart' from 1985 "summarized everything that I love about music", end quote. 

Ten tracks of mid-tempo melodic rock and there's definitely a little bit of twang-guitar and R&B in between these softies which are all co-written by Martina Edoff. Well. With the exception of "Just Take My Heart" of course, since that's your Mr. Big cover and quite the smashing version too. To be honest. A couple of tracks could just as easily have been performed by Jill Johnson and even at times Shania Twain. Heart, you say? Absolutely. Bits and pieces, but not as much as expected really.

The quick track by track. Opener, "On The Top", mega catchy, twangy, boppin' stuff. Basically the 50/50 mix of Heart and Shania Twain and top notch killer vocals by Martina. "Back Home", great soft-rock in the style of the Thomas Vikström (Talk Of The Town, Candlemass) solo album from the nineties. "Who You Are", co-written by Lars Abrahamsson (Broke N Blue) is the throw-away softy. The blues/rock and bass-lines of "Hero" will soon have you thinking about Alannah Myles and Black Velvet. "Heartland (again co-written by Abrahamsson) eighties melodic rock with a catchy hook and everything. "Seeds Of Love" (Mother Nature Song) folk-rock-ish with a special nod to the seventies great. "Seduce Your Mind", catchy rock number and the perfect display of Edoff's impressive lead vocals. "My Moment", excellent rock with poppy refrain. The closing track, "Before I Die", the most uptempo classic rock tune of them all.

Final verdict: Overall darn solid. Excellent vocals, looks, and performances. I do however miss a couple of hooks (considering the style of music).
www.martinaedoff.com
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RED TIDE RISING: "The Rising"

Rating: R
Label: RTR 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Red Tide Rising hail from Denver, Colorado, U.S. of A. There's no denying that these guys can play their instruments and their latest release "The Rising" feature a decent tune or three (especially 'We Are The Hunted' and 'Cold'). On the other hand. The lead vocals are rather flat and uninspiring as they come out sounding like the third rate hybrid project where TEN meets Depeche Mode. It's one of those albums that goes through several different stages and styles as you can pick up everything from soft progressive stuff to classic rock and the Gothic melody. Elsewhere, 'The Rising' stays on the middle of the road as they steer clear of all the important ingredients to make the great album. Lack of hooks, atmosphere, and not to mention that the songwriting is seldom in the premier league of rock, would suggest that this band need another album or three to pick up their special formula of success.

Monday, August 18, 2014

STATE OF SALAZAR: "All The Way"

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

Sweet and fluffy melodies with a distinctive old school AOR sound (Toto, Survivor) meets Sweden and Scandi(navian) Rock. I can't put my finger on why I enjoy this CD as much as I do? It must be the pure innocence of the band and their close to naive but catchy compositions? State Of Salazar recorded the independent 7-track EP a couple of years ago and caused quite the wave. I haven't been listening to those tracks, however, I notice that all of their West Coast and "Chicago" influenced numbers are gone (there's hardly any horns nor jazz to be found on this platter) and instead you'll end up just around the corner of Street Talk, Work Of Art, and merely the hint of Bad Habit.

It's definitely soft keyboard-infused melodies (nearly the 60/40 mix of AOR and West Coast) and you just know the silly amount of crap these poor bastards has to put up with from other musicians in the land of Vikings. Markus Nilsson (A.C.T, Andromeda, Royal Republic) is the co-producer, recording, and mixing engineer and it's a pretty flawless but at times sterile production.

From the word go, it's vintage stuff and keyboardist Stefan Mårtenson tickle the ebony/ivory as they did in the early 80's when AOR still came out sounding Pomp(ish) and slightly Symphonic (prior to the more basic U.S. AOR keyboard work of the late 80s). Have a listen to "Catastrophe" for some excellent and outrageous keyboard work. "Eat Your Heart Out", Toto right down to their shoe-laces and there's no doubt whatsoever about their main influence and inspiration. "I Believe In You", "Marie" and the mixed messages of "Adrian" (or is it supposed to be Adrianne?) are songs to play loud in the background while watching old re-runs of Miami Vice. Don't forget your mint-green blazers.

Vocalist Marcus Nygren, the Joey Tempest of the band as he's responsible for all songs, fake tan, as well as being the douche? Nah. No idea really. He's neither the Tempest sound alike for that matter. Final verdict: Are you really supposed to play this kind of music as the Swedish act in the year of 2014? F**k the music police! Don't let anyone else decide what you can and can't enjoy. I need my yearly dose of this as well as I need my Prog, Punk, Thrash, Soul, Art-Rock, R&B, Funk, Metal, etc. etc. Kindly stand back - it's a Wimp-lash!!
www.stateofsalazar.se
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Philip SAYCE: "Influence"

Rating: Comp.
Label: Provogue/Mascot 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Philip Sayce, one of my favorite "new and true" blues guitarist as of lately. He's very much the fuzzy and groovy six-string bender in the tradition of Jimi H & Eric C, and he's just like the two, the great singer with a certain knack for delivering the goods. Heavy as funk and groovier than your dish-washer on full blast, rich, yet raw tones ála the Roadhouses are only to be expected on this platter.

His latest offering to the Gods is the 13 track album of "Influence" where Phil S pays tribute to the past (7 covers) as well as performing six newly written originals. You could say the oldies influenced him and producer David Cobb (Rival Sons, California Breed, etc) to write the newbies as they're steeped in the same mould, shape, and form.

Going through some of the covers. "Tom Devil", one of those songs that dates back to the birth of it all. "Sailin Shoes" is funky psychedelic from the pen of Lowell George. "I'm Going Home" originally composed by The Sonics, "Green Power" (I've been told since I had frankly no idea at first) the Little Richard tune and "Better Days" (Graham Nash) are all powerful and slightly modern editions of the originals. The Cobb/Sayce tunes are hits and misses where "Out Of My Mind", the lovely semi-ballad "Fade Into You" and "Evil Woman" stand out as the best in test. The latter, strangely not the cover tune.
www.philipsayce.com
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

KIX: "Rock Your Face Off"

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

Wicked! What I really like about "Rock Your Face Off" is the simplicity of it all. KIX are certainly sticking to their guns and not jumping on the latest bandwagon or trying to be something they're not. It's strictly business as usual and their basic 4-chord party hard rock are blasting out through the loud speakers. Old fans should be reassured to find out that all those wasted years haven't drawn the band into a completely new or weird direction. This platter is a rocking and contains all the elements which turned the U.S. band into a fun studio as well as live act.

Opener "Wheels In Motion" sets the pace and ehhh... wheels in motion and it just doesn't let up or go of the accelerator. Steve Whiteman chew and spit out the words like a nervous, trigger-happy, good-fellow with a spanking new Tommy-Gun for Valentine's Day (famous killing in the 30s). The guitars provided by Ronnie Younkins and Brian Forsythe are hard-hitting riffs to the body and the rhythm section (Mark Schenker, Jimmy Chalfant) is booming like thunder, or if your Norse tradition would rather prefer, Thor in the sky.

Indeed. All the ingredients for a rock n roll party is certainly present and even if co-founding member and songwriter Donnie Purnell is missing out the reunion, his replacement on bass guitar (Schenker), simply picks up the torch and co-writes the majority of the twelve tracks. The production by Taylor Rhoades (Aerosmith, Ozzy, etc) is clean and very loud and the songs are exactly the type of party anthems which soon will have you up and dancing on the tables. Sure. It's KIX via 70's legends such as AC/DC and Cheap Trick [check out the excellent semi-ballad, 'Inside Outside Inn' for some Cheap Trick(s) and moves]. But they're (still) doing it with their eighties style and sound. 

It's difficult to look past the lyrics of "Dirty Girls", but it's tongue-in-cheek, and they're every man's dream you know what I mean. This is straight out of the acca dacca back catalogue and the song works like a charm. The same goes for most tracks actually and "Rock Your Face Off" seems built for a jolly good time. Plenty of KIX - Highly Recommended.
www.kixband.com
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Jethro Tulls Ian ANDERSON: Thick As A Brick - Live In Iceland

Rating: Live 2CD
Label: Eagle Records 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Oh Ian Boy! The flute, the flute is calling. Standing on one leg and playing that darn thing for 46 years is no child's play. Anderson is the right man for the job though. Some would say it's the very definition of Thick as a Brick? Let's not go there but rather back in time as Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson visited Iceland for concerts at the Harpa Hall during the early leg of the TAAB 1 and 2 tours of 2012 and 2013.

This is the first time Thick As A Brick and Thick As A Brick 2: Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? have been offered in a combined set, and the quality is sustained throughout both parts. On part:1 The instruments remains the same as in 1972 (the original release year of TAAB 1) with Hammond, Fender Jazz Bass Gibson Les Paul, etc. However, Anna Phoebe add some violin and Ryan O'Donnell add vocal content that Ian couldn't achieve while playing various instruments. It's one of those big 70's concept albums which featured one continuous track spread across two sides of an LP telling the story of a young boy named Gerald Bostock. Thus why CD one is merely one massive long track and probably not intended for the fan of 3 minute long songs.

This 2CD live release may just lack the feeling of upfront and raw live music. It's perhaps just too perfect and neat as everything shines like a burning star. I quite like it though and you can't blame the musicians for being sloppy or out of order. The whole prostate awareness banter and interlude is just way too long and out of context, even if the Icelandic audience might find it amusing? TAAB part 2 is clearly not quite up there with the first part, but several sections are great and the progressive folk-rock is dead on English and wacky fun. The 2CD set stand on its own, however, I'm sure that DVD or Blu-ray is the way to experience the show.
www.jethrotull.com

Monday, August 11, 2014

NICOLAS WALDO – “Master Of The Universe”


Rating: RRRR
Label: Lion Music
Review By: Alan Holloway


Nicolas Waldo might not be famailiar to many of you out there, but the name will surely strike a chord (hah!) with a few guitar widdlers, because he’s so much of a shredder he could be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ arch nemesis. Last seen lending his talents to Vorpal Nomad, this is, I think, his debut solo album.

There are no vocals on ‘Master of The Universe’, so if instrumental albums ain’t your thing this might be a good time to bugger off. Me, I’m not the world’s greatest instrumental album fan, mainly because I find they get too samey after a while. Then again, when one comes along that makes you sit up and take notice it’s a great feeling, and ‘Master Of The Universe’ does just that.

Nicolas Waldo is a seriously good guitarist, but there’s shedloads of them out there. What makes him special is his composition, plus his ability to restrain his instincts to go full throttle all the time. I also consider it a plus that the album clocks in at less than thirty minutes, meaning no time to fart about or tread the same musical ground. It’s all lively, well paced electric guitar heroics until you get to the acoustic track ‘Prince Of Peace’, which is nice enough (and played beautifully) but I’ve never really liked shredding on an acoustic.

‘Master Of The Universe’ is an almost perfectly paced, superlatively played piece of instrumental rock. Short but sweet, this is a perfect introduction to melodic shredding and instrumental albums in general. Well done that man, for showing that the sexiest thing from Columbia is not, as was thought, Shakira, but your playing.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

X-DRIVE: "Get Your Rock On"

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

First impression. Cheesy artwork. Dodgy moniker. Average opener that remind us of a second rate Lynch Mob (the track: Love's a Bitch). What's there to like about X-Drive from L.A. of U.S. of A? Lo and behold, their debut album is quite the grower and there's plenty of fun moments and tracks to be found within these 12 tracks of late 80's hair-metal and slightly bluesy melodies. It's got a swagger 'ala Wild Horses meets Hardline meets Shark Island meets several other acts of the heydays of massive hairdos and wicked riffs.

X-Drive is the lovechild of lead guitarist Jeremy Brunner (long-time underground hero) and he's managed to land the excellent Keith St.John of Montrose and Burning Rain fame as lead vocalist. Add to this bassist James Lomenzo of White Lion and Megadeth and drummer Fred Fischer (Midline, Cure For The Fall) and get ready for the groove. It's hardly original nor ground breaking music. It's basically a rocking good time with no intention to save the world or experiment with sounds from the darkest depths of the sea. I do enjoy the tone of guitarist Brunner and it's been nicely produced by the late Led Zeppelin engineer Andy Johns. Indeed. It's all well-crafted melodies that draw influence from the bluesy as well the melodic side of hard rock.

There's however a minor problem that a majority of the tracks are steeped into the mid-tempo style and formula. They groove along just fine though and let's face it, sometimes you're just in a mood for the plain obvious and simple. Or like the band would say: 'Sometimes it's just a change of heart. There ain't nothing that you lack. Sometimes you know it ain't the stars and there ain't no goin back'. Huh? Anyhow. Nice stuff, but not always super catchy, if you get my point?
www.x-drivemusic.com
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ADRENALINE RUSH: "Adrenaline Rush"

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

Previously known as cute pre-teen girl from the Swedish pop duo of Peaches in the early 00's (they had a minor hit in Sweden with 'Rosa Helikopter'), Tåve Wånning strikes back with melodic hardrock, lipstick, paint, and leather. Truth be told, it's basically just another project by Eric Mårtensson (Escape, WET) as he's responsible for co-writing all the songs, production and backing vocals. I don't believe that Tåve did anything beyond turning up at the studio and providing lead vocals and the mandatory shaking of the hips? But hey... Elvis Presley conquered the world on the same basic terms.

Adrenaline Rush are actually a five piece (?). Not a single member of the band managed to compose any of the 11 tracks though? Oh yes... that's always the sign of a great band. Hang on a minute... it reads ALL instruments by Mårtensson??? WTF? I guess the band did not play on the record? And you used to complain about Warrant and their guitarists back in the days. Shame on you. Cherry Pie for me.

The main question, however, what about the actual music on display? Not too shabby. Pop Metal or rather typical Mårtensson rock only with female vocals. Tåve is quite the poppy singer (style-wise) and her performances are very professional done and executed. I believe that fans of Erika (the original and first wife of Yngwie Malmsteen) might also get a kick out of these tracks and vocals. It bothers me to the extreme that both "Generation Left Behind" and "Girl Gone Wild" have either 'Hey Gone Wild' or 'Girls Gone Wild' as their main hook (choruses). Did they not notice the similarities? "Too Young To Die" is certainly catchy and you can all shout-a-long to its familiar refrain. Final verdict: Nice. Mildly catchy and decent fun on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
www.adrenalinerush.se.

YES: "Heaven & Earth"

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

Yes or No? Heaven or Earth? First things first. Jon Anderson is no longer their lead vocalist and his replacement (Jon Davison from Glass Hammer) is basically the sound alike with falsetto vocals and whole she-bang. I do not have a major problem with this since I'm not really the long time fan. Merely the last six, seven, years or so and it's been fun discovering all those excellent, but slightly weird 70's albums. Close To The Edge is their all-time masterpiece in my humble opinion. Steve Howe (guitars), Chris Squire (bass), Geoff Downes (keyboards) and Alan White (drums) are all on board and this album is greatly produced by the legendary Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars, Foreigner, etc).

Heaven & Earth is not quite as experimental and ehem arty as their early albums as it's more melodic progressive rock and you don't always need to be the prog-nerd to enjoy these melodies. The songs are all mid-tempo and darn catchy in a light progressive way and style. I do like this album quite a lot and tracks such as "The Game" and "Step Beyond" are easily up there amongst their best work. I know this must be weird to most folks, but they sort of remind me both of their 80s period as well as the cult act of Hobbit.

"To Ascend" is basically soft-rock and more towards the style of Supertramp than Yes to be completely honest. But it's good stuff and those poppy prog melodies of "In a World Of Our Own" and "It Was All We Knew", sits nicely in between their previous work and the sound of Supertramp. You're in for a treat, if you're able to look past the absence of Anderson. And I know that's a big 'IF' to some of you guys. But give it a shot, since it's really fine and smooth progressive rock with great orchestration. Recommended.
www.yesworld.com
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CHICAGO: "XXXVI Now"

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

"Cause Now! This is the time we must start living in". Really? Formed in 1967 and with 36 albums under their belt, I believe the main question on every body's lips: Are they simply just timeless or completely out of touch? Perhaps we should give Hall & Oates a ring? Nah. Why bother? File this under easy listening with marvelous backing and lead vocals and their horn section at full swing. Peter Cetera and Bill Champlin are long gone and so are most of their AOR-infused melodies of the eighties and early nineties. Not necessarily a bad thing... but in this case... maybe.

'XXXVI Now' is yacht rock and ships in the same way as Barry Manilow is (to) Mandy. Not quite sure which way to turn? Or do they turn both ways? I don't know. Never mind the previous sentence. There are however no upbeat, uptempo, numbers to be found such as '25 To 6 or 4' and it's all very safe and middle of the road with few stand out tracks. Does it sound like a million bucks? Absolutely. Lamm and co. are truly professionals and this particular line-up (including newbies but veteran musicians Walfredo Reyes, Jr. and Lou Pardini) hit all the perfect notes from the word go. That's if you're into ultra smooth U.S. elevator music.

I have this love/hate relationship with Chicago and I believe that you can't beat their mid/late 80s sound. I do enjoy some of their more upbeat 70's stuff and XXXVI unfortunately feels like neither to be honest. Which sort of make sense since it's 2014. However, to each good tune, there's at least one dodgy. Opening track "Now" is glossy, laid-back music and probably my fave along with "More Will Be Revealed", "Naked In The Garden Of Allah", and the Earth, Wind & Fire sounding "Free At Last". The utterly cheesy and patriotic 'America' is beyond silly and several other tracks does not rock my Yacht.

File this under West Coast, Yacht Rock, Soft Rock? Elevator? or simply just Chicago? Yeah. The latter will do just fine. P.S. The perfect Yacht Rock album in my humble opinion - the Christopher Cross debut.
www.chicagotheband.com

MARILLION: "A Sunday Night Above The Rain"

Rating: Live
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

There's been plenty of Marillion live album as of lately (special fan clubs editions, etc, etc.) and "A Sunday Night Above The Rain" is the latest to appear on our radar. Recorded in The Netherlands, Europe on March 10, 2013 at the Marillion Weekend at Center Parcs in Port Zélande, this 2CD version might just attract the fans enough to splash the cash. Recorded during the "Sounds That Can't Be Made" tour, the band perform all the tracks from their latest album plus five other songs from the past.

I normally tend to shy away from acts who simply refuse to play their early hits and albums. Especially since it's their roots, history, as well as the main reason to why they can continue to release albums as of today. The live version of "Gaza" is however thought worthy as it clearly points towards a couple of issues that simply won't go away no matter what. "Waiting To Happen" is haunting rock with your progressive touch and "H" sings his heart out to the lucky few at the front of the audience.

"This Strange Engine" is another fan favourite as it brings down a roar from the back of the crowd. The sound is crystal clear and they may be popular still, but there's probably never going to be another golden era such as the Fish fronted (Sil)Marillion. They do however perform "Garden Party" at the end of the show. ... And they've certainly managed to move on from the early days with some excellent releases over the years. I still believe they need to build a bridge between the two though. Also available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Recommended.
www.marillion.com

NEOPERA: "Destined Ways"

Rating: RR
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Gamma Ray bassist Dirk Schlachter and Dark Age guitarist Jorn Schubert are jumping on the Gothic/classical bandwagon. Ten years after the rest of the pack and it's sadly just too little and too late. Nina Jiers's soprano voice is classical trained but leaves you rather cold in the long run. Thorsten Schuck baritone is different to say the least and obviously there's the very deranged cookie monster growls going on in the background.

There's hardly anything that distinguish this record from so many others in the same genre and style during the past 14 years or so. The orchestration is pretty mechanical and computerized and there's not a single shred of space nor the much needed sense of human touch. It's nearly as naff as the band's moniker may suggest and I seriously doubt that opera fans would appreciate the gimmick? "Last Pantomime" is a great bombastic tune with Schuck at the centre of attention and you can find a couple of other decent songs inclined towards the concept of symphonic rock.

Final verdict: It lacks however a proper spark in the dark and it's frankly just another display of 50 shades of grey (and no, not the worst book ever in the history of mankind).