Wednesday, July 20, 2022

 


ARTIST: CATS IN SPACE

 ALBUM: KICKSTART THE SUN

 RATING: RRRRR

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OFFICIAL WEBSITE


Thursday, June 16, 2022

SEVENTH WONDER: "The Testament"


Label: Frontiers 2022
Rating: RRRRR
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

In my books, Seventh Wonder have created the perfect mix of progressive metal and melodic rock, and this album is another example of that. Their songs are definitely not simple three-chord ones, yet they are very accessible and hook-driven. The choruses these guys can write... sheer melodic bliss! 

The musicianship is top notch of course, but not self-indulgent. There are long instrumental passages but they don't sound like they've been added as showcases for the musicians, they're integral parts of the songs. There's even one full-blown instrumental "Reflections", which might not be my favourite song but I don't usually skip it either. The band's melodic sensibility shines through even without vocals and choruses.

Speaking of vocals, Tommy Karevik shines here. His performance is soulful and passionate, one does believe every word he sings. He might be better known as the voice of Kamelot these days, but I feel that with Seventh Wonder he's truly "home". Having said that, the chorus of "The Red River" does have a strong Kamelot-vibe... these two worlds are not million miles apart.

There's not a single average track among these, but I do have my favourites: "The Light", "Invincible", "Mindkiller", "Under A Clear Blue Sky" and the heartfelt ballad "Elegy", which is almost as good as the classic "Tears For A Father" from SW's breakthrough album "Mercy Falls".

Seventh Wonder should have a genre of their own, because they aren't just a prog metal or melodic rock band... Progressive Adult Oriented Melodic Metal? PAOMM?

https://seventhwonder.se/





Thursday, March 24, 2022

BATTLE BEAST: "Circus Of Doom"

 


Rating: RRRR

Label: Nuclear Blast

Review: Kimmo Toivonen

The third album since the rebirth of the band sees Battle Beast going for an ever more grandiose, bombastic sound. Orchestration and big choirs galore, and vocalist Noora Louhimo belting it out... this is massive music indeed. 

The first half of the album contains most  of the bombastic material, while on the second half the band lighten the mood a little with the likes of "Russian Roulette" and "The Road To Avalon", both blessed with irrestistable pop-metal hooks. They're among my favourites, as is the similary catchy "Eye Of The Storm".   "Wings Of Light" and "Armageddon" are hook-laden tracks too, but somehow they remind me a lot of Anette-era Nightwish. Not that it's a bad thing.

The straight-forward power metal of the first Battle Beast albums is pretty much a thing of the past, but I for one don't miss it. 

https://battlebeast.fi


ZADRA: "Guiding Star"

 


Review: RRRr

Label: Frontiers

Review: Kimmo Toivonen

Guitarist/vocalist August Zadra has worked with Dennis De Young and Waiting For Monday, but now he has stepped into the limelight as the frontman of ZADRA, a project named after him. People involved include Jeff Scott Soto, Alessandro Del Vecchio and many more, even Dennis De Young plays a keyboard solo on one of the songs. 

For what it's worth, this doesn't sound like a typical Frontiers project. This is a rather varied one, with some songs harking back to the seventies, when Kansas, Journey and Styx ruled the airwaves. "Take My Hand" for example - very much in the Kansas mould. The same goes for the short, oddball intro song "Come Together". Then again, "Nothing More To Say" skips the next decade and fall into the early nineties' AOR mood, when bands like Tall Stories were adding a bit of an alternative vibe to their sound.

My favourite tracks fall somewhere between the 80's sound and contemporary AOR: "Ship Of Fools", "Escape The Rain" and "I'll Meet You In Heaven". I guess they're some of the more traditional melodic rock songs, but I can't help it, I'm a sucker for big choruses and certain familiarity!

Talking about familiarity, "Come Back To Me" goes beyond that. It took me a minute to figure it out, but then it hit me: the song wants desperately to be Tommy Shaw's "Dangerous Game"! It isn't, but it's disturbingly close... 

https://www.facebook.com/augustzadramusic


TEN: "Here Be Monsters"

 


Rating: RRRRr

Label: Frontiers

Review: Kimmo Toivonen

Apparently the first of two albums put together at the same time, "Here Be Monsters" is what Gary Hughes and co. did during the downtime of Covid years. The sequel will see the light of day later this year I guess, much like the double shot of first two TEN albums back in 1996. 

I have to say that the last couple of Ten albums haven't really done much for me, but I'm glad to say that on this album Gary Hughes seems to have found his knack for great melodies again. It's not like he's changed the sound or style of the band dramatically, but somehow many of these songs represent the essence of Ten quite brilliantly - poetic, intelligent lyrics, melancholic melodies and catchy hooks, not to mention stellar musicianship and of course Gary's deep voice.

I like just about all the songs on the album, but from track 2 to track 7 the band showcase 5 songs all worthy of a placement on a "Best Of Ten" playlist, future Ten classics such as "Hurricane", "The Dream That Fell To Earth" and "Chapter And Psalm", to name a few. 

One minor complaint though - a few of the songs start quite similary, with the chorus melody sung by Gary on top of sparse instrumentation. But that's about it, "Here Be Monsters" goes straight to the top 5 of Ten albums for sure!

www.tenoffcial.com

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

FM: "Thirteen"

 

LABEL: Frontiers

RATING: RRRRr 

 Review By: Alan Holloway 

Not to be confused with Black Sabbath's identically titled album from 2013 (hey – it could happen), '13' is, unsurprisingly, UK melodic rock stalwarts FM's thirteenth album, as long as we all agree that 'Rockville' I & II were two albums, which they were. Playing on the traditionally spooky 'Friday The 13th' thing, the cover has a haunted house on it, though knowing FM it's full of kittens and unicorns, because they ain't no scary band!

In what seems to be a deliberate move these days, the album starts with a more chugging track rather than smooth AOR. You can file 'Shaking The Tree' with such openers as 'Black Magic' or 'Digging Up The Dirt' and, like those tracks, it's a serviceable opener that amused me when it used the hoary old line 'Seen it in the paper, heard it on the news'. Things pick up with 'Waiting On Love', the catchy, energetic and AOR-tastic first single, whilst 'Talk Is Cheap' is another heavier track with a good melody and cracking chorus. Last in the opening salvo is the best track on the album (for me, anyway), and that's 'Turn This Car Around'. Currently available as the second promo single, this is FM at their absolute melodic rock peak, with a really energetic pace, a great chorus and the chance for Steve Overland to demonstrate exactly why he's regarded as a master of the melodic singing arts.

As this is an FM album, we get a ballad, which comes in half way through the album. 'Long Road Home'; is a beautifully soulful track with a spoonful of blues heaped on top. Perhaps the catchiest chorus award has to go to 'Be Lucky', and it's a stronger reviewer than me who isn't humming 'If you can't be good, be lucky' for the rest of the day after hearing it just once. Saying that, it's followed by the punchy and bluesy 'Every Man Needs A Woman', which has a proper “whoah whoah” in the chorus that does it's best to kick the previous track out of your earworm cavity. FM are bastards for this, and 'Thirteen' has plenty of moments that come back to haunt you as you're trying to get off to sleep.

'Thirteen' is, for me, a real shot in the arm for FM after 2020s 'Synchronized', which was an enjoyable album but not a killer. This one is a blast from start to finish, the usual eleven tracks (should have been thirteen, really...) with no experimentation, no heroics in sight. A great FM album is made by the songs, and this one has an excess of quality tracks, flitting between chunkier, bluesy stuff and pure AOR without missing a beat. It's a given that the band don't miss a track musically, as they're one of the tightest units in the game, and whilst Steve Overland gets deserved praise for the vocals, never forget the efforts of Jupp, Goldsworthy, Davis and Kirkpatrick, now entering their fourteenth year as a full band.

Fucking Marvellous... 

Official Website 

Monday, February 21, 2022

WOLVESPIRIT: "Change The World"


LABEL: Spirit Stone

RATING: RRRr

Review by Martien Koolen

"Change The World" is Wolvespirit's 6th studio album and again it is an album with energetic classic rock songs, produced in the Southern Ground Studios in Nashville. In this legendary studio bands like The Foo Fighters, Eric Clapton, The Rival Sons and The Allman Brothers band recorded some of their albums, so this is almost holy ground indeed! 

Wolvespirit is a German band, hailing from Wurzburg, with an American singer Debbie Craft and as I said before this is authentic classic rock in the veins of Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, and Iron Butterfly. Opening track "Don't You Know" is indeed a fine and great introduction to this new album, featuring a very heavy riff and a subtle Hammond organ melody. "Thunder And Lightning" is a bluesy song, while "Over The Rainbow" is rather calm and easy. "Strong Against The Wind" is a true rock anthem, "Time Is Running" a groovy track, while "Hells Bells Are Ringing" is truly up tempo and reminds me of ZZ Top. Highlights are "Strong Against The Wind", a rocking anthem and "Time Is Running", a very groovy song with an addictive chorus. 

Conclusion: a great album indeed featuring melodic classic hard rock galore, certainly Wolvespirit's best effort so far!

https://www.wolvespirit.com

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

GIANT: "Shifting Time"


Rating: RRRR

Label: Frontiers 2022

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

It's the third coming of GIANT! The legendary AOR band released two classics of the genre back in 1989 and 1992. The "second coming" took place in 2010 with Terry Brock on vocals. While some didn't consider a real Giant album because of the absence of original vocalist/guitars Dann Huff, it didn't meet as much resistance as this third attempt. Granted, Dann Huff was more involved in that one. Many of the songs were co-written by him, and he played two solos on the album. 

Dann Huff gave his blessing to original members David Huff and Mike Brignardello to continue as Giant, but apart from one solo, he's not involved in creating "Shifting Time". Instead the album has been written by Frontiers' in-house team led by Alessandro Del Vecchio and band's current vocalist Kent Hilli. 

Knowing the number of songs Del Vecchio's songwriting team has released during the last year or so, I was quite worried. Thankfully, these songs are mostly first class stuff. There are obvious nods to the Giant legacy here and there, but most songs stand as their own and not as replicas of old classics.

Kent Hilli is one of my favourite "new" vocalists, and he does a good job here. I like the overall sound and instrumentation as well, so while this may not be the original Giant, it's far from being something that ruins the legacy.

The first single and opening track "Let Our Love Win" didn't exactly raise my expectations, as it sounds like a half-hearted attempt to write a "typical Giant rocker". However, the next three songs "Never Die Young", "Don't Say A Word" and "My Breath Away" are very good AOR tracks, you can hear a Giant influence but they are not carbon copies of old songs. "Highway Of Love" and the ballad "It's Not Over" are less interesting, but "The Price Of Love" ranks as one of the highlights. The first bars of the verses are stolen from "It Takes Two", but the chorus is pure AOR magic which more than makes up for this little theft. Or "tribute", whatever you call it.

"Standing Tall" doesn't work for me at all, but do I like the ballad "Anna Lee" and "Don't Wanna Lose You". The closing number "I Walk Alone" is possibly the album's best song, a massive semi-ballad that can proudly stand alongside Giant classics such as "I'll See You In My Dreams" and "Save Me Tonight". Del Vecchio and Hilli have captured the essence of Giant, added some European flavour and the result is massive. 


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

MAGNUM: "The Monster Roars"


 Label: SPV

 RATING: RRRRr

Review by: Alan Holloway

It boggles the mind that UK pomp rock stalwarts Magnum formed way back in 1972, making 2022 their official fiftieth anniversary. Though line up changes are pretty hard to avoid over such a length of time, Magnum have always benefited from the core duo of vocalist Bob Catley and guitarist/songwriter Tony Clarkin. Fans will agree that they've never unleashed a duff album on us, and so let's see what this little monster brings to the table.

The title track opens the album, and I have to say it's one of the weaker offerings here to my ears, with a structure that works well when it gets going, but the slow sections are a bit of a drag. A better opener would have been second track 'Remember', which also varies in tempo but has a structure to it that works so much better than the previous track. The subject matter of (I think lol) the good old days before Covid when we could go out and dance without any worries. Bob's voice sounds fantastic, and his range is utilized to great effect, with the music behind him flowing and pomptastic thanks in no small part to Rick Benton's great keyboard melodies. 'All You Believe In” slows things down a little, and it's a nice mid paced track that I don't think people will be going too mad over, a bit Magnum-by-numbers but still a good track. First single 'I Won't Let You Down' follows, and I know this did divide opinion when it was released I honestly really like it. It does have echoes of other recent tracks, but has a refrain that just wedges in your head and won't let go, a first class Magnum mid paced track in every way. 'The Present Not The Past' starts off pretty slow, though this isn't unusual for Magnum, but when it gets going (ironically with the words 'Wake me up') it turns into a real crowd pleaser indeed, with yet another attention grabbing chorus and pleasingly effective time changes. The first half closes with my personal favourite track (and second single) 'No Stepping Stones'. Unusually, it starts off with a crowd scene, then blasts into action with a brass type refrain that lets you know you're in for an upbeat ride. This has everything I love about Magnum, with a fantastic chorus and a melody that barrels along for the entire track save for a brief quiet section that precedes a great Clarkin solo. For me, this is up there with 'Just Like An Arrow' or 'Days Of No Trust' as a stone cold classic Magnum pop rock belter.


Side two, if you're a vinyl junkie, kicks off with 'That Freedom Word', another mixed pace song with a powerful chorus and atmospheric in between sections. The interestingly titled 'Your Blood Is Violence' follows, a slower track that is almost seven minutes long. It has a strong beat and some nice 'woah woah' bits, but only gets really interesting in the final two minutes as Clarkin gets in a cool solo and the pace ramps up dramatically. 'Walk The Silent Hours' is the albums first ballad, and it's a treat. Not a classic, but a solid, emotional song that allows Bob to shine and has a neat keyboard refrain that sticks around long after the song has ended. It's back to upbeat fun next, with 'The Day After The Night Before', and it's yet another pacey rocker with a chorus that just won't let go. Tony Clarkin writes this sort of thing so well, managing to make it sound both formulaic and totally original with one mystifying sweep of the pen. 'Come Holy Men' is a big, bombastic track that reminds me a little of 'Another Nice Mess' from the first Hard Rain album, and it's a great example of the band playing with power, about as rocktastic as Magnum tend to get and a welcome one, too. The album closes with 'Can't Buy Yourself A Heaven', a second ballad that has a nice, powerful chorus that once again shines thanks to Bob's vocals plus an upbeat section that allows Clarkin to show off a bit. A decent closer for sure.


'The Monster Roars' can stand proud against any of Magnum's 21st century albums, and is very in keeping with the last four of five releases in terms of content and style. There's certainly several tracks that threaten to be utter monsters live, and I hope that we get the chance to see that for ourselves. Fifty years of quality rock music? Piece of piss for these guys. 

 Official Website

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Monro: s/t (re-issue)


Label: Steelheart Memories

Rating: RRRr

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

I remember late eighties, when vinyl copies of this album used to grace bargain bins.  Of course I bought myself a copy for a few coins, because the band looked the part and I had seen some coverage in Kerrang! magazine. Back then my musical taste was probably a bit more "stricktly hard rock" than these days, and this album was just way too pop. I did like the opening track "Some Girls" a lot, but the rest of the album was too close to Bogart Co, a Finnish pop band doing great business at the time and obviously the arch enemy of all true hard rockers. 

Now that I heard of this re-issue with whopping 7 bonus tracks, I thought I'd give it another try. Maybe what I thought were horrendous pop influences would turn out to be AOR vibes in disguise?

Yes and no. The album is definitely better than I remembered, I like several tracks on it, but a few of the songs are still too "Bogart Co" or "a heavy rock version of Wham", as Dave Reynolds wrote in his original review for Metal Forces.

The bright and bouncy opener "Some Girls" is still my favourite track. It sounds like it could've been taken from Fate's classic "A Matter Of Attitude" album. "Here Comes The Night" is a darker, moody track that makes me think of Scorpions going to an overtly AOR direction. "Give Me Love Again" then... yeah, it's a Wham! or Rick Astley track with some guitars. Definitely skippable.

The balladic "It's You" is an okay track, but even better is "Lonely People", which reminds me of cult AORsters Zinatra and Fate again. "American Girls" follows similar path, and while it's not as good, it gets a thumbs up from me. Then the quality starts to drop...

"Princess" comes across like a left-over Autograph track, rejected for a reason - it desperately needs a decent chorus. "Surrender" and "Open Up Your Heart" are slightly better, but not particularly exciting. "Rock This City" is one of the harder-edged tracks, but again the chorus is a let down - it doesn't make me believe for a second that these guys would "Rock This City" or even a small village!

The two bonus tracks with Carl Sentence on vocals are really good, especially "Message To The Heart". The production leaves a lot to be desired, but they are still worthwhile additions and stylewise similar to the album. 

The production of 5 songs from the "Wales Sessions (1989)" is mostly better, but it just as well might be a different band. Shane Smith from USA was the vocalist on these songs, and he's good, somewhere between Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge) and Richard Black (Shark Island), but the songs are frankly quite dull. The pop influences of the earlier material are gone, instead you'll get slightly bluesy "cowboy-boots-and-stetsons" rock á la Tattoo Rodeo or Tangier. Just not as good. The best on of these is the ballad "Stay With Me", which might have given the band a minor hit, had it been released at the time on a major label. With a moody video filmed on a desert and in a smoky bar. You know those videos.

https://www.facebook.com/Steelheart-Records

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Eclipse: "Wired"

Label: Frontiers

Rating: RRRRr

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


Eclipse are definitely one of the most reliable bands of the melodic hard rock genre - since their third album they’ve released one quality album after another. Some might say they’re writing the same album over and over, but I don’t think so. They certainly have a trademark sound and apart from a few sidesteps, they have stayed on their chosen path. Then again, under the umbrella of ”Eclipse sound” there’s enough variety to keep things interesting.


Just like on their previous album, the three first songs on ”Wired” take no prisoners. The trio of ”Roses On Your Grave”, ”Dying Breed” and ”Saturday Night (Hallelujah)”  is a breath-taking display of Eclipse’s hard-edged brand of melodic rock - uptempo, hook-laden and riff-tastic, what ever that means! A hat trick of hits. The aggressive, almost punky vibe of ”Roses” shows that Eclipse are not your average pink and fluffy AOR act, while ”Dying Breed” is bound to be a crowdpleaser and a massive shout-along anthem. ”Saturday Night” is another anthem, lyrically more of a happy party song though. 


One more of these frantic bangers would have been too much, so the band first slow it down a little with ”Run For Cover”. It’s a good song, a nice midtempo track but not necessarily a future Eclipse classic. Then they slow it down a lot with the ballad ”Carved In Stone”, which didn’t do much for me after the first couple of spins. It has turned out to be a real grower, and I now quite like it. There’s something eerie, mystical about it.


After a couple of mellower tracks, ”Twilight” takes us back to the vibe of the three first tracks, and it’s a killer track with plenty of hooks. ”Poison Inside My Heart” I would call ”a standard Eclipse song”, a decent album track, nothing more, nothing less. On a weaker album it might be a standout, but the competition is tough. 


”Bite The Bullet” is a curious song - the verses are melodic and nice, while the chorus is pure Accept… followed by an almost country’ish guitar interlude, followed by a monk choir… they sure have packed a lot into these four minutes.


”We Didn’t Come To Lose” reminds me a little bit of D’Molls’ forgotten glam classic ”777” with the Who-oh-oh’s and  ”wewillrockyou” drums. An anthem, but not quite as catchy as some of the earlier ones. ”Things We Love” has a bit of an Irish/Celtic/Folk vibe with Thin Lizzy-like guitar work. 


Just as I’m wondering whether the band has run out of ammo, they come with all guns blazing and offer us ”Dead Inside”. This one’s a melodic rocker with touches of Pretty Maids and some perfectly placed keyboards in the chorus. Funny how something so seemingly insignificant as a few keyboard chords can elevate a song to the next level, but at least for me they do in this case.


While this album doesn’t get the full 5R’s from me like the previous two did, it’s still a fantastic piece of work and surely one of 2021’s winners. The streak continues.


Friday, October 8, 2021

Robin RED: "s/t"

Rating: RRRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Degreed frontman Robin Eriksson has gone solo as "Robin Red", and with H.E.A.T. guitarist Dave Delone producing and co-writing, he has created an album that sounds timeless and throwback at the same time. 

While listening to these tunes, I'm constantly reminded of early eighties' solo artists such as Rick Springfield, Billy Squier and Bryan Adams. The sound of the album is like a subtle 2021 update to the guitar-based melodic rock sound of those artists. I like the fact that these songs do not sound as "processed" as much of stuff released these days, there's a certain organic feel to these. 

With Dave Delone co-writing, you might hear a bit of H.E.A.T. here and there, and a couple of songs have a bit of an Europe/Joey Tempest solo vibe. Okay, the chorus of "Heart Of Stone" is maybe more than just a bit similar to the Europe song by the same name...

My favourite song include "Everlyn", "Midnight Rain" and "Nitelife", but the whole album is pretty solid. A few of the harder-edged rockers sounded like fillers at first listen, but after a few spins I've grown to like them more.

Monday, September 27, 2021

MINI-REVIEWS, Summer of 2021, part two: Eurodance The Metal Way, The Brave, Circus Of Rock, Proud, Alirio, Winding Road, Powerwolf, Tim, Angeline, Laurenne/Louhimo



Album round-up / Summer of 2021 (Part Two)

Mini-reviews by Kimmo Toivonen


Just like last summer, I’ve decided to put together a couple of ”round-ups”, short reviews of recent album releases. Here’s the second batch. 


”EURODANCE, THE METAL WAY” (rating: ???) by various artists is just what it says, metal covers of 90’s eurodance hits. The artists are underground bands, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of most of them before. Then again, I can’t claim to be an expert of the underground extreme metal scene. Anyway, some of the covers are pretty funny, some strange and some totally hideous. I like well-done metal covers of pop songs, but these go mostly way beyond that. Some of the strangest ones include Scuriu’s doomy instrumental version of Corona’s ”Rhythm Of The Night”, Vadge Fang’s oddball System Of A Down-influenced ”Falling For A Witch” (originally by E-rotic) and Everlust’s Ace Of Base-cover ”Happy Nation”, which doesn’t sound happy at all. DevilsBridge’s version of Ace Of Base’s ”The Sign” is probably most ”faithful” to the original, there are no growled vocals and the melody of the song is left pretty much as it is. A couple of the songs don’t really fit the theme,  Jamiroquai and Depeche Mode…hardly what is considered Eurodance? 


THE BRAVE are back with ”Evie’s Little Garden” (RRRR)!  The Christian rockers’ debut album ”Battle Cries” from 1992 is a bit of a cult classic: produced by the Elefante brothers, it was full of hookladen songs. The band released another album a couple of years later, but it was a disappointment. After a 20-year hiatus the band was reformed with a female singer, and released an album of remakes and some new stuff in 2014. Now the band has released their third full album of new material, with original guitarist Stayce Roberts stepping up to the lead vocalist position. He does a good job, and the some of new songs are like natural progression from ”Battle Cries”. Sure, they’ve picked a few new influences along the way, but the hooks of the debut have made a welcome return. Just listen to the title track, ”And We All Fall Down” or the hauntingly beautiful ”Come To Me”. 


CIRCUS OF ROCK is an all-star project put together by drummer Mirka Rantanen (King Company, ex-Hevisaurus). The album ”Come One, Come All” (RRRr) is strangely enough a little bit less than the sum of its’ parts. Rantanen has enlisted some of the best singers around and most of the songs are good.  Still, I haven’t gone back to this album as much as I thought I would. There’s maybe a couple of songs too many on the album and the standout hits are missing. ”Desperate Cry” (sung by Johnny Gioeli), ”Never” (Kimmo Blom), ”Plywood Covered Windows And Crappy Shoes” (Antti Railio) and No Reason (Marc Quee) are very close  though. Fans of former Nightwish bassist/singer Marco Hietala might want to know that he does a comeback of sorts on this album, singing ”Sheriff Of Ghost Town”. 


Swedish band PROUD released their first album in 1984, and now in 2021 they’re releasing their ”Second Act” (RRRr). That’s a fairly long break they took… I haven’t heard the first one, but the second album sounds almost like it could have been recorded in 1984 too. There are very few ”modern” elements, this is timeless melodic heavy rock in the vein of 80ies Rainbow, Europe and Whitesnake. Solid stuff from start to finish, but no song rises above the rest, and therefore the fourth ”r” is just a small one.


Frontiers Records seem to have taken interest in South America’s talent lately. One of the latest signings from that part of the world is Brazilian singer ALIRIO. He’s a well-known name in his native country, famous for his work in several musicals and from the bands Khallice, Age Of Artemis and  Shaman. ”All Things Must Pass” (RRR) is his first international solo album. Alirio is definitely a good and versatile singer, and he gets to showcase that on this album. The songs are mostly what I’d call ”modern mainstream pop/rock”, think Nickelback, Daughtry, Hinder… even Robbie Williams. At times I feel like listening to a covers album, because some of the songs sound very familiar, yet aren’t. My favourite songs: ”Let It All Burn” and ”Grey”.


WINDING ROAD is another Swedish AOR group, which is probably enough information for some people to hand out their money.  Sure enough, their self-titled first album is a RRRr-worthy effort of pleasant melodic rockin’. Maybe even slightly too pleasant and predictable, because the edges have been pretty much polished away. Then again, I can’t deny that most of the songs are very good and have all the ingredients that I like. It’s just that some spices are missing to make them really memorable! Recommended for fans of Work Of Art, Bad Habit and the likes.


POWERWOLF. Basically Sabaton with corpsepaint, with songs about vampires instead of war? Well, I don’t know if that’s fair, but both bands do play bombastic power metal and have found themselves a certain identity that separates them from countless other power metal bands. ”Call Of The Wild” (RRRR) is the first Powerwolf album I’ve given a lot of spins, and I like it. They have a handful of extremely catchy songs on it, including ”Beast Of Gevaudan”, ”Dancing With The Dead” and the title track. Granted, there are times when the pompousness goes a bit overboard, ”Blood for Blood (Faoladh)” borders on being ridiculous. And isn’t ”Varcolac” something you take for diarrhea?


Now here’s one from the archives: TIM is the band’s name and the album is self-titled (rating RRRr). These songs were recorded these in 1983, and miraculously remained unreleased. Featuring notable Chicago area studio musicians, the band were aiming to be ”Chicago’s Toto”, according to guitarist Bruce Gaitch. Sure enough, had these songs seen the light of day back in 1983 and given a major label boost, Tim might have stolen some of Toto’s thunder. Thom Griffin of Trillion provides edgy lead vocals which remind me of Fergie Frederiksen (Toto’s ”Isolation” lead vocalist). Does this album have songs as classic as ”Hold The Line” or ”Africa”? No, but certainly enough good material to please a Toto fan. 


ANGELINE. Guess where they’re from? Yep, Sweden. The band has more or less active for over 30 years, but they have a really fresh, yet classic sound. Their new album ”We Were Raised On Radio” (RRRr) doesn’t sound like old geezers going through motions. They’re not trying to hide that they’re ”old geezers” though, the title track says it all. The album gets a good start with a few really nice, melodic rock songs, but after the fourth song the band seem to lose their focus and try to cover too many bases. The 60’s sounding ”Baby Come Back” sticks out like a sore thumb for example. ”Halfway To Anywhere” is the clear winner from the second half of the album. 


LAURENNE/LOUHIMO is a Finnish project with two strong vocalists, Netta Laurenne of Smackbound and Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo. Netta has written and produced the songs of The Reckoning (RRR) with his husband Nino Laurenne (Thunderstone, Hevisaurus), and they’re solid traditional heavy metal. Think Priest, Dio, Maiden, Doro… great vocals, excellent production and good songs, but none of them really stood out. I was hoping for more.


Thursday, August 26, 2021

VEGA: "Anarchy And Unity"

 

RATING: RRRRR

Review By: Alan Holloway

Label: Frontiers

Some bands just connect with you on every level, and UK melodic rockers Vega have done that to me right from their first album over a decade ago. 2021 sees album number seven, their second during lockdown, and a chance to play some of the songs live this time, as they head out on the road in October.

The biggest problem I have with Vega is running out of superlatives when reviewing their albums. Vega, you see, rarely put a foot wrong. Their music is powerful melodic rock with solid guitars, layered keyboards and cool, short solos. They don't stray from their basic formula, but somehow manage to inject a new strain of creativity with each album that keeps complacence at bay. It's a good trick that serves contemporaries like FM and Cats In Space well, giving fans what they're used to but keeping it fresh at the same time.

The album starts off pretty much like any other Vega album, with the high energy tracks 'Beautiful Lie' and 'Sooner Or Later', both of which show the band at their melodic best. The mid paced 'At The End Of The Fade' caught me by surprise, though. Not because it's a slower track, but because the chorus just grabs you and doesn't let go, with vocalist Nick Workman's delivery a thing of sublime beauty. I've been listening to the album for a few weeks now, and bugger me if this doesn't seem to be my favourite, which is odd because usually it's a faster track.

'Anarchy & Unity' is chock full of catchy songs, more so than any other Vega album so far. 'Welcome To Whenever', 'Bring The Riot' and 'Glow', for example, will have you singing along pretty quickly, and they're not alone. There's a few plot twists, too, as the big six minute ballad 'Live For Me' switches gears half way through by upping the tempo considerably and finally giving Marcus Thurston the longest solo to date (forty five seconds), before going back to the impressive ballad it started off as, finishing up in a flurry of drums and keyboards. You've also got 'C'mon', which starts a bit like a jazz lounge standard and mutates into a bouncy tune with a chorus that reminds me of Michael Jackson's 'Leave Me Alone'.

The problem with reviews like this is they're written by an obvious fan, and so I've not tried to hide that. Even so, I am confident in my proclamation that 'Anarchy And Unity' is the best Vega album so far. Whilst it retains much of their trademark sound, it's not afraid to vary the tempo to great effect, with a few slower songs that really stand out amongst the usual bangers. If you still haven't boarded the Vega train, this is a great place to start, and anyone who likes powerful melodic rock should absolutely love this.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

MINI-REVIEWS, Summer of 2021: Crowne, Nitrate, Blood Red Saints, Constancia, Night Ranger, Bloodbound, Toby Hitchcock, Mayank, Spectra, LeBrock


Album round-up / Summer of 2021 (Part One)


Mini-reviews by Kimmo Toivonen


Just like last summer, I’ve decided to put together a couple of ”round-ups”, short reviews of recent album releases. Here are the first ten reviews.


First up, two albums featuring the vocals of Alexander Strandell, best known as the singer of Art Nation. CROWNE’s ”Kings Of The North” (rating: RRRR) is powerful, metallic melodic rock, pretty similar to the latest H.E.A.T. album sound wise. That’s hardly surprising as Jona Tee of H.E.A.T. is heavily involved, playing keys and rhythm guitars, producing and co-writing the album. The rhythm section is John Leven of Europe on bass and Kicken Lundqvist of The Poodles on drums. The term ”Supergroup” applies here I think.

Dynazty axeman Love Magnusson provides the guitar solos. Top tracks for me: ”Sharoline” and ”One In A Million”. Recommended for fans of H.E.A.T., Art Nation, Avantasia and that sort of stuff.


NITRATE’s ”Renegade” (RRRR) sees Alexander Strandell lending his voice to more traditional AOR material. Nitrate is a band put together by bassist/songwriter Nick Hogg, and this is the band’s third album. Strandell is also the band’s third lead vocalist. With VEGA’s Martin brothers and Midnite City’s Rob Wylde co-writing the songs, this might be the best Nitrate album so far. Def Leppard influence is strong, but one can hear some ”retrowave” vibes here too (”Big City Lights” for example). A solid album from the start to finish. The ”Whoa-oh” of ”Alibi” is a bit of a deja-vu moment though - it was already used in the opening track ”Dangerzone”!


Continuing on the theme of ”two albums - same vocalist” we have Pete Godfrey from UK. First his ”own band” BLOOD RED SAINTS and ”Undisputed” (RRRr). I was almost ready to give up on this album after the first track ”This Ain’t A Love Song”, which somehow just annoys the hell out of me. Don’t ask why, I can’t explain. Luckily I gave the other songs a chance, and found a lot to like. Previously, Blood Red Saints has flirted with more modern sounds, but on ”Undisputed” they’re mostly embracing the classic Journey’ish AOR sound, with lots of layered keyboards and harmony vocals. At times I get flashbacks of Shy’s ”Excess All Areas” album, which isn’t a bad thing at all.  A couple of heavier tracks have a Harem Scarem meets Winger sound. Standout tracks: ”Love Like War”, ”Karma” and ”Alibi” (a popular song title!). 


Godfrey’s second effort is CONSTANCIA’s ”Brave New World” (RRRR). On this album he fronts an otherwise Swedish band. ”Brave New World” is a slightly heavier album but melodic nevertheless, and I’ve got to say that I like Godfrey’s vocals more on this one. He shows how versatile his voice really is, and somehow his singing sounds easier. The songs range from classic melodic hard rock to more progressive stuff, but there’s a common thread that keeps it all together. A special mention to my favourites ”Synchronistic”, ”Titanium” and ”Stronger”. 


NIGHT RANGER’s ”ATBPO” (RRR) has been getting mixed reviews. For me it’s a rather bland album. I’ve played this a few times, and to be honest, most of these songs leave no lasting impression whatsoever. I’m looking at the track listing and trying to remember the chorus melodies… apart from a couple of songs (”Bring It All Home To Me” and ”Cold As December”), sorry, I just can’t.  ”ATBPO” is ok enough when you’re listening to it, but there isn’t anything that really makes me want to play it. Not the ideal situation.


I admit that after their first couple of albums, I haven’t really given BLOODBOUND too much attention. With ”Creatures Of The Dark Realm” (RRRR) they have made a comeback to my life and my playlists, and I might just check out what they’ve done during the last few years. Anyway, the (occasionally) masked men from Sweden have fine-tuned the hooks of their melodic metal to near perfection. Even though the elements they’re using are tried and trusted, Bloodbound create fresh and tasty metal out of them. If you’re into Halloween, Sabaton, Edguy or Powerwolf and haven’t checked out this band yet, now is the time!


Pride Of Lions vocalist TOBY HITCHCOCK’s third solo album ”Forward” (RRRR) sees him working with Frontiers in-house producer/songwriter Alessandro Del Vecchio, instead of the Swedish producers who did his first two albums (Erik Mårtensson - first album and Daniel Flores second). Sweden is still represented heavily, as both Pete Alpenborg (Arctic Rain) and Kristian Fyhr (Seventh Crystal) have co-written several of the songs. The title track, ”Changes” and ”Garden Of Eden” are all very good, modern-tinged AOR songs, and I like the three solely Del Vecchio-penned big ballads ”Tonight Again”, ”Don’t Say Goodbye” and ”Losing You” too. I hear a strong Balkan influence in their melodies, they remind me of nineties’ Yugoslavian hits from the band Hari Mata Hari. Many of them were re-recorded with Finnish lyrics and they became massive hits here, performed by local artists.


The oddly named MAYANK (album: "s/t", RRR) is an another Del Vecchio-helmed project. Brazilian vocalist Gui Oliver and Perfect Plan guitarist Rolf Nordström are the main members of the "band". They've been given a eleven songs from Del Vecchio's vault, but apart from the first two songs and a couple of others, it's pretty clear that these aren't from the top drawer. Gui sings his heart out and Nordström's guitar work is classy, but it doesn't help when the material is just "ok" and "nice enough". 


SPEKTRA has similar ingredients to Mayank - Alessandro Del Vecchio and a Brazilian vocalist (a guy called BJ, known best from Jeff Scott Soto’s bands). ”Overload” (RRRR) is a stronger album though, mostly uptempo and catchy. Jeff Scott Soto is helping out his protege BJ, he has co-written and co-produced the songs and you can easily spot his backing vocals. There are similarities to the AOR solo material of JSS obviously. Highlights: ”Overload”, ”Runnin’ Out Of Time”, ”Behind Closed Doors”. 


LEBROCK’s ”Fuse” (RRRR) is the UK duo’s first full-length album. Their synth-driven pop rock has strong crossover potential, they sound contemporary yet their sound is unashamedly 80’s retro at the same time. Although apparently electric guitars aren’t fashionable in contemporary pop right now, Lebrock do not care and crank them up loud and proud. Shaun Phillips’ vocals are intense and passionate, and songs have clever hooks. Memories of classic 80’s soundtracks arise when listening to these songs.

 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

CATS IN SPACE - "DIAMONDS"

 

LABEL: HAROMONY FACTORY 

RATING: RRRRR

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY



Cats? In space? Surely some mistake? No, there's no mistake here, as the UK's pop/rock/glam maestros welcome their latest vocalist with a sweet re-recording of some of their best songs.


Cats In Space delivered a real punch to the senses with their last album 'Atlantis', showing off new singer Damien Edwards to great acclaim and sticking firmly to harder tracks to cement their status as a first class hard rock act, regardless of their willingness to drift away from that path a few times. With no opportunities to tour due to the pandemic, the band decided it would be good to get into the studio and get Damien to re record the vocals on some of fans' favourite tracks. Good practice for him, and also another piece of product for their famously voracious fans. 


Edwards is the third man to take the mic in the, and to be honest original vocalist Paul Manzi was never going to be an easy guy to follow up, as he was a great singer and performer who suited the band. Mark Pascall was in the band for a short while, but this release and 'Atlantis' shows that Damien is definitely in this for a while, with plans for his second original album with the band well under way. 


So what we have here is ten older tracks re-recorded by Damien, plus three from the Atlantis album and a live recording of fan favourite 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'. If you're not very aware of the band, it goes without saying that this is a perfect intropduction, with the tracks going in date order, something which really shows off the fact that there's been no dip in quality since day one. You get the incredible title track from the 'Too Many Gods' album to kick things off, and it's obvious that Damien can not only handle this but also makes his own mark with a voice that is as good as Manzi's but has it's own inflections and tones. There's the forgotten dicso classic 'Thunder In The Night' and the short and vert sweet '2.59', plus the more grandiose 'Scarecrow', all being given a new lease of life, though I couldn't say they're necessarily better, just different. Side by side with the originals, it's simply one song done brilliantly two times. 


Cats In Space are an incredibly easy band to fall in love with. There's melody in spades, hard rockers and clever lyrics, and an innate sense of what makes a good song. They dance around different rock genres with ease, never losing sight of what it is that makes them who they are. A must for old fans, and a perfect gift for anyone on the fence. Because cats sit on fences. Tch... I'll get me coat.


Official Site

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Dee SNIDER : "Leave A Scar"

 


Label: Napalm Records

Rating: RRRR

Review by Martien Koolen

In 2018 Dee Snider, aka mister Twisted Sister, released his great solo album ‘For The Love Of Metal’; a must have album for all lovers of classic heavy metal! Three years later Snider comes up with an even better album called “Leave A Scar’, featuring twelve excellent new songs, produced by Jamey Jasta, shouter/vocalist in the metal band Hatebreed. 

Snider’s fifth studio album is again a very heavy album filled with awesome neck breaking modern hardcore and metal core guitar riffs, in the veins of Trivium and Hatebreed. Opening track “I Gotta Rock (again)” – a reference to the Twisted Sister song “I Wanna Rock”? - says it all as it is a very addictive metal anthem indeed! 

Other highlights I need to mention are: “Before I Go” (searing, with a super chorus), “Time To Choose” (brutal, trashy, with grunts from Cannibal Corpse screamer George Fisher) and the almost moshy/trashy “The Reckoning”. “Leave A Scar’ ends with “Stand”, a more than excellent ballad and that one is a 1000 per cent Dee Snider indeed! “Leave A Scar’ is dark, groovy, trashy, loud, brutal, melodic and it hits you in the face with full force; kicked in the teeth for sure!! Meaning: a must have for all heavy metal fans, so buy or die and play at maximum volume!!

www.deesnider.com

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Tygers Of Pan Tang: Majors & Minors


 Label: Target Records

Rating: - (compilation)

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Tygers Of Pan Tang! Now there's a name from the past! They were a part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement (NWOBHM) and rather popular back in the early eighties with albums like "Wild Cat", "Spellbound" and "The Cage". the band broke up for the first time in 1983, only to be reformed in 1985 for a couple of albums. In 1987 they broke up permanently.

In 1999, Tygers Of Pan Tang celebrated its' 20th anniversary at Wacken Open Air with original singer Jess Cox and guitarist Robb Weir. Next year Robb Weir reformed the band with new members. 

"Majors & Minors" is a compilation of TOPT material from 2004 onwards, with vocalist Jacopo Meille, who has been in the band longer than any other singer. According to the band's website, this is not a "Best Of" album, more like "Tygers Choice", as the tracks were chosen by the band. 

Back in the eighties, some of the band's songs were very much in the AOR vein, but apparently their recent material celebrates their NWOBHM legacy. You won't find anything like "Paris By Air" or "Lonely At The Top" among these tracks. Instead, you'll get gritty riff-based songs with very few modern influences. Tracks "Never Give In" and "Let It Burn" sound like they could be archived recordings from 1981. I guess that's good news for many fans of the band.

My favourite tracks seem to be from the band's latest album "Ritual", which I must check out more closely soon. "White Lines", "Worlds Apart" and "Destiny" are more melodic and hook-driven than the other tracks, which suits me just fine. 

While this compilation didn't exactly make me want to run and start a crazy Tygers shopping spree, it did remind me of the band, and I plan on revisiting some of their material, at least "Ritual" and some of the 80's classics. So, a mission accomplished. 

www.tygersofpantang.com

https://www.facebook.com/tygersofpantangofficial/




Saturday, June 26, 2021

Kent HILLI: ”The Rumble”

Rating: RRRRR

Label: Frontiers

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


It’s no secret that I rate Kent Hilli as one of the best singers to have emerged during the last few years. His work with his main band Perfect Plan has been stellar. Their last year’s ”Time For A Miracle” was one of the best releases of 2000’s, and I loved their cover EP, on which Hilli really shined.


For his solo album, Kent Hilli has teamed up with Swedish AOR maestro Michael Palace, who has co-written most of the songs with him and produced the album. They’ve put together a great collection of traditional melodic rock songs with rich production and beautiful melodies. 


When someone creates a solo album it’s usually because there’s material that wouldn’t suit the main band. That’s not really the case with these songs, they would’ve been excellent Perfect Plan songs just as well. Maybe it’s a case of Kent Hilli wanting to work with different people. It doesn’t really matter, I’m just happy to hear these songs!


The title track is a perfect opener: a massive melodic rocker in the vein of your favourite 80’s soundtracks like Rocky IV or Top Gun, yet it’s not a desperate attempt to re-write ”Burning Heart” or ”Danger Zone”. The moodier ”Cold” is another favourite with its’ superb, gigantic chorus. ”All For Love” is a nice song, but maybe a bit too ”AOR by numbers” mid-tempo track..


I’ve always been a sucker for staccato keyboard intros, and I can’t help but like ”I Can’t Wait”. Especially when the writers have thrown a couple of different choruses to it, as if they had too many of them! The first one is pretty traditional Journeyesque one, while the second is an anthemic one with ”Whoa’s” and clever background vocals.


”Don’t Say It’s Forever” reminds me of Foreigner at their best, and the hook is AOR perfection. Great backing vocal arrangement again and athmospheric keyboards. Definitely one of the best tracks. 


A bluesy lick and a throaty ”allright” kicks off ”Miss Up To No Good”. This very Giant-like rocker is harder edged that most of the other tracks, but it only adds variety to the album. ”Heaven Can Wait” is classy ballad written by Kent and Tina Hilli, possibly his wife?


”Does It Feel Like Love” is the one song where I think I hear Michael Palace’s songwriting shining through the most, but it’s definitely not a bad thing. The song has a certain cool swagger!


”Love Can Last Forever” is another nice song, not necessarily one of my favourites but not skippable either. ”Never Be Mine” had me checking out the credits for a possible Jeff Paris connection, it sounds so much like something off his ”Wired Up” or ”Lucky This Time” albums. No such connection, it’s a Hilli/Palace original.


The Big Book of AOR says ”that an album should be closed with a big ballad”. Hilli & Palace have followed this golden rule with ”Still In Love”, an epic ballad that would have been a hit for Foreigner, Giant or Europe in 1989. Now it will be a hit for Kent Hilli, although maybe on a ”slightly” smaller scale… at least it’s one of the many hits from this album on my personal list.


https://www.facebook.com/kenthilli



Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Midnite City: ”Itch You Can’t Scratch”

 

Rating: RRRR

Label: Roulette Records 2021

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Hair Metal is back! Well, the whole term never existed back in the eighties, it’s something invented by later generations, but anyway, Midnite City proudly state that it’s their genre, and we’ll let them get away with that. Their sound definitely harkens back to the late eighties, the golden age of melodic hard rock - big hair, big choruses, big production. 

If you like vintage Bon Jovi, Danger Danger, Def Leppard and Winger, ”Itch You Can’t Scratch” is a rather safe bet. Midnite City pay homage to all of the above, and connoisseurs might find links to more obscure bands as well. On the band's previous albums there were a couple of tunes where the influences were perhaps a bit too obvious, but on this one they're more discreet. 

I wasn't totally convinced by the first two singles, the sleazy "Crawlin' In The Dirt" left me cold and while the Leppard/Winger-hybrid "Atomic" was better, I hoped that they have stronger songs on the album. As my rating might suggest, they do! 

Most of the remaining songs are more AOR-friendly and melodic than the first two singles. The third single "They Only Come Out At Night" is by far the best of the three, a dark, melodic rocker that could've been on Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid" album. Check out the video, it's really a mini-horrormovie! 

Other favourites of mine include the super-catchy "I Don't Need Another Heartache" ("Heart-heart-heartache"... listen to it once and try to get that out of your head! Ha! No chance!), "Fire Inside" and the Bon Joviesque mega-ballad "If It's Over". 

So far the band has released three solid albums back to back, which is a good achievement by any standards. I think I'll have to give the other two a spin, now that I've got this itch...

http://midnitecity.com/

https://www.facebook.com/midnitecityuk

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZRD0jECt4i5W2bxHvya58A


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

THE OFFICIAL NEW WAVE OF CLASSIC ROCK Vol 1

 

RATING: RRRRR

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

LABEL: RPM

So what makes a new wave an official new wave? Does the ghost of Lemmy have to appear and give his blessing? Does it matter? Probably not, because what really matters is the music, and this double CD certainly has enough of that.

    Released on the 23rd July, there's a massive forty two tracks included, and it's accurate to say that the cream of modern hard rock are very much apparent. Here's some names to play with: Massive Wagons, Hollowstar, Sons Of Liberty, Scarlet Rebels, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, Skam, Ryders Creed... I could go on, but can't be arsed. Forty Two different bands, all bringing their own bottle to the party.

    One constant throughout is quality, as there isn't a track here that I didn't get something out of. From the heavy blues stomp of Dead Man's Whisky to the laid back lounge music of Elles Bailey, stopping at the AC/DC-esque breakneck boogie of Thundermother, there's really something for everyone here, as long as everyone likes big guitars and bigger melodies. The only downside for me is that these days there seems to be too many young bands playing heavy blues music (and a few older ones here, too), but on the plus side at least the play it well.

    As a compilation album this is quite a huge undertaking, bringing together a ton of bands and several record companies so that we can celebrate that there's actually a shit ton of cool bands out there peddling their stuff. Myself, I genuinely hadn't heard of about half the bands involved, and have already earmarked a few for future consideration, which surely is the point of releases like this. If you like rock music this is a must, something to just stick on and enjoy wading through the dizzying array of talented artistes. 

 

Official Website 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

TEMPLE BALLS: ”Pyromide”

Rating: RRRRr

Label: Frontiers

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


”Pyromide” is the third Temple Balls album, but their first for an international label, Frontiers. The album is a definite step forward for the band in many ways, and I’m pretty sure they’ll make a lot of new friends with it. 


The first two singles ”Thunder From The North” and ”TOTC” didn’t really convince me, even though they’re both decent, energetic songs. Somehow I thought they were just a little bit too straight-forward, bulldozer-like rockers. Therefore I wasn’t really expecting the album to hit me as hard it did. 


With H.E.A.T. keyboard player Jona Tee producing and throwing in some of his songwriting expertise, it’s not a surprise that Temple Balls play in the same ballpark as Jona’s band. Make no mistake though, they are not a ”baby H.E.A.T.” even though Jona’s handprint can be heard, and if you enjoyed the last H.E.A.T. album, you’ll like ”Pyromide” as well. The songs are not alike, but both albums share a certain kind of hunger and determination. The hooks are sharpened to perfection and the band plays and sings as if their whole lives were at stake. 


There’s eleven songs on the album, and not one that I could call ”a filler”. Even the aforementioned singles work well as a part of the album, even though they’re still not among my favourites. There’s a refreshing amount of variety in the songs, no two songs sound alike and several sub-genres of hard rock and metal are visited. 


A few songs I want to mention: ”Fallen Youth”, ”You Better Run”, ”Something To Die For” and the ballad ”If Only I Could” are among my favourites, The bouncy ”Bad Bad Bad” is the song that could be the band’s crossover hit - with my vivid imagination I can see a huge festival crowd going up and down to its’ infectious groove, singing along and pointing fingers at each other… Hopefully this will be true someday!


https://templeballsrocks.com

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

EDGE OF THE BLADE: "Feels Like Home"

Rating: RRR

Label: Lions Pride Records 2020

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Better late than never. This album was released back in October last year, I downloaded the promo, played in a couple of times and then forgot about it. Now while re-organizing my hard drive, I found these songs again and decided to give them some attention.

Edge Of The Blade is a collaboration between Alan Kelly (ex-Shy, Seven Hard Years) and John Francis (UK AOR band After Hours). This is their second album, I haven't heard the debut but apparently it wasn't quite as "pure AOR" as this one. 

Kelly and Francis have decided to cover three songs from a cult classic AOR album - Mark Free's "Long Way From Love". Whether it was a great idea is debatable. "State Of Love", "Never Be A Next Time" and "The Last Time" stand out as they're are superb songs, in my opinion clearly better than the band's own compositions. Then again, they still pale in comparison to the originals. That's not to say that the Edge Of The Blade originals are bad songs. They're pleasant and likeable, but I didn't find any future classics among them. 

John Francis has an interesting voice, which definitely gives the band a bit of identity among dozens of AOR projects with a similar style. His very high-pitched raspy sound is very appealing but also somewhat piercing when he goes for the high notes. Like Benny Mardones mixed with Stephan Kaemmerer of Frontline, maybe...


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

GARY HUGHES: "Waterside"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Whispering Jack is back! Some people always tend to complain about the voice of Gary Hughes? So what if he's not the screamy hi-pitched vocalist? He's well aware of his strenght and weakness and these vocals are actually good and full of emotion throughout the album. The overall song material? Yeah. I believe you could file this under mature(ed) music as he's not really going for the perfect TEN sound (pun intended).

The opening track of "All At Once It Feels Like I Believe" feels like Gary believes in all eighties pop/rock at once and especially Ultravox and Midge Ure? It's the rather laidback effort in all honestly and "Electra Glide" could have been the work of any former UK boy-band singer such as Robbie Williams or Ronan Keating. "Lay Down" the slightly more uptempo track with a bluesy arrangement a'la the the groovy seventies. "The Runaway Damned" feature the singing guitar work and a refrain that simply reeks of Roy Orbison and classic rock of a long gone era. Seriously. I kid you not. It's pretty darn good though. "Screaming In The Halflight" is a fine example of Hughes' ability to squeeze the best as well as last drop out of his rusty old pipes and it's the great piano semi-ballad.

This is Hughes' first new solo platter since his last effort "Veritas", released well over a decade ago. The new solo album "Waterside" marks his long-awaited return to melodic rock according to the press-release? I guess that depends on your very own definition of melodic rock? Musically, this is a mixed bag and although there's a couple of bouncy rockers at the end of the album (Save My Soul, Seduce Me), it's still the rather sophesticated effort and attempt at mid-paced rock/pop. "When Love Is Done" is however the utter cheese ballad (sigh). Assisting Gary on the record are his Ten bandmates Dann Rosingana (guitars) and Darrel Treece-Birch (drums), with David Rosingana appearing on bass and Karen Fell and Scott Hughes helping on background vocals. Final Verdict: Not too shabby.

Monday, March 22, 2021

DARREN PHILLIPS PROJECT: "Volume Two"


Rating: RRR

Label: MR Records

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Darren Phillips has put together his second Project album, again with a massive list of guest artists. Darren himself is from Australia, while most of the guests are from Sweden, people like Philip Lindstrand, Herman Furin, Dennis Butabi Borg, Alex Strandell... the complete list would take half of this review!

This is definitely a versatile album, with song styles ranging from classic AOR sounds to punky hard rock and Hall & Oates-inspired R'n'b/soul-flavoured pop! Maybe a bit too versatile for my taste, since some of the more experimental tracks do not exactly work for me. But let's see what they've got, one by one.

"Stay" features Rob Wylde on vocals (I think), and it's kind of glammy rock track with a good chorus. A cool way to start the party. "The Last Goodbye" (so she didn't "Stay" then?) is a keyboard-driven AOR, an okay song but the strained vocal from the vocalist I can't recognize leaves a lot to be desired. "What's Love?" is another fairly catchy song, but somehow it sounds a bit rough around the edges. 

"December Night" sounds like an eighties' Kiss track from Paul Stanley, which in my books is a good thing. I think it's Dennis Ward on vocals for this one. We'll get back to this Kiss thing later...  

"You Make My Dreams" is a very bold departure from the rest of the album. It's a bouncy Hall & Oates styled track... It's not something I particulary enjoy, but nevertheless it's definitely bold and features a great vocal from Robbie LaBlanc.

"Drive" makes me think of some mid-eighties glam bands with a punky attitude - Easy Action or something like that. The production is suitably "lo-fi", probably on purpose. 

"Hold On"? Seriously, this song title has been on the "OVER-USED-THINK-OF-SOMETHING-ELSE" list since 1991... okay, it's a decent song with a dramatic vocal from Alex Strandell I think. The promo sheet could have used a "cast of characters" list. Next up, "By My Side" is a semi-acoustic, semi-balladic track which sounds like some minor hit from the nineties. And if there wasn't enough "holding" on this album already, the next song is "Holding A Love", and again I'm thinking of the nineties, Gin Blossoms, The Rembrandts... quite nice.

Last but not least, we return firmly to the eighties' sounds with an actual Paul Stanley-penned track that was never officially released. "Best Man For You" dates to the "Crazy Nights"-era and you can hear some similarities to "Reason To Live".  

So there, it's an interesting album and there's a lot of talent involved. You'll probably find something you like among these songs if you like melodic rock in general.

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