Wednesday, October 21, 2020

DEFECTO: "Duality"

Rating: Rr
Label: Black Lodge 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Blimey. This will take you back the odd 15 years. It's high energy and cringe worthy slightly alternative metal from the early 2000's. You know, it's very much the now extremely outdated and no longer popular sound of Hoobastank, Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, etc. They are about as original as the footballer covered in tattoos. Hint: They are ALL covered in tattoos. In other words. The multi-layered crusty pastry 'Danish' is originally from Austria/Vienna and not Denmark. They are simply named 'Vienna pastery or bread' in my homeland and not 'Danish' like the fake-copy. Ultravox wrote the song (Vienna) and the very camp 'Wonderful Copenhagen' as performed by some geezer just isn't the same kind of quality and you know it.

The third album from Denmark's Defecto, is very defecto as 'Duality' is some kind of thematic concept album taking inspiration from both "personal and external events, dealing with both the light and dark sides of human existence", according to the press release and info-sheet. Opener "Rings Of Saturn" goes from Avenged Sevenfold to Hoobastank metal (just like that) and it may just actually impress the average listener with its catchy refrain and uptempo mode. It's not too shabby. Several tracks are considerly darker though, including the ever-so-popular semi growls of the early 00's.

Truth be told. The entire Duality album is like a wet blanket music casualty that reflects the band's desire to compose since long-gone alt metal numbers with no real meaning or purpose. There are no actual fun songs to be found on the entire album, everything is diffused and disturbing from the opening number to the closing track. This release is supposedly based on your old heroes and rock/metal music of the past, but that will be little comfort to the poor schmucks who have to listen through all the heard-it-all-before compositions. It's very much a take it or leave it proposition and the majority of tracks would have you madly screaming and running for the hills. Back to the cave. Back to the basic. Back to the drawing board and start all over again.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

PANZERBALLETT: "Planet Z"

Rating: RR
Label: GentleArtOfMusic 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

That Panzerballett mastermind guitarist Jan Zehrfeld does not shy away from difficult musical experiments. Unfortunately the exact same statement goes for composing extremely boring instrumental guitar rock fusion music. The absence of a proper structure is clearly a faulty factor, contributing to its relatively disturbing product and final result. In my humble opinion, the style itself is just too hippie, LSD influenced, favouring and combining rhythmic lunacy and compositional shamelessness in one almost unlistenable album.

Why would anyone combine metal and big band jazz in the first place? Why not, you ask? Because it's simply not that interesting and all the vivid breaks, brass, and bar piano moves goes in through one ear and out the other. Unusual drumming (read jazzy fusion free-form stuff), howling saxophones, fast and snappy tempos, quirkiness and abundant guitar work, resulting in a confusing although fascinating effort with more diversity than guitarist are often given credit for.

One minute, I like the overall idea and concept, the next, I absolutely hate it! On tracks such as "Coconut" or "No One Is Flying The Plane" either the arrangements are so darn obscure that they're impossible to fully decipher or Pazerballet are simply recording their own doodgy version of Avant-Garde in an desperate attempt to be take seriously by old fart journolists and posh upper white class. The shocking fun Brutal-Metal version of "Walkurenritt" aka "Ride of the Valkyries" by Richard Wagner is however the real talking point and highlight of the album. We all enjoy the smell of napalm in the morning? Yes? No? Final verdict: Oh... I believe I'd rather play me some Satriani...

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

DARWIN: "DarWin 2 A Frozen War"

Rating: RRRR+ 
Label: DarWinOOS 2020 

Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom 

Progressive Rock and concept albums have come and gone in many different shapes and sizes over the past five decades. Even just looking at The Who and their dense start of Tommy to all the massive projects of the golden era of the seventies and the more metal-ish output of Dream Theater. It's always been about pushing the boundaries and looking outside the box while their minds and compositional skills run bezerk in the studio. In the case of "Darwin 2: A Frozen War", almost no aspect of the creative process was typical with team members spread out around the world and often under lock down. This second album builds on the previous idea and concept of Origin of Species and they certainly went bezerk on their instruments. 

Given plenty of space and time enough to paint with a big brush, big picture, complex pattern and smooth music, the Icelandic based artist of DarWin (guitar/vocals) continues the core collaboration with drummer and producer Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who, Jeff Beck, etc.) and bassist Matt Bissonette (Elton John, David Lee Roth, Ringo Starr, etc.). Joining them are Billy Sheehan (Mr Big, Talas, Winery Dogs, etc.) Guthrie Govan (Asia, Aristocrats, Hans Zimmer, etc.), Greg Howe (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake) and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Kiss, etc.). Only 5 new tracks. However. The vinyl version adds an extra 8 tracks from this album and the debut reworked in orchestral and unplugged versions. Expect this live in the future with The DarWin laser suit which uses a medley of custom made LEDs and motorized spinning laser??

It's overall the very melodic project where you can find bits and pieces of everything from Extreme, Robby Valentine - to Spock's Beard (Neal Morse), King's X, Rush (especially their mid/late 80's albums). DarWin is no doubt highly influenced as a guitarist by Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. The hard rock virtuoso shredding goes hand in hand with grand orchestral structure (including Reykjavik String Quartet), layered vocals 'ala Spock's Beard, Extreme and King's X, soaring harmonies 'ala Kansas and catchy choruses. With songs like "Nightmare of My Dreams", "Future History" and "A Frozen War" showing that they are also not afraid of experimenting with sound and arrangement, this comes across as an highly interesting and mesmerising album. If you usually find prog-rock invert and not melodic or catchy enough, have a go at this platter and you'll quickly produce an excessive amount of drool and saliva. Highly Recommended!

DarWin at Facebook

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

BROTHER FIRETRIBE: ”Feel The Burn”

Label: Brother Firetribe/Odyssey 2020

Rating: RRRRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


I didn’t rush out and review this as soon as I got it. I thought I’d give it some time so that the excitement over a new product from one of my favourite bands would simmer down. You see, I’m trying to be an objective reviewer… and failing miserably, some of you are already saying. Well, maybe so but after numerous spins, this album is becoming one of the top-ranking BFT releases, and I have a feeling that it will stand the test of time. 


The band teamed up with Jimmy Westerlund, who’s not only the producer/guitarist in One Desire but also the man behind several mainstream hit albums here in Finland. He has definitely created a  contemporary, polished sound for this album. There’s a bit of a ”synth wave” vibe in some of the tracks and the in general, the keyboards dominate the sound. As you may know, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen stepped aside from the band earlier this year, and he only plays on two of the songs. The band’s new guitarist Roope Riihijärvi and producer Jimmy Westerlund are responsible for the remaining guitar work. It’s subtle and stylish, but I can’t help but think that maybe a little ”crunch” wouldn’t have gone amiss on some of the tracks. 


I gave the band’s previous album ”Sunbound” the full set of R’s, but in hindsight maybe I was a bit generous. This set of songs is arguably stronger - while the band is experimenting, there are no ”oddities” such as ”Shock” or ”Phantasmagoria” or anything as bland as ”Indelible Heroes”. If melodic rock bands could still get airplay, basically all of the songs on the album could be ”singles”, even the more experimental tracks like ”Night Drive” (which actually was a single) and ”Battle Ground”. The Toto-meets-Foreigner ballad ”Love Is A Beautiful Lie” is the latest single release, and I hope it’s given a chance on some radio stations, because it deserves a wider audience than us already converted.


My personal favourites include the aforementioned ”Night Drive”, a song tailor-made for late night driving (obviously), but I can tell you that it works like magic on a bicycle drive at 6:30 am too. Apparently there’s a mini-movie based on it on the way. ”Chariot Of Fire” is catchy as hell, and extra mention to Jason Flinck’s melodic bass lines on that one. The melancholic pop-rock gem ”Ticking Away” ticks all the right boxes, and the synthwave-meets-earlyBonJovi of ”Candle In The Window” is superb too. ”Rock In The City” is an anthem, and ”Arianne” another synth-driven, modern rocker with Pekka Heino belting it out with intense passion. Really, there are no "skippable" tracks on this, and once we're able to see the band live again, I wouldn't mind if they played all of these songs in the live set.


Although in general 2020 hasn’t been a great year, at least we’ve gotten some stunning albums. ”Feel The Burn” might just be the best one of them.  


Monday, October 5, 2020

BON JOVI: "2020"

Rating: RR

Label: Island 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

2020 Vision? More like gone blind, gone deaf, voice gone. 2020 give love a bad name? The very best thing I can say about the effort, at least he's trying to do good and supporting Black Lives Matters and various anti-violence happenings. The singer songwriter or if you prefer Bruce Springsteen-lite music of "American Reckoning" has strong lyrics about the awful George Floyd killing by racist coppers in America and included are the very last words by Floyd, yes, I can't breathe.

Lyrically, this is a rather enjoyable album performed by the really rich, white privileged rocker... and some background musicians with no real meaning or say. Musically, it's the same dull and uneven affair as usual. It's Americana, pop/rock, but not really the kind that people enjoy and support to its fullest. There's a couple of real nuggets in between all the dust though. The 70's Glam-lite of "Brothers in Arms" take Bowie influences and mix it up with typical Jovi post 1995. The slightly uptempo rock and soft whoo-ooh choir of "Beautiful Drug" conjures up the brief prospect of something wicked along this dusty road. I believe it's a case of middle of the road though. Listening to this over and over again, there is nothing that suggests this not to be the case.

Final verdict: Jon deserve some credit for lyrical highlights about human rights, social justice (Lower The Flag), etc. But if the Jovi's are hoping to get out of the mess they've been in since that glorious ROCK period of fame (and the main reason why they're still popular today), they'll have to come up with something better and stronger than 2020. How about 2021? 2022? or 2023?

NIGHTMARE: "Aeternam"

Rating: Rr
Label: AFM Records 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Studio album #11 (really? who's counting?) sees Nightmare back, unbowed, unbreakable and inspired, ready to take the music to a whole new level. The band returns with the hugely talented female vocalist Madie (Faith In Agony) behind the microphone and has recorded the most ambitious album to date, "Aeternam". Now, I haven't been listening to all eleven albums by the French metal act. Merely a couple or three of them to be honest and I'm definitely okay with that. It's a mixed bag of tracks drawing on Thrash, old School Heavy Metal and symphonic rock, "Aeternam" is an album lacking spark and basically anything remotely memorable. The songs are all the same, based around the basic template and structure which quickly becomes the long deja vu experience and 'been there, done that'.

Heavier and more raucous than some of their previous offerings, with the most fun melodies of yesteryear been thrown out of the band, the first half of the album is ever so gloomy and dull. "Crystal Lake" picks up the pace, not really, but it's a decent effort. The real star of the album though and worthy all the praise would have to be the new vocalist, ehh... Madie? Much like Madonna or Beyonce, she's the one-name kind of character with a great set of pipes. The second half of the album and things get all loose and disjointed again and the band seems to think that repeating the first half compositions will be enough to see it through. It clearly isn't. It's back to the drawing board for the French Nightmare... sacrebleu!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

PERFECT PLAN: "Time For a Miracle"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The bells are ringing and the lads are singing - 'When the war comes closer and the fight is all we got. It's time that we know it's time. It's Time For a Miracle' Bloody'ell. I believe they are saying it's TIME? The band's second album finds them in excellent form with undoubtedly the best pure 80's AOR release of the year so far. The Swedish lads has captured a lot of the dud-dut and stabbing keyboards from Jimi Jamison-era Survivor, Foreigner, Giant, Signal, and Scandinavian AOR (Alien, Europe) with a personal magical touch and feel.

The band features the superb singer Kent Hilli together with Rolf Nordström on guitar, Fredrik Forsberg on drums, Leif Ehlin on keyboards, and new bassist Mats Byström. The latter used to play with Ehlin in the band Desert Rain (Bang Bang/1991) and are now once again reunited. Catchy and hooky to the last, Perfect Plan piledrive their way through the now familiar pure AOR territory, from the opening title track to closer, "Don't Leave Me Here Alone". And the cleanest production ever from this particular label lifts the material to the highest high. The bluesy Europe-styled, "Nobody's Fool", a darn nice breather from the shock-value AOR and something different from the rest of the compositions. Nicely done!

The other compositions have a lovely tendency to slowly creep up on you from behind and smoother you with keyboards and killer vocals. Best of all. Perfect Plan are serious about their music-al agenda and beliefs. It's not some kind of parody act or the half-arsed effort. They're not making a mockery of a bygone era. They're not trying to be AOR - they truly are AOR right down to their shoe-laces! It's all or nothing. Final verdict: This is simply just a marvellous example of U.S. Rock crossing over to Scandi-Rock to form one helluva alliance and union. For those about to AOR - we salute you! Highly Recommended!

Perfect Plan facebook

LANDFALL: "The Turning Point"

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Reading the press release it said that Landfall had in singer Gui Oliver (Auras) the natural successor to Steve Perry and that 'The Turning Point' can be described as falling between classic melodic rock à la Journey with some slightly heavier influences, such as classic era Dokken, White Lion and Extreme. Well colour me not too impressed since it's clearly more like if Perry on a bad hair day (or with the flu), decided to record the solo album where... hang on minute... Perry did record a rather so-so solo album the other year?

Actually. Perhaps it's only me? But on the opening track of "Rush Hour", I can hear and notice just as much of a young Eric Martin (Mr Big) in singer Gui Oliver. It's 'Sucker For A Pretty Face' and 'I'm Only Fooling Myself' rather than Escape or Frontiers. Not quite (geez) as superb as the two legends of melodic rock and killer vocals though. Let's face it. You simply shouldn't start up the info-sheet with words such as "a true deadringer for the legendary Steve Perry of Journey". It will only come back to haunt the poor bugger for the rest of his life. He's not bad but not really 'Perry' and the overall sound of the album doesn't always ring true 'ala Journey for that matter.

In fact. Why the hell are we talking about Perry/Journey? Landfall certainly deserve to be measured on their own merits. Opener "Rush Hour" feature the fun riff (guitarist Marcelo Gelbcke) and it's definitely more hair-metal than pure AOR. "No Way Out" is darn catchy and fun. "Across The Street" bops nicely along to the Harem Scarem influenced melody. Final verdict: The nice but uneven affair, at times storming along like second rate Journey with a bad Perry fixation, at others being choc-a-bloc with hair metal brilliance. In fact. The less AOR it gets, the better it seems to sound. What's the difference between AOR and Hair Metal? About 20 cans of hairspray? LOL! Take this for what it is and give Landfall a chance to stand on their own two, ehh... eight feets. Neat!

Landfall facebook

Saturday, September 26, 2020

STRYPER: "Even The Devil Believes"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

From the Holy catch phrase machine that brought us "To Hell With The Devil", "No More Hell To Pay" and "God Damn Evil". Here's the latest Stryper effort where "Even The Devil Believes" and we see the prophecies, but that won't bring us to our knees. Indeed. Renowned for its distinctive brand of heavenly metal and for tossing bibles at the head's of their audience, studio album #13 burst of creativity and the almighty one might just see this as one of their finest moments yet? The almighty reviewer that is your truly of course, not to be confused with the big apple pie in the sky.

According to Michael Sweet, “This album was recorded during the pandemic and I believe the message pertains to the times we are living in so perfectly. It’s a recording of hope and inspiration and a light in the darkest of times.” In various places, the extreme situation add extra bite to songs that may otherwise have passed you by. However, tunes like "Make Love Great Again" and "Let Him In" are sort of disappointing and especially after the impressive opener of "Blood From Above". The lift your hands and praise anthem of "Do Unto Others" is however superb and the message is spot on considering the world today and all the haters. No Christian could ever be right-wing? Surely not? Have they been reading the bible? Every single thing Jesus did was left-wing and that's including the very reason they nailed him to the cross. You know, throwing out the money grabbing bastards from the temple. Jesus Christ - the original Socialist!!!

The title track is a little fire cracker and "How To Fly" is fine songwriting and melodic inventiveness of highest order. All praise to the hey-hey chants of "Divider". The ballad of "This I Pray" is just a tad too lame and typical glam vs. country and second rate Poison somehow? The Lord's Pray' included and it's already been done to death. The bottomline: Stryper make another homerun for 'team muscular, pop-tingled metal, with soaring vocals and a stormwind of biting guitar, while packing a heavenly armoury of songs'. Now, if only I coud find my yellow and black striped pants...

stryper.com

HELL IN THE CLUB: "Hell of Fame"

Rating: RRr
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Hell of Fame? Are you supposed to laugh or cry? One thing's for sure... there's a very fine line between tragic and comic. But okay... it's tongue-in-cheek and at least they're not trying to be serious (I hope not?). You know, like Manowar or any 'Church burning Norwegian Black Metal act' of the early 90's. Lol! don't get me started! Tossers and losers. To be honest. If you've been staying the hell away from Hell In The Club in the past, this platter won't change your mind. The lyrics are the worst and the cheesy image is merely... ehh... too much? not enough? Featuring members of Elvenking and Secret Sphere? Oh, I'd keep quite about that if I were you...

It's not all bad though, music-wise, rather fun and typical Melodic Sleaze and Metal of Scandinavia and darn right lazy people could file this under Crazy Lixx vs. Ghost. Not really though. Next to these acts, "Hell Of Fame" is a pretty lame stuff, it has to be said. There's a cheesy hair metal quality at work here that really does no one any favours at all, something which only becomes obvious on tracks such as "Joker", "Mr Grouch" and "No Room In Hell". It's second rate Warrant and third rate Guns N Roses material and I believe it contains the very blueprint for what-killed-hair-metal. "Lullaby For An Angel" give power ballads a really bad name and Mötley Crue should sue them for "Here Today Gone Tomorrow". There's a girl named Sue, oh, the thing's she could do...

Final verdict: It may sound like I hate them? Not at all. But try as hard as you like to take them seriously, it won't happen. Nonetheless. I'm sure you could still have a fun time at your local footie bar/pub. Playing "Lucifer's Magic", "Last of an Undying Kind", "Worst Case Scenario" or "We'll Never Leave The Castle" on your ghetto blaster while drinking and pissing yourself to death. It's a party! It's darn catchy and cheesy at the same time. Yeah. Two word review: Catchy-cheesy. File this under: Hair Metal for kiddies!

HellintheClub facebook

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Album round-up/ Summer of 2020 (part three)

Mini-reviews by Kimmo Toivonen


JESSICA WOLFF's third album "PARA DICE" (RRRR) is the kind of stuff that has potential for mainstream success. It's catchy melodic rock with a modern edge. I keep thinking that if Avril Lavigne, Pink or Katy Perry were raised on a healthy diet of hard rock and metal, they could sound like this... Top picks: "All The Right Things", "Strangers" and "Demons". 

CHAMPLIN WILLIAMS FRIESTEDT: "II" (RRRR) features a couple of westcoast/AOR legends, namely Chicago vocalist Bill Champlin and Toto's Joseph Williams. With Swedish guitarist Peter Friestedt, they've come up with a classy selection of Totoesque rock songs. There's the catchy opener "Runaway Dancer", co-written by Work Of Art's Robert Säll, a very classy ballad "10 Miles" by Friestedt & Randy Goodrum and "All That I Want"... a couple of these songs you have probably heard before, as they've chosen to re-make the Chicago hit "Look Away" and "Price Of Love", previously recorded by Baton Rouge and co-written by Tamara Champlin, Bill's wife. 


TOKYO MOTOR FIST's second album "LIONS" (RRRr) gets a great start with the anthemic "Youngblood" and "Monster In Me" and the album is closed with what I think is their finest track so far, "Winner Takes All". Unfortunately most of the songs in between fail to leave their mark. Still, when it's good it's really good, and the best songs will be a good addition to their live set. 

With the help of Mark Spiro, HOUSE OF LORDS' latest opus "New World - New Eyes" (RRRr) sees them moving away from the safe path of their latest couple of albums. I don't particulary care for the production, but there are some rather excellent songs on the album. "One More", "Better Off Broken" and "We're All That We Got" are among my favourites. However, the overall sound causes this album to be better when enjoyed in small portions than as a whole. 





I seem to have missed the first ROOM EXPERIENCE album, but I plan to look into that soon, as the band's second effort "Another Time And Place" (RRRR) is a good one. Italian musician Gianluca Firmo is the mastermind behind this experience, and several other Italian melodic rockers are also involved, including Alessadro Del Vecchio, Davide Barbieri and Pierpaolo Monti. Pink Cream 69-frontman is the band's lead vocalist, and his distinctive voice fits these AOR-type of songs really well. Top picks: "Hear Another Song" and "Shout" and "Strangers In The Night". 


LIONHEART released their first album "Hot Tonight" back in 1984, and then took a "short break". A one-off reunion at Rockingham festival in 2016 prompted the band to carry on, and their second album was released in 2017.  Now in 2020 they've really picked up the pace and released their third one "The Reality Of Miracles" (RRRR). It's a very good melodic rock album with a hard edge and plenty of massive harmonies. A few songs I want to mention - The Fortune/Harlan Cage-sounding "High Plains Drifter", "Widows" and the remake of "Behind The Wall", previously recorded by guitarist Steve Mann's previous band Ignore The Sign. All fine songs, and there's more for you to find!


This third part of Round-ups is the last one, normal reviews coming up... 


Sunday, September 20, 2020

SIMON COLLINS: "Becoming Human"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Becoming Human? What's it all about? A little bit of rock, a little bit of prog, a little bit of pop, and a little bit of electronica. Oh, perhaps you were looking for a more deeper meaning and answer? Simon says (pun intended) that 'there's a truth beyond our lives and non existance". Or direct to the point and no messing around with silly words, according to Collins, all you need is love for becoming human. Bummer. All you truly loved pets out there (cats, dogs, pigs, whatever) better start running for the hills or you'll become humans too! Oh the horror, the horror! This world was such a prefect place in the beginning and then came the human... now we're all doomed (or trumped?).

Anyhow. It's Collins fourth solo album and the son of "Face Value" and "Hello I Must Be Going" go all out on singing, on the drums and work on producing and writing modern pop/rock/prog/industrial music that is definitely eclectic, electric, and ever so adventurous. It's dreamy, trippy, without being too heavy on the acid or out there in space 'ala the worst LSD acts of the hippie generation. It's very much the album effort and Collins is obviously sharing a strong connection and chemistry with keyboardist/programmer Robbie Bronnimann. The two are responsible for the majority of songwriting as well as production and sonic display. They are pushing all sorts of boundaries with quirky arrangements and overall nicely produced material. Anything seems possible to the two were so many others are simply going through the motion and turning songs into something cold and cliched. "No Love" is however a little bit too much Coldplay, especially since I'm kind of fed up with their so-so sound.

But let's be fair, there's more, much more to Collins than meets the eye, ehh, ear. The title track goes through several genres and styles and it's meaty riffs played on strange instruments with lots of different beats and programming. It's basically electronic groove and progressive arrangements which combines the soft and heavy perfectly throughout and it's overall a very strong album, if you don't mind the genre bending compositions. Have a go at this with an open mind and end up surprised by the next generation of Collins.

Simon Collins facebook

RISING STEEL: "Fight Them All"

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Rising Steel is an up and coming heavy metal band from Grenoble, France. They have power riffing and pounding drums in the tradition of Angel Dust, Annihilator, Nevermore and Vicious Rumors. They are right on the friggin' border, walking the thin white line, where classic Heavy Metal meets Thrash. It's kind of blunt and complete with dodgy Conan metal lyrics and killer lines such as and I quote, "Rotten in bloody flesh corpses are on the floor. Evil eye on the cross. Mask of the dead of the door", end quote. Yeah, baby! What's not to like?

But seriously. Dodgy lyrics, but I kind of like it? The riffs are soon flying across the room and the arrangements are powerful and kind of hook-y. It's all strangely impressive in a THORoughly odd kind of way. My mind is telling me it's too derranged and dumb to be messing around with. Yet my head is banging along to their savage melodies and the fists are pumping in the air. Hardly news to anyone, but "Fight Them All" is an album that will sound better when played loud and simply let your mind go to the awaiting moshpit.

The style serves them well as the Grenoble geezers tips it collective viking helmet to the metal kings of the past. "Steel Hammer" will get yer blood boiling and "Malefice" is enough to have the AOR fan running to the hills. The more memorabale moments are the creepier, sickening ones, where the corpses are on the floor and it's devastation and pain to its fullest mark. A couple of truly pathetic titles as well as tracks could scare away the potential fan though. Remove them and work harder on the lyrics next time and we're in for a new metal sensation. For now, simply turn it up loud and count to ten...

Rising Steel facebook

Friday, September 18, 2020

DEEP PURPLE: "Whoosh"

Rating: RR
Label: EAR Music 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Whoosh? A little softer, a little mellower, a little typical gone older and country?? Not quite, however, Bob Ezrin convinced the geezers to come down or up or whatever? Anyhow, he invited the band to Nashville to write and record the songs for their 21st album and it sounds like an old REO Speedwagon cast off and is decent enough without being totally 70's Purple. Now, it doesn't include twang guitars and country, but it's ever so middle of the road Purple.

Some may say it's a more than reasonable effort and some brilliant bass playing (Roger Glover) to be discovered through out the record. Indeed. But on the other hand. It's a huge let down and perhaps not quite enough to make it the classic it could have been? The smooth and nearly strange music is enough to cast you back to any one of Smokie's best album (hint, there's no such thing) as well as being a little remeniscent of bits from Gillan's worst solo albums of the eighties. However. The album highlights how Gillan's voice is nearly just as good as it once was. Sure, you may notice tiny cracks and rougher edges, but what else to expect from a man in his seventies plus. Like the the odd couple of tracks or three, but it's all very much a case of being everything from an okay listen to ever so boring, but seldom more than okay or darn right meh.

Opener, "Throw My Bones" clocks in at barely 3:30 and there's no proper solo or interlude whatsoever. It's very much Purple gone radio mainstream, but I can't say that I hate it or find it uninteresting. It's still 'nice' enough and the same goes with the following number of "Drop The Weapon". Steve Morse and Don Airey does the nice interlude and duel solos and the song is a minute longer this time. The bridge is however better than the refrain and that's not the ultimate solution. "All The Same In The Dark" is unfortunately the zzz moment and no good at all. "Nothing At All" sounds more like Smokie vs. Manfred Manns Earthband. Very soft-rock-y. "No Need To Shout", one of the songs without a proper refrain or hook. "Step By Step", purple gone boyband? I don't get it at all? "What The What", I'll have to agree with the title? What the fudge? This must be one of their worst moments ever. They're actually singing and I quote, 'So bad, we were so bad, we've been so bad' and you can merely nod and agree. Honky-tonk-bar-band crap tune. "The Power of the Moon", interesting and something different.

Final veredict: But truth be told, Whoosh really lacks so much of Purple's energy and sparkle that I believe it's time to try and convince Blackmore to reunite for one last farewell album and tour.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

LIONVILLE: "Magic Is Alive"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

'Magic Is Alive' according to the Italo lads of Lionville and that's 80's Magic, people. Indeed. They are raving and singing about the 80's scene, hanging out the Rainbow (the most famous bar at the sunset strip) at the same time as they proudly proclaim that 'We can rise' and that 80's music plays on the radio. It's no doubt the overall good-great feeling and having Lars Säfsund from Work Of Art on vocals turned out to be a massive game changer.

Indeed. They mix powerhouse vox with fragments of 'Luke' guitardom, stabbing keyboards, poppy AOR, and the odd splash of yacht and westcoast rock. They explore some interesting corners on their 4th album and tend to plunder their influences (Toto, Richard Marx, Journey, Bad English, Survivor, Foreigner, Signal, etc.) with little or no shame. Only lacking the depth and timeless legency of their heores, this album is a lot of fun, showing a keen AOR sensibility and ear for clinical sonic effects and smoothing surprises. Opener "Nothing Without You" may also display the magical touch of the one and only Signal album.

Stefano Lionetti, their main songwriter and guitarist from Genova, Italy, now display a knack for coming up with the goodies and it's got that flashy mid/late eighties vibe going on at eleven. Instantly recognizable AOR yet insanely catchy and richly layered through Lionetti's fine combination of guitar-driven hi-tech production and power-pop, it may come as a mild surprise to realise just how happy-poppy there are. Simply check out the smoothly stuff of "Runaway" and try telling me it's not catchy/poppy AOR??? Truth be told. Lars does it better than any Italo born vocalist (that I'm aware of) and I may sound like a hater (which I'm not), but it's difficult to find a more impressive AOR singer in the land of pizza and pasta.

Final verdict: Lionville has recorded an wonderful little album in/of true eighties vibe and style. Play it loud, play it proud. It's one of those albums that will instantly put a happy face of yer sad and lonely figure. Recommended!

Lionville facebook

Monday, September 14, 2020

ARCTIC RAIN: "The One"

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Arctic Rain from Sweden? One quick glance at the track listing and you already know what to expect really. Seriously. Titles such as 'Love Of My Life, Night After Night, Give Me All Of Your Love, Breakout, Madeleine, Take Me To Your Heart', etc. It's like reading the same old story all over again. It came from the 80's - the paint by numbers AOR book that gave all the kiddies plenty of blank moments and crayon smeared fingers. That's a bit harsh, especially since it's a rather catchy and innocent little platter.

The very definition of Scandi-Rock and somewhere down the same road as Bad Habit, Creye, Crystal Blue, Dalton, and Glory (the first album). Innocence would be the keyword here and they're almost too caught up in their own interpretation of not sounding too sinister or dangerous. Believe me, you won't find anything too loud, scary or out of the box on 'The One'. It's safer than your safest safe, which hold your most cuddly duddly fuddly wuddly teddybears and overall kid friendly AOR. Bassist Gert Daun is the experience musician with a background playing with Horizon, Andromeda, Falcon, etc. and vocalist Tobias Jonsson certainly have the pipes and stamina for singing the blues... ehh, AOR.

Keyboardist Pete Alpenborg has an track record of working with acts such as Revolution Saints, House Of Lords, Issa, Toby Hitchcock, Sunstorm, Kee Of Hearts and many more. In fact. Take on third each of Bad Habit, Glory, Treat, and you'd end up with 'Madeleine' and 'Take Me To Your Heart'. It's weird though. The two best tracks on the record are both stuck at the very end of the album? What's up with that?? They both have more stamina and energy than the rest of the album, which is still a nice but frankly a bit too sterile effort. But seriously. This is the kind of Scandi-rock we prefer and opener "Love of My Life" wouldn't sound out of place on the Dalton or Bad Habit album of the eighties. Perhaps it's nitpicking since I can't find anything to really complain about. Then again. I've heard it all before... oh feck... it's catchy, fun, and just a tad too predictible. Yet close to 4R's... go figure. https://www.facebook.com/arcticrainband

DUKES OF THE ORIENT: "Freakshow"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Dukes of Hazzard? Nah. The Dukes Of The Orient is a collaboration between vocalist John Payne (ex-Asia, GPS) and keyboardist Erik Norlander (Last In Line, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists) and it's apperantly a Freakshow??? They proudly proclaim on their opening number and I quote that "The Dukes Return" after years away on foreign lands and seas, we thought this day would never come! And now we're back, tell all who believed", end quote. Blimey. Is that really John Payne behind the microphone? The voice is certainly rougher and tougher than in the past. Still as good or nearly so, but not quite as high-pitched or baby-clean as we knew him on all those old albums.

What to expect soundwise on the record? Supertramp, quite a lot of saxophones, Soft Machine, King Crimson, Paice Ashton Lord, and obviously the odd Asia moment. The opening three songs "The Dukes Return", "The Ice Is Thin", "Freakshow" are more about the early 70's sound and more in the vein of Soft Machine, King Crimson, Paice Ashton Lord. I like it though. It's moodier, more complex and challenging than expected. Lots of Lord and Ashton moments to be found in the keys and arrangements. Track four "The Monitors" is more like ASIA and soft AOR and more direct and to the point. Darn catchy. "Man of Machine" goes through several different layers of Asia and symphonic, nearly Purple-ish rock.

"The Last Time Traveller" and "A Quest For Knowledge" are legitimate successors of John Payne's Asia. Classic synthesizers and keyboards are plenty and they do everything with a compelling sense of knowledge and know-how. It lays down the agenda for the album and the Dukes are no schmucks or hazzards for that matter. The instrumental "The Great Brass Stream Engine" give a nice tribute to acts such as Tangerine Dream, ELP, Soft Machine, and Ashton/Lord. Final verdict: professional done and executed. Kind of strange that you can still find these kind of albums in the year of 2020.

https://dukesoftheorient.net https://www.facebook.com/Dukes.of.the.Orient

FORTUNE: "The Gun's Still Smokin Live" DVD

Rating: Live
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Mr. Greene, Mr. Rat, Mr. Nilan, and the two Fortune brothers. Blimey. It sounds more like your average children's story than a rock concert? Ricky Rat (bass) is no doubt the animated character and quite the attention seeking little animal. The man of thousand faces and just as many fun and wacky moves I may add and that's always a big plus in my books. There's nothing more boring than watching a DVD with a band from the past with none or little activity on stage. The guys are blasting hot lead and silver bullets all over the place and will send the werewolfs' packing for a trip around the moon. Where's the howling at???

Lo and behold. The DVD is more pleasing to the ear/eye than expected and that's entirelly down to sheer joy of the musicians. They're actually having a ball up there and really seem to appreciate the chance of performing their cult classic AOR infront of the audience at Frontiers Rock Festival. It's been professional filmed and dirrected by Moviedel/Maurizio Del Piccolo and the vision is darn right pure AOR in mind. Fair enough. A couple of strange moments (angle-wise). The last thing I need is yet another close-up of LA Greene's armpit! Yuk!!

The least impressive member of the band would have to be Mick Fortune. The kit is spare and bare and he's more or less a statue behind the drums. Only the arms are (barely) moving and you can't really tell if he's having a stoke or playing the drums? Would it hurt crack up a smile or display any emotion for that matter? It's Mick "Stoneface" Fortune from now on. I don't quite get the audience either for that matter. The musicians are doing good, the music is good. The people should be up and dancing the tables but are clearly too afraid to show some effection? It's not cool to move?

Opening up the show with their best, "Thrill Of It All", still commands the crowd reaction and sends shivers down the spine with its typical mid-eighties sound. It's a nice blend of the 1985 material and II from the year of 2019. "Don't Say You Love Me" sits nicely in with the likes of "Deep In The Heart Of The Night" and "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter". There's also "Through The Fire" from Top Gun and Mr Greene is a strong frontman and I'm impressed by the moves and licks of Richard Fortune. The somewhat underrated guitarist in my humble opinion. You'll get a bit of SAGA vibe on several tracks. Make no mistake. These AOR geezers are rather fun to watch and The Gun's Still Smokin'... highly recommended! Buy or die (or whatever).

BLACK ROSE MAZE: "S/T"

Rating: RRr
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Black Rose Maze is french/Canadian singer Rosa Laricchiuta's all-female hard rock project. This Rose/Rosa is a songwriter and performer from Montreal, Quebec and rather famous over there afer spending precious time on the third season (2015) of La Voix, Quebec's version of the popular TV show The Voice. She released one album in the Quebec market and released her first English language album "Free", in 2017. Not sure why Laricchiuta decided to release this platter via frontiers but hey, what ever floats the boat or whatever.

Opening number "In The Dark" is like a massive flashback attack of the early 2000's. It's Anastacia vs. Evanescence rock and that's including the dark production and lyric that goes on about the destructive and controlling freak. I really enjoy the song "Free", written by Rosa and originally on the 2017 album? It's a nice little semi-ballad that reminds us of Alannah Myles. Another Laricchiuta' original is "Look At Me Now" that speaks about pain and suffering and I quote, 'Who died and made you King? Your words counts for nothing'. Once again, like the slightly heavier/darker version of Anastacia? I hope you recall Anastacia? Left Outside Alone? Massive voice, massive success in the early 2000's. Rosa is like a distant hard rock cousin singer-wise and the proper belter I may add.

Unfortunately. There's too many generic moments inbetween the nuggets and something like "Let Me Go" is sadly poor. "Only You", written by Cliff Magness and not one of his best compositions, sounds again like Anastacia vs. Evanescence. "Earth Calling" is plodding at its best/worst and we've heard it all before. The shocking poor piano ballad "Call Me Now" should never have been allowed to enter the studio in the first place. Geez. Many ups and downs on their debut and not quite the 5 R's and rating that we expected. Final verdict: Great singer, kudos to the all-female band, but not really the strong material in the end. Ciao Rosa! No wait... that's not the correct language... then again... I'm pretty sure it is...

RAMOS: "My Many Sides"

Rating: Rr
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

12 sides to every story? Twelve tracks on the record and not a hit-single in sight. Nevertheless. Josh Ramos is a classy six-string bender and forever connected with or rather to some big selling records in the world of AOR. Big sounding records anyhow and especially The Storm albums (S/T 1991. Eye of the storm 1995) are must have to any serious collector of the genre. This on the other hand, not as much. There's no actual production to be found on the entire album! The sound quality of your below average tape and everything is worse than your daft neighbours garage band's demo. It's like if it's been recorded through some sort of crap system that would make your 80's ghetto blaster sound like a million bucks.

It's overall a rather bluesy effort and not the catchy-happy stuff that made the Storm albums essentials. Tiresome blues hard rock I may add and it's no good when your material, though original is stuffed full of second rate Great White melodies. Note that I'm not really a big fan of the mentioned act. Guest vocalists such as Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Danny Vaughn (Tyketto), Harry Hess (Harem Scarem), Terry Ilous (XYZ), Tony Harnell (TNT), Tony Mills (Shy, TNT), should make for a great listening but what good are vocalists without proper song material? It's a shame really and especially since "My Many Sides" feature the last recorded performance from the late Mills (RIP).

Final verdict: the album simply lacks the essential elements that makes any type of music work - decent song material and ditto production. Back to the drawing board or in this case computer? My Many Sides and they're all rubbish? The story of my life.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: "45th Anniversary Live In London"

Rating: Live
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Blue Öyster Cult and some kind of anniversary? The 45th to be exact and that's way back in 2017. Yes. Three years ago and we're talking about their debut album which yours truly haven't been listening to prior to this live DVD/CD. Sure. A couple of tracks here and there, but this is a first time. Live at O2 INDIGO, London, UK at the Stone Free Festival on June 17th 2017, the band are playing the first album in its entirety! To be frank or bloom or buck dharma for that matter. I've been desperately trying to find any or some thing to type down, on a positive note, regarding their debut effort from the ancient old year of 1972. Alas, no such luck and it's frankly just a very dire, dull, and out-dated effort with hardly any high-notes or high-lights. Perhaps it's a generation thing and a matter of being too young to appreciate the BÖC debut? But I find it remarkably straight-forward and flat without the standard ups and downs by the band? Blimey. I would most likely mark it down as the 1 and a half R's out of 5 possible. It's going nowhere fast really and the melodies are low-key and dare I say very forgettable? "Stairway To The Stars" could send you on a trip across the sky, but it's quickly back down to earth with an awful crash and bang. You probably need to be the stark raving mad, long-time member of the cult to truly appreciate the hippie arrangements of their debut. They go through that first album like zombies is search of brains. Way too trippy and definitely not holding up well after five decades or so. I have to give them credit for sounding fine and I do enjoy some of their bigger hits towards the end of the disc. The early BÖC albums are not my cup of tea though and they recorded better albums later on in the 70s and 80s. Behind the scenes moments are neat and that's about it really.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Album round-up/ Summer of 2020 (part two)

 Mini-reviews by Kimmo Toivonen

Okay, let's continue the rounding up of the recent releases! SAPPHIRE EYES' "Magic Moments" (RRRR) took a whole lot of spins before it made it to my "Top Albums of 2020" list. The first impression was a bit "AOR by numbers", enjoyable but nothing earth-shattering. A couple of more spins and some of the songs found their target - I caught myself humming those melodies! Sneaky Swedish b**tards! Seriously though, this is a solid album, with superb vocals from Kimmo "Finland's Steve Perry" Blom.  If you check out just one song from this, "Just Leave Me" would be the one I'd pick. 

There's no getting away from the Swedes, CAPTAIN BLACK BEARD are the next band in spotlight. Their sound is somewhere between The Nightflight Orchestra and H.E.A.T., which itself is already a recommendation. Their songwriting isn't necessary on the same level as those masters of their craft, but they're getting there and I like their energy. Although this is the first time I hear their music, "Sonic Forces" (RRRR) is actually their fourth album. I guess I'll have some investigating to do.

Enough of these Scandinavian bands, let's check a band from southern Europe: WILD SOULS from Greece. Their third album "Queen Of My Heart" (RRRr) is a bit of a hit-or-miss affair. They're very good at AOR-type of stuff, as the likes of "Nothing But Loving You", "Love Ain't No Lie" and "I Remember You" prove, but they also dabble in sleazy hair metal type of stuff, wh. "Night Groove" and "Sexcellent" (yeah, seriously...) could've been left off the album and the fourth "r" would have been a stronger one.

Back in 1987, MAD MAX were probably one of my top five favourite bands, and I still consider "Night Of Passion" one of my favourite albums. The band has already kind of revisited that album with "Another Night Of Passion", and now they are kind of continuing the story of "Stormchild", their third album from the mid-eighties. "Stormchild Rising" (RRR) is the name of their latest effort. I really don't hear that many echoes of the original "Stormchild" album musically though. It's still decent enough melodic hard rock or even metal at times, but somehow I can't really get into it. "Talk To The Moon", "Eyes Of Love" and "Kingdom Fall" are good songs, but are they "Best Of Mad Max" material? Not necessarily. The jury's still out.

After the great "Heart Of The Hurricane", I had really high expectations for the new BEYOND THE BLACK album "Horizons" (RRRr). It didn't quite meet them, but it's not as disappointing as I first thought it was. The first three tracks still leave me a bit cold, but starting with "Some Kind Of Monster" the band shape up and sharpen their hooks. With 13 tracks, this album might have benefitted of leaving one of the tracks as a "Japanese bonustrack" and maybe the sequecing could've been better too. Recommended for fans of Within Temptation and that sort of stuff. 

"Storm In Paradise" (RRRR) from TANNA is basically a continuation of the band PRAYER, main man Tapani Tikkanen just went back to using his old band name from the eighties. Tanna was a fairly big name back then, scoring some hits with their songs sung in Finnish. It remains to be seen whether the old fans of Tanna will discover this english-sung material. I hope they do because this is good stuff. Tapani's vocals are instantly recognizable, and that's a good thing when so many bands in this genre sound quite alike. The biggest "hits" for me are the title track, the "Thin Lizzy goes AOR" of "Silhouettes", "This Town Ain't Big Enough" and "Mysterious Fire". 

Next one on my list is DEVICIOUS with "Phase Three" (RRRR). Devicious is a German band with an Italian singer Antonio Calanna, who was recruited soon after the release of their previous album. "Phase Three" is a real throwback to the late eighties, and doesn't really contain many modern influences. For some reason I can only think of German bands when trying to find comparisons - Bonfire, Domain, Axxis, early Pink Cream 69. Nothing wrong with that of course! If you've got albums from those bands in your collection, you should check this album out. 

The overall consensus seems to be that GIRISH & THE CHRONICLES from India are just about the best new hard rock band in years. I simply cannot really understand what the fuss is all about. "Rock The Highway"(RRR) isn't bad, the band certainly has enough drive and attitude, but none of the songs really do it for me. Girish himself sounds like combination of speeded-up Sammy Hagar, Axl Rose and Sebastian Bach - very over-the-top and maybe a bit too "screechy" for my taste. All in all, this album sounds like it could have been released in the tail-end of the "golden era of hair metal", 1992 and thereabouts. Song to check out: "Indentity Crisis".  As the title suggests, not really representative of the album, but has some cool semi-progressive elements and hooks.