Wednesday, February 10, 2016

STALA & SO: ”Stala & So”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Album number three from Stala & So… and probably the most straight-forward, hard rocking album of their career so far. The band has chosen a ”Sin City”-influenced color theme to the artwork (black/white/red) and somehow that can be heard in the music too. The happy-go-lucky glam rock is a thing of the past, these songs are darker and moodier. The band’s look seems to have been toned down too, no skirts or feather scarfs…

This is almost an album of two halves, with all the best songs on the first ”side”. I say ”almost” because the opening track ”I Need More” could have been placed on the second half. It’s just a rather average straight-ahead rocker with the Hammond-sounding organs taking it to the Uriah Heep territory. ”When The Night Falls” is one of the video songs and  my favourite, thanks to its’ hard-hitting hook. I also enjoy the next trio of songs, ”Headlong”, ”Now ’n Everyday” and ”I Can See It In Your Eyes”. While they are different in many ways, there seems to be a common thread running through them, a certain kind of melodic, melancholic theme. And I’m pretty sure that Marillion’s ”Kayleigh” provided inspiration to ”I Can See It In Your Eyes”.

The remaining five songs… ”You Don’t Mind” is the one I’d choose over ”I Need More” to be on the ”better half” of the album. The others aren’t bad either, but somehow the hooks just don’t work for me.

I’ve kind of liked all of the Stala & So albums, but I think they’ve yet to release their career-defining breakthrough album. Let’s hope it’s the next one.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

KHYMERA: ”The Grand Design”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Yes, I got excited when I heard that producer/singer Dennis Ward was working on a new Khymera album. The previous one (”The Greatest Wonder”) was released in 2008, and was one of the finest albums of that year. The excitement turned into doubt when it was revealed that he had taken over the songwriting as well. The magic touch of the Martin brothers (Vega, Sunstorm, Ted Poley etc) was all over the two previous Khymera albums and I had no idea what kind of songs Ward could come up with. I shouldn’t have worried.

”The Grand Design” is a natural successor to the earlier albums released under the Khymera name. Ward’s songs are melodic, atmospheric and very ”Khymerastic” indeed. What’s more, his lyrics aren’t always just those ”usual phrases one after another”.

Let’s go through the songs quickly. The opener ”Never Give Up On You” is actually one of the more ordinary songs on the album. It’s nice, uptempo and kind of catchy, but somehow it sounds like a tribute to Journey. The darker ”Tell Me Something” appeals more to me with its’ rumbling bass line, subtle keys and a killer hook. The balladic ”Say What You Want” is another gem with a little bit of House Of Lords vibe. The lighter ”I Believe” has some fine melodies and stadium-sized chorus. Something makes me think that ”Keep The Faith”-era Bon Jovi could have turned this into a smash hit.

The ”dut-dut” keys of ”A Night To Remember” get an instant thumbs up from me, and the rest of the songs isn’t half bad either! Superb pre-chorus leads into equally fine main chorus. ”She’s Got The Love” is the song that reminds me most of the previous album, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Dennis Ward does a fine David Coverdale impression on ”Land Of Golden Dreams”. A good song but not one of my favorites for some reason. The title track is one of them though, a bit Autograph-like song with a cool chorus - it sounds like the band goes into hyperdrive during it! ”Streetlights” is the Big Ballad of the album, and it took a few spins to grow but now it’s among the highlights.

”Who’s Fooling Who”, ”Finally” and ”Where Is The Love” are all good songs too, but maybe they’re missing that extra spark that would take them to the highest level.

As much as I like this album, it’s maybe one or two killer tracks short of the full RRRRRating. Still, a Top Ten place for 2015 is pretty much guaranteed.

FIND ME: ”Dark Angel”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The second effort from Robbie LaBlanc and Daniel Flores is a fine traditional AOR album. The song structures follow the golden rules of melodic rock and the lyrics don’t stray away from the usual subjects, yet the songs sound quite fresh. It might be Flores’ superb production, the layers and layers of keyboards or Robbie LaBlanc’s passionate vocals… actually it’s the combination of all those things and great songs that elevate this album to the A-list of last years releases.

The highlights of the album for me include ”Nowhere To Hide”, ”Another Day”, ”Dark Angel” and ”Midnight Memories” (No it’s not a cover!). Plenty of hooks, colorful arrangements and Mr. LaBlanc singing like an AOR god - what more can one ask? I thought I could ask for something more as I wasn’t going to hand out the full 5R rating at first, but really, why not? When a great cover of a classic eighties movie song ”I’m Free” is one of the ”weakest” tracks, I think there’s not a lot to complain.

That’s it, folks. Or should I say ”This is IT, folks”?

Friday, February 5, 2016

GRAND SLAM: ”A New Dawn”

Rating: RRRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2016
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Despite their rather familiar-sounding name, Grand Slam are a new(ish) band from Sweden. Yes, again, must be something in the water… or some wicked plan of the Swedish government to take over the music biz completely! Anyway, rather than yet another supergroup of ex-members of This Band and That Band, Grand Slam is indeed a new, fresh band with young musicians you may have never heard of before. Maybe that’s why they have a fresh approach to this thing we call ”AOR”.

”A New Dawn” is a pretty impressive debut and it’s been getting some serious airtime in my player. It’s well-produced and surprisingly uptempo for its’ genre - there are no real ballads on this AOR album. Vocalist Andy Sinner impresses with his range and uncanny vocal resemblance to Tracy White of Shotgun Symphony/Intruder, while the rest of the band build a perfect melodic, yet suitably rock hard foundation.

The first half of the album is a stronger than the second one, but that’s only because the first few songs are very, very good. ”Light Up The Sky” and ”Rock My World” are both keyboard-heavy AOR songs which may not offer anything really new but somehow sound fresh and catchy. ”Face” mixes AOR elements and the pomp of Power Metal in a very appealing way, I kid you not! Hammerfall meets Treat! ”One Way To Heaven” sounds like the band have taken influences from Lady Gaga and brought them into the world of AOR, and it actually works! ”Get High” has a bit similar vibe, some modern pop influences… The chorus hook sounds a lot like Madam X’s ”Come One, Come All”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the band had never heard of that fairly obscure 80’ies band.

”Don’t Leave” is the closest thing to a ballad, a mid tempo track with a dramatic, almost progressive style, while the melodic trio of ”Take Me Higher”, ”Waiting For Tomorrow” and ”I Wanna Live” is more ”standard” AOR material, all really good songs though. The only song that fails to get a grip of me is the last one, ”Don’t Mess With Me”. It’s just too experimental and twitchy for its’ own good…  ”all of them tempo changes - not good for my anxiety, boys!” says the old geezer living in my head…

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Blood Red Saints is a new UK melodic rock band, but the guys behind the name aren’t newcomers. The band’s vocalist Pete Godfrey may have made his recording debut in 2014 with In Faith, but he’s been playing in bands for years just like co-founder, bassist Rob Naylor (from Angels Or Kings). The band’s drummer is Pete Newdeck, who’s been in Eden’s Curse, In Faith and is currently the frontman of Tainted Nation. Guitarist Lee Revill has played with Gary Hughes. Vega’s Martin brothers James and Tom were also involved and co-wrote a couple of songs, and Harem Scarem’s Harry Hess mastered the album. That’s enough namedropping…

With influences coming from the eighties’ Brit-AOR scene and from the big US bands of the same era, one could say that the Blood Red Saints find themselves somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. That might sound like a bad place to be, but it isn’t, the band sounds good. Def Leppard, FM, Winger and Harem Scarem all rolled into one…

So, the band does have the sound and style figured out, but do they have the songs? Yeah, kind of… most of the album is a likeable mixture of the aforementioned influences. The two first tracks are very much in the vein of Winger/Dokken with cool riffs and melodies, then the band move more towards AOR with the rest of the album. Although majority of the songs are good, the real highlights are hard to find. Many of the songs have somewhat understated choruses and hooks which won’t necessarily etch themselves into your brain.

The underlying mood of the songs is quite melancholic, therefore the upbeat and bright ”Wrapped Up In These Arms” stands out and gets my vote as the best song of the album. Not that I really mind the melancholy that much - it’s in my Finnish blood!

An enjoyable album and the fourth R was close… let’s go for that the next time around or better yet, the full fiver.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TAINTED NATION - ‘On The Outside’

Rating: RRRR

Label: Pride & Joy

Review By: Alan Holloway

There’s not many successful tales told of drummers making the move to behind the microphone, yet Eden’s Curse sticksman Pete Newdeck achieved the unusual when he decided to give it a go for Tainted Nation’s debut ‘F.E.A.R’ a few years ago. Joined by the undeniable talents of Mark Cross (Firewind, Outloud), Ian Nash (Lionsheart) and Pontus Egberg (Steamroller), Newdeck spearheaded what turned out to be a kick ass breath of fresh rocking music, and they have all returned to deliver this, the ‘difficult second album/.

It has to be said the Newdeck’s vocals do bring to mind a certain Mr Ozzy Osbourne, although I find that Pete isn’t as whiny (excuse the sacrilege, Ozzy fans), with a modern power that Ozzy’s more interesting habits stopped him from attaining. Although decent vocals are, to me anyway, hugely important, it’s the quality of the songs on which an album will live or die. On this basis, ‘On The Outside’ is as solid an album as you are likely to find. The thirteen tracks are all powerful and melodic, and guitar freaks will delight in some of the intricate work Ian Nash delivers throughout. There are a few decent earworms within, and it’s a strong minded person who can keep the choruses of  ‘Welcome To War’ or ‘About  A Boy’ out of their noggin. By the way, the latter isn’t a cover of the Badly Drawn Boy film soundtrack song, but the band do throw a cover at us halfway through the album with a rather fine rendition of Billy Squier’s ‘The Stroke’. Elsewhere, I felt opener ‘Live & Die’ to be one of the weaker tracks, refusing as it did to leave an impression even after several spins, although second track ‘Defiance’ does a sterling track of kick starting the album afterwards. From then on it’s pretty non stop, culminating in a slower track, ‘Back To Earth’, which is rescued by a blistering solo by Pontus Norgren of Hammerfall.

‘On The Outside’ is a real powerhouse of an album, containing many moments of fist-in-the-air melodic metal and some fine musicianship. It’s not too adventurous, but it shows that the band have their own identity, and means that in the future you will hear a song and immediately peg it as being by Tainted Nation, which is an important quality to have. If ‘F.E.A.R’ won the band praise and fans, then ‘On The Outside’ should continue the good work with absolutely no problems at all.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MONSTER TRUCK: "Sittin' Heavy"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot Records/Mascot Label Group
Review by: Martien Koolen

 Monster Truck is a sensational "new" rock band from Canada. They have released two EPs and their debut album called Furiosity (2013) so far, and now this Canadian rockquartet release their follow up album called Sittin' Heavy. On 29 October of last year you could already enjoy their highly contagious first single Don't Tell Me How To Lve from this new album. The music of Monster Truck is a blend of blues rock, southern rock, hard rock, Canadian rock and stoner rock with lots of catchy, heavy grooves, sludge and vintage sounds. Most of the 11 songs on this new album are high energy up tempo tracks with catchy choruses and lots of sometimes very recognisable guitar riffs and hooks.

The album kicks off with the swampy, dirty, "punky" up tempo Why Are You Not Rocking?, featuring raw vocals and a short, mean, fast guitar solo. Next up is the beforementioned first single of the album; a song that sounds familiar but then again also very original. Don't Tell Me How To Live has great lyrics, is also very melodic and has a very, very catchy chorus. Sittin' Heavy also contains two slower songs, being: Black Forest and Enjoy The Time; both songs can be labelled as "power ballads" and both feature amazing, emotional vocals, catchy melodies and excellent guitar passages and solos. Enjoy The Time, the longest track on the album, reminds me of Souhern rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, which is due to the melody and the electric piano parts. To The Flame is also one of my favourites as it is filled with short, but tricky guitar solos and it is really an addictive, heavy song in the veins of Alice in Chains.

The other songs are all excellent glorious hard rock statements, altough New Soul (ZZ Top like?) is perhaps the most mediocre song of the album. Best tracks without any doubt: Black Forest, New Soul, Enjoy The Time, Why Are You Not Rocking? and the first single; turn up the volume, start headbanging and screaming along and you will love this album. And I would like to end this review with a quote of Slash about this amazing band: "Monster Truck is one of the few really great down to earth rock 'n roll bands..they're hard, soulful and heavy." I could not agree more; buy or die fellows!

Danny BRYANT: "Blood Money"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Jazzhaus Records/Coast to Coast
Review by: Martien Koolen

 Blood Money is Danny Bryant's third album produced by Richard Hammerton and I can truly say that this the best Bryant album so far. Blood Money features 10 new songs and on this amazing album Bryant collaborates with blues rock guitar picker Walter Trout (title track) and with Whitesnake legend guitarist Bernie Marsden (Just Won't Burn). The title track is the opening song of the album and it is one of the many highlights of this CD, as you can enjoy Trout's and Bryant's guitar solos which are all over the place.

Slow Suicide, the third track, is probably my personal favourite, as this slow blues gem features mindboggling guitarsolos, packed with emotions and melody; awesome!! Fool's Game is an old blues song, again filled with great experimental solos by Bryant, which kind of reminds me of good old Roy Buchanan. Guest guitar picker Marsden can be heard on the longeste song of the album called Just Won't Burn; a slow blues track where Danny and Bernie alternate magnificent guitar solos. On this fantastic blues rock album you also find hommages/tributes to Albert Collins (On The Rocks, up tempo instrumental), Jimmy Reed (Holding All The Cards: "old-fashioned" rock and roll-ish) and Albert King (Unchained: funky, jazzy-like with horns and a nice wah-wah solo).

So, are there no weak, or even mediocre songs on ths album? No, in fact there are only good, very good and excellent songs on this album and Blood Money really is a musical treat from start to finish. So, why do I not award this album with the best rating, being five R's. That is only due to the fact that I am not that fond of the way how Danny Bryant sings; sometimes I even find his vocals a bit weird and too high for a blues man... But maybe I am a bit too critical there; the music, especially the guitar playing of Bryant is out of this world and should be enjoyed at maximum volume. Listening tips: Master Plan, Blood Money and Just Won't Burn; cannot wait to hear this guy in the flesh.

Steven WILSON: "4 1/2"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Kskope
Review by: Martien Koolen

 Last yeat prog rock instrumentalist Steven Wilson released his fourth solo album called Hand Cannot Erase and that album is my personal favourite album of the year 2015! Now Wilson brings out an EP, featuring 6 songs, of which 4 originated during the Hand Cannot Erase sessions, one from the recording session of his third album The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories) and the last song Don't Hate Me is a Porcupine Tree song, which originally can be found on the PT album Stupid Dream. The version of Don't Hate Me on this EP is based on a live recording during the recent European Tour and the vocals form a duet between Wilson and singer Ninet Tayeb. This version also contains a saxophone solo by Theo Travis, which is not really my cup of tea, but the melodic guitar solo at the end of the track compensates that sax solo completely.

This mini album opens with the best song on it called My Book Of Regrets; a magical prog rock track such as only Wilson can write and play; especially the guitar solo by Dave Kilminster is a treat to my ears! The instrumental Vermillioncore is another prog rock gem with great bass riffs, excellent drumming and lot of musical twists and turns, making this a perfect song to play on stage. Sunday Rain Sets In, is another instrumental song, which is kind of melancholic, dark and features lots of piano passages, acoustic guitars and creates a lot of atmosphere. Something In This Town is a rather "simple" up tempo rock song, featuring typical Wilson guitar riffs and hooks and a thundering bass guitar.

The last song is Year Of The Plague, a very atmospheric track with again acoustic guitars and lots of keyboards. Conclusion: prog god Wilson has done it again, 4 1/2 is a great mini album and I cannot wait for his fifth album, till then I can enjoy this EP as it will probably "stick" in my CD player for quite a long time.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

DENIGRATE: ”Hollowpoint”

Rating: RRR
Label: Denigrate 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

”Hollowpoint” is Denigrate’s second album, released 12 years after the band’s debut ”Dismal Euphoria”. Finnish readers might know that the band scored a big hit with their cover of 70’ies hit ”Mombasa” back in 2002, and I believe ”Dismal Euphoria” did pretty well thanks to that. I have a vague memory of listening to the debut back in the day, but apart from that hit song, I can’t remember anything specific about it. Just that the overall vibe was dark and gloomy… very Finnish indeed.

I was kind of expecting this to be more of the same, so I was pretty surprised when the opening track ”Engraved & Hellhound” leaped out of the speakers. Uptempo, sharp riffs, aggressive yet melodic… Okay, you’ve got my attention, what else have you got?

”Am I Facin’ Hell” is perhaps a bit closer to my expectations, a somewhat HIM-esque track with a strong chorus. Good… as is ”Erased Pages”, a midtempo song with Pekka Heino (Brother Firetribe, Leverage) sharing vocals with the band’s singer Micko Hell. Very melodic and again a good chorus. Interestingly, Pekka is only credited for ”backing vocals” in the liner notes. With ”Death Reflection” the band slow it down more but still keep it melodic.

”My Corrupted Soul” features very aggressive, shouty vocals but also some highly harmonious, melodic parts, not one of my favorites but still rather interesting. Hauntingly beautiful piano intro leads into ”Liar” on which Micko Hell shows that he’s a very versatile singer. The song reminds me of Amorphis for some reason, even though I haven’t really listened to them that much.

”Taken Away” is kind of what I expected this album to sound like: slow, dark and slightly depressing. The intro sounds very ”Twin Peaks”-like… could that grunting diabolic voice be ”Bob”? The  faster ”Into Demise” combines gloomy verses with an edgy chorus, but the overall vibe is again a bit depressing. The last track ”Meitä Ei Enää Ole” takes the depression to the next level though. Growling, heavy guitars, melancholic melodies and on top of it all, spoken word or rather poetry reciting in Finnish and in English. The whispered words towards the end of the album are really the final nails in the coffin. This must be the gloomiest song I’ve heard in a while.. The ultimate Finnish Depression Metal song? Forget about EDM, give me FDM anyday!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

MAGNUM: "Sacred Blood, Divine Lies"

Rating: RRRRr

Label: SPV/Steamhammer

Review By: Alan Holloway

Incredibly, this is Magnum’s eighth studio album since reforming in 2001, only two less than their output beforehand. Maybe it’s time to judge Magnum on what they are now, rather than what they were, and stop crossing fingers and waiting for ‘…Storytellers’ part 2. The simple truth is that Magnum remain an astonishingly consistent rock group, and as such this new album will delight existing fans whilst having enough quality to hook a few new ones at the same time.

The title track opens the album, and as expected it’s Tony Clarkin showing his usual disdain for religion. More than that, it’s a huge melodic stomper with a very Magumesque break in the middle. It bodes well for an album described in the press release as being ‘among the group’s most dynamic releases’. The track itself is certainly a highlight of the album for me, along with ‘Quiet Rhapsody’, a quieter song with a solid, catchy guitar refrain and excellent vocal work from the ever reliable Bob Catley. That said, this isn’t an album with any weak tracks at all, full of guitar heavy bruisers that have will have old fans such as myself doing the Bob Catley arm movements as they listen and sing along. There’s no short, sharp fixes, as all the tracks clear the four minute mark, but those hoping for a Clarkin magnum opus will be unsatisfied, as nothing reaches the seven minute mark either.

‘Sacred Blood…’ is, in my eyes (and ears) the finest Magnum album since they returned, purely because of the sheer quality of the whole thing. There’s no temptation to skip a track, and each has it’s own merits whilst resolutely remaining Magum-like in essence. ‘The Gathering’ compilation was a fantastic reminder of what modern Magnum is all about, and took the standout tracks from several albums. ‘Sacred Blood…’ matches those standout tracks, with Clarkin choosing  wisely from the 25 tracks he had written, narrowing it down to a solid ten. Well, I say that, but the digi pack has three extra songs that I didn’t get sent. Boo! What I do have, though, is a Magnum album that I know will remain a favourite.

Official Website

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Nalle Påhlsson’s ROYAL MESS: ”Royal Mess”

Rating: RRR
Label: MelodicRock Records 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Nalle Påhlsson has been a permanent fixture in the Swedish rock scene for many years. He’s currently playing bass in Therion and Last Autumn’s Dream, and you might know him from Treat or Vindictiv as well. Royal Mess is his own band, in which he is also the lead singer. And not a bad singer at all.

So what do we have here? According to Mr. Påhlsson, ”meat & potato hard rock”, and who am I to disagree. Most of the songs are straight-forward rockers with influences from Kiss and AC/DC. If I remember correctly, Nalle plays the part of Gene Simmons in  a Kiss cover band and somehow that kind of shines through, even though Nalle’s songwriting is closer to that of Paul Stanley. There’s one song that strays away from the chosen path, and that’s ”The Pieces Of My Heart”. It’s a slow, somewhat prog-styled track that reminds me a lot of Winger’s more complicated stuff. It’s one of my favorites, along with ”Hell City” and ”Loaded Gun”. Some of the others are a bit too straight-forward for me, that’s why only three Royal R’s for this Mess. I’d rather listen to this than the last few Kiss albums though.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the guest list is basically the "who's who of Swedish hard rock"? Take a look at the band's website... a rather impressive list!

Friday, January 22, 2016

RADIO EXILE: ”Radio Exile”

Rating: RRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Here’s some kind of a melodic rock supergroup, with 5 musicians who have been around the block a few times. Or, if you want a more poetic way of saying that, ”Now, together as one, five brilliantly successful, creative worlds collide in a panoramic musical explosion” (this courtesy of! Yeah, the bio on the band’s website is worth reading… Anyway, keyboardist Charlie Calv (Shotgun Symphony) and vocalist Chandler Mogel (Outloud) are the main writers, with Jimmy Leahey (gt), Kenny Aronson (bs) and Dave Anthony (drs) completing the line up.

While checking out some facts about this release, I noticed that it’s gotten some very good ratings from other reviewers. I’ve been giving this album its’ fair share of attention, yet I can’t seem to get into it. It’s a well-produced album and the musicians are superb, but…

Something about this album makes me think of the slightly quirky AOR acts of the late eighties/early nineties like Tall Stories, Neverland and Diving For Pearls. This isn’t melodic rock by numbers, which is refreshing, but at the same time, some of the  tracks could have used much sharper hooks. The best moments are in the middle of the track listing, where you’ll find the melodic ”Feels Like Home”, the Queen-esque ”Higher Than The Sun” and ”Hang On”, which reminds me of Tyketto. I also like the verses of ”Down In A Hole” but the chorus is such a letdown that it almost makes me angry!

I like the organic sound of the band, Mogel is a great singer and the band’s songwriting has a nice original quality to it. I’m pretty sure that they are capable of coming up with a potential ”Album Of The Year”, but this isn’t it yet. How to say it differently… let’s attempt the poetic style of the band’s press release: ”Somewhere there’s a door to be unlocked. Once the creative forces of Radio Exile unlock it, they’ll find a radiating array of irresistible melodies”. Hmmm…

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

NAKED: ”End Game”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Not to be confused with the Finnish sleaze/glam band, this particular Naked hails from Sweden. Vocalist Peter Sundvall and guitarist Mats Stattin are the founding members, with Mikael Wikman on drums and Tony Berg of Alien taking care of production and lead guitar. Paul Logue of Eden’s Curse plays the bass on the album.

”End Game” that could have been marketed as an ”undiscovered gem” from 1985, and most of us would have bought the story. Fortunately the most plastic production elements of the year are nowhere to be heard, but I can’t deny that there’s something very ”vintage” in the overall sound. Compared to most modern day AOR albums, this sounds less pristine but warmer and more ”human”, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The songs range from the Kansas-like opener ”Silverthorn” to the hard-edged AOR of ”Destination Unknown”, which sounds a lot like Last Autumn’s Dream at their heaviest.  Vocalist Peter Sundvall sounds uncannily like Mikael Erlandsson on this one.

My favorites include the two aforementioned tracks and ”Aim For The Heart” which reminds me of obscure eighties bands like Legs Diamond and Aviator. On the second half of the album there are a few songs which do not appeal to me at all, hence only three R’s… it was a close call though.

BURNING POINT: ”Burning Point”

Rating: RRRR
Label: AFM Records 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Burning Point introduced their new singer Nitte Valo with this album last year. With the former Battle Beast singer on board, the band recorded 4 new tracks and one cover. In addition to those, they also re-recorded 6 older BP tracks to which Nitte’s vocals added a new twist.

If you’re not familiar with Burning Point, this album is a good one to start with. They’ve chosen strong material from the past albums and the new songs aren’t half bad either.

Burning Point play Heavy Metal, simple as that. You’ll hear echoes of Judas Priest, Helloween and Accept in these songs, maybe with a little bit of Avantasia/Nightwish-like pomp thrown in. Out of all the bands of mastermind Pete Ahonen , Burning Point might be the heaviest one, but there’s still plenty of room for melodies and hooks. Just about every song has a distinctive, big chorus hook, ”Signs Of Danger”, ”Heart Of Gold” and ”Queen Of Fire” being three examples of that.

The aforementioned cover is ”I’ve Had Enough (Into The Fire)”, an eighties’ Kiss track from the ”Animalize” album. Nitte does a good job singing the not-so-easy Paul Stanley parts, but I’m not that fond of the Teutonic Metal treatment given to the chorus.

Monday, January 4, 2016

DIRTY GLORY: "Mind The Gap"

Rating: RRRR

Label: Self Release

Reviewed By: Alan Holloway

Sleazy rock is one of those genres that features lots of men with daft names trying to be Motley Crue, sometimes exceeding the original’s talent but more often rattling off a pale imitation. The first happy surprise of the new year is this debut from Brazil’s Dirty Glory, who have managed to release a rather solid retro rock album despite having a bassist called Vikki Sparkz who doesn’t even have the decency to be a girl.

‘Mind The Gap’ is a bit of a treat for those that bemoan the fact that grunge came along and stopped all their favourite bands from making increasingly shit records and snorting up half of Columbia between solos. He best thing about it is that you can’t lazily sit back and say ‘Oh, they’re a Guns and Roses clone’ or whatever, as Dirty Glory manage to pilfer from any number of bands , mixing it all up into a highly entertaining mix in a way that the likes of faster Pussycat of Pretty Boy Floyd could only dream of. “20 Years Of Moving On”, for example, would have been a killer song for Guns ‘n’ Roses instead of just about anything on the wank fest that is ‘Use Your Illusion’. Vocalist Jimmy DG handles the whole thing very well indeed, his voice somewhere between Axl Rose and Vince Neil, and you can imagine the nifty power ballad “Every Time I Think About You’ rocking MTV in the late Eighties with ease.

With a cover that’s not even a bit embarrassing and a solid, well put together booklet, Dirty Glory have put together an album that is pleasing aesthetically as well as musically. Obviously there’s a target market that it will appeal to most, but really anyone who enjoyed ‘Rock Of Ages’ will get a real kick out of “Mind The Gap”. It’s not gonna change the world, but it might just sprinkle some fairy dust over whoever buys it.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

SIMULACRUM: "Sky Divided"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Inverse Records
Review by Martien Koolen

 The second album of the Finnish prog metal band Simulacrum is again a must for lovers of music that blends speed metal with neo-prog and classic power metal with melodic rock. Sky Divided is a kind of concept album dealing with science fiction inspired by classic sf books/movies, like War Of The Worlds, Fahrenheit 451 and Mad Max.

Musical highlights on this album are the two longest tracks being The Abomination and A New Beginning. The latter clocks 14 minutes and is a perfect example of the complex music of this band: great musicianship all around with influences from notorious bands like Symphony X or Fear Factory. The Abomination is my favourite as it features a superb instrumental passage with excellent guitar and keyboardsolos. Timelapse is the instrumental opener and this one almost sounds like a movie sound track, mainly due to the great orchestration in that song. Broken, a very dark song, has a surprise in store as it actually features a mean saxophone solo, giving that track an almost jazzy feeling. Sky Divided features endless guitar hooks and riffs and here the drumming is very dominant and powerful.

In fact I would say that there is not a bad song to be found on Sky Divided and if you like fast melodic neo prog metal and bands like Symphony X, Fear Factory, Yes and/or TesseracT then this album will certainly please you. Play at maximum volume or listen to the album thorugh your headphones and you will be amazed. Highly recommended for fans of Scandinavian power metal!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

QUEENSRŸCHE: ”Condition Hüman”

QUEENSRŸCHE: ”Condition Hüman” 
Rating: RRR¨
Label: Century Media 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The consensus seems to be that this second Queensrÿche album with vocalist Todd La Torre is superior to the first one. I don’t know about that. I admit that in my review of the ”s/t” album, I was perhaps a bit too overjoyed about the band going back to their early style. It’s still a good album but I have to say that I haven’t listened to it that much after finishing my review. I feel that this album will suffer the same fate. It’s quite good and the band sounds like vintage Queensrÿche, but somehow I just don’t seem to get a grip of the songs.

I’ve listened to the tracks quite a few times, yet only a few of them have the kind of riffs, melodies and hooks that leave a lasting impression - like ”Arrow Of Time”, the title track and ”Guardian” with it’s familiar ”Revolution Calling” catchphrase (or is it ”evolution”?).

Still, despite its’ shortcomings the album is a true ’Rÿche album featuring a band that sounds convincing and enthusiastic. They are playing the kind of music that they want to, and that’s something special. Maybe a few additional spins will make me change my mind about the songs, but as of now, it’s three R’s… okay, let’s throw in some umlauts there!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

C.O.P.: ”State Of Rock”

Rating: RRRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Christian (Sundell), Ola (Af Trampe) and Peter (Sundell). That’s their excuse for yet another bloody D.O.T band name… but let’s just concentrate on the positive things, like the band’s music for instance!

All three members of the band have a band called Grand Illusion in their past, and I think most Grand Illusion fans will enjoy these songs too. The ”C.O.P. Rock” might be a bit more straight-forward, but Peter Sundell’s distinctive vocals and the band’s love for big, melodic choruses are a reminder of the past. For those not familiar with Grand Illusion, I’d describe the band’s sound as a mixture of Zeno, Harlan Cage and 80’ies TNT with lots of keyboards, all iced with the Swedish melodic sensibility. Damn, do they spend hours studying ABBA in the Swedish elementary schools or what?

The standout tracks on ”State Of Rock” include the super-catchy ”In The Night”, ”Loner” and ”I Want The World To Know” which reminds me a lot of Harlan Cage/Fortune.    Even though the album is very keyboard-oriented, it never sounds too wimpy, underneath the layers of keys there’s a solid guitar foundation by Ola Af Trampe which gives these songs a bit of an edge. Same goes for the songwriting, the songs have a darker edge than most standard AOR songs. Don’t know about you but I find that very appealing.

What’s more? Well, call me the ”songtitle police”, but I find it odd that a band can still come up with songs like ”Without You”, ”In My Dreams” and ”Broken Heart” in 2015. Just by looking at the track listing, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a cover band…

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

LIFELINE: ”Scream”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

I won’t try to pretend that I can keep up with the current UK melodic rock scene. There’s a few guys who are keeping themselves busy with multiple projects and bands, and Lifeline features at least two of these workaholics - Lee Small and Nigel Bailey.

Lifeline is the latest (or one of the latest) projects with two vocalists sharing the lead vocal duties. Lee Small has sung with Shy, Phenomena, Snowfall, Skyscraper while you might know Nigel Bailey from Three Lions, his own band Bailey or Stan Bush’s Rockingham live band. Both are great singers, Small has a bit of a Glenn Hughes-like voice while Bailey has a more of a raspy one with some similarities to Joe Lynn Turner’s voice. They sound good on ”Scream”, separately and together.

The band’s music has its’ foundations in the classic hard rock sounds of the seventies and early eighties. Many of the songs have a strong Turner-era Rainbow-vibe, while others remind me of Thin Lizzy (”Far From Home”) or early Whitesnake (”Destination Freedom”). My personal favorites are the strong opener ”Fear No More”, the AOR track ”Feels Like Love” and ”Danger In The Sky”.

”Scream” is a solid album with powerful production and great performances, and it should appeal to the fans of the aforementioned bands and era. I liked it, but in the end there were a few too many songs that didn’t leave a lasting impression. Still, the fourth ”R” was close…

Monday, December 7, 2015



LABEL: Shotgun Generation

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Say what you like about the French (seriously - they don’t care what YOU think), they’re not a bunch that you expect a great deal from when it comes to rock music. Yeah, yeah, there’s been a few, but it’s not exactly Sweden, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, Pleasure Addiction are a recent addition to the roster of French Bands You’ve Never Heard Of, and they’re following up their debut ‘INdependence’ with this offering, which according to the title should be more, well, ballsy.

As you may gather from the none too subtle cover and band name, Pleasure Addiction are camped firmly with the sort of bands who use enough hairspray to gas ISIS and enough lipstick to make all the corpses pretty. When done correctly, a bit of wham bam thank you glam is an enjoyable thing, and Pleasure Addiction certainly seem to understand this, as ‘Extra Balls’ is chock full of upbeat riff laden bouncy tracks, the sort of thing Poison used to do once upon a time. It helps that they kick it all off with the single ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, which is an outstanding example of the genre. On the downside is ‘Heaven & Hell’ which suffers greatly from being a slower song, highlighting the averageness of vocalist Butcho (wouldn’t be a glam band without silly names, right?), something the faster tracks manage to cover up with their wall of sound. In fairness to him, though, Butcho’s voice does sound right for the sort of music that’s being played, he’s just not a balladeer.

I hear a lot of bad Glam Rock in my job, and I’m happy to report that Pleasure Addiction don’t fall into the swampy pit of shite that swallows up so many others. They have a good energy to their sound, and have tapped into that mid to late Eighties vibe with a rare passion. There’s nothing deep or meaningful here, but there doesn’t always have to be. Check out ‘Don’t Le Me Down’ on YouTube, and if that floats your boat you could do worse than grabbing some extra balls as well.

Friday, November 6, 2015

DARK SARAH: ”Behind The Black Veil”

Rating: RR
Label: Inner Wound Recordings 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Former Amberian Dawn singer Heidi Parviainen has now adopted the name of Dark Sarah for her latest project. It’s a combination of finely orchestrated music with metallic leanings and operatic singing. Who said Nightwish? Actually this doesn’t like Nightwish that much, I’d say Dark Sarah is closer to Tarja’s solo material.

It’s a bit of a shame to give such a low rating to an ambitious album that’s obviously been put together with passion, precision and care, but I can’t help it. As great as the overall sound is, the songs just leave me completely cold. I kept hoping to come across a memorable hook, but no… everything is fine on the surface, the album sounds absolutely majestic and Heidi’s soprano soars above nicely, but damn it, where are the hooks, the memorable melodies? The most memorable song is ”A Grim Christmas Story”, a twisted and sinister adaptation of the old Christmas carol ”12 Days of Christmas”…

I tried, I appreciated certain aspects of this, but didn’t get it. Fans of Tarja Turunen, Nightwish and Within Temptation should check this out anyway.

Monday, November 2, 2015

S.A.Y: ”Orion”

Rating: RRR
Label: MelodicRock Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Former StoneLake members Jan Åkesson and singer Peter Grundström decided to create a new band with a more melodic edge than their former group. Following the trends of the last few years, they chose to call their band ”S.A.Y.”… Yes, another d.o.t. band!

S.A.Y. have a distinctively Scandinavian sound, which reminds me of The Magnificent, Return and the poppier side of eighties’ TNT, maybe a bit of Work Of Art too. Everything’s technically okay, the songs are melodic and have soaring choruses, but… something just doesn’t click with me. The melodies are fairly predictable and some of the songs are very much alike.

Even though the music industry is in trouble these days, the amount of releases doesn’t seem to diminish. Therefore an album like this that’s just ”OK” might not end up on everyone’s ”essential purchases”-list. Still, if you’re missing the glory days of TNT or waiting for the second Magnificent album, this might be something for you.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

REASONS BEHIND: ”The Alpha Memory”

Rating: RR
Label: Maple Metal Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Found this album from the ”to be reviewed” folder… Reasons Behind… the press material included a lot of photos of the band’s lead singer Elisa Bonafe, but not much else… so, let’s google it…”Modern metal with strong electronic influences and charming female vocals.” Ok.

Reasons Behind play progressive metal with plenty of keyboards, but I don’t know about the electronic influences. And as charming she looks, Elisa’s semi-operatic, at times slightly Kate Bush-like are very much an acquired taste, and I can’t say I’m too fond of them. The music is well-played and produced, but somehow the songs don’t have enough memorable melodies. In fact, the old saying that ”less is more” wouldn’t hurt these songs - there’s just too much going on in them and Elisa seems to be singing all the time. I’m well aware that there are some instrumental passages too, but her presence is a bit overwhelming…

Who could I recommend this to? Fans of early Nightwish and Within Temptation might want to investigate. There are videos on the band’s website.

MINUTIAN: "Inwards"

Rating: RR
Label: Inverse Records
Review by Martien Koolen

Inwards is the second album of Finnish prog rockers Minutian and this album is dedicated to the memory of guitar player Jaakko Jernberg, who died in 2012. Inwards contains nine new songs and the last track Redeemer was was composed by Jernberg.

Most of the tracks are long (maybe some are too long?) and do not offer enough variety to keep the attention of the listener. Songs like Burning Light, The Crust Of The Earth and Aphelion just drag on and on and do not even have decent guitar and/or keyboard solos. But what irritates me most are the too dominant vocals of Mikko Heino; he just sings too much and his voice really gets on my nerves after a couple of tracks. The only two interesting tracks are On Derelict Sidings and Void Within as both at least feature some musical variety and intelligence. Most boring and tedious song is without any doubt the last one Redeemer, a song that does not come "alive" at all. Minutian is NOT my cup of tea but maybe there is an audience for music like this, but I think that in this genre, prog rock/metal, there is so much more to enjoy than Inwards, that this CD will end up on a pile of nice try but did not succeed.

Walter TROUT: "Battle Scars"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot Records/Provogue
Review by Martien Koolen

This is the much-anticipated follow-up to Walter Trout's superb 2014 album The Blues
Came Callin'. Battle Scars is a chronicle of Walter Trout's survival after his liver transplant; staring death in the eye and not knowing if he would live to go on making his music.

On this excellent new album are 12 tracks dealing with his battle between life and death and the lyrics are really emotional and also give a message of hope and will power. The album kicks off with Almost Gone, featuring harmonica, two superb very bluesy guitar solos and of course very emotional lyrics dealing with Walter's illness and his survival. Another highlight on the album is Please Take Me Home, a classic blues ballad with almost magical, out of this world guitar solos; showing that Trout is still one of the best guitar pickers in the bluesrockworld.

Fly Away is an up tempo blues rocker with a catchy chorus and a mean, almost swampy, howling guitar solo. Move On is maybe the "heaviest" song on Battle Scars; a blues rock track with heavy riffs and hooks and two mean and lean guitar solos. My Ship Came In features Trout on harmonica again, but the song almost explodes with the howling high guitar in the end. Cold, Cold Ground ia another Trout milestone and reminds me of good old Jimi Hendrix, as it is a classic slow blues song filled with astonishing guitar work. Trout's guitar solos on Cold, Cold Ground are probably the best on the entire album.

Unfortunately Trout also composed two mediocre tracks for Battle Scars, being the utterly boring acoustic Gonna Live Again and the last track called Sammy, Sammy which in fact only features one minute silence and a speaking voice! Without these two missers, Battle Scars would have received the perfect rating from me; but this album again shows/proves that Trout always will have a special place in my blues (rock) heart; especially if I listen to outstanding tracks like Cold, Cold Ground, My Ship Came In, Please Take Me Home and Fly Away. The emotional, heartfelt lyrics do the rest: "Last year has been one where the blues truly came calling and I came face to face with death more than once."(Walter Trout). Battle Scars is a fantastic blues rock album and I hope that Walter (with his new liver) will live for many more years and make excellent albums like this one. Highly recommended for lovers of real blues rock with steaming guitar solos; play it loud and often!!

THE RADIO SUN: ”Heaven Or Heartbreak”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Melodic Rock Records 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

On their first album ”Wrong Things Right” The Radio Sun actually didn’t do the wrong things right, they did the right things right as far as I’m concerned. It was a nice collection of what I’d call ”summertime pop-rock”. On the new album, the band seems to have left the sunny days of summer behind, as I don’t get that ”summer vibe” out of these tracks. It being the end of October as I write this might have something to do with it too… But anyway, the songs are still melodic and catchy, but maybe a touch darker.

Just like on the previous album, each one of these songs could be considered as singles. The choruses are big and the harmonies smooth as ever. Compared to the debut there’s a bit more variety, subtle keyboards add a contemporary sheen to some of the songs. Then there are others which have more of a metallic flavour, the title track being one of those for instance. Favorites of mine include ”Dying Without Your Love”, ”Hanging By A Thread” and ”Madness In This World” but frankly, there are no throwaway songs here.

After the first spin I wasn’t too sure whether I liked this album as much as the first one. Vocalist Jason Old’s very unique style of singing started to bug me a little and the songs just didn’t seem that catchy. Now that I’ve given this album more time, the hooks have found their way into my head… I still think that every now and then Mr. Old tends to streeeeeetch the words unnecessarily though.

Friday, October 30, 2015

GHOST MACHINERY: ”Evil Undertow”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Pure Legend Records 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A few years have passed since the previous Ghost Machinery album ”Out For Blood”. That was a solid piece of work but I’ll have to say that ”Evil Undertow” is even better. Guitarist Pete Ahonen gave up his vocalist duties in his other band Burning Point, but meanwhile in GM he decided to step back to the microphone and became the lead vocalist again. The last album featured Taage Laiho (Kilpi, Altaria) on vocals. Fans of his voice should try to get a hold of this album’s limited edition, which features two superb cover versions with him on vocals, namely ”Fight For The Strangers” and ”Never Stop Runnin’”. Both are originally semi-legendary Finnish metal songs from the eighties by Iron Cross and Zero Nine.

The main ”core” of the album are the 9 new songs and one cover found on the normal edition of the album. The originals are all hook-laden metal songs with fine guitars, pompous keyboards and gritty, yet melodic vocals. Out of them my picks would be the opener ”Arms Of The Strangers”, ”Brave Face”, the Queensryche-like ”Dead Inside” and Dokkenesque ”Lost To Love”. Apart from the aforementioned bands, you can hear influences from ”Eclipse”-era Yngwie and many more classic melodic metal bands.

The one cover is Robert Tepper’s ”No Easy Way Out”, which is a great song. I’m not ”that” fond of the GM version though. The song’s classic bass line is a bit buried under the guitars and keys. Still, you can’t ”kill” a classic song like this by small changes and this is a worthy addition to the track listing.

If I have one complaint it’s the use of similar ”church organ” sounds on many of the songs. The sound just stands out and points its’ ugly finger at me a few too many times. Could be my strange paranoia too…

Anyway, earlier this year I think I said that Stargazery’s latest album is my favourite from the products of Pete Ahonen Metal Factory. I’m not so sure anymore, here we have a serious contender.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

BLACK-BONE: "Blessing In Disguise"

Rating: RRR
Label: SPV/Steamhamer
Review by Martien Koolen

This young rock trio from The Netherlands have recently signed a recording deal with Steamhammer/SPV and they have released their new album Blessing In Disguise on 18 September. Steef van den Bogaard (guitar/vocals), Sven Hompes ( bass guitar/vocals) and Jules Eck (drums) debuted with Back To Mayhem in 2012 and since then their popularity has grown. Furthermore these young musicians toured with the likes of Deep Purple, Saxon, Slash, Status Quo and Chickenfoot and this of course also helped a lot to become more known in the music industry. Black-Bone plays heavy rock and roll at its best and they are obviously influenced by iconic bands like Guns N' Roses and AC/DC; but they surely have their own musical style. The album, produced by Peter van Elderen (frontman/guitarist of Peter Pan Speedrock), the albums kicks off with the up tempo Nothing But History (the first single of the album); a song that reminds me of the rather unknown Dutch band New Adventures. Suicide Ain't No Way Out is one of the best songs, filled with great hooks and riffs and an excellent rough guitar solo. Wrong is a power ballad, which is new for Black-Bone as they have never played ballads before, and is rather melodic with two great guitar solos. Wrong has a kind of arena rock ambition and it could be a great anthem for these guys. But the musical highlight of this album is the track Save It For Tomorrow, which is real headbanging stuff, with heavy, catchy musical passages, lots of variety and again a more than superb guitar solo in the middle of the track. However,after listening to the album a couple of times I have to say that Black-Bone's songs, like Never Too Loud, Ashereah, You Gotta Nerve and Wasted Years tend to be very similar to each other. Meaning: the same tempos, similar riffs/hooks and the same vocals, which makes this album a bit too predictable... But nevertheless these three young Dutch musicians grab you by the balls and showcase their stuff in a very positive and aggressive way.Let's see what the future will bring for this promising band and until then, just enjoy Blessing In Disguise, at maximum volume of course, that goes without saying. Best tracks to listen to: Suicide, Wrong and Save It For Tomorrow!

Joe BONAMASSA: "Live at Radio City Music Hall"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot Label Group/Provogue
Review by: Martien Koolen

One of the best blues (rock) guitar pickers of this world has just released a fantastic new album; a CD/DVD set and CD/Blu-ray set. In January of this year Joe took the iconic Great stage at Radio City Music Hall and he played his special half acoustic/half electric programma for a very enthousiastic crowd. The set features over 75 minutes of music with two newly recorded tracks and nine unreleased live tracks showing Bonamassa and band in second to none form. However, as you do know by now, I am not a fan of acoustic songs, so for me it is a shame that I have to skip five songs on the CD. These five acoustic tracks are played with Joe's acoustic band called The Huckleberries and I am truly sorry (maybe not) but I can not get enthousiastic about songs like Dust Bowl, Trouble Town, Still Water, Different Shades Of Blue and Happier Times, as they sound too much country & western/ blue grass to me. I really like it when Joe shifts into the electric mode with his regular touring band consisting of: Tal Bergman (drums), Carmine Rojas (bass guitar), Reese Wynans (keyboards) and his hornsection (Thornburg, Lane and Cerra). One Less Cross To Bear is a new song and it is a great one, featuring great guitar parts by Joe and an excellent keyboard solo as well. Other highlights of this outstanding album are: I Can't Be Satisfied (Muddy Waters-like), Living On The Moon, Never Give All Your Heart and the bluesrockin' Love Ain't A Love Song. But the best song of the set to me is: So What Would I Do, which features the most fabulous guitar solo of the entire album and which also includes a mean saxophone solo. This song is what Bonamassa is all about, great melodies, great variety, excellent singing and breathtaking guitarpicking. Overall I have to say that Bonamassa's voice has improved a lot over the years, he really is an excellent vocalist nowadays and his guitar playing is flawless as ever. This album is a career milestone for Bonamassa and an absolute must have for his fans all over the world. By the way the DVD contains all the songs as featured on the CD (13 tracks), plus a lot more, including over 2,5 hours of live footage and a special 45 minutes behind the scenes featurette. Check it out and you will be hooked; however without the acoustic songs I would have given this album a perfect rating; sad but true... Play it loud and bring it your air guitar to play along!