Thursday, April 16, 2015

ARSENIC UNBIRTHDAY: "Ravens and Writing Desks"

Rating: EP
Label: Epictronic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Arsenic Unbirthday (huh? un-what?) is a poisonous alternative (Goth-ish) rock band and 4-piece from Cagliari, Italy. Formed some years ago by guitarist Nick Farlight and vocalist Mary Red Mallow, they went through several lineup changes and names up until the arrival of their 5-track debut EP. Armed with the benefit of countless experiences abroad with some world-renowned artists, and many side projects, they recording a demo in the well-known Death Island Studios in Denmark. They are now signed to Epictronic and their debut effort display great promise and potential without fulfilling all your expectations.

What saves the EP from being average is that they do this very well coming over as a cross between Evanescence (The Open Door) and independent rock/pop. Their lively front woman Mary Red Mallow likes to mix things up by switching from metal to independent rock vocals in no time. It's a bit weird at times I guess but in the context of the songs it works like a charm. It's big drama and atmospheric keyboards are only to be expected as they blend electro rock/pop (Sparklet) with the more direct metal/rock sound of "Unnecessary Pain". Nothing earth shattering, but a solid effort from the new act. They may still lack that extra special and top notch song material. It's a rather special variant of music though and quite the poisonous act.

GOV'T MULE: "Stoned Side Of The Mule Vol 1 & 2"

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

If you came here looking for high level of craftsmanship and musicianship, you came to the right place. However, if you came here looking for original songs, you're definitely in the wrong. Yes, it's the cover album as they're performing 13 tracks from the vast back catalogue of the Rolling Stones. Why you ask? Because they can? It's hardly better, more interesting, or even remotely equal to the classic and old live recordings by The Stones. It's simply just the fun and more than decent tribute as well as the rocking good time. Rocking the joint of Tower Theater, Philadelphia, on Halloween 2009, Gov't Mule recorded this show to be released as the live double album, vinyl only release. That's right, you read correctly, vinyl only. And I believe it's the former President of America on the artwork and cover? Bush Junior? To be honest, it could be most and any of their Presidents. Special guests such as saxophonist Steve Elson (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Radiohead, David Bowie) and Jackie Greene (Phil Lesh & Friends, Black Crowes, Trigger Hippy), "Angie", basically the blue-print to any and all of the Aerosmith ballads? Other tracks include classics such as Under My Thumb, Paint In Black, Wild Horses, Play With Fire, Brown Sugar, etc. Anyhow, a nice little live album that could appeal to the classic rock fans. Can only be purchased on vinyl!

ULI JON ROTH: "Scorpions Revisited"

Rating: Comp.
Label: UDRMusic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Musical differences, the reason to why Uli Jon Roth decided to leave Scorpions in 1978. No kidding? It's like night and day really. The post-Roth material by the Germans speak of catchy melodies and the fun guitarmageddon. They simply couldn't wait to enroll master-blaster guitarist Jabs and get the party started with the hook-friendly Lovedrive in 1979. The start of Scorpions as we know them today. Don't get me wrong. Uli Jon Roth is the excellent guitarist with the Neo-Classical as well as the Hendrix friendly approach to his playing. He made the neat contribution to the seventies albums of Fly To The Rainbow (1974), In Trance (1975), Virgin Killer, and Taken by Force (1977). The guitar playing that is, the songs are either complete miss or the occasional hit. In fact. The majority of the pre-1979 songs are just too darn strange to this reviewer. The material for this double CD was re-recorded last year in the same hall in Hanover that Scorpions used for rehearsals in 1973-1978.

The line-up of Nathan James (vocals), Jamie Little (drums), Ule W. Ritgen (bass), Niklas Turmann (guitar, vocals), Corvin Bahn (keyboards, vocals), David Klosinski (guitar), and Roth, are going through everything from The Sails Of Charon to Fly To The Rainbow with plenty of skill and finesse. It's hardly everything though since there's no Steamrock Fever. He's a Woman - She's a man. They Need a Million. etc. It's hard to avoid comparing this to the originals. And surely the best way to enjoy these songs, simply play the records from the seventies? Highlights as well as the best original tracks: Picture Life. In Trance. The Sails Of Charon. According to Roth, "the idea was to stay truthful to the original spirit of the music, while also putting a new slant on it whenever it felt like the right thing to do. I feel we really succeeded in this and I’m very excited about this project. It was an intense journey into the past and I think we really managed to bring the songs back to life with a vengeance". Meh. I'm going to play me some Blackout next.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

STONEGHOST: "New Age Of Old Ways"

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

Bromley, London. Judging by the 11 songs performed by Stoneghost on their "New Age Of Old Ways" album, it's definitely the scariest place in the U.K. Ghoulish attractions and its chilling atmosphere offers fascinating sound structures and haunted tracks such as opener "Faceless Ghost". Indeed. Everyone loves a good (stone) ghost story, whether you believe them or not. The song is one of the creepiest, eeriest, things we've heard as of lately as it goes through several different layers of murdering metal such as Pantera, Anthrax (the Sound Of White Noise' feat. Bush, and not the Belladonna albums), and Corrosion Of Conformity. Very impressive. Very good. Very Metal!

Hang on a minute, the lyrics aren't quite as scary as I first thought? It's about the birth of vocalist Jason Smith's daughter and the way our metal shouter is feeling anxious and afraid about becoming a father? He even went to therapy? WTF? Seriously. WTF?? There goes all credibility out through the front door. Okay. Simply forget about the scary part. In fact. Scratch everything and start all over again? We expected metal monsters and they gave us... people afraid of babies? Stoneghost, haunted by a toddler?

Okay lads. So far it's not looking too good, metal image-wise. Let's try and chill by listening to track two, "Devil's Motion". Mosh! It's the over aggressive syndrome all over again. Don't get me wrong. The correct use of the f-word could indeed enhance the listening experience of your metal song. Too many times and it's just poor education and not being able to use the English language properly. Ouch. That's rich coming from your none-English speaking citizen. But seriously. Would anyone care to read the words if you're going about like a mental Smurf with the tourettes? Okay. I'm obviously trying too hard to find things to complain about. But what the hell? Poke the bear and kill your darlings?

Second To Breathe, clean singing and mid-paced, grungy metal, you'll have the sound of Corrosion Of Conformity and Mastodon ringing in the background. Raynardine, mythology and brutality works like a charm together and we haven't been mosh-pit dancing this much since last time we dug up Katie from the cemetery graveyard. Sleeper, probably the real sleeper/keeper of the album with its doomy metal sound and mesmerizing melody. I love the Prong-style of Third Degree and the super cool bridge and harmonies. Try this for size if you enjoy the brutal and aggressive vibe of the 90's vs. the mosh-pit tunes of the 80's. Some of the melodies are too similar in structure and style for my personal taste, not to mention that I hate the so-called singing style of Your Trigger, My Finger and Mother of All Bastards. It's still the pretty good album, just not super good.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Rating: RRRr

Label: Red Tomb Records

Review By: Alan Holloway

I’m guessing that not many Candlemass fans would have expected their guitar hero  Lars Johansson to pop up with a down n dirty blooze album, but that’s exactly what he has done with the oddly named Fat.Mo.Mac, bringing together some of his friends to create the sort of blues that is happy to sit in the gutter looking at the stars.

Good blues is often all about the guitar playing, and Johansson brought in Roger Eklov, who very sadly died of a heart attack before he could do more than a few songs. That said, instrumental track ‘Gearshifter’ is among the most impressive blues pieces I have ever heard, so he certainly went out on a high note. Elsewhere, Johansson and Klas Gunnerfeldt do themselves proud as well.

As we all know, there’s blues and there is blues, with Fat.Mo.Mac delivering old fashioned slow burners that meander along until interrupted by complicated guitar solos. This, my friends, is ‘proper’ blues, where feeling is everything. The talented Mats Leven provides throaty, angsty vocals and does a pretty cool job while he’s at it, with the whole band never in a hurry to get to the end of any song. A few songs, like the aforementioned ‘Gearshifter’ and opener ‘Walk Alone’ manage to speed things up a bit, but generally this is slow, pensive blues played by a talented bunch of musicians.

Much as I appreciate the talent involved, much of what’s on offer is pretty samey, so it was pretty hard to really get into despite repeat listening. It’s one of those albums you certainly enjoy listening to but don’t remember that much about afterwards. That said, I’m sure that the listener’s level of blues tolerance will be a major factor in their enjoyment. In the end, I suggest you take a listen first, and if you like what you hear it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll get off on the whole album. 

SECRET OF BORIS – ‘Your Ghost’

Rating: RRRr

Label: Cabo records

 Review By: Alan Holloway

You have to wonder where some bands dig up their names, with Secret Of Boris managing to pick one that is unlikely to do them any favours with the casual listener. Hailing From Dallas, ‘Your Ghost’ is their debut album, and as soon as it starts it’s clear that behind the odd name is a pretty good album.

Secret of Boris are one of those bands that won’t fit easily into a pigeonhole, flitting about and refusing to chuck out twelve tracks that trundle into each other like so many other new bands are happy to do. Vocalist Cameron Taylor has what I can only describe as a ‘melodic shout’, which means he has power but without sacrificing tunefulness, much like Chad Kroeger used to do when Nickelback were half decent. Song wise, there’s a definite 90s feel in places, and makes me think of when bands started to experiment with synthesizers and guitars, stuffing pop and rock together but in a ball busting way that culminated in Linkin Park’s ‘Hybrid Theory’ album. I suppose if you take early LP and Early Nickelback and smush them together you’ll have some idea of what Secret of Boris come over like, though be sure to remember that both bands started off very well indeed.

‘Your Ghost’ is an album of layers, and beneath the more immediate shouty melody lies a few tracks that you can really get into, not least the title track that closes the album. The more immediate tracks, like the catchy and powerful ‘What have You Done-‘, or opener ‘Virus’ will really liven up anyone’s listening day, delivering good, old school powerful tuneage. Overall, whilst this may have been better served as a ten rather than twelve track album, but there’s no poor songs and no reason not to check them out. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

STATUS QUO: "Aquostic Live @ The Roundhouse" [2CD/1DVD]

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

Aquostic Quo - it bloody well works? I don't know. The problem with stripping down to your acoustics? You don't leave anything to imagination? Many of the Quo songs are based on loud guitars and the very basic and straight forward arrangement. Sure. Some of them work in the spare, stripped-back version while others are clearly not allowed to shine, since all of their emotional heft and power are connected to/with the electricity. The 2CD, 1 DVD, release of Aquostic Live @ The Roadhouse features string section, backup singers, acoustic guitars, and the laid-back atmosphere and attitude.

Here's something you don't hear every day though. 'The accordion player is on fire!' The songs that works (in my humble opinion) are: Rock N Roll. What You're Proposing. Softer Ride (excellent harmonica on this one). Rollin' Home. Marguerita Time. Whatever You Want. Rockin' All Over The World. The real winners are: "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" (this mostly works thanks to its marvelous string arrangement) and "Don't Drive My Car". I never payed it much attention in the past. However, the clever lyric and rhythm works like a charm as the aquostic version. The arrangements got changed slightly and it's a different experience from your ordinary Quo gig. But it's hardly better now?

Bonus DVD feature: Behind the Acoustics. "In all these years, 45 years, we've never done a show sitting down". Now try and watch them standing up after the show (ooh my back, ooh my legs). Hear the female backup singers saying that 'quite a lot of these songs being so blokey that we weren't sure if our voices would actually fit, if it would work'. They're not actually singing all of the time though. So I guess it didn't work? Hear the drummer saying that everything is so laid-back and calm. 'I'm using brushes and light cymbals over here'. Yes, mate. It's clearly not your day-dreaming Heavy Metal show of the century. Cheeky and fun banter between the two geezers (Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi) as they're not afraid to joke around about getting older or telling the loo-story about the Matchstick Men. They seem to enjoy playing the laid-back show every now and then (every 45 year). The rather short and bitter sweet behind the scene documentary. Not as long as expected really and definitely not as informative.

Final verdict: Professional done and executed (it's the BBC production). But merely intended to please the die-hard fans? Crank up the amps to 11 next time as we prefer the electric Quo?

JACE PAWLAK: "Perspective"

Rating: RRr
Label: HeadFirstEntertainment 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Like most writers, I just want to be heard". The humble approach as well as the 'mom & dad' friendly sound, that's "Perspective" for ya'. Jace Pawlak's latest album is a more stripped down and deeper record than his other efforts. Reaches for a wider audience with it's mix of Melodic Rock, acoustic ditto, ballads, and power pop, it's got that REO Speedwagon meets Billy Joel sound going on at full volume with just a dash of modern pop and singer/songwriter stuff.

The rather sterile and clean album with plenty of piano and lyric that speaks of ordinary things in the ordinary life of the ordinary American. If there is such a thing? The wrong turn on the highway could easily turn into the song about embracing the new atmosphere and having the look around while being lost ("While We're Here"). Other tracks such as "Judi's Just Running" takes a lot of inspiration from Billy Joel - his storytelling and ebony/ivory work.

Opening number "Cry", the pure and fun Melodic Rock track. Sadly the 'cryyyy' bit (towards the end of the refrain) had me thinking about an Tosh.O episode (feat. the web redemption of some wannabee musician). "We Don't Know Anything" is the ancient old gospel and blues tune of the U.S. past. Next track, "Renegade Heart", completely different from previous song and dance numbers. The pure AOR rocker with a refrain that sounds like a second grade mix of Kane Roberts (Rebel Heart) and various mid-80's acts. "Little Star", you can add this to the pile of 'too syrup for its own good' - Mitch Malloy (Mirror Mirror), Rick Price (Fragile), etc. The jazzy "Don't Talk To Me" is Jace only co-write on the album (he's written several songs for FarCry and Tango Down) and the tune is according to the artist, a complete Toto worship song. It sounds more like one third each from The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and yes, Toto. Nonetheless. It's the jazzy West Coast tune (Yacht Rock).

Final verdict: Not bad. Just a little bit too safe.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Rating: RR

Label: AOR Heaven 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This is a surprising release from the AOR Heaven label. Windsor Drive sound like a major label band, with a very polished pop sound… unfortunately that also means that their music doesn’t have much of a rock edge, not even of the Adult Oriented kind. I could imagine that they could appeal to the audiences of Coldplay, Sunrise Avenue and the likes, but whether AOR Heaven can reach those remains to be seen. Some of the AOR fans will probably enjoy them, but for some they are way too lightweight and modern-sounding.

As for me, I’m afraid this isn’t my cup of tea. Some of the tracks are perfectly likable pop-rock, take the opening track ”Going Under” or ”Skin To Skin” for example, but then again, some of them are not… There’s plenty of eerie pop ballads which try hard to put me to sleep, a Maroon 5-like pop track (”Wish Me Well”) which just annoys me and some tracks which are way too synthetic sounding for my taste. The fragile, sensitive and oh-so-emotional vocal style of Kipp Wilde doesn’t work for me… I mean, the guy sounds like he’s about to burst into tears in every song?! Maybe the girls dig it. I suppose there’s not much of a party atmosphere at the band’s gigs, more like collective weeping…

The QUIREBOYS: "St Cecilia And The Gypsy Soul" (4CD)

Rating: RRRR
Label: OffYerRocka/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Quireboys and "St. Cecilia and The Gypsy Soul". Downsizing since the 30th anniversary party and Black Eyed Sons? Hell no. Let's up the game by adding yet another disc to our latest release. Bloody'ell. Let's dive into the ten brand new tracks and album released as part of this very luxurious and grand 4CD set. That's right, four discs, featuring buried treasure, the halfpenny dancer release and bonus cuts. We obviously expect 5 discs on the follow up.

Inspired by the 'Halfpenny Dancer' release, the band entered the studio to record the strictly acoustic release. However, an Aladdin's Cave of intriguing instruments inspired them to push the boundaries and slightly shift the focus. It's still a very laid-back album though and there's plenty of piano, acoustic guitars, steel ditto, mandolin, cello, and various sound effect and loops. It basically sounds like the ultimate bar and piano album with husky vocals (Spike's aging like a fine wine) and the retro rock approach.

Opener "Gracie B" is remarkably dark while the keyboard sound is darn right poppy. "Land Of My father" is the perfect 'gather around the bonfire kids' song with Spike's rusty voice at the centre of attention. "St. Cecilia" speaks volumes and class. "The Promise" send a chill to the bone with those lyric, the cello in the background, and a very classy guitar solo (acoustic). Next up, "Can't Hide It Anymore", this might just at first remind you of the Def Lep/Bryan Adams ballad of the mid 90's. However, there's so much more to this and the steel guitar and retro sound takes you on a trip to the seventies. "Out Of Your Mind", the least impressive new track in my humble opinion. Tired boogie-woogie in slow-motion. "The Hurting Kind", probably the pick of the bunch with clever arrangement and moody refrain. "Adaline", rootsy piano bar song with the spirit of the highlander soaring above. "The Best Are Not Forgotten", dark and moody acoustic rock. "Why Did It Take So Long", the trippy loop, piano chords, hammond, and Spike's voice - that's it. Geordie gone ginger? Well, it's the soft soul-ish tune that could have you thinking about Simply Red?

Disc 2: The Halfpenny Dancer album (13 tracks). Disc 3: Halfpenny Live (9 acoustic tracks). Disc 4: Halfpenny Live Part II (8 tracks). The total of 40 tracks. Spot on with the official press release and had to include this: "Locked away for a week in the Swedish outpost of Klippan, the Quireboys couldn't have imagined what would emerge from the most intensive recording process of their careers. “It was the bleakest place I’ve ever seen,” said guitarist Paul Guerin, following his stay in the town whose name translates as Cliff's Edge. “I felt like I was in the Big Brother house,” added Spike. “I never stepped out of the studio – not once", end quote. You should ever be so "lucky" for staying inside, and for being the pale Geordie bandana geezer. Klippan (and their neighbours: Perstorp), the disgrace of Sweden, the HQ for the Neo-Nazi party and the place of an awful murder (no need to guess skin colour or motive). Make sure to never return or visit again?

Final note: They're probably bored to tears with lazy journalists and the constant Rod/Faces/Stones bit... so I won't even mention them... oh crap... I just did... didn't I? Man... I almost made it...

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Rating: Comp.
Label: Eonian Records 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Holly, Wood U like 2 experience D 80's Sunset Strip? This 4-disc set. Enuff ztuff 2 mess U up 4 good. Blame these guys 4 the lack of ozone layer. Blame them 4 living where U ought 2 B. Blame them 4 trying 2 B GR8. Whatever U do, don't put the blame on U, blame it on hair metal? How about that for your introduction of this truly hairy-scary box set that features 36 underground acts from the '80s and early '90s LA rock scene and the total of 72 digitally re-mastered, original studio tracks. The 60-page booklet with a look at each band, and the 13-page Rock 'N' Roll Rebels: Sunset Strip Certified narrated by JohnnyX of The Wild and Adam Gifford of Paradise. Impressive.

I know, I know. You're all thinking: who, what, when, where, why? To be perfectly honest. I'm just as bewildered as the vast majority of you. On the one hand, it's the super kool, ambitious, dedicated, life-long project of collecting the sound of 80's sunset wannabees. However, the other hand is constantly thinking about killing bunnies with a blunt dagger. Mixed feelings? I guess you're supposed to think of this as the piece of rock history and capturing the pure and not so innocent era of hair metal. Nothing wrong about that. But (and that's a big but), these acts weren't "good enough" for a recording contract in the first place and time hasn't exactly been kind to some of them.

Don't get me wrong. I like me some sleaze and Eonian Records are out there fighting the good fight. I shouldn't be putting them down for standing up for their belief (go sleaze power!). Perhaps it's simply just the case of quantity vs. quality? I'm obviously jealous since I would love to have been there at the time and experience the 80's/early 90's groove. Hanging out at the Roxy, getting blasted at The Whiskey, doing the metal pose in front of the Troubadour. The smell of hairspray, aqua net, leather and lace. Surely it must have been fun?? But what about the music on these four discs? It's two songs each from the following cult and underground (melodic hard rock) Sunset acts of the 80's and early 90's: Rattlesnake Shake. Alice Be Tokelas. The Wild. LongGone. Hans Naughty. Imagine World Peace. Bad Blood. Cyclone Sound. Hap Hazzard. Charlotte. Lypswitch. Bad Bones. Enticier. Scratch. Hardly Dangerous. Sam Mann and Thee Apes. Mad Reign. The Mimes. Shake City. Blackboard Jungle. Paradise. Hollywood Rose. Taz. Daddy Ray. Children. Shel Shoc. Dallas Dollz. Deaf, Dumb and Blonde. Cold Shot. New Improved God. Agent Zero. Aces & Eights. Rough Justice. Byte the Bullet. Spyder Blue. Charlemagne.

How many did you recognize? Here's my favourite acts and songs: Longgone (fun and groovy stuff). Imagine World Peace (quirky hybrid rock). Bad Blood (Gene Simmons managed them in the late 80's). Cyclone Sound (a real deadringer for groove). Charlotte (already released the great 'Medusa Groove' at Eonian). They have that cool sound 'ala Kingdom Come. Bad Bones (Tangier meet The Cult). Mad Reign (psychedelic rock with just the hint of grunge). Shake City (self-titled cd at Eonian). Blackboard Jungle (really catchy, like a rougher/tougher version of Little Steven). Hollywood Rose (with guitarist Chris Weber of 'Rose' fame, pre-Guns N Roses, the band he was in with Axl and Izzy). Deaf, Dumb & Blonde (great classic US Rock, demo paid for by Geffen Records. They almost made it). Byte The Bullet (they later changed their name to Southgang and released two fine albums).

The other Awards of the set. Cutest: Hardly Dangerous (all female-act). Coolest image: Rough Justice (comic book cops characters from Gotham city with edgy vampire overtones. Respect the hairdos! respect the hairdos). Most annoying songs: Sam Mann and Thee Apes. Worst moniker: Hans Naughty (but there's plenty of them). The Blues Brothers goes Sleaze award: The Mimes (kick kick scratch and fight). The 'I need to punch someone' song: Nag-nag-nag with Daddy Ray (horrible). No personality slash originality: Shel Shoc. Worst promo pic: Dallas Dollz. Best moniker: Deaf, Dumb & Blonde (they're at least honest). The 'f**k you I made it' award goes to Dizzy Reed (The Wild). Coolest songs: "This Is Now" by Alice Be Tokelas (the wicked semi-ballad) and "Dead Rock Stars" by New Improved God (Detroit Rock).

Final verdict: The ultimate compilation of unsigned acts of the approx: 1987-1992 Hollywood and Sunset Strip era. Respect the craft and sheer dedication behind the project. It's many years of hard work by its creator and it's a interesting set from a historical point of view. You simply have to take the good with the bad. Far from everything is great and it's a whole lot about first impression and paint (pretty much the story of Hollywood).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

BETH HART: "Better Than Home"

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

Arghhh... the pipes, the pipes are calling. Or rather as our favorite cat once sang: 'Beth I hear you calling' (Peter Criss). Indeed. This goes straight to the HART as she's dealing with demons that have pursued her for her whole life: her older sister who died from complications from aids and her own battle with drugs, booze, bad relationships, bad decisions and ultimately the diagnosis that tied the knot on the whole damn thing, bi-polar disorder. Beth's putting those demons behind her, embracing the great things she’s done and the good things she has and looking forward, because no matter how bad things got sometimes, no matter how dark the sky, how smelly underwear, something always drove her into the light. That's right kiddies. Always remember that famous people struggle with demons, the rest of you are simply just f**ked up beyond belief.

Seriously though. I could listen to Beth Hart 24/7 as she's one of those singers that managed to combine dynamic range with emotional strength. Simply just put on this sucker and kick off your shoes as you'll be here/there for quite a while. With "Better Than Home" Hart has produced a classy and mature platter absolutely chock full of old school arrangements and laid back R&B/Soul with just the hint of jazz and country. It's basically the timeless effort that just as easily could have been released in the 50's, 60's, 70's or any other ancient era for that matter. Do however not expect to find many or any uptempo tracks whatsoever since they are all pretty low and introspective.

The title track goes deep and speak of resurrection and finding peace within yourself. 'St. Teresa' speak of a man in prison and reflects on the whole situation. The chorus part is the hurting slash crying kind and I quote, "Mother is it ok if I call you mama? My own walked away when I broke the law. And standing on the bridge feeling like falling. Would you pray for me mama". Unbelievable, touching, and simply just the perfect ballad material. And yes, I believe there's a movie about this of the nineties and thus her inspiration? The bonus track of "Mama This One's For You" feature the piano pattern of some old ABBA tune? I believe it's The Winner Takes It All?

From the other tracks, you can take your pick since there's no dodgy numbers on this album. But again, you need to be in the zone or rather in the mood, since it's all 'old skool blue' and not the uptempo blues of some of her other projects and albums. It's basically the exact opposite to any Celine Dion album (yuk!). It's the sound of angels crying and it's personal and emotional music with a powerful message and agenda. To never give up, never give in, never surrender! Sheer class. Pure grief. Hallelujah!

REACH: ”Reach Out To Rock”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Sun Hill Production/Cargo Records 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Gotta hand it to them, Swedish newcomers Reach aren’t afraid of doing things differently. I’m not necessarily talking about their music, it’s pretty conventional melodic hard rock, but other things. Like the track listing of this album. The band has done a rock cover of Avicii’s ”Wake Me Up” which as gotten over a MILLION views on Youtube, yet that song is not featured on the album. Neither is their second single ”Black Lady” which has been watched 40.000 times, a respectable number for a virtually unknown band. There may have been some heated discussions about these decisions with the label…

The songs that actually did make it to the album are mostly very good. Based in the Swedish hard rock tradition, you can hear influences from the big eighties’ bands such as Europe and Treat, with touches of Scorpions and even Iron Maiden. The band’s sound isn’t totally retro though, the songs are infused with youthful energy and some modern stylings.

Vocalist Alex Langhorn has a voice with a bit of a sleze-rock vibe, and occasionally he sounds uncannily like Mats Leven (Malmsteen, Swedish Erotica, At Vance etc). There’s plenty of rock vocal power in the band, as guitarist Ludwig Turner is a good singer too. He was a finalist in the  Swedish Idol 2014 competition.

The band has paid a lot of attention to making their choruses big and anthemic, which isn’t a bad thing in my books. Highlights include ”You Called My Name”, ”Tell Me” and ”Make Me Believe”, just to name a few. The two songs I would have replaced with the singles mentioned above would have been ”The Beast” and ”Coming Home”. The former does have a fairly decent chorus but the rest of it just plods along, while the Iron Maiden-meets-Tesla-like ”Coming Home” is okay but a bit forgettable.

Friday, March 27, 2015

NIGHTWISH - 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful'

Rating: RRRRr

Label: Nuclear Blast

Review By: Alan Holloway

My relationship with Nightwish is not the most fanboyish, as I never thought much of them when they had operatic diva Tarja on vocals. I actually found the wailing version of ‘Over the Hills & Far Away’ quite hilarious, and although I appreciated that the music was clever and passionate I just couldn’t get over the vocal style. When they ditched the diva and got in Anette Olzon I was intrigued at first, then overjoyed with the superb ‘Dark Passion Play’. Like many I didn’t go mental over ‘Imaginarium’, but still enjoyed it for what it was.

With Olzon gone, it was a relief that Nightwish picked up the amazing Floor Jansen, a woman certainly capable of delivering all the power and passion required to tackle old and new tunes. Having proved herself live, few could doubt she would hold her own on the new album, and she certainly has. Opening track ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’ blasts out of the speakers with speed and gusto, a song that sounds as Nightwish as it possibly could. Floor sounds excellent, although very slightly low in the mix for my taste, and the track barrels along with aggression and melody – should be a great live opener. The track is obviously designed to convey the message that Nightwish are back, and it does so most effectively.

‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ is a masterful work, based around the concept of evolution. It features several spoken word pieces by Richard Dawkins, and hopefully will annoy creationists everywhere. The song mix is typical of Nightwish, with fast tracks balanced by slow, haunting melodies. Standout tracks for me are the faster pieces like ‘Weak Fantasy’, ‘Yours is An Empty Hope’ the opening track and the title track, as well as the lead single ‘Elan’, which really grew on me the more I listened to it (and the louder I turned it up). ‘our Decades In the Sun’ is a beautiful power ballad, ‘My Walden’ has an uplifting, mid paced Celtic lift to it, whilst ‘Edema Ruh’ and ‘Alpenglow’ round off the bulk of the album in marvellous melodic style.

So that’s about 47 minutes, enough for any album, really, but Nightwish aren’t your usual band. The last half an hour of the album consists of just two tracks, the rather dull ‘The Eyes Of Sharbat Gula’ and the 24 minute epic closer ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. The former is 6 minutes of the dullest background music I’ve ever heard, is responsible for the docked half mark, and will definitely be deleted from my iPod. The latter is, well, rather epic. The running time is roughly split in half between the lengthy, and atmospheric, opening and closing pieces, which sandwich a monster of a mid section that will delight fans of the ‘Dark Passion Play’ title track. It’s not perfect, as the outro is far too long, really, but taken as a whole it’s a great piece of music.

Anyone who had doubts after ‘Imaginarium’ and the departure of Olzon can rest easy with ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’. It’s a wonderful example of what orchestral power metal can do when it’s in the hands of the right people. Full of life and some very catchy music, it should put Nightwish back at the top where they belong. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PRONG: "Songs From The Black Hole"

Rating: N/A
Label: SPV/Steamhammer 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

[Chorus] 'What could possibly go wrong, a cover album by Prong, there's no original song? Hell no - motherf**ker' [x2]. Sing it again. Sorry. I couldn't resist coming up with the Prong song or refrain in this matter. Darn catchy little tune. Anyhow. Back to the U.S. power trio and their "Songs From The Black Hole", a new album full of undeniable cover versions originally recorded by the mostly eighties indie, punk, hardcore, original goth, and rock artists.

They're off to a rather dodgy start with "Doomsday" (Discharge). Tommy Victor says and I quote, 'back when Prong started out, we used to listen to Discharge a lot. Ted Parsons would shout it's a doomsday, it's a doomsday, in this ridiculously exaggerated British punk accent and we both would laugh', end quote. Yeah. But there's a certain charm to that accent and I miss the pure and innocent vibe of the original. Sisters Of Mercy, one of those cool acts of the eighties that started the first and original "Goth" wave (alongside The Cure, etc.) way before every daft suburban kid decided to jump on the bandwagon in the late 90's/early 00's. Prong's version of "Vision Thing" may not sound quite as cool and it's not one of their best and earliest songs for that matter. "Goofy's Concern" (Butthole Surfers), power riffing and vicious vocals by Victor, this is more like it and it's been nicely Prongalized. Next up, an anthem of lost generation, "Kids From The Black Hole" (Adolescents) such a great song in the first place and difficult to f**k up. It speaks about the outcast and the homeless of America..

"The Bars" (Black Flag) and "Seeing Red" (Killing Joke) are right up there with the sound of Prong. Especially the latter kicks like a mule to the head. Jaz Coleman is Victor's biggest vocal influence and Geordie Walker also a huge influence on his guitar playing. "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely" (HÜSKER DÜ), "Give Me The Cure" (Fugazi), Banned In D.C. (Bad Brains), are all hardcore acts that we expected to find on the cover album by Prong. "Cortez The Killer" (Neil Young) on the other hand, something different and therefore darn interesting. Melancholia kicks in after the first note and it would have been fun to have more of these unexpected numbers on the record.

Final verdict: Decent enough to keep you going til' their next effort? I don't know to be honest. Perhaps they should have recorded the new original studio album and released this as the bonus second disc? Yeah... that would make sense...

DORIS BRENDEL and LEE DUNHAM: "Upsidedownworld"

Rating: RR
Label: Sky Rocket Records 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Upside Down World is a strange little place where all the fuzzy Ozzies live? Nah. It's clearly not an ode to Australia. Dynamics, opposites, black vs white, which reflect our general attitude on music and visuals, the basic concept of the album. Eclectic as ever, the latest album by Doris Brendel (The Violet Hour) and  Lee Dunham (Primary Slave) goes through several different stages and layers of rock. As always, expect the unexpected and the swift change from basic stuff to nearly classical segments and the arty/prog/folk arrangements.

Opening track, "The Devil Closed The Door On Me", the lyrics has turned the cliché on its head, and according to Doz, 'most rock/metal songs sing about how bad the singer is and how in league with the Devil the band is. In this case I'm just too nice for the devil to be interested in me', end quote. Music-wise, the plain fun rock number driven by Lee's acca dacca-like guitar riff and Brendel's excellent singing voice. Not quite as complicated and out there as her usual stuff. "Adored", lovely harmonies and the dreamy grand piano art-rock flow with some heavy bass-lines in the background. "Slap Me and You Die", back to the heavier rock sound again and it's Skunk Anansie met Doris Brendel. Check out that chorus part and those marvelous harmonies again. Very catchy, very classy. The guitarmageddon of the middle bit is just an metal mayhem. The first three tracks are simply outstanding.

"Accessorize", not to my liking at all. "Tumbling Away", the simple upbeat drum and piano track with Brendel's voice at the centre of attention. This will remind you of Ethnic pop/rock, underground popular towards the end of the last century. "A Little Act Of Defiance", the grand epic track and the highlight of the album. Definitely proggy. The title track is your mellow bonfire folk met singer/songwriter sort of tune featuring harmonica. "Still Running", based on the basic formula and structure created by One Republic and recorded by everybody from your U.S. idol winner (Kelly Clarkson) to average joe, not eclectic enough? Too similar in style to all those lame idols and Top-20s? Closing track, "Life Is a Mushroom", the wacky 70's funk jam, that has that tongue in cheek retro-psychedelic quality whilst featuring great musicianship. I especially enjoy the short Reggae segment and groove, but it's really not the great "song" though.

Final verdict: A tiny step in the wrong direction in my humble opinion. Some of Brendel's best songs are on this record and sadly also some of the worst.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

UFO: "A Conspiracy Of Stars"

Rating: RRR
Label: SPV/Steamhammer 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

UFO is still out there in space doing the rock that made them roll in the first place. No silly trick or gimmick and certainly no drug and alcohol consumption? Hell I don't know? They were known for having some of the wildest and craziest after show activities known to man, beast or Mötley Crue. Dodgy characters and hotel blacklists used to follow them around like the wild, the willing and the innocent stranger in the night with no place to run and the obsession for turning the lights out. No need to force it since there's no heavy pettin' on this record. Enough already. They get it.

Sure. There's no Pete 'Animal' Way or Michael 'Mental' Schenker for that matter. However, much like the latter and his brand new record, they're keeping it ever so real and true to their original sound. Bluesy hard rock with Mogg at the centre of attention. By the way Phil is sounding more or more like Bill Nighy (the U.K. actor) and 'Still Crazy' or perhaps it's the other way around? Speaking of Moore, Vinnie is indeed the excellent six-string bender with a marvelous sound on this record.

Some of the album tracks may just lack that special extra and killer choruses. Nonetheless. The more you play them, the more interesting they become and the voice of Mogg is like a familiar feeling of... wait a minute... I'm probably still thinking about' Still Crazy' here? Darn it. Okay. Okay. I have no long and vast experience of being the UFO fan (merely this century) and can't relate to the 'good old days'. But I still think of "A Conspiracy Of Stars" as the nice and solid record with a straight and simple rock sound. Simplicity is underrated and you won't end up feeling completely disappointed by the work of Mogg, Moore, Paul Raymond, Andy Parker and Rob De Luca.

They've been in more sticky situations than body glitter at the strip club and still they've managed to record a very decent album in the year of 2015! That's not too shabby. You know, considering they could/should have been dead for the past 30 years. Not far from 4 R's as in rating. UFO - still crazy!!!

KYLE GASS BAND: "Our Job To Rock"

Rating: Single
Label: SPV/Steamhammer/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The question on each and every rockers stiff upper lip: Who the f**k is Kyle Gass and why should we bother? Kyle 'F**king Ogre Troll Goblin' Gass - that's who! Darn proud of that line as it's clearly the best proper metal introduction and slogan since Yngwie 'Viking' Malmsteen decided to conquer the states with ultra fast guitar shredding and matching hairdo. Gass however is the least handsome slash famous character of the Tenacious D. The first and only time that Jack Black would end up as a winner of the 'let's invite some girls backstage' competition and probably the reason to why Black decided to form a band with Gass in the first place.

The American rock supergroup from Los Angeles a.k.a. Gass and John Konesky are about to re-release their album later this spring and they're heading out on tour in Germany this April. The first single is a proclamation that it's "Our Job To Rock" and our song doesn't suck? Well... one out of two ain't bad. Only kidding. It's one of those songs where you can't really tell if it's the work of a genius or a mad man? It's hardly rocket science. The simple beat and the tugged guitar riff of the late seventies met the early eighties sound. The beefed up version of Tenacious D or the modern Spinal Tap? Lyric-wise, nice and tidy. We need more information and songs before there's a final verdict and over judgemental review. But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gass, gass, gass... Jumpin Jack Black???

Friday, March 20, 2015

SHANIA TWAIN: "Still The One - Live From Vegas" [DVD]

Rating: DVD
Label: Eagle/Universal 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"I Was Not Born To Be Confident" - Shania Twain. The late bloomer and former eighties melodic hardrocker? One thing's for sure. This massive extravaganza show in Vegas at the Colosseum at Caesars palace [105 concerts and selling over 337,000 tickets] sure beats recording demos with Paul Sabu? (Kidd Glove, Only Child) No offensive Sabu (the son of the 'Elephant Boy' actor),  but it's not like you gave her some of your better songs to record. Nah. hooking up with producer and songwriter Robert "Mutt" Lange (Def Leppard, AC/DC, The Cars, etc, etc) in June 1993, the winning concept. They became close within weeks, culminating in their wedding on December 28, 1993 and the rest as they say is music history.

The Def Leppard met Country styled albums made her one of the world's best-selling artists of all time, having sold over 75 million albums worldwide. Here's the over-the-top Vegas show on DVD, 26 (24) song set with her biggest hits, country favourites, crossover songs, costumes and more costumes, a 13-piece live band, dancers, more dancers, horses, flying bikes, and tons of glitter and glam. Visually, it's Vegas baby and spectacular if you're into all that bling-bling. Honestly - That Don't Impress Me Much. It's just too Disney at times and especially the dance numbers. What does impress however is Twain's vocal talent and just being the great entertainer. I would rather just have the plain and straight forward live outdoor Shania concert on DVD.

DVD Bonus material. The backstage pass: home movie documentary, over 200 hours recorded by her husband Fred? downsized to just over an hour. Are you telling me there's 199 more hours of this somewhere? Oy Vey! It's everything from the first meeting of Jan 2012 with stage producers, creative directors, costume designer to walking in the mountains of Switzerland. She's complaining about 'being fat and gotta hit the gym' in the beginning and saying that she 'don't want any dancers, but there's probably going to be dancers'. The Vegas show without dancers? Don't think so. You'll find out about her vocal problems and the special device to correct her jaw positioning that has been interfering with her ability to sing. There's the really weird person with vocal gym exercises and the whole set up of working with backup singers, stage manager, effects, and basically the technical side of setting up the Vegas show.

Her sister 'did I hit the wrong note' Carrie, big part of the sound and the backstage material (whatever...) as she's the backup singer with little or none excising experience. They last sang together at the age 8 and 10. Very down to earth and the unexpected fun sidekick. Watch her do the dance moves and sing while trying to use the shaker at the same time. Shania won the Smitty Award (whatever that is??) for most innovative use of scent marketing? They had this breeze effect at the show and the audience could 'smell it all' so to speak. Ehem. According to Shania, "You can smell the horses, you can smell the fire, you can feel the heat, the breeze, it's all happening to you and the snow is falling". Poor Carrie had to try and smell all those weird things while smiling to the camera. The bottom line: The dance and show numbers are a bit too 'Vegas' for my personal taste. But you can't deny the sheer quality of Shania... still the one.

MOTHERS FINEST: "Goody 2 Shoes & The Filthy Beasts"

Rating: RRRR
Label: SPV/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. of funkin' A. Legendary Southern funk-metal rockers of the seventies with the classy 'Baby Jean' a.k.a. Joyce Kennedy behind the mic. I haven't been listening to all that many of their records. However, I'm the massive Living Colour fan and these guys were sort of the originals and in many ways the source of/to their basic ideas. 'Goody 2 Shoes & The Filthy Beasts' (note to myself: stop thinking about the Adam Ant song. Argh! make it stop) their latest offering to the Gods of Georgia and simply expect the crossover material of funk, metal, blues, soul, and rock n roll.

When they released their debut album in the early seventies, Mothers Finest undoubtedly had a sense of combining the funk/blues/soul with the rock/metal and the same goes for this 10-track album. Joyce, Doc, Mo, Wyzard, Dionic, and John (the latter in desperate need of the funkier name) are joining forces on their first album in more than ten years. The songs got a certain swagger and style about them as they all pretty much display a love for the late sixties and early seventies soul/funk (Marvin, Curtis, Sly, etc). Naturally they've all been metalized but there's no denying the past.

If you've never heard of them before now, you'll soon be wondering why you didn't check out the Mothers Finest before. It's just high energy music with one hard hit to the body after the other. Some of the tracks are perhaps not super catchy but the groove is immense and the band is on fire. I don't even mind if, "My Badd" and "Tears Of Stone", might just sound like Anastasia on steroids, since it's just the great tracks. The latter a semi-ballad with the brilliant short rap segment. Quite frankly. Just a rockin' good time.

VIE JESTER: "Etches In Aether"

Rating: EP
Label: Indie 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Surprise L.A. record of the week. What I especially enjoy about Vie Jester and their latest EP? They have this hybrid rock sound going on at eleven where monster guitar riffs met electronic elements. Not to mention clean and melodic melodies and vocals instead of the typical deranged U.S. cookie monster that in all honesty tend get on your nerves in the long run. They're building their structure on the simple basics of the highly technical power-trio of say: Galactic Cowboys, however, their electro artist is creating atmospheric textures making the three piece sound deeper and fresher for that matter.

Clearly not stuck in a time-warp, the five melodies on "Etches In Aether" are rather close to the hi-tech melodic metal sound of the late eighties. I certainly didn't expect this to be quite as melodic as it actually turned out to be. The guitar work is powerful and blessed with a creative array with technical metal riffs and neatly solos. The rhythm section is precise and basically the backbone of the band. The quality of the songs (Saint, Hollow Graffiti, Meridians, Dig It, Amplify) are all worthy of praise since they'll keep you on your toes throughout the EP. Technical stuff and basically the mix of everything from 80's hi-tech metal to Tool and grunge influence.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SADA VIDOO: "A Story With No End"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Target/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Eclectic and thinking outside the box, perfect synonyms to Sada Vidoo as she's certainly not afraid to mix it up on her debut album. Indeed. "A Story with No End" takes its inspiration from a broad and diverse range of sources and styles where basic guitar rock met electronic pop and it's just the fun and in my opinion mega catchy record with the unconventional working process. The Danish singer/songwriter and former strictly hip-hop/dance artist took a flight to U.K. to work and co-write the songs with famed singer/songwriter Russ Ballard (Argent, Kiss, Frida/ABBA, Rainbow, etc, etc.) and the result is the wide-ranging record with the all-embracing message and agenda. You're all invited and especially if you're open-minded and not closed when it comes to music.

Produced by Chris Ballard (yes, the son of Russ), the easiest way to describe the music? Well... there's no easy way out as she's the very definition of the metaphor and thinking differently. But okay, let's give it a shot. The lazy and quick track by track. "Outta Space (Long for That Feeling)", catchy hook, but very mainstream. "Stop The Rain", had me instantly thinking about T'Pau? Strong female vocals and the slightly aggressive guitar work by Russ Ballard. "China Doll", the great mixture of Sada Vidoo, Kate Bush and T'Pau (google them, they had a hit with 'China In Your Hand' - speaking of China) with soaring vocals and the powerful lyrical message. "You Think You're God", the 50/50 mix of Ballard's melodic rock of the past and the fresh sound by Vidoo.

"Killing with Silence" and "The Actress", mega catchy universal numbers with major hit potential. I'm so messed up by video games that I instantly thought of GTA Vice City while listening to "Love Is a Battlefield". To be perfectly honest. I've spent more hours in front of GTA than listening to any record by Pat Benatar and that's not to say that Pat stinks. Far from it actually. Vidoo's version is interesting and Russ turn up his amp to 11. "Stripped", feature meaningful text and lyric and it's just the great mix of guitar rock and electronic pop. "Sex Never Sleeps (Roxanne)", the verse is typical Kate Bush right down to the shoe-laces and I'm not sure if it's the work of the Ballards' or Sada's idea to sing like this? It's a great display of her vocal talent though and the beat will have you up and dancing in no time. "Promiscuous", Sada transform this eighties Madonna/Benatar ballad to the non-exclusive uptempo electro/rock song. Closing track, "Black and Grey", the piano ballad, sadly a bit too much of the 'been there, done that' factor.

Final verdict: Top notch vocals and simply just the great 50/50 mix of melodic rock and electro pop. In my interview with Sada, she had the following to say about Russ Ballard and I quote: "I´m a huge fan of his work. His music had a great impact on my childhood. It's hard to explain, but I have never met a songwriter/artist who is so deep - We connected at a deeper level. A meeting of the minds", end quote. I'm sure Russ is a big fan of Sada Vidoo too (heh! vidoo-too).

ROBBEN FORD: "Into The Sun"

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

The absolutely best thing about "Into The Sun"? The stunning guitar work and the excellent production. The not always so great thing? Well. I'm not too keen on some of these tracks as they are way more laid back than usual and without the blistering solos of the past. On the other hand something like, "Breath Of Me", featuring the up and coming vocalist ZZ Ward is plain and simple Soul at its very best. Very low-key, sophisticated and delicious vocal work by the young American woman as she sounds like the mature southern lady?

"High Heels and Throwing Things", the lovely mix of blues and funk with Ford and Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule) trading licks and tricks all over the place. It's just a very mature sounding record. It's got a little bit of everything really with the blues, the soul, the Americana, the pop and the rock, going on in that old fashioned style and mood. There are a lot of different rhythms and colors and the overall sound dates back to the sixties and seventies groove.

When Ford get it absolutely right, the melodies reek of classic R&B with a fantastic sound and tortured lyric slash nearly poems. Guest musicians apart from the two above mentioned ones include slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Robert Randolph, Tyler Byrant and the all-time legend of Keb Mó. Into The Sun - close but no cigar. Solid as a rock though.

The ANSWER: "Raise A Little Hell"

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

If this is The Answer - I would like to know the question? Where do we draw the line? When do we say enough is enough? Do you really need another half decent album in the AC/DC met Thin Lizzy style and formula? No. Of course not. There's too many of them already and it's frankly just another pub rock stunt in this era of copy and paste. No more interesting than any bland AOR band out there, 'Raise A Little Hell' could still do the trick if you were born yesterday and never even heard of any Highway To Hell or The Boys Are Back In Town.

It's simply not cool that you can do this to such a degree and still be thought of as saviors of hard rock? Other rock acts playing in different sub-genres and styles are constantly receiving the thumbs down for working the cliches and reusing old melodies? There's no difference whatsoever between 'this or that' copy-cat act. We now have way too many of them trying to be the next AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy or Black Sabbath. These four acts are the only ones you should ever copy according to the followers of the classic rock Messiah. Amen.

'Raise A Little Hell', clearly not the worst album ever or something the cat dragged in. There's even the hint of Bad Company at times. It's decent enough to play once or twice and then get back to playing the real groups. But the result is quite alarming actually. The state of hard rock... in many ways worse than ever before. I believe it's time for a drastic change. The next generation of rockers need to look past the classic rat-trap and start looking/thinking outside the box. You know, if there's ever going to be 'the next generation'...


Rating: RRR

Label: Escape Music 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

China Sky released their first album back in 1988. It got some glowing reviews in the ”important” magazines such as Kerrang! and Raw and the singles received airplay, but due to several factors, the band broke up merely a couple of months after the release. The album became one of these hard-ro-find ”cult classics”, setting Ebay on fire whenever there were CD copies of it available.

The band members weren’t really aware of the album’s cult classic status until a few years ago fans started to contact them via internet. Realizing that there might be a second chapter to be written to the band’s story, vocalist Ron Perry and bassist Richard Smith decided to give it another go. Original guitarist Bobby Ingram is now a full-time member of Molly Hatchet, but the band found a good replacement in Steve Wheeler. Originally the band had been a trio with stand-in members on drums and keys, but now they wanted to make it a full band, recruiting Tim McGowan to keyboards and drummer Bruce Crump, the original Molly Hatchet drummer.

On their website, the band says that they are ”taking the band in the direction we had originally intended” with the second album. After playing these tracks for a few times it seems that the direction is towards the seventies, away from the glossy sounds of the debut. It’s still melodic rock, but not quite as immediate and punchy as on the debut. I hear traces of Kansas, Journey, Uriah Heep and even Billy Joel in these songs.

The first song released from the new China Sky was ”One Life”, a good mid-tempo AOR with a strong chorus. A wise decision, as it doesn’t sound that far removed from the style of the debut. Had the band re-introduced themselves with one of the more ”left-field” tracks of the new album, the interest might not have been too high. The semi-progressive ”Dreams I’ll Never See” or the Billy Joel-like ballad ”The Richest Man In The World” could have been shockers for the band’s longtime fans.

All in all, ”II” isn’t a bad album and there are a lot impressive things on it. I actually like Ron Perry’s vocals more now than on the first album, and the band’s backing vocal arrangements are quite excellent. However, I’m not too crazy about the hammond-style organ sounds which drag the songs to the seventies constantly. The songs itself are the reason why my rating isn’t any higher - some of them are just not too memorable.

Highlights: ”One Life”, ”You’re Not Alone” and ”The Darkness”.

As I was writing this review, the sad news of Bruce Cramp’s passing reached the RockUnited office. We send our condolences to his family, friends and the band.

Monday, March 16, 2015

JAMIE-LEE SMIT: "Mon Amour Monique"

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

Jamie-Lee Smit, the young and talented Belgian singer known for her metal band Azylya. This however is her first solo album and the ancient music concept of the Yé-yé girls (which I believe originally came from France and Italy?) takes a different meaning and twist in the year of 2015. Emotional and dramatic French lyrics by Smit (three out of ten tracks are in English though) set to sort of jangle indie rock met catchy power-pop with fuzzy guitar and summer breezy fun edgy rhythms by Italian producer and overall multi-artist Riccardo Daga.

I like it. Charming melodies and soothing vocals. Hardly strictly Metal even if the artwork (see pic) may suggest the Gothic approach? Speaking to Jamie-Lee she told me the following about the cover and I quote: "The picture of the album cover is actually a bit dark. We wanted it so. The album is Indie rock but the lyrics of most songs are not very sunny. They talk about often sad subjects, such as the death of a soldier, the martyr of the elephants, the death of my grandfather... or the famous 27 Club which includes artists died at the age of 27 years in dramatic circumstances", end quote.

If the music display a love for indie rock and power-pop of the 80's and 90's, it's lyric-wise a surprisingly dark affair and sadly also reality. Vocal-wise, Smit certainly enjoy to switch from the classical French vibrato to more organic and pure power-pop harmonies. The completely different approach from her metal outfit and it's more in the style of Belinda Carlisle met Vansessa Paradise than aggressive over the top goth/symphonic stuff. The only downer with "Mon Amour Monique" would be that most if not all songs are mid-tempo and thus not always varied enough. It's however a light, airy record with a couple of dark and twisted moments such as "Sur La Piste Des Elephants". Nicely done and executed.

EARTHIST: "Lightward"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Epictronic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Italian artists have often been expected to follow a certain kind of style and stereotype? It's borderline daft when some people still think of the heavy singing accent and the Eurovision spectacle? Kindly remove all those pictures and thoughts out of your head as Earthist quickly surged to the front of the Italo pack with their catchy and atmospheric modern arena rock debut album. They have all the important ingredients to make it as they feature great songs, powerful lead vocals, and something slightly different from the usual radio friendly sound.

Sure. There's a decent amount of the grand piano met edgy loud guitar sound ála The Killers, One Republic, Biffy Clyro, Editors. However, they add their own touch to the melodies and there's more variation and quirky moments on this record. For instance, the wicked "Jolly Roger (A Pirate's Tale)", nope, it's not Running Wild, but imagine if The Sparks started out as the band today instead of in the seventies. Excellent piano and bass arrangements, not to mention that these guys actually rock out from time to time.

Are opening tracks still important to your overall feeling towards albums? Earthist sadly miss the mark completely with "Miracle", it's easily their worst song and I'd go as far as saying: shouldn't have been included on their record in the first place. It's such a major downer and especially in comparison to all the great songs that awaits just around the corner. Track two, "Not Today", the proper start of the album and just the upbeat and uplifting track with a super catchy hook. "Sirens Song", the classy singer/songwriter styled piece with acoustic guitar work of the highest order and quirky melody. "The Astronaut", feature the killer hook ála the Killers met The Editors and it's one of those nearly perfect songs that should be played out loud from your roof top.

Remove the dodgy opener and "Brighter Later, not the best of tracks, and you'd still end up with ten numbers of fun mainstream rock with a twist.

JAMIE THYER: "Postcards From Bedlam"

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

It's all Black N Blue? Take the vocalists name and remove the A from their guitarist a.k.a. Fake-Ace and perhaps you'll end up with music and guitar playing in the similar field and style? Nah. Not really. Reading the Postcards from Bedlam is sort of like communicated with the dead. You need to believe in all that mambo jumbo in the first place to truly appreciate the craziness? Never mind the daft introduction as Thyer (darn it, I typed ThAyer several times) and the Worried Men (I'd be worried too if they'd let me out of the asylum) are one of those never stop touring acts in the U.K. with more than 3000 performances all around the stages, pubs and festivals.

What to expect on their latest effort? Shocking solid "pub rock" and blues with their roots deeply buried in the mull of Peter Green, Walter Trout, The Kinks, Nine Below Zero, Thorogood, and Dr. Feelgood. Fun and expressive guitar playing by Thyer and I truly appreciate and enjoy his tone and amp sound. The 13-track album include a couple of covers such as "The Thrill Is Gone" (BB King), "The Witch Queen Of New Orleans" (Redbone). The majority of tracks are however originals and six of them co-written by Carole Warren whom also provided vocal talent. It's overall a nice mix of strong female vocals and the husky whiskey ditto of Thyer.

The guitar sound upfront in the mix (well doh!) and plenty of licks and tricks throughout the album. Jamie is quite the character with a special sense for playing the blues. Close your eyes during the instrumental "Nova" and you could easily find yourself in the middle of 'Still Crazy' and that's not too shabby considering the albums' title. It's proper U.K. guitar rock by a proper U.K. guitarist and his trusted backing band. I expect another postcard from his next visit at the funhouse...