Thursday, January 29, 2015

AMMUNITION: ”Shanghaied”

Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen


After the demise of Wig Wam, the band’s frontman Glam aka Åge Sten Nilsen wasted no time in putting together a new group. He enlisted the help of the prolific songwriter Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse, W.E.T., Jimi Jamison…) and put together this set of songs. Musically Ammunition doesn’t stray too far from the path that Wig Wam travelled, but it’s still clearly a different band. Gone are the over-the-top clothes and silly names, and while the band’s lyrics have good dose of humour in them, the overall vibe of the album is more serious than that of Wig Wam.

”Shanghaied” isn’t the most instant album you’ll hear this year. It took me a few spins to get into it. Even though I like it a lot now, I still think it could’ve used an additional dose of catchy melodies. Now, some of the choruses do not elevate the songs to the next level. In fact some of the tracks have bigger hooks in the pre-choruses - take the opening track ”Silverback” for instance: the build-up is great, but the actual chorus is just too simple and monotonous for its’ own good. Then again, I’m just nitpicking here, most of the songs are just fine as they are.

My favorite tracks include ”Give Me A Sign” (very Wig Wam’ish), the Europesque ballad ”Road To Babylon” and the insanely catchy ”Wild Card”. With Mårtensson as the producer, it was pretty much guaranteed that this album would sound good and to no-one’s surprise, it does. So does Åge Sten Nilsen, I’ve always liked his voice but I’m only now beginning to realize how damn good he really is!

This album is a sure bet for anyone into Wig Wam and anthemic melodic rock in general.

http://www.agestennilsen.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ammunition/1404489566506923?fref=ts

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: This Is M.E

Rating: RRRR

Label: M.E Records

Review By: Alan Holloway

It was quite staggering, for me anyway, when I realized that it’s been twenty years since I reviewed and enjoyed Melissa Etheridge’s ‘Your Little Secret’ album. We’ve both been through some stuff since then, although Ms Etheridge has documented hers through eight albums whilst I’ve just bitched about it on facebook,

‘This Is .M.E’ (love the title) sees Etheridge break new ground by finally breaking away from Island Records and also using co writers for the first time. I really don’t know what sort of songs she’s been doing for the last 20 years but I can say that what she’s doing on this album is all sorts of right. For a start, there’s a feeling of real heart, etched through eleven songs that feel like Country music gone dirty. Each contains a solid, pounding drum base and throaty, powerful vocals, the sort of songs that have you drumming away with your hands. There are harder, angrier tracks like ‘Monster’ and ‘Ain’t That bad’, balanced by lighter but still powerful  fare such as spot on opener ‘I Won’t Be Alone’ and lead single ‘Take My Number’. The only song without the booming drums is soft album close ‘Who Are You Waiting For’, an emotional love song that may bring a tear to grizzled old eyes and will certainly be played at a few weddings in the future.

Overall, ‘This Is M.E’ is a powerful, soulful album in which country meets rock but in a good way. It’s down and dirty and full of songs that demand your attention once they start, capable of making you punch the air or reach for a tissue. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jorn LANDE & Trond HOLTER Present: Dracula "Swing Of Death"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Horror! The Horror! Jorn Lande (Masterplan) and guitarist Trond Holter (aka Teeny of Wig Wam) present Dracula, a new Rock Opera concept album about the life of Count Vlad the impaler or if you simply prefer Dracula? Yup. It's the Fang-Tang-Clan or whatever and the story explores the inner struggle inside the multifaceted and engorging original character as well as cherry picking the best? out of the book by Bram Stoker. It's not strictly old school though as the two are exploring Dracula's inner thoughts and battle. Loneliness and the lost of true love as he wandered the earth for centuries with a thirst for blood which led him to the brink of insanity. Yup. It's all slightly bonkers.

In the original Bram Stoker version, Mr.Fang leaves Transylvania by ship and when he meets Lucy's best friend, she reminds him so much of his first love Mina, that he becomes obsessed. Dracula sees her as some kind of "holy grail", too good to turn into a vampire. Jorn Lande as the main character Dracula shares lead vocal duties with Norwegian singer Lena Floitmoen (representing Mina/Lucy from the Bram Stoker book) and it's very much the melodic rock effort and not quite as much of the bombastic overtures of the truly epic/symphonic concept album.

In fact. The majority of tracks end up sounding like Wig Wam on steroids. There's tiny bits and pieces of Alice Cooper, The Sparks, Meat Loaf, Dio, Queen, David Bowie, and tracks such as "Save Me" and "Swing of Death" takes the Rocky Horror Picture Show approach as plans are being made to stage this entire Rock Opera on Norwegian theaters. Bimey. Ambitious work indeed. "Walking on Water", catchy melodic rock with your vicious left hook 'ala Wig Wam goes Dio and blessed with the classy guitar part 'ala Gary Moore (RIP). I'm really fond of the duets feat. Lena Floitmoen as she makes the best of the situation and bring the story alive with killer performances and fang.

Perhaps not as 'dark' and 'evil' as expected really. Perhaps I personally hoped for more atmospheric keyboards and the sinister approach? It's the horror story after all. Nonetheless. It's the fine melodic hard rock opera concept project with a touch of swing? Wicked and slightly bonkers indeed. Me like. Recommended.
www.jornlande.com
facebook/Dracula
facebook/TrondHolter

SWEET & LYNCH: "Only To Rise"

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

Only To Rise? Some of these studio projects, super groups or if you prefer all-star thingy's, simply do not come out sounding as great in reality as on paper. The 'Sweet' part is indeed singer Michael of Stryper fame and the 'Lynch' fellow no other than Guitarist-George from Dokken. Sweet was pitched this idea by the record label and loved it so much he took over completely, producing the album as well as co-writing the 12 tracks with guitarist Lynch.

Okay. So far so good. But whatever happened to the hooks and choruses? The songwriting is somewhat lacking and that's nicely put to be honest. The chemistry is sadly lacking and there's hardly any spark in the dark to be found here. There's plenty of groove, top-notch guitar work, and the slow burner or two. But I can't say that I recall much of the actual melodies as it's the sadly forgettable album. You simply expect more and better from this two fine musicians and 80's heroes.

The one and only downside with Michael Sweet as lead singer, each and every hi-pitch note sound exactly like any Stryper album. What's your point dumbo, you ask, since he's clearly been their lead vocalist for the past 35 years. Well. He's got this nearly single minded approach to reaching all those high places and thus why opener, "The Wish", come out swinging like a blind fighter. Or if you prefer to read this in plain English: Too much of the Stryper-ish sound and not enough of the original project of Sweet & Lynch. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the 'yellow and black attack' a lot, but this is second rate stuff. The next following two tracks are nice though (Dying Rose, Love Stays) as they have Sweet singing at mid-range and the guitar work of Lynch is very present.

I'm still not sure what to think of George Lynch to be honest. Not as guitarist though as we all know of him as the excellent six-string bender. However, keep in mind that the geezer torched his past and did nuthin' bout complain about his 80's hard rock records, and thought of his fans as stupid for enjoying the 80's stuff. He was also suing Don DOKKEN for the rights to the name of 'Dokken'. I mean... c'mon. Final thought: Are they going to be tossing Bibles left and right (Stryper-style). Or are they simply just a couple of tossers going at each others throats (Dokken-style). Only time will tell.
www.sweetandlynch.com
facebook

LEVEL 10: "Chapter One"

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

Never judge a book by its cover? Fair enough. Let's try and erase the image a.s.a.p. and start reading 'Chapter One' by Level 10. Not to be confused with Level 42 as they have clearly been playing the game the longest and are up with 32, if my math is correct? Never mind the b.s. as the man behind this project reads Mat Sinner of Primal Fear and of course Sinner. The German is as always in control of production, bass-playing, and co-writing. U.S. vocalist Russell Allen (Symphony X, Allen/Lande, Adrenaline Mob) by the Sinner's side and the two are coming up with metal and hard rock in the style of Dio era Sabbath, Rainbow, Iommi/Hughes, and obviously the strong touch of both Primal Fear, Sinner, and some old fashioned power metal.

"If I dare to call you friend, would you stab me in the back?". It's an album that dabbles with the whole concept of light and dark(ness). It's the heavy yet melodic metal effort with the mighty mighty vocals of Allen at the centre of attention. They are building bridges and arrangements around the powerhouse vocalist and he alone is capable of turning the average tune to something better and much stronger. For instance, "Soul Of a Warrior", one of those formulas that you've heard a million times before by the likes of Sab, Dio, Jorn, etc. However, the singer grabs you by the throat and simply refuses to let go. Thus you (the listener) end up captivated by the sheer power of rock n roll.

Okay. There's hardly anything new or ground breaking music on this record. What more, a couple of tracks such as "Scream And Shout", a tad too much of the Stand Up and Shout (Dio) and not the enough of Level 10. But they are good at what they do and the result is still pleasing to these ears, even though they could need another superb tune or three. The two are blessed with the guest musicians of guitarists Roland Grapow (Helloween, Masterplan) and Alex Beyrodt (Primal Fear, Voodoo Circle), drummer Randy Black (Annihilator, Primal Fear) and keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio (Eden's Curse, Hardline), and it's a cracking little effort.
www.matsinner.com
facebook

Monday, January 26, 2015

BLACK STAR RIDERS – ‘The Killer Instinct’


RATING: RRRR

Label: Nuclear Blast

Review By: Alan Holloway


Well this is a real turn up for the books, as I wasn’t really expecting that much. The debut album from Black Star Riders was a bit of a mess, being half Thin Lizzy and half something else, a result of the band deciding to ditch the Lizzy moniker half way through. It was a brave move, nonetheless, and signalled a determination to move forwards instead of living in the past.

With ‘The Killer Instinct’ Black Star Riders have released a Black Star Riders album through and through. What this means is that it definitely sounds plenty like you’d imagine Thin Lizzy might if they were around today, but it also has a separate identity, one that shares roots with Lizzy but isn’t shackled by them. Vocalist Rocky Warwick still sounds very like Phil Lynott, but this means he sounds brilliant, so there’s no complaints here. Six string slingers Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson seem to compliment each other well as players and songwriters, and the album gels perfectly throughout. It’s also a whole lot meatier production wise than the debut, and you can really feel the thunderous riffs through your bones.

There’s plenty of high energy tracks on offer, and if you like lead track ‘Killer Instinct’ (there’s an official video on YouTube) you’ll pretty much love the album. It’s led by a typical twin guitar intro that just gets your senses sparkling, bolstered when Warwick’s voice comes growling in. the first five tracks are all golden, with tracks like ‘Charlie I Gotta Go’ and ‘Finest Hour’ invoking the spirit of Lynott and taking it on a wild ride, whilst ‘Soldierstown’ kicks off with a classic Celtic riff. If I’m honest, the slower ‘Blinsided that cuts the album in half doesn’t really do much for me, and the four tracks that follow it are good rather than great, albeit with another great Celtic turn in ‘Turn In your Arms’.

So what we have here is, overall, a very good album. Some tracks are better than others but there are no duffers to be seen (or heard). It certainly sounds like a Black Star Riders album, and for those of you who might be wondering ‘whatever that is’, it’s ‘The Killer Instinct’. Thin Lizzy will never be removed from the band’s DNA, and it’s welcome to stay there as long as they can come up with music like this. God damn, it’s so exciting…

Friday, January 23, 2015

LONELY ROBOT – ‘Please Come Home’



Rating: RRRR

InsideOut Music

Review by: Alan Holloway

I find prog rock a funny old thing, because it certainly encompasses all manner of styles. For example, Asia are always bashed with the prog stick of love, but personally I wouldn’t call them a prog band, they are just a melodic rock band with some proggy people involved. Personally, I like prog that has a bit of balls to it, like It Bites, Pallas and the like, not so much the ones that do a fifteen minute song that never gets going. Atmospheric has a place in prog, but it should be balanced with the ‘rock’ part of the name, is all I’m saying.

Lonely Robot is the creation of one John Mitchell. Mitchell is very well known in the prog world as part of Arena, Kino, Frost and of course It Bites. He calls Lonely Robot ‘the most fun I have ever had in a studio’, mainly because there were no restraints on what he could do, or how the songs should sound. Unsurprisingly he has roped in a bunch of friends and contemporaries, including peter Cox (Go West), Howard Jones and prog vocalists Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) and Kim Seviour (Touchstone).among others. Findlay joins Mitchell on the mournful, haunting ‘Why Do We Stay’, a standout track amongst standout tracks, whilst peter Cox gets ‘Boy In The Radio’, a catchy mid tempo track, all to himself.

‘Please Come Home’ is definitely a prog rock album, mixing aspects of all of Mitchell’s previous bands and adding a sprinkle of the man’s own personality on top. There’s narration by Lee Ingleby, an eight minutes plus track (‘Lonely Robot’), instrumentals, plus the requisite atmosphere and rock that are fitted together perfectly, along with plenty of melody. It’s by turns heavy and whimsical, downbeat and upbeat, introspective and expressive. For me, ‘The Tall Ships’ remains Mitchell’s finest work, but ‘Lonely Robot’ will definitely delight anyone who calls themselves a fan, and is a great starting place for newcomers who like their prog with big brass robot balls. 


Thursday, January 22, 2015

STARGAZERY: ”Stars Aligned”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Pure Legend Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Even though 2015 has only just begun, the first contender for the title of ”The Best Melodic Metal album” has arrived! The second Stargazery album is going to be ”the one to beat” for the rest of the this year’s releases…

”Stars Aligned” is full of melodic metal anthems, with the emphasis on ”melodic”. Guitarist/songwriter Pete Ahonen has made sure that the choruses are big and catchy, and vocalist Jari Tiura’s slightly operatic style suits these grand melodies to a tee. The overall sound of the album is BIG too, with plenty of keyboards adding nice melodic touches to the songs.

Songs like ”Voodoo”, ”Missed The Train To Paradise” and ”Painted Into A Corner” are among the better melodic metal tracks I’ve heard in a while. For comparison, I’d say that the album has some similarities to Yngwie Malmsteen’s ”golden era”, which for me means the albums ”Trilogy”, ”Odyssey” and ”Eclipse”.

Even though most of the band’s self-penned songs are better, I guess their best bet for getting a radio hit from this album is the Cher cover ”Dark Lady”. The band has ”metalized” that 70ies hit and it works beautifully. They’ve even recorded it in Finnish too, which could be their ticket to those domestic channels that only play Finnish music. If it opens some new doors, I say ”go for it”…

Apart from a couple of less exciting songs (the bluesy ”Hiding” and ”Warrior’s Inn” don’t do it for me), this is a fantastic slice of melodic metal. Four very strong ”R’s”.


http://www.stargazery.com

FORTH: ”Road Stories”

Rating: RRR

Label: Forth Productions 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Forth is a new Finnish band who describe their music as a cross between Bon Jovi and Pearl Jam. They’re led by Brian Forth, an Canadian singer, so this is one Finnish band that doesn’t have to worry about pronunciation or Finglish lyrics. Mr. Forth has a really likeable voice too - he reminds me of a smoother Chris Cornell.

I’m not so sure about the ”Pearl Jovi” comparison. I don’t hear much Jovi in these songs, but then again, the songs are considerably more happier than the usual grunge stuff. The Pearl Jam/Soundgarden influences are certainly there, but I also hear a bit of a Butch Walker vibe…

The production is excellent, smooth yet powerful. The band sounds like they’re ready for extensive airplay and arena tours. All they need is a couple of sure-fire hits. As good as many of these songs are, none of them hooked me instantly or even after a few additional plays. They’re enjoyable to listen to, well-written and constructed, but damn it, that extra drop of magic is missing. Still, you should check them out especially if you’re more partial to the rock of the nineties than I am.

A few songs I want to mention: the opening tracks ”You Get What You Deserve” and ”Up Up Away” are both good pop/rockers with solid hooks. ”Come Home To Me” is probably the most Bon Jovi-like track, comparable to their recent output. ”Fairytale Princess” is a curious one: it’s a cover of a song originally recorded by TikTak, an all-girl pop group who were massive here a few years ago. I’ve heard the original quite often on the radio, but didn’t realize this was the same song! Only after looking at the credits I figured out why it sounded a bit familiar. While the original is a balladic one, Forth have shaken it up and give it a kind of a pop-punk treatment.

There’s a lot of good things going on here. If the band progresses nicely, by the time they release their third album they could very well be filling the kind of arenas that Sunrise Avenue have been filling in central Europe for the last few years.

http://www.forthband.com/

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WHITE LIMO: "Magic Formula"

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

Sweden's White Limo are working hard on the 'Magic Formula' with their latest 5-track EP release. The press release speak of Soundgarden? But there's absolutely nothing on here that had me thinking about the Seattle group and grunge? Instead they actually end up standing with one leg in the arrangements and formula of arena rock while the other is firmly rooted in the Indie Punk/Rock scene.

It's some kind of Swedish hybrid rock project where Weezer meet Foo Fighters meet The Pixies meet Television and StretchArmstrong. Quirky, catchy, melodies and the constant reminder and message to the states: don't let your guard down or the Swedish Rock Mafia are going to run you over with melodies that you wise guys already recorded the ten, twenty, thirty + years ago?

Yeah. It's perhaps not the best of POPaganda and message really? They are however darn good at what they do and the songs are cheeky-fun in your alternative surf-styled genre which obviously include fuzzy guitar/bass tones and nice harmonies. Stillers (bass) and Svensson's (drums) steady rhythm section, Larsson's wicked guitar work, and Lindberg's raggedy, raw vocals and guitar work combining to form a sound that is both genuine and strangely familiar. Originals they are not, however, tracks such as "Winter Rain", "Girl On Fire", the latter blessed with a chorus part 'ala Foo Fighters meet Rhianna's Umbrella, if she had been the cool indie punk rock chick, should be enough to attract interest from near and far. Definitely worthy of your attention. Have a go at the White Limo via links below.
whitelimo.se
facebook

STORYTELLER: "Sacred Fire"

Rating: Rr
Label: Black Lodge 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"There's a storm lamp on the table. Throwing shadows to the gable. And you swallow if you're able. On a storyteller's night". Sadly there's absolutely nothing on here to vaguely remind you of the U.K. greatness of Tony The Hat and his partner in crime, 'the wave your arms about in the air like a mad traffic warden who just don't care', Bob The Cat.

Sacred Fire is the latest effort by the die-hard fantasy tale telling Swedes and it's clearly not scary enough to keep the night light burning. It's got that by now third rate power metal production and formula which Hammerfall previously used on their second rate version of proper heavy metal. Indeed. The 'Sons of the North' are 'In search for treasures, stones and gold' as they encounter 'The army of Southerfell' etc. etc. I much rather spend time in front of Dragon Tits (that's your highly popular fantasy TV production as of lately) as they have a nice medieval scenery and capturing stories. Starks vs. the rest? Yes, it's the Game Of Thrones.

It is quite the typical meat, blood, and potato album with a rather flat outcome and impression. This might just work as background noise as you 'try to sleep on your pillow and dream. Sleep in God's children to keep. Though we all lose track of time, disappears like  faded lines'...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

DEVIL'S TRAIN: "II"

Rating: RRRR
Label: earMusic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Devil's Train, steaming down the rail of bluesy eighties hard rock and look no further than opening number "Down On You" for some biker rock. Blimey. Why do they ALWAYS sing the word 'Down' three times? Yes. Yours truly has been complaining about this (several times) in the past. It's never two, four, or any other number for that matter. What's so great about three anyway? I could give you countless examples of the Down x3 formula. Anyhow... let's move on shall we?

The smashing title of "II" or if you prefer "2" should imply it's the follow-up to their 2012 debut. Indeed. The band, singer R.D. Liapakis (Mystic Prophecy, Valley’s Eve), Drummer Jörg Michael (Running Wild, Saxon, Stratovarius). Bassist Jari Kainulainen (Masterplan, Stratovarius, Evergrey) and guitarist Lakis Ragazas (Mystic Prophecy) are combining the flashy sound of the 80s with the classic hard rock attitude of the 70s.

It's got that bluesy rock feel of Badlands, Tangier, Tattoo Rodeo, Talisman, and the hint of Shark Island (their most groovy, bluesy stuff). However, don't go thinking it's all smooth, since they add a healthy dose of the gritty guitar work of Black Label Society. Let's just say that six-string bender Ragazas (Mystic Prophecy) - working darn hard to be Jake E Lee and Zakk Wylde at the same time.

I do enjoy it a lot though. The melodies are old school and melodic and the album could just as easily have been released in the eighties. They actually beat fellow label mate SOTO aka JSS (see review elsewhere) at his own game with tracks such as "Let's Shake It", "Girl Like You", and "You And Me". The covers of Steppenwolfs 'Born To Be Wild' and Led Zep's 'Immigrant Song' are actually the two songs that I skip on this 13-track CD. The add absolutely nothing to the overall picture and the originals are untouchable. Final verdict: Badlands meets Talisman? Sounds good to me. Crank it up!
devilstrain.com
facebook

ANGRA: "Secret Garden"

Rating: RRRR
Label: earMusic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

It's no secret (garden) that yours truly struggled to appreciate the work of Fabio Lione and the albums of the Italian Kitch Symphonic Power Metallers Rhapsody (aka Rhapsody Of Fire). I wrote some harsh words about the man and go no further then to our massive archive to dig up the skeletons of the past. He's grown into his shoes though and the chemistry between Lione and the Brazilian band is definitely hear-able on the "Secret Garden". I'd go as far as saying it's Lione's best vocal performance ever and the Angra material clearly fits the man like a glove.

It should be pointed out that the various lead vocal appearances by guitarist Bittencourt's make for something else as well as the styles are mixing nicely together. The album is the fictional concept effort about a scientist who fights to restore his happiness after a tragic accident. It's death, religion, and various scientific, philosophical and aesthetic beliefs and values. The whole science vs. religion and what not really.

"Newborn Me" is the opener and you may pick up the odd reference to Dream Theater and Pull Me Under. However, there's much more to this and the impressive drum parts by Bruno Valverde has clearly been inspired by fellow-Brazilian Igor (Sepultura) while the guitar work of Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt are technically challenging throughout the track. In fact. The two are constantly pushing each other to and over the limit. Very progressive and something different from the band. Great.

"Black Hearted Soul" is traditional Angra. "Final Light" really gets Valverde going behind the kit and the tribal drumming works like a charm. Again, very nice and slightly different from previous albums. Animated accent by Lione and perhaps a bit too Rhapsody-like on this track? "Storm of Emotions", the great ballad with a special nod to Dream Theater. Next, 'Synchronicity II', a pretty decent version indeed of the classic song by The Police.

It's plain weird that the album's title track feature Simone Simmons (Epica) on lead vocals. Nope. It's not a duet and it sure makes you wonder about the logic behind this decision. Her voice and lively accent is hardly something to brag about and definitely not in this particular case. It's not a winning concept and especially not in comparison to "Crushing Room", the fine power ballad duet between Doro (Warlock) and Bittencourt.

Pre-produced by Roy Z (Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson, Halford) and recorded and produced in Sweden by Jens Bogren (Arch Enemy, Dragonforce, Kreator, Opeth), Secret Garden is quite the surprise and a fine mix of happy Euro metal and mature progressive stuff.
angra.net
facebook

BONAFIDE: "Denim Devils"

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

Bonafide are clearly not reinventing the wheel here as the sound on "Denim Devils" can only and best be described as Ozzie Rock in the vein of Acca Dacca and Rose Tattoo. Well. That's the lazy and straight to the point reference anyhow. Rough and dirty, bluesy rock with the combination of a solid rhythm section, ragged vocals, and edgy guitar work without any of the fancy 1000-notes a minute widdling, and you're closer to the true core of the band. Awwww. What the hell. It's beer drinking - 'no-need-for-thinking' music.

In other words, you pretty much know what to expect by now if you're familiar with any of their previous four albums. It's a solid, but hardly spectacular record that if anything else fails should get the beers flying across the room. With tracks such as "Hold Down The Fort", the lads are at least admitting to their formula and staying true to their colours.

A couple of odd stand out tracks from their usual formula where "One Kiss" stick out as Weezer(s) at a Black Metal festival. Very quirky and poppy and similar to the debut album by Weezer. "Who Am I To Judge", the nearly funky guitar riff and your old school Stones refrain. The ballad of "Missing You" harks back to the heydays of Free and Bad Company. The groove of tracks like "The Game" impress initially but never really build on the moment and thus ending up sounding like Thunder without the bang (Thunder the band. Not your force of nature a.k.a. Thor in the sky).

Final verdict: Decent effort without the swagger of the truly great of the genre.
bonafiderocks.com
facebook

ONE WAY MIRROR: "Capture"

Rating: R
Label: Pavement 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The cover of 'Lady Marmalade' sums up or should I say 'Capture' the essence of One-Way Mirror perfectly. Tacky. Bland. Pointless. I could go on and on since there's absolutely nothing here that would make me want to play this ever again. Listen to this and recall any shady moment that you'll have ever had and heard on any dodgy record during the dark ages in the history of rock and metal (the late nineties). One-Way Mirror manage to 'Capture' each and every genre from alternative, to metalcore, nu-metal, modern metal, industrial, rap-metal, and basic rock. And they are unfortunately shite at every single one of them. The key fact that they have sadly overlooked is that you need songs to go with your message and especially if it's a vivid and slightly deranged agenda. Arrangements all over the place and little or none structure. Let's not continue with the One-Way bashing and simply end by stating that "The Clock Is Ticking" is indeed the decent tune.

SOTO: "Inside The Vertigo"

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

'The past 5 or more years have propelled me a plethora of anger and frustration, I'm actually quite pissed off about a lot of things, SOTO is my outlet to release some of this pent up emotion'. - The strong and harsh words of U.S. powerhouse vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, previously of Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey, Talisman, Eyes, Takara, and what not really. It's however not just another solo record (even though the moniker may suggest otherwise) as the singer insisted on making this more of a band effort with the help of Jorge Salan (lead guitar), BJ (keys, guitars), David Z (bass) and Edu Cominato (drums).

Produced by J.S.S. the album features tracks co-written with his band mates as well as other musicians. Collaborators include guitarists Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy), Jason Bieler (Saigon Kick, Talisman), Mike Orlando (Adrenaline Mob) and Joel Hoekstra (Night Ranger/TSO), all of whom perform on their penned tracks for the album. Others appearing as guests/co-writers are Casey Grillo (Kamelot), Connor Engstrom, Tony Dickinson, Leo Mancini, Hugo Mariutti and Gary Schutt.

Inside The Vertigo is the rather angry effort and it's all about power riffs, metal, grungy prog-ish vibes, and basically the modern rock album. There's plenty of excellent guitar work, powerful vocals, but sadly not a whole lot of hooks or songs that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. I find it difficult to separate the majority of tracks and it could just as easily have been one long groove session in the studio. However, opening track, "Final Say", one of the most positive moments.

'The Fall', 'Wrath', 'Break', sounds like Ozzy and KISS rejects during their grungy mid nineties era and you should get the idea just by reading the titles. Never utter crap or bad, it's just so been there and done that. "Narcissistically Yours" is however darn interesting and the nine + minute epic tune of "End Of Days" hits you right between the eyes with sheer emotion and children choir. Not at bad as it looks on paper or in this case, your PC screen. The song is Prog-lite and frankly put a tiny masterpiece in my opinion. Low and behold. The following title track is yet another home run with its hint of the neo-classical metal and groovy guitar break. Very classy and the mid-section of the album (tracks# 5 to 8) are all top notch with "When I'm Older" as your excellent semi-ballad. Very much the hit and miss album.
jeffscottsoto.com
facebook

STORMWITCH: "Season of The Witch"

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

Originally formed in March 1981 in Germany by guitarist Harald Spengler (aka Lee Tarot) the band imposed themselves a horror-like image and signed with Scratch Records to release their debut album 'Walpurgis Night' in September 1984. Hardly the most successful band to come out of the Teutonic territory during the eighties and they didn't have much luck with the Western public. The band realised this and concentrated on the East bloc, by giving many concert behind the Iron Curtain.

Fast forward the odd 30 years and the Berlin Wall is long gone and thus DDR and that darn curtain. So are most of the original members for that matter and merely singer Andy Muck (aka Andy Adrian) can be found shouting along to average metal melodies of the past at The Season Of The Witch. The album ticks in at approx 36 minutes and the nine tracks on display here are showcasing a second rate version of Demon vs. the old Stormwitch horror material.

They are more cult than great to be honest and it's just a question of how many of these 80's cult metal acts can you stomach today? The drums are way to soft in the mix and it's more like tin-cans than thunder. They do have a couple of decent ballads on here and the track, Last Warrior", may just get your heart ticking at rapidly speed for a couple of minutes. It's otherwise a rather dry platter and simply not enough of satisfaction to the action. Meh.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Neil DANIELS: ”Reinventing Metal”

Rating: - (book)

Publisher: Backbeat Books 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

From my pile of ”books to read”, I found this book that I have actually read and then forgotten about it. It was sent to me for a review, and I guess a long overdue one is better than no review at all.

The whole title of the book is a bit more revealing that just ”Reinventing Metal”. It is ”The true story of Pantera and the tragically short life of Dimebag Darrell - an unauthorized biography”. And that’s says it all, really. If you’re familiar with any of the other Daniels’ biographies, you’ll know that he’s done a lot of research and interviews for his books, coming up with different sides to the story. After reading this, I probably know more about Pantera than most of my favorite bands.

Even though I don’t really like Pantera, their story was fascinating to read. To some younger fans of the band it might come as a surprise that the band had released several albums before their breakthrough album ”Cowboys From Hell”. It might be an even bigger surprise that 80’ies Pantera was a full-on spandex-clad Hair Metal band. This book has the photos to prove.

There’s a definite ”dramatic arc” in the book, starting with the passionate, metal-loving Abbott brothers’ fight to get Pantera off the ground. With the addition of Phil Anselmo, they find a new style that takes them to the forefront of the metal scene. Then things go sour and the band splits up. With Dimebag’s tragic death in 2004 the story of the band ends violently, but their legacy lives on.

http://www.neildaniels.com/


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ASTRALION: "Astralion"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Limb Music 2014
Review by Satu Reunanen

Are you craving your daily dose of quality power metal? You've found it here from Astralion.  This Finnish band that only started off in 2011 has a clear vision of how good power metal should be
made, but without the dragons and swords concept and more in the true German power metal style. The members in the band have a long history in music, so Astralion isn't their first shot at being in a
band. Some of their old bands are Olympos Mons, The Addication and HumanGod.

The self-titled album is Astralion's first and a very ambitious one. The album begins with the fast and
powerful "Mysterious & Victorious" with a catchy chorus and all the needed power metal elements are at their right places from start to finish. Start headbanging! Singer Ian E. Highhill has a very traditional power metal vocalist sound and sings the high parts with ease. Guitarist Hank J. Newman creates an intriguing world to all the songs, he's a classy guitarist with the perfect vision to creating a stylish melodic power metal atmosphere. His playing also has touches of the 80's heavy metal. The rest of  the band, Dr. K. Lundell (bass), Arnold Hackman (drums) and Thomas Henry (keyboards) also do a  great job. Henry occasionally brings a classic rock touch to the songs, something along the lines of Deep Purple, but also neoclassical style.

Some of the names that come to mind from Astralion's music are Helloween, Blind Guardian and Edguy, even Freedom Call and Stratovarius on their upbeat, more cheery moments. There's the right twists and turns and the dramatic and somewhat playful feel. Astralion's music should attract especially German fans, but also fans of the whole power metal genre. Everything sounds big and the backing vocals are mighty as well. These guys aren't leaving anything to chance. The album has a powerful ballad as well; "To Isolde", which is a very traditional power metal ballad with of course a catchy chorus. The debut ending track "Last Man On Deck" is a gigantic thirteen minute song that speeds up at the middle part and sooner than you think the song has reached the end. If a band makes an epic song work in a way that doesn't knock out the listener out of boredom, you'll know they master the fine art of song writing. This album is a good example of how good power metal should be made.

Astralion has also released videos of the songs "At the Edge of the World" and  "We All Made Metal", which visualize and capture the band and the atmosphere of this album well.


http://www.astralion.org/

AMARANTHE: ”Massive Addictive”

Rating: RRR

Label: Spinefarm 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

I’m a bit late with this review but maybe it’s because this album hasn’t been that massively addictive as its’ would title suggest. The first Amaranthe album hooked me straight away and the second effort had almost the same effect, but this third album…
I’ve given it quite a few spins but I’m afraid it’s my least favourite of the three.

The first taste of ”M.A.” was the single/video track ”Drop Dead Cynical”, which was nowhere near as good as the singles from the previous albums. I hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come, but I guess it was. The band’s hooks just aren’t as dangerously catchy and melodic as before. Especially the first half of the album contains way too many songs that I can’t remember even though I just listened to them. That’s not usual for Amaranthe…

The first and frankly the only ”chills-down-my-spine” moment of the album is the track number 8, ”Over And Done”. It’s a surefire Amaranthe-hit with its’ Abbaesque melody and dynamic arrangement and it’s sheer madness if it’s not a single at some point. ”Danger Zone” is another clever and hook-laden track, although the dominance of the growled vocals doesn’t win any extra points from me. Other tracks I want to mention are ”Trinity”, ”Digital World”, ”Exhale” and the title track which are all good, but not the kind of tracks that you’ll catch yourself humming throughout the day.

Amaranthe website

Sunday, December 21, 2014

LEGION: ”Tempest”

Rating: RRR
Label: Z Records 2014
Review by Rich ”The Meister” Dillon

It's almost just like the 70's & 80's again, a time that was not unusual for bands to deliver two albums per year, with Legion set to issue Tempest, their sixth album in just four years time!  Legion is fronted by the seemingly boundless energy of Phil Vincent on vocals with Vince O'Regan (guitars), Gavin Cooper (bass), Andy Pierce (drums) and Irvin Parrat (keyboards) making up the rest of the band.  The cover art for Tempest is, like so many others it seems these days, less than awe-inspiring.  But there's no skimping on the music as it appears that not one of the eleven contained tracks rings in under the four minute mark.  Let's give it a spin and see just what we have here:

Tempest opens up with the 6:20 minute ”Just Can't Stop” which takes a very long time to get going past the rather lengthy collection of news sound bites that we could do without.  Once we do get under way musically the song is a showcase vehicle for the vocal talents of Phil Vincent, but is not overly ”wowing”.  The enticing melodies contained in ”Open Fire” meld well with O'Regan's guitar work in this mid-tempo rocker for a song that is much more my style.  The third track, ”Steal the Night Away” is loaded with chunky riffs ala George Lynch and Dokken, but just doesn't quite make it there somehow.  All in all Legion's Tempest contains some good melodic, almost power metal-ish hard rock, loaded with vocal harmonies and guitar virtuosity, but there's nothing above average here.  Perhaps if they stopped trying to flood the market with so many releases in such a short time and concentrated more on each album they would be of a higher caliber.  Just my two cents worth.

Phil Vincent Website

WICKED SENSATION: ”Adrenaline Rush”

Rating: RRRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Rich ”The Meister” Dillon

Here we have Wicked Sensation's Adrenaline Rush coming across my desk for review.  I've not heard of Wicked Sensation previously and therefore have no bias or prejudice towards them but judging by the more than lacklustre album cover artwork I doubt that I shall receive much enjoyment from this release.

Adrenaline Rush begins with the over five and a half minute opener of ”King Of the World” and what a pleasant surprise immediately as it opens up with an energy injected melodic feel.  The unmistakeable vocal prowess of none other than David Reece hits the speakers and Wicked Sensation definitely has my attention!  ”Same Old Situation” is next on the roster followed by ”Misery”, both holding up to the excitement generated by the lead track.  That's only the first three tracks but there's most certainly some high quality melodic rock contained behind the dreary cover of this hidden gem.

Adrenaline Rush marks Wicked Sensation's fourth output behind 2001's Reflected, 2004's Exceptional and 2010's Crystalized.  Throughout their existence Wicked Sensation, formed by guitarist/songwriter Michael Klein, has been marred by line-up changes and challenges.  Most recently vocalist Robert Soeterboek had been forced to step back to do health reasons being diagnosed with a cyst on his vocal chords.  The band sought out David Reece to fill the void for the songs already crafted by Klein and Soeterboek and frankly anything Reece lends his talents to is a winner.  Canadian Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) lends his support in the backing vocal department on several tracks as does Mathias Dieth (ex-U.D.O.) contribute the guitar solo for the title track, ”Adrenaline Rush”.

Wicked Sensation proves the old adage ”You shouldn't judge a book by its' cover” with this excellent melodic hard rock output that's been spinning in my CD player for several weeks now with, I'm sure, much more airplay to follow.

Wicked Sensation Facebook

STUD: ”Rust On the Rose”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Unsigned/Self Released 2014
Review by Rich ”The Meister” Dillon

In Finland back in the mid 80's the heavy rock band Stud formed.  They caused quite a stir in their home country with their live shows and issued a single with lyrics sung in the Finnish language.  After less than a year they had changed singers and languages, switching to English lyrics but failed to secure a record deal for their planned full length album and they disbanded in 1989 after only three years.   Fast forward to 2012 and Stud had reunited with a new bass player, recording their debut album, Out of the Darkness for release in October 2013.  Approximately a year later and the Finns have returned to serve us Rust on the Rose, their sophomore effort.

The first single, ”I Don't Know” was available in May and the second, ”Rust on the Rose” broke just prior to the albums release.

Stud's Rust on the rose album starts off at full throttle with ”Raise Your Fist” beginning with a charging riff before a wicked guitar solo enters the picture.  I'm sold already and the vocals haven't even hit the speakers as yet.  The song is exactly what you might expect from an 80's glam/sleaze band, loaded with hooks and an anthem chorus.  I've raised my fist!  ”Rock n Roll World” exhibits a slightly slower pace, grinding along into a gang vocal, sing-along chorus of ”I want to live in a rock and roll world”.  I already do and thank God for that, but I'm still singing along!  The albums title track and second single release keeps things moving along in much the same fashion and other standouts include the catchiness of ”We're Gonna Strike”, the commercial radio friendly sounding ”Promised to be Mine”, the blistering pace of ”Break the Chains” and the lead single ”I Don't Know”.  Stud have issued a solid collection of 11 songs holding true the sound of the 80's guitar driven heavy rock,  marvellous for fans of the glam/sleaze sub genre.

 It's off to add Out of the Darkness to my collection, rock on you stud!  \m/

Website: Stud Website

Friday, December 19, 2014

TRAGIK – ‘Path Of Destruction’




RATING: RRRR

Label: Self Release

Review By: Alan Holloway


Phil Vincent has released a lot of albums. By my count, ‘Path Of destruction’ is his nine hundred and twelfth, although I may be a few out. Buolt like a brick shithouse and determined to bring the same weight to his music, Phil is never less than entertaining, and although the Tragic stuff still sees him write everything, the addition of extra musicians does seem to bring a new dimension to his songs.

This latest album sees Phil teaming back up with his Legion cohort and serial guitar guest Vince O’Regan, who pops up for lead guitar duties, with other long term cohort Damien D’ercole adding his own guitar licks to the songs. Opener ‘Look At me Now’ is a catchy piece of work, accentuated by Eric Ragno on keyboards, and manages to be punchy as hell with a stiff melodic backbone. It’s great to hear Phil’s vocals improving slightly, with some good harmonies bolstered by a crystal clear production. It’s a pretty accurate indicator for the rest of the album, which mixes crunchy riffs, melodic choruses and some sweet guitarwork throughout. Worthy of note is track three, ‘All The Time In the World’, which ranks as one of Phil Vincent’s most melodic pieces of work, culminating in a skin chafing solo from O’Regan.

The run time of 55 minutes is bolstered by track six, where it all goes ambitious with a five part song called ‘Lake Of Tears’, clocking in at nearly seventeen minutes. To be honest this doesn’t mean that Phil has gone all prog rock or anything (thankfully), and the time flies by, even if the reading of it as a single track means I can’t listen to the parts as individual tracks without faffing about. A little later the album closes with ‘Thank You’, a sweet song of thanks that could be directed towards a mother or God.

‘Path Of Destruction’ can stand proudly at the top of the Phil Vincent catalogue, providing 55 minutes of quality melodic rock mixed with big riffs and very tuneful vocals. You can’t fault his ambition in chucking in a six part song, nor his talent for catchy choruses, but you can fault the decision to stick a picture of a fake breasted scantily clad lady on the inner sleeve (not to mention the arse shot on the back). This makes a very decent album look tacky and dated, and I was genuinely embarrassed that anyone else should see it, especially after getting interested queries from those hearing the music as I reviewed it.

In the end, it’s the music that counts, and with that in mind I can thoroughly recommend this album. There’s not a dull moment to be had, not a track that begs to be skipped. If you’ve ever liked one of Phil Vincent’s many albums and projects, from solo to Legion, then Tragik will make you a very happy music fan.

Phil Vincent Website 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

XTASY: ”Revolution”

Rating: RRR

Label: Melodic Rock Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Melodic Rock Records’ love affair with Spanish band continues, and now it’s time for Xtasy. What next, ”Afterglow”? ”The Morning After”? Anyway, Xtasy is a female-fronted melodic rock band with a sound comparable to Vixen, Lee Aaron, Femme Fatale and the likes.

At their very best, Xtasy are very good, but unfortunately for there are a few rather unimpressive moments too. The two first tracks are easily the highlights of the album, and wisely the band has made a video for one of them, the excellent ”Stronger”. The title track is another good one. I also like the very Vixen-like ”All For One”, the ballad ”It Is You” and ”Burning Around”, which has a rather catchy chorus. Some of the others are OK too, but then there are those weaker moments…

”Million Miles” is an otherwise decent song, but somehow the chorus is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. With its’ title, ”Scream” should be a powerful song, but it could just as well be called ”Raise Your Voice Politely”. The background chant of ”shout!” during the chorus has no power whatsoever, I can picture the ”choir” standing around the microphone half-asleep holding coffee mugs and having sips between the ”shouts”! The closing ballad ”Bye Bye” suffers of vocalist Silvia’s rather muffled articulation.

”How Much Love” is one of my favourite Vixen songs. Xtasy’s version of it might be technically ok, but somehow they manage to suck the life out of it. The original has a definite groove or flow that’s missing from this version, and vocalist Silvia’s singing lacks the passion that Janet Gardner has in her vocals. Almost cost an ”R” for the band…

The biggest problem of the album is that Silvia’s vocals do not make me believe in the lyrics she’s singing. It could be the fact that she’s not singing in her native language, and maybe a vocal-oriented producer could help her out to make the most out of her talent. In many of the songs, the vocal melodies are fairly monotonous, so maybe she’s just bored singing them…

www.xtasyband.com

Friday, December 12, 2014

STRATOVARIUS: "Elements Anniversary Reissue" [3CD+DVD]

Rating: Reissue/Comp.
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Ho! Ho! Ho! What would the merry Stratovarius fan like to have for Christmas? What? A Mistress? Well. How about this posh 3CD+DVD digi-pak, limited to 10.000 copies worldwide? It's the second best thing to the more expensive and limited to 3.000 copies worldwide box set. Don't bother with that now as you get the albums "Elements Pt. 1" and "Elements Pt. 2" on this Anniversary release (it's been 11 years since their release so what kind of anniversary are we talking about?), also included are a bonus CD including unreleased and rare songs like B-Sides or live versions from the 2003 Elements tour and a DVD that features the 5.1 mix of both albums, rare bonus songs as well as a photo gallery.

Impressive. Ambitious work indeed. Add to this a fat booklet with lyrics and liner notes by Jens "Metal Mozart" Johansson as he talks about the elements albums on eight pages, the idea behind the work, the recording process, reception and consequences, and what not really. He goes on and on about everything from their sonically pristine way to record to equipment and how he had completely free reign regarding keyboard arrangements. The latter could of course be due to the fact that Tolkki was stuck in Madrid and told Jens to go ahead and record the keys by himself. 'I Trust you. I'm sure it will be fine', was the words from the Finn and no longer part of the band even if he started it all. The Swede was obviously over the moon and started throwing s**t at the studio wall to see what would stick. Happy, happy. Joy, joy.

Stratovarius succeeded what only few bands manage to achieve with these albums: they opened doors, tore down (genre) walls and created two milestones in progressive symphonic metal. The DVD bonus audio tracks are mostly demo versions of songs that ended up on the albums. Some of them are drum machine pre-demo versions and others are simply just keyboard or orchestra demos. Not always that interesting if you're not the 'mad die-hard must-have everything ever recorded by Strato' fan.

The CD bonus tracks are previously unreleased tracks such as "Run Away", ever so slightly distorted vocals by Kotipelto during the verse and the nice and catchy refrain in a happy poppy power metal style and way. "Into Deep Blue" is the more complex and Gothic ballad with the 'Defenders of the Crown' theme going on in the background (if you can recall the cult Amiga game from your childhood). Actually, Dream Theatre-ish would be a more correct description. Very nice and excellent vocal performance by Kotipelto. "Ride Like The Wind", not the Christopher Cross tune as this was written by Johansson and speak of 'black clouds gathering' and it's the straight ahead uptempo rocker ála early Strato or Yngwie Malmsteen and feat. the impressive solo by Jens. The French version of "Papillon" is something for Kotipelto to build on (articulation?), but could possibly work as the different take and version. The next six tracks are all live versions of Elements and other songs such as "Black Diamond" and "Hunting High and Low". These titles are strongly connected to KISS and A-HA in my books.

The surround (5.1) audio mixes of the album(s) could blow ya' away if you're the tech nerd. What better X-mas gift to the die-hard fan?
stratovarius.com

DEEP PURPLE: "with Orchestra - Live In Verona" DVD

Rating: Live
Label: Eagle Vision 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The picturesque scenery of Arena di Verona in Italy is a sight for sore eyes. It's Ancient Rock live at the Ancient rocks so to speak and yes, pun intended, but there's no need to agree with my dry sense or complete lack of humour. Filmed at the Roman amphitheatre originally built in 30 A.D. it's definitely one of the most beautiful, atmospheric, and not to mention historical outdoor venues out there.

What better place to have the U.K. geezers of Deep Purple performing their classic songs in a new orchestral arrangements? It's drama, the Stephen Bentley-Klein's Frankfurt-based Neue Philharmonie, and the line-up of Ian Gillan (vocals), "newbie"  Steve Morse (guitar - since 1994 that's 20 years now), Roger Glover (bass), Don Airey (keyboards) and Ian Paice (drums). The latter sporting a matching face to the Roman building and I'm not sure who's been there the longest at the back of the stage? I know that this was recorded during their 2011 tour, so it's been close to four years already.

There's no extra, no fuzz, no boring distraction, merely the live gig that ticks in at approx 115 mins and the place is packed with a loud audience. It's hardly their first time dabble with orchestra as Purple released 'Concerto for Group and Orchestra' already back in 1969 which featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. That was however a Jon Lord three-movement concept album and this is more or less the best of Purple. I do miss a couple of classics and especially "Child in Time" and some more of the 80s stuff would have been fun too. You do however get both "Perfect Strangers" and "Knocking At Your Backdoor" and they sound great with full-on orchestra and tasteful mix.

The we-are-tired-of-this song, "Smoke On The Water", gets a new dimension thanks to Frankfurt dudes and there's no need have a break and put on the kettle as of yet. Gillan delivered that day/evening and the rest of the musicians are keeping it nice and clean throughout the concert. The Don Airey solo is sort of strange  though as you always expect 'the Walrus' to appear behind the keys. It's tight, well-performed, great camera work, and most certainly a must have to the fan of DP. Argh. Okay. I simply can't resist to quote myself. - "Ancient Rock Live at the Ancient Rocks".

FOREIGNER: "The Best Of Foreigner 4 & More"

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

The Best of Foreigner 4 & More - it's basically a fancy name for yet another live album. Recorded at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on the two dates of 3rd and 4th of October, 2014. I believe they're mixing songs from both dates so expect some fade outs on this platter. Guitarist Mick Jones, the only remaining member since the heydays and original release of "4", the rest consisting of former Hurricane vocalist Kelly Hansen, Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson (also producer of the album together with Jones), and the 4 of Michaek Bluestein (keys), Tom Gimbel & Bruce Watson (guitars), and Chris Frazier (drums). Phew. There's a total of seven geezers up there on stage.

The title harks back to the utterly classic release of the album "4" in 1981. Easily their overall best release in my opinion. They are performing 7 out of 10 tracks from the album and not in correct order for that matter. That's a minor disappointment actually as I expected the entire she-bang with all of the songs. No biggie though, but it would have been fun to have "Luanne", "I'm Gonna Win" and "Don't Let Go" amongst the rest of the them.

The "more" part are standards such as "Feels Like The First Time", "Cold As Ice", "Hot Blooded", "I Want To Know What Love Is" and "Say You Will". They still insist to perform the latter as the semi unplugged thing and that's a shame as I prefer the original version with its catchy beat. To be honest. I do believe that most Foreigner fans would like to hear the songs in their first and best version. Hansen truly is a great vocalist though and it's the second best thing to having Lou Gramm at his peak. It's a rather vital and good live recording though with several fresh takes at some of the most classic AOR and melodic rock tunes out there. The million dollar question however, are you up for another live album this Christmas? I guess you can't go wrong with this as your very safe gift to the melodic fan though.
facebook page

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

HAREM SCAREM: "Thirteen"

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

The Hockey Hooligans a.k.a. Harem Scarem are finally back with a brand new studio album following on from their rather boring idea of re-recording their classic 2nd album, Mood Swings (they simply entitled it Mood Swings 2). Truth be told, their latest effort may not hold any major surprises nor re-recordings (Thank God!), it's simply just more of the good Canadian stuff and it's nearly impossible to ignore their thirteenth album as it's jam-packed with hooks and lush background vocals.

Harry Hess (vocals/keys) and Pete Lesperance (guitar/bass/keys) - more or less the perfect songwriting team when it comes to Melodic Rock as they still manage to come up with fun ideas and structures. They seem to have that natural ability to mix groovy guitar work and ditto rhythms with memorable harmonies and choruses. Indeed. There's a really heavy bottom end and edgy guitar riffing to be found on "Thirteen" without losing any of their sing-a-long melodies and moments.

It's hardly strictly retro or pure eighties sounding rock though, so don't just expect this to be Mood Swings 3 or whatever. The opening two tracks (Garden Of Eden, Live It) are actually the least interesting ones in my humble opinion. They're still pretty decent though. "Early Warning Signs", rocks along the track like a runaway train and please take notice Mr.Big, this is how ya' do it. Groovy/fun guitar work and the catchy hook. "The Midnight Hours", timeless power-pop with a dangerous hook and gorgeous harmonies.

"Whatever It Takes" is the excellent grand piano (semi) power ballad of the album with heartfelt message and lyric about lost love or rather the feeling of time taking its toll on your relationship and that you need to do whatever it takes to bring back the joy in life. And when you're finally ready to crawl back up from the bottom. "Saints and Sinners", "All I Need", and "Troubled Times" will quickly knock you back down to the floor with massive hooks ála Mike Tyson in his prime. Modern yet retro sounding rock at its very best.

Final verdict: It's basically ten tracks of perky and uplifting music that will get you going through your ordinary day... and night. Highly recommended.
haremscarem.net
facebook

ELEMENTS OF FRICTIONS: "Elements Of Frictions

Rating: Comp.
Label: Lions Pride Music 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Not to be confused with the all-star project at MTM in 2001 feat. Robin MacAuley (MSG), etc. With this particular Elements Of Frictions, the newly founded melodic hard rock label Lions Pride Music in Denmark, is bringing back some of the voices from the past of the genre in the likes of Larry Baud (Red Dawn), Rich Cox (Sic Vikki), Mark Evans (Heavens Edge), Stefan Berggren (Snakes In Paradise), Stephan Kammerer (Frontline), Tommy La Verdi (21 Guns/LRS), Paul Laine (Danger Danger, solo), Mats Levén (Treat, Swedish Erotica, Yngwie Malmsteen), Pete Loran (Trixter), Oliver Fehr (Transit), Matti Alfonzetti (Jagged Edge, Bam Bam Boys, Skintrade) and Swedish newcomer Emma Varg.

Elements Of Frictions is the brainchild of label owner and founder Carsten Nielsen according to the press release. I'm not entirely sure if it's simply just the one-off project or a sampler of future label releases?? Let's hope for the latter as they plan to release many more melodic and AOR albums. Matti Alfonzetti is responsible for mixing the album and also for writing six out of fourteen tracks including the ones performed by Oliver Fehr, Emma Varg, Mats Levén, and Larry Baud.

Add to this Alfonzetti's solo tune, "Don't Leave Me Lonely" (good hi-tech AOR number and softer than his usual solo stuff as of lately) and band project Area 51 feat. Sven Cirnski: guitars (Bad Habit), Micke Hoglund: bass (Great King Rat, Thunder), Jamie Borger: drums (Treat, Talisman), Pasi Oxman: Keys. Their song, "Little One", great mix of Swedish melodic rock ála Europe, Baltimore and U.K. rock ála Deep Purple and Rainbow. Emma Varg and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" represent the female-ish style of the genre like Chrissy Steele, Femme Fatale, Robin Beck, and it's one of the stronger tracks on this compilation. "Make You Mine" feat. Larry Baud and co-written by Alfonzetti/Baud, it's a far cry from the classy Red Dawn album and the production sounds like a demo. The Mats Levén track (Only My Heart) sounds like a mix between Alfonzetti and the leftover tracks from the self titled TREAT album.

Other tracks written by their performers: Stefan Berggren or Snakes In Paradise and "Without Your Love". "When You Grow Up" by Marcello/Vestro deliver the song of the album with their lovely U.S. melodic rock of the eighties. Pete Loran try his best to sound like classic Trixter on "To The Limit" and does a pretty good job at it. Summer fun stuff. Paul Laine deliver some fine melody and noisy guitar work on "Another Me" as it sounds like the most punky and modern pop-ish track of them all. Not bad though. Just different from the others. Tommy La Verdi and "Somebody Up There" has the Zack Wylde influenced riff and was previously recorded by Street Legal? I believe there's a Ozzy connection too? Frontline's Stephan Kammerer and "All About You" is a very soft and fluffy number with just as much pop as hard rock influences. The refrain is kind of annoying in the long run with its constant repeat of the title. Could benefit from a re-write and let's add more words to the chorus, yeah? "Let Me Down Easy" by Sic Vikki's Rich Cox is a major disappointment (Steve Plunkett to the rescue?). The same goes for Mark Evans (Heavens Edge) and the snooze fest "Piece Of The Action".

Final verdict: Interesting and definitely worthy of your time. A couple of stinkers and not always the best of sound. The majority of tracks are nice though and let's wait and see what comes next from this label.
Lions Pride Music