Sunday, September 14, 2014

220 VOLT: ”Walking In Startlight”

Rating: RRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Swedish hard rock band 220 Volt made some significant noise back in the eighties and were one of the bigger Swedish bands for a while. Their biggest international album was ”Eye To Eye”,  which was produced by Max Norman and featured the minor hit ”Love Is All You Need”.

The band reactivated itself again and have been working hard on this album since December 2013. The line-up of the band has gone through some changes, the biggest change being the replacement of original vocalist Jocke Lundholm. Although he’s been replaced by the very talented Anders Engberg (Lions Share etc), something’s missing. Engberg is easily as good a vocalist as Lundholm was, probably even better, but Lundholm’s rather unique style was a pretty big part of the ”220 Volt” sound.

Rather than 220 Volt of old, this reincarnation sounds more like modern day Europe. In a way it’s understandable, both groups are in the same age group and probably have the same influences, which are shining through. There’s a definite 70’ies hard rock vibe in these songs.

Unfortunately, much like most of the post-reformation Europe songs, some of the new 220 Volt material kind of leaves me cold. It’s competent, well-played and produced classic hard rock, but there’s just way too many songs that don’t ”stick”. Let’s concentrate on the positive things though… Having played this album quite a few times now, I have found my favourites and I’m glad to say that there are a few songs here that do leave a lasting impression. The title track is one, a massive rocker with an anthemic hook, and the more balladic ”The Waiting” and ”Guiding Light” are very good too. My picks from this bunch would be the almost ”power metallic” ”Through The Wastelands” and it’s neighbor, the melodic ”Burning Heart”.


Rating: R
Label: Nightmare Records 2014
Review by Rich " The Meister" Dillon

Voyager is a progressive metal band hailing from Perth Australia having been in the game since 1999 and issuing five full length albums to date.  So why haven't I heard of them?

Vocalist Daniel Estrin is the only remaining original member and is joined by guitarist Simone Dow, guitarist Scott Kay, drummer Ashley Doodkorte and bassist Alex Canion.  This fifth album aptly titled V was available in June 2014 and was funded via a crowd funding campaign that saw the goal reached in just three days!  While it seems that Voyager does have a legion of devoted fans out there as evidenced by the crowd funding, I personally was less than impressed by the V album.

I cued it up and was greeted by the synthesizers of the opening track 'Hyperventilating'.  Less than a minute into the song and my interest had waned, being far too ambient and progressive for my tastes.  I continued on through the lead single 'Breaking Down' which started out stronger but still too heavy in the progressive vein for my particular enjoyment.  'A Beautiful Mistake' seemed a little better and I started to get into it but by the time I got through the minute long 'Fortune Favours the Blind' that followed I gave up and shut it off.

That's why they haven't crossed my radar previously.

KILMARA: "Love Songs & Other Nightmares"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Sony Music Entertainment 2014
Review by Rich "The Meister" Dillon

Kilmara are a heavy metal band born in Barcelona, Spain in 2003 under the moniker Jadde.  The addition of German vocalist Christian Wolfgang Kohl (Wolf) brought an evolution of the band but they continued to write Spanish lyrics.  After a couple of demo recordings mostly in Spanish but some experimentation with English lyrics they decided on using English lyrics in the hopes of opening up to a wider market.  In 2007 Kilmara issued their debut full length, Hunting Dreams, with English lyrics.  2010's Don't Fear the Wolf was recorded in Slovakia at Grapow studios and helmed by Roland Grapow (Masterplan/Helloween).  Now, earlier in 2014 they have unleashed their third effort, Love Songs & Other Nightmares again under the direction of Roland Grapow.  The album cover artwork was created by Canadian artist Jessica Allain who is known for her digital photo manipulation work.

For many a man a love song is a pure nightmare but not to worry Kilmara leads the album with "Fantasy", a fast paced metal treat.  Combining elements of power metal, the NWOBHM movement along side melodic vocals with periodic guttural growls makes it difficult to put a specific label on the sound of Kilmara, but I like it!  The opening riffs of 'Devil's Eye' really get their hooks into the listener and the song contains lots of delicious guitar work to enhance not out-do the composition.  The lone song under the four minute mark (four of the twelve are even over six minutes) and only short by a second at that, 'The Break Up' is the lead single and a great representation of what's contained on Love Songs & Other Nightmares.  The six minutes of "Cold Rain" are some of the best on the release and even the slower paced 'Believe' is meaty enough to keep your interest.  The second half of the album plays much like the first creating a release that basically doesn't let up from start to finish.

GREGORY LYNN HALL: "Heaven to Earth"

Rating: RRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Rich "The Meister" Dillon

In the early 80's the band Rat Sally was a popular player in the Hollywood scene appearing at clubs like Gazzarri’s and The Troubador.  Gregory Lynn Hall, Rat Sally vocalist, went on to lend his vocal talents to commercial jingles throughout the 90's and formed AOR band 101 South with Roger Scott Craig in 2000.  With a three album 101 South discography under his belt, Hall strikes out on his own for his debut solo recording, Heaven to Earth.  The album could be considered a one man band in many ways as Hall not only takes care of all vocals but also the guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and harmonica!  Gregory Lynn Hall did receive some assistance from other musicians, mostly in the form of guitar solos from the likes of Craig Goldy, Jeff Duncan, Billy Liesegang, Mike Turner and Johnny Navarro as well as Bandit Bellamia (drums).

With a couple of different versions available of the track order, my review copy began with "You Got Me Runnin"" an upbeat 70"s infused bluesy treat.  "Rockin' the Road" continued the decided 70"s rock vein, including some great Jeff Duncan guitar solo work and Hall"s gruff vocals.  Duncan also provides the licks for "Stars in the Night" but then it"s time for Craig Goldy to show his chops in the title track, "Heaven to Earth", one of the clear standouts.  While "I Thought I Saw Heaven" slows things down, "Love Can" explores the more mellow style of AOR rock.  Two back to back ballads follow with "Fly On" and "Ordinary Man" and coupled with the previous two songs equal a total loss of interest at this point.  "Cry No More" returns to the 70"s vibe and groove while "Mama Said" ramps up the blues element largely due to the harmonica use.  Then it's back to a bluesy slower pace for the album closer of "Cryin"" again showcasing the talents of Jeff Duncan.

This album could have been a lot stronger without the ballad four-pack in the mid section.  Aside from that with better than half of the compositions being over five minutes in length and the others more than four minutes, this release contains plenty of 70's vibe/groove rock infused with bluesy, raspy vocals and talented guitar work.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gary MOORE: "Live At Bush Hall 2007"

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

The absolutely best thing about "Live At Bush Hall 2007"? The excellent performance, guitar playing, and stunning rich tone of the late and very great Gary Moore. The absolutely worst thing about this live recording? The rather sub-standard blues material on display. Originally the Planet Rock Radio broadcast from London/U.K. and I'm pretty sure that die-hard fans already have this in their collection. Here's your chance to get the real deal on CD though.

Moore kicked off the show with several tracks from his by then new album, 'Close As You Get', and I believe you get a total of seven tracks from the album. You have three tracks from 'Still Got The Blues', the title track, the fun strut of 'Walking By Myself' and 'Too Tired'. One from 'After Hours' and the only rocking track of 'Don't Believe A Word" from the Thin Lizzy daze/days. Let's face it. He was the average white man's blues vocalist and especially if you compare him to the original blues veterans of the old. Superb guitarist though and I guess you can tell that I prefer his "pure rock" material.

Technically brilliant as usual and the studying guitarist might just enjoy the licks and tricks of Gary (RIP).

ASTRAL DOORS: "Notes From The Shadows"

Rating: RR
Label: Metalville 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

I'll have to say that the epic nine plus minute track, "Die Alone", one of Astral Door's better moments as they dabble with the progressive arrangement and Black Sabbath influences. Not to mention that Patrick Johansson is indeed the impressive vocalist with just the right amount of power and finesse. On the other hand, "Notes From The Shadows", overall the disappointment in my opinion.

It really doesn't matter how great the band members are, when the songs are starting to wear and tear on your mind and memory. Surely I've already heard the majority of the Notes From The Shadows melodies in their vast back catalogue? I believe it's the Status Quo and AC/DC endgame at play here? Same, same, but hardly ever different? It feels like a half-hearted attempt at your Astral Doors album and several pieces of the jig-saw puzzle are sadly missing.

Obviously still appealing to many of their fans as they would rather have the trusty old rather than something experiential and new. I couldn't find many songs that stand out from the rest, the above mentioned epic tune excluded. "The Last Temptation Of Christ" and "Disciples Of The Dragon Lord" are interesting tracks, lyric-wise, but might just lack the extra oomph and energy of their forceful melodic power metal of the past. What this seems to mean is that they simply charge out a never ending stream of 'been there, done that' compositions.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

PERFECT VIEW: ”Red Moon Rising”

Rating: RRR
Label: Avenue Of Allies 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Four years after their debut release, Hold Your Dreams, Modena, Italy’s melodic rockers Perfect View are back with Red Moon Rising.  This new release finds bassist Frank Paulis replacing Cristian Guerzoni and joining founders Max Ordine (vocals), Francesco Cataldo (guitar), Luca Ferraresi (drums) and keyboardist Pier Mazzini to fulfil the Perfect View roster.

The opener “Where the Wind Blows” starts off with some 80’s keyboards and is a generally upbeat outing, reminiscent of the style of Journey.  “By My Side” follows suit while “Room 14” is a little grittier (although that’s not the word I’m searching for) I suppose and one of the stronger compositions.  "Slave to the Empire" is a solid melodic hard rock with a hooky chorus and “I Will Remember” sports the longest runtime and thankfully the only ballad they chose to include.  The clear standout on the album is progressive flare of “In the Name of the Father”, also possibly the heaviest (which may explain my enjoyment of it) contained herein.  Next up is “Living in Disguise” followed by the heavier edge of “Dead End Street”, another standout cut.  The 80’s vibe of “Holdin’ On” carries us through to the groove laden “In a Blink of an Eye”.  The album closes out with a cover of a Toto song from their 1988 The Seventh One album, “Home of the Brave”.

Although I generally prefer a little harder of an edge to my rock and a little less pop flavour, Perfect View have issued a solid collection of melodic hard rock compositions with elements of AOR, classic and progressive rock thrown in.  This release should appeal to fans from Journey to Europe.


Rating: RR
Label: Razor & Tie / Cooking Vinyl 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

New York band The Pretty Reckless issued their sophomore album, Going to Hell, back in March 2014.  The debut, Light Me Up, garnered some commercial success spawning three singles in 2010 and now Taylor Momsen returns with her band four years later.  Momsen follows a long tradition of actors turned musicians having starred on TV’s Gossip Girl as Jenny Humphrey among several other roles throughout her career.  After deciding to leave acting for the time being to focus on her music we find her joined by Ben Phillips (guitars), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums) in The Pretty Reckless.

The cover art, Momsen’s naked back decorated with a black cross and arrow pointing to her ass, was inspired by the Pink Floyd poster with nude women sitting on the edge of a pool with album covers on their backs.  During the recording of the record the studio was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy forcing the band to rerecord a lot of the material.  The album opens with “Follow Me Down” including a woman moaning as the intro.  The song is an upbeat rocker with a chorus that evokes thoughts of the bayou.  The title track, “Going to Hell”, has some great guitar work and chorus, but “Heaven Knows”, called a Queen rip-off can’t hold my interest.  “House on a Hill” is a slower number and frankly a bit of a sleeper.  “Sweet Things” picks up the pace a little, but is just a generic composition and the 56 second “Dear Sister” rather pointless.  Going to Hell does not improve and after a couple of listens this is not really my style of rock and sounds too much like a dozen other bands.  There are some good riffs and compositions but a little too much of the modern rock/alternative flare for my particular tastes.

COLD SHOT: "Cold Shot"

Rating: RRR
Label: Eonian Records 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Cold Shot, one of those L.A. Sunset Strip acts of the eighties that 'almost' made it and that Eonian Records are so good at digging up? They sold out places such as The Roxy and The Whiskey at regular bases and secured endorsement deals. They even recorded two songs "Juicy Lucy" and "Higher", the latter co-written by the Cavazo brothers (Quiet Riot, Hurricane) for the soundtrack to Brad Pitt's film, "Across The Tracks" in 1989/90. This led to a deal offer from Virgin Records, but, the wind of change (grunge) came and and Cold Shot became yesterdays news.

The eleven tracks on this CD were all recorded between the years of 1989 to 1991. Additional background vocals by Nate and Paul Winger (there's a Kip connection) and the two above songs from the Pitt film and soundtrack are indeed included on this record. Their flamboyance lead singer Adam Murray is quite the sleazy vocalist with the hint of barbwire and blues. The same goes for the song material as they come out sounding like Great White meets Every Mother's Nightmare or if you prefer Faster Pussycat meets Cinderella? Simply mash the four acts together and end up with Cold Shot? Well. Not quite. But you know what I'm getting at.

It's sleazy/bluesy eighties stuff and quite the groovy attitude as the opening track of "Juicy Luicy" isn't complete without the harmonica intro. Hard hitting numbers such as "Mine All Mine" and "Heart Of The City" are fun and rather aggressive sleaze/blues tracks. The power ballad "Without Your Love" is the nice surprise as they manage to capture the essence of the Cold Shot sound even if the chorus part might just have you thinking about Dokken. "Long Legs", inspired by Crue ála Girls Girls Girls?, and "Captured", ehem, capture the strong vibe of Van Halen (pre-chorus) and the Ratt/Poison refrain. No pun intended. It's hardly rat poison :)

I'm not too keen on uptempo tracks such as "Higher" as they simply lack hook and melody. Some of these tracks could/should have stayed in the vaults or in this particular case, Brad Pitt's old movie. Final verdict: The majority of tracks sounds great. The solid release and pickup if you're into sleazy eighties blues and above mentioned acts.

Paul GILBERT: "Stone Pushing Uphill Man"

Rating: RR
Label: Mascot 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Guitarist Paul Gilbert of Racer X and Mr Big fame (they have a new album coming out next month) and his latest release, the cover album, "Stone Pushing Uphill Man". Reading the track list, you'll quickly notice familiar songs such as Loverboy's "Working For The Weekend", Aerosmith's "Back In The Saddle", James Brown's "I Got The Feeling", "Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", The Beatles "Why Don't We Do It In The Road", Eric Carmen's "My Girl" and "K.D. Lang's "Wash me Clean".

That's a very eclectic and varied bunch of tracks for sure and completely unnecessarily in my humble opinion. Why? Because it's all instrumental and most of these tracks are simply not working (out) without lead vocals. Gilbert does his best to mimic the vocal lines with his singing guitar and I guess it's the nice idea on paper. Truth be told. Merely a couple of tunes such as 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' and 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road' are truly winners in my book.

There are also two new originals in "Shock Absorber" and the old time R&B/blues of the title track (think 1930's meets 1960's). The latter with vocals actually and not too shabby at all. Final Verdict: Pretty pointless?

Monday, September 8, 2014

DEEP PURPLE: "Live In Graz 1975"

Rating: Live
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

This is probably my favorite live recording of the Mark III line-up of the band. Well. At least the first five tracks of "Live In Graz 1975" as you'll find absolutely storming versions of "Burn" (Jon Lord's solo), "Stormbringer" (never sounded better), "The Gypsy", "Lady Double Dealer", and the extra long version of "Mistreated", even if Coverdale goes on and on and there's plenty of extensive and inspired solo parts on this sucker.

Indeed. You're in for a treat if you enjoy Coverdale/Hughes and their vocal treatments on these songs as they are top notch. You can't really tell that Blackmore, during a short break before the last of the planned dates in 75', informed the management about his decision to leave. Thus why they decided to bring in the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio to capture the these final Mark III shows in Graz, Saarbrücken and Paris.

However, the Graz versions of "Smoke on The Water" and "Space Truckin" are perhaps not quite as great? Glenn Hughes goes absolutely bananas during "Smoke on The Water" (many over the top high-pitch screams and wailing) and the inclusion of "Georgia On My Mind" is slightly out of place. "You Fool No One", comes with its solo intact and Blackmore include bits and pieces from songs later found on the Rainbow debut album. The twenty minute or so version of "Space Truckin" is frankly just long and boring enough to have most people including yours truly running for the exit door (the rather short inclusion of Child In Time is interesting though and the same goes for Hughes' bass-work). But, the pure energy of the first five tracks. Excellent.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

FLYING COLORS: "Second Nature"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Flying Colors' debut album - the proper shock to the system. Full of great songs, prog-rock passages and lovely soft-rock harmonies in the vein of The Beatles, Supertramp and Steely Dan. We expected nothing less from their sophomore release, "Second Nature", and one quick glance at the band members of this super-group is frankly enough to have you drooling like a rabid mad bulldog. But are they capable of living up to the hype with their second studio album at the Mascot Label? Well... yeah. No doubt. But, it's different from your ordinary prog album.

I've been playing this disc for a couple of weeks and it's quite the roller coaster ride at first with many outrageous passages and keyboard/guitar interludes. They still blend complex prog-rock with sweet and fluffy pop choruses and it's definitely something out of the ordinary. You need to spend time with this platter as it's progressive music in its original sense and order. Instead of playing the safe card of recording just another Flying Color debut, you'll find plenty of weird choices and experiential arrangements.

In truth. "Second Nature" is basically the hybrid-project where complex prog meets pop meets post-grunge groove. I guess it's simply just ART-Rock as there's plenty of space and breathing room for the musicians to roam. You'll even forgive Casey for watching the first Shrek movie one too many times and thus being the Hallelujah wannabee vocalist (the song originally recorded by Leonard Cohen). "Peaceful Harbor" get most if its inspiration from the song. Not to mention that "The Fury of My Love" is coming across like pompous prog lite power ballad where above mentioned song meets Bon Jovi's Never Say Goodbye. Weird but good stuff.

"A Place In Your World" is grand and powerful music with old school keyboard work by Neal Morse (think Gentle Giant, YES) and the extremely catchy refrain. "One Love Forever" folk-rock meets prog and the three piece epic tune, "Cosmic Symphony", and especially part 3 (Pound For Pound) sounds more like something The Band (classic act of the late 60s/early 70s) would record rather than your Prog super-group? Final verdict: The note by note work of Steve Morse, top notch as always and all the musicians of Flying Color are great anyhow. Recommended to the open-minded music fan. Obviously progressive rock, but you really get to experience a fresh new taste for each and every piece of the pie.

STATUS QUO: The Frantic Four's Final Fling

Rating: Live
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Frantic Four's Final Fling? The final show of the final tour. Ever? Have we heard it all before? Yeah. It's merely been 30 years since Status Quo first decided to do their first farewell concert and tour (1984). The 12 bar boogie UK band was back on stage again in 1986. However, this is what most people regard as the proper line-up of the band with original drummer John Coghlan (he decided to leave the band just prior to their 20th anniversary in 1982), original bassist Alan Lancaster and the same ugly geezers upfront (Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt).

In fact. The three of Coghlan, Lancaster, Rossi, started playing together in 1962 as The Spectres. They took on a second guitarist (Parfitt) in 1966 and changed the name to Status Quo, a byword for uncomplicated rock n roll and boogie for years and the rest is as they say history. Listening to this 2CD live recording from Dublin in April 2014 and it's quite easy to understand why people think of this as Ultimate Quo. It's loud, raw, and energetic boogie rock n roll with plenty of riffs and bags of attitude. Not a single note of the at times sappy melodies of the eighties, nineties, or any other era than the seventies for that matter.

If you came here looking for the same old standards and play list as always keep walking as you merely get "Down Down" and "Caroline" in the set. Instead it's tracks such as "Junior's Walkin", "Backwater", "Rain", or why not "Big Fat Mama" that shines through with flying colors. It's heavier than your poppy Quo era and it's definitely hard rock with stronger material than any Ted Nugent live album (well, they sort of belong to the same blues category of the 70s).

Friday, September 5, 2014

BIG COUNTRY: "Steeltown" 2CD Deluxe

Rating: Re-issue
Label: Universal/Mercury 2014 (1984)
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Steeltown, the death of industrial U.K. plus all the mood swings of the politics in the early/mid 80s. The evil one a.k.a. Thatcher, the miner's strike, recession, civil unrest, the trade unions, Falklands, the death of the coal industry, the anti-nuclear movement, racist coppers, football hooligans, fish and chips, and the sheer agony of the cold war. British Steel, no longer relevant to the modern world as the workers found themselves unemployed in the eighties depression.

Plenty of groups (U2, The Alarm, New Model Army, Simple Minds, The Clash, etc.) were strongly influenced by the politics as they became the soundtrack of the era. The Scots of Big Country had a slightly different approach to their sound as they continued to explore their Celtic-tingled melodies on their second album from the year of 1984. Big arena rock, huge drums, heavily processed guitars and effect, mandolin, and the close to overkill use of the e-bow (a device which allows your guitar to sound more like strings or synthesizer). To be completely honest. Their debut album, "The Crossing", featured even more of the e-bow.

Indeed. It's all right here on the 2CD Deluxe edition and it's all good! Big Country and their first two albums are very much essential stuff in any serious record collection in my humble opinion. Recorded at ABBA's studio (Polar Studios) in Stockholm, Sweden, "Steeltown" entered the U.K. albums chart at #1 and featured three top 30 hit singles. Yet, it's the forgotten gem? It's basically 10 tracks of fun Alt./Arena Rock/Celtic/New Wave/ U.K. music of its time and era. Disc two: 17 tracks of A-Sides/B-Sides/demos and rough mixes. Three different versions of Wonderland. B-sides such as "Giant", "Prairie Rose", "Belief Is The Small Man", "Bass Dance", "Winter Sky", etc.

Singer/guitarist Stuart Adamson (formerly of Skids) fought alcoholism, mental and emotional health for years. In November 2001, Adamson disappeared and was eventually found dead in a hotel room in Honolulu, Hawaii on 16 December 2001 (RIP). Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

VANITY BLVD – “Wicked Temptation”

Rating: RRR
Label: Noisehead Records
Review By: Alan Holloway

Here’s one that’s been stuck in the ‘to be reviewed’ file on my computer for a few months, so apologies for all those fans of female fronted crunchy hard rock that have been waiting. Vanity Blvd take a pretty basic formula of sexy sleazy big hook rock and roll, throw in a nicely spicy lead singer and see what happens.

“Dirty Rat” opens the album, and certainly nails the band’s colours to the mast efficiently. The riffs are solid, the rhythm upbeat and the vocals sleazy without being cartoonish. There’s hints of the Runaways in the attitude and delivery of singer Anna Savage, and the daftly named Traci Trexx (seriously, dude, double Xs went out in the nineties) keeps it tight and rather old school on the guitar. It’s good, sure, and infectious, but nothing you haven’t heard before. The feeling of déjà vu continues throughout the eleven tracks, mainly because Vanity Blvd cling to their formula like it’s a piece of driftwood in the middle of the Atlantic. There’s a few Motley Crue like ruffs spicing things up, but “Wicked Temptation” never really takes off, although it cruises very nicely.

Vanity Blvd have made a solid album here, with songs that will certainly appeal to fans of sleaze and glam rock who want something with a bit of a crunch to get between their teeth. The only drawback is the lack of any real progression or variety apart from the nice power ballad “Falling Down”, and let’s be honest and say it’s a rare album that doesn’t have a ballad on it somewhere. There’s definite promise here, and enough talent to ensure a decent number of satisfied customers even at this early stage. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

SKINTRADE: "Refueled"

Rating: RRR

Label: AOR Heaven
Review: Rich Dillon

It’s always rather interesting when a band’s release is billed as a reformation and comeback album, yet you’ve never heard of them before this.  Being from Canada that was the case for me with Swedish rockers Skintrade and their February/March 2014 released Refueled album.  The band was originally formed in 1992 issuing two albums, Skintrade in 1993 and Roach Powder in 1995.  Four of the five original members, Matti Alfonzetti (vocals/guitar), Stefan Bergstrom (guitar, backing vocals), Hakan Calmroth (bass) and Hakan Persson (drums, backing vocals) reformed in 2011 due in part to demand from the fans.  Only George Bravo (guitars, backing vocals) was absent from the reformation causing Alfonzetti to take over Bravo’s guitar duties.

With uninspiring album artwork, the twelve track “comeback” album starts off crashing with the high energy of “Monster”.  The album follows suit filled with fast paced straight ahead hard rock anthems like “Liar” and “Pay In Blood”.  “Hardcore MF Heartattack” is the standout track for me here with it’s breakneck pace (your head should be banging and neck definitely sore by this point of the album).  “Close My Eyes” begins slower and more melodic before erupting with a grinding riff before the one minute mark and “Getting Away With Murder” starts out with a throbbing talkbox riff.  By the time I get to “Mountain” the songs are beginning to get lost in one another and sounding very much the same, even the ballady “Been to the Bottom” fails to hold my interest.  “Worse Than Wasted” (possibly a theme song for my younger days) followed by “Dying In Your Arms” perks me up again, but its short lived as “Wild One” is probably the worst cut in the collection.  The final track, “Look Me In the Eye”, shuts things down on a high note as this track could have replaced a few others earlier in the roster.

Definitely some great songs and potential for the future….let’s see what you got next Skintrade.

KIRK: "Masquerade"

Rating: RRR

Label: Mausoleum 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Switzerland’s Kirk has issued their sophomore effort, Masquerade, more than a decade after the debut album.  They originally formed in the late 90’s resulting in a 2003 debut recording, The Final Dance, but losing the drummer to health concerns forced them into hiatus.  Self described as melodic heavy metal with progressive influences, the songs are epic with big soaring vocals and many tempo changes that just cause me to get lost as I listened to the lead track, “Devil’s Claw”.  “Supersonic Speed” was much along the same lines and I would imagine that Kirk would appeal to those who are rabidly in the Dream Theater camp as opposed to someone like me who pitches his tent on the fringe outskirts of that style.  With that being said, the album takes a turn and track #3, “Masquerade”, is an awesome song, more straight forward with a great opening riff and catchy chorus.  “Eternity” screams of Queensryche at points throughout its 6:40 runtime, as does “Fight or Die”.  “Nothing Else But Lies” again showcases vocalist Thomi Rauch’s Geoff Tate (in his younger days) like similarities and features another melodic vocal chorus.  “Time” leads us through to the slower paced beginnings of “Tragedy” and  Masquerade closes up nicely with the three pack of “Face in the Crowd”, “The End of the Universe” and “Fallen Angel”.

Strange for an album for me to dislike the first two tracks, but persevere through the recording and end up loving the rest!  Top tracks “Masquerade”, “Nothing Else But Lies” and “The End of the Universe”.

NIVA: ”Incremental IV”

Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Tony Niva and his merry men have recorded their fourth album of pink and fluffy metal. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being pink and fluffy! ”True Metal” people will despise me for calling this ”metal” at all and maybe they’ve got a point, but frankly I don’t give a damn. This is Cotton Candy Metal, sticky sweet and lightweight, but delicious and addictive! :)

Okay, I got carried away a bit but there’s some truth to the nonsense above. Niva’s music is indeed sweet, airy and instantly likable. Tony’s high-pitched vocals may not be for everyone, but in my opinion they really suit these songs. They just wouldn’t be the same without his soaring vocals.

So what do we have here? Well, there’s plenty of uptempo material with catchy melodies, a few ballads and songs that are somewhere in between. My favorite track is ”Coming Back To You”, the album’s closing number which is a mid-tempo track with some surprising elements. It features probably the heaviest riffs on the album, yet the melodies are pure pop or even schlager (is it ”dansbandmusik” in Sweden?). The song brings back memories of my childhood, when occasionally I had to endure Finnish schlager music at home or in the family car… I still have no desire to listen to Kake Randelin or the likes, but apparently the kind of melodies they were singing appeal to me when given a hard rock ”makeover”. I’m  slightly worried.

Other highlights include the high-energy, uptempo tracks like ”Crush”, ”Magnitude” (the previous album’s long-lost title track?) and ”Lost And Found”. I also like the gloriously melodic ballad ”Travel Back In Time”, ”Only You”, ”The Reason Why”… actually the only song I tend to skip is the second ballad ”All By Myself”, which is just a bit too sweet even for an old wimp rock fan like me. Granted, some of the faster tracks tend to sound a bit too similar to each other, but at least they’re all pretty good.


Rating: RRRR
Label: Avenue Of Allies
Review By: Alan Holloway

Okay, so you may not have heard of Rik Priem, but he was the guitarist in Frozen Rain, and is joined on his debut solo/project by that band’s well respected vocalist Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz. Priem himself hasn’t been around much, but it’s instantly obvious that he’s certainly spend more than a few years learning how to play the shit out of an electric guitar.

The album kicks off with the now obligatory intro piece, although this one’s nearer three minutes than the usual one and is, of course, eminently skippable. Aside from this there’s twelve tracks, all of which have a fair bit of meat on them. This means a fifty minutes plus album, and as usual with such length there’s an overall feel that it’s about two tracks too long. This is not to say there’s any rubbish here, because Rik Priem and the lads have produced a very strong debut indeed.

In general the music is hard and heavy with a strong melodic base, propped up by Schulz powerful vocals and Priem’s deft guitar work. Things could have been very middle of the road, as there’s a lot of this sort of stuff around, but the quality of songwriting shines through at every opportunity, throwing serious riffs and catchy choruses all over the place, as well as a few sneaky slips into power prog territory. I have a special fondness for the instrumental track ‘Chameleon’, which showcases Priem’s talent beautifully without resorting to being another dull widdle-fest.

I’m reminded of some of Malmsteen’s solo work, along with plenty of other late 80’s and early 90s bands who produced great and often under appreciated albums. It’s always good when someone manages to merge properly powerful heavy rock with genuinely catchy AOR without sacrificing either style at the same time. Although I feel the name is a bit rubbish, what’s inside more than makes up for it, and this is certainly worth a listen regardless of what type of rock music you are into.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SECRET: ”The End Of The Road”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Melodic Rock Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Remember the Spanish AOR band 91 Suite? Jesús Espín (vocals) and Iván González (guitar) have ended their long hiatus and formed a new melodic rock band called Secret. Their rather pessimistically titled debut album ”The End Of The Road” has been getting some serious spinning in our household lately, and I guess it’s safe to say that it won’t be the end of the road for these guys.

Fans of 91 Suite should pick this up, because the musical style of Secret is quite similar. There are a couple of interesting twists and turns though. Let’s go thru the tracks one by one.

Opener ”Here With Me” made me think that Secret might be a completely different animal to 91 Suite. It’s an uptempo, hard rocking track that reminds me of a mix of Winger, Extreme and Van Halen. Guitarist Iván González is on fire and throws in some serious axemanship, yet the song doesn’t turn into a shredfest. There’s plenty of melody and hooks in it. It’s one of my favorites.

”Since I Fell For You” is a more AOR-type of a song and very good at that, very Journeyesque. ”Just To Hear You Say” is an AOR song too, but there are some country elements in it, kinda like a warning of what’s to come…

”Give Up The Fight” starts with a heavy riff, as if to wash away the taste of country guitars of the previous song. It also features Nick Workman of Vega on guest vocals. A good one.

The ballad ”Trust In Someone” sounds like an Aerosmith ballad from the nineties, not that special for me but good if you like that kind of stuff. ”I Believe In Love” is a decent AOR song, but maybe a little ”AOR by numbers”. ”When You Really Love Someone” is probably the most ”shocking” song on the album, as the country elements are pushed to the foreground. It’s basically an ok song, but with the slide guitars and a sugary chorus it kind of sticks out like an abandoned stetson in a cactus. And the guitar solo… way too hillbilly for me.

”Peace Of Mind” more than makes up for the country assault. It’s a killer AOR track with touches of early Bon Jovi and possibly my favorite track of the album. ”Wherever You Go” is a decent ballad, while ”Out Of My Life” is another AOR gem with cool keyboards and a late eighties’ vibe. ”Bring You Down” has more of a modern rock style with a slower chorus than the verses - something that hardly ever works for me. The album closing track ”Angeline” is a ballad that reminds me of Stryper at first, but then turns into something different. Stylish guitars from González again.

So there… it’s not the end of the road, but maybe the band is at a crossroads. Should they explore the more country’ish direction or stick to AOR, or maybe go for a harder sound á la ”Here With Me”? The country road could be the most lucrative, but for completely selfish reasons I hope they don’t choose that… I’d be happy with a mix of AOR and harder edged stuff. Even a little bit of that country stuff will do, as long as they don’t start rapping!


Rating: RRRR

Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Keyboards! Keyboards! More keyboards! The most keyboard-drenched AOR album of 2014 could very well be the new Miss Behaviour one. And it’s not a bad thing! Add some smooth but rockin’ guitars and high-pitched  vocals and you’ll get the idea. With a sound that reminds me of such acts as  Bad Habit, Return, Fortune and Brother Firetribe, the guys in Miss Behaviour have come up with the best album of their career so far.

I really like the fact that Miss Behaviour haven’t taken the easy road of merely trying to rewrite hits from the past. There’s a nice amount of originality in these songs, both musically and lyrically. For example, it’s quite refreshing to listen to an AOR album that has at least half of its’ songs titled somewhat uniquely. Okay, there’s ”Edge Of The World” and ”Don’t Let It End” and a couple of others that have been used before a few times, but I can’t recall hearing a song called ”Corporation Arms” or ”Love Reflector” before. What’s more, the band’s melodies aren’t completely recycled material, yet they possess enough familiarity to be instantly likable.

My favorite song seems to change every time I listen to this album, but at the moment it might be the power-pomp ballad ”Corporation Arms” or the title track. I actually like them all, although on more than one occasion I get the feeling that the band is somehow holding back. With majestic keyboards parping away, the choruses could just as well match the pomp and glory. Now there are times when they are just too nice, too polite. No reason to be polite when it comes to choruses - we want ’em explosive and over the top! But anyway, this is a very good album.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FROSKULL: "Froskull"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Indie/Groovestand 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Surprise CD of the month! Froskull and their absolutely great "space-age indie Prog" from the heart and home of Country/USA (Nashville) which includes retro elements resembling Yes, Rush, ELP, and King Crimson, but with dramatic changes, fusion moments, and electronic undercurrents 'ala Peter Gabriel's solo albums and the hint of Japan (the band and not the continent). Indeed. The brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Stephen Rockford Hammond (SRH from now on) and Froskull has shared the stage with a spectrum of artists from Nashville Country stars Chris Young and Lee Brice to Derek St.Holmes? Anyhow, it's simply just the exciting project as their self-titled debut album goes through several different stages of progressive as well as experimental rock.

Seriously people. Don't let the bloody awful artwork scare you away (see pic up, right) as this is far from the dodgy music as the CD cover might suggest. Vocal harmonies and compositions are huge and inventive and the overall great production sits nicely in between the dynamics of the arrangements and its analog fatness and sound. The guitar work of SRH hit most of all the notes, complex scales and arpeggios of the traditional prog as well as the more shredding approach of the 80's guitar hero. At times the A+ work of the very classy cross-work project and vocals are clearly inspired by the emotional mix of Jon Anderson (Yes), Peter Gabriel (Genesis) and Robert Smith (The Cure).

Opener, "A Thousand Years", technical and refreshing Progressive Rock. "Wait", friggin' marvelous music in the style of Peter Gabriel meets 80's YES meets the great sound of the Froskull. "Alabaster", super impressive instrumental piece with acoustic and electric guitar, bass-work 'ala Tony Franklin and driving percussion's that gives it the royal treatment. "Should Have Known", mainly Prog, but also bits and pieces of fusion, 80's acts such as Japan (bass-lines), and simply just the fun mix of elements and styles. "The Road To Sto-vo-ker" if Coheed and Cambria ever decided to go all fantasy and prog-rock and record the album with YES. "Report From Ganymedia", more of the great fantasy, Art-rock of the 70's with the modern touch. "Bardo 3" with its eight part vocals, deep synth and bass, liturgical singing, and layers upon layers of voices, takes you on a progressive rock journey to Japan. "Perihelion", diverse, catchy, complex, and highly technical stuff.

Final verdict. I can't praise this enough and it's not far away from the 5th R as in rating. Twelve tracks of pure joy intended for the open-minded (prog) rock fan. Here's something for the Euro labels to sign up asap. Check out soundclips at Amazon or links below. Highly Recommended!