Wednesday, December 2, 2020

ALIEN: "Into The Future"

Rating: RRRr
Label: AORHeaven 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Into The Future, No One Can Hear You Scream". Yeah. It's a different take on the classic poster tagline from the first ALIEN movie. But it perfectly captures the feel of the new release by the former AOR act. The crew of Jim Jidhed (vocals), Tony Borg (guitars) and Toby Tarrach (drums) are the sole survivors on the Swedish spaceship as they narrowly escaped the dodgy self-destruction sequence by the skin of their teeth, but unbeknownst to the world, the band of Alien had stowed away the AOR on their escape shuttle for a possible return trip to Earth. In other words. This record is taking the band from being merely an AOR band to more of a hard rock band with a heavier sound and more guitars.

Creating "Into The Future" was really a journey back to the days of being free in a musical way to experiment with arrangement, sounds, melodies and just having a blast while doing it. To be perfectly honest, they've gone back to their own roots and in this case it's Deep Purple and as the disoriented ALIEN slowly began regaining its senses, you can't help thinking it's also a tribute to the past as they're on a space Rock station many lightyears away from the rest of the human race. It's basically the Europe story, you need to seperate the two versions of the band (post and pre reunion) and you won't find anything remotely pink and fluffy 'ala their 1988 release. Jidhed is really pushing the boundaries and definitely not keeping it safe and boring on the album. Wave goodbye to Perry-ism and say hello to melodic metal and Biff Byford!? Seriously. It's in your face and not the soft spoken voice. Tony Borg, the passive-aggressive, six-string bender, and you'll find plenty of licks and tricks of highest order on this platter. Yep. There's Blackmore-moves, but also the rather modern metal approach to several riffs and passages.

The chugga-chugga riff and scream, start up "You Still Burn", and it's influenced? by 90's Purple at their most aggressive mode and not like their latest album. "Night Of Fire" show a little Celtic feel and the result may reek of Gary Moore and Saxon. "War Scars", display the metal side of Alien and it's once again Saxon in the back of my mind. Powerful drumming by Toby Tarrach and quite the shock to the system. "What Are We Fighting For" an upbeat number in the style of Purple, with a galloping groove, Hammond, and flashy guitar solo by Borg. The same goes for the title track which speak of and I quote, "we're movin' on and salute what's been done in the past", end quote. Indeed. They're looking into the future and have no interest whatsoever in playing the pure AOR of their first couple of albums. They wanted a heavier guitar sound and more heavier riffs and that's exactly what you'll hear on this album. There's a couple of catchy softies such as "Time Is Right", "Freedom Wind", "Fallin", however, Alien is no longer trapped inside the air ventilation system. -"Oh God! It's Moving Right Towards You! Move! Get Out Of There! Behind You! Move!". Final Verdict: It's Alien, Purple, Saxon, with a modern rock twist and not too shabby at all. Alien at Facebook

NEPTUNE: "Northern Steel"

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

Blimey. Let's see if we can try and get the basic idea of Neptune. One of those cult 'never-recorded-an-album' Swedish acts of the early 80's and fromed by Roland on bass, Tommy on drums and Ray Alex (Glory) played guitar and handled the vocals. They played rock music inspired by big arena band as Judas Priest, Saxon, and Iron Maiden and was much more of a visual appearance as Heavy Load and Manowar with the ancient Vikings in mind. They recorded plenty of demos between the years of 1981-86 and the band featured members such as Björn Melander (Gotham City, Mogg), guitarist Jan Granvik (Glory, Grave, Glory Bells) and drummer Mats 'Driver' Förare (Glory). The last show ever was in the autumn of 86 and shortly after vocalist Ray Alex decided to join Granvik and Förare in the band Glory and the trio recorded the melodic classic of 'Danger In This Game' (1989).

In 2018, Neptune and Sonic Age/Cult Metal Classics, released the old recordings and demos from the 80s. Ray Alex sadly passed away the same year (RIP) and his brother Row has taken over the role as lead vocalist for "Northern Steel". It's newly written songs as well as the old 80s demos now re-recorded of course it's sort of the concept album about Swedish Vikings in the 800s century. In short, the plot is about how they did whatever they could to seize the Nordic steel needed for the final battle? Yeah. Very much Heavy Load, Manowar, Hammerfall, Sabaton, only not quite as over the top or everlasting.

The band history and past members are actually more interesting than the actual final product of Neptune. The opening intro of "The Prophecy", kick-off the corny plastic sword and shield Viking Metal feel of the album and tracks such as "Viking Stone" or "Ruler Of The Sea", are hardly groundbreaking and not enough metal to be Bathory and their viking saga. Many tracks are lost inbetween two worlds where thundering drums (not really) meet basic bludgeon and juvenile lyrics. It's the neat starting point if you fancy simplistic viking rock from Sweden.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

PHIL VINCENT: "Today Tomorrow Yesterday"

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

"Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday" - is that a threat or the warning? or simply just an honest expression or the cold hard fact? What's the difference anyhow? We are all buggered since it's Phil Vincent's 22nd solo album and he simply won't go away no matter what you throw at him. Hairspray cans, bananas, grenades, simply won't do the trick anymore as the Melodic Rocker is the last man standing after the total atomic annihilation (I've been playing way too much Fallout).

Some of his solo albums and good, some are not, and others are just too vivid and scewed. This belong to the latter category and it's almost like if Phil's been going bezerk in the studio and throwing any musical genre to the wall/tracklisting just to see what sticks? One minute it's soft yacht-rock, the other punk, the next Heavy Metal, AOR, NWOBH, 70's Queen, argh, it's really difficult to keep track of the moodswings and it can make you feel exhausted. I believe it's the old saying of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't', only this time it's both at the same time? How could you otherwise explain the anger of ehem, yes, "Feel Your Anger" and the ballads "Loss (Part 1) – Hole In My Heart" and "Loss (Part 2) – One Day, We'll Meet Again". Part 1 is indeed slighly rockier where as Part 2 is gentle piano tinker and soft rock.

The 22nd album leads to several questions such as: Who are Vincent trying to compete with here? What market is he aiming for? Are we supposed to be confused? Sure, rock legends such as Queen, could most of the time, but not always, get away with constant tempo and genre changes. But that's mostly down to their wicked melody and vocal arrangements and the fact that 4 different musicians/writers did their own magical thing. Here you have one slightly mad and outrageous indie rocker going all-in with a pair of twos'. Final verdict: Not all bad, but not enough of quality to explain the moodswings.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

ELLEFSON: "No Cover"

Rating: Covers
Label: earMusic/Edel 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Straight from the worried MasterMind of the classy Megadeth bassist David Ellefson: There's a lockdown! There's a lockdown! What to do? What to do? We have our new studio album coming out early 2021. How about if get together a bunch of Heavy musicians and record the cover album, no, make that a double album, consisting of old 70's and 80's hard rock, and let's see if we can try and make them sound as 'so-so' as possible? Mission completed! 19 tracks of friggin' great songs of Metal's past and not a single one of them stand a chance against the superior original version(s). That's not just Ellefson, the same goes for pretty much all covers, the originals are winning approx. 91% of the time.

'No Cover' features covers of 19 classic tracks from iconic metal monsters such as Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Motörhead, Def Leppard (see artcover), AC/DC, W.A.S.P., Queen, Ozzy Osbourne, Sweet, KISS, Cheap Trick (twice), etc. The David Ellefson band consisting of Thom Hazaert (vocals), Andy Martongelli and Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (guitars), and Paolo Caridi (drums) are responsible for the majority of instrumental work and vocals and the guests are merely doing the duets, harmonies or fills. The rest of the musicians? The average metal fan probably have to google most of them as they've never heard of the Frank, Opus or Dirk, etc. Charlie Benante (Anthrax), Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Al Jourgensen, Mark Slaughter, the most famous guests on this platter.

"Freewheel Burning" is actually one of my all-time favorite Metal anthems and the same goes for entire album of Defenders of the Faith. The raspy, barbwire vocals by Hazaert and Jason McMaster (do the google, kids) are however no match for/to Rob Halford and no fit for that matter. Jason (Dangerous Toys) does also "Riff Raff" by AC/DC and that's his kind of melody and range. He's basically the 80's dirt bike at full speed and you'll find gravel and mud all over the tracks. Hazaert is sort of right on the money with "L.O.V.E. Machine". The old W.A.S.P. stonker goes down smoothly like a shot of whiskey with the hint of 12 gauge shotgun. Seriously. The vocals are almost over the top (barbwire-wise). "Tear It Loose" (Twisted Sister) and "Love Me Like a Reptile" (Motörhead) are a couple of basic meat and potato tracks and not too shabby. Why the hell would anyone cover "Beth" considering all the great KISS songs? Tyson Leslie on keyboards (kids, google) and Hazaert does his worst impression of the metal crooner. Horrible. "Sweet FA" by Sweet featuring Todd Kerns (google?) is kind of meh, and again, the ballad of "Love Hurts", not even the Nazareth original. Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" is such a cool track in the first place and "Not Fragile" (BTO) deserve credit. Best of the bunch. The Def Leppard track of "Wasted" add a lot of power and stamina and you definitely need to check out their debut again. Biggest surprise? The complete lack of Bay Area Speed or Thrash and you won't find a single track on the record. Final verdict: 'Do Not Cover'- what your trusty old radiator would say. I'd say it's a continental breakfast and not the full English.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

FOREIGNER: "Can't Slow Down Deluxe Edition 2CD"

Rating: Compilation
Label: earMusic/Edel 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Ho! Ho! Ho! You know it's almost Christmas when it's time for yet another Foreigner compilation or in this case the 2CD Deluxe Digipak Edition of their album "Can't Slow Down". Indeed. You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout. I'm telling you why. Santa 'Mick' Jones is coming to town. He's making a list. And checking it twice? You better have your 80's spandex and hair and be darn nice. "Can't Slow Down" was originally released in 2009, 15 years after Foreigner's previous studio album. It marked the Melodic Rock comeback of the year, praised by fans and critics alike. The first to feature vocalist Kelly Hansen of Hurricane and Unruly Child fame and he definitely delivered first class vocals thoughout.

After the reformation of the band in 2004, Jones felt it was time to chance an album. He contacted his longtime writing and production partner, Marti Frederiksen(Aerosmith, Buckcherry, Sheryl Crow, Daughtry, Faith Hill, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Carrie Underwood, Orianthi, Outlaw Blood, etc.) to start putting something together and they eventually co-wrote the album with the help of Hansen. The opening title track, "Can't Slow Down", one of the better uptempo songs by the band and just outside my personal Top-10. Biting guitar work, powerhouse vocals, and the very catchy refrain. It marks the start of the new Foreigner and they simply can't slow down no matter age, the amount of compilations, or according to lyric 'how the world may change'. The latter may not apply to reality anymore, considering the world wide lockdown. Anyhow. The ballad of "In Pieces" glow and spark like a radioactive cat in the dark and it's yet another classy composition. The same goes for "When It Comes To Love" and it's nearly power ballads overkill as it's pink and fluffy to the extreme. But darn good, darn good, and the saxophone cries silently in the night. "Living In A Dream" is yet another homerun and the first 4 (pun intended!) songs are excellent. Actually. Make that five as "I Can't Give Up" is yet another classy ballad. The underrated AOR release and it became a chart album in several countries, notably the UK and Germany. Something like "Angel Tonight" truly is AORmageddon! They did however mess up the tracklisting as you'll find the live version of "I Wan't To Know What Love Is" as #14 on disc: 1.

Exclusive to this 2CD Deluxe Digipak Edition is the second CD, "B-Sides And Extra Tracks" which includes a selected set of Foreigner's biggest hits as well as beloved fan favourites - all recorded in energetic live versions of which some will be released the first time on CD. It's Cold As Ice, Say You Will, Urgent, Juke Box Hero, Feels Like The First Time, Starrider, but also a couple of not-so-standards, At War With The World and Headknocker. There's also the live orchestral version of "The Flame Still Burns", originally co-written by Mick Jones and Frederiksen for the 1998 U.K. cult movie, 'Still Crazy', where it was performed by 'Strange Fruit' and Jimmy Nail. My fave spoof-rock movie. This collection is topped of by an exclusive Radio Edit of "Can't Slow Down"'s lead single 'In Pieces'. CD2 will also become available as a Strictly Limited Heavyweight Double LP Edition on transparent orange vinyl. Final verdict: Do you need another Foreigner comp? Let's all pray and hope for a peaceful and safe Christmas to the longing moments and signature song of "I'll Be Home Tonight" - tell me you will be waiting, it's been way too long. You've been on my mind and my heart has been aching ever since I've been gone'. [Release date: 27th of November]. Foreigner at Facebook

Saturday, November 14, 2020

MARK KELLY'S MARATHON (Marillion)

Rating: RRRRr
Label: earMusic/Edel 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"We think you'd like our planet. We've got Richard Strauss and The Beatles and Scooby Doo. Who else can say that?". Mark Kelly's Marathon is a race for humanity and we're running out of time? The brand new Progressive Rock Project by the Marillion keyboarder is acually not the concept album as such. Several different subjects such as flight, science fiction, grief, love, abscence, biological science vs. free will, etc. all come together under one grand umbrella like structure where the ivory tinkler crosses over stories and genres with ease and grand arrangements. 30 years in the making? The result is astonishing and it's actually the team effort consisting of Oliver M. Smith (vocalist), Pete 'Woody' Wood (guitar) John Cordy (guitar), Henry Rogers (drums) and his nephew Conal Kelly (bass). M Kelly is indeed the maker of songs, however, Guy Vickers is the fellow behind the lyrics and quite the vivid storyteller.

The booklet hold extensive liner notes about the stories as well as lyrics of course. Recorded in lockdown as they couldn't get together in a studio, each member was responsible for coming up with and recording his own parts and was his own engineer and to a lesser extent producer. Nonetheless. The sound is crystal clear and surrounded with space. Smith (Countermine), the excellent vocalist and sort of the cross between UK legends such as Peter Gabriel, Simon Le Bon, and the hint of Paul Young. The latter from Sad Cafe of course and not the 80s crooner a'la where-ever-I-lay-my-hat. The DVD of their first meeting and playing together as a band in July 28th of 2020. 'Don't film me bringing in my own gear' the famous Mark Kelly quote while Ollie go absolutely apeshit over Conal Kelly's double-neck bass guitar and thinks it's very AC/DC? Yeah. We don't know either. Singers are not musicians? lol. Not fair, he's got the tamburine and constantly worried about studio temperature. To be honest. They're sweating like pigs in the studio. Are we playing in E Minor or G? It's not always easy to be the progressive rock guitarist, simply ask Woody. It's nice to have the DVD of all the music and keep in mind that it's all been recorded during one hot summer day in I would guess rather smelly studio of Peter Gabriel's. The behind the scenes moments are a bit on the short side though.

CD: The superb +10 minute long three-part opener of "Amelia" is the story of pilot and feminist Earhart as she died while flying solo across the world. "When I Fell" is painfully beautiful and moody and speak of love and grief and the lines of "I watched the light fade from your eyes" are going to stick with you for quite some time. Six minutes in length goes by 'just like that' as the Welsh comedian would say (RIP). "This Time" display a love for 80s Pop and there's a hint of both Duran Duran and Mike and the Mechanics. "Puppets" is actually very poppy too and darn catchy I may add. Marillion bandmate Steve Rothery contributed the lead guitar work and it's epic Progressive Rock with plenty of space, Mark Kelly's keymargeddon, and moments of Marillion and Sad Cafe. "Twenty Fifty One", a superb 15-minute sci-fi journey that is Kelly at his most adventurous side and yet pretty much old skool Progressive Rock, where part:2, "Arrival", is just the perfect mix of Marillion, Genesis, Peter Gabriel music. Final Verdict: Marathon is a direct punch to the solar plexus as you can't breathe and is often in a lot of Progressive pain. But you'll be darn glad to have experience the hit. Highly Recommended! [Release date: 28th of November]. Mark Kelly's Marathon at Facebook

Thursday, November 12, 2020

LEAVES' EYES: "The Last Viking"

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

The Last Viking is from Germany and not Sweden or Scandinavia according to the symphonic power metal group and their latest blood offering to Thor and Odin. It's not Midvinterblot (mid winter sacrifice) until December though and thus why the Christians came up with the fake "birthday" of Jesus in the attempt to kill off all other religious belief in Northern Europe. It obviously worked as people now all around the world believe "Christmas" to be the birth day of Jesus. The truth is scholors don't know when he was born (the actual date or year for that matter) as the Bible doesn't say and it's definitely not December or the same date as the old norse tradition and offering. Christmas was chosen as a celebratory day because of the pagan holiday that celebrated the winter solstice and the sacrifice.

Oh, Thor and Odin, please forgive the people of Leaves' Eyes as they don't know what they do. Their more than an hour long foray or if you prefer saga? goes on and on about about golden horns and war of kings, but still not sure where the last viking would fit in? The narrator, yes, plenty of talky and choirs to be found, wouldn't let us know and the lead vocals of Elina Siirala are indeed impressive but hardly informative. Grand orchestral arrangements and the chanting anthem of "Varangians" include both flutes and operatic vocals.All dandy and nice but as soon as Alexander "Cookie Monster" Krull begins growling and howling like a tone deaf and rather monotone fog signal, the Last Viking exit the battlefield and leave behind plastic sword and sheild.

I have to give Leaves' Eyes some well deserved credit for sounding quirky and slightly off-base, as I've never heard lyrics in the vein of anything quite like this viking saga before. An odd mix of symphonic metal and disturbing subjects which provides a seriously not-of-this-earth sonic soundscape and the clean vocals of Elina are a saving grace. They may however sound (music-wise) too much like all the other bands of the genre (Epica, Nightwish, Within Temptation, etc.) and the songs are at times pretty catchy but oh-so predictible. Final verdict: Meh! Double meh and a whole lot of 'we've heard it all before'.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

BLACK PAISLEY: "Rambler"

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

Keeping up with the Paisley's? Black Paisley and their power line-up of Stefan Blomqvist (vocals, guitar), Jan Emanuelsson (bass), and returning drummer Robert Karaszi (from the debut 'Late Bloomer') are now blessed with a new lead guitarist, producer, the former ELECTRIC BOYS member Franco Santunione. His idols are Joe Perry and Jimmy Page and not really the fast shredding monster. It's emotional-high-flying blues work throughout the record. On their third effort, "Rambler", the boyos has managed to change the musical direction a bit more towards heavier guitar-based hard rock but keeping the big choruses. Everything is better, bigger, bolder, than ever before. Not to mention catchier. In fact. This records' got more hooks than all the pirates of the seven seas. The hooks are flying across the room as I'm typing this and it's darn difficult to keep track on the razor sharp bastards. Add to this: Blomqvist sings/sounds better than ever and the rhythm section is tighter than Beyonces' pants and you're in for a rocking good time.

Black Paisley have opted to craft songs which run the full gamut of emotions and classic rock styles. Trying to scare us away with "Damned" and lyrics in the vein of "close the doors the storm is coming", the opening number set off the occasionally floaty guitar line and settles on quirky rock that could find allegiance with the strange and darn right motley crowd. It certainly isn't as immediate as the rest of the album's tracks and it might actually be the worst composition on the record and it's still pretty darn friggin good. The song actually gets better with each spin up to a certain point of course. Next up, "Without Us", the first single and a journey further into classy melodic rock and featuring the superb sing-a-long melody that will stick with you for the rest of the day, week, month, year. "Higher Love", bumps and grinds its way down the road like a cat in heat or in this case the fun boogie-woogie of Whitesnake. "Save The Best" again extremely catchy and storytelling at its best and I quote, 'Some are lost in the fire. Some are colder than a stone and all alone', end quote. Vocal Harmonies and chorus is a deadringer for Cheap Trick in their late 70's to mid 80's. Excellent.

"Timeless Child", probably the best lyrics on the record and just a classy number that lives and breathe through the guitar work by Santunione. It's got that Black Paisley vs. Europe sound going on at eleven and the groovy Electric Boys guitar solo. "Take Me To The River" is what you get if you'd like a Swedish version of Thunder and Whitesnake. I believe that's Snakes In Paradise? The guitars and a traditional and very catchy sounding chorus it sounds like the kind of thing Coverdale did on say 'Give Me All Your Love'. The soaring guitar work and intro on "Falling" harks back to the days of Gary Moore and it's just a beautiful magical little ballad that reaches out to touch yer sad and lonely hearts. Lol. I noticed only later that it's actually titled in brackets 'The Ballad of Mary Goore' and that's clearly not the best of disquise? Closing number, "Give It Up", another homerun and smoking catchy number that hits home during a sharp refrain and guitar solo. Final Verdict: Catchy Classic Rock from Sweden at its best and the likes of Europe better come up with something a lot sharper to keep up with the Paisley's. Highly Recommended. [Release date: 11th of December]. Black Paisley at Facebook

Monday, November 9, 2020

VHÄLDEMAR: "Straight To Hell"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Fighter Records 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Straight To Hell, folks! Straight To Hell! Indeed. VHÄLDEMAR may (at first glance) look and sound like your average Swedish-ginger-Viking-bezerker. Take a broadsword or battle axe step back and discover the old skool Heavy Metal 5-piece from Barakaldo in beautiful Basque Country. I believe they are still a part of Spain? Yeah? This is however the band's sixth full length album released thru Fighter Records and the production was taking place in the Chromaticity Studios property of the guitarist of the band. The smashing cover artwork has been created by Darkgrove (Manowar, Battle Beast, Testament, etc).

The album display fun, uplifting melodies and both guitar and keyboard solos and complex interludes. Something which became already clear on the opening track "Death To The Wizard" as you first hear Jonkol Tera, going at it and basically bezerk behind the keyboards only to be shortly followed by Pedro J Monge at the six-string. Very flashy and intense fast solos in the tradition of proper Heavy Metal. "Afterlife" display the Blind Guardian vs. Rage (the band, not the mood) kind of feeling with hard hitting rhythms and massive sing-a-long melody. The title track is lovely old skool Heavy Metal in the vein of Accept only slightly heavier and with just a touch of Raven (the band, not the bird).

Carlos Escudero's powerful and mean vocals, which give the band much identity in their genre, truly shine on occasion and especially on this record. Do not expect any strange accent or any other no-no's as the raspy voice will simply tear you apart like barbwire in the dark. Basically tradition metal lyrics where "Hell Is On Fire", etc. However. "Black Mamba" is a tribute to the late and great Kobe Bryant. This is the kind of album that will force the Headbanger's Ball fan out of the cellar - screaming for vengeance (pun intended: twice). Final verdict: Let's face it. Vhäldemar is a Spanish force to be reckoned with and those that write them off just by looking at the artcover should definitely try and go: Straight To Hell !! Vhaldemar at Facebook

ANGELICA: "All I Am"

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

Could I have your attention, please. Thank You! Angelica (last name: Rylin) is a Swedish singer best known as the lead vocalist of The Murder Of My Sweet and not to be confused with the Christian Hard Rock band of the 80's feat. ex-House Of Lords' guitarist Lanny Cardola. It's already been seven years since her wicked debut album "Thrive", which was released in 2013, and the time is now for a follow-up which appearantly and apparantly is "All I Am". Her Murder Of My Sweet bandmate and partner in crime, Daniel Flores, sits in the producer's chair and the result sits nicely in between Pop, Rock, and AOR.

Still not sure why, however, it's very ABBA-ish (at times) only heavier of course. Dance-able AOR? I don't know? Nevertheless. Unafraid of a poppy AOR sound, Angelica go for the jugular faster than a vampire after a decade spent in the casket/coffin. There's a wicked groove to the material with several tracks shining as potential AOR dance floor faves. Simply get your local DJ to dish out these plates and you might just cause another murder on the dance floor (literally).

Opener "Calling" and indeed "Beat Them All" may just have you thinking about Nanne Grönvall on a cruise boat with Pink (or the Pinks?). It's synths and programming and darn catchy I may add. The ballad "I'm Sorry" and "Time and Space" are perfectly suited for Angelica's strong and clear vocals. It's however not something that Heavy Metal fans are going to start drooling over as it's rather more in the vein of Anette Olsson (Nightwish, Alyson Avenue) and 'Shine' than Slayer. Michael Palace on guitars/bass throughout the record and co-lead vocals on the duet "Don't Say Goodbye". The more traditional AOR of "Still Bleeding", the work of Steve Newman and thus pretty much the only song written by the old skool rocker. It will remind you the most of Angelica's debut while the other tracks are Poppier and dare I say modern? Final Verdict: Pretty catchy, pretty poppy, and not really intended to please the average metal fan? It's Angelica and "All I Am" Angelica at Facebook

REB BEACH: "A View From The Inside"

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

'A View From The Inside' may not display the well kept secret or any hidden agenda. The former Berklee School of Music student and session player working in the past with all-time greats such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Roger Daltrey, Chaka Kahn, Howard Jones, Twisted Sister, have a tendency of keeping it off the record and right on track. Or vice versa? Anyhow. The Winger and Whitesnake guitarist' can certainly play the axe, that's hardly no surprise to anyone, although I find this a bit overwashed with reverb and Dixie Dregs moments.

Lo and behold. This is actually Reb Beach's very first all instrumental album and according to the info-sheet, 'this is not a mere exercise of self-indulgence but the culmination of over 30 years of study and work on the guitar'. I really shouldn't put him down or upset the six-string man, especially since I do enjoy Reb as a guitarist. It's just that the particular 11 songs on offer here are a bit too "fusion" and not quite the melodies you'll find yourself digging while digging graves (Yes. You're a Grave Digger. You dig?).

Beach's musical angle is indeed influenced by the monster rock of the 70s, jazz, prog, fusion, and the latter polorised by his time spent jamming with Dixie Dregs and it's surely no coincidence that "A View From The Inside" is at times very similar to the work of Steve Morse (nowadays at Deep Purple). "Black Magic" showcases the galloping speed and lead technique we prefer from Reb over the more jazz/fusion vibe that most tracks on this album (sadly) display. The lack of vocals gets to you in the end and it's a rather tiresome experience of endless fusion solos, runs, bridges, and fills. Helping Reb on the album there is his Whitesnake bandmate Michele Luppi on piano and I would personally have enjoyed a singer on the inside. RebBeach at Facebook

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

ETERNAL IDOL: "Renaissance"

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

"Perso nel tempo. Ti trover in questo mondo". Color me impressed as Eternal Idol returns with a revamped line-up and sound that takes the somewhat questionable shared male and female vocals to the next level. It takes a lot of passion and admittely in some instances good old faith, to convince yourself and the listener that operatic duets is still the way to rock in 2020. Especially since we've been swamped with this kind of music and groups for the past twenty odd years or so.

Make no mistake though. Nick Savio (guitars, songwriter, arrangements, producer) must be applauded for what he has achieved here. Not only did he make the best out of vocalists Fabio Lione (Angra, Rhapsody Of Fire) and new vocalist Claudia Layline, but the atmospheric, bombastic, fantastic, symphonic, arrangements are larger than life and full on energy. It's definitely the "Renaissance" and something that could only boost the band's reputation to higher grounds and stronger following. Eternal Idol have made some experimental trips outside the usual format of the genre and it has paid off - big time. It's progressive 'happy-metal' and basically a symphony joined together in near perfect harmony. Light and darkness, power and emotional outbursts, "Black Star" and "Dark Eclipse", songs that goes straight to the heart. Extra kudos to Savio for some truly impressive guitar work and solos.

It's actually difficult to pick out favorite tracks as they're all part of the story and it's darn nice to witness the proper album effort. Bombastic (operatic) melodic metal may not please all the music lovers out there, but you need to give this platter a chance and at least check out soundclips online as it feature intense songwriting and impeccable vocal performances. I haven't always been kind to Lione in the past, however, this is his best album performance and the voice blend perfectly in with the excellent banshee of Layline. She's a ripper! and the same goes for the entire album. Simply close your eyes and dream yourself away to a better place where the "Renaissance" is still very much alive. Eternal Idol at Facebook

LORDS OF BLACK: "Alchemy Of Souls"

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

Formed by two world-class Spanish musicians: vocalist Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Vandenberg) and renowned guitarist Tony Hernando. The new album "Alchemy Of Souls" showcases the band's fondness of 'Deliverance' and 'Sacrifice'. Indeed. The European Melodic Metal sound so talked about these days is evident in huge segments here. More Masterplan than Kamelot, but with a twist to keep us in the dodgy alley and backstreets of Lords Of Black.

To be frank. It's got a little bit of everything from extremely dull songs to excellent ones, and Hernando thought of this as and I quote, "by far one of the most difficult and emotional albums I've ever done", end quote. The making of the album took the unexpected and dramatic turn of events, starting with vocalist Romero as he at first decided to abandon ship, but came to the realization that he still enjoy sailing the seven seas and creating music together with Hernando. It does have to be said that Romero's voice never fails to convince with a vocal range that skims the sky. The man conjures up the fire and deliver the goods of metal's past, present, and future.

The songwriting on the other hand is very much either good or simply going through the motions. The emotional roller coaster ride throughout the record and consistency is sadly lacking. Several tracks such as 'Into The Black' or 'Deliverance Lost' leaves you cold as if you're still waiting for the punchline or in this case: refrain. The album is not without its highlights/points though. The uber catchy "Sacrifice" and the energetic power track of "Brightest Star" with drummer Jo Nunez in the spotlight as the man set the plot ahead with powerful time keeping. The soaring vocals above everything... what really drive this monster truck forward and they're sadly running out of gas just as we're about to reach the highest point of the hill. The poetic justice of "Closer To Your Fall" might just be the last stop as well as final great track on the album. It's all been (once again) nicely mixed and mastered by Roland Grapow (Helloween, Masterplan).

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: "Wide Awake (In My Dreamland)"

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

Bazinga! It's more Pompous Rock by powerhouse vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman, Journey, Eyes, Takara, Soul Sirkus, TSO, etc.) injected with Frontiers' in-house producer Alessando Del Vecchio on hand to assist in songwriting. In fact. All songs are written by Soto and Del Vecchio and you know what to expect from the two by now. Although not always big or clever on finding original arrangements in the past, Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) does give a darn correct indication of the kind of endeavour the pair invest in their compositions. It's large amounts of fun Melodic Rock, the odd pure AOR, and plenty of groove.

As with 'Beautiful Mess' or 'Damage Control' and seemingly any or every of JSS' 60 albums under his belt (including numerous collaborations), each track is an encapsulated vision of the craftmansship and sheer power that goes into the lead vocals. It's quite a lot of back-to-basic and back to the beginning of his career. Very much the Talisman, Takara, Eyes, Malmsteen, sound at play. This doesn't ring true on the title track though as it will most definitely remind you of King's X and that's always a big plus in my book(s). Mystified" reek of Talisman and 'Genesis' the album and is completed with bass-lines 'ala Marcel Jacob (RIP).

"Paper Wings" also display the talisman touch and the grand-piano (keyboard) power ballad of "Without You" have a way of finding your soft spot. The chorus goes, "Come into the light, come in from the rain. Love will never die", end quote. That's clearly and unfortunately the weakest point of the album. Whoever is responsible for lyrics should try and find some other words than "Love" next time around? Why? Because I'm a hater? No. Because here are also 4 tracks with "Love" in its title (Someone To Love, Love's Blind, Lessons of Love, Love Will Find a Way) and thus already way too many tracks on the subject. Add to this "Between The Lines" which just as easily could have been named 'Love Is Alive' as those words are constantly repeated in the refrain. Bloody'ell. 6 out of 11 tracks!!?? That's just not cool. Not cool at all. On the plus side. Wild Awake arrives with a bonus 11-tracks live CD recorded at Frontiers Rock Festival in 2019 and not a single luv-song in sight. Final Verdict: Catchy and groovy. Great music and musicians. Need however to expand the horizon and think outside the 'love' box (lyrics). Hence the R's. JSS at Facebook

CATS IN SPACE - "ATLANTIS"

 


Rating: RRRRR

 Label: Harmony Factory/Cargo

 Review By: Alan Holloway

 

 

It's time for album number four from possibly the most creative and uplifting band the UK has to offer. After the semi prog approach of  'Day Trip To Narnia', fans have been anticipating an album that the band admitted was going to be their chance to rock things up again, sticking the amps on eleven and once again bringing the Seventies kicking and screaming into 2020. 

 

If you're not familiar with Cats In Space, they are a bunch of gents who have all been in the business for many years, who teamed up to make the music they wanted to make, which happily was also the music many people wanted to hear. Their hearts are very definitely in the 1970s, with hints of Queen, E.L.O, The Sweet and a host of others stuffed into every album. Whilst not averse to slower numbers, they're at their best when rocking out and have a real knack for creative, catchy melody and massive harmonies. 

 

'Atlantis' starts with 'Dive', an intro that actually works quite well, a couple of minutes of sweet music that has a good crunch to it. Opener proper 'Spaceship Superstar' is a full on melodic rock classic in the vein of 'Too Many Gods', with a similar vibe and power, along with a fantastic chorus and even a hint of The Who in the instrumental. Now would be a good time to mention new singer Damian Edwards, known for his impressive stage credentials, and it has to be said he suits the band perfectly, with a great range and unsurprisingly rich emotion when required. The rocking start is  continued with 'Revolution', a very upbeat track that has a few things to say about how the world is being run, then things get a bit quirkier with 'Sunday Best', a bouncy sub three minute piece hat delivers a good melodic heft and a nice message, namely enjoy yourself while you can. 'Listen To The Radio' is a good old song about how fab music is and how it can save us all from, I don't know, giant lizards and stuff like that. WHAT a chorus, though.


The big track is saved for the middle, as 'I Fell Out Of Love With Rock 'n' Roll' is sure to be revered as one of the band's best tracks, starting slowly with just a piano and Damien, building to a fantastic, emotional climax as we learn why rock n roll just isn't what it used to be. If we ever get to see live bands again, the 'yeah yeah yeah' part will no doubt be enthusiatically sung by audiences, too. 'Marionettes' is another song that starts slow(ish) and builds into a compelling, fast track half way through, and 'Queen Of The Never Never Land' allows the band to fart around in fantasy land as can be their wont, but it's a far from whimsical track, with a banging guitar riff belting out from start to finish and the by now standard chorus that instantly sticks in your head. One of my favourites is 'Magic Lovin' Feelin', which is a very Seventies style pop song which reminds me of Peter Frampton (partly because it uses a talkbox) and is so bloody catchy I've found myself waking up in the morning with the chorus still ringing in my head. 


The last three tracks on the album slow things dow a little, with 'Can't Wait For Tomorrow' delivering a nice acoustic sound that is very listenable too and as usual very catchy. 'Season's Change' puts some bounce back in their step after the chill out session, and although it's lively from the start it does a great job of building to a frantic, melody fuelled climax that sees Damian wailing for all he's worth. Finally, the five minute title track arrives with a muted piano start that fools you into thinking it's going to be a nice, sedate end to the album, remeniscing on the good old days, like your grandad if he had a better singing voice. About half way through, as in 'I Fell Out Of Love...' it all kicks off  in grandiose style and turns into a mini epic that is a fitting way to finish off a fantastic album.


'Atlantis' is the best album by Cats In Space, there's no doubt in my mind. Some fans were a bit underwhelmed by the quieter second half of '...Narnia', but this one has no such problems, as it has a plethora of big ass rock tracks complemented by some more quirky stuff that fights its' own corner fiercely. Album of the year? Absolutely, and when it drops later this month everyone who has ever professed a liking for rock music should go out and get a Cat. 


Official Site For Pre Order

 

 

 

 

AC/DC - 'POWER UP'

 


RATING: RRRR

 

LABEL: Columbia

 

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

 

 

Let's be honest and admit that AC/DC haven't been a must buy album band for many, many years. Typically an AC/DC album is half full of great rocking tracks and half full of “meh”. To be fair, they've always been about astounding live performances and have a plethora of classic tracks to play with, so for me the albums are something I always listen to but usually carve up for the digital collection. You may not feel the same, but I thought it best to know where I stood before listening to 'Power Up', the bands eighteenth studio album and their fourth this century.


It looked unliklely that this album would ever happen after Brian Johnson walked away, followed by Cliff Williams, but the lure of purebred rock and roll must have been too strong, and the classic line up has been retained, with Phil Rudd on drums and Stevie Young (Son of Angus' older brother Stephen) replacing the sadly deceased Malcolm on rhythm guitar. So is it a case of too little too late? Can the old boys still pull out a top album after so many mediocre ones and save 2020? Ah... you've seen the score at the top – of COURSE they can!


'Power Up' also known as 'PWR/UP' (which is better), is definitely as solid an AC/DC album as we could have wished for at the stage in their career. Preview single 'Shot In The Dark' impressed a lot of folks, me included, but we've been burned before. Whilst it is definitely a highlight here, though, it's joined by eleven other tracks that are of similar quality, from the simple stomp of 'Wild Reputation' to the absolutely classic AC/DC guitar sound of 'Witches Spell'. Tracks like 'Systems Down' and 'Code Red' just FEEL like AC/DC, and whilst the style wasn't originated by them and is certainly not exclusive to them, when they do it right they are untouchable. Brian Johnson sounds fantastic throughout, and Angus can still peel off a lick or two at the drop of a cap. It's great, too, to hear Phil Rudd and Cliuff Williams' pounding backline so thrust into the mix.


'Power Up' doesn't have any full on upbeat rockers like 'Heatseeker' and there's no stone cold classic like 'Thunderstruck', but instead contains thirteen hardcore rock tracks that really work well together, with enough variety in pace and feel to stop any boredom setting in. If you're a fan, and I know most of you will be, the opening salvo of the upbeat 'Realize', the stomping 'Rejection' plus the aforementioned 'Shot In The Dark' will certainly restore any faith in AC/DC you may have lost over the years. It feels like it's been an age, but it's time for some power.

 

HOMEPAGE 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

ORIANTHI: "O"

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

Orianthi is a tiger in a dress and the very impressive guitarist with a Platinum-selling past who rehearsed in 2009 with Michael Jackson in preparation for his ill-fated 'This Is It' concert series. Indeed. Jennifer Batten 2.0 only the better vocalist and the Greek Goddess (yeah, I know she's born in Oz) are about to unleash the beast on her latest offering to the Gods, namely "O". Oh? Too bad the songs will rather remind you of a little pussycat than a roaring tiger? Meow? That's a bit harsh. She's teamed up with American songwriter, record producer, musician, Marti Frederiksen. Best known for his work with artists/bands such as Aerosmith, Buckcherry, Sheryl Crow, Daughtry, Faith Hill, Foreigner, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Carrie Underwood, etc. Not to forget the excellent "Still Crazy" soundtrack and we (RockUnited.com) know him since Outlaw Blood and Motherland.

Frederiksen is usually the same as quality music, up to a certain point, however, this time it's unfortunately not always the case. Nothing that really stick, poke, or leave the truly lasting impression in the year of 2020. The riff of "Contagious" gets the ticker going at eleven only to clam down as we notice the similarities to the late 90's rock and bands. The same goes for "Sinners Hymn" which feels like a poor throwback to 1997. Excellent guitar work, groovy as feck, but sadly lacking in the hook(s) department. The bluesy and hard hitting attack of "Rescue Me" is however pretty darn cool and Ori sings that "I'll be the craziest bitch you don't wanna meet". The perky, "Sorry", the catchy/quirky number in the vein of Anastacia (Left Outside Alone) meet Orianthi.

The ballad of "Crawling Out Of The Dark" will definitely remind you of Lady Gaga in that darn movie, which title I simply refuse to type, since we're all fookin' sick and tired of listening to the song(s) on every darn radio station. Could otherwise have been 'the' song for Ori as she sings with a very sentimental touch. "Impulsive", the jangled rock tune 'ala The Cult gone haywire and it feature the already classic lines of "Kiss me till we both turn to dust, forget the aftermath of desired lust", end quote. "Streams of Consciousness" goes through some serious guitar work as it touches Lenny Karvitz' territory before setteling down at the big O. "Company", the loopy drum/bass treble track that will quickly pass you by like a fart in the wind or this very review for that matter (how poetic?). Final verdict: Groovy, too groovy actually as we need more hooks. Many of the songs are steeped in the similar mode and mood and they're all kind of yeah, not too shabby, great guitarist, but nothing really earth shattering or life changing. Orianthi at Facebook

Saturday, October 31, 2020

ECLIPSE: "Viva La VicTOURia" DVD

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

Eclipse, check. Music, check. Live, check. Audience? Oh, heck? It's Halloween (as I'm typing this) and the dead crawls out of their caskets to bring the audience back to their graves? Not entirely true (really? not true, you say?) as the pandemic brought indeed touring to a halt in 2020. However. The Swedes recorded this very DVD at the Trädgårn venue in Gothenburg, Sweden on 21st December 2019. The final gig of the year and still very much the latest and hopefully not final show ever to feature a 'Real Live Audience' instead of the walking dead and your typical zombies of today, tomorrow, and evermore. No doubt about it. The energy of the (real) audience drives the music forward on the 'Live at Trädgårn venue in Gothenburg' and 17 tracks of Eclipse goes by just like that. Kicking off the show with "Viva La Victoria" make sense as it's a storming rocker and its chanting refrain, the natural starting point of Eclipse in the modern era. Live, the band could come across as the Melodic Hard Rock version of Green Day and that's meant as the positive and fun note. It's high energy and highly contagious rock from the word go. The scene is set perfectly by Mårtensson's rich voice and when "The Storm" goes through the audience, the call of emergency and scream of help, send a shiver down the spine. "Vertigo" will send you on a trip round and round and it's all been nicely directed and edited by drummer Crusner.

Bonus material on the CD and limited edition 3xLP include only three live tracks from the band's 'Live from the Quarantine' pay-per-view special though, which was recorded at Studio Grondahl in Stockholm on 1st April of this year and obviously without living audience. Not need to worry. The DVD feature all 12 songs from the pay-per-view and no zombies were harmed during the recording. Bonus footage on the DVD and Blu-ray include interviews recorded in June 2020 about writing songs for the Paradigm album and especially "Viva La Victoria" came together as the collobration between Erik Mårtensson and Magnus Henriksson. The idea about a strong punchline and keeping it 'catchy' even though it's not proper Spanish (language-wise). It has to be 'Hasta' and not 'Viva' to be correct? Erik, sporting the very "cool" Star Wars t-shirt (Not- I'm a Tolkien fan) in the studio, speak of "Mary Leigh" as the perfect match of Blue Öyster Cult and Ghost, and Philip Crusner thinks it's a party song.

Find out plenty more about their albums and songs such as the original title of United? 'Lions' of course. Shocking to find out they borrowed riff and arrangement from Hoola Bandola Band? And their love for 60's instrumental music? Spotnicks? Oh, dear, Lol! 'The bass has 4 stings and that's 3 too many', according to their new bassist, Victor Crusner, the halfwit brother of Philip. I believe he stole the phrase from D.A.D. (the band and not his actual father). He learned the entire set in wrong tuning on first practise. 'He is an intelligent person', Erik says in the documentary, but we are still not sure? The most natural speaker and storyteller of the band though. Enjoy listening to him rambling on about 'what not' at the end of the DVD. Final verdict: It's definitely value for your money and Eclipse are three highly intelligent musicians (and one bass-player) doing what they do best - playing live music at bloody loud volume. It's 2 live concerts of sheer fun and Melodic Rock. Crank it up. Highly Recommended. Eclipse at Facebook

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

DEFECTO: "Duality"

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 11, 2020

PANZERBALLETT: "Planet Z"

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

DARWIN: "DarWin 2 A Frozen War"

Rating: RRRR+ 
Label: DarWinOOS 2020 

Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom 

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

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

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

DarWin at Facebook

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

BROTHER FIRETRIBE: ”Feel The Burn”

Label: Brother Firetribe/Odyssey 2020

Rating: RRRRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


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


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


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


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


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


Monday, October 5, 2020

BON JOVI: "2020"

Rating: RR

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

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

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

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

NIGHTMARE: "Aeternam"

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2020

PERFECT PLAN: "Time For a Miracle"

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

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

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

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

Perfect Plan facebook

LANDFALL: "The Turning Point"

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

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

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

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

Landfall facebook

Saturday, September 26, 2020

STRYPER: "Even The Devil Believes"

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

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

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

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

stryper.com

HELL IN THE CLUB: "Hell of Fame"

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

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

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

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

HellintheClub facebook

Thursday, September 24, 2020

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

Mini-reviews by Kimmo Toivonen


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

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


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

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





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


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


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