Thursday, March 25, 2021

EDGE OF THE BLADE: "Feels Like Home"

Rating: RRR

Label: Lions Pride Records 2020

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Better late than never. This album was released back in October last year, I downloaded the promo, played in a couple of times and then forgot about it. Now while re-organizing my hard drive, I found these songs again and decided to give them some attention.

Edge Of The Blade is a collaboration between Alan Kelly (ex-Shy, Seven Hard Years) and John Francis (UK AOR band After Hours). This is their second album, I haven't heard the debut but apparently it wasn't quite as "pure AOR" as this one. 

Kelly and Francis have decided to cover three songs from a cult classic AOR album - Mark Free's "Long Way From Love". Whether it was a great idea is debatable. "State Of Love", "Never Be A Next Time" and "The Last Time" stand out as they're are superb songs, in my opinion clearly better than the band's own compositions. Then again, they still pale in comparison to the originals. That's not to say that the Edge Of The Blade originals are bad songs. They're pleasant and likeable, but I didn't find any future classics among them. 

John Francis has an interesting voice, which definitely gives the band a bit of identity among dozens of AOR projects with a similar style. His very high-pitched raspy sound is very appealing but also somewhat piercing when he goes for the high notes. Like Benny Mardones mixed with Stephan Kaemmerer of Frontline, maybe...


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

GARY HUGHES: "Waterside"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Whispering Jack is back! Some people always tend to complain about the voice of Gary Hughes? So what if he's not the screamy hi-pitched vocalist? He's well aware of his strenght and weakness and these vocals are actually good and full of emotion throughout the album. The overall song material? Yeah. I believe you could file this under mature(ed) music as he's not really going for the perfect TEN sound (pun intended).

The opening track of "All At Once It Feels Like I Believe" feels like Gary believes in all eighties pop/rock at once and especially Ultravox and Midge Ure? It's the rather laidback effort in all honestly and "Electra Glide" could have been the work of any former UK boy-band singer such as Robbie Williams or Ronan Keating. "Lay Down" the slightly more uptempo track with a bluesy arrangement a'la the the groovy seventies. "The Runaway Damned" feature the singing guitar work and a refrain that simply reeks of Roy Orbison and classic rock of a long gone era. Seriously. I kid you not. It's pretty darn good though. "Screaming In The Halflight" is a fine example of Hughes' ability to squeeze the best as well as last drop out of his rusty old pipes and it's the great piano semi-ballad.

This is Hughes' first new solo platter since his last effort "Veritas", released well over a decade ago. The new solo album "Waterside" marks his long-awaited return to melodic rock according to the press-release? I guess that depends on your very own definition of melodic rock? Musically, this is a mixed bag and although there's a couple of bouncy rockers at the end of the album (Save My Soul, Seduce Me), it's still the rather sophesticated effort and attempt at mid-paced rock/pop. "When Love Is Done" is however the utter cheese ballad (sigh). Assisting Gary on the record are his Ten bandmates Dann Rosingana (guitars) and Darrel Treece-Birch (drums), with David Rosingana appearing on bass and Karen Fell and Scott Hughes helping on background vocals. Final Verdict: Not too shabby.

Monday, March 22, 2021

DARREN PHILLIPS PROJECT: "Volume Two"


Rating: RRR

Label: MR Records

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Darren Phillips has put together his second Project album, again with a massive list of guest artists. Darren himself is from Australia, while most of the guests are from Sweden, people like Philip Lindstrand, Herman Furin, Dennis Butabi Borg, Alex Strandell... the complete list would take half of this review!

This is definitely a versatile album, with song styles ranging from classic AOR sounds to punky hard rock and Hall & Oates-inspired R'n'b/soul-flavoured pop! Maybe a bit too versatile for my taste, since some of the more experimental tracks do not exactly work for me. But let's see what they've got, one by one.

"Stay" features Rob Wylde on vocals (I think), and it's kind of glammy rock track with a good chorus. A cool way to start the party. "The Last Goodbye" (so she didn't "Stay" then?) is a keyboard-driven AOR, an okay song but the strained vocal from the vocalist I can't recognize leaves a lot to be desired. "What's Love?" is another fairly catchy song, but somehow it sounds a bit rough around the edges. 

"December Night" sounds like an eighties' Kiss track from Paul Stanley, which in my books is a good thing. I think it's Dennis Ward on vocals for this one. We'll get back to this Kiss thing later...  

"You Make My Dreams" is a very bold departure from the rest of the album. It's a bouncy Hall & Oates styled track... It's not something I particulary enjoy, but nevertheless it's definitely bold and features a great vocal from Robbie LaBlanc.

"Drive" makes me think of some mid-eighties glam bands with a punky attitude - Easy Action or something like that. The production is suitably "lo-fi", probably on purpose. 

"Hold On"? Seriously, this song title has been on the "OVER-USED-THINK-OF-SOMETHING-ELSE" list since 1991... okay, it's a decent song with a dramatic vocal from Alex Strandell I think. The promo sheet could have used a "cast of characters" list. Next up, "By My Side" is a semi-acoustic, semi-balladic track which sounds like some minor hit from the nineties. And if there wasn't enough "holding" on this album already, the next song is "Holding A Love", and again I'm thinking of the nineties, Gin Blossoms, The Rembrandts... quite nice.

Last but not least, we return firmly to the eighties' sounds with an actual Paul Stanley-penned track that was never officially released. "Best Man For You" dates to the "Crazy Nights"-era and you can hear some similarities to "Reason To Live".  

So there, it's an interesting album and there's a lot of talent involved. You'll probably find something you like among these songs if you like melodic rock in general.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/darrenphilliosproject

Friday, March 19, 2021

BLACK DIAMONDS: "No-Tell Hotel"


Rating: RRRR

Label: Metalapolis Records

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This is the fourth album from Black Diamonds, a Swiss hard rock band. I have to admit that they've flown under my radar all this time, but they're visible now, blinking brightly! 

Melodic Glam/Sleaze Rock is what we have here, with Crash Diet, Reckless Love and Crazy Lixx as contemporary references. Of course one can trace the roots to the eighties' classic bands like Ratt, Crüe, Poison, Bon Jovi etc, maybe even further. Take the catchy "Saturday" for example - I can't help but be reminded of Slade, Sweet and the Bay City Rollers hit "Saturday Night"... and those were way before my time, even though I'm old as a stone! Couple of these songs have a bit of a country vibe, namely the slightly Bon Joviesque "Lonesome Road" and "Outlaw". The latter must've been recorded tongue firmly in cheek, it's sounds to me like a rock version of "Cotton Eye Joe" or something. 

My favorites are among the more "traditional" hard rock/glam metal songs. "Forever Wild", "Evil Twin" and "My Fate" are superb tracks, real diamonds even... pun intended. The band can pen a very decent ballad too, "Anytime" and "Hand In Hand" are the kind of songs that MTV used to love in 1989 and thereabouts.

The most infectious song of the album is the aforementioned goofy "Saturday" though. "S - A - T UR DAY Baby"... it even has a "La-La-La" refrain! Check out the funny South Park influenced video too! 

Website: https://www.blackdiamondsrock.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlackDiamondsRock 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/blackdiamondsrock


Monday, March 8, 2021

KINGS OF LEON: "When You See Yourself"

Rating: RRRR
Label: RCA 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away"? The Kings Of Leon are not completely sure about this thing called depth perception and the magic(al) wonders of the human eye. However, the perception of depth when viewing a real Rock scene with both eyes is qualitatively different. There is a vivid impression of ambitious geezers in America who'd just been releasing the new album as well as asking themselves and their fans about point of view regarding the opening track. It's their eight album and they are no doubt aiming to establish themselves in the national rock circuit after building a useful local reputation. Only kidding. They have sold over 20 million albums and nearly 40 million singles worldwide.

I find myself getting lost in "A Wave" which seem to control all the sea creatures and body surfers of the world. It's the smooth attempt at taking over the world one wave at the time, and the next following example which reads the "Golden Restless Age" may cement my original first thought regarding 'When You See Yourself'. This is the adult orientated rock album and the multi-platinum selling band has had the glorified Arena Rock meets guitar guru of the basement concept in heart and mind. Recorded at Nashville's famed Blackbird Studios and produced by Grammy Award-winning Markus Dravs, the Arena Rock influences have been taken a stage further, and the excellent "Stormy Weather" is one of the beneficiaries, as is the vaguely strange 'Fairytale'.

Kings Of Leon are not looking to spend their golden years at the retirement home (this is after all their 8th album) as they rock out their days churning the big sounds around for mature rock fans? This is a neat record offering a quality performance from start to finish enhanced by a excellent production. Final Verdict: Entertaining Arena Rock of 2021.

SIMULACRUM: "Genesis"


Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Genesis! Finally! The Prog-Rock comeback of the decade as we've been looking forward to Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins at... huh? My bad, 'Genesis', the title of the new album by Samlackacumrum? Simlackcrumum? Sammydidadrumstick? Blimey. Remember when you could go up to the counter and ask for 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet Of Crisps Please? Splodgenessabounds! Now that's a proper band name. Splodgenessabounds! Keep that in mind next time you're trying to trick us with your Tom foolery.

The name really does say it all. There's no denying it, it's complex and hard hitting music on display and Progressive Metal is their favorite game. Simulacrum hail from the land of Hanoi Rocks and Children of Bodom's and we're well aware of Finland and the music. The difference this time around is instead of having one frontman, they decided to make the move to share the burden and have two lead vocalists. Erik Kraemer is the latest addition to the band as he's got a tone that varies from original frontman Niklas Broman's style. To be completely honest. I'm not enterily sure it's the right thing to do? This may cause inner conflicts and problems within the band?

Genesis is however a colossal album and the complexed compositions are steeped in the 'let's destory the cast and think outside the box' mould. You need to pay attention and keep trying to find their point of view and interest. The Bible closing four-part title suite goes through chambers and dungeons of role playing material about the obvious creation of man and his music. And I quote, "creation leaves no room for second guesses", end quote. There is a point to make though. The band seem to ignore any standard concept as the play the mix of modern metal prog with the complicity of seventies prog albums. They can't quite match the dinosaurs of the past neither the concept of fellow label mates, Vanden Plas. Final Verdict: Strangely alluring yet not quite satisfying.

DURBIN: "The Beast Awakens"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Gunning for Heavy Metal glory with faulty aim? The Beast Awakens may keep you up all night in search for the missing ingredient. It's one of those pure Heavy Metal albums which one really should enjoy, but you end up somehow feeling disappointed. Durbin, not to be confused with Turbin, the recent Quiet Riot singer and according to the bio, also fourth in the 10th season of American Idol?? We wouldnt know since we really don't watch that kind of rubbish. TV is mainly football and the occasional thriller and we might even flick through the Scooby Doo's. Where are you?

Anyhow. Crunchy but oh-so typical and standard powerchords fly all over the place here, and one of the idle idol's main sources of inspiration would appear to be Judas Priest, Manowar, and basic meat and potato American Metal of the 80s. There's a couple of amusing titles such as 'Calling Out For Midnight', I suppose, instead of 'Living After' the same time at night? and the ever so lively viking tribute of 'Rise To Valhalla'. Why should the American bother to type down lyric about Norse religion when you have all the superb Native American culture right outside your doorstep? Oh, that's right, you don't really know or care about the natives, do ya?

"I am awakened," says James Durbin. "The opportunity to begin to write the next chapter of my musical life with Frontiers has given me the creative recharge I've needed. We are establishing the musical direction I've been envisioning in my head for all these years and I'm so happy to have finally found a home for it." Make no mistake. America produces what seems limitless amounts of top-notch rock artists and bands every year, so it probably exist an even larger amount of bog average records. The Prince of metal? I don't think so, I'm all out of coffee and wit for that matter. Final Verdict: Great vocalist, not-so great songmaterial. Back to the drawing board.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Joel Hoekstra's 13: "Running Games"

 Rating: RRRR

Label: Frontiers

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Who is Joel Hoekstra? Well, he's a world-class guitarist who's current employers include David Coverdale, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Cher. This is his second album with his solo project "13". If you're thinking it's some guitar noodling he recorded on his spare time in his garage, you couldn't be further from the truth. This is an all-star supergroup album, with some of the best musicians out there: Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) on vocals, Derek Sherinian (Sons Of Apollo, Dream Theater, Black Country Communion) on keyboards and the rhythm section includes a living legend Vinny Appice on drums and  Tony Franklin (The Firm, Blue Murder) on bass! However, as the name of the project suggests, Hoekstra is the man in charge. He produced and wrote the album, with Chris Collier taking care of the mixing.

A star-studded line-up doesn't automatically guarantee a good album, it comes down to the songs. I'm glad to say that this line-up didn't waste their time recording these songs Hoekstra has written . They are quality hard rock songs. In fact, I can imagine David Coverdale listening to some of these and saying "Damn you Joel, why didn't you offer these for Whitesnake?"

Let's check out some of the highlights... the opening track "Finish Line" sounds like a perfect mix of classic Dokken and Dio, with a "Lynchian" guitar work and Dioesque vocals from Russell Allen. 

"I'm Gonna Lose It" is a melodic hard rocker that sounds like it was written for driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. A bit of a Night Ranger vibe on this one. "Hard To Say Goodbye" completes the very strong opening trio. It is my favourite track on the album, a stunning hard rock hit again with a great melodic chorus. 

I also like "Lonely Days", "Reach The Sky" and "Take What's Mine" quite a lot, and the rest of the songs aren't too bad either. Vocalist Russell Allen does a fine job, alternating with a Ronnie James Dio-like rougher sound and a softer, more AOR-friendly vocal style. Hoekstra himself doesn't overshadow anyone else, this might be his project but there's no self-indulgent widdling to be found. 

One more thing... "Lay Down Your Love" is marked as a digital bonus track. It is not the Whitesnake track by the same name, just an interesting coincidence. Maybe Hoekstra heard it and thought that "if I were to write a song called that, it would sound like this...hey, this is too good to waste!" 

http://www.joelhoekstra.com

Monday, March 1, 2021

CHEZ KANE - "CHEZ KANE"

 

 RATING: RRRRR
REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY
LABEL: FRONTIERS

This one seemed to come out of nowhere, with Chez Kane plucked from her family band Kane'd, which also contains her two sisters. Enter Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx, who saw in Chez the chance to make an unashamedly retro female fronted rock album, with the emphasis on big guitars, powerful vocals and massive hooks. As you can see from the rating above, he definitely succeeded!

"Chez Kane" is, to put in simply, a monster. Every track is in your face, full of hooks and backed up by incredibly powerful and competely fitting vocals. My own take from the firsrt few listend was Chrissy Steele's debut, though you can add Vixen, Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Fiona and just about any goddamned female rocker of pedigree you want. Of course, that pedigree has to be from the mid eighties to early nineties, because that was a GREAT time for powerful female rock, and this album puts me back there every single time, and I'll confess I've streamed this promo more than any other I've been sent in the past. 

Straight off, this kicks you in the nuts with "Better Than Love", a catchy number Cher would have loved in her rockier days, whilst "All Of It" uses a "We Will Rock You Beat" combined with a ridiculously catchy chorus and is probably my favourite track, simply because I can't help singing along every bloody time. A perfect opening salvo is completed by single "Rocket On The Radio", a five and a half minute track that seems to whizz by in three and will have even a dead rocker's toes tapping. This continues for a total of ten tracks and forty five minutes, after which the natural inclination is to do it all over again. In the middle of the album is the one slower track "Defender of The Heart", though it's not a sappy ballad and has a decent bounce to it. We also get "Ball & Chain" which borrows a bit from Danger Danger's "Bang Bang" and Bon Jovi's "You Give Love A Bad Name", and that sort of shows you the sort of influences you're dealing with here. "Midnight Rendezvous" is another worthy of mention, as it's a fast track full of energy and, of course, a great hook.

If you, like me, miss the good old days of powerful women singing powerful, catchy rock tunes that can be played on the radio but also blow your socks off live, then this is the album for you. Check out "Rocket On The Radio" on youtube, then go down the rabbit hole to check out some of Chez's superb cover versions from a few years ago. Kane'd may have languished in obscurity for quite a few years, but Danny Rexon and Frontiers realized that Chez Kane has one of those voices that is pure gold if you give her the right  material, and "Chez Kane" is absolutely stuffed with the right material. 

Pre Order From Frontiers




Bonne TYLER: "The Best Is Yet To Come"

Rating: RRR

Label: earMUSIC

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Bonnie Tyler is one of those instantly recognizable voices, and even though she's celebrating her 70ieth birthday this year, her raspy sound hasn't changed that much. With "The Best Is Yet To Come" she's musically traveling back to the glory days of the eighties. If you enjoyed her strongest 80s albums "Faster Than The Speed Of Light", "Secret Dreams And Forbidden Fire" and "Hide Your Heart", you'll surely find a few decent songs among these 12 tracks. A couple of the songs even harken back to the very early, country'ish style of "It's A Heartache".

"Dreams Are Not Enough" is my favourite song, it wouldn't sound out of place on "Hide Your Heart" with its' very Desmond Child-like chorus, although not written by him. Desmond Child does provide one song, "Stronger Than A Man". Unfortunately it's one the weakest songs of the album, the stagnant beat and r'n'b-styled production doesn't work for me at all. I prefer "When The Lights Go Down",  a mixture of Springsteen and Boston's "More Than A Feeling" and the title track which has touches of Abba and "Holding Out For A Hero", good hook there too. 

Among the other songs there are a few good ones which could've used a bit more powerful, bombastic production and a few somewhat forgettable covers. All in all, I do like this album much more than others I've heard from her since the late eighties. But hopefully the best is indeed yet to come, and she gets a couple of really great songs from Desmond Child and maybe even Jim Steinman for the next one!

http://www.bonnietyler.com 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

MAVERICK: ”Ethereality”


Rating: RRRRr

Metalapolis Records 2021

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


I can’t help but think that Maverick’s sound is based on the first SKID ROW album. Of course that’s not entirely true, but on their latest effort they come close to recreating the magic of that album. Similary, ”Ethreality”  features a very strong set of songs with big hooks, powerful performances and a huge ”Wagenerian” production. As in Michael Wagener…


Despite the Skid Row comparison, strangely the band doesn’t sound entirely like a retro/eighties-throwback kind of a thing. I could imagine them being played on the radio between Nickelback, Hinder and Black Veil Brides, and I think the fans of those band would like them too. 


Vocalist David Belfour isn’t a Sebastian Bach clone, he has a cool voice of his own with an interesting vibrato and a bit of a rasp. It’s closer to Chris Daughtry than ”Baz” actually. The guitar duo of Ryan Belfour and Ric Cardwell shoot out fierce riffs and solos with flash and style, while drummer Jason-Steve Mageney adds a bit of a modern power metal vibe to some of the songs. Richie Diver’s rumbling bass lines weave it all together. 


Favourite songs at the moment: ”Bells Of Stygian”, ”Switchblade Sister” and ”Dying Star”… ask me again tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer. Hell, the favorites have changed several times while writing this review! I think that’s a sign of a strong album… that and the total lack of ”skippable” tracks! Maybe that one "ultimate stand-out track" is missing, but the overall quality is on a very high level. 


I’ve liked all the previous Maverick albums, but this might just be their best one so far.  


https://www.facebook.com/MaverickBelfastuk 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

DON AIREY: "Live In Hamburg"

Rating: Live
Label: earMusic/Edel 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

What to expect from a Sunderland musician who once wrote an instrumental piece entitled 'Dark Side of the Moog'? Many pink moons ago tho' and at The Colosseum together with the late and great Gary Moore (RIP). Don's career has been very much fueled by the Irishman as they started playing/working together in 74/75 when they joined Jon Hiseman's highly influential jazz/rock band Colosseum II. They made three albums and Airey would continue to play on six studio solo albums by Gary between the years of 1978-1990. It make sense to kick off this double digipak edition of Don's first live album "Live In Hamburg" with the powerful version of "Nuclear Attack". One of several songs which Moore wrote about the 'cold war situation' and the potential disaster.

Airey is of course the keyboard player of Deep Purple since 2002, after the retirement of founding member Jon Lord (RIP). One of Airey heroes and there's been a "Purple" connection ever since Don joined Rainbow in 1979 and played on Down To Earth (1979) and Difficult To Cure (1981). This show recorded in 2017 during the club tour of his solo album "One Of A Kind" is a selection of Don's favourite songs from his unique career. A "Hard Rock songbook", played live by a band including the current singer from Nazareth, Carl Sentance (Krokus, Persian Risk) and the guitar rising star Simon McBride who will release his new solo album on earMUSIC in 2021.

Plenty of Rainbow tracks such as Difficult to Cure, All Night Long, Lost in Hollywood, as well as Russ Ballard's Rainbow hits of Since You've Been Gone and I Surrender. Nothing from short stints at Black Sabbath or the MSG debut and that's no surprise really. The biggest surprise and disappointment is however the complete lack of Ozzy 'The Prince of fookin Darkness' Osbourne. Blimey. Airey's keyboards were essential to the early Ozzy stuff and I love the sinister sound of the entire Bark At The Moon album. There's clearly bad blood considering all the Ozzy/Sharon stories and lack of royalties and removal of credits, etc. etc. Oddly enough. There's a Whitesnake number from his guest appearance at 1987 and I dig the subtile/sarcastic and dry introduction of "Is This Love" as Sentance mumbles 'Here's a song for you' without a hint of trying to copy or mimic the posh Coverdale accent.

Sentance, the very confident singer ever since Persian Risk in the early 80s and he's especially good on the Rainbow and Gary Moore material even if "Still Got The Blues" is merely the second rate version of "Parisienne Walkways". It's a bit more difficult to see him upfront at Purple as they also cover Pictures of Home, Child in Time, Hush, and Black Night. Not poor at all though and you'll also find Don Airey solo stuff (originally sung and co-written by Sentance) such as Shooting Star and Lost Boys. McBride play through all the guitar parts with ease and what can you type down about Airey that hasn't already been written? It's hard out there for an ardent Sunderland A.F.C. fan as they now play in League One, the third tier of English football. No longer the days of Kevin Phillips winning the European Golden Shoe, but hey, at least they have a Captain with the cool name of: Max Power. Final Verdict: Honest and "raw" live recording without the usual overdubs. donairey.com

Thursday, February 4, 2021

ART OF ILLUSION: "X Marks The Spot"

Rating: RRRr
Label: AORHeaven 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Art Of Illusion - This is what you get when you reject +100 name suggestions and merely end up combining the band monicker' of Anders Rydholm's GRAND ILLUSION and Lars Säfsund's WORK OF ART. Indeed. The two Super-Swedes, Rydholm (keyboards, bass, rhythm guitars) and Säfsund (lead and background vocals, keyboards) are trying to map their way to success while using ultra soft melodies and the title of "X Marks The Spot". Shouldn't be too difficult? The debut album is available from AOR-Heaven in Germany, the original home of schlager, and you'll find plenty of theatrical symphonic rock/pop overtures here. It's basically a mish-mash of their Swedish acts and everything from Freddy Mercury (Queen), Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), Jim Peterik (Survivor), Robby Valentine, Mika, Big Money, to Andrew fookin' Lloyd Webber!?

Blimey. AOI have not gone totally kitsch, but they have gone for less prog than Grand Illusion and more daytime drama than Work Of Art. It's as camp as an endless row of tents at the world AOR-Scout jamboree. Indeed. The founder of the AOR movement saw a need for a gathering of representatives of fluffy music from all around the world. The general aim was to foster a worldwide brotherhood, and to help the young AOR-sters in the movement learn about other peoples and nations by direct interaction with them. Ehem. Yeah? Nah. Back on track. It's sometimes as if you're inside the AOR musicial or the big Disney production version of AOR?

Feeling slightly disappointed at first play. Make no mistake though. It's an album that grows with each and every spin up to a certain point of course. Rydholm love musical kind of humor and lyric-wise, you have songs about going to Rome in Italy, to eat yourself to death. Who doesn't love Italian food? One song (Waltz For The Movies) is about a movie projectionist dreaming of the past and speak of long-gone, black and white heroes on the silver screen, and reek of Mika and Mercury music to the extreme. Another about the fear of being a Gladiator. The song "My Loveless Lullaby" is about love from a loser/virgin male kind of perspective. Tracks such as "Wild and Free", "Snakebite Charm", "Catch You If I Can" and "Rampant Wildfire" are the real highlights of the album as it's straightforward and fun uptempo AOR compositions. "4 AM" should please the Peterik fan and "Go" is a walk in the park. Final verdict: To keep the film theme going. Overall just a wee bit too much drama and not enough action. Then again. Michael Jackson wrote a song about "Thriller" and did the "Horror" movie-video to go along with the hit? I'm sure it's all down to personal taste and plenty of folks are going to enjoy the pompous melodies. Art Of Illusion at Facebook

Monday, February 1, 2021

PHANTOM ELITE: "Titanium"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Phantom Elite is a relatively new metal band fronted by singer Marina La Torraca (Exit Eden, live vocalist for Avantasia) and features songwriting and production by former After Forever guitarist and producer Sander Gommans. Marina and Sander together with Max van Esch (guitars) and Joeri Warmerdam (drums) unleash an slice of contemporary sounding heavy metal music on their sophomore album "Titanium". Sonically, the band combine symphonic, progressive and heavy metal.

The keyboard player is clearly a prime factor, yet not a proper member of the band though? However, my hat off to Koen Stam as he's contributing to the albums' overall sound with some truly impressive work on the ivorys. It's a relatively lean and stark production, and the style itself is dark and more energetic, immediate and powerful, favouring mostly really aggressive power riffing and mid-song lengths, fast and snappy tempo changes, quirkiness and strong vocals by Marina. It's all resulting in a pretty darn decent, at times even captivating or fascinating second album with more diversity than are often given credit for in this particular genre. The male growls on "Worst Of Me" is however rather typical for the genre and it's far from the most original sounding anthem as of lately.

According to the band and I quote, "Listeners can expect songs where modern meets symphonic and progressive, (very!) heavy riffs meet epic melodies, all overloaded with a wide spectrum of emotions and love for music. For sure, a high note in our careers!", end quote. Indeed. Check out the heavy bombardment of "Glass Crown" where you simply can't resist to shout along to the refrain and the words of 'Wash away, the spell of the night. Lost in haze after midnight'. Intrestingly Phantom Elite have made a few short experimential trips outside the usual "goth" female fronted format and the monster metal title track of "Titanium" clocks in at +seven minutes and should have any metal fan grasping for air. Just to keep it balanced that are some straight ahead goth moments on the following numbers of "Bravado" and "Silver Living". The latter sounding like The Alyson Avenue fronted Nightwish. Final Verdict: They deal in powerhouse vocals and chunky riffing where the stacatto rapid fire guitaring provides a seriously pattern for destruction. Wicked! Phantom Elite at Facebook

LABYRINTH: "Welcome To The Absurd Circus"

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Welcome To The Absurd Circus? To be perfectly honest. I haven't been following the development of Labyrinth and I can't really say that I recall much from their 2017 comeback album, "Architecture Of A God". I'm not even sure if I heard it? Anyhow. They were simply one of many bands and let's face it, there's way too many acts out there, you simply can't keep track of them all. Lo and behold. It's album number nine (9) by the Italian Prog Metal act and the founding members of Andrea Cantarelli and Olaf Thorsen (guitars) and Roberto Tiranti (vocals) are now joined by Oleg Smirnoff (Vision Divine, Eldritch) on keyboards, Nik Mazzucconi (Hardline, Edge Of Forever) on bass and newest member Mattia Peruzzi (drums).

Musically the band continues to move away from the Vanden Plas and Dream Theater Prog that used to be its mainstay and influences. It's hard to fault the first couple of tracks as they feature a nice slice of Italian prog-pizza spice, wicked rhythms, and ever changing dynamics. Quickly flowing into a complex groove it sets the blueprint for the album and it's good weighty prog metal. The vivid arrangements delivers the best possible wrapping for the band's musical gifts and I don't recall Tiranti ever sounding/singing this great in the past?

Hardly everything that glitter is gold though and you can still find a couple of false/dodgy gems and nuggets towards the end of the album. I do however enjoy their version of "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" as originally performed by Ultravox. You can't beat perfection though and the original version still rule the crying game of this poor dented metal heart. The problems only start when The Absurd Circus are sending out their clowns to sweep the floor after the elephants. It's a couple of bad and sad moments before they return home to the impressive ballad of "A Reason To Survive". Final Verdict: Solid as Prog-Metal goes in 2021. It's not earth-shattering or ground-breaking stuff. It's... darn solid! Labyrinth at Facebook

Sunday, January 31, 2021

POUNDER: "Breaking The World"

Rating: RR
Label: Shadow Kingdom 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Pounder are another metal band stuck in a timewarp 'ala back to the future and yesterday's tomorrow. The merely seven tracks on offer on their second release, "Breaking The World", have been carefully chosen to present a broad view of the bands' influences and skills. They hail from US of A and Los Angeles and it's mostly a bit too basic and primative American Metal of the very early eighties (pre-Glam era of the Sunset Strip). Throw in the odd NWOBHM and Thrash plus some bold statements of Manowar-ish "Spoils Of War" and you're pretty much set for the naff and rampant rock.

You may recognize vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey from his Deathgrind act Exhumed, and lead guitarist Tom Draper recently joined U.K. cult Thrashers: Carcass. Not too shabby. The band itself is surprisingly good and I especially enjoy the powerful riffing on "Hard Road To Home". The overall sound is not to dissimilar to listening to the early wave of American metal of the eighties. It's however the fun Twisted Sister, Lizzy Borden, Quiet Riot, melodies of tracks such as "Give Me Rock" that I find intriguing and it's probably the best track shout-a-long-wise.

Only seven tracks as mentioned and the thirthy seven something minutes goes by just like that. There are times when things look on the positive side, particularly when they head into the pure hair-metal jungle and arrangements. I'd say, ditch the second rate Manowar moves and melodies next time and go for the Quiet and Twisted, Lizzy. Final Verdict: It reeks of long-gone metal days/daze and you only need to take one quick glance at the artwork to understand what they're all about. You're no longer in 2021, it's rather 1981...

Saturday, January 30, 2021

CREYE: "II"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Just like a shooting star I'm gonna find my way on this broken highway". Geez. Paint by numbers lyrics and the cheesy opening of 'woh-oh's' had me seriously worried for a while, especially considering that I wasn't much of a fan of their debut. Not expecting much on the second album "II" (well, duh), but I'm pleasantly surprised as it's high quality throughout the record. Working on this follow-up album to the self-titled debut. The plan was to refine and improve the songs and approach. I'd say mission completed as everything from production, songwriting, to a new and impressive vocalist: August Rauer, add a lot of fire and cuddle-fluffy animal guts.

Keep in mind that it's extremely Poppy stuff and the likes of Fingerprints, Big Money, or Paul Rein (Swedish cult pop musician) might just sound like Slayer in the quick comparison. Nah. That's a bit over the top and not always true, lol. Do however not expect to find any 'metal' whatsoever on this platter. It's hi-tech AOR, Power-Pop, and ultra slick melodic stuff with the 80s retro in the mix. It's a little bit of everything really and it's oh-so-catchy and just a little bit corny (but in a really feel-good way).

The opening riff on "Carry On" strike up the odd moment of Treat vs. Bad Habit in the late eighties and you're about to feel the HEAT (pun intended). What the heck is up with the ultra-fast fade out on the track, "Find A Reason". Very annoying and darn right unprofessional. "Siberia" is however catchy as fudge and it's no doubt the best song about the bitterly cold and sterile landscape since the heydays of Laban (Danish Pop band of the 80s). "Face To Face" might just have you thinking about the FM song from their classic debut especially since the chorus goes and I quote, 'face to face - heart to heart'. Blimey. There's a football choir effect to be found on "Can't Stop What We Started" and the piano ballad of "Lost Without You" is a proper tearjerker. "Hold Back The Night" might just have you thinking about Glen Burtnik, with or without the 'C', but oozes of HEAT. Make no mistake. These are songs written by craftsmen and performed from the heart. Final Verdict: It's all about the hooks and they're all razor sharp and ultra catchy. Creye at Facebook

JASON BIELER: "Songs for the Apocalypse"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Songs for the Apocalypse? Blimey! Justin Beiber is darker and moodier than ever... huh? My bad, it's appearantly Jason Bieler and you may (or may not) recall him from SAIGON KICK of metals' past. Right down to the point. Are the songs enough to make you a Bielver? A true cult follower of Baron von Bielski's bonky Orchestra? To be perfectly honest. It's one of those albums which you need to spin over and over again and simply just slowly digest as you'll discover something new and wonderful weird on each play. It's actually pretty darn good in a 'hello friendly/wacky' way. Remember when Frankenstein's Monster asked the little girl by the water if they are friends? Ehem. I believe she ended up floating face down... ouch!

Anyhow. It's a monster, made of different body parts and several musical influences. All vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming, noises, nonsense and wonky bits by Bieler. All songs written, produced, mixed and engineered by Bieler. Okay. At least you know who(m) to blame if you don't appreciate the wacky arrangements and compositions. As for the music within, you can sort of expect it to sound like the heavier hard rock follow-up to My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade. It's grand and melodic, orchestra, symphonic, sometimes progressive (King's X), sometimes Elton John-ish, or the 70s rock concept 'ala The Who (Quadrophenia), spiced with keys/piano, samples, and energetic guitar work in the vein of Saigon Kick of course.

Diverse, outside the box and norm with a production that is massive and modern. It's a rollercoaster ride and accessible for the masses if only the masses would be accessible? I'm not sure it's the right kind of label for Bieler and it's probably going to drown in frontiers releases. Saigon Kick vs. My Chemical Romance? Sounds good to me. Guest musicians: Todd LaTorre (Queensrÿche), Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), Devin Townsend, Pat Badger (Extreme), Butch Walker, Bumblefoot, Jeff Scott Soto, Clint Lowery (Sevendust), Benji Webbe (Skindred), Kyle Sanders (Hellyeah), etc. Final verdict: It's alive! It's alive! The villagers are definitely trying to kill the monster though, so you better be quick and pick up a copy before it's too late. Friend? jasonbielermusic at Facebook

WIG WAM: "Never Say Die"

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"So, here we go again into the lions' den"- WIG WAM. It's been nine long years since their latest offering to the Norse Gods. The album 'Wall Street' (2012) showcased plenty of valleys, towering mountains, and bitter cold fjords, but sadly no real material nor profit to be found at the dow jones index. 'Never Say Die' showcases the slightly heavier approach and style as the Glam Rock has at times been replaced with Teeny's powerful guitar work and there are moments that actually border on old school heavy metal and fellow Norwegian Jorn (Masterplan, Yngwie, etc) on this platter.

Definiely more guitars and less bubblegum sing-a-long moments than their first couple of albums in my humble opinion. It's however still a step in the right direction since 'Wall Street' but you won't find that many "hit singles" amongst these tracks. It's more of an album effort where the boyos are keeping things safe and darn right Hardcore Superstar sleazy on numbers such as "Dirty Little Secret" and "Call Of The Wild". The latter sounding extra sinister and vicious like only Sid could. The opening title track as well as the first single from the album is however the proper kick to the head with its killer refrain.

"Northbound", the impressive instrumental guitar piece where Teeny (aka Trond Holter) goes native and Norwegian folk music to the extreme. Glam aka Åge Sten Nilsen sings better than ever on the Wig Wam goes Whitesnake moment of "Hard Love". You can literally feel and taste the blues. The excellent closing number "Silver Lining" dates back to the late seventies ballads and could also just as easily have been included on the cult movie of 'Still Crazy'. Although Wig Wam are guilty of losing some Glam in the studio, they make up for it in quality performances that offer plenty of sleazy and melodic metal. Final verdict: Never Say Die sees Wig Wam treading a slightly more heavier approach than ever before. Slightly more Jorn (another Norwegian) but still keeping the essence of Wig Wam - uplifting and rather decent/fun music. Wig Wam at Facebook

W.E.T.: "Retransmission"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The good, the bad, the ugly. A.K.A. W.E.T. and the three bandidos of Robert Säll (Work Of Art), Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse), and Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman) are shooting from the hip with a brand new tribute to spaghetti Western from outer space and not to mention... Melodic Rock. The release of their fourth album "Retransmission" are taking the AOR space cowboys to familiar territory where we found our heroes once again face to face with dangerous desperados, dodgy satellites, and not to forget the beautiful game?

It's all guns blasting and big curvy hats and pants from the word go as they are at first trying to let us know that "Big Boys Don't Cry" only to later proclaim that it's just ain't true that big boys don't ever cry? Well... It's one way or the other? The song may actually lack a proper hook and truly memorable refrain in my humble opinion. "The Moment of Truth" is closing in as they just can't let go of yesterday? Another space western anthem and the tears are once again falling (speaking of the lyrics), this time co-written by Dag Finn and I believe originally intended for the 'new' album by Sha-Boom? Whatever happened to the comeback of Sha-Boom anyhow? It's been a couple of years since last update? Are those plans in the bin? No longer in the works?

Anyhow. Back on track with "The Call Of The Wild" and it seems like all the Frontiers releases are going for the same song and dance title in 2021 (see also Wig Wam review). Again, pretty standard melodic rock and I miss the genius refrain or at least something out of the ordinary. Track #4 is however the best so far, "Got To Be About Love" (heh, another 'love' title from JSS - see my review of his solo album), one of those semi-ballads that would fit acts such as Heart or Unruly Child. Next up to bat, "Beautiful Game", the best uptempo track so far and "How Far To Babylon" feature a big beat/heart and wicked rhythms by drummer Robban Bäck. "You Better Believe It" take the cake and "What Are You Waiting For" is as beautiful as power ballads come and it's sheer uplifting, heart soothing/smoothing melodic rock featuring steller lead vocals and singing guitar work. "One Final Kiss" is the perfect match making to Lita Ford and her dangerous curves and deadly lips. Yet there's something missing in the end and especially the first three tracks are truly disappointing. Final Verdict: Trusty as your old Colt 44 (I prefer it over 45) but it's hard out there for a gunslinger. Shoot 'em down or simply ride off into the sunset... W.E.T. at Facebook

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Stan BUSH: ”Dare To Dream”


Rating: RRRR

Label: LA Records 2020

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Stan Bush is reliable. When you get a new album from him, there are hardly any surprises - you'll get uplifting anthems and heartfelt ballads. Yes, it's predictable and unadventurous, but he's been doing this better than most others for almost 40 years now, so I'm not complaining.

"Dare To Dream" (not to be confused with 2010 release "Dream The Dream") is full of anthemic, very Survivor-esque songs about never giving up, believing in one's dreams and fighting the battles that need to be fought. Every now and then Stan reminiscences about the "The 80's" (don't we all?) or his father's words ("Dream Big"), and of course there are those ballads ("A Dream Of Love", "Live And Breathe" and the country'ish "Home"). 

I am thankful that this album doesn't include yet another version of his biggest hit "The Touch", although "Never Give Up" does sound a lot like a re-make...

My personal favorites include "Born To Fight" (the best Rocky soundtrack song you've never heard!), "The Times Of Your Life", which is just pure AOR magic and the intense ballad "A Dream Of Love". Stan himself sounds almost like he did in 1987, which is something quite special. He must be one of those rock vampires who never age, or maybe there's a fountain of youth on his backyard!

www.stanbush.com

Sunday, December 13, 2020

VANDEN PLAS: "The Ghost Xperiment Illumination"

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

Part two and final chapter in the excellent concept series of progressive metal Ghosts. Part one, "The Ghost Xperiment - Awakening", perhaps Vanden Plas' best album ever, the album ended on a cliffhanger, where during a séance, Gideon Grace, the main character, at last encounters the ghosts who have haunted him since his childhood. Based around the Phillip-Experiment, an authentic and credibly documented investigation of necromancy... literally, conjuring dead spirits, the German Prog Metal masters are capturing the horror and loneliness just perfectly on "Illumination".

Vanden Plas is like a fine wine, only better with time and the older they get. They do have a large back catalogue. Nonetheless. They've actually managed to record their two best albums during 2019 and 2020. That's quite astonishing considering the long history of the band, thus beating the odds of most acts sadly produce their best efforts early on in their career. It's quite the opposite on this rare occation and it's darn nice to greet them with a salute. "For years, I've felt driven by the idea of writing a ghost story that casts a different light on the genre, and ... at the end leaves the audience with a plausible explanation," author and Vanden Plas lead vocalist Andy Kuntz elucidates.

Indeed. The two part concept albums of Ghost Xperiment are by far their finest moments and should have them up there amongst the likes of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Seventh Wonder. Complex yet melodic material and compositions with a body of work that simply reeks 'larger than life' and not to mention 'spooky'. It's sharp edged tunesmith territory and Plas' cleverly structured songs and arrangements impress throughout the album. It's the ambitious effort and sort of cross between something old and something new to the genre of Prog Metal, leading to something quite familiar and ever so ghostly!!! Alea from the leading German medieval rock band Saltatio Mortis joins Kuntz for a duet on the bonus track "Krieg Kennt Keine Sieger", Snow White Blood singer Ulli Perhonen on "Black Waltz Death" and "Ghost Engineers" and the backing vocals team is made up of longtime musical colleagues including Oliver Hartmann from Avantasia and Herbie Langhans from Firewind. It's the album effort and everything from opener "When The World Is Falling Down" to the closing bonus track make sense. Final verdict: Not quite as "bombastic" as Part One, but still impressive and must have if you're into progressive metal. Vanden Plas at Facebook

UNRULY CHILD: "Our Glass House"

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

Glass house? Throwing stones? I have spent many hours raving about the brilliance about Unruly Child. The tracks on their latest effort tend to veer between decent and stuck in second gear though. "Poison Ivy", the storming opener and it's head first down that thorny hill. Excellent AOR meets complex U2 rock and there are indeed a couple of fine moments of pure joy and songwriting quality on this record. "Underwater", marvelous little AOR number and easily up there with the best of them. "Freedom Is A Fight", extremely Poppy, but I enjoy the addictive 70s styled melody. The production quality is however a wee bit too weak and muddy, the programmed drums are meh, and Marcie Free's vocals are buried in the mix. Re-recordings of Unruly Child's best songs, "To Be Your Everything" and "Let's Talk About Love" (both from the debut) on their latest not-quite-as-great release? will merely add fuel to the fire. At this point I wish Frontiers would simply just do the new solo album by Free. Simply get the all-star songwriting team and quality producer on the case and make it happen. The world needs more quality music with the AOR legend/vocalist.

Allison/Gowdy decided to write a song about the AOR community, and fans, "Say What You Want", that don't "get" their latest releases and thus getting into futile and pointless arguments on the subject of internet opinions. If you can't take criticism, do not release your music to the public. Because once it's out there, it's no longer yours and it's Always up to the listener to decide what they think and (dis)like about your music. Surely Bruce Gowdy (g, k, v) and Guy Allison (k, p, v) are aware of this as they've been around the block since the seventies. Folks that can't take criticism simply means that their ego is not permitting them to look at the issue.

We simply can't control others and their opinions and especially not on the internet, but we can work on ourselves and try and act like professionals. When we accept criticism, apply it, and move forward, not only do we benefit, but others might just see and understand your point of view. Highly sensitive people react strongly to what others think and have their band write a song about AOR fans. Fans that do not act like Unruly Child want you to act. In other words. It doesn't matter how many albums or songs of Unruly Child that you enjoy/enjoyed in the past and future to come. You need to like ALL the songs or you're no longer a fan? Worst business move ever? Having a go at the AOR fanbase and biting the hand that feeds them, well, not really.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

MAGIC DANCE: "Remnants"

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

"Oh No" - track number one off the album and also at first the one word review (don't worry it's getting better). "Remnants" is the strange concept album that moves from dark to light. It's about accepting your own mortality and the inevitability of death. But, this realization can give you the drive to live life true to yourself, if you only let it. Magic Dance was originally the solo project of singer/songwriter Jon Siejka, formed in Long Island, NY in 2012 as an outlet for his synthwave songs. However, they've decided to take one small step away from the retro eighties sound and gone for a slightly more contemporary rock/pop sound, production, and structure.

The opening two, three, tracks are actually the least enjoyable ones. Not because they're not rather catchy, but sounding like all the early 00's acts. "Zombie Breath Surprise", the more enjoyable track though and numbers such as "Cut Me Deep" and "When Your World Comes Down" sounds like they been inspired by the likes of Amaranthe and Anberlin. Catchy, but there's as of yet asolutely nothing on here that could pass for AOR though and we don't quite get the press-release blur of 'leaning more towards classic AOR'. That's however not an issue or the problem whatsoever since I enjoy all sorts of music from Pop to Thrash Metal, funk, R&B, punk, prog, etc. "Change Your Life" is in all honestly closer to the sound of The Weeknd than HEAT, but that's cool, since it's a catchy tune and Wekend and his Max Martin arrangements are straight out of the neon eighties.

"I'm Still Holding On", probably the most AOR-sounding track on the record so far and it's absolutely drenched in synth rock and swirling keyboards. There's a lonely saxophone crying in the distant and it's all very cozy and dreamy. What's next? Bazinga! A loud guitar and the more straight-ahead rock arrangements of "Changes" and "Restless Nights" are saving grace at the nick of time. This is fun and catchy, and the latter speak of wasted youth and not lost until found? The Howard Jones inspired intro of "Til Your Last Breath" is very retro/modern and extremely catchy/great. It's one third each of Dua Lipa, AOR, and 80s Synth Pop. Saving the best for last? The closing number of "I Can't Be The Only One" is very much like if The Weeknd decided to drive a flashy car and simply cruise around the streets of GTA Vice City. Final Verdict: I really can't complain too much about "Remnants" after all in the end. You can't deny its catchiness and Siejka is no doubt the classy songwriter. You need to spin this several times as you'll constantly discover something new and interesting to rave about. Hook filled synth/rock/ featuring zombies and retro/modern compositions. "Oh No" - it's darn good and it's magic dance music?! Santa never saw it coming... Magic Dance at Facebook

PALACE: "Rock and Roll Radio"

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

Welcome to Rock and Roll Radio and Welcome to GTA Vice City? The vast Palace stretching from the beach to the swamps and the gitz to the ghetto, an album briming with delights and degradation? Album #3 from the Swede and I kept feeling like I was listening to a certain soundtrack album and I can't begin to tell you how many hours I spent driving up and down the streets of Vice City with the in-game radio blasting on full volume. Crusing down Ocean Drive is a serious night out in the game and you'll notice the strip's neon hotels and bars full of models, actors, tourists, dealers, millionaires. etc.

Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Michael Palace take a lot of inspiration from the radio stations in the game and of course other sources of the 80s culture and music, fashion, cars, hairdos. Not particularly sinister, "Rock and Roll Radio" owes more to the Swedes collection of pure AOR and Westcoast Rock than to any other form of music. Chockfull of summer breeze and overall very catchy cheeze, it ain't exactly always original stuff, but the hooks are razor sharp and you can't help feeling like a winner at the end of album. Palace said it better and I quote, "When writing stuff for PALACE I'm always looking for that feeling you get at the end of a Rocky movie (spoiler alert), when he wins and the theme song kicks in", end quote from the interview at RockUnited.com

The title track opens up the album with a jump start and it's all great. "Castaway" goes through several different passages and changes as it's a mix of keyboard driven AOR with the hint of Go West and Nik Kershaw. "Way Up Here", bouncy, extremely catchy, and singing lead guitar work. "Cold Ones", chanting, haunting, AOR 'ala Survivor meet keyboard drenched westcoast and there's even the short saxophone solo 'ala Boy Meets Girl. "Eleonora" sporting a STARSHIP t-shirt and waving hello to that 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' empowered sound and power-ballad only as performed by Palace. "Hot Steel" owes quite a lot to the trio of Dan Huff, Mike Slamer, Kip Winger, since it's one third each to be found on this excellent track. Extra kudos to the lyrical line: 'turbo laser beam', lol. "She's So Original", not to be confused with Cyndi Lauper as she's unusual, pays major tribute to Harem Scarem while riding on the modern wave of new-old music. Final Verdict: Never judge a book or in this case album by its cover. Simply have Santa to put this under the tree and spend Xmas in the spirit of AOR. Ho! Ho! Ho! Palace at Facebook

Monday, December 7, 2020

SERGEANT STEEL: "Truck Tales"

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

Sergeant Steel? The Austrian sextet version of Judge Dredd? Hard Rock has a price... the price is freedom? There are no police, no trails, no juries, only Sergeant Steel? Mutants and Aliens prowling the streets? Ehem. I need to stop the film themed typing (see Alien review elsewhere) and let's have a look at the actual songs. "Fight Fire With Fire"? Nope. It's neither Metallica nor Kansas. The melody might just re-call as well as re-dial the long gone eighties soundtrack and it's pretty catchy. However, the production leave much to ask for and vocalist Vanderkill doesn't sound his best on this particular track. According to the band, "We are living in times of constant escalation. We lose ourselves in social media, although countless people feel more lonely and misunderstood than ever before. News are full of enraged protesters, authoritarian political leaders and religious extremists. Sergeant Steel are very concerned about those circumstances, and this title is our statement! Blimey. Perhaps it's Judge Dredd after all??

Instant justice dispensed without mercy? Well... it's Truck Tales? Main songwriter/lyricist Jack Power explains the album title: "Truck driver clichés have always fascinated us. Freedom "on the road", modern street cowboys, and, last but not least, the frivolous atmosphere among good buddies on highway picnic areas – is what we, as rock musicians, do identify ourselves very strongly". Most parts of the record were mixed and completed once again by Michael Wagener (Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row, etc.) in Nashville, Tennessee, except the opening "Fight Fire With Fire" and track #4 "Brotherhood" (done by the band themselves), it's hardly the sound of the major acts of the past.

The songs may lack the hi-tech gloss and glamour of the eighties US acts and it's a wee bit too rough around the edges. Tracks such as "Backstreet Lover" and "Dance Into The Light" display the funky honky-tonk styled rock in the vein of Road Ratt, It's Alive, Aerosmith. "Voodoo Queen", the hard hitting sleaze and the semi-ballad of "The Time Will Come" is pure pomp and melodic hardrock 'ala Axxis meet ROKO. The keyboard sound is definitely true to the eighties casio and the closing number of "Nightmare", Sergeant Steel's attempt at catchy Alice Cooper/Des Child rock 'ala Trash. Unfortunately, you also have dodgy numbers such as "Body Language", "Pain In My A**", "Hunter", etc. Some of this style of music can be wicked when it's got the right kind of groove, but I'm afraid to say that this is overall too varied for its own good. But hey, you might enjoy the funky honky-tonk vs. pure melodic hardrock? Final Verdict: Duck Tales will make you Quack! Truck Tales will make you Mack? (it's a truck -Mack). Worthy of your attention! sergeant-steel.com

Sunday, December 6, 2020

DRAGONRIDER: "Scepter Of Domination"

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

Album cover as well as the artwork of the year? That's if you're into RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, and various stories in the vivid genre of fantasy. Me thinks they've been playing a lot of Elder Scrolls and especially Skyrim just prior to recording the metal opus of "Scepter Of Domination". It's Tolkien Metal in the hands of Amman, Jordan, born guitarist/drummer Rad McDadi based in Bremen/Germany since the mid-10's. Dragonrider fall very much into the same Power/Fantasy/Metal with guts field that comes complete with galloping horses (and tempo) and clanging swords on the battlefield. However, they do not possess an equal degree of finess and force, which is one of the things holding them back. Other things would be the lack of memorable choruses as they're often caught up inbetween meat and potato and pasta de lux. "Where Lightning Forever Strikes" bodes well with its tempo furioso and hot metal flashes of dynamism. Unfortunately, what hopes I have of the Dragonriders' are sadly gone as "The Berserker" goes completely off the rail, and head off into the wilderness never to be seen and heard of again. There's plenty of gore encrusted numbers for your harderned Power/Fantasy/Metal to shout along to here, but we can't help thinking that we've heard it all before and better performed for that matter. The high pitched vocals over galloping riffs that go nowhere fast and it's hardly as interesting as the cover may at first suggest. Final Verdict: Decent first effort, let's hope for the second coming.

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.