Thursday, January 18, 2024

MAGNUM: "Here Comes The Rain" (an AI enhanced review)

This is an experiment with AI: I asked ChatGTP to write a review of the new Magnum album in my style. The first attempt was pretty good, but way too long and there were some facts wrong, songs that are not on the album mentioned etc. 

I asked it to correct the facts, mentioned my favourite tracks and the sad news of Tony Clarkin's passing... After a few attempts, this is what I would have written, according to ChatGTP. I definitely notice some straits of my writing here... I pretty much agree with everything here, except for the bit about "Some Kind of Treachery" and "Broken City" having "humor-infused lyrics". Maybe some other tracks, but not those two.

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Magnum's "Here Comes The Rain" is a symphonic rock journey that demands attention, with two standout tracks leading the way – the exhilarating opener "Run Into the Shadows" and the gripping "After The Fire."

"Run Into the Shadows" kicks off the album with a thunderous proclamation of Magnum's enduring prowess. Tony Clarkin's guitar mastery creates an anthemic, powerful, and hook-laden anthem. Bob Catley's vocals soar, setting the stage for the entire musical expedition.

"After The Fire" stands out as a gem, showcasing Magnum's ability to blend melody and power seamlessly. The combination of Clarkin's guitar riffs and Rick Benton's keyboard magic creates a sonic landscape that's both majestic and captivating. The song's dynamic shifts and emotive delivery make it an instant classic.

While these tracks shine as the album's crown jewels, the entire record is a testament to Magnum's musical finesse. Tracks like "Some Kind of Treachery" and "Broken City" provide moments of introspection, while the humor-infused lyrics keep the experience entertaining.

In the wake of Tony Clarkin's recent passing, "Here Comes The Rain" takes on an added layer of poignancy. It stands as a tribute to a guitar legend who poured his heart and soul into every note, especially evident in the opening track and the mesmerizing "After The Fire."

In conclusion, "Here Comes The Rain" is a celebration of Magnum's enduring legacy. Whether you're raising your lighter to the heavens or air-guitaring with abandon, Magnum's latest effort is a rock odyssey that demands to be experienced.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

ROCK BLOG #26: The Best Albums Of 2023 - "The Turbo Dozen"

 It’s never easy, and it takes time, putting together a list of favourite albums. For 2023 I had trouble figuring out a Top 10, but then I thought: ”who’s forcing me”? No-one! So I chose 12, and since ”The Dirty Dozen” is such a cliché, I went with ”The Turbo Dozen”! 


1. Nitrate - Feel The Heat

(With their fourth album, Nitrate have definitely reached the premium league of modern AOR. Songs, production, the whole package - masterclass!)


2. The Defiants - Drive

(Ravel, Laine & Marcello did not disappoint with their third effort. Summertime anthems with massive hooks was the name of the game, but they do work during other seasons too - I’ve tested!)


3. Crowne - Operation Phoenix

(The Swedish supergroup produced another killer album, even better than their debut. Alexander Strandell is the vocalist of the year, with two albums in top three!)


4. Strangerland - Echoes From The Past

(The surprise album of the year - no big names involved but big-sounding AOR nevertheless.)


5. Kent Hilli - Nothing Left To Lose

(Hilli hooked up with One Desire producer Jimmy Westerlund and the result was a great slice of fine AOR.)


6. Theocracy - Mosaic

(The Metal Album of the Year for me. Matt Smith has a way with the melodies!)


7. Ten - Something Wicked This Way Comes

(Ten have their unmistakable style, and I like it. Gary Hughes has a way with the melodies too!)


8. Temple Balls - Avalanche

(Finland! I didn’t choose this because they’re from Finland, I chose it because it’s catchy hard rock, with a little help from Jona Tee of H.E.A.T. and Crowne.)


9. Vega - Battlelines

(A new line-up, but still solid as ever.)


10. Creeper - Sanguivore

(A very late addition to the list. Imagine a mixture of Goth Rock and Jim Steinman’s greatest moments, and you’re close to this!)


11. Streetlight - Ignition

(Retro sounds from Sweden, very much in the vein of early-to-mid-80’s AOR.)


12. Winger - Seven

(A strong comeback album from Kip & Co.)



During the painstaking process of choosing the Top 12 albums, all of these albums were also in consideration.

All good ones all worthy of a solid RRRR rating. In no particular order:


Cassidy Paris - New Sensation

Care Of Night - Reconnected

Overland - S.I.X.

VV - Neon Noir

Issa - Lights Of Japan

Autumn’s Child - Starflower

Arctic Rain - Unity

Khymera - Hold Your Ground

Creye  - III: Weightless

First Signal - Face Your Fears

Robin McAuley - Alive

All My Shadows - Eerie Monsters

Seventh Crystal - Wonderland

Kamelot - The Awakening

Stormwarning - s/t

Lordi - Scream Writers Guild

Floor Jansen - Paragon

Revolution Saints - Eagle Flight

Grand Design - Rawk

Mecca - Everlasting

Perfect View - Bushido

Heavens Edge - Get It Right

Circus Of Rock - Lost Behind The Mask

Art Nation - Inception

Tanna - Kohtalon Tuulet

Degreed - Public Address

Mitch Malloy - The Last Song

Houston - Re-Launch III

Gabrielle De Val - Kiss In A Dragon Night

Tempt - s/t

Rian - Wings

Transworld Identity - Seven Worlds

Eclipse - Megalomanium

Masaki - Feed The Fire

Midnite City - In At The Deep End

Ronnie Atkins - Trinity

Lazy Bones - Eye Of The Sky


I know I forgot some or didn't have time to check them out, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise I would have published this list in July... 2025!


 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

DOKKEN: "Heaven Comes Down"

Label: Frontiers

Rating: RRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The new album from Dokken is better than I expected, but then again, I didn't expect much. There are a few solid songs on it, but a certain kind of blandness or flatness stops them from rising to the next level. With Don Dokken's diminished range, the melodies can't really take off like they used to do in classic Dokken songs, but he does his best with what he's got. He's been through all kinds of trouble, so all things considered, he doesn't sound that bad.

It's strange that the opener and first single is "Fugitive", where Don's voice sounds very rough. He does much better on most of the other songs, and Mark Boals' soaring background vocals enhance the choruses. Guitarist Jon Levin has to be mentioned too, his guitar work is very much in the vein of vintage Dokken.

My favourite song is the ballad "I'll Never Give Up", the other power ballad "I Remember" is pretty good too. "Gypsy" is the strongest rocker, the likes of "Just Like A Rose" and "Over The Mountain" are decent enough, and "Lost In You" could have been a contender, it sounds like a good Dokken song played at half-speed. 

The stripped-down "Santa Fe" is a bit of a departure from the overall sound of the album, it reminds me a bit of Styx's "Boat On The River". A campfire storytelling song and quite nice actually, with a lot of warmth in Don's voice. 

www.dokken.net


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

ROCK BLOG #25: Nitrate, Vitalines, Midnite City, Taage and more.

Spotify, it’s a blessing and a curse. I like that I have just about all the albums in my headphones or speakers when they’re released, but I also hate that. Being somewhat obsessed, I want to check out a lot of releases, but It’s not possible for me to listen to music all the time. I always wonder how some people make social media posts about 8-9 albums and say that ”this is my playlist for today” - I couldn’t possibly listen to that many albums in a day, even on a day off work… of course people have different lives, some can play music at work and as background music all the time. 

Back in the day, the number of new, interesting album releases wasn’t nearly as high as these days. Still, I didn’t have access to all of them, and the ones I got were played over and over. Nowadays, living with an album for weeks and weeks isn’t really possible. Depending on the mood, sometimes I just want to go back to the familiar stuff and listen to the all-time favourites or revisit something that I haven’t heard in a while. Should I go back to the 80's style and just listen to one or two albums for a week? But then I'd miss out a lot of music...


Anyway, in this blog entry I’ll go through some of the new stuff I’ve checked out, and possibly some old stuff too. 


There’s been a buzz about the new NITRATE album ”Feel The Heat” (RRRRr), and it’s truly deserved. Now with the Martin Brothers Tom and James (Vega, Khymera, Ted Poley etc) firmly in the band, writing and producing, the band has leaped into the A-list of modern-day AOR bands. The band was formed a few years ago by bassist/songwriter Nick Hogg, and the band’s first album featured vocals by Joss Mennen (Zinatra, Mennen), while the second one was sung by Swedish vocalist Philip Lindstrand. The last two albums the lead singer has been another Swede, Alexander Strandell of Art Nation and Crowne fame. Strandell has a strong hold of the ”Vocalist of the Year” title, with 3 solid releases this year, one from each of his bands! 


With a big-sounding production and some synth wave vibes, this album could very well appeal to a wide audience, especially when in its’ core there are some very catchy and melodic songs. Not that many of the hits of today rely on melodies…


The songs range from pure AOR (check out ”Satellite”, which reminds me of Bad English) to slightly harder-edged, guitar-driven sounds of ”Strike Like A Hurricane” or ”Haven’t Got Time For Heartache”, which sound like songs that could be sold to Scorpions! Personal favourites include also ”Needs A Little Love”, ”All The Right Moves”, ”Wild In The City”… in fact, only the ballads ”One Kiss (To Save My Heart)” (featuring Issa) and ”Stay” haven’t really won me over, even though they are both good songs.


Out of last Friday’s releases, I’ve briefly checked out former On The Rise guy TERJE’s ”Recalibrate” (RRR), which has its moments but also some rather basic hard rock numbers. Solid enough, and harder-rocking than On The Rise. 


DAVE & THE DUDES features former Fighter V vocalist David Niederberger, but musically ”Down For The Count” (RRR) is more timeless classic rock than his previous band. Good-spirited party rock, fun to listen to but none of the songs really left a lasting impression.


VITALINES’ album ”Wheels Within Wheels” (RRRr) is a collaboration between Find Me/Blanc Faces vocalist Robbie LeBlanc and Swedish guitarist/producer Tommy Denander. AOR is the name of the game, some Totoesque moments as usual with Denander’s work and great vocals as usual when Robbie LeBlanc is behind the microphone. Mark Mangold (Touch, Drive,She Said) is also involved, co-writing the standout track ”Love And Thunder”. His old song ”You Never Know With Magic” has been re-recorded for this album, it was previously released on the Mystic Healer album. 


The latest THEOCRACY album ”Mosaic” (RRRR at this point) I’ve only heard once, but despite its’ fairly complicated music, I could easily tell that we’re talking about a very good melodic metal album. I just like Matt Smith’s sense of melody. I will surely give this more spins.


I’ve kind of overlooked MIDNITE CITY’s ”In At The Deep End” (RRRR), another solid album from the band. It was released a while ago but got lost in the shuffle or something like that. The boys have done a good job replicating the sounds of late eighties / early nineties melodic hard rock, with the closest reference being Danger Danger. This might be the most AOR-influenced album of theirs, with several mid-tempo, keyboard-heavy songs. Standout tracks include ”All Fall Down” and ”Girls Gone Wild”, which is really a tribute to Danger Danger, it could be called ”Don’t Blame It On A Shot of Bang Bang Love”! Catchy as hell though, so I’m not complaining.


Another album that really got lost in the shuffle was released back in 2021. We’re talking about a Finnish release with Finnish lyrics, the first solo album from TAAGE, ”Carpe Diem” (RRRR), the vocalist of Kilpi and Altaria. I just never got around to checking it out, although it was available for free at Bandcamp or some other place. Now it’s on Spotify, and today I finally remembered it. And whatdoyaknow, it’s good! All music is written by the mysterious RIITIS, whose name you can find on several Finnish releases, including Circus Of Rock, Transworld Identity and Tuple. He’s a prolific songwriter who writes good melodic rock songs, and he’s been around since the eighties, when his band SKÄDÄM was a rather big name here. 


”Carpe Diem” is more melodic and less metal than Taage’s other bands. You’ll hear touches of Foreigner and Rainbow in these songs. If you’re Finnish, here’s a comparison - imagine a hard rock version of YÖ with good vocals! 


Check out the album from Spotify, and check out also the great single ”Syyskuun 15. Yö”, which isn’t on the album. As far as I know, there isn’t a physical release available.




Thursday, October 5, 2023

ROCK BLOG #24: WEST ALLEY, MASAKI and STRANGERLAND reviews, a few words about PETRA too

This time the focus is on a few newer bands, who have recently released their first albums.

Let’s start with WEST ALLEY. Just like many of the ”newcomers” of recent years, they’ve actually been around the block a few times, and the roots of the band go all the way to the eighties. ”A Night To Remember” (RRRR) is the name of the album, and the title track is the opener. Frankly, it doesn’t represent the sound of the album very well, it’s lightweight west coast pop which reminds me of a cheesy advertisement from the seventies or something like that. But fear not! The band crank it up and start rocking after that, and come up with deliciously melodic songs with nice hooks, one after another. The punchy ”Miracles Can Happen” is my favourite, but ”Angels”, ”How Many Hearts” and ”Colors Of Love” are close behind. Plenty of Toto-isms can be heard, and nods to other AOR greats such as Survivor and Journey. And doesn’t vocalist Marcus Björkroth’s higher register sound quite a lot like Jean Beauvoir’s?


MASAKI might sound like a name for an asian band, but they are from Norway. Looking at their videos I’d guess that the band’s average age is few years less than that of West Alley’s. Some of the band members have been in STONEFLOWER, but for this project they’ve adopted the artist name of their lead singer JOHN MASAKI, who is a profilic performer in the Norwegian music scene. He’s been in Norwegian Idol, several big musicals and other productions. ”FEED THE FLAME” (RRRR) is their debut, and it’s a good album, classic AOR sound with modern pop and prog elements. They have some interesting lyrics too. For example, one of the album highlights ”Angel Wings” seems to take a critical stance at religious hypocrisy. Other noteworthy songs include ”Stone Cold” and ”Almost Paradise”, all three mentioned found their place on my ”Highlights of 2023” playlist. Mr. Masaki himself sounds a lot like Tracy White, the vocalist of Shotgun Symphony and Intruder.


My favourite of these three new releases is STRANGERLAND and their album ”Echoes From The Past” (RRRRr). Strangerland is a project of Greek musician ALEX PATMAN who’s responsible for guitars, keyboards, songwriting and production I believe. The vocals are provided by US singer DAVID CAGLE, who does a fantastic job. His smooth vocals really suit these tracks, which remind me of Treat, Harlan Cage and Khymera. I especially like the melancholic mid-tempo songs ”Until My Heart”, ”Summer Nights” and ”Calling You”, while out of the uptempo ones ”Tears In My Eyes” and ”Whenever It Rains” are among my favourites too. Not to mention the magnificent ballad ”Time”. I’m surprised that this album hasn’t gotten that much attention, it’s certainly one of my top albums of this year.




Apart from new music, during the last few days I’ve been listening to a lot of PETRA albums. They really had a nice streak of three excellent albums in the late eighties, starting with ”This Means War” (1987), followed by ”On Fire” (1988) and ”Beyond Belief” (1990). They released a ”praise” album in 1989 but I’m choosing to ignore that one, it’s not really an album of original Petra songs. 


These three albums are the absolute jewels of the band’s discography, and all three feature the Elefante brothers John and Dino as producers/co-writers. The Elefantes worked on the albums before and after these three, but they’re not in the same league, although both of them do have their moments.


If you’re not familiar with Petra, they’re a Christian rock band with a strong message. They never managed to cross over to mainstream and I don’t think they really tried to, and in the CCM genre they are legends and have still sold millions of records. One can hear the influences of the era on these three albums, the success of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard certainly has had some impact on the production and songwriting.  We did a ”The Big 10” feature on the band some years ago, there you’ll find more about this band.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Rock Blog #23 - Friday Video Frenzy

It's Friday, and here's a few new videos to get you to the weekend mood! 

DRAGONFORCE have released their latest anthem called "Doomsday Party", and it's... very different to what you might expect. Catchy.


The next video was released last week, but I'll add it here anyway, who's stopping me? No-one! It's ERIK GRÖNWALL's fine cover "Livin' On A Prayer"!



BROTHER FIRETRIBE are heading to a tour of Finland this weekend, and to celebrate that, they've released a new song. I don't have an actual video (yet?), but here's the YouTube version of the song, available also on other streaming platforms I'm sure. The song is "Just Another Night", and it's brilliant as usual. 



I've liked DELTA GOODREM for a long time, but this might be the best song she's released so far! "Back To Your Heart" is very much in the AOR vein.


NITRATE has released a few albums already, and with every one of them they've taken steps towards the top of the genre. "All The Right Moves" is their latest single, and a new album is on the way. I think it's going to be a monster of a record! 



VEGA has gone through some personnel changes, with the Martin bros. leaving the band. Tom and James are nowadays a part of the band Nitrate (see above), but that hasn't hindered Vega. They've just released their latest album "Battlelines", which might just be their strongest album yet! This is the latest single "Heroes And Zeros". 


Last week I reviewed the new ECLIPSE album, a good one for sure. The latest video cut from the album is the celtic-flavoured "Anthem".



MASAKI is a new Norwegian band, with members of Stoneflower in the line-up. "Angel Wings" is a video track from their debut album, and it's very good!




 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

ECLIPSE: ”Megalomanium”

Label: Frontiers
Rating: RRRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


Swedish hard rock masters ECLIPSE have released a new album, and it’s an event in this corner of this genre of ours, worthy of a dedicated review. The band has been accused of repeating a same formula, and I can see (or hear, to be precise) where those accusations arise. Then again, the band has their own sound and that’s something to be proud of.  On ”Megalomanium” you’ll get some trademark Eclipse melodies and songwriting tricks, but mixed with plenty of new influences. 


Many of the albums we rave about on our pages are either from the eighties or have a distinctively 80’s sound, but I think Eclipse have pretty escaped the retro-thing successfully. Their sound is contemporary, but still accessible for those of us who are maybe somewhat ”stuck in the past”. Yes, I confess I am one of those.


Erik Mårtensson and co. aren’t only spinning their old eighties vinyls for inspiration, they are obviously listening to modern rock bands as well, and adding some elements here and there. The Eclipse sound evolves naturally, although the foundation is the same. I heard touches of Ghost, The Foo Fighters, Green Day and My Chemical Romance, yet all of these songs sound like Eclipse first and foremost.


When it comes to songs, I don’t think this album is as ”hit-packed” as their previous ones, I’d go as far as to say that there are a few fillers among these songs... although Eclipse’s fillers are still better than an average rock song. Interestingly, the three singles ”The Hardest Part Is Losing You”, ”Got It!” and ”Hearts Collide”) that were released before the album didn’t blow me away initially, but in the context of this album they get a new a life and are now my favourite songs from this one. Granted, I didn’t give them too much airtime among the flood of new releases. 

 

https://www.facebook.com/EclipseSweden/