Thursday, March 30, 2017

Steve HACKETT: ”The Night Siren”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inside Out Music
Review by Martien Koolen

Wolflight, released in 2015, was one of the best Hackett albums ever and I almost thought that he was at the peak of his long musical career. However, now, Steve Hackett brings out his 25th solo album called The Night Siren and it is an absolute, brilliant gem.

It seems as if Steve's guitar playing is getting better and better with every year he grows older, as some of the solos on The Night Siren are utterly marvelous and awesome. For me the guitar solos in the songs Behind The Smoke, El Nino and The Gift are some of the best Hackett has ever played and recorded. Especially the solos in the instrumental tracks The Gift and El Nino give me goosebumps all over, every time I hear them. But there is a lot more to enjoy on The Night Siren, take for example Martian Sea (featuring Hackett on sitar and guitar), Anything But Love (with excellent flamenco guitar picking), Inca Terra (featuring didgeridoo) and In The Skeleton Gallery, which is a very diverse track. The longest track, which clocks just over seven minutes, called Fifty Miles From The North Pole, is perhaps the best song of the entire album, featuring massive guitar solos and melodies, but also featuring Ferenc and Sara Kovacs on trumpet and didgeridoo and Amanda Lehmann on backing vocals, giving the song a typical atmosphere.

The Night Siren shows Steve Hackett at the top of his musical game as the album is so diverse and there are lots of changes of style and tone to discover as a listener. Hackett's ideas, creativity and musicality burn as brightly as never before and it really is a musical treat of the highest order to listen and enjoy The Night Siren over and over again. The Night Siren already belongs to one of the musical progressive highlights of the year 2017 and I am sure that this awesome album will end up in my top 5 list of best albums of this year. Play it loud and as much as you can!!!!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

TOKYO MOTOR FIST: ”s/t”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This interestingly titled band features Trixter (and occasional Def Leppard) guitarist Steve Brown, Danger Danger vocalist Ted Poley and a very seasoned rhythm section of Greg Smith (bass) and Chuck Burgi (drums). After the first spin I was a little bit underwhelmed - the motor fist didn’t knock me out. I didn’t give up on them though, and after a while the songs started to work. The sheer positivity and energy they radiate began to light up my day while listening to them.

I can’t say that TMF has a very unique or distinctive sound, a mix of Danger Danger and Trixter describes it rather accurately. Steve Brown’s Trixterious (a new word!) songwriting style shines through and he might have picked up a few things from Leppard too. Ted’s vocals are unmistakable as always, he does have a distinctive sound of his own.

My favourite songs… hmm, a difficult question. There are no super-hooks that stand out, instead you’ll get an album full of enjoyable melodic rock songs. But let’s see… ”Get You Off My Mind” is a very Def Leppard-like semi-ballad, I like it a lot… ”Put Me To Shame” kicks off with a riff that reminds of vintage Dokken, while the chorus makes me think that Jack Ponti might have a hand in writing this song. The two ballads ”Love” and ”Don’t Let Me Go” are very good too. I do like the rest of the track as well, the summertime rock vibe is uplifting, although the hooks could have been sharper.

All in all a good album, and I can’t wait for summer when I get to blast this in my convertible, with the wind in my hair. All I need is a convertible. And hair.

https://www.facebook.com/ted.poley

Monday, March 20, 2017

DIRTY WHITE BOYZ: ”Down And Dirty”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Do you remember early nineties hard rockers Kiss Of The Gypsy? They released one major label album on Atlantic but their success was limited and short lived. Vocalist Tony Mitchell has been in the music business throughout the years, but Dirty White Boyz marks his return to the melodic rock/AOR scene. In the band we find familiar names - Nigel Bailey, Neil Ogden, Paul Hume and Jamie Crees have been in bands like Three Lions, Bailey, Lifeline, Lawless, Demon…

It sounds like there are two bands on ”Down And Dirty”, one of them an exceptional melodic rock band and the other a fairly standard pub rock band. I definitely prefer the first one, with fine AOR songs like ”All She Wrote”, ”Hanging On A Heartache” and ”Rise”. Okay, maybe ”Ride With Angels” sounds a little bit too much like Bon Jovi’s ”Bed Of Roses” but Mitchell’s raspy vocals save it from being just a weak copy. The other ballad "After The Rain" is far more impressive though.

The pub rock band delivers us songs like ”Dynamite”, ”Playin’ Dirty”, ”All In The Name Of Rock’n Roll” and ”Bring It On”, the kind of meat and potato rock songs I’ve heard a million times before. Take ”Dynamite” for example: the title would suggest that it’s an explosive rock track, but despite its’ Def Leppard-vibe and verses that move along nicely, it falls flat thanks to a plodding chorus.

What else… yeah, there are times when Tony Mitchell sounds a lot like Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P. Now, don’t go thinking that it’s a negative comment, W.A.S.P. does have some very melodic songs too and I actually like Blackie’s vocals. Merely an observation.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/DWBofficialuk

Sunday, March 19, 2017

SELFMACHINE: "Societal Arcade"

Rating; RRr
Label: Wormholedeath Records
Review by Martien Koolen

The Dutch metal band Selfmachine released their full length debut album called Broadcast Your Identity in 2014 and the reviews were very positive, sometimes even overwhelming. Now, three years later Selfmachine, consisting of: Steven Leijen (vocals), Mark Brekelmans (bass guitar), Michael Hansen (guitars), John Brok (lead guitar) and Ben Schapers (drums), bring out their follow-up album called: Societal Arcade. The album is mixed and mastered by two notorious, legendary producers Waldemar Sorychta and Dennis Koehne, who already produced albums for excellent bands like Moonspell and Grip Inc. Societal Arcade contains 13 tracks of which 9 are not my cup of tea and that is due to the fact that in these 9 songs the band tortures me with grunts. For those of you who do not know this by now: I f... HATE grunting, as for me it has nothing to do with singing whatsoever; sorry guys! So, that leaves 4 songs for me to like and tell someting about. Giddy-up!, nice title by the way, is the first track I really like; it is heavy, sometimes even trashy, it has a catchy chorus and a great guitar solo and only, thank god for that, a very little bit of grunting....No Cliche is an excellent rock ballad with an amazing melodic guitar solo and this song proves that Steven Leijen can really sing! Nothing Worth is also a huge metal track, without grunts, with heavy hooks and riffs and that one actually reminds of Alice In Chains. The album ends with the best song of the entire album called Luminous Beings. It is also the longest track (6:03) and it is rather dark, mysterious and it has a great build up,also featuring two marvellous guitar solos and some great vocal performance. Why not make an album with only songs like the latter or the other three songs without grunts? If the grunting was skipped from the entire album then this would have been a more than excellent metal album and my rating would have been much higher and more positive; but as I stated before: I HATE grunting, and again sorry, guys. Next time, third album without grunts??

ECLIPSE: ”Monumentum”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

With three fine albums released back to back, not to mention vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Erik Mårtensson’s extracurricular activities, there was a little doubt crawling into my mind… can they still deliver? Has the well ran dry? The first single ”Vertigo” was good, but not so good that these doubts would have gone away. But they should have. ”Monumentum”  is monumental, phenomenal and beautiful. The worst thing about it is that it sounds very much like an Eclipse album. And since it IS an Eclipse album, that isn’t a bad thing at all.

If you were hoping that Eclipse would have reinvented themselves with a new sound and style, then you’ll be disappointed. There are some subtle new influences but basically this is a continuation of the previous three albums - energetic, hook-laden melodic hard rock. If you’re familiar with those albums, you’ll know that the emphasis is on HARD ROCK, they like to write guitar-driven uptempo songs with attitude. And that’s what you’ll get here. But you’ll also get superb melodies and razor-sharp hooks.

The band’s guitar hero Magnus Henriksson is on fire, so there’s plenty of first class axemanship for those of you who crave for that. I do enjoy his work, but for me it’s the songs that count, and I don’t think that Eclipse have released a more solid set of songs than this one. Almost every song is worthy of a ”single” status, even the heaviest, hardest-hitting songs of the album are equipped with great melodies and choruses. Interestingly, the aforementioned first single ”Vertigo” is probably the weakest track on the album, a ”standard Eclipse song”… I would have chosen any of the other songs to be the first sample… but it’s still a pretty decent song.

My personal favourites include ”Never Look Back”, ”Killing Me”, ”No Way Back” and damn, I could list most of the songs. Eclipse has done it again, make no mistake about it.

PS. Isn’t it funny that two albums released on the same label at the same time, both have a song called ”Hurt” on them?

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

BROTHER FIRETRIBE: ”Sunbound”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Spinefarm
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Summer is here! The new Brother Firetribe album is about to be released! Yes, the band that defines the term ”Summertime AOR” has put together a fine batch of songs that ooze sunshine, good times and wild nights. Their previous album ”Diamond In The Firepit” was a somewhat darker effort, but as the title suggests, ”Sunbound” is heading to a happier place and time again.

The first song that was released from this album was the awesome ”Taste Of A Champion”, an insanely catchy tribute to the motivational 80ies soundtrack songs. That song alone proved that BFT was back in a big way. The follow-up single ”Indelible Heroes” was a strangely bland one though, despite its’ poignant lyrics about the rock heroes that we have lost recently. I was fairly confident that it was merely an one-off and I’m happy to say that I was right. It’s possibly the weakest track of the album and to be honest, it’s not that bad anyways.

On their previous albums, the band has chosen some of their less outstanding songs to open their albums, but on ”Sunbound” they finally get it right. The first ”real” song of the album, ”Help Is On The Way” starts the album with a powerful riff, a bit Fortune-like melodies and a strong chorus. It’s followed by the two singles mentioned above and ”Last Forever”, another summer anthem in  the vein of ”I’m On Fire” or ”Wildest Dreams”. Even though one’s plowing through sleet to work or school, this song will make it bearable - trust me, I’ve tried it. ”Give Me Tonight” is a keyboard-driven uptempo pop-rocker that works well as a sequel to ”Last Forever”, even though it’s not quite as brilliant.

The moody, dark ”Shock” is a bit of a departure, a balladic track with layers of keyboards. It’s definitely not a typical AOR ballad, more like an eighties’ synth-pop song with Emppu’s tasteful guitars on top of it. Not one of my biggest favourites but still an interesting and enjoyable track. The heavier ”Strangled” reminds me a bit of the band’s previous album, it’s not a bright and breezy summertime anthem but very good nevertheless. Hard-hitting keyboards, killer hook and frantic guitar work from Mr. Virtanen.

The mid-tempo AOR of ”Heart Of The Matter” has a positive message and a pleasant melody, while ”Restless Heart” is the 80’ies movie song cover of the album. Originally recorded by John Parr for the Schwarzenegger flick ”The Running Man”, this suits the band perfectly. Pekka Heino doesn’t have the rasp of John Parr but he makes this his own by adding his own stamp to it.

One of the album’s top tracks for me is ”Big City Dream”. Fine traditional storytelling in the lyrics and a chorus to die for. It doesn’t get much better than this! The album’s epic closing track has a rather strange title, ”Phantasmagoria”. Wikipedia says that it’s ”a form of horror theatre that used one or more magic lanterns to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, typically using rear projection to keep the lantern out of sight”… Tribe’s ”Phantasmagoria” involves a woman haunting the storyteller. Or something like that, it’s all so mysterious. Musically this song is a distant relative of the other ballad ”Shock”, only even more layered, ambitious and melodic. Phantastic even.

Flawless production, great playing and singing, several of my favourite songs of this year included… I seriously doubt there will be too many albums that will be better than ”Sunbound” this year.

https://www.facebook.com/brotherfiretribeofficial/
http://www.brotherfiretribe.com

DEAD OF NIGHT - "In Search Of Ancient Magic"

RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: Self Release

REVIEW BY: Alan Hollowaty

British would be symphonic rockers Dead of Night return with their second album, challenging the big boys and girls with a low budget but high ambition. I say it's the second album, but the first was recorded and released twice, the second time with current vocalist Briony Featon, so it's actually their third release, and... oh never mind, it's the music that matters.

It's immediately apparent that Dead Of Night have the talent to back up their ambition, as opening track 'One Night Holy' is a rollicking, guitar heavy track with a great melody. I don't know how their original singer sounded, but Briony Felton is a fine replacement either way, with a clear, melodic, powerful voice. The band's symphonic affectations are quite evident, and although there's no orchestra the keyboards provide plenty of atmosphere and classical effect. The title track that follows allows the keyboards to take more of a central role the album pretty much continues in this way, with plenty of nicely paced, catchy tracks laced with very effective keyboards throughout. Fourth track 'Child of Wolves' is the first to go full on Nightwish, with whirlwind pace and drama all over the place. There's two slower tracks, 'Airaeth' and 'the Other Side Of The Rain', placed well in the middle and at the close of the alum respectively. I'm not always keen on slower songs, but these are quite beautiful, that latter never outstaying it's seven minute runtime.


The more I listen to 'In Search Of Ancient Magic' the more I enjoy it. It's much better than most symphonic hopefuls, with a lot of bouncy energy on top of the serious stuff, and there's even a track about scientist Michael Faraday (he discovered the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis, science fans)! It's quirky enough to be fun, and dramatic enough to be deep, and I would urge any fans of female fronted classical themed rock to get a copy.

Official Website

Facebook Page

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Danko JONES: "Wild Cat"

Rating: RRR
Label: AFM
Review by Martien Koolen

Fire Music, the previous Danko Jones release was their most successful album so far and so the hard rock trio from Canada decided to do the same thing on their eighth studio album called Wild Cat. So musically speaking there are no surprises whatsoever, meaning if you liked Fire Music, then you will probably love Wild Cat as well.

The new album contains 11 new songs and they all have a hard rock edge with plenty of aggressive guitar riffs, hooks and melodies that will keep you moving for about 40 minutes, which is of course rather short, but ever so sweet!

Highlights are the Thin :Lizzy tribute You Are My Woman, the rocking title track with an obvious Van Halen guitar vibe, Letís Start Dancing (almost punky so fastÖ) and the last song called Revolution (but then we make love). The latter is my personal favourite being a mid tempo hard rock song with a great solo and lyrics that remind me of the sixties.

Wild Cat is a typical Danko Jones album, raw, fast, no nonsense and lots of tongue in cheek lyrics, like for example Success In Bed.

With his new album Danko Jones presents his prescription for a better world: make war then love, keep on rocking and play Wild Cat at maximum volume!!!

www.dankojones.com/
https://www.facebook.com/dankojones/

Monday, March 6, 2017

ONE DESIRE: ”s/t”

Rating: RRRRr
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

First there was the ”buzz”. People close to the source were saying that something special was on the way. Then there was ”Hurt”, the song that introduced One Desire to the public. I fell for the song instantly but it didn’t hurt at all… The second song ”Whenever I’m Dreaming” took a couple of spins but I fell for it too, and along with the new Brother Firetribe album, this became the most eagerly awaited release of this year for me.

Now that I’ve been able to listen to these songs for a while, I can honestly say that this album doesn’t disappoint. It isn’t flawless but it’s very good. Very, very good. But now the obligatory brief history lesson…

The band was founded by drummer Ossi Sivula a few years ago. Things started to move ahead when Ossi hooked up with producer Jimmy Westerlund. A three-track demo impressed Frontiers Records, and eventually Westerlund became a member of the band as guitarist, along with vocalist André Linman (formely of Sturm und Drang) and bassist Jonas Kuhlberg.

For what it’s worth, this is a rather varied album. The songs range from AOR to Melodic Metal and somewhere between the band explores more modern rock sounds. It may sound like they’re ”all over the place” but in fact somehow they never lose the plot, there’s a common thread keeping these songs together.

The first single ”Hurt” is the first song of the album too, and what a song it is. More melody than you could ever ask for, and an understated, yet highly infectious chorus. This has been my most listened track of the last few years, I kid you not.

Track 2, the third single ”Apologize”  (or ”release”, I don’t know what you call them these days) comes from the prolific Eric Mårtensson (Eclipse, Nordic Union, W.E.T.) but it isn’t one of my favourites. Same goes for ”Love Injection”, it’s good but not one of the album’s highlights. The intense ”Turn Back Time” is brilliant though, as is the contemporary-sounding, balladic ”Falling Apart”. ”Straight Through The Heart” is one of the heavier tracks on the album but it doesn’t work for me. ”Whenever I’m Dreaming” and ”Do You Believe” represent the more AOR’ish side of the album, and they are melodic jewels indeed.

”Buried Alive” is an interesting track, a full-blown melodic metal song that sounds unmistakably like ”Future World”-era Pretty Maids. Andre Linman does a good Ronnie Atkins-impersonation, using a rougher tone for some parts and a cleaner style for others. Pretty good!

The album started with ”Hurt”, yet the last song of the album is called ”This Is Where The Heartbreak Begins” - maybe a sign to go back to the ”Hurt” again? I don’t know, but I do know that ”This Is Where The Heartbreak Begins” is one of the finest ballads I’ve heard lately and if there’s any justice, it’ll be a big hit for the band.

The only reason why I’m nitpicking once again and handing out the fifth ”R” as a small one is the production, or the vocal production to be precise. André Linman is a good singer but some of his vocals are way too heavily doctored. The Autotune or whatever raises its’ ugly head on several songs but ”Straight Through The Heart” is the worst one I guess, Linman sounding dangerously mechanic. I know, it’s 2017 and to a listener of contemporary pop this kind of sound is just fine, but I come from a different era…


https://www.facebook.com/OneDesireBand/
http://www.onedesire.net

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The RAVEN AGE : ”Darkness Will Rise”

Rating: RRRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

I saw/heard The Raven Age last year, as this exciting new metal act from London opened the show for Iron Maiden in Arnhem, The Netherlands. I was really impressed with their short live set and now a couple of months later, The Raven Age release their debut album called Darkness Will Rise. The Raven Age, hailing from all corners of my favourite city, being London of course, consists of: George Harris (guitar, yes and he is the son of Iron Maiden founder Steve harris), Dan Wright (guitar), Matt Cox (bass guitar), Michael Burrough (vocals) and Jai Patel (drums).

Darkness Will Rise contains 13 tracks and none of them is a filler, as this album rocks from the opening track Darkness Will Rise till the last song called Behind The Mask. All tracks feature excellent, addictive, heavy riffs and after a couple of tracks I cannot help myself as to compare these guys with the American rockers from Pop Evil. The Raven Age sound heavy, epic, dynamic, dramatic, but most of all very melodic and really catchy as well.

Highlights are the longer tracks like The Merciful One, Eye Among The Blind, The Dying Embers Of Life and Behind The Mask; especially the diversity in these songs, loud and heavy passages and melodic softer passages add extra dimensions to these blockbusters. Vocalist Burrough really sings his ass off and he especially shines in Winds Of Change, My Revenge and Salem's Fate. The Raven Age also released a video (check it out at: www.metalfan.nl/article.php?sid=15655) from Salem's Fate and it is of course based on the notorious witches trials in Salem in 1692.

This amazing debut of The Raven Age is an album filled with melodic,powerful metal and it is even heavier than Iron Maiden... The songs are overloaded with great melodies and producer Matt Hyde (Slipknot, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine) did an excellent job, making Darkness Will Rise an excellent blend of really heavy music with powerful melodic vocals. The Raven Age are a band to watch out for in the future; so check them out and play the album at maximum volume!!! Enjoy...

theravenage.org/

ENBOUND: "The Blackened Heart"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inner Wound Recordings
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The second Enbound album "The Blackened Heart" sees the band finding their own sound and style in the oversaturated melodic metal genre. Now I'm going to revert to comparisons to describe their style, although it really doesn't do justice to the band. Here goes anyway: A bit of Kamelot, some Seventh Wonder, a spoonful of Queen and the vocalist from Work Of Art. Interestingly, Lars "Lee Hunter" Säflund's distinctive vocals do not really make me think of WOA, the music is so different, if not any less melodic.

I especially like the fact that while the arrangements are rich and complex, it's the song that's always in the spotlight. There are no extended solos or unnecessary instrumental passages, yet I'm pretty sure that even hardcore prog rock fans won't find these songs "too easy". What's more, the band's melodic sensibility is outstanding. There are some hauntingly beautiful melodies and hooks in the songs. 

My favourite songs include "Get Ready For", "Falling" and "Make You So Unreal", all with melodies that make you just want to close your eyes and levitate.... So far I've haven't managed the latter but never say never!

The MUTE GODS: ”Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inside Out Music
Review by Martien Koolen

The second album of The Mute Gods, consisting of Nick Breggs (bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals), Roger King (keyboards, guitars) and Marco Minnemann (drums), is again a real progressive rock gem. The album with the rather weird title Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth, features 11 new songs, of which two (Saltatio Mortis and The Andromeda Strain) are instrumental. Saltatio Mortis (dance of death) opens the album and it is a rather experimental, tricky song with great guitar hooks and excellent drumming; the same accounts for the other instrumental track The Andromeda Strain, which is a bit more obscure and super proggy.

The Dumbing Of The Stupid (again a weird title) is the first absolute prog rock gem of this album; clocking over seven minutes it is filled with great guitar work from King and Breggs. Another highlight is the song The Singing Fish Of Batticaloa which clocks over eight minutes and that one is really experimental and proggy to the bones. Most of the songs on this album are actually more aggressive and really tense and dark (except for the two rather ”mellow” songs Early Warning and Stranger Than Fiction), making this album more difficult to listen to for the first time. However after a couple of spins you will get hooked to the sound of this excellent prog rock trio; they are indeed Gods, musically spoken that is. Play it loud and listen to it on your headphones and then you will even be more amazed.  Tardigrades by the way are also known as water bears or miss piglets, and are in fact micro-animals.

www.themutegods.com