Wednesday, September 19, 2018

VOLA - Applause Of A Distant Crowd

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Sweet Zombie Jesus!! Applause of a Distant Crowd by VOLA, no doubt the melodic "Prog" rollercoaster ride of the year!! Straight to the point. They're painting a vivid picture of alluring melodies and playful arrangements. Using big eclectic brushes and open minded musicians, the Danes explore the soundscapes and boundaries (in)between genres such as Prog Rock, Poppy AOR, EMO, Goth, and soft Electronica/Industrial Metal. Their genre-defying obsession and almost cinematic sound, definitely the strength of the album. No growls and not quite as heavy as previous attempts at world domination, you could say it's VOLA's "Images and Words" (Dream Theater).

In fact. The genius idea of mixing melancholy, happy-poppy keyboards, crystal clear vocals, and progressive elements, could only be described as the Scandinavian concept. Lyric-wise, it's all about light and darkness, sweet and sour, or simply put the struggle known as life of the common man and woman. The title track "Applause Of A Distant Crowd" is a metaphor derived from a relationship with social media (nah, it can't be facebook?), and how we pretend to have perfect lives and invisible friends from all over the world. Asger Mygind (vocals/guitar) says and I quote: 'We spend a lot of time trying to present ourselves in a flattering light in the pursuit of continuous applause, even if it’s a distant applause from those you may not connect with away from the screens'.

Kicking off with "We Are Thin Air", it's grand, emotional prog rock, where the episodes of soothing melancholy is merely out shined by its catchiness and marvelous keyboards. "Ghosts", keyboards 'ala rave, only on steroids and simplicity at its best really. The story is morbid and speak about the fear of dying and eventually... death. "Smart Friend", heavier, moodier, darker, yet ever so perky and fun. "Ruby Pool", its overall structure and idea might just have you thinking about Seventh Wonder (The Great Escape) and One Republic. The grand piano at the centre of attention. You can apply the same basic concept on the next following tracks, "Alien Shivers" and "Vertigo". The return of the crunchy guitar work, "Still" and "Whaler", the latter being the headbanging moment on the album. The closing track, "Green Screen Mother", the soft, laidback, piano/keys outro.

Final verdict: Definitely not just "Prog-Rock". It's hybrid stadium rock and you can pick up bits and pieces of everything from Dream Theater/Seventh Wonder, to Amaranthe, One Republic, and Nine Inch Nails. Highly Recommended.
facebook.com/volaband

AARON BROOKS - Homunculus

Rating: RRRR
Label: GentleArtofMusic 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Wave goodbye to 2018 and say hello to the late sixties and early seventies groove. All-American Aaron Brooks moved in 2011 to Germany with his far-out psychedelic rock band Simeon Soul Charger and over the years they managed to build a large fanbase. Honestly. I don't know. It might have been large. For instance. The barking mad teutonic people adores the music of The Hoff!! However. The SSC group disbanded some five years later (2016) and Brooks decided to keep calm and carry on writing groovy songs for the far-out solo effort: Homunculus. It's been nicely produced by Yogi Lang (RPWL) and Kalle Wallner contributed a lot of guitars.

Spooky, quirky, and far-out. Brooks are taking you out on a vivid trip where the singer/songwriter melodies meet psychedelic folk rock. Definitely 'out there' and not of this earth or solar system for that matter. It's planet weird and strange space art-rock at its fullest. The weirdest part of all. Yours truly found the melodies to be strangely intriguing. You know, like ravishing purple alien women on bicycles. Oi! Sexist bastard! Throwing stones already? You can't look away. That's what I'm trying to say. You simply can't look away or in this case stop listening to the enchanting melodies.

One minute it's Jesus Christ Superstar The Movie/Musical meet Muse. The next, Sparks vs. The Doors. Or why not Leonard Cohen vs. Aphrodite's Child (666). The piano often plays a leading role, as well as strings and orchestral percussion. Brooks' sad crystal clear voice soar over the arrangements and you need to embrace the quirky concept from the opening words of "Consume" to the closing track of "Digital". In the hands of anyone else, it might sound like a bad idea and poor business. However. This crazy American would appear to have grasped the concept of being strange AND interesting. Simply keep the orchestra going and never stare directly at purple alien women on bikes? Definitely groovy and far-out, it's Homunculus.

www.aaronbrooks.net

Saturday, September 15, 2018

ALLY THE FIDDLE - Up

Rating: R
Label: GentleArtofMusic 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The pros and cons regarding the album "Up" by the German sextet Ally The Fiddle. It's Progressive Rock/Fusion. The overall structure which obviously include compositions, arrangements, and lengthy passages, definitely suits the classically trained violinist Ally "The Fiddle" Storch. You could say it's something out of the ordinary, even if the lead vocals are ever so monotone and clearly not quite as impressive as the virtuoso violin work. The likes of "Sisyphos", "Living In a Bubble", "Center Sun", does not compute, are really sore, and difficult to praise. The majority of tracks are instrumental and that's a blessing in the disguise or if you prefer skies.

I'm not exactly having a go at The Fiddles, but they do play on the "posh" Prog-Rock card and aspect, that Prog being something that not everybody can play and thus why it should be enough to outplay the opposition. Unfortunately or fortunately? It's not always about skill or which level you've managed to reach on your musical journey to nirvana (pun intended - journey and nirvana. that's a double whammy). Most people tend to like material and structure where the melodies actually lead to something instead of merely stating the obvious - they we are darn good at playing our instruments. And make no mistake. These guys are d-a-r-n good musicians. There is just not a huge amount to rave about here if we're talking actual songs and melodies. In fact. The most memorable track, the cover of Surfing With The Alien.

Alex Storch explains and I quote, "For me, being progressive means to spin around thoughts and to further develop music", end quote. Fair enough. I enjoy their 'thinking outside the box' agenda and no matter what, a good song is always a good song. These particular thoughts and tracks are simply not to my liking. Alex is no doubt a superb musician and that's something to keep in mind. I'm sure you'd enjoy catching them live on stage if only just to say 'hey, that's one helluva' violinist - shame about the songs though'. Guest musicians includes Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats/The Mute Gods/Steven Wilson), Jen Majura (Evanescense), and Jerry Goodman (The Flock and Mahavishnu Orchestra).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

DOYLE BRAMHALL II - Shades

Rating: RRR
Label: Provogue/Mascot 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The future's so bright you gotta' wear Shades? Doyle Bramhall II's dramatic debut for the Provogue label, the eclectic mix of the seventies sounds and genres such as blues, soul, funk, and garage rock. I didn't expect the opening tracks to be quite as raw, rough, and at times even psychedelic. Then again. The man has been around the block a few times, picking up various inspiration, performing together with artists that includes Roger Waters, Elton John, Gregg Allman, Allen Toussaint and T-Bone Burnett, to name a few. More significantly, DBII had spent over a decade as Eric 'Slow Hand' Clapton's (ultra slow-motion nowadays?) musical right-hand man, collaborating closely with the legendary guitarist both in the studio and on stage

Starting up the album with some truly great, groovy, and nearly psychedelic tunes such as "Love and Pain" and "Hammer Ring". The first track was born out of inspiration, collaboration, and tragedy. It speak of the tragic shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. It reek of Jimi H and the reverse guitar thing merely add to the overall vibe of 1968, proper freedom fighters, and trippy hippies. The latter (Hammer King) having this really cool rhythm pattern and style that acts such as King's X explored and played around with in the past. Doyle sounding a lot like their singer on this track.

It's a great start. I fully expected the entire album to be more of the same. Eric Clapton appears on the R&B-tinged "Everything You Need" and it could just as easily have been released in the year of 1976. It's got that smooth sound going on at eleven and it's darn close to Yacht music or if you prefer soft-rock. This would fit nicely in with the Doobie Brothers and Clapton at the time. The duet with Norah Jones on "Searching For Love", the follow-up to the successful pairing on DBII's previous album. "Live Forever", back to the groovy late 60s, and to be perfectly honest, it reeks of CREAM. It's CREAM. Basically CREAM! So far, so good.

Unfortunately. The album, losing a bit of pace, life, and structure around track seven (Break Apart To Mend) and though it's never dull or boring, it's neither exciting. I must however say that "She'll Come Around" is a marvelous little ballad and worthy all the praise and awe. Overall, the first half of the album, perhaps just more interesting and eclectic than the second half. Do we really need another cover of "Going Going Gone"? Final verdict: ballads are plenty, could we ask for more fuzzbox on the next album? facebook.com/doylebramhalliimusic

Monday, September 10, 2018

ALCATRAZZ - Live in Japan 1984

Rating: Live
Label: earMusic 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

What's not to like about this? Vocalist Graham Bonnet (Rainbow and The Michael Schenker Group) and young guitar genius Yngwie J. Malmsteen going at each other with two massive egos and the infamous chicken race. Add to this Alice Cooper, New England, Warrior, members Gary Shea (bass), Jimmy Waldo (keyboards) and drummer Jan Uvena, and you're in for a treat 'ala 1984. Big brother is watching? It's the honest, raw, uncut, definitive version of the concerts performed by Alcatrazz in January 28-29, at Nakano Sun Plaza, Tokyo. Excerpt of the show has previously been released as "Live Sentence". However. This time it's full frontal nudity (yuk!) aka the naked truth as the production is pretty darn real and without layers of overdubs (from the original 24 channel audio multitrack I may add).

18 tracks of pure joy where such numbers as "Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live", "Hiroshima Mon Amour", "Island In The Sun", "Big Foot", "Jet To Jet" were performed with a hunger and confidence that can only be acquired after spending years in the business (Bonnet), or simply having the big ego, sheer belief, and larger than life attitude (Malmsteen). Bonnet sounding a bit forced on Hiroshima, but it's the real deal, not the polished crap, and the kind of live recordings we prefer really. Yngwie, beating or rather breaking his poor masters' fingers on the Rainbow numbers, "Since You Been Gone" (originally the Russ Ballard tune), "All Night Long" and "Lost In Hollywood". Seriously. Almost any guitarist (signed to a metal label) could mimic Blackmore. Malmsteen's guitar work? You need something a bit out of ordinary. Bonnet, the real crowd pleaser, and there's storming versions of "Night Games" (his biggest solo hit) and MSG's "Desert Song" to be found on the fully restored and remastered recording.

To quote the great viking, six-string bender, and overall donut fan, "How can less be more? Surely more is more". The young guitar hero Yngwie J. Malmsteen could do no wrong in the eighties. The mad creator of the genre known as Neo-Classical Metal and Hard Rock rejected tons of riffs and arrangements other guitarists could merely dream about. Easily the best or at least the most prolific cat of the era. Especially since Ed Van Halen decided to dabble with keyboards (jump) and snorting cocaine and any other drug he could fit up his nose or arse for that matter. The mad fretwork and tapping shines throughout the record and we get treated to stunning versions of "Evil Eye" (still to this day one of the best instrumental guitar metal pieces) and "Coming Bach". Yngwie, clearly too big for the band. The first song after the curtain call, guitar solo and the traditional Japanese instrumental tune of "Kojo no Tsuki". 'Unleash The Fury' would continue to release gob-smacking, jaw-dropping releases throughout the 80s. Final verdict: The solid ground. Captivated. On the rock (pun intended) - it's Alcatrazz!!! Highly Recommended.
facebook.com/alcatrazzoriginalband1

Friday, September 7, 2018

ENUFF Z'NUFF - Diamond Boy

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The original recipe for the crazy cookies known as Enuff Z'Nuff? Piece of cake really. Get into the kitchen and grab me the following ingredients: The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick. Mix it all together in the blender, add the healthy dose of Glam and you'll usually end up with something sticky and sweet. 'Diamond Boy', no longer follow the original recipe though and the "NEW" cookies are perhaps just lacking a little bit of the great flavour and taste of the heydays. The band now centered around bass player and vocalist Chip Z'nuff, still alive, out there, touring and recording new material. This record is the first Enuff Z'nuff release where Chip handles all of the vocal duties, "Singing on the entire album was very challenging. I'm taking the place of my brother (Donnie Vie) who I consider one of the greatest singers of our generation", says Chip.

Yours truly. The nineties fan of the original cookies and grew up with the power-pop music. I knew absolutely nothing about acts such as The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick, and it took me forever to discover their influences. People say that Donnie mimic and copied Lennon. But there's a whole lotta Costello in that voice too. Chip is no Donnie, and no schmuck for that matter. The echo voice effect works magic in the studio. I quite like it. It's old school. A bit rough around the edges but still worthy of your attention. Let me tell you another thing. This is the typical grower album and you need to spin Diamond Boy on his head several times before the drugs kick in. In fact. The song material grew with each spin up to a certain point of course. It's not like they're still growing.

The title track, Mott The Hoople on dope. Yeah right. They never used dope? "We're All The Same" sound as if Weezer decided to hang out with our crazy cookies. I also noticed their choice for the latest single, Metalheart, the weakest track on the album and I tend to skip it everytime. It's otherwise a very solid affair by the band, Chip, longtime guitarist Tory Stoffregen, ex-Ultravox singer/guitarist Tony Fennell and Chicago native Daniel Benjamin Hill on drums. "Love Is On The Line" is just poetry in motion, and the perfect "Dopesick" some of their best work and lines in ages and I quote: 'I'm the truth, but I lie. I'm a sheep, I can fly. I can work, but I'm high' -Dopesick. Yeah. Vie is gone. It's not the same, but similar. facebook.com/EnuffZnuffOfficial

D'ERCOLE - Made To Burn

Rating: RR
Label: Rock Company 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Two sides of the coin? There's at the least three sides to the overall sound of "Made To Burn" by D'Ercole. First you have the fun guitar rocking numbers such as the opening track of "Time To Walk Away". It came out swinging like the Rabbids Invasion on a suicide mission to Mars (fun animated stuff at Nickelodeon and from France), but it's not really representable of the entire album. It reminded me of XYZ and Terry's work during this century. Secondly. The Pomp inspired keyboard number of "Out Of Time", easily the best track on here. It's got that late seventies, early eighties, sound going on at eleven and the same goes for the following acoustic vs. electric guitar track, "Open Your Eyes". The harmonies are really good throughout the first three tracks.

Thirdly. You have the really blunt and dare I say boring 'meat and potato' numbers such as "Feel The Burn", "Mistreated", "Get Undone", "Tragedy In Motion". They all have a rather annoying and darn right irritating guitar sound. Style-wise, they sound like mid-80's Gene Simmons compositions performed by mid-90s Dokken. Things are looking up again with the likes of "Same Old Story", "Slow Motion", and "Don't Know What You Got", however, it's not enough to save this platter from ending up in the sink, dish washer, at the very back of the cupboard.

D'Ercole is in fact the band of the D'Ercole brothers: guitarist Damian and drummer BF. That's what I thought at first anyhow considering the moniker. Lo and behold. In reality it's one of the many projects of U.S. artist/ vocalist Phil Vincent (Tragic, Chinawhite, Legion, etc.) and it feature guest musicians such as David Zychek (RIP), Paul Sabu (melodic hardrock cult legend) and Vince O’Regan. It's clearly not Vincent's best work up to date and the production differ a lot from track to track. Some are absolutely fine and others are muddy and thin. I'm neither too keen on the guitar sound and tone of Damian. Let's hope for something more uplifting on the next Phil Vincent album.

HELION PRIME - Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster

Rating: RR
Label: AFM Records 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom
 
Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster??? Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast.!!! Ace Rimmer? The return of the Red Dwarf? Sadly no. It's once again Sci-Fi Power Metal from Sacramento, California and it's ever so Pluto and Mars. Actually. It's probably Uranus. Noted: They have this big weird mascot - the mighty Saibot - the lamest metal attribute ever since Ronnie James Dio fought a lame dragon on stage. What ever happened to Kayla Dixon? The lead vocalist is no longer in the band as she's been replaced with Sozos Michael. Band leader Jason Ashcraft comments on the audition of Sozos: "He is the kind of singer I have always dreamed of working with. Not only are his vocal skills top-notch but he understands and knows what the music needs. Writing together for this album was a breeze and I hardly had to ask for any rewrites. Often he would send me ideas that was exactly what I was thinking. I am thrilled to work with someone like that and can't wait to see what we accomplish together."

Sozos, definitely no schmuck and you can trust him to fight off all the little green aliens and purple space monsters with his powerful set of killer pipes. Nothing here to make me listen again though. However. It's probably the mega super cool album if you're nine years old and looking for something to scare the crap out of your younger sis or bro. If you are into so-so, Edguy meet Gloryhammer Sci-Fi laden powermetal then you'll probably give this 12 thumbs up. A Sci-Fi Metal band like Helion Prime, especially when armed with a song called "Spectrum", are always going to scale the weird end of the ehhh... metal spectrum. The seventeen minute monster title track marking a shocking finale that will leave you stunned and confused for days. The Sacramento band's new piece of work was mixed and mastered at LSD Studio by Lasse Lammert (known for his work with bands like Alestorm and GloryHammer). I'll type that again. LSD Studio. Plenty of space monsters. I rest my case and keyboards. Send in the Star Trek and Star Wars nerds.

KING COMPANY - Queen Of Hearts

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

What the fudge? King Company - released as one of the 'New Breed', Frontiers' stable of young, exciting, up and coming bands who are the future of hard rock and metal? Oh c'mon. These Finns are merely young at heart... And obviously in comparison to all the 70 year old geezers (Asia, Rick Springfield, Whitesnake, etc.) that you usually find hanging around at the office of the Italian label, dropping various objects on the floor such as records, walking canes, pants, liniment, and hearing aid.

Formed in 2014 by veteran drummer Mirka Rantanen (Warmen, Thunderstone, Kotipelto, etc.) and guitarist Antti Wirman (Warmen, Children of Bodom), the sophomore release speak of "Queen Of Hearts" and reek of Teutonic melodies? Yes. They are indeed from the land of the Mumintrolls and found their new singer on YouTube. Italian-Argentinian Leonard F. Guillan at first merely the short term solution and replacement to Pasi Rantanen, the band eventually asked Leonard to join as a permanent singer as Pasi fought off vocal chord problems.

Nonetheless. The music sound as if it should definitely be wearing lederhosen and a funny hat (Austria, Germany, Switzerland). It's Axel Rudi Pell, Shakra, Silver, and Gotthard, all over the place and straight across the album. Technically speaking a vintage production and sound, it's been nicely mixed by Janne Wirman and mastered by Mika Jussila, stylistically a tad heavier and closer to Thunderstone than the debut. The storming title track goes through several different stages of rock where the intensity and Jens Johansson-ish keyboards stand out as the two main ingredients. It's ever so decent but below the standard of the top acts of the genre. Unfortunately, this is the case of the vast majority of the album. It's nice, neat, but also difficult to name any real highlights on the record. The ballad of "Stars" is probably my favorite track and that's never a good sign if you're looking for a rocking good time. Actually. The following track, "Living In A Hurricane", the really catchy uptempo rocker in the German tradition of melodic hardrock and the standard the entire album so badly needed. Final verdict: Hook missing. Line, sinker - gone fishing.

SOULS OF DEAF - Fortune Favours The Bold

Rating: RR
Label: Rock Company 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

It's the Souls Of Deaf, man! Souls Of Deaf!!! (softly spoken in the voice of Grandpa Simpson). They are an Dutch band with a distinct metal flavour. They tread the fine line between eighties old school NWOBHM, hard rock, and the melodic hard core sound made popular by the likes of Prong. It's tight, meaty, heavy, and absolutely bulging with muscular riffs. Their dangerous looking singer (Francis van der Hoff) has clearly been inspired by Metallica's James Hetfield and the lads know how to mix it up with metal melodies and the aggressive attitude that far belies their moniker.

No major complaint regarding production, and whilst "Fortune Favour The Bold" is an extremely well executed metal album, it is almost too clinical, too safe, and dare I say too much of an deja vu experience in its structure and style. Their material rapdily becomes one-dimensional and the vocals overall fail to offer enough variety to hold my attention. For instance, "Forwards You Move", possible the best/worst Spinal Tap song since...ehh... Spinal Tap.

The band was formed in 2015 by bass player Sander Stappers and in guitar player Luc van Rens, drummer Carl Vereijken, and singer Francis van der Hoff, Stappers found like-minded metal heads. Perhaps it's merely just a question of time and coming up with another trick or two to add to their performances. One of my choices, "Fall From Grace", with an early to mid nineties classic metal sound to feature a bumping bass, enhanced tempo and grinding guitars that bring to mind the Prong metal either way. It's a good choice and match in terms of vocals as Van der Hoff allowing the gruff and rough delivery that fits the blunt metal approach. I'll have to say that it's desperately crying out beginners searching for identity.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

3.2 - The Rules Have Changed

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2018
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

ELP! ELP! HELP! To make a long story short(ish). U.S. musician Robert Berry (Alliance, Hush) got drafted by Keith Emerson (RIP) and Carl Palmer to work on the project of the late eighties. Carl didn't fancy ASIA anymore and Keith recorded one album as Emerson, Lake & Powell (drummer Cozy), and broke up shortly thereafter. Thus the idea of getting together as a new power-trio under the brilliant moniker of 3. They recorded 'To The Power Of Three', released worldwide by Geffen Records in 1988 and the first single 'Talkin' 'Bout' reached #9 on the Billboard charts.

Fast forward to 2015. Emerson listened to an upcoming 3 live album from their 1988 tour that was being released by the record company. Berry and Emerson got together again and Frontiers Records gave them a deal and complete artistic control over the material and recordings requesting only that it was a "3" record in the 80s style. The two wrote and collaborating long distance on music up until the tragic moment in Mars 2016 when Emerson decided to end his time here on earth. After months of grieving, Berry decided to resume work on the material that was created and craft a record that would ultimately be a fitting tribute to Keith Emerson’s musical legacy and at the same time re-energize and update the musical style started with 3 some 30 years ago. According to Berry. "The phrase ‘what would Keith do’ drove me, it guided me, it consumed my creativity". In other words. Keith is basically Jesus on this record and he's definitely turning water into wine as well as walking on water.

Some people think of this as Prog-Rock. Not entirely sure if I agree to 100%. This has also a lot in common with Symphonic Rock and the keyboard driven POMP/AOR which became popular in the early eighties. It's tons of dut-dut keys (fanfare) and the arrangements are overall a bit shorter and not quite as complex nor long as proper progressive work. Sure. You can still find the occasional old segment. The title track goes on forever, and both "Somebody's Watching" and "Your Mark On The World" takes you on a trip via all the different avenues of prog-land. However, the opening tracks are ever so radio friendly and more in the style of ASIA, Gowan, and obviously the 3 album. What's your definition of Prog? And what about Symphonic Rock? Pomp? Let's just type down that all mentioned genres/styles are included on this record.

Opener, "One By One", the grand piano intro based on a piece by Grieg, prior to the three headed beast known as Korg/Roland/Moog is unleashed and it's all very perky and Asia. The Berry/Emerson composition clocks in at +seven minutes and that's not shabby at all. "Powerful Man" goes straight to the heart with its fun and innocent eighties sound and the massive attack of fanfare keys. Really catchy, sunny, uplifting work by Berry and you can't help to grin along to the melody. Still got those innocent kid eyes. The title track is grand and epic and about losing someone and the disbelief in people being capable of ending their lives. "What You're Dreaming Now", originally intended for the the second 3 album and Emerson did the music with melody and lyric added by Berry 28 years later. Again. Those massive fanfare keys and I love the break-down. "This Letter", one of those songs that just as easily could have been the work of Todd Rundgren or Lawrence Gowan for that matter. Final verdict: 3.2 is definitely 4.0. It may well be the last compositions we'll ever hear by Emerson?