Saturday, September 21, 2019

The DEFIANTS: "Zokusho"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Power Pop? Melodic Rock? or maybe Hair Metal? Don't you just hate the latter term? The cheeky "insult" to all the eighties bands as they are basically trying to say: it's all about hair, make-up, image, and not really music? But hey, what ever floats your boat. 'We all float down here and you will, too. In fact, they ALL FLOAT! THEY ALL FLOAT!' - oh piss-off, Pennywise. This is 'IT' rather than spooky clown shit. One thing's for sure. The Defiants are original and current Danger Danger members: Bruno Ravel (bass), Rob Marcello (guitars), now with drummer Steve West as a special guest, and of course former D2 vocalist and long-time AOR solo artist: Paul Laine.

In the same way Survivor brought AOR and Pop together to the masses, these chaps are mixing Party Metal and Pop with great result on "Zokusho. Their instantly recognizable austere yet insanely catchy and richly layered combination of guitar driven melodic hard rock and power-pop, it may still come as a mild surprise to realise just how many hooks and sing-a-long moments are on this album. Laine provide New Jersey vocals in the tradition of Bon Jovi, Franke & The Knockouts and Springsteen, while keeping in real and true to The Defiants' formula. He may just soar a little too high on "Stay", but it's at least the honest approach and not the computer or robot voice.

It's nothing new, you say? We've heard it all before, you say? Yeah. This may come as a surprise... there's no such thing as "completely new" in the year of 2019. It's all been done before and rock music hasn't experienced anything "new" (genre, style-wise, etc.) since the eighties. Tracks such as "Love Is The Killer", "Hollywood In Headlights", "Fallin’ For You", "Hold On Tonite", "U X'd My Heart", "Alive", sweeps you away to a place where all the colours, lights, and sounds are constantly playing in the background of your favourite movie or tv-show. Hair Metal City?

Perhaps not quite up there with a masterpiece, it's a friggin' catchy, consistent and pretty excellent sequel. On the one hand containing more yeah's and woah-oh elements of the trademark D2 style to satisfy fans of their later mature work, while on the other still showcasing more of their POP(py) influences to be of fascination to those unfamiliar with their earliest music and who want to experience the Jersey roots of the band members. The second chapter is indeed the intriguing platter, and it's been an enjoyable listen so far. Highly Recommended. facebook.com/TheDefiantsRockBand

BLOCK BUSTER: "Losing Gravity"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Block Buster? I thought they went out of business a long time ago? Appearantly not? You can still rent your VHS and DVD's in Finland where... wait... what? My bad. My spiritual guides from the other side are informing me that we're talking about the hard rock band formed by the Metsäpelto brothers Aarni (vocals/guitar) & Jaakko (drums) in Kuopio, Finland. Saatana Perkele! That could have been embarrassing. Still not as embarrassing as the press release and I quote, "The best way of describing their music: take AC/DC and Motörhead, spice it up with some Extreme and Bon Jovi, the rougher side of The Rolling Stones, throw in some hunger and energy of the rock torch carriers of the newer generation such as Airbourne and The Darkness, add a good dose of modern vibe to the mix and put it in a giant blender", end quote. Huh? No seriously... What??? I can't hear or find any trace of the fore-mentioned acts in their music?

Well... okay. Use your imagination and several bottles of Koskenkorva, and you might just find the tiniest trace of AC/DC, only not quite as raw or direct to the point. Then again. It could also just be the extremely loud guitars and amplifiers. You may pick up just as much Foo Fighters and Mustasch on this record. Let's not dwell on the subject any longer. Let's focus on the fact that "Losing Gravity" is a proper rock album where the Busters manage to avoid the certain metal death traps by investing in some serious adrenalin fuelled riffing. In fact. They go for the jugular faster than Dracula after a week trapped in his crypt. Or if you prefer the Zombie version and the need for your brain? It's not like you're using it anyhow?

Tracks such as "Out In the City", "Gone By The Morning", "Flammable", "Back From The Shadows", are all nicely produced and performed by the Flying Finns. Not always catchy as bushfire, but always energetic, loud, and straight in your face. It's the solid album effort without any real downers. They might be still looking for THAT special song to really lift them to the next level. But it's certainly good enough until their next effort. facebook.com/blockbusterband

25 YARD SCREAMER: "Natural Satellite"

Rating: RR
Label: White Knight 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

25 Yard Screamer? They are from Wales, you know. They should be raising their tiny little fists in anger and shouting obscenity to the ref about not getting awarded the penalty in their previous football match. 25 Yard Screamer?? Whatever. "Natural Satellite" is nevertheless their latest offering to the ancient Gods of Prog and various spectacles and flower-power nonsense.

The opening track of "Storyteller" and especially its intro may sound like circus macabre at first before turning into the very melodic rock tune. Not nearly as much Progressive Rock as expected and it's rather more Tomorrow's Child than Pink Floyd. I seriously doubt that people may still recall and remember the early/mid 90's group of Tomorrow's Child though? The following track, "Devastate", Styx meets Tommy Shaw goes solo and Nick James (vocals/guitars) may have been listening to quite a lot of Shaw material in the past? Add to this PORCUPINE TREE and you're even closer to home.

The start losing the plot around "The Silent Rising" and it's 15 minutes of proto gaga and lyrical moments that tell the strange tale about people that hides in the plain sight of all people, as they silently walks with the fearful. It sadly got worse and slightly more disturbing when "While We Are" are trying to convince us and I quote, 'while we drink, we are fun'. Gee... that's deep. The rest of its lyrical content, hardly worth the trouble and you really shouldn't be drinking and smoking all that stuff while putting down your message on record.

Although it's interesting to begin with, Natural Satellite just doesn't do it for me. In fact. By the end of it I have grown quite tired of what becomes a lot of detours and off-the-road driving. "It's an album that has had a varied and unexpected journey" say bassist Matt Clarke. Fair enough. It's just not my kind of Journey. No pun intended. But hey... don't stop believin'

Thursday, September 12, 2019

ARDOURS: "Last Place On Earth"

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Ardours, a nu alternative gothic metal band featuring lead vocalist Mariangela Demurtas (Tristania) together with multi-instrumentalist and producer Kris Laurent. Originally formed in 2015, Ardours was the product of Mariangela and Kris' longstanding friendship from both of their involvements in the Sardinian (Italian) metal scene. In 2006, Mariangela moved from Italy and joined the Norwegian band Tristania, but she and Kris always kept in touch. They'll no doubt be accused of ripping off the likes of The Gathering, Lacuna Coil, Within Temptation's gothic approach as well as the vocal phrasing, and clearly shares their ability to dramatise their vivid point of reality. For instance, the title track speak of sad and depressive moments where "No matter how bright you shine. Your glitter will never be gold".

According to Mariangela, "Ardours has more rock and 80s influences compared to Tristania, including a bit of new wave sound which is something that me and Kris love. When I chose to be part of this project, I knew I wanted to sound very expressive without being technical so that I could give a more nostalgic sound to the words", end quote. Since Mariangela wanted Ardours to be a melting pot of different personalities to add to the unique flavour of the songwriting, she decided to ask Tristania's drummer/lyricist Tarald Lie to write the lyrics and record the drums for the album. The mix of these three elements has resulted in a style, straddling the lines between rock, metal and goth.

They certainly don't shun sentiment and sadness rather than embraces it, where the moving stories of missing you, goodbye, this is the end on "Last Moment" and "The Mist" are prime examples of old skool 80s Goth meet modern ditto. The keyboards/synths are very much upfront on many of the tracks and are at the same time very bombastic and utterly dark. More to be found of the catchy and direct 'No One Is Listening'? I certainly have and I find their messages and stories about melanchoy and sadness to be rather... ehh... uplifting?? Last Place On Earth is a good place with the right kind of atmosphere... if you're into female fronted nu/alt/goth. facebook.com/ardoursband

Thursday, September 5, 2019

ROBERT RANDOLPH & The Family Band: "Brighter Days"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

New Jeresy? Orange, baby! and it's proper old skool Roadhouse material from the word go. Robert Randolph grew up playing sacred steel music – gospel played on pedal steel guitar – on the House of God church and began taking his joyous, gospel-infused music out to clubs and into the world. The Grammy-nominated musician and his band consisting of various family members (minus the dodgy uncle down the basement) are going back to Randolph's gospel roots, mixing it up with blues, R&B, soul, funk, and the unmistaken sound of the pedal steel guitar.

I've been playing this non-stop for weeks now (release date was delayed) and I can safely say that "Brighter Days" speak of quality and there's hardly a poor track in sight and certainly no dodgy musicianship. The massive sideburns and groovy 70's vibe is set perfectly by the great production by Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Brandi Carlile) and by Robert Randolph's gravelly voice cutting through the hordes of wailing keys and steel guitars. Sister Lenesha Randolph is a little ripper on vocals and cousins Danyel Morgan on bass and Marcus Randolph on drums are rock steady throughout the platter.

The family band flawlessly construct each track, injecting joy and hope of brighter days, avoiding the often similar structure of the genre and put themselves up there alongside R&B finest. Opening track "Baptize Me" provides slide and gravelly voice of highest order. According to Randoplh the song is "a love story, about an all-round love: for each other, for our audience", end quote. "Don't Fight It" takes the gospel to the people with a driving mood and big beat drums alongside excellent slide guitar work. "Simple Man" is a smashing cover of the old Staple Singers composition and I'm sure Pops would nod and smile along to RR's version (Mavis too for that matter). Highly Recommended.

KENTISH SPIRES: "Sprezzatura"

Rating: RRRr
Label: bandcamp/1973 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

In a dodgy music culture and time when plastic and pace seem to be the new order, The Kentish Spires' approach to musicianship and recording is certainly worthy of some praise. They haven't gone apes**t over the compositions and there's plenty of space between all instruments, allowing all the band members to shine like radioactive cats in the dark. Everything is so friggin' clean and crystal clear that I couldn't help but think about the sterile landscape of atomic winter when I first heard it.

More than this? there's nothing? Oi! We're not talking about Roxy Music. It's the Canterbury-style Prog at full swing. However, the choice of sound and structure favours the quirky arrangements and that is clearly first noticed on the opening tracks of "Overture (instumental)" and "A Sea Shanty". They are both part of the trilogy of Knots. The experienced musician of Danny Chang (guitars, keyboards, producer), no doubt the Captain of the ship and he's taking his merry crew on a journey across the seven seas where you're not supposed to shoot the Albatross?

It's definitely also worth pointing out the Spires effective use of light and shade vs. the moody keyboards and woodwind. The cinematic "Horsa From Beyond The Grave" seems to be a cross or the bridge between the ancient year of 1970 and today, while "The Long Goodbye" goes through several different changes of Prog and Spacey Rock with an infectious melody. Vocalist Lucie is a shining star in the making and as the sound travels through the different years´of rock (even though it's mostly 70s styled prog), the album seem to have the confuse/intrigue thy listener as its official agenda of the day. Atmospheric Prog-Rock and moody fragmented musical arrangements constantly collide with experimental pieces and you can feel the force of all of them at once. Final verdict: Perhaps not quite as great as their debut. Still recommended if you're into Canterbury and old skool Prog though. thekentishspires.bandcamp.com/a> facebook.com/TheKentishSpires/a>

SPREAD EAGLE: "Subway To The Stars"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Switchblade Serenade", one of the cool songs from MTV past that you might still find on... ehh... youtube?? Spread Eagle is however the name and position and punky sleaze is the game. They actually reformed already back in 2006 under the direction of original members Ray West (vocals) and bassist Rob DeLuca (who has also worked with UFO and Sebastian Bach) along with two new members, Ziv Shalev (guitar) and Rik De Luca (drums). The New York band has been together ever since and finally decided to record the comeback album aka "Subway To The Stars".

What to expect from the band? A slightly updated sound and vision, but still rather true to their roots. West is not quite as high-pitched nowadays and the dirty, gritty sound of something like "Grand Scam" may not always fly under the wings of the original Eagle. I like it though. It's rough stuff, straight-in-your face, and very much energic. According to the lyrics, "We've been sleeping where the eagle lies under evil skies that never fail to monetize the plan". Yeah? History repeating? It's the Sex Pistols' story all over again.

Recording took place at Studio E in Brooklyn, NY with Grammy Award winning engineer Tom Camuso. There's a punky and dark groove to the material with many tracks shining as potential head smashing faves. It's ever so melancholy and anti-social though. In fact. It's borderline grungy on several tracks and always snotty punky without the usual happy ending. Do not expect eighties AOR or hair metal from the Eagles and you might just do fine. You'll probably end up in the pit, madly dancing along to their vicious melodies. Try it if you enjoyed the latest album from LA Guns also at Frontiers. facebook.com/spreadeaglenyc/

UNRULY CHILD: "Big Blue World"

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The unruly children have always been driven by the power of melodic melodies and soft rock. Let's face it. Music can by something as direct as one chord hitting just the right nerve at the right moment or as simple as a group of people coming together to create the rather sophisticated rock album. Uber glossy and simply filled with great vocal harmonies, "Big Blue World", takes its listener on a ride throughout the poppy melodic scene and car cruising moments under the cover of the bright neon lights.

So.. is it all good, all GTA Vice City, all bright lights, AOR music to move your feets? This time around we'll be Breaking The Chains? Are these words enough? Well... let's see if she floats. It's really not about the one-hit-song rather than a decent and safe pop/rock album effort with plenty of layers and clever arrangements. Perhaps a tad too clever at times? Something like, "All Over The World", tend to get on your nerves with its "hey-look-at-me-stuck-in-second-gear-going-nowhere" kind of beat. "Beneath A Steady Rain", again, uber slick and the harmonies are straight out of AOR heaven. It's just a wee bit too pretencious and this particular piano ballad goes straight to the recycling bin. It's second rate Michael Jackson meets Celine Dion music and not even the great legend that is Marcie Free (King Kobra, Signal) can save it in the end. On the other hand... the following track, The Harder They Will Fall", featuring the classic Winston Churchill speech as also used by Iron Maiden, rawks nicely along the road.

The majority of the tracks are just too "middle of the road" and we really do expect more and better from the otherwise great Guy Allison and Bruce Gowdy. Me thinks the band should do what others (sorta') did in the past and put a disclaimer sticker on their product saying, "This album in no way endores a disbelief in the sophisticated and safe". Because that's the final verdict of the album -a wee bit  too sophisticated and safe.

ROXY BLUE: "Roxy Blue"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Want Some? Sure... but the cheesy introduction might just do the trick? Seriously, I did not see this coming and I doubt that many or any folks did? Originally signed to Geffen Records and brought to this world on a rocket ship full of hairspray and party hardy songs, it's a completely different trip and space walk in the year of 2019. In fact. Simply forget about everything you might recall on the subject of Roxy Blue or songs such as Too Hot To Handle. They now look, sound, and play their vicious US of A music as if they were crazy post-WWIII bikers on speed?

No doubt vocalist Todd Poole is mad and angry at the world? He screams, spits, and howls like a man possesed. Poole says: "I think the new record is definitely a different sound than the 1992 version of ROXY BLUE, but not unrecognizable. The new record is much heavier, but still has some cool ballads and hints of early ROXY in there. I feel that it's a well-balanced record". Well... let's just say that the aggressive biker sleaze vs. Hinder rock have absolutely nothing in common with the Warrant vs. Bulletboys debut of the past. Surely they tried to be Van Halen, but they sounded more like Bulletboys, and that's never really a good sign in my books.

The self titled release in 2019, the new start and also the new sound. The opening tracks, "Silver Lining", "Rockstar Junkie", "Scream" are all modern sleaze numbers. Hardly any harmonies or singing guitars, merely blunt and aggressive stuff lacking both finess and hooks. Why the comeback and new music as Roxy Blue when it has very little or nothing to do with what the 92 version of the band brought us? Let's face it, it's mostly about nostalgia and old fans anyhow. Then again, perhaps the truth is rather... they were never really that great in the first place??? facebook.com/OfficialRoxyBlue

VISIONATICA: "Enigma Fire"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Wait... what? yet another Glasya album? (see review elsewhere). Nah. It's merely just another symphonic metal album with crystal clear female soprano vocals combined with powerful melodic guitars and orchestral elements. It's once again the whole darn package including the classically trained vocalist (Tamara Avodem) and the rather mad, but rather excellent, over-the-top guitarist (Manuel Buhl). And like forementioned Glasya, the strenght of the band, no doubt the vocalist and not nearly as much the song material.

Not as diverse nor original as you'd wish to tell you the truth. There's not much here in terms of style and arrangements that you haven't heard many times before. You'd wish for a few better stonkers and a few more chances wouldn't have gone a miss either to be honest. Kudos for the production and the simply desperate fan of acts such as Within Temptation, Nightwish, Delain, Xandria, etc. might just still get a kick out of these tracks until the next big album of the genre arrives. Personally, I couldn't remember a lot from this album as I woke up the following day and week for that matter. Conclusion and final verdict: Tamara is a star and has a wicked voice but the material is anything but memorable. facebook.com/visionatica

GLASYA: "Heaven's Demise"

Rating: Rr
Label: Pride&Joy 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Glasya was founded by Hugo Esteves in 2016 with one main purpose: to become the new Ronaldo? or to create a musical project that would join full orchestral arrangements with metal. Esteves was already familiar with symphonic metal, but wanted to do it in a more dramatic and cinematographic way. Add to this, Bruno Ramos, former drummer of My Deception, Davon Van Dave, a Dutch-Portuguese keyboard player (Urban Tales and Shadowsphere), Bruno Prates and Manuel Pinto, former members of Enchantya. All have many different influences, from classic to progressive, creating a very stylish and distinctive sound which offers symphonic, ethnic, slow emotional songs and powerful metal riffs.

The leading star is however, Eduarda Soeiro, the front-woman of the band and clearly something out of the ordinary. The high-pitch vocals are high as a thousand kites and in the long run, the singing tend to get on your poor reviewers nerves. The former singer of the Portuguese Nightwish tribute band, Nightdream, and being a classical performer and trained singer, you should perhaps only try this at home if you fancy the mix of classical performances and the Nightwish-ish outbursts. Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy the odd high-pitch stuff... if they're as great (and quirky) as say, Kate Bush. Heaven's Demise on the other hand? Nah. It must be the accent and daytime TV drama that doesn't work on this particular platter? The songmaterial is darn right annoying and very much, been there, done that. Back to the drawing board and let's hope for better on their next recording.

HOLLIS BROWN: "Ozone Park"

Rating: RR
Label: Mascot 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Simply Red on steriods? Opening track "Blood From A Stone" sure had me thinking about the ginger geezer and his band. Singer/guitarist Mike Montali provide a lot of soul and the mix several different layers and elements of funk, blues, disco, and soft rock on their latest record, Ozone park. It's sort of music in the vein of The Faces (or rather Rod and his Americana), Simply Red, Tom Petty, and the smooth tapestry of the Counting Crows. On paper or screen, the rather interesting concept and record. Unfortunately not quite as fun or memorable in harsh reality. The songs are simply not radio friendly or catchy enough to grab ya' and they are all pretty much steeped in the same mid-tempo formula and mode.

"I think with this record we wanted to make a statement,” explains Montali. “Rock music can still be done in a modern way that is still as good as some of those acts from the past". Well. The Petty like groove of tracks like "Do Me Right" impress initially but never build on the moment. They throw some fashionably smooth type vocals into the mix and even indulge in the odd country/The Cars melody (Forever In Me), but nothing really sticks. The latter a poor man's version of Drive. "Someday Soon" is about as fun as watching wet paint dry or listening to the dodgy Counting Crows composition.

Final verdict: Meh. Perhaps they still lack the ability to process their obvious passion for music into great melodies?

GRAHAM BONNET BAND: "Live In Tokyo"

Rating: Live
Label: Frontiers 2019
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Nevermind the bottle cap b.s. Here's the way more fun and interesting Graham Bonnet guitarist' challenge. Did any other hard rock/metal vocalist ever work with a better set of guitar players? Merely speaking about actual bands/groups and not the odd studio project. Richie Blackmore (Rainbow). Michael Schenker (MSG). Yngwie J Malmsteen (Alcatrazz). Steve Vai (Alcatrazz) and last, perhaps least, but still v-e-r-y impressive, Chris Impellitteri (Impellitteri). Not bad, especially considering that Bonnet never really became a household name to the average rock/metal fan. In fact. Most of them are still trying to figure out who the hell we're talking about and how did he manage to work with all the big names?

Anyhow. The other year, the man released the re-recordings of songs from the Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group, Alcatrazz, Impellitteri days/daze and went on tour in Japan. Thus the very live recording of this album and The Graham Bonnet Band's 'Live In Tokyo 2017'. There's also been several Alcatrazz' live recordings as of lately and we already knew that mr Bonnet can belt out these songs in fashion and style. The very confident snger and especially considering... ehem... his age. I know. It's kind of lame and not PC to single out the age thing, but it's quite relevent when it comes to singers and their voice.

The sound quality is pretty excellent and the opening notes of "Eyes of the World" sets the pace and standard of the live album. "Live In Tokyo" is a great collection of Bonnet's finest moments and performances. The live sound is raw yet relatively polished if that makes sense. The authenticity of the man and his band though, never really in doubt. You can still do wonder with the right amount of reverb and gloss. Neat