Thursday, March 26, 2020

HAREM SCAREM: "Change The World"

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

"We all want to find peace and harmony" - You and I are gonna Change The World? And Lesperance breaks out into the 80's UK rock-riff? (think: The Alarm, U2,). They haven't changed much since their previous record though and that's probably a good thing? Recall when they did Rubber and band-wagon material? It has worked against the Canadians because people seem to still want to talk about it. It's not something that I feel is all too relevant to what the boyos' are doing now and in the 2000's. As far as I'm concerned it's all in the past and... hang on a minute, 'The Death Of Me' might just be Rubber meets Moodswings? The slightly downtuned vibe? Ehem. Anyhow. It's catchy and fun stuff and the following track "Mother of Invention" goes through the Queen and My Chemical Romance transformation before setteling in at the Harem Scarem. The refrain is pure magic with it's smothering message, "Just let love shine into your heart, mind, body, and soul".

They might have been accused of being very 'solid' and it is no coincidence that their 15th album sounds similar to some of their previous ones. It's however not a case of three chords and keeping it boogie-woogie. For instance. Take something like "Riot In My Head" with its punky attitude and punch to the teeth. If Green Day decided to go melodic rock? Then again. Green Day are doing a lot of Power-Pop melodies. "No Me Without You" is like a trusty old ballad with a formula and arrangement that goes hand in hand with the world according to Harry Hess.

"Fire & Gasoline" smells like something Hess and Pete Lesperance just write and play spontaneously, and it simply just end up scary deadly and darn catchy. You'd expect the heavy artillery with a title such as "Swollowed By The Machine" and to my surprise, it's not the latest Marilyn Manson single, but a super melodic HS composition. The track listing is kind of weird and I would personally change a lot of the numbers. Final verdict: I don't truly believe they can "Change The World" with this record. They can however change your moodswings (ouch! lame-o) and brighten up your day. It's professional and well executed rock from one of the best and most trusted melodic rock acts in the business. Recommended .https://www.facebook.com/harem.scarem.band

ALLEN/OLZON: "Worlds Apart"

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

The latest project aka ambitious work of songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer: Magnus "Klister" Karlsson (Primal Fear, etc.) and we're still talking about melodic/symphonic metal with the rather poppy agenda. This time, Worlds Apart, and the male voice: Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) vs. the female dito in Anette Olzon. Reading the press-release, it's funny how they're completely trying to erase the musical past of Anette. She's obviously the vocalist from ALYSON AVENUE which yours truly raved about in their demo days (I still have unreleased stuff in my collection) and gave a helping hand. This eventually led to Nightwish and fame with lots of... Hey! Where's my transfer cut? Nevermind ;-)

This album is certainly well produced with plenty of symphony and keyboard moments, Klister riffs and flashy guitar solos. Fistfuls of classy arrangements from a Swedish point of view, but with an undertow of elegant musicanship courtesy of the solid songwriter and project maker at the Frontiers. Does it work? Well... Anette echoes the ABBA-history on tracks such as "I'll Never Leave You" and "One More Chance" and that's including the Swedish accent and the Poppy/Symphonic vibe. In fact. Check out RockUnited.com and our massive archive and you may notice that my thoughts of Anette were always on a positive note, but she may at times sound like the 'dansband' vocalist. AKA The place where all the rock/metal musicians go when all of their dreams have died. Believe it or not. Anette's vocals were actually recorded at the Alyson Avenue studio by Niclas Olsson. Kudos!

Russell Allen sound also great on most tracks, but I struggle to enjoy duets such as "My Enemy" where the two vocalists are worlds apart (pun intended) and never really close on the pitch nor scale. The refrain is painful to say the least and I tend to skip this tune asap. Borderline off-key most of the time to be honest. Final verdict: Flashy guitar-work, smashing keys, but a tad too predictable. You are simply not left with anything on here that will knock your socks off. It's all drama and no thriller in my books or movies for that matter. FYI. Klister is the Swedish word for glue and Karlsson was the brand of the past. Which sort of make sense as this is a rather sticky affair. You might enjoy this more than I did if you're into Swedish Drama Metal though.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

NOVENA: "Eleventh Hour"

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

Prog-Rock from UK and Novena which include the line-up: Vocals by Ross Jennings' (Haken) and Gareth Mason's (Slice The Cake), guitars by Dan Thornton's (Ex-HAARP Machine, Ex-No Sin Evades His Gaze), drums: Cameron Spence's (Ravenface) and wicked bass-line from Moat Lowe's (Slugdge, Ex-NSEHG) and keyboard by Harrison White. Well. It's hardly Progressive Rock if you're stuck with a growler? That's a very posh attitude especially considering that I enjoy the Semblant release (see review elsewhere). It's not really the growls rather than the arrangements that gets on my nerves. I do find them to be eclectic and out of the box, but at the same time I struggle to find any purpose or direction since the melodies goes around and around in circles like a darn merry-go-round. You'd like to scream at them to sit down, stop smoking all that pot, focus, find your path, as they clearly got lost somewhere along the way.

And don't give me that crap that I clearly don't appreciate Prog, I friggin' love the genre with everything from ancient 70's stuff to modern era. These particular compositions? I find them to be too introspective and without any lasting memories or choruses. "Lucidity" is however the exception from the rule and something that's clearly worthy of your attention. It's sadly back to the annoying stuff with the following track "Corazón" though. It's like if they're throwing stuff at you just to see what sticks. Nothing, nothing sticks! According to the press-release, "every song has a solid and personal identity, with choruses that dare the listener to try and forget them". Blimey. They sure got it dead wrong this time. Forget them? I bloody well couldn't find them in the first place. I haven't been this put off by an Prog album for years and years. The absolutely best thing I can say about the Eleventh Hour? Check it for yourself. Great musicians. It's... different, odd, but oh-so incrediable b-o-r-i-n-g. It's like if they've invented a completely new genre, Snooze-Prog... Zzzz!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

KHYMERA: "Master Of Illusions"

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

What once started out by Italian producer/musician Daniele Liverani and then Kansas singer Steve Walsh, has developed into a regular on/off melodic hardrock project by bassist and producer Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Magnum). I never quite understood why they decided to keep the moniker? All the previous musicians are gone and it's a completely different sound and project? Anyhow. It's still Ward-Khymera and you can except the great production and pretty darn solid songwriting by Mister Pink Magnum. Indeed. 'Master of Illusions' may have the appearance of some kind of electrifed Goddess with a wacky taste for success. Even the album title may suggest the progressive outfit, and it's kind of alarming to find several riffs that are just a bit too clichéd to be worthy of full praise and the 21 guns salute.

On first play it's a little bit on the safe side. However, it's definitely a grower and as a rock band the line-up of Ward (vox/bass), Michael Klein (guitars), Eric Ragno (keyboards), Pete Newdeck (drums) are bloody excellent, but it would have been nice if they hadn't completely drenched their melodies in all the eighties goo and muck. The quick track by track. The opener "Walk Away" is actually one of the more headbanging tracks on the album. It's uptempo and catchy stuff with the memorizing keyboard attack by Ragno and it's all very pleasing to these pair of ears. "The First Time" gets the blood pumping and your poor ticker may skip a beat or two as you're up dancing on the tables and screaming along to the refrain. The title track goes through Fair Warning and Bon Jovi vibes while keeing it Ward-y. "The Sun Goes Down" is a dark (pun intended) moment on the record and not really something to write home about. "Paradise" may not be the place to spend your after life since it's a rather sappy ballad. "The Rhythm Of My Life" is the sunny and fun moment and the same goes for "Follow The Sun".

"Spending my time drinking Whiskey and Wine" is the rather dodgy line from "Father And Son". It's however a really great sentimental ballad that goes straight to the heart with a heartfelt refrain that goes "Heaven help me, stand beside me, said the father to the son". All songs are written by Ward with the exception of "After All This Time" which is the work of Michael Palace. Not his best work up to date and it may just lack a proper hook. "Victim Of Your Love", great verse(s) and the so-so refrain. The closer "Just Let It Happen" is one of the highlights with its sophisticated sound and arrangement. Sadly hidden away as the last track on the album? Final verdict: It's a nice listening experience and you simply can't go wrong here, if you enjoyed the previous work by Ward and Khymera.

SEMBLANT; "Obscura"

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

I've got all the things that I'm "allowed" to mention written down when it comes to Frontiers and their releases. It's usally words such as pink, fluffy, melodic, catchy, hairmetal, AOR, shoulder pads, and several cans of extremely sticky hairspray. Imagine my surprise when Sergio 'Cookie Monster' Mazul came through my loud speakers with growls and howls in the tradition of Black and Death Metal. Now, please don't go thinking early 90's stuff and church burning psycho freaks from Norway. It's v-e-r-y melodic stuff, music-wise, and they have the clean female vocalist Mizhuo Lin at the very centre of attention.

In fact. Their only brutal take at the scene would be the 'every-now-and-then' growls by Mazul. I wouldn't even categorize this as melodic death metal (as mentioned in the press-release), it's more or less traditional melodic (symphonic) metal with a sidekick growler. Strange genre disasters apart, Frontiers provides the backing and Semblant are merely doing what any other band debuting their music would do (Obscura is their third album though), and taking full advantage of whatever kind of cash and marketing that a melodic Italo label can afford to splash on the so-called Melodic Death Metal band from Brazil. Ehem. It's not looking great when typed down and it might just be a strange combo?

Nonetheless. It's all about the music and it's actually quite darn good. Obscura takes catchy riffage of Neo-classical and symphonic acts and sets it aside a stylistic range that combines a meaningful grasp of female fronted 'Goth' and atmospheric horror and excellent growls. Sure. Something like "Wallachia" might just include too many growls for the average melodic fan. However. It's all very nicely done and I'd like to think of it as watching the great horror flick. It fits the concept as well as the story of the lord of the shadows. It's a real grower (and growler) of an album and and tracks such as Murder of Crows, Control The Masters, Daydream Tragedy, etc. show a band outgrowing any of the genres that people care to throw in their faces. Mizuho Lin is a proper belter of an vocalist and it's overall a very pleasant surprise of metal. Goody!!

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: "Heaven Forbid"

Rating: Re-issue
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Sci-fi/horror lyrics and traditional guitar rock in the year of 1998? Heaven Forbid! Originally released during the alternative years and thus dark ages of Classic Dino Rock, it was the 'comeback' album of Blue Öyster Cult after ten years of absence. The United States of America science fiction and horror writer John Shirley wrote lyrics to most of the songs on the album and the Bouchard brothers are nowhere to be seen/heard along with the cowbell.

The rather muscular and blunt opener of "See You In Black" is soon replaced by the catchy number that is "Harvest Moon". The latter may suggest the Pink Floyd or Neil Young agenda and sound, and it's a very decent composition by Donald Roeser. Eric Bloom (guitars, keyboards, lead vocals) and Buck Dharma (guitars, keyboards, lead vocals) are the two leading stars though and they continued to perform the guitar rock of BÖC's past on this very record. "Still Burnin" was supposed to be a sequel to the song "Burnin' For You" that appeared on Fire of Unknown Origin. It's not quite as great though.

BÖC in the nineties managed to retain some of the virtues of their formative years, without the need to completely change their sound to grunge or alternative. Then again, 1998 was the last big year of depression and the magical world of internet opened up for the comeback of classic rock. Perhaps not always as entertaining, but it's certainly the more than decent album with a neat production by the two. It's one of those late 90's studio efforts that went many by the first time around and here's your chance to pick up the reissue.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

GRAND DESIGN: "V"

Rating: RRRR
Label: GMR
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Album number five from this band, would you believe it? They started out as the biggest Def Leppard wannabes of all time, but somehow over the years they've matured into something else. It's still very Leppard-flavoured, but I can also see/hear the outlines of their own grand design.

"V" is a good album. I pretty much like all of the songs. Having said that, afte a dozen spins I still have trouble remembering some of them. Fun to listen to, but necessarily the kind of songs I find myself humming during the day.

The DL influence is very obvious in the guitar work, the harmonies and some of the melodies. Pelle Saether's distinctive voice doesn't really sound like that of Joe Elliott, his higher register is very unique and an acqured taste I'm sure. I'm still getting used to it, after all these years of listening to the band.

One track that's among my favourites is "The Warrior", originally recorded by Patty Smyth and Scandal. This early 80's hit gets re-designed and it works really well. Other standouts include the opener "Right Away", "I Dunno Wut To Say" (chek yer spelling! My spell checker is going crazy with these titles!) and "Guilty Of Luv In The 1st Degree". Then there are those mid-paced "hysterical animal" songs "Wut Are U Waiting For" (shouldn't that be "Wut R U Waiting 4"?) and "Take Me To Yer Heaven", good stuff too. As are the others, some of them might make you want to burn down something though.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

THE DARKER MY HORIZON: "Seize The Day"

Rating: RRRR
Label: TDMH
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This is the third album from the hard working lads of The Darker My Horizon. Over the last five years they've gone from strength to strength, supported many name artists such as Nazareth and Geoff Tate’s Operation: Mindcrime and headlined some smaller-scaled festivals. They've achieved their status independently, which is very impressive.

"Seize The Day" follows their successful formula of mixing 80's styled melodic rock with modern rock. They've got their Nickelback'ish rockers like "Sleaze" and "Still Alive" which I frankly don't find  that interesting, but they also have a more melodic side which appeals to me more. Many of the album's songs are ballads or at least balladic, ranging from the more power-ballad styled songs like "Carpe Diem" and "On My Way" to understated, delicate ones such as "No Turning Back" with its' sparse instrumentation.

I was slightly disappointed in the first half of the album (all the "nickelrockers"), but thankfully the second half was much better. The "B-side" of this album has most of the better tracks, including the aforementioned "On My Way" and "No Turning Back". The album's highlight for me is track number 8, "Lies, Lies, Lies". It's a clever uptempo track with an absolutely majestic guitar hook. I'm talking about Bostonesque proportions here! "I Will Rise Again" is another fine track with great axemanship. The acoustic version of the ballad "Dear Olivia" closes the album, or maybe it's supposed to be a bonustrack, I don't know. The electric version of it was released on the band's previous album. I like it, and apparently the band likes it too, since they've released both versions of it as singles!

http://www.thedarkermyhorizon.com/