Thursday, May 16, 2024

Rock Blog #29: Welcome Summer 2024!

Apologies for the lack of updates. All sorts of things have taken up my time, but I hope I can write these blog entries a bit more often from now on. We’ll see. 

Retro flashback! As I write this, I’m listening to the MTM Classix version of the first RPM album, which I found today from a second hand shop (or ”fleet market”, to be exact.) A mint, unopened copy for a few euros - a good deal, especially since I didn’t have this album before. It features the well-known songsmith Robert White Johnson on lead vocals, and few of these songs have been covered by other artists such as Van Zant (”2+2”) and Blackfoot (”A Legend Never Dies”). This re-issue comes with 5 bonus tracks. Good early eighties AOR! RRRR.

Then, let's move to the newer stuff:

NIGHTBLAZE is the latest project from Italian guitarist Dario Grillo. With vocalist Damiano Libianchi (Perfect View), bassist Federica Raschellà and drummer Alex Grillo he has created a fine melodic rock album. There’s a certain melancholic feeling in these songs that appeals to me a lot, and while Nightblaze isn’t re-inventing anything, their songs have a touch of originality. RRRR.

IAN WILDE is from Portugal, and he’s the singer in an alternative metal band Wild Freedom. On his first solo album ”Dream Hunter” he’s presenting us a more melodic side of himself though. Vocally he’s a dead ringer of young Michael Voss, and indeed, musically these songs sound like the could have been taken from the cult classic Mad Max album ”Night Of Passion” or Casanova’s debut. Okay, maybe those albums are on a different level, but if they’re among your favourites, you should check out ”Dream Hunter”. Wilde injects some retrowave synth sounds to some of the songs too, ”Born To Shine” is a good example of that. RRRr.

”Defiance” is the latest album from veteran rockers PRAYING MANTIS. They’ve released solid material since the early eighties, but I haven’t ever really gotten into them. This album won’t make a difference I’m afraid. It’s pleasant, mostly mid tempo melodic hard rock and if you’ve liked their previous albums, I’m sure you’ll like this one too. Something just doesn’t click for me though, and Russ Ballard’s ”I Surrender” stands out easily as the best song. RRR.

I loved the ART OF ILLUSION album released a couple of years ago. Now the guys behind it, Anders Rydholm and Lars Säfsund have released a new album, but quite righftfully under the monicker of RYDHOLM SÄFSUND, as it is a very different beast to the Art Of Illusion one. ”Kaleidoscope” is the name of the album, and it’s highly polished, at times even jazzy one. Think Toto, Chicago at their jazziest, with lots of horns and brass instruments and funky rhythms… A few very good choruses doesn’t save this from going way too deep into the yacht rock waters, so it’s only RRR from me. Immaculately executed and sung of course, but I sure hope the duo will return to the Art Of Illusion style one day.

Can’t say that SEBASTIAN BACH is BACK even if I wanted to, because he really hasn’t been away. There’s always an online fight between him and someone else going on, but he also raised his profile in more positive way (I think?) by appearing in Masked Singer. Anyway, the latest chapter in his solo career goes by the name of ”Child Within The Man”, and… it’s not too bad. The album doesn’t really offer any standout tracks, but it’s decent hard rock / metal with a contemporary sound, somewhat lacking in the hook department though. Actually, didn’t I say something similar about the last album of the band he used to be a part of? Favourite song: the ballad "To Live Again". RRR

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

CRUZH: "The Jungle Revolution"


Frontiers 2024
Rating: RRRR
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

"The Jungle Revolution" is the third album from Swedish hard rockers CRUZH. The band recently added a second guitarist Johan Öberg to the line-up, which might be the reason for their slightly toughened, sleazier sound. Still, their love for Def Leppard, Bon Jovi et al. still through. Songs like "Angel Dust", "Split Personality" and "Gimme Anarchy" are very much in the vein of Crash Diët and other new sleaze rockers, but then again, Cruzh have always had a bit of a glam vibe. 

My favourites are on the melodic end of their spectrum though: "Winner" is the love child of "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" and Skagarack's "Hungry For A Game" - very familiar ingredients but freshly baked with cruzhed candy on top. The single "FL89" would be a summer hit in some other dimension, and the moodier "Killing In The Name Of Love" will delight the fans of the first Cruzh album. The title "SkullCruzher" suggests something extremely heavy, but it's probably the most keyboard-driven track of the album, with a healthy doze of Whoa Whoa's. The album's ballad "From Above" might just be the band's finest slow song so far, a delicate, understated number with beautiful melodies and a heartfelt vocal from Alex Waghorn.


Friday, March 1, 2024

Rock Blog #28: Hooray Sweden! Heja Sverige!

The new president of Finland, Alexander Stubb officially started his work today. You might think I'd be in a patriotic mood and share some Finnish music today? I could do that, but I won't, because our western neighbours have released a whole lot of good tunes today!

Let's start with Eclipse. They released their latest album in September, yet they are already offering us new material in the form of "Apocalypse Blues". It's not a blues track, don't worry! 



My personal favourite album of 2022 was the debut from REMEDY. The next on is on its' way, to be released in a couple of months. "Sin For Me" was the rather excellent first single, but the second one is something even better. The actual video premieres today (March) at 8 PM, here's a link to it:


If you can't wait and just want to hear the song, here you go:


Another RockUnited favourite is CRUZH, who have also released a new song "Angel Dust". They have a new album called "The Jungle Revolution" coming out soon. 


ARKADO released a new album last week. I've yet to hear it in full, but what I have heard I have liked. Here's their latest video;



TRANSATLANTIC RADIO released "Fever Dream" a few days ago. A bit of a synthwave vibe there, or what do you think?



ALICATE are yet another new Swedish band with a new album on its' way, and they also have taster of things to come. They're not going to win the prize of the most original song title with "Heaven Tonight", but it is a good song.



Guess what? ANETTE OLZON has a new album coming out soon! And here's a video, "Heed The Call"!



Last but not least, a track from an album reviewed in last weeks Rock Blog (#27). They're Swedish, and they're GRAND. Here's "Kryptonite".







Thursday, February 22, 2024

ROCK BLOG #27 - First album reviews of 2024: Exit Eden, GOTUS, Autumn's Child, Russell - Guns, Robert Hart, Grand, Honeymoon Suite.

 We’re 8 weeks into 2024, and it’s time to take a look at the albums released so far in the genres we cover. Or at least the ones I’ve heard. 

I have to say that this year’s releases have been a little underwhelming. It’s safe to say that the ”Album Of The Year” hasn’t been released yet, nothing that I have heard so far has excited me that much. Well, I did have a sneak peak preview of the second REMEDY album to be released by Escape Music later this year, and that one IS a strong contender, even though what I heard was merely an unfinished version.

I liked the first EXIT EDEN album released a few years ago. It was an all-covers album and featured 4 female vocalists, Amanda Somerville, Anna Brunner, Clementine Delaney and Marina La Torraca. Somerville has left the band late last year, and they’re continuing as a three-piece group from now on. On the new album ”Femmes Fatales” (RRRR) they’re continuing with a mix of covers and original songs, mostly written by Anna Brunner together with Hannes Braun of Kissing’ Dynamite, who is also the producer of the album. The cover versions are very good, maybe "Separate Ways", "Poison" and "Alone" are kind of safe choices but they're well executed. Marillion's "Kayleigh" gets a symphonic metal treatment too, and I'm not really sure that it works. Pet Shop Boys' "It's A Sin" and Mylene Farmer's "Désenchantée" are very different to the originals, and I like these metallized versions. The original songs are mostly very good, theatrical melodic metal songs not that far from Avantasia's output. At the moment, my pick out of the originals is "Buried In The Past". Tomorrow it might be something else...

The (mostly) Swiss supergroup GOTUS features former members of Gotthard and Krokus, and they play just the kind of music one might expect - hard rock! Vocalist Ronnie Romero was in the Gotthard offshoot Coreleoni and guitarist Mandy Meyer was in Gotthard for several years, not to mention Asia, Krokus, Katmandu, Cobra and other projects. Their self-titled album includes versions of Gotthard's "Reason To Live" and Katmandu's "When The Rain Comes", and it's a safe bet for fans of Gotthard, Whitesnake and hard rock in general. It probably won't be the best album you'll hear this year, but solid stuff anyway. RRRr.

Between 2003 and 2018, Michael Erlandsson released 14 albums with Last Autumn's Dream. When that band went on a break, he formed AUTUMN'S CHILD and "TELLUS TIMELINE" (RRRR) is their fifth album.  If you add a couple of albums with Love Under Cover and his solo work, he's been a reasonably busy fellow, wouldn't you say? The new album is a good example of the high level of songwriting he's managed to maintain, along with his co-writers. Most of the songs on this album are catchy AOR tracks with sharp hooks, my favourites being "A Strike Of Lightning", "Gates Of Paradise" and "Never Surrender". Then again, there are a few songs with strong Beatles- and early Abba-influences which don't really push the right buttons with me.

RUSSELL - GUNS is yet another project masterminded by Frontiers Records. The main characters  are Jack Russell, best known as the vocalist on Great White's biggest albums and Tracii Guns, of LA Guns fame on guitars. The songs are written by Alessandro Del Vechhio, Tommy Denander and a few others, not Russell or Guns though. The songwriters have probably had a mission to mix classic Great White sound with LA Guns' sleazier style, and I guess they've somewhat succeeded in that.  It's just that the songs themselves aren't very memorable, apart from a couple of exceptions. It's a shame, because Jack Russell still sounds good and I'd love to hear him sing better material. Rating for the album "Medusa": RRr.

ROBERT HART's new album "Circus Life" (RRR) has been written by FM's Steve Overland and Steve Morris (Heartland, Shadowman, Lonerider etc), who are no strangers to bluesy classic rock style. Hart himself is a former Bad Company singer, so this combination makes sense. He released a couple of more AOR'ish albums back in the day, and compared to those, his delivery is much rough-edged these days. There are some AOR touches here too, with Steve Overland providing smooth backing vocals and melodies. A few tracks wouldn't sound out of place on any of the latter-day FM albums, if sung by Overland, but I guess that's no surprise.

"Second To None" is the second album from GRAND, a Swedish AOR group, and it's a bit of a roller coaster! The band definitely doesn't stick to a formula, they are taking risks with their songs. I applaud their bravery and versatility, but at the same time I have to admit that I like them the best when they don't venture too far from AOR. The album starts with three perfectly good AOR tracks "Crash & Burn", "When We Were Young" and "Leave A Scar", but then something strange happens. They hit rock bottom indeed with the plodding, bluesy "Rock Bottom", and "Sweet Talker" isn't much better. It sounds like an experiment to mix Van Halen with Toto, not entirely an unappealing idea... but this time it doesn't work. "Lily" is probably a favourite to those who enjoy the smooth sounds of yacht rock, but for me it's the third miss in a row. Thankfully the band bounce back with the killer "Kryptonite", possibly my favourite track of the album. Among the remaining tracks there's another gem called "Achille's Heel" and the ballad "Daze Of Yesterday", which reminds me of "Edge Of The Century"-era Styx. Anyway, there's more good than bad, and at their best GRAND lives up to their name, so my rating is RRRR.

HONEYMOON SUITE were serious contenders to make it to the big league back in the eighties. The were a major success in their home country Canada, but things didn't work out that well elsewhere. The band wasn't very active in the nineties, but they returned to the scene in 2002, and have been sporadically active ever since, with new releases every now and then. In 2017 I was close to seeing them live at Rockingham in the UK, but they cancelled their appearance. Their new album "Alive" (RRRr) has been a long time in the making, the first single from it was released way back in 2019. What's good about it is that while the band has taken a lot of modern influences, they still sound like Honeymoon Suite. Vocalist Johnnie Dee doesn't seem to have aged at all vocally and the band can still write fine melodies, when they put their heart into it. So, it's decent stuff, but a few real standout songs would have elevated my rating to full four R's. At the moment only "Broken" might make it to my Best Of HMS playlist. As bonustracks, the band has re-recorded two old songs, "Love Changes Everything" and "New Girl Now".  "Love Changes..." is one of my favourite tracks from the band, and it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the material.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 7, 2024

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

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


1. Nitrate - Feel The Heat

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


2. The Defiants - Drive

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


3. Crowne - Operation Phoenix

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


4. Strangerland - Echoes From The Past

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


5. Kent Hilli - Nothing Left To Lose

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


6. Theocracy - Mosaic

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


7. Ten - Something Wicked This Way Comes

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


8. Temple Balls - Avalanche

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


9. Vega - Battlelines

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


10. Creeper - Sanguivore

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


11. Streetlight - Ignition

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


12. Winger - Seven

(A strong comeback album from Kip & Co.)



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

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


Cassidy Paris - New Sensation

Care Of Night - Reconnected

Overland - S.I.X.

VV - Neon Noir

Issa - Lights Of Japan

Autumn’s Child - Starflower

Arctic Rain - Unity

Khymera - Hold Your Ground

Creye  - III: Weightless

First Signal - Face Your Fears

Robin McAuley - Alive

All My Shadows - Eerie Monsters

Seventh Crystal - Wonderland

Kamelot - The Awakening

Stormwarning - s/t

Lordi - Scream Writers Guild

Floor Jansen - Paragon

Revolution Saints - Eagle Flight

Grand Design - Rawk

Mecca - Everlasting

Perfect View - Bushido

Heavens Edge - Get It Right

Circus Of Rock - Lost Behind The Mask

Art Nation - Inception

Tanna - Kohtalon Tuulet

Degreed - Public Address

Mitch Malloy - The Last Song

Houston - Re-Launch III

Gabrielle De Val - Kiss In A Dragon Night

Tempt - s/t

Rian - Wings

Transworld Identity - Seven Worlds

Eclipse - Megalomanium

Masaki - Feed The Fire

Midnite City - In At The Deep End

Ronnie Atkins - Trinity

Lazy Bones - Eye Of The Sky


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


 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

DOKKEN: "Heaven Comes Down"

Label: Frontiers

Rating: RRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

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

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

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

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

www.dokken.net


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




Thursday, October 5, 2023

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

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

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


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


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




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


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


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