Tuesday, June 26, 2012

REVERENCE: "When Darkness Calls"

Rating: RRR
Label: Razae Ice Records 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

"Featuring members of Savatage, Tokyo Blade and Burning Starr" boasts the band's website. Yep, we're talking about a supergroup of sorts. Maybe not an "A-list supergroup" since none of the bands mentioned haven't quite achieved a place on the A-list of metal groups. They all have a cult following though, and maybe with Reverence the combined fanbases will join together and push the band to the next step of the ladder.

To my ears, Reverence has a very American Eighties Metal sound. I don't mean the likes of Dokken or Ratt, I'm talking about bands like Malice, Lizzy Borden, Armored Saint, Savatage... from the rougher end of the era's heavy metal scene, but keeping a safe distance to the thrash/speed genre.

Vocalist Todd Michael Hall has a cool metal voice that has traces of Geoff Tate, Lizzy Borden and Ronnie James Dio. Truly a throat made for metal... The rest of the band are no slouches either, they've got plenty of experience and you can hear that. Bryan Holland and Pete Rossi play some tasty Maiden'ish twin-leads and the rhythm section of Steve "Doc Killdrums" Wacholz and Ned Meloni pound out intricate rhythms.

While the band's songwriting does have a distinct sense of quality and professionalism to it, their songs could have used a serious dose of memorability. Probably the "easiest" songs to get into on this the album are the title track, its' follow-up track "Bleed For Me" and "Revolution Calling" a bit later in the tracklisting. If the songs of the album had been a bit richer when it comes to the melodies, I wouldn't have hesitated to give a better rating. They've got the musical talent, now they only have to make their songs a bit more appealing to the non-diehard Power Metal fans. Maybe their next album will be their "Operation: Mindcrime"...


Rating: N/A
Label: UDR/EMI 2012
Review by Alan Holloway

So far, I’ve managed to avoid Blackmore’s Night, mainly because I just didn’t want to hear Ritchie Blackmore doing Medieval Fayre music, and partly because part of me suspected that Candice Night had bewitched him into turning his back on rock music. Anyway, when someone offers a free DVD it’s hard to say no, so I took a deep breath and broke my Blackmore’s Knight duck with a bang.

The very first thing that sort of put me off this whole enterprise was the fact that the musicians are listed as Earl Gray Of Chimay, Bard David Of Larchmont, Squire Malcolm Of Lumley, Gypsy Rose and Minstrel Albert. Just reading this gave me a headache, as it smacks of being hippies for the sake of it, although I noticed that Night and Blackmore themselves didn’t have a daft suffix or prefix in sight. It’s good to be the King, eh?

Okay, so this is the point where I carry on hating, right? Where I say the whole thing is just a bunch of drippy, hippy nonsense? Well, it sort of is, but that’s really to be expected with names like that, straw on the stage and a hurdy-gurdy. For something I really should turn my nose up at, I seem to have watched this DVD quite a lot over the past few days. I’m watching it now, and I may well watch it later. The thing is… it’s really good. Okay, so it’s not rock music, admittedly, but that Candice Night has a superb voice on her, and Richie does get to throw in a few guitar/mandolin solos every so often, even going so far as to look like his old gurning self. Dammit, he looks happy, so he may not actually be bewitched.

There’s a mega low point when they start doing the refrain from “Bad Romance” and a roadie comes on as “Lady Ga Ga” - it’s even ore cringeworthy than the costumes, the straw and the two fake boulders at the front of the stage, but I’m sure they found it fun. The packed crowd in York seem to be enjoying the whole thing, and I have to say I would have liked to be there myself. Blackmore’s Night make music to chill out to, with some lovely intricacies, plenty of bounce when needed and vocals that carry across any room to perk the interest of anyone in earshot. As a DVD it’s simple stuff with no frills to the performance, but none are needed. If, like me, you’ve avoided this lot but actually quite like a bit of folk rock, then this is a great jumping off point. Egads! Forsooth! Etc etc…

Friday, June 22, 2012

LEVELLERS: "Static On The Airwaves"

Rating: RRRR
Label: On The Fiddle Recordings 2012
Review by Alan Holloway

It’s been 22 odd years for The Levellers, a band who irritate some people because they basically look like a bunch of travellers, and delight other with their political, environmentally conscious yet catchy repertoire. Regardless of their politics or appearance, there are few people who can resist tapping a foot to the likes of “Beautiful Day”, or appreciating the solemn power of “Hope Street”, and in this lies then band’s true strength: the ability to rise above what they are perceived as.

I have to admit that I’ve not been bowled over by recent Levellers albums, although there certainly have been plenty of good tracks scattered amongst them. “Static On The Airwaves” sees a return to what I consider the core strengths of the band, with gritty folk rock spiced up with aggressive fiddle and well placed guitars, tied together with some fantastic lyrics. Most importantly, it’s a very catchy album, with none of the dirgy tracks that have dogged them for a while now.

The track that will get everyone hopping is the single “Truth Is”, which is about as traditional a Levellers song as you will ever get, with a frantic jig on the fiddle precluding a well paced, lively anthem that will see live audiences drunkenly carousing round in circles, waving cider bottles about for all their worth. My personal favourite, however, is the short “Forgotten Towns”. It consists of just Mark Chadwick’s vocals backed by Jonathan Sevink on fiddle, and it’s a very powerful portrait of Britain’s ailing high streets. Elsewhere they have a go at online addiction, America (for a change) and, of course, war, in the beautiful album closer “The Recruiting Sergeant”, itself a modern reworking of the Black Watch anthem “Twa Recruitin Sergeants”.

I have to say that I have enjoyed this Levellers album more than any other from the last decade, and am looking forward to hearing some of the new tracks live. It’s an album of peaks and troughs, but whilst the peaks are sky high, the troughs still reach for that sky. Angry and politically aware they may be, but The Levellers haven’t yet forgotten how to write a decent tune. In the end, we’re all of the fiddle…

Thursday, June 21, 2012

GUN: "Break The Silence

Rating: RRR
Label: Ear Music 2012
Review by Alan Holloway

Let’s be honest, Gun have never really had an easy time of it. Their debut album “Taking On The World” was a good attempt at a kind of stadium rock thing, but never quite gave them the success they craved. If you Google the band it’s likely that the phrase “Best know for their cover of Cameo’s Word Up” will crop up quite a bit, and to many that’s all they are. Their main problem has been the stop/start nature of the band, and after a brief and almost exciting stint with Toby Jepson at the helm, they’re back again, taking on the world all over again.

Although there’s been more than a few faces splattered against the revolving door of Gun, brothers Jools and Dante Gizzi remain, although Dante has ditched the bass to concentrate on being the new full time lead vocalist, a job he’s well practised at from his other band El Presidente, so it’s not like he just decikded to give it a bash here. Jools still holds down the guitar section as admirably as ever, although to be honest I was surprised that this album even sounded like Gun after so much drama and scene shifting.

Well, it certainly does sound like Gun, and fortunately it’s the good shit that was evident in the “Popkiller” EP, as in lively, bouncy tunes that coast on the back of strong guitar riffs. They fit in very well with the likes of Ash or The Manic Street Preachers, with strong pop based anthems like “Caught In The Middle” mixing with atmospheric tunes such as “How Many Roads”, which manages to be very Manic-y without copying. Nice trick if you can do it. Dante Gizzi has a pretty decent voice that suit’s the Gun style, with the ability to go a bit Axl Rose if he really has to.

In conclusion, this is a surprisingly solid album, with no real weak tracks and a nice, smooth production throughout. It will certainly stir some fond memories in existing fans, and hopefully create some new ones. Whilst it’s hard to get too excited, I can see this album hanging about for some time as a good one to play when I just want to kick back and listen to some good, uncomplicated upbeat pop rock.

Monday, June 18, 2012

HERMAN FRANK: "Right In The Guts"

Rating: RRR
Label: Metal Heaven 2012
Review by Alan Holloway

Herman Frank is a rather well known German guitarist, who contributed to the Accept Classic “Balls To The Wall”, and has been with Victory since 1986 (although he is back with Accept for this years “Stalingrad” album). His 2009 solo album, “Loyal To None” was pretty well received, and so he’s back with another one.

For this album, vocalist Jiotis Parachidis has been replaced with the similarly voiced Rick Altzi (At Vance), who brings a comforting, gravelly sound to proceedings. This is the sort of voice that has graced many European metal albums, and whilst it won’t make your jaw drop it certainly gets the job done with absolutely no problems, and can be appreciated by just about anyone. Musically, “Right In The Guts” does just what it says on the cover, delivering fourteen powerful, driving melodic metal outings. As with the previous album it’s solid, dependable stuff and there’s nothing wrong with it except that the lack of anything that really breaks free and kicks you in, well, the guts.

So this is certainly a good piece of heavy metal, with plenty of melody, a bit like the last Bangalore Choir album, and like that album it only falls down because all of the songs are good but few are great. Nonetheless, it should certainly keep fans of Herman Frank happy, and if you enjoyed his previous solo outing you’ll certainly get off on this one.

Friday, June 15, 2012

ROCK OF AGES - The Movie

Reviewed By Alan Holloway

Right… this really should have been shit, to be honest. Mamma Mia for Journey fans, with Tom bloody Cruise of all people pretending to be a rock god. Okay, so it’s based on a successful stage musical, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. This isn’t West Side Story, although to be fair West Side Story would have been improved with a Twisted Sister Song or two.

It certainly gets off to a dodgy start, as Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough, Footloose) is bussing her way to Los Angeles and starts signing Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”. It’s horribly cheesy and there were more than a few laughs through the cinema, one of them mine as I prepared for a very long two hours to drag by as my favourite musical genre was ripped apart and stamped on. Bollcoks…

Then, as soon as the horrible bus ride is over, it all gets better! Sherrie reaches L.A, falls in love with Drew Bolie (Diego Boneta, 90210), and gets a job at an infamous club The Bourbon Room. Thrust into the mix are club owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, lots of stuff) and his sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand, who can’t decide if he’s from London or Birmingham), along with genuine rock god Stacee Jaxx (some bloke called Tom Cruise) who is to play a gig there. Along for the ride we have anti rock shrew Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones, Darling Buds Of May), who wants to close the club down for good.

Okay, so the plot isn’t exactly Shakespeare, or even the bloke that used to clean Shakespeare’s toilets (Mr Ploppy), but it’s really not the point. This, my friends, is all about the music. We get songs by Journey, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Poison, Whitesnake and more, all performed by the cast. Tom Cruise does a fine job on vocals, as does everyone else, and certain tracks really do bring a tear to the eye as the lyrics match the on screen feelings. I’m just an old softie, really.

The two leads are both charming and very sexy, Cruise plays up the rock god label with total style and not a few laughs, whilst Brand and Baldwin get the best moment in the whole movie, which shall not be spoiled here. Seriously, you’ll choke on your popcorn. There’s even a spot for Mary J Blige as a strip club owner, and she, too, gets her chance to exercise some great pipes as she belts out Journey’s “Any Way You Want It”.


Rating: 10/10
Label: Frontiers 2012
Review by Alan Holloway

First up, I should say that I’m not a massive fan of Asia, a band whose original members came from various big ass prog rock bands, yet together they made more of a melodic rock sound. Mind you, this hasn’t stopped people labelling them as a prog band for thirty years now. Personally, I like their first three albums, but when vocalist John Wetton was replaced by John Payne I felt they lost something in their sound and never really enjoyed an album from start to finish, although there were several good tracks here and there. Even though the four original members reunited for 2008’s “Phoenix” album, plus 2010’s “Omega”, even these albums were patchy, although better than much that came in the Payne era.

Named to mark the band’s 30th anniversary, “XXX” will play merry havoc with your internet search history, as anyone inputting “Asia XXX” will get plenty of results, nearly all of them pornographic. Well done, lads! The cover art has been provided by the ever present Roger Dean, and it’s pretty cool, but it’s when you listen to the music that “XXX” impresses most (as it should be).

The only bugbear I have with this album is at the start. Now I hate the trend for album intros, usually a minute or so of crap to set the tone or whatever, but at least I can skip or just delete them. On “XXX” (pronounced Triple X) there’s an intro bolted on to opener “Tomorrow The World” which is a gentle and very dull keyboard piece. Thank feck that once it’s over (after 50seconds) the album opener is classic Asia, reminding me of the excellent “Finger On The Trigger” opener to Omega - fast, melodic and catchy. It sets the tone for the album, as “XXX” is firmly based around tracks with a bit of pace to them, rather than ballads.

Just nine tracks are here, and every single one is up there with anything Asia have done before. I have had this album for weeks now, and it gets listened to every single day, usually more than once. As I said, I’m not a rabid Asia fan, and to be honest I hated Yes and their ilk for the most part. The tracks manage to combine keyboards, slick guitars and the unique vocals of John Wetton incredibly well. The best track, for me, is “Bury Me In Willow”, a very catchy and quite haunting song that follows up “Tomorrow The World” perfectly and showcases Wetton’s voice perfectly. “No Religion” follow it, and is yet another upbeat, well paced track with a chorus that sticks in your head like glue.

Even when we get a ballad, the excellent fourth track “Faithful”, it morphs into an upbeat track two thirds through. Throw in the catchy single “Face On The Bridge”, another mid paced, catchy track “Al Gatto Nero”, the guitar heavy and chorus led “Judas” and the mid paced “I know How You Feel” and you’ll realize that this isn’t an Asia album for the soft hearted. “XXX” screams melodic rock at the listener, and not slow, heartbreaking ballad heavy melodic rock either. Every single song has a singalong chorus, and every single track has cool guitarwork as well as creative keyboards. It’s all rounded off with a second quasi ballad, “Ghost Of A Chance”, which again goes all upbeat two thirds through with a nice orchestral arrangement that closes the album as well as anything could, coupled with a great Steve Howe solo.

Up to now, I thought my album of the year was going to be Halestorm, but with “XXX” the old guard have delivered the best Asia album in a thirty year career, and what will almost certainly be the best album of 2012, and yes I do know there’s a Rush one coming out!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Label: Rockyard 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This is interesting. Rockyard play energetic, modern rock, yet one element of their music reminds me of a classic rock legend: vocalist Matt Warry-Smith seems to be channeling the spirit of Gary Moore! Some of the higher notes sound uncannily like Gary, even though the music sounds completely different to his material. Eerie.

Out of the four songs, the first three are all rather decent uptempo tracks. The last track "Wandering" does just what the title says, it doesn't seem to go anywhere.

All in all, this EP isn't too bad at all. There's still room for improvement when it comes too the hooks, but somehow the relentless energy of the band makes up for it.


Rating: 8/10
Label: Frontiers 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Norwegian prog metal group Circus Maximus have managed to pass me by, even though this is their third album. That's a pity, as their music seems to be just the kind of prog metal that I like. In other words, they are not constantly trying to impress with their skills and complex songwriting, instead they have some very accessible, melodic tracks.

Vocalist Michael Eriksen left his mark in the melodic rock scene with last year's The Magnificent album, which proved that he's a world class AOR singer. He shines here too, as does the rest of the band, but then again, have you heard of an established prog metal band with sloppy players?

The reason why I'm not rating this album higher is the fact that some of the songs do contain the "original sins" of the genre - there's just too much of everything yet not enough hooks, so they become a little self-indulgent. Die-hard prog fans would disagree though. However, when the ingredients are measured correctly, as in "Game Of Life" or "I Am", the band offer you something that's irrestibly good, even if you're more into AOR or melodic hard rock.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

JOE BONAMASSA: "Driving Towards The Daylight"

Rating: 8/10

Label: Provogue Records 2012
Review by Alan Holloway

So here we are with album number ten from a man who has risen to be a modern blues legend, and rightfully so. As with much or his previous output, “Driving Towards The Daylight” is heavy on cover versions, and for the seventh time he has the reliable backing of Kevin Shirley on the mixing desk.

There’s only three original compositions this time round, (the least since 2003’s “Blues Deluxe”) and it’s a nice surprise that opening track “Dislocated Boy” is one of the best tracks on offer, a solid blues composition with a low down and dirty groove to it. Elsewhere, the title track follows this up very nicely, and the third Bonamassa penned track “Heavenly Soul” is equally as good. It seems a shame that a man who can write such good songs does so many covers, but I guess he just likes to play and play with other people’s tracks. Mind you, he sure does pick some cracking songs to cover, such as the Zeppelinesque “Who’s Been Talking” by Howling Wolf, which just sounds brilliant. Bill Withers’ “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” gets the Bonamassa treatment, as does Tom Waits’ “New Coat Of Paint” amongst others. Robert Johnson crops up as Joe covers “Stones In My Passway”, but perhaps the most surprising is the album’s closing track “Too Much Ain’t Enough Love”, originally featured on Jimmy Barnes’ seminal “Freight Train Heart” album. Barnes helps out with the vocals, whilst Bonamassa’s arrangement bluesifies the whole thing up without taking away what made the song great in the first place. This, it seems, is a talent that serves JB very well.

There’s really nothing on “Driving Towards The Daylight” that will disappoint Bonamassa fans, as it’s an incredibly solid offering with some great tracks. There’s nothing that breaks any new ground, but the blues isn’t about breaking new ground, really. This is all about great tunes played well by a guy who will be remembered for many, many years to come just like his own heroes.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Richard MARX: "Inside My Head"

Rating: 8/10
Label: Frontiers 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

After being blown away by Richard Marx's great acoustic show back in late 2010, I've been looking forward to new material from him. "Inside My Head" is just what I hoped it would be, a new rock-oriented album with plenty of fine melodies. Okay, it might not be all new, as most of these songs were released on Marx' "Emotional Remains" and "Sundown" albums, but as far as I know, they were only digitally available for a limited time from his site. So, basically these are new songs to me and most of you I guess.

After the first spin, I thought this album sounded "nice", but I wasn't overtly impressed by it. After more spins, it has started to show its' true colours. "Nice" doesn't begin to describe it anymore.

Richard Marx is usually associated with ballads and emotional, melodic songs. Sure enough, you'll get those on this album, but you'll also hear him rock out seriously. "All Over Me" is an almost punky rock track and possibly the hardest rocking Marx song of all time. The AOR bliss of "Part Of Me" was earlier covered by Harry Hess with his First Signal project, and the opening duo of "Had Enough" and "Wouldn't Let Me Love You" should please any melodic rock fan. Another standout track is "Through My Veins", a truly moving ballad he wrote about his late father.

A few weaker tracks on the second half of the album bring down the rating a bit, but all in all, a very good album and a welcome return. Now, how about a full-band tour and a gig in Finland?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

JETTBLACK: "Raining Rock"

Rating: 8/10
Label: Spinefarm 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Hot on the heels of Crashdiet, Reckless Love, The Treatment and other new generation hair metal bands comes Jettblack, a UK band raised on a nutritious diet of Mötley Crüe, AC/DC and Van Halen. In fact, the band sounds like it could have been one of the "second wave" bands that released their debut albums between 1989 and 1992. However, had this album been released back then I'm sure that they could've been one of the more successful groups. Maybe not a million seller but a couple of hit videos and a gold album? There's something quite likeable in their recycled hard rock, and they've got plenty of energy. Not to mention a handful of infectious songs.

The album's first single and video "Raining Rock" might have almost Spinal Tap-ish lyrics, but it's a pretty damn effective hard rock song. So effective, that it's actually included twice on the album - the second version features Udo Dirkschneider giving the song his unique stamp. The video's worth checking out too.

My favourite moments of the album are the more melodic tracks though, the Skid Row'ish "Prison Of Love", "Something About That Girl" and "Never Gonna Give It Up". The good thing is that even the weaker tracks get an extra point or two for the sheer energy of the band.

Monday, June 4, 2012

TORIAN: "Dawn"

Rating: 7/10
Label: Sound Guerilla/DA-Music 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

"Power Metal from Paderborn (Germany)" says the headline in the press release and sure enough, that's what we get. "Slightly thrashy, yet quite melodic with some really decent choruses" is how I'd describe this album.

After a somewhat dodgy start with arguably the album's worst vocal performance from the vocalist Marc Hohlweck on "Grateful", the album gets better as it progresses. The band seems to have a knack for writing quite catchy hooklines which is always a good thing, the hooklines rescue those songs where the other parts don't quite keep them afloat.

Thanks to the good melodies and and some fine guitarwork, "Dawn" is clearly an above average metal album. By trimming a couple of the weaker songs and maybe the pointless instrumentals this would have been a tighter package, but it isn't too bad as it is.

Highlights: "Thunder Battalions", "Oceans", "Fall Of The Golden Towards" and "Fires Beyond The Sun".