Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Derek SHERINIAN: "Black Utopia" [Re-issue]

Rating: Re-issue
Label: Armoury Records/Eagle 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The re-issue of Derek Sherinian's sophomore solo album, "Black Utopia", the same basic line-up as the debut (see review elsewhere on this page) only with the fine recruitment of Yngwie Malmsteen, Billy Sheehan, Al Di Meola, and Jerry Goodman. The following statement from the liner notes and according to Sherinian and I quote, "I remember wanting to make a darker follow-up record of Inertia. A lot of this material was written post 9/11 and the world had an eerie vibe at the time, which reflected in my songwriting", end quote.

Starting up the record with the short intro of "The Fury", the excellent follow-up of "The Sons Of Evil", surely both will have you thinking about the early days of Rising Force as Malmsteen's trademark neo-classical runs leap through the mix. Another Sherinian quote from the booklet, "I must say that Yngwie is the most exciting guitarist I've worked with. He listens to a track ONCE and lays his solo in just ONE take. It's mind boggling to witness such unbridled fluidity from a musician".

The overall darker tone of the album, clearly not always to Derek's advantage in my humble opinion. It gets a bit too close to the rather typical Zakk Wylde album and simply not enough of the sweeping keyboards. "Axis Of Evil" is interesting with its three-way trade-off among Zakk, Yngwie and Derek. It's also the first time we ever hear Yngwie Malmsteen shredding in mixolydian mode. "Stony Days", the spacey composition featuring Steve Lukather and the ever so present work of Tony Franklin and his fretless bass. I still prefer the debut over this, but the Luke' and especially Malmsteen's tracks are out of this world. Release date: February, 10th at midprice.

AGHARTI: "Change"

Rating: RRR
Label: Wormhole Death 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The latest in a long line of female fronted metal acts since the start of the second wave of Goth and the likes of Nightwish. It's the rather typical line-up and vocal performances which obviously include soaring female vocals and the aggressive male backup growler. Agharti was formed in Croatia in the spring of 2009 and their musical influences including grunge, rock and all kinds of metal really. They've played as a support act for Epica and their first full album is released by Wormhole Death records in Italy.

"Change" contains keyboard oriented music from as far left field as Goth and Symphonic Metal (not far at all in other words), peace loving mantras from the likes of Gandhi, Mandela and Dala Lama, classical overtures, and no doubt millions of other things that will go unnoticed for now. It's the melodic alternative style that's sort of dynamic and balanced between personal experiences and social observations. If all this sounds too weird, try not to worry too much as it's certainly listenable and lead vocalist Tina Bukic is the strong and not quite as operatic singer as usual with bags of energy, charisma and attitude.

Favorite headbanging tracks (Mendacity, Rise Again, Words Unspoken, To A Friend, Awaken) are uplifting numbers with layers of symphonic keyboards by Ivana Mrduljas (also back-up vocals) and catchy choruses. They are sort of hidden away at #8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and the album could do with the 'Change' of track listing in my humble opinion. The only "problem" with Agharti, they'll remind you of all the acts in the same category: Within Temptation, Epica, Nightwish, etc. Obviously not a problem if you fancy another slice of the pie. Solid effort.

ANGRA: "Angels Cry 20th Anniversary Live"

Rating: Live
Label: earMUSIC 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Sepultura came to massive fame in the early 90s but the world knew nothing, and I do mean absolutely nothing, about any other metal act from the land of Romario and Ronaldo. Angra came through the more traditional and at the time underground melodic Heavy/Symphonic/Power Metal scene with their debut release, "Angels Cry". Recorded and engineered in Germany by Sascha Paeth in the year of 1993, hardly anyone took notice at first with the exception of Japan. The album reached Top-20 in the chart and sold eventually gold in the land of the rising sun.

Fast forward the twenty odd years and the Sao Paulo-based five piece are recording their 20th Anniversary live album infront of their home audience at the HSBC stadium. Lo and behold, Angra are not playing their debut release in its entirety? Something which I find remarkable and strange considering its title and that they're supposed to celebrate the 20 years since the "Angels Cry" album? Never Understand. Streets Of Tomorrow. Lasting Child. They are all gone, vanished, nowhere to be seen/heard, missing in action, etc. and instead you'll find the standard setlist as well as recent tracks.

It's perhaps not the brightest of idea to release the 'Angels Cry' 20th Anniversary live album, if you can't even be bothered to play the songs? I don't know. Guest musicians such as ex-Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen (lead vocals on the Kate Bush cover "Wuthering Heights"), Uli John Roth (ex-Scorpions) and string quartet Familia Lima, might just make up for any weird decision? The double CD release of the event will surely not disappoint the hardcore fan, the rest of you might just have to wait for the movie, ehh... DVD.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

VITAL SCIENCE – “Imaginations On the Subject Of Infinity”

Label: Power prog
Review By: Alan Holloway

An Estonian and Latvian collaboration, Vital Science’s members have come from the bands Distant Light and Shadow Cry, with this preposterously titled album kicking off the new band’s career. Unsurprisingly, it’s Prog, but definitely not the wimpy kind – Vital Science are power prog (and are on the Power Prog label, appropriately) and proud of it.

After the obligatory mood setting (and, as usual, rather pointless) short intro, “IOTSOI” chugs away like a guitar driven train, throwing up nine tracks that certainly remind me of early Dream Theatre or Symphony X. The instrumental sections of the songs are handled very well, with neat, intricate guitar trading off with keyboards and wandering all over the place without getting dull. The songs are all of a decent length, but none outstay their welcome, clocking in between 5 and seven minutes at the most. My main problem with the band is vocalist Alexy Boyykov, partly because he hasn’t got the most tuneful voice and partly because I can hardly understand a word he is singing (I am pretty sure it’s in English).

“IOTSOI” has gained plenty of good reviews, and it definitely shows a bunch of talented musicians hard at work. I can’t get into it as much as I’d like due to the vocals, but this is by no means the majority view. I suggest you listen to the track at YOUTUBE and not here (Alan) and if you like it then there’s a high chance you will like the whole album

Vital Science (Facebook)

EMERGENCY GATE: ”Remembrance (The Early Days)”

Rating: RRR
Label: TZR / TwiLight 2012
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This is a new EP from German "Melodic Death Core" band Emergency Gate, apparently showcasing their earlier material. I reviewed their latest full-length album a year ago, and gave it a two-R rating, stating that the hardcore screamy vocals ruined some decent songs. I guess I like their early stuff more, as most of these songs feature melodic choruses with clean vocals, and somehow the screaming doesn't annoy me as much as it did on the previous
album. Maybe because there's less of it.

In my previous review I compared EG to bands like Kamelot, Rammstein and Therapy?, but somehow these tracks remind me of The Sentenced, To/Die/For and other dark, gothic Finnish bands. I didn't better, I could imagine that EG were a Finnish band. Strange.

The stand-out track of the EP is the band's cover of Haddaway's nineties eurodance smash "What Is Love". Whether it's a stand-out for the right reasons is entirely up to you... It features Haddaway on vocals, with the band blasting out some sort of techno-core in the background and Matthias Kupka adding some delicate screams to the whole thing. Hilarious and disturbing at the same time... I guess I kinda like it!


Johnny LIMA: ”My Revolution”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Johnny Lima 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

"My Revolution" has been long process for Johnny Lima. It's his fifth album and he put it together without a record label, using IndieGoGo platform to collect funding from the fans for the final touches. Now the album is ready, and those of us who funded it have been living with the songs for a few weeks. I guess most of us have come to the same conclusion - this is a career highlight for Johnny and one of the best albums of the last few years. Yes, it's that good!

Johnny has taken his time with the album and you can hear it. The production is excellent, balanced and rich in details, but without great songs that wouldn't really matter, would it? Well I'm happy to report that "My Revolution" is full of great songs, ranging from sleazy hard rock to melodic pop/rock. The old catchphrase of "something for everyone" applies to this album to a degree, but it doesn't mean that it sounds like a mixed bag of this and that.

At the time of writing, there are still copies of the "limited edition CD" available on Johnny's site, and I strongly suggest you try to get your hands on that. The official release will only contain 11 songs instead of all the 15 tracks on the ltd. ed. CD. I am not completely sure which four tracks will be omitted, but as they're all good, you're going to miss some gems anyway.

The highlights among the 15 tracks are almost too many to mention, but I'll give it a shot anyway. The "revolution" starts with two superb hard rock tracks, the bombastic title track and the uptempo "Happily Ever After You", both armed with lethal hooks and a bad attitude. "Fill You Up" is the next highlight, lyrically as subtle as Kiss at their worst or Steel Panther, but that Crazy Frog-like keyboard hook is infectious. If the lyrics weren't as sleazy as they are, this could be Johnny's ticket to crossover success - for example, my six-year old daughter keeps singing along to the "ah-eh-oh-o-oh" hook everytime we listen to this in the car. And no, she doesn't understand english yet... the song isn't really suitable for english-speaking children! "Blame It On Love" is one of the more AOR-type of songs, slightly reminding me of Bon Jovi's "In These Arms" when it comes to the overall vibe. I already liked it when it was previewed at Firefest (2012), and the studio version doesn't disappoint. "Tell Me Lies" is a powerful rocker in the vein of Gotthard's "Anytime Anywhere" with great keyboard work, while "Nowhere Left To Go" is a track resurrected from the previous album's sessions. I always wondered why it didn't make the cut back then, I guess so did Johnny, as it is featured here. A superb track á la early Bon Jovi.

If I have understood correctly, the awesome pop-rocker "Deeper Into You" is in danger of being left off the normal version, as is the haunting piano ballad "Maybe You're Right, Maybe It's Wrong" and the hyper-melodic "Naturally Beautiful". My three easy choices to drop would have been "Dirty Girls", "Show Them Who You Are" and "Into The Light", all decent tracks but not quite in the same league as the others. The fourth one would be really hard to choose, thankfully I don't have to! So again, get the ltd. edition!

For fans of Johnny's previous albums, this is obviously an essential purchase, but basically everyone interested in the kind of music we cover should give it a go. Highly recommended.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Derek SHERINIAN: "Inertia" [Re-issue]

Rating: Re-issue
Label: Armoury Records/Eagle 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Armoury Records/Eagle are about to re-release (February) the first five instrumental solo albums by Derek Sherinian (Kiss, Alice Cooper, Dream Theater, Yngwie Malmsteen, Billy Idol, etc). This one, "Inertia", originally released at Insideout Records for the European market in 2001, gets the 2014 midprice treatment and expanded liner notes. I'm not really a big fan of all-instrumental albums, but Derek Sherinian's album "Inertia" really struck the right chords for me already back in 2001.

This is just a fun mixture of jazz fusion, prog, metal, and pretty much everything in-between. And what about the rest of the musicians on this CD? Well, with a lineup of drummer Simon Phillips (also co-producer/co-writer), Tony Franklin (bass) and the two legendary guitar players Steve Lukather (Toto) and Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne), it simply can't go wrong or bad... now can it? Add that Sherinian runs like a possessed demon over the keys and you'll get one of the best instrumental albums of the early 00's

You can also find a cover of the Edgar Winter Group classic, "Frankenstein", which I never expected that someone would cover ever again. Then again, many of the tracks here (like "Astroglide") do show a lot of influences from bands such as Edgar Winter Group and Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP). Don't expect this to be 'ELP' all of the time though, since with players such as Lukather, Franklin, and Sherinian, you'll get a very melodic side too. Tracks like "Inertia", "Mata Hari" and "Evel Knievel" are filled with melodic melodies, powerful riffs, and metal fusion. Liner notes by Sherinian, Phillips and Lukather. The latter believe this to be "a highlight in my discography and among the best recorded work of my whole career".

Friday, January 24, 2014

RING OF FIRE: "Battle Of Leningrad"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Not to be confused with The Battle of Stalingrad. Lenin, Stalin, they're all the same. Dead. Never discuss politics at the online music mag? The seige of the city of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) lasted for 872 days and more than 1 million people succumbed to starvation. Operation Barbarossa. Uncle Germany vs. Mother Soviet Russia. Nazis vs. Commies. Von Leeb vs. Popov. WWII at its coldest peak and Finland and Mannerheim at their worst. The strategy board game player in me - finally awake after years of slumber.

It's the grim history of future past. Well, let's face it... humans are stupid and doomed to eventually repeat their mistakes. Hitler and co. thought the city would give in after a couple of weeks but the blockade lasted for 872 days and caused famine due to lack of utilities, water, food supplies. This resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000 soldiers and civilians and the evacuation of 1,400,000 more, many of whom died during evacuation anyhow.

It's the grand epic concept story and work of keyboard wiz: Vitalij Kuprij (music/arrangement), guitar hero: Tony MacAlpine (music) and former Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist: Mark Boals (words/melody). The doom and gloom attitude lay like a heavy metal carpet on the doorstep of Ring of Fire as they stand face to face with the darkness, the cold, the hunger, the bloodshed, the madness. To be completely honest, we expected even more of the terror, the horror, and basically trauma of this awful blockade (lyrically), but I guess that's just me being morbid and gruesome?

Music-wise, it's dark neo-classical hard rock (Mother Russia, Battle Of Leningrad) mixed with symphonic metal and tons of keyboards, pianos, choirs, etc. It's epic, doomy, and you can't help to shout along to the words from "They're Calling Your Name" and the lines of and I quote, "You don't remember and you don't care. Screaming voices. Ghosts out there". end quote. Suddenly, in between all the great, heavy, and rather dark neo-metal, the heartfelt power ballad, "Land of Frozen Tears". Listen to the opening strong lyric, you know exactly what they mean and it's an uncomfortable feeling. It's been what?, 9, 10 years since their previous album and they deliver their best effort so far. Produced by the above three wise-men and mixed and mastered by Timo Tolkki (also bass).

SWEET GUM TREE: "The Snakes You Charm & The Wolves You Tame"

Rating: RR
Label: Dreamy Bird/Cadiz 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

 "Hey Ginger, beware. They're not going to treat you right out there. Sooner or later they'll be back again to bury your head. Bury the redhead in the playground sand". Indeed. We all agree it's not okay to treat people differently because of skin colour, religion. or whatever really. Gingers on the other hand are still very much the main target to bullies all over the world. Then again, it's barely acceptable to be French in the U.K. and Arno Sojo of Sweet Gum Tree may struggle to find love for his dreamy melancholia.

Ten years as a singer and guitarist in various modern rock and electro bands paved the way for Sojo's new solo incarnation of a somewhat different nature. Influenced by the timeless beauty of vintage records, it embodies his quest for a smoother, more organic sound. Quite the poet as the lyrics speak of posh sinews and not always direct messages. The lush arrangement on the other hand goes under the banner of acoustic textures and bittersweet melodies, showcasing a poetic chamber pop.

Produced by David Odlum (Gemma Hayes) and Peter Deimel (Deus) and among the guest musicians, we can find Isobel Campbell (duest on 'Bird Of Passage'). Tinderstick drummer Earl Harvin and Marty Wilson-Piper from Oz legends, The Church, two of Sojo's strongest influences. Add to this an entire string section, french horns, clarinet, and trumpet. The string arrangements are nice and the melodies are... well, sort of nice too. It feels however like you've been here before, the remarkable feeling of dejá vú? It's all too lightweight and surprisingly ordinary.

DAUGHTRY - “Baptized”

Rating: RRRR
Review By: Alan Holloway

A while back I gave a glowing review to Chris Daughtry’s “Break The Spell” album, using the phrase “Nickelback meets Bon Jovi”, and I still stand by that as pretty much the flavour that was achieved. It’s two years later, though, and either Daughtry or the powers behind him have decided that he needs to go in an even more radio friendly direction, hence the poppy delight of “Baptized”.

This album has received plenty of criticism for being wet, and it certainly is damp to the extreme, but that doesn’t stop it being highly enjoyable, especially if you are a teenager or an older person who loves the idea of The Goo Goo Dolls and Pink doing an album with Sandi Thom and Fun, which is sort of the direction Daughtry has pointed himself in now.

Although Daughtry himself co writes all the tracks here, he has utilized the talents of the likes of Sam Hollander, who has had plenty of success with songs for Train, Good Charlotte, Gym Class Heroes and Cobra Starship, and also Martin Johnson, frontman and writer for Boys Like Girls (plus many others).  So what we get is an album that’s very squarely aimed at the teen demographic, full of light, catchy music that doesn’t really rock all that hard. The thing is, it still works incredibly well.

My own favourite track is “Long Live Rock & Roll”, which is as far removed from the Dio classic as it’s possible to be. Instead it’s a similar track to “I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker”, with Daughtry going on about growing up and loving eighties rock music, basically. It’s got a similar vibe, also, to The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Rebel Sound”, and it helps that that was one of my top tracks from last year.

So whilst Daughtry is turning into a wimp, musically, he’s at least surrounding himself with people who know how this shit should be done. The ultimate saving grace is, of course, his superb singing voice. Some songs that would have been average by anyone else end up being soulful purely because he sings them. Fans of the previous albums may balk at the dilution of his signature sound, but there’s still a lot to like about Chris Daughtry. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Julian ANGEL's BEAUTIFUL BEAST: ”Kick Down The Barricades”

Rating: RRR
Label: Platinum Blonde Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Julian Angel continues his mission to bring back the spirit of '89 with the third Beautiful Beast album. Now with Ramy Ali on drums (Freedom Call/Evidence One) and Frank McDouglas on bass, the Beast is more of a band again, compared to the previous album which was pretty much a solo effort for Julian.

I was hoping that ”Kick Down The Barricades” would have been the ultimate Beautiful Beast album, but unfortunately I don't like it as much as I liked the previous one "California Suntan". I feel that the songs on that one were stronger, although "Kick..." does have its' moments too.

The first three songs are all rather fine examples of what Beautiful Beast is all about. "Bad Boys Never Dance" is an impressive opening, with riffs straight from 1989, very vintage sound and Julian singing better than ever. The chorus is one of my favourites of the album, even though it might owe a little to another song about bad boys and their habit of running wild. "Big Stuff" has a bit of a funky edge á la The Electric Boys and a good singalong hook. The catchy "Can't Stand The Fiction" is the kind of smooth hard rocker that Firehouse used to write back in the day, and along with the opening track, it's my favourite song of the album.

"Shock 'Em Dead" is a Ratt-like groovy rocker, but the hook doesn't really work for me. The obligatory ballad "The Night Cries Out For You" is nice and melodic, but somehow it sounds like it was written because "there has to be a ballad on the album!". Still, it's a masterpiece compared to what comes next...

To create "Unsexy", Julian has taken Aerosmith's "Rag Doll" and Poison's "Unskinny Bop", smashed them into pieces, mixed the pieces and put them back together using a glue that was probably called "Extreme Sticky Stuff". Okay, if you absolutely adore both "Rag Doll" and "Unskinny Bop" you might love this song, but to me this sounds a bit too obvious.

To wash away the bad taste of "Unsexy", the next song should have been a killer, but... "Kick Down The Barricades" might have the honour of being the title track, but that doesn't help, it's just very average. The acoustic-tinged "Shake Me Back Home" is a little better, sounding like a combination of Tyketto and Poison. I also like "High On Love", which sounds like it could've been on White Lion's "Big Game".The closing track "Six In The Red" isn't too bad either, reminding me of Ratt and Kix.

This is not the album I hoped it would have been, but it can still be recommended to Hair Metal enthusiastics. Julian doesn't mess around with modern influences for sure, this is very authentic sounding 80'ies stuff. There's just way too many "okay" tracks, a couple of dodgy ones and not enough killer for me, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

RED DRAGON CARTEL: "Red Dragon Cartel" (Jake E Lee)

Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Red Dragon Cartel - the long awaited return of former Ozzy and Badlands guitarist Jake E Lee. No doubt one of the more exciting guitar heroes of the 80s and the Las Vegas flashy six-string bender is finally ready to take on the world with the power of wicked licks and party tricks after a long hiatus. The self-titled debut at Frontiers Records came together with the help of Las Vegas friend Ronnie Mancuso (Beggars and Thieves) and speak generally of melodic heavy rock and metal in the style of the late 90s sound.

It's neither pop nor brutal metal and there's definitely not a lot of the blues melodies ála Badlands or Ozzy riffs to be found within these tracks. Opening track, "Deceived", one of few moments in the old guitar shredding mood and attitude. It's merely a shame that vocalist Darren James Smith a.k.a. the former drummer of Harem Scarem, give raspy a bad name as he huff and puff along to the melody during the verse. This became extra obvious when Cheap Trick legend Robin Zander guest appears as lead vocalist on the excellent rock of "Feeder".

The next track, "Fall from The Sky", the excellent Alice in Chains-light ballad. However, those lead vocals during the verse, awww, they make Paul Di'Anno (ex-Iron Maiden) sound like friggin' Barry Manilow on the following sing-a-long, "Wasted". Great party song though. "Slave" remind us of KISS during Carnival of Souls and I really enjoy Lee's tone and biting guitar work here. "Big Mouth", stomp metal feat. lead vocals by Maria Brink from In This Moment, while "War Machine" brings back the sound of Ozzy and Black Sabbath. Sass Jordan guest appears on "Redeem Me" with plenty of soul and blues in her voice as always.

Lee's trademark style shines throughout the album and merely the lack of killer vocals makes us shy away from giving it more R's...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

BASTARDOGS: "No Pain No Gain"

Rating: RRR
Label: Street Symphonies 2013
Review by Rich Dillon

Sleaze rock/metal may have hit notoriety on the sunset strip in the 80’s with bands like L.A. Guns, Motley Crue and Faster Pussycat but the genre is alive and well in Italy of all places! That’s right Bastardogs began culminating in Genova Italy in 2010, going through a few line up changes and rearrangements during the formative years. Bastardogs have unleashed their debut recording, No Pain No Gain, in December 2013, serving up a heaping plateful of dirty sleaze rock. We now find Bastardogs consisting of the trio of original creators, Bonne (vocals/rhythm guitar), Andy (lead guitar) and Atta (drums) joined by Cosme (bass guitar). The band name leaves a little to be desired and has me a bit weary right off the get go but let’s give the music a listen before we judge.

The album artwork depicts a wanted poster for crimes of “incest, incitement of hatred, multiple murder, rape, lewd acts, feminicide and crimes against humanity”…..sounds absolutely charming! No Pain No Gain leads off with “N.U.S.U.” (I’m not sure what the acronym stands for as I can’t fully make it out after a couple of listens) paying homage to the genre and doing quite well at setting the sleazey tone for the record. Titles like “Sex Machine”, “Last Night”, “Drinkin’ My Brain Off” and “Bite You Down” all follow in the paths blazed in true sleaze fashion by the greats of the genre. "Bite You Down" serves as a good representation of the whole album and was released by the band in single format in August of 2013 and can be heard through the above you-tube link. Also available on you-tube from the Street Symphonies Record label is the longest cut of No Pain No Gain with "Zombietown" featuring the song lyrics in the comments section. “Snakehead”, “Edge of Youth” (concerning the passing of fellow rockers such as Dave Leopard of Crashdiet) and “The Pit” complete the album’s selection fulfilling a good fun time of upbeat party rock. Most of the tracks are under four minutes in length with two clocking in at less than three minutes, so the total run time is a bit on the light side.

While No Pain No Gain won’t win any awards it’s a good helping of party rock dripping with sleaze and it’ll be interesting to see what the Bastardogs have up their sleeve for the future.

PRIMAL FEAR: "Delivering The Black"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Primal Fear may not be a household name over here in North America, but the German power metal outfit has issued 10 albums since 1997, most charting well in countries like their home of Germany but also in Japan and Sweden. Primal Fear was founded by former Gamma Ray vocalist Ralf Scheepers and Sinner bassist Mat Sinner. With a few line up changes over the existence of the band we now find drummer Randy Black, Swedish guitar wizard Magnus Karlsson (having worked with Sinner previously on Kiske/Sommerville and Ralf Scheepers’ solo album) and guitarist Alex Beyrodt. Beyrodt and Sinner have been working together on several projects such as the bands Voodoo Circle, Silent Force and Sinner, all issuing albums in 2013. Primal Fear is ready to attack the world in 2014 supporting Delivering the Black with a tightly packed world touring schedule. For the upcoming Delivering the Black world tour Karlsson announced that he would be unable to participate as he does not want to be away from his young children for an extended period such as that, so original founding member Tom Naumann will be stepping in for the tour.

Delivering the Black starts off with the charging riff of “King for a Day” which has a forthcoming video as well. “Rebel Faction” is a power metal gem with thrashy overtones. “When Death Comes Knocking”, considered the lead single as it has received the video treatment, was unleashed prior to the album’s official release, a brooding, grinding, epic sounding composition at over seven minutes runtime sits in the third slot. “Alive & On Fire” is a little more old school metal sounding and may well be my choice for top of the heap. “Delivering the Black” offers another fine cut, matching and maintaining the pace leading into another thrashy style track with “Road to Asylum”. Power metal opus, “One Night in December” clocks in at over 9 and a half minutes before “Never Pray for Justice” resumes the assault. “Born With a Broken Heart” slows the pace down showcasing Scheepers vocal abilities and featuring the assistance of Leaves’ Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine. High speed, balls to the wall “Inseminoid” closes out the offering on a fast and furious note.

As with all the Primal Fear album covers, the bird of prey is prominently featured in the artwork and any fan of their past work will surely enjoy the progression and direction of Primal Fear’s latest effort Delivering the Black.


ASSIGNMENT: "Inside of The Machine"

Rating: RR
Label: Mausoleum 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

When Assignment and company starts describing themselves and their latest effort as an ambitious and entertaining work of melodic progressive metal, you know it's not going to be the entire truth. Are they melodic and progressive? Absolutely. Only in style and not quite as much on record though. Let me type it down like this. If anything, 'Inside Of The Machine', try to come across as the perfect mixture of Melodic Rock, Symphonic ditto, and Progressive Metal. It feels however like something not quite right, correct, or ready for showcase?

The constant copy/cut/paste work of pro-tools? and the really gritty barbwire singers (Michael Bormann, Carsten Kaiser, and at times Mats Leven) tend to get on your nerves in the long run. The production, too thin and somehow noisy to fit the melodic prog and let's not mention the drums as they are simply not there in my book. However, Gert Sprick behind the keyboards delivers top notch stuff from the word go. The compositions are difficult to tell apart with the exception of the opening tracks and especially 'Upload the System' and 'I Am The Machine' are great. The first being the nice and long instrumental piece and the latter killer metal reminiscent of Judas Priest and Malmsteen.

I do not normally have any problem with singers such as Bormann and Kaiser, but they feel forced and strained somehow. Not as confident as usual on this particular record. Let's blame it on production, huh? Perhaps you're not meant to include raspy lead vocals on complex ultra melodic prog albums? I don't know, but some thing's out of order and merely the performances by Levén (Treat, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc) and Robin 'First Time' Beck, saves the Assignment from complete failure.

Neil DANIELS: "High Stakes & Dangerous Men - The UFO Story" book

Publisher: Soundcheck Books
Review by The Bailey Brothers

Another skilfully researched and executed book by prolific rock journalist Neil Daniels. This time the subject is UFO who the Bailey Brothers have loved right back from the classic Schenker era. It’s a rollercoaster journey spanning over four decades and captures the highs and lows of one of Britain’s best loved and icon rock bands. The only thing lacking is current interviews with founder members Phil Mogg & Pete Way. Although they make the headlines for their off stage booze n drugs antics, everyone who has contributed to this book is in total agreement that them and other members of UFO have written some outstanding rock anthems.

Stories of Mogg falling off the stage and Schenker not turning up for gigs is nothing new but did you know Mogg had to sign on the dole in the 80’s as he was that broke? Or that John Norum (Europe) almost joined UFO? This is an honest book that not only plays homage to those who played in UFO but also those that nearly did.

Another key factor in UFO being relevant today is the bands willingness to graft; they have toured the world and back and fans have stayed loyal, although they should have been up there with the giants of rock as their history, discography and contribution is immense. I would have preferred a few more interviews and stories than reviews of albums gone by but the info collated is very impressive. Like many fans we would love to see Pete Way still up there with the band and we wish him well, he’s a really nice guy. UFO may have hit “Rock Bottom” from time to time but they have bounced back and still are a class act. This book chronicles their journey very well.

In years to come books like these from Daniels will become I’m sure the place to go for detailed information on the rock Genre and although internet is king you can’t beat a good book and this is one of them

SWITCHBLADE - "Heavy Weapons"


LABEL: Killer Metal Records

Review By: Alan Holloway

Close your eyes and let your mind wander back to the glory days of NWOBHM, and you'll be in synch with Israel's Switchblade, from their logo and debut album cover to their no frills, riff heavy, metal for muthas.

Iron Maiden comparisons are unavoidable here, especially when Lior Stein starts to wail His air raid siren vocals are not as good as Bruce Dickinson's, but to be fair to him he does have a strong set of pipes that play in a similar fashion. The music is fast and furious for the most part, taking inspiration from the likes of Maiden and Priest as well as Accept, the chugga-chugga of guitars building up to fist-in-the-air choruses and the obligatory guitar solo. There's nothing wrong with any of the musicianship here, and Switchblade do exactly what they have obviously set out to do - make a heavy metal album.

There's been a lot of positive press around the band, mainly because old fart reviewers (like myself) appreciate the no frills NWOBHM approach that Switchblade do so well. If looked at critically, however, if "Heavy Weapons" had been released in the early 80s it would not be ranked up there with the greats. This is second division NWOBHM, although a fine piece of it. There's plenty of energy and some good songs, but ultimately Switchblade are a pale imitation of those they worship.

Band Facebook: Switchblade

Monday, January 20, 2014

THE BREW: "Control"

Label: Jazzhaous Records
Review By: Alan Holloway

Before you even listen to their fourth album, you have to admire The Brew, at least a little bit. The thing is, the album is called "Control" and the songs are as follows: Repeat, Eject, Mute, Pause, Shuffle, Fast Forward, Skip, Stop, Play and Rewind. This is a charmingly ambitious thing to do, especially when the titles accurately suit the songs concerned, so well done to The Brew, and double well done for making such a great album to go along with the idea.

The Brew are another young British band, waiting for their chance to take the world by storm. "Control" is a very powerful album, full of massive chords and soaring vocals, not a million miles away from BlackWolf, 2014's other early 'Best Album' contender. The Brew are all about mixing powerhouse riffs and electric pacing, coming over like Led Zeppelin as recorded by The Virginmarys, Wolfmother and (at least on "Shuffle") U2 when they used to be good. It's a melting pot of influences, but what really comes through is the sheer power of the whole thing. This is heavy rock for people who like to bounce around with a beer in one hand and a devil sign in the other, banging their heads to something that is equal parts melody and power.

Kudos have to go to Jason Barwick, who not only provides the huge vocals throughout, but also lays down some excellent lead guitar. Bassist Tim Smith and Drummer Kurtis Smith make up the band, and the end result is another trio that make enough noise for twice that number. With "Control" and the debut from BlackWolf I have to say that this week has renewed my faith in the UK's ability to produce proper kick ass heavy rock bands. Take a listen to the single "Repeat" below the review - if you like it then you owe it to yourself to buy this album when it's released in February. 

 Official Website: The Brew

Sunday, January 19, 2014

HENRY PRIESTMAN: "The Last Mad Surge Of Youth"

Rating: RRRR+
Label: Proper Records 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Henry Priestman, holy crap, hardly your ordinary local vicar even if he's formerly of The Christians (the U.K. band of the 80s). 'The Last Mad Surge Of Youth' may not have all too much in common with The Christians as it's folky, rooty, dusty, singer/songwriter music with a special knack for lyric that goes deeper than your ordinary grave digger and current '15 minute of shame' bopper at the charts. If not at all familiar with The Priestman's sound as of lately, it's basically grumpy old (white) men music in the vein of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and the darn right wicked hint of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. And no, I sadly did not listen to his previous solo album.

Bitter rock with a certain 'Yorkshire' sound (the brass, the horns, the warts and all) and a little bit of country - nailed it! It's old school... or possibly more like no friggin' school at all really. I believe there's always been one of these gifted old geezer hanging around at the corner of nowhere America with a piss stained sign that reads 'will play for food'. Priestman is however the fish and chips, Yorkshire pudding, deep-fried mars-bars version of the above geezer and his latest platter reek of gorgeous dishes and well-crafted songs (you all thought I was going to type shite, huh?). Seasoned guest musicians such as Kat Gilmore (Gilmore & Roberts), Graham Gouldman (10 CC), Paul Simpson (The Wild Swans), Probyn Gregory (Brian Wilson Band - Beach Boys) and Lotte Mullan, add a certain posh attitude to the fine melodies.

It's just excellent stuff from the opening words of "At The End of The Day" to the closer of bonus track, "We Used To Be You - Part 2". The witty and dare I say catchy song and dance numbers of "Goodbye Common Sense", "Valentine Song", "Rant N Rave", "Huntin' and Gatherin' (Ain't What It used To be), "Same Circus Different Clowns", etc. are all winners in my book. Lyric-wise, definitely the notch or three above the average pack and does it get any grumpier and tongue-n-cheek then the opening words from the closing original track, "A Pint Of Bitter And Twisted, Please" and I quote, 'I was born with a face that did not fit'.

The laid-back music fit this particular Britt like a glove. You will feel mighty pleased at the end of the disc and not quite as bitter as the oldest artist to ever have been signed by a major label for a debut solo album. I salute you holy man. Highly Recommended.

BAP KENNEDY: "Let's Start Again"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Proper Records 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Northern Ireland and Belfast is home to singer/songwriter Martin Bap Kennedy and his latest offering to the Gods of mellow goes through several different stages of folk-rock. Tiny bits and pieces of everything from Americana and Latino to the old Irish tradition of things and back again to mid-tempo rootsy rock. The darn right lazy and easiest way to describe his 6th solo album, "Let's Start Again", laid-back stuff (there's a clever word, 'stuff') inspired by the ancient likes of Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan.

Perhaps not always the absolute correcto mundo statement, but I told you I was being lazy and not going to nitpick. I do believe that most folks would agree on the overall feeling of the album though. There's however a lot more to Bap than first meet the eye or ear. There is always that underlaying sound of old school Country inspired by the ultra ancient legend of Hank Williams. I kid you not. Bap's been into both power-punk and Celtic melancholy in the past, but has clearly moved on to other arrangements and the slightly 'western' structure.

"Song of Her Desire" is just a lovely mish-mash of (very early) Dire Straits and Springsteen (his most rootsy and laid-back material). "Radio Waves", takes you on a journey through country and Van Morrison, while "Heart Trouble" steps back in time and space to Hank and big band's swing. Bap has retained his sense of storytelling, but the ease of which he pays tribute to one genre to the next shows a maturity that few manage to receive in their lifetime. There's a couple of oddities and darn right weird moments on this record and certainly not quite as instant or easy listening as his fellow label mate Henry Priestman. You simply need to spin this several times and then let the low-key mood melodies slowly sink in. Recommended. Release date: 3rd February.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

BLACKWOLF – “The Hunt”

LABEL: Self Released
Review By: Alan Holloway

Yet another band who have made their album due to the generosity of fans, Bristol band Blackwolf are riding the crest of a wave whilst creating more, showing massive potential and needing that little bit of luck to help them move onto bigger and better things.

It’s early days yet, mind. “The Hunt” is their debut album, and will be backed up by a rather sweet tour with The Answer. It’s rather sweet because that band must have been at the top of their list when looking for road buddies. Simply put, if you are a fan of The Answer (or even The Temperance Movement) there’s every indication that Blackwolf will be right up your street, as the musical directions of both are certainly pointing down neighbouring roads.

Blackwolf, whilst being a rather heavy live band, have a real Southern twang to them, with a deep blues groove serving as the base of their sound. There’s plenty of Black Crowes type influence on show, but with that much more gusto and a bigger pair of balls. Vocalist Scott Sharp has a superb, powerful voice that simply soars above the music, completely belying his West Country roots by sounding like he was raised in a swamp and has been fighting to get out all his life.

When done right, this sort of music is incredibly energizing, throwing in passion, soul and pure rock all at the same time. As you can see from the rating, Blackwolf do it totally right. From broody, powerful opener “Mr Maker” through to the upbeat closer “Sea Of Merry” they don’t put a foot wrong. Even when they slow down, for “Sleepwalking” near the end, it’s a soulful three minutes that bounces into guitar driven life for the final sixty seconds and features some trouser tightening notes from Mr Sharp.

I just love it when a new band comes out of the traps hungry for blood, and Blackwolf have made just about the best start possible, with everything they’ve achieved so far attributable purely to their own talent and determination. Where they go next is anyone’s guess, but I’d bet on onwards and upwards as two likely destinations. Get the album and see them now so you can say you did, later.

Facebook Page: BlackWolf Facebook Page

Friday, January 17, 2014

FOREIGNER: 'I Want To Know What Love Is - The Ballads'

Rating: Comp.
Label: earMUSIC 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

'Gotta take a little time. A little time to think things over. I better read between the lines in case I need it when I'm older'. Just in time for Valentine's Day earMUSIC releases 'I Want To Know What Love Is - The Ballads', 14 tracks previously never released on one album of FOREIGNER's best and most timeless ballads. Not sure about the never before bit though. First came the 'Acoustique' album and what about, 'Classics', which also featured "new" vocalist Kelly Hansen of Hurricane and Unruly Child fame. Mick Jones, the only Survivor since the original Journey of Foreigner and we're hardly in Kansas anymore, Toto (ouch! lame-o).

Nonetheless. It's the new compilation album with studio versions of 'I Want To Know What Love Is', 'In Pieces', 'Waiting For a Girl Like You' etc. The acoustic versions of, 'Feels Like The First Time', 'Double Vision' and 'Say You Will', where especially the latter might just need those sweet keys of the 80s to become the proper classic? Don't get me wrong, it's a nice version, but nothing beats the originals, huh? It's nice to hear Foreigner's recording of 'The Flame Still Burn', co-written by Mick Jones for the 1998 U.K. cult movie, 'Still Crazy', where it was performed by 'Strange Fruit' and Jimmy Nail. I enjoy it more than any other 'spoof' rock movie out there including Spinal Tap and Jones won the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for that song. Hansen sings his heart out and it's just a darn classic moment of 'lighters in the air'. Sigh. It's just not the same with nokias (feel free to switch to your brand of choice).

Hansen, clearly at his best on modern tracks like, 'When It Comes to Love', 'In Pieces', 'I Can't Give Up' (excellent), but also, 'Waiting For a Girl Like You' and 'Feels Like The First Time'. It's always difficult to compare and match Lou Gramm, but Hansen's really good on these tracks. The title track is especially hard to come around and accept if you're aware of the original. I know that many people say 'I Want To Know What Love Is' (the song) - too pompous, too cheesy, too sappy. Would all the slow songs really be better than they currently are if they included a backing gospel choir? No. Of course not. It's 80s commercial to the extreme and you know it's f***ed up if Mariah Carey decides to cover your tune. Well... okay. I do enjoy her 'Hero' song.

However. I'm not shy to admit that I enjoy it quite a lot. At least as long as I get my dose of Prog, Punk, Pop, Art-Rock, Indie, New Wave, Electronica, Metal, R&B/Soul, etc. etc. Why judge music by genre or style? A good song is a good song is a good song. Could I listen only to Foreigner? No. But that goes for each and every artist/band really. I need to dark, the gloomy, the easy listening, the uplifting, the fun, the complex, the... you get the picture. Each style and genre (with the exception of Black Metal and Modern Rap and ditto Country in my own personal opinion) have great songs and great bands to offer. Do NOT let the 'Music Police' and internet tell you what you can/should and can't/shouldn't listen to. Ten multi-platinum albums and sixteen Top 30 hits speaks louder than any posh besserwisser. Do you really need this comp if you're already the long time fan? The bonus edition with more acoustic songs might give value and now you also know what to give as Valentine gift?

The Ballads will be released in Europe on Monday February 3rd, 2014 in two different editions: as a standard jewel case, and 2CD Special Edition-digipak. Produced by bass guitarist, Jeff Pilson (ex- Dokken), in December 2013, the bonus disc contains previously unreleased performances of all the hits and fan favourites, recorded from an acoustic show for the German radio station SWR1 in July 2013. The band head out on Tour with special guests EUROPE and FM, which kicks off on April 3rd at the Manchester o2 Apollo. All together now, 'In my life there's been heartache and pain'...
facebook page

Thursday, January 16, 2014

DAVID WARD: "Golden Future Time"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: GFR/Prescription 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Major wow factor! Kick-ass falsetto/tenor vocals similar to Jeff Buckley (RIP) only with the warm tender touch of Philly and the sonic mixture of Art-Rock, Prog-Rock, R&B/Soul, singer/songwriter and electronica. Daring, different, and definitely outside the box. David Ward from Vancouver, Canada, has created an exciting playground for his imagination and versatility to basically run wild across the field.

Intelligent, diverse and capable of both great songwriting as well as top notch vocals in the higher range of the scale. In fact, there is so much going on in his two-part seven track album (also on vinyl) that I'm actually lost for words and not quite sure where to begin? Side A of the very ambitious work of Ward mixes Art-Pop and Prog Rock complexity with meditative synths, singer/songwriter and cabaret influences with the psychedelic leanings of Pink Floyd? Side B, on the other hand, takes us into a new dimension of R&B harmonies, '70s soul guitar spank and vintage synthesizers.

Indeed. One minute you're listening to complex jazzy 7/4 arrangements of Prog and Art-Rock (Slowly Through The Night, Lost). The next it's Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley (Ghost In The Woods), only to once again change direction into smashing vintage R&B/Soul (late 70's) and the inspiration of especially Michael Jackson and also Stevie Wonder (Be Here, Golden Future Time, Bird in The Hand).

Not to mention the closing track of "Fly", which comes out swinging with the incredible powerful hook and summer funk radio vibe 'ala Bruno Mars. It's a magical wonder-land and everything is possible as long as you believe. The overall theme and common thread is however quality. Ward's future is so bright that you need to wear shades while listening to Golden Future Time. Release date: February 24th.

SIDEBURN: "Electrify"

Rating: RR
Label: AOR/Metal Heaven 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Standard pub rockers with a strange appetite for the obvious or the unsung heroes of Switzerland? Sideburn are still trying to break through to the other side after spending the 20 plus year in the shadows of Krokus and basically any other act inspired by Acca Dacca. They have been recording album after album in the same old hard rock template, basic 3, 4 chords and standard arrangements in the vein of AC/DC and Rose Tattoo. The arrival of three young and beer talented new members in January 2012, did absolutely nothing to their overall sound, which sadly lack the finesse of Krokus as they actually managed to inject their own sound to all those fine melodies 'ala Young/Young (Metal Rendez Vous - friggin' classic album).

Opening track, "Bite the Bullet", pretty much set the pace and bog average standard of the entire album. I honestly thought they sang, "Bite The Booty," at first (that's a bit harsh?), but, (heh, butt), it's merely the singing accent of Pierrehumbert and co. I could definitely see the Sideburns' going down just fine at your local zoo, ehem, bar, while drinking your piss warm stella or whatever. They are probably at their best on stage.

They are completely different animals on record though. Their compositions are kind of broken, very tame, and far off the promising target of Electrify. Mastered by 80s soft-rock producer Beau Hill? Strange choice considering its basic sound and production. Have a go at this if you simply need everything in the style of Acca Dacca and Rose Tattoo with just a splash of CCR (Travellin' Man).

Monday, January 13, 2014

ROYAL HUNT: ”A Life To Die For”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Frontiers 2013
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Royal Hunt's reunion with vocalist DC Cooper on "Show Me How To Live" album a couple of years ago was a success. ”A Life To Die For” is a worthy successor to it, an equally fine piece of work. It's a big, pompous and bombastic album, yet never pretentious or too complicated for its' own good. Mastermind Andre Andersen has written some of his finest melodies for it and DC Cooper's performance is just astounding. It sounds like he's really stretching his vocal style, throwing in some operatic things and changing character like a chameleon. Although the whole band is highly talented, somehow Cooper steals the show this time, more than on "Show Me How To Live". His singing is such a joy to listen to, you never know what he comes up with.

There are only seven songs on the album which is not a lot, but this time we're talking about quality over quantity. Besides, two of the songs are on the epic side of things, namely the opening track "Hell Comes Down From Heaven" (9:28) and the title track (8:38). With all the other tracks being 5-6 minutes long, it's not like you don't get enough music for your money! Anyway, let's take a quick look at the songs one by one...

"Hell Comes Down From Heaven" might be the longest song on the album, but it doesn't feel like it. Okay, the first two minutes include a lengthy intro and the first time you'll hear DC Cooper is at 2:40, so basically the song itself is around seven minutes. It is a very typical Royal Hunt song with somewhat familiar-sounding melodies and not one of my favourites, but a good one all the same. The faster " A Bullet's Tale" features DC Cooper in a wild mood, he does some strange things with his vocals and I like the highly melodic chorus a lot. "Running Out Of Tears" is another ultra-melodic gem, the chorus borders on being pop but I don't mind, it's very catchy. "One Minute Left To Live" follows, a trademark uptempo RH track with a superb chorus again.

If "Running Out..." flirted with pop, "Signs Of Yesterday" doesn't flirt anymore, it's tangled up in the heat of the moment with it... No doubt some of you will find it too poppy or even "schlager" but I have to admit I love it, it's an irresistably catchy mix of slavic pop melodies and metal. You wouldn't think that Army Of Lovers would pop up in a Royal Hunt review but guess what? It just did... pay attention to DC's crazy vocal acrobatics towards the end of the track, fantastic stuff!

As if the previous few super-melodic tracks were too much, "Won´t Trust, Won´t Fear, Won´t Beg" takes us back to Heavy Metal. It's melodic as well, but much slower and heavier than anything else on the album. It's my least favourite track on the album but it's not bad, the competition is just so tough. Then we have the album's second "epic", the title track. This must be one of the shortest 8-minute songs I've heard, as it doesn't feel like that long at all. Another killer chorus and another superb vocal performance from Cooper.

When half of the material on an album is worthy of a place on a band's "Best Of" album and the rest of the material isn't far behind, how would you rate that album? On a scale of one to five? I think it's worth the full set of "R's"!


Sunday, January 12, 2014


Rating: Single
Label: Heist/Hit Records 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Northern American from L.A. U.S. of A. are equal parts goofy modern pop and lush west coast melodies of the past. According to the record label write-up, they're supposed to be influenced by classic rock such as The Doors and The Byrds?? But seriously as well as honestly. I could not find a single shred of evidence of such elements within these tracks? Keeping in mind it's merely their brand new single displaying the two tracks of, "Wander", and the b-side of "Record Forever".

Nonetheless, it's basic arrangements based on a simple beat, lushy soft grand piano, atmospheric keyboards, and it's more towards the everlasting question of, what if Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) decided to fly to L.A. and record an chill out west coast album with trippy contemporary acts such as Autolux or Local Natives? In fact, the unpredictable percussion breaks and overall smooth attitude of the band has certainly more in common with The Doobie Brothers (Yacht Rock) and early nineties trip-pop rather than The Doors and The Byrds? These songs are for the most part, sedate and low key with lush soundscapes and the very laidback approach.

Sold out shows at Silverlake Lounge as well as local festivals and great response from L.A. radio stations gets the ball rolling for the lads. They are currently in the studio preparing their debut full-length, slated for release this summer, the band have started working with Local Natives produced Raymond Richards. Contemporary and modern trip-pop, lounge, yacht music? Why not?
facebook page

HAPPYNESS: "Happyness" EP

Rating: EP
Label: PrescriptionPR/Wierd Smiling 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Oi geezer! It's Ashley, Benji and Jonny, the up and coming three-piece act from South of London with their self-titled debut EP set for release early 2014. The lo-fi offering, mixed by Ed Harcourt and mastered by Adam Lasus (PJ Harvey, Yo La Tengo, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) Happyness' gentle tactic amounts to bringing together indie vibes and dreamy psychedelic beats, Wilco, Yo La Tengo, Joy Division (major 'Atmosphere' approach), all slowly boiled up into a diverse and atmospheric soup.

No doubt, a lot of the sounds remind me of the Yo La geezers with their not always direct message and loops to create a spacey illusion. "Orange Luz", mellower than George Harrison (RIP) in the early seventies after spending most of his wake time infront of the bong. That darn soft keyboard in the background takes you on a trip via the eighties and back to the future of UK indie pop.

The nearly instrumental piece, "Lascascadas", takes a lot from the happy Joy Division and their Atmosphere tune without sounding like an complete tosser re-mix. The bass at the centre of attention, just like you-know-what and who. The versatility of the trio as well as their willingness to explore beyond their boundaries - definitely their biggest strength and something to build upon. They may still lack that special 'wow' moment and song that goes straight to the heart like an arrow. Keep building though. I'm def sure it's just a matter of time and experience. Not too shabby.

Beth NIELSEN CHAPMAN: "Uncovered"

Rating: RRr
Label: proper Records 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Have you been listening to any Beth Nielsen Chapman record as of lately? No? It's about darn time you did since she's not just a top notch songsmith for other artists. "Uncovered", however, takes you on a up-to-date trip of her songwriting skill and songs she's written but never recorded that have already been hits or covers by other artists. Lo and behold, 7 out of 12 tracks on the album topped the US charts at #1 and the rest were pretty much all Top 10 hits anyhow.

I believe pop fans are mostly familiar with her songs like 'This Kiss' (Faith Hill). The Nashville believers can look forward to #1 hits such as 'Here We Are' (Alabama), 'Strong Enough To Bend' (Tanya Tucker), 'Nothin I Can Do About It Now' (Willie Nelson), 'Five Minutes' (Lorrie Morgan), etc. Now don't go thinking it's merely Beth, since the album features a veritable who's who of guest musicians, (Kim Carnes, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Duane Eddy, Gretchen Peters, etc.), impressive production
and an encompassing Nashville feel that all makes it all very twangy and down to earth or if you prefer dust?

It's perhaps a tad too country for my personal taste and the charm of Nashville may not work on the traditional pop, rock fan. Recorded in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and her own "Tree House" studio in Nashville, BNC's new release bursts open with a crystalline piano, which gives way into "Simple Things", a song about the stuff that really matters in life, with backing vocals by Kim Carnes (She's Got Betty Davis Eyes). Additional recording was done at Squiggle Studios in Harlech, Wales, legendary bassist and longtime sidekick, former Fairport Convention member Maartin Allcock plays on several tracks. The charming Amy Grant along with Ruth Trimble & Eilidh Patterson sing on "Pray" written with, and featuring guitarist Muriel Andersen.

You gotta' love the bluesy, groovy, "Meet Me Halfway", written by Beth and Bonnie Raitt for the latters "Fundamental" release. "Maybe That's All It Takes" and "Five Minutes" are stunningly beautiful songs and the boppy, grand piano tune, "Almost Home", features the background vocals of "Wine Women & Song" artists Gretchen Peters (hint: she's very popular among the hillbillies of America). Ehem. Excellent? I'm positively surprised by the fine quality of Beth's vocal performances and slightly negative about the exclusive U.S. sound of the album. You simply need to be 'Nashville' to fully appreciate this effort. Release date: 20th January.

Andi DERIS and The Bad Bankers: "Million Dollar Haircuts On Ten Cent Heads"

Rating: RR
Label: Edel 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The former Pink Ceam 69 and current Helloween singer Andi Deris with his spanking new gang and the first "solo project" in 14 years. What to expect from Andi and the Bad Bankers a.k.a. three sunny geezers from Tenerife, Canary Islands? Well. I certainly did not expect to hear such nonsense coming out from the loud speakers as the opening three tracks of "Cock", "Will We Ever Change" and "Banker's Delight". Major shock value as the songs are basically rubbish and utterly forgettable in the vein of any third rate version of Rob Zombie.

Lyrically, the album deals with crap managers, crap bankers, crap politicians, and basically any or everything that's not to his liking. It's merely a shame that Andi's 'top 100 current topics to complain about' did not include crap songwriting as any decent performer would quickly erase those opening tracks and re-start from scratch. Things are looking up with "Blind" (pun intended?) even though it's kind of wimpy and power ballad-ish.

The proper songs are all mid-through the album with catchy little numbers such as "Don't Listen To The Radio", "Who Am I", "Enamoria" and "This Could Go One Forever". It's a very schizo album with two different sides of the metal coin and it's shocking poor at times. Nah. I'd rather play me some 'Done By Mirrors' as this is clearly rock by numbers...

ICED EARTH: "Plagues Of Babylon"

Rating: RR
Label: Century Media 2013
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The young beginner fan and or novice listener of the metal genre will probably enjoy this quite a lot? Everything from the art-cover and dodgy title (always include the word 'Plague' if possible) to the lyrics that deals with various diseases unleashed by evil rulers and emperors in order to control/destroy the planet and keep the masses on their knees, the perfect setting in which the U.S. Iced Earth band re-visit their heydays?

In fact, several parts and large segments of this metal saga will most definitely remind you of their bone crushing 1998's album, "Something Wicked This Way Comes", only worse, basically not as interesting, since it's all been done before. I'm not saying it's the complete disaster of an album or worthless piece of you-know-what.

However, the guitar shredding and crunchy rhythm guitar work aside, 'Plagues Of Babylon' feels like something the band's already recorded with much better result I may add. Stu Block is the capable, but rather blunt metal shouter, and I miss the finesse of previous singers. Simple elements of old that will merely remind you of better days is sadly not enough to please this particular reviewer. The first download single of the album, "Among The Living Dead" (feat. guest vocals Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian) one of few good tunes, and the country cover of "The Highwayman" (featuring Russell Allen and Michael Poulsen) is interesting to say the least. The rest is more of the poor Iron Maiden-ish metal as of lately and not like in the good old days. Meh.

SUKH: "Kings"

Rating: RRR
Label: Indie/PresciptionPR 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Wow! Imagine going through (high)school in the U.K. with a name like Sukhdeep Krishan. Let's not actually since we'll mainly focus on the music and Sukh's debut album, "Kings", certainly fit the description of very soft and atmospheric U.K. indie jangle pop/rock. It's an album bursting of dreamlike innocence and it emphasizes the feeling of desolation and growing up in the Manchester scene. It's basically a mixture of singer/songwriter material and gentle guitar melodies where the multi-instrumentalist invites the listener into the inner world of his vivid mind.

Influences shines through on several tracks and it's everything from Belle and Sebastian and Coldplay to Radiohead and Joy Division. Do however not expect to find a lot or hardly any uptempo tracks though since it's a very laidback and 'Yellow' experience throughout the album, if you get my drift? The backup female vocals add the soft eighties indie touch and the lovely "Just What I Thought" is a nice throwback to the golden era of jangly U.K. pop rock. While the spirit of Indie music is in 'Kings', its soft beauty belongs to a different dimension completely. Have a look at the animated video of "Den" and its atmospheric "Joy Division-gone singer/songwriter" music at tube. Sukh is definitely a star in the making...