Thursday, February 27, 2014

VANDEN PLAS: "Chronicles Of The Immortals - Netherworld"

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

Get yourself a war horse and paint it red with the blood of your enemies at the local battle field. Don't forget your trusty old broad sword and shield as Vanden Plas bring the book series of the 'Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld' by Wolfgang Hohlbein (43 million books sold worldwide and Germany's biggest selling author) to life with their latest offering to the Gods of dungeons and dragons.

It's fantasy war gaming at its extreme and the collaboration between Vanden Plas and Hohlbein (simply do a google of his work if needed) started with the rock opera, libretto, 'Blutnacht' (Bloodnight) written and composed for the stage production with vocalist Kuntz in the lead role and the rest of the band in the orchestra pit. 25 sold-out performances in the 2012 and 2013 seasons made them think about adapting the stage version to album format. And here's the result. Mr. Hohlbein appears as the storyteller, but also embodies the roles of the other protagonists. It's about immortality or rather the quest for it as the main character find himself between the two worlds.

It's just a vivid story and all the sorcerers, vampires and demons are fighting to become Gods? Ghosts, Netherworld (not to be confused with the Netherlands), shadows, warriors, children of the lost world (not the corn). The eternal war raging between heaven and eternal darkness, Asgård, and what not really. It's frankly just a blur of all the ancient sagas and stories. All this could still not put me off if the album came with great compositions.

Sadly they are not quite as great as the grand concept since they may just lack killer hooks and epic chorus parts. The orchestral accompaniment may work on stage while on record it's just a tad too pompous without any main thread, direction, plot, nor binding material. Nothing sticks out or grabs you by the throat. It goes on like a sturdy tractor and at its sudden halt, you still don't recall that many parts or main riffs. Two thumbs up for the bombastic tracks such as "The Black Knight" and "Godmaker", plus the overall good production and sonic display of rock opera. You obviously need to spin this several times to get the hang of the situation and it did improve with each spin up to a certain point of course.

Now, you may all think I'm not a fan of fantasy? Nothing could be further from the truth. J.R.R. Tolkien is the king and I never miss the episode of Dragontits (Game of Thrones). It's Star Wars and Star Trek I can't stand. Vanden Plas' most ambitious work up to date and unfortunately not quite their best material.


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

Lightless Moor from Italy are working hard to blend in with the traditional Goth Metal concept on their debut album. It's the strange and beautiful fantasy story of a poetess and her intriguing poem about the Count's curse (skip one letter?) which also include everything from classic love, art, sacrifice, madness, and eventually death of course.

It's mainly the project and original creation of Ilaria Falchi (vocals) as she aim to set up the old style Goth/Symphonic Metal band (in 2005), only with the sensative personal touch and rather complex arrangement. It's however the very stereo-typical two lead singers line-up where the female voice (Ilaria) works in the semi-operatic style and the male singer aka Fedrico Mura (also guitars) growls like an ogre in heat (Death Metal-ish). Have we heard it all before? Yeah... way too many times as of lately and it's the rather tiresome team building set up in the woods.

The haunting concept, over-the-top vocal performances and hint of Doom Metal may just attract the listener as they also explore the darker side of metal (lyrically). "The Poem" has proved conclusively that there is room for another concept story in Goth Metal. But as with anything, they need to be used with skill and the original touch. Any room in your heart for yet another female fronted Goth act? Alas, if Lightless Moor was a glimpse of hope, there's still a long way to go to the top of the genre. Not too shabby.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

H.E.A.T - "Tearing Down The Walls"


Label: EarMusic 
REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Exactly six years after their surprisingly excellent debut, Swedish sensations H.E.A.T are back with a fourth album that seems to be a massive “fuck you” to anyone who doesn’t play music for the sheer joy of it. Anyone who has seen them live will know that these lads bounce about like a hyperactive kid in a sugar factory, doing their best to transfer the smiles on their faces to the audience, and once again they’ve carried this attitude onto an album.

“Tearing Down The Walls” is absolutely stuffed full of first class AOR tracks, showing a band who really know how to put together a catchy tune. This may seem an obvious way to go about things, but there’s a hundred average AOR albums out there for every one that makes you play air guitar and sing along at embarrassing volume whilst walking your dog on the beach (like I did this morning).

Even on such a quality album there will be stand out tracks, and for me there’s a few. Lead single “A Shot At Redemption” is an absolute killer (and perfect single choice), that will blow many socks off live, as will the title track, which is a full on lighter waving anthem with a chorus that begs to be joined in with. I have to single out “We Will never Die” as well, as it would have fitted perfectly on the debut and will have you going “Woah woah!” by the second minute. I also love “Inferno”, a full on rock track that belts along like Usain Bolt with his arse on fire and has a cool, early TNT vibe about it. With that said, the tracks on offer are so pure in their AOR-ness (is that a word? Should be) that bits and pieces will constantly ring little bells in your mind, but as a whole they are pure H.E.A.T. Well, all except one…

Six tracks in, we get to “Mannequin Show”, a mid paced melodic chugger that totally, and I mean TOTALLY, steals the chorus tune from Britney “none more rock” Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again”. From the first time I heard it to the last it totally ruins the track for me, and is an unfortunate blot on an otherwise pristine album. In fairness, I played it to several other people without saying what I thought, and every single one spotted the similarity within ten seconds. Even the totally guitar free ballad “All The Nights” is preferable to hearing Britney in my head. In fairness, the ballad is actually pretty good anyway.

So full marks to H.E.A.T on completing four albums without fucking up. The sound on “Tearing Down The Walls” is excellent thanks to producer Tobias Lindell, and every single band member gets their chance to shine through the mix. Special mention must go to guitarist Eric Rivers for some inspiring and uplifting solos, and I suppose it goes without saying that vocalist Erik Gronwall doesn’t put a foot wrong with a powerful performance. An almost perfect mix of old school AOR and modern teen friendly rock, “Tearing Down The Walls” is as good as, if not better, than anything H.E.A.T have done before. Except for the Britney Spears one, obviously…

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

W.E.T. "One Live In Stockholm" 2CD/DVD

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

W.E.T. their first live release and the posh triple digi-pack treatment (2 CD, 1 DVD) and they both include the same basic track listing. The only difference being the second CD bonus material from the 'Rise Up' sessions and the tracks of "Poison" and "Bigger Than The Both Of Us". Erik 'Eclipse' Mårtensson, apparently the fan of recycling and thus the original WET tracks of 'Poison', 'Broken Wings', 'Brothers In Arms', etc. This particular 'Poison' may not kill you as it's the none lethal piece of melodic rock (read pretty average tune). 'Bigger Than The Both Of Us" is a completely different story though. Very catchy and Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey) gets to shine with yet another massive performance.

The DVD may not provide you with any actual insight about the band. There's no close up's, backstage banter nor interviews. Merely the quick word with each member just prior to entering the stage and Eric Mårtensson talks about the craziness of shooting this very DVD at their second gig together as a band. It's basically the live show (19 tracks) and extra material consist of the two music videos, "Love Heals", and "Learn To Live Again". I'm not a fan of the first track and isn't it basically a retake at Love Hurts?

The first five tracks goes by very quickly though as JSS does not bother with in between stage banter and it's merely the odd 'C'mon' or 'Here we go' and they are off to the next song and dance number. They recorded their live performance at Debaser, Stockholm, approx. a month prior to releasing their second album and the vast majority of their audience are listening to many of these songs for the very first time. Hardly the biggest venue in the history of rock music (Debaser), but at least they packed the place with excited fans and friends. In fact, folks from all over the world are present at the show (USA, Holland, etc). JSS tries to include the odd Swedish phrase every now and then, but, eventually end up saying, "I know a little bit of Swedish and I'm not gonna tell you since I'll get arrested".

Hardly the largest stage in rock for that matter (Debaser), barely enough room for any camera man on stage and thus why the 'not-so-mobile' set view from stage right at level with Robban Bäck (drums). No worries as you obviously get the usual stage upfront views and it's all been nicely filmed and cut by BollMedBen Film AB. It's the overall feeling of watching the old boot, only with the sound and visual quality of the rather modern day production of course. Speaking of lack of room and space. You can barely spot Robert Säll (keyboards/guitar) during the gig as he's mostly hidden away in the dark and stage left (from the audience point of view) ...And it's probably for the best considering the hairdo. Clearly not the 'work of art' (relax people, only kidding!).

We all know JSS as the confident front man/singer and it's no surprise to find the pipes in good shape and form on the WET as well as Talisman material (I'll Be Waiting, Mysterious). Mårtensson is the real surprise as he provide wicked harmonies, guitar work, and the very confident version of "Bleed & Scream". The drums could perhaps do with the extra beef and boost, but the DVD will give excellent value for the bob if you're into wet.

Monday, February 24, 2014

HOUSE OF LORDS: "Precious Metal"

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

Precious few are aware of the Metal in the House Of The Lords? To be honest. Most folks would simply just put them in the category of fluffy pomp and rock. I do not fully agree with the label press-release which speak of a return to the roots of the band's sound and majestic atmospheres. There's hardly any sweeping overblown keyboards ála Giuffria to be found on this platter and the material is more in the vein of eighties 'Melodic Metal' rather than 'Melodic Rock'.

Nitpicking? Sure. But, the title is indeed 'Precious Metal'. Thus why it's extra confusing as you hear the title track. It's the great ultra soft ballad with the special nod to the 70s, classical guitar and medieval influences. The opener of "Battle" has the fun pomp verse and pre-chorus only to be ever so slightly let down by the rather blunt metal war-cry and repetition of the words 'Into Battle'. Tracks like "I'm Breaking Free" and "Raw", goes along the lines of hair-metal in the style of RATT, but not like their best moments. "Enemy Mine", stand with one feet in J-Pop and the other in schlock. It's one of those songs written by Eric Lidbom and let's just say that I do not enjoy the factory made music. Kudos to Mrs. Lords aka Robin Beck for stunning backup vocals though.

The core of 'Precious Metal' are solid ALBUM tracks such as "Epic", "Live Every Day (Like It's The Last)", "Permission To Die", "Swimming With The Sharks", "Action", and the closing track of "You Might Just Save My Life". The latter will also remind you of RATT somehow and especially their 1990 album, 'Detonator'. Darn catchy, but not really what you expect from House Of Lords and a return to the roots album? The phrasing and style 'ala Pearcy is in fact the work of Christian.

Production and overall sound quality has improved since last and Christian's solo album. The songs are not quite as fun and the excellent soaring vocals by James Christian always a notch or three above everything else on this record. Solid effort without any major ups nor downs.

The WHO: "Sensation The Story of Tommy" DVD

Rating: DVD
Label: Eagle Vision 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Tommy is basically the late 60's version of Timmy @ the South Park kids. They're both special and constantly fighting society and the pre-judgemental person. Trauma-Tommy's problem is his catatonic state where he becomes deaf, dumb, and blind. Tortured by his cousin and molested by his uncle, it can only get worse and uglier. Prostitution, hallucinogenic drugs, the strange fascination of Pinball? Who's The Wizard? (pun intended).

The Who originally released the double album in 1969 and it's basically the first album ever billed as a "Rock Opera". This 113 mins long documentary film explores the whole she-bang through both new interviews with Townshead (most) and Daltrey and the archive ones with the late and great John Entwistle. Obviously there's also been Tommy the Movie and the stage production over the years and I believe a certain Elton John did his part too. Keith Moon? There's never enough input and old quotes from this mad 'over the Moon' legend of a drummer (RIP). But I guess there's always all those mad stories floating around on the internet.

What's more? You have the usual feedback from the sound engineer and other people involved in the creation of the original release. The artwork director gets to shine too and this DVD release contains an extended version of 'The Story Of' programme as well as previously unreleased Beat Club footage from the swinging 60s (Bremen, Germany, September 27th 1969). It's basically the odd interview with Townshend including German subtitles and the tracks from the album. It's badly recorded in black and white and there's even the pinball machine effect with German letters and everything. It's always interesting to find out more and everything about these sort of albums even if I definitely prefer their great 70's releases, 'Who's Next', and the in my opinion, ultimate concept rock opera sort of album by the Who, 'Quadrophenia' (1973).

I must confess not knowing that much about this particular release prior to watching the DVD and the manner of its story and the whole progress of its bodywork. According to Townshend, "Because Tommy is deaf, dumb & blind, he's seeing things as vibrations which we translate as music. That's really what we want to do, create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play". The legend also tells us about Pete's typical late 60's bad trip with LSD - 'so disturbing that I left my body and the trip stopped. I sat there looking at my body and I knew that I'm not just my body', 'this  lead him to seek answers and inspiration from Indian Spiritual Master Meher Baba (also very typical the late 60's) who had kept a vow of silence since 1925. Thus what inspired him to create the character of Tommy and you'll learn as you watch. Tommy woke up only to drop back? I don't know.

I do miss a couple of more critical points and voices and perhaps more about the problems such as the ban and everything. The journalists are all praise and one of them describe Townshend as "one of the most sensitive souls who's ever found their way into rock n roll" and that he's frank about his lyric which include bullying and abuse. It's the original source of all the rock operas out there. Respect.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I LOVE RICH - "Respect The Rich"


LABEL: Self Released

Reviewed By: Alan Holloway

When a press release says that I'm about to listen to "The greatest under the radar rock and roll band of the last 15 years" I don't tend to take it remotely seriously, especially when the band has a song called "(You're So Hot) I'm Gonna Fuck You With The Lights On". Welcome to the world of I Love Rich...

If you haven't heard of I Love Rich, all that really means is you don't live in Chicago. "Respect The Rich" is their fourth release, and although it's techically an EP I'm reviewing it as an album because anything that's longer than Van Halen's "1984" counts as far as I'm concerned. The sincerest answer to the question "Are they any good?" can only be "Not really", as I Love Rich are at heart just a basic rock and roll/punk band with no real flair or talent for writing catchy songs. Me, I love a good punk rock album, but I'm afraid this isn't one by any stretch of the imagination. the music is incredibly basic, without the unique edge required to stand out from the crowd, and Rich himself has a voice that is ideally suited to pub bands but not much more.

With this band, you also have the "hilarious" lyrics angle, with tracks like "Wake Up, Let Me Rick You" and "If You Don't Take Your Clothes Off, Tonight's Gonna Suck" bringing all the humour of a child's cancer ward to proceedings. The tactic seems to be think of a funny line and repeat it as much as possible. I mean, Steel Panther are a stale joke but at least they try to create clever songs. I Love Rich are just a stale joke. For a band that's been around for fifteen years they certainly never bothered to learn any instrumental finesse or lyrical flair, instead relying on repetition and unoriginality. Avoid like it's a pox ridden hooker wearing a Margaret Thatcher mask.

Official band Site

Monday, February 17, 2014

ASIA - "Gravitas"


Label: Frontiers

Review By: Alan Holloway

Some of you may remember that a couple of years I went a bit mental over Asia’s “XXX” album, a fantastic piece of work that resulted in much singing along and many embarrassing Google searches. It was, to be honest, an almost perfect album, full of pace and melody, the best , for me, since “Astra” way back in the Eighties. Understandably I’ve been waiting for the follow up with baited breath.

One of the problem’s I have had with Asia in the past is their propensity for releasing albums full of mid paced, samey songs. This is one of the reason’s I loved “XXX” so much, as it really rolled along and showcased varying speeds and styles. “Gravitas” does not do this, not even a tiny bit. Opening track “Valkyrie” will have you singing along, but only because John Wetton sings that very word over and over. Next is eight minutes of “Gravitas” that feels more like fifteen, with a dull two minute intro (to build gravitas, I suppose) and a nice opening riff that dissipates into five more minutes of mid paced averageness that threatens to be good but never quite makes it. It only wakes up at the end when we finally get a sweet guitar solo. The most interesting track is “I Would Die For You”, which rolls in at just over three minutes and has absolutely no flab on it anywhere.

“Gravitas” is a rather uninteresting album overall. If a few of these slow tracks, like “Russian Dolls” and “Nyctophobia” had been part of a pacier album then they would have been fine, but when the vast majority of an album is so unchanging and mediocre it does begin to grate. There’s no real flow to many of the tracks, no sense of urgency, none of the passion of “XXX”.  In short, “Gravitas” is boring. It’s not Prog-boring, as Asia have never really been a Prog band, it’s just dull in a generally dull way. I have a feeling this will be the biggest disappointment of the year for me, and that sucks. 

MAGNUM – “Escape From The Shadow Garden”


Review By: Alan Holloway

You can’t keep a good band down, and like any other good band Magnum just won’t lie down and take it easy, perhaps with a nice cuppa and a biscuit. Nope, Bob Catley, Tony Clarkin et al are determined to plough on until we get bored of them, something that, thankfully, doesn’t look like happening anytime soon as they release this, their seventeenth studio album.

Much has already been said about the quality of “Escape From The Shadow Garden”, and I have to agree that, once again, this is a very solid offering from a band who have certainly changed their sound from the old days. Whereas the Magnum of old were a cross between melodic and prog rock, Magnum post 2000 are a more guitar driven beast, and never more so than on this album. It seems that Tony Clarkin has rediscovered the fact that he is in actual fact a lead guitarist, and as such he is at liberty to deliver big, fat riffs (Check out “Too Many Clowns” for evidence of this) and to rock out as much as he bloody wants. Bob Catley, too has changed, with age giving him a rock growl that wasn’t evident when he was telling us a bout storytellers and vigilantes.

Whilst some bands throw out as little as they have to, it’s refreshing to hear an album these days that’s over an hour long, and even more refreshing that the quality is high throughout. I’m sure a crowd favourite on the upcoming tour will be “Midnight Angel”, a haunting song of over seven minutes that demands a singalong at the start. The aforementioned “Too Many Clowns” should also be a cracker live, as it’s a real rocker with an interesting honky tonk piano line that creeps in towards the end. It’s not all perfect, as a few tracks meander on without really trying to soar (“Don’t Fall Asleep” I’m looking at you), but in general this is certainly on par with the last album “On The 13th Day”.

So the Magnum machine keeps rolling on, and there’s not much here that won’t be devoured by eager fans. It’s heavier than you might expect, but this is in no way a bad thing, but there’s still plenty of the melody and poetry we are used to. I have to admit that I don’t expect Magnum to blow me away with a five “R” album these days, but “Escape From the Shadow Garden” shows a band that still have a lot of strength and a lot to give. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Rating: RRRR
Label: Escape 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Are you hoping that FM would return to the sound of their first two albums "Indiscreet" and "Tough It Out"? That might not happen, but this new album from the band's vocalist Steve Overland is the closest thing to those two classics I've heard. Steve's superb and soulful vocals, polished production by Mike Slamer and Christian Wolff, not to mention some of the best AOR songs I've heard lately... Yes, this is pretty damn "epic"!

The super-smooth "Radio Radio" opens the album and while it's not the song I would have picked as the first track, it's still very good. The slightly more edgy "If Looks Could Kill" could have been a better opening track. It sounds like it could've been sitting comfortably on the "Tough It Out" album next to "Bad Luck"... a superb chorus and fine guitar work. "Stranded" is another AOR monster of a song with another killer chorus - this album is sounding pretty good so far, right?

"Rags To Riches" is one of the songs more hard rockin' songs on the album. I don't have any credits but I guess it's one of Mike Slamer's songs - I hear echoes of Seventh Key in it. A decent song but not one of my favourites. The semi-balladic "Liberate My Heart" bridges the gap between then and now, I could imagine this one on a recent FM album and on a mainstream radio playlist.
Then, "Down Comes The Night"... as far as I'm concerned, AOR doesn't get much better than this: cool keys and guitars, great vocals and a chorus hook that catches you off guard. This is by far the most played track on my mp3 player during the last couple of weeks, really addictive. The Totoesque "If Your Heart's Not In It" is a good song too, but maybe it suffers a little of its' placement next to the previous song...

The bluesy "Rock Me" is one song that really doesn't do much for me, and lately I've been skipping it to get to the "good stuff", which in this case means "So This Is Love", an uptempo AOR gem with the kind of keyboard work I've always been a sucker for... the laid-back, midtempo "Wild" is a good one too, leading the way to the "epic" closing track "The End Of The Road", which again reminds me of Mike Slamer's work with Seventh Key and his own solo project Slamer.

So there... to be honest, although I rate Steve Overland really highly, I wasn't expecting this album to be this good. His previous projects outside FM have been decent enough, but nothing spectacular, and I was expecting this to be along the same lines. I'm glad to be wrong! Almost a five-R album, but maybe one killer track short of that.

PS. On some tracklistings for this album a song called "Time For Letting Go" is mentioned as the 12th track, but it's not on my promo version...


DOGFACE: "Back On The Streets"

Rating: RRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2013
Review by Rich Dillon

It’s been more than ten years since Dogface graced the shelves of a record store (is there even such a thing anymore?) with an album of new material, but they’re back. This rabid dog has unleashed “Back on the Streets” back in November 2013 and features a brand new line-up. Vocalist Mats Leven (Treat, Candlemass, Yngwie Malmsteen among many others) and guitarist Martin Kronlund (Lover Under Cover) return to build on where they left off with Dogface’s Unleashed in 2000 and In Control in 2002.

 This 2013 incarnation of Dogface looks a lot like the roster of fellow Swedish band Lover Under Cover. Already having their guitarist Martin Kronlund aboard, Lover Under Cover’s rhythm section of bassist Mikael Carlsson and drummer Perra Johansson (Coldspell) also join the pack replacing Stefan Egeman and Patrik Engelbrektsson respectively. Leven, Kronlund and Carlsson are all credited with keys and/or Hammond organs, formerly a position held down by Anders Skoog.

“Footsteps on the Moon” leads the charge in a heavy kind of plodding along fashion giving the listener a glimpse into the vocal talents of Leven. “Can’t Face Tomorrow” is up next and ramps up the energy in a fast paced rocker. “Higher” features some tempo changes, strong guitar work and is another showcase for Leven. “The Fall” slows the pace and begins to lose my interest but “Back on the Streets” is an absolute gem and without a doubt the best of the lot. Unfortunately my attention span is gone again with “Fired” and “Get Up” follows similarly not offering much meat & potatoes to them. “Start a Fire” is a little more rocking with a harder edge and allows Leven to show his vocal prowess. The shortest cut, “Crazy Horses”, is gritty, grinding and rivals “Back on the Streets” for top of the heap while “Freaking Out” closes the record in a 70’s infused psychedelic style.

While this album plays fairly well from start to finish, it did take a few listens to really grow on me and I found that Lover Under Cover (I compare to that band as the only difference is in the vocalist) just edges it out for a better release overall. Dogface certainly has something to build on and would sit well in your collection. It was still enough to cause me to search out the other two Dogface efforts.

MONTANY: ”Biogenetic”

Rating: RRR
Label: Montany 2013
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This Dutch band approached us in the old-fashioned way - by sending a CD for us to review. In this age of digital promos, I'll have to give them an extra mention for that... call me old-fashioned but I like tangible things more than files. Now onto the music.

The first few moments of the opening track "Of Fire And Ice" are enough to make a hardened metal head to run for the hills - 14 seconds of techno sounding synth parp! Then the band leads us into more familiar waters with modern metal riffs. Vocalist Patrick van Maurik manages to sound like James LaBrie, Mike Vescara and Lizzy Borden during the first song, and later on he'll add both Geoff Tate and Vince Neil to the list. I guess I don't have to tell you that he has a rather high-pitched voice? Strangely enough, throughout the album he sounds kind of angry, even during the melodic love songs! His slightly over-the-top performance tends to irritate me a bit...

"Biogenetic" is definitely an interesting album with varied songwriting and clever arrangements. The band combines progressive elements and power metal to lush melodies and keyboard textures quite nicely, even within one song! Their finest moments for me are "hidden" in the middle of the album, "Without You" and "Miles Away" represent the band's melodic side. Elsewhere you'll hear that the band is influenced by Dream Theater and eighties' Queensryche, but that isn't a bad thing, is it?


Friday, February 7, 2014


Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot Records/Warner 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The dutch version of guitar virtuoso extraordinaire Adrian 'Adje' Vandenberg (Whitesnake, Teaser, Manic Eden) is back with a brand new young band and old fashioned style. Blimey. We all thought he'd retired his six-string for good after spending the last 15, 16 years as the fat cat judge in various talent contests (I'm not going to mention crap "Idol" though) or as the art-painter, several European galleries planned exhibitions of his work. The turning point came already in 2011, when Adje was asked to write a song for FC Twente, the football club from his hometown of Enschede that had become the champions of the Dutch premier league the year before. Thus the beginning and start of the Moonkings and the though of recording a new album.

...And here's the final result, the old fashioned way as they recorded the album pretty much live with vintage equipment. Completely analogue as they worked with tubes compressors, microphones from the sixties, and recorded everything with a neve desk from the seventies. Consequently the result sounds like 70s rock & roll but with a fresh take on production as the Moonkings consist of three youngsters aka former Stonefly vocalist Jan Hoving, Sem Christoffel (bass) and Mart Nijen Es (drums). Vandenberg wanted to build a bridge between the rock of the seventies and that of today, and it's the mix of Whitesnake, Led Zeppelin, Teaser/Bad Company and the hint of Alter Bridge.

Vocalist Hoving is steeped in the mode of Coverdale/Rodgers only not quite as superb... but darn impressive anyhow. They start up the album with "Lust and Lies", a song and dance number that reek of Whitesnake, but hardly the slick U.S. version. "Close To You" is next and it's very much the 50/50 mix of Zeppelin (verse/bridge) and Whitesnake (refrain). At this point you'll really start to feel the production as it's fat, warm, and you'll notice all the instruments with ease. The U.S. feel of the power ballad, "Breathing", complete with strings and everything is similar to the songwriting style of Diane Warren and all her hits. "Line of Fire" sound like Strange Fruit from the 'Still Crazy' movie (no pun intended), while "Out Of Reach" is the soaring ballad with plenty of soul and warmth.

There's no point in going on about all the tracks as it's the classic blues rock album with just the occasional modern twist. In fact, the Alter Bridge meet Southern Rock sounding "Feel It", easily the worst track off the album. The re-recording of "Sailing Ships" from the 'Slip Of The Tongue' album and once again feat. David Coverdale on lead vocal is sort of exciting on paper, but not quite on record. The new arrangement add little to the overall feel and it's kind of the half decent bonus track. It's easy to forget that Adrian spent 13 years (really?) with the Whitesnake band as they didn't record a lot of new material during the dark ages (the 90s). However, it's easily understood as you listen to the Moonkings. The man hasn't lost his fire and edge at all. Release date February 26th.

Bruce BOUILLET: "The Order Of Control"

Rating: RR
Label: Mascot Records/Warner 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

How many more instrumental guitar records in the style of 80s Shrapnel and their average release does the world of today need? The former six-string bender at Racer X (yes, they had more of them than just Paul "Mr Big" Gilbert) gets the bleeding fingers syndrome with his alternate picking technique and dark harmonic feel. Bruce Bouillet's third solo album, "The Order of Control", feels like the order of chaos. There's however no order in chaos, only chaos, and only chaos is no order at all really.

Truth be told. I'm perhaps not the best of judge since I gave up my dream of becoming the next Yngwie Malmsteen a long time ago. Then again, if all reviewers were as good at playing the instruments as the musicians they judge... well, you know what's missing, yeah? But in my humble opinion, it's all too familiar somehow and the widdly-widdly compositions will certainly not knock you to the ground for its stunning originality. Virtuoso hard rock guitar albums are always going to be compared to Steve Vai's "Passion and Warfare", Joe Satriani's "Flying In A Blue Dream" or Malmsteen's Rising Force. Bouillet is a darn fine guitarist, there's no denying it. If you still believe in the Shrapnel dream that you could become the next guitar shredding hero, why not try and mimic this first, since it's pure 80s guitar stuff.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

RPWL: "Wanted"

Rating: RRRR+
Label: Gentle Art Of Music 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Wanted - The band that knew too much. How do you follow-up the epic and Nietzsche-themed album of Beyond man and Time? With something even bigger and better of course. To be frank... I thought of it as a step backwards (musically - see review at the site) and thus why I'm happy to report that Germany's Art/Prog Rock act #1 has managed to get right back on track with the sheer poetry of "Wanted". And if you're not familiar with RPWL (shame on you), there's no vocals ála broken English on this platter.

It's the 'larger than life' concept album based on the thought of absolute freedom, the liberation of spirit, the concept of no illusion, the perfect medicine against mental fatigue. It's Plato and Hippocrates and basically transferring the old Greek ideas to the modern world of today. Ambitious work to say the least and the very complex question and overall concept gets you right in the solar plexus.

The opening instrumental staccato track of "Revelation" is interesting to say the least. They started hammering on the keys as if there were no tomorrow and the overriding feeling of something grand just around the corner turned out to be true. The bombastic progressive rock of "Swords and Guns" gets the full monty treatment with big riffs and the smooth and catchy chorus part. At times very ELP and Pink Floyd-ish and the track of "Hide and Seek", RPWL and prog-rock at its very best, just wait for the bridge, argh, top notch.

They are constantly finding and inventing new methods to apply to old ideas and you'll end up in awe over the superb art/prog rock music found on Wanted. The guitar work is Gilmour-ish throughout the album and there's no doubt about their influences and inspiration. Tracks such as "Disbelief", "Misguided Thought", "Perfect Day", "The Attack", "A New Dawn", are all superb, catchy, moody, compositions in the genre and style of you-know-what. In fact, anyone into imaginative Art/Prog, Floyd, and RPWL, need to get hold of a copy on the release date of Mars 14th. I simply can't hand out 5 R's, that's nearly impossible in my world (you need to record something like "Wish You Were Here"), but it's 4 plus. Highly Recommended.

Derek SHERINIAN: "Blood Of The Snake" [Re-issue]

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

Next Derek Sherinian solo album up for re-issue? Blood Of The Snake - originally released in 2006 and featured guest musicians such as Billy Idol, Slash (Guns N Roses), Yngwie Malmsteen, Brad Gillis (Night Ranger, Ozzy), John Petrucci (Dream Theater) and the usual all-star line-up of Zakk Wylde, Simon Phillips and Tony "Fretless" Franklin. It's however not the Derek's 'all instrumental' album for once as both Zakk and Billy can be heard shouting on one track each.

There's a lot of cool trading off between keyboard and guitar on the opening track, "Czar Of Steel. The level of musicianship is darn high and it's musically very Dream Theater-ish, not that strange considering that John Petrucci is the lead guitarist on the track. Next up, the Ozzy/Black Label Society sounding, "Man With No Name", featuring Zakk Wyde on lead vocals as well as guitar. It's the rather dark and evil composition with lots of wicked licks and tricks. "Phantom Shuffle", jazzy metal fusion at its highest level of form and feat. Brandon Fields on alto sax, plus the constantly flashy ebony/ivory of Mr. Keyboard. Kudos for being one of the few keyboard players to stride out with something a little different for a change

Billy Idol takes on the boring old song, "In The Summertime", Mungo Jerry's #1 one-hit-wonder from the ancient year of 1970. Slash on lead guitar doesn't help either, even if he approached this a lot different than what he normally does. "I played with my fingers instead of a pick. Sometimes I do off-the-wall stuff like that on outside projects. I used a talk-box towards the end of song as well", says Slash, according to the liner notes. Records like these are certainly not for everyone, but it's the solid pick up for anyone into mostly-instrumental high-tech stuff.


Rating: R
Label: SPV/Steamhammer 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Plod Rock. I could/should end the review with those words. There's hardly anything more to say really. Try as I might, I can't imagine people finding the strange mix between hillbilly and tacky to be well-crafted material worthy of your attention. Then again, just the simple fact that I don't enjoy it will most certainly attract hordes of ogres, trolls, and goblins to camp out at their doorstep. Why not? It's just not my cup of demon blood and what a boring old place this would be if we all thought the same about everything.

"Up The Dosage" should/could be my kind of music though. It's got a little bit of ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Motörhead, and how can you not enjoy a song title like "The South's Too Fat To Rise Again". Then again, I'd rather just play me all those band and leave this in the bin. It's basically the redneck, white trash, boot stomping, beer drinking, midget throwing, hog kissing, mud wrestling, hillbilly hell. What's wrong with that? Well, to quote this other reviewer, "The best way I can describe this album is like a keg of beer and a full on raging house party. It's as fun as being completely smashed and awash in alcohol fueled euphoria. You know what I mean right?", end quote. Yes... we all know what you mean. You're a drunk with s**t for taste :) Final verdict: It's all been done before and with much better result.

BLOODGOOD: "Dangerously Close"

Rating: RRR
Label: Doolittle Group 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

When hearing the term “Christian rock or metal” the name that most comes to people minds is Stryper given their mainstream commercial success, but there are many others in the genre hiding behind the curtains of mainstream success. Bloodgood is one such band having originally formed in 1984 and issuing their debut offering, Bloodgood in 1986. They have released five studio recordings, three live albums and two DVD’s. While Bloodgood did not achieve the commercial success that Stryper found, they have been touted as a vital stepping stone in the maturing process of Christian Rock.

The band is now comprised of founder and bassist Michael Bloodgood, original vocalist Les Carlsen, drummer Kevin Whistler, guitarist Paul Jackson and Stryper guitarist Oz Fox. In late 2013 Bloodgood released Dangerously Close, their first studio album in some 22 years. Dangerously Close starts off with “Lamb of God” which has also been released as a video. “Lamb of God” starts off well with a good charging, grinding style riff, but before the end of the song my mind wanders and it just can’t hold my attention. This happened on three listens, tuning back in again somewhere around the fourth song of “I Will”. Again zoning out and completely missing “Bread Alone” coming back in for “Pray”, I’m just not compelled by the songs here. “Man in the Middle” is a great song, a little Dio-esque somehow and probably the best of the lot.

 Dangerously Close seems to contain a more progressive sound to me than that of Christian rock frontrunners, Stryper. The songs one on one are quite good in a mix or playlist and while I want to like it I find that the songs of Dangerously Close just can’t hold my attention for the whole album. I should state that this has nothing to do with the messages contained therein.


Rating: RRRR
Label: Escape Music 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

I’m not sure if Sweden has always been a veritable hotbed for great rock and roll of a variety of styles or if I’ve only recently become attuned to it. Lover Under Cover is a relatively new band out of Gothenburg Sweden founded by multi-talented Mikael Carlsson who plays bass guitar, guitar, keyboards and supplies backing vocals. With Carlsson is vocalist Mikael Erlandsson vocalist of Last Autumn’s Dream and Tommy Denander’s Radioactive. The two had originally had a relationship that began way back in 1982 when they were both members of a southern rock style band called Rain. Always wanting to work together again they formed Lover Under Cover and issued a debut album, "Set the Night on Fire" in 2012. Martin Kronlund serves as producer and guitarist for "Into the Night" and Perra Johansson (Coldspell) sits behind the kit. Johansson, Kronlund and Carlsson are also a part of the new Dogface band as well.

"Into the Night" leads the melodic rock charge with “A Fight”, the keyboards being in the forefront until the song kicks in fully. This keyboard laden melodic masterpiece sets the tone perfectly for the whole album. “Into the Shadows” follows flowing right into the opening guitar riff of “Miracle” featuring a group vocal catchy chorus. Next up was a surprise when I first heard it and it took me several minutes to place the song. A cover version of Martika’s “Toy Soldier” originally recorded in 1988 and played constantly throughout the house courtesy of my sister in our youth. Not a favourite of mine then, it sure sounds different here and is an odd choice for a cover I think, but they pull it off quite well. “Crushing Stones” is next in rotation and is an upbeat masterpiece in what I would call the gem of the album. “Life Is Easy” and “Playboy No. 7” follow in the same vein, the latter with a little of a harder edge, dirtied up a bit maybe. Another showcase for catchy, hooky riffs and soaring vocals is “The Game is On” while “Fantasy Man” and “Closer to the Truth” are a little more on the ballady side and represent the weaker side of the album to me. “No Place Like Home” sits in the close out position and is also the longest composition contained herein beginning with soft piano. Even though this album that started out strongly lost it’s lustre in the final three cuts this terrific melodic rock offering is still well worth the purchase price for fans of the genre.


MAD HATTER'S DEN: ”Welcome To The Den”

Rating: RRR
Label: Inverse Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

”Welcome To The Den” is the first full-length album from Finnish melodic metal band Mad Hatter's Den. Despite their relatively young age as a band, they've put together a decent album of traditional metal with touches of power metal and progressive rock. The band's most well-known member is vocalist Taage Laiho (ex-Altaria, Kilpi, Ghost Machinery), who is one of the better metal/hard rock vocalists in this country. His performance is very good, as usual. No wonder that several bands are using his services.

The album sounds really good. Vintage Hammond sounds and more contemporary synth sounds trade places seamlessly from one track to another, and the guitarists showcase their skills yet the album never turns into a mindless shredfest. A certain lyrical clumsiness that's common with Finnish bands singing in english rears its' ugly head here too, but not too often. My biggest problem with this album is the fact that the songs are lacking in great hooks and tend to blend into each other somehow. There are a couple of standouts though, namely "Shadow Lord" and "Sharks Of Power", both very good hard rockers with strong hooks.

Anyway, if you're into 70ies and 80ies heavy rock á la Iron Maiden or Deep Purple you should definitely check out this album. Fans of eighties' Finnish metal legends Iron Cross could also give this a spin, as there were several tracks here that reminded me of that band.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

DEAD BY APRIL: ”Let The World Know”

Rating: RRR
Label: Universal 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

With their third album, Dead By April proudly stay on the strange path they've been on... Their music is a rather curious mix of death metal and boyband pop. Yes folks, they are mixing hardcore screamo vocals, blast beats and crunchy guitars with keyboard loops and Backstreet Boys-esque vocals and sugary sweet choruses. See, I told you they are a strange band!

I think DBA might be onto something, but somehow I don't think they've really found the right balance. At times the mix of metallic aggression and ultra-melodic choruses works nicely, but at times they sound like one of those "mashup" videos... And as melodic the choruses are, some of them are a bit too repetitive and similar to each other. The clean vocalist Zandro Santiago sounds like he's about to burst into tears in every one of these songs, and I am not particulary impressed by the very processed nature of his vocals.

The highlights for me were ”Beautiful Nightmare” and "Done With Broken Hearts", to name a couple. Each one of these songs did have a decent chorus, but maybe they could've used some additional help to make them great. Max Martin maybe?