Friday, March 27, 2015

NIGHTWISH - 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful'

Rating: RRRRr

Label: Nuclear Blast

Review By: Alan Holloway

My relationship with Nightwish is not the most fanboyish, as I never thought much of them when they had operatic diva Tarja on vocals. I actually found the wailing version of ‘Over the Hills & Far Away’ quite hilarious, and although I appreciated that the music was clever and passionate I just couldn’t get over the vocal style. When they ditched the diva and got in Anette Olzon I was intrigued at first, then overjoyed with the superb ‘Dark Passion Play’. Like many I didn’t go mental over ‘Imaginarium’, but still enjoyed it for what it was.

With Olzon gone, it was a relief that Nightwish picked up the amazing Floor Jansen, a woman certainly capable of delivering all the power and passion required to tackle old and new tunes. Having proved herself live, few could doubt she would hold her own on the new album, and she certainly has. Opening track ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’ blasts out of the speakers with speed and gusto, a song that sounds as Nightwish as it possibly could. Floor sounds excellent, although very slightly low in the mix for my taste, and the track barrels along with aggression and melody – should be a great live opener. The track is obviously designed to convey the message that Nightwish are back, and it does so most effectively.

‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ is a masterful work, based around the concept of evolution. It features several spoken word pieces by Richard Dawkins, and hopefully will annoy creationists everywhere. The song mix is typical of Nightwish, with fast tracks balanced by slow, haunting melodies. Standout tracks for me are the faster pieces like ‘Weak Fantasy’, ‘Yours is An Empty Hope’ the opening track and the title track, as well as the lead single ‘Elan’, which really grew on me the more I listened to it (and the louder I turned it up). ‘our Decades In the Sun’ is a beautiful power ballad, ‘My Walden’ has an uplifting, mid paced Celtic lift to it, whilst ‘Edema Ruh’ and ‘Alpenglow’ round off the bulk of the album in marvellous melodic style.

So that’s about 47 minutes, enough for any album, really, but Nightwish aren’t your usual band. The last half an hour of the album consists of just two tracks, the rather dull ‘The Eyes Of Sharbat Gula’ and the 24 minute epic closer ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. The former is 6 minutes of the dullest background music I’ve ever heard, is responsible for the docked half mark, and will definitely be deleted from my iPod. The latter is, well, rather epic. The running time is roughly split in half between the lengthy, and atmospheric, opening and closing pieces, which sandwich a monster of a mid section that will delight fans of the ‘Dark Passion Play’ title track. It’s not perfect, as the outro is far too long, really, but taken as a whole it’s a great piece of music.

Anyone who had doubts after ‘Imaginarium’ and the departure of Olzon can rest easy with ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’. It’s a wonderful example of what orchestral power metal can do when it’s in the hands of the right people. Full of life and some very catchy music, it should put Nightwish back at the top where they belong. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PRONG: "Songs From The Black Hole"

Rating: N/A
Label: SPV/Steamhammer 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

[Chorus] 'What could possibly go wrong, a cover album by Prong, there's no original song? Hell no - motherf**ker' [x2]. Sing it again. Sorry. I couldn't resist coming up with the Prong song or refrain in this matter. Darn catchy little tune. Anyhow. Back to the U.S. power trio and their "Songs From The Black Hole", a new album full of undeniable cover versions originally recorded by the mostly eighties indie, punk, hardcore, original goth, and rock artists.

They're off to a rather dodgy start with "Doomsday" (Discharge). Tommy Victor says and I quote, 'back when Prong started out, we used to listen to Discharge a lot. Ted Parsons would shout it's a doomsday, it's a doomsday, in this ridiculously exaggerated British punk accent and we both would laugh', end quote. Yeah. But there's a certain charm to that accent and I miss the pure and innocent vibe of the original. Sisters Of Mercy, one of those cool acts of the eighties that started the first and original "Goth" wave (alongside The Cure, etc.) way before every daft suburban kid decided to jump on the bandwagon in the late 90's/early 00's. Prong's version of "Vision Thing" may not sound quite as cool and it's not one of their best and earliest songs for that matter. "Goofy's Concern" (Butthole Surfers), power riffing and vicious vocals by Victor, this is more like it and it's been nicely Prongalized. Next up, an anthem of lost generation, "Kids From The Black Hole" (Adolescents) such a great song in the first place and difficult to f**k up. It speaks about the outcast and the homeless of America..

"The Bars" (Black Flag) and "Seeing Red" (Killing Joke) are right up there with the sound of Prong. Especially the latter kicks like a mule to the head. Jaz Coleman is Victor's biggest vocal influence and Geordie Walker also a huge influence on his guitar playing. "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely" (HÜSKER DÜ), "Give Me The Cure" (Fugazi), Banned In D.C. (Bad Brains), are all hardcore acts that we expected to find on the cover album by Prong. "Cortez The Killer" (Neil Young) on the other hand, something different and therefore darn interesting. Melancholia kicks in after the first note and it would have been fun to have more of these unexpected numbers on the record.

Final verdict: Decent enough to keep you going til' their next effort? I don't know to be honest. Perhaps they should have recorded the new original studio album and released this as the bonus second disc? Yeah... that would make sense...

DORIS BRENDEL and LEE DUNHAM: "Upsidedownworld"

Rating: RR
Label: Sky Rocket Records 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The Upside Down World is a strange little place where all the fuzzy Ozzies live? Nah. It's clearly not an ode to Australia. Dynamics, opposites, black vs white, which reflect our general attitude on music and visuals, the basic concept of the album. Eclectic as ever, the latest album by Doris Brendel (The Violet Hour) and  Lee Dunham (Primary Slave) goes through several different stages and layers of rock. As always, expect the unexpected and the swift change from basic stuff to nearly classical segments and the arty/prog/folk arrangements.

Opening track, "The Devil Closed The Door On Me", the lyrics has turned the cliché on its head, and according to Doz, 'most rock/metal songs sing about how bad the singer is and how in league with the Devil the band is. In this case I'm just too nice for the devil to be interested in me', end quote. Music-wise, the plain fun rock number driven by Lee's acca dacca-like guitar riff and Brendel's excellent singing voice. Not quite as complicated and out there as her usual stuff. "Adored", lovely harmonies and the dreamy grand piano art-rock flow with some heavy bass-lines in the background. "Slap Me and You Die", back to the heavier rock sound again and it's Skunk Anansie met Doris Brendel. Check out that chorus part and those marvelous harmonies again. Very catchy, very classy. The guitarmageddon of the middle bit is just an metal mayhem. The first three tracks are simply outstanding.

"Accessorize", not to my liking at all. "Tumbling Away", the simple upbeat drum and piano track with Brendel's voice at the centre of attention. This will remind you of Ethnic pop/rock, underground popular towards the end of the last century. "A Little Act Of Defiance", the grand epic track and the highlight of the album. Definitely proggy. The title track is your mellow bonfire folk met singer/songwriter sort of tune featuring harmonica. "Still Running", based on the basic formula and structure created by One Republic and recorded by everybody from your U.S. idol winner (Kelly Clarkson) to average joe, not eclectic enough? Too similar in style to all those lame idols and Top-20s? Closing track, "Life Is a Mushroom", the wacky 70's funk jam, that has that tongue in cheek retro-psychedelic quality whilst featuring great musicianship. I especially enjoy the short Reggae segment and groove, but it's really not the great "song" though.

Final verdict: A tiny step in the wrong direction in my humble opinion. Some of Brendel's best songs are on this record and sadly also some of the worst.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

UFO: "A Conspiracy Of Stars"

Rating: RRR
Label: SPV/Steamhammer 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

UFO is still out there in space doing the rock that made them roll in the first place. No silly trick or gimmick and certainly no drug and alcohol consumption? Hell I don't know? They were known for having some of the wildest and craziest after show activities known to man, beast or Mötley Crue. Dodgy characters and hotel blacklists used to follow them around like the wild, the willing and the innocent stranger in the night with no place to run and the obsession for turning the lights out. No need to force it since there's no heavy pettin' on this record. Enough already. They get it.

Sure. There's no Pete 'Animal' Way or Michael 'Mental' Schenker for that matter. However, much like the latter and his brand new record, they're keeping it ever so real and true to their original sound. Bluesy hard rock with Mogg at the centre of attention. By the way Phil is sounding more or more like Bill Nighy (the U.K. actor) and 'Still Crazy' or perhaps it's the other way around? Speaking of Moore, Vinnie is indeed the excellent six-string bender with a marvelous sound on this record.

Some of the album tracks may just lack that special extra and killer choruses. Nonetheless. The more you play them, the more interesting they become and the voice of Mogg is like a familiar feeling of... wait a minute... I'm probably still thinking about' Still Crazy' here? Darn it. Okay. Okay. I have no long and vast experience of being the UFO fan (merely this century) and can't relate to the 'good old days'. But I still think of "A Conspiracy Of Stars" as the nice and solid record with a straight and simple rock sound. Simplicity is underrated and you won't end up feeling completely disappointed by the work of Mogg, Moore, Paul Raymond, Andy Parker and Rob De Luca.

They've been in more sticky situations than body glitter at the strip club and still they've managed to record a very decent album in the year of 2015! That's not too shabby. You know, considering they could/should have been dead for the past 30 years. Not far from 4 R's as in rating. UFO - still crazy!!!

KYLE GASS BAND: "Our Job To Rock"

Rating: Single
Label: SPV/Steamhammer/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The question on each and every rockers stiff upper lip: Who the f**k is Kyle Gass and why should we bother? Kyle 'F**king Ogre Troll Goblin' Gass - that's who! Darn proud of that line as it's clearly the best proper metal introduction and slogan since Yngwie 'Viking' Malmsteen decided to conquer the states with ultra fast guitar shredding and matching hairdo. Gass however is the least handsome slash famous character of the Tenacious D. The first and only time that Jack Black would end up as a winner of the 'let's invite some girls backstage' competition and probably the reason to why Black decided to form a band with Gass in the first place.

The American rock supergroup from Los Angeles a.k.a. Gass and John Konesky are about to re-release their album later this spring and they're heading out on tour in Germany this April. The first single is a proclamation that it's "Our Job To Rock" and our song doesn't suck? Well... one out of two ain't bad. Only kidding. It's one of those songs where you can't really tell if it's the work of a genius or a mad man? It's hardly rocket science. The simple beat and the tugged guitar riff of the late seventies met the early eighties sound. The beefed up version of Tenacious D or the modern Spinal Tap? Lyric-wise, nice and tidy. We need more information and songs before there's a final verdict and over judgemental review. But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gass, gass, gass... Jumpin Jack Black???

Friday, March 20, 2015

SHANIA TWAIN: "Still The One - Live From Vegas" [DVD]

Rating: DVD
Label: Eagle/Universal 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"I Was Not Born To Be Confident" - Shania Twain. The late bloomer and former eighties melodic hardrocker? One thing's for sure. This massive extravaganza show in Vegas at the Colosseum at Caesars palace [105 concerts and selling over 337,000 tickets] sure beats recording demos with Paul Sabu? (Kidd Glove, Only Child) No offensive Sabu (the son of the 'Elephant Boy' actor),  but it's not like you gave her some of your better songs to record. Nah. hooking up with producer and songwriter Robert "Mutt" Lange (Def Leppard, AC/DC, The Cars, etc, etc) in June 1993, the winning concept. They became close within weeks, culminating in their wedding on December 28, 1993 and the rest as they say is music history.

The Def Leppard met Country styled albums made her one of the world's best-selling artists of all time, having sold over 75 million albums worldwide. Here's the over-the-top Vegas show on DVD, 26 (24) song set with her biggest hits, country favourites, crossover songs, costumes and more costumes, a 13-piece live band, dancers, more dancers, horses, flying bikes, and tons of glitter and glam. Visually, it's Vegas baby and spectacular if you're into all that bling-bling. Honestly - That Don't Impress Me Much. It's just too Disney at times and especially the dance numbers. What does impress however is Twain's vocal talent and just being the great entertainer. I would rather just have the plain and straight forward live outdoor Shania concert on DVD.

DVD Bonus material. The backstage pass: home movie documentary, over 200 hours recorded by her husband Fred? downsized to just over an hour. Are you telling me there's 199 more hours of this somewhere? Oy Vey! It's everything from the first meeting of Jan 2012 with stage producers, creative directors, costume designer to walking in the mountains of Switzerland. She's complaining about 'being fat and gotta hit the gym' in the beginning and saying that she 'don't want any dancers, but there's probably going to be dancers'. The Vegas show without dancers? Don't think so. You'll find out about her vocal problems and the special device to correct her jaw positioning that has been interfering with her ability to sing. There's the really weird person with vocal gym exercises and the whole set up of working with backup singers, stage manager, effects, and basically the technical side of setting up the Vegas show.

Her sister 'did I hit the wrong note' Carrie, big part of the sound and the backstage material (whatever...) as she's the backup singer with little or none excising experience. They last sang together at the age 8 and 10. Very down to earth and the unexpected fun sidekick. Watch her do the dance moves and sing while trying to use the shaker at the same time. Shania won the Smitty Award (whatever that is??) for most innovative use of scent marketing? They had this breeze effect at the show and the audience could 'smell it all' so to speak. Ehem. According to Shania, "You can smell the horses, you can smell the fire, you can feel the heat, the breeze, it's all happening to you and the snow is falling". Poor Carrie had to try and smell all those weird things while smiling to the camera. The bottom line: The dance and show numbers are a bit too 'Vegas' for my personal taste. But you can't deny the sheer quality of Shania... still the one.

MOTHERS FINEST: "Goody 2 Shoes & The Filthy Beasts"

Rating: RRRR
Label: SPV/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. of funkin' A. Legendary Southern funk-metal rockers of the seventies with the classy 'Baby Jean' a.k.a. Joyce Kennedy behind the mic. I haven't been listening to all that many of their records. However, I'm the massive Living Colour fan and these guys were sort of the originals and in many ways the source of/to their basic ideas. 'Goody 2 Shoes & The Filthy Beasts' (note to myself: stop thinking about the Adam Ant song. Argh! make it stop) their latest offering to the Gods of Georgia and simply expect the crossover material of funk, metal, blues, soul, and rock n roll.

When they released their debut album in the early seventies, Mothers Finest undoubtedly had a sense of combining the funk/blues/soul with the rock/metal and the same goes for this 10-track album. Joyce, Doc, Mo, Wyzard, Dionic, and John (the latter in desperate need of the funkier name) are joining forces on their first album in more than ten years. The songs got a certain swagger and style about them as they all pretty much display a love for the late sixties and early seventies soul/funk (Marvin, Curtis, Sly, etc). Naturally they've all been metalized but there's no denying the past.

If you've never heard of them before now, you'll soon be wondering why you didn't check out the Mothers Finest before. It's just high energy music with one hard hit to the body after the other. Some of the tracks are perhaps not super catchy but the groove is immense and the band is on fire. I don't even mind if, "My Badd" and "Tears Of Stone", might just sound like Anastasia on steroids, since it's just the great tracks. The latter a semi-ballad with the brilliant short rap segment. Quite frankly. Just a rockin' good time.

VIE JESTER: "Etches In Aether"

Rating: EP
Label: Indie 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Surprise L.A. record of the week. What I especially enjoy about Vie Jester and their latest EP? They have this hybrid rock sound going on at eleven where monster guitar riffs met electronic elements. Not to mention clean and melodic melodies and vocals instead of the typical deranged U.S. cookie monster that in all honesty tend get on your nerves in the long run. They're building their structure on the simple basics of the highly technical power-trio of say: Galactic Cowboys, however, their electro artist is creating atmospheric textures making the three piece sound deeper and fresher for that matter.

Clearly not stuck in a time-warp, the five melodies on "Etches In Aether" are rather close to the hi-tech melodic metal sound of the late eighties. I certainly didn't expect this to be quite as melodic as it actually turned out to be. The guitar work is powerful and blessed with a creative array with technical metal riffs and neatly solos. The rhythm section is precise and basically the backbone of the band. The quality of the songs (Saint, Hollow Graffiti, Meridians, Dig It, Amplify) are all worthy of praise since they'll keep you on your toes throughout the EP. Technical stuff and basically the mix of everything from 80's hi-tech metal to Tool and grunge influence.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SADA VIDOO: "A Story With No End"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Target/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Eclectic and thinking outside the box, perfect synonyms to Sada Vidoo as she's certainly not afraid to mix it up on her debut album. Indeed. "A Story with No End" takes its inspiration from a broad and diverse range of sources and styles where basic guitar rock met electronic pop and it's just the fun and in my opinion mega catchy record with the unconventional working process. The Danish singer/songwriter and former strictly hip-hop/dance artist took a flight to U.K. to work and co-write the songs with famed singer/songwriter Russ Ballard (Argent, Kiss, Frida/ABBA, Rainbow, etc, etc.) and the result is the wide-ranging record with the all-embracing message and agenda. You're all invited and especially if you're open-minded and not closed when it comes to music.

Produced by Chris Ballard (yes, the son of Russ), the easiest way to describe the music? Well... there's no easy way out as she's the very definition of the metaphor and thinking differently. But okay, let's give it a shot. The lazy and quick track by track. "Outta Space (Long for That Feeling)", catchy hook, but very mainstream. "Stop The Rain", had me instantly thinking about T'Pau? Strong female vocals and the slightly aggressive guitar work by Russ Ballard. "China Doll", the great mixture of Sada Vidoo, Kate Bush and T'Pau (google them, they had a hit with 'China In Your Hand' - speaking of China) with soaring vocals and the powerful lyrical message. "You Think You're God", the 50/50 mix of Ballard's melodic rock of the past and the fresh sound by Vidoo.

"Killing with Silence" and "The Actress", mega catchy universal numbers with major hit potential. I'm so messed up by video games that I instantly thought of GTA Vice City while listening to "Love Is a Battlefield". To be perfectly honest. I've spent more hours in front of GTA than listening to any record by Pat Benatar and that's not to say that Pat stinks. Far from it actually. Vidoo's version is interesting and Russ turn up his amp to 11. "Stripped", feature meaningful text and lyric and it's just the great mix of guitar rock and electronic pop. "Sex Never Sleeps (Roxanne)", the verse is typical Kate Bush right down to the shoe-laces and I'm not sure if it's the work of the Ballards' or Sada's idea to sing like this? It's a great display of her vocal talent though and the beat will have you up and dancing in no time. "Promiscuous", Sada transform this eighties Madonna/Benatar ballad to the non-exclusive uptempo electro/rock song. Closing track, "Black and Grey", the piano ballad, sadly a bit too much of the 'been there, done that' factor.

Final verdict: Top notch vocals and simply just the great 50/50 mix of melodic rock and electro pop. In my interview with Sada, she had the following to say about Russ Ballard and I quote: "I´m a huge fan of his work. His music had a great impact on my childhood. It's hard to explain, but I have never met a songwriter/artist who is so deep - We connected at a deeper level. A meeting of the minds", end quote. I'm sure Russ is a big fan of Sada Vidoo too (heh! vidoo-too).

ROBBEN FORD: "Into The Sun"

Rating: RRR
Label: Provogue/Mascot 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The absolutely best thing about "Into The Sun"? The stunning guitar work and the excellent production. The not always so great thing? Well. I'm not too keen on some of these tracks as they are way more laid back than usual and without the blistering solos of the past. On the other hand something like, "Breath Of Me", featuring the up and coming vocalist ZZ Ward is plain and simple Soul at its very best. Very low-key, sophisticated and delicious vocal work by the young American woman as she sounds like the mature southern lady?

"High Heels and Throwing Things", the lovely mix of blues and funk with Ford and Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule) trading licks and tricks all over the place. It's just a very mature sounding record. It's got a little bit of everything really with the blues, the soul, the Americana, the pop and the rock, going on in that old fashioned style and mood. There are a lot of different rhythms and colors and the overall sound dates back to the sixties and seventies groove.

When Ford get it absolutely right, the melodies reek of classic R&B with a fantastic sound and tortured lyric slash nearly poems. Guest musicians apart from the two above mentioned ones include slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Robert Randolph, Tyler Byrant and the all-time legend of Keb Mó. Into The Sun - close but no cigar. Solid as a rock though.

The ANSWER: "Raise A Little Hell"

Rating: RR
Label: NapalmRec 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

If this is The Answer - I would like to know the question? Where do we draw the line? When do we say enough is enough? Do you really need another half decent album in the AC/DC met Thin Lizzy style and formula? No. Of course not. There's too many of them already and it's frankly just another pub rock stunt in this era of copy and paste. No more interesting than any bland AOR band out there, 'Raise A Little Hell' could still do the trick if you were born yesterday and never even heard of any Highway To Hell or The Boys Are Back In Town.

It's simply not cool that you can do this to such a degree and still be thought of as saviors of hard rock? Other rock acts playing in different sub-genres and styles are constantly receiving the thumbs down for working the cliches and reusing old melodies? There's no difference whatsoever between 'this or that' copy-cat act. We now have way too many of them trying to be the next AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy or Black Sabbath. These four acts are the only ones you should ever copy according to the followers of the classic rock Messiah. Amen.

'Raise A Little Hell', clearly not the worst album ever or something the cat dragged in. There's even the hint of Bad Company at times. It's decent enough to play once or twice and then get back to playing the real groups. But the result is quite alarming actually. The state of hard rock... in many ways worse than ever before. I believe it's time for a drastic change. The next generation of rockers need to look past the classic rat-trap and start looking/thinking outside the box. You know, if there's ever going to be 'the next generation'...


Rating: RRR

Label: Escape Music 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

China Sky released their first album back in 1988. It got some glowing reviews in the ”important” magazines such as Kerrang! and Raw and the singles received airplay, but due to several factors, the band broke up merely a couple of months after the release. The album became one of these hard-ro-find ”cult classics”, setting Ebay on fire whenever there were CD copies of it available.

The band members weren’t really aware of the album’s cult classic status until a few years ago fans started to contact them via internet. Realizing that there might be a second chapter to be written to the band’s story, vocalist Ron Perry and bassist Richard Smith decided to give it another go. Original guitarist Bobby Ingram is now a full-time member of Molly Hatchet, but the band found a good replacement in Steve Wheeler. Originally the band had been a trio with stand-in members on drums and keys, but now they wanted to make it a full band, recruiting Tim McGowan to keyboards and drummer Bruce Crump, the original Molly Hatchet drummer.

On their website, the band says that they are ”taking the band in the direction we had originally intended” with the second album. After playing these tracks for a few times it seems that the direction is towards the seventies, away from the glossy sounds of the debut. It’s still melodic rock, but not quite as immediate and punchy as on the debut. I hear traces of Kansas, Journey, Uriah Heep and even Billy Joel in these songs.

The first song released from the new China Sky was ”One Life”, a good mid-tempo AOR with a strong chorus. A wise decision, as it doesn’t sound that far removed from the style of the debut. Had the band re-introduced themselves with one of the more ”left-field” tracks of the new album, the interest might not have been too high. The semi-progressive ”Dreams I’ll Never See” or the Billy Joel-like ballad ”The Richest Man In The World” could have been shockers for the band’s longtime fans.

All in all, ”II” isn’t a bad album and there are a lot impressive things on it. I actually like Ron Perry’s vocals more now than on the first album, and the band’s backing vocal arrangements are quite excellent. However, I’m not too crazy about the hammond-style organ sounds which drag the songs to the seventies constantly. The songs itself are the reason why my rating isn’t any higher - some of them are just not too memorable.

Highlights: ”One Life”, ”You’re Not Alone” and ”The Darkness”.

As I was writing this review, the sad news of Bruce Cramp’s passing reached the RockUnited office. We send our condolences to his family, friends and the band.

Monday, March 16, 2015

JAMIE-LEE SMIT: "Mon Amour Monique"

Rating: RRR
Label: Epictronic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Jamie-Lee Smit, the young and talented Belgian singer known for her metal band Azylya. This however is her first solo album and the ancient music concept of the Yé-yé girls (which I believe originally came from France and Italy?) takes a different meaning and twist in the year of 2015. Emotional and dramatic French lyrics by Smit (three out of ten tracks are in English though) set to sort of jangle indie rock met catchy power-pop with fuzzy guitar and summer breezy fun edgy rhythms by Italian producer and overall multi-artist Riccardo Daga.

I like it. Charming melodies and soothing vocals. Hardly strictly Metal even if the artwork (see pic) may suggest the Gothic approach? Speaking to Jamie-Lee she told me the following about the cover and I quote: "The picture of the album cover is actually a bit dark. We wanted it so. The album is Indie rock but the lyrics of most songs are not very sunny. They talk about often sad subjects, such as the death of a soldier, the martyr of the elephants, the death of my grandfather... or the famous 27 Club which includes artists died at the age of 27 years in dramatic circumstances", end quote.

If the music display a love for indie rock and power-pop of the 80's and 90's, it's lyric-wise a surprisingly dark affair and sadly also reality. Vocal-wise, Smit certainly enjoy to switch from the classical French vibrato to more organic and pure power-pop harmonies. The completely different approach from her metal outfit and it's more in the style of Belinda Carlisle met Vansessa Paradise than aggressive over the top goth/symphonic stuff. The only downer with "Mon Amour Monique" would be that most if not all songs are mid-tempo and thus not always varied enough. It's however a light, airy record with a couple of dark and twisted moments such as "Sur La Piste Des Elephants". Nicely done and executed.

EARTHIST: "Lightward"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Epictronic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Italian artists have often been expected to follow a certain kind of style and stereotype? It's borderline daft when some people still think of the heavy singing accent and the Eurovision spectacle? Kindly remove all those pictures and thoughts out of your head as Earthist quickly surged to the front of the Italo pack with their catchy and atmospheric modern arena rock debut album. They have all the important ingredients to make it as they feature great songs, powerful lead vocals, and something slightly different from the usual radio friendly sound.

Sure. There's a decent amount of the grand piano met edgy loud guitar sound ála The Killers, One Republic, Biffy Clyro, Editors. However, they add their own touch to the melodies and there's more variation and quirky moments on this record. For instance, the wicked "Jolly Roger (A Pirate's Tale)", nope, it's not Running Wild, but imagine if The Sparks started out as the band today instead of in the seventies. Excellent piano and bass arrangements, not to mention that these guys actually rock out from time to time.

Are opening tracks still important to your overall feeling towards albums? Earthist sadly miss the mark completely with "Miracle", it's easily their worst song and I'd go as far as saying: shouldn't have been included on their record in the first place. It's such a major downer and especially in comparison to all the great songs that awaits just around the corner. Track two, "Not Today", the proper start of the album and just the upbeat and uplifting track with a super catchy hook. "Sirens Song", the classy singer/songwriter styled piece with acoustic guitar work of the highest order and quirky melody. "The Astronaut", feature the killer hook ála the Killers met The Editors and it's one of those nearly perfect songs that should be played out loud from your roof top.

Remove the dodgy opener and "Brighter Later, not the best of tracks, and you'd still end up with ten numbers of fun mainstream rock with a twist.

JAMIE THYER: "Postcards From Bedlam"

Rating: RRR
Label: Indie 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

It's all Black N Blue? Take the vocalists name and remove the A from their guitarist a.k.a. Fake-Ace and perhaps you'll end up with music and guitar playing in the similar field and style? Nah. Not really. Reading the Postcards from Bedlam is sort of like communicated with the dead. You need to believe in all that mambo jumbo in the first place to truly appreciate the craziness? Never mind the daft introduction as Thyer (darn it, I typed ThAyer several times) and the Worried Men (I'd be worried too if they'd let me out of the asylum) are one of those never stop touring acts in the U.K. with more than 3000 performances all around the stages, pubs and festivals.

What to expect on their latest effort? Shocking solid "pub rock" and blues with their roots deeply buried in the mull of Peter Green, Walter Trout, The Kinks, Nine Below Zero, Thorogood, and Dr. Feelgood. Fun and expressive guitar playing by Thyer and I truly appreciate and enjoy his tone and amp sound. The 13-track album include a couple of covers such as "The Thrill Is Gone" (BB King), "The Witch Queen Of New Orleans" (Redbone). The majority of tracks are however originals and six of them co-written by Carole Warren whom also provided vocal talent. It's overall a nice mix of strong female vocals and the husky whiskey ditto of Thyer.

The guitar sound upfront in the mix (well doh!) and plenty of licks and tricks throughout the album. Jamie is quite the character with a special sense for playing the blues. Close your eyes during the instrumental "Nova" and you could easily find yourself in the middle of 'Still Crazy' and that's not too shabby considering the albums' title. It's proper U.K. guitar rock by a proper U.K. guitarist and his trusted backing band. I expect another postcard from his next visit at the funhouse...

Friday, March 13, 2015

BIAS - 'Heart & Mind EP'

Rating: N/A

Label: Self Release

Review By; Alan Holloway

It’s always nice when something intriguing and creative sneaks from under the cracks, and Italy’s Bias are one of those somethings. This five track EP is a precursor to a full album later in the year, and will certainly serve to whet the appetite of anyone who likes their Prog to be intelligent whilst mixing atmosphere with straight out rock.

The eventual album release will be a full on concept album, though I couldn’t tell you want it’s about from these five tracks myself. What’s interesting is the running order that goes slow, quick, slow, quick, slow, demonstrating the two sides to the band most effectively. Whilst the slower tracks are very atmospheric and quite powerful, the two faster ones bring to mind the likes of It Bites or 1980s IQ, whilst the whole thing has elements of Muse without being quite so whiny. Girogio Lai is the band’s mastermind, as well as vocalist and guitarist, and he does a fine job of holding everything together. Kudos, too, for Maurizio Baduena, who fills the very impornat prog role of keyboard player with aplomb.

‘Heart & Mind’ serves as a very good introduction to Bias, and has certainly whetted my appetite for the full release. This could well be one of the most interesting prog releases of 2015, by a band who have a chance to shake up the genre if they can get anyone to take notice of them. 

Listen and buy at Soundcloud: BIAS - 'Heart & Mind'

MF RUCKUS – ‘Thieves Of Thunder’

Rating: RR

Label: Self Release

Review By: Alan Holloway

American band MF Ruckus are not trying to reinvent heavy metal, and to be honest that’s not always a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with a good old metal album as long as it’s put together well and has a few killer tunes to liven up your day. ‘Thieves Of Thunder’, the band’s first effort, isn’t likely to blow anyone’s tiny little mind, but at least it’s not shit.

This is one of those albums that you can listen to several times without getting too excited or even remembering the intricacies of any of the songs (a weighty fifteen of ‘em here). It actually takes until the 11th track ‘Gasoline (For My Party machine)’ for me to sit up and take notice, mostly because it’s got a great, thundering intro with real pace and urgency. Elsewhere there’s hints of southern rock (‘All My Heroes Are In Hell’), and plenty of old school heavy metal, played well and backed up by a decent vocal job from Aaron Howell. The only real problem is that fifteen tracks later you’ll be hard pushed to remember anything about what you’ve just listened to.

‘Thieves Of Thunder’ is not a bad album, but nor is it a particularly good one. In the end, it’s an average heavy metal album made by people who obviously know what they’re doing. There’s no killer tracks, no hooks that stay in your mind, nothing that you would drag your mates round to hear. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, but I doubt I will ever listen to it again. Sad, but true. 

Martin POPOFF: "Sail Away - Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage"

Review by The Bailey Brothers

It’s a good read and follows Coverdale from his days fronting Deep Purple right through to the modern day 2014. It was Geffen Records AOR genius John Kalodner that masterminded the epic Whitesnake 87 album and was very instrumental in pulling off one of the best selling rock albums at the time. Finally John Sykes gets the recognition he deserves with Kalodner very much an admirer at the time: “Nobody is as good looking as John Sykes except maybe Jon Bon Jovi and the guy was a big manly guy, not some kind of pussy looking guy”.

It may have become the clash of the ego titans but nobody can deny the fact that Coverdale and Sykes wrote some major rock songs together but like many snake fans the Bailey’s were disappointed Sykes didn’t make the videos or the live line up. We asked Coverdale back in the day why? ” Well I don’t know what he’s bleating on about. I made him a millionaire I don’t know why he just doesn’t get on with Blue Carmine or whatever it’s called”. He was talking about  Blue Murder, the band Sykes assembled after Whitesnake with Tony Franklin on bass, Carmine Appice on drums and Sykes on guitar and lead vocals. 

In the end Coverdale dumped Sykes and brought in a new line up supposedly handpicked by Kalodner and the new look Whitesnake were a completely different look and style from the earlier blues rock trio of Marsden/Murray and Moody. Make no mistake though these guys laid the foundation for Coverdale to establish a major foot hold in Europe but the 87 album made Whitesnake global. It’s all in this book and a fitting account and portrayal of a major British vocalist/songwriter and performer, David Coverdale who has always employed some of the finest musicians to his band Whitesnake and for me doesn’t get the credit he deserves for all those decades of great songs and great live shows. Whitesnake fans should enjoy this book from cover to cover. It’s a journey many will remember with a sense of pride.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The AMORETTES: "Game On"

Rating: RRRR
Label: OffYerRocka/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Promoted with the slogan: 'the arse-kickin' Scottish power rock trio', these lassies are comin' at ya' with the gritty punky hard rock attitude and baseball bats (see cover pic). Brought up with the real Taggart and the sheer frustration of being force-fed with deep-fried Mars bars and haggis, the three of Gill Montgomery (vocals/guitar) and the McKay sisters (Heather - bass. Hannah - drums) are determined to break on through to the other side of the highlands.

Produced, mixed and mastered by Chris Tsangarides (Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Depeche Mode, etc.) at the Ecology Room Studios in Kent, "Game On" kicks like a mule to the head with meaty bass lines, mega crunchy guitar riffs, thunderous drums, and the mad aggressive vocal performance by Gill. She's like a pissed version of Lita Ford met Johnny Rotten and the result works like a clockwork. She's just one of those singers that you instantly believe in since every word is aimed directly at your soft spot.

The music could just as easily have been recorded in 1983 and it's bits and piece of everything from Girlschool to Lita Ford (her debut album), Joan Jett, to Motörhead and any decent U.K. post-punk platter. It's just fun and games, no gimmick, or the brain dead sexist image approach of any MTV female act of the past twenty years or more. It's pure and honest rock the way it should be and you can't help to shout along to the lines of rock me roll me or why not hot and heavy. The hey-hey power chanting of "Get What's Coming" takes the wicked approach of a night out with Joan Jett and the Young brothers (Acca Dacca).

They're heading out on tour at this very moment with Europe and Black Star Riders and I actually feel sorry for the geezers. These three are going to "Give 'Em Hell" with their sing-a-long melodies and attitude. Recommended.

ELDORADO: "Babylonia Haze"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Indie/Dejmedecirte 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

'Ten songs arisen from improvisations and developments with psychedelic vocation' - you'd be daft not to expect the complex progressive art album with such a vivid description? Not quite as much prog as expected though since it's more in the tradition of early 70's acts such as Captain Beyond, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (yes, the barking mad 'Fire' dude), Iron Butterfly, Uriah Heep, only with the hint of stoner rock and the modern production, mixed and mastered by Richard Chychi (Aerosmith, Dream Theater).

One thing's for sure though. It's good - darn good actually. The unbelievable fat Hammond organ sound throughout the record and ten songs of pure joy to the fan of groovy rock and sideburns. Indeed. Eldorado's latest effort has the swagger and swing of Grace Kelly with a baseball bat and there's plenty of atmospheric wailing from their impressive vocalist/keyboardist Jesús Trujillo. The more you listen to "Babylonia Haze" the more fun layers you'll find of groovy hard rock and the occasional folk and psychedelia.

The album feature Nyckelharpa - the odd Swedish instrument (weird - considering that the band members are from Spain and Argentina) as well as that darn Jethro Tull-ish flute and mandolin. To keep it balanced there are some straight ahead Hammond numbers such as "Flowers Of Envy", the great ballad in the style of early Uriah Heep (David Byron era). I'm actually listening to this at the approx same time as the latest Europe album (see review elsewhere) and there's such a vast difference, song quality-wise. These melodies simply blast through your speakers with the force and energy of an up and coming act. They are hungry, they are ready, they are Eldorado.

METRUM: "You Know"

Rating: RR
Label: Indie/FrogQueenMusic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The person(s) behind the second rate digi-pack should bow their head(s) in shame! I spent the good 10 minute trying to get the disc out of the product without breaking it in half. Don't laugh. It's bloody awful. What? It's got nuthin' to do with the music of Metrum? Oh piss off. Fine. Let's try this again as I believe we're off to a rather dodgy start. Three years after their debut album Broken, the three musicians from Austria (yet another power-trio) are releasing their second album, "You Know". And yes, the daft punchline.

It's the 14-track concept album about the North-American born free-thinker who is drafted to fight in the Vietnam war. The dude goes AWOL (the classic U.S. deserter), gets caught by his commanding officer, tortured (wtf?) and finally wakes up from his long coma to find himself in a military hospital back home in the states. Wait a minute. They couldn't come up the Austrian concept story about say Adolf you-know-who (ouch!) or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Then again... it's the odd plot to any Arnold movie reject of the eighties. Bodybuilding. Dope. Dodgy acting. Gov. of California. The poor lovechild with the maid and the wrath of the Kennedy's - now there's a story to be told. The modern rock opera?

Their hearts definitely in the right places as they speak of human rights, sociopolitical issues and voluntary work. Their minds seem to wonder off at times though as this particular concept story is too weird and frankly just not relevant in comparison to musical and geographical background. They also seem to have taken lots of parts from various styles of metal (Tool, Mars Volta, Paradise Lost) and sadly not always the good bits. It strikes me as a statement more about free speech and freedom of art rather than great and original music. And no, it's not impossible to feature both on the same record.

EUROPE: "War Of Kings"

Rating: RRr
Label: UDRMusic 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

First of all. Nope. I do not wish for another The Final bloody Countdown album or song for that matter as I can't stand the thing. It's merely the fanfare of the 80's past so do continue in this style and sound as you darn well please. It's really not up to yours truly or anyone else for that matter to decide. It's clearly Europe's choice and they chose to ignore the melodies of their first five records. Pretty much like their live audience chose to ignore the new material and cheer every time they play the oldies.

To be completely honest. There's nothing remotely wrong with the sound or style of War Of Kings. Excellent production. Tempest sound good for his age (perhaps not quite as great as in the heydays though) and John Norum rip and shred like a four legged, no, armed alien from outer space. Norum's guitar work and tone, easily the talking point and strength of the band ever since their reunion. The songs on the other hand are kind of hit and miss. Some of them are as much fun as watching wet paint dry and I miss the hooky refrain. Let's face it. That's what Tempest did best. Hard rock featuring the sing-a-long melody. One thing's for sure. He's no blues vocalist in the same way that Gary Moore (RIP) never was when he did the blues. Only white middle-class never-heard-a-proper-blues-album would ever think so.

Highlights would be the stonking work of 'Nothin To Ya'. The title track, and the catchy number of "Days Of Rock n Roll". The instrumental piece by Norum is another goodie track.Mic Michaeli could actually learn a lot about featuring the mean Hammond work from Eldorado (see review elsewhere) since he's overall too much in the background (but that's probably not his fault). Hiring Dave Cobb (Rival Sons) as the producer may smack of desperation and chasing the current retro rock sound rather than walking their own path. Joey Tempest says that: "this is the album we always wanted to make, ever since we were kids listening to bands like Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath". Fair enough. But these three all-time classic acts managed to produced the great tunes to walk along with their talk. Final verdict: it's not the sound, it's the songs.

BITE THE SHARK – ‘Tantrum’

Rating: N/A
Label: Self Release

Review By: Alan Holloway

If you haven’t heard of Bite The Shark it’s no surprise, as ‘Tantrum’ is the first release from the unsigned Manchester three piece. The surprise is that no one has picked them up, because Bite The Shark have promise leaking out of them like pus from a zombie.

The music they make is fast, melodic punk pop that manages to sound fresh and original, quite a feat with so many other bands trying to be Blink 182. Bite The Shark remind me a little of Sugar Snatch, a forgotten UK punk act who also had a great ear for melody. Lead track ‘Rock & Roll In the Soul’ is a perfect opener, full or such energy, passion and raw power that it’s impossible not to get worked up when listening to it. ‘Little Fishy’ is more punky than the opener, and really mixes the attitude of old school punk rock and modern melody, smashing it like the Sex Pistols fighting with The Undertones. To be honest, the seven tracks (five on download, seven on physical) fly by, with the highlights being the opener and ‘Sleep When You’re Dead’, another very melodic and powerful song. It’s well produced and the band sound incredibly tight, with vocals that have an edge yet don’t resort to outright shouting.

Bite The Shark look like they could have a good future if they keep making music like this, and if you like your punk rock to have balls, melody and passion, this is a band you just have to check out. Just don’t get put off by the album cover, okay?

Monday, March 2, 2015

MICHAEL SCHENKER: "Spirit On A Mission"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inakustic/Border 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The latest effort by the former guitarist of Scorpions and UFO goes straight to the point with no dodgy surprises or extravaganza. It's just pure and simple guitar shredding joy by The Temple Of Rock - his backing band consisting of ex. Scorpions rhythm section, drummer Herman 'Ze' German' Rarebell and bassist Francis Buchholz. Vocalist Doogie White (Rainbow, Cornerstone) and guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay.

The album offer few surprises other than good classic rock and instead ticking almost every box on Schenker fans wish-lists. Uptempo, upbeat, uplifting, uprising from the riff monster that Michael Schenker truly is at his best. Okay. This is probably at approx 80% of his best (thus why the 4 out of 5 rating) but the man and his Flying V is still on fire and it's darn nice to hear those riffing melodies once again.

Check out all those excellent licks and tricks on "Something Of The Night" and try telling me that classic guitar shredding is dead. It's always nice to come across a song who remind you of why you fell in love with the sound of a loud guitar in the first place. Hey. That's rock 'n roll to me. Album opener, "Live and Let Live", speak of life on the road and touring while leaving your family behind. "Vigilante Man", I can't help thinking about Rainbow here, especially since Doogie sang on their latest and probably last album for that matter. Final verdict: Nothing new or absolutely groundbreaking. Simply just the good old honest guitar attack with roots deeply buried in the sound of the seventies and early eighties metal mayhem. The sort of album that Blackmore should be doing. Recommended.

SCOTT WEILAND and The Wildabouts: "Blaster"

Rating: RRRr
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Now that's a wicked Ghetto Blaster on the front cover. Those things were heavy as f**k and could easily kill a person if used properly. The same goes for STP (that's Stone Temple Pilots) and their L.A. grungetastic sound of the nineties. Weiland used to front the act as well as Velvet Revolver in the past. His latest release, featuring the backing band of The Wildabouts, speak of everything from KISS (quite a lot of it actually -guitar wise) to grungy STP melodies and the glammy acts of the swinging seventies. A little bit of Bowie, Iggy, Mott The Hoople, and of course T-Rex, since there's yet another bloody cover of "20th Century Boy" to be found on this platter. One of those songs that we don't really need another version of to be honest.

The very quick track by track. The first single off the album "White Lightning" has a really doomy/gloomy riff and the melody is not really representative for the rest of the album. I quite like that riff and bass, however, the chorus part is sort of lacking? The following track, "Blue Eyes", the direct opposite to the previous one since it's just a lush and great semi-ballad in the style of 70's Bowie met STP. The raw and mean guitar riff on opening track "Modzilla" had me at first thinking about 'Unholy' as in Gene $immons and KISS. Dirty, sludgy, grungy, but rather clean vocals? it's the Pilots on a mission to mars. The following track is again very much the direct opposite. "Way She Moves" reeks of Mott The Hoople and the seventies groove. "Hotel Rio", superb surfer rock met the typical Weiland hook. "Amethyst", probably the best of the bunch with its lovely chorus part and melody. "Bleed Out", takes the garage attitude and approach while, "Youth Quake", could almost have been on the latest Billy Idol album. "Beach Pop", the 60's stuff which influenced The Ramones.

Walking the dog with my monkey's alligator? Some really weird lyric moment on "Parachute" and it's all very Sgt. Pepper and Beatlesque. Great moment though. The album closes with "Circles" and yet another different take on music. It's the mellow ballad in the country and folk-music tradition and it's all good. And that's pretty much it really. There's only one way to describe this album. A mixed bag with a different sound to every other track. The overall impression is however good and I'm surprised over how much I enjoy this CD. I didn't expect anything considering his previous solo stuff and that awful X-mas thingy! The strong 3 R's or the weak 4? I decided to go with the in between.

SYLVAN: "Home"

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

It's the rather posh concept around the never ending quest of the human condition for "Home", that very special place that can provide a feeling of complete safety. It's a maze of worries, doubts and fears, which trigger our protagonist to go out and seek the truth. Once found, however, the new discovery threatens to make the pillars of her world view collapse. What decision will she make'. Bloody'ell. And you thought that neoclassical prog and art rock couldn't be any weirder? It's the mish-mash of long forgotten childhood memories and how past collides with future in today's world? To be completely honest, it's all a bit too sterile and cold? Like ice cream in a lab? The main story would have us thinking about humans as the only ones in need of home and shelter? C'mon, that's just silly.

Okay. So let's try and look past the rather confusing story and directly at the music. Never ones to spring anything radical new and different styles/genres as in say country or funk influences, it's however still experimental and complex prog with a soft spot for the giants of the past. The completely new would be that guest guitarist Jonathan Beck adds an even more elaborate element of precision to "Home". Experimental art rock - nothing new? Well. You know what I mean. This is the eight or ninth? studio album and you know what to expect from the unexpected act. Like it or not, they do have a certain formula and structure and it's all Sylvan.

"Home" is far from a dodgy effort and sadly also far from superb. It ticks that box right in between the two and you need to spend some time in front of your stereo (or pc or whatever your choice) before it grabs you mildly by the hand. I keep hoping for that good old kick to the head, but no such luck. Don't get me wrong. It's the sort of album that plays nicely in the background while you concentrate on dinner or typing, but it may just lack that extra touch. Lovely atmospheric keyboards by Volker Söhl and you could easily imagine this playing while watching the TV series of 'the Bridge' or anything Scandinavian for that matter. Yeah... I quite like that sentence by yours truly so let me just type it again, 'it grabs you mildly by the hand'. Genius me...