Friday, October 30, 2015

GHOST MACHINERY: ”Evil Undertow”

Rating: RRRR

Label: Pure Legend Records 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A few years have passed since the previous Ghost Machinery album ”Out For Blood”. That was a solid piece of work but I’ll have to say that ”Evil Undertow” is even better. Guitarist Pete Ahonen gave up his vocalist duties in his other band Burning Point, but meanwhile in GM he decided to step back to the microphone and became the lead vocalist again. The last album featured Taage Laiho (Kilpi, Altaria) on vocals. Fans of his voice should try to get a hold of this album’s limited edition, which features two superb cover versions with him on vocals, namely ”Fight For The Strangers” and ”Never Stop Runnin’”. Both are originally semi-legendary Finnish metal songs from the eighties by Iron Cross and Zero Nine.

The main ”core” of the album are the 9 new songs and one cover found on the normal edition of the album. The originals are all hook-laden metal songs with fine guitars, pompous keyboards and gritty, yet melodic vocals. Out of them my picks would be the opener ”Arms Of The Strangers”, ”Brave Face”, the Queensryche-like ”Dead Inside” and Dokkenesque ”Lost To Love”. Apart from the aforementioned bands, you can hear influences from ”Eclipse”-era Yngwie and many more classic melodic metal bands.

The one cover is Robert Tepper’s ”No Easy Way Out”, which is a great song. I’m not ”that” fond of the GM version though. The song’s classic bass line is a bit buried under the guitars and keys. Still, you can’t ”kill” a classic song like this by small changes and this is a worthy addition to the track listing.

If I have one complaint it’s the use of similar ”church organ” sounds on many of the songs. The sound just stands out and points its’ ugly finger at me a few too many times. Could be my strange paranoia too…

Anyway, earlier this year I think I said that Stargazery’s latest album is my favourite from the products of Pete Ahonen Metal Factory. I’m not so sure anymore, here we have a serious contender.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

BLACK-BONE: "Blessing In Disguise"

Rating: RRR
Label: SPV/Steamhamer
Review by Martien Koolen

This young rock trio from The Netherlands have recently signed a recording deal with Steamhammer/SPV and they have released their new album Blessing In Disguise on 18 September. Steef van den Bogaard (guitar/vocals), Sven Hompes ( bass guitar/vocals) and Jules Eck (drums) debuted with Back To Mayhem in 2012 and since then their popularity has grown. Furthermore these young musicians toured with the likes of Deep Purple, Saxon, Slash, Status Quo and Chickenfoot and this of course also helped a lot to become more known in the music industry. Black-Bone plays heavy rock and roll at its best and they are obviously influenced by iconic bands like Guns N' Roses and AC/DC; but they surely have their own musical style. The album, produced by Peter van Elderen (frontman/guitarist of Peter Pan Speedrock), the albums kicks off with the up tempo Nothing But History (the first single of the album); a song that reminds me of the rather unknown Dutch band New Adventures. Suicide Ain't No Way Out is one of the best songs, filled with great hooks and riffs and an excellent rough guitar solo. Wrong is a power ballad, which is new for Black-Bone as they have never played ballads before, and is rather melodic with two great guitar solos. Wrong has a kind of arena rock ambition and it could be a great anthem for these guys. But the musical highlight of this album is the track Save It For Tomorrow, which is real headbanging stuff, with heavy, catchy musical passages, lots of variety and again a more than superb guitar solo in the middle of the track. However,after listening to the album a couple of times I have to say that Black-Bone's songs, like Never Too Loud, Ashereah, You Gotta Nerve and Wasted Years tend to be very similar to each other. Meaning: the same tempos, similar riffs/hooks and the same vocals, which makes this album a bit too predictable... But nevertheless these three young Dutch musicians grab you by the balls and showcase their stuff in a very positive and aggressive way.Let's see what the future will bring for this promising band and until then, just enjoy Blessing In Disguise, at maximum volume of course, that goes without saying. Best tracks to listen to: Suicide, Wrong and Save It For Tomorrow!

Joe BONAMASSA: "Live at Radio City Music Hall"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot Label Group/Provogue
Review by: Martien Koolen

One of the best blues (rock) guitar pickers of this world has just released a fantastic new album; a CD/DVD set and CD/Blu-ray set. In January of this year Joe took the iconic Great stage at Radio City Music Hall and he played his special half acoustic/half electric programma for a very enthousiastic crowd. The set features over 75 minutes of music with two newly recorded tracks and nine unreleased live tracks showing Bonamassa and band in second to none form. However, as you do know by now, I am not a fan of acoustic songs, so for me it is a shame that I have to skip five songs on the CD. These five acoustic tracks are played with Joe's acoustic band called The Huckleberries and I am truly sorry (maybe not) but I can not get enthousiastic about songs like Dust Bowl, Trouble Town, Still Water, Different Shades Of Blue and Happier Times, as they sound too much country & western/ blue grass to me. I really like it when Joe shifts into the electric mode with his regular touring band consisting of: Tal Bergman (drums), Carmine Rojas (bass guitar), Reese Wynans (keyboards) and his hornsection (Thornburg, Lane and Cerra). One Less Cross To Bear is a new song and it is a great one, featuring great guitar parts by Joe and an excellent keyboard solo as well. Other highlights of this outstanding album are: I Can't Be Satisfied (Muddy Waters-like), Living On The Moon, Never Give All Your Heart and the bluesrockin' Love Ain't A Love Song. But the best song of the set to me is: So What Would I Do, which features the most fabulous guitar solo of the entire album and which also includes a mean saxophone solo. This song is what Bonamassa is all about, great melodies, great variety, excellent singing and breathtaking guitarpicking. Overall I have to say that Bonamassa's voice has improved a lot over the years, he really is an excellent vocalist nowadays and his guitar playing is flawless as ever. This album is a career milestone for Bonamassa and an absolute must have for his fans all over the world. By the way the DVD contains all the songs as featured on the CD (13 tracks), plus a lot more, including over 2,5 hours of live footage and a special 45 minutes behind the scenes featurette. Check it out and you will be hooked; however without the acoustic songs I would have given this album a perfect rating; sad but true... Play it loud and bring it your air guitar to play along!

UGLY KID JOE: "Uglier Than They Used Ta Be"

Rating: RRR
Label: Metalville/Rough Trade
Review by: Martien Koolen

I never tought that this would be possible, bringing out a new album after a 19 year hiatus; but it is. Notorious Ugly Kid Joe have released a brand new album featuring 9 new tracks and 2 covers. Uglier Than They Used Ta Be was recorded in Louisiana under the helm of no one less than Dave Fortman, who has worked with Godsmack, Evanescence and Slipknot in the past, and features a seven member line-up of the band. The excellent album starts with the first single Hell Ain't Hard To Find, an up tempo track with heavy funky riffs and great singing by Whitfield Crane. Third song Bad Seed is the first highlight and has a remarkable gritty bass guitar line and the guitar solo in that song is just sheer brilliance. Under The Bottom is a great rather heavy track and features a very Black Sabbath influenced guitar riff. Enemy the longest song on the album, kicks off as a ballad, before it resurrects into a very hard rock hitting end with phenomenal guitar solos. So far so good, but then we have the utterly boring acoustic ballad Nothing Ever Changes and the two cover songs and you know I hate acoustic songs and covers... Ace Of Spades (Motorhead) features Phil Campbell on guitar (he also plays on My Old Man and Under The Bottom) and on the second cover Papa Was A Rolling Stone (Temptations) UKJ is assisted by Dallas Frasca on vocals. Uglier Than They Used Ta Be is a good rock album (despite the acoustic song and the two covers) and it contains all of what was and still is Ugly Kid Joe and it was defintely worth the wait of 19 years. Recommended listening: Under The Bottom and Bad Seed!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NAZARETH: "No Means Of Escape" [DVD]

Rating: Live
Label: Eagle Vision 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

'No Means Of Escape' - the art cover is a brand new version of 'Friendly Fred' by fantasy artist Rodney Matthews. So far so good. A running time of approx 173 mins with the Live At Metropolis gig (2014 - 13 tracks featuring Linton Osbourne on vocals) and the documentary Made In Scotland, plus bonus features such as the acoustic session track 'Sunshine', additional interviews, and meet the super fans with their tattoos and stories.

Aye! Original Taggart, Haggis, Kilt, The Highlands, William Wallace, Alex Ferguson, Tartan, Skara Brae, Bagpipes, and of course Nazareth, they all have a special place in the hearts of the Scots. Originally formed in December 1968 in Dunfermline, Scotland, from the remaining members of local group The Shadettes (formed in 1961) by vocalist Dan McCafferty, Manny Charlton (guitars), Pete Agnew (bass), and Darrell Sweet (drums). They took their name from the first line of The Band's classic song "The Weight" ('I pulled into Nazareth') and Agnew (the sole remaining original member) speaks about it in the documentary, "The song came on and I said, what about Nazareth? And I tell you what it was. They didn't all go, Yeah! But nobody said no, and that's the reason why we're called Nazareth. Nobody said no."

"They've played 45+ years without a break. They never stop". I actually feel sorry for singer Linton Osbourne. How do you replace a legend such as Dan McCafferty after 43 years as their front man? Dan was forced to retire on 28 August 2013 due to ill health (he's got this illness that makes it difficult to breathe) and poor Osbourne didn't last for long and announced his departure from the band in early 2015. The band announced a couple of weeks later that Carl Sentance (Persian Risk, Krokus, Geezer Butler Band), was their new lead vocalist. It's weird to watch the gig knowing that the singer has already been replaced and you do miss Dan-The-Man. It's not up to me to say, but perhaps it's time for the refrain? It's nearly impossible to carry on after spending all those years (43 on record) with the one great vocalist.

It's otherwise a nice little documentary (50 mins) and interviews with Agnew and McCafferty. The two of them met on their very first day at primary school when they were 5 years old and they've been friends ever since. "I wasn't in it to be famous. I was in it because I though I had something to give to the music industry. Or to the people. NOT the music industry. Pffft... them", quote from Dan. It's the whole she-bang with stories from the past up to present date. Live-wise, Linton has the rather powerful voice with a more than decent range. However, there's something missing and you all know who....

VOODOO HILL: "Waterfall"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Hoodoo wanna voodoo? It's been 11 long years since last we hang out at the Voodoo Hill. Time passed, things changed, and merely The Voice Of Rock stayed the same. Let's face it. Glenn is God, what a voice, still at the top of his game in the year of 2015. 'Too fat to rock' according to Gary Moore already back in 1985, and basically the massive drug user and 'has-been' according to most. Well. Hughes never leave you disappointed on record and that goes for every single effort from Deep Purple to Black Country Communion, Black Sabbath, Trapeze, Gary Moore, Phenomenia, John Norum, Hughes/Thrall, etc. Sheer class from first to last note.

"Waterfall", the latest work of the duo Glenn Hughes and guitarist/songwriter Dario Mollo. We're talking about classy arrangements and compositions in the 70's meet 80's melodic hard rock style. It's actually a lot more melodic and 80's sounding than previous album (also great and one of my fave albums of 2004) that had this dark riffing and Sabbath meet Kyuss sort of agenda. They have returned with a sound that is easily as good as any Hughes fronted act in the past 30 years. The songs slams its way out of the speakers and in to your little grey cells.

Not (always) instantly catchy though and you need to spin this a couple of times to get the full picture. 'Underneath And Down Below', the superb mid-tempo track slash semi-ballad that grows for each spin. It simply oozes of Blackmore and Plant. The title track, the ballad of the year? And there's plenty of great uptempo rockers that show us a duo that didn't stagnate or become just another bleak version of proper rock'n roll. Recommended.

Friday, October 9, 2015

DEF LEPPARD: "Def Leppard"

Rating: RRRR
Label: earMUSIC 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

'Welcome to the carnival - Welcome to the party'. Nostalgia? Retromania? Put-a-smile-back-on-yer-faceia? I dunno? Let's go (daft pun intended) and pour some sugar on the latest tracks recorded by U.K.'s pride and joy, The Def Leppards. Let's face it. Joe, Phil, Viv, and the Ri(c)ks, are strongly connected to the classic sound and albums. Have they decided to return to what they're doing best and never mind the critics?

Possibly, but not likely, since it's not all retro and back to the eighties. It's in fact the rather (too?) diverse sounding platter with bits and pieces of everything from slick melodic rock to 70's Glam, straight-ahead rockers, and the occasional modern rock piece. Do not. I repeat, do not expect all tracks to be 'Let's Go' or full on retro. It's the full Def Lep spectrum from start to present date. It's like if they're trying to please fans of all camps?

The opening tracks are also the ones sounding the most like slick Mutt-era. 'Let's Go', the fun arena rocker with sugar in the mix, while 'Dangerous', take a lot of inspiration from 'Photograph' (chorus). 'Man Enough', the fun Def-version of 'Another One Bites The Dust' as the Ri(c)ks are building up the verse with a tight rhythm section and sound. It's BASS and drums with a catchy refrain that reeks of Adrenalize. 'We Belong', the super classy ballad of the album and all members take a turn behind the mic. I believe that KISS took a similar approach on We Are One. 'Invincible', reminded me of a couple of other Brit-acts. It's GUN meet Manic Street Preachers on a date with Def Lep. It's just a great flow and the fun guitar driven track. One of those open roads, top down, car driving tracks.

'Sea Of Love', slightly nerdy 70's Glam Rock with atmospheric/dreamy refrain and some excellent guitar work by Collen/Campbell. 'Energized', Euphoria meet X with the great hook. The annoying refrain to 'Battle Of My Own', keeps beating and repeating those four words 'til you barf. The rather dark and groovy acoustic met electric guitar piece with a nod to 70's sideburns of yesterdays. It's a grower though as it gets better with each spin (up to a certain point of course). 'Broke 'N' Brokenhearted', 'All Time High', and 'Forever Young,' are three fine guitar rockers. 'Last Dance', the wicked gather-around the bonfire acoustic guitar song. They recorded similar ones in the early/mid nineties. Closing track 'Blind Faith', the flower-power ballad with a special nod to Sgt.Pepper only not half as great.

Final verdict: No need for hysteria. It's the darn-good rather than superb album. It's however their best effort in a very long time and Elliott sound great (in the studio). Perhaps just a tad too diverse for its own best? Then again. You always expect better from one of your all-time best melodic hardrock acts.

STRYPER: "Fallen"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Holy Sweet... Michael and Robert? It clearly reads Stryper on the disc, but it's like if they've been on steroids for the last couple of years (Jesus Juice?). Everything is harder, heavier, and dare I say better? than in a very long time. Don't get me wrong. I'm the massive fan of To Hell With The Devil (it's still their best effort in my humble opinion) and all of the Mickey Mouse harmonies of the past. I treasure the yellow and black attack and In God We Trust had its fun moments. But this is overall a much more together effort metal-wise, vocal-wise, and let's face it, Michael simply can't reach those insanely high notes any longer.

The excellent trademark harmonies are still there, just not crazy over-the-top or across the universe. The sound is harking back to the first mini-album only with a galloping beat. Airtight solos collide with a muscular groove and it's more towards the sound of classic heavy metal than ever before. It's never blunt or boring though and "Love You Like I Do" will most certainly remind you of Always There For You. It's just not (as) hysterical over-the-top or sugar sweet. Oz Fox beats the crap out of his six-string and the catchy refrain fits perfectly in with the sound. They seem to be enjoying themselves in the studio.

Sevendust member Chris Lowery co-wrote lead single, "Yahweh" and it's basically heavy in a good way and structure. For the rest of the album, you'll be headbanging as well as singing-a-long to the melodies at the same time. You'll be on your knees, shouting along to the words of 'King Of Kings' no matter if you're a believer or not. And yes, there's a ballad amongst the tracks (All Over Again) as well as the Black Sabbath cover (After Forever). The downers, the drums are not nearly as fat as wished for and the same goes for the bass sound. But it's overall a blessed eighties metal stack of the yellow and black attack. The f-i-n-e album effort without any major downers whatsoever.

TERAMAZE: "Her Halo"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot/Music Theories 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

13:51. That's minutes and I'm talking about the opening track from Her Halo namely, 'An Ordinary Dream'. After a few odd years of obscurity and underground status in Oz, Music Theories/Mascot Label group have gone and signed these melodic masters of prog-rock and metal. Teramaze plays hi-tech melodic stuff that goes back and forth on the boundaries of Prog Metal and sophisticated, cinematic metal, inspired by film and video games scores? Well. That's my definition anyhow and not entirely sure if the band would agree?

It's however ultra melodic as well complicated stuff with several different layers of metal, emo, and prog and it all comes down to keeping busy while sounding posh. I would put them in the same kind of category as the Swedes of Seventh Wonder and vocalist Nathan Peachey is working in a similar field and mood as their former singer Tommy Karevik (Kamelot). Probably tailor made for Japan and their culture since it's simply oozing of 'name-your-fave-japan-video-game-here'. Guitarist Dean Well's axe cuts through the tracks like butter and it's just the ultra smooth performances and crystal clear tone and amp sound.

Everyone knows 'Images and Words', Dream Theater's finest moment as well as the starting point for this kind of prog waxing. Her Halo is simply just more of everything. More emotions, more crooning, more... but not quite as superb anyhow. Nonetheless. It's a smashing album and highly recommended stuff. Big in Japan? Should be big all over the place in my humble opinion.

JOEL HOEKSTRA'S 13: "Dying To Live"

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

Joel Hoekstra, who? Former Night Ranger and current Whitesnake guitarist, that's who. He's also part of the Trans Siberian Orchestra, but we never payed much attention to be completely honest. The 13 tag and band members such as Tony Franklin and Vinny Appice lead us first to to believe in Blue Murder and John Sykes only to realise that we've included the wrong Appice brother/drummer. Oh well. 'Dying to Live' is still something that John Sykes and Blue Murder could have recorded in the early nineties and I sort of think of Hoekstra as the lesser version of Sykes somehow? That's a bit harsh, but not necessarily wrong.

Russell Allen (Symphony X, Allen/Lande) and Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey, Talisman, Eyes, etc.) are the two lead vocalists on the record and the latter gets stuck with second grade/rate material. Indeed. Allen sings all the goodies such as 'Anymore', 'Changes', or 'Long For The Days', excellent mid-tempo Whitesnake rock. In fact. Allen has never sounded this close to Coverdale in the past. Compare this to the blunt work of "Scream" and you'll notice that Soto is losing out big time. The only good thing about this track, the keyboards by Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Kiss, etc).

The title track (sung by Allen) and 'What We Believe' (sung by Soto and TSO singer Chloe Lowery) are the two exceptions as the first do absolutely nothing while the latter goes down smooth as the Heart/Led Zeppelin folk tune. The hit and miss kind of album. Neat guitar work though.

JOE LOUIS WALKER: "Everybody Wants A Piece"

Rating: RRr
Label: Provogue/Music Theories 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Everybody Wants A Piece of Blues Hall Of Fame inductee, Joe Louis Walker? Yes indeed. It's proper roadhouse and barroom boogie from the 66 years young guitarist (Tower of Power, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Ike Turner, etc). It's the back to basic, back to the roots kind of album. Walker pays tribute to the past as he plays average blues tunes that brims over with tongue-in-cheek attitude and simplicity. Simply check out the boogie-woogie of 'Buzz On You' for proof to the fact that sometimes you don't have to change a winning concept even though it's been played to death for the past 60 years or more.

The powerful ballad, 'Black & Blue', timeless stuff and something that could have been the work by any one from Buddy Guy to Fine Young Cannibals (weird, but true!). The attempt at being something more than an blues artist is obvious at 'Witchcraft' since it's blues, funk and soul, all rolled in one. The tone is warm and welcoming and the spiritual side shines through in several compositions. 'One Sunny Day' have an fine understanding on how to make a blues work and the instrumental 'Gospel Blues' takes down the tempo like a sledgehammer to the head.

Hardly everything on here is great, fresh or new. It's still a decent effort from the Walker.

CIRCLE II CIRCLE: "Reign Of Darkness"

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

Immediately striking is the powerful approach of the song, 'Taken Away'. Lyric that speak of darkest nights, shadows that come to life, and the sorrow of losing your precious one. "Someday I want to show you everything you've taken away from me". Indeed. Ex-Savatage singer Zak Stevens did well to start making music in the strangely familiar formula of Circle II Circle.

Sure. They might at first glance just appear to be another Power metal outfit that people only wish to cherish as long as there's no Savatage reunion, but they are an extremely talented band with excellent twin guitar work by Bill Hudson and Christian Wentz. You only need to hear the opening riffs to 'Victim Of The Night' and 'Untold Dreams' in order to appreciate their wicked licks and tricks.

The slightly down tuned work of 'It's All Over' and 'One More Day' are on the other hand not quite as impressive. It's frankly just too much of the late nineties past and not enough of proper metal? The great range and soaring vocals of Zak, always at the centre of attention as he come off sounding as the real deal. Definitely at his best during epic sounding tracks such as 'Somewhere', 'Deep Within', 'Solitary Rain', where keyboardist Henning Wanner finally receive a place in the spotlight. I only wish they would dress up all of their compositions in atmospheric and lavish orchestration. It's the pattern of success and Circle II Circle should really explore the full rock opera thingy on their next album.

"You might say that Reign of Darkness represents a musical reinvention for us, but the minute you hear each song you know right away that it's CIIC. We wanted to pay homage to the past, but we also wanted to create a musical renaissance within our genre that is fresh and energetic. This is an album that will positively pave the way for our future."- Zak Stevens. Final verdict: Solid as a rock, but not enough of roll.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Rating: RRR

Label: Polydor

Review By: Alan Holloway

Back in the day (yeah, yeah… shut up gramps) I used to be quite the fan of Bryan Adams. For me, his creative output peaked with the mature, heavy and accessible ‘Into The Fire’, although I’ll happily admit to liking the cookie cutter fun rock of ‘Waking Up the Neighbours’, where Mutt Lange tried to make him sound like every other band he’s produced but at least included some lively, enjoyable tracks (with Vallance hanging in for two of the best). Basically, I think Bryan Adams started on his downhill course when he stopped working with Jim Vallance, so when I learned that this new album saw the return of Vallance to the Adams camp I was actually looking forward to hearing a new Bryan Adams album. Weird…

Since then, Adams has been one of those artists that releases a ton of middle of the road stuff with a handful of tracks that remind you of what he once was. ‘Get Up’ is yet another mixed bad, unfortunately, but at least it has some promise contained within. So let’s start with the good: it has some good tracks on it. No great tracks, not really, but certainly some that will perk you up, like the upbeat, catchy ‘You Belong To Me’ or album closer and standout track ‘Brand new Day’. The last, more than any other, really brings to mind classic Adams and deserves to be a hit. There’s songs straight out of the Rock Cliché handbook, like ‘Go Down Rocking’ and ‘Thunderbolt’, and of course there’s ballads, none of which have a tenth of the passion of the likes of ‘Heaven’ or ‘Rebel’. To be completely honest, you get nine new tracks, about six of which are worth the price of admission.

So we come to the not so good. Tacked on the end of the album are acoustic versions of four of the previous tracks, about as pointless as Rob Halford’s hairdresser. Without these, the nine tracks that really form the album give you a mere 25 minutes of entertainment. Okay, there have been great short albums in the past, but this doesn’t even fill out that short time in a memorable way. The addition of the covers seems to be an artist who’s run out of songs and is on a deadline. The final bit of not so good is Adams’ vocals. Now don’t get me wrong he can still carry a raspy tune, but there is no real passion anywhere to be seen. It’s probably just age, but I don’t think Adams could convince me any more that the kids wanted to rock.

So whilst the return of Vallance has added definite value, and the production by Jeff Lynne is clear and bouncy, ‘Get Up’ ultimately falls down. There’s five or six songs that old time fans can take to their hearts, plus some dull ones and some pointless acoustic covers. Make of that what you will, but don’t expect another ‘Reckless’ because you’ll be sorely disappointed.