Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Joanne SHAW TAYLOR: "Wild"

Rating: RRR
Review by Martien Koolen

Taylor's The Dirty Truth, released two years ago, was a great blues rock album, produced by Jim Gaines, recorded in Memphis.

Taylor's new album called Wild, was recorded in Nashville and produced by no one less than Kevin Shirley. Wild contains 9 brand new tracks and 2 covers, being Wild Is The Wind, originally by David Bowie, and Summertime, originally by Ella Fitzgerald. Wild IS The Wind is the longest track on the album and clocks over 7 minutes and features two excellent emotional guitar solos and great vocals by Taylor. This Bowie track was also covered by Nina Simone, Randy Crawford and George Michael, but Taylor's version, altough I am not really a fan of covers, is without any doubt my favourite.

The other cover on Wild is the last track Summertime, which is also covered by Louis Arnmstrong; Taylor's version is a jazz-like piano ballad with a nice mellow guitar solo in the middle of the song.The rest of the song material on Wild is a mix of blues, blues rock, pop and sometimes even singer/song writing material. Ready To Roll is a nice funky blues-like mid tempo track with a very catchy chorus and nice guitar work.Wanna Be My Lover is a kind of Meilssa Etheridge-like song with organ passages and again some great guitar work.In fact the only "misser" on this excellent album is the song I Wish I could Wish You Back which is a rather mediocre acoustic ballad. Conlusion: Wild is a great blues rock/pop album and shows again that Taylor is a thrilling guitarist, but also a strong vocalist. Wild grows on you and proves that also women can play a mean and nasty guitar!! Looking forward to see and hear Taylor in The Netherlands during her autumn tour with Wilko Johnson.


Rating: RRRR+
Label: Limb Music 2016
Review by Satu Reunanen
Astralion return with their second album Outlaw after two years of absence. While working on their new material the band has done some gigging in Finland and this October they will be playing the Heavy Metal Heart Festival in Helsinki with Battle Beast, Amoth, Profane Omen, Scar Symmetry, Medicated and others. Astralions persistence about pushing on is finally paying off, as the bands power metal has started to gain praises around the world and they've found their audience in Finland.  
Astralion continues where they left off with their debut. If you loved that, you'll also love Outlaw. The album is again full of tight, compact and fast songs to headbang to and the catchy melodies are familiar from the debut. The line-up has stayed the same; Ian E. Highhill (vocals), Hank J. Newman (guitar), Arnold Hackman (drums), Thomas Henry (keyboards) and Dr. K. Lundell (bass). The band influences are also still the same; Helloween, Blind Guardian, Edguy and the cheerier upbeat bands like Stratovarius. 
Outlaw is hardly a radio friendly album and not the easiest bite for the listener, unless you've trained your musical ear earlier with some epic material. The songs run close to five minutes in length and the longest one The Great Palace of the Sea runs at ten minutes! But it's not only the long songs that make this a more challenging listen, it's also the countless twists that make power metal. At the surface the genre might seem like an easily flowing powerful river, but when done well it's what lies below that makes the music a deeper experience. Astralion not only uses the power metal tricks well to add to this experience, but also draws influence from many musical genres and that's their twist. You can still hear the 80's heavy metal and neoclassical influences throughout the album too. 
I won't go into each song seperately, but will mention that Wastelands of Ice is the albums only mid-tempo track and the epic album closer The Great Palace of the Sea actually flows fluently through its ten minutes. The album rocks through the roof and everything is as massive as it should be in power metal. Astralion is like a well oiled machine, they've found their thing and Outlaw is a powerful follower to their debut. It's "ASTRongAsaLION", if you get my worldplay. 


Rating: RRRR
Label: Melodic Rock Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Soothing. That was my initial impression of Mecca’s third album. It’s possibly the best-sounding album I have heard in years, easily comparable to the classic AOR albums of the golden years. There’s warmth and space in these songs that’s often missing in the turbo-charged contemporary melodic rock.

Musically we’re talking about soft rock with a slightly progressive vibe. This isn’t an album of instant hits or party songs and it certainly doesn’t suit every occasion, but when the mood is right, ”III” is pretty flawless.

Main songwriter and singer Joe Vana has again surrounded himself with superb musicians, including bassist David Hungate (of Toto fame), Tim Akers, Shannon Forest and David Browning. It’s Joe himself who impresses me the most though, his vocals are outstanding and very emotionally charged.

The album features only eight tracks but it’s a case of quality over quantity. Even though I said that this is not an album of instant hits, there are a couple of songs with enormous chorus hooks, namely ”Let It Go” (no, not that Frozen song!) and the opener ”Take My Hand”. The latter has the kind of a ”surprise chorus” that I love, it  just jumps at you without a warning. "Unknown" does have another massive chorus too, so make that three. Some of the other songs do have some fine melodies but maybe delivered in a bit more understated way.

Highly recommended to fans of Mr. Mister and Toto, but worth exploring to those who enjoy the softer side of rock in general. Perfect for the moments when you want the music to soothe your soul.


Monday, September 26, 2016

KING COMPANY: ”One For The Road”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

King Company is a new band and this is their first album, but the Kings behind the Company aren’t young princes. Vocalist Pasi Rantanen and drummer Mirka Rantanen have both played in Thunderstone, keyboard player Jari Pailamo is a former Twilight Guardian, bassist Time Schleifer has played in Jone’s Bros and guitarist Antti Wirman  has played in Warmen and Children Of Bodom. A couple of them have even been Heavy Metal dinosaurs, bringing the joyful message of Metal to the younger children.

”One For The Road” is an album of traditional melodic heavy rock in the vein of Whitesnake, Rainbow and Europe. Some of the songs have a bit of a seventies’ vibe, while others harken back to the hairy days of the eighties. My personal favorites include ”In Wheels Of No Return”, ”Wings Of Love” and ”Holding On”, all more 80’ies styled songs I guess… Big choruses and atmospheric keyboards galore!

As mentioned before, everyone in the band is a seasoned pro so they obviously deliver great performances. I’m especially impressed by Antti Wirman’s guitar work which is at times really fast and furious yet it never sounds like he’s showing off. I also enjoy the colourful keyboard work by Jari Pailamo.

Extra points for the artwork - this doesn't look like every other modern day melodic rock album...


Thursday, September 22, 2016

WOLVERINE: "Machina Viva"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Sensory Records
Review by Martien Koolen

Fifteen years ago I reviewed the first full length album of Wolverine for the notorious Aardschok magazine and maybe due to my review The Window Purpose was awarded Album Of The Month in Aardschok December magazine's issue of 2001. Wolverine's last album, released in 2011, was called Communication Lost, and it was an absolute master piece. Now 5 years later the Swedish prog rockers bring out their next studio album called Machina Viva. THis new amazing album contains 8 brand new songs and the focus in the tracks on Machina Viva clearly lies on melody and atmosphere. Just listen to the wonderful 14 minute epic opening track The Bedlam Overture and you will hear exactly what I mean. The Bedlam Overture is a magical musical prog rock ride with lots of melody, variety, beautiful vocal performance by Stefan Zell and breathtaking guitarmelodies and solos by Jonas Jonsson. Machina is a kind of experimental song, however with a great melody and Pile Of Ash is the quietest song of the album, featuring acoustic guitars and the "soft"voice of Zell. Our Long Goodbye is another highliight of this album, filled with amazing hooks and melodies, but if you also like the metal side of Wolverine you should check out Pledge, which is without any doubt the heaviest song of the entire album; love it! Nemesis, kicks off as a piano ballad but evolves into a great progressive rock track and here you can enjoy the best guitar solo of the album. This great album, which you should listen to a couple of times to really appreciate, ends with the "weakest" track called Sheds, a song which only features vocals and keyboards. But all in all, I would like to say that Wolverine, a very underestimated rock band by the way, did it again. If you are a fan of very melodic, diverse prog rock with amazing vocals and subtle guitar work then Machina Viva is your album. Their new album is the next step in the band's explorations in the progressive field; highlights The Bedlam Overture and Nemesis.

ODDLAND: "Origin"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Sensory Records
Review by Martien Koolen

Oddland is a progressive metal bamd from Finland, founded in 2001 and they released their full length debut album called The Treachery Of Senses in 2012. Four years later, Oddland signed a deal with Sensory Records and their new album is called Origin. The brand new album contains 9 songs and the music of Oddland is a blend of prog metal influences from bands as Primus, Tool, Devin Townsend, Meshuggah and even grunge bands like Soundgarden or Alice In Chains. The opening track Esotericism is filled with heavy distorted guitar riffs and raw vocals and here singer Sukari Ojanen reminds me of the lead singer of Candlemass. Follow up Thanatos features a jazzy-like intro and here I define obvious Primus influences. Penumbra is another great track, featuring an excellent vocal performance by Ojanen and an extremely catchy guitar riff played by Poikonen. Hidden kicks off with a soft piano intro before it evolves into a rather mysterious prog metal "monster". Fortunately singer Ojanen only sings and the grunts are almost completely disappeared; only in the song Faraway he still grunts a little; sad but true... My favourite track is called Unknown and I really think that Oddland has improved a lot since their debut album. The sound of Origin is low and heavy, but there is also a lot of melody and great variety, but most of all I would call the sound Of Oddland on this album aggressive and really powerful. So, if you enjoy your prog metal really heavy and you like the bands I mentioned earlier in this review, then you should really check out this new album by Oddland. Play it loud, guys!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Rating: RRRR
Label: Broken Road Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

”No Superhero” The Darker My Horizon’s second album and again the band has taken another step towards the premier league of hard rock. I say ”again” because I kind of see the band as a continuation of Sacred Heart, the main writer/singer/guitarist Paul Stead previous band. With every release I’ve heard from him and his band, there’s been steady improvement.

TDMH combines modern commercial rock sounds with eighties’ influences, kind of like Nickelback shaking hands with Warrant. Downtuned guitars and gritty riffs meet melodic choruses and power ballads… it’s a concept that works for me, and I have no doubt that it could work for most of our readers as well.

Most of the songs are instantly familiar-sounding and likeable. ”No Superhero Part One”, ”Functional Dysfunctional” and ”Top Of The Class” are such songs. Some of them have taken a little longer to grow on me, ”Dear Olivia” being a good example of that: I first didn’t think much of it, yet I caught myself humming its’ hook. There’s only a couple of songs that really don’t do much for me - ”Diablo” might be the album’s heaviest (most Nickelbackish?) track but it’s also the most monotonous and only a killer chorus could have saved the plodding ”We Are, We’re One”. Otherwise this is a good album and now I can give it the four capital R’s it deserves, no brackets needed this time!


URIAH HEEP: “…Very ‘eavy, …Very ‘umble”

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

This is a DeLuxe Edition of the debut album of English hard rockers Uriah Heep, called …very ‘eavy,… very ‘umble. CD 1 features the original (remastered 2016) album as it was released in 1970; CD 2 is an alternate version of very ‘eavy and all tracks on that edition are previously unreleased. Uriah Heep was not a band that was very popular by the press, in fact some of the music critics actually “hated” the band. But the fans were and are still very enthusiastic about Uriah Heep and so the band is still going strong even after 46 years!!

The first five albums are probably the best Heep albums and their spectacular live album called Uriah Heep Live 1973 is still one of the best live double albums ever! Uriah Heep’s debut album …very ‘eavy, … very ‘umble is an underrated Heep album as it contains two classic Heep tracks that belong to their best songs in their long spanning career. Gypsy, the opener of this album, is of course one the best known Heep songs ever and the opening organ and guitar riff are so familiar and spectacular that Gypsy has been on Heep’s set list right from the start in the seventies until now. Another classic great Heep song on their debut album is the last track called Wake Up (set your sights) which shines because of the wonderful melody and the great vocal performance by David Byron, the first and best singer of Heep ever.

CD2 features the “same” eight songs of the original album but then in a slightly alternative way and four bonus tracks. Born In A Trunk, a rather dark prog rock song, Magic Lantern, an almost 8 minute up tempo prog rock song composed by Box and Byron, Bird Of Prey (an US alternate nix) and an instrumental version of Born In A Trunk..

URIAH HEEP “ Your Turn To Remember - The Definitive Anthology 1970-1990”

Rating: - (compilation)
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

This 2 CD anthology features 33 Uriah Heep songs starting in 1970 and ending in 1989. The 33 songs are taken from the albums: Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble (1970), Salisbury (1971), Look At Yourself (1971), Demons And Wizards (1972), The Magican’s Birthday (1972), Sweet Freedom (1973), Wonderworld (1974), Return To Fantasy (1975), High And Mighty (1976), Firefly (1977), Innocent Victim (1977), Fallen Angel (1978), Conquest (1980), Abominog (1982), Head First (1983), Equator (1985) and Raging Silence (1989).

During the 33 tracks you can hear five different singers being David Byron (the best Heep vocalist ever), John Lawton, John Sloman, Peter Goalby and last but not least the current Uriah Heep singer Bernie Shaw. I still believe that the first five Uriah Heep albums (with Byron as a singer) are the best they ever made, although Return To Fantasy is also an excellent album. My favorite tracks are: Gypsy, Look At Yourself, The Wizard, July Morning (although I prefer the longer version of course), Sunrise, Sweet Lorraine and Return To Fantasy. From the songs with other singers than Byron I like No Return, Poor Little Rich Girl and Voice On My TV. A very decent collection of classic Heep songs with many highlights from their most creatively fertile rock era, but I still “hate” their ultimate boring rock ballad Lady In Black.

DUSTERLUST: "Duster Lust"

Rating: RR
Label: FemMeropa
Review by Martien Koolen

The German symphonic metal band Duster Lust, which was founded in 2010 as Unveil The Beauty, release their first album and in fact it is a re-release of their album called Unveil The Beaty. But due a naming conflict the band had to withdraw their album and they re-started under the new  name Duster Lust. The band consists of Regina Rumpel (vocals), Philip Seibert (drums, grunting), Michel Greul (guitar) and Heiko Seibert (guitar, bass guitar) and the sound of the band could best be described as female fronted symphonic metal with occasional grunts and screaming vocals. Most of the ten compositions are rather chaotic and show no real clear musical structure and the high vocals of soprano Rumpel are not always that good, but I think that this band has some musical potential.

What I really do not like about Duster Lust are the grunting vocals and the rather hysterical screaming vocals of Seibert and Greul. Sometimes the music on this album is a cacaphony of weird metal combined with classical music, prog metal, electronic sounds, death metal and symphonic metal and I think it might be better for this band to concentrate on one kind of music. This re-released album also contains three bonus tracks, being: Virus, Bloodmoon and Refugee. As the competition is very keen and hard in the music busniess, especially in this sort of music, think Epica, Nightwish, Within Temptation, I think that Duster Lust will have a tough time and they really should try to explore and create their own sound.

EVERGREY: “The Storm Within”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Inside Out Music
Review by Martien Koolen

Evergrey’s previous album Hymns For The Broken was one of my favorite albums of 2014 and maybe my favorite Evergrey album so far…. Now, two years later the best Swedish prog metal band release the strongest album of their 20 year career called The Storm Within. The album contains 11 brand new tracks and it is their most progressive record so far, filled with dark, melancholic and progressive elements that make this album a must for lovers of melodic prog metal.

The Storm Within opens with one of my favorite tracks of the album, namely Distance, also the first single and video of the album. The intro of Distance is an awesome keys melody, followed by massive guitar riffs and a really addictive and very melodic chorus; in the middle we are treated to an unbelievable guitar solo and the song ends with a children’s choir singing the catchy chorus. Follow up Passing Through is the next highlight, an up tempo heavy song with a ferocious guitar solo and excellent lyrics. If you like the heavy side of Evergrey you should check out My Allied Ocean, as it is one of the most aggressive songs from Englund and Co. Another highlight is without any doubt the almost power ballad called In Orbit, which features a wonderful duet between Tom Englund and  “our” Floor Jansen.

The Storm Within ends with the title track, which is a perfect closer for this amazing album, as that track is really complex, innovative, diverse and kind of reminds me of my favorite band of all time Rush…. The Storm Within is Evergrey’s masterpiece, a massive album filled with excellent tracks (absolutely NO fillers), which should be listened to at maximum volume, over and over again….. Cannot wait to hear some of the new songs on stage, especially Distance, Disconnect and The Storm Within; magical!!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

CORNERSTONE: "Reflections"



REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

It’s been five years since we heard anything from Austrian pop rockers Cornerstone, and it was nice to receive an extensive promo pack (complete with signed poster!) telling me everything about the band but their inside leg measurements. Five years is a long time to rest a band, and it’s good to hear that Cornerstone haven’t lost any of their allure over this period.

Still very much a band who embrace the pop sensibilities of the 1980s, Cornerstone’s songwriters Michael and Steve Wachelhofer are dab hands with a good melody and catchy chorus, with hints of more famous pop hits emerging throughout the album, though with no blatant thievery. Opener ‘Nothing To Lose’ embraces the pop rock of Belinda Carlisle with a hint of Jane Weidlin, featuring a sharp chorus line and a neat guitar solo. New vocalist Alina Peter has a decent voice, although does come over a bit nasal sounding throughout. Next track ‘Last Night’ throws in a little sax and feels like a great 80s movie soundtrack song, whilst ‘Heart On Fire’ embraces the spirit of 80s AOR, sounding a little like Fiona Flanagan. Over the ten tracks Cornerstone give us punchy rock, mid paced pop and a couple of nice ballads, and it’s quite hard not to get into what they are doing.

‘Reflections’ is a very good collection of songs for anyone who likes 80s style pop that’s infused with rock traits, rather then rock that has pop overtones. Harry Hess gives the whole thing a decent sound, with some great touches in the individual instrument sounds. Whilst not a giant leap forward in any way, this is an album that will certainly be returned to many more times.

Official Site

Friday, September 9, 2016

TEMPT: ”Runaway”

Rating: RRRRr
Label: Rock Candy Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The strange phenomenon of young dudes picking up guitars and starting bands with a vintage 80’ies sound is spreading all over the world! TEMPT are a band from New York, and although they weren’t even born in 1989, their debut album sounds like it could have been released back then. The press bio mentions Foo Fighters, Audioslave and Alterbridge but doesn’t claim that Tempt sound like those bands, which is good because they don’t. Their music is pure eighties melodic hard rock, with Van Halen, Baton Rouge, Bon Jovi and White Lion as better references.

The band has collaborated with some giants of 80’ies hard rock scene on this album, namely Michael Wagener who mixed this album and songwriter Jack Ponti, whose signature writing style is easy to notice on some of the songs. My promo files do not carry the songwriter info, but I’m pretty sure that Ponti had a hand in writing at least ”Love Terminator”.

The songs on ”Runaway” range from pretty straight-forward hard rock songs like ”Comin’ On To You” and ”Dirty One” to more melodic material such as ”Aamina”, ”The Fight” and the title track. Both sides of the band work well, and when the hard rocking is combined to the melodic, hook-driven side the results are particularly outstanding. Just check out ”Under My Skin” or the furious ”Sapphire” for example.

Vocalist Zach Allen has a good voice for this kind of material. He reminds me of Olli Herman (Reckless Love) and White Lion’s Mike Tramp at times. The backing vocals are rather good too, and did I mention that guitarist Harrison Marcello is a bit of an axe wizard? Yeah, some of the guitar work has a Vito Bratta’ish vibe to it, and in my books that is a very good thing.

I usually don’t use halves in the rating, but for special occasions I have a few ”minor r’s” in stock… and this album is pretty special. Debut album of the year?


Thursday, September 8, 2016

HEY! HELLO!: Hey! Hello Too!”

Rating: RRRRr

Label: Round Records

Review By: Alan Holloway

You can’t keep a good man down, and as far as catchy pop rock is concerned Ginger (he of The Wildhearts) surpassed ‘good’ many years ago. Hey! Hello! Made some great songs but circumstances stopped them getting started properly, and it’s great that this has emerged as the first full length offering from the group.

Straight off it’s clear that this is the sort of album that fans of the Wildhearts’ more energetic output will adore. It’s a seething mass of guitars and attitude, all wrapped up in sugar sweet melodies and singalong choruses. Delve deeper than the surface melodies and you get sublimely seditious lyrics, with the seeming innocuous ‘Kids’ telling you that ‘Kids are gonna screw you up’, whilst the perfect cover of Sailor’s ’Glass Of Champagne’ replaces the titular tipple with a line of cocaine. Of course, if you want something that’s subtle as a half brick to the face just try ‘Loud & Fucking Clear’ which sounds exactly as you’d expect. Later in the album comes ‘Body Parts’  which is in Japanses (with 6 words in English as the chorus) yet still manages to be a a singalong song. Ginger’s vocals are great as ever, and he is joined by Ai (who also provides drums) who is a perfect female counterpoint (and lead), giving the album an extra dimension and fresh life.

“Hey! Helllo! Too!” is never less that thoroughly entertaining, stuffed to the gills with catchy tracks that manage to be heavy as fuck yet accessible to more delicate ears. It’s one of those albums that demands to be played more than once, and aural high that will leave you exhausted but happy. This is certainly one of the best albums Ginger has had his mucky paws in, and if you’re a fan you will know this is high praise indeed. A must listen for all that are wild at heart.

Official Site

SMOKEY FINGERS : "Promised Land"

Rating: RRRr

Label: Tanzan Music

Review By: Alan Holloway

There’s a lot of blues bands around, and Smokey Fingers are eager to be part of the scene despite waiting five years to follow up their well received debut. Despite sounding as American as apple pie and police brutality, the band hail from Italy, claiming to have crafted their sound when travelling round the U.S.A. Whatever the truth, it’s the music that does the talking, and Smokey Fingers certainly talk a good game.

The ‘Smokey’ in the band’s name could certainly refer to the vocals of Luke Paterniti, who sounds like he just crawled out of  a Louisiana swamp after wrestling an alligator. His native accent is undetectable, and the vocals slip in around the riffs and slide guitar like hot cocoa. The music itself is upbeat in the main, decidedly Southern in style with a bar room feel that will set most people’s feet to tapping. The themes are typical of the style, with songs about rattlesnake trails, thunderstorms and being proud to be a rebel. It’s probably the least Italian sounding album you will ever hear, but the Smokey Fingers have taken to their adoptive sound like ducks to water.

Steeped in bands like Lynyrd Skynyrs and Molly Hatchet, Smokey Fingers can hold their heads high in Southern rock circles, “Promised Land” unsurprisingly doesn’t offer anything too radical, but it’s an incredibly solid album that will give a lot of fun to fans of  sawdust floors, whiskey and marrying your sister. Yeeehaaaawww!

Official facebook

Saturday, September 3, 2016

PALACE: ”Master Of The Universe”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Palace is a new Swedish AOR band. The band’s leader is vocalist/guitarist Michael Palace, who might be a familiar name to those who witnessed Find Me live at Frontiers Festival, and he’s been involved in a few other AOR projects as well. He and producer Daniel Flores played almost all of the instruments on this album, but Palace is definitely a band now. Rick Digorio is the guitarist and he played a few solos on the album too, Marcus Johansson of Reach/Adrenaline Rush is the drummer and on bass there’s Stockholm’s busiest bass player Soufian Ma'Aoui.

Just like the title of the album suggests, ”Master Of The Universe” is a throwback to the eighties, yet it sounds rather fresh. Even though there’s no keyboard player in the band, the music is very keyboard-dominated, reminding me a lot of Brother Firetribe. Palace’s vocals bring up another comparison - Steve Newman of Newman. Of course I should drop a few eighties’ band names here too - well, how about Whitesnake’s most AOR moments, Toto, Survivor…

The production is flawless and I’m especially impressed by the layered backing vocals and the overall smoothness of it all. If there’s one thing missing it’s that one special ”hit” that would stand out and shout ”you won’t hear a better song anytime soon!”. Then again, almost all of the songs are very enjoyable, with ”Cool Runnin’” and ”Rules Of The Game” being my favorites. Other noteworthy tracks include ”She Said it’s Over”, the bouncy ”Young/Wild/Free” and the title track with its’ two pretty cool pre-choruses. I can’t say I’m too crazy about its’ actual chorus though, the vocal melody goes very high and Mr. Palace wails like Axl Rose on it. If this becomes the band’s signature song, Michael is going to curse himself for writing it - he can hit those notes now, but what about 20 years from now…