Tuesday, November 29, 2016
LABEL: Self Release
REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway
Well I must say this has been along time coming, as it seems Hand Of Dimes have been around for ages with just an EP to their name. the brainchild of Ex Kooga bandmates Nev MacDonald (also of Skin fame) and Neil Garland, Hand Of Dimes look to be the band to give Wales a fresh new pin in the hard rock World map.
Fans of Skin will certainly hold vocalist Nev in high regard, as the man has the proverbial set of golden tonsils that make any song he sings that much better. Before Skin, however, was Kooga, and those in the know remember them with fondness. Keyboard player Neil Garland was (and is) always a strong onstage presence, and it’s great to see the two of them back together. Hand of Dimes head down a bluesier route then the other two bands mentioned, and in doing so manage to make Nev work his socks off, his throaty power literally mesmerising on some songs.
By ‘Blues’ I mean powerful blues, so we’re talking big riffs and in your face vocals, more Thunder than Jeff Healey but with nods to both. The big riffs come courtesy of Colin Edwards, who also provides some sweet solo work throughout. So this isn’t a full on heavy rock album, as it’s balanced with slower, more thoughtful tracks, from the laid back duo of ‘Angels & Demons’ and ‘Sail On’ to the ever catchy but sweetly soulful ‘Stranger In My Hometown’. Every song here benefits hugely from Nev’s vocals, as good now as he ever was, standing eye to eye with the likes of Paul Rodgers and not backing down.
All in all, this is a first class album, and my only criticism is that it could have been pared down from thirteen tracks to maybe eleven, tightening the running order a little. Fans of Skin will certainly enjoy it, and anyone who likes good old British hard blues rock will be delighted to discover a new voice in the genre. This maybe only a handful of dimes, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Label: Ulterior Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen
As much as I liked the previous Theocracy album ”As The World Bleeds”, I must say that I’m even more blown away by ”Ghost Ship”. Matt Smith has written a truly brilliant collection of songs, ranging from full blasts of melodic metal to melancholic rock. There are no weak tracks, and the best ones… we’re talking about future classics of the power metal genre.
There’s enough virtuosity and complexity to satisfy those with prog tendencies, but most importantly, at least for me, ”Ghost Ship” offers us grand melodies and hooks. ”Paper Tiger”, the title track, ”Wishing Well”, the atmospheric, melodic ”Around The World And Back” and the ”fight song” ”A Call To Arms” are all blessed with the kind of melodies that go straight to your heart and make you want to shout along right away. The band has a Christian message in their songs but that doesn’t overpower these songs, it’s hardly ”Bible-bashing”.
In short, this is one of the finest albums released this year, and highly recommended. You can listen to it on Spotify but really, buy a physical copy and go to a Theocracy concert if there’s one near you!
Monday, November 7, 2016
Review by Martien Koolen
Being a fan from the very beginning, after listening to Marillion's first epic song called Grendel (1982) I was addicted. it never seizes to amaze me that this band, after 38 years in the music business, can still produce such a wonderful new album. Of course the band has its up and downs, but I still cherish and listen to classic Marillion albums like Misplaced Childhood, Clutching At Straws, Brave and Sounds That Can't Be Made.
F.E.A.R., Fuck Everyone And Run, a superb title by the way, is Marillion's 18th studio album and it is a master piece in the classical sense of the word; it is also my absolute favourite album of this year; go figure! The more I listened to F.E.A.R. the more I liked, appreciated and understood it and after trillions (not really) of spins I can say that I am slightly addicted to F.E.A.R. This new album "only" consists of five tracks, being El Dorado, Living In F.E.A.R., The Leavers, White Paper and The New Kings. Let me start with the latter, as that song was the first track that I heard from F.E.A.R. The New Kings is an epic Marillion masterpiece that runs to almost 20 minutes and does not contain one boring minute at all. This is Marillion at its best, meaning: luscious, progressive melodic rock with breathtaking keyboard melodies, heavenly guitar melodies and stunning vocals by H. The lyrics are extremely critical and up to date, dealing with the new power of rich people and the widening gap between the rich and the poor of this world ("We are the new kings; we do as we please, while you do as you are told").
The new album kicks off with a song called El Dorado, which is also a very long track, clocking over 16 minutes and this song brings back memories of the excellent track Gaza from Marillion's previous album Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012). El Dorado is split into five parts and it contains beautiful musical passages that give me goosebumps every time I listen to it. The lyrics, just as on Gaza, are rather dark and melancholic, dealing with some very disturbing changes in our society, think of the problems with migration, financial crisis and ecological crisis. ("the thunder approaches, the heavy sighing of the monster").
Living In F.E.A.R. is the shortest track of the album, featuring a very nice, almost singalong chorus and the other "short" track of the album is called White Paper. This song again contains lots of dazzling melodies. I know I am repeating myself here, but it is what it is and lyrically White Paper deals with the fact that everyone is getting old (er) and how you to deal with this fact of life. Hogarth sings: "I used to be the centre stage; time I should act my age" and I think that says it all, actually.
Last but not least you can enjoy a song called The Leavers, which is my favorite song of the album. Again a very long track, the longest of the album, with some extremely melodic, heavenly guitar solos by Rothery, proving that he is still one of the best guitar pickers on this planet. The Leavers is probably one of the best songs that Marillion have released for a very long time. Lyrically the song deals with the life of a musician, which can be very hard and tiresome: "We are the leavers and the road rolls beneath us, we sleep as we're driven, we arrive before dawn, we wait in grey truck stops, for the night to release us. Then slip in from ring-roads and our work starts again."
Conclusion: F.E.A.R. is a new jewel in the Marillion collection, the best progressive rock album of 2016 and a must for all lovers of great melodic rock music with a message!! Since 2004 my Marillion top 3 albums were: Misplaced Childhood, Brave and Clutching At Straws, but now 12 years later F.E.A.R. will definitely enter this top 3, making it : F.E.A.R. at pole position, Misplaced Childhood as second best and Brave as third. I never thought that this was going to happen, but it goes to show that Marillion is always in for a spectacular surprise!! Buy or die is my last advice!!
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway
And the award for worst album title ever goes to... well, I suppose it's not as bad as REO Speedwagon's 'You Can't Tune A Piano But You Can Tune A Fish', but AC Angry's follow up to their 2013 debut 'Black Denim' will surely live on in lists of shit album titles. The positive side of that is at least it's something it will be remembered for, as it's unlikely the music will linger long in the memory.
The thing is, I quite enjoyed the debut and even went so far as to write that it was "an album of full speed ahead no nonsense rock". I'm even quoted in the bleedin' press release so it's a little embarrassing to sit here listening to 'Appetite...' and not having much fun at all. opener 'I Hate AC Angry' kicks things off with a fast beat and pretty poor lyrics but is at least punchy. Childish lyrics are a bit of a theme throughout the album, such as '4TW' suggesting 'Lick my sac', and it all gets a bit embarrassing after a while. It's a shame because these two opening tracks are otherwise energetic and rock live proverbial hurricanes. The band suffer when they slow down, as vocalist Costa sounds pretty awful if he's not rocking. 'No Way To Go But Down', 'Son Of A Motherfucker' and 'Cry Idiot Cry' both suck due to this and the fact that they aren't good songs anyway.
Fans of the first album will certainly fins stuff to enjoy here, with tracks like "Testosterone" and "I Wanna Hurt Somebody" giving a good account of themselves. There's some more middling stuff, such as the title track or 'the Balls Are Back In Town', that are a bit take it or leave it, not forgetting the awful slower songs, and when you take the album as a whole it's just not good enough. 'Black Denim' pisses all over this in terms of power, passion and sheer tuneful aggression, and I can't help but be disappointed in this follow up. I've suddenly lost my appetite for AC Angry...
Label: Metal Blade Records/Radiant Records
Review by: Martien Koolen
Thirteen years ago, Neal Morse left Spockís Beard and released his firs "real" solo album Testimony, as he already made a solo album in 1999 called Neal Morse. I still consider Testimony to be Morse's best album ever, as all of the follow up albums are merely not more than nice attempts to reach that excellent musical level of Testimony. I mean, how often can you repeat your musical ideas and not bore your listeners to death with it??
As I listened to The Similitude Of A Dream for the first time I immediately had that deja vu feeling that I had with all Morse albums after Testimony; the same melodies, the same keyboard solos and most of all the rather, same annoying preaching lyrics that really get on my nerves while listening to this new album. Of course this album is made by the Neal Morse Band, consisting of Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer, but it definitely is a Morse album and also, again (yawn), a concept album. The Similitude Of A Dream is based on a book called The Pilgrim's Progress From This World To The That Which Is To Come; Delivered Under The Similitude Of A Dream written by John Bunyan, way back in 1678; need I say more?? The music on this album sounds, as I stated before, very familiar; in my opinion too familiar, but you know what you can expect from Morse.
Luckily there are also a couple of great songs on this album which goes to show that the Neal Morse Band is of course a great progressive rock band with brilliant musicians. Especially the guitar solos of Gillette are sometimes out of this world on this album and Portnoy is still the best rock drummer on this planet, but he definitely has to return to Dream Theater..
Musical highlights on this bombastic and sometimes too dramatic album are the instrumental Overture with amazing hooks, riffs, solos and melodies, City Of Destruction, a classic Morse prog rock song with a catchy chorus, The Slough, being another instrumental song, So Far Gone, The Man In The Iron Cage with breathtaking guitar work, the third instrumental called The Battle and the last, also the longest track, called Broken Sky; a dramatic ballad-like song with two of the best guitar solos on the entire album. However the rest of the songs are not really to my liking and sound as I have heard them before a couple of times already on other albums. Take for example songs like Shortcut To Salvation (hymn-like), Sloth (too dramatic and dull), Freedom Song (a blue grass-like, utterly boring acoustic track), Makes No Sense (sounds too familiar) or the last song of CD 1 called Breath Of Angels, which is an emotional hymn-like ballad with typical, annoying religious Morse lyrics.
Mike Portnoy quoted that The Similitude Of A Dream is the absolute creative pinnacle of his cooperation with Morse and he is so bald as to say that we can compare this new Morse Band album with classic concept albums like Tommy or The Wall. With all due respect to Portnoy, but what was he thinking when saying that, as that is a little bit (watch the irony here) over the top.. Furthermore you will find a sticker on the CD with the following rather pretentious text: "This is it!, the juggernaut flagship masterwork from the Neal Morse Band." I can only say, I beg to differ, for me this is just a new Neal Morse album with some good musical stuff played by excellent musicians, but most of all it is again a repetition of his earlier work. I know that I will get a lot of "nice" reactions on my rather, maybe sometimes too critical, review, but that is all right as there is no account for taste and it is just my humble but sincere opinion.
Label: Napalm Records
Review by Martien Koolen
Solas, the Gaelic word for light, is the title of the new album by Northern Irish rockers The Answer and I can tell you rightaway that Solas is my favourite Answer album so far... For fans who liked the previous albums of The Answer this new one will probably take some time to get "used" to, as Solas is not your typical The Answer classic rock album. On this new album the four piece band from Northern Ireland have made excellent musical progression, which resulted in a modern, up date rock album with lots of Irish influences, meaning lots of folky influences, cultural Irish instrumentation and even choruses in Gaelic and Latin.
This fabulous album opens with the title track, which is in fact a pure rock anthem as The Answer has never played or composed before; a new born live classic track for sure. Follow up Beautiful World has lots of atmosphere and melancholy and singer Neeson delivers one of his best performances here; an extraordinary track which gets better with every spin. The third song of Solas called Battle Cry is the absolute highlight. It is an epic song, clocking over six minutes and this track really represents the new sound of The Answer. Mahon's guitar riff is very catchy and the chorus is even sung in Gaelic: "Seo An La A Thainig Mo Ghra", meaning: "This is the day my love arrives". The last part of this song, which really gets under your skin, being an up tempo guitar melody, wonderfully played by Mahon kind of reminds me of U2 and maybe that is not a coinidence... For old The Answer fans there are also songs that really rock, such as the bluesy Demon Driven Man with a lovely guitar melody/solo by Mohan, the up tempo Left Me Standing and the rocky Real Life Dreamers, which also features a duet between Neeson and the Irish vocalist Fiona O Kane.
The album ends with the emotioal ballad Tunnel, which features a breathtaking guitar solo and some really emotional vocals by Neeson, ending this amazing album in a great way. Solas is a very welcome surprise in 2016, as it shows The Answer at it best (second to none), the sound is rather different than on other albums, but Solas also proves that these guy still know how to rock. Solas is a brave, honest and wonderful album that will certainly end up in my top 10 of 2016 and it will not leave my CD player for the rest of this year. Play it loud and spread the word that Solas is one of the best rock albums of this year. "What the light don't fill, the darkness kills."
Label: Napalm Records
Review by Martien Koolen
The tenth album, called Built To Last, by the Swedish metal band Hammerfall, is defintely a "return" to their good "old" metal sound on albums like Glory To The Brave (1997) and Renegade (2000). It is Hammerfall's first album via Napalm Records and that may be the reason that this album sounds so higly melodic, aggressive and is overloaded with catchy choruses.
Opening track Bring It reveals the sound of the entire album; powerful, great riffs and a pumped up chorus that sticks in your head for a very long time. The following two songs Sacred Vow and Hammer High were previously released as lyric videos, and especially the latter is a metal anthem par excellence. Dethrone And Defy is probably the fastest track of the album and it is followed by the obligatory power ballad Twilight Princess; a classic Hammerfall ballad with excellent melodic guitar solos. However, the best tracks on this powerful album can be heard in the end as, the two final songs of Built To Last, being: New Breed and Second To None are the brilliant highlights. New Breed is a heavy, speedy, almost "trashy" metal track in the veins of Accept and that song will become a new live Hammerfall anthem killer for sure. Second To None, the longest song on the album, is indeed as the title says second to none! It is an epic-kind of track, slowly built up from a ballad-like melody into a rather dark song with amazing guitar passages and "heavy" keyboard arrangements. On Second To None vocalist Joacim delivers his best performance of the entire album, making it a classic Hammerfall song, which will stand the test of time for years to come. Built To Last is a must for addicts of true, melodic, aggresive power metal and it is a return to Hammerfall's classic sound. I am really looking forward to see/hear them in Utrecht (The Netherlands) on 16 January next year.