Thursday, February 23, 2017

THUNDER: "Rip It Up"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: EarMusic
Review by Martien Koolen

I have always had a special place in my rock heart for Thunder, as their live shows are always a treat and among the best you ever see and hear. Wonder Days, released in 2015, was a brilliant album and it even was a top 10 success for these classic hard rockers from London. Now, two years later, Thunder release their 11th studio album called Rip It Up and in my humble opinion it is even better than Wonder Days; go figure! Thunder have a very recognisable sound, but fortunately they are not Status Quo and do definitely not slavishly follow the same musical paths over and over again. Just listen to the amazing, rocky opener No One Gets Out Alive and you will know what I mean; it is classic Thunder stuff but also, slightly different and exciting.

Rip It Up contains 11 songs and none is a filler, or a so-called left over track. Musical highlights are without any doubt: Right From The Start (a massive superb ballad, with very emotional vocals and one of the best guitar solos of Morley that I have ever heard), Tumbling Down (magical British rock; check out the intro riff, which sounds like Pinball Wizard) and The Chosen One, which will become another Thunder classic like Backstreet Symphony or Dirty Love. Rip It Up is a great classic hard rock album, almost a throwback to seventies/eighties rock, but then with a very up to date edge and all the songs sound very fresh and extremely good. I truly believe that these guys can go like this for more than 20 years to come; rock on, guys and see you in Weert on 28 April; can't wait to hear the new songs "in the flesh". Needless to say that you have to play this album at maximum volume!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017




REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Here's an unusual offering, found at a comic convention of all places. The reason for this is that Cosmic Rays is made up of people who create comics or are involved in comics. The most well known would be drummer Charlie Adlard who illustrates a little comic called 'The Walking Dead' a couple of times a month. Of course, making good comics does not mean you can make good music, so I was understandably intrigued.

'Cosmic Rays' is rather proggy in it's overall feel, but the sort of prog you can play air guitar to, not the boring stuff. It was made over a period of a few years, so lacks some cohesiveness, but the music is solid and the melodies ever present. Vocalist Shane Chebsey has a pub rock feel to his voice, underlined by a nervous mix that keeps pushing him to the front. Nonetheless, he can hold a tune and suits the music well, which is always a good starting point. Another good starting point is opener 'Electricade', which sets out the stall for the band as an upbeat but interesting prospective. There's a real 70s vibe that crops up often, a space rock feel that is kept under control rather than allowed to make everything too much like a hippy festival. They can rock out when required, and 'Need For Speed' has a wonderful Deep Purple-y feel to it with a neat riff and very nice keyboards. The album finishes with an eight minutes plus track, 'Redemption (2&3)', featuring some jaunty and catchy guitar from artist Phil Winslade along with some proggy bits that should come with flowers to braid in your hair.

'Cosmic Rays' is quite a find, a self financed and produced gem that will slot right into anyone's power prog collection. If you have a few It Bites or Kino albums this will be right up your street. Deep enough to reward repeated listens and instant enough to enjoy on the first spin, this has made me look forward to the band's next EP, due later this year. It's cosmic, man...

Band Facebook Page

D'ERCOLE: "No Place Like Home"


LABEL: Phil Vincent Music

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

It's time to say hi to two old friends, namely guitarist Damian D'ercole and vocalist Phil Vincent. Regular readers will know of Phil Vincent, as he is well known for being a prodigious one man band, releasing many high quality releases. These days he mixes things up with co-conspirators, from the heavy Legion to Tragik, and most recently Cranston. I like to think that when Phil Vincent is involved in a project there's going to be a worthy end result, and the fourth album under the D'ercole banner is no exception.

The difference with D'ercole is that it's most definitely Damian D'ercole's baby, with Vincent acting as vocalist and producer (plus keyboards). D'ercole writes all the songs here and provides all the guitars, so naturally the sound is different to your usual Phil Vincent release. Technically there's seven songs here, but that does include 'Epic Failure', which is really four songs in one, running at 15 minutes. Personally I would rather have had them split into separate tracks for easier listening, but it doesn't take away from the fact they are four great songs. The songs in general are very melodic with some excellently placed guitars, with Vincent's vocals distinct as ever. D'ercole isn't afraid to experiment, and on 'The Walls Are Closing In' he tries interesting rhythms and a bit of funk to produce a track that really grows on you, never outstaying it's welcome in nearly seven minutes. Elsewhere there's more standard melodic fayre, none more so than 'Waiting For Your Love', which itself is part 3 of 'Epic Failure'. Seriously guys, don't do that again, as it's a song Iwould have liked on a playlist with similar ones but I can't do that.

'No Place like Home' is an eclectic and highly enjoyable album, mixing a few different styles but maintaining a coherent whole. The wimpy 'Dreamer' is the only track that had me reaching for the skip button, but even then it's not a bad track, just not really my scene. Another cracking collaboration from D'ercole and Vincent, there's no reason not to check this one out.

 Official Site

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

CREYE: ”Straight To The Top”

Rating: - (EP)
Label: CREYE (Self-released)
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Okay, maybe the band’s name requires instructions to pronounce it accordingly, but damn it, CREYE’s debut EP promises great things for them. The mastermind of the band is guitarist Andreas Gullstrand, who has enlisted some of Sweden’s top musicians to play on these songs. There’s vocalist Alexander Strandell from Art Nation,  guitarist AndrĂ©e Thunder from Theander Expression and Linus Abrahamson on bass, to name a few. A bit of a supergroup!

The sound of the band is very much influenced by the eighties, with lots of keyboards and a somewhat electronic drum sound. With the ”retro synth wave” being a trending style, the band sounds rather contemporary. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense that a retro sound makes them contemporary but sometimes the old is the new ”new”…

There’s two original Creye tracks and a fine cover of Robert Tepper’s classic ”No Easy Way Out” on this EP. ”Straight To The Top” is a hard-hitting uptempo AOR track with a big hook while ”Never Too Late” is a slightly more ”moody” track but just as hook-laden and melodic. The Tepper cover stays true to the original and while Strandell doesn’t have the rasp of Temper, he does a great song making the song his own. The retro-modern-synthwave-hardrock-AOR sound works perfectly for this song too.

If there’s a full album in the works and it’s as good as these tracks, I’ve got a lot of ”R’s” reserved for it…

Blackfield: "V"

Rating: RRR
Label: Kscope
Review by Martien Koolen

For those ofyou who do not know Blackfield, it is a cooperation between compposer, guitarist and singer Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen. This is their fifth album and it was recorded over a period of 18 months in England as well as in Israel. V is a concept album which features 13 new songs that form a flowing 45 minutes ocean themed song cycle.

The rather short album starts with A Drop In The Ocean, which is an orchestral intro to the follow up Family Man. That one features lead vocals by Wilson and kind of reminds me of Porcupine Tree. The third track, called How Was Your Ride is a bit melancholic but it is also one of the best songs on the album. Geffen sings the following two tracks which are rather mediocre, just as Lately, which is really nothing more than a utterly simple rock song.

October is a nice ballad,which is followed by The Jackall, which is the second best track, featuring an excellent blues riff. Salt Water is an intrumental track and the album ends with tyhe song From 44 to 48, again with lead vocals by Wilson.

All in all I have to say that I am a bit disappointed about this album as it is a fairly standard rock/pop album with nice songs, some very catchy choruses, but I also think that these guys, especially Wilson can do better than this. Do not get me wrong, V is not a bad album, but I really expect something more from one of my musical heroes, being Wilson of course...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

APOLLO: ”Waterdevils”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Apollo Papathanasio is one of the great travelling vocalists of our era, lending his voice to several bands and projects. Some of the bands he’s sung with include Firewind (4 albums), Majestic, Time Requiem, Meduza, Sandalinas, and Evil Masquerade. Currently he’s fronting Spritual Beggars. Over the last few years he’s been putting together this album, his first solo effort.

”Waterdevils” is a hard rock/heavy metal album that reminds me of classic bands such as Dio and Deep Purple. It’s a varied album with some songs going to a more melodic direction, but it’s all rooted in classic rock and metal. Apollo’s testosterone-filled vocals tend to keep every song rather metal-sounding, even the softer ones. The production seems to vary a lot, some songs sound more muffled than others, but maybe that’s what they’ve been after - a raw, retro 70ies sound.

A few songs that stand out - the melodic ”Crossing The Lines” and ”Through The Fire” are probably my favourites. I can’t say that I’m particularly impressed by Apollo’s cover of Phenomena’s ”Stop” though - a great song for sure but this version doesn’t have the flow of the original and Apollo’s vocals are way too over the top.

If you’re a fan of Apollo’s voice, I guess this album is an essential purchase. Firewind and classic metal fans could check it out too.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Michael BOLTON: "Songs Of Cinema"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The news of Michael Bolton signing with Italian melodic rock label Frontiers was a bit of a surprise. Immediately the fans of his  eighties albums were getting excited over the prospect of a new rock album. No news about that kind of a release have surfaced so far though, but here’s a new Bolton album anyway. An album full of covers. With the most basic album cover I’ve seen in a while.

If you’re a hardcore fan of Bolton’s voice, you’re in for a treat. The years haven’t done much to his voice, he can still belt ’em out. But the songs… there are some extremely strange choices here. I mean, a new version of ”When A Man Loves A Woman”? Why? A ”ballad version” of ”Jack Sparrow” that’s less than two minutes long? Why? A song called ”Cupid” from ”Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special”? Is that a movie?

I’ve always kind of liked the song ”Stand By Me” and Bolton’s version isn’t too bad. ”I Will Always Love You” is a duet with Dolly Parton, but I think it might have been better as an understated Bolton solo track. Bolton’s version of ”Old Time Rock & Roll” is surprisingly powerful, proving that the rocker inside Bolton is still alive. ”Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and ”As Time Goes By” are well-sung elevator music though. As for the ”Jack Sparrow” version, I was getting excited about it, but then it was already over… Ahoy! It surely could have been extended to three minutes just as well, maybe with a new verse and a bridge or something?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

KNIGHT AREA : ”Heaven And Beyond”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Butler Records
Review by Martien Koolen

This Dutch prog rock band was formed in 2004 by keyboard player Gerben Klazinga, later followed guitarist Mark Bogert, bass player Peter Vink, Mark Smit (vocals) and Peter van Hoorn (drums) to complete the current line up. Heaven And Beyond is the sixth studio album of Knight Area and it is their best effort so far. The music on this album is an almost perfect blend of symphonic, progressive and neo-prog elements with extremely melodic guitar and keyboard melodies.

The Reaper, one of the longest tracks on the album, is one of my favourite tracks of Heaven And Beyond, especially the solos and hooks of Bogert are extremely well played and aggressive, but still melodic. The title track, also the longest song on the album, is another showcase for the exceptional guitar skills of Bogert as he really plays his ass off here. Bogert is probably one of the best Dutch guitar players I have heard in a very long time and I would compare him with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani; just listen what this guy can do in the instrumental song Eternal Light. This truly amazing prog rock album ends with a beautiful ballad called Memories, which features a fantastic guitar solo again. Heaven And Beyond is a must for lovers of melodic prog metal and for lovers of great guitar music; Bogert rules!!!

It is about time that this amazing band gets some more attention and appreciation, so buy or die!!!

GOTTHARD: ”Silver”

Rating: RR
Label: PIAS
Review by Martien Koolen

Silver is the new album of Swiss hard rockers Gotthard and it is their third album with the ”new” singer Nic Maeder. Silver contains thirteen new tracks and needless to say that if you liked their two previous albums, then you will love their new release as well.

Silver is a special album for the guys as the 25th anniversary’s importance to the band is already evident in the title of the album. Silver kicks off with Silver River, one of the best songs of the album, being a nice, cool groove rocker that promises a lot for the rest of the album. However, most songs that follow are unfortunately not that good as the opener! The first single Stay With Me, is a rather predictable power ballad, while Reason For This is extremely poppy and Not Fooling Anyone is an utterly boring acoustic song filled with strings. Why is another mediocre, dull semi-acoustic track, while Only Love Is Real is another ballad that not really comes to live. Luckily My Oh My is saves this album a bit as it is a great Gotthard song, filled with excellent riffs and hooks and a marvellous guitar solo. Tequila Symphony Number Five features bits of Beethoven’s notorious fifth symphony and is again a bit of a weird song.

For me, Silver is a true disappointment and I really miss the old Gotthard as I still cherish great albums like Human Zoo (2003) and One Life, One Soul (2002). Silver is, sad but true, nothing more than an average, mediocre, rock album and I think that, seeing the keen competition in the music business, Gotthard will have to come up with other song material to survive.