Thursday, August 31, 2017

BOULEVARD: ”Luminescence”

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

During the last few years, there’s been several comeback albums by AOR bands who made their mark in the eighties. Some of them have been good, but some of them have only raised the question ”why?”. ”Luminescence” isn’t one of those. It showcases a band that still has the fire to create new music, faithful to their roots yet sounding very up-to-date. This might actually be my favourite Boulevard album!

The first song released from this album, ”Life Is A Beautiful Thing” is one of the best pure AOR tracks I’ve heard lately. It’s moody, melodic and… well, beautiful. Vocalist David Forbes proves that he’s still a superb vocalist and the sax/guitar solo is intense and brilliant. The production is faultless and the arrangement keeps on giving - you’ll find new, nice little details even after several plays. After hearing ”Life Is…” the expectations regarding the album went through the roof…

To be honest, there aren’t too many songs on this album that can match the sheer brilliance of ”Life Is A Beautiful Thing”, but then again, it’s an almost impossible task.  I have to hand it to them though, ”Runnin’ Low”, ”What I’d Give” and ”I Can’t Tell You Why” come pretty close and I like most of the others too. Interestingly, the opening track ”Out Of The Blue” doesn’t work for me at all, it reminds me of Spandau Ballet or some other 80ies slick pop acts, but apart from that and a couple of others this album is rather fine, perfectly crafted AOR. You can hear that it's been meticulously written and arranged and every note has its' place.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The VIRGINMARYS: "Sitting Ducks EP"


LABEL: Self Release

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

I remember seeing The Virginmarys some years ago, possibly supporting Terrorvision. Whoever it was, I was certainly impressed by this powerful young support act, and I'm quite surprised they never broke through and became a more major act. Seemingly back at the bottom of the ladder, this EP has been funded through Plege Music, and will hopefully serve togive the band another crack at the elusive rock market.

They still sound pretty much like I remember, with powerful beats and bass heavy grooves, drawing from the Blues as well as the more growly punk acts of old. The four tracks arte a good representation of the band, with the standout being the instantly catchy 'Sweet Loretta'. 'Through The Sky' plays with the formula to good effect, whilst they close with an acoustic handclap piece called 'Sleep'. To be honest I'm not that keen myself and would have preferred a fourth rocker, but it's understandable that they want to show off what they can do here, to remind those with money that here is a band worth investing in.

If, like me, you saw the name and had some fond memories and a desire to see what's what with this band, then give them a go. Solid, heavy, a little different and a lot of fun, here's hoping The Virginmarys continue to make music.

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Emerson, Lake & Palmer : ”In The Hot Seat”

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

In 1992 Emerson, Lake & Palmer celebrated their come back with the album Black Moon and only two years later there was a follow up called In The Hot Seat. Originally the ninth studio album of ELP was called The Best Seat In The House, but they changed it to In The Hot Seat for no really obvious reason. In The Hot Seat is the last ELP studio album and the 10 songs on the album are a blend of mainstream rock, classic ELP progressive music, melodic pop and ballads. Black Moon was a far better album as In The Hot Seat in fact only features two great, ELP worthy tracks, namely the opening track Hand Of Truth and the emotional song Daddy. The latter, a heartfelt narrative ballad, was based on a true story and the song was composed by Greg Lake. Hand Of Truth, originally entitled We Have The Power, features an excellent classical ELP overture played by Emerson, followed by Lake’s excellent vocals and Palmer’s outstanding drumming. The other eight tracks do not really impress me as they are mainly too poppy or too soft. CD2 of this remastered version features 12 songs from the Now Tour of 1997/1998 and among them are excellent pieces of ELP highlights like Knife Edge, Lucky Man, Karn Evil 9 and a superb version of Fanfare For The Common Man/Rondo which clocks over 22  minutes. Therefore this album is still a must for ELP fans!!

Jack STARR'S BURNING STARR: “Stand Your Ground”


LABEL: High Roller

REVIEWED BY: Alan Holloway

It's funny how you can know a famous name but know nothing about them. I've been hearing the name Jack Starr for many years now, but this is genuinely the first time I've had one of his albums to sit through. From the gruesome fantasy war cover I was expecting Manowar type macho bullshit, but it turns out Jack Starr has much more than that to offer.

'Stand Your Ground' is an unashamedly classic style metal album, with speed and melody walking hand in hand throughout, much like Striker. To be fair, if you like Striker then Jack Starr is a must buy, as the two share an affinity and ability for powerful riffs married to merry melodies, resulting in a continuous cacophony of fast, exciting and above all catchy tunes. It's the sort of album you'd expect to be filled with three and a half minute wonders, but only three tracks in the title track rolls in at over 10 minutes, with the average elsewhere being about five minutes. This results in an album that's a whopping seventy minutes long, and blow me if it doesn't seem like it at any point. The title track itself is a wonderful piece of music, reminding me of both Rainbow and Iron Maiden at their best. Vocalist Todd Michael Hall (Riot) has a superb vocal style for this sort of thing, all high screams and low power but always melodic. Starr himself provides excellent guitar, though if yer name is on the cover that's to be expected. He doesn't take over the songs at all, though, which is a massive plus in my book.

If this had been chucked out in the early to mid eighties it would be hailed as a classic today. The songwriting is so strong, the playing so perfect, the melodies so sweet that two old ladies who wandered in whilst I was writing this review both said it sounded very good! Jack Starr nails that sweet spot of making an album that couldn't be called anything but metal that will still appeal to people who don't like metal. Yes, the style is retro, but don't let that put you off, as 'Stand Your Ground' feels fresh and feisty throughout. This may well be the best melodic metal album this year, so do yourself a favour and check it out.

Janet GARDNER: "s/t"


LABEL: Pavement Entertainment

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Remember when Lita Ford made an album with her husband? If you're lucky the answer is 'no', because it was a bit of a car crash, so I wasn't jumping for joy when I learned another 80's rock legend was making an album with her husband. Luckily, Vixen's Janet Gardner has made it with her own husband Justin James, and not Lita Ford's.

Fans of Vixen, and there are still many, may be disappointed that this self titled effort doesn't make any attempt to be 'Rev It Up Part 2', and if love is still a killer then it's now a psycho killer with severed heads in the fridge. This is obvious from the first two tracks, 'Rat Hole' and 'Hippycrite', which substitute sugary AOR for hard edged riffage and a metal edge. By rights they should sound a bit tired, but after a few spins they really do grow on you, the raw power complimenting vocals that still shine all these years later. 'If You Want Me' is a track that will be more enjoyable for those frightened by big guitars, whilst 'Candle' sits nicely between the two styles. Throughout, Justin James provides some excellent guitarwork that lifts each track without taking over, and it's clear that this marriage may just be a match made in musical heaven. For example, the middle of the album sees a 'What have we done to the world' type track called 'Let It be Over', that just manages to sit on the right side of preachy/cheesy, mainly due to a scorching solo from Mr James. The song itself has a very different arrangement that works well, and it's nice to see the duo gambling a little and winning.

After reading some very negative comments based on the preview samples, I wasn't expecting to like this this very much, but it only took a few listens to really start enjoying it and appreciating the talent involved. It's more on the heavy side than some may have wanted, but is no less of an album for it. Gardner sound great throughout, displaying real power and attitude combined with the expected melody, and if you're a fan there's no reason not to check it out.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Emerson, Lake & Palmer : ”Black Moon”

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

After a couple of progressive, experimental masterpieces like Tarkus, Pictures at an Exhibition and Brain Salad Surgery, the super group Emerson, Lake & Palmer split up in 1978. Fourteen years later ELP decided to make a comeback and they released Black Moon, their eight studio album which was officially released in 1992. Now, 25 years later you can enjoy the remastered version of Black Moon, an album that cannot be compared with their experimental albums like Tarkus or Pictures, as most of the ten features songs are ìjustî mainstream rock tracks with lots of vocals. The title track was released as a single, which deals with the first Gulf War and Sadam Hussein, and it is probably the best track of the entire album. Other musical delights are Paper Blood and Farewell To Arms. Keith Emerson shines in the classical interpretation of Prokofiev's  Romeo And Juliet. Black Moon is at least a much better album than the previous (14 years ago) Love Beach and on this remastered version you can also enjoy a couple of bonus tracks, while CD2 features the 1992 live show at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring classical ELP songs like Tarkus, Lucky Man, Knife Edge and Fanfare For The Common Man.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

RIAN: ”Out Of The Darkness”

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

Must be something in the water… Here’s yet another melodic hard rock band from Sweden! And what’s more, they aren’t half bad!

Rian is a trio from Stockholm, featuring vocalist/guitarist Richard Andermyr, drummer Jan Johansson and bassist Jonas Melin. Their sound isn’t exactly that of basic power trio though, because there’s a lot of keyboards and layers of guitars on the album. The producer of ”Out Of The Darkness” is Daniel Flores (Find Me, The Murder Of My Sweet), so it’s no surprise that the album sounds like a million bucks.

So why only 3R’s? It’s hard to say, there’s nothing particularly wrong in these songs but somehow some of them just don’t click with me. They’re melodic but not fluffy, arranged well and Andermyr impresses both as a singer and as a shredder, but… There’s plenty of very decent songs here, most of the in fact, but I think the album is maybe a couple of killer songs short of 4-R rating.

My favourite songs are early in the track listing, ”Out Of The Darkness”, ”Out Of My Mind”
and especially ”In A Dream” which is somehow very ”Swedish”-sounding. The legacy of Abba mixed with modern hard rock sound - that works for me!

If you’re into the contemporary Scandi-AOR sound of Art Nation, latter-day Bad Habit, One Desire and such, do check this band out!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

H.E.A.T.: ”Into The Great Unknown”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Gain/earMUSIC
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

”Into The Great Unknown”, the new H.E.A.T. album is one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the melodic rock genre this year. The first single was released on 11th of August and it has recieved mixed reactions, as has the album from those who have had the access to it. Some say it's the greatest thing the band has released while others have been highly critical. I personally like it, but not quite as much as their previous two albums. Those I rank as modern day classics.

The "controversial" first single "Time On Our Side" doesn't represent the whole album, it's one of the more contemporary, pop-oriented tracks. I like it a lot; haunting keyboards, great vocal from Erik Grönwall and plenty of melody. Given the right exposure it might become a crossover hit. But those of you who are worried that the band has sold their souls for possible chart success, hold your horses... some of the tracks on this album rock harder than ever before. Whether you like it or not.

"Bastard Of Society" and "Shit City" are just as angry as their titles suggest, definitely not "AOR". "BoS" is a pretty standard turbocharged H.E.A.T. rocker with a shout-along chorus, a decent opener for the album. "Shit City" then... I don't like it at all, it's a bit of a plodder and the hook could use some, or make that a lot of sharpening. Between these two you'll find "Redefined", a modern pop rock track and a relative of "Time On Our Side". I like it but is it a future H.E.A.T. classic? I don't think so.

"Best Of The Broken" is a harder-edged track again, and while it has its' moments, I don't rate it as one of the better tracks. The balladic "Eye Of The Storm"  is among them though, as is "Blind Leads The Blind", possibly my favourite track of the album. This is the H.E.A.T. I love, powerful yet melodic!

"We Rule" is an interesting, very Queen-like anthem. I'm still on the fence when it comes to "Do You Want It", there's something terribly annoying in it yet it's terribly catchy too. Maybe I do want it.

The title track closes the album and does it in grand fashion. I rarely like this kind of slow-paced  songs, but this one is rescued by a chorus that's pure gold.

That was the track-by-track review... Overall I'd say the album sounds great, and Erik shines on every track. I don't mind the modern influences, but I do mind that aren't as many great tracks as on the previous albums. Apparently there's a bonus track on the Japanese version called "F.Y.I. Miley", but somehow I don't have great hopes for it being a massively melodic hard rock anthem.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

TEN: ”Gothica”

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

After a few years elsewhere, Gary Hughes has brought his TEN ship back to Frontiers. The initial hype was that ”Gothica” would be a milestone album for the band. I don’t know about that. It is a good album but not necessarily among their best ones, not in my books anyway.

I have no complaints about the production or performances and I understand that a lot of time and effort has been put into these songs. I admire Hughes’ poetic style of lyric writing, he’s clearly a well-read man and most of these songs have more to offer than the usual AOR relationship lyrics. There are a couple of songs that stand out as future Ten classics, namely the nostalgic, light-hearted ”In My Dreams” and the epic ballad ”Paragon”. I like many of the others too, but there are a few tracks I just can’t connect with, namely ”Jekyll And Hyde”, ”Welcome To The Freakshow” and ”La Luna Dra-Cu-La”. Especially the choruses don’t work for me.

RRR would not be enough for this but I’m not sure it deserves RRRR either… so let’s make that fourth R a small one.


Rating: RRRRR
Label: Frontiers Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

2017 has been a very good year for melodic rock fans when it comes to new releases. Especially the Scandinavian bands have released superb albums, and this one is definitely one of those.

Formed by guitarist, Reckless Love producer/co-writer Ilkka Wirtanen and vocalist Sami Hyde in 2015, The Nights comes across like a blend of modern melodic pop/rock and 80'ies influences. Think Sunrise Avenue on speed with crunchier guitars and razorsharp hooks! There's definite crossover potential and I can only imagine what kind of damage these songs would do on the airwaves if the band had a major label backing them up. Here's hoping that The Nights will appeal to a few radio programmers or other gatekeepers...

If you liked the ”pre-view” tracks, you’ll enjoy the rest of the album too. You’ll actually discover gems like ”In A Blink Of An Eye”, a fine example of powerful modern-day AOR. Not to mention the more balladic moments like ”You Belong To Me Tonight” and ”Elegy (You Should Be Here)”. The Reckless Love connection is evident on some of the tracks, I could imagine a song like ”Welcome To The Show” on an album of theirs. Wirtanen has played a major part in their success, no doubt about it. He’s also a bit of a shredder! A special mention to Sami Hyde too, I wasn’t that keen on his vocal style at first, but I’ve grown to like it a lot. In fact, there’s not a weak song on the album, the production is fresh and crispy and the performances are outstanding… what’s not to like?