Sunday, December 13, 2020

VANDEN PLAS: "The Ghost Xperiment Illumination"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Part two and final chapter in the excellent concept series of progressive metal Ghosts. Part one, "The Ghost Xperiment - Awakening", perhaps Vanden Plas' best album ever, the album ended on a cliffhanger, where during a séance, Gideon Grace, the main character, at last encounters the ghosts who have haunted him since his childhood. Based around the Phillip-Experiment, an authentic and credibly documented investigation of necromancy... literally, conjuring dead spirits, the German Prog Metal masters are capturing the horror and loneliness just perfectly on "Illumination".

Vanden Plas is like a fine wine, only better with time and the older they get. They do have a large back catalogue. Nonetheless. They've actually managed to record their two best albums during 2019 and 2020. That's quite astonishing considering the long history of the band, thus beating the odds of most acts sadly produce their best efforts early on in their career. It's quite the opposite on this rare occation and it's darn nice to greet them with a salute. "For years, I've felt driven by the idea of writing a ghost story that casts a different light on the genre, and ... at the end leaves the audience with a plausible explanation," author and Vanden Plas lead vocalist Andy Kuntz elucidates.

Indeed. The two part concept albums of Ghost Xperiment are by far their finest moments and should have them up there amongst the likes of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Seventh Wonder. Complex yet melodic material and compositions with a body of work that simply reeks 'larger than life' and not to mention 'spooky'. It's sharp edged tunesmith territory and Plas' cleverly structured songs and arrangements impress throughout the album. It's the ambitious effort and sort of cross between something old and something new to the genre of Prog Metal, leading to something quite familiar and ever so ghostly!!! Alea from the leading German medieval rock band Saltatio Mortis joins Kuntz for a duet on the bonus track "Krieg Kennt Keine Sieger", Snow White Blood singer Ulli Perhonen on "Black Waltz Death" and "Ghost Engineers" and the backing vocals team is made up of longtime musical colleagues including Oliver Hartmann from Avantasia and Herbie Langhans from Firewind. It's the album effort and everything from opener "When The World Is Falling Down" to the closing bonus track make sense. Final verdict: Not quite as "bombastic" as Part One, but still impressive and must have if you're into progressive metal. Vanden Plas at Facebook

UNRULY CHILD: "Our Glass House"

Rating: RR+
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Glass house? Throwing stones? I have spent many hours raving about the brilliance about Unruly Child. The tracks on their latest effort tend to veer between decent and stuck in second gear though. "Poison Ivy", the storming opener and it's head first down that thorny hill. Excellent AOR meets complex U2 rock and there are indeed a couple of fine moments of pure joy and songwriting quality on this record. "Underwater", marvelous little AOR number and easily up there with the best of them. "Freedom Is A Fight", extremely Poppy, but I enjoy the addictive 70s styled melody. The production quality is however a wee bit too weak and muddy, the programmed drums are meh, and Marcie Free's vocals are buried in the mix. Re-recordings of Unruly Child's best songs, "To Be Your Everything" and "Let's Talk About Love" (both from the debut) on their latest not-quite-as-great release? will merely add fuel to the fire. At this point I wish Frontiers would simply just do the new solo album by Free. Simply get the all-star songwriting team and quality producer on the case and make it happen. The world needs more quality music with the AOR legend/vocalist.

Allison/Gowdy decided to write a song about the AOR community, and fans, "Say What You Want", that don't "get" their latest releases and thus getting into futile and pointless arguments on the subject of internet opinions. If you can't take criticism, do not release your music to the public. Because once it's out there, it's no longer yours and it's Always up to the listener to decide what they think and (dis)like about your music. Surely Bruce Gowdy (g, k, v) and Guy Allison (k, p, v) are aware of this as they've been around the block since the seventies. Folks that can't take criticism simply means that their ego is not permitting them to look at the issue.

We simply can't control others and their opinions and especially not on the internet, but we can work on ourselves and try and act like professionals. When we accept criticism, apply it, and move forward, not only do we benefit, but others might just see and understand your point of view. Highly sensitive people react strongly to what others think and have their band write a song about AOR fans. Fans that do not act like Unruly Child want you to act. In other words. It doesn't matter how many albums or songs of Unruly Child that you enjoy/enjoyed in the past and future to come. You need to like ALL the songs or you're no longer a fan? Worst business move ever? Having a go at the AOR fanbase and biting the hand that feeds them, well, not really.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

MAGIC DANCE: "Remnants"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Oh No" - track number one off the album and also at first the one word review (don't worry it's getting better). "Remnants" is the strange concept album that moves from dark to light. It's about accepting your own mortality and the inevitability of death. But, this realization can give you the drive to live life true to yourself, if you only let it. Magic Dance was originally the solo project of singer/songwriter Jon Siejka, formed in Long Island, NY in 2012 as an outlet for his synthwave songs. However, they've decided to take one small step away from the retro eighties sound and gone for a slightly more contemporary rock/pop sound, production, and structure.

The opening two, three, tracks are actually the least enjoyable ones. Not because they're not rather catchy, but sounding like all the early 00's acts. "Zombie Breath Surprise", the more enjoyable track though and numbers such as "Cut Me Deep" and "When Your World Comes Down" sounds like they been inspired by the likes of Amaranthe and Anberlin. Catchy, but there's as of yet asolutely nothing on here that could pass for AOR though and we don't quite get the press-release blur of 'leaning more towards classic AOR'. That's however not an issue or the problem whatsoever since I enjoy all sorts of music from Pop to Thrash Metal, funk, R&B, punk, prog, etc. "Change Your Life" is in all honestly closer to the sound of The Weeknd than HEAT, but that's cool, since it's a catchy tune and Wekend and his Max Martin arrangements are straight out of the neon eighties.

"I'm Still Holding On", probably the most AOR-sounding track on the record so far and it's absolutely drenched in synth rock and swirling keyboards. There's a lonely saxophone crying in the distant and it's all very cozy and dreamy. What's next? Bazinga! A loud guitar and the more straight-ahead rock arrangements of "Changes" and "Restless Nights" are saving grace at the nick of time. This is fun and catchy, and the latter speak of wasted youth and not lost until found? The Howard Jones inspired intro of "Til Your Last Breath" is very retro/modern and extremely catchy/great. It's one third each of Dua Lipa, AOR, and 80s Synth Pop. Saving the best for last? The closing number of "I Can't Be The Only One" is very much like if The Weeknd decided to drive a flashy car and simply cruise around the streets of GTA Vice City. Final Verdict: I really can't complain too much about "Remnants" after all in the end. You can't deny its catchiness and Siejka is no doubt the classy songwriter. You need to spin this several times as you'll constantly discover something new and interesting to rave about. Hook filled synth/rock/ featuring zombies and retro/modern compositions. "Oh No" - it's darn good and it's magic dance music?! Santa never saw it coming... Magic Dance at Facebook

PALACE: "Rock and Roll Radio"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Welcome to Rock and Roll Radio and Welcome to GTA Vice City? The vast Palace stretching from the beach to the swamps and the gitz to the ghetto, an album briming with delights and degradation? Album #3 from the Swede and I kept feeling like I was listening to a certain soundtrack album and I can't begin to tell you how many hours I spent driving up and down the streets of Vice City with the in-game radio blasting on full volume. Crusing down Ocean Drive is a serious night out in the game and you'll notice the strip's neon hotels and bars full of models, actors, tourists, dealers, millionaires. etc.

Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Michael Palace take a lot of inspiration from the radio stations in the game and of course other sources of the 80s culture and music, fashion, cars, hairdos. Not particularly sinister, "Rock and Roll Radio" owes more to the Swedes collection of pure AOR and Westcoast Rock than to any other form of music. Chockfull of summer breeze and overall very catchy cheeze, it ain't exactly always original stuff, but the hooks are razor sharp and you can't help feeling like a winner at the end of album. Palace said it better and I quote, "When writing stuff for PALACE I'm always looking for that feeling you get at the end of a Rocky movie (spoiler alert), when he wins and the theme song kicks in", end quote from the interview at

The title track opens up the album with a jump start and it's all great. "Castaway" goes through several different passages and changes as it's a mix of keyboard driven AOR with the hint of Go West and Nik Kershaw. "Way Up Here", bouncy, extremely catchy, and singing lead guitar work. "Cold Ones", chanting, haunting, AOR 'ala Survivor meet keyboard drenched westcoast and there's even the short saxophone solo 'ala Boy Meets Girl. "Eleonora" sporting a STARSHIP t-shirt and waving hello to that 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' empowered sound and power-ballad only as performed by Palace. "Hot Steel" owes quite a lot to the trio of Dan Huff, Mike Slamer, Kip Winger, since it's one third each to be found on this excellent track. Extra kudos to the lyrical line: 'turbo laser beam', lol. "She's So Original", not to be confused with Cyndi Lauper as she's unusual, pays major tribute to Harem Scarem while riding on the modern wave of new-old music. Final Verdict: Never judge a book or in this case album by its cover. Simply have Santa to put this under the tree and spend Xmas in the spirit of AOR. Ho! Ho! Ho! Palace at Facebook

Monday, December 7, 2020


Rating: RRR
Label: BoyzTymeRecords 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Sergeant Steel? The Austrian sextet version of Judge Dredd? Hard Rock has a price... the price is freedom? There are no police, no trails, no juries, only Sergeant Steel? Mutants and Aliens prowling the streets? Ehem. I need to stop the film themed typing (see Alien review elsewhere) and let's have a look at the actual songs. "Fight Fire With Fire"? Nope. It's neither Metallica nor Kansas. The melody might just re-call as well as re-dial the long gone eighties soundtrack and it's pretty catchy. However, the production leave much to ask for and vocalist Vanderkill doesn't sound his best on this particular track. According to the band, "We are living in times of constant escalation. We lose ourselves in social media, although countless people feel more lonely and misunderstood than ever before. News are full of enraged protesters, authoritarian political leaders and religious extremists. Sergeant Steel are very concerned about those circumstances, and this title is our statement! Blimey. Perhaps it's Judge Dredd after all??

Instant justice dispensed without mercy? Well... it's Truck Tales? Main songwriter/lyricist Jack Power explains the album title: "Truck driver clichés have always fascinated us. Freedom "on the road", modern street cowboys, and, last but not least, the frivolous atmosphere among good buddies on highway picnic areas – is what we, as rock musicians, do identify ourselves very strongly". Most parts of the record were mixed and completed once again by Michael Wagener (Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row, etc.) in Nashville, Tennessee, except the opening "Fight Fire With Fire" and track #4 "Brotherhood" (done by the band themselves), it's hardly the sound of the major acts of the past.

The songs may lack the hi-tech gloss and glamour of the eighties US acts and it's a wee bit too rough around the edges. Tracks such as "Backstreet Lover" and "Dance Into The Light" display the funky honky-tonk styled rock in the vein of Road Ratt, It's Alive, Aerosmith. "Voodoo Queen", the hard hitting sleaze and the semi-ballad of "The Time Will Come" is pure pomp and melodic hardrock 'ala Axxis meet ROKO. The keyboard sound is definitely true to the eighties casio and the closing number of "Nightmare", Sergeant Steel's attempt at catchy Alice Cooper/Des Child rock 'ala Trash. Unfortunately, you also have dodgy numbers such as "Body Language", "Pain In My A**", "Hunter", etc. Some of this style of music can be wicked when it's got the right kind of groove, but I'm afraid to say that this is overall too varied for its own good. But hey, you might enjoy the funky honky-tonk vs. pure melodic hardrock? Final Verdict: Duck Tales will make you Quack! Truck Tales will make you Mack? (it's a truck -Mack). Worthy of your attention!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

DRAGONRIDER: "Scepter Of Domination"

Rating: RR
Label: Stormspell 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Album cover as well as the artwork of the year? That's if you're into RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, and various stories in the vivid genre of fantasy. Me thinks they've been playing a lot of Elder Scrolls and especially Skyrim just prior to recording the metal opus of "Scepter Of Domination". It's Tolkien Metal in the hands of Amman, Jordan, born guitarist/drummer Rad McDadi based in Bremen/Germany since the mid-10's. Dragonrider fall very much into the same Power/Fantasy/Metal with guts field that comes complete with galloping horses (and tempo) and clanging swords on the battlefield. However, they do not possess an equal degree of finess and force, which is one of the things holding them back. Other things would be the lack of memorable choruses as they're often caught up inbetween meat and potato and pasta de lux. "Where Lightning Forever Strikes" bodes well with its tempo furioso and hot metal flashes of dynamism. Unfortunately, what hopes I have of the Dragonriders' are sadly gone as "The Berserker" goes completely off the rail, and head off into the wilderness never to be seen and heard of again. There's plenty of gore encrusted numbers for your harderned Power/Fantasy/Metal to shout along to here, but we can't help thinking that we've heard it all before and better performed for that matter. The high pitched vocals over galloping riffs that go nowhere fast and it's hardly as interesting as the cover may at first suggest. Final Verdict: Decent first effort, let's hope for the second coming.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

ALIEN: "Into The Future"

Rating: RRRr
Label: AORHeaven 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Into The Future, No One Can Hear You Scream". Yeah. It's a different take on the classic poster tagline from the first ALIEN movie. But it perfectly captures the feel of the new release by the former AOR act. The crew of Jim Jidhed (vocals), Tony Borg (guitars) and Toby Tarrach (drums) are the sole survivors on the Swedish spaceship as they narrowly escaped the dodgy self-destruction sequence by the skin of their teeth, but unbeknownst to the world, the band of Alien had stowed away the AOR on their escape shuttle for a possible return trip to Earth. In other words. This record is taking the band from being merely an AOR band to more of a hard rock band with a heavier sound and more guitars.

Creating "Into The Future" was really a journey back to the days of being free in a musical way to experiment with arrangement, sounds, melodies and just having a blast while doing it. To be perfectly honest, they've gone back to their own roots and in this case it's Deep Purple and as the disoriented ALIEN slowly began regaining its senses, you can't help thinking it's also a tribute to the past as they're on a space Rock station many lightyears away from the rest of the human race. It's basically the Europe story, you need to seperate the two versions of the band (post and pre reunion) and you won't find anything remotely pink and fluffy 'ala their 1988 release. Jidhed is really pushing the boundaries and definitely not keeping it safe and boring on the album. Wave goodbye to Perry-ism and say hello to melodic metal and Biff Byford!? Seriously. It's in your face and not the soft spoken voice. Tony Borg, the passive-aggressive, six-string bender, and you'll find plenty of licks and tricks of highest order on this platter. Yep. There's Blackmore-moves, but also the rather modern metal approach to several riffs and passages.

The chugga-chugga riff and scream, start up "You Still Burn", and it's influenced? by 90's Purple at their most aggressive mode and not like their latest album. "Night Of Fire" show a little Celtic feel and the result may reek of Gary Moore and Saxon. "War Scars", display the metal side of Alien and it's once again Saxon in the back of my mind. Powerful drumming by Toby Tarrach and quite the shock to the system. "What Are We Fighting For" an upbeat number in the style of Purple, with a galloping groove, Hammond, and flashy guitar solo by Borg. The same goes for the title track which speak of and I quote, "we're movin' on and salute what's been done in the past", end quote. Indeed. They're looking into the future and have no interest whatsoever in playing the pure AOR of their first couple of albums. They wanted a heavier guitar sound and more heavier riffs and that's exactly what you'll hear on this album. There's a couple of catchy softies such as "Time Is Right", "Freedom Wind", "Fallin", however, Alien is no longer trapped inside the air ventilation system. -"Oh God! It's Moving Right Towards You! Move! Get Out Of There! Behind You! Move!". Final Verdict: It's Alien, Purple, Saxon, with a modern rock twist and not too shabby at all. Alien at Facebook

NEPTUNE: "Northern Steel"

Rating: RR
Label: melodicPassion 2020
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Blimey. Let's see if we can try and get the basic idea of Neptune. One of those cult 'never-recorded-an-album' Swedish acts of the early 80's and fromed by Roland on bass, Tommy on drums and Ray Alex (Glory) played guitar and handled the vocals. They played rock music inspired by big arena band as Judas Priest, Saxon, and Iron Maiden and was much more of a visual appearance as Heavy Load and Manowar with the ancient Vikings in mind. They recorded plenty of demos between the years of 1981-86 and the band featured members such as Björn Melander (Gotham City, Mogg), guitarist Jan Granvik (Glory, Grave, Glory Bells) and drummer Mats 'Driver' Förare (Glory). The last show ever was in the autumn of 86 and shortly after vocalist Ray Alex decided to join Granvik and Förare in the band Glory and the trio recorded the melodic classic of 'Danger In This Game' (1989).

In 2018, Neptune and Sonic Age/Cult Metal Classics, released the old recordings and demos from the 80s. Ray Alex sadly passed away the same year (RIP) and his brother Row has taken over the role as lead vocalist for "Northern Steel". It's newly written songs as well as the old 80s demos now re-recorded of course it's sort of the concept album about Swedish Vikings in the 800s century. In short, the plot is about how they did whatever they could to seize the Nordic steel needed for the final battle? Yeah. Very much Heavy Load, Manowar, Hammerfall, Sabaton, only not quite as over the top or everlasting.

The band history and past members are actually more interesting than the actual final product of Neptune. The opening intro of "The Prophecy", kick-off the corny plastic sword and shield Viking Metal feel of the album and tracks such as "Viking Stone" or "Ruler Of The Sea", are hardly groundbreaking and not enough metal to be Bathory and their viking saga. Many tracks are lost inbetween two worlds where thundering drums (not really) meet basic bludgeon and juvenile lyrics. It's the neat starting point if you fancy simplistic viking rock from Sweden.