Wednesday, December 15, 2021

MAGNUM: "The Monster Roars"

 Label: SPV


Review by: Alan Holloway

It boggles the mind that UK pomp rock stalwarts Magnum formed way back in 1972, making 2022 their official fiftieth anniversary. Though line up changes are pretty hard to avoid over such a length of time, Magnum have always benefited from the core duo of vocalist Bob Catley and guitarist/songwriter Tony Clarkin. Fans will agree that they've never unleashed a duff album on us, and so let's see what this little monster brings to the table.

The title track opens the album, and I have to say it's one of the weaker offerings here to my ears, with a structure that works well when it gets going, but the slow sections are a bit of a drag. A better opener would have been second track 'Remember', which also varies in tempo but has a structure to it that works so much better than the previous track. The subject matter of (I think lol) the good old days before Covid when we could go out and dance without any worries. Bob's voice sounds fantastic, and his range is utilized to great effect, with the music behind him flowing and pomptastic thanks in no small part to Rick Benton's great keyboard melodies. 'All You Believe In” slows things down a little, and it's a nice mid paced track that I don't think people will be going too mad over, a bit Magnum-by-numbers but still a good track. First single 'I Won't Let You Down' follows, and I know this did divide opinion when it was released I honestly really like it. It does have echoes of other recent tracks, but has a refrain that just wedges in your head and won't let go, a first class Magnum mid paced track in every way. 'The Present Not The Past' starts off pretty slow, though this isn't unusual for Magnum, but when it gets going (ironically with the words 'Wake me up') it turns into a real crowd pleaser indeed, with yet another attention grabbing chorus and pleasingly effective time changes. The first half closes with my personal favourite track (and second single) 'No Stepping Stones'. Unusually, it starts off with a crowd scene, then blasts into action with a brass type refrain that lets you know you're in for an upbeat ride. This has everything I love about Magnum, with a fantastic chorus and a melody that barrels along for the entire track save for a brief quiet section that precedes a great Clarkin solo. For me, this is up there with 'Just Like An Arrow' or 'Days Of No Trust' as a stone cold classic Magnum pop rock belter.

Side two, if you're a vinyl junkie, kicks off with 'That Freedom Word', another mixed pace song with a powerful chorus and atmospheric in between sections. The interestingly titled 'Your Blood Is Violence' follows, a slower track that is almost seven minutes long. It has a strong beat and some nice 'woah woah' bits, but only gets really interesting in the final two minutes as Clarkin gets in a cool solo and the pace ramps up dramatically. 'Walk The Silent Hours' is the albums first ballad, and it's a treat. Not a classic, but a solid, emotional song that allows Bob to shine and has a neat keyboard refrain that sticks around long after the song has ended. It's back to upbeat fun next, with 'The Day After The Night Before', and it's yet another pacey rocker with a chorus that just won't let go. Tony Clarkin writes this sort of thing so well, managing to make it sound both formulaic and totally original with one mystifying sweep of the pen. 'Come Holy Men' is a big, bombastic track that reminds me a little of 'Another Nice Mess' from the first Hard Rain album, and it's a great example of the band playing with power, about as rocktastic as Magnum tend to get and a welcome one, too. The album closes with 'Can't Buy Yourself A Heaven', a second ballad that has a nice, powerful chorus that once again shines thanks to Bob's vocals plus an upbeat section that allows Clarkin to show off a bit. A decent closer for sure.

'The Monster Roars' can stand proud against any of Magnum's 21st century albums, and is very in keeping with the last four of five releases in terms of content and style. There's certainly several tracks that threaten to be utter monsters live, and I hope that we get the chance to see that for ourselves. Fifty years of quality rock music? Piece of piss for these guys. 

 Official Website

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Monro: s/t (re-issue)

Label: Steelheart Memories

Rating: RRRr

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

I remember late eighties, when vinyl copies of this album used to grace bargain bins.  Of course I bought myself a copy for a few coins, because the band looked the part and I had seen some coverage in Kerrang! magazine. Back then my musical taste was probably a bit more "stricktly hard rock" than these days, and this album was just way too pop. I did like the opening track "Some Girls" a lot, but the rest of the album was too close to Bogart Co, a Finnish pop band doing great business at the time and obviously the arch enemy of all true hard rockers. 

Now that I heard of this re-issue with whopping 7 bonus tracks, I thought I'd give it another try. Maybe what I thought were horrendous pop influences would turn out to be AOR vibes in disguise?

Yes and no. The album is definitely better than I remembered, I like several tracks on it, but a few of the songs are still too "Bogart Co" or "a heavy rock version of Wham", as Dave Reynolds wrote in his original review for Metal Forces.

The bright and bouncy opener "Some Girls" is still my favourite track. It sounds like it could've been taken from Fate's classic "A Matter Of Attitude" album. "Here Comes The Night" is a darker, moody track that makes me think of Scorpions going to an overtly AOR direction. "Give Me Love Again" then... yeah, it's a Wham! or Rick Astley track with some guitars. Definitely skippable.

The balladic "It's You" is an okay track, but even better is "Lonely People", which reminds me of cult AORsters Zinatra and Fate again. "American Girls" follows similar path, and while it's not as good, it gets a thumbs up from me. Then the quality starts to drop...

"Princess" comes across like a left-over Autograph track, rejected for a reason - it desperately needs a decent chorus. "Surrender" and "Open Up Your Heart" are slightly better, but not particularly exciting. "Rock This City" is one of the harder-edged tracks, but again the chorus is a let down - it doesn't make me believe for a second that these guys would "Rock This City" or even a small village!

The two bonus tracks with Carl Sentence on vocals are really good, especially "Message To The Heart". The production leaves a lot to be desired, but they are still worthwhile additions and stylewise similar to the album. 

The production of 5 songs from the "Wales Sessions (1989)" is mostly better, but it just as well might be a different band. Shane Smith from USA was the vocalist on these songs, and he's good, somewhere between Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge) and Richard Black (Shark Island), but the songs are frankly quite dull. The pop influences of the earlier material are gone, instead you'll get slightly bluesy "cowboy-boots-and-stetsons" rock á la Tattoo Rodeo or Tangier. Just not as good. The best on of these is the ballad "Stay With Me", which might have given the band a minor hit, had it been released at the time on a major label. With a moody video filmed on a desert and in a smoky bar. You know those videos.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Eclipse: "Wired"

Label: Frontiers

Rating: RRRRr

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Eclipse are definitely one of the most reliable bands of the melodic hard rock genre - since their third album they’ve released one quality album after another. Some might say they’re writing the same album over and over, but I don’t think so. They certainly have a trademark sound and apart from a few sidesteps, they have stayed on their chosen path. Then again, under the umbrella of ”Eclipse sound” there’s enough variety to keep things interesting.

Just like on their previous album, the three first songs on ”Wired” take no prisoners. The trio of ”Roses On Your Grave”, ”Dying Breed” and ”Saturday Night (Hallelujah)”  is a breath-taking display of Eclipse’s hard-edged brand of melodic rock - uptempo, hook-laden and riff-tastic, what ever that means! A hat trick of hits. The aggressive, almost punky vibe of ”Roses” shows that Eclipse are not your average pink and fluffy AOR act, while ”Dying Breed” is bound to be a crowdpleaser and a massive shout-along anthem. ”Saturday Night” is another anthem, lyrically more of a happy party song though. 

One more of these frantic bangers would have been too much, so the band first slow it down a little with ”Run For Cover”. It’s a good song, a nice midtempo track but not necessarily a future Eclipse classic. Then they slow it down a lot with the ballad ”Carved In Stone”, which didn’t do much for me after the first couple of spins. It has turned out to be a real grower, and I now quite like it. There’s something eerie, mystical about it.

After a couple of mellower tracks, ”Twilight” takes us back to the vibe of the three first tracks, and it’s a killer track with plenty of hooks. ”Poison Inside My Heart” I would call ”a standard Eclipse song”, a decent album track, nothing more, nothing less. On a weaker album it might be a standout, but the competition is tough. 

”Bite The Bullet” is a curious song - the verses are melodic and nice, while the chorus is pure Accept… followed by an almost country’ish guitar interlude, followed by a monk choir… they sure have packed a lot into these four minutes.

”We Didn’t Come To Lose” reminds me a little bit of D’Molls’ forgotten glam classic ”777” with the Who-oh-oh’s and  ”wewillrockyou” drums. An anthem, but not quite as catchy as some of the earlier ones. ”Things We Love” has a bit of an Irish/Celtic/Folk vibe with Thin Lizzy-like guitar work. 

Just as I’m wondering whether the band has run out of ammo, they come with all guns blazing and offer us ”Dead Inside”. This one’s a melodic rocker with touches of Pretty Maids and some perfectly placed keyboards in the chorus. Funny how something so seemingly insignificant as a few keyboard chords can elevate a song to the next level, but at least for me they do in this case.

While this album doesn’t get the full 5R’s from me like the previous two did, it’s still a fantastic piece of work and surely one of 2021’s winners. The streak continues.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Robin RED: "s/t"

Rating: RRRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Degreed frontman Robin Eriksson has gone solo as "Robin Red", and with H.E.A.T. guitarist Dave Delone producing and co-writing, he has created an album that sounds timeless and throwback at the same time. 

While listening to these tunes, I'm constantly reminded of early eighties' solo artists such as Rick Springfield, Billy Squier and Bryan Adams. The sound of the album is like a subtle 2021 update to the guitar-based melodic rock sound of those artists. I like the fact that these songs do not sound as "processed" as much of stuff released these days, there's a certain organic feel to these. 

With Dave Delone co-writing, you might hear a bit of H.E.A.T. here and there, and a couple of songs have a bit of an Europe/Joey Tempest solo vibe. Okay, the chorus of "Heart Of Stone" is maybe more than just a bit similar to the Europe song by the same name...

My favourite song include "Everlyn", "Midnight Rain" and "Nitelife", but the whole album is pretty solid. A few of the harder-edged rockers sounded like fillers at first listen, but after a few spins I've grown to like them more.

Monday, September 27, 2021

MINI-REVIEWS, Summer of 2021, part two: Eurodance The Metal Way, The Brave, Circus Of Rock, Proud, Alirio, Winding Road, Powerwolf, Tim, Angeline, Laurenne/Louhimo

Album round-up / Summer of 2021 (Part Two)

Mini-reviews by Kimmo Toivonen

Just like last summer, I’ve decided to put together a couple of ”round-ups”, short reviews of recent album releases. Here’s the second batch. 

”EURODANCE, THE METAL WAY” (rating: ???) by various artists is just what it says, metal covers of 90’s eurodance hits. The artists are underground bands, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of most of them before. Then again, I can’t claim to be an expert of the underground extreme metal scene. Anyway, some of the covers are pretty funny, some strange and some totally hideous. I like well-done metal covers of pop songs, but these go mostly way beyond that. Some of the strangest ones include Scuriu’s doomy instrumental version of Corona’s ”Rhythm Of The Night”, Vadge Fang’s oddball System Of A Down-influenced ”Falling For A Witch” (originally by E-rotic) and Everlust’s Ace Of Base-cover ”Happy Nation”, which doesn’t sound happy at all. DevilsBridge’s version of Ace Of Base’s ”The Sign” is probably most ”faithful” to the original, there are no growled vocals and the melody of the song is left pretty much as it is. A couple of the songs don’t really fit the theme,  Jamiroquai and Depeche Mode…hardly what is considered Eurodance? 

THE BRAVE are back with ”Evie’s Little Garden” (RRRR)!  The Christian rockers’ debut album ”Battle Cries” from 1992 is a bit of a cult classic: produced by the Elefante brothers, it was full of hookladen songs. The band released another album a couple of years later, but it was a disappointment. After a 20-year hiatus the band was reformed with a female singer, and released an album of remakes and some new stuff in 2014. Now the band has released their third full album of new material, with original guitarist Stayce Roberts stepping up to the lead vocalist position. He does a good job, and the some of new songs are like natural progression from ”Battle Cries”. Sure, they’ve picked a few new influences along the way, but the hooks of the debut have made a welcome return. Just listen to the title track, ”And We All Fall Down” or the hauntingly beautiful ”Come To Me”. 

CIRCUS OF ROCK is an all-star project put together by drummer Mirka Rantanen (King Company, ex-Hevisaurus). The album ”Come One, Come All” (RRRr) is strangely enough a little bit less than the sum of its’ parts. Rantanen has enlisted some of the best singers around and most of the songs are good.  Still, I haven’t gone back to this album as much as I thought I would. There’s maybe a couple of songs too many on the album and the standout hits are missing. ”Desperate Cry” (sung by Johnny Gioeli), ”Never” (Kimmo Blom), ”Plywood Covered Windows And Crappy Shoes” (Antti Railio) and No Reason (Marc Quee) are very close  though. Fans of former Nightwish bassist/singer Marco Hietala might want to know that he does a comeback of sorts on this album, singing ”Sheriff Of Ghost Town”. 

Swedish band PROUD released their first album in 1984, and now in 2021 they’re releasing their ”Second Act” (RRRr). That’s a fairly long break they took… I haven’t heard the first one, but the second album sounds almost like it could have been recorded in 1984 too. There are very few ”modern” elements, this is timeless melodic heavy rock in the vein of 80ies Rainbow, Europe and Whitesnake. Solid stuff from start to finish, but no song rises above the rest, and therefore the fourth ”r” is just a small one.

Frontiers Records seem to have taken interest in South America’s talent lately. One of the latest signings from that part of the world is Brazilian singer ALIRIO. He’s a well-known name in his native country, famous for his work in several musicals and from the bands Khallice, Age Of Artemis and  Shaman. ”All Things Must Pass” (RRR) is his first international solo album. Alirio is definitely a good and versatile singer, and he gets to showcase that on this album. The songs are mostly what I’d call ”modern mainstream pop/rock”, think Nickelback, Daughtry, Hinder… even Robbie Williams. At times I feel like listening to a covers album, because some of the songs sound very familiar, yet aren’t. My favourite songs: ”Let It All Burn” and ”Grey”.

WINDING ROAD is another Swedish AOR group, which is probably enough information for some people to hand out their money.  Sure enough, their self-titled first album is a RRRr-worthy effort of pleasant melodic rockin’. Maybe even slightly too pleasant and predictable, because the edges have been pretty much polished away. Then again, I can’t deny that most of the songs are very good and have all the ingredients that I like. It’s just that some spices are missing to make them really memorable! Recommended for fans of Work Of Art, Bad Habit and the likes.

POWERWOLF. Basically Sabaton with corpsepaint, with songs about vampires instead of war? Well, I don’t know if that’s fair, but both bands do play bombastic power metal and have found themselves a certain identity that separates them from countless other power metal bands. ”Call Of The Wild” (RRRR) is the first Powerwolf album I’ve given a lot of spins, and I like it. They have a handful of extremely catchy songs on it, including ”Beast Of Gevaudan”, ”Dancing With The Dead” and the title track. Granted, there are times when the pompousness goes a bit overboard, ”Blood for Blood (Faoladh)” borders on being ridiculous. And isn’t ”Varcolac” something you take for diarrhea?

Now here’s one from the archives: TIM is the band’s name and the album is self-titled (rating RRRr). These songs were recorded these in 1983, and miraculously remained unreleased. Featuring notable Chicago area studio musicians, the band were aiming to be ”Chicago’s Toto”, according to guitarist Bruce Gaitch. Sure enough, had these songs seen the light of day back in 1983 and given a major label boost, Tim might have stolen some of Toto’s thunder. Thom Griffin of Trillion provides edgy lead vocals which remind me of Fergie Frederiksen (Toto’s ”Isolation” lead vocalist). Does this album have songs as classic as ”Hold The Line” or ”Africa”? No, but certainly enough good material to please a Toto fan. 

ANGELINE. Guess where they’re from? Yep, Sweden. The band has more or less active for over 30 years, but they have a really fresh, yet classic sound. Their new album ”We Were Raised On Radio” (RRRr) doesn’t sound like old geezers going through motions. They’re not trying to hide that they’re ”old geezers” though, the title track says it all. The album gets a good start with a few really nice, melodic rock songs, but after the fourth song the band seem to lose their focus and try to cover too many bases. The 60’s sounding ”Baby Come Back” sticks out like a sore thumb for example. ”Halfway To Anywhere” is the clear winner from the second half of the album. 

LAURENNE/LOUHIMO is a Finnish project with two strong vocalists, Netta Laurenne of Smackbound and Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo. Netta has written and produced the songs of The Reckoning (RRR) with his husband Nino Laurenne (Thunderstone, Hevisaurus), and they’re solid traditional heavy metal. Think Priest, Dio, Maiden, Doro… great vocals, excellent production and good songs, but none of them really stood out. I was hoping for more.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

VEGA: "Anarchy And Unity"



Review By: Alan Holloway

Label: Frontiers

Some bands just connect with you on every level, and UK melodic rockers Vega have done that to me right from their first album over a decade ago. 2021 sees album number seven, their second during lockdown, and a chance to play some of the songs live this time, as they head out on the road in October.

The biggest problem I have with Vega is running out of superlatives when reviewing their albums. Vega, you see, rarely put a foot wrong. Their music is powerful melodic rock with solid guitars, layered keyboards and cool, short solos. They don't stray from their basic formula, but somehow manage to inject a new strain of creativity with each album that keeps complacence at bay. It's a good trick that serves contemporaries like FM and Cats In Space well, giving fans what they're used to but keeping it fresh at the same time.

The album starts off pretty much like any other Vega album, with the high energy tracks 'Beautiful Lie' and 'Sooner Or Later', both of which show the band at their melodic best. The mid paced 'At The End Of The Fade' caught me by surprise, though. Not because it's a slower track, but because the chorus just grabs you and doesn't let go, with vocalist Nick Workman's delivery a thing of sublime beauty. I've been listening to the album for a few weeks now, and bugger me if this doesn't seem to be my favourite, which is odd because usually it's a faster track.

'Anarchy & Unity' is chock full of catchy songs, more so than any other Vega album so far. 'Welcome To Whenever', 'Bring The Riot' and 'Glow', for example, will have you singing along pretty quickly, and they're not alone. There's a few plot twists, too, as the big six minute ballad 'Live For Me' switches gears half way through by upping the tempo considerably and finally giving Marcus Thurston the longest solo to date (forty five seconds), before going back to the impressive ballad it started off as, finishing up in a flurry of drums and keyboards. You've also got 'C'mon', which starts a bit like a jazz lounge standard and mutates into a bouncy tune with a chorus that reminds me of Michael Jackson's 'Leave Me Alone'.

The problem with reviews like this is they're written by an obvious fan, and so I've not tried to hide that. Even so, I am confident in my proclamation that 'Anarchy And Unity' is the best Vega album so far. Whilst it retains much of their trademark sound, it's not afraid to vary the tempo to great effect, with a few slower songs that really stand out amongst the usual bangers. If you still haven't boarded the Vega train, this is a great place to start, and anyone who likes powerful melodic rock should absolutely love this.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

MINI-REVIEWS, Summer of 2021: Crowne, Nitrate, Blood Red Saints, Constancia, Night Ranger, Bloodbound, Toby Hitchcock, Mayank, Spectra, LeBrock

Album round-up / Summer of 2021 (Part One)

Mini-reviews by Kimmo Toivonen

Just like last summer, I’ve decided to put together a couple of ”round-ups”, short reviews of recent album releases. Here are the first ten reviews.

First up, two albums featuring the vocals of Alexander Strandell, best known as the singer of Art Nation. CROWNE’s ”Kings Of The North” (rating: RRRR) is powerful, metallic melodic rock, pretty similar to the latest H.E.A.T. album sound wise. That’s hardly surprising as Jona Tee of H.E.A.T. is heavily involved, playing keys and rhythm guitars, producing and co-writing the album. The rhythm section is John Leven of Europe on bass and Kicken Lundqvist of The Poodles on drums. The term ”Supergroup” applies here I think.

Dynazty axeman Love Magnusson provides the guitar solos. Top tracks for me: ”Sharoline” and ”One In A Million”. Recommended for fans of H.E.A.T., Art Nation, Avantasia and that sort of stuff.

NITRATE’s ”Renegade” (RRRR) sees Alexander Strandell lending his voice to more traditional AOR material. Nitrate is a band put together by bassist/songwriter Nick Hogg, and this is the band’s third album. Strandell is also the band’s third lead vocalist. With VEGA’s Martin brothers and Midnite City’s Rob Wylde co-writing the songs, this might be the best Nitrate album so far. Def Leppard influence is strong, but one can hear some ”retrowave” vibes here too (”Big City Lights” for example). A solid album from the start to finish. The ”Whoa-oh” of ”Alibi” is a bit of a deja-vu moment though - it was already used in the opening track ”Dangerzone”!

Continuing on the theme of ”two albums - same vocalist” we have Pete Godfrey from UK. First his ”own band” BLOOD RED SAINTS and ”Undisputed” (RRRr). I was almost ready to give up on this album after the first track ”This Ain’t A Love Song”, which somehow just annoys the hell out of me. Don’t ask why, I can’t explain. Luckily I gave the other songs a chance, and found a lot to like. Previously, Blood Red Saints has flirted with more modern sounds, but on ”Undisputed” they’re mostly embracing the classic Journey’ish AOR sound, with lots of layered keyboards and harmony vocals. At times I get flashbacks of Shy’s ”Excess All Areas” album, which isn’t a bad thing at all.  A couple of heavier tracks have a Harem Scarem meets Winger sound. Standout tracks: ”Love Like War”, ”Karma” and ”Alibi” (a popular song title!). 

Godfrey’s second effort is CONSTANCIA’s ”Brave New World” (RRRR). On this album he fronts an otherwise Swedish band. ”Brave New World” is a slightly heavier album but melodic nevertheless, and I’ve got to say that I like Godfrey’s vocals more on this one. He shows how versatile his voice really is, and somehow his singing sounds easier. The songs range from classic melodic hard rock to more progressive stuff, but there’s a common thread that keeps it all together. A special mention to my favourites ”Synchronistic”, ”Titanium” and ”Stronger”. 

NIGHT RANGER’s ”ATBPO” (RRR) has been getting mixed reviews. For me it’s a rather bland album. I’ve played this a few times, and to be honest, most of these songs leave no lasting impression whatsoever. I’m looking at the track listing and trying to remember the chorus melodies… apart from a couple of songs (”Bring It All Home To Me” and ”Cold As December”), sorry, I just can’t.  ”ATBPO” is ok enough when you’re listening to it, but there isn’t anything that really makes me want to play it. Not the ideal situation.

I admit that after their first couple of albums, I haven’t really given BLOODBOUND too much attention. With ”Creatures Of The Dark Realm” (RRRR) they have made a comeback to my life and my playlists, and I might just check out what they’ve done during the last few years. Anyway, the (occasionally) masked men from Sweden have fine-tuned the hooks of their melodic metal to near perfection. Even though the elements they’re using are tried and trusted, Bloodbound create fresh and tasty metal out of them. If you’re into Halloween, Sabaton, Edguy or Powerwolf and haven’t checked out this band yet, now is the time!

Pride Of Lions vocalist TOBY HITCHCOCK’s third solo album ”Forward” (RRRR) sees him working with Frontiers in-house producer/songwriter Alessandro Del Vecchio, instead of the Swedish producers who did his first two albums (Erik Mårtensson - first album and Daniel Flores second). Sweden is still represented heavily, as both Pete Alpenborg (Arctic Rain) and Kristian Fyhr (Seventh Crystal) have co-written several of the songs. The title track, ”Changes” and ”Garden Of Eden” are all very good, modern-tinged AOR songs, and I like the three solely Del Vecchio-penned big ballads ”Tonight Again”, ”Don’t Say Goodbye” and ”Losing You” too. I hear a strong Balkan influence in their melodies, they remind me of nineties’ Yugoslavian hits from the band Hari Mata Hari. Many of them were re-recorded with Finnish lyrics and they became massive hits here, performed by local artists.

The oddly named MAYANK (album: "s/t", RRR) is an another Del Vecchio-helmed project. Brazilian vocalist Gui Oliver and Perfect Plan guitarist Rolf Nordström are the main members of the "band". They've been given a eleven songs from Del Vecchio's vault, but apart from the first two songs and a couple of others, it's pretty clear that these aren't from the top drawer. Gui sings his heart out and Nordström's guitar work is classy, but it doesn't help when the material is just "ok" and "nice enough". 

SPEKTRA has similar ingredients to Mayank - Alessandro Del Vecchio and a Brazilian vocalist (a guy called BJ, known best from Jeff Scott Soto’s bands). ”Overload” (RRRR) is a stronger album though, mostly uptempo and catchy. Jeff Scott Soto is helping out his protege BJ, he has co-written and co-produced the songs and you can easily spot his backing vocals. There are similarities to the AOR solo material of JSS obviously. Highlights: ”Overload”, ”Runnin’ Out Of Time”, ”Behind Closed Doors”. 

LEBROCK’s ”Fuse” (RRRR) is the UK duo’s first full-length album. Their synth-driven pop rock has strong crossover potential, they sound contemporary yet their sound is unashamedly 80’s retro at the same time. Although apparently electric guitars aren’t fashionable in contemporary pop right now, Lebrock do not care and crank them up loud and proud. Shaun Phillips’ vocals are intense and passionate, and songs have clever hooks. Memories of classic 80’s soundtracks arise when listening to these songs.


Saturday, July 31, 2021






Cats? In space? Surely some mistake? No, there's no mistake here, as the UK's pop/rock/glam maestros welcome their latest vocalist with a sweet re-recording of some of their best songs.

Cats In Space delivered a real punch to the senses with their last album 'Atlantis', showing off new singer Damien Edwards to great acclaim and sticking firmly to harder tracks to cement their status as a first class hard rock act, regardless of their willingness to drift away from that path a few times. With no opportunities to tour due to the pandemic, the band decided it would be good to get into the studio and get Damien to re record the vocals on some of fans' favourite tracks. Good practice for him, and also another piece of product for their famously voracious fans. 

Edwards is the third man to take the mic in the, and to be honest original vocalist Paul Manzi was never going to be an easy guy to follow up, as he was a great singer and performer who suited the band. Mark Pascall was in the band for a short while, but this release and 'Atlantis' shows that Damien is definitely in this for a while, with plans for his second original album with the band well under way. 

So what we have here is ten older tracks re-recorded by Damien, plus three from the Atlantis album and a live recording of fan favourite 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'. If you're not very aware of the band, it goes without saying that this is a perfect intropduction, with the tracks going in date order, something which really shows off the fact that there's been no dip in quality since day one. You get the incredible title track from the 'Too Many Gods' album to kick things off, and it's obvious that Damien can not only handle this but also makes his own mark with a voice that is as good as Manzi's but has it's own inflections and tones. There's the forgotten dicso classic 'Thunder In The Night' and the short and vert sweet '2.59', plus the more grandiose 'Scarecrow', all being given a new lease of life, though I couldn't say they're necessarily better, just different. Side by side with the originals, it's simply one song done brilliantly two times. 

Cats In Space are an incredibly easy band to fall in love with. There's melody in spades, hard rockers and clever lyrics, and an innate sense of what makes a good song. They dance around different rock genres with ease, never losing sight of what it is that makes them who they are. A must for old fans, and a perfect gift for anyone on the fence. Because cats sit on fences. Tch... I'll get me coat.

Official Site

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Dee SNIDER : "Leave A Scar"


Label: Napalm Records

Rating: RRRR

Review by Martien Koolen

In 2018 Dee Snider, aka mister Twisted Sister, released his great solo album ‘For The Love Of Metal’; a must have album for all lovers of classic heavy metal! Three years later Snider comes up with an even better album called “Leave A Scar’, featuring twelve excellent new songs, produced by Jamey Jasta, shouter/vocalist in the metal band Hatebreed. 

Snider’s fifth studio album is again a very heavy album filled with awesome neck breaking modern hardcore and metal core guitar riffs, in the veins of Trivium and Hatebreed. Opening track “I Gotta Rock (again)” – a reference to the Twisted Sister song “I Wanna Rock”? - says it all as it is a very addictive metal anthem indeed! 

Other highlights I need to mention are: “Before I Go” (searing, with a super chorus), “Time To Choose” (brutal, trashy, with grunts from Cannibal Corpse screamer George Fisher) and the almost moshy/trashy “The Reckoning”. “Leave A Scar’ ends with “Stand”, a more than excellent ballad and that one is a 1000 per cent Dee Snider indeed! “Leave A Scar’ is dark, groovy, trashy, loud, brutal, melodic and it hits you in the face with full force; kicked in the teeth for sure!! Meaning: a must have for all heavy metal fans, so buy or die and play at maximum volume!!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Tygers Of Pan Tang: Majors & Minors

 Label: Target Records

Rating: - (compilation)

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Tygers Of Pan Tang! Now there's a name from the past! They were a part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement (NWOBHM) and rather popular back in the early eighties with albums like "Wild Cat", "Spellbound" and "The Cage". the band broke up for the first time in 1983, only to be reformed in 1985 for a couple of albums. In 1987 they broke up permanently.

In 1999, Tygers Of Pan Tang celebrated its' 20th anniversary at Wacken Open Air with original singer Jess Cox and guitarist Robb Weir. Next year Robb Weir reformed the band with new members. 

"Majors & Minors" is a compilation of TOPT material from 2004 onwards, with vocalist Jacopo Meille, who has been in the band longer than any other singer. According to the band's website, this is not a "Best Of" album, more like "Tygers Choice", as the tracks were chosen by the band. 

Back in the eighties, some of the band's songs were very much in the AOR vein, but apparently their recent material celebrates their NWOBHM legacy. You won't find anything like "Paris By Air" or "Lonely At The Top" among these tracks. Instead, you'll get gritty riff-based songs with very few modern influences. Tracks "Never Give In" and "Let It Burn" sound like they could be archived recordings from 1981. I guess that's good news for many fans of the band.

My favourite tracks seem to be from the band's latest album "Ritual", which I must check out more closely soon. "White Lines", "Worlds Apart" and "Destiny" are more melodic and hook-driven than the other tracks, which suits me just fine. 

While this compilation didn't exactly make me want to run and start a crazy Tygers shopping spree, it did remind me of the band, and I plan on revisiting some of their material, at least "Ritual" and some of the 80's classics. So, a mission accomplished.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Kent HILLI: ”The Rumble”

Rating: RRRRR

Label: Frontiers

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

It’s no secret that I rate Kent Hilli as one of the best singers to have emerged during the last few years. His work with his main band Perfect Plan has been stellar. Their last year’s ”Time For A Miracle” was one of the best releases of 2000’s, and I loved their cover EP, on which Hilli really shined.

For his solo album, Kent Hilli has teamed up with Swedish AOR maestro Michael Palace, who has co-written most of the songs with him and produced the album. They’ve put together a great collection of traditional melodic rock songs with rich production and beautiful melodies. 

When someone creates a solo album it’s usually because there’s material that wouldn’t suit the main band. That’s not really the case with these songs, they would’ve been excellent Perfect Plan songs just as well. Maybe it’s a case of Kent Hilli wanting to work with different people. It doesn’t really matter, I’m just happy to hear these songs!

The title track is a perfect opener: a massive melodic rocker in the vein of your favourite 80’s soundtracks like Rocky IV or Top Gun, yet it’s not a desperate attempt to re-write ”Burning Heart” or ”Danger Zone”. The moodier ”Cold” is another favourite with its’ superb, gigantic chorus. ”All For Love” is a nice song, but maybe a bit too ”AOR by numbers” mid-tempo track..

I’ve always been a sucker for staccato keyboard intros, and I can’t help but like ”I Can’t Wait”. Especially when the writers have thrown a couple of different choruses to it, as if they had too many of them! The first one is pretty traditional Journeyesque one, while the second is an anthemic one with ”Whoa’s” and clever background vocals.

”Don’t Say It’s Forever” reminds me of Foreigner at their best, and the hook is AOR perfection. Great backing vocal arrangement again and athmospheric keyboards. Definitely one of the best tracks. 

A bluesy lick and a throaty ”allright” kicks off ”Miss Up To No Good”. This very Giant-like rocker is harder edged that most of the other tracks, but it only adds variety to the album. ”Heaven Can Wait” is classy ballad written by Kent and Tina Hilli, possibly his wife?

”Does It Feel Like Love” is the one song where I think I hear Michael Palace’s songwriting shining through the most, but it’s definitely not a bad thing. The song has a certain cool swagger!

”Love Can Last Forever” is another nice song, not necessarily one of my favourites but not skippable either. ”Never Be Mine” had me checking out the credits for a possible Jeff Paris connection, it sounds so much like something off his ”Wired Up” or ”Lucky This Time” albums. No such connection, it’s a Hilli/Palace original.

The Big Book of AOR says ”that an album should be closed with a big ballad”. Hilli & Palace have followed this golden rule with ”Still In Love”, an epic ballad that would have been a hit for Foreigner, Giant or Europe in 1989. Now it will be a hit for Kent Hilli, although maybe on a ”slightly” smaller scale… at least it’s one of the many hits from this album on my personal list.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Midnite City: ”Itch You Can’t Scratch”


Rating: RRRR

Label: Roulette Records 2021

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Hair Metal is back! Well, the whole term never existed back in the eighties, it’s something invented by later generations, but anyway, Midnite City proudly state that it’s their genre, and we’ll let them get away with that. Their sound definitely harkens back to the late eighties, the golden age of melodic hard rock - big hair, big choruses, big production. 

If you like vintage Bon Jovi, Danger Danger, Def Leppard and Winger, ”Itch You Can’t Scratch” is a rather safe bet. Midnite City pay homage to all of the above, and connoisseurs might find links to more obscure bands as well. On the band's previous albums there were a couple of tunes where the influences were perhaps a bit too obvious, but on this one they're more discreet. 

I wasn't totally convinced by the first two singles, the sleazy "Crawlin' In The Dirt" left me cold and while the Leppard/Winger-hybrid "Atomic" was better, I hoped that they have stronger songs on the album. As my rating might suggest, they do! 

Most of the remaining songs are more AOR-friendly and melodic than the first two singles. The third single "They Only Come Out At Night" is by far the best of the three, a dark, melodic rocker that could've been on Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid" album. Check out the video, it's really a mini-horrormovie! 

Other favourites of mine include the super-catchy "I Don't Need Another Heartache" ("Heart-heart-heartache"... listen to it once and try to get that out of your head! Ha! No chance!), "Fire Inside" and the Bon Joviesque mega-ballad "If It's Over". 

So far the band has released three solid albums back to back, which is a good achievement by any standards. I think I'll have to give the other two a spin, now that I've got this itch...

Tuesday, June 1, 2021






So what makes a new wave an official new wave? Does the ghost of Lemmy have to appear and give his blessing? Does it matter? Probably not, because what really matters is the music, and this double CD certainly has enough of that.

    Released on the 23rd July, there's a massive forty two tracks included, and it's accurate to say that the cream of modern hard rock are very much apparent. Here's some names to play with: Massive Wagons, Hollowstar, Sons Of Liberty, Scarlet Rebels, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, Skam, Ryders Creed... I could go on, but can't be arsed. Forty Two different bands, all bringing their own bottle to the party.

    One constant throughout is quality, as there isn't a track here that I didn't get something out of. From the heavy blues stomp of Dead Man's Whisky to the laid back lounge music of Elles Bailey, stopping at the AC/DC-esque breakneck boogie of Thundermother, there's really something for everyone here, as long as everyone likes big guitars and bigger melodies. The only downside for me is that these days there seems to be too many young bands playing heavy blues music (and a few older ones here, too), but on the plus side at least the play it well.

    As a compilation album this is quite a huge undertaking, bringing together a ton of bands and several record companies so that we can celebrate that there's actually a shit ton of cool bands out there peddling their stuff. Myself, I genuinely hadn't heard of about half the bands involved, and have already earmarked a few for future consideration, which surely is the point of releases like this. If you like rock music this is a must, something to just stick on and enjoy wading through the dizzying array of talented artistes. 


Official Website 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

TEMPLE BALLS: ”Pyromide”

Rating: RRRRr

Label: Frontiers

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

”Pyromide” is the third Temple Balls album, but their first for an international label, Frontiers. The album is a definite step forward for the band in many ways, and I’m pretty sure they’ll make a lot of new friends with it. 

The first two singles ”Thunder From The North” and ”TOTC” didn’t really convince me, even though they’re both decent, energetic songs. Somehow I thought they were just a little bit too straight-forward, bulldozer-like rockers. Therefore I wasn’t really expecting the album to hit me as hard it did. 

With H.E.A.T. keyboard player Jona Tee producing and throwing in some of his songwriting expertise, it’s not a surprise that Temple Balls play in the same ballpark as Jona’s band. Make no mistake though, they are not a ”baby H.E.A.T.” even though Jona’s handprint can be heard, and if you enjoyed the last H.E.A.T. album, you’ll like ”Pyromide” as well. The songs are not alike, but both albums share a certain kind of hunger and determination. The hooks are sharpened to perfection and the band plays and sings as if their whole lives were at stake. 

There’s eleven songs on the album, and not one that I could call ”a filler”. Even the aforementioned singles work well as a part of the album, even though they’re still not among my favourites. There’s a refreshing amount of variety in the songs, no two songs sound alike and several sub-genres of hard rock and metal are visited. 

A few songs I want to mention: ”Fallen Youth”, ”You Better Run”, ”Something To Die For” and the ballad ”If Only I Could” are among my favourites, The bouncy ”Bad Bad Bad” is the song that could be the band’s crossover hit - with my vivid imagination I can see a huge festival crowd going up and down to its’ infectious groove, singing along and pointing fingers at each other… Hopefully this will be true someday!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

EDGE OF THE BLADE: "Feels Like Home"

Rating: RRR

Label: Lions Pride Records 2020

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Better late than never. This album was released back in October last year, I downloaded the promo, played in a couple of times and then forgot about it. Now while re-organizing my hard drive, I found these songs again and decided to give them some attention.

Edge Of The Blade is a collaboration between Alan Kelly (ex-Shy, Seven Hard Years) and John Francis (UK AOR band After Hours). This is their second album, I haven't heard the debut but apparently it wasn't quite as "pure AOR" as this one. 

Kelly and Francis have decided to cover three songs from a cult classic AOR album - Mark Free's "Long Way From Love". Whether it was a great idea is debatable. "State Of Love", "Never Be A Next Time" and "The Last Time" stand out as they're are superb songs, in my opinion clearly better than the band's own compositions. Then again, they still pale in comparison to the originals. That's not to say that the Edge Of The Blade originals are bad songs. They're pleasant and likeable, but I didn't find any future classics among them. 

John Francis has an interesting voice, which definitely gives the band a bit of identity among dozens of AOR projects with a similar style. His very high-pitched raspy sound is very appealing but also somewhat piercing when he goes for the high notes. Like Benny Mardones mixed with Stephan Kaemmerer of Frontline, maybe...

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

GARY HUGHES: "Waterside"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Whispering Jack is back! Some people always tend to complain about the voice of Gary Hughes? So what if he's not the screamy hi-pitched vocalist? He's well aware of his strenght and weakness and these vocals are actually good and full of emotion throughout the album. The overall song material? Yeah. I believe you could file this under mature(ed) music as he's not really going for the perfect TEN sound (pun intended).

The opening track of "All At Once It Feels Like I Believe" feels like Gary believes in all eighties pop/rock at once and especially Ultravox and Midge Ure? It's the rather laidback effort in all honestly and "Electra Glide" could have been the work of any former UK boy-band singer such as Robbie Williams or Ronan Keating. "Lay Down" the slightly more uptempo track with a bluesy arrangement a'la the the groovy seventies. "The Runaway Damned" feature the singing guitar work and a refrain that simply reeks of Roy Orbison and classic rock of a long gone era. Seriously. I kid you not. It's pretty darn good though. "Screaming In The Halflight" is a fine example of Hughes' ability to squeeze the best as well as last drop out of his rusty old pipes and it's the great piano semi-ballad.

This is Hughes' first new solo platter since his last effort "Veritas", released well over a decade ago. The new solo album "Waterside" marks his long-awaited return to melodic rock according to the press-release? I guess that depends on your very own definition of melodic rock? Musically, this is a mixed bag and although there's a couple of bouncy rockers at the end of the album (Save My Soul, Seduce Me), it's still the rather sophesticated effort and attempt at mid-paced rock/pop. "When Love Is Done" is however the utter cheese ballad (sigh). Assisting Gary on the record are his Ten bandmates Dann Rosingana (guitars) and Darrel Treece-Birch (drums), with David Rosingana appearing on bass and Karen Fell and Scott Hughes helping on background vocals. Final Verdict: Not too shabby.

Monday, March 22, 2021


Rating: RRR

Label: MR Records

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Darren Phillips has put together his second Project album, again with a massive list of guest artists. Darren himself is from Australia, while most of the guests are from Sweden, people like Philip Lindstrand, Herman Furin, Dennis Butabi Borg, Alex Strandell... the complete list would take half of this review!

This is definitely a versatile album, with song styles ranging from classic AOR sounds to punky hard rock and Hall & Oates-inspired R'n'b/soul-flavoured pop! Maybe a bit too versatile for my taste, since some of the more experimental tracks do not exactly work for me. But let's see what they've got, one by one.

"Stay" features Rob Wylde on vocals (I think), and it's kind of glammy rock track with a good chorus. A cool way to start the party. "The Last Goodbye" (so she didn't "Stay" then?) is a keyboard-driven AOR, an okay song but the strained vocal from the vocalist I can't recognize leaves a lot to be desired. "What's Love?" is another fairly catchy song, but somehow it sounds a bit rough around the edges. 

"December Night" sounds like an eighties' Kiss track from Paul Stanley, which in my books is a good thing. I think it's Dennis Ward on vocals for this one. We'll get back to this Kiss thing later...  

"You Make My Dreams" is a very bold departure from the rest of the album. It's a bouncy Hall & Oates styled track... It's not something I particulary enjoy, but nevertheless it's definitely bold and features a great vocal from Robbie LaBlanc.

"Drive" makes me think of some mid-eighties glam bands with a punky attitude - Easy Action or something like that. The production is suitably "lo-fi", probably on purpose. 

"Hold On"? Seriously, this song title has been on the "OVER-USED-THINK-OF-SOMETHING-ELSE" list since 1991... okay, it's a decent song with a dramatic vocal from Alex Strandell I think. The promo sheet could have used a "cast of characters" list. Next up, "By My Side" is a semi-acoustic, semi-balladic track which sounds like some minor hit from the nineties. And if there wasn't enough "holding" on this album already, the next song is "Holding A Love", and again I'm thinking of the nineties, Gin Blossoms, The Rembrandts... quite nice.

Last but not least, we return firmly to the eighties' sounds with an actual Paul Stanley-penned track that was never officially released. "Best Man For You" dates to the "Crazy Nights"-era and you can hear some similarities to "Reason To Live".  

So there, it's an interesting album and there's a lot of talent involved. You'll probably find something you like among these songs if you like melodic rock in general.


Friday, March 19, 2021


Rating: RRRR

Label: Metalapolis Records

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This is the fourth album from Black Diamonds, a Swiss hard rock band. I have to admit that they've flown under my radar all this time, but they're visible now, blinking brightly! 

Melodic Glam/Sleaze Rock is what we have here, with Crash Diet, Reckless Love and Crazy Lixx as contemporary references. Of course one can trace the roots to the eighties' classic bands like Ratt, Crüe, Poison, Bon Jovi etc, maybe even further. Take the catchy "Saturday" for example - I can't help but be reminded of Slade, Sweet and the Bay City Rollers hit "Saturday Night"... and those were way before my time, even though I'm old as a stone! Couple of these songs have a bit of a country vibe, namely the slightly Bon Joviesque "Lonesome Road" and "Outlaw". The latter must've been recorded tongue firmly in cheek, it's sounds to me like a rock version of "Cotton Eye Joe" or something. 

My favorites are among the more "traditional" hard rock/glam metal songs. "Forever Wild", "Evil Twin" and "My Fate" are superb tracks, real diamonds even... pun intended. The band can pen a very decent ballad too, "Anytime" and "Hand In Hand" are the kind of songs that MTV used to love in 1989 and thereabouts.

The most infectious song of the album is the aforementioned goofy "Saturday" though. "S - A - T UR DAY Baby"... it even has a "La-La-La" refrain! Check out the funny South Park influenced video too! 




Monday, March 8, 2021

KINGS OF LEON: "When You See Yourself"

Rating: RRRR
Label: RCA 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away"? The Kings Of Leon are not completely sure about this thing called depth perception and the magic(al) wonders of the human eye. However, the perception of depth when viewing a real Rock scene with both eyes is qualitatively different. There is a vivid impression of ambitious geezers in America who'd just been releasing the new album as well as asking themselves and their fans about point of view regarding the opening track. It's their eight album and they are no doubt aiming to establish themselves in the national rock circuit after building a useful local reputation. Only kidding. They have sold over 20 million albums and nearly 40 million singles worldwide.

I find myself getting lost in "A Wave" which seem to control all the sea creatures and body surfers of the world. It's the smooth attempt at taking over the world one wave at the time, and the next following example which reads the "Golden Restless Age" may cement my original first thought regarding 'When You See Yourself'. This is the adult orientated rock album and the multi-platinum selling band has had the glorified Arena Rock meets guitar guru of the basement concept in heart and mind. Recorded at Nashville's famed Blackbird Studios and produced by Grammy Award-winning Markus Dravs, the Arena Rock influences have been taken a stage further, and the excellent "Stormy Weather" is one of the beneficiaries, as is the vaguely strange 'Fairytale'.

Kings Of Leon are not looking to spend their golden years at the retirement home (this is after all their 8th album) as they rock out their days churning the big sounds around for mature rock fans? This is a neat record offering a quality performance from start to finish enhanced by a excellent production. Final Verdict: Entertaining Arena Rock of 2021.


Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Genesis! Finally! The Prog-Rock comeback of the decade as we've been looking forward to Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins at... huh? My bad, 'Genesis', the title of the new album by Samlackacumrum? Simlackcrumum? Sammydidadrumstick? Blimey. Remember when you could go up to the counter and ask for 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet Of Crisps Please? Splodgenessabounds! Now that's a proper band name. Splodgenessabounds! Keep that in mind next time you're trying to trick us with your Tom foolery.

The name really does say it all. There's no denying it, it's complex and hard hitting music on display and Progressive Metal is their favorite game. Simulacrum hail from the land of Hanoi Rocks and Children of Bodom's and we're well aware of Finland and the music. The difference this time around is instead of having one frontman, they decided to make the move to share the burden and have two lead vocalists. Erik Kraemer is the latest addition to the band as he's got a tone that varies from original frontman Niklas Broman's style. To be completely honest. I'm not enterily sure it's the right thing to do? This may cause inner conflicts and problems within the band?

Genesis is however a colossal album and the complexed compositions are steeped in the 'let's destory the cast and think outside the box' mould. You need to pay attention and keep trying to find their point of view and interest. The Bible closing four-part title suite goes through chambers and dungeons of role playing material about the obvious creation of man and his music. And I quote, "creation leaves no room for second guesses", end quote. There is a point to make though. The band seem to ignore any standard concept as the play the mix of modern metal prog with the complicity of seventies prog albums. They can't quite match the dinosaurs of the past neither the concept of fellow label mates, Vanden Plas. Final Verdict: Strangely alluring yet not quite satisfying.

DURBIN: "The Beast Awakens"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Gunning for Heavy Metal glory with faulty aim? The Beast Awakens may keep you up all night in search for the missing ingredient. It's one of those pure Heavy Metal albums which one really should enjoy, but you end up somehow feeling disappointed. Durbin, not to be confused with Turbin, the recent Quiet Riot singer and according to the bio, also fourth in the 10th season of American Idol?? We wouldnt know since we really don't watch that kind of rubbish. TV is mainly football and the occasional thriller and we might even flick through the Scooby Doo's. Where are you?

Anyhow. Crunchy but oh-so typical and standard powerchords fly all over the place here, and one of the idle idol's main sources of inspiration would appear to be Judas Priest, Manowar, and basic meat and potato American Metal of the 80s. There's a couple of amusing titles such as 'Calling Out For Midnight', I suppose, instead of 'Living After' the same time at night? and the ever so lively viking tribute of 'Rise To Valhalla'. Why should the American bother to type down lyric about Norse religion when you have all the superb Native American culture right outside your doorstep? Oh, that's right, you don't really know or care about the natives, do ya?

"I am awakened," says James Durbin. "The opportunity to begin to write the next chapter of my musical life with Frontiers has given me the creative recharge I've needed. We are establishing the musical direction I've been envisioning in my head for all these years and I'm so happy to have finally found a home for it." Make no mistake. America produces what seems limitless amounts of top-notch rock artists and bands every year, so it probably exist an even larger amount of bog average records. The Prince of metal? I don't think so, I'm all out of coffee and wit for that matter. Final Verdict: Great vocalist, not-so great songmaterial. Back to the drawing board.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Joel Hoekstra's 13: "Running Games"

 Rating: RRRR

Label: Frontiers

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Who is Joel Hoekstra? Well, he's a world-class guitarist who's current employers include David Coverdale, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Cher. This is his second album with his solo project "13". If you're thinking it's some guitar noodling he recorded on his spare time in his garage, you couldn't be further from the truth. This is an all-star supergroup album, with some of the best musicians out there: Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) on vocals, Derek Sherinian (Sons Of Apollo, Dream Theater, Black Country Communion) on keyboards and the rhythm section includes a living legend Vinny Appice on drums and  Tony Franklin (The Firm, Blue Murder) on bass! However, as the name of the project suggests, Hoekstra is the man in charge. He produced and wrote the album, with Chris Collier taking care of the mixing.

A star-studded line-up doesn't automatically guarantee a good album, it comes down to the songs. I'm glad to say that this line-up didn't waste their time recording these songs Hoekstra has written . They are quality hard rock songs. In fact, I can imagine David Coverdale listening to some of these and saying "Damn you Joel, why didn't you offer these for Whitesnake?"

Let's check out some of the highlights... the opening track "Finish Line" sounds like a perfect mix of classic Dokken and Dio, with a "Lynchian" guitar work and Dioesque vocals from Russell Allen. 

"I'm Gonna Lose It" is a melodic hard rocker that sounds like it was written for driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. A bit of a Night Ranger vibe on this one. "Hard To Say Goodbye" completes the very strong opening trio. It is my favourite track on the album, a stunning hard rock hit again with a great melodic chorus. 

I also like "Lonely Days", "Reach The Sky" and "Take What's Mine" quite a lot, and the rest of the songs aren't too bad either. Vocalist Russell Allen does a fine job, alternating with a Ronnie James Dio-like rougher sound and a softer, more AOR-friendly vocal style. Hoekstra himself doesn't overshadow anyone else, this might be his project but there's no self-indulgent widdling to be found. 

One more thing... "Lay Down Your Love" is marked as a digital bonus track. It is not the Whitesnake track by the same name, just an interesting coincidence. Maybe Hoekstra heard it and thought that "if I were to write a song called that, it would sound like this...hey, this is too good to waste!"

Monday, March 1, 2021




This one seemed to come out of nowhere, with Chez Kane plucked from her family band Kane'd, which also contains her two sisters. Enter Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx, who saw in Chez the chance to make an unashamedly retro female fronted rock album, with the emphasis on big guitars, powerful vocals and massive hooks. As you can see from the rating above, he definitely succeeded!

"Chez Kane" is, to put in simply, a monster. Every track is in your face, full of hooks and backed up by incredibly powerful and competely fitting vocals. My own take from the firsrt few listend was Chrissy Steele's debut, though you can add Vixen, Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Fiona and just about any goddamned female rocker of pedigree you want. Of course, that pedigree has to be from the mid eighties to early nineties, because that was a GREAT time for powerful female rock, and this album puts me back there every single time, and I'll confess I've streamed this promo more than any other I've been sent in the past. 

Straight off, this kicks you in the nuts with "Better Than Love", a catchy number Cher would have loved in her rockier days, whilst "All Of It" uses a "We Will Rock You Beat" combined with a ridiculously catchy chorus and is probably my favourite track, simply because I can't help singing along every bloody time. A perfect opening salvo is completed by single "Rocket On The Radio", a five and a half minute track that seems to whizz by in three and will have even a dead rocker's toes tapping. This continues for a total of ten tracks and forty five minutes, after which the natural inclination is to do it all over again. In the middle of the album is the one slower track "Defender of The Heart", though it's not a sappy ballad and has a decent bounce to it. We also get "Ball & Chain" which borrows a bit from Danger Danger's "Bang Bang" and Bon Jovi's "You Give Love A Bad Name", and that sort of shows you the sort of influences you're dealing with here. "Midnight Rendezvous" is another worthy of mention, as it's a fast track full of energy and, of course, a great hook.

If you, like me, miss the good old days of powerful women singing powerful, catchy rock tunes that can be played on the radio but also blow your socks off live, then this is the album for you. Check out "Rocket On The Radio" on youtube, then go down the rabbit hole to check out some of Chez's superb cover versions from a few years ago. Kane'd may have languished in obscurity for quite a few years, but Danny Rexon and Frontiers realized that Chez Kane has one of those voices that is pure gold if you give her the right  material, and "Chez Kane" is absolutely stuffed with the right material. 

Pre Order From Frontiers

Bonne TYLER: "The Best Is Yet To Come"

Rating: RRR

Label: earMUSIC

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Bonnie Tyler is one of those instantly recognizable voices, and even though she's celebrating her 70ieth birthday this year, her raspy sound hasn't changed that much. With "The Best Is Yet To Come" she's musically traveling back to the glory days of the eighties. If you enjoyed her strongest 80s albums "Faster Than The Speed Of Light", "Secret Dreams And Forbidden Fire" and "Hide Your Heart", you'll surely find a few decent songs among these 12 tracks. A couple of the songs even harken back to the very early, country'ish style of "It's A Heartache".

"Dreams Are Not Enough" is my favourite song, it wouldn't sound out of place on "Hide Your Heart" with its' very Desmond Child-like chorus, although not written by him. Desmond Child does provide one song, "Stronger Than A Man". Unfortunately it's one the weakest songs of the album, the stagnant beat and r'n'b-styled production doesn't work for me at all. I prefer "When The Lights Go Down",  a mixture of Springsteen and Boston's "More Than A Feeling" and the title track which has touches of Abba and "Holding Out For A Hero", good hook there too. 

Among the other songs there are a few good ones which could've used a bit more powerful, bombastic production and a few somewhat forgettable covers. All in all, I do like this album much more than others I've heard from her since the late eighties. But hopefully the best is indeed yet to come, and she gets a couple of really great songs from Desmond Child and maybe even Jim Steinman for the next one!