Thursday, August 26, 2021

VEGA - "ANARCHY AND UNITY"

 


 

RATING: RRRRR

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 - "DIAMONDS"

 

LABEL: HAROMONY FACTORY 

RATING: RRRRR

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY



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!!

www.deesnider.com

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. 

www.tygersofpantang.com

https://www.facebook.com/tygersofpantangofficial/




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.


https://www.facebook.com/kenthilli



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...

http://midnitecity.com/

https://www.facebook.com/midnitecityuk

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZRD0jECt4i5W2bxHvya58A


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

THE OFFICIAL NEW WAVE OF CLASSIC ROCK Vol 1

 

RATING: RRRRR

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

LABEL: RPM

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!


https://templeballsrocks.com

https://www.facebook.com/templeballsrocks/



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

DARREN PHILLIPS PROJECT: "Volume Two"


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.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/darrenphilliosproject

Friday, March 19, 2021

BLACK DIAMONDS: "No-Tell Hotel"


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! 

Website: https://www.blackdiamondsrock.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlackDiamondsRock 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/blackdiamondsrock


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.

SIMULACRUM: "Genesis"


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!" 

http://www.joelhoekstra.com

Monday, March 1, 2021

CHEZ KANE - "CHEZ KANE"

 

 RATING: RRRRR
REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY
LABEL: FRONTIERS

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!

http://www.bonnietyler.com 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

MAVERICK: ”Ethereality”


Rating: RRRRr

Metalapolis Records 2021

Review by Kimmo Toivonen


I can’t help but think that Maverick’s sound is based on the first SKID ROW album. Of course that’s not entirely true, but on their latest effort they come close to recreating the magic of that album. Similary, ”Ethreality”  features a very strong set of songs with big hooks, powerful performances and a huge ”Wagenerian” production. As in Michael Wagener…


Despite the Skid Row comparison, strangely the band doesn’t sound entirely like a retro/eighties-throwback kind of a thing. I could imagine them being played on the radio between Nickelback, Hinder and Black Veil Brides, and I think the fans of those band would like them too. 


Vocalist David Belfour isn’t a Sebastian Bach clone, he has a cool voice of his own with an interesting vibrato and a bit of a rasp. It’s closer to Chris Daughtry than ”Baz” actually. The guitar duo of Ryan Belfour and Ric Cardwell shoot out fierce riffs and solos with flash and style, while drummer Jason-Steve Mageney adds a bit of a modern power metal vibe to some of the songs. Richie Diver’s rumbling bass lines weave it all together. 


Favourite songs at the moment: ”Bells Of Stygian”, ”Switchblade Sister” and ”Dying Star”… ask me again tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer. Hell, the favorites have changed several times while writing this review! I think that’s a sign of a strong album… that and the total lack of ”skippable” tracks! Maybe that one "ultimate stand-out track" is missing, but the overall quality is on a very high level. 


I’ve liked all the previous Maverick albums, but this might just be their best one so far.  


https://www.facebook.com/MaverickBelfastuk 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

DON AIREY: "Live In Hamburg"

Rating: Live
Label: earMusic/Edel 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

What to expect from a Sunderland musician who once wrote an instrumental piece entitled 'Dark Side of the Moog'? Many pink moons ago tho' and at The Colosseum together with the late and great Gary Moore (RIP). Don's career has been very much fueled by the Irishman as they started playing/working together in 74/75 when they joined Jon Hiseman's highly influential jazz/rock band Colosseum II. They made three albums and Airey would continue to play on six studio solo albums by Gary between the years of 1978-1990. It make sense to kick off this double digipak edition of Don's first live album "Live In Hamburg" with the powerful version of "Nuclear Attack". One of several songs which Moore wrote about the 'cold war situation' and the potential disaster.

Airey is of course the keyboard player of Deep Purple since 2002, after the retirement of founding member Jon Lord (RIP). One of Airey heroes and there's been a "Purple" connection ever since Don joined Rainbow in 1979 and played on Down To Earth (1979) and Difficult To Cure (1981). This show recorded in 2017 during the club tour of his solo album "One Of A Kind" is a selection of Don's favourite songs from his unique career. A "Hard Rock songbook", played live by a band including the current singer from Nazareth, Carl Sentance (Krokus, Persian Risk) and the guitar rising star Simon McBride who will release his new solo album on earMUSIC in 2021.

Plenty of Rainbow tracks such as Difficult to Cure, All Night Long, Lost in Hollywood, as well as Russ Ballard's Rainbow hits of Since You've Been Gone and I Surrender. Nothing from short stints at Black Sabbath or the MSG debut and that's no surprise really. The biggest surprise and disappointment is however the complete lack of Ozzy 'The Prince of fookin Darkness' Osbourne. Blimey. Airey's keyboards were essential to the early Ozzy stuff and I love the sinister sound of the entire Bark At The Moon album. There's clearly bad blood considering all the Ozzy/Sharon stories and lack of royalties and removal of credits, etc. etc. Oddly enough. There's a Whitesnake number from his guest appearance at 1987 and I dig the subtile/sarcastic and dry introduction of "Is This Love" as Sentance mumbles 'Here's a song for you' without a hint of trying to copy or mimic the posh Coverdale accent.

Sentance, the very confident singer ever since Persian Risk in the early 80s and he's especially good on the Rainbow and Gary Moore material even if "Still Got The Blues" is merely the second rate version of "Parisienne Walkways". It's a bit more difficult to see him upfront at Purple as they also cover Pictures of Home, Child in Time, Hush, and Black Night. Not poor at all though and you'll also find Don Airey solo stuff (originally sung and co-written by Sentance) such as Shooting Star and Lost Boys. McBride play through all the guitar parts with ease and what can you type down about Airey that hasn't already been written? It's hard out there for an ardent Sunderland A.F.C. fan as they now play in League One, the third tier of English football. No longer the days of Kevin Phillips winning the European Golden Shoe, but hey, at least they have a Captain with the cool name of: Max Power. Final Verdict: Honest and "raw" live recording without the usual overdubs. donairey.com

Thursday, February 4, 2021

ART OF ILLUSION: "X Marks The Spot"

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

Art Of Illusion - This is what you get when you reject +100 name suggestions and merely end up combining the band monicker' of Anders Rydholm's GRAND ILLUSION and Lars Säfsund's WORK OF ART. Indeed. The two Super-Swedes, Rydholm (keyboards, bass, rhythm guitars) and Säfsund (lead and background vocals, keyboards) are trying to map their way to success while using ultra soft melodies and the title of "X Marks The Spot". Shouldn't be too difficult? The debut album is available from AOR-Heaven in Germany, the original home of schlager, and you'll find plenty of theatrical symphonic rock/pop overtures here. It's basically a mish-mash of their Swedish acts and everything from Freddy Mercury (Queen), Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), Jim Peterik (Survivor), Robby Valentine, Mika, Big Money, to Andrew fookin' Lloyd Webber!?

Blimey. AOI have not gone totally kitsch, but they have gone for less prog than Grand Illusion and more daytime drama than Work Of Art. It's as camp as an endless row of tents at the world AOR-Scout jamboree. Indeed. The founder of the AOR movement saw a need for a gathering of representatives of fluffy music from all around the world. The general aim was to foster a worldwide brotherhood, and to help the young AOR-sters in the movement learn about other peoples and nations by direct interaction with them. Ehem. Yeah? Nah. Back on track. It's sometimes as if you're inside the AOR musicial or the big Disney production version of AOR?

Feeling slightly disappointed at first play. Make no mistake though. It's an album that grows with each and every spin up to a certain point of course. Rydholm love musical kind of humor and lyric-wise, you have songs about going to Rome in Italy, to eat yourself to death. Who doesn't love Italian food? One song (Waltz For The Movies) is about a movie projectionist dreaming of the past and speak of long-gone, black and white heroes on the silver screen, and reek of Mika and Mercury music to the extreme. Another about the fear of being a Gladiator. The song "My Loveless Lullaby" is about love from a loser/virgin male kind of perspective. Tracks such as "Wild and Free", "Snakebite Charm", "Catch You If I Can" and "Rampant Wildfire" are the real highlights of the album as it's straightforward and fun uptempo AOR compositions. "4 AM" should please the Peterik fan and "Go" is a walk in the park. Final verdict: To keep the film theme going. Overall just a wee bit too much drama and not enough action. Then again. Michael Jackson wrote a song about "Thriller" and did the "Horror" movie-video to go along with the hit? I'm sure it's all down to personal taste and plenty of folks are going to enjoy the pompous melodies. Art Of Illusion at Facebook

Monday, February 1, 2021

PHANTOM ELITE: "Titanium"

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

Phantom Elite is a relatively new metal band fronted by singer Marina La Torraca (Exit Eden, live vocalist for Avantasia) and features songwriting and production by former After Forever guitarist and producer Sander Gommans. Marina and Sander together with Max van Esch (guitars) and Joeri Warmerdam (drums) unleash an slice of contemporary sounding heavy metal music on their sophomore album "Titanium". Sonically, the band combine symphonic, progressive and heavy metal.

The keyboard player is clearly a prime factor, yet not a proper member of the band though? However, my hat off to Koen Stam as he's contributing to the albums' overall sound with some truly impressive work on the ivorys. It's a relatively lean and stark production, and the style itself is dark and more energetic, immediate and powerful, favouring mostly really aggressive power riffing and mid-song lengths, fast and snappy tempo changes, quirkiness and strong vocals by Marina. It's all resulting in a pretty darn decent, at times even captivating or fascinating second album with more diversity than are often given credit for in this particular genre. The male growls on "Worst Of Me" is however rather typical for the genre and it's far from the most original sounding anthem as of lately.

According to the band and I quote, "Listeners can expect songs where modern meets symphonic and progressive, (very!) heavy riffs meet epic melodies, all overloaded with a wide spectrum of emotions and love for music. For sure, a high note in our careers!", end quote. Indeed. Check out the heavy bombardment of "Glass Crown" where you simply can't resist to shout along to the refrain and the words of 'Wash away, the spell of the night. Lost in haze after midnight'. Intrestingly Phantom Elite have made a few short experimential trips outside the usual "goth" female fronted format and the monster metal title track of "Titanium" clocks in at +seven minutes and should have any metal fan grasping for air. Just to keep it balanced that are some straight ahead goth moments on the following numbers of "Bravado" and "Silver Living". The latter sounding like The Alyson Avenue fronted Nightwish. Final Verdict: They deal in powerhouse vocals and chunky riffing where the stacatto rapid fire guitaring provides a seriously pattern for destruction. Wicked! Phantom Elite at Facebook

LABYRINTH: "Welcome To The Absurd Circus"

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

Welcome To The Absurd Circus? To be perfectly honest. I haven't been following the development of Labyrinth and I can't really say that I recall much from their 2017 comeback album, "Architecture Of A God". I'm not even sure if I heard it? Anyhow. They were simply one of many bands and let's face it, there's way too many acts out there, you simply can't keep track of them all. Lo and behold. It's album number nine (9) by the Italian Prog Metal act and the founding members of Andrea Cantarelli and Olaf Thorsen (guitars) and Roberto Tiranti (vocals) are now joined by Oleg Smirnoff (Vision Divine, Eldritch) on keyboards, Nik Mazzucconi (Hardline, Edge Of Forever) on bass and newest member Mattia Peruzzi (drums).

Musically the band continues to move away from the Vanden Plas and Dream Theater Prog that used to be its mainstay and influences. It's hard to fault the first couple of tracks as they feature a nice slice of Italian prog-pizza spice, wicked rhythms, and ever changing dynamics. Quickly flowing into a complex groove it sets the blueprint for the album and it's good weighty prog metal. The vivid arrangements delivers the best possible wrapping for the band's musical gifts and I don't recall Tiranti ever sounding/singing this great in the past?

Hardly everything that glitter is gold though and you can still find a couple of false/dodgy gems and nuggets towards the end of the album. I do however enjoy their version of "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" as originally performed by Ultravox. You can't beat perfection though and the original version still rule the crying game of this poor dented metal heart. The problems only start when The Absurd Circus are sending out their clowns to sweep the floor after the elephants. It's a couple of bad and sad moments before they return home to the impressive ballad of "A Reason To Survive". Final Verdict: Solid as Prog-Metal goes in 2021. It's not earth-shattering or ground-breaking stuff. It's... darn solid! Labyrinth at Facebook

Sunday, January 31, 2021

POUNDER: "Breaking The World"

Rating: RR
Label: Shadow Kingdom 2021
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Pounder are another metal band stuck in a timewarp 'ala back to the future and yesterday's tomorrow. The merely seven tracks on offer on their second release, "Breaking The World", have been carefully chosen to present a broad view of the bands' influences and skills. They hail from US of A and Los Angeles and it's mostly a bit too basic and primative American Metal of the very early eighties (pre-Glam era of the Sunset Strip). Throw in the odd NWOBHM and Thrash plus some bold statements of Manowar-ish "Spoils Of War" and you're pretty much set for the naff and rampant rock.

You may recognize vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey from his Deathgrind act Exhumed, and lead guitarist Tom Draper recently joined U.K. cult Thrashers: Carcass. Not too shabby. The band itself is surprisingly good and I especially enjoy the powerful riffing on "Hard Road To Home". The overall sound is not to dissimilar to listening to the early wave of American metal of the eighties. It's however the fun Twisted Sister, Lizzy Borden, Quiet Riot, melodies of tracks such as "Give Me Rock" that I find intriguing and it's probably the best track shout-a-long-wise.

Only seven tracks as mentioned and the thirthy seven something minutes goes by just like that. There are times when things look on the positive side, particularly when they head into the pure hair-metal jungle and arrangements. I'd say, ditch the second rate Manowar moves and melodies next time and go for the Quiet and Twisted, Lizzy. Final Verdict: It reeks of long-gone metal days/daze and you only need to take one quick glance at the artwork to understand what they're all about. You're no longer in 2021, it's rather 1981...

Saturday, January 30, 2021

CREYE: "II"

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

"Just like a shooting star I'm gonna find my way on this broken highway". Geez. Paint by numbers lyrics and the cheesy opening of 'woh-oh's' had me seriously worried for a while, especially considering that I wasn't much of a fan of their debut. Not expecting much on the second album "II" (well, duh), but I'm pleasantly surprised as it's high quality throughout the record. Working on this follow-up album to the self-titled debut. The plan was to refine and improve the songs and approach. I'd say mission completed as everything from production, songwriting, to a new and impressive vocalist: August Rauer, add a lot of fire and cuddle-fluffy animal guts.

Keep in mind that it's extremely Poppy stuff and the likes of Fingerprints, Big Money, or Paul Rein (Swedish cult pop musician) might just sound like Slayer in the quick comparison. Nah. That's a bit over the top and not always true, lol. Do however not expect to find any 'metal' whatsoever on this platter. It's hi-tech AOR, Power-Pop, and ultra slick melodic stuff with the 80s retro in the mix. It's a little bit of everything really and it's oh-so-catchy and just a little bit corny (but in a really feel-good way).

The opening riff on "Carry On" strike up the odd moment of Treat vs. Bad Habit in the late eighties and you're about to feel the HEAT (pun intended). What the heck is up with the ultra-fast fade out on the track, "Find A Reason". Very annoying and darn right unprofessional. "Siberia" is however catchy as fudge and it's no doubt the best song about the bitterly cold and sterile landscape since the heydays of Laban (Danish Pop band of the 80s). "Face To Face" might just have you thinking about the FM song from their classic debut especially since the chorus goes and I quote, 'face to face - heart to heart'. Blimey. There's a football choir effect to be found on "Can't Stop What We Started" and the piano ballad of "Lost Without You" is a proper tearjerker. "Hold Back The Night" might just have you thinking about Glen Burtnik, with or without the 'C', but oozes of HEAT. Make no mistake. These are songs written by craftsmen and performed from the heart. Final Verdict: It's all about the hooks and they're all razor sharp and ultra catchy. Creye at Facebook

JASON BIELER: "Songs for the Apocalypse"

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

Songs for the Apocalypse? Blimey! Justin Beiber is darker and moodier than ever... huh? My bad, it's appearantly Jason Bieler and you may (or may not) recall him from SAIGON KICK of metals' past. Right down to the point. Are the songs enough to make you a Bielver? A true cult follower of Baron von Bielski's bonky Orchestra? To be perfectly honest. It's one of those albums which you need to spin over and over again and simply just slowly digest as you'll discover something new and wonderful weird on each play. It's actually pretty darn good in a 'hello friendly/wacky' way. Remember when Frankenstein's Monster asked the little girl by the water if they are friends? Ehem. I believe she ended up floating face down... ouch!

Anyhow. It's a monster, made of different body parts and several musical influences. All vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming, noises, nonsense and wonky bits by Bieler. All songs written, produced, mixed and engineered by Bieler. Okay. At least you know who(m) to blame if you don't appreciate the wacky arrangements and compositions. As for the music within, you can sort of expect it to sound like the heavier hard rock follow-up to My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade. It's grand and melodic, orchestra, symphonic, sometimes progressive (King's X), sometimes Elton John-ish, or the 70s rock concept 'ala The Who (Quadrophenia), spiced with keys/piano, samples, and energetic guitar work in the vein of Saigon Kick of course.

Diverse, outside the box and norm with a production that is massive and modern. It's a rollercoaster ride and accessible for the masses if only the masses would be accessible? I'm not sure it's the right kind of label for Bieler and it's probably going to drown in frontiers releases. Saigon Kick vs. My Chemical Romance? Sounds good to me. Guest musicians: Todd LaTorre (Queensrÿche), Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), Devin Townsend, Pat Badger (Extreme), Butch Walker, Bumblefoot, Jeff Scott Soto, Clint Lowery (Sevendust), Benji Webbe (Skindred), Kyle Sanders (Hellyeah), etc. Final verdict: It's alive! It's alive! The villagers are definitely trying to kill the monster though, so you better be quick and pick up a copy before it's too late. Friend? jasonbielermusic at Facebook

WIG WAM: "Never Say Die"

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

"So, here we go again into the lions' den"- WIG WAM. It's been nine long years since their latest offering to the Norse Gods. The album 'Wall Street' (2012) showcased plenty of valleys, towering mountains, and bitter cold fjords, but sadly no real material nor profit to be found at the dow jones index. 'Never Say Die' showcases the slightly heavier approach and style as the Glam Rock has at times been replaced with Teeny's powerful guitar work and there are moments that actually border on old school heavy metal and fellow Norwegian Jorn (Masterplan, Yngwie, etc) on this platter.

Definiely more guitars and less bubblegum sing-a-long moments than their first couple of albums in my humble opinion. It's however still a step in the right direction since 'Wall Street' but you won't find that many "hit singles" amongst these tracks. It's more of an album effort where the boyos are keeping things safe and darn right Hardcore Superstar sleazy on numbers such as "Dirty Little Secret" and "Call Of The Wild". The latter sounding extra sinister and vicious like only Sid could. The opening title track as well as the first single from the album is however the proper kick to the head with its killer refrain.

"Northbound", the impressive instrumental guitar piece where Teeny (aka Trond Holter) goes native and Norwegian folk music to the extreme. Glam aka Åge Sten Nilsen sings better than ever on the Wig Wam goes Whitesnake moment of "Hard Love". You can literally feel and taste the blues. The excellent closing number "Silver Lining" dates back to the late seventies ballads and could also just as easily have been included on the cult movie of 'Still Crazy'. Although Wig Wam are guilty of losing some Glam in the studio, they make up for it in quality performances that offer plenty of sleazy and melodic metal. Final verdict: Never Say Die sees Wig Wam treading a slightly more heavier approach than ever before. Slightly more Jorn (another Norwegian) but still keeping the essence of Wig Wam - uplifting and rather decent/fun music. Wig Wam at Facebook

W.E.T.: "Retransmission"

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

The good, the bad, the ugly. A.K.A. W.E.T. and the three bandidos of Robert Säll (Work Of Art), Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse), and Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman) are shooting from the hip with a brand new tribute to spaghetti Western from outer space and not to mention... Melodic Rock. The release of their fourth album "Retransmission" are taking the AOR space cowboys to familiar territory where we found our heroes once again face to face with dangerous desperados, dodgy satellites, and not to forget the beautiful game?

It's all guns blasting and big curvy hats and pants from the word go as they are at first trying to let us know that "Big Boys Don't Cry" only to later proclaim that it's just ain't true that big boys don't ever cry? Well... It's one way or the other? The song may actually lack a proper hook and truly memorable refrain in my humble opinion. "The Moment of Truth" is closing in as they just can't let go of yesterday? Another space western anthem and the tears are once again falling (speaking of the lyrics), this time co-written by Dag Finn and I believe originally intended for the 'new' album by Sha-Boom? Whatever happened to the comeback of Sha-Boom anyhow? It's been a couple of years since last update? Are those plans in the bin? No longer in the works?

Anyhow. Back on track with "The Call Of The Wild" and it seems like all the Frontiers releases are going for the same song and dance title in 2021 (see also Wig Wam review). Again, pretty standard melodic rock and I miss the genius refrain or at least something out of the ordinary. Track #4 is however the best so far, "Got To Be About Love" (heh, another 'love' title from JSS - see my review of his solo album), one of those semi-ballads that would fit acts such as Heart or Unruly Child. Next up to bat, "Beautiful Game", the best uptempo track so far and "How Far To Babylon" feature a big beat/heart and wicked rhythms by drummer Robban Bäck. "You Better Believe It" take the cake and "What Are You Waiting For" is as beautiful as power ballads come and it's sheer uplifting, heart soothing/smoothing melodic rock featuring steller lead vocals and singing guitar work. "One Final Kiss" is the perfect match making to Lita Ford and her dangerous curves and deadly lips. Yet there's something missing in the end and especially the first three tracks are truly disappointing. Final Verdict: Trusty as your old Colt 44 (I prefer it over 45) but it's hard out there for a gunslinger. Shoot 'em down or simply ride off into the sunset... W.E.T. at Facebook

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Stan BUSH: ”Dare To Dream”


Rating: RRRR

Label: LA Records 2020

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Stan Bush is reliable. When you get a new album from him, there are hardly any surprises - you'll get uplifting anthems and heartfelt ballads. Yes, it's predictable and unadventurous, but he's been doing this better than most others for almost 40 years now, so I'm not complaining.

"Dare To Dream" (not to be confused with 2010 release "Dream The Dream") is full of anthemic, very Survivor-esque songs about never giving up, believing in one's dreams and fighting the battles that need to be fought. Every now and then Stan reminiscences about the "The 80's" (don't we all?) or his father's words ("Dream Big"), and of course there are those ballads ("A Dream Of Love", "Live And Breathe" and the country'ish "Home"). 

I am thankful that this album doesn't include yet another version of his biggest hit "The Touch", although "Never Give Up" does sound a lot like a re-make...

My personal favorites include "Born To Fight" (the best Rocky soundtrack song you've never heard!), "The Times Of Your Life", which is just pure AOR magic and the intense ballad "A Dream Of Love". Stan himself sounds almost like he did in 1987, which is something quite special. He must be one of those rock vampires who never age, or maybe there's a fountain of youth on his backyard!

www.stanbush.com