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. 

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.

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


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