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.