Thursday, October 28, 2021

Monro: s/t (re-issue)

Label: Steelheart Memories

Rating: RRRr

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Eclipse: "Wired"

Label: Frontiers

Rating: RRRRr

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 8, 2021

Robin RED: "s/t"

Rating: RRRR

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

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

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

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

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