Thursday, December 1, 2022

ROCK BLOG #7

It’s been a curious week, as I have received not one but two promotional CDs! These days the promotional efforts of artists and labels center around digital delivery and the flood of links to download material is endless, way too much for anyone to handle. I totally understand that it’s way cheaper to use digital services, especially considering the ever-growing shipping costs. But then again, the physical product will surely get a bit more attention than a link among dozen others. 


The first album came all the way from the States, and it’s called ”Inland Empire” by ECHO US. It’s a one-man project by Ethan Matthews, apart from bass guitars on one track he’s played and sung everything on the album. 


I’m a not a major progressive rock fan, but I’m enjoying this album more than initially thought I would. It’s immaculately produced and played, and the overall vibe of it is relaxing and soothing. There are some very enjoyable melodic compositions here, and while this can be filed under ”prog”, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult or too complicated for anyone to enjoy. Sure, some of the songs are a bit weird and chant-like, but even in those songs there’s something strangely appealing. https://www.facebook.com/echous.net/


ANCIENT FLAME are from Finland, and they also sent me a CD to check out. ”Blood Stained The Barren Land” is their debut album, and they describe it as ”traditional melodic heavy metal with some oriental influences.” The band has two very capable vocalists in Petteri Urmas and Kirsimarja Alonen, with voices that compliment each other quite nicely. Their music is somewhere between Black Sabbath and Nightwish, and at times their songs reminded me of the Christian Metal band HB, musically that is. The oriental themes here and there add a little spice to the songs and go well with the lyrical themes about Sumer and Babylonia etc. 


The fact the album opens and closes with heavy and pounding songs might explain why the overall feel of it is rather heavy and gloomy. There are uptempo songs on it, but the slower ones seem to dominate. I guess this a recommendation to some, as this certainly isn’t ”happy metal” with sing-along choruses! Not that it should be, I just enjoy my metal a bit more melodic, one might even say ”cheesy”.  ”Blood Stained The Barren Land”  is one for the True Metal fans.





COLD DROP from Denmark have their debut album on the way, to be released in February on Lions Pride Music. They contacted me and asked politely whether I could check it out. Well, they caught me at a good time and I promised to do that… They play no-frills hard rock, think Gotthard, AC/DC with a melodic twist, Tyketto… Good vocals, solid playing and production. My favourite songs are the mid-tempo ”Broke My Heart” and the opener ”Sweet Lucille”. The band does not get any extra credit for song titles though - they’ve got both ”Looking For Love” and ”Hold On” on the album! :)





Back in the AOR land, there’s been a few new things I want to write about. REVOLUTION SAINTS has gone through some line-up changes, and now  Dean Castronovo is joined bu Joel Hoekstra on guitars and Jeff Pilson on bass. The first single from this ”2.0” version is out, and it’s called ”Eagle Flight”. I think the song is good and Castronovo’s great vocals are always a joy to listen to. Still, I hope there are even better songs on the forthcoming album.





KHYMERA is back. I’ve been a fan of this project since the second album, when Dennis Ward became the vocalist. New album ”Hold Your Ground” is due early next year, and I can’t wait. The first single ”Firestarter” is very promising.






One of the potential albums of the year 2022 is the debut from Swedish band REMEDY. The release date is Dec 16 so it’ll probably make a bigger impact only next year though. So far they’ve released two songs, ”I Want To Have It All” and ”Scream In Silence”. I’ve heard one additional track which is easily as good as the other two, so I have really high hopes for the album, titled ”Something That Your Eyes Won’t See”.





Moving away from AOR, there’s been a major new metal single, the talk of the town… yes, I’m talking about ”Lux Aeterna” by METALLICA. I just had my first listen, and… the bass drum sound is very intruding! The song itself is fast-paced and energetic, not bad. Not that memorable though.








Tuesday, November 22, 2022

ROCK BLOG #6

The flood of new releases doesn’t seem to slow down. I’m trying to keep my head above water but failing miserably… but it is what it is. Let’s check out some of the new albums:

The name CAPTAIN BLACK BEARD might suggest that we’re dealing with a Running Wild-influenced ”Pirate Metal” band but that’s not the case. They’re Swedish and they play melodic hard rock and do not have parrots on their shoulders or eye-patches. I liked their previous album but after just one spin, I think their latest one ”Neon Sunrise” is even better. They kind of sound like a very energetic hybrid of all most of your favourite Swedish bands, so check ’em out!





The SARAYASIGN album has been out for a while, but I haven’t given it a proper listen until now. It’s one of those curious album which I should like, but can’t really get into. If you like Perfect Plan, there’s a good chance you’d like this, because they’re pretty similar stylewise. Nothing wrong with their songs or production, but… just OK.


GRAND are another new Swedish AOR group who have just released their first album. They represent the lighter side of Scandi-AOR á la Work Of Art, Care Of Night and Creye.There are two songs which really stand out: ”Stone Cold” and ”Once In A Blue Moon”. They both went straight to my ”Highlights of 2022” playlist. The rest of the material isn’t too bad either, so I’ll give this album RRRR rating. 





I used to like JADED HEART, but over the years we’ve drifted apart. I decided the give their new album ”Heart Attack” a chance, but maybe it’s too late for us. There’s still some hope as some of the songs are quite good (the opener ”Blood Red Skies” and the title track for example), but the semi-thrash metal of ”Lady Spider” isn’t what I want to hear from Jaded Heart. 


JOHNNY GIOELI’s latest project is called ENEMY EYES. With a more metallic edge than Hardline, the promo blurb say it’s a new chapter for him. Sure enough, the opening track ”Here We Are” is a very impressive slice of melodic metal, reminding me of Avantasia. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there, and there’s nothing really exciting about the rest of the songs. They’re heavier than the usual Frontiers project material, so fans of Johnny’s work with Axel Rudi Pell might get a kick out of them. 



Thursday, November 10, 2022

ROCK BLOG #5

Let's walk down the Park Avenue which leads to... SKID ROW! I've been listening to "The Gang's All Here" again, and unfortunately it doesn't grab me the way I hoped it would. The sound is great, Erik's great but the songs... there's nothing drastically wrong with them, they're better than most of the band's recent output. Most of the start with cool, driving riffs and Erik Grönwall belting it out like a rock god, but once they get to the chorus, the hook swings but it misses the target. A fistful of melody, something to remember, I guess that's what these songs would have needed to become new Skid Row classics. Reluctantly I give this RRR and a bit.

I try to listen to a lot of the new releases, but sometimes it's nice to revisit some old favourites. This week I've listened to the debut JOE LYNN TURNER solo album "Rescue You", which is a minor AOR classic. It might sound a bit dated to some of you, but I'm old and I don't mind! "Losing You", "Endlessly" and "On The Run"... what's not to like? I did check out his new album "Belly Of The Beast" too, co-written and produced by Peter Tätgren of PAIN. I was afraid that it'd be some sort of an industrial experiment but no, it's just heavy and dark, and not bad at all. 

One day I was in a bit of a synth wave/retrowave mood, and listened to some LEBROCK, who mix melodic rock and synth wave sounds quite excellently. Based on their song "Runaway", Spotify created a playlist for me and I made one wonderful discovery - "Tonight" by SUNSET NATION. The album it's from was a bit of a mishmash of stuff that's too pop for me, but this song rocks! Listen yourself:


Yesterday's discovery is something that's not what I usually listen to - some might call it "easy listening"  or whatever, but strangely enough this song made a huge impression on me. The song is called "Never Let You Go" by a Brazilian artist called Sergio Mendes, and it features vocalists Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller. The song, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, has been dubbed as "the most complex pop song of all time" by producer Rick Beato. I actually found this via his YouTube channel, which is highly recommended. Some of his "What Makes This Song Great"-videos will make you appreciate your favourite songs even more. Anyway, back to the subject - at first glance (or rather listen) "Never Gonna Let You Go" might sound like just another cheesy early 80's pop ballad, but just listen again... the song's full of wonderful key changes and it has more melody than a thousand contemporary hits. Awesome songwriting. 





Friday, November 4, 2022

ROCK BLOG #4


This week’s most played album in my headphones and speakers has been the second CHEZ KANE album ”Powerdzone”. Again produced and written by Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx, the album follows the path of the debut. We’re talking very 80’s influenced hard rock and AOR, you’ll hear influences of many of the big names of the era. The album has been getting mixed reactions, but I like it almost as much as the debut. Maybe it doesn’t have as many killer tracks, but then again the debut had a couple of clearly ”skippable songs” for me, this one doesn’t have those. My favourites include ”Guilty Of Love”, ”I Just Want You”, ”Powerzone” and ”(The Things We Do) When We’re Young In Love”. Rating: RRRR and a bit. Maybe even a half r.

RICHARD MARX’ latest album ”Songwriter” is a long one, with 20 songs. I was positively surprised that many of them are rock songs, including the edgy ”Shame On You” and ”We Are Not Alone”. Both of them are co-written and co-produced by his son Jesse Marx. Is it a case of son making sure that daddy doesn’t forget to rock? I don’t know but I like it. A few of the songs have a country vibe, some are more pop and there are a few ballads, including one co-written by Burt Bacharach, a man behind dozens of evergreens. 



And from the smooth sounds of Richard Marx we move on to POWER METAL! Yeah! ”Terranova” is the first album from FALLEN SANCTUARY. Serenity vocalist Georg Neuhauser and Temperance guitarist Marco Pastorino joined forces for this project. Their mission was to create catchy metal with socially conscious lyrics. I think they’ve succeeded. Musically they have created something kind of fresh out of familiar elements. They sound a bit like Sonata Arctica, only more accessible and catchy. 



Retro flashback: in 1985 HEART released their self-titled album. It was a huge success and brought the band back into the limelight. Hits from the album include ”What About Love”, ”Never” and ”These Dreams”. I have had the album on CD for a long time, but yesterday I bought an used vinyl copy. I am not a vinyl junkie, but the vinyl is the format to listen to this album. It sounds much better than the CD. Apparently there are a couple of remastered Japanese versions, but the regular editions are very thin-sounding, not a lot of low end.


Thursday, October 27, 2022

ROCK BLOG #3



So what’s going on in the rock world… Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe are bringing the Stadium Tour over to Europe. A Finnish date has been released, they’ll be at Rockfest in June. Not in Helsinki though, even though it says so above! Hyvinkää is the place.


Mick Mars will not be playing with Mötley, John 5 is rumoured to be the replacement but there’s no confirmation of that yet. I don’t know what to make of that… I would have liked to see Poison as a part of this European leg too, because I haven’t seen them live yet. 


Just so that you know, I’m not even trying to provide you up-to-speed news, there are sites who have the resources to do that. I merely comment on some things when I feel like doing so :)


Back to the normal programming then… I’ve given the latest PERFECT PLAN album ”Brace For Impact” a few spins now, and while it’s good, it’s not quite as good as the previous one.  I recall that I gave it the full 5 R’s.”Brace For Impact” is a solid RRRR album, some very good songs but also a few which don’t really do much for me. The heart-stopping, mind-blowing hits are missing.


In between the new stuff I’ve played a few golden oldies too. Would you believe I haven’t had CINDERELLA’s ”Night Songs” on CD until last Sunday? I had a hard time believing it too, but thankfully that hole in my collection has been fixed now. ”Night Songs” might not be one of my all-time favourite albums, but it does have two of my all-time favourite songs: ”Shake Me” is a perfect straight-forward hard rock song and ”Nobody’s Fool” is one of the finest ballads ever. 


What is a ”Sell-out” album? Maybe an album where the band goes for a more radio-friendly sound, possibly uses outside songwriters to add some mainstream friendly touches to their songs. These albums were common in the eighties, when older bands or their labels started to chase chart success, sometimes succeeding (Heart anyone?), but mostly they failed to reach new audience AND alienated some of their original fanbase. Sellout albums are my guilty pleasures, I have a soft spot for what some might call ”corporate rock”…BLUE ÖYSTER CULT’s ”Club Ninja” is one such album which I recently bought. It has a commercial sound and outside songwriters, but it didn’t really break the charts back in 1986. Still, ”Dancing In the Ruins”, ”Perfect Water” and the two songs from Bob Halligan Jr are excellent melodic rock. Probably not what BOC fans wanted though.


I’ve played the new STRYPER album once, and I have to say after the very good ”Even The Devil Believes” I was a bit disappointed in ”The Final Battle”. It’s too early to pass final judgment, but like I said about Perfect Plan, the heart-stopping, mind-blowing hits are missing. Maybe these hooks need a little more time. 


AVANTASIA! ”A Paranormal Evening With The Moonflower Society” is a bit of mouthful as a title, but who cares when the music’s good! Now that Jim Steinman is no longer with us, Tobias Sammet is carrying the torch for theatrical, unashamedly pompous rock. And he doesn’t repeat himself as much as Steinman used to do. 


Certain songwriters have the kind of melodic sensibility which appeals to me, and Sammet is one of those. He can create versatile, atmospheric music and superb hooks. With the help of some of the finest vocalists in the world, this album goes straight to the top 5 of this year’s releases. At least a RRRRr rating for sure.


That’s it for now, sometime next week ”I’ll be back” with my thoughts about Chez Kane, Wildness, Richard Marx, Fallen Sanctuary, Queensrÿche or at least some of them. And maybe some others. 

 

Friday, October 21, 2022

ROCK BLOG #2

We just returned from London, where we saw H.E.A.T., Collateral and Mason Hill. More of that gig later, in the form of a full-blown concert review. 

A couple of interesting new albums were released last Friday, PERFECT PLAN and SKID ROW. I really haven’t had the opportunity to listen to Perfect Plan yet, but Skid Row is playing right now… and the first impression is that they’ve gone back to the sound of the debut and Erik Grönwall sings great, but the hooks aren’t immediate. Maybe they require a few more spins… the jury’s still out.


( --- fast forward some 24 hours -- )


So I started writing this entry yesterday (Thursday), and now it’s Friday again, which means that a few new albums have been released… and I haven’t even had the time to check out last week’s releases properly! I’m now playing one of the new releases, the ”Re-wired” album from Collateral, which I actually bought from the aforementioned gig. It’s basically their debut album re-mixed and a lot of famous guests added, people like Jeff Scott Soto, Helen Hurd, Danny Vaughn and Phil X. Some of the songs  feature completely new vocals by the guests, some of them are duets and some feature instrumental contributions from guest musicians. As a bonus track there’s the new single ”Sin In The City”. If it had been just a re-issue with one additional track it would have been a bit of a pointless release, but now that every song has something extra, it’s worth a purchase even for those who have the original album. 


A quick look at the list of albums to check out: Avantasia, Stryper, Chez Kane, Wilderness, Perfect Plan… sheesh, not enough hours in the day, but I’ll try. 


I’ll be back!

Thursday, October 6, 2022

ROCK BLOG # 1

Since it seems that I don’t have the time to write ”full-blown” reviews, I’m going to give these blog entries a go. Kind of like those mini-review things I’ve done, but even more free-form, and not limited to new releases. So it’s going to be random ramblings about the stuff I’ve been listening and whatever!

First of all, a couple of major Finnish releases: The Rasmus and Stratovarius. Granted, I have only played them once or twice so these are my first impressions.


In my opinion THE RASMUS haven’t released many interesting songs since ”Black Roses” album in 2008. I quite liked their Eurovision Song Contest entry ”Jezebel”, co-written by Desmond Child, and had high hopes for their new album ”Rise”, especially knowing that Desmond is involved. Well, he has co-written and produced three songs, and they are my top picks at the moment. The remaining songs self-penned songs are are isomewhat ”eerie” and mostly mellow, but I need to listen to them more before passing judgement. So far, I’d say this is better than the previous two albums...




STRATOVARIUS then… it’s been seven years since ”Eternal”, and it seems that this ”short break” has revitalized the band. The band has come up with an album full of catchy and energetic songs. This went to straight to my ”Top Albums of 2022” playlist! Standout track after a couple of spins: ”Firefly”.


FANS OF THE DARK released a good debut a couple last year, and now they’ve released their second effort, which draws influences heavily from the horror movies. With only eight songs it’s a bit short, and while most of the songs are pretty good, only ”Night Of The Living Dead” really stood out. A minor disappoinment maybe. 


”One 4 The Road” is the fourth album from PALACE, and it’s a smooth and polished effort. I like Mike Palace’s work, and this album is no exception. ”Fifteen Minutes” is the biggest hit of the album for me. Maybe I rate the previous album a bit higher than this one, but a solid piece of work anyway.


CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is a project put together by Bruce Mee of Firefest / Fireworks Magazine as a tribute to his mother who passed away a while ago. Bruce has gathered an impressive list of vocalists to sing on the album, including Doro, James Christian, Jeff Scott Soto and Robin McAuley. Despite different singers on each song, the songs kind of fit together really well. They’re mostly written by Swedish songwriter Mikael Rosengren, with a few covers thrown in. Out of the originals, at the moment my favourite is ”Trick Of The Light” sung by Headpins’ Darby Mills, and when it comes to the covers, ”Never Gonna Make Me Cry” originally by Fierce Heart is an absolute gem, sung by James Christian here. I’ll give this album a RRRRr rating!


A surprise album that made it to my  ”Top Albums of 2022” playlist is the debut from CLEANBREAK. It’s another project but together by Frontiers Records, with vocalist James Durbin (American Idol, Quiet Riot), guitarist Mike Flynz (Riot, not the quiet one) and current Stryper rhythm section of Robert Sweet and Perry Richardson. They’ve recorded this album under the supervision of Alessandro Del Vecchio, but thankfully it doesn’t really sound like what one would expect. The material is gritty but catchy heavy metal. 


What else have I been listening to? Some of my recent purchases include the 5-CD ”Original Album Series” boxset from LOUDNESS, which features their major label albums released between 1985 and 1991. I started from the later albums, and damn, ”Soldiers Of Fortune” is a good one! With American vocalist Michael Vescara behind the microphone, one could argue that the band has lost some of their Japanese charm, but I like the album. It kinda sounds like ”Lynch Mob meets Steelheart” at times. Then again, I remembered why I didn’t remember anything about ”On The Prowl”, although I’m sure I’ve heard it before. It’s rather average, stylewise not that different to ”Soldiers” but the material isn’t very strong. The 1987 album ”Hurricane Eyes” still features original vocalist Minoru Niihara, and it’s a decent album. I guess die-hard Loudness fans regard it as a ”sellout”, as the band introduced keyboards and sweet harmonies to some of the songs. 


I picked up Stevie Nicks’ compilation album ”Timespace” for a couple of euros, as I’ve not really paid attention to her material before. I was surprised to find out that it had songs written by Jon Bon Jovi and Bret Michaels on it. Still, I’m not actually that fond of her voice, so this might not be a keeper… might give it another spin.


I came across the GLENN HUGHES album ”From Now On” at my favourite second hand store Alfa Antikva  the other day. I only knew the video song ”Why Don’t You Stay” and the fact that Europe members were involved, and noticed that Bruce Gowdy had produced it, so I thought I’d give it a go. And… well, I still liked the ballad mentioned before and a couple of others, but I think this will end up in the ”for sale” bin. 


The debut from BADLANDS… I heard it back in the day and wasn’t that impressed, but every now and then the album surfaces in conversations online and people are often very much into it, so now when I had the chance to grab it for a reasonable price I did. Can’t say that anything has changed, it’s still not an album for me. Great musicians and fine vocals from Ray Gillen, but the songs are just too… bluesy and Zeppelinesque. The CD has already found a new,  hopefully loving home.


That’s it for now!


Thursday, September 8, 2022

MAD MAX: "Wings Of Time"


Rating: RRRR

Label: ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records 

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Can you believe that Mad Max are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year? Yep, it's true, and can you believe that after all these years, they've come up with an album that's one of their best ones? I wasn't expecting this either.

The band had a good run of few years during the eighties, with "Stormchild" and "Night Of Passion" making some waves in Europe. They made a short attempt at reunion in 1999 with "Never Say Never" album, and in 2006 they reformed for good. The albums they've released since then have been of varied quality, and at times it seemed like they were a bit lost, looking for direction. The first years of reformation they re-branded themselves as a Christian Metal band, but slowly they've moved away from the religious lyrics. They've also tried to re-capture the vibe of those two albums mentioned above with "Another Night Of Passion" and "Stormchild Rising", but didn't quite succeed.

With main songwriter and vocalist/guitarist Michael Voss now out of the picture, guitarist Jurgen Breforth has taken over as the "captain" of this ship. Under his command, the band has finally mangaged to re-capture the vibe of their best eighties albums. There are even some obvious lyrical nods to the "good old times" with songs like "Days Of Passion", "Heroes Never Die" and "Stormchild Rising". The latter wasn't on the album by the same name... confused yet?

New vocalist Julian Rolinger is very impressive, he's no Voss clone but I'm sure he can do justice to the old songs. And the new songs - they're good! There are plenty of catchy riffs and good choruses, which have been missing from the band's recent output. Some favourites of mine are "Days Of Passion", "A Woman Like That" (which does owe a little to Rick Springfield), the harmony-laden, Nelsonesque "When It Stops" and "Miss Sacrifice".

https://www.facebook.com/madmax.germany.rocks

https://madmax-germany.com

Thursday, August 11, 2022

H.E.A.T.: "Force Majeure"


Rating: RRRR

Label: Ear Music 2022

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A lot has happened in the H.E.A.T. camp since the release of "II", their excellent previous album. The promotional efforts and the tour were pretty much swept under the carpet by Covid, and later that year vocalist Erik Grönwall left the band. In true H.E.A.T. tradition, his replacement was an old band member, the original vocalist Kenny Leckremo.

With "Force Majeure" the band doesn't take steps back to the sound of the Leckremo-fronted first two albums, but continues on the path started with "II". This is probably their hardest rocking album to date, and the pop influences of "Into The Great Unknown" are pretty much gone.

After the first spin I was quite disappointed. Only a couple of songs really stood out, and a couple   I didn't really like at all. I've now lived with the album for a few days ( and seen the band live last Sunday), and things have clicked. I won't lie to you, this isn't my favourite H.E.A.T. album but it's not a disappointment either.

The album starts with familiar material, among the first four tracks you'll find the three singles released so far, "Back To The Rhythm", "Nationwide" and "Hollywood". They're all hardrockin' songs with big choruses and I can assure you that they work perfectly live. Somewhere between the singles is "Tainted Blood". It's not among my favourites, and it reminds me a bit of latter-day Europe.

The mid-tempo "Harder To Breathe" had me puzzled at first, but in the end I came to the conclusion that it's a pretty clever track, with an unusual chorus. "Not For Sale" is classic H.E.A.T., an anthemic track with a kingsized chorus. 

"One Of Us" isn't a cover of the Abba song, but a Leckremo-penned power ballad. And a good one! "Hold Your Fire" didn't grab me at first listen, but I've grown to like it more and more. A bit of a Leppard meets Europe vibe in it I think. "Paramount" is another peculiar song, with a interesting fanfare hook. I do like it, even though it's not necessary a highlight of the album.

"Demon Eyes" is a bit of a departure from the normal H.E.A.T. sound, as it's more in the vein of early eighties Dio and that sort of things. A fast, hard-hitting metal track with not much of a chorus hook to speak of... not for me, but I think this song will have its' fans. 

"Wings Of An Aeroplane" closes the album in grand fashion: it's a stunning track with a massive, layered chorus, easily one of my favourite tracks from the album. 

Hopefully the band has somehow reached the "heaviness level" they desire, because I really don't want them to go to a more metal direction. If anything, it would be awesome if they could bring back a little bit AOR for the next one. But whatever they do, I think they'll provide us yet another quality album.

https://www.facebook.com/heatsweden

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

CATS IN SPACE: "Kickstart The Sun"

 

RATING: RRRRR

Review by Alan Holloway

Cats In Space are not your common or garden moggies stuffed into a space suit. These kitties are purebred rock and roll, releasing four studio albums so far that have showed a great talent for writing catchy hooks and bringing the best of 70s glam and pop kicking and screaming into today's MP3 players. 'Kickstart The Sun' is their second album with seasoned stage singer Damian Edwards, but the first that was actually written with him, and there's a lot of cat fans out there holding their breath in the hope that the chemistry demonstrated on 'Atlantis' will blossom even more here.

One thing they haven't done is lost any ambition, with 'Kickstart The Sun' rolling in at around sixty five minutes. Of course, the danger with this is there's plenty of room for songs that perhaps should have been culled, but I have to say that of the thirteen full songs here (plus shorter opening and closing tracks) there really aren't any that I feel the urge to skip.

The title track is split into three parts, with a minute long album intro joined by a two minute reprise at the end. The main song site nicely in the middle, six minutes of panic and hope as the intrepid catstronauts try to get the sun working again, thus saving the world! The album itself starts with a triple helping of absolute 'proper' Cats In Space bangers, with opener 'King Of The Stars' managing to make seven minutes seem like three, so upbeat, guitar fuelled and catchy it is. First single 'Poke The Witch' follows, a really catchy and quite quirky satire on modern life, with second dingle 'Teenage Millionaires' after that, a guitar led song with an irresistibly catchy chorus and more melody that a Top Of The Pops compilation album.

At this point, it's quite clear that Damien is well and truly part of the band, really searching for new peaks in each vocal performance, the climbing them with seeming ease. 'Goodbye To The American Dream' follows, playing very well to his stage strengths, a story led track that starts slow but has a chorus with bounce and a few horns that balances out the slower verses perfectly. The first ballad is '1,000,00 Miles', about being stuck in your spaceship and missing a special someone. The simple, mostly piano, accompaniment allows Damien to carry the whole thing on his own talents and it's a beautiful song that would have fitted nicely on Styx's 'The Mission' album. 'Fifty One Pillow Bed' is a much more typical 'Cats-lite' effort, just a simple, catchy and fun love song in the same vein as 'Magic Loving Feeling' from the last album. It may not be deep or emotional, but it's a cracking mid paced song that does exactly what you want, from the rich vocals to the uplifting guitar solo in the middle.

'Charlie's Ego' may well be my favourite here, even though it's really a three minute piece of fun about a faded star who doesn't get much work these days but is still a big star in his head. I love the lyrics, the bouncy keyboards and the fact that Damien gets to sing a verse as Charlie himself, totally changing his voice as he does so. It's a type of song that Cats In Space do so well, like 'Sunday Best' from the last album, and sounds like something from a really fun musical. After the excellent, layered title track, 'A Big Balloon' continues the space theme that is in several songs, though it's a relaxing, acoustic track that feels just right after the heroics of the previous one. 'Smoke & Mirrors' brings back the bounce and a real seventies feel at the same time.

'Hero' is the most sparse track on the album, a slow track with only piano behind Damien, allowing him to really go for it on the emotion and power stakes, and it's genuinely breathtaking to listen to , another that you can imagine being performed on stage. The album closes with a couple of more upbeat songs, and 'Last Dance Saloon' is the most ELO song that ELO never recorded, something that's quite deliberate. It's a fine, upbeat song that shines in part due to the wonderful keyboards that blend with the bouncy guitar solo. A proper crown pleaser, I can see this one being a real hit in concert, though it's certainly got plenty of competition elsewhere to get on the set list. Final track before the title track reprise is one the band themselves are VERY proud of, 'Bootleg Bandoleros'. At eight minutes it's the longest song here, but as with 'King Of The Stars' it at no point outstays it's welcome, telling the story of those who would nick creatives hard work, from the time when home taping was killing music to the seeders and downloaders of today. There's a South American feel to the flamenco acoustic guitar, giving way to electric at the three minutes forty mark, at which point the song gets a nice injection of energy though still isn't afraid of an introspective moment or two. Of course, there's a cool guitar solo, too, as well as a section for the crowd to stamp their feet and clap. This one's got it all, folks!

I thought that Cats In Space would find it hard to follow up the excellent 'Atlantis', but with 'Kickstart The Sun' they've actually surpassed it. An album that mixes emotion, storytelling, seriousness and simple fun equally well, resulting in a whole that works on a great many levels, musically. At it's heart, though, it's a Cats In Space album, and if you've ever enjoyed what they've put out before this is a must buy.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE


Thursday, June 16, 2022

SEVENTH WONDER: "The Testament"


Label: Frontiers 2022
Rating: RRRRR
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

In my books, Seventh Wonder have created the perfect mix of progressive metal and melodic rock, and this album is another example of that. Their songs are definitely not simple three-chord ones, yet they are very accessible and hook-driven. The choruses these guys can write... sheer melodic bliss! 

The musicianship is top notch of course, but not self-indulgent. There are long instrumental passages but they don't sound like they've been added as showcases for the musicians, they're integral parts of the songs. There's even one full-blown instrumental "Reflections", which might not be my favourite song but I don't usually skip it either. The band's melodic sensibility shines through even without vocals and choruses.

Speaking of vocals, Tommy Karevik shines here. His performance is soulful and passionate, one does believe every word he sings. He might be better known as the voice of Kamelot these days, but I feel that with Seventh Wonder he's truly "home". Having said that, the chorus of "The Red River" does have a strong Kamelot-vibe... these two worlds are not million miles apart.

There's not a single average track among these, but I do have my favourites: "The Light", "Invincible", "Mindkiller", "Under A Clear Blue Sky" and the heartfelt ballad "Elegy", which is almost as good as the classic "Tears For A Father" from SW's breakthrough album "Mercy Falls".

Seventh Wonder should have a genre of their own, because they aren't just a prog metal or melodic rock band... Progressive Adult Oriented Melodic Metal? PAOMM?

https://seventhwonder.se/





Thursday, March 24, 2022

BATTLE BEAST: "Circus Of Doom"

 


Rating: RRRR

Label: Nuclear Blast

Review: Kimmo Toivonen

The third album since the rebirth of the band sees Battle Beast going for an ever more grandiose, bombastic sound. Orchestration and big choirs galore, and vocalist Noora Louhimo belting it out... this is massive music indeed. 

The first half of the album contains most  of the bombastic material, while on the second half the band lighten the mood a little with the likes of "Russian Roulette" and "The Road To Avalon", both blessed with irrestistable pop-metal hooks. They're among my favourites, as is the similary catchy "Eye Of The Storm".   "Wings Of Light" and "Armageddon" are hook-laden tracks too, but somehow they remind me a lot of Anette-era Nightwish. Not that it's a bad thing.

The straight-forward power metal of the first Battle Beast albums is pretty much a thing of the past, but I for one don't miss it. 

https://battlebeast.fi


ZADRA: "Guiding Star"

 


Review: RRRr

Label: Frontiers

Review: Kimmo Toivonen

Guitarist/vocalist August Zadra has worked with Dennis De Young and Waiting For Monday, but now he has stepped into the limelight as the frontman of ZADRA, a project named after him. People involved include Jeff Scott Soto, Alessandro Del Vecchio and many more, even Dennis De Young plays a keyboard solo on one of the songs. 

For what it's worth, this doesn't sound like a typical Frontiers project. This is a rather varied one, with some songs harking back to the seventies, when Kansas, Journey and Styx ruled the airwaves. "Take My Hand" for example - very much in the Kansas mould. The same goes for the short, oddball intro song "Come Together". Then again, "Nothing More To Say" skips the next decade and fall into the early nineties' AOR mood, when bands like Tall Stories were adding a bit of an alternative vibe to their sound.

My favourite tracks fall somewhere between the 80's sound and contemporary AOR: "Ship Of Fools", "Escape The Rain" and "I'll Meet You In Heaven". I guess they're some of the more traditional melodic rock songs, but I can't help it, I'm a sucker for big choruses and certain familiarity!

Talking about familiarity, "Come Back To Me" goes beyond that. It took me a minute to figure it out, but then it hit me: the song wants desperately to be Tommy Shaw's "Dangerous Game"! It isn't, but it's disturbingly close... 

https://www.facebook.com/augustzadramusic


TEN: "Here Be Monsters"

 


Rating: RRRRr

Label: Frontiers

Review: Kimmo Toivonen

Apparently the first of two albums put together at the same time, "Here Be Monsters" is what Gary Hughes and co. did during the downtime of Covid years. The sequel will see the light of day later this year I guess, much like the double shot of first two TEN albums back in 1996. 

I have to say that the last couple of Ten albums haven't really done much for me, but I'm glad to say that on this album Gary Hughes seems to have found his knack for great melodies again. It's not like he's changed the sound or style of the band dramatically, but somehow many of these songs represent the essence of Ten quite brilliantly - poetic, intelligent lyrics, melancholic melodies and catchy hooks, not to mention stellar musicianship and of course Gary's deep voice.

I like just about all the songs on the album, but from track 2 to track 7 the band showcase 5 songs all worthy of a placement on a "Best Of Ten" playlist, future Ten classics such as "Hurricane", "The Dream That Fell To Earth" and "Chapter And Psalm", to name a few. 

One minor complaint though - a few of the songs start quite similary, with the chorus melody sung by Gary on top of sparse instrumentation. But that's about it, "Here Be Monsters" goes straight to the top 5 of Ten albums for sure!

www.tenoffcial.com

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

FM: "Thirteen"

 

LABEL: Frontiers

RATING: RRRRr 

 Review By: Alan Holloway 

Not to be confused with Black Sabbath's identically titled album from 2013 (hey – it could happen), '13' is, unsurprisingly, UK melodic rock stalwarts FM's thirteenth album, as long as we all agree that 'Rockville' I & II were two albums, which they were. Playing on the traditionally spooky 'Friday The 13th' thing, the cover has a haunted house on it, though knowing FM it's full of kittens and unicorns, because they ain't no scary band!

In what seems to be a deliberate move these days, the album starts with a more chugging track rather than smooth AOR. You can file 'Shaking The Tree' with such openers as 'Black Magic' or 'Digging Up The Dirt' and, like those tracks, it's a serviceable opener that amused me when it used the hoary old line 'Seen it in the paper, heard it on the news'. Things pick up with 'Waiting On Love', the catchy, energetic and AOR-tastic first single, whilst 'Talk Is Cheap' is another heavier track with a good melody and cracking chorus. Last in the opening salvo is the best track on the album (for me, anyway), and that's 'Turn This Car Around'. Currently available as the second promo single, this is FM at their absolute melodic rock peak, with a really energetic pace, a great chorus and the chance for Steve Overland to demonstrate exactly why he's regarded as a master of the melodic singing arts.

As this is an FM album, we get a ballad, which comes in half way through the album. 'Long Road Home'; is a beautifully soulful track with a spoonful of blues heaped on top. Perhaps the catchiest chorus award has to go to 'Be Lucky', and it's a stronger reviewer than me who isn't humming 'If you can't be good, be lucky' for the rest of the day after hearing it just once. Saying that, it's followed by the punchy and bluesy 'Every Man Needs A Woman', which has a proper “whoah whoah” in the chorus that does it's best to kick the previous track out of your earworm cavity. FM are bastards for this, and 'Thirteen' has plenty of moments that come back to haunt you as you're trying to get off to sleep.

'Thirteen' is, for me, a real shot in the arm for FM after 2020s 'Synchronized', which was an enjoyable album but not a killer. This one is a blast from start to finish, the usual eleven tracks (should have been thirteen, really...) with no experimentation, no heroics in sight. A great FM album is made by the songs, and this one has an excess of quality tracks, flitting between chunkier, bluesy stuff and pure AOR without missing a beat. It's a given that the band don't miss a track musically, as they're one of the tightest units in the game, and whilst Steve Overland gets deserved praise for the vocals, never forget the efforts of Jupp, Goldsworthy, Davis and Kirkpatrick, now entering their fourteenth year as a full band.

Fucking Marvellous... 

Official Website 

Monday, February 21, 2022

WOLVESPIRIT: "Change The World"


LABEL: Spirit Stone

RATING: RRRr

Review by Martien Koolen

"Change The World" is Wolvespirit's 6th studio album and again it is an album with energetic classic rock songs, produced in the Southern Ground Studios in Nashville. In this legendary studio bands like The Foo Fighters, Eric Clapton, The Rival Sons and The Allman Brothers band recorded some of their albums, so this is almost holy ground indeed! 

Wolvespirit is a German band, hailing from Wurzburg, with an American singer Debbie Craft and as I said before this is authentic classic rock in the veins of Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, and Iron Butterfly. Opening track "Don't You Know" is indeed a fine and great introduction to this new album, featuring a very heavy riff and a subtle Hammond organ melody. "Thunder And Lightning" is a bluesy song, while "Over The Rainbow" is rather calm and easy. "Strong Against The Wind" is a true rock anthem, "Time Is Running" a groovy track, while "Hells Bells Are Ringing" is truly up tempo and reminds me of ZZ Top. Highlights are "Strong Against The Wind", a rocking anthem and "Time Is Running", a very groovy song with an addictive chorus. 

Conclusion: a great album indeed featuring melodic classic hard rock galore, certainly Wolvespirit's best effort so far!

https://www.wolvespirit.com

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

GIANT: "Shifting Time"


Rating: RRRR

Label: Frontiers 2022

Review by Kimmo Toivonen

It's the third coming of GIANT! The legendary AOR band released two classics of the genre back in 1989 and 1992. The "second coming" took place in 2010 with Terry Brock on vocals. While some didn't consider a real Giant album because of the absence of original vocalist/guitars Dann Huff, it didn't meet as much resistance as this third attempt. Granted, Dann Huff was more involved in that one. Many of the songs were co-written by him, and he played two solos on the album. 

Dann Huff gave his blessing to original members David Huff and Mike Brignardello to continue as Giant, but apart from one solo, he's not involved in creating "Shifting Time". Instead the album has been written by Frontiers' in-house team led by Alessandro Del Vecchio and band's current vocalist Kent Hilli. 

Knowing the number of songs Del Vecchio's songwriting team has released during the last year or so, I was quite worried. Thankfully, these songs are mostly first class stuff. There are obvious nods to the Giant legacy here and there, but most songs stand as their own and not as replicas of old classics.

Kent Hilli is one of my favourite "new" vocalists, and he does a good job here. I like the overall sound and instrumentation as well, so while this may not be the original Giant, it's far from being something that ruins the legacy.

The first single and opening track "Let Our Love Win" didn't exactly raise my expectations, as it sounds like a half-hearted attempt to write a "typical Giant rocker". However, the next three songs "Never Die Young", "Don't Say A Word" and "My Breath Away" are very good AOR tracks, you can hear a Giant influence but they are not carbon copies of old songs. "Highway Of Love" and the ballad "It's Not Over" are less interesting, but "The Price Of Love" ranks as one of the highlights. The first bars of the verses are stolen from "It Takes Two", but the chorus is pure AOR magic which more than makes up for this little theft. Or "tribute", whatever you call it.

"Standing Tall" doesn't work for me at all, but do I like the ballad "Anna Lee" and "Don't Wanna Lose You". The closing number "I Walk Alone" is possibly the album's best song, a massive semi-ballad that can proudly stand alongside Giant classics such as "I'll See You In My Dreams" and "Save Me Tonight". Del Vecchio and Hilli have captured the essence of Giant, added some European flavour and the result is massive.