Thursday, January 26, 2023


This is the tenth ”Rock Blog” so far, and the first of 2023, the ”Best Of 2022” episode not withstanding. The first weeks of the year aren’t the busiest time when it comes to new releases, but a few albums have been released already, and I’m going to take a look at some of them.

HIM was a very successful band with their ”Love Metal” sound, one of Finland’s biggest music export success stories. They broke up a few years ago, but the band’s mastermind VILLE VALO has just released his first solo album ”Neon Noir”, under the monicker of VV. I’ve played it a few times and it’s an interesting record. Less metal (more love?) than HIM, it offers a cinematic atmosphere and some fine melodies. If you’re after three minute hits with ”Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” mentality you might be disappointed, but in a certain mood this album works quite well. The again, some of the songs just flow past me and leave no trace whatsoever… I’d say at the moment this gets a RRRr rating, but it could turn into 3 or 4 R’s, we’ll see.

ISSA’s new album ”Lights Of Japan” (RRRR) is another solid effort from her. This time the songs have been penned by her husband James Martin, his brother Tom and the album’ s producer Michele Guaitoli (Visions of Atlantis, Temperance). The Martin brothers used to be in Vega, but rather than traces of that band I heard echoes of their work with Khymera. There's also a slight retro wave vibe in some of the songs, and I wouldn't have minded if that had been explored even further. Favourite tracks: ”Live Again” and ”Fight To Survive”.

I was looking forward to the new BEYOND THE BLACK album, but after the first spin of the self-titled album, I was a bit disappointed. None of the songs really grabbed me like the hits from the previous albums, but I think I’ll give it another chance.

TEN released a new album ”Something Wicked This Way Comes” last week, and I’ve only played it once, but I can already say that it’s a good one. Not necessarily as good as last year’s ”Here Be Monsters”, but good anyway. I’ll get back to this later. 

Tomorrow is again Friday, and a bunch of new albums will see the light of day. CROWNE and ARCTIC RAIN are the ones I’m most looking forward to. I might have something to write about them in the next blog entry. Until then... rock on!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

THE AARON CLIFT EXPERIMENT – “The Age Of Misinformation”

Rating: RRR

Label: Aaron Clift Production

Review by Martien Koolen

"The Age Of Misinformation" is the fourth album by the experimental rock band The Aaron Clift Experiment and the sound of this multi-faceted quartet is a weird blend of classic rock, modern rock, progressive rock, jazz, and even classical music. Think of notorious bands like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Weather Report, Opeth and Porcupine Tree. 

This new album, a concept album about the COVID lockdowns and its influences, features eight tracks of which the longest one "Bet On Zero" clocks over the ten minutes mark and is the best song of the entire album by far! On this track the four-piece band is “assisted” by a big brass band consisting of six trumpet, trombone, and saxophone players, making this a real musical highlight of this dark album. 

"Rise", if you listen very carefully, reminds me of Genesis’ "In The Cage", while "Malaga" is a kind of arena rock, upbeat song with guitar picker Anthony Basini in the spotlight. The album ends with an emotional, but rather bittersweet, cheesy ballad called "Weight Of The World". 

"The Age Of Misinformation" is in my humble opinion not really a progressive rock album but more a mix of soft, melodic rock music trying to be progressive and sound progressive. Another thing that you really have to get used to, or not, is the typical voice of Aaron Clift, which, at least to me, sounds too monotonous, making it very hard to listen to this album in one take; but then again it is only my opinion, so decide for yourself. Listening tip: "Bet On Zero"!

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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

ROCK BLOG #9 - The Best of 2022 and then some.

 2023 is here and it's time to take a look at last year. The Covid-situation started to get better... and then the madman in Moscow decided to start a war. A humanitarian crisis, an energy crisis, prices of everything going up... not a great year. I can only hope that 2023 will turn out to be a year when things start to change for the better, but somehow I'm not particulary optimistic. But that's enough doom and gloom, let's concentrate now on nicer things, like riffs, melodies and such!

There were a lot of new albums released in 2022. During the pandemic many artists had the time to create new music, and indeed, several veteran bands released critically acclaimed new albums. I have to say that for me, they were mostly disappointing. Scorpions, Def Leppard, Journey, Magnum, Bryan Adams... some people were really excited about these albums, but I didn't really warm up to any of them. The continuing trend of having 15-20 songs on an album isn't something that I enjoy, it usually means that the common thread is lost and there are several fillers. Gimme 10 great songs instead, thank you very much! 

Frontiers Records have been very profilic in releasing albums, and they've put out several albums which made it to my "Top Albums of 2002" playlist. Then again, the constant flood of releases from them has been a bit overwhelming, especially since many of them have been put together by the same people. The label has a rooster of talented songwriters and producers, but if they release dozens of songs per month, the quality cannot remain on a high level. Looking at my lists, most of the project albums featuring "the usual suspects" ended up on the "Second Tier" list. 

The best one of Frontiers' projects was also a return of a veteran band - GIANT. With Perfect Plan singer Kent Hilli as their new frontman, the band released a solid album, with songs mostly penned by Alessandro Del Vecchio, Pete Alpenborg, Kristian Fyhr and Kent Hilli. None of them are original members of Giant of course, but I think they were able to capture some of the magic of those classic two first classic Giant albums. You may debate whether "Shifting Time" is a "real" Giant album, but if Dann Huff has given it his blessing, that's good enough for me. 

Let's check out some other "Bubbling Under" albums which I haven't reviewed elsewhere, before I get down to listing my Top 10.

GHOST released a popular new album "Impera", and some people thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, but I wouldn't go that far. It is a good album, and some of the songs are brilliant. "Spillways" is my favourite from it. RRRR.

RONNIE ATKINS has been going through some hard times because of his health, but he's a true fighter, and released a solo album and one with NORDIC UNION this year, both decent platters. The title track of his solo album "Make It Count" is one of my favourite songs of 2022.

RICK ALTZI released his first solo album "All Eyes On Me, and it was a bit of a surprise for me. I was expecting a heavier, power metal type of a thing for some reason, but it was a melodic hard rock album with touches of Dokken and the likes. Interestingly, the songs were co-written by Pete Alpenborg and Ulrick Lonnqvist, both from the Frontiers' songwriter pool... moonlighting?

RECKLESS LOVE returned with the controversial "Turborider" album. The electronically enhanced sound didn't appeal to some, but I like it. Some of the songs are very catchy. This album is just a killer track ot two short of making it to my Top 10.

My old favourites DARE and FORTUNE put out new albums as well, "Road To Eden" and "Level Ground". Both solid albums. Late last year we recieved the sad news of the death of Fortune's vocalist Larry Greene, may he rest in peace.

Finnish rockers BAD BARON debuted with an album called "Ace Of Hearts". They kind of remind me of an AOR version of LORDI - some excellent songs with huge choruses, obviously influenced by the great songwriters of the 80ies, like Desmond Child and Jack Ponti. The vocals are at times a bit one-dimensional, but this is definitely a band to watch.

With NEW HORIZON, H.E.A.T. keyboard player Jona Tee showcased his Power Metal side. Former H.E.A.T. vocalist and current Skid Row frontman Erik Grönwall joined his former bandmate, and the results were pretty convincing. "We Unite" stands out as one of my favourite metal songs of the year.

The following bands also released strong albums (rating: RRRR) in 2022, most of them I have reviewed in the ROCK BLOGS or separately: Battle Beast, Lionville, City Of Lights, Find Me, Rust'n Rage, FM, Black Swan, Crash Diet, Palace, H.E.A.T., Generation Radio, Cleanbreak, House Of Lords, Collateral, Perfect Plan, Richard Marx, Fallen Sanctuary, Wildness, Captain Black Beard, 91 Suite, Grand, Mad Max, Stratovarius, Threshold, Gathering Of Kings. I'm pretty sure I forgot some, but I'll add them later... 

Now, on to the TOP 10:

10. DEGREED: "Are You Ready" - This band is just getting better and better. Now they've maybe taken a page or two from H.E.A.T. and gone even more anthemic, but I'm not complaining!

9. CHEZ KANE: "Powerzone" - A good follow up to last year's debut, again penned by Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx.

8. TEN: "Here Be Monsters" - The best TEN album in years, with some amazing melodies from Gary Hughes. A full review available.

7. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: "The Garden" - a truly fine project featuring an all-star cast and fine songs. There's a sequel coming!

6. DYNAZTY: "The Final Advent" - the modern metal machine that keeps on delivering hookladen hits, one after another. 

5. AVANTASIA: "A Paranormal Evening With The Moonflower Society" - Another massive album from the modern-day Jim Steinman, Tobias Sammet.

4. TREAT: "The Endgame" - Anders Wikström doesn't get enough credit for his immense talent as a songwriter. Album after album, he comes up with these melodies like no-one else. I'm just thankful he has time for Treat, because he could easily be churning out pop hits and making shiploads of money... 

3. KISSIN' DYNAMITE: "Not The End Of The Road" - A good example of how you can take tried and trusted elements yet come up with something that doesn't sound dated or tiresome. Some very catchy songs on this one.

2. SEVENTH WONDER: "The Testament" - the masters of Melodic Prog Metal did not disappoint. A wonderful display of musical virtuocity but more importantly, superb songwriting.  A full review available. 


REMEDY: "Something That Your Eyes Won't See" - a perfectly crafted selection of fresh new melodic rock from Sweden.  A full review available.