Thursday, October 5, 2023

ROCK BLOG #24: WEST ALLEY, MASAKI and STRANGERLAND reviews, a few words about PETRA too

This time the focus is on a few newer bands, who have recently released their first albums.

Let’s start with WEST ALLEY. Just like many of the ”newcomers” of recent years, they’ve actually been around the block a few times, and the roots of the band go all the way to the eighties. ”A Night To Remember” (RRRR) is the name of the album, and the title track is the opener. Frankly, it doesn’t represent the sound of the album very well, it’s lightweight west coast pop which reminds me of a cheesy advertisement from the seventies or something like that. But fear not! The band crank it up and start rocking after that, and come up with deliciously melodic songs with nice hooks, one after another. The punchy ”Miracles Can Happen” is my favourite, but ”Angels”, ”How Many Hearts” and ”Colors Of Love” are close behind. Plenty of Toto-isms can be heard, and nods to other AOR greats such as Survivor and Journey. And doesn’t vocalist Marcus Bj√∂rkroth’s higher register sound quite a lot like Jean Beauvoir’s?

MASAKI might sound like a name for an asian band, but they are from Norway. Looking at their videos I’d guess that the band’s average age is few years less than that of West Alley’s. Some of the band members have been in STONEFLOWER, but for this project they’ve adopted the artist name of their lead singer JOHN MASAKI, who is a profilic performer in the Norwegian music scene. He’s been in Norwegian Idol, several big musicals and other productions. ”FEED THE FLAME” (RRRR) is their debut, and it’s a good album, classic AOR sound with modern pop and prog elements. They have some interesting lyrics too. For example, one of the album highlights ”Angel Wings” seems to take a critical stance at religious hypocrisy. Other noteworthy songs include ”Stone Cold” and ”Almost Paradise”, all three mentioned found their place on my ”Highlights of 2023” playlist. Mr. Masaki himself sounds a lot like Tracy White, the vocalist of Shotgun Symphony and Intruder.

My favourite of these three new releases is STRANGERLAND and their album ”Echoes From The Past” (RRRRr). Strangerland is a project of Greek musician ALEX PATMAN who’s responsible for guitars, keyboards, songwriting and production I believe. The vocals are provided by US singer DAVID CAGLE, who does a fantastic job. His smooth vocals really suit these tracks, which remind me of Treat, Harlan Cage and Khymera. I especially like the melancholic mid-tempo songs ”Until My Heart”, ”Summer Nights” and ”Calling You”, while out of the uptempo ones ”Tears In My Eyes” and ”Whenever It Rains” are among my favourites too. Not to mention the magnificent ballad ”Time”. I’m surprised that this album hasn’t gotten that much attention, it’s certainly one of my top albums of this year.

Apart from new music, during the last few days I’ve been listening to a lot of PETRA albums. They really had a nice streak of three excellent albums in the late eighties, starting with ”This Means War” (1987), followed by ”On Fire” (1988) and ”Beyond Belief” (1990). They released a ”praise” album in 1989 but I’m choosing to ignore that one, it’s not really an album of original Petra songs. 

These three albums are the absolute jewels of the band’s discography, and all three feature the Elefante brothers John and Dino as producers/co-writers. The Elefantes worked on the albums before and after these three, but they’re not in the same league, although both of them do have their moments.

If you’re not familiar with Petra, they’re a Christian rock band with a strong message. They never managed to cross over to mainstream and I don’t think they really tried to, and in the CCM genre they are legends and have still sold millions of records. One can hear the influences of the era on these three albums, the success of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard certainly has had some impact on the production and songwriting.  We did a ”The Big 10” feature on the band some years ago, there you’ll find more about this band.

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