Thursday, February 22, 2024

ROCK BLOG #27 - First album reviews of 2024: Exit Eden, GOTUS, Autumn's Child, Russell - Guns, Robert Hart, Grand, Honeymoon Suite.

 We’re 8 weeks into 2024, and it’s time to take a look at the albums released so far in the genres we cover. Or at least the ones I’ve heard. 

I have to say that this year’s releases have been a little underwhelming. It’s safe to say that the ”Album Of The Year” hasn’t been released yet, nothing that I have heard so far has excited me that much. Well, I did have a sneak peak preview of the second REMEDY album to be released by Escape Music later this year, and that one IS a strong contender, even though what I heard was merely an unfinished version.

I liked the first EXIT EDEN album released a few years ago. It was an all-covers album and featured 4 female vocalists, Amanda Somerville, Anna Brunner, Clementine Delaney and Marina La Torraca. Somerville has left the band late last year, and they’re continuing as a three-piece group from now on. On the new album ”Femmes Fatales” (RRRR) they’re continuing with a mix of covers and original songs, mostly written by Anna Brunner together with Hannes Braun of Kissing’ Dynamite, who is also the producer of the album. The cover versions are very good, maybe "Separate Ways", "Poison" and "Alone" are kind of safe choices but they're well executed. Marillion's "Kayleigh" gets a symphonic metal treatment too, and I'm not really sure that it works. Pet Shop Boys' "It's A Sin" and Mylene Farmer's "Désenchantée" are very different to the originals, and I like these metallized versions. The original songs are mostly very good, theatrical melodic metal songs not that far from Avantasia's output. At the moment, my pick out of the originals is "Buried In The Past". Tomorrow it might be something else...

The (mostly) Swiss supergroup GOTUS features former members of Gotthard and Krokus, and they play just the kind of music one might expect - hard rock! Vocalist Ronnie Romero was in the Gotthard offshoot Coreleoni and guitarist Mandy Meyer was in Gotthard for several years, not to mention Asia, Krokus, Katmandu, Cobra and other projects. Their self-titled album includes versions of Gotthard's "Reason To Live" and Katmandu's "When The Rain Comes", and it's a safe bet for fans of Gotthard, Whitesnake and hard rock in general. It probably won't be the best album you'll hear this year, but solid stuff anyway. RRRr.

Between 2003 and 2018, Michael Erlandsson released 14 albums with Last Autumn's Dream. When that band went on a break, he formed AUTUMN'S CHILD and "TELLUS TIMELINE" (RRRR) is their fifth album.  If you add a couple of albums with Love Under Cover and his solo work, he's been a reasonably busy fellow, wouldn't you say? The new album is a good example of the high level of songwriting he's managed to maintain, along with his co-writers. Most of the songs on this album are catchy AOR tracks with sharp hooks, my favourites being "A Strike Of Lightning", "Gates Of Paradise" and "Never Surrender". Then again, there are a few songs with strong Beatles- and early Abba-influences which don't really push the right buttons with me.

RUSSELL - GUNS is yet another project masterminded by Frontiers Records. The main characters  are Jack Russell, best known as the vocalist on Great White's biggest albums and Tracii Guns, of LA Guns fame on guitars. The songs are written by Alessandro Del Vechhio, Tommy Denander and a few others, not Russell or Guns though. The songwriters have probably had a mission to mix classic Great White sound with LA Guns' sleazier style, and I guess they've somewhat succeeded in that.  It's just that the songs themselves aren't very memorable, apart from a couple of exceptions. It's a shame, because Jack Russell still sounds good and I'd love to hear him sing better material. Rating for the album "Medusa": RRr.

ROBERT HART's new album "Circus Life" (RRR) has been written by FM's Steve Overland and Steve Morris (Heartland, Shadowman, Lonerider etc), who are no strangers to bluesy classic rock style. Hart himself is a former Bad Company singer, so this combination makes sense. He released a couple of more AOR'ish albums back in the day, and compared to those, his delivery is much rough-edged these days. There are some AOR touches here too, with Steve Overland providing smooth backing vocals and melodies. A few tracks wouldn't sound out of place on any of the latter-day FM albums, if sung by Overland, but I guess that's no surprise.

"Second To None" is the second album from GRAND, a Swedish AOR group, and it's a bit of a roller coaster! The band definitely doesn't stick to a formula, they are taking risks with their songs. I applaud their bravery and versatility, but at the same time I have to admit that I like them the best when they don't venture too far from AOR. The album starts with three perfectly good AOR tracks "Crash & Burn", "When We Were Young" and "Leave A Scar", but then something strange happens. They hit rock bottom indeed with the plodding, bluesy "Rock Bottom", and "Sweet Talker" isn't much better. It sounds like an experiment to mix Van Halen with Toto, not entirely an unappealing idea... but this time it doesn't work. "Lily" is probably a favourite to those who enjoy the smooth sounds of yacht rock, but for me it's the third miss in a row. Thankfully the band bounce back with the killer "Kryptonite", possibly my favourite track of the album. Among the remaining tracks there's another gem called "Achille's Heel" and the ballad "Daze Of Yesterday", which reminds me of "Edge Of The Century"-era Styx. Anyway, there's more good than bad, and at their best GRAND lives up to their name, so my rating is RRRR.

HONEYMOON SUITE were serious contenders to make it to the big league back in the eighties. The were a major success in their home country Canada, but things didn't work out that well elsewhere. The band wasn't very active in the nineties, but they returned to the scene in 2002, and have been sporadically active ever since, with new releases every now and then. In 2017 I was close to seeing them live at Rockingham in the UK, but they cancelled their appearance. Their new album "Alive" (RRRr) has been a long time in the making, the first single from it was released way back in 2019. What's good about it is that while the band has taken a lot of modern influences, they still sound like Honeymoon Suite. Vocalist Johnnie Dee doesn't seem to have aged at all vocally and the band can still write fine melodies, when they put their heart into it. So, it's decent stuff, but a few real standout songs would have elevated my rating to full four R's. At the moment only "Broken" might make it to my Best Of HMS playlist. As bonustracks, the band has re-recorded two old songs, "Love Changes Everything" and "New Girl Now".  "Love Changes..." is one of my favourite tracks from the band, and it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the material.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

MAGNUM: "Here Comes The Rain" (an AI enhanced review)

This is an experiment with AI: I asked ChatGTP to write a review of the new Magnum album in my style. The first attempt was pretty good, but way too long and there were some facts wrong, songs that are not on the album mentioned etc. 

I asked it to correct the facts, mentioned my favourite tracks and the sad news of Tony Clarkin's passing... After a few attempts, this is what I would have written, according to ChatGTP. I definitely notice some straits of my writing here... I pretty much agree with everything here, except for the bit about "Some Kind of Treachery" and "Broken City" having "humor-infused lyrics". Maybe some other tracks, but not those two.


Magnum's "Here Comes The Rain" is a symphonic rock journey that demands attention, with two standout tracks leading the way – the exhilarating opener "Run Into the Shadows" and the gripping "After The Fire."

"Run Into the Shadows" kicks off the album with a thunderous proclamation of Magnum's enduring prowess. Tony Clarkin's guitar mastery creates an anthemic, powerful, and hook-laden anthem. Bob Catley's vocals soar, setting the stage for the entire musical expedition.

"After The Fire" stands out as a gem, showcasing Magnum's ability to blend melody and power seamlessly. The combination of Clarkin's guitar riffs and Rick Benton's keyboard magic creates a sonic landscape that's both majestic and captivating. The song's dynamic shifts and emotive delivery make it an instant classic.

While these tracks shine as the album's crown jewels, the entire record is a testament to Magnum's musical finesse. Tracks like "Some Kind of Treachery" and "Broken City" provide moments of introspection, while the humor-infused lyrics keep the experience entertaining.

In the wake of Tony Clarkin's recent passing, "Here Comes The Rain" takes on an added layer of poignancy. It stands as a tribute to a guitar legend who poured his heart and soul into every note, especially evident in the opening track and the mesmerizing "After The Fire."

In conclusion, "Here Comes The Rain" is a celebration of Magnum's enduring legacy. Whether you're raising your lighter to the heavens or air-guitaring with abandon, Magnum's latest effort is a rock odyssey that demands to be experienced.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

ROCK BLOG #26: The Best Albums Of 2023 - "The Turbo Dozen"

 It’s never easy, and it takes time, putting together a list of favourite albums. For 2023 I had trouble figuring out a Top 10, but then I thought: ”who’s forcing me”? No-one! So I chose 12, and since ”The Dirty Dozen” is such a cliché, I went with ”The Turbo Dozen”! 

1. Nitrate - Feel The Heat

(With their fourth album, Nitrate have definitely reached the premium league of modern AOR. Songs, production, the whole package - masterclass!)

2. The Defiants - Drive

(Ravel, Laine & Marcello did not disappoint with their third effort. Summertime anthems with massive hooks was the name of the game, but they do work during other seasons too - I’ve tested!)

3. Crowne - Operation Phoenix

(The Swedish supergroup produced another killer album, even better than their debut. Alexander Strandell is the vocalist of the year, with two albums in top three!)

4. Strangerland - Echoes From The Past

(The surprise album of the year - no big names involved but big-sounding AOR nevertheless.)

5. Kent Hilli - Nothing Left To Lose

(Hilli hooked up with One Desire producer Jimmy Westerlund and the result was a great slice of fine AOR.)

6. Theocracy - Mosaic

(The Metal Album of the Year for me. Matt Smith has a way with the melodies!)

7. Ten - Something Wicked This Way Comes

(Ten have their unmistakable style, and I like it. Gary Hughes has a way with the melodies too!)

8. Temple Balls - Avalanche

(Finland! I didn’t choose this because they’re from Finland, I chose it because it’s catchy hard rock, with a little help from Jona Tee of H.E.A.T. and Crowne.)

9. Vega - Battlelines

(A new line-up, but still solid as ever.)

10. Creeper - Sanguivore

(A very late addition to the list. Imagine a mixture of Goth Rock and Jim Steinman’s greatest moments, and you’re close to this!)

11. Streetlight - Ignition

(Retro sounds from Sweden, very much in the vein of early-to-mid-80’s AOR.)

12. Winger - Seven

(A strong comeback album from Kip & Co.)

During the painstaking process of choosing the Top 12 albums, all of these albums were also in consideration.

All good ones all worthy of a solid RRRR rating. In no particular order:

Cassidy Paris - New Sensation

Care Of Night - Reconnected

Overland - S.I.X.

VV - Neon Noir

Issa - Lights Of Japan

Autumn’s Child - Starflower

Arctic Rain - Unity

Khymera - Hold Your Ground

Creye  - III: Weightless

First Signal - Face Your Fears

Robin McAuley - Alive

All My Shadows - Eerie Monsters

Seventh Crystal - Wonderland

Kamelot - The Awakening

Stormwarning - s/t

Lordi - Scream Writers Guild

Floor Jansen - Paragon

Revolution Saints - Eagle Flight

Grand Design - Rawk

Mecca - Everlasting

Perfect View - Bushido

Heavens Edge - Get It Right

Circus Of Rock - Lost Behind The Mask

Art Nation - Inception

Tanna - Kohtalon Tuulet

Degreed - Public Address

Mitch Malloy - The Last Song

Houston - Re-Launch III

Gabrielle De Val - Kiss In A Dragon Night

Tempt - s/t

Rian - Wings

Transworld Identity - Seven Worlds

Eclipse - Megalomanium

Masaki - Feed The Fire

Midnite City - In At The Deep End

Ronnie Atkins - Trinity

Lazy Bones - Eye Of The Sky

I know I forgot some or didn't have time to check them out, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise I would have published this list in July... 2025!