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Album Review: Bonfire - Legends

Posted on October 26, 2018 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)


Bonfire – Legends

Written by The Rock Man

 

I freely put my hand up and admit I love a good cover or two. For as long as I can remember there is something about hearing another band’s interpretation of a ‘classic’ that generates a little bit of anticipation within. With that said, not every band gets it right and again, I’ll freely put my hand up and admit I have been known to be a little overprotective of some band’s original works and wonder why so and so is butchering this masterpiece of musical excellence. It can get so out of hand you’d think I was in the band!

 

Then on the other hand you occasionally are faced with a situation that goes the other way and the cover ends up being so much better that the original piece. I honestly can’t say it happens too often, but it does every now and then; Joe Lynn Turner’s version of the Foreigner track Waiting For A Girl Like You springs to mind as the perfect example of what I’m talking about here.  

 

It’s fair to say it’s been a busy year for German heavy rockers Bonfire; back in April the band released a new album of all original material titled Temple Of Lies and fans could be forgiven for being satisfied with what was an overall solid outing from the boys. But somewhere along the line the band managed to find the time during a hectic tour schedule to head back into the studio to record another album; a double album in fact of classic ‘70s and ‘80s covers aptly titled Legends. 

 

To suggest Legends is a mammoth project, both in terms of material covered and number of tracks, is somewhat of an understatement. Firstly, there’s 32 tracks over two CDs running for 130 minutes!.  Secondly, the quality of song selection is out of this world with cuts from some of the biggest bands of a golden bygone era, such as Toto, Survivor, UFO, Rainbow, Deep Purple and Queensryche given a fresh ultra-modern upgrade. 

 

So you’ll remember that earlier on I mentioned the rare occasion when a cover turns out way better than the original, well this is where Legends kicks off with the most dynamic version of Toto’s Africa I’ve ever heard. To be clear, I’m a fan of Toto, but not so much of Africa, I’ve always thought the song was lacking something.  Well, not anymore thanks to Bonfire; this 21st Century remake kicks the snot out of the ’82 original. The secret, albeit a simple one, is guitars, guitars, guitars. On the original version the main feature is a dominant keyboard section, Bonfire have replaced that main keyboard melody with a heavy guitar substitute and finally the track has some much needed hard rock backbone. This same treatment is also applied to Toto’s other big hit of the era Rosanna and the effects are just as impressive. 

 

From here Bonfire move on to a handful of Rainbow tunes, with Man On The Silver Mountain and Death Alley Driver, potentially two of their biggest tracks receiving a new-fashioned revamp. If you were a fan of the Rocky film franchise during the ‘80s then you’ll be more than familiar with two of Survivor’s biggest hits from those soundtracks: Eye Of The Tiger and Burning Heart. Both classics are featured here and are solid and respectful offerings; the former does afford the listener a nice, slightly meatier guitar sound than the Survivor version.  

 

Over the decades many bands have tried their hand at UFO’s showpiece Doctor, Doctor, naturally Bonfire are the latest and I honestly doubt the last. Once again, another solid endeavour, that said however, the original still reigns supreme.

 

To prove that disc one wasn’t a fluke, Bonfire apply the same sprinkle of magic to a number of rock and metal classics on disc two. I am a Queensryche fan from way back and I do get a little touchy if other bands attempt to cover anything from the Operation: Mindcrime and Empire records, which in my view, are metal classics. This is where disc two of Legends begins with three tracks from that said period: Jet City Woman, Silent Lucidity and Eyes Of A Stranger. For what they are, these are solid performances and a sturdy way to kick off the second album; vocalist Alexx Stahl is no Geoff Tate but I’ll give him a B+ for effort.  

 

One of the biggest surprises is the inclusion of three Robin Beck tracks. I wouldn’t say that Beck is a huge name in the rock world, so anyone covering her songs is unexpected to me. That said, Bonfire take on these songs and re-creates them in their own hard rock style. The highlight here is For The First Time which is given a bit more edge than the original late ‘80s hit. From here the band offers up rewarding renditions of cuts from Hardline, House Of Lords and Grave Digger, most notably their version of Rebellion.

 

Legends is simply and outstanding salute to rock and metal bands of the past and the respect and appreciation Bonfire have for these timeless tunes shines through. If you’re a fan of this era of rock history then Legends is a must have. 

Album Review: Groundbreaker - Groundbreaker

Posted on October 25, 2018 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)


Groundbreaker – Groundbreaker

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

In the universe of good music, FM have been a reference point since the mid-80's and Work Of Art is one of the most relevant names in contemporary AOR. The Grounbreaker project reunites legendary FM vocalist Steve Overland with talented WOA guitarist Robert Säll, the two central elements in their respective bands and synonymous with quality, each in its own right. The announcement of the project generated great expectation, given the names involved and, mainly, the side of AOR that Overland and Säll so well practice in their respective bands, always with abundant quality. And this project that includes them is no exception.


The album has a collection of imposing rockers and is very well built, as you can see in the exciting "Over My Shoulder" and the surrounding "Will It Make You Love Me" and "Eighteen 'til I Die." A point common to all three songs is the chorus, always explosive and sticky, just the way it should be. Already "Only Time Will Tell" deserves attention, but does not have the impact of previous songs. Listen and draw your own conclusions.


In the meantime, "Tonight" comes out as a spectacular mid-pacer with classic sonority and that chorus that chills, while "Standing Up For Love" brings a little more weight - thanks to the guitars on the front line - but without any to the melodic aspect. "Something Worth Fighting For" is the only ballad on the album, with a well-kept arrangement and traditional tempo, as well as a remarkable chorus. In addition, this feature is also present in "The Sound Of A Broken Heart", a rocker, with layers of keyboards surrounded by guitars well distributed in the arrangement.


We still have the brilliant "The First Time", the frantic "The Days Of Our Lives" and the daunting "The Way It Goes", with its pompous keyboards in the foreground and its chorus. Closing the album we have the acoustic version for "Something Worth Fighting For", which highlights Overland's powerful vocals even more, but an unprecedented song would undoubtedly be better.


In short, this debut album from Groundbreaker deserves a lot of praising, for its very well cut, elegant sound. With no exaggeration and performed to perfection, the album is consistent as few and has boasts a very well defined musical direction. Overland and Säll perform their duties with mastery (as always), as well as Nally Påhlsson (bass) and Herman Furin (drums), who parade talent and quality in the band's cuisine. Overall, this album sounds more like Robert Säll on FM than Steve Overland in Work Of Art, but anyway, the quality overflows in cavalry from one of the best contemporary AOR albums of 2018. Without a doubt, this album deserves a place in your collection.

Album Review: Diamante - Coming In Hot

Posted on October 25, 2018 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)


Diamante – Coming In Hot

Written by The Rock Man

 

Up until recently I associated the word “Diamante” with a glittery ornament on a garment. However, the word now has a new and exciting definition: Fiery, youthful and spirited next generation of rock. So who or what in the blue hell is Diamante? A fair question. 

 

Diamante is a 22-year-old rock singer based in Los Angeles, California. She previously released a 5 track EP titled Dirty Blonde featuring the single Bite Your Kiss which achieved success in the U.S. reaching the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot Singles chart in 2014.

 

Shortly after that in 2015, she was announced as one of the participants in the Revolver Magazine’s Hottest Chicks In Hard Rock National Tour.   

 

Since then she has been feverishly working on her debut album titled Coming In Hot with producer extraordinaire Howard Benson (Theory Of A Deadman/P.O.D./Daughtry). And the fruits of that labour have now come to bear.      

 

Coming In Hot is an album full of sex-charged and teenage angst material and while on face value that may seem a little immature or even repetitive for some, songs like the singles Bulletproof and Had Enough, as well as tracks like Fight Like A Girl, Kind Of Love and the title cut are just so damn catchy and full of sweet guitar hooks and melody that you can’t help but rock along. It is hard to ignore the ‘80s feel throughout the record, this is largely due to Diamante being heavily influenced by music from that era, which is pretty rare for someone of her age. Yet somehow she also manages to blend a modern style with those influences and it all comes together nicely.    

 

In an attempt to show Diamante is more than just a one trick pony, cuts such as War Cry and Sleepwalking bring an industrial feel to her brand of rock. While I’m Sorry is the album’s sole ballad and appears in two versions, English and Italian. And then there is the punk-ish Definitely Not In Love which is just a straight-up fun track. Another nice addition to the record is a cover of the Heart song Crazy On You, which Diamante puts her own spin on and this is a respectful salute to one of her childhood heroes. 

 

The inevitable comparisons to Lzzy Hale (Halestorm) will be expected and an argument to support such views could be warranted, but Diamante is her own identity and not merely a clone of rock women who have gone before her and as such should be judged on her own merits. 

 

Is it for everyone? Probably not, but it’s not intended to be either. This is one of those records you put on at a Summer pool party to set a good vibe and that’s exactly what Coming In Hot will do. For a first up effort by an artist still finding her way, this is a pretty good offering and over the coming years it will be interesting to see how Diamante develops with each studio recording. Keep an eye on this one, something special could be in the making.    

Album Review: Steve Perry - Traces

Posted on October 23, 2018 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)


Steve Perry – Traces

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

After 24 years, the legendary Steve Perry (Ex-Journey) returns to his solo career with "Traces"; undoubtedly the most anticipated album of recent years that has been in the works since May 2015. Much was speculated as to what would be a possible Perry album. Well, made up mostly of ballads, the new work is not exactly what the vast majority of fans - and I am included in that group - expected, given their musical direction. But it is absolutely undeniable that the mere fact that Perry is back on the stage is a cause for celebration, and with that in mind, "Traces" deserves a lot of attention.

 

The excellent rocker "No Erasin" opens the album with propriety, revealing Perry's unmistakable vocals in a fantastic contemporary AOR, with rising melody and an explosive, sticky chorus, as we all expected. On the other hand, "We're Still Here" is a ballad with a delicate melody and very well-crafted arrangement, whose tempo is almost like a mid-pacer, where the verses create an engaging aura that leads to a delicately striking chorus. "Most Of All" (written in partnership with Randy Goodrum) has accurate metrics and sweeping tempo, framed below in the foreground and elegant guitars that gently parade in a song that sounds familiar from the beginning. These early songs are enough to convince the most demanding of creatures, but there's still more. So much more…

 

The beautiful "No More Cryin '" (written in partnership with Semisonic's Dan Wilson) has a soul aura that perfectly fits Perry's vocals, especially in the thrilling chorus, and it's also worth noting the beautiful guitars carefully scattered throughout. Long song. And the beautiful "In The Rain" is absolutely intimate with a beautiful piano arrangement that accompanies Perry's vocals in the foreground, also featuring a punctual bass and precise orchestral inserts that add more body to the song. "Sun Shines Gray" is another sweeping rocker from the beginning, where guitars take the edge in this song that brings me to Journey’s "Trial By Fire", with a beautiful work of John 5 on guitars.

 

"You Belong To Me" brings bass and piano to the front line and is perhaps the most recognizable song of Perry's vocal age, but without any detriment. The arrangement is intimate and the melody engaging, not to mention the chilling chorus. "Easy To Love" has a slightly more dynamic tempo and solid bass line, punctuated by precise guitars and an occasional organ that adds brilliance to the ensemble. Still, the vocal arrangement is of a unique beauty and deserves your attention. The beautiful "I Need You" is a cover of the song originally recorded by the Beatles in 1965 and even being averse to covers, I have to give the arm a twist because Perry simply rocks with a precise interpretation and much higher than the original. Against facts there are no arguments, sorry. And closing the album we have "We Fly", whose intimate arrangement evidences Perry's vocals from the beginning. Counting on a subtle, delicate melody, this song is intense and plunges the listener into a deep, melodic chilling mood.

 

And this album, being the deluxe edition, has 5 additional tracks: “October In New York” is a 40s/50s jazz-influenced ballad, with a very classy arrangement with elegant orchestrations, while “Angel Eyes” reminds me of 60s Motown due to its catchy arrangement, besides having one of Perry’s finest performances. Then one of the most surprising tracks come up: “Call On Me” has a mid-tempo reggae pace, pretty much as he did on Journey’s “Baby I’m Leaving You” from “Trial By Fire”, and that might explain why this song sounds so familiar and why it grows on you instantly. And while listening to this track pay attention to the laughter from Kelly Nash (Perry’s deceased partner and directly responsible for his comeback). Another excellent track is “Could We Be Somethin’ Again”, a soft mid-pacer with a delicate and involving melody and backing vocals, while “Blue Jays Fly” presents a very relaxing, lullaby-esque, keyboard-driven melody with touching vocal mementos from Perry, closing the album in delicate note.

 

In summary, "Traces" is a fantastically surprising album, even having only two rockers. Of course, perhaps the commercial appeal would be greater with a more diverse set of songs, but it is astounding that so many ballads can sound so different from one another. You definitely have to be on top of your game to accomplish something like this. And from the top of his 69 years of age, Steve Perry gives an absolute lesson on interpretation and vocal versatility. Accompanied by excellent musicians, Perry performs masterfully written songs displaying body, soul and a whole lot of class (this last item also present in the flawless production of Steve Perry himself and Thom Flowers). When I learned the album would have ballads for most of the tracklist, I confess to having been fearful, imagining a tiring album. Today, I make a public mea culpa before an amazing album, cohesive as few and immersed in quality. May we not have to wait another 24 years for more stuff from Steve Perry, but right now, "Traces" is absolutely mandatory in your collection.

 

The fantastic “Traces” is out now.

Album Review: Ace Frehley - Spaceman

Posted on October 23, 2018 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)


Ace Frehley – Spaceman

Written by The Rock Man

 

In today’s musical landscape it can become laborious keeping up with all the different genres and styles available to consumers; things change so quickly, what was fashionable five minutes ago is now redundant. In this rapidly ever-changing world it is nice and somewhat refreshing to know there are still some things you can count on to remain as they were in days gone by.  As new artists rise and fall in the blink of an eye, there are those faithful pillars of rock history still standing in the background like a reliable family dog waiting at home to greet you with enthusiasm after a long day at work. For many of us that grew up in the ‘70s that reliable friend is Ace Frehley. 

 

The former KISS guitarist has built a solid catalogue of material over the decades since his departure from the ‘70s mega-group, with seven albums to his name prior to this year. But now the once ‘Celestial being from another world’ has returned with a collection of new songs on his next studio record aptly titled Spaceman.

 

It’s fair to say that Spaceman is a throwback to the ‘70s in every possible way which, for those who remember it like myself, is a welcomed change to some of the nonsense passing itself off as rock music nowadays. Firstly, the album features nine cuts which was standard practice back then - only the best songs are selected. These days many records can feature up to 15/16 tracks with many of them used as filler. Secondly the songs themselves run for an average of 3:30 to 4:30 minutes in duration with the overall running time of the album clocking in at 38 minutes; now that is old school! And then there is the quality of the songs, as soon as you push play you are instantly transported to a simpler, less complex era. 

 

The record takes flight with the Gene Simmons co-written rocker Without You I’m Nothing. You can judge for yourself which KISS album you think this could’ve been on as it has all the trademarks of that classic KISS sound. So as KISS fans we all know the lyrical story behind one of the band’s biggest hits Beth: Rock star is in the studio working with the band when he gets a phone call from his wife complaining that she’s home all alone and he’s spending too much time with the band; Rockin’ With The Boys is basically Beth 2.0 taken to the next level and backed with some serious guitars and melody.

 

Your Wish Is My Command is the second Gene Simmons collaboration featured on the record and you can sense that the former bandmates have never had a better working relationship and are operating in perfect unison. The track is punchy and full of melodic guitars. If it ever came to light that Bronx Boy was recorded during the Hotter Than Hell sessions, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. This track has all the hallmarks of something that sounds like it belongs on that record. Whether by design or default the track is dripping with gritty New York 1974 rock and roll attitude and a scorching solo. 

 

Ace has always been a rock and roll maverick and somewhat of a free spirit, those attributes are channelled into Pursuit Of Rock And Roll. On this song Ace reflects on his childhood growing up with heroes such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones. This is definitely one of the highlights of the record. Continuing the reflective mood, I Wanna Go Back sees Ace longing to relive his younger days and I’m sure anyone over 40 who hears this song will be able to relate. 

 

Mission To Mars, as you would expect by the title, is a rocking space odyssey, again, featuring another smoking solo; while Off My Back is probably the most modern sounding cut on the whole album. As has become the norm on Ace Frehley records over the journey, the album comes to a close with an instrumental. Like those that have preceded it Quantum Flux is a nicely balanced blend of acoustic and electric guitar playing that makes you appreciate how gifted Frehley is as a guitar player and his place and influence in the history of rock.

 

If you’re of a certain vintage and you find yourself disillusioned by today’s modern music world, you’ll find that Spaceman is a timely reminder of how it was back in a golden age of rock. For those of you not old enough to have experienced it, Spaceman is a first-rate example of how the big boys used to do it ‘back in the day’; an example that could hold the modern rock star in good stead.  

Album Review: Doro - Forever Warriors Forever United

Posted on October 8, 2018 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)


Doro – Forever Warriors Forever United

Written by The Rock Man


For 34 years Doro Pesch has been the undisputed queen of metal in a very dominated male arena. Since exploding onto the metal scene in 1984 with her band Warlock, the Düsseldorf native has built an enduring legacy forged on the back of one quality release after another that is the envy of most of her male counterparts.


It has been a while since her last album, Raise Your Fist (2012), so you would expect her next studio album to pack a punch and be a big effort to satisfy her many loyal and devoted fans who’ve had to endure the long wait. And it is fair to say that Doro has more than delivered on that criteria of a “big” album with the arrival of Forever Warriors Forever United.


This album isn’t just big in sonic scope but actual size spanning a massive 25 tracks and is available in a double album format. The record is broken up into two parts: Disc One - Forever Warriors, and Disc Two – Forever United.


So let’s take a look at what Forever Warriors has to offer. The fist pumping rock anthem All For Metal kicks off this first instalment of the album. This is trademark Doro at her best and will naturally draw parallels to previous works like All We Are, Celebrate and Raise Your Fist In The AirBastardos continues the pace with its relentless double bass drumming and face melting melodic guitar riffage which is reminiscent of Doro’s ‘80s halcyon days in Warlock.


If I Can’t Have You - No One Will is a very good example of how to take a really good song idea and ruin it. For this cut Doro has paired with Swedish death metaller Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth), a decision that would be detrimental to the sound of the track. The song itself is a mid-tempo ballad-ish track with lots of melodic bite and a solid vocal performance from Doro herself but then comes the growling, deep throated, doom vocal of Hegg and the track loses all appeal for me. I can’t understand why she didn’t opt for someone like Biff Byford (Saxon) or even Udo Dirkschneider (ex- Accept) as a potential vocal partner. Sadly, and I do hate to be critical, Doro has missed the mark on this one. If you’re a fan of this brand of metal, then you’ll find some value here; otherwise press skip on your chosen player device and move on.


And move on you’ll do quickly with a number of monstrous heavy rockers such as Turn It Up, Be Strong, Blood, Sweat And Rock N’ Roll and Backstage To Heaven. A real highlight and a most welcomed surprise was Doro’s cover of the hit Whitesnake track Don’t Break My Heart Again. Overall she stays pretty true to the 1981 original; the main difference is a slightly heavier, chugging guitar riff throughout. Of course you’ll also find the mandatory German language track and a couple of handy ballads, Bring My Hero Back Home Again and Soldier Of Metal being the picks of the bunch there.


So what of Forever United? Is this second disc something different to counter balance the first disc? Or are we just talking about more of what has come before? Well, it’s a pretty safe bet that this second disc is going to be as consistent as the first with the same high quality of work as Forever Warriors.


Résistance is a solid and steady hard rocker with lots of toe tapping melodic punch, this is followed by the dynamic mid-tempo ballad Lift Me Up which was made available as a promotional lyric video. Heartbroken features some very graceful guitar work and a scorching solo from guest axeman Doug Aldrich (Dead Daisies) and this cut wouldn’t have been out of place on her self-titled album back in 1990. From here Forever United establishes a pattern of rocker followed by a ballad, followed by a rocker, followed by a ballad and repeat.


Fight Through The Fire is a metal monster and a standout track of the record; the cut features a slick heavy driving bass line accompanied by a grooving drum rhythm and gritty, chugging guitars. For something completely out of left field, Doro tackles Caruso, a ballad sung in Italian and then follows that up with the guitar driven instrumental Tra Como E Coriovallum. To conclude the experience, the album comes to an end with Metal Is My Alcohol, a short punkish flavoured track half sung in English, half sung in German.


While it’s true that it’s been a long time between drinks for Doro albums, I strongly believe you would be hard pressed to find a Doro fan, or a metal fan in general, that wouldn’t find something of interest on this double album venture. If you’ve followed her 30+ year career at any point then you’ll have a fair idea what to expect from Forever Warriors Forever United, and at this stage of the game Doro isn’t about to re-invent the wheel.

Album Review: Treat - Tunguska

Posted on October 8, 2018 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)


Treat – Tunguska

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

Since 2010, when the absurdly excellent "Coup De Grace" hit stores, Treat have been releasing consistent, well-crafted albums full of great songs, which cause fans anxiety at every ad for an upcoming one. Well, "Tunguska" (named after the event referring to the fall of a celestial object in the region of the same name, June 30, 1908) not only maintains the best elements present in the band’s previous albums over the last years, but also elevates the level of what was expected to be excellent. If you thought there was no more room for improvement, brace yourself for a great surprise.


Almost totally stuffed with cavalier rockers, "Tunguska" shows the musical direction that followed with the striking "Progenitors" and its powerful chorus, while "Always Have, Always Will" is more paced, but carrying a rocky and sticky chorus in the best Swedish style, which blends perfectly with the engaging "Best Of Enemies" and the dark-ish "Rose Of Jericho" and its slaughtering chorus. Four doses of the best melodic rock on the market, worthy of multiple auditions and maximum volume, as always.


"Heartmath City" retains the high level, with an engaging melody and a neat chorus, while the frenetic "Creeps" brings a fine work of guitars and bass. "Build The Love" redeems the band's more traditional sound with property (and a killer chorus), while "Man Overboard" has a more paced tempo, with bass and guitars standing out while a dreadful keyboard solo almost ruins everything. Another blistering sequence of great music that deserves maximum volume and unrestricted attention.


The alternation between more dynamic rockers and more paced one is a trademark of both "Tunguska" and "Riptide", representing the first slope with much property, whereas the power ballad "Tomorrow Never Comes" surprises with a quite traditional arrangement, but with an engulfing refrain and that emphasizes the balance between weight and melody, a recurring feature in "All Bets Are Off", an incendiary and imposing rocker that counts enveloping verses and an explosive refrain, unlike the paced "Undefeated", but that counts with a devastating and striking chorus, in the best Scandinavian style. The album closes with a predictable acoustic version of "Tomorrow Never Comes", which brings an intimate and quite different aura when compared to the original version, but nevertheless, it would be better to have a new song instead of those already stamped acoustic versions.


In short, there is no doubt that "Tunguska" is not only one of the best albums of the year, but also a highlight in Treat's career. I could extend myself in praise of the excellent production, the irreproachable performance of the band, the excellent performances of vocalist Robert Ernlund and many other points for evaluation, but I summarize all without fear saying that "Tunguska" is the best album of melodic rock of the year (I don’t see anything that could possible come close in the genre) and I won’t be surprised if it is voted the best work of 2018. An absolutely mandatory album in your collection.

Album Review: Halestorm - Vicious

Posted on August 29, 2018 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)


Halestorm – Vicious

Written by The Rock Man


Chicks + Metal = Awesome. It’s a pretty simple equation and a point of view that I’ve held for a long time now. Unfortunately, in this male dominated arena the simple reality is there just isn’t enough woman flying the flag for hard rock/metal; and this isn’t just a current day thing, sadly this has been the case for decades. On the plus side however, leading the charge for female rockers the world over is Halestorm lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Lzzy Hale.


Since their debut self-titled album in 2009, Halestorm have been like a raging bull charging ahead with one solid release after another. Now, three full length studio albums and three cover EPs later, the band deliver their newest addition to their already impressive mounting catalogue of material titled Vicious.


Whether by design or default Vicious is by far the bands heaviest effort to date. The first thing that became glaringly obvious to me was the greater presence of bass guitar. What bassist Josh Smith brings to this venture is clearly more defined and adds greater weight to the material. For his part, lead guitarist Joe Hottinger delivers some face melting solos and bone crunching riffs; potentially some of his heaviest work yet. While drummer Arejay Hale, who on the band’s previous record, The Wild Life (2015) experimented with a variety of redefining time signatures, opts for a more standard, straight forward approach. Which leaves Lzzy Hale, who once again, showcases her remarkable flexibility to go from a scorching high powered roar to a tender whisper quiet moment.


Vicious thunders to life with Black Vultures which is a standard Halestorm go-for-the-throat, take-no-prisoners heavy rocker with all the above mentioned elements in play. Uncomfortable sees the band put the pedal to the metal with this up-tempo juggernaut. Lyrically the track is dripping with anti-authoritarian sentiments and viewpoints: “I did it cause I wanna and I did it cause I’m gonna and I did it just because I can/ I did it cause it makes me feel good, and I did it cause fuck ‘the man’”. Buzz came across to me as a Joan Jett/Lita Ford hybrid; plenty on melodic drive in the guitar department, solid groove and swagger from the drums and bass and Lzzy’s powerful and passionate vocal delivery. As for Do Not Disturb, this is a sex charged, down and dirty, heavy beast which wouldn’t be out of place on a Nickelback record.


The rockers continue to flow with cuts such as Killing Ourselves To Live, Painkiller, Skulls and White Dress with its empowering message of self-belief and inner strength. In an attempt to show listeners that the band isn’t just one dimensional they have included two power ballads on the record. Heart Of Novocaine is the first of these and musically is a big acoustic driven number. Lyrically the track bears some similarities to Kelly Clarkson’s Because Of You; similar to the point that both tracks highlight emotional and mental abuse from a significant person in one’s life. The second ballad is The Silence. This track closes out the album and is a simple arrangement driven by an acoustic guitar and Lzzy’s vocals; and my goodness, how they shine. Lzzy’s full range of vocal ability is on display here on this spine-tingling performance that, quite frankly, puts many of her male counterparts to shame. Personally I think the price of admission for this track alone is worth it. Take note Pop princesses: this is how you sing a song.


Vicious is quite simply a triumph in record making. If you are yet to experience Halestorm in all their glory, now is the perfect time to see what all the buzz is about.

Album Review: Gioeli Castronovo - Set The World On Fire

Posted on August 15, 2018 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (2)


Gioeli Castrnovo – Set The World On Fire

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

One of the most anticipated albums of the year, "Set The World On Fire" reunites Johnny Gioeli and Deen Castronovo for the first time in 26 years, since Hardline's absurdly obligatory "Double Eclipse". Since then, much has happened to both of them: Gioeli moved on with Hardline, but lent his vocals to Axel Rudi Pell and Crush 40, as well as participating in numerous projects. While Castronovo played with Ozzy Osbourne and hit a brilliant run with Journey, as well as being a founding member of Revolution Saints and currently integrating The Dead Daisies lineup. Although their schedules are quite busy, the duo met in Italy to record an album that undoubtedly should appeal to fans of traditional melodic rock, where weight and melody go together under a thin but well-defined line.


The title track opens the album bringing that traditional balance between weight and melody packaged in a frenetic arrangement that favors the vocal power of Gioeli and Castronovo, as expected. Both deliver precise and lean performances, with no room for anything else. Some would say that this sounds artificial, others would say it's talent, but be as it may, the fact is that the song is incendiary. "Through" is an evolving, friendly radio mid-pacer that grows like a wave, gaining volume and consistency as the song moves to the explosive, highly contagious chorus, where the melodic aspect overlaps with any other element. With a similar footprint, "Who I Am" is another first-rate mid-pacer, with more conventional tempo driven by bass and basic drums, while the guitars have more space and fill the spaces perfectly. "Fall Like An Angel" picks up the rocker path with property, where the keyboards have more space, being closely monitored by the guitars in one of the most radio friendly moments of the album. These four songs point to the musical direction of the album, despite the obvious differences between them and, believe me, it's impossible to be physically indifferent to either.


"It's All About You" is an excellent power ballad, with neat arrangements and space for piano, acoustic guitars and strings, plus that traditionally exciting chorus, a key detail that is present in the thrill-seeking "Need You Now" , an anabolized version of hit country track originally recorded - and composed - by Lady Antebellum in 2010 and now played by Giorgia Colleluori. But on an album by Gioeli Castronovo I’d expected at least one of the two in the vocals. The outcome is somewhat okay, but it becomes obvious that it would be a lot more interesting to have another song by Gioeli and Castronovo, who ended up opening the spot on their debut album to resuscitate a country song almost a decade ago using a third-party vocalist. And why? Who knows. But in "Ride Of Your Life" the duo retake their way and parade talent and energy in an exciting, simple, direct rocker and all played by Castronovo, but "Mother" has both vocalists in action in a more personal content range to Gioeli, who dedicated the song to his mother.


And in the last quarter of the album we have the beautiful power ballad "Walk With Me" followed by the rockers "Run For Your Life" and "Remember Me" (and their introduction with way beyond boring keyboards), while "Let Me Out" - a beautiful semi acoustic track closes the album in an amazing way and is very, very cool.


In short, there is no doubt that the work of the duo Gioeli Castronovo should please the lovers of good sounds. The recurring mementos of Hardline and Journey are in charge of entertaining the listener in a pleasant memory game. Their vocal talents are unquestionable and there is no way to pinpoint who does the best (if either can do it), and with a number of well-crafted songs the album sounds cohesive and very consistent, even with that cover still unexplained the one who writes to you. Anyway, "Set The World On Fire" is coming and, right now, is a strong candidate for "album of the year" ...

 

“Set The World On Fire” is out now, on Frontiers Records.

Album Review: Dee Snider - For The Love Of Metal

Posted on August 2, 2018 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (1)


Dee Snider – For The Love Of Metal

Written by The Rock Man

 

In case you missed it back it 2016, a quick refresh: Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider released a solo album titled We Are The Ones, that in his own words was described as, “My Heavy Metal fans are gonna hate it! I’ve moved on, forget the past”. It was true, Snider had moved on recording an album that was taking the veteran rocker down a different path; a more modern rock path. Okay, it wasn’t metal but it didn’t suck either. For all intents and purposes it appeared at the time that Snider’s metal days were long behind him. Then came a challenge from producer Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) to record a traditional sounding metal record. Challenged accepted! And the result is the blistering For The Love Of Metal.

 

From the get-go the title alone tells you that this record is going to knock you on your ass and kick your head in. And if you have any doubt before you put this record on those fears or hesitations are very quickly laid to rest once the face melting opening track Lies Are A Business takes flight. This track is like a rabid dog on the attack; brutal and relentless, a pure metal thunderbolt. Musically the cut is a frenzy of double bass drums and shredding guitars that almost border on speed metal, while lyrically Snider makes a political stand.

 

Intestinal fortitude, strength of mind and a never-say-die view point have always been at the forefront of Twisted Sister’s mantra. That same attitude is alive and well today in the form of Become The Storm as Snider roars “The rain is nothing to fear/When you become the storm/We are not here to suffer/But what we get through makes us tougher”, sounds like words of wisdom to me. Or there’s the raw, gritty and almost Sevendust-ish The Hardest Way featuring ex-Killswitch Engage vocalist Howard Jones: “This is about not knowing/And always having to change/Making the best of moments/That will test our strength/Without knowing what happens next/With courage taking the first step/We’ve all learned something/The hardest way”. And then, just to add an exclamation point on it all, there’s this from American Made: “Take a look as I walk tall/Stand up against you all/Attempts that I forestall/There’s no breaking me/No talk just action now/Push forward don’t care how/Fight till the end that’s how I’m made”.

 

Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) duets on Dead Hearts (Love Thy Enermy), the sole ballad on the record. When I first heard about her inclusion on the record I had grave fears for what she would bring to the table. I’ve never been a fan of that deep-throated growl style vocal that is on display in Arch Enemy and I assumed that’s what would be on offer here. Thankfully I was so very wrong; instead what she has provided is a beautiful and almost angelic vocal piece which compliments Sniders sneering roar perfectly. With that said, I scratch my head wondering why she doesn’t sing like that all the time? But I digress.

 

Of course a Dee Snider record wouldn’t be complete without a couple of larger than life metal anthems and on For The Love Of Metal we are served Tomorrow’s No Concern and the title track, with its multiple heavy metal references.

 

Throughout the world Snider is recognised as the voice of Twisted Sister, but he also has other projects to his name such as Widowmaker, Desperado and solo workings. If you’ve bought any of his offerings over the past four decades, or any other metal album over that time really, then there’s a fair chance you’ll know what to expect from For The Love Of Metal.

 

This is Snider’s version of metal - pure, passionate, from the heart and unapologetic, in short, a very satisfying record; one that deserves your full attention and multiple listens and as Twisted Sister always used to say on their album liner notes, “Play It Loud Mutha!!

Album Review: Clif Magness - Lucky Dog

Posted on August 2, 2018 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (1)


Clif Magness – Lucky Dog

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

Each and every creature in the AOR universe knows the name of Clif Magness. Most likely, you have enjoyed material written by him, even without knowing it. Founding member of the fantastic Planet 3, author of a classic AOR album ("Solo", 1994) and also of countless songs recorded by all kinds of artists (including Robin Beck, Avril Lavigne, Wilson Phillips, Céline Dion, Joe Bonamassa and Amy Grant, among many others), Clif Magness has always been synonymous with quality. And it is this quality that he presents in "Lucky Dog", his second solo work and one that brings a more contemporary sound - as it is supposed to be - surrounded by an undeniable AOR aura that gives a special something to this effort, packed with songs written by Magness with longtime collaborators like Mark Mueller, Brock Walsh and Jennifer Grais.


The first single from this album is "Ain’t No Way," a rocker with a fairly contemporary sound, rising melody and a powerful chorus; but that doesn’t represent at all what the album has to offer. For a more accurate idea, listen to "Don’t Look Now," an excellent, well-paced rocker with simple arrangements and killer vocals, as well as an explosive chorus, just as Mr. Magness does. Next there’s "Unbroken", a chilling ballad that refers to the best moments of Planet 3, with its delicate melody and surrounding arrangement that converges to a powerful refrain, where harmonies bring tears to the eyes of the most merciless of creatures. In the album's EPK, Magness said that was his favorite song. It is not difficult to understand why. "Like You" is another cool rocker, and it's just not better because of the chattering arrangement of drums along the chorus, which spoils the whole course of the song. The harmonies in the refrain, however, are spectacular and feature Magness' works.


One of the very best tracks on the album, "Love Needs A Heart" is a mid-paced duet with Robin Beck (who co-wrote the song with Magness) that is a beautifully crafted, contemporary slice of AOR. Arrangement, melody, tempo, chorus, everything fits perfectly in this song that is a beautiful representation of the bridge between then and now. Meanwhile, the mid-pacer "Nobody Like You" serves an acoustic foundation in the introduction, which is readily accompanied by bass and drums in the foreground in an arrangement that keeps the tempo going but gaining body along the verses, through the more aggressive choruses. A beautiful song that shows versatility without mischaracterizing its initial proposal, while the poignant ballad "Maybe" has an absolutely AOR structure, with traditional tempo, increasing b-sections and that shocking refrain where Magness makes use of his great vocal capacity, creating memorable harmonies. With more weight, but without harming the melodic aspect, the rocker "Shout" comes back, bringing once again the AC Rock sound already shown on the album. Here, the result is nicer and I wonder if this should not have been the song promoting the album. Listen and draw your own conclusions.

 

In the final stretch we have "Rain", a mid-pacer bringing an acoustic arrangement up to just over 50% of the song, and this difference of formats leaves the song disconnected - in my opinion - and tiring at times, since the come-and-go of the arrangement sounds like lighting a candle for the saint and another for the devil. "All Over My Mind" is a more cohesive mid-pacer (in spite of the short tempo variations), with a chorus driven by beautiful harmonies and a neat arrangement, while the beautiful ballad "My Heart" closes the album in style, with its well-crafted arrangement and delicate melody that stands out in the moments where the weight takes over the scene.


In summary,"Lucky Dog" is a beautiful album. Although the choice for the first single seems to me a bit wrong, the album is quite cohesive, with abundant quality in all aspects and excellent songs. Even the less pleasant ones have very positive points in their sets. But what I most personally commemorated was the realization that Clif Magness is still in top form, capable of creating exciting melodies and engaging harmonies, characteristics that permeate the works in which he participated. The balance between the most characteristic elements of the AOR and the contemporary sonority created an excellent set and that deserves, in fact, to be described as having been influenced by the 80s. The return of Clif Magness to the scene takes place in style and "Lucky Dog "stands out as one of the best albums of the year.


Tracklist:

 

01 Ain’t No Way

02 Don’t Look Now

03 Unbroken

04 Like You

05 Love Needs A Heart (With Sherrie Adams)

06 Nobody But You

07 Maybe

08 Shout

09 Rain

10 All Over My Mind

11 My Heart

Album Review: Lee Aaron - Diamond Baby Blues

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 1:35 AM Comments comments (2)


Lee Aaron – Diamond Baby Blues

Written by The Rock Man


After a 20-year absence from the rock scene and indulging in a passion for jazz, the once dubbed “Metal Queen” made a triumphant return to the world of rock and roll on the 2016 release Fire & Gasoline. At that point I don’t think anyone expected a follow up album so quickly; but alas, two years later the Canadian rocker has returned with a brand new album titled Diamond Baby Blues.


The new disc is a sophisticated blend of five new original cuts and seven covers. I guess one could pose the question why not just record an album of all new material? Or an album of all covers? But really at this stage of her career I’m just happy she’s back singing rock and roll again.


So, let’s take a look at the brand new tracks. First up is Diamond Baby, this track oozes melodic spunk. This hard rocker is full to the brim of swagger and groove and is easily one of the best songs Aaron has done in her career; and that is saying something when you consider her volume of work. Next is American High, here we have a cut full of American references on a bed of chugging melodic guitars and swing influenced drums.


Mercy is another hard rocker that, in my opinion, has a very strong Aerosmith flavour to it especially during the intro. The Best Thing is a nice rock ballad with a sweet blues feel, building to a catchy melodic chorus. This is one of the highlights of the album overall. This brings us to the final new original track In The Bedroom. To me this has more of a modern pop rock feel about it. While solid and not the worst thing I’ve heard, I wouldn’t class this as one of the album’s strengths.


As for the covers, they kick off in style with a smooth rendition of the Deep Purple blues fest that is Mistreated. I have a list of singers that I hold in high regard, that are above the exceptional and David Coverdale is on that list. Not many vocalists get anywhere near what Coverdale can do, try as they may. Aaron, however, does a stealing job. I’m A Woman is a track that takes its cues from the 1955 Bo Diddley song I’m A Man. Here things get interesting, musically the essence of the original is there but with more of a modern hard rock blues approach; lyrically the gender references have been changed, as you would expect, but in addition Aaaron has added a solid portion of her own lyrics with very few of the original lines left in, just the basic vocal phrasing. This aside, still an awesome track.


I have long believed that someone needed to do a heavy rock/metal version of Janet Jackson’s Black Cat. I mean this track is perfect for the genre, well finally someone has and it makes absolute sense that it would be Aaron. Three words: This. Version. Rocks! Speaking of rockin’, that’s exactly what Aaron does on the Stevie Wright classic Hard Road; in fact, this track might even surpass the original. All the elements of the original are present but she brings a modern day edge to the piece which give the track a sense of freshness.


Like so many artists before her, Aaron tackles the Dee Dee Warwick classic You’re No Good. Personally, I still prefer the Van Halen version from Van Halen II but this a petty handy cut, nonetheless.


I’m not sure that Diamond Baby Blues is going to break any new ground or expand her fan base, but does it really need to? Lee Aaron fans the world over will be drawn to this and enjoy it as much as I did. The band sounds fantastic, particularly guitarist Sean Kelly, her voice is as strong as ever and she still knows how to rock, which is all you want in a Lee Aaron record.

Album Review: Sunstorm - The Road To Hell

Posted on July 11, 2018 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)


Sunstorm – The Road To Hell

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

With more than a decade of hard work, the Sunstorm project established its name in melodic rock, even with some irregular work and always having veteran Joe Lynn Turner as frontman. And the recently released "The Road To Hell" - the band's fifth work - hit stores with almost untouched features that have made Sunstorm a recognized name on the stage.

 

Overall, "The Road To Hell" doesn’tt bring anything new if compared to Sunstorm's previous works (especially "Emotional Fire" and "Edge Of Tomorrow", released in 2012 and 2016, respectively), but if we take into account that both albums are quite consistent, the insistence on the format proves to be a good strategy

 

Predominantly stuffed with well-built and carefully executed rockers, the album features "Only The Good Will Survive", "The Road To Hell" and "Only The Edge" as worthy representatives of the album's musical direction. Embracing melodies and exciting choruses await you.

 

Moving on, "Blind The Sky" and the great "My Eyes On You" and "Everywhere" (the only ballad on the album) keep the cohesion of the album bringing variations over the same theme, musically speaking, but always wasting good I like it, especially in the arrangements.

 

And in the final stretch the album brings the great "Calling", "State Of The Heart" and "Still Fighting" as irrefutable evidence of the cohesion present in the tracklist of the album and that sounds exactly as the Sunstorm proposes to do.

 

So, there's no denying that "The Road To Hell" is an album for Sunstorm fans. The statement may seem obvious, but it seems that Joe Lynn Turner and his band don’t seek to expand their fan base, but rather please the one they have already won. I continue to say that I prefer the "more of the same" instead of the "disastrous novelty," but it is also true that something needs to change in Sunstorm's work. Despite all the quality that the band has, predictability always comes when the news of an upcoming album comes to us. For now, "The Road To Hell" is worth it, especially if you enjoy the guys' work. If that's not the case, I do not think this work will change your mind, but you can take the risk.

 

Tracklist:

 

01 Only The Good Will Survive

02 The Road To Hell

03 On The Edge

04 Blind The Sky

05 My Eyes On You

06 Future To Come

07 Everywhere

08 Resurrection

09 Calling

10 State Of The Heart

11 Still Fighting

Album Review: Kobra And The Lotus - Prevail II

Posted on June 18, 2018 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)


Kobra And The Lotus - Prevail II

Written by The Rock Man


Every now and then the sequel is equal to, or in some cases better than, the original.


And it goes without saying that this is always a matter of perspective. Two years ago Canadian heavy rockers Kobra And The Lotus embarked on an ambitious journey to create the band’s first double album set. The result was the release of Prevail I in May of 2017, with the second album to follow shortly thereafter. However, things didn’t pan out the way the band would’ve liked and a year later than expected the next installment Prevail II finally dropped; and it is pound for pound, every bit as impressive as its predecessor and without doubt worth the extended wait.


Upon its release last year Prevail I set a very high benchmark and I couldn’t help but wonder how frontwoman Kobra Paige and co were going to surpass the efforts of the previous venture; then once I heard Prevail II it suddenly fell into place for me. This would turn out to be a well-adjusted blend of metal mayhem coupled with suave melodic undertones.


Drawing from the same play book as last year, the band used various streaming services to showcase glimpses of what was on offer on the new album. The first of these was a lyric video for the opening cut Losing My Humanity; the track leaves the listener in no doubt were the band is going to take us on this disc with a burst of relentless melodic metal. Lyrically the track explores the inner struggles mankind faces to retain its humanity and as a result we end up becoming self-harming and destructive. In a surprising twist the band opted to make available for their second video a cover of the Fleetwood Mac song The Chain. This version gets the full Kobra And The Lotus treatment and it has to be said is beautifully brilliant in its simplicity.


A real strength of the album is several head splitting rockers that take no prisoners in the verses with a flurry of frenzied, unrestrained and unflinching guitars leading into beautifully arranged full bodied melodic chorus’. In this respect cuts like Human Empire, You’re Insane, My Immortal (and no, this isn’t an Evanescence cover) and Let Me Love You all serve as prime examples of keeping the foot to the flood, with lots of grit, raw power and catchy melodies.


To balance out the full steam ahead approach of the previously mentioned tracks, the band has included a number of songs which could also serve as potential promotional singles down the track. Heartache is the first of these radio friendly type tunes and features a nice guitar chugging vibe and toe tapping drum swagger. This is quickly followed by Velvet Roses which is a nice straight ahead heavy rocker, once again building to a nice melodic chorus. A real highlight of the album. And the third is Modern Day Hero which, again, continues on the theme of the previously mentioned tracks and this is a nice little section in the middle of the album before we hit the tail end and the brilliant White Water. This is basically the album’s only ballad and is dynamic and sophisticated. Kobra’s voice is simply outstanding on this cut and her full vocal range is on display.


While I thought the idea of a double album sounded good in essence when it was announced that the band was going to go down this route, I never believed both albums would be this spectacular. Few bands do double albums anymore, the risk is just too great it will fail; but bravo to Kobra And The Lotus for having the balls to have a go. In my opinion they have smashed both records out of the park and maybe more bands need to take note and lift their game.

Album Review: Dare - Out Of The Silence II (Anniversary Special Edition)

Posted on June 18, 2018 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (0)


Dare – Out Of The Silence II (Anniversary Special Edition)

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

The late 1980s brought an avalanche of great AOR albums from the UK and Dare's spectacular “Out Of The Silence” is one of them. With engaging melodies and vocal highlights from Darren Wharton (Thin Lizzy) coupled with Mike Shipley's exuberant production, the album made its mark on the scene and catapulted the band into the AOR stratosphere.


Now, 30 years passed, Dare presents a retelling of their debut album with a different lineup, but one that still holds original members Wharton and talented guitarist Vinny Burns.


Overall, "Out Of The Silence II" may seem like a mere re-recording, but it's way more than that.


The songs gained a proper ending itself, unlike the fade out of the original version. This detail may seem small to some, but believe me, the additions made were of great value and conferred that "something else" to the tracklist.


Very cleverly, the melodies and arrangements remained untouched (as it should be), but the three decades that separate versions I and II present subtle differences, and despite not being a cause for worry, those don’t go unnoticed.


The biggest one is definitely, production.


Australian genius Mike Shipley (R.I.P.) introduced us to these Dare songs wrapped in that crystal-clear, pompous, engaging production, as he used to do in Def Leppard, City Boy, The Cars, Kim Carnes, Scorpions, Vixen, Ratt, Cheap Trick, Winger, Richard Marx and many others. It is worth remembering that Shipley was the most notorious apprentice of the legendary Robert John "Mutt" Lange, with whom he worked for decades.


From the very beginning, it’s noticeable that the drums and bass don’t have, respectively, the same punch nor the depth of the original version. Still, the vocals don’t sound like the grandiosity that Shipley has printed and this creates an aura of inconsistency, personally speaking.


But Wharton's production has given it a more organic sound, an aspect that’s much appreciated today. The guitars have gained more space in this new mix, and if on one hand bass and drums sound weaker compared to the original material, in this new version all elements integrate more fully and that should be reason enough for you to hear what Dare set out to do.


In short, "Out Of The Silence II" is an album as interesting as its original version. Not only has the re-recording brought new life to the songs, but interpretations also sound carefully different enough so they can be compared. And there's no getting around the fact that the Wharton / Burns duo is what unites the pieces of this re-recording. A risky maneuver, I think, but in this specific case, the band pulled it off graciously. An album recommended not only to Dare fans, but also to any AOR enthusiast.


“Out Of The Silence II” is out now, on Legend Records.

Album Review: Foreigner with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Choir

Posted on June 12, 2018 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)


Foreigner – Foreigner with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Choir

Written by The Rock Man


Being a fan of English-American rockers Foreigner over the years has at times been challenging and somewhat frustrating. The market is overflowing with band compilations and re-recorded versions of the same classics from the ‘70s and ‘80s and it seems like every couple of years we get another of these cash grab offerings. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying, as fans, we’d like some fresh new studio material from Foreigner; but alas, once again the band have elected to go down the tried and true road of releasing yet another reworked compilation record... but this one has peaked my interest and here is why.


Someone, either at the record company or within the band, had the brilliant idea to put this multi-platinum album selling band in a room with the renowned 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Choir from Europe. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter whose idea it was, the fact is it was a master stroke of pure genius. Musicians of hard driving heavy rock are a dedicated and passionate bunch; the same can be said for craftsmen of classical music, who are equally and possibly more devoted. When the two forces come together something truly magical and intangible takes shape, just look to Metallica’s S&M offering with the San Francisco Symphony or Scorpions Moment of Glory album with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as examples of what is achievable.


So in May of 2017 Foreigner partnered with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Choir for two sold out shows in Lucerne, Switzerland and the pay-off is dazzling to say the least. The event kicked off with the orchestra and choir, masterfully conducted by Ludwig Wicki performing a three-and-a-half-minute piece titled Overture which is gate crashed by the gritty guitar sounds for Mick Jones, Thom Gimbel and Bruce Watson as the open riff to Blue Morning, Blue Day bellows out of Marshall amps. As the rest of the band, accompanied by vocalist Kelly Hansen chimes in, it becomes clear very quickly this is going to be a once in a generational occasion.


From here it’s a string of hits, Cold As Ice, Waiting For A Girl Like You and Say You Will. All of which are taken to a new level, especially Waiting For a Girl Like You. I’ve never really been a big fan of the track, but this arrangement and the inclusion of the orchestra is simply marvellous. They should have recorded it like this in the studio for the album 4. As we work our way through the track list, we are treated to more classics like That Was Yesterday and Feels Like The First Time, but the standout moments of the record comes with this next block of tunes.


To fully understand the sheer power of rock music coupled with stirring orchestral majesty look no further than Double Vision. I’ll admit this song is one of my all-time favourite Foreigner tracks but this cut is off the page and worth the price of admission alone. The atmosphere is built on a bed of violins and the angelic choir, as this reaches its crescendo the drums and crunching melodic guitars kick in backed by further spellbinding violins and the result is unforgettable. In fact, unforgettable can also be used best to describe the fresh and slightly modified versions of hits Urgent, Jukebox Hero and I Want To know What Love Is.


By the time the CD (or DVD) has come to its conclusion, what fans of this iconic rock act are left with is a feeling of pure delight. Here is a collection of songs most of us have grown up with over the decades presented in a new light and backed by one of the best orchestra/choir combinations the world over. Even if you’re not a fan of Foreigner but just a fan of rock music, I would strongly urge you to consider checking this package out, if only, to bear witness to what is musically possible when two seemingly opposite genres collide.

Album Review: Vega - Only Human

Posted on May 31, 2018 at 1:35 AM Comments comments (0)


Vega – Only Human

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

When it dawned on the universe of good sounds in 2010, Vega was just a good promise. Today, it is a consolidated and acknowledged band, and much of that recognition is due to the compositions of brothers James and Tony Martin, the secret weapon of the band, in my opinion. Consistently launching a new album every two years, "Only Human" hit the stores on May 11th bringing the sound that made Vega known: straightforward, well-produced and whimsically well-played melodic rock, as well as relying on mixing and mastering by Harem Scarem’s frontman Harry Hess. That put, it’s somehow obvious to say that if you enjoyed Vega’s previous works, the new one will please you in full.


The series of rockers begins with "Let's Have Fun Tonight," but it's the mood set by "Worth Dying For" that excites me more with its killer chorus and well-paced melody, as well as the excellent "Last Man Standing", a healthy shot of the best "melodic rock made in the UK", bringing a base of keyboards to the frontline, where bass and guitar elegantly parade up the explosive and sticky chorus, as the “how to” sacred book of good sounds teaches; as does "Come Back Again," a well-paced mid-pacer with a slight variation of tempo between verses and chorus, all framed by an engaging arrangement that culminates in a shocking chorus. Multiple auditions and absolutely no moderation become necessary in each of these songs.


Next up is "All Over Now," a rocker tailor made for radio, with engaging melody and sticky chorus - just like the gods want - and so multiple auditions are recommended. And this recommendation extends to the great "Mess You Made", a very effective rocker with simple structure, relying on cutting guitars in the foreground and discrete keyboards in the back one, sewing a delicate texture that fills the few spaces that bass and drums intentionally leave blank. And then there's "Only Human," a mighty rocker with keyboards and bass in the frontline, building the base through which precisely distributed guitars fly smoothly along the verses, leading the listener to an absolutely excellent chorus that stick with you for days, and this set of details makes this song another great highlight of the album and thus deserves multiple and noisy auditions. "Standing Still" is a more contained rocker throughout the verses but revealing a more aggressive face in the engulfing refrain and that triggers more dynamism in the progress from the second part of the song. One more worthy moment on the album and that deserves your unrestricted attention.


And in the final stretch we have "Gravity", a cool and well executed rocker, followed by the great "Turning Pages" (a killer ballad with well worked verses and involving chorus, which is one of the album's great highlights). There's still room for the awesome "Fade Away," a rocker that figures among the highlights of the album with its simple, straightforward melodic structure, where keyboards, bass, drums and guitar go together in a harmonious ensemble that opens the way to "Go To War ", another well-presented rocker who, despite not having the same impact as previous songs, doesn’t deviate from the direction set by tracklist and closes the album in a dignified way.


In short, "Only Human" brings Vega in great shape. It is a fact that the album doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but I think it is better to have the effective "more of the same" aspect than to get a disastrous novelty. What the band presents us with are excellent songs, immersed in the formula that make Vega… well, Vega. And speaking of that, the band is in top form and newbies Mykey Kew (guitar) and Martin Hutchinson (drums) fit perfectly, and we should also mention Nick Workman's great work on vocals, which improves with each new effort. I like the fact that Vega remains faithful to the sonority that shows us who they are, not embarking on the trap of obviousness or going down an easier path. The cohesion of their albums is laudable and that is one of the reasons why I became a fan of the guys. In addition, the songs of the band are shown in an upward curve and this alone is cause for celebration. So, I have absolutely no fear in pointing out "Only Human" as a worthy recommendation not only for Vega fans, but especially for any contemporary melodic rock enthusiast.


Vega’s “Only Human” is out now, on Frontiers Records.

Album Review: Stryper - God Damn Evil

Posted on May 8, 2018 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)



Stryper – God Damn Evil

Written by The Rock Man


Most bands are lucky if they get a shot at the big time. And if they get their big break, their time in the spotlight can be fleeting or everlasting - you just don’t know. It’s also fair to say most bands don’t hit the pinnacle of success achieving gold and platinum album sales, break up for ten years and then reform only to go onto greater heights. But most bands aren’t Stryper.


There has always been a steely determination about this band from day one, and after reforming in 2003 their resolve has grown. The results of this have shown in their music in recent years, you just need to look at recordings like No More Hell To Pay and Fallen to understand what I’m talking about. To further strengthen the case, the band’s new album God Damn Evil reinforces their stance on delivering positive, uplifting, Christian values blended with bone crunching, face melting metal music.


The first cut on this new record is Take It To The Cross and here Stryper attempt to break new ground, or at the very least expand the framework in which they operate. The track bears some resemblance to what you might expect from a Stryper song during the verses but when the aggressive or Death growl style vocals, aided by guest singer Matt Blanchard (Shadows Falls), kick in for the thrashy chorus it leaves me a little confused to say the least. I’ve never understood why bands go down that path when they have such a talented vocalist already in the band; for me it just ruins the music.


From here we launch into the next track and single from the album, Sorry. This is a classic Stryper anthem in every way possible: groove-laden drums, melodic attacking guitars and soaring vocals over a bed of perfect harmonies. The title track is an awesome song; upon first listen I couldn’t help but feel the opening riff had an AC/DC quality about it, this leads to a typical Stryper verse and flavour which then launches into an almost Quiet Riot type chorus... or this could just be me.


Over the past several years frontman Michael Sweet has released a handful of solo studio albums which have had a distinct sound compared to his work within Stryper and God Damn Evil features a couple of songs that feel more like solo efforts than Stryper tunes. Look to cuts like Sea Of Thieves, Own Up and You Don’t Even Know. But it has to be said there are a number of tracks that follow the standard Stryper formula such as The Devil Doesn’t Live Here,The Valley, Beautiful and the sole ballad of the record Can’t Live Without Your Love.


God Damn Evil is the band’s 10th studio outing and is their most expansive yet. The album features a number of tracks that will have appeal to a modern generation of metal fan but at the same time has enough material to satisfy the die-hard old guard. It’s clear that there is still a lot of gas left in the tank for Stryper and they aren’t showing signs of slowing down, the direction they choose to go from here will be exciting to watch.

Album Review: James Christian - Craving

Posted on May 8, 2018 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)


James Christian – Craving

Written by Juliano Mallon

 

Since 1988 as frontman for House Of Lords and cultivating a very cool solo career since 1994, James Christian is one of the most known and respected names in the universe of good sounds. His latest album was released five years ago, but now the long awaited "Craving" hits stores. This is Christian’s fourth solo album and one of the most interesting, especially due to Christian's versatility, which is already well-known for the many projects he has participated throughout his career and also for some tracks on the House Of Lords’ latest albums, but in "Craving" he expands his horizon into exciting and sometimes surprising songs.


The frenzied "Heaven Is A Place In Hell" is a big rocker, which features an alternation between verses and chorus (a detail that usually bothers me, but here, for some reason, it works great). The tempo has a classic format, but the chorus is as incendiary as it can be and this set of qualities makes this song one of the highlights of the album. "Wild Boys" is more direct, going for the kill without long introductions and featuring keyboards in the foreground accompanied by precise drums and their double pedals. I like the shifts in rhythm and the exciting chorus, although it sounds a little restrained. This song has several nuances and deserves careful listening, believe me. Meanwhile, "Craving" turns out to be a beautiful acoustic-based power ballad with a heavy bass, a refined chorus and a killer rendition of Christian is another highlight of the album, being worthy of multiple plays devoid of any kind of moderation. And with a bright AOR aura, "Jesus Wept" comes out with an engaging melody, where omnipresent keyboards make the basis for punctual guitars to emerge from the base of an intermittent bass. A beautiful song that, absolutely, stands among the greatest highlights of the album.


Then comes the surprising "World Of Possibility", a ballad with a delicate acoustic base and soft layers of carefully distributed keyboards. With an engaging arrangement, this song approaches AC Pop in an obvious way, but contrary to what one might think, it sounds absolutely appropriate to Christian, who shows his already mentioned versatility as an interpreter. A great moment of the album that deserves your total and unrestricted attention. Meanwhile, the killer "Sidewinder" rescues Christian's rocker vein in this simple, straightforward rocker with guitars and bass dominating the scene that is completed with precise drums. Another brilliant moment that deserves your full attention, maximum volume and multiple auditions. But "I Will Not Cry" is a song with a more introspective arrangement, well punctuated by a beautiful bass line occasionally punched by guitars with a bluesy feel to it, very well placed and that present themselves more discreetly throughout the track that has a somewhat shy, yet remarkable chorus. A beautiful surprise that is among the highlights of the album. And believe you me, it's worth persisting with this song if it doesn’t get to you right away.

 

With a more AC Pop oriented blueprint, the great "If There's A God" comes with a well-tied acoustic base with well-marked bass line. Contained and nicely placed vocals share space with occasional guitars in a simple and very, very efficient arrangement. Once again, Christian displays his versatility in an unexpected and welcome performance, another beautiful moment of the album with a song that doesn’t remember at all his previous works. And with a more engaging levy in an arrangement that balances weight and melody we have the great "Love Is The Answer," a powerful mid-pacer with chilling impact is yet another beautiful moment on the album. And in the final stretch we have "Black Was Not Black", a blunt and guitar-centered rocker, in a simple and efficient format, while "Amen" is a mid-pacer wrapped in pop gift paper what could’ve been a beautiful AOR moment, but the option placed before us doesn’t fly against Christian (even more if we take into account other moments throughout the tracklist) and comes as a good surprise to close the album.


In short, to state that "Craving" is the most varied work of James Christian is almost a redundancy. I confess that the possible lack of cohesion worried me but hearing the album makes it clear that he experimented with strands that could be well described as "risky" for a hard rock / melodic rock performer. But the secret in all those moments is their interpretation, always careful and precise, in order to make such songs adapt to the tracklist in the most natural way possible. Undoubtedly, they do not seem to have been misplaced or lost among the most characteristic material of Christian, a fact that, in my view, adds brilliance to the album. Just as it happened recently with the House Of Lords, James Christian ventures in musical areas rarely explored by him, but he did it carefully and with a healthy dose of common sense. The result may not be exactly what many would expect from him, but there is no denying the quality evident in each and every one of those “odd” songs. In a time when many insist on recipes used by so many people, James Christian shows - once again - that it is worth investing in what is less obvious. That is, if you have what it takes to play the bet .


“Craving” is out now on Frontiers Re

Album Review: Issa - Run With The Pack

Posted on May 8, 2018 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)


Issa – Run With The Pack

Written by The Rock Man


Simply Brilliant. These two words best describe my thoughts of Issa Oversveen when I first heard her music way back in 2010 on her debut album Sign Of Angels. Since then Issa has spent the last eight years building an impressive body of work with records such as Don’t Stop, The Storm and Crossfire, and each time I’m drawn back to that phrase “Simply Brilliant”... but why?


Firstly, because in this day and age of deposable bubble gum hits, complex technical metal opus’ and fast talking hip-hop, gangster-wannabe rhymes, her music is, well, refreshingly simple in its nature. In the tradition of great female rock singers that have come before her, such as Ann Wilson (Heart), Pat Benetar, Lita Ford, Janet Gardner (Vixen) and Lee Aaron, Issa just sings the song! There’s no need for multi-layered vocal acrobatics or trying to create the most grandiose performance ever seen by mankind. Lyrically the songs themselves are relatable, everyday stuff that is relevant to most of us. And musically it’s basic chugging melodic guitars and rhythms on a bed of toe tapping drum beats.


Which secondly, therefore brings us to the brilliance of such an approach. In any successful endeavour you need to know what your product is and who your market demographic is and clearly Issa has identified both of those criteria as she’s demonstrated time and again on her albums to date which includes her new record Run With The Pack.


The album explodes into action with the killer Am I Losing You. Immediately with this one I’m taken back in time to the feel of her first album which I mentioned earlier. The guitars seem heavier and more upfront and present, rather than on a par with the keyboards as found on her last record Crossfire. This is a very good starting point and brought a smile to my face. The title track offers lots of melodic bite and punch and very quickly a pattern is set for the remainder of the record.


Sacrifice Me is a very gritty guitar sounding, modern day mid-tempo ballad featuring guest vocals from Deen Castronova (Journey/Revolution Saints). This turns out to be quite the pair as they complement each other’s differing tones rather well. As the album unfolds the references to her early recordings continue in the form of rockers like How Long, Closer To You and Come Back Again.


There is no shortage of ballads however on Run With The Pack and there are a number of them that hit the mark of what is expected on these kinds of albums. While The Sound Of Yesterday, Talk To Your Heart and Bittersweet are solid offerings, the standout moment is Everything To Me which starts off as a sensitive piano driven track that later explodes into an absolute guitar crunching monster; giving even more power to Issa’s passionate vocal performance.


Let’s be honest, Run With The Pack isn’t going to win any major awards or burn up the charts, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t one hell of a quality record. With the exception of Alessandro Del Vecchio on keyboards and as the album producer, there aren’t any larger than life superstars playing on here either, but that doesn’t mean the musicianship isn’t top notch, grade A executed. And while the real star here is Issa, herself, everyone plays their part nicely to create one of the most enjoyable music moments you’ll have this year.