|Posted on August 15, 2018 at 12:35 AM||comments (1)|
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.
|Posted on August 2, 2018 at 8:45 PM||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!!
|Posted on August 2, 2018 at 2:30 AM||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.
01 Ain’t No Way
02 Don’t Look Now
04 Like You
05 Love Needs A Heart (With Sherrie Adams)
06 Nobody But You
10 All Over My Mind
11 My Heart
|Posted on July 12, 2018 at 1:35 AM||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.
|Posted on July 11, 2018 at 12:50 AM||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.
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
10 State Of The Heart
11 Still Fighting
|Posted on June 18, 2018 at 10:40 PM||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.
|Posted on June 18, 2018 at 10:25 PM||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.
|Posted on June 12, 2018 at 10:00 PM||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.
|Posted on May 31, 2018 at 1:35 AM||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.
|Posted on May 8, 2018 at 11:10 PM||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.
|Posted on May 8, 2018 at 11:05 PM||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
|Posted on May 8, 2018 at 11:00 PM||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.
|Posted on March 28, 2018 at 12:45 AM||comments (0)|
Judas Priest – Firepower
Written by The Rock Man
While some quarters of the music industry and music buying public debate whether rock and roll is dead, one thing is crystal clear... metal is alive and thriving - just ask British veterans Judas Priest. Another ridiculous argument that has been doing the rounds for the past several years is that no one wants to hear new music from these old timers, again, let’s refer to Judas Priest - because their new scorching 14 track studio album, Firepower categorically puts these questions to bed.
While some bands of a certain golden vintage call it a day, or debate pulling the plug, Priest continue to forge ahead and, with devastating results like Firepower up their sleeves, why wouldn’t they? The band have stated on numerous occasions they don’t record the same kind of album twice. Clearly there’s something wrong with my hearing or interpretation of this record because I couldn’t help but find similarities to past efforts such as Defenders Of The Faith, Painkiller, Angel Of Retribution and Redeemer Of Souls. Personally, I found this to be a good thing as the aforementioned albums are unrivalled examples of Priest at their best and to combine elements of those works in one single production makes Firepower a blistering experience.
Priest have always had a knack for creating these larger than life characters such as The Sentinel, Painkiller, Dragonaut and Night Crawler, to mention a few. On Firepower the band introduces their fans to a whole new collection of colourful and menacing characters like Spectre, Necromancer and Lone Wolf, and in time, these too will become much loved additions to the Priest song writing legacy.
But there’s more on offer here than just scary monsters and those heroic warriors who slay them, for example on Sea Of Red the band pay tribute to the many fallen soldiers who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms and on Children Of The Sun they take an environmental approach to how mankind is destroying the planet. While the lead single Lightning Strike is full to the brim of classic Priest metaphors as it examines defiance against angst based exploitation from figures of power or authority. And as I discovered very quickly, all of these songs on this record must be consumed at maximum volume whilst in the car.
From a production point of view, the combination of Priest and Tom Allom was always a winning one during the 1980s. It’s been a very long time since Allom helmed the production duties but finally he has returned and been paired with Andy Sneap (Accept/Saxon/Megadeth) and the end product is a clean, sharp and exhilarating sound. As for the band itself, once you’ve hear the guitar work from Glenn Tipton it’s hard to reconcile that he’s been battling Parkinson’s Disease. For over four decades he’s been a leading figure in the world of metal guitar and his work on this record further cements his status as a true guitar legend. His partner in crime, Richie Faulkner brings a freshness and youthful energy to the overall guitar sounds which gives vocalist Rob Halford a solid foundation to do what he does best... be the ‘Metal God’. In my opinion Halford is the best metal singer going around bar none. On Firepower when he needs to soar he still can, when he needs to rock he still can and when he needs to be emotional, well you get the picture.
What Firepower is in short, is a testimony to the resolve and staying power of this band. The fact that they were not included into the 2018 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is quite simply disgraceful and outrageous and is further evidence to the lack of validity and credibility of that organisation.
That being said, everything that is great about heavy metal music is contained in this package. Don’t bother spending the rest of 2018 looking for the ‘Album of the Year’, it has already arrived rock and rollers, and it’s called Firepower.
|Posted on March 28, 2018 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Written by Juliano Mallon
Created in 2009, W.E.T. has precisely produced - from its first album - a violent dose of melody allied to weight, courtesy of the trio Jeff Scott Soto, Erik Mårtensson and Robert Säll. Time has passed and with it came the second studio work and, shortly after, the first live record. Now, finally, after four years, it's time to listen to "Earthrage," the fourth and long-awaited WET album, which brings the original core packed with the positive repercussions of the latest projects they’ve been involved with (both as performers and/or producers) and that puts their own project on the very top of what 2018 can offer in the melodic rock scene.
The album is absolutely cohesive (as were its predecessors) and it’s loaded with devastating rockers, as we noticed from the beginning with "Watch The Fire", "Burn" and "Kings On Thunder Road", a triad that brings the band in absolute harmony. Three songs that deserve your total unrestricted attention in multiple auditions, maximum volume and endless air guitars.
Next we have "Elegantly Wasted", a beautiful and engaging mid-pacer that contains all the best qualities of W.E.T. locked in a different tempo, but everything begins to fall into place with the huge "Urgent" and the killer "Dangerous", two sweeping rockers as well as "Calling Out Your Name", which points in another direction with a slow and smooth introduction, but that is slowly gaining momentum. This is another group of songs that deserve multiple auditions and maximum volume, as always.
On the other hand, "Heart Is On The Line" is a classic power ballad with engaging melody and explosive refrain, masterfully performed by Mr. Soto, but rockers dominate the tracklist and the rocking "I Do Not Wanna Play That Game " puts the album back on track, followed by the monstrous "The Burning Pain Of Love" and the awe-inspiring "Never-Ending Retraceable Dream" all caved in from the best contemporary melodic rock.
In summary, "Earthrage" makes it clear that W.E.T. is on the rise, even at considerable intervals between their studio work. Not even the most optimistic melodic rock enthusiast could have foreseen that the Soto, Mårtensson and Säll reunion could work so well; each bringing the best elements of his work as composers and that all this would fit so perfectly. This new album is absurdly cohesive, and it is almost impossible to point out any importance given the quality of the songs and the irreconcilable interpretations it contains. I say without fear that "Earthrage" is the best work of W.E.T. And this unusual quantity of quality (which also passes through the right production) maintains the good name that W.E.T. is building and knowing of some things that 2018 still reserve us I dare to say, though still in March, that "Earthrage" is the strongest contender so be the album of the year.
“Earthrage” is out now, on Frontiers Records.
|Posted on March 28, 2018 at 12:35 AM||comments (0)|
Dokken – Return To The East Live
Written By The Rock Man
Dokken.... just one of the standout hard rock acts of the 1980s. I spent many a night back in those days bathing in the glory of Don Dokken (vocals), George Lynch (guitar), Jeff Pilson (bass) and “Wild” Mick Brown (drums). To this day some of those albums they recorded in that period would easily make it into a Top 30 greatest album list if I ever had to make one. There is something intangible, an x-factor, a certain type of magic that happens when these four guys get in a room together and play music. And yet they are in my view, the most dysfunctional band in the history of rock music.
Sure, Dokken and Brown have continued the band over the years with various other guys coming in to add their stamp on the legacy, while Pilson has found a home in Foreigner and Lynch has been the driving force behind Lynch Mob. But this machine will always be at its optimal best when this classic line up is in play. The problem has been getting Dokken in the same room with Lynch, so it came as a shock when it was announced in 2016 that the classic line up would perform six sold-out shows in Japan in October. Fortunately, somebody associated with, or in the band, had the good sense to record the event for a live CD/DVD titled Return To The East Live.
Before I mentioned the magic of this combination of players, to put an exclamation point on that statement the band have recorded a brand new studio track titled It’s Another Day which kicks off the record. As you would expect this is classic Dokken and if you bought one of their records during the ‘80s then you know what’s coming your way. It’s a solid rocker overflowing with melody, punch and outstanding vocal harmonies... Oh yeah, and a scorching trademark Lynch guitar solo.
With that out of the way the live set begins with Kiss Of Death and if anyone had any doubts if the band still had “it” the opening few bars of this rocker puts any fears to rest. From this point on it’s one classic track after another: Breaking The Chains, Into The Fire, The Hunter, In My Dreams, Unchain The Night, Dream Warriors... they ‘re all here. But for album highlights I couldn’t go past the blistering pace of Tooth And Nail and the beautiful masterpiece Alone Again. This version features a two-and-a-half-minute intro, which could have been a little shorter and in addition a good portion of the song is acoustic driven before the band explodes into full ballad mode. Regardless of whether it’s a live version or the studio track Alone Again is always an awesome cut. To round out Return To The East Live Dokken have included two re-recorded acoustic tracks, the brilliant Heaven Sent and Will The Sun Rise, both A+ performances.
The only sadness that I took away from this record is that this was a one-time deal, at least that’s the line Don Dokken is selling. I would love for this classic line up to reform full time and record a new full length album, but while the current incarnation of Dokken is in full swing it’s hard to see that ever happening. With that said I feel blessed that the classic band members have given the world one more piece of magic. Return To The East Live is an absolute must have for any fan of Dokken and ‘80s hard rock.
|Posted on March 28, 2018 at 12:30 AM||comments (0)|
FM – Atomic Generation
Written by Juliano Mallon
Since they resumed their career in 2007, FM have been busy, really busy. The band has been releasing material almost annually since then (sometimes it's two releases, as happened in 2010 and 2013) and their participation in festivals throughout Europe is constant, not to mention their own tours. Now, the quintet is back with "Atomic Generation", an album that will surely please the fans of the band given the high musical quality that it presents. And much of that quality rests on the great interpretations of the flawless Steve Overland, one of the best known and most respected voices in the AOR/Melodic Rock universe.
The album opens with "Black Magic", a well-paced rocker with a simple front-line bass and drums (but an efficient one, I must say), with carefully spread out backing vocals in the verses and in the explosive choruses. "Too Much Of A Good Thing" is another handsome rocker and it reminds me of Shadowman (remember that project?), while "Killed By Love" shows that FM still knows how to do quality AOR with engaging melodies and an easy and sticky chorus. Why the band doesn’t go deeper in this AOR vein is a mystery ... In short, three excellent songs and all highlights of the album.
We continue with the great "In It For The Money" (and this one seems to have been taken from the great "Takin 'It To The Streets"), engaging and bass rocker and guitar sharing space in the front line along the verses, plus packing a killer chorus. Meanwhile, the excellent "Golden Days" comes in offering another high-quality radio friendly AOR with engrossing lyrics and a catchy chorus, just like "Playing Tricks On Me", a punchy rocker with an obvious bluesy aura and neat arrangement with brass and everything else, offering a song that reminds me – almost too much, actually - of what FM began to do in the magnificent "Aphrodisiac", however, not with that intensity. Three more beautiful songs, three more highlights.
Then comes "Make The Best Of What You Got", a great rocker in the vein of a very traditional, simple, very effective arrangement with an engrossing chorus, while "Follow Your Heart" comes with a radio friendly chorus that once again sends me back to the good sounds of Shadowman. But not everything is just a reference: the beautiful "Do You Love Me Enough?" is an updated version of the song originally recorded in 2004 by the project The Ladder, which had Steve Overland and Pete Jupp in the lineup. And although this re-recording has little change compared to the original, for some reason it sounds better to me. And here we have, once again, three great moments that deserve your total and unrestricted attention.
And in the final stretch we have "Stronger", a rocker that has a similar structure (attention: not equal) to the first song of the album and that excites and captivates in the same way and with the same intensity, adjectives that could well be used to describe "Love Is The Law", a massively beautiful ballad with acoustic structure and an inspired interpretation of the always excellent Mr. Overland. If you're in that loving mood, get yourself some tissues before checking this one out.
In summary, I confess that "Atomic Generation" didn’t impressed me from the start, but as tracks went by the songs gained different perspectives and their details and particularities began to surface, and now I can state without fear that this is the best FM work in years. Very well produced, cohesive, full of great songs performed on the verge of perfection and with an unparalleled vocalist, "Atomic Generation" shows FM in a big way, categorically denying those who bet on a forgotten future for the band. I am very pleased with the variations on the musical direction of the album, which brings to the table different musical perspectives without losing the identity. A beautiful FM album, which not only lives up to the good name that the band has, but also stands out as one of the coolest albums of the year.
|Posted on March 28, 2018 at 12:25 AM||comments (0)|
Saxon – Thunderbolt
Written by The Rock Man
I can’t think of too many bands or artists that have consistently released quality material time and time again for such a lengthy period as U.K. heavy metallers Saxon. This grand statement isn’t just restricted to the boundaries of heavy metal; but I feel it encompasses the wider music industry making it a much bolder declaration. Consider this: Saxon have been quietly going about their business of hard rocking for close to four decades now and throughout that time they have never bowed to public trends or flavours of the moment but have stayed true to the ideals of their brand of rock and roll and Thunderbolt, the band’s new album, continues that tradition.
You would think that after recording 22 studio albums things might have become a little stale, repetitive and lacking inspiration and I’m sure there are bands out there that have fallen on such times, but this is not Saxon. Somehow, to this day, they manage to produce records that have the same fire and enthusiasm as they did way back in 1979 when they released their self-titled debut album. I’m sure this is something a lot of bands wish they could replicate.
In this day and age of multiple sub-genres of metal that can often be highly complex, technical, over produced and overrated blasts of noise, Thunderbolt reminds us how good traditional heavy rock can be. This new outing gets underway with the atmospheric building instrumental piece Olympus Rising which effortlessly explodes into the title track. All the hallmarks that have sustained Saxon over the generations are alive and present on this cut: passion, high octane energy and a take-no-prisoners attitude. As you would expect the twin guitar attack of Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn is relentless and as solid as ever and the vocal fury and gusto of Biff Byford puts his much younger counterparts to shame.
From here Thunderbolt settles into a foreseeable groove and highly enjoyable ride. Nosferatu (Vampire Waltz) inspired by the 1922 silent film of the same name is, as you would expect given the subject matter, heavy, dark and brooding. They Played Rock and Roll is a fitting tribute to countrymen Motorhead and their iconic lead singer, the late Lemmy Kilmister. The track, much like its focus of attention, is fast, uncompromising, pedal to the metal. The following track, Predator, is musically a solid effort with Byford at his consistent best; but the whole thing is spoiled by guest vocalist Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth) with his ridiculous growl vocal approach. This type of singing just isn’t my thing and in my opinion ruins the whole song, which is a pity.
The balance is quickly restored however by the likes of rockers such as Sons Of Odin, a blend of melodic metal melodies and Viking adventures; Sniper, which given the highly charged debate over gun control, may or may not be in good taste depending on your viewpoint and Speed Merchant, a full throttle look at the world of street car racing. Fast cars and metal music are always a lethal combination and this track with its blistering guitar solo is no exception and another worthy addition to a long list of recorded songs about the topic.
Of late producer Andy Sneap has been responsible for a number of high quality, sharp, well-crafted projects. You only have to look at his work with acts such as Megadeth, Accept and more recently Judas Priest to get an understanding of what I’m talking about. Thunderbolt goes a long way to solidifying his reputation.
I guess when I really think about it this same sentiment is true of what the album does for Saxon’s legacy. Not that they need to enhance their status within the metal community at this stage of their careers, but it is a timely reminder of how great and influential this band has been over a lengthy stretch of time.
|Posted on February 26, 2018 at 7:40 PM||comments (1)|
W.A.S.P. – Reidolized The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol
Written by The Rock Man
It was 25 years ago that W.A.S.P. lead singer/co-founder/songwriter and guitarist Blackie Lawless embarked on creating an ambitious, mesmerizing and haunting project known as The Crimson Idol. This was to be the band’s fifth studio album and at this stage of their careers they could’ve easily rested on their laurels and continued to make the same cliché sex, drugs and rock & roll album they had made previously. But Lawless had a vision and that vision needed to come to fruition and manifest itself in the shape of this outstanding concept album.
The plot line for The Crimson Idol goes like this: Jonathan Steel is a young man from an abusive family who desperately wants the love and approval of his parents. His older brother Michael is the golden child of the family, while Jonathan is the black sheep. After a tragic car accident claims the life of Michael, Jonathan’s life at home spiral’s deeper into despair. At age 16 he runs away from home to the bright lights of the city where he will follow his dream of becoming a wealthy and famous rock & roll star. From here the story follows Jonathon’s meteoric rise to the top of the rock industry and his doom laden fate. But always lurking in the background is his desperate need for his parent’s acceptance and love, which agonisingly is never attained.
Two and a half decades later, Lawless is celebrating the importance of this record in the W.A.S.P. catalogue by releasing an anniversary edition of the album and a DVD movie under the banner of Reidolized: The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol; and to be honest, the reasons why he’s rereleasing this body of work aren’t really that important, what’s important is that he is and bringing to a whole new generation of music fans that need to experience this phenomenal record.
Before we look at the album, a brief word or two about the movie component of this package. The footage shot for this “movie”, which plays out more like an extended music video clip, appears to be limited and repeats itself a lot. However, with a spoken narrative from Lawless as the part of Jonathan acting as a glue between tracks the project overall just seems to work brilliantly and keeps the viewer captivated. It is my view that there are three concept albums that should be made into feature length films: Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime, Alice Cooper’s The Last Temptation and W.A.S.P.’s The Crimson Idol. This package kind of fulfils this, but I still think Hollywood has a part to play.
Now, onto the album. The first thing of note is that Lawless has completely re-recorded the entire album with the current band line-up of Doug Blair (guitars, Mike Dupa (bass) and Mike Dupke (drums). The next thing that caught my attention was the six extra tracks not featured on the original ten track album. These tracks, some instrumentals, some full length songs further enhance the story line and add greater depth to the characters; if that is at all possible.
Musically the album flows seamlessly from hard edged rockers like The Invisible Boy, Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue), I Am One and Doctor Rockter to beautiful, moving and emotional cuts like Hold On to My Heart, Miss You and The Idol. But it’s the album’s final track The Misconceptions Of Me where Lawless displays all his brilliance bringing together multiple parts from other previous tracks to deliver a haunting and stunning heart-wrenching conclusion.
Concept records aren’t everybody’s cup of tea and it’s fair to say if you don’t have the patience some of them can wear thin on you pretty quickly. Reidolized: The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol clocks in at just over an hour and twenty minutes, so you are in for the long haul, but if you give it the time it deserves and the attention needed it will repay you tenfold.
|Posted on February 26, 2018 at 7:30 PM||comments (0)|
Shiraz Lane – Carnival Days
Written by The Rock Man
The sophomore album blues... so many bands suffer from this insidious curse. When a band’s debut album is of such stunning excellence it can be very easy for the follow up to be a letdown. But why? Is it the weight of expectation? Is it a sense of content that they’ve made the big time and the hard work is done? Is it a sudden lack of work ethic? Whatever the reasons Finland natives Shiraz Lane are one band that won’t have to worry about having the sophomore blues. Hot on the heels of their 2016 release For Crying Out Loud comes the scorching new album Carnival Days.
All the things that made For Crying Out Loud one of the standout moments of 2016 are here and accounted for but in a more bombastic fashion. Carnival Days is packed to the brim with spirited attitude, high octane youthful energy, grade A musicianship and a freshness sorely missed in a lot of newer bands on the market. The 11 track album gets off to a dazzling start with the title track. This melodic hard rocker is infused with swinging jazz/saxophone undertones. It confidently struts its way through its three and a half minutes and establishes a health perimeter for the rest of the album to work within.
The Crown takes us into more traditional hard rock territory and I had to remind myself I wasn’t listening to new Slaughter material. The chorus on this track is massive on harmonies and vocalist Hannes Kett sets a high benchmark for the rest of the album and at times is very Mark Slaughter-esque in nature. Back in October 2017 fans got a taste of what was to come with the single and video for Harder To Breathe. Again, as they did so often on their debut album, Shiraz Lane draws heavily on meaty guitar riffs and solos, big arena sounding vocals and ‘80s attitude.
Gotta Be Real really works as a mid-paced/up tempo ballad. This cut is loaded with melodic punch and a juicy fat harmonious chorus and not for the first time, the band aren’t afraid to experiment with saxophones to maximum effect. The other ballad on the record is Hope which is more of a traditional stadium rock effort in nature and has a definite radio friendly approach.
The latest single and video release from the record is People Like Us which I would describe as a solid melodic rocker with a nice piano bar/blues feel. War Of Mine is by far the heaviest track on the record served on a sturdy plater of melodic, groove–laden and multi layered guitars from Jani Laine and Miki Kalske. I kind of thought it had a strong Eden’s Curse feel about it and was a real standout moment of the album.
Carnival Days is a very polished and accomplished piece of work. It stacks up very well to its predecessor and has shown that the band are more than capable of producing quality material time and time again. With two albums under their belt now, Shiraz Lane have clearly demonstrated that they are more than a flash in the pan or one hit wonder and I’m already keenly awaiting the next album. If these guys are going to become the future of hard rock, then I think the genre is in pretty safe and talented hands.
|Posted on February 18, 2018 at 11:20 PM||comments (0)|
Ammunition – Ammunition
Written by Juliano Mallon
Active since 2014, Ammunition was born out of the collaboration between Åge Sten Nilsen and Erik Mårtensson and resulted in "Shanghaied", an album released by the duo's own label. Now, the two return with "Ammunition", an album that shows an evolution in the sound of the band, but walking the same path of their previous work. If the explosive mix of Swedish melodic rock with glam rock pleases you, there’s absolutely no way you can go wrong with the new Ammunition album.
The album features a series of powerful rockers, with guitars up ahead on the mix and explosive choruses, as you can easily notice on such awesome tracks as “Time”, “Freedom Finder” and “Virtual Reality Boy”, three heavy doses of the most traditional Swedish melodic rock (and all three highlights of the album) that set the blueprint for what’s to come. Maximum volume and multiple auditions for each one of those songs is required.
Moving on there’s the excellent "Eye For An Eye" (another highlight that is featured in an alternate intimate acoustic version as a bonus track for the Japanese edition of the album) and "Tear Your City Down ", both worthy of your full attention and of those traditional multiple auditions cranked up to 11.
And before you catch your breath, "Caveman" and "Wrecking Crew" come to consolidate the avalanche of Swedish melodic rock, while "Miss Summertime" appears as the only ballad on the album, offering a welcome counterpoint to an absolute rock-oriented tracklist. But the curtains close to the sound of the great "Bad Bones" and "Klondike", both highlights that deserve maximum volume, living up to the set the album presents.
In short, the new Ammunition album not only follows the line proposed in "Shaghaied", but it raises the bar. The songs sound better, the mix is accurately balanced and the flawless, precise vocals make the album grow along with the band's killer performances. It's no surprise that at times you come to remember either Eclipse or Wig Wam, but it's pretty obvious that the influences of both bands don’t affect the identity Ammunition has established for itself; and it becomes crystal clear while listening to "Ammunition", that this is a great album that deserves a place in your collection.
“Ammunition” is out now, on Frontiers Records.