Tuesday, December 12, 2017

MAGNUM - "LOST ON THE ROAD TO ETERNITY"





RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: SPV/STEAMHAMMER

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

So it's album number... um... about ninety three I reckon. Either way, it's always good to see Magnum back, and always a pleasure to digest yet another stunning cover from Rodney Matthews before you even get to the music. Drenched in fantasy imagery, it perfectly illustrates the album title, and suits the music beautifully, and when Rod and Magnum are in sync like this you know you're in for a treat.

The lead track, 'Peaches & Cream', really sets the mood as it's a bouncy track that will bring back happy memories for long time fans of the band who feel that they have been missing some of the smooth flow since they entered the 'part 2' phase of their career. This contunues into 'Show Me Your hands', but is interrupted by 'Storm Baby', in itself a ballad with big riffs stuffed into it that works really well. No song is short here, with everthing trundling it at five minutes or more. Whilst there's also no ten minute plus epics (something we could do with, to be honest) the longest track is the wonderfully titled 'Welcome To The Cosmic Cabaret', which clocks in at just over 8 minutes. It's one of those tracks, though, that doesn't seem half as long as it is. There's a slow, thoughtful ending with some nice guitar from Tony Clarkin, and to be fair it's a great way to end a great track. Track five is by far my favourite, and it's the title track. Not only does it have a superbly catchy chorus but also features a duet between Bob Catley and Tobias Sammet. New lad Rick Benton provides the sort of keyboards that Mark Stanway would have been proud of, and the whold thing is drenched with genuine strings from the Wolf Kerscheck orchestra. Seriously, this may just be my favourite Magnum track of the 21st Century.

The track that's being used to promote the album is 'Without Love', and it's a nice track with grit and bounce in equal measure. I think 'Peaches & Cream' would have done the job better, but the two share a core mechanic and both will no doubt be well received live. It kicks off the album's second half, a second half that doesn't quite manage to meet the very high standards set by the first. 'Tell me What You've Got', for example, just doesn't stick in the mind regardless of the amount of plays, whilst closer 'King Of The World' treads a similar path, although it finishes in fine style. On the other hand there's still a few belters in the shape of upbeat rockers 'Forbidden Masquerade' and thae catchy 'Ya Wanna Be Someone', whilst 'Glory To Ashes' is a bit of a riff heavy mid paced effort but makes up for it with a great refrain and a cool atmosphere.

Considering this is the 20th studio album (thanks Google) by the band, it is a commendable acheivement. The sound is fresh and invigorating for the most part, unmistakenly Magnum and a delight to get to grips with. Bob Catley sounds amazing throughout, and songwriter Clarkin has cobbled together some memorable tunes. I never get tired of Magnum, and am so glad to see such a quality release this far down their career path. This is indeed rock art, so take a look.

OFFICIAL SITE

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

SAXON - "A DECADE OF THE EAGLE"


RATING: N/A

LABEL: UNION SQUARE

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

So where were you in '79? Were you wearing denim and leather, or were you like me and still a wee bit young for all that heavy metal malarkey? I soon caught up, however, with Saxon having the honour of being my first gig headliners on the 'Crusader' tour. Sinnve discovering the band I've never fallen out of love with them, and this compilation from their first decade as recording artists really brings back happy memories.

Whoever put this 34 track double album together has definitely hedged their bets, producing a solid 'Best Of' that befits the title. With the extreme quality of some of the albums covered within it's inevitable that some favourites will be missing, although the singles are here along with quality album tracks. It all kicks off with early faves 'Stallions Of The Hiughway' and 'Big Teaser', followed by 'Backs To the Wall' and 'Militia Guard'. Although from the band's fledgling period, they still entertain, with funky, heavy rythms all held together by the unmiustakable vocals of Biff Byford. From then onwards it's wall to wall quality, starting with the legendary 'Wheels Of Steel' and going right through to 'Red Alert' from 1988's 'Destiny' album. Not once did I think 'why is this track on here', which is a bit of a rarity for a best of compiliation.

'Decade Of The Eagle' does exactly what it says on the tin, delivering a pretty perfect collection from one of metal's most constantly entertaining bands who, judging by their latest single, are still on top form all these years later. It's one of those that may not be needed by fans with all the albums already a couple of live tracks aside) but it's nonetheless a sweet package that will bring a smile to the face of any metalhead to unwrap it on Christmas day.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Skyclad: "The Silent Whales Of Lunar Sea"

Rating: RRRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

The Silent Whales Of Lunar Sea is Skyclad's fifth studio album, released in 1995 and it was their last one for Noise Records. The outstanding and maybe weird album title is a homophonic (= having the same sound) pun (= the lowest form of humour) when said aloud in British or Australian accents, as it sounds identical to "The silent wails of Lunacy".

The song writing is stripped down and more simplistic and the great songs just keep on coming on this album, Just What Nobody Wanted, Art-Nazi, Another Fine Mess, Halo Of Flies, all excellent tracks. The lyrics of Walkyier are again top of the bill, sometimes sarcastic (Just What Nobody Wanted) and sometimes bittersweet, like in Another Fine Mess. No fillers on this album and my personal favourite is still Halo Of Flies and that is not an Alice Cooper cover. This fifth Skyclad album is again a must for lovers of true folk metal; people who like In Extremo or Finntroll should definitely check Skyclad out!!

Skyclad: "Prince Of The Poverty Line"

Rating: RRRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

Prince of The Poverty Line is Skyclad's fourth studio album and it is a concept album about urban decay in post Thatcherite Britain. This album is a benchmark album in folk metal, the magnum opus of Skyclad and it elevated the band to the status of the ultimate pagan/folk metal band ever!

Prince of The Poverty Line is the perfect mix of the catchy rhythms of folk music and the aggression and heaviness of metal music. A Dog In The Manger (featuring a great guitar solo) is THE highlight of this courageous album and maybe that one might even be called the ultimate Skyclad track! Other songs which belong to the best of Skyclad ever are: Cardboard City (great lyrics), Sins Of Emission (catchy) and A Bellyful Of Emptiness, a heavy song which almost takes you back to their debut album.

This re-release also offers three bonus tracks, being: Brothers Beneath The Skin, Widdershins Jig (live version) and Cradle Will Fall (live). Especially the two live songs are excellently played, power driven folk metal  at its best; play it loud. Thirteen years later Prince Of The Poverty Line is still an awesome album, a must have album for every rock/metal fan!!

Skyclad: "Jonah's Ark"

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

The third album of Skyclad is really the first one where the band clearly reduced the trash elements and it may also be their first true folk metal album. Maybe that came as a shock for the fans who really liked the trashy musical elements in the music of Skyclad, but it also gave the band new fans.

Jonah's Ark is a rather diverse album as songs like A Near Life Experience (percussion all over) , The Wickedest Man In The World (guitar driven) or Earth Mother, The Sun And The Furious Host (with a nice fiddle-backed melody) are almost completely different. Highlight for me on this album is the longest track called A Word To The Wise, folk metal at its best! This new released edition contains 6 bonus tracks of which Emerald and live versions of Spinning Jenny and Skyclad are worth mentioning.

Skyclad: "Burnt Offering For The Bone"

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

The second album of the folk metal band Skyclad saw the band pushing their boundaries and they actually started experimenting a lot with blending the metal and folk musical styles. A Burnt Offering is therefore more melodic and definitely less trashy than their debut album which was released only six months earlier. New member Fritha Jenkins plays the fiddle and keyboards but the guitars still dominate their sophomore album. The song Spinning Jenny is a Skyclad classic mixing the metal and folk almost perfectly, while The Declaration Of Indifference is also a great song to listen to. But the absolute highlight of this album is without any doubt the last song Alone In Death's Shadow. Walkyier's vocals are almost brilliant here and the melodies are awesome; still A Burnt Offering For The Bone is definitely not their best album, but again a must for the fans of the band.

Skyclad: "The Wayward Sons Of Mother Earth"

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

The first five abums of the British heavy metal folk band Skyclad are now re-released and all the albums are 2 panel digipacks with informative booklets. The Wayward Sons Of Mother Earth is the debut album of Skyclad, who are the pioneers of folk metal. The band was founded in 1990 by singer Martin Walkyier (ex-Sabbat) and Steve Ramsey and it was their goal to create the first ultimate pagan metal band.

This debut contains 10 songs which are very close to the trash roots of Walkyier's former band Sabbat. The best songs on this dazzling debut are: Terminus and the stand out song The Widdershins Jig filled with violins and keyboards creating something unique in metal music. Moongleam And Meadowsweet (great title by the way) is an outstanding ballad with beautiful vocals and an excellent guitar solo by Ramsey. Still highly recommended even if this album is already 26 years old.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

BRUCE FOXTON/RUSSELL HASTINGS - "FROM THE JAM LIVE"


RATING: N/A

LABEL: BASSTONE

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

So when is a tribute band not a tribute band? It's a tricky question sometimes, as the longer life goes on the more members of a band will leave, rejoin, split up, reform and go off to form rival iterations of the same band. I mean, we all know that John Coglan's Quo isn't Status Quo because there's no Rossi or Ross, similarly Oliver/Dawson Saxon.  There would be no Iron Maiden without Steve Harris, so I guess it really boils down to key personnel, and in the case of The Jam that's Paul Weller.

From The Jam have been delighting peiople on the live circuit for some years now, and although they have 'From The' tacked on to the band name they at least feature original Jam bassist Bruce Foxton, which for me lends them plenty of legitimacy. Having seen them myself, it also helps that they are a bloody good live band.

'From The Jam Live' doesn't throw any surprises at the listener, comprising of a robust 12 tracks, most of which will be familiar to even casual Jam fans. For newcomers to the band the most pleasant surprise will be Russell hastings, who may well be the perfect fit for the music in lieu of Weller himself. He's got the attitude, the accent, the intonation.... everything you want, really, To hear him belt out 'Down In A Tube Station At Midnight' with Foxton twiddling away on the bass behind is a real joy. the sound quality is beautifully clear, and whilst the songs sound very like they did in the studio, there's still a live rawness that retains a nice edge, emphasized on a six and a half minute version of 'The Eton Rifles' that closes the gig.

From well known classics like 'Going Underground' and 'A Town Called Malice' through to lesser know but still classics like 'The Butterfly Collector' and 'Smithers Jones' this is a fine collection of Jam songs perfromed by guys with talent and passion. I thouroughly reccommend that if you liek The Jam you pick this up and then go and see them on tour.

Official Website

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Spock-s Beard: "Snow Live"

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Metal Blade Records
Review by Martien Koolen

Spockís Beard fifth studio album Snow, released in 2002, was one of their best albums so far; unfortunately it was also the last Beard album featuring Neal Morse, as he left the band to become a musical "preacher".. Now, 15 years later you can enjoy a unique, once in a lifetime live version of the fabulous concept album Snow, featuring Neal Morse and all the past and present Beard members, being: Alan Morse (guitar), Ted Leonard (vocals, guitars), Jimmy Keegan (drums), Nick D'Virgilio (drums), Ryo Okumoto (keyboards) and Dave Meros (bass guitar).

This album was recorded at Morsefest 2016 and it really sounds great from the first track Made Alive/Overture till the final track Made Alive Again/Wind At My Back. In fact the album is over before you know it as the band really plays awesome and very tight indeed. Highlights are: Devil's Got My Throat, Open Wide The Flood Gates, Solitary Soul and I Will Go. The band also plays two encores, being: June, the utterly boring acoustic track from the album The Kindness Of Strangers (1998) and a astonishing 27 minutes version of the epic Falling For Forever, which can be found on the compilation album:  Spock's Beard, the first twenty years.

Snow Live will be released on 2 DVD/2CD digi-pack, 3 LP vinyl (available in 4 different colours), 2 disc Blu-ray and as a 2DVD/2CD/2Blu-ray pack complete with a 48-page artbook. The first 200 artbooks will be signed by Neal Morse.

Snow Live is a must for Beard fans!!

Friday, November 3, 2017

THE DARK ELEMENT: "s/t"

RATING - RRRRr

LABEL: FRONTIERS

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY


The Dark Element sees the return to rocking of former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon, now teamed with Sonata Artica/Stratovarius songwriter/guitarist Jani Liimatainen. If that sounds like a mouthwatering proposal to you then you're going to freak out at the album, which successfully combines symphonic and power styles to great efect.

Personally, I loved it when Anette joined Nightwish, preferring her melodic style to the operatic overtures of her predecessor. In fairness her own replacement has proved to be a perfect fit for the band, but I still hold a torch for her as the person who got me into the band and helped produce some memorable songs. One of those songs was 'Amoranth', and if you're fan of that bouncy style then you should get a real kick out of 'The Dark Element'. Whilst there's no orchestras present, they use keyboards to great effect and bombast, whilct Olzon provides beautiful melodic vocals with the hint of an edge to them.

Liimatainen has brought to the table a fantastic ear for what works with Olzon's vocals, providing songs that are powerful, emotional and melodic, each one as catchy as the last. A good example of the use of keyboards is 'Halo', a bloody catchy tune that blends melody and power as well as brooding drama, featuring superb vocals from Olzon. If you search the web you can listen to the opening two killer tracks 'The Dark Element' and 'My Sweet Mystery', and these give a perfecr introduction to what is a killer album.

For those who miss Olzon's Nightwish days, 'The Dark Element' is a perfect reminder of what she brought to that band. The only problem is that it's so close to Nightwish's bouncier tracks in style that you wish the budget had stretched to some proper orchestration which surely would have made it an album deserving of that rare as hen's teeth 'RRRRR' rating. For now, I've taken half a mark off, but don't let that stop you checking out this excellent, upbeat and engergising album.





ROBIN BECK :"Love Is Coming"

RATING - RRRR

LABEL - FRONTIERS

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

There's plenty of fond memories of Robin Beck out there amongst Rock United readers, I'm sure.  Whilst it's been a while since I've been that interested in her myself, the new she was partnering with Cliff Magness, who writes for Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson among others, made he hope for a rocking album that would roll back the years as well as keeping in tune with current tastes. You know what? That's exactly what I got.

'Love Is Coming is a bit of a powerhouse of a pop rock album, if truth be told. The songs are bold and catchy, and Beck's vocals are strong and clear. Even when the tracks slow down a little there's still plenty of balls on show, and there's no 'First Time' on here, as it just wouldn't fit. Melodic power is the name of the game, as evidenced by the exciting one two of openers 'Island' and 'The Bright Side', whilst 'Me Just Being Me' is a blusey blast that brings to mind Sass Jordan or Melissa Etheridge. Alternately, if there's anyone out there with happy memories of Chrissy Steele, you'll adore late album stomper 'Girl Like Me', a rollicking rocket of a rocker that's probably my favourite track. Beck shows throughout that she can easily handle all the rock you can throw at her as well as sensetive ballads like album closer 'Warrior', which finishes off the listening experience nicely.

I have to say that taken as a whole 'Love Is Coming' hits all the right spots. Robin Beck has made a good move by teaming up with Cliff Magness, and the partnershipo has produced one of the better albums of the year. There's no new ground broken, and not really any 'wow' moments as such, but there's such a constant stream of quality tracks that it's almost impossible not to have a good time with this.

Official Website

STYX: "The Mission"

RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: UNIVERSAL: MUSIC

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

Well this could have gone so, so wrong. Styx decide to do their first studio album for a dozen years or so, and not only that it's a concept album that makes zero attempt to modernise the band's sound. I have to say I was a little appprehensive when I first played it, as I'm not the greatest fan of the band and also not the greatest fan of meandering prog. So what went right?

The simple answer is 'everything', because 'The Mission' does everything it set out to do and more. It's an unapologetic concept album, concerning a manned mission to Mars, and no one could deny that it sounds like classic Styx. the thing is that at the same time it's a catchy, modern record with great songs that would still be great even without the theme running through them. The band have very wisely resisted the urge (and you can bet it was there) to intersperse the record with spoken word drama, sound effects and short mood pieces everywhere. Whilst there are a few short pieces within the 14 tracks here, they don't feel forced, don't get in the way and don't make your hand dart for the skip button. For example, short opener 'Overture' segues nicely into 'Gone Gone Gone' whiuch itself is a fantastic way to kick off the enjoyment as it gallops about with lively harmonies, a great refrain and a cool guitar solo, all in just over two minutes. Serously, between them it's one of the sweetest three and a half minutes to open any album.

Styles are mixed up throughout the album, and naturally with such things comes some foot tapping as you wait for a track you like more, but in truth there isn't  a bad song on the album, even if some shine more than others. listening to it you get a the strong feeling that this is a piece that was crafted rather than merely written. It's unmistakably 100% Styx, yet accessable to a pretty wide audience. There's a beautiful mix, bringing all instruments and vocals equally to the fore, and everyone gets their chance to shine, notably the great Larry Gowan on keyboards/vocals and there's plenty of first class guitar from Tommy Shaw throughout.

As I said, I've never been a massive Styx fan but have always appreciated what I've heard. Heck, I like to do 'Come Sail Away' on karaoke at times, so make of that what you will. My appetite for prog tends to go towards prog with a bit of life and bounce in it, and 'The Mission' satisfies that taste perfectly, both complicated in structure, mixed in styles yet catchy and full of life at the same time. Certainly a contender for album of the year, 'The Mission' is also one of the best albums Styx have ever produced.

Styx facebook


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Moonkings: "MK2"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot Records
Review by Martien Koolen

Three years ago Moonkings, aka Vandenberg's Moonkings released their debut album filled with bluesy hard rock tracks in the veins of Whitesnake, Vandenberg en Manic Eden. Now, Ad Vandenberg (guitars), Sem Christoffel (bass guitar), Mart Nijen Es (drums) and vocalist Jan Hoving bring out their follow up album simply called MK2. And guess what, it is another great hard rock album filled with 12 songs, featuring gripping melodies, no nonsense lyrics, excellent hooks and riffs, amazing vocals and lots of very addictive singalong choruses.

New Day and Hard Way have very "familiar" riffs and they even sound like the notorious well-known riffs from a certain hard rock band from down underÖ..Musically speaking the most interesting (best) songs are The Fire, featuring a ballad-like intro followed by a heavy, groovy Led Zeppelin-like melody and If You Can't Handle The Heat, a mid tempo rather heavy rocker. Both songs have great endings as The Fire ends with a spectacular "jam" between bass player Sem and drummer Mart, while the "master" himself ends the last song of the album with an astonishing guitar solo. Lyric wise most of the tracks are genuine rock and roll, no bullshit lyrics with the exception of the song What Doesn't Kill You, which deals with the contemporary madness that surrounds us  nowadays.

There are really no fillers on this album, although Ready For The Taking reminds me perhaps too much of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Walk Away is maybe a bit too "poppy", but there is always something that you can nag about, right? No, I can truly say that Ad Vandenberg did it again; MK2 is a great hyper melodic hard rock album that will certainly end up in my top 10 list of 2017. Play it extremely loud, please!!!!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

HEAVEN & EARTH: "Hard To Kill"

RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: QUARTO VALLEY RECORDS

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY


I can't believe it's been four long years since I was rocking out to Heaven & Earth's 'Dig' album, where they basically delivered the sort of music we all wish Ritchie Blackmore could still churn out. Head honcho Stuart Smith has once again put together a roster of musicians who just kick ass in all the right ways, and thankfully he's also realized that as nothing is broke musically there's no need for any fixing.

Opening track 'Hard To Kill' certainly sets the scene well, with blistering keyboards from Ty Baillie bringing to mind the great John Lord in his heyday, and vocalist Joe Retta managing to channel both Ian Gillan and Joe Lyn Turner at the same time. Seriously, this is one of the best single tracks of the year as it just blows your balls off. Smith himself continues to provide some excellent guitar without trying to overshadow the rest of the band, and his riffs seriously echo classic Purple and Rainbow in the best possible way, whilst the keyboards add Uriah Heep into the mix as well. Behind the kit at the back is the ever reliable Kenny Arnoff, a master of rhythm without unecessary flair, and it's obvious from the off that this is a band that play well together.

The tracks here range from fluid to stompy, from melody to blues, from paced to ballad, with the main common denominator being they all rock like crazy. Catchy refrains, foot tapping choruses and above all great playing, all held together by Retta's powerful vocals which perfectly compliment the band's style. Foot stompers like 'Anthem' and 'Monster' are designed to get fists pumping in the air, whilst 'L.A Blues' does what it says on the tin, followed by the awesome 'Hellfire', which belts along and throws harmonica into the mix for good measure. Elevn tracks simply fly by, and the temptation to listen to them is so great it puts the snake in Eden to shame.

'Hard To Kill' is definitely one of the most impressive releases this year, and Stuart Smith and co should be justifiably proud. It's definitely retro in sound and feel, but it's the sort of retro that never, ever feels old, just classic. If you like the more heavy, fun aspects of Deep Purple or Uriah Heep mixed with Rainbow's class and melody then this is must buy. Seriously - move heaven and earth if you have to, just get it.

OFFICAL SITE




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

INNUENDO: "The Road Not Taken"



RATING: RRR

LABEL: XLR8 RECORDS

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

Innuendo have been around since 1994, and although this is their seventh album it's the first since 'Half Empty' in 2004. Comprising of multi instrumentalist Brett Richey and Vocalist Pat Laferty, Innuendo have received plenty of admiration for their laid back melodic rock efforts, and it's nice to see then again after a long period of rest and relaxation.

To be fair 'Rest & Relaxation' wouldn't have been a bad title for this album, as Innuendo rarely put their collective foot down, content to cruise along the old West Coast enjoying the scenery rather than trying to break the speed limit. Opener 'the Other Side Of Town (Jeusu)' is a very nice mid paced track, catchy and endowed with a sweet chorus that immediately gets in your head. It's followed by the keyboard led, very meandering ballad 'The Road Not Taken', which despite a nice guitar solo is rather a drag. 'Waiting For You' rescues the pace a bit, but again suffer s from not really going anywhere, ending up as a pleasant but unremarkable song. The pattern of these three songs is constant throughout, with some nice, upbeat songs mixing with the average and the rather dull. 'Digital Ocean (1974)' is a lovely, funky track, whilst 'Playing My Guitar' flirts with psychedelia quite nicely. Pat Laferty provides decent if unspectacular vocals throughout, with Richey coming in with plenty of cool guitar when the songs allow for it. The production could be better although it's certainly not a deal breaker.

'The Road Not Taken' is definitely an album of many parts. There's a nailed on West Coast vibe, with AOR and Prog both rearing their heads in certain songs. Personally, I found too many of the songs to be average and not creative or catchy enough to warrant going back to after this write up. Then again, the songs I did like I liked a lot. Innuendo may be for you if you want something that's not too exciting but is well made nonetheless, but if hard hitting AOR is your bag you may not find enough here to keep you amused.

Official Site





Thursday, October 5, 2017

Myke GRAY: “Shades Of Gray”

Rating RRRR
Label  www.mykegray.rocks
Reviewed by the Bailey Brothers

Myke Gray finally sheds his skin and unleashes a brand new solo album titled “Shades Of Gray”!

Always liked Myke Gray from his days in Jagged Edge and Skin but this is an instrumental album so there’s nowhere to hide - it’s walking a high wire with no safety net. This album is a drive through guitar city with the windows open, all Gray’s favourite guitar heroes hanging on every corner. The influences are clearly evident but the common thread throughout this release is melody, layered guitars, a varied array of guitar techniques and clever use of temp change.

The album’s opening song “Infinite Power” is so in your face it could shave your beard, it’s got more energy than the national grid.  “Maverick” is a really catchy tune I like, there’s also a darker side such as “Diablo” a killer opening riff that is right up Ozzy Osbourne’s street but before his wife Sharon sets the dogs on us there’s still time to drive down Nuno Boulevard and “Grab Life By The Balls” .This is something we were not expecting it seems very Nuno Bettencourt inspired and just shows how cool a guitar player and writer Gray is. The album finishes with a vocal track “Take Me Home” featuring Lorraine Crosby.  I don’t think it belongs on here but the Jules Holland show definitely.

There’s not one Malmsteen rip off song in sight, what a refreshing change for an instrumental disc. Gray has always been a true Brit, he’s done himself proud on this self financed and produced released. Love the album design, Myke Gray’s image and the whole concept. He’s approached this album with the same intensity and enthusiasm has one of his flying Vegan nutritional home cooked meals he serves up on social media and has served up a very tasty album indeed.

Look, don’t mess around just crank this sucker up and enjoy, Myke Gray said “I wanna leave a legacy”. He’s well on his way, excellent release and like the man said “I Love Guitars”!

"Shades Of Gray" available from www.mykegray.com

STUD: "Circle of Lies"

Rating: RRr
Label: Cranksonic
Review by Satu Reunanen
 
Finnish hard rock group Stud released their third album Circle of Lies this September. The band is still relatively unknown in Finland and elsewhere, although their history goes way back to the eighties when they toured a lot and even appeared on TV, back then performing in Finnish language. The band had a break and came back to the scene in 2011, now singing in English and released all of their albums after that. The line-up today is Ari Toivanen (vocals), Mika Kansikas (guitar, keyboards), Jyrki Partanen (bass) and Stenda Kukkonen (drums).
 
The third album offers similar songs and feelings as before to those familiar with Studs music. The album kicks off in a mighty way with Hey You, the guitar opening the song and a high scream to follow. It's one of the heaviest songs on the album with a mix to match. No fear though, the band still plays hard rock in a traditional fashion. The title track takes a faster turn with stylish guitar parts, which are present throughout the album. The band stays in 
their comfort zone through the album though, they play it all safe which is fine, they get their point across. Toivanen has a recognizable, echoing vocal sound, which he can also use in a powerful manner and is backed up with other vocals.
 
The traditional eighties feel is very deep with Stud. With keyboards playing in the background quite unnoticed, Stud could as well be a part of the Peer Günt camp, another eighties Finnish band which plays with a garage sound and a more straightforward approach. A certain Günt style occasionally haunts the Stud album, especially the guitar beginning at Real Man, and makes it a somewhat raw listen. The style might be a calculated one and even if it's not, it will surely wake the interest of fans of this style. But with the unsufficient amount of keyboards the album can't offer much diversity and layers. Some of their songs would've worked better with/more keyboards in them. The album needs a few spins before the songs and the atmosphere sink in. Circle of Lies is for fans of traditional, simple hard rock, with roots heavily in the eighties and music played with a garage feel.

www.stud.fi/
https://fi-fi.facebook.com/STUDofficial/

KING KING: ”Exile & Grace”

Rating: RRRr
Label: Manhaton Records
Review by Martien Koolen

The 4th album of Scottish blues rockers King King is called Exile & Grace and musically speaking it is rather different, read rockier, than their other three albums; they "abandoned" the blues, but they stayed true to the essential King King sound. On this album, featuring 9 songs, you can hear influences from notorious bands like Bad Company, The Free, The Faces, The Rolling Stones and even Thunder. Just listen to the fabulous opener (She Don't) Gimme No Lovin', which features a lovely guitar solo and a very catchy chorus, and you might think that you are listening to Thunder's Backstreet Symphony album; but not really of course. Other musical highlights are Heed The Warning, Tear It All Up and I Don't Wanna Lie; all featuring catchy melodies, "mean" guitar solos and nice guitar hooks and riffs. In fact the entire album is a good mix of soulful vocals, excellent guitar playing, exquisite keyboards passages, a solid rhythm section and great song material. Exile & Grace has an underlying theme, as according to Alan Nimmo the main songs are about the state of the world. Exile & Grace also features a bonus cover, being Whitesnakeís Give Me All Your Love; again, although I loathe covers, an excellent track on a more than excellent album. Play it loud and I am looking forward to hear certain new songs live as some songs are destined to turn into a jam in a live setting!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

TRUCKER DIABLO: "Fighting For Everything"


RATING: RRRR

LABEL: PLEDGE MUSIC

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY


Belting out Southern fuelled hard rock by way of County Armagh, Trucker Diablo have gone from strength to strength over the course of three albums, and they show no sign of slowing down with this, album number four. So far they've not been in need of a tune up, but even with the quality of the previous releases, it has to be said that 'Fighting For Everything' may well prove to be a decent sized fuel injection for their career.

Always a superb, energy filled live band, Trucker Diablo will never have the same impact in the studio, but that doesn't mean to say they don't try. Opener 'Born Trucker' starts off with a galloping intro reminiscent of 80s Iron maiden before settling down into the familiar pounding riffage associated with Trucker Diablo. It's immediately catchy, like most of their songs, and I was singing about what a born trucker I was before the end of the first listen. Don't think this is some sort of country 'Convoy' type thing either – trucker Diablo are all about the head down, fist in the air rock experience, with power, passion and melody all sitting side by side in the cab. With this album they deliver track after track of this stuff, with each track having it's own identity even though the style is similar. Closer 'When The Waters Rise' changes tack completely, as the band sign off with a classy power ballad that works perfectly to help the listener come down from the frantic rocking of the previous ten tracks.

'Fighting For Everything' is a bit of a monster, truth be told. The songs all have huge potential to kill live (and I've no doubt they will), with massive guitars everywhere that make the whole thing a headbanger's heaven indeed. If you've ever caught them at a festival or nodded your head along to a track then this is the perfect time to become a loyal mothetrucker because 'Fighting For Everything' is a perfect distillation of just what Trucker Diablo are all about. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

SLADE: “Slade Alive”

Rating: RRRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

Slade Alive was originally released on 24 March 1972 and now 45 years later BMG brings out a Deluxe Edition of this spectacular album. Slade Alive was a very successful album for the band, staying in the UK Album Charts for 58 weeks and it was also their first LP which was in the English as well in the American charts. Slade Alive is definitely Slade’s best album as it has actually nothing to do with the commercial songs of Slade they later on released like e.g. Gudbuy t’Jane, Skweeze Me, Pleese Me or their utterly annoying Christmas hit Merry Xmas Everybody. Slade Alive features 7 tracks of which three are covers, namely Hear Me Calling (Ten Years After), Darling Be Home Soon (Lovin’ Spoonful) and Born To Be Wild, originally from Steppenwolf of course. The ballad Darlin’ Be Home Soon with excellent guitar work from Dave Hill, is mainly famous, probably even notorious, due to Noddy Holder’s belch during a quiet part of the song. Hear Me Calling was the opening song for a Slade concert since 1970 and Slade’s version is excellent with stunning guitar work and very weird noises by Holder. In Like A Shot From My Gun was never released as a studio recording by Slade so this hard rock track is a rather special song on this album. Know Who You Are was originally called Genesis and was released as a single from Slade’s album Beginnings. The song was an instrumental one and it flopped completely, then they wrote lyrics for that track and renamed it Know Who You Are. They released that new version again as a single and it flopped again…. But this live version of that song on Slade Alive is a good one as it is a decent straight forward hard rock song. Keep On Rocking is Slade’s rock and roll “tribute” to Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Holder is amazing on that one. Get Down And Get With It was the first success single for Slade and that one is in fact a really heavy remake of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down With It, a song from 1964! Nolder screams his lungs out in this Slade classic track and this live version is so much better than the studio one! Slade Alive ends with a heavy version, guitars galore, of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild.
Slade Alive is their best album ever and Dave Hill said about this amazing album: “My memories of Slade Alive are based around the principle I hold dear to this day and the very reason I formed a band in the first place…live performance!! I believe Slade Alive is such a great album because it’s Slade ‘live on stage, at our very best! Our success was based on that album and the principle that we were a great live rock and roll band of our generation.”
Slade Alive DeLuxe Edition is available as CD with hardback cover and 28 page booklet or as 180g Vinyl LP with 6 page Booklet.

Martina EDOFF: "WE WILL ALIGN"


RATING: RRRR

LABEL: AOR HEAVEN

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

A couple of years ago I was mightily impressed by Poodles co-founder Martina Edoff's second solo album 'Unity'. It was stuffed full of strong melodic hard rock songs that were brought alive by Edoff's powerful, tuneful vocals. 'Kick ass powerful melodic rock' weree my exact words on this here website, and I'm glad to say they still apply to album number three.

Previously she has worked with fellow Swedes H.E.A.T to write songs, and here she teams up that band's keyboard maestro Jona Tee, as well as the likes or Erik Martensson and Billy Sheeham amongst others. The result is another strong album, albeit one that is most definitely heavier than it's predecessor. For those that own said album, 'We Will Align' is generally more in the vein of 'Never Let You Down', perhaps the crunchiest track on 'Unity'. So we have songs here that have a good, hard backbone, as well as a few more melodic ones, but what pins it all down are Martina's vocals. Once again she belts out everything and has quite accurately been called an 'Angry Ann Wilson', as there's alot of grit involved. Don't get me wrong - I like it. It all gets a little toned down in the middle with the excellent power ballad 'Face The Mirror', and closer 'Brand New World' is a slower, more epic sounding tune, but apart from these it's hard rocking all the way.

Once again, Martina Edoff has delivered a strong album with no weak tracks, which will appeal to anyone who likes a bit of female fronted melodic rock, sort of like Issa with more balls to it. There's no operatic arsing about, no ten minute epics, just straightforward catchy tunes with a strong hard rock backing (not heavy metal). So here I am again telling people to check out a Martina Edoff album whilst giving it 4 out of 5 - I have absolutely no problem with that, and nor should you.

Official Site



NEWMAN - 'AERIAL'

RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: AOR HEAVEN

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY


Someone you know will always deliver a solid album is Steve Newman, better known in the rock world simply as Newman. 'Aerial' sees him eleven albums into what is ostensibly a solo career with a little help from his friends, and I can sincerely say he has yet to deliver a duffer to his fans. Multi talented and with a voice that's all his own, Newman can be seen as a person, a band or simply a sign of quality.

Quality is certainly the watchword of 'Aerial', as I am pretty confident in saying this may just be the best Newman release yet. A solid twelve tracks over fifty minutes, not an instant is wasted. Perhaps the best thing about it is the sheer amount of catchy melodies that are stuffed within, married to some crunchy riffs and plenty of smooth guital solos. Vocally, Newman has a distinct voice that is always solid and tuneful, and as usual all the right notes are hit in all the right places. The songs themselves are consistently of a high standard, and it doesn't take long for the likes of 'High Tonight (Aerial)' or 'Don't Wake The Lion' to get stuck in your head. It's great to realize that Newman can still write an insanely catchy chorus after all this time, and there's plenty to choose from here. There's even a song to sing to your other half (if yer a bloke), as 'I'm Your Man' has one of those choruses that will soothe a partner who has had to do the washing up you left in the sink AGAIN. Hmmmm... that might just be me...

It goes without saying tha fans of Newman will get a kick out of 'Aerial', but I must say that this is a perfect album to tempt in new followers, it's so well crafted and aimed straight between the eyes of the discerning melodic rock fan. A real selling point is that it's not interchangable with a dozen other AOR groups, as is so often the case. Another fine release from the Newman camp, 'Aerial' builds impressively on what has come before, cementing his place in the Premier League of the genre.

Official Site




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

LIONHEART - "SECOND NATURE"


RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: AOR HEAVEN

REVIEW BY:ALAN HOLLOWAY

When it comes to blasts from the past, hearing an album from Lionheart is like a barrel of TNT straight between the eyes. It was over 30 years ago that they released their only album, the much loved 'Hot Tonight', and like many others it's an album that I still enjoy today. Much like FM at Firefest, their appearance at the Rockingham Festival inspired them to reform and record new material, and as you can see from the high rating above it was a cracking idea.

There's a coupleof absentees from the original line up, although Guitarists Dennis Stratton and Steve Mann remain, as does Bassist Rocky Newton. Clive Edwards now warms the drum stool, whilst respetced covalist Lee Small takes centre stage. Thise who have heard Lee in the past will know what a good fit he is to this sort of AOR, and a safer pair of hands (and lips) is hard to imagine.

Openers 'Give me The Light 'and 'Angels With Dirty Faces' easily dispel any doubts the listener might have about the ability of the lads to knock up a sequel to a 33 year old album. Both have the same Lionheart vibe as 'Hot Tonight', containing beautiful melody backed up by bouncy keyboards and strong guitars. They set the 80s vibes twanging, and they remain for the whole album, as thankfully there's no attempt whatsoever to drag anything kicking and screaming anywhere. The third track is one that's got a bit of scrutiny, probably because it's a Chris De Burgh cover! Thankfully, it's not 'Lady In Red', but instead the already brilliant 'Don't Pay The Ferryman', and I'm genuinely impressed by the way Lionheart treat it with respect whilst also putting in enough touches tomake it their own version.

From these roots, the album grows and spreads it's melodic tendrils through your brain, meaning as soon as it finished you are hard pushed not to just put it straight back on again. Not counting the short, rather pointless intro there's 11 quality AOR tracks contained within, plus a dramatic outro that will most likely be skipped more often than not. Even at the arse end of the album the quality level is maintained by the likes of 'Heartbeat Radio' which sounds exactly like a song with that title should do, with a bouncy chorus and a brilliant guitar break in the middle. It's followed by a track that bears the band's name, and although it's a little heavier than most it's a fast paced belter of a track.

'Second Nature' will delight anyone who still loves the debut after all these years. Not only that, but anyone who likes melodic rock should check it out as it's a wonderful example of exactly what kind of delights the genre can produce. If Lionheart were once merely hot tonight, 'Second Nature' sees them go supernova.


Official facenbook Page





Friday, September 1, 2017

COASTLAND RIDE: ”Distance”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Avenue Of Allies Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The album number three from Sweden’s Coastland Ride is their strongest effort so far. It’s still smooth AOR but there’s a new kind of intensity in these songs. In my review of their previous album I hoped that they ”stay away from the yacht and crank it up” and that’s what they’ve done! I’m not pretending that they’ve done it because I said so but I’m happy they did, for whatever reason.

The album kicks off with ”Winds”, a classy AOR song that has echoes of Toto and Journey in it. Layered vocals, strong chorus and enough crunch, I like it! The next highlight is ”Love Is On Your Mind”, a very Toto-influenced track but with a great chorus. With ”Dead For Seven Days” the band really crank it up and come up with an excellent, gritty melodic rocker.

”Eye Of The Storm” is a smoother, westcoast-style AOR song but it works for me, as does the dramatic ”Nation Of Grace”. It’s dark, pompous and epic, something that I can’t recall this band having attempted before.

The last highlight I want to mention is the closing track ”Reasons To Try”, which is a fine AOR track that reminds me a bit of Alien. One of the best tracks of this album no doubt, and I think this would be a good live track too.

www.coastlandride.net

Thursday, August 31, 2017

BOULEVARD: ”Luminescence”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Melodic Rock Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

During the last few years, there’s been several comeback albums by AOR bands who made their mark in the eighties. Some of them have been good, but some of them have only raised the question ”why?”. ”Luminescence” isn’t one of those. It showcases a band that still has the fire to create new music, faithful to their roots yet sounding very up-to-date. This might actually be my favourite Boulevard album!

The first song released from this album, ”Life Is A Beautiful Thing” is one of the best pure AOR tracks I’ve heard lately. It’s moody, melodic and… well, beautiful. Vocalist David Forbes proves that he’s still a superb vocalist and the sax/guitar solo is intense and brilliant. The production is faultless and the arrangement keeps on giving - you’ll find new, nice little details even after several plays. After hearing ”Life Is…” the expectations regarding the album went through the roof…

To be honest, there aren’t too many songs on this album that can match the sheer brilliance of ”Life Is A Beautiful Thing”, but then again, it’s an almost impossible task.  I have to hand it to them though, ”Runnin’ Low”, ”What I’d Give” and ”I Can’t Tell You Why” come pretty close and I like most of the others too. Interestingly, the opening track ”Out Of The Blue” doesn’t work for me at all, it reminds me of Spandau Ballet or some other 80ies slick pop acts, but apart from that and a couple of others this album is rather fine, perfectly crafted AOR. You can hear that it's been meticulously written and arranged and every note has its' place.

http://www.boulevardband.com
https://www.facebook.com/pg/boulevardcanada/

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The VIRGINMARYS: "Sitting Ducks EP"


RATING: N/A

LABEL: Self Release

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

I remember seeing The Virginmarys some years ago, possibly supporting Terrorvision. Whoever it was, I was certainly impressed by this powerful young support act, and I'm quite surprised they never broke through and became a more major act. Seemingly back at the bottom of the ladder, this EP has been funded through Plege Music, and will hopefully serve togive the band another crack at the elusive rock market.

They still sound pretty much like I remember, with powerful beats and bass heavy grooves, drawing from the Blues as well as the more growly punk acts of old. The four tracks arte a good representation of the band, with the standout being the instantly catchy 'Sweet Loretta'. 'Through The Sky' plays with the formula to good effect, whilst they close with an acoustic handclap piece called 'Sleep'. To be honest I'm not that keen myself and would have preferred a fourth rocker, but it's understandable that they want to show off what they can do here, to remind those with money that here is a band worth investing in.

If, like me, you saw the name and had some fond memories and a desire to see what's what with this band, then give them a go. Solid, heavy, a little different and a lot of fun, here's hoping The Virginmarys continue to make music.

Official Facebook Page

Emerson, Lake & Palmer : ”In The Hot Seat”

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

In 1992 Emerson, Lake & Palmer celebrated their come back with the album Black Moon and only two years later there was a follow up called In The Hot Seat. Originally the ninth studio album of ELP was called The Best Seat In The House, but they changed it to In The Hot Seat for no really obvious reason. In The Hot Seat is the last ELP studio album and the 10 songs on the album are a blend of mainstream rock, classic ELP progressive music, melodic pop and ballads. Black Moon was a far better album as In The Hot Seat in fact only features two great, ELP worthy tracks, namely the opening track Hand Of Truth and the emotional song Daddy. The latter, a heartfelt narrative ballad, was based on a true story and the song was composed by Greg Lake. Hand Of Truth, originally entitled We Have The Power, features an excellent classical ELP overture played by Emerson, followed by Lake’s excellent vocals and Palmer’s outstanding drumming. The other eight tracks do not really impress me as they are mainly too poppy or too soft. CD2 of this remastered version features 12 songs from the Now Tour of 1997/1998 and among them are excellent pieces of ELP highlights like Knife Edge, Lucky Man, Karn Evil 9 and a superb version of Fanfare For The Common Man/Rondo which clocks over 22  minutes. Therefore this album is still a must for ELP fans!!

Jack STARR'S BURNING STARR: “Stand Your Ground”

RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: High Roller

REVIEWED BY: Alan Holloway


It's funny how you can know a famous name but know nothing about them. I've been hearing the name Jack Starr for many years now, but this is genuinely the first time I've had one of his albums to sit through. From the gruesome fantasy war cover I was expecting Manowar type macho bullshit, but it turns out Jack Starr has much more than that to offer.

'Stand Your Ground' is an unashamedly classic style metal album, with speed and melody walking hand in hand throughout, much like Striker. To be fair, if you like Striker then Jack Starr is a must buy, as the two share an affinity and ability for powerful riffs married to merry melodies, resulting in a continuous cacophony of fast, exciting and above all catchy tunes. It's the sort of album you'd expect to be filled with three and a half minute wonders, but only three tracks in the title track rolls in at over 10 minutes, with the average elsewhere being about five minutes. This results in an album that's a whopping seventy minutes long, and blow me if it doesn't seem like it at any point. The title track itself is a wonderful piece of music, reminding me of both Rainbow and Iron Maiden at their best. Vocalist Todd Michael Hall (Riot) has a superb vocal style for this sort of thing, all high screams and low power but always melodic. Starr himself provides excellent guitar, though if yer name is on the cover that's to be expected. He doesn't take over the songs at all, though, which is a massive plus in my book.

If this had been chucked out in the early to mid eighties it would be hailed as a classic today. The songwriting is so strong, the playing so perfect, the melodies so sweet that two old ladies who wandered in whilst I was writing this review both said it sounded very good! Jack Starr nails that sweet spot of making an album that couldn't be called anything but metal that will still appeal to people who don't like metal. Yes, the style is retro, but don't let that put you off, as 'Stand Your Ground' feels fresh and feisty throughout. This may well be the best melodic metal album this year, so do yourself a favour and check it out.

Janet GARDNER: "s/t"


RATING: RRRR

LABEL: Pavement Entertainment

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Remember when Lita Ford made an album with her husband? If you're lucky the answer is 'no', because it was a bit of a car crash, so I wasn't jumping for joy when I learned another 80's rock legend was making an album with her husband. Luckily, Vixen's Janet Gardner has made it with her own husband Justin James, and not Lita Ford's.

Fans of Vixen, and there are still many, may be disappointed that this self titled effort doesn't make any attempt to be 'Rev It Up Part 2', and if love is still a killer then it's now a psycho killer with severed heads in the fridge. This is obvious from the first two tracks, 'Rat Hole' and 'Hippycrite', which substitute sugary AOR for hard edged riffage and a metal edge. By rights they should sound a bit tired, but after a few spins they really do grow on you, the raw power complimenting vocals that still shine all these years later. 'If You Want Me' is a track that will be more enjoyable for those frightened by big guitars, whilst 'Candle' sits nicely between the two styles. Throughout, Justin James provides some excellent guitarwork that lifts each track without taking over, and it's clear that this marriage may just be a match made in musical heaven. For example, the middle of the album sees a 'What have we done to the world' type track called 'Let It be Over', that just manages to sit on the right side of preachy/cheesy, mainly due to a scorching solo from Mr James. The song itself has a very different arrangement that works well, and it's nice to see the duo gambling a little and winning.

After reading some very negative comments based on the preview samples, I wasn't expecting to like this this very much, but it only took a few listens to really start enjoying it and appreciating the talent involved. It's more on the heavy side than some may have wanted, but is no less of an album for it. Gardner sound great throughout, displaying real power and attitude combined with the expected melody, and if you're a fan there's no reason not to check it out.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Emerson, Lake & Palmer : ”Black Moon”

Rating: RRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

After a couple of progressive, experimental masterpieces like Tarkus, Pictures at an Exhibition and Brain Salad Surgery, the super group Emerson, Lake & Palmer split up in 1978. Fourteen years later ELP decided to make a comeback and they released Black Moon, their eight studio album which was officially released in 1992. Now, 25 years later you can enjoy the remastered version of Black Moon, an album that cannot be compared with their experimental albums like Tarkus or Pictures, as most of the ten features songs are ìjustî mainstream rock tracks with lots of vocals. The title track was released as a single, which deals with the first Gulf War and Sadam Hussein, and it is probably the best track of the entire album. Other musical delights are Paper Blood and Farewell To Arms. Keith Emerson shines in the classical interpretation of Prokofiev's  Romeo And Juliet. Black Moon is at least a much better album than the previous (14 years ago) Love Beach and on this remastered version you can also enjoy a couple of bonus tracks, while CD2 features the 1992 live show at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring classical ELP songs like Tarkus, Lucky Man, Knife Edge and Fanfare For The Common Man.