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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

RIAN: ”Out Of The Darkness”

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

Must be something in the water… Here’s yet another melodic hard rock band from Sweden! And what’s more, they aren’t half bad!

Rian is a trio from Stockholm, featuring vocalist/guitarist Richard Andermyr, drummer Jan Johansson and bassist Jonas Melin. Their sound isn’t exactly that of basic power trio though, because there’s a lot of keyboards and layers of guitars on the album. The producer of ”Out Of The Darkness” is Daniel Flores (Find Me, The Murder Of My Sweet), so it’s no surprise that the album sounds like a million bucks.

So why only 3R’s? It’s hard to say, there’s nothing particularly wrong in these songs but somehow some of them just don’t click with me. They’re melodic but not fluffy, arranged well and Andermyr impresses both as a singer and as a shredder, but… There’s plenty of very decent songs here, most of the in fact, but I think the album is maybe a couple of killer songs short of 4-R rating.

My favourite songs are early in the track listing, ”Out Of The Darkness”, ”Out Of My Mind”
and especially ”In A Dream” which is somehow very ”Swedish”-sounding. The legacy of Abba mixed with modern hard rock sound - that works for me!

If you’re into the contemporary Scandi-AOR sound of Art Nation, latter-day Bad Habit, One Desire and such, do check this band out!

https://www.facebook.com/rianisalive/
http://rianrocks.com

Sunday, August 13, 2017

H.E.A.T.: ”Into The Great Unknown”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Gain/earMUSIC
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

”Into The Great Unknown”, the new H.E.A.T. album is one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the melodic rock genre this year. The first single was released on 11th of August and it has recieved mixed reactions, as has the album from those who have had the access to it. Some say it's the greatest thing the band has released while others have been highly critical. I personally like it, but not quite as much as their previous two albums. Those I rank as modern day classics.

The "controversial" first single "Time On Our Side" doesn't represent the whole album, it's one of the more contemporary, pop-oriented tracks. I like it a lot; haunting keyboards, great vocal from Erik Grönwall and plenty of melody. Given the right exposure it might become a crossover hit. But those of you who are worried that the band has sold their souls for possible chart success, hold your horses... some of the tracks on this album rock harder than ever before. Whether you like it or not.

"Bastard Of Society" and "Shit City" are just as angry as their titles suggest, definitely not "AOR". "BoS" is a pretty standard turbocharged H.E.A.T. rocker with a shout-along chorus, a decent opener for the album. "Shit City" then... I don't like it at all, it's a bit of a plodder and the hook could use some, or make that a lot of sharpening. Between these two you'll find "Redefined", a modern pop rock track and a relative of "Time On Our Side". I like it but is it a future H.E.A.T. classic? I don't think so.

"Best Of The Broken" is a harder-edged track again, and while it has its' moments, I don't rate it as one of the better tracks. The balladic "Eye Of The Storm"  is among them though, as is "Blind Leads The Blind", possibly my favourite track of the album. This is the H.E.A.T. I love, powerful yet melodic!

"We Rule" is an interesting, very Queen-like anthem. I'm still on the fence when it comes to "Do You Want It", there's something terribly annoying in it yet it's terribly catchy too. Maybe I do want it.

The title track closes the album and does it in grand fashion. I rarely like this kind of slow-paced  songs, but this one is rescued by a chorus that's pure gold.

That was the track-by-track review... Overall I'd say the album sounds great, and Erik shines on every track. I don't mind the modern influences, but I do mind that aren't as many great tracks as on the previous albums. Apparently there's a bonus track on the Japanese version called "F.Y.I. Miley", but somehow I don't have great hopes for it being a massively melodic hard rock anthem.

https://www.facebook.com/heatsweden/

Saturday, August 5, 2017

TEN: ”Gothica”

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

After a few years elsewhere, Gary Hughes has brought his TEN ship back to Frontiers. The initial hype was that ”Gothica” would be a milestone album for the band. I don’t know about that. It is a good album but not necessarily among their best ones, not in my books anyway.

I have no complaints about the production or performances and I understand that a lot of time and effort has been put into these songs. I admire Hughes’ poetic style of lyric writing, he’s clearly a well-read man and most of these songs have more to offer than the usual AOR relationship lyrics. There are a couple of songs that stand out as future Ten classics, namely the nostalgic, light-hearted ”In My Dreams” and the epic ballad ”Paragon”. I like many of the others too, but there are a few tracks I just can’t connect with, namely ”Jekyll And Hyde”, ”Welcome To The Freakshow” and ”La Luna Dra-Cu-La”. Especially the choruses don’t work for me.

RRR would not be enough for this but I’m not sure it deserves RRRR either… so let’s make that fourth R a small one.

https://www.facebook.com/TenOfficial/

THE NIGHTS: "s/t"

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Frontiers Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

2017 has been a very good year for melodic rock fans when it comes to new releases. Especially the Scandinavian bands have released superb albums, and this one is definitely one of those.

Formed by guitarist, Reckless Love producer/co-writer Ilkka Wirtanen and vocalist Sami Hyde in 2015, The Nights comes across like a blend of modern melodic pop/rock and 80'ies influences. Think Sunrise Avenue on speed with crunchier guitars and razorsharp hooks! There's definite crossover potential and I can only imagine what kind of damage these songs would do on the airwaves if the band had a major label backing them up. Here's hoping that The Nights will appeal to a few radio programmers or other gatekeepers...

If you liked the ”pre-view” tracks, you’ll enjoy the rest of the album too. You’ll actually discover gems like ”In A Blink Of An Eye”, a fine example of powerful modern-day AOR. Not to mention the more balladic moments like ”You Belong To Me Tonight” and ”Elegy (You Should Be Here)”. The Reckless Love connection is evident on some of the tracks, I could imagine a song like ”Welcome To The Show” on an album of theirs. Wirtanen has played a major part in their success, no doubt about it. He’s also a bit of a shredder! A special mention to Sami Hyde too, I wasn’t that keen on his vocal style at first, but I’ve grown to like it a lot. In fact, there’s not a weak song on the album, the production is fresh and crispy and the performances are outstanding… what’s not to like?

https://www.facebook.com/TheNightsOfficial/

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

RPWL: ”A New Dawn"

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Gentle Art Of Music
Review by Martien Koolen

The best German (Bavarian) prog rock band RPWL celebrates their 20th anniversary with the release of their new album called A New Dawn. Their last concept album Wanted (2014) is played from the beginning till the end and the spectacular show is completed with The Fisherman and Unchain The Earth (only on CD) from the album Beyond Man And Time (2012), Still Asleep (bonus track on Wanted)  and Hole In The Sky from The RPWL Live Experience (2009) (also only on CD).

A New Dawn was recorded in RPWL's hometown Freising in October 2015 and this amazing concert is now released as double CD, double LP, Blu-ray and DVD. A New Dawn is a truly amazing live show of one of the best prog rock bands on this planet and the musical highlights for me are: The Fisherman, the longest song on the CD and probably one of the best RPWL songs ever, Misguided Thought, with a spectacular guitar solo from Wallner, who is by far the most underrated guitar player of the world! The Attack, another rather long song, is again dominated by the guitar work of Wallner and A New Dawn, the last song, is also one of my favorite RPWL tracks, a fascinating power ballad with great lyrics. Hole In The Sky, the oldest song on the album is again a superb piece of prog rock music that only RPWL can produce, as these guys really are a brilliant band.

As I said in earlier reviews about RPWL, these guys are the future of modern prog rock and on this spectacular live album Lang, Wallner, Jehle, Taus and Turiaux musically peaked again! A must for fans of melodic prog rock music, one of the best live albums I have heard this year!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

URIAH HEEP: "The Magican's Birthday"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen


The fifth Uriah Heep studio album called The Magican's Birthday is my personal favourite  Heep studio album (the live 1973 album being my overall favourite Heep CD) and that is mainly due to three tracks, being Sunrise, Sweet Lorraine and the epic title track. Now, 45 years later this great album is re-mastered and I really have to say that listening to The Magican's Birthday again is still a pleasure, proving that Uriah Heep was and still is a great rock band.

Following their highly acclaimed Demons And Wizards album, The Magican's Birthday was commercially not so successful, although it reached number 1 in Finland! Musically it is a slightly more experimental and heavier album than its predecessor and therefore it is more to my liking than the notorious Demons album. The MB opens with one of Heep's live staples Sunrise, a beautiful rock ballad with top notch vocals of Byron, followed by the "simple" straight forward rocker Spider Woman. Sweet Lorraine, another live staple is also a nice rock and roll track with great keys from Hensley.

Absolute highlight of The MB, and also one of my favourite Heep tracks ever, is the epic title song, a very progressive and experimental track featuring excellent guitar work by mister Uriah Heep himself Mick Box. The chorus of the MB is very catchy and the guitar riff is extremely strong and recognisable. The Magican's Birthday is an excellent album, a must for Heep fans and this remastered version also offers a bonus CD with 15 alternative, never before released versions of Heep tracks. Notice the rare tracks Silver White Man, Crystal Ball, Happy Birthday and Gary's Song; the booklet is also worth mentioning and the cover, again designed by Roger Dean, is a beauty. So, again a great re-release by BMG, however if you are a Heep fan, you also need a healthy bank account to buy all these "new" Heep albums.

URIAH HEEP: ”Demons And Wizards”

Rating: RRRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen


Some people call Demons And Wizards Uriah Heep’s best album ever and it certainly was a very important album for the band itself. Heep’s fourth album featured the most talented and most accomplished line up of the band for the first time; so with Gary Thain on bass and Lee Kerslake on drums. Demons And Wizards was also the first Heep album for which the band wrote fantasy lyrics and it was the first Heep album with a cover designed by Roger Dean (Yes).

Demons And Wizards contains their biggest hit Easy Livin’, a song everyone has once heard before in his life. However the album features better tracks like Traveller In Time, The Wizard, Circle Of Hands and The Spell. Traveller In Time and Circle Of Hands became live staples for the band and one can say that the entire album is a classic of its genre.

Demons And Wizards was also a commercial success, making the UK top 20 and earning a gold record in the USA. This remastered edition features a bonus CD with 14 never before released alternative versions of Heep songs, of which All My Life, Home Again To You, Why, Proud Words and Green Eye are the most interesting. The extended booklet contains lots of extra information about the songs and also contains notes of Box and Hensley about Heep’s most notorious album. Demons And Wizards is an absolute essential album for any fan of this musical genre; a very influential album that cannot be overlooked or ignored.

URIAH HEEP: ”Look At Yourself”

Rating: RRRr
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen



The third album of British Uriah Heep called Look At Yourself is a seventies rock masterpiece with a couple of classic Heep tracks. The album opens with the more than excellent title track which fuses heavy metal with progressive rock in a stunning way. Another classic Heep song is Tears In My Eyes, an up tempo rock track with southern styled slide guitar per excellence. But of course the highlight of the album is the longest and most well-known track called July Morning, as this song is the perfect representation of the classic Heep sound; Byron sings top notch and the organ riff and guitar solo are truly amazing. By the way Manfred Mann plays a bit of mini-moog on July MorningÖ.. Shadows Of Grief, also a long track, is very dark and What Should Be Done can almost be seen as a jazz/blues crossover track. Look At Yourself is a classic Heep album and a must for the fans.

This remastered edition also features a bonus CD with 11 tracks of previously unreleased material with alternative versions of July Morning, Look At Yourself and the other songs from the album. The songs Why Fourteen Minutes and What's Within My Heart (also on the remastered version of 1996) are "real" bonus tracks.

Look At Yourself remastered also features a very nice booklet with lots of information and ìinterviewsî with Box and Hensley, so: a must have for Heep fans.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

DON BARNES: "Ride The Storm"



RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: MELODICROCK

REVIEW BY:ALAN HOLLOWAY


There will be plenty of you out there, I am sure, who nrecognize the name Don Barnes as the vocalist in 38 Special for many, many years now. What you may not know (as I didn't) is that in 1989 he made a solo album, encouraged by thwe record company. the thing is, after making the thing the record company went tits up and the album got swallowed in buy outs and politics, never to be heard by the public until now.

Melodicrock Records are certainly giving fans what they want recently, with the second album from Jimmy Davis & Junction seeing the light of day as well as this little gem. It comes in two versions, one of which is a full on rock album, with the other a more smoothed out version. The one I've got is the rockier version, but if you buy it you get the other anyway. Personally, after hearing this version I have no interest in anything with any of the bite taken out. The best part is that this is the first time anyone has heard this mix outside the studio, as Barnes found the only copy when preparing for this release.

So let's get down to the music, which most certainly isn't the southern rock vibes of 38 Special. No sir, 'Ride The Storm' is a full on, energetic melodic rock album with all the neccessary hooks, melodies, keyboards and fun. 'Fun' is possibly the most apt word, as this is an album that is absolutely joyous in every way. This is the stuff that we loved from Stan Bush, the aforementioned Jimmy Davis, Bryan Adams (the good stuff) and maybe with a little Glen Burtnick in there as well. Barnes has a voice that contains a little bit of a rock croak when needed, but is smooth and tuneful everywhere else, and my Bod he certainly suits this style of music.

Unsurprisingly, 'Ride The Storm' is at it's best when it's in full on AOR mode, such as on third track, the irrepressable 'I Fall Back', the irresistably bouncy 'Maybe You'll Believe Me Now' or 'Everytime We Say Goodbye', the sort of track that Bryan Adams used to make before his balls fell off. Whilst there's obvious highlights for me, I have to say there's not a bad track on here. There's a couple of slower ones that don't hit the spot the way that the rest do, but they're still good tracks worth listening to.

It was a crime against rock music that this album was never released. When you hear it I know you'll agree, because it's one of those records that gets under your skin straight away. Great riffs combined with cool melody, with everything turned up to ten and a big fuck off grin that won't leave your face every time you play it. An instant classic, only 28 years too late.

Article and Pre Order


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

LAST AUTUMN’S DREAM: ”In Disguise”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The 13th album from the very profilic Last Autumn’s Dream provides a breather for the band’s songwriters. All the songs on the album are cover versions, including band favourites and songs that have influenced them. We’re talking mostly seventies and eighties rock, but thankfully these songs haven’t been covered to death already.

The LAD versions of these songs are quite faithful to the originals but with the modern-day sounds it’s as if they’ve been ”updated”. It might be considered blasphemy by some but I think I like LAD’s versions of the Sweet and Headpins classics more than the originals!

Among the 11 songs there were a couple that I wasn’t familiar with.  City Boy’s ”Need A Little Loving” made me think that I should really look into the band’s back catalogue. I didn’t remember the Kiss song ”All The Way” either, and ”Hey You” from Bachman Turner Overdrive was another ”unknown” for me. Decent songs but not among my favourites… although bass player does a cool Gene Simmons impersonation on ”All The Way”!

My favourites? The aforementioned Sweet and Headpins songs ”Wig Wam Bam” and ”Just One More Time”, ”If Love Should Go” (The Streets) and ”I’ll Bring The Whole World To Your Door” (Angel).

Friday, May 12, 2017

AMARANTHE: ”Maximalism”

Rating: RRR
Label: Spinefarm
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

I loved the first Amaranthe album. It was the perfect mix of pop melodies and metal crunch. I even tolerated the death metal vocals, when they were combined with the angelic voice of Elize Ryd and the clean vocals of Jake E. With every subsequent album my infatuation with the band has waned a little. This is their fourth effort and while it’s not necessarily any weaker than its’ predecessor, I was hoping for a real shake-up.

I feel that the band is taking more and more influences from the contemporary chart music, Which means that many of these songs have repetetive, melodically uninteresting chant hooks. There are some good songs on ”Maximalism”, but frankly, I wouldn’t include them on a ”Best Of Amaranthe” playlist.

amaranthe.se
https://fi-fi.facebook.com/AmarantheBand/

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Steve HACKETT: ”The Night Siren”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inside Out Music
Review by Martien Koolen

Wolflight, released in 2015, was one of the best Hackett albums ever and I almost thought that he was at the peak of his long musical career. However, now, Steve Hackett brings out his 25th solo album called The Night Siren and it is an absolute, brilliant gem.

It seems as if Steve's guitar playing is getting better and better with every year he grows older, as some of the solos on The Night Siren are utterly marvelous and awesome. For me the guitar solos in the songs Behind The Smoke, El Nino and The Gift are some of the best Hackett has ever played and recorded. Especially the solos in the instrumental tracks The Gift and El Nino give me goosebumps all over, every time I hear them. But there is a lot more to enjoy on The Night Siren, take for example Martian Sea (featuring Hackett on sitar and guitar), Anything But Love (with excellent flamenco guitar picking), Inca Terra (featuring didgeridoo) and In The Skeleton Gallery, which is a very diverse track. The longest track, which clocks just over seven minutes, called Fifty Miles From The North Pole, is perhaps the best song of the entire album, featuring massive guitar solos and melodies, but also featuring Ferenc and Sara Kovacs on trumpet and didgeridoo and Amanda Lehmann on backing vocals, giving the song a typical atmosphere.

The Night Siren shows Steve Hackett at the top of his musical game as the album is so diverse and there are lots of changes of style and tone to discover as a listener. Hackett's ideas, creativity and musicality burn as brightly as never before and it really is a musical treat of the highest order to listen and enjoy The Night Siren over and over again. The Night Siren already belongs to one of the musical progressive highlights of the year 2017 and I am sure that this awesome album will end up in my top 5 list of best albums of this year. Play it loud and as much as you can!!!!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

TOKYO MOTOR FIST: ”s/t”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This interestingly titled band features Trixter (and occasional Def Leppard) guitarist Steve Brown, Danger Danger vocalist Ted Poley and a very seasoned rhythm section of Greg Smith (bass) and Chuck Burgi (drums). After the first spin I was a little bit underwhelmed - the motor fist didn’t knock me out. I didn’t give up on them though, and after a while the songs started to work. The sheer positivity and energy they radiate began to light up my day while listening to them.

I can’t say that TMF has a very unique or distinctive sound, a mix of Danger Danger and Trixter describes it rather accurately. Steve Brown’s Trixterious (a new word!) songwriting style shines through and he might have picked up a few things from Leppard too. Ted’s vocals are unmistakable as always, he does have a distinctive sound of his own.

My favourite songs… hmm, a difficult question. There are no super-hooks that stand out, instead you’ll get an album full of enjoyable melodic rock songs. But let’s see… ”Get You Off My Mind” is a very Def Leppard-like semi-ballad, I like it a lot… ”Put Me To Shame” kicks off with a riff that reminds of vintage Dokken, while the chorus makes me think that Jack Ponti might have a hand in writing this song. The two ballads ”Love” and ”Don’t Let Me Go” are very good too. I do like the rest of the track as well, the summertime rock vibe is uplifting, although the hooks could have been sharper.

All in all a good album, and I can’t wait for summer when I get to blast this in my convertible, with the wind in my hair. All I need is a convertible. And hair.

https://www.facebook.com/ted.poley