Sunday, February 28, 2016

RICK SPRINGFIELD: "Rocket Science"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

FYI: This album contains a free photo of Rick's dog sporting a nice hat! It also contains a little bit of TWANG and the slightly more down to earth, middle-of-the-road, or if you prefer, West coast, Modern Americana, and ditto Folk/Pop/Country, than previous Springfield albums. Just as catchy and uplifting as always though. Have they been listening to everything from The Hooters to Jackson Browne and '1989' (the smash hit album by Taylor Swift, also re-recorded by Ryan Adams), prior to penning down the material for the album? Sure... Why the hell not?

The result is v-e-r-y pleasing to these ears and it's just the healthy overdose (huh?) of classy Rick Springfield melodies of course. Simply strap yourself in good and tight and brace yourself for one helluva roller coaster ride. Okay. It's sort of the laid back cruiser music ride and not always proper rock (if there's such a thing?). But, it's almost like if Springfield decided to go beyond previously accepted limits of human touch and endurance and trust his fans to have an open minded approach to things. It's a wee bit of banjo, pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle and violin.

Again. Don't get me wrong. It's just as catchy and fun as ever and don't go thinking it's all Nashville. I even find it difficult to name-drop songs and highlights? Why, you ask or not? It's simply because it's just like one long highlight and quite possibly the album effort of his career!!! Age versus the sound you're supposed to support and wear on your sleeve? Sure. (I Wish I Had A) "Concrete Heart", could just as easily have been the track off 1989. Then again. Max Martin is a genius.

Final verdict: Close your eyes and simply try and imagine the super catchy mix of Springfield, the Hooters, Jackson Browne, and 1989 (both versions: Ryan Adams and Taylor Swift), and you're pretty close to the core. One thing's for sure... it ain't Rocket Science. It's the nearly perfect Springfield album. Let's Light This Party Up!


Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Inglorious... bastards? You could be forgiven for regarding the band with suspicion and especially considering the name. Praise the (Jon) Lord, there's definitely more to these geezers than first met the eyes. You may recognize young vocalist Nathan James from his work in Trans-Siberian Band (cross-dressers?) and Uli Jon Roth. Let's not name-drop their Swedish member and former Crazy Lixx guitarist, since that would be too obvious. However, we're talking about classy U.K. Rock in a fine tradition and style on their debut album at Frontiers Records.

"They say the Devil's in the details. They say that hell is all around her all the time". Nicely put. The rest of the lyric (Girl Got A Gun) has far more in common with Coverdale though and you could be forgiven again for regarding the song with suspicion. It's one groovy and bluesy affair though and it sits nicely in between the Bad Company and Whitesnake formula of success. The hook is a proper jawbreaker and I only wish they featured a couple of more of these rockers on the album. Some of the other tracks may appear to be lacking attitude in comparison, it's probably just that they captured the rawk just perfectly with this one. In fact. The following rock of "You're Mine", including killer lines such as and I quote, 'You told me once, you told me twice', should appeal to the fan of cult UK act, Lion and their powerhouse vocalist, Ka(r)l Swan.

The album boost a 70's vs. 80's hard rock swing that should have the classic rock fan cheering with lager instead of bitter (geddit? bitter?). Lovely production and wailing vocals, Inglorious are made to conquer their UK audience and indeed the world. The perfect match as they're out on tour with The Winery Dogs and Richie Kotzen. Truth be told. Inglorious beats the crap out of their label mates and the vastly more experienced musicians of Last In Line.

LAST IN LINE: "Heavy Crown"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Do you recall Viv Campbell complaining about DIO and blunt metal? You know, when he joined Def Leppard. Apparently no longer afraid to expose the basic meat and potato stuff as these melodies and riffs are straight from the book of 'metal for dummies'. One thing's for sure. Do not expect to find another classic album such as Holy Diver, or indeed, Last In Line. It's more like Angry Machines only not quite as brutal. Opener, Devil In Me, one of few homerun(s) on the record and they're playing the outfield?

Originally formed in 2011 as the DIO tribute act by guitarist Viv, the late and great bassist Jimmy Bain (Dio, Rainbow, Wild Horses), and drummer Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath, etc). They eventually found vocalist Andrew Freeman and set out to record this debut under the reign of producer Jeff Pilson (Dokken). The result is not pleasing to these ears and it's difficult to mark down any other winner(s) than the semi-ballads of "Curse The Day" and "The Sickness". The rest are all pretty much stuck in second gear and the dull and gloomy formula of the 90's sound and era. It's got absolutely nothing to do with classic DIO. That's perhaps a good thing too, since you'd hate them to be copy cats?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't? Not really since you'd like a wee bit more of the fun and classic rock. The production by Pilson simply add the typical Dokken sound of the 90's and several tracks are steeped in their mode and style. Not to mention that some of these tracks such as 'I Am Revolution', had me seriously thinking about Wolfsbane (feat. Blaze Bailey) and their extremely boring metal of the past. Have a go at this if you enjoy the idea of a super-group and end up bitterly disappointed. Definitely last in line. RIP Jimmy Bain.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

RICKY WARWICK: "When Patsy Cline Was Crazy & Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues/Hearts On Trees"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: Nuclear Blast UK
Review By: Alan Holloway

It seems like years ago that I chatted to Ricky Warwick about his acoustic album 'Belfast Confetti', because it was years ago, five if you're counting. Even further back, I was him front The Almighty during an ill matched support slot with Gun. Me and Ricky have a history, you see, but it's not a patch on the man's own personal history, something that comes out when he puts together a solo album.

Previously available only to people who had helped fund them through Pledge Music, this double pack delivers an electric album and an acoustic album, with one stuffed full of riffs and the other full of soul. 'When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (& Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues)' is unsurprisingly aimed at those who have enjoyed Ricky's successful tenure with Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders, and in all honesty is better as a complete album than either of the BSR releases. Opening with the heavy and catchy 'Road To Damascus Street', it's a triumphant, upbeat disc full of rocking classic that will absolutely delight BSR fans, and also Thin Lizzy fans, because Ricky has kept a hint of Lynott in his voice and is singing better than ever before. There's a definite Celtic feel throughout, much like you got from Lizzy when they rocked it up, and a real fist in the air attitude to songs like 'Johnny Ringo's Last Ride' and 'Toffee Town'. There isn't a slow track in the bunch, just ten well paced heavy rock tracks with a keen sense of melody, a hint of melancholy and more hooks than a butcher’s shop. Black Star Riders may get the bigger gigs, but the first half of this duo proves Rocky Warwick has more than enough talent all by himself.

So, on to 'Hearst On Trees', which jettisons all the heavy rock and aggressive guitars in favour of an acoustic guitar and ramps up the melancholy. Much like the aforementioned 'Belfast Confetti' the lyrics here are deeply personal, the result of a man looking at life and trying to make some sense of it, dragging up memories and lying his soul bare. Perhaps the best example of this is 'Tank McCulloch Saturdays', a slow, emotional piece simply about growing up in simpler times. Of additional interest is the album's only cover version, the grisly 'Psycho', originally by Leon Payne. It's a strange, sad tale that fits in well. The tracks on offer show a good mix of upbeat ('Hearts On Trees') and introspective ('Way Too Cold For Snow') with the upbeat songs generally containing lyrics that are at odds with the jaunty tunes. Ultimately, 'Hearst On Trees' is as much of a triumph as it's rowdier counterpart, showing a different but equally talented side to a man who shouted his way through seven Almighty albums.

Each of these albums would be worthy of a rave review, and I hope the fact there is a softer album doesn't put off anyone who has only heard Ricky do the hard stuff. Overall, there's tracks on here for every mood, every music fan, with contributions from several repected musicians, including Stiff Little Fingers vocalist Jake Burns on the upbeat 'Schwaben Redoubt'. This seems like a good time to mention that Ricky and his band The Fighting Hearts will be playing some of the tracks here in support of Stiff Little fingers on their upcoming UK tour. If you've yet to discover Ricky Warwick, there's no better time to do it.

Ricky Warwick Homepage

Sunday, February 21, 2016

VAN CANTO: "Voices Of Fire"

Rating: RRRr
Label: earMUSIC 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Harmony was broken??? Ah, yes, Gimli has spoken and Gandalf must return to the Hobbit's den to... No seriously, they've got Gimil (actor John Rhys-Davies) as the narrator of this ambitious project and collaboration between Van Canto and fantasy writer Christoph Hardebusch. It's sort of based on his upcoming or down coming book, 'Feuerstimmen', and no, we did not just make this up for a giggle and a half.

“We are barely able to tell what came first: the music as part of the novel or the novel as part of our album. Christoph Hardebusch and we worked hand in hand on this. Our compositions did influence the novel and vice versa. Simply put, we created our own world – a world full of competing kingdoms, epic battles, dragons, fire and bards. Not always deadly serious but full of adventures to set your imagination running wild… like Van Canto does,” explains lead singer Sly who developed the plot of the novel together with Christoph Hardebusch.

Bloody 'ell. They should be selling this by shiploads to the Game of Thrones and Lord of The Rings fanatics. Bombastic, sort of Acapella' metal (not really, but close enough for a cigar?) with expansive and lush arrangements 'ala the soundtrack to your fantasy book/movie and not to forget game. I honor my Lord by destroying you! (FYI: it's a Skyrim thing if you're feeling old and out of touch). They have previously released five top 20 releases in Germany, and sold out headlining tours throughout Europe.

This is a bold and interesting move from a band that previously mostly done covers in the past. What's the sound like? I guess it's bits and pieces of everything from Blind Guardian (especially, Somewhere Far Beyond), Rhapsody Of Fire, to Blackmore's Night and your movie score and soundtrack. Kitsch, you ask? of course, the response. Some are going to hate this with a passion and followers are going to bring out their plastic old sword and shield and head off to the nearest mall battlefield. It's mostly drums and vocals and the London Metro Voices (also on the soundtrack of the Lords of the Rings) with the occasional guitar bit or keys. Final verdict: Interesting concept and thank God or Gandalf? for the mix between male and female voices. Bombastic a' capella stuff.


Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Oh Mother, Oh father, the war has begun. We've burnt and we've plundered this earth". The lyric to the opening track from the Nordic Union speak of the evil that men do to each other and poor tellus. The song ain't nothing but a good reminder of feeling bad. However, the sound is a bad reminder of feeling good? Or vice versa? Never mind the bollocks. This particular union between young Dane, Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) and slightly younger Swede, Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse), boast eleven tracks that should attract hordes of melodic rock fans.

All songs are written or co-written by Mårtensson and Frontiers has understandably decided to cash in while they still can. The Erik formula and structure of success? Keep it simple, keep it catchy, keep it coming. He's also responsible for production, all guitars, bass, keyboards, and backing vocals. Blimey. Tracks such as "Wide Awake" and "Every Heartbeat" goes straight to the solar plexus with wondrously layered harmonies and melodies. The latter 'Heartbeat' refrain borrow quite a lot from Robin (Swedish Dance-Pop Queen).

"21 Guns", Atkins' vocals take the focus of the track, taking its lead as the refrain dips into the old cliche of 'down, down, down' (always three times, no more, no less), a dark side to the melodic rock music being more than hinted at as they're falling one by one. Speaking of "Falling", the following track is dipped in catchiness and deeply impassioned fun rock. The core of the track is the almost too sugar sweet refrain. Nonetheless. That hook will knock you down to the floor in no time. "The Other Side" and "Point Of No Return", morph into a slower, beefier melange of Eclipse and Pretty Maids. The raspy vocals by Atkins add a different approach to things than what Mårtensson could ever do.

Final verdict: Solid as a rock. You simply can't go wrong here if you fancy a mildly good time. The main question, how many more Mårtensson projects can you stomach before your poor tummy had enough?

ORANSSI PAZUZU: "Värähtelijä"

Rating: RR
Label: SvartRecords 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

(Un)successful or not? Brilliant or simply just gaga? Trippy, hippie, black metal space-rock with psychedelic textures and free flowing structure? or rather the lack of the latter? The depths of Oranssi Pazuzu's psyche is vast and ever spending throughout the album and you're about to experience the rollercoaster ride of your lifetime? This reviewer do sadly not agree as I play the opening 9 minute long track. I find myself looking at the clock, the tele, the roof, the wall, the floor. I'm basically looking for a way out of this neverending nightmare.

I do enjoy some plysch,  Krautrock, Tangerine Dream, the weirdness of Can, the black of early Samuel, the atmospheric, progressive genius that is Pink Floyd, the out of the box material. This however is not only out of the box, it's out of his mind and frankly just a noise machine (the opening track). Moments of clarity are far between, but there's definitely something intriguing about his ultra violent journey through the Finnish darkness and previously unheard dimensions of form and structure.

Track two, 'Lahja', a lot better and the far edge of psychedelia, the soft (sorta') black metal voice in the background (Finnish lyric only not that you could tell anyhow) and melancholy to the extreme. It's the blackest of black, the darkest of dark, the grimest of grim. The groovy tribal drumming add a new dimensions to the music and things are looking up. What an improvement from the first (shocking poor) track. The title track is one long chanting mode as well as mood. The Finnish dark metal answer to India and Hare Krishna music? Yup. That's it actually. Nicely done Urban. You've cracked the code to Pazuzu's vault and mind.

One thing's for sure. You need patience to sit through this kind of arrangements. Some of them are just too trippy and out there for my personal taste.


Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Resurrected or simply just the walking dead? I had this down for massive rock and the fun super-group effort. Not that strange considering the following killer line-up consisting of vocalist Ches West (Bonham, Tribe of Gypsies). Guitarist Craig Goldy (Giuffria, Dio). Bassist Sean McNabb (Quiet Riot, Dokken, Lynch Mob, etc). Not to mention the ever so steady and ready drummer Vinny Appice (Dio, Heaven & Hell, etc).

According to the press-release, Craig Goldy is the mastermind behind the Resurrection Kings and I expected plenty of good moments and songs from him and the rest of the band. Imagine the surprise and disappointment when finding out that Goldy merely co-wrote 5 out of 11 tracks and the rest of "the band" doesn't contribute with any songwriting whatsoever. Gutted beyond words. The rest of the songwriting? The work of Alessandro DelVecchio and it's the usual hit and miss affair with many ups and downs. I did enjoy the latest project by Del Vecchio... or at least I believe I did? I might have lost out on any of his many projects?

Bitterness disguised as tongue-in-cheek? Well... I don't believe there's any proper direction behind the majority of tracks. Best of the bunch? Definitely the 'Goldies' of Livin Out Loud, Wash Away, Fallin For You. The less impressive tracks are plenty and especially something like Never Say Goodbye (awful sugar sweet ballad) is so syrup that not even Celine Dion would bother to record. Path Of Love, lack everything from basic structure to refrain. What You Take, a waste of space really. Where are all the memorable hooks and choruses? It's a shame as West is a great vocalist, Goldy the proper guitar hero, and the rhythm section (McNabb/Appice) is a joy to listen to. By the way. The answer to my question at the beginning of this rant: put this down for zombies!!!

SIMO: "Let Love Show The Way"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Provogue/Music Theories 2015
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Two words. Old school. All of the songs here were written in the mode of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Allman Brothers, Swamp music, Roadhouse, R&B. It's raw and viral stuff recorded at the Big House in Macon, Georgia, US of A, where the Allman Brothers lived during the swinging 60's and the groovy 70's. In fact. JD Simo are playing the same old Gibson Les Paul (gold top 1957 model) which Duane Allman used on the first two albums as well as on Derek and the Dominoes massive hit, Layla (it's Clapton, dude).

It's basically one song, one take, and nothing extra in the studio afterwards. Like I mentioned earlier, old school or rather ancient school. 13 tracks recorded during two days and the result is pleasing to these ears. It's an instruction manual for copyrighted blues in the new century, but the fuzzy warm tone of JD's guitar and the slamming rhythm section (Elad Shapiro -bass. Adam Abrashoff - drums) could just as easily have been recorded in 1969.

Hardly groundbreaking stuff or the next new thing out of the states. However, it's genuinely fun stuff, written and tailor-made for the ones tired of plastic sounding music aka top twenty stuff. Forget everything you know about multi-layered recording techniques in general and simply embrace the music. Or like JD would put it, Let Love Show The Way. Recommended.

SAGA: "Pleasure & The Pain" [Reissue]

Rating: Re-issue
Label: earMUSIC 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The re-release of Saga's twelfth studio album, Pleasure & The Pain, originally released in 1997, now holds extensive liner notes and two live bonus tracks (Time To Go. You're Not Alone). And as always, the live tracks doesn't match the album. Perhaps not entirelly true as they did record a new version of 'You're Not Alone' for this particular album. It's actually a quite horrible version and not worthy the praise of their smashing original. Bow your heads in shame, fellows.

The band didn't know which foot to stand upon during this era and as Sadler recalls, "For a while, we weren't quite sure of our position. What the fans wanted to hear. What we had to do to stay competitive". Several tracks are far from their traditional sound. Gone were most of their keyboard work as they basically sold out to the latest fashion instead of bringing it home via passion. Raw and dirty guitar work as you could almost compare the difference in style and sound to U2 and their work prior and post the "Zoo" days. And yes, there's a track titled ' Welome To the Zoo' on here. The booklets include original fan material, press pictures and more.

Final verdict: The worst of all the Saga albums? One thing's for sure. They sound a little too pleased with themselves. Thinking that the 90's generation must love us now that we've ditched our original sound. What were they smoking? Most of the tracks are utter rubbish to be completely honest.

PRIMAL FEAR: "Rulebreaker"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Judas Priest... oops, Primal Fear and their latest offering to the Gods of Heavy Metal. Listening to the opening minutes of their album, Rulebreaker (some kind of Jawbreaker flashback attack?) and quickly notice that the trio of Mat Sinner, Magnus Karlsson and Ralf Scheepers, must have been spending hours in front of their Priest shrine. In fact. 'Angels Of Mercy' and 'The End Is Near' are both steeped in the Painkiller formula and it's pedal to the metal from the start go.

"Bullets & Tears", let go of the pace for a moment as it's more in the vein of U.D.O. and especially his 1990 album. Typical Teutonic metal complete with a rusty catchy hook as well as the power and the glory. 'The stage is my castle. The lights give me power'. The enchanting words from "In Metal We Trust", very creative and overseen stuff that should get the fantasy fan going overboard and off the deep end. A wee bit too blunt though? The epic track of "We Walk Without Fear" takes the listener on a journey through the many different faces of Primal Fear and we like it a lot.

They play good if unexceptional metal on 'Rulebreaker', a massive Priest fixation that seems honest enough, but never quite as great as their idols. There are still many compelling buzzes and headbanging moments to discovered here though. Huge production and great mix. The true definition of HEAVY METAL in the year of 2016?

HAREM SCAREM: "Live at The Phoenix" [CD/DVD]

Rating: Live
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Harem Scarem. Live at the Phoenix. Like their old stuff, like their new stuff. Live stuff? Hardly the stuff that dreams are made of, but not too shabby. The vocals are however too polished and it's not exactly the pure live feeling of the century. No extras whatsoever on the DVD and it's straight to the music.

This ain't no Garden of Eden? The band kicks off the show with the fore mentioned song and merely Lesperance as the six-string bender. In fact. Harry Hess goes back and forth on playing guitar and I don't quite get the idea behind ditching the axe on every other song? It's such a vast difference between one or two guitars on stage and I honestly believe they should stick to one sound or the other. It's not like he's jumping around on stage (aka the David Lee Roth routine) while fronting the band as merely THE vocalist for that matter.

Hard To Love, gets the blood boiling or at least pumping faster? Not that the audience is feeling it as they're mostly just standing there without too much movement. Distant Memory, should get the hardcore fans boppin', but no such luck. Too old to dance? Too fat to move? The audience is definitely having a bad hair day. The Midnight Hours, starts with the sarcastic remark from Hess. "We've just released a new album any requests?". It's a bittersweet remark, a bittersweet tune and a layered journey through the depths of Hess/Lesperance's songwriting skill(s). But let's face it. They're a bunch of stiffs on stage. Good music, but great entertainment? I believe I'll stick to their (mostly great) studio albums...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

THE TREATMENT : "Generation Me"

Rating: RRRRr

Label: Frontiers

Review By: Alan Holloway

A little excavation on The Treatment will reveal they are the band that Laurie Mansworth (Airrace) formed after he parted company with Heaven’s Basement. Not that he was actually in the band, but the man has always had a good ear and a keen talent for song writing. Heaven’s Basement were left to pull their own strings (and to be honest have never been as good as they once were) , whilst The Treatment took over with an extremely similar sound, not doubt thanks to Mr Mansworth. Their first two albums have been very agreeable, but a line up change sees album number three breaking new ground and finally turning The Treatment into real contenders for your hard earned cash.

Firmly retained is the sense that someone on the song writing side has a great appreciation for the likes of AC/DC and Airbourne, and this isn’t a bad thing. There’s a healthy dosage of bluesy rock and roll throughout, and the whole thing is brought to a new level by fresh out of the box vocalist Mitchell ‘Yes, I was On The Voice’ Emms. Let me tell you this guy is a real find, a superb vocalist with a classic screaming range that allows real power and passion to shine through every single track. I have to say that he may well just be the missing piece of the Treatment jigsaw, and having seen him perform with them last year I can confirm that he also kicks all kinds of arse live.

A good place to start is lead track ‘Let It Begin’, which has been pushed as the advance track. If you check it out on YouTube you’ll get a very good idea of what The Treatment 2016 is all about. It’s an in your face powerful foot stomper that gets in your head and refuses to leave. Now not all the tracks are as fast as this one, but all have a similar feel for melody and all have that special something that gets feet tapping and heads nodding. It’s the slower paced tracks (although there’s no ‘slow’ tracks, just fast and mid paced) that bring to mind AC/DC, whilst the faster ones are more like Airbourne, although don’t think for one minute The Treatment don’t also ladle on their own identity as well. Another band that pops up in my mind on adrenaline fuelled like ‘Generation Me’ and ‘Tell us The Truth’ is H.E.A.T, and it’s a compliment to The Treatment that they match the energy and spirit of such a well respected young band

‘Generation Me‘ is everything that I, personally, wanted from The Treatment. It’s punchy and powerful, and loaded with hooks and very stylish guitar playing (no doubt other new member Tao Grey has helped with this). The vocals are melodic with a raw edge and great control, and the aforementioned Mr Mansworth has provided a production that no one will have any complaints with. Several listens haven’t dulled my enthusiasm for what is as good a UK hard rock album as I have heard in the last 12 months. Have a listen, enjoy, and give them the support they deserve.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Rating: RRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Bill Champlin of Chicago, Joseph Williams of Toto and Swedish guitarist Peter Friestedt have joined forces to create one of the smoothest, most polished AOR albums of 2015. To those who enjoy the harder, more metallic side of AOR only, this might not be an album to invest in, but to those into the aforementioned bands and west-coast rock this is an essential purchase. I’m somewhere between the two extremes, and  I find this an enjoyable album to listen to.

Both Champlin and Williams have been around the block more than a few times, but on this album you don’t ”hear the years”. Especially Williams sounds better than he did on the Vertigo albums a few years ago. Friestedt’s guitar work is world class, and adds a bit of a rock edge to the album every now and then.

The album opens with one of the better tracks of the album, the soft-rocking ”Runaway”. It’s very much in the vein of Toto, and the same goes for ”Aria” which could have been taken from ”Toto IV”. The ”Africa”-vibe is clearly there. ”Still Around” is more of a Chicago-like ballad.

”All That I Want” is possibly my favourite track of the album. The chorus is the kind of stuff that AOR dreams are made of: explosive and bombastic but in a smooth, soft-rocking way of course.

”Carry On” owes a lot to certain Toto songs (”Rosanna” meets ”I Will Remember”?), while ”Nightfly” is one of the more uptempo songs of the album. The horns make you think of Chicago instantly. ”Hearts At War” is frankly a bit of a letdown - I expected something a bit more edgy and powerful with that kind of a song title.

”After The Love Is Gone” is indeed the song Earth, Wind & Fire turned into a huge hit in 1979. This version features one of the writers, Bill Champlin, on lead vocals, so I won’t call it an EWF cover… I could call it ”Love Boat music” though, smooth to the extreme! With this song, the band sails away from the Rock-y waters, first to the ”Rivers Of Fear” which is almost an accapella song! Nice singing but not for me otherwise. Can’t say I’m too fond of the last song ”Evermore” either, it’s a soft R’n B type of a ballad.

The band lost the ”R” in ”AOR” during the last few songs, and because of that, they also lost one of the R’s in my rating… First half of the album - fine soft-rock, the second half - smooth adult contemporary pop.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

STALA & SO: ”Stala & So”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Album number three from Stala & So… and probably the most straight-forward, hard rocking album of their career so far. The band has chosen a ”Sin City”-influenced color theme to the artwork (black/white/red) and somehow that can be heard in the music too. The happy-go-lucky glam rock is a thing of the past, these songs are darker and moodier. The band’s look seems to have been toned down too, no skirts or feather scarfs…

This is almost an album of two halves, with all the best songs on the first ”side”. I say ”almost” because the opening track ”I Need More” could have been placed on the second half. It’s just a rather average straight-ahead rocker with the Hammond-sounding organs taking it to the Uriah Heep territory. ”When The Night Falls” is one of the video songs and  my favourite, thanks to its’ hard-hitting hook. I also enjoy the next trio of songs, ”Headlong”, ”Now ’n Everyday” and ”I Can See It In Your Eyes”. While they are different in many ways, there seems to be a common thread running through them, a certain kind of melodic, melancholic theme. And I’m pretty sure that Marillion’s ”Kayleigh” provided inspiration to ”I Can See It In Your Eyes”.

The remaining five songs… ”You Don’t Mind” is the one I’d choose over ”I Need More” to be on the ”better half” of the album. The others aren’t bad either, but somehow the hooks just don’t work for me.

I’ve kind of liked all of the Stala & So albums, but I think they’ve yet to release their career-defining breakthrough album. Let’s hope it’s the next one.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

KHYMERA: ”The Grand Design”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Yes, I got excited when I heard that producer/singer Dennis Ward was working on a new Khymera album. The previous one (”The Greatest Wonder”) was released in 2008, and was one of the finest albums of that year. The excitement turned into doubt when it was revealed that he had taken over the songwriting as well. The magic touch of the Martin brothers (Vega, Sunstorm, Ted Poley etc) was all over the two previous Khymera albums and I had no idea what kind of songs Ward could come up with. I shouldn’t have worried.

”The Grand Design” is a natural successor to the earlier albums released under the Khymera name. Ward’s songs are melodic, atmospheric and very ”Khymerastic” indeed. What’s more, his lyrics aren’t always just those ”usual phrases one after another”.

Let’s go through the songs quickly. The opener ”Never Give Up On You” is actually one of the more ordinary songs on the album. It’s nice, uptempo and kind of catchy, but somehow it sounds like a tribute to Journey. The darker ”Tell Me Something” appeals more to me with its’ rumbling bass line, subtle keys and a killer hook. The balladic ”Say What You Want” is another gem with a little bit of House Of Lords vibe. The lighter ”I Believe” has some fine melodies and stadium-sized chorus. Something makes me think that ”Keep The Faith”-era Bon Jovi could have turned this into a smash hit.

The ”dut-dut” keys of ”A Night To Remember” get an instant thumbs up from me, and the rest of the songs isn’t half bad either! Superb pre-chorus leads into equally fine main chorus. ”She’s Got The Love” is the song that reminds me most of the previous album, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Dennis Ward does a fine David Coverdale impression on ”Land Of Golden Dreams”. A good song but not one of my favorites for some reason. The title track is one of them though, a bit Autograph-like song with a cool chorus - it sounds like the band goes into hyperdrive during it! ”Streetlights” is the Big Ballad of the album, and it took a few spins to grow but now it’s among the highlights.

”Who’s Fooling Who”, ”Finally” and ”Where Is The Love” are all good songs too, but maybe they’re missing that extra spark that would take them to the highest level.

As much as I like this album, it’s maybe one or two killer tracks short of the full RRRRRating. Still, a Top Ten place for 2015 is pretty much guaranteed.

FIND ME: ”Dark Angel”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Frontiers 2016
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The second effort from Robbie LaBlanc and Daniel Flores is a fine traditional AOR album. The song structures follow the golden rules of melodic rock and the lyrics don’t stray away from the usual subjects, yet the songs sound quite fresh. It might be Flores’ superb production, the layers and layers of keyboards or Robbie LaBlanc’s passionate vocals… actually it’s the combination of all those things and great songs that elevate this album to the A-list of last years releases.

The highlights of the album for me include ”Nowhere To Hide”, ”Another Day”, ”Dark Angel” and ”Midnight Memories” (No it’s not a cover!). Plenty of hooks, colorful arrangements and Mr. LaBlanc singing like an AOR god - what more can one ask? I thought I could ask for something more as I wasn’t going to hand out the full 5R rating at first, but really, why not? When a great cover of a classic eighties movie song ”I’m Free” is one of the ”weakest” tracks, I think there’s not a lot to complain.

That’s it, folks. Or should I say ”This is IT, folks”?

Friday, February 5, 2016

GRAND SLAM: ”A New Dawn”

Rating: RRRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2016
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Despite their rather familiar-sounding name, Grand Slam are a new(ish) band from Sweden. Yes, again, must be something in the water… or some wicked plan of the Swedish government to take over the music biz completely! Anyway, rather than yet another supergroup of ex-members of This Band and That Band, Grand Slam is indeed a new, fresh band with young musicians you may have never heard of before. Maybe that’s why they have a fresh approach to this thing we call ”AOR”.

”A New Dawn” is a pretty impressive debut and it’s been getting some serious airtime in my player. It’s well-produced and surprisingly uptempo for its’ genre - there are no real ballads on this AOR album. Vocalist Andy Sinner impresses with his range and uncanny vocal resemblance to Tracy White of Shotgun Symphony/Intruder, while the rest of the band build a perfect melodic, yet suitably rock hard foundation.

The first half of the album is a stronger than the second one, but that’s only because the first few songs are very, very good. ”Light Up The Sky” and ”Rock My World” are both keyboard-heavy AOR songs which may not offer anything really new but somehow sound fresh and catchy. ”Face” mixes AOR elements and the pomp of Power Metal in a very appealing way, I kid you not! Hammerfall meets Treat! ”One Way To Heaven” sounds like the band have taken influences from Lady Gaga and brought them into the world of AOR, and it actually works! ”Get High” has a bit similar vibe, some modern pop influences… The chorus hook sounds a lot like Madam X’s ”Come One, Come All”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the band had never heard of that fairly obscure 80’ies band.

”Don’t Leave” is the closest thing to a ballad, a mid tempo track with a dramatic, almost progressive style, while the melodic trio of ”Take Me Higher”, ”Waiting For Tomorrow” and ”I Wanna Live” is more ”standard” AOR material, all really good songs though. The only song that fails to get a grip of me is the last one, ”Don’t Mess With Me”. It’s just too experimental and twitchy for its’ own good…  ”all of them tempo changes - not good for my anxiety, boys!” says the old geezer living in my head…

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Rating: RRR
Label: Frontiers 2015
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Blood Red Saints is a new UK melodic rock band, but the guys behind the name aren’t newcomers. The band’s vocalist Pete Godfrey may have made his recording debut in 2014 with In Faith, but he’s been playing in bands for years just like co-founder, bassist Rob Naylor (from Angels Or Kings). The band’s drummer is Pete Newdeck, who’s been in Eden’s Curse, In Faith and is currently the frontman of Tainted Nation. Guitarist Lee Revill has played with Gary Hughes. Vega’s Martin brothers James and Tom were also involved and co-wrote a couple of songs, and Harem Scarem’s Harry Hess mastered the album. That’s enough namedropping…

With influences coming from the eighties’ Brit-AOR scene and from the big US bands of the same era, one could say that the Blood Red Saints find themselves somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. That might sound like a bad place to be, but it isn’t, the band sounds good. Def Leppard, FM, Winger and Harem Scarem all rolled into one…

So, the band does have the sound and style figured out, but do they have the songs? Yeah, kind of… most of the album is a likeable mixture of the aforementioned influences. The two first tracks are very much in the vein of Winger/Dokken with cool riffs and melodies, then the band move more towards AOR with the rest of the album. Although majority of the songs are good, the real highlights are hard to find. Many of the songs have somewhat understated choruses and hooks which won’t necessarily etch themselves into your brain.

The underlying mood of the songs is quite melancholic, therefore the upbeat and bright ”Wrapped Up In These Arms” stands out and gets my vote as the best song of the album. Not that I really mind the melancholy that much - it’s in my Finnish blood!

An enjoyable album and the fourth R was close… let’s go for that the next time around or better yet, the full fiver.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TAINTED NATION - ‘On The Outside’

Rating: RRRR

Label: Pride & Joy

Review By: Alan Holloway

There’s not many successful tales told of drummers making the move to behind the microphone, yet Eden’s Curse sticksman Pete Newdeck achieved the unusual when he decided to give it a go for Tainted Nation’s debut ‘F.E.A.R’ a few years ago. Joined by the undeniable talents of Mark Cross (Firewind, Outloud), Ian Nash (Lionsheart) and Pontus Egberg (Steamroller), Newdeck spearheaded what turned out to be a kick ass breath of fresh rocking music, and they have all returned to deliver this, the ‘difficult second album/.

It has to be said the Newdeck’s vocals do bring to mind a certain Mr Ozzy Osbourne, although I find that Pete isn’t as whiny (excuse the sacrilege, Ozzy fans), with a modern power that Ozzy’s more interesting habits stopped him from attaining. Although decent vocals are, to me anyway, hugely important, it’s the quality of the songs on which an album will live or die. On this basis, ‘On The Outside’ is as solid an album as you are likely to find. The thirteen tracks are all powerful and melodic, and guitar freaks will delight in some of the intricate work Ian Nash delivers throughout. There are a few decent earworms within, and it’s a strong minded person who can keep the choruses of  ‘Welcome To War’ or ‘About  A Boy’ out of their noggin. By the way, the latter isn’t a cover of the Badly Drawn Boy film soundtrack song, but the band do throw a cover at us halfway through the album with a rather fine rendition of Billy Squier’s ‘The Stroke’. Elsewhere, I felt opener ‘Live & Die’ to be one of the weaker tracks, refusing as it did to leave an impression even after several spins, although second track ‘Defiance’ does a sterling track of kick starting the album afterwards. From then on it’s pretty non stop, culminating in a slower track, ‘Back To Earth’, which is rescued by a blistering solo by Pontus Norgren of Hammerfall.

‘On The Outside’ is a real powerhouse of an album, containing many moments of fist-in-the-air melodic metal and some fine musicianship. It’s not too adventurous, but it shows that the band have their own identity, and means that in the future you will hear a song and immediately peg it as being by Tainted Nation, which is an important quality to have. If ‘F.E.A.R’ won the band praise and fans, then ‘On The Outside’ should continue the good work with absolutely no problems at all.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MONSTER TRUCK: "Sittin' Heavy"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Mascot Records/Mascot Label Group
Review by: Martien Koolen

 Monster Truck is a sensational "new" rock band from Canada. They have released two EPs and their debut album called Furiosity (2013) so far, and now this Canadian rockquartet release their follow up album called Sittin' Heavy. On 29 October of last year you could already enjoy their highly contagious first single Don't Tell Me How To Lve from this new album. The music of Monster Truck is a blend of blues rock, southern rock, hard rock, Canadian rock and stoner rock with lots of catchy, heavy grooves, sludge and vintage sounds. Most of the 11 songs on this new album are high energy up tempo tracks with catchy choruses and lots of sometimes very recognisable guitar riffs and hooks.

The album kicks off with the swampy, dirty, "punky" up tempo Why Are You Not Rocking?, featuring raw vocals and a short, mean, fast guitar solo. Next up is the beforementioned first single of the album; a song that sounds familiar but then again also very original. Don't Tell Me How To Live has great lyrics, is also very melodic and has a very, very catchy chorus. Sittin' Heavy also contains two slower songs, being: Black Forest and Enjoy The Time; both songs can be labelled as "power ballads" and both feature amazing, emotional vocals, catchy melodies and excellent guitar passages and solos. Enjoy The Time, the longest track on the album, reminds me of Souhern rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, which is due to the melody and the electric piano parts. To The Flame is also one of my favourites as it is filled with short, but tricky guitar solos and it is really an addictive, heavy song in the veins of Alice in Chains.

The other songs are all excellent glorious hard rock statements, altough New Soul (ZZ Top like?) is perhaps the most mediocre song of the album. Best tracks without any doubt: Black Forest, New Soul, Enjoy The Time, Why Are You Not Rocking? and the first single; turn up the volume, start headbanging and screaming along and you will love this album. And I would like to end this review with a quote of Slash about this amazing band: "Monster Truck is one of the few really great down to earth rock 'n roll bands..they're hard, soulful and heavy." I could not agree more; buy or die fellows!

Danny BRYANT: "Blood Money"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Jazzhaus Records/Coast to Coast
Review by: Martien Koolen

 Blood Money is Danny Bryant's third album produced by Richard Hammerton and I can truly say that this the best Bryant album so far. Blood Money features 10 new songs and on this amazing album Bryant collaborates with blues rock guitar picker Walter Trout (title track) and with Whitesnake legend guitarist Bernie Marsden (Just Won't Burn). The title track is the opening song of the album and it is one of the many highlights of this CD, as you can enjoy Trout's and Bryant's guitar solos which are all over the place.

Slow Suicide, the third track, is probably my personal favourite, as this slow blues gem features mindboggling guitarsolos, packed with emotions and melody; awesome!! Fool's Game is an old blues song, again filled with great experimental solos by Bryant, which kind of reminds me of good old Roy Buchanan. Guest guitar picker Marsden can be heard on the longeste song of the album called Just Won't Burn; a slow blues track where Danny and Bernie alternate magnificent guitar solos. On this fantastic blues rock album you also find hommages/tributes to Albert Collins (On The Rocks, up tempo instrumental), Jimmy Reed (Holding All The Cards: "old-fashioned" rock and roll-ish) and Albert King (Unchained: funky, jazzy-like with horns and a nice wah-wah solo).

So, are there no weak, or even mediocre songs on ths album? No, in fact there are only good, very good and excellent songs on this album and Blood Money really is a musical treat from start to finish. So, why do I not award this album with the best rating, being five R's. That is only due to the fact that I am not that fond of the way how Danny Bryant sings; sometimes I even find his vocals a bit weird and too high for a blues man... But maybe I am a bit too critical there; the music, especially the guitar playing of Bryant is out of this world and should be enjoyed at maximum volume. Listening tips: Master Plan, Blood Money and Just Won't Burn; cannot wait to hear this guy in the flesh.

Steven WILSON: "4 1/2"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Kskope
Review by: Martien Koolen

 Last yeat prog rock instrumentalist Steven Wilson released his fourth solo album called Hand Cannot Erase and that album is my personal favourite album of the year 2015! Now Wilson brings out an EP, featuring 6 songs, of which 4 originated during the Hand Cannot Erase sessions, one from the recording session of his third album The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories) and the last song Don't Hate Me is a Porcupine Tree song, which originally can be found on the PT album Stupid Dream. The version of Don't Hate Me on this EP is based on a live recording during the recent European Tour and the vocals form a duet between Wilson and singer Ninet Tayeb. This version also contains a saxophone solo by Theo Travis, which is not really my cup of tea, but the melodic guitar solo at the end of the track compensates that sax solo completely.

This mini album opens with the best song on it called My Book Of Regrets; a magical prog rock track such as only Wilson can write and play; especially the guitar solo by Dave Kilminster is a treat to my ears! The instrumental Vermillioncore is another prog rock gem with great bass riffs, excellent drumming and lot of musical twists and turns, making this a perfect song to play on stage. Sunday Rain Sets In, is another instrumental song, which is kind of melancholic, dark and features lots of piano passages, acoustic guitars and creates a lot of atmosphere. Something In This Town is a rather "simple" up tempo rock song, featuring typical Wilson guitar riffs and hooks and a thundering bass guitar.

The last song is Year Of The Plague, a very atmospheric track with again acoustic guitars and lots of keyboards. Conclusion: prog god Wilson has done it again, 4 1/2 is a great mini album and I cannot wait for his fifth album, till then I can enjoy this EP as it will probably "stick" in my CD player for quite a long time.