Sunday, March 30, 2014

DEEP PURPLE: "Live in Stockholm 1970"

Rating: Live
Label: earMUSIC/Edel 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Improvisations are either boring as hell or simply magical, depending on whom you ask really. Hence the immortal words of Monty Phyton: Jam, Jam, Jam, Jam, Jam, Jam, Jam. It's Spam actually, but you get the idea. The latest in the long line of re-releases of the official Deep Purple (Overseas) live series by earMUSIC/Edel: Live in Stockholm 1970. Also recognized by long time fans of the band as, 'Scandinavian Nights', the unofficial vinyl version does not feature all the tracks in correct running order though.

It's raw, loud, energetic, basically jam-versions of songs such as 'Speed King', 'Child In Time', 'Wring That Neck'. The latter almost half-an-hour on my watch and the same goes for 'Mandrake Root', the early and very groovy Purple track as well as the Rod Evans co-write (Purple's original singer on the first three albums). The song goes through several different stages of hallucinogenic rock and it's no wonder considering the magical use of the darn plant (Mandrake Root).

Nontheless. I'm starting to feel mighty restless towards the 20 minute mark and the songs could and should easily have been cut down to no more than 12-14 minutes really. Sure. It's the nice soloing and improvs by Blackmore and Lord (R.I.P.), but it's just too darn long and hippie in my humble opinion. It's however nice to hear The Rolling Stones' 'Paint It Black' done by Purple. Bonus CD tracks are: Wring That Neck, Mandrake Roots (again) - live from Paris the same year and the Jon Lord interview. Merely 9 tracks on 2 CDs! The bonus DVD is the 25 minute long, digitally remastered version of the original VHS tape, 'Doing Their Thing - Live at Granada TV 1970'. If extended jams and hardly any plot is your kind of bag. Personally? I prefer the studio versions and the basic, strict formula.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Anette OLZON: "Shine"

Rating: RRRR
Label: earMUSIC 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Ethno Pop Rock (hardly Metal though?) with the symphonic touch?? File this under outside the box and different as the former Alyson Avenue and Nightwish singer goes the full circle and beyond with her first solo album. Regarding the Ethno part of the album, obviously not the entire time, however, tiny fragments, bits and pieces. For instance, a track like 'Floating', basically the 50/50 mix of Kate Bush and Enya influences and I do enjoy its 'magical-forest' flow and the atmospheric, dreamy sound.

"Lies", the sweet, innocence, Swedish melodies of Tone Norum, Iza, One More Time (cult act feat. the son of ABBA) only this kitten got claws. "Invincible", the odd Mike Oldfield during his 'Maggie' era and possibly the distant cousin to the Eurovision Song Contest winner of 2011, 'Running Scared'. The latter not too strange all considering. Olzon's main co-songwriter on the album (Stefan Örn) wrote the Euro winner after all. I do recall listening to the original Alyson Avenue demos [yours truly wrote and raved about them back in the days] thinking that Anette Olzon (Blyckert) takes a lot from pop, Eurovision (and dansband for that matter :)

"Falling", Nightwish-lite with plenty of string orchestration. "Moving Away", the territorial work of Blackmore's Night. To be perfectly honest. The two closing tracks, "One Million Faces" and "Watching From A Far", could just as easily have been straight off the latest albums by Agnetha Fältskog (ABBA). Both are extremely mellow ballads and if you came here looking for loud guitars and screaming metal? simply look elsewhere or preferably the other way. It's rather 'posh' than 'mosh' and the glossy and overall soft effort may not please the narrow-minded listener?
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GAMMA RAY: "Empire Of The Undead"

Rating: RRRR
Label: earMUSIC 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Wow! The fire in the Hammer studios (R.I.P.) couldn't stop Gamma Ray from recording their best album in ages. I constantly find myself shouting along at the top of my lungs to the melodies and even though several tracks are epic (like the nine minute long opener 'Avalon'), the overall feeling of 'Empire of The Unded' is still the one of proper metal and back to basic material.

It's almost like if they've stopped writing songs that may attract all kind of folks and gone back to the heydays of denim and leather which obviously include the fine signatures of old masters such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The voice of Kai Hansen is more on the money, focused, and basically better sounding than previous effort and the production bring out the best of the musicians.

'Hellbent' will have you thinking about Priest for obvious reason and the verse/pre-chorus of 'Born To Fly' may just channel the feeling of 'Electric Eye'. The chorus part on the other hand is very different and harks back to Gamma Ray's earlier sound. The title track is the real monster track (as you may already have heard since it's been out there for months) with its speedy uptempo arrangement and cheeky pre-chorus ála Maiden and Ace's High. 'Time For Deliverance', the nice breather and ballad with an Queen-like chorus and the uber sing-a-long anthem.

The deluxe version with its bonus DVD feature the 58 minute long intoduction to the band including live outtakes from the final studio sessions of the 'Empire'. The tour of Hamburg and various other goodies such as interviews and three clips from the Skeletons & Majesties live DVD. The bottomline, 'Empire Of The Undead' is an album that will surely please the traditional metal head as you have everything from NWOBH (Raven, Priest, Maiden) to the teutonic tradition of Gamma Ray, Accept, Helloween. Gamma Ray have shown that this type of music can be creative as well as the great throwback to metal past.
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STEEL PANTHER: "All You Can Eat"

Rating: R
Label: Open E/Kobalt 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

I can't help to draw comparison to Holloway's review of Phil Vincent and the cover of 'Slave To Sin'. Yeah, I believe it's possible to ignore the ill advised artwork and merely look at the actual bodywork (since we're all about the music). But what to do when you have lyric and songs that are so... what's the word? Juvenile? Redundant? Wasteful? That you simply can't bare yourself to ever play them again?

I actually feel sorry for the Steel Panthers as they're clueless about the meaning of irony and the correct use of the word (now, that's irony people). They're a one trick pony. The comedian without a single proper joke. I'm not offended or upset by 'All You Can Eat'. I'm gobsmacked over the poor state of the lyrics and the fact that America still believe nudity and four letter words to be major shock value? Nipplegate anyone? It's 2014 for feck's sake. The kids are all brought up with internet connection, you can't shock them anywhere, with anything, anymore. Why any person could find tracks such as 'Pussywhipped', 'Gloryhole', Bukkake Tears', 'Gangbang at The Old Folks Home', F**ing My Heart In The Azz', etc. to be funny goes over my head. Hard rock parodists in desperate need of jokes?

It's not a question of moral or religious tosser belief. I'm not trying to force people into not buying the music or boycott the band. It's just not a good product in my opinion and the songs (if you try and look past the lyric) are slightly below average at their best. If you wish to wake up or shock the nation? Try writing about your homeland and the way your gov. treat the millions of poor, the homeless, the washed up soldier from any of many wasteful wars, the sick, the needy, etc. Remember that 'a country is only as strong as your weakest citizen', and you may quote me on that. Let me just end it all with a quote from the good people at Extreme, (still) waiting for the punchline... sad clown face...

NACOM: ”Crawling Human Souls”

Rating: G
Label: WormHole Death 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

It didn't look that bad. Sure, the album artwork is quite bleak and depressing and the album title doesn't exactly shout "an uplifting musical experience ahead", but at least the band's logo wasn't completely unintelligible in the usual death metal style. I still couldn't figure out the band's name, but only because of the sci-fi styled, strange font. "hmm... could be some sort of hi-tech prog metal" was my initial thought. And then I inserted the cd to the player.

I just don't get it. Over the years, we've recieved dozens of death/extreme metal CD's, yet I don't think we've given any of them good ratings. Still, just about every day we get a request to download the latest CoreMetalDeathBlack sensation... and we ignore them, because it's not our thing at all. But when someone actually sends us a CD, we feel obligated to at least give it a spin. To be honest, most of the completely unsuitable albums will not be reviewed, but now I'm making an exception... I don't know why, but what the hell.

If I didn't know better, I'd say that the band has two singers. One of the could be called a mutant called Gorgorlogoo and the other Phyllis, the wicked witch. Gorgorlogoo has a low, growling voice while Phyllis sounds like, well, the wicked witch, a 175-year old woman with a serious chip on her shoulders. In fact, Gorgorlogoo and Phyllis are apparently one person, the band's uniquely talented vocalist Leonardo Corinadesi. Whether he can also sing cannot be determined by listening to this album. He sure can growl and do the cookie monster thing, so he is talented, no doubt about it. This particular style of vocalizing isn't something I understand, so let's move on to other things... Musically the band is highly competent. The rhythm section does all kinds of complicated things, while the guitarists throw in tons of tricky riffs and solos. There's a fair amount of moody keyboards too. As the instrumental "Echoes Of Void" proves, the band is capable of creating moody and even beautiful music, but it's only a one-off. The songs with vocals may have some interesting things going on in the background, but the growling, screaming and hissing pretty much overshadows them.

The lyrics are in the booklet, which is a good thing because you wouldn't be able to figure out them otherwise. The Phyllis-vocals are somewhat better in that aspect, but Gorgorlogoo-vocals could just as well be all gibberish.

The rating? "G". As in Gorgorlogoo.

Buy it!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

THE MILESTONES - "Higher Mountain - Closer Sun"



Review By: Alan Holloway

Twenty years and four albums certainly doesn’t seem like a lot, but with this their second in only five years it seems Finland’s The Milestones may be ready for their version of a sprint.

Taking the view that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The Milestones have once again delivered a highly competent package or old school rock and roll with a healthy dose of whiskey fuelled southern rock, like The Rolling Stones colliding with Black Stone Cherry, whilst being watched by the Robert Hart era Bad Company. Yes, this has some serious blues vibes, with licks that could strip paint from the walls.

Despite coming from Finland, there are no awkward accent moments, with Olavi Tikka showing fine form throughout, although it certainly helps that he’s backed by a band that are tighter than Scrooge McDuck’s wallet. Opener “Walking Trouble” belts along at quite a pace, enlivened by some excellent guitar and harmonica playing, and from then on the quality pretty much stays the same, as the listener is washed over by a tidal wave of bluesy lushness that would make The Black Crowes proud.

If driving blues rock is your thing, lighter than the likes of BlackWolf but still entrenched in the same roots, The Milestones are certainly going to be right up your street. 

ALIEN: ”Eternity”

Rating: RRRR
Label: AOR Heaven 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The first Alien album (self-titled, 1988) is considered an AOR classic. It included their version of The Marbles' "Only One Woman" which was a number one hit in Sweden, not to mention several very popular songs. The band's career took a bit of a nosedive after that album, with several line-up changes and albums of lesser quality. A few years ago the original line-up made a triumphant comeback at Firefest, followed by another highly praised performance at the festival last year. Their recorded output after the comeback has been limited to one single only, the rather fine "Ready To Fly", but this is about to change as "Eternity" will see the light of day on 25th April.

Has it been worth the wait? Is it as AOR-styled as the debut? Is Jim Jidhed still the vocal god he once was? These are some of the questions you might have, and I believe my answer to all of those is "Yes!". This is easily the band's best album since the debut and it is very much in similar style. Fine melodies, soaring choruses and Jim Jidhed is in fine form. If anything, his voice has improved like fine wine, the years have brought some nice edge to it. Tony Borg's guitar work is highly melodic and Toby Tarrach's keyboards are upfront in many of these songs, and overall the sound of the album is really smooth and pleasant.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights... The track first heard at last year's Firefest, "In Love We Trust" is a suitable opener for the album. It went down really well live and it's an AOR gem on the album too. "Love Will Lead Me Home" has some familiar-sounding melodies, maybe some echoes of Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died In Your Arms", but despite or maybe because of that, the song is one of the most instant "hits" of the album. "I Believe" is a classy ballad and with Mr. Jidhed behind the microphone it's elevated to another level. The slightly heavier "What Goes Up" rides on a persistent keyboard riff and oddly enough, I keep thinking that this song wouldn't have sounded out of place on Europe's "Out Of This World". "Wild Heart" and especially "Liar, Liar" are both fine uptempo tracks with strong choruses. Then there are the bright'n breezy "summer AOR" songs "Unbroken" and "Summer Of Love", very enjoyable too... Interestingly, "I'm A Fighter", the one song written by Pam Barlow and Janet Morrison Minto who co-wrote much of the first album, is one of the more "ordinary" tracks of the album... It just goes to show that the band is very much capable of coming up with future AOR classics on their own!


Monday, March 24, 2014

SUNSTRIKE - "Rock Your World"

Label: AOR Heaven
Review By: Alan Holloway

Sweden has graces us with many, many sweet AOR tunes, so it’s no surprise to find yet another new band trundling through the heavenly gates to simply astonish with their debut album. Formed by the guitarist and drummer from the more metal Astral Doors, Sunstrike are more than a side project, with “Rock Your World” coming fully formed and full of form.

What immediately grabs you is the sheer joyfulness contained within the album. This is AOR from people who realize that it’s supposed to be happy, upbeat music. Vocalist Christian Hedgren (Twilight Force) is a revelation, his voice fitting the music perfectly, and the music is as full of beans as a Mexican meeting of overeaters anonymous.

With a title like “Rock Your World”, it’s no surprise that the album contains nothing at all new. That said, however, it takes traditional European melodic rock and plays it like a virtuoso on an old violin. There’s hints of TNT, Europe and newer bands like Eclipse here (it was produced by Erik from said band), with every track coming across well. There are no weak links, no ballads, and no outstaying it’s welcome at twelve tracks long. “Power Of Dreams” and the title track kick things off like a barrel full of gunpowder, and things don’t let up until the last but one track “Edge Of Life”, which is the only track with a whiff of half heartedness about it.

Make no mistake, this is old school AOR, with proud keyboards, drums and guitars harmoniously sharing the spotlight throughout. There have been many bands who have done similar stuff and wandered off into the night, forgotten by many (The Shock, anyone?), but for those who have heard their music it will always live on. “Rock Your World” has tracks that you will still want to hear a decade from now, beautifully put together with plenty of fire and fury. It’s time to party like it’s 1989, people, but in a good way.

PHIL VINCENT – “Slave To Sin”

Label: Self Release
Reviewed By: Alan Holloway

Before you do anything else, get over the cover. Yes, it’s possibly the most horrendously ill advised and tackily presented misogynistic mess, but if you get over it you can start to listen to what is a pretty good album. There’s probably irony intended (or at least I hope so) but as well know, most Americans tend to think irony is similar to goldy, bronzey and leady. Mind you, the lad hardly has a good track record, cover-wise.

Anyway, once the cover has been sufficiently burned it’s time to have a listen to the latest offering from one man band (at least when he’s not with Legion) Phil Vincent. Phil’s output is legendary, the biggest achievement being the constant high quality of his many, many releases. It has to be said that Phil has yet to make me swoon over a release, but I always enjoy them.

‘Slave To Sin’ takes his usual formula and actually tries a few new things out, not least the closing 4 in 1 track ‘Harmonic Destruction’. Fourteen minutes and four parts offer a lengthy but worthy experience nicely removed from the four minute forages that we usually get. Elsewhere there’s some good, heavy stuff that nonetheless contains enough melody to appeal to all sorts of rock lovers. The opening riff and words to ‘Bad Girl’ are shamelessly nicked from “Whole Lotta Rosie”, but the rest of the song is a spirited romp that avoids any other plagiarism. Special mention must go to “Mystery”, which miraculously manages to not outstay it’s welcome despite a run time of nearly seven minutes. It contains some of Phil’s best singing of the album, as well as some very slick guitar (possibly from guest Vince O’Reagan).

So what he have here is an ugly girl with a really nice personality. Phil Vincent dares to take a few musical risks on ‘Slave To Sin’ and they all pay off pretty well. Hard edged and melodic, it certainly holds up against his other solo stuff, so if you are a fan there’s no reason to shy away from this one. Except the cover, obviously. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beth HART & Joe BONAMASSA: "Live In Amsterdam"

Rating: Live
Label: Provogue/Mascot 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

It's 2014! What's the point in releasing live albums without the glossy DVD/Blu-ray? Hang on a minute. Appearantly, there's the DVD release of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa destroying Amsterdam only we're stuck with the daft CD version? What's the point in merely sending out your minor product for review when everybody's talking about and would like to know more about the major dvd and blu-ray production? It's sort of like sending the film/movie production on tape so you can listen to the actors and simply forget about ever watching the she-bang.

The two are obviously going at the music with bags of finess and individual skill. Beth Hart is capable of singing the old R&B numbers with remarkable awareness of tradition and overall respect. If there's ever been a cool cat, simply check out her performances on 'For My Friends' and especially 'Close To My Fire'. Joe Bonamassa's flashy guitar work add a new dimension to the old numbers of Buddy Miles, Billie Holiday, Melody Gardot, Etta James, Tom Waits, and what not really. The 'Can't Let You Go' solo is sweet as candy. He's never trying to over play things or shred just for the cause of shredding. It's classy work throughout the set.

Yes, they're into old skool. It's just a straight forward tribute to the old masters and sometimes that's all you want from a band or in this case the dynamic duo. There's obviously a band too and it's nice to hear (well, I can't bloody watch, can I?) the old Spider and Ace Frehley drummer Anton Fig which many of you probably know from the David Letterman show. Not sure if it's just my promo or if all tracks are fade outs? If the latter, there's another shocker. If you came here looking for info about the dvd/blu-ray - tough luck and remember to email me if you ever find out. Bloody'ell...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

DYNAZTY: "Renatus"

Rating: RRR
Label: Spinefarm 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

The full on transformation from Sleazy Melodic Rock to the rather typical (Symphonic/Melodic) Power Metal act is quite shocking at first to say the least. Did it have anything to do with their brand new recording deal at Spinefarm? Of course it did? The complete sell-out? Let's not go that far as I'm sure they all have their spines intact? But you can simply wave goodbye to the old Swedish Dynazty since it's sooo dated and dead. Say hello to the reborn version of the band and the next Dynazty that will surely last a thousand years or at least as long as it's more beneficial to play the "German" style of Metal (not to be confused with the U.S. brand).

It's soaring vocals by the impressive Nils Molin (Hello Brother Dragonfire), staccato riffing, schizo prog-lite keyboards (think Jens Johansson on LSD and stuck in the docklands), and uptempo arrangements in the style of Scanner goes on a date with Amaranthe. Musically and sonically a very different band and they'll be heading out on tour in April with Gamma Ray and Rhapsody of Fire.

They deliver a well paced blend of flashy guitar work and energy, as well as having the ability to create decent enough songs from some of the most bog standard sounding German met Swedish templates of body work as of lately. They were never 'originals' in the first place and the switch to different style and genre did not change any of that. At times just overblown and mediocre and every now and then sheer brilliant. The production is huge and those soaring vocals by Molin is something they're clearly not afraid to bring to the fore. Solid effort only perhaps not enough of hooks as they're all pretty nince, but hardly killer material.

NOW OR NEVER: "Now Or Never"

Rating: RR
Label: Mausoleum 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Now Or Never? probably the latter if you twist my arm and urge the reviewer to choose. Former Pretty Maids and butt ugly geezers are singing the blues on their modern power metal album which include utterly heavy riffing and the occassional sampling and sound effect. They are no doubt the talanted bunch of musicians and the opening track of "Reach Out For The Sky" will clearly get your blood rushing in no time.

It's proper 'Painkiller' and especially Rob Halford (the solo albums) metal with clearly over the top vocals by Nightmare shouter Joe Amore. It's bleedin' 'No Amore' in the long run as you'll end up with bleedin gums just by listening to the grunts. As melodic power thrashers go, they're not half bad and "Wind Of Freedom" is the great modern power metal tune with frenzied drumming and the sheer amount of energy.

The chug-chug attack and semi shredding riffs are kind of 'been there, done that'. For instance, "Brothers", sound exactly like the first Rob Halford solo album which in all honesty had most folks running back to the record store and claiming their money in return. The industrial touch makes it all very 1995 and if that's your bag, good for you. "Hardened Steel" is more of the same, metal ála mid-nineties and the dusty old sound effect takes no prisoners whatsoever. There are a couple of true metal tracks with proper fist pumping choruses. However, overall? Meh. Pick of the bunch. "An Angel By My Side" - the excellent semi-ballad and the nice change from the chug-chug. Have a go at this if you can't get enough of Halford.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

FACTOR HATE: "The Watcher"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Factor Hate / Rock'n'Growl 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Factor Hate is a rather odd name for a band I thought as I received this EP for review. It immediately makes me think of “screaming devil chainsaw music” as my mother likes to call it, expecting something death metal like! I was pleasantly surprised when I cued it up for a listen.

The EP, entitled The Watcher, contains only four tracks was issued back in October 2013. Interestingly this EP was limited to only 100 hand numbered copies, recorded in their home studio and released independently by the band. A full length, 12 track CD is planned by Rock ‘n’ Growl Promotions for release in 2014.

“You’re in the Nightmare” blazes the trail exhibiting some thrashy overtones, but it is the second composition that really grabbed my attention with “Raise Your Hands” and its catchy chorus. “Wild as the Wind” starts out with a grinding riff and truly shines throughout. The Watcher closes out with the title track, “The Watcher”, leaving you wanting more and I look forward to the future efforts from Factor Hate.

Forming in France, Factor Hate consists of drummer Pascal “Sharky” Landais, guitarists Olivier “Silver” Landais and Hubert “Hubb” Treynel, bassist Kevin “Kev” Obron and last to join the group was vocalist Thierry “The Watcher” Grumiaux. The band cites influences like Accept and Judas Priest which are easily heard shining through on this altogether too short offering of old school sounding heavy metal. I will certainly be monitoring this band in hopes that they will soon release that rumoured full length debut.
"You're In The Nightmare" video

THE TREATMENT: "Running With The Dogs"

Rating: RRR
Label: Spinefarm Records 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

The UK’s The Treatment issued their sophomore effort earlier in February, Running With the Dogs as a two CD deluxe edition. The first disc contains thirteen new tracks while the second is comprised of cover versions of some of the bands that have heavily influenced The Treatment.

Rarely, if ever does the sequel compare to the original (with the exception of The Empire Strikes Back) and that is certainly the case with this album. There are some points that do the debut proud, like “I Bleed Rock & Roll”, “Don’t Look Down”, “Drop Like A Stone” and “Don’t Get Mad Get Evil” but just not quite on the same level as the compositions on the initial offering. The whole album seems to be lacking the swagger and pompous energy of youth that the This Might Hurt record exuded. “Outlaw” is undoubtedly the top of the heap here while “Get the Party On” and “World On Fire” are familiar as they were played on tour with Motley Crue/KISS in 2012. Tracks like “She’s Too Much” and “Emergency” are mediocre filler and easily forgettable. “Cloud Across the Sun” tries to sound like the Beatles, but falls desperately short of the mark and the ballad “Unchain the World” is not much more than a deplorable tragedy. The Treatment should stop trying to show their tenderness and get back to the balls out, wild untamed rock that served them so well on the initial release.

CD #2 contains a nod to some of the influences on the band with The Who’s “The Seeker”, Dr. Feelgood’s “She Does It Right”, Badfinger’s “No Matter What” and Status Quo’s “In My Chair”. The final two tracks of the six song bonus CD are acoustic versions of “Running with the Dogs” and I Bleed Rock & Roll”

If The Treatment had instead made one album containing ten or eleven tracks comprised of the best of both of these CD’s it might have fared as a better listen. Not bad overall, but for your first foray into The Treatment I recommend that you stick with This Might Hurt.

PERSUADER: "The Fiction Maze"

Rating: RR
Label: Inner Wound Recordings 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Persuader, a power metal band born in Umea Sweden in 1997, has just returned with their fourth outing, The Fiction Maze. Their first effort arrived in 2000 ala The Hunter, 2004 saw Evolution Purgatory and 2006 supplied When Eden Burns.

Given that the Fiction Maze album appears a staggering eight years after their previous release (who do they think they are, Boston?) I would expect something magnificent for my first foray into Persuader. Alas that was not to be; maybe I just don’t fully understand it. When hearing the term power metal, it’s hard for me not to immediately think of pioneers Helloween and hold bands to that standard.

While Persuader are obviously competent with their instruments and the album was not totally awful, overall I found it hard to listen to and sluggish despite the speed of the music. There is also a heavy element of thrash prominent throughout and vocal growling from time to time coupled with the technicality of the compositions. The riffs are abundant, but seem to get lost in the background, overshadowed by the vocals and the album just seems to drone on in general. I mean no disrespect to the band, who are obviously more talented than I, but I personally just didn’t prefer listening to The Fiction Maze.


Rating: RRR
Label: G Records / PIAS
Review by Martien Koolen

The Swiss rock band Gotthard have already released 14 studio and live albums and have been around in the music scene for more than 20 years. Their previous album Firebirth started the second career of the Swiss rockers as the first one had been ended by the disastrous death of former lead singer Steve Lee. The new singer Nic Maeder became the new vocalist in 2011 and Bang is his second Gotthard album on which he shines as the singer of the band.

The new album contains 13 tracks and most of them (Get Up 'N Move On, Jump The Gun or My Belief) are classic Gotthard tunes demonstrating the band's talent for combining melodic vocals with catchy and strong guitar hooks and riffs. You can also hear some new "adventures" of Gotthard, take for example the excellent bluesrocker Spread Your Wings, featuring great vocals and marvellous guitar solos, or the hard rock driven What You Get, which will turn out to become a great live track. Another surprise is the longest Gotthard song ever called Thank You, which is a orchestral epic track filled with great melodies, superb vocals and a fantastic long guitar solo at the end. The song was written as a tribute to the deceased mother of guitar player Leo Leoni and it also serves as a homage to mothers all over the world.

Unfortunately the new album also contains two complete missers; first of all there is the utterly boring C'est La Vie, featuring a French title and even some accordeon. And secondly you have to skip the bittersweet ballad Maybe, which is a duet between Nic and the American female singer Melody Tibbits; this song really is a drag and is not fit for this rockin' album. My favourites are: Spread Your Wings (one of the best Gotthard songs ever), Jump The Gun (heavy with as melodic groove and a spicy guitar solo) and What You Get, which is a typical Gotthard groover, very catchy indeed. So, all in all, I am quite content with this new album, it rocks, it grooves and it swings, except for the two missers.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Stan BUSH: ”The Ultimate”

Rating: RRRR
Label: MelodicRock Records 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

AOR cult hero Stan Bush returns with an album that he calls "The Ultimate". A big title to live up to and while I don't think it's necessarily "the ultimate Stan Bush album", it's certainly very good. Sure it's AOR by numbers, but I happen to like these numbers! Most of the songs have a very strong "80'ies Action Movie Soundtrack"-vibe, the lyrics are uplifting and empowering and the choruses are the kind of stuff that one will HAVE to sing with fists clenched. In addition to the power rockers, of course Stan throws in a few of his trademark ballads.

There's plenty of good stuff on this album, but I'll mention some of the highlights: the Survivor-like "Stand In The Fire" is one of the "action movie songs", as is "Heat Of The Battle", both the kind of songs that would have been perfect for the soundtracks of Rocky IV or Top Gun. "Thunder In Your Heart" IS actually a song from an 80'ies movie ("RAD " 1986), originally recorded by John Farnham, now updated by Stan. It's still a powerful song, with massive keyboard hits giving it some extra boost. The guitars could have been more upfront though. Out of the more balladic songs my favourites are the AOR gem "The Memory Of You", which isn't really a ballad but a hauntingly beautiful midtempo song, and the more traditional ballad "If I'm Not Lovin' You". The verses do bear some similarity to those of Warrant's "Heaven", but let's not let that bother us too much...

Once again Stan has decided to include yet another version of his most well-known track "The Touch" on this album. Frankly, I could've done without "The Power Mix", it really doesn't add any power to the track. It does sound more contemporary but it's also more repetitive and duller than the original. Well, if it helps selling a few more copies of this album then I guess its' inclusion is justified.


THEOCRACY: ”s/t” (re-issue)

Rating: RRR
Label: Ulterium 2013
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Christian power metal band Theocracy's first album was originally released in 2003, and it was basically a one-man project of Matt Smith. To celebrate its' 10th anniversary the album has been remixed and remastered, and the original drum tracks have been replaced by newly recorded versions by the band's current drummer Shawn Benson.

I liked the band's latest album "As The World Bleeds" quite a lot, and the one before that wasn't too bad either, so I was interested in checking out where it all started. Turns out that the elements of Theocracy were very much in place right from the start, even though Matt Smith hadn't totally found his melodic sensibility yet. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of melody on this album, it's just that the melodies aren't quite as enchanting as on "As The World Bleeds".
Even though Matt Smith is american, it sounds like his influences mostly come from this site of the Atlantic. There are some very Helloween'ish moments here, and Edguy is another band that I'm reminded of every now and then, not forgetting the ancestors of the genre, Maiden, Malmsteen and Priest.

There are three songs which are over 11 minutes, which is a bit too much. Those songs are good, but I can't help but wonder whether they could have been "compressed" to half of their length. The impact would have been much powerful, now they are a bit overblown.


SANTA CRUZ: ”We Are The Ones To Fall” (single)

Rating: -
Label: Spinefarm 2014
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The new single from Finnish rockers Santa Cruz doesn't offer any drastic changes of style, the band continue to deliver their 80'ies influenced sleazy hard rock to the masses. This new song has some similarities to Crashdiet, not to mention the usual suspects, GNR and Crüe etc. It's an energetic rocker with a good chorus. Vocalist/guitarist Archie's pronounciation has improved, the "finglish" accent that was occasionally evident on the first album ha pretty much disappeared. What's more, he has fine-tuned the Axl-influenced "cat-in-heat" shierking, it isn't quite as overbearing as on the first album! Good stuff, I'm looking forward to the album number two.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

ROXSTER: "Influence"

Rating: Comp.
Label: Indie 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

"Influence" is the debut full-length studio album by the AZ, U.S. band previously known as Fire Alley and their indie albums were reviewed here at in the mid 2000's. Roxster is more or less the brainchild of semi prolific hard rock guitarist and technician Jack "Jaxxon" Schwarz (works at Fender guitar and has traveled the world giving seminars and hosting clinics since the 80s) and the six-string bender is basically responsible for all the arrangments and production on the record.

The music on "Influence" is however exactly what the title suggest, the tribute album to classic rock acts and heroes with twelve covers of everything from Liverpool's pride and joy a.k.a. The Beatles (The Word) to the utter rock'n'roll madness of Ted 'King of the Rednecks' Nugent (Live It Up). The songs on the album are all played with skill and finess and it's definitely the musicianship that impress the most as the band performs all of the 70s (mainly) and 80s rock on stage as the cover act.

Fire Alley vocalist James Welch (son of Jack) sings nicely along to the classic rock of "Stormbringer" (Deep Purple), "Shady Lady (Uriah Heep), "Stone Free" (Jimi Hendrix), "Presense Of The Lord" (Eric Clapton), etc. I'm sure they're a blast live on stage as 'Influence' for the most of time work as the pretty enjoyable cover album. In the end, it's merely "the cover album" though and we'd much rather have brand new material to write home about. Great guitar work with a fluid melodic style and tone true to the originals.



Label: Rigid Digits

Reviewed By: Alan Holloway

If you’ve never heard their stuff beyond a few old punk rock tracks, forget everything you thought you knew about Stiff Little Fingers. Firstly, they are not really a punk band, and secondly they have in their ranks one of the best lyricists in the business. Oh yeah… they also make fucking great music.

“No Going Back” is the 10th SLF album, and I was amazed to realize it’s been eleven years since their last one, the powerful “Guitar & Drum”. As with many bands these days they’ve been funded through Pledge Music, surely one of the best ideas in music history. Go Pledge!

The band first came to my attention with their 1997 “Tinderbox” album, and I was amazed at how melodic they were, not even remotely like a punk band in the traditional sense. Vocalist Jake Burns, who had an angry growl when they started out in the late 1970’s, has quite a unique sound to his voice, a voice that spits pure venom when politicians and bankers come into the lyrics. When he’s not shouting at the powerful, however, he has a real melodic pitch that has defined the band’s sound for over 30 years now.

“No Going Back” has twelve tracks and is seriously as good as anything the band have ever done. It’s got some powerful, killer guitar tracks, but that’s true of any album by SLF. The rwal selling point if that it’s also stuffed with killer hooks, plenty of melody and choruses that have you singing along on your first listen. It opens with “Liars Club”, a track about politicians that the band have played previously on tour, and this powerful track sets the tone for the album. Jake Burns has always written about things that, basically, piss him off, and “No Going Back” doesn’t sway from serious topics, including Burns’ own depression in “My Dark Places”. Final track “When We Were Young” has a real retro SLF feel to it, not only in the riff and structure but also because it includes a snippet of their old single “At The Edge” if you listen closely. It has the great line “They said that it’s all over, I said like hell it is, They say it’s self delusion, I say it’s self belief”, and that encapsulates the sheer determination of this band and their indomitable frontman to keep on making great music and telling it like it is.

I know I’m banging on a bit, but this is so far the best album of the year, it’s such a pure release or raw energy and talent. There’s nods to the band’s history, there’s politics and personal life in the lyrics, there’s some superb songwriting in general, and there’s music that just kicks ass and gets you fired up from the first listen. The crowds at the gigs may only want to hear the old songs, but I hope Jake Burns and co play as many of these songs as possible on the upcoming tour, because they’ve never sounded fresher and more determined. Absolutely brilliant. 

THE CRINGE – “Hiding In Plain Sight”


LABEL: Listen Records

Review By: Alan Holloway

Mention New York band The Cringe to most people and they will no doubt say “Who?”, or possibly “Why are they called that?”. Well, that’s what I thought, anyway, as I prepared for what is their fourth full length album. Their press release makes the obligatory Foo Fighters references, but what comes out of the speakers is something altogether original and entertaining.

Technically, The Cringe could be folded into the Indie pigeonhole, but where Indie music tends to be stifled and samey these days, “Hiding In Plain Sight” sees The Cringe explore music for the sake of it, playing with rock and roll, hard rock and melodic rock along with hints of old school punk and a tiny bit of honky tonk. What they do have that will help them win over fans is some very catchy choruses, none more so that “Finally Gonna Be On Your own”, and the aggressively bouncy “Gotta Find A Way”. The Cringe’s main man is John Cusimano, who handles the songwriting and vocals as well as some guitar work. He hasn’t got a voice that will blow you away, but suits the music pretty well and can carry a tune. He can also write good tunes which exude passion, so important and so overlooked by many bands these days. Halfway through the album there’s a very nice, mid paced song called “Make Me Something” which sees him display some impressive emotion and make what could have been an average song a whole lot better. Hell, even goes a bit Jim Morrison on the gloriously retro “Lord Jim”, which has a neat beat and some cool organ sounds.

“Hiding In Plain Sight” is something a little different, yet not so different it will scare anyone away. I’m sure the new York hipster scene love them, but they’ve got enough guts to appeal to the out and out rock brigade and also tweenies who want to find a cool new band. They are certainly an odd choice to support the flashy and quite silly Steel Panther, but that’s just what they are doing this month in the UK. All I can say is if you are going be sure to see the support band as they may surprise you (although they don’t have any songs about shagging).

Official Website

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Axel Rudi PELL: "Into The Storm"

Rating: RRRR
Label: SPV/Steamhammer 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Axel Rudi Pell, the German born guitarist who began in 1984 with Steeler (a German band and not to be confused with the American band featuring Ron Keel and Yngwie Malmsteen) has returned in 2014 with a new album, Into the Storm. After four albums with Steeler, Pell went on to a successful solo career issuing fifteen studio releases. In January 2014 he unleashed the latest addition to the family with Into the Storm featuring a line-up of Pell on guitars, vocalist Johnny Gioeli (Hardline), bassist Volker Krawczak (Steeler), keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (Eden’s Curse/Roland Grapow) and new drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Quiet Riot/Doro/Black Sabbath/Rainbow) who replaced long time skin pounder Mike Teranna for this outing.

Into the Storm opens up into a 1:48 instrumental entitled “The Inquisitorial Procedure”, which has me inquiring if this album will be any good, having no previous experience with Axel Rudi Pell. “Tower of Lies” immediately answered the question with a resounding “yes”! I’ve always loved Johnny Gioeli’s vocal prowess with Hardline and he shines through here already. The chunky, meaty power riffs continue throughout the release on cuts like “Touching Heaven”, “Changing Times”, “Long Way to Go”, the charging “Burning Chains” and “High Above”. I’m always against the inclusion of a ballad, not being a fan personally, but “When Truth Hurts” is at least a good showcase for the strength and originality of Gioeli’s vocal chords. Canadian icon Neil Young gets a nod with a slowed down cover version of his “Hey, Hey, My, My”. The title track “Into the Storm” shuts things down in a more than ten minute opus. If you happen to purchase the digipak bonus edition you’ll receive two extra tracks in “White Cats (Opus #6 Scivolare)” and “Way to Mandalay”. Aside from the first intro, the compositions here are all over 5 minutes in length save for two and Into the Storm is a solid metal offering, enough to prompt me to search out more of Pell’s discography especially the Gioeli fronted issues.


Rating: RR
Label: Elm City Music 2014
Review by Rich Dillon

Adrenaline Mob began a couple of years ago in 2011 when Russell Allen (Symphony X), guitarist Mike Orlando and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) got together. The boys enlisted the help of bassist Paul Di Leo (Fozzy) and guitarist Rich Ward (Fozzy) but both did not remain with Adrenaline Mob for very long and John Moyer (Disturbed) was announced as replacing Di Leo on bass. The full length debut Omerta was issued in March 2012 with only Allen, Orlando and Portnoy credited. Now Adrenaline Mob have returned with Men of Honor in 2014. Mike Portnoy has since departed and AJ Pero of Twisted Sister fame has seated himself behind the skins. Never having heard Adrenaline Mob’s music previously I was looking forward to seeing what that star power could bring to the table.

Men of Honor hits you like an adrenaline charged punch to the gut with the opener, very originally christened “Mob is Back”, I assume announcing the band’s return with a new offering. “Come on Get Up” follows and you can almost feel a gang mentality overshadowing the track and it’s an enjoyable listen. The third track, “Dearly Departed” has a decided Foo Fighters resonance to it and if I go back and listen to the previous song it’s there as well, just not as prominent. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there for me. I mean no disrespect to the musicians here, but only state my personal preferences and opinions. I’m not sure exactly what sub-genre Adrenaline Mob would fall under, but I like to call it “Modern Rock” and while this is no worse than others in the same fold, it just doesn’t have the power to hold my interest. Every song sounds much like the previous one with the exceptions of the ballads “Behind these Eyes” and “Crystal Clear”. “Judgement Day” does seem to have a little more perk to it only to have it ruined with the growling vocals. One on one these songs would fare ok shuffled into a mixed playlist but put them all together and they blend into one another for a snoozefest.