OVERDRIVE – ANGELMAKER (REVIEW)

Released January 21st 2010 on Lion Music

The Overdrive reunion seems to be an ongoing concern. And that’s a good thing.  “Let The Metal Do The Talking” was a great album, and “Angelmaker” continues in the same vein.

Solid, traditional heavy metal. Not power metal, not neoclassical, not medievalinspiredprogfolkspeed metal. HEAVY METAL!!

Opening track “Signs All Over” is a plain kick in the teeth.  Or what to think of Frieda’s “There’s Something Going On”, which is turned into a heavy bruiser. Not quite as extreme as Nevermore’s take on “Sound Of Silence” but equally crafty. “Under The Influence” owes more than a little to Iron Maiden’s glory years. Album closer “The Wavebreaker” runs an epic 10 minutes and is the most European sounding track on the CD.

Overdrive’s brand of metal is refreshingly uncontrived. The band steers clear of banal chant-along choruses and doesn’t rely on triggered bass drums to create an impression of heaviness or urgency.

Rather, they deliver finely crafted songs that rely on strong melodies, powerful riffing and spot on leads.  This album will take you back in time without even trying to be retro.

A killer heavy metal album. This may well be Overdrive’s strongest release so far.

Rating – 94%
Review by Sancho

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HURTSMILE – HURTSMILE (REVIEW)

Released 21st January 2010 on Frontiers Records

Even with the Extreme reunion in full swing, Gary Cherone has found time to release this album with his new band.

Gary has an instantly recognizable voice. Love him or hate him, he always sounds like he’s having fun.

Musically, there are definitely parallels with Extreme (“Jesus Would You Meet Me” anyone?). There’s less funk, but the same sense of freedom oozes through the veins of this record. Check opening track “Just War Theory”, “Kaffur” or “Slave”.  There’s not really a lot of surprises on the album. Well maybe the reggae of “Just War Reprise” or the Dylan-esque “The Murder Of Daniel Faulkner”. Other than that it’s mostly easy going, groovy hard rock. Of course there’s ballads. “Painter Paint” is a particularly tender tune. There’s more than a hint of Zeppelin in “Beyond The Garden”.

What this album illustrates is that the much-maligned Cherone really was a good option for Van Halen, even if you wouldn’t say so from the horrible “III” (I liked it! – Editor).  He has the David Lee Roth swagger and sense of fun and adventure.

Inevitably, the guitar playing isn’t at the level of Extreme. But there is no insult intended with that statement. Comparing a guitar player to Nuno is like comparing a drummer to Neil Peart. You just can’t win… Markus Cherone (yes, Gary’s brother) puts in a valiant effort and is by no means a slouch.

Even without Nuno, I’ll take this album over “Saudades De Rock”.

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho

MR BIG – WHAT IF… (REVIEW)

Released 21st January 2011 on Frontiers Records

After last year’s excellent “Back To Budokan” Mr Big now present us with the first studio album since the reunion.

Opening track “Undertow” has all the typical Mr Big ingredients and sets the mark for the album. “American Beauty” is more up-tempo, referencing “Addicted To That Rush” if not quite so frantic.“Stranger In My Life” is an excellent power ballad. “Nobody Takes The Blame” is a slow paced grinder that sets us up for “Still Ain’t Enough For Me”, another fast track.
“Once Upon A Time” and “As Far As I Can See” introduce more groove to the proceedings.“All The Way Up” is the second ballad, and it’s another good one. Surprisingly, “I Won’t Get In My Way” sees some odd rhythms sneaking in, and sounds more contemporary overall.  “Around The World” takes it up a notch with arguably the most aggressive riffing so far.

The album ends pretty much the same way it started. “I Get The Feeling” once again combines all the required elements for a Mr Big tune. Bonus track “Unforgiven” is just that, a very nice bonus on an already brilliant album.

Obviously both the musicianship and production are beyond reproach. Billy Sheehan is a unique bass player who fills out the bottom while keeping things moving, allowing Paul Gilbert space to branch out with some spacious arrangements and of course insane lead playing. Pat Torpey is rock solid. Say what you will about Eric Martin, but his voice fits this music like a glove.
The guys made a Mr Big album, for better or for worse. Rather than reinvent themselves, they’ve included all the expected elements in a tasty platter. Swagger, melody and virtuosity all combine to make this a very pleasing album.

Rating – 92%
Review by “Green Tinted Belgian Mind” Sancho


ELVENKING – RED SILENT TIDES (REVIEW)

Out now on AFM Records

For your weekly dose of sword & sorcery, look no further than Elvenking.

Power metal with light medieval and folky overtones. Yes, there’s the endless rolling bass drum, the guitar fills that come straight from Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” and the busy arrangements. But there’s also strong melodies and harmonies and a singer who isn’t straining. Some of the songs are a bit convoluted, but overall the flow is pretty good.

A decent melodic metal album if not particularly original.

Rating – 77%
Review by Sancho the Goblin King

 

 

 

THUNDER – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVENTH (REVIEW)

Formed in 1989, from the ashes of the pop rock combo Terraplane, Thunder went on a hugely succesful run in Europe and Japan on the back of the albums “Backstreet Symphony“, “Laughing On Judgement Day” and “Behind Closed Doors” in addition to these albums the band had excellent b-sides for singles with “No Way Out The Wildnerness” still being one of my favourite hard rock tracks ever. But then for some reason they changed, out went the traditional English hard rock values to be replaced with more experimental pop overtones that always seemed forced to these ears, also we said goodbye to the rock clothes to be replaced by designer gear which did not suit the music and only served to alienate fans including myself.  So its with some relief that the last year or so have seen Thunder return and seemingly rediscovered what made them great in the first place.  “The Magnificent Seventh” sees the return of the classic English hard rock sound that is home to strong melodies, great hooks and good riffs. 

Opener “I Love You More Than Rock N Roll” is typical Thunder fare and despite a good midsection only hints at the quality displayed elsewhere. However the Rolling Stones good time feel on the chorus will be sure to win more than few fans in the live arena.

“The Gods Of Love” really sees the album get started with a psychadelic intro before blasting into prime Thunder territory with its irresistible chorus which sees Danny Bowes’ voice in fine fettle. Luke Morley and Ben Matthews are riffing with their distinctive trademark guitar tones and the old magic is well and truly alive here.

The eastern tint on the riff of “Monkey See, Monkey D”o hints at the Led Zeppelin influence in Luke Morley’s arsenal of tricks and could easily have come from 1995’s overlooked “Behind Closed Doors” album. The chorus is classic Thunder and again this will go down a storm in the live arena. The track is further enhanced thanks to the inclusion of deft orchestrated touches.

“I’m Dreaming Again” is a delicate track where the vocals of Danny Bowes tickles the senses and really allows the emotion in his voice to shine. The verse has a good quality before the chorus which will set the singles chart alive. The guitar solo here is also a nice addition to the emotional content on display elsewhere.

Top 40 is written all over “Amy’s On The Run” which is home to a quality only British rock bands can reproduce. The chorus and bridge here are superb and infectious and Morley’s guitar solo is the icing on the cake.

“The Pride” is home to a kickin riff from Morley and Ben Matthews that is again classic Thunder.  Bowes delivers a simple melody line for the verse but the chorus is another winner with his voice sounding as good as it ever has – arguably Britain’s best rock singer in the last 20 years.  Amidst the hard riffing there is a moment of melodic intent in the excellent first solo and breakdown before the Les Paul attack kicks back in for another meaner solo – a highlight.

“Fade Into The Sun” opens with a staccato figure not too disimilar to the Stones “Gimme Shelter” (which the band did a killer cover of btw), this then travels into a straigher rocking home with the emotional content high in Bowes vocals.  The second verse sees the straighter rocking sound built on and when it moves into the chorus its a defining moment of the album. Another good solo adds more value to the track before the a bridge takes the track to a new level before going back to the intro riff, another highlight of the album.

The musically mature “Together Or Apart” is home to some Free-ish overtones particularly on the verse, Bowes vocals ooze class again and this is another style in which Thunder excelled 10 years ago and proves they still have it.  The track builds extremely well throughout its 6 minute running length and I can see this track taking on the classic status of tracks such as” Higher Ground” and “Until My Dying Day”.

“You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down” is one of the goodtime rockers Thunder always seem to dish out, and its nothing overly special, the chorus is good but compared to some of the other material here it does come across as slightly weaker.

“One Foot In The Grave” begins with a bluesy railroad overtone before the electric guitars kick in and is sure to make this another winner on the live stage.  The solos are again very good – Morley has a distinctive style that is a mix of Joe Perry, Jimmy Page and Brian Robertson with an excellent melodic sense. 

Album closer “One Fatal Kiss” is another of the bands classic rockers, the verse is stronger than the chorus (the backing vocals are a little annoying) but generally its another of the weaker tracks on offer but by no means a poor way to end the album.

“The Magnificent Seventh” sees Thunder return in fine style and indeed picking up the baton from where they left on in 1995 with “Behind Closed Doors”.  The music sounds honest again and indeed Bowes vocals are more at ease in this format – and excel.  Luke Morley shows what a class act he is whilst the rhythm section of Chris Childs (bass) and Harry James (drums) create a very solid foundation that allows the track to take the listeners attention.  They provide exactly whats needed in a Hard Rock context and allows Bowes, Morley and Matthews to really get the songs out there.    There is a lot of very good material here and with a bit of luck Frontiers will get some singles out there as well as give a good touring budget.  With a bit of luck I hope to see them at a venue near me soon.
 
Hot Spots : Monkey See Monkey Do, The Pride, Fade Into The Sun, Together Or Apart.
Rating : 92.0%

IRON MASK – SHADOW OF THE RED BARON (REVIEW)

Out now on Lion Music

Back after 4.5 years from the scene are neo-classical merchants Iron Mask.  However, whilst the sound is firmly rooted in a neo-classical basis there is a stronger than ever melodic vibe throughout the album makes this a versatile and accessible album for more discerning straight metal fans.   

Led by guitar whiz Dushan Petrossi the line-up is mostly consistent with its predecessor ‘Hordes Of The Brave’ so once again we have powerhouse vocalist Goetz ‘Valhalla Jnr’ Mohre whose voice is a nice mix of Dio and Dickinson and longterm bassist Vassili Moltchanov in now joined by drummer Eric Stout (Joe Stump band) with keyboardist Andreas Lindahl (Murder Of My Sweet) completing the lineup.  The album is home to 11 tracks, 1 of which is an instrumental and anyone who appreciated the sound of ‘Hordes Of The Brave’ is going to love this new effort.

Opening with the 7 minute epic “Shadow Of The Red Baron” is a bold move but ultimately a gripping start. Set at a frantic pace, with riffs firing from all angles, the production is tight with Stout’s drums exploding from the speakers.  Anyone that has missed the classic neo-classical tinted metal Malmsteen produced in his prime will get a serious thrill out of this track.  Valhalla Jnr’s vocals soar throughout whilst the guitar/keyboard interplay in the solo section is pure bliss. A cracking start.   

“Dreams” is up next serving up a classic Maiden style triplet/gallop motif, lead vocals are performed by Oliver Hartmann (a long term Iron Mask associate, his voice also supplies the numerous choirs heard throughout).  The track itself it commercial sounding neo-classically tinted metal with a chorus of the highest quality.  A classical interlude pummels you for the start of the solo section before Dushan delivers a fret melting  yet highly melodic solo.

The stunning quality continues unabated for “Forever In The Dark”, more mid tempo than its predecessors this is classic track from start to finish, opening with a keyboard motif which leads way to harmonised guitars before breaking down into Gregorian chants before the verse kick  in solidly.   The chorus is once again addictive, as is the instrumental middle section which has a Michael Schenker-ish tint to these ears.    This is first rate melodic metal of the highest order.

“Resurrection” sees the tempo drop down a few notches further, yet the heaviness intensify for this Egyptian tinted track.  The track is well worked, with the multi tracked choirs working extremely well, however the lead vocal performance is equally stunning. 

“Sahara” is back to punchy commercial neo-classically tinted album and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Malmsteen’s “Odyssey” album such is its quality.  Dushan’s lead guitar is flanked by a guest solo from Lars Eric Mattsson before a deft solo from Lindahl sees us back into the catchy chorus.

“Black Devil Ship” is arguably the only weak spot on the album, with its mock pirate theme complete with jolly roger riff, albeit delivered in a style reminiscent of Iron Maiden.  It’s not a terrible track, but does come across more as a novelty number.

“We Will Meet Again” quickly rectifies its predecessor’s shortcomings in another fantastic slice of melodic metal.  Once again a melodically rich harmonised riff will snag you in right away, but the way the track builds through the verses into the chorus is also addictive as hell.  The chorus will see the power metal crowd reaching to the skies in delight and once again it’s another fine success.

“Universe” is one of the fastest tracks on the album being very grandiose in its delivery, and the classically rich middle section before scorching guitar/keyboard dual solo section only adds to majestic feel.

The lone ballad “We Will Meet Again” is a heartfelt number, written about the death of Dushan’s mother the track is exquisite with its female choirs, acoustic guitar.  Valhalla Jnr shows his versatility on this number through a wide range of tonalities and ranges, why he isn’t mentioned with the metal elite is surely just a matter of time. 

“Only The Good Die Young” is back to what this album has delivered in spades, extremely strong classic metal with a commercial punch, yet still managing to retain a heaviness that should see European metal fans rejoicing.  The solo trade off here is again a nice addition.

Instrumental “Ghost Of The Tzar” is as epic as its title suggests.  Its metallic flair is backed by a classical punch, and the use of growling vocals sees them add musical merit to the composition.  Naturally the nature of the music is likely to sees comparisons to Mr. Malmsteen, but again Yngwie has not produced anything this good in a few years now.

With “Shadow Of The Red Baron” one can only hope that Iron Mask’s stock rises in the metal world as this is a stunning album pretty much from start to finish.  The songwriting is first and foremost the key here, Petrossi has developed in his craft nicely with each album and its hard to see how he will top this effort. Naturally the musical performances are first rate, yet all serve to compliment the songs as opposed to over power them.  The production of the album is strong being mixed and mastered by Jen Bogren (Symphony X, Opeth etc) and really it’s the icing on the cake of a superb album. 

What a way to start 2010!
 
Hot Spots : Pretty much the entire thing!
Rating : 95%

JAYCE LANDBERG – GOOD SLEEPLESS NIGHT (REVIEW)

Out Now on Escape Music

Jayce Landberg is a guitarist hailing from Sweden who released the Yngwie wannabe neo-classical tinted release ‘Break The Spell’ in 2008 which saw former Malmsteen vocalist Goran Edman on vocals. Now the follow up ‘Good Sleepless Night’ has just been released on Escape Music and whilst Jayce has spread beyond the neo-classical sounds of his debut, for the most part this an unfocused album in terms of direction and focus.

Landberg has certainly armed himself with all the right tools in the band personnel department having once again Goran Edman on lead vocals (plus a guest vocal from Mark Boals), and Europe bassist Jon Levin on a few numbers, but the overall direction is purely one of Landberg’s making but as mentioned this unfocused.  

So we get the pseudo Offspring opener ‘My Valentine’ to the decidedly dodgy eurovision-metal of ‘The Devil’s Wine’, although there is a fine bridge buried in the track which makes you wish the song had been built from that.  Jayce has obviously discovered Van Halen recently (and bought himself a EVH MXR Phase 90) for the pseudo VH of ‘Drama Queen’ (complete with Atomic Punk intro rip off) which is pretty bad and the solo spot of ‘Abduction’ (a pseudo Eruption if you will – get the ironic title?).  There are some more successful moments in the likes of the melodic metal of ‘Skyscraper’  and the euro metal of ‘Invasion’ but its diminishing returns elsewhere.

Jayce Landberg is certainly a competent enough player, but his song writing is just not up to scratch.  The amount of variety in style (and quality) also seems to work against the albums identity and you get the impression there are too many cook books in the Landberg kitchen.  There are moments to suggest Landberg could make a decent album but sadly ‘Good Sleepless Night’ isn’t it. Better luck next time.

Rating – 40%

JOE BONAMASSA – BLACK ROCK (REVIEW)

Out now on Provogue Records

Yet another bold, confident, masterful release from “the future of blues rock”. Joe and Kevin Shirley retreated to Santorini Greece to seek new inspiration and to break in a brand new studio set in the cliffside. The result is the very mature “Black Rock” which comprises 5 Joe penned originals and 8 cover tunes. Four tunes include traditional Greek instrumentation, best of those is “Quarryman’s Lament” which is one of Joes best riff compositions yet, you will be humming this one; a lot.

Joe’s vocal performance is also his best yet, and as always, plenty of snarly classic tone guitar riffage is evident, primarily on killer tracks like “Blue & Evil”, Bobby Parker’s “Steal Your Heart Away” and the great cover of Jeff Beck’s “Spanish Boots” . The highlight for Joe on this album is the participation of B.B. King on the Willie Nelson standard “Night Life”, and a great guest spot it is too, B.B. still rocking hard in his eighties and perhaps left just a little out of breath by tunes end. The most surprising inclusion however, is Joe’s take on Leonard Cohen’s poignant “Bird on a Wire”, replete with traditional Greek instrument embellishment.

Overall, this is another positive step in Joe’s steep developmental process. Only qualm is that perhaps the production is perhaps just a tad too clean, not enough dirt left under the fingernails for a big rock small blues production. The guaranteed success of this offering will once again have the blues purists cringing, but Joe’s popularity continues to grow in leaps and bounds and rightly so. Well done Joseph….. I eagerly await the as yet officially unnamed “suppa groupa” project from Joe, Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian later this year, should rock hard.

Rating – 85%
Review by Mike Blackburn

PRETTY MAIDS – PANDEMONIUM (REVIEW)

Out now on Frontiers Records

While their debut “Red Hot And Heavy” was something of a cult classic, I remember Pretty Maids from the quite good but rather commercial “Future World” album. Keyboard heavy, with a clear nod to Europe and other bands of the time. Pretty Maids always retained more of a metallic edge though, not in the least because of Ronnie Atkins’ gruff voice.  The band has continued releasing albums on a regular basis, most of which I have to admit passed below my radar. After renewing my acquaintance with the band with the very good “Wake Up To The Real World”, I’m now presented with their new album “Pandemonium”.

Pretty Maids have achieved the perfect balance between guitars and keys. There’s heavy riffs galore, yet the keyboard parts are a kind of master class on how to use this instrument in the context of a heavy rock band. Atkins’ voice may be something of an acquired taste though.

Opening track “Pandemonium” is a bruiser. Keyboard heavy, yes, but heavy in all other respects as well!  The band has managed to keep its sound current, yet still retains its own identity. Heavy guitars coupled to very perceptible keyboards and an easily identifiable singer. “Little Drops Of Heaven” illustrates this rather well.

Some Teutonic metal influences have snuck in (“It Comes At Night” for instance), but never to the point where they’re disturbing. Think Sinner with more keyboards. “Old Enough To Know” and “Breathless” are classic semi-ballads.

A strong album by anyone’s standards.

Rating – 86%
Review by Sancho 



EXTREME – TAKE US ALIVE (REVIEW)

Out now on Frontiers Records

I have to say I wasn’t impressed with Extreme’s comeback album, the rather bland “Saudades De Rock”. Of course, Extreme is one of those bands that shine in the live arena, and they have a barrel full of classic songs to choose from, so how does this new live recording hold up?

As suspected, live the band delivers big time. Extreme’s funky brand of hard rock really hits the spot. The oft-maligned Gary Cherone is a good singer, the rhythm section rumbles like a tank and Nuno is one of the all time great guitar heroes.

Song selection is well balanced, although I would have liked more from the debut, rather than just a medley. The hits are there, obviously. “Decadence Dance”, “Get The Funk Out” and, inevitably, “More Than Words”.

The album sounds undoctored and organic, just a band rocking out. Not as polished as Mr Big’s “Back To Budokan”, but just as tasty.

Rating – 89%
Review by Sancho