JORN – DIO

Out now on Frontiers Records
 
Jorn has taken a lot of flak for this album already. It may seem like a quick cash in but let’s be realistic, they had to have been working on this album long before Ronnie’s death.

Opening track “Song For Ronnie James” is extremely corny, a bit longwinded and lacking focus. All of the other tracks are covers of some of the tunes that made Dio the legend he is. Jorn has avoided covering only the most obvious songs (well, “Kill The King” is present) and gone for a couple of surprising choices. “Push”, Lord Of The Last Day”, “Sunset Superman”… Not the first tunes you expect on a Dio tribute, no?

Obviously production is impeccable, as are the performances of the musicians. Most renditions remain faithful to the original. It’s not like they’re going to improve the arrangements. Jorn himself does justice to the songs, at times outshining himself. No he doesn’t sound like Dio. Nobody does.

A fitting tribute to the biggest voice in rock.

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

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SOUL DOCTOR – WAY BACK TO THE BONE

Out Now/ Metal Heaven

 This German band usually delivers a convincing slab of European hard rock. On this, their fifth studio album, they don’t disappoint.

Opening track “First Man On The Moon” wouldn’t be out of place on Whitesnake’s “Good To Be Bad” album. If anything, Soul Doctor’s production is better! This track sets the pace for the entire album, really. Mid paced hard rock, flawlessly executed but with less swagger than their American or British brethren usually display.

Overall this is a pretty good hard rock album, with Tommy Heart’s (Fair Warning) excellent voice as the real focal point. Closest comparison I can think of would be Gotthard. With ten tracks and a running time of just under 50 minutes the album doesn’t outstay its welcome either.

Soul Doctor are one of the best bands Metal Heaven has to offer. Check them out!

Rating – 85%
Review by Sancho

101 SOUTH – NO U-TURN

Out Now/ Metal Heaven
 
I was particularly taken by 101 South’s last album, the excellent “Roll Of The Dice”.  A great AOR album by anyone’s standards.  It’s safe to say I had quite high expectations for this new one.

First impression is that this album is a lot more mellow than RotD. The pace is quite slow overall. This doesn’t detract from the quality of the songs though. Epic ballad “All In The Game” is as good as anything I’ve heard lately. When the band turns up the heat (a bit) as in “What Are You Gonna Do Anyway”, I can hear distinct traces of Giant’s debut and even some Asia. Is that Pink Floyd I detect in “End Of The Game”? Tracks like the robust “Don’t Tell Me It’s Over” help balance out the album. Another favorite this one.

Sonically, this album is the perfect soundtrack for any random Miami Vice episode. Just add some more reverb to the drums…

Another damn fine effort that may be too soft for those with a penchant for screaming guitars.

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho

THE SEAN BAKER ORCHESTRA – BAKER’S DOZEN

Out now on Lion Music

For the uninitiated Michigan native Sean Baker is a guitarist whom anyone into the glory shred days as performed by the likes of Racer X will get an immediate kick out of.  Picked up by Lion Music after a independently self released debut, Baker’s Dozen as the name implies sees lead guitarist Sean Baker and his band deliver 13 slices of intense guitar instrumentals. 

Now before many of you stop reading right here believing this to be a purely notes per minute exercise, hang on; for that conclusion is further from the truth than you might imagine. Just one listen to the album shows that Sean Baker knows an instrumental chock full of his virtuoso lead work is nothing without solid backings.  Much like label mate Joe Stump, Baker has delivered a highly listenable and enjoyable album which a number of twists and turns but with the metal factor on an almighty 11 pretty much throughout.  Yes there are brutal displays of guitar virtuosity, but there is also a plethora of pummelling riffs that run from 80’s Shrapnel heyday through to intense workouts on a par with the likes of Pantera.  Without the lead guitar this album will please many a metal head thanks to its sheer musicality, yet with the lead work it goes to then next level.   For the icing on the cake throw in a sprinkling of guest performers in the guise of the aforementioned Joe Stump, Rusty Cooley and former Racer X guitarist Bruce Bouillet.  Up against these big hitters Baker shows himself to be their equal and hopefully the exposure that Lion can bring will see the Baker profile rise as he is a talent and then some. 

Special mention should also go to the Orchestra – namely Cmak Ashtiani (guitars), Lawrence Wilson (drums) and David Donigian (bass) who provide a wonderful backdrop for Sean to do his stuff over.  The production of the album is serviceable, quite raw and natural sounding for the drums (no worry of drum samples here) with an open quality that manages to avoid much of the sterile nature of so many guitar hero albums.  So in conclusion, a lot to enjoy, very little to dislike and one for guitar heads to check out asap.

Rating – 85%

JAG PANZER – THE SCOURGE OF THE LIGHT

Released February 28th 2011 on SPV Records

After thirty years, Jag Panzer are still very much a cult name in metal circles.  Their debut “Ample Destruction” put them on the map as a force to be reckoned with but even though they followed it up with classics such as “Thane To The Throne”, the band is probably best known for providing Megadeth with Chris Broderick, an injustice if ever there was one!

Jag Panzer is refreshingly gimmick free. It’s about the music, not about dressing up as pirates or plastic viking drinking horns. This new album, their ninth studio effort (tenth if you include “Decade Of The Nail Spiked Bat”) is a classic slab of US power metal.

This album is filled to the brim with real power metal, a trade Jag Panzer has been plying for decades. Make no mistake; this isn’t the sissy 21st century variant that is so popular nowadays.  From the opening blast of “Condemned To Fight” it’s obvious Jag Panzer are once again not taking any prisoners. Check out well crafted tracks like “Bringing On The End” or “Burn” for further proof of the band’s credentials. Or what about the gloriously old school “Let It Out”?  New boy Christian Lasegue is more than up to the daunting task of replacing Broderick.  Singer Harry Conklin is a pillar of the band’s sound. An acquired taste maybe? 

Production could have been somewhat better. It’ not bad at all, but the devil is in the details. I suppose in these days of dwindling sales and budgets we’ll have to get used to it.

After thirty years, Jag Panzer are still very much a cult name in metal circles. And that’s a damn shame.

Rating – 93%
Review by Sancho

TNT – A FAREWELL TO ARMS

Released 21st January 2011 on Metal Heaven

TNT’s recent output has been patchy to put it mildly. Long gone seemed the days of their classic albums such as “Tell No Tales” or even more recent efforts like “My Religion”.  The pre-release talk of “A Farewell To Arms” suggested the classic sound was back with this new release. But not is all as it seems 

For the most part the album sees the band adopting a more “modern” sound (i.e. down tuned guitars), but there’s still plenty of room for Tony Mills’ soaring vocals. “Refugee” is a strong track. “Don’t Misunderstand Me” and the title track sound almost like classic TNT.   But closing track “Not Only Lonely” takes stupid to the next level… This song knocks five points off the score all by itself. 

Granted Ronni LeTekro does put in more effort than he did on recent releases, yet his playing is still nowhere near the level of his heyday, but it’s a step in the right direction. Check out the quirky lead in “Like A Ship In The Night” or the opening riff of “Take It Like A Man – Woman”. Unfortunately though most of his solos are a disjointed jumble. “Someone Else” is a good example to the contrary. Fortunately Mills’ vocals add a real 80s vibe to what could easily have become bland contemporary melodic rock tunes.

Not a bad album, but not a classic by any means.

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho

CURT ANDERSON – FOR SOME TIME NOW

Independent release out now at  I-Tunes or contact Curt through his myspace profile for CD.

Curt Anderson will be a virtual unknown to visitors to this site but he’s a player that has been attracting some attention on the underground instrumental scene.  “For Some Time Now” is a home recording with everything recorded in Curt’s home, yet the cover suggests he’s not gone down the Line6Pod route (thank god) but rather cranks his tube amps to get authentic tones, and what tones are on offer.  The captured tones are strong, well recorded and the main focus in the mix.  I’d personally have liked to have the bass guitar a little higher in the mix and the programmed drums  replaced by a live drummer to give the extra  nuances this would provide, that said these are small criticisms and not ones that will ruin your guitar listening experience and that’s what we are here for.   As a side note the album was mastered by Kings X guitarist Ty Tabor.

Stylistically “For Some Time Now” this doesn’t stray too far from “hard rock guitar instrumental 101”, but that’s the beauty of the album, it does what it does , and does its very well.  If you like players of the calibre of George Lynch, early Eddie Van Halen, Jake E Lee, Nuno Bettencourt and Akira Takasaki then this is the album for you.  In fact, with many of those players having gone off the boil the last decade or so it’s refreshing to hear someone keep that spirit alive with the talent to match.  No one will be questioning Curt’s guitar skills with this release; he’s got the 80’s hard rock guitar style down with honours degree, a fantastic swing in his playing and with better tone than many of the LA strip names to have made somewhat of a name for themselves back in the day.

Highlights come in a number of places such as the rhythmic “Uncle Leo”,  the Lynch/Nuno-esque “Mr. Anderson”,  the early Van Halen-ish delightfully dynamic “Van Gough’s Ear” and album closer “Going Nowhere, Saying Nothing” which displays some Satriani-ish legato flare. But my favourite tracks is when Curt shows his tender side on the ballad “Long To Touch You”.  This is as fine an instrumental I have heard in some time. Home to long melodic lead lines dripping with emotion that blend nicely with its acoustic backbone, fans of Neal Schon and Neil Zaza will really get a kick out of this.

Clocking in at 38 minutes the 9 tracks on offer don’t outstay their welcome and like a vintage Van Halen record leave you wanting more.  Overall a strong guitar instrumental and enjoyably listen.  Check him out.

Rating – 88%

MAGIC KINGDOM – SYMPHONY OF WAR

Out now on Limb Music

“Symphony Of War” has been six years in the making.  Quite a time frame between releases yet its not as if band leader/guitarist Dushan Petrossi has been resting on his laurels as this time frame has seen 2 releases from Petrossi’s neo-classical band Iron Mask.  That said, just one listen to the intricate nature of this new Magic Kingdom album shows that a massive amount of work has been put into it. 

First off was the small matter of writing the epic story behind “Symphony Of War” (yes the album is of a concept nature), the tale is for all to see in the very impressive inlay booklet where it seems no expense has been spared (and I heartily recommend the limited 2 cd slipcase edition for loads of extras! ). Then there was the task of finding a lead vocalist to replace the departed Max Leclerq,  no mean feat yet the band have pulled in a worthy successor in the guise of Olaf Hayer (Dionysus).  Couple this with the actual recording, production and mixing of the album which was delayed due to a serious injury to mixer/masterer Uwe Lulis and you can see how the years might build up.

Sonically “Symphony Of War” appears like a soundtrack for a blockbuster history movie. The sound is influenced by classical music, heavy riffing, big choirs and mighty melodies, notwithstanding first-class Metal attacks and a well-balanced heaviness. All in if you like metal chances are you will be able to get into this, if you don’t mind a big grandiose delivery.

It would be easy to say the album is more of the same from the band, as from a quick initial listen all the Magic Kingdom trademarks are present and correct.  Yet Petrossi has seen fit to throw in a little more aggression and more melody this time around amongst the barrage of speed riffs and frantic drumming. Olaf Hayer works incredibly well with his vocal power and range being perfectly well suited to the pompous sound.  To give a detailed analysis of each song would be akin to writing the lord of the rings trilogy such is the depth of the music on offer.  Yet each track works well on its own sitting with personal favourites coming in the form of “We Rise”, “Evil Magician” and “In The Name Of Heathen Gods”.

If the 10 tracks of “Symphony Of War” weren’t enough the ltd edition bonus disc has the 5 part movement “Metallic Tragedy – Chapter 2: The Holy Pentalogy”.  This clocks in just shy of 30 minutes and is arguably better than the other disc.  Divided into 5 separate movements which is almost half an hour long (29min 06) the music is even more grandiose and enriched with strong orchestration and a very vision of its intent. 4 different vocalists (Olaf Hayer/ Roma Duadketsju / Geraldine Gadaut / Herbie Langhans) play different characters whilst narration of the story comes from Lance King (Balance Of Power).  Sonically it’s not produced to quite the standard of disc 1 yet as a bonus there can be no complaints. Add to this a video clip for “We Rise”, a video interview with the band, some pc wallpapers and a poster of the great album artwork round out the ltd edition version – the value for money judge says “case dismissed!”.

Overall “Symphony Of War” must go down as the strongest Magic Kingdom release to date.  Given that its predecessor “Metallic Tragedy” was rather darn good shows how impressive this is.  Certainly it’s Dushan Petrossi’s most ambitious releases to date and epic metal fans should make this a part of their collections today without hesistation.

Highly recommended.

Rating – 95%

AN INTERVIEW WITH Y&T / DAVE MENIKETTI & PHIL KENNEMORE (ARCHIVE)

Friday 7th January 2011  saw great sorrow at the loss of another metal musician.  Y&T bassist Phil Kennemore was one of the most respected in hard rock.  Rock solid, in the pocket yet melodic at the same time.  Virtuosity One extends its deepest sympathies to the Kennemore and Y&T camp. 

 Here in tribute is our interview originally posted on 3rd May 2010.

About The Interview
Y&T are an American hard rock/heavy metal band formed in 1974. They hail from the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. The band released two studio albums on London Records as Yesterday & Today in the 1970s, before shortening their name to Y&T and releasing several albums on A&M Records beginning in 1981, as well as albums on Geffen Records, Avex Records amongst others. The band has sold over 4 million albums worldwide to date and are just about to release ‘Facemelter’ their first album in 13 years on Frontiers Records on May 21st 2010.

Perhaps the most obvious question is why a new album now? The band have been back together for some time now touring quite frequently so what’s led to the decision to go into the studio now?
Phil: For the first three or four years after we got back together we and our fans were quite content playing/hearing songs from our large catalogue of songs. For the last 5 years or so we’ve been getting question “When are you gonna make a new album. For Y & T to write and record a new record is one hell of a lot of work–and the way the record business has changed so much it took awhile to convince ourselves it would be worth it.

Why did you decide to fire up the band again? Refound joy in playing? For old time’s sake? Because you felt you had unfinished business?
Phil: At first it was a call from our old manager, with some interesting offers from various promoters–we decided we would do those few shows and see how it felt before making any real commitment to say Y & T are back. Well, it felt great–all this excitement was reborn with us so we continued on from there. Also, the fans were ready to come back to hard rock shows after years of listening to the dark, depressing, homeless lumberjacks that they called grunge.

Over what sort of time frame was the music written and recorded?
Phil: I believe we started writing in August for a few weeks, when we had a short break from touring. The rest of it was from January thru mid April. This is probably about the norm for most bands, but for us this is like making a record at light speed.

Did you have a clear vision of where you wanted to go with this album?
Phil: When we set out to make this record we didn’t have a clue as to what kind of songs or what kind of sounds we would be creating. Early on before we even wrote one song- we titled the record ‘Facemelter’ and had the dragon concept. The reason I thought this was important was it gave us all a kind of target to work to. It made the idea that ‘yeah, we really are gonna make this fuck’n record’ more of a reality. After we got a few solid ideas down there was no turning back–we forced open that creative vault that had been closed for so many years-it was very exciting and fulfilling to be creating again.

Do you have any favourite songs/performances on the album and if so which and why?
Dave: I think it’s too early for me to know completely since I just finished tracking on this record not more than 3 weeks ago, but I look forward to playing many of these songs live during the coming months and I expect that some will just become favourites all on their own.

I presume the majority was recorded in your home studio. What luxury does this give you that you didn’t have in the olden days recording on location?
Dave: The main thing for me, besides the money savings, is that the band and I are in a comfortable environment, since we use the studio for rehearsals. Also, it allows me to give inspired performances because I don’t have the extra pressures of someone looking over my shoulder waiting for me to hopefully do something brilliant. I can go into the studio at my own pace and, by myself, get into a creative mood. This allows me to get it right, how I see is a good performance. One that is passionate and heartfelt. Much harder to do that while the clock is ticking and 3 other people are waiting for you.

Is this luxury a positive in every regard or can it sometimes be too much free time for such things?
Dave: The fact that we had a hard deadline to meet from the record company gave me just the right amount of urgency to get things done in a timely manner. Y&T has always worked much more efficiently when we have a deadline. Otherwise it would take much longer for us to turn out new product.

How do you rate the new album compared to the Y&T back catalogue?
Dave: I believe we have achieved the hard task of making this new CD a classic that will stand the test of time with other classic CDs like Black Tiger, Earthshaker and Meanstreak.

Do you think you’ve improved as a guitar player and singer?
Dave: Absolutely — especially as a singer. My voice is leaps and bounds above where I started, and my guitar playing has improved in the way a good wine improves with age. I may not play as fast all the time as I did when I was young, but I have learned how to be tasteful and all the other benefits that come with experience.

Do you practice a lot to keep up your chops?
Dave: I don’t practice in a sense like a schooled practice. Instead I am always playing guitar while sitting on the couch watching movies, TV etc. This is good for me because I’m always trying to play to the music that is in the soundtracks, etc. It keeps my chops up, in a weird sort of way.

How challenging from a personal perspective was the new material? Are we talking a lot of first takes? A more structured approach? How do you like to work in this regards?
Dave: We “truly” took the approach of recording as if we were playing a show. Everyone fully expected to keep their parts and only fix mistakes – which is exactly what happened for the bass and John’s performances. I was unable to do that because we didn’t have enough separate rooms to have amps isolated from each other, so I used a Pod XT Pro to track with and played my parts again once the basic tracks were finished. On previous records, though we thought we were going to do that, we never actually did. We would just end up doing what we always did – only keep the drums and overdub everything else. I hate that way of doing things and much more prefer to make music together for the right vibe to come across in the final product. It’s funny because I’ve heard so many other bands over the years say that they took a live approach to recording, but I knew better that it wasn’t true. It sounds good to say it, but it tends to show in the final product when you really do this. The solos and vocals are the only things that were completely dome later. Some of the solos ideas I did live, made the record in a small way, because I used a few of them as a template for a place to start. It is so easy to overdub and double parts, getting tricky and produced in the studio because with digital recording there is so much you can do to mess with stuff. We purposely stayed away from that. There are many songs on this CD that I didn’t even overdub a rhythm guitar under my solo because I wanted it to sound like we do it live.

The tones on the album are superb – what gear did you use, it sounds pretty stripped back?
Dave: I used my new Diezel amp and my Mesa Tremoverb Rectifier. John used my Rectifier and his Marshall amps. We played through a combination of my Mesa 4×12 with vintage 30w Celestions and 2 different 4x12s with Tone Tubby speakers, one with Alnico magnets fro the cleaner stuff. Phil played direct into an Avalon Bass Direct, and Mike used his old red Yamaha 24” kit with Ludwig snares. I used a combination of about 6 different guitars. My old Kramer Baretta, 68 Les Paul, Yamaha SG2000, custom Bisceglia guitar, and my 2 Fender Strats, both a blue custom Strat and my “Blackie”.

The production on Facemelter is rather rudimentary. Not a lot of sheen but a very direct, dry mix. Was it a conscious decision to achieve that sound, or was this result simply what the budget allowed for?
Phil: That’s interesting that you say ”what the budget allowed for” – you know it cost absolutely nothing to crank up your reverbs, digital delays, compressors etc. So, no, it wasn’t a budget thing. For almost every album we ever made we would listen to the rough mixes and think” holy shit, this sounds great-just think how much better it’s gonna sound when it gets mixed.” Well, guess what, more often than not the power of the band was lost in an over processed mix, sure something’s got that nice sheen to them a nice rounded polished sound–so we are very aware of all these techniques–and we do use them–but we start backing off when they start taking over the power of the band.

There is a nice live feel in the new material – was that a vibe you were going for?
Phil: Yes and no–we always start out saying were gonna go for a live feel–but on some records it just got away from us. On this record we were able to retain that feel but we were prepared to do what ever it took to make sure the songs came off right. This is the first record I remember, except for the first two Yesterday and Today records , that I didn’t totally over dub all my bass parts–the only over dubs I did were major mistakes. I did next to zero bass polishing–there are a few clicks and pops and some runs I could have played better but my focus was on the over all song and feel and that’s far more important than any perfectly played part.

The recording industry has changed a lot since the last Y&T album. How did you end up on Frontiers?
Phil: Since the mid 90s we’ve had our own record company, Meanstreak Music, on which we released four original releases and the re-masters of most of our catalogue. So, we are pretty much use to the ‘new’ business model, although it does keep growing and becoming a pretty solid alternative to the old “major” players. In America we will release “FACEMELTER” on our own label. When we were looking for someone to take care of Europe there were three companies we were interested in –after talking with friends from different bands and figuring out what was the best fit for us and who we thought had the best marketing plan–we went with Frontiers–the last thing you want to do is bust your ass making a record and no one ever hears about it.

How does being on a independent label compare to the A&M and Geffen days?
Phil: It’s a huge difference actually. When we were with A&M and Geffen they pretty much set up everything from acquiring producers to photo shoots, interviews, video shoots, artwork–it goes on and on. These days every detail is taken care of internally–it’s a double edged sword–it’s great to be able to control your own business but it’s also one hell of a lot of work, especially for our manager–she easily does the work of any 10 people at A & M or Geffen.

The last product from the band was superb “One Hot Night” DVD, it showed the band firing on all cylinders and really kicking a lot of ass. Did the positive reaction to that DVD give you the emphasis to come up with new material?
Phil: It was certainly a stepping stone-the enthusiasm proved to us that there was still a strong fan base around the world that wanted to hear more from us.

Will the upcoming tour feature lots of new material, or will it be a greatest hits set with one or two tracks off Facemelter?
Phil: It’s too early to tell-but I would think we would play a minimum of 3 from Facemelter—

Sancho who did the review wants to know will the upcoming tour have a Belgian gig, and will Monster Joe be the opening act? I doubt you remember but they opened for Y&T in 2006 😉
Phil: Hello Sancho–don’t know exactly when or where but I say —YES–we should be in Belgium this year—and I’m sorry but I don’t remember Monster Joe.

Has your audience evolved? Would you say it’s still mostly the old fans showing up (accompanied by their kids) or is there a rejuvenation going on?
Phil: Yeah, it has evolved–it’s still mostly the older crowd but we are seeing quite a few younger fans lately–it’s really easy to spot some 18 or 20 something hot chick at our shows—I Want More!!!

Is there a difference between US and Europe fanbases?
Phil: Years ago I would have said absolutely yes–I felt that the Americans were more sheep-like and had to be herded by radio, MTV and other mainstream media, and the Europeans sought out what they liked and were less influenced by what is “Hot” this week. But now, because there is no mainstream media for hard rock I view them more the same–it’s just the love of the music and the vibe–nothing to do with be trendy or hip.

Do you still enjoy playing the older songs, or have those become too much like “work”?
Phil: As long as the fans are liking it —I’ll like playing it.

Any particular song you always look forward to playing?
Phil: Forever

Any final messages for the readers?
Phil: For our new fans welcome aboard-for old fans–thank you for sticking with us all these years–Hope we see you soon on the “Facemelter 2010” tour.
OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.yandtrocks.com/

TERRY BROCK – DIAMOND BLUE (REVIEW)

Out now on Frontiers Records

After his excellent performance on Giant’s “Promise Land” album I was looking forward to this solo album by former Kansas and Strangeways singer Terry Brock.

The album is a collaboration with Mike Slamer, who will be no unknown to fans of melodic rock. Streets, Steelhouse Lane and a solo album with… Terry Brock on vocals are but a couple of his claims to fame. Together with drummer Andy Bigan, this duo serve us a selection of classic AOR tracks. Flawlessly executed, polished to a mirror-like sheen but unfortunately also a bit anonymous.

Among the standout tracks are “Jessie’s Gone”, the heavy “No More Mr Nice Guy” and “Face In The Crowd”, which has an exceptional solo. Haunting ballad “The Rain” deserves mention as well.

If you’re looking for innovation this isn’t the album for you. If you’re looking for a selection of catchy melodic rock tunes, performed by world-class musicians, you need to check this one out.

Rating – 85%
Review by Sancho