ALICE COOPER – WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE

Out now on Spinefarm Records

Alice Cooper should need no introduction. One of the biggest artists in the world in the 70’s who fell upon some dark times in the early 80’s before rising to commercial acclaim with the overtly radio rock of 1989’s “Trash” and 1991’s “Hey Stoopid”.  When the fad for big enriched choruses and hooks was blown out of public taste with the emergence of grunge Cooper went back to a more stripped down approach.  1994’s excellent “The Last Temptation” was his last album to score any real merit to these ears with the follows ups all being home to 1 or 2 good tracks but mostly lacking that vital spark that made his classic works from the 70’s so compelling.

So when I heard the Coop was working with esteemed producer Bob Ezrin for a follow up to one of his best “Welcome To My Nightmare” my hopes were high. Fortunately this is for the most part the best thing Alice has done since “The Last Temptation” but still not perfect.

Opener “I Am Made Of You” is restraint and introspective, and nicely reuses the piano motif from “Steven” off the original Nightmare release, not too sure about the vocoder in places on Alice’s vocals but the track is a soulful winner and the dark mood welcomes you nicely and kicks the albums off on a high.

The 70’s meets modern day pop chants of “Caffeine” is classic radio ready Cooper. The piano motif is expanded on for the short “The Nightmare Returns” which runs into the swampy blues of “A Runaway Train” and then the vaudeville campness of “Last Man On Earth” works a treat with Alice’s unique voice.

“The Congregation” has hints of glam rock about it which is followed up by the Stonesy “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” which is home to a vintage Cooper bridge and chorus.  “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever” is perfectly summed up by the title and rather bad and like its follow up, the radio friendly 60’s tinted punk of “Ghouls Gone Wild” see the album hit a low ebb midway through.

Ballad “Something To Remember Me By” restores the balance and is a nice addition to the Cooper ballad collection leading way to the mid tempo, dark and effected “When Hell Comes Home”, a track that takes a few spins to get into but ultimately is worth the effort.

“What Baby Wants” is likeable for all the wrong reasons,  the most commercial track on the album for this is bland modern day throwaway rock pop duet with Ke$ha, but I hope Alice manages to cash in a little on this track.

Penultimate number “I Gotta Get Out Of Here” is almost classic rock with a country tinge, likeable enough but nothing mind-blowing whilst album closer “The Underture” is a collage of instrumental passes from the both Nightmare stories and is a fitting end.

“Welcome 2 My Nightmare” is not as a good as its 70’s sibling, but its good to hear Alice with Ezrin again, the musicality of the album is varied and mostly excellent, but I suspect this album will be an acquired taste to many.  Those Cooper fans that like the Trash/Hey Stoopid era should probably check out some clips first before buying, and those that likes the 70’s vintage exclusively might be recommended to do the same.  But, if you like Cooper across all era’s and like that Alice’s many voices then this is a worthwhile release.

Rating – 83%

 

 

BOGUSLAW BALCERAK’S CRYLORD – BLOOD OF THE PROPHETS

Released 14th October 2011 on Lion Music

Neo-classical metal has been a bit of a hit and miss effort of late.  Strong releases from Concerto Moon have been counteracted by poor releases from the leading starlet of the genre Yngwie Malmsteen, so it’s with some hope that the debut effort from Polish guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak’s band Crylord can restore the balance for what is a favourite genre of mine.

The initial signs look good with a steady backing band behind guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak of some highly talented musicians from his native country, whilst vocals come from Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz (Evidence One, ex Domain) and former Malmsteen vocalists Mark Boals and Göran Edman.  Impressive names for sure and it’s easy to see how Boguslaw got them onboard as the quality of material is superb.

Whilst some will compare to Malmsteen purely because of the genre and a couple of names involved, the keener ear will hear an original sound.  There are some power and some small progressive elements here and there, but this is mostly about excellent songs with great performances.

After a brief orchestrated instrumental opener “Blood Of The Prophets” kicks into life with the ultra powerful title track.  Big riffs, fleet fingered lead work and a heavy dose of melody make this a great start.  The guitar work is as good as you’d hope for in this genre whilst the vocals of Carsten Schulz are arguably the best stuff I have heard from him yet making great use of layering on the choruses and a nice gritty delivery on the verses. This heavy, driving sound is heard elsewhere on the likes of “Warriors Moon” which has a nice change of tempo and very strong personality, and again within  “Beyond The Walls Of Sadness” which is home to a slower tempo and more epic sound.

The neo-classical sound is really at the fore on “Bard’s Tale” which is a track fans of classic Malmsteen and early Symphony X will warm to immediately.  This track has an absolutely scorching solo that reminded me a little of Balcerak’s label mate James Byrd. Beginning with a nice melodic theme before progressing into a very fluid workout with a great melodic edge and killer vibrato, this is one of the many tracks that you’ll be playing over and over.

Schulz and Boals combine well on the likes of “Face Of Destiny” which its melodic verses and soaring chorus which, again, home to a glorious solo from Balcerak. This guy really does have a great feel and the fast paced instrumental “The Heretic” is a perfect showcase for the mans skills.  But listen beyond the guitar work and you hear excellent keyboard inflections and orchestrations from Łukasz Dybalskand whilst drummer Marcin ‘Kanclerz’ Kwasny hits the skins with as much skill and gusto as many of the big names.

For Göran Edman’s vocals Boguslaw has composed a couple of commercial stompers in ‘Grave Of Love’ and ‘Angel Of Divine’ which are perfectly suited for the melodic commercial sheen of Edman’s voice.  The former is a quite fast paced and Edman pulls out all the stops on the vocal front, the chorus is perfect for his voice.  The latter track is darker, with a more majestic feel to it and again very infectious, a grittier vocal from Göran works well on the verses and you get the impression he is enjoying singing this material.

The 8 minute “Valley Of The Dead” sees the tempo taken down to a doomier Sabbath meter for the most part.  It’s a nice change of pace and you can see an intimidating atmosphere developing in the live arena with this one.  Schulz turns on the darker side of his voice.  The track picks up in tempo in the middle section which paves way to another sublime solo from Boguslaw, one of his best on the album.  The solo on this one is one of the most extended on the album- the opening bend and descending lick which will raise the hairs on anyone’s back and makes the rest of the fretboard skills compulsive listening.

Next up we get some respite in the melodic themed tonality of power ballad “When The Time Has Come” which is a duet between Boals and Edman, a sweet track with an anthemic chorus and heart wrenching solo from Boguslaw.

The album closes with the dark magnificently titled “The Healing Hands Of Destruction”.  Beginning with a wealth of movie score type orchestration before the track moves into a neo-classical charger, this one will blow your head off. Vocals come from all 3 vocalists who combine well yet the power of the delivery is to die for. A fitting closing number.

“Blood Of The Prophets” is in a word awesome and ranks as one of the releases of the year. After the horrible taste in the mouth left by Malmsteen’s dire “Relentless” release, this is a reminder of when done right how strong neo-classical metal is a genre. Although to recommend it to neo-classical fans along would be selling it short as “Blood Of The Prophets” will appeal to a fans of classic/trad metal and power and progressive metal (think early Symphony X) genres as well.

Aided by an excellent production and mix and superb artwork this is in many ways the complete package.

Boguslaw Balcerak’s leaves us in no doubt of his guitar ability with this album, but more importantly he’s leaves the lasting impression of a musician that can pen incredible songs and is a name that I hope you will be hearing a lot more from.

Buy now.

Rating – 95%

RIOT – IMMORTAL SOUL

Released 31st October 2011 on SPV/Steamhammer

The title of this new Riot album says something about the band. Riot have been going at it for well over 30 years, yet success on a big scale has always eluded them.

After a long absence, the band is back in the Thundersteel line up, with the addition of long serving second axeman Mike Flyntz. So we get Mark Reale and Flyntz on guitars, drummer extraordinaire Bobby Jarzombek, Don Van Stavern on bass and Tony Moore.

Opening track “Still Your Man” references quite clearly to Thundersteel’s “Johnny’s Back” and sets the scene. Second tune “Riot” is a feisty up tempo headbanger with the focus on the twin guitars of Flyntz and Reale. “Crawling” is a tad slower, a menacing tune with a hint of the oriental.

Who needs the current crop of so-called “power” metal bands, when Riot serves up speed metal like “Wings Are For Angels”? The onslaught continues with “Sins Of The Father”, another scorching track.

“Fall Before Me” combines groove with epic melody and harmonies. It’s what Riot does, after all…

Short intrumental interlude “Majestica” hints at albums like Inishmore. The title track is a semi ballad, or as close as it gets on this blazing disc. “Insanity” is a bit messy, but the chorus is damn catchy. “Whiskey Man” wouldn’t have been out of place on Privilege Of Power, but it also references earlier incarnations of the band.

In “Believe” Moore goes for the high notes again. He’s straining a bit, it has to be said.

Album closer “Echoes” is a rather complex composition, with Moore yet again howling like a banshee.

Tony Moore has a recognizable voice, but he doesn’t constantly soar in the upper registers like he did some 20 years ago. There’s more variation in his voice. Jarzombek is one of the best metal drummers around. Together with Van Stavern he lays down a rock solid basis. Reale and Flyntz are two of the most underrated guitar players in metal. Some of the playing on this album is staggering. It always has been on Riot albums, especially from Thundersteel onward.

Of course, all that doesn’t amount to much if the songs are lacking. But if there’s one thing Riot has never lacked, it’s good tunes. While the production isn’t quite up to the level of Thundersteel or its follow up Privilege Of Power, it holds up to today’s standards.

Points of criticism? Sure. The vocal melodies are a bit forced at times. Moore’s voice may be an acquired taste. Some of the songs could have done with a bit more streamlining. But those are small niggles when faced with so fiery an album.

Riot have been producing quality heavy metal for ages. So far, they have received precious little recognition for it… Don’t let this band go the way of Metal Church, Jag Panzer and so many other great bands that have fallen by the wayside.

Rating – 93%
Review by Sancho 

FASTAWAY – EAT DOG EAT

Released 14th November 2011 on Steamhammer / SPV

Fastway never quite made the big time. Formed by Fast Eddie Clarke and Pete Way (who bailed even before the debut was released), the band was an also ran in the mid eighties.

Can this new album bring them to the top of the (admittedly much lower) heap today?

Well, I doubt it. There isn’t a lot of fire, for one. Mid tempo, a bit dreary at times, the album just trudges on.

Toby Jepson doesn’t exactly inject much adrenaline into proceedings either. He’s an average singer at best and can’t save the material. He does a good job on “Who Do You Believe” though.

Overall this sounds like a tired band. Whereas Brian Robertson managed to recapture some of his magic on his solo album, Fast Eddie doesn’t do anything remotely fast. He’s a shadow of himself these days.

 

There’s a couple of good songs, like “Deliver Me” and “Dead And Gone”, but overall this is a very un-exciting album. Cliche tracks like “Leave The Light On” or “Freedom Song” just make me shake my head. “Sick As A Dog”? Yep, that’s how I’m starting to feel.

Boring…

Rating – 60%
Review by  Sancho.

GRÖNHOLM – SILENT OUT LOUD

Out now on Lion Music

Second strike from Finnish metallers Grönholm, led by guitarist/songwriter Mika Grönholm once again joined by vocalist Markku Kuikka (Status Minor) and drummer Tom Rask.  As with its predecessor (Eyewitness Of Life) a couple of guest musicians are involved in the guise of Billy Sherwood (ex Yes) and Marco Hietala (Nightwish / Tarot) who add some extra dynamics to backing vocals.

“Silent Out Loud” overall proves to be a better offering than the debut with a more cohesive sound and better song writing.  Tracks such as opener “Cross Of Mind” and the mid tempo “Out From The Nest” are full of irresistible melodies and great new songs.  Whilst darker tracks like “Under My Star” and “Vanity” have a dark, almost Alice In Chains style vibe with their harmonised vocals over detuned riffs.  Mika Grönholm wrote all the tracks in a drop B tuning and this adds to the darker depths plunged on the album and serves up a Kings X style delivery on the progressive tinted instrumental “Giant Steps”.  The album doesn’t go out with quite the bang one would hope with 3 acoustic numbers closing the release, but on their own merits these are also nice songs.

Overall, a stronger offering second time round from Grönholm, and if they can deliver more of the sound heard on the likes of “Cross Of Mind” and “Out From The Nest” they could deliver something truly special.  All in all, a solid release, well produced and a nice step in the right direction.

Rating – 84%

NIELS VEJLYT – STHENIC

Out now on Lion Music

Debut instrumental solo album from Danish guitarist and mastermind of Infinity Overture one Niels Vejlyt.  As is nearly always the norm for this sort of thing from Lion Music we get highly competent playing over listenable songs.

With a heavier edge than many of ilk, no doubt aided by Vejlyt’s penchant for 7 and 8 string guitars, this is a nice offering for anyone into similar works from the likes of Jeff Loomis or John Petrucci.  Tracks like “Die Today”, “Rain” and particularly “Samurai” are solid compositions with good melodies and a good sense of direction – no aimless fretboard wanking here.

In addition there are moments of lighter note such as the anthemic Vai-esque timbres of “Head’s Up” (the clue to the Vai influence being in the title perhaps?) and the piano/guitar balladry of “Kajsa” whilst closing number, the 9 minute “Winter” sums up the various moods of the album in one composition rather nicely.

With a better production than many heard of late and a nice mix from Tommy Hansen (Helloween) this is a very solid package indeed and a nice addition to any fan of guitar instrumentals collection – cool artwork too by Matthias Noren.

Rating – 84%

BEN CRAVEN – GREAT & TERRIBLE POTIONS

Independent release – Order at bencraven.com

Its not everyday you come across an independent release so well assured and quality packed as  the debut offering from Australian Ben Craven.  Handling ALL instrumentation on this progressive offering which serves up timbres of an updated collection of the finest 70’s prog, Ben Craven has delivered an album that is quite breathtaking.

Home to 9 tracks (and a further 3 single edits), ‘Great & Terrible Potions’ is a corker from start to finish. Reminding me of vintage Pink Floyd fused with a little Genesis and Yes not to mention a smattering of Steve Hackett’s solo works, these compositions also offer a more modern edge thanks to modern production and guitar tones.   Fans of more modern prog bands like Kaipa, Transatlantic and Spocks Beard will also be in heaven here.

Tracks like the instrumental ‘Aquamarine’ , the commercial edge of ‘Ready to Lose’ which comes across as a heady mix of Yes and Steely Dan, the Floyd-ish ‘The Conjurer’ (thanks to Gilmour-esque slide parts) whilst the epic 10 minutes of  ‘No Specific Harm’ and 9 minutes of the title track are quite superb.  The former being an absolute masterpiece leaning to a darker and more eerie tone adding a nice balance of styles whilst the later serves as a great album closer and using themes explored throughout the album to give a good sense of closure.  Elsewhere we have a collection of shorter numbers which do a nice job of keeping the album flowing and are all highly listenable.

Distinctive artwork by Roger Dean is sure to draw in some fans on visuals along, but the music is as visually rich and with a decent set of headphones on will transport you far away.

A one man musical revelation, Ben Craven is certainly a name to look out for and it’s a wonder no label has snapped this release up, maybe someone will for his next adventure which I thoroughly look forward to.

Prog fans order this asap.

Rating – 92%

VARGTON PROJEKT – PROGXPRIMETAL

Out now on Lion Music

Vargton Projekt are an amalgamation of some of Sweden’s finest musical talent in guitarist Mats Hedberg, drummer Morgan Agren (Frank Zappa)and vocalist Bjorn Jansson (Ride The Sky / Tears Of Anger).

The debut album ‘ProgXpriMetal’ is an eclectic collection of material that was originally based around instrumental only origins, yet the thought to have Jansson’s distinctive vocals came as an afterthought.  As the vocal tracks don’t follow a normal set song structure, but serve up something free of restraint, and more about musical expression, something the album is brimming with.

Pretty much on every track there is something to absorb on repeated spins, and this isn’t a track that will win over the casual listener right away. But, there is an element of discovery that is often more rewarding with each passing listen and fans of progressive music from across the genres many styles will find much to enjoy.

Highlights to these ears come in ‘Jaipur’, the 3 part  ‘Birka Trilogy’ (with part 3 seeing a fast fret melting solo battle between Hedberg and lion label head Lars Eric Mattsson) and the slower tempo ‘Lvorna’ which it shades of fusion and classical prog sound.

Amongst the trio of musicians there are numerous other musicians that make the whole package an earthly experience, yet it’s the core performances of Hedberg and Agren that deserve the plaudits for their work is quite phenomenal.

If you want an album to see you entertained through the coming dark Autumn and Winter months ‘ProgXpriMetal’ may just be the ticket.  Unique and gifted sums up this release – don’t let the rather bland album cover put you off.

Rating – 90%

TOBY HITCHCOCK – MERCURY’S DOWN

Out now on Frontiers Records

Toby Hitchcock made his mark with Jim Peterik‘s Pride Of Lions. Stepping out from under the wings of his mentor, “Mercury’s Down” sees a collaboration with Erik Martensson (of Eclipse and W.E.T. Fame).

Martensson’s influence is obvious from the off. Opening track “This Is The Moment” is more modern and heavier than anything we’ve heard from Toby so far. “Strong Enough” might be considered a high energy homage to Survivor. Maybe one to include on the soundtrack of an upcoming Rocky movie?

I could sum up all the songs, but what would be the point? It’s strong melodic rock, well produced and perfectly executed. If there was any justice in the world “I Should Have Said” would be a major hit. “Summer Nights In Cabo” lacks Sammy’s happy go lucky touch though.

If you liked W.E.T. Or are a fan of Toby’s work in PoL you can’t go wrong with this album.

Maybe a bit formulaic, that’s about the only criticism I can think of.

Rating – 89%
Review by Sancho

WILDE STARR – ARRIVAL

Independent release – Out Now

Former Vicious Rumors bass player Dave Starr returns to the fore with this new project alongside singer London Wilde. Musically there aren’t many surprises. US power metal with strong hints of Vicious Rumors. Well executed, well written and very enjoyable. I’m always pleased when I hear a female singer who doesn’t do the operatic thing. Check out “Rise” and you’ll know what I mean.

Whether it’s straight headbanging fare like opener “Rose In The Dark” or “Generation Next”, or more epic material such as “Touching God” and “Down Of The Sun”, the band acquit themselves with equal panache.

Starr handles lead guitars as well as bass duties, and does a very good job at it. All those years watching Geoff Thorpe must have rubbed off on him. The guitar tones could have been better, frankly. It’s not so bad that it will detract from your enjoyment, but the rhythm guitars sound needlessly buzzy and, well, cheap… Other than that niggle, production is actually quite good.

No, it doesn’t sound massive like a good Andy Sneap job, but I’ve heard a lot worse from bands with a supposedly bigger budget.

Overall this is an album that breathes the true spirit of heavy metal. It’s a labour of love, a well crafted slice of heavy metal that ticks all the right boxes.

Will it get them anywhere? Probably not… Gimmicks count for a lot more than quality music in today’s metal scene. But that doesn’t alter the fact that this is a killer metal album that’ll take you back to the heady days of the mid eighties, when bands like Vicious Rumors and Crimson Glory started making their mark.

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho