UFO – SEVEN DEADLY

Released 27 February 2012 on SPV

The arrival of Vinnie Moore seems to have given UFO a new lease on life. Albums have been solid, tours have not been cancelled…

Last album “The Visitor” was a bluesy, rather tranquil affair. Was it a portent of things to come?

Opening track “Fight Night” kicks off in typical UFO fashion. Think Chapman era UFO rather than Schenker though. There’s even several nods to Chapman in Vinnie’s guitar solo. Not to mention the fact his tone has changed. There’s more snap and attack, rather than the fusiony smooth sustain he used so far. “Wonderland” continues in the same style, while “MoJo Town” ups the heavy even more. “Angel Station” is a power ballad with plenty of power. “Year OF The Gun” wouldn’t have been out of place on “Wild Willing And Innocent”. With again those little Chapman-isms thrown in… Vinnie goes all out in “The Last Stone Rider”. He must have made a hobby out of copping former UFO guitarists’ styles, as he sounds like he’s channeling Schenker for this one.

“Steal Yourself”, “Burn Your House Down”, “The Fear”, “Waving Good Bye”… Is it really necessary to go into detail?

At ten songs, the album doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s a more energetic affair than “The Visitor” overall.

Vinnie Moore has really grown into the band. He has adapted his own playing style to fit seamlessly, taking influences from his predecessors without losing his own identity.

Another fine UFO album that adds to the legacy, rather than detract from it.

Rating – 90%
Review by Doctor Doctor Sancho

PRIMAL FEAR – UNBREAKABLE

Released on 20 January 2012 on Frontiers Records

Good old Primal Fear. They rarely disappoint if you’re into Germanic Metal with a slight (ahem) Judas Priest influence.

The scene is set from the off : album opener “Strike” is an example of what Primal Fear is all about. You know what to expect, and the band delivers with gusto.

It sounds like they put some extra effort in the songwriting, delivering more hooks and catchy choruses than before.  Mainstays Ralf Scheepers and Matt Sinner (Randy Black has been around quite some time as well) have assembled a quality guitar team, in the persons of Alex Beyrodt and Magnus Karlsson.  The latter’s influence can be heard in the sometimes slightly more modern riffing (“Bad Guys Wear Black” for instance).  Check out some of the monster soloing in tracks like “Give Em Hell” or “Metal Nation”.

After a couple of less inspired releases, Primal Fear are back with a bang. One of their better albums. 

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho

IAIN ASHLEY HERSEY – VINTAGE LOVE: THE BEST

Out now on Avenue of Allies

American guitarist Iain Ashley Hersey has always been a player that commanded my respect.  Great tone, great phrasing and all round tasty player it’s a shame he’s never made it out of cult status which to some degree is a surprise considering he’s released albums on Frontiers, Lion Music and Perris Records.  If you like classic hard rock ala Purple/Rainbow and pre perm lotion Whitesnake then you are strongly advised to use this compilation as a starting block.

15 tracks in total with 4 off debut “Fallen Angel” (1999), 5 from “The Holy Grail” (2005), 5 from 2008’s “Nomad” and one all new track “Red Head Rampage”.  To compliment Iain’s finger picked tones (for he eschews a pick) there has been no shortage of vocal talent over the albums as well and featured here we get Dante Marchi, Paul Shortino, Carsten Schulz, Graham Bonnet and Doogie White amongst the more recognisable names.

With the track listing in chronological order we get “Goin’ Down & Dirty”, “Distant Memories”, “Hold On” and “The Outcaste” from “Fallen Angel”.  All strong selections with the pick of the bunch being “Distant Memories” and “Hold On” which still scream “class” 12 years on from original release, lush vocal melodies and a guitar solos to die for make these compulsive listening.

“The Holy Grail” is represented by “Blood Of Kings”, “ Walking The Talk”, Calling For The Moon”, “Blink Of An Eye” and that albums title track continue the quality levels with a less aggressive approach to their predecessors.  “Calling For The Moon” still is a song that Whitesnake would kill for and its nice to hear Carsten “Lizard” Schulz belting it out.  Graham Bonnet is his trademark shouty self on “Walking The Talk” but a little more subtle on “The Holy Grail”.

Hersey’s, to-date, last solo album “Nomad” was arguably the weakest of the three though in the most part its cause wasn’t helped by a lousy mix.  Sonically the remaster has helped somewhat but the flaws are still there to some degree i.e. lead guitar being mixed way too low etc.  A shame as Carsten Schulz once again delivers the goods on “Voodoo Spirits”, “Sacrifice The Sun”, “Vintage Love” and “When Will My Love Fade”.  Doogie White appears on the mic for the faithful rendition of the Rainbow track “L.A. Connection”.  In hindsight the tracks are good indeed and it one you might hope Iain might remix down the line and perhaps make available to a European market better (considering the majority of personnel on it where), not to mention Perris Records did a lousy job marketing it.

Finally we get the bonus track “Red Head Rampage” which is a nice addition, bluesy rock in a Deep Purple “Burn” way.

Overall, whilst some of my favourite tracks are missing this is a nice starting point for the uninitiated and is highly recommended for classic rock fans, or fans of A1 guitar work.

Here’s hoping for a new studio album soon.

Rating – 90%

ALFONZETTI – HERE COMES THE NIGHT

Out now on AOR Heaven

Matti Alfonzetti has always been one of the better vocalists to have emerged from Sweden, most will know him for his time in Jagged Edge or the quite overlooked Skintrade, in recent years he was last heard to these ears on the final Damned Nation album.  “Here Comes The Night” marks Matti’s third solo album and its full of the modern day commercial melodic hard rock you might expect and therein lay the problem.

“Here Comes The Night” mostly sounds rather uninspired and a little too clichéd for the most part.  The song writing is rather generic with little spark of originality, and well this might work well for the big bands of yesteryear where a signature sound is expected to some degree its always a hard sell for artists that never quite established a signature sound or large fanbase. In short it all sounds ideas of yesteryear that have tried to be modernised to sound “hip”.

Opener “Losing You” is likeable enough although the chorus sounds like a leftover from the era when commercial rock was trying to make itself valid in a grunge era.  “Here Comes The Night” is a mid-tempo semi-ballad which again is pleasant enough in a Mr Big meets Whitesnake (87 era) way but again lacks any real spark and from this point in its more of the same for the most part.  Signs of life are heard in the Skintrade-ish timbres of “I’ll Wait For You” which is rather rocking in the verses but let down by the chorus which again sounds like a Mr Big leftover.   I am sure hardcore melodic rock fans may well hear well worn melodies and chord progressions and wet themselves with glee, but give me something new.

“Why Can’t You Love Me” that said is rather cool in a Bryan Adams sort of way and Matti’s even sounds a little fired up in the vocal department and album closer “I Will Never Let You Fall” has some excitement about it, but sadly its too little too late to move the album out of anything other than average.

Sonically the album is likeable with a trademark Daniel Flores production (i.e. slick) and a well balanced mix.  The guitar tones do lack life however and who would have known Marcus Jiddel (ex Royal Hunt) delivered lead work?  Vocally Matti is still at the level he was the best part of 20 years ago and still has a strong voice, next time I just hope he has a better collection of songs.

Rating – 64%

AN INTERVIEW WITH BOGUSLAW BALCERAK OF CRYLORD

Boguslaw Balcerak is the super talented guitarist of newcomers Crylord.  Blessed with not only formidable technique but an ear for writing a winning song, the debut “Blood Of The Prophets” is one of the surprise releases of the year and a contender for debut of the year and a release we heartily recommend.  We caught up with Boguslaw to discuss the album and his history in depth.

Your debut release Crylord – Blood Of The Prophets hit the streets in October.  It’s an exceptional slice of metal. Please tell us how the band came together as you have some other very talented musicians with you.

It was not easy because in Poland it is hard to find good musicians in this genre. As for the rhythm section I asked my musical friends :  Kamil Wyzinski (bass and sound engineering) and Marcin Kwasny on drums. These guys provide a good rhythm section and they have great musical feeling. At the end I met Lukasz  Dybalski who is a keyboardist  and he just played my arrangements for this album.

The album is home to 3 fine vocalists in Carsten Schulz, Mark Boals and Goran Edman. How did you get these 3 vocalists involved and what sort of freedom did they have with the material?

I arranged melodic lines for each song and backing vocals. Of course, singers sometimes get swept away by emotions and sang them more in their own way, but it was so good that I decided not to be exactly as I wanted. Each of them has added something unique and it was good.

Especially Göran sometimes strongly modulate melodies, sometimes even like soul style. He never sings the same way twice, if a fragment is repeated he recorded it again, and always in different way. He made his own and amazing versions of choirs.

I think you did a nice job of picking songs to suit each vocalist’s strengths. Was this intentional or something that just worked out?

Their vocal skills are so high that I’m sure that each of them can sing no matter which song on the album, but obviously I thought about it who is to sing which song and reported to a concrete proposal.

When did you begin writing the music that appears on ‘Blood Of The Prophets’ and over what timescale was the music completed?

Music was written in 2008 and then it was the beginning of recordings.

Changing the recording studio and long mixing was the reasons why the album was ready until spring of 2011.

Can you remember what the first track you wrote was?

The first composition on the album was “Blind Dance” which is an instrumental song. It was the time when I was just dreaming about great vocalist and composing instrumental music.

Whilst there are elements of other bands, there is a very definite original voice within the material as well.  It’s an exciting sounding record, full of energy and vigour; I guess it must be a relief to finally get something out to the public?

I’m glad you think so. It is hard to do something original in neo-classical music, because it seems that everything has already been done by someone else. If the material is fresh is to say that it can appeal to people. It is important to me because for years I wanted to record my own music. I did not think, however, that it would be possible to record an album with such good singers.

Often I meet with the opinion that “Blood of the Prophets” is not revealing. Probably its true but it appears a lot of albums worse than “Blood of the Prophets”  have better reviews, and nobody there, no negative comments that it’s not revealing, though it is.

Your guitar work is exceptional, a superb technique yet with a strong dose of emotion in your play.  Can you tell us who your influences are and what you believe you have taken from their style and added to your own ideas to make your own voice?

I think the emotions are not only in the solo parts but also in the vocal lines and in the whole music.

Of course, Malmsteen as the biggest inspiration for me is still the most important. It’s a beautiful example of emotional music. There is no sense, however, to be another clone of Malmsteen. My playing is contaminated with Malmsteen’s style, but was expanded with a lot of elements such as: string skipping, more arpeggios, tapping, picking with the wide gauge of fingers, chromatic scales etc..

For years however I have been interested in guitar technique not only Malmsteen’s. Since many years I am inspired by albums from Shrapnel Records and Lion Music. Also there are newer virtuosos as George Bellas, Rusty Cooley and Francesco Fareri, from whom I’m still learning techniques, but in conjunction with my own feeling. At these times the level of guitar playing throughout the world is very high, and never can you say that you can play everything.

There are a few various styles on the album and there is a very strong flow to the music.  Do you have any personal tracks or performances and if so why?

It’s hard to say which of the songs I like most. Sometimes it is “The Healing Hands”, sometimes “Grave of Love” or “Bard’s Tale” but also “The Heretic” is very personal for me.

What guitar/amp/effects equipment did you use and is anything modded in any way?

Amp: Marshall 800, Messa Boogie Stiletto,

Guitar: Fender Stratocaster Standard, Ibanez RG2550 Prestige (),

All used without additional effects when recording

What are you looking for in your guitar sound and are you totally happy with the final sound on record?

I’m still looking for strong sound in riffs and crystal Fender sound in the solo parts. Of course I have a few comments about sound on the album but it’s not time here for that;)

Another great guitarist Andy LaRocque mastered the album. How did this come about and what did Andy bring to the sound?

Because of recording instruments at many sessions, and several studios the effect was such that each song had a different sound and different equalization.  Andy LaRocque proved to be invaluable here.

Andy is my guitar idol since the time of my elementary school, even before I heard Yngwie. I’ve watched his production of music for some time now, so finally I ask him for mastering the album. I’m happy that he found time to master the album, despite the flood of work he already had.

People might raise an eyebrow when they hear of a Polish metal band as its not a genre the country is really know for, so is Crylord the only band playing this form of music in your homeland or is there a sizeable scene for metal?

In Poland metal music is limited to very brutal like death, thrash metal or soft pop rock that is played at radio stations. Bands in the centre are missing, that is hard rock, classic metal, etc.. It is regarded as the relic and something funny. I do not know any other neo-classical metal band in Poland except Pathfinder which is truly brilliant power / symphonic band from Poznan .

The promo video for “Warriors Moon” has just been released as well, a nice effort with Carsten Schulz on vocals, how did the video shoot go?

We wondered together with Carsten which track could be the best for promoting this album. After a deep analysis, we decided that “Warrior’s Moon” would be the best choice as it’s a song with a fairly compact form. I also wanted it to be not too long  a song  so that people do not  switch off during playback 😉 What can be interesting is that this song was instrumental in the original. It was Carsten who found the potential for the vocal lines.

Can we expect any live appearances from Crylord in the future?

In fact, it’s hard to say is it possible to play concerts at this time. Certainly Carsten is the vocalist who could be involved. It all depends on how the CD will be accepted. If not at this time it may be the next album we’ll play something together.

Outside of Crylord what do you like to do for fun? Listen to? Etc..

In fact, I do not have much free time now since the birth of my daughter Liliana. Now she is 16 months old and there are many responsibilities associated with it.

Additionally work takes time and effort. I spend my every free time to work on myself as a guitarist and composing new songs and arrangements. If I have a moment for myself I like to read books and meet with friends.

What are your plans for the rest of 2011 and beyond?

This year I intend to finish the composition and arrangement of the material on the second album. In the next 2012 if everything goes fine we will start the hard work with recording.

Boguslaw, may we thank you again for this interview and even more so for the excellent music on ‘Blood Of The Prophets’, we wish you all the best for the future.

I also thank you for the interview, analysis and review of “Blood of the Prophets”

HAKEN – VISIONS

Released 5 December 2011 on Sensory

“Visions” is the second offering from the UK progressive metallers Haken and there is signs of growth over their 2010 debut “Aquarius”.  Whilst it’s hard to escape the similarities between the likes of Dream Theater (a cliché I know) there is also a more traditional prog vibe in places with the emphasis on an early Genesis feel, albeit done with a modern production, guitar tones etc.

Instrumental opener “Premonition” builds the atmosphere nicely for the 13 minute “Noctornal Conspiracy” which has everything including the kitchen sink in it.  Fortunately it manages to retain direction.   “Insomnia” serves up a heavier tone, darker and not a million miles away in feel to work heard on Sun Caged “The Lotus Effect” earlier in the year.  “The Mind’s Eye” is the most commercial number on the album (still in progressive terms though).  Things do get a little too DT on the instrumental “Portals” with Charles Griffith’s guitar tones being eerily similar to Mr Petrucci’s in place but it’s a well played piece and leads us into “Shapeshifter” which is rather challenging on the ear in places with numerous changes and oddball effects.    A moment (well 8 minutes to be precise) of restraint is heard on “Deathless” before the band lead out with the 22 minute title track which to be fair would have worked better broken up into individual tracks, the Pink Floyd-ish segment 14 minutes in was especially welcome though.

Overall Haken have delivered a stronger effort second time round. Although still unlikely to really appeal to anyone other than prog fans, it’s a solid effort and should bring the UK band more plaudits.

Rating – 83%

ROYAL HUNT – SHOW ME HOW TO LIVE

Out now on Frontiers Records

Wow. Bombastic. First thing that went through my head when hearing the opening track to Royal Hunt’s new album. “One More Day” almost matches latter day Savatage for pomposity. And it does set the tone for the rest of the album. Intricate, one might say overblown, arrangements make the sonic palette rather fatiguing. There’s keyboards everywhere. No points for guessing which member founded the band… “Half Past Loneliness” is a stand out track. Very well balanced with plenty of hooks. Nice.

Everything is flawlessly executed, but I just find myself thinking “c’mon guys, chill a little”.  DC Cooper’s slightly nasal voice is an acquired taste. Production is average. Keyboard heavy, to the detriment of the guitars.

For fans of the genre there’s probably plenty to enjoy. It’s not my cup of tea though.

I felt tired after listening to this album. Hard to give a score, but I’ll try to base it on objective criteria.

Rating – 75%*
Review by Sancho

* Add 10 points if you like your metal bombastic and crammed with notes. Subtract 20 if you think AC/DC have gone pompous on their last album.