BEYOND THE BRIDGE – THE OLD MAN AND THE SPIRIT

Out now on Frontiers Records

Progressive Metal is something of a rarity on Frontiers.  Normally you see them throwing big bucks (perhaps) at established names like Vanden Plas but seldom do you see them giving new prog metal bands a shot.  Beyond The Bridge is the exception to this trend though.  A 7 piece band hailing from Germany, “The Old Man And The Spirit” has been in the works for close to 2008 according to the promo sheet and certainly is well crafted yet is not without its pitfalls.

Musically its hard to avoid Dream Theater in prog metal and Beyond The Bridge share a number of musical traits with the American genre leaders.  However, vocalist Herbie Langhans is far less grating on the ears than LaBrie and possesses a Lande’ esque tonality, his vocals are paired with the female leads of Dilenya Mar, not the most accomplished female vocalist out there but at least she has an original quality rather than aping the likes of Sharon den Adel.

Lead guitarist Peter Degenfeld is not a million miles away from Mr Petrucci with first rate technical ability, yet he also shares Mr Petrucci’s less than exciting guitar tone.

Fabian Maier handles the drums with equal apblomb and knows when to lay off the flash and groove so extra marks here.

Highlights come in the guise of opener “The Call” which is a strong first track, good melodies and nice chord progressions. “The Apparition” follows and is a very enjoyable 8 minute ride, dark with good melodies and nice musical interludes.  “Doorway To Salvation” is a high energy up-tempo number with some 7 string riffery and reminds a little of Adagio at the start before progressing through some different areas.

All is not great though, the poppier textures of “World Of Wonders” is just a little too twee, clichéd and lacking in staying power.  Likewise “The Struggle”  features some quite dreadful vocals, supposedly two sides of a personality in conflict one suspects, but its effect to these ears is somewhat annoying, and “Where The Earth & Sky Meet” is a slushy power ballad, the likes of which Dream Theater gave up on after Another Day.

Indeed it’s the second half of the album is where my interest seriously started to wane, as highlighted by the tracks in previous paragraph.  Its here you feel the band got a little too bogged down in the story telling and, well, went a little too far up their own arses for their own good.  You can see where the albums 3 year creation process went, ultimately the album comes across as overly long, overly intricate (and not in a good way for a prog metal release) and ultimately sees it loose marks.

There is no denying that Beyond The Bridge do have the tools to be able to make a great album, this is halfway towards that, and whilst the weaker moments are a little too frequent when its good, its very good.  Overall, one to watch and hopefully Frontiers will give the band time to grow and not look for an overnight success.

Rating – 75%

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MR BIG – LIVE FROM THE LIVING ROOM

Out now on Frontiers Records

I was never a big fan of the “unplugged” phenomenon. It always seemed like a cheap attempt to bestow some “hey look, it’s real music” credibility upon rock. By the time Testament started doing acoustic versions of their tunes, it was clear the shark had been jumped…

So… Mr Big. There’s no arguing their catchy tunes lend themselves to acoustic interpretation better than most. But still…

Paul Gilbert’s electric riffing has been replaced with acoustic strumming and Pat Torpey makes do with what sounds like a minimal kit and some percussion gizmos. For the most part Billy Sheehan seems to be using his normal rumbling bass tone. So far for unplugged. There’s strings in the background as well. To add that certain je ne sais quoi, presumably.

Does any of this add to the songs? Not really. All they’ve managed to do is remove the rock. There is not a single tune where I don’t prefer the original version.

Gilbert’s tone isn’t quite as plasticy as for instance Michael Schenker’s but there’s still way too much piezo in there. Needless to say it doesn’t mesh with Sheehan’s grinding bottom end.

Flawless execution of a poor idea. Very hard to rate.

Rating – 90% for the musicianship and songs.
30% for the tired attempt at reviving the unplugged concept (that should remain dead and buried for all eternity)
Averages out at 60%

Review by Your Daddy Brother Belgian Lover Boy Sancho.

CRYSTAL VIPER – CRIMEN EXCEPTA

Released 27 April 2012 on AFM Records

The Polish bruisers are back! And with every album they’re getting a bit better.

Their last album, “Legends” still left plenty of room for improvement. On “Crimen Excepta”, we’re starting to see the true potential of this band.

Opening track “Witch’s Mark” is a scorching metal track with over the top vocals and plenty of incendiary guitar work. “It’s Your Omen” kicks off with a blatant Maiden style riff. Whoever thought the keyboards were a good idea should be shot though. The keys do work on the King Diamond style intro to “Fire Be My Gates”. Singer Marta has improved quite a lot. Check “Medicus Animarum” for instance.

Crystal Viper doesn’t fall in the same trap most of their European contemporaries blindly stumble into. No happy metal, no triggered bass drums, no plodding, contrived singalongs. Plenty of Iron Maiden influences combined with typical 80s German metal stylings. The songs are fairly strong in general, the musicianship is more than adequate (Andy Wave has a major Dave Murray fetish going on) and production is actually quite good.

After their disastrous live album, I would not have given two cents for this band. But lo and behold, they’re actually quite enjoyable!

Rating – 79%
Review by an open minded Sancho.

RONNIE MONTROSE (1947-2012)

Ronnie Montrose
November 29, 1947 – March 3, 2012

Simply said one of the finest guitarists to have emerged in the 1970’s.  Montrose’s self titled debut album released in 1973 set the blue print for all hard rock albums that would follow.  Even today some 39 years later the album stands up as one of the best sounding and best crafted hard rock albums of all time.  Yes the band gave the world Sammy Hagar but its Ronnie’s massive riffs and classy lead work, not to mention one of the biggest and best Les Paul into a cooking Marshall tones you will ever hear that have made its mark on history.   Further works with the band that carried his name, along with solo records and Gamma all showcase a supremely talented musician, yet one who in recent years never got the attention he rightly deserved.

Ronnie Montrose rest in peace.

 

 

MAD MAX – ANOTHER NIGHT OF PASSION

Released 26th March 2012 on SPV/Steamhammer

Mad Max’ original run in the eighties culminated in the album “Night Of Passion”, a decent slab of melodic hard rock. “Night Of White Rock” was a good comeback, but its successors were less than impressive, doubtless not helped by the fact bandleader Michael Voss is spreading himself rather thin of late. Verily, not a melodic rock project seems to go by without him offering his services.

The mission brief seems obvious : with a title like “Another Night Of Passion” the band are aiming to follow up their most acclaimed album.

I’ve been fairly critical of Voss of late, as his meddlings have done more bad than good on several occasions. But… this is an enjoyable album. Seems like Voss is keeping the best tunes for his own band. “40 Rock” or “Fever Of Love” for instance would probably have had a good chance at airplay in happier times. “The Chant” is another stand out track.

Not every song is killer though. “Black Swan”, much like the movie of the same name, does not live up to expectations… There’s plenty of cool riffing but a bit of extra lead guitar flash would have been more period correct.

After Vengeance, the second band this year to surprise me with a solid album.

Rating – 83%
Review by Sancho 


VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH

Out now on Interscope Records

Everyone knows the history that’s led up to “A Different Kind Of Truth” so let’s just focus on the music.  I am glad David Lee Roth is back, granted his vocals might not be in their full bare chested primeval roar of the bands heyday, and the years of Marlboro abuse have seen his range drop an octave or two, the band sounds right with Roth to these ears.

Anyone expecting a remake of VH1 is surely missing the point, the band evolved over their six studio albums in their earlier days and this album is no different.  Whilst there are traces to the bands roots notably the reworking of pre VH1 demos of “She’s The Woman”, “Big River”, “Outta Space” and “Beats Workin’” (all of which ROCK big time) there is also a savy modern commercial edge and punch to much of the material, this doesn’t sound like band effectively in their fourth decade of making music.

Opener “Tattoo” seems to be a love/hate number, I for one have loved it since its first spin, with its chorus refrain being catcher than anything else heard in the last 12 months.   The laid back “You And Your Blues” is a class tune, interesting riffs and good performances, the same can also be said of “Blood And Fire” which grooves in a ‘Diver Down’ sort of way, good time commercial radio rock, this sounds great in the car when the sun is out.  And yes Dave we did miss you and we mean it.

“Honeybabysweetiedoll” sees Roth manage to lay down vocals over an intangible musical backing and whilst rather chaotic the track works, and could be seen in some ways as a tribute to Eddie’s friendship with Dimebag musically.   “The Trouble With Never” is another cracker, superb bluesy riff with a guitar sound to die for.  Roth raps in his inimitable style and Wolfie and Ed manage to do a passable Michael Anthony backing vocal on this one.  “Stay Frosty” is quite obviously an update on an ‘Ice Cream Man’ theme yet good fun and album closer “Beats Working” has more vintage/modern charm to it.

That’s not to say everything hits the mark “China Town” seems all huff and no blow, the same could also be thrown at “Bullethead” which is rather throwaway, that said to hear the Van Halen’s pounding on a groove normally gives good value.  “As Is” seems to suffer from a lack of identity and is very disjoined and the weakest track on offer yet these don’t distract too much from work elsewhere.

Sonically the album is high gain, Eddie’s tone is very processed but still sounds good for the most part.  Wolfgang holds down the bottom end with ease and Alex is his usual all over the kit self.  Roth is the icing on the cake.  “A Different Kind Of Truth” may need a few spins to settle in, but it’s worth it. Hopefully they can hold it together for some European dates and another album.

Rating – 92%

LORD OF MUSHROOMS – PERSPECTIVES

Out now on Lion Music

French progressive metallers return after a 7 year absence with 3 new members (including new vocalist Gus Monsanto (ex Adagio) and “Perspectives” shows the time away has been well spent.

The bands last offering “7 Deadly Songs” was a good body of work, yet one that lacked a decent production.  “Perspectives” continues down a similar path yet comes aided by a better sound.   Monsanto fits well into the bands take on prog metal and the album has enough of an original edge to maintain the interest of even the genres most hardened cynic.

Fusing strong guitar parts with a massive amount of melody from both vocals and keyboards this is a rich music tapestry.  Special mention must go to the drum work of Marco Talevi who manages to balance the fine line of groove with technical proficiency.   Laurent James is also no slouch in the guitar stakes, although his guitar tone is a little lifeless.

Stand out tracks are opening number “Imago”,  the riff-tastic “Warmth In The Wilderness” which fuses strong guitar riffs with great keyboard work and the 8 minute “Raindrops On My Wings” which sees great musical interplay from the whole band.

“Perspectives” is by no means an immediate album, it does take repeated spins to reveal its true depths and make sense but given time it’s a very strong offering indeed.  Welcome back Lord of Mushrooms.

Rating – 90%

DOOGIE WHITE – AS YET UNTITLED

Out now on Metal Mind Productions

Debut solo album from the former Rainbow/Malmsteen vocalist, quite surprising given he’s been on the scene the best part of two decades.  “As Yet Untitled” see Doogie sticking firmly to his Rainbow roots as this is classic hard rock with a dark Rainbow style vibe for the most part yet not quite up to the quality of Blackmore penned tunes.  Its also perhaps a little less interesting that the very good albums he put out with Cornerstone .  But if you like any of the acts mentioned thus far then you will get a kick out of this.

Backed by a very capable supporting staff of Patrick Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen, drums), Thomas Broman (Glenn Hughes, drums), Derek Sherinian (Black Country Communion, keyboards), Tony Carey (ex-Rainbow, keyboards), Neil Murray (ex-Whitesnake, bass), Greg Smith (Ted Nugent, bass), Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse, bass), Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall, guitar), Marcus Jidell (Royal Hunt, guitar) and Mick Tucker (Tank, guitar) its good to see Mr White friend’s from his various musical acts over the years contributing.

Opener “Come Taste The Band” sets the scene well, rocking yet quite simplistic in its outlook .  “Dreams Lie Down & Die” is Rainbow through and through but could be argued missing the final magic Blackmore would inject.  “Lonely” is one of the albums more ‘in-yer-face’ numbers and kicks more ass than an angry mule .  From here on it’s a case of likeable enough material that never gets too exciting until closing number “Times Like These” which is a bit of a corker pure and simple.

Doogie’s voice in fine fettle throughout, he’s one of the more distinctive vocalists out there and in a good way.  “As Yet Untitled” is a solid album pure and simple but one that does lack some excitement in places.

Now if only Yngwie could ditch Ripper…..

Rating – 83%

CONSORTIUM PROJECT II – CONTINUUM IN EXTREMIS

Out now on Lion Music

Second reissue CP reissue from Lion Music in a run that sees parts 1 to 4 get a remaster  + bonus tracks reissue.  As with all albums in the series, Consortium Project is a prog power metal delight led by the leather lungs of Ian Parry (Elegy).  Backed by an all star cast including members of Vanden Plas, Kamelot and Elegy this is again good quality stuff not a million miles away from the sound heard on CP1 ‘Criminals & Kings’.

If you like your metal bombastic and epic this is definitely for you.  Stand out cuts come in the likes of the opening title track, the absolutely crushing “The Catalyst” which marrys massive riffs, lush keyboard orchestrations and a healthy dose of melody from Parry.  Yet the albums piece-de-resistance is the progressive treat that is “Lapse Of Reason” which sees melody to the fore over great chord changes and its reason enough to buy the album.

Continuum In Extremis offers up another slice of high quality metal and if you’ve yet to check out the band this is as good a place as any to start.

Rating – 90%