LITA FORD – LIVING LIKE A RUNAWAY

Released 18 June 2012 on SPV/Steamhammer

The 80’s metal starlet returns but has the world really missed Ms Ford?

Downtuned. That’s not a promising start. Add to that the modernistic riffing that obviously goes hand in hand with the tuning.

Hmm… There’s a couple of decent vocal lines and even a couple of cool song ideas. Ideas mind you, not songs. But overall this album breathes midlife crisis. Lita’s trying to be hip with the kids and manages to sound dated in the process. Rob Zombie ultra-lite. “The Mask” is a particularly dire example. The faux-seventies stylings of the title track are even worse.

I wonder if Zakk Wylde knows Lita stole his guitar for “Devil In My Head”. Which is, by the way, the best track on the album.

Never has a title been more accurate than album closer “A Song To Slit Your Wrists By”.

This album actually pissed me off before I was at the halfway mark.  Very poor.

Rating – 25%
Review by Sancho

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BOOK OF REFLECTIONS – RELENTLESS FIGHTER

Out now on Lion Music

Third strike from Book of Reflections, the on/off project of the ever busy guitarist Lars Eric Mattsson.

Relentless Fighter sees Mattsson joined by vocalists Carsten Schulz (Evidence One) and Markku Kuikka (Status Minor), both strong voices and a nice foil to Mattsson’s technical guitar style.

With a more straightforward sound than heard before under the BOR banner, the album is more on a par with the self titled debut offering in some much as its more about neo-classical tinted metal and less prog and weird stuff as heard on the second album.

Delving deeper there’s some strong tracks here like ‘Angel Shed A Tear’, ‘Bleeding Dry’, ‘Rise Up’ all kicked off in fine form by opener ‘Until The Day’ which blazes along in a glorious fashion not too dissimilar to Europe’s ‘Scream Of Anger’.

Relentless Fighter is certainly the most accessible of recent new releases by Mattsson, yet also perhaps his most pissed off for there is an angry slant to many of the rhythm’s and solos where you can almost see the steam coming off the fretboard, nice indeed.

Downsides? The mix isn’t the strongest with vocals sometimes getting a little lost in the mix and the drums do sound overly digital too (toms and crash/splash cymbals), but fortunately it doesn’t detract too much from the music on offer.  That said it would be great to hear Mattsson team up someone like Mike Terrana and get a more savvy mix.

Overall though it’s a strong third effort from Book Of Reflections if not entirely stylistically inline with what’s been before.  That said this ranks as my favourite of the three so far. Great artwork by Carl-Andre Beckston once again as well.

Rating– 85%

MARCEL COENEN – GUITARTALK

Out now on Lion Music

Sun Caged guitarist’s 2003 solo album gets a limited edition digipack reissue (500 copies) with a bonus track of a cover of Joey Taffola’s ‘Six String Souffle’.

ORIGINAL REVIEW AS FEATURED ON VIRTUOSITYONE IN 2003

Now you might be thinking “who the hell is Marcel Coenen?”, to be honest I thought the same thing but after listening to this album a lot lately its one name that is gonna get spread around more by the week.

Marcel hails from Holland and if his bio is anything to go by has created something of a buzz on the European circuit. His first claim to fame came with the act Lemur Voice who released their debut album, Insights, on the Magna Carta label in 1996 and their second and final release Divided in 1999 through Telstar Records. In 1998 Marcel competed in the Dutch National Guitar Championships and won the rock category resulting in an endorsement from Ibanez guitars.This solo album originally came to light in 1999 originally as a cd-r with home recording. Its has however seen a re master since then and whilst not being a mega buck production job that the likes of Vai or Satriani can afford the luxury of, it does showcase what a good set of ears can achieve with modest equipment.

So what does the listener get on ‘Guitar Talk’? Well guitar would be the obvious answer but along with the oodles of fretboard antics on offer you get an insight into an artist that shows he has the goods and should only get better with age. The style is a hybrid of the stylised instrumental guitar workouts of Satriani and Vai, but it also has a prog metal element to it reminiscent of bands like Symphony X and to a lesser extent Adagio.

Opener Independence Day is a heavy tune which sees Coenen utilising a 7 string guitar for added gut wrenching growls. Marcel states in the liner notes that people have compared it to Haji’s Kitchen meeting Meshuggah. My own personal opinion is that its pretty darn sinister with a Pantera esque rhythm part over which a moody melody builds the tension before fast flurries of fretboard extravagance. Odd time signature abound but it all holds together into a cohesive unit.

Race Against Time is in the 80’s shred mold, very Racer X with a driving riff followed by huge arpeggio leaps. Its not all about shred, with a nice mid section breakdown for some great harmonised melodic lines where Coenen’s guitar really breathes. A few Tony Macalpine tapped licks lead us back into the Racer X style – impressive

Inner Alchemy sees the tempo slow and mood become more reflective with a very melodic Satriani-esque ballad. A nice piano underscore allows the guitar to really shine before drums enter with some nice synth pads – the feel of the track reminds me quite a lot of Joe Satriani’s ‘Crying’. This track really does live up to the title of the album as the guitar does indeed talk. Coenen describes this as a song from his heart and it shows – beautiful.

Fusion came about after Marcel was messing around with his drum machine. The track is certainly fusion in style and the guitar playing reflects this attitude with some quite freeform leads. It again has a very strong melody. The feel of the track has a little Vai quirkiness, a little Holdsworth cool and a hint of Steve Morse – another highlight.

The tempo picks up and the skies darken for the neo-classical tinged Rebel. Reminiscent of Cacophony meets Yngwie thanks to big arpeggios and harmonic minor and diminished runs, Marcel even quote a riff from Yngwie Malmsteen’s Krakatau 2 minutes in. Some of the rhythms are pretty intense all driven on by double bass drumming (where the drum machine does sound a little mechanical) but the overall effect is another pleasing composition.

Fairy Tale sees the fusion sound re-enter with some more of the Satriani vibe mentioned earlier. The origins of this song started in 1992 so it shows Coenen had the ability to pen compelling tunes in him years ago. Scattered throughout we have some nice twin voice guitar parts, overall the song has a strong structure and melody.

The Wet Season sees a more bluesy vibe enter the fray, again another strong melody and some nice use of different pickup positions for texturing the tone. In places it reminded me of Eric Johnson meets Steve Vai on a summer night!

Anthem is up next. If you’ve ever wondered what the Dutch national anthem sounds like – well here’s the rocked up version. Like all anthems it has a very majestic quality but then it dives into an absolutely slamming rhythm before the melody is intensified ten fold with wide intervalic runs and odd counter harmonies. Nice!

Another very heavy track raised its head in Shoreline. Again Coenen makes nice use of twin leads and the drop D riffage underneath creates a nice basis for the lead melody to work over. Coenen also shows off some very scary speed riffs on this track.

Moyra sees the mood switch over to the romantic, with Coenen penning this tune for a special friend. This track was written and recorded in March 2003 and shows the growth Marcel has made as a player over some of the earlier tunes on the album. Again a strong Satriani vibe enters the fray, but it must be said that the melody is stronger than anything on the last couple of Satriani releases – another highlight.

Move That Groove may have one of the most comical song titles but the music is again very strong indeed. Coenen credits this track as being in the Satriani vein and who am I to disagree. Again this is coming more from the ‘The Extremist’ end of Satch’s repertoire. The song is pretty straightforward in 4/4 time but it has a nice driving groove.

The album ends with an atmospheric track in the guise of Endless. Marcel makes nice use of the acoustic guitar which is coupled with some sweet electric volume swells to really add atmosphere and space to the track. After the sonic onslaught of a lot of this album its nice that it ends of a more spaced note and indeed calls out reflection of the album. To end the album with another highlight makes sure the cd ends with a good impression.

So is Marcel Coenen the new guitar god to challenge the throne held by Satriani and Vai? Well no, but as a debut release this is a very impressive outing that should have the two aforementioned names at least looking over their shoulders. Sure the Satch and Vai influences are apparent but they are used in a way they makes Coenen stand out from the pure imitators and there are many glimpses of a true original voice lurking throughout. It will be interesting to see what Marcel delivers on his next album, I for one hope that he proves me write and delivers the goods. In the meantime this is a fine selection of material and if you’re reading this Satriani how about offering this guy a slot on any future European G3 gigs?

Hot Spots : Inner Alchemy, Fusion, The Wet Season, Moyra, Endless.
Rating : 86%

UDO – CELEBRATOR

Out now on AFM Records

A new Accept album? That obviously means Udo Dierkschneider can latch on with a release of his own…

UDO, the band, have been on quite a strong streak in recent years. Mastercutor, Dominator, Rev-Raptor were all quite strong albums.

Seeing as Rev-Raptor was only released last year, it was a bit soon for a new studio album. Enter Celebrator, a compilation of “rare tracks, remixes and collaborations”. Or, put more concisely, assorted leftovers. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine many people waiting for a version of “Balls To The Wall”, rearranged as a piano ballad. “Platchet Soldat”, a bland metal track with lyrics in Russian? A duet with Doro Pesch? Please…

The best tracks are the remixes of tracks that appeared on earlier albums, but those really don’t add anything to the original versions.

It’s not a bad album, but a totally pointless one. Just stick with the regular albums if you want to discover UDO.

Rating – 60%
Review by Sancho

TYKETTO – DIG IN DEEP

Out now on Frontiers

Have Tyketto grown up? Judging by the music on this new album, you’d be forgiven for thinking so. It’s a far cry from their seminal debut “Don’t Come Easy”. If you want to label it, “classic rock” is probably as good a description as any.

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of good songs. Sure, there’s the odd highlight such as “Here’s Hoping It Hurts”, but too many of the songs are just drab attempts to score with the Nickelback audience. The occasional country or blues twist adds some interest but ultimately this is an uneventful album.

Rating – 65%
Review by Sancho

HARDLINE – DANGER ZONE

Released 18 May 2012 on Frontiers

Yet another band returns without a key member. On this album, singer Johnny is the only remaining Gioeli brother, accompanied by a European band (no doubt at the request of Frontiers head honcho Perugino). Not that it makes a big difference… The music remains classy AOR. Johnny is a great singer, and it’s a treat to enjoy his voice without the incompetent wailing of Axel Rudi Pell to distract.

Pick a song, any song, they’re all good. Whether it’s “10.000 Reasons”, “What I’d Like” or “Stay”, this is some of the best AOR I’ve heard in quite a while. Thorsten Koehne is a fine guitarist, who can hang with the best of the genre. I really like songwriter Alessandro Del Vecchio’s keyboard stylings as well. He goes for the big sonic tapestry and pulls it off with panache. Surprisingly there’s no big ballad. “Please Have Faith In Me” is as close as it gets.

Frontiers may have released some less than excellent albums of late, but this one is a heavy hitter.

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho

LARS ERIC MATTSSON – OBSESSION

Out now on Lion Music

Lars Eric Mattsson delves into his back catalogue for this remastered version of his fourth solo album, 1998’s Obsession.

Gracing one of the worst album covers we’ve seen in a while might not give off the best first impression of what’s contained within, but fear—ye-not, for this is highly likeable hard rock with neo-classical touches.

Vocals come courtesy of the  gravel throated Bjorn Lodin (Baltimoore) who teamed up with Mattsson on a number of releases, and really Lodin’s distinctive voice is in many ways the perfect foil for Mattsson’s unique guitar work.  Very European in nature, there is a definite Scandinavian tint to most tracks. Whilst lacking the progressive sophistication of Mattsson’s more current releases, the more simplistic nature of this material (albeit still with a frequent doses of Lars’ “outside the box” progressions and lead motifs) makes the likes of openers Caught In Your Web and Alive accessible and agreeable from the off.  Lodin comes across as a man possessed which his voice in fine fettle, whist Mattsson rattles off the riffs with considerable aplomb.  Fans of Malmsteen’s earlier works will get a kick out of this no doubt.

For the most part the production is basic, the opening of Just A Leo being a good example, but in some ways this adds to the albums charm even more and won’t really detract from your enjoyment.

What also adds to the albums charm is Mattsson’s ability to thrown together rock motifs which almost traditional Scandinavian folk in the likes of Messenger which is unique to say the least but highly enjoyable (good solo on this one too).  Long Way Home will please fans of Deep Purple with its driving delivery and parping Jon Lord style Organ and piano flourishes.

Time And Again throws us another curve ball with a smooth 80’s pop meets metal approach.  Sense And Obsession manages to give an epic feel despite only being under 5 minutes long.  Mother Forgive sees Mattsson break out the wah pedal before the acoustic nature of As The Sun Meets The Sky is one of the albums more lo-key numbers yet deceptively strong with a delightful solo from Lars which exudes an almost Jen Johansson keyboard style fluidity to it.

Eyes Of A Child is one of the more serviceable numbers on the album before Lay It On The Line throws everything including the kitchen sink into its arrangement and is in some ways a precursor of later Mattsson works.  Album closer  And The Road Goes On sees more good guitar work yet is perhaps a little too long to really hit the spot.

Overall Obsession is still a very likeable album some 16 years on from original release.  Whilst its origins stylistically lay a decade or two before even its original release its nice to hear an album which is essentially about good songs from a good guitarist and a good vocalist.  Yes it’s a little twee in places, and yes some parts might sound a little dated in 2012, but the bottom line is its got character and is still an enjoyable listen in 2012.  Don’t let that original album cover art put you off.

Rating – 84%

 

STATUS MINOR – OUROBOROS

Out now on Lion Music.

Second album from the Finn progressive metallers Status Minor.  Their debut Dialog was a very solid opening gambit and Ouroboros steps up the quality further. 

On the darker side of the prog metal spectrum, Status Minor kick some sizeable ass with openers The Wind and Hollow.  Both of which contain chunky riffs, impressive drum work and some fine melodies from vocalist Markku Kuikka and the album follows a similar pattern throughout.

Ouroboros is arguably a more accessible album that its predecessor with the likes of the excellent, and contender for album highlight Glass Wall packing a strong commercial punch. In fact fans of label mates Seventh Wonder would find much to enjoy throughout this track and indeed the album in general.

Like A Dream and Confidence Of Trust (guest lead vocals by Anna Murphy of Eluveitie) offers up a couple of moments of relative calm before the 6 minute Stain showcases the multi-faceted Status Minor sound rather nicely.  Smile is pissed off and angry before Flowers Die might be a little too plodding in nature for some incomparison and one track I could live withouth. 

The other contender for album highlight comes in the 10 minute progressive treat that is Sail Away, which I could see appealing to fans of Metallica and Dream Theater’s earlier classic work in equal measures with its tight riff work, flamboyant delivery and all round high quality making it a track worthy of your time.  And just when you think the band might end on a soft note Verge Of Sanity serves up more crushing riffs over an array of dizzying time signatures and more fine vocals from Kuikka.

Ouroboros is a nice build on the bands debut, and hopefully one that will see the band catch a little more attention from fans of the genre as Status Minor serve up high quality progressive metal with enough of an original take on the genre to stand their own ground.

Recommended.

Rating – 90%

GREAT WHITE – ELATION

Released 18 May 2012 on Frontiers

Great White without Jack Russell? Doesn’t sound quite right, now does it? Apparently, Jack now has his own version of the band going… Other than Russell, the classic Great White lineup is present and accounted for. The vocal slot is filled by Terry Ilous, formerly of XYZ.

Opening track “Something For You” delivers a statement of intent : Great White’s trademark blues ‘n’ boogie take on hard rock sounds quite familiar. There are similarities between Ilous’ voice and Russell’s, but overall the new guy remains his own man.

If you enjoyed Great White in the eighties, you’ll enjoy this new album. Check “Love Train”, the acoustic “Hard To Say Goodbye” or “Just For Tonight” for proof. Mark Kendall always was a tasty player, choosing phrasing over chops. Nothing has changed there. Concise and to the point, the guitar leads won’t turn heads but fit the songs like a glove.

I was sceptical but, much like Giant, Great White have managed to replace their singer without losing their identity. A shame there’s not a couple of stand out tracks like they used to have…

Rating – 83%
Review by Sancho.

CONSORTIUM PROJECT III – TERRA INCOGNITA (THE UNDISCOVERED WORLD)

Out now on Lion Music

Part III of Lion Music’s Consortium Project ‘quadrilogy reissues’ with remastered sound and 2 bonus tracks.  After the excellent starting two movements Consortium Project III seemed to embrace the progressive metal elements a little more than on its predecessors, in some ways parallels could be drawn with the likes of early Symphony X, perhaps in part due to the mystical Egyptian feel in some of the tracks.

Generally speaking its all very good stuff once again, with another stellar backing cast to Ian Parry’s premier vocal including guitarists Stephan Lill (Vanden Plas), Mike Chlasciak (Halford) and drums from ever present Casey Grillo (Kamelot) amongst others.

Opener The Council Of Elders has the by now obligatory scene setting story part before hitting it stride, but Spirit Of Kindness and The Ark (of the covenant) are as strong as anything heard elsewhere in the five album suite.  Big riffs, a good sense of pompous atmosphere and all round excellent performances. Lost Empire begins as if from a movie soundtrack before hitting a fervent progressive power metal vibe, here the aforementioned similarities with Symphony X are depicted nicely. Reductio Ad Absurdum is a nice multi-faceted number with a nice blend of calm and imminent foreboding evil in equal measures.

The almost new-age calm of White Sands (California Lighthouse) do perhaps seem a little out of place but offer up a nice rest bight midway through before Great Exploration kicks back in with its mid-tempo pomp and is home to a majestic chorus.  Across The Seas is another highly melodic track before Across The Seven Seas takes you on a musical voyage being a prog metal treat, home to fantastic guitar solo too and arguably the highlight of the album.

Nemesis is back to the dark metallic edge, whilst Beyond The Gateways Of Legends  sees a quite magnificent soaring vocal from Parry and ranks as another highlight.  Its hard to think of another voice in metal other than perhaps the much missed Ronnie James Dio that can capture such impressive power with a the ability to give the listener visual imagery with their delivery.   The title track sees the original 11 track release with a fitting finale being majestic in scope, yet also offering up an insight into the sound that would later be heard on Consortium Project IV.

As it stands this new “quadrilogy series remaster” gives us a demo version of Great Exploration and the title track and its nice to hear how the final track grew from this more stripped down demos.

Overall Terra Incognita is another fine slice of progressive power metal from Consortium Project.  In some ways it’s a different beast to what came before yet shares many of the trademarks of its predecessors e.g. strong performances, good songcraft and all round executed to a very high standard.  If you enjoyed parts I and II then III will not disappoint and is on a par with those other fine releases.

Rating – 92%