ABI VON REININGHAUS – KING OF HEART

Out now on Alnico Records

Now here is something for fans of melodic guitar instrumentals to get excited about and an album to just pass our attention despite being released in 2009. German guitarist Abi von Reininghaus is somewhat of a tone guru favouring vintage amps and guitars, and as just a cursory listen reveals also old school guitar sensibilities i.e. a firm grasp on a decent melody, more than a cursory nod to the subtle art of dynamics (a skill all too often lost on the modern hyper gain generation of today) and also a skill of managing to write interesting compositions across a variety of genres.

King Of Heart proves that Abi is, like fellow countryman Thomas Blug, a player of fine calibre and proves there is life beyond the over satchuration (sic) of Satriani, Vai, Johnson etc that guitar media worldwide would have us believe is all that’s out there in the instrumental field.

Onto the music leads us in a rich bag of genres from the melodic gems of “Seven Friends”, “Remember Me”, “Pacific Coast Highway” to fine acoustic compositions “Clara’s Lullaby” and “The Wedding” to fusion inspired rock of “Pacific Coast Highway” and the stunt guitarwork found in “Captain Locrian’s Revenge” and much more.  All is exceptionally well played with great tone, clean execution, good intonation and solid vibrato, Abi is what you would call a players player and someone all musicians out there will get a kick of out listening to.

So all in all this is a fine offering at the lighter end of the guitar instrumental spectrum and one worth checking out.

Rating – 86%

SAMULI FEDERLEY – QUEST FOR REMEDY

Out now on Mad Guitar Records

Finnish guitarist Samuli Federley is an 8 string specialist with his debut release “Quest For Remedy” showcasing his guitar technique nicely. 9 tracks of rapid guitar fire show this man has spent some serious time in the woodshed, yet fortunately lays down his fearsome technique over some quite listenable tracks.  Marketed as a player in the vein of John Petrucci, Rusty Cooley and Jeff Loomis will leave you in no doubt that this guy can move his fingers.

Opener “Colonoscopy” (delightful title there) sums up with Samuli is all about, shred and big riffs coupled with the odd synth pad for texture. “Reality Check” is more progressive than all out shred and so we get some good chord progressions and more airy synths, here with Samuli using his speed in more controlled bursts gives them more punch and we also see some nice rhythm work too.   “Born From The Shadow” is one of 3 vocal numbers yet its all quite disjointed and doesn’t make for an easy listen.

“Pitchblack” is the most melodic number on the album and goes through several parts, yet it also features some of Samuli’s best work on the album, I particularly enjoyed the lyrical guitar work from the 2:15 mark which had an almost Uli Jon Roth style quality to it. “Seek & Find” once again fuses the heavy riffery with a more progressive melodic outlook and is a good track.

“Nightdemon” has a pretty brutal riff yet it’s hidden somewhat behind the synth textures yet.  But the track breaks out into more melodic waters for the solo which builds nicely.  “Silhouette Of Death” is marred somewhat by programmed drums sounding just that and vocals, by which I mean guttural grunts which are an acquired taste, yet the riffery and lead work here reminded me a little of Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagoth (one of metal’s criminally underrated guitarists).

“Liqud Fire” I guess is mostly is instrumental prog metal in the vein of bands ala Ashent and is one of the most listenable tracks on the album.  The disc closes with the ethereal quality of “Road”, home to a female vocal over heavy synths the track almost delivers an enema to purge all the down tuned riffery heard before yet Samuli lays down a suitable note laden solo as a final tonic.

Overall despite the budget restraint mix this is an enjoyable offereinf from the more extreme end of the instrumental genre.  The running length of about 40 minutes feels about right too.  8 string guitar will obviously be an acquired taste for many but if you can handle the extremes of the guitars range then you will find much to enjoy.  Samuli Federley leaves us with the impression of a talented player who has potential for more.

Rating – 83%

EMPIRE – TRADING SOULS

Out now on Lion Music

Another release in Lion Music’s Limited Edition Digipack reissue series, this review originally ran on the old Virtuosity One website in 2006.

If your musical interests do not expand beyond those of super technically proficient then you may as well stop reading this review right now. If you are a rock fan then read on. ‘Trading Souls’ is guitarist Rolf Munkes second album under the Empire name. The bands debut album featured Mark Boals on vocals on several tracks, but this there second see ex Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin handle all vocal responsibilities. Anders Johansson plays drums on a two tracks – hence the link to Yngwie.

Empire basically specialise in classic sounding hard rock that runs the gamut of commercial to classic. The songs all have very strong melody lines and Martin’s vocals are impeccable throughout. Rolf Munkes guitar work is very much in the vein of ‘for the song’ as opposed to boosting his own personal ego and he proves himself to be a very competent player with a good knack for knocking out a memorable riff and chord progression. Don Airey (Deep Purple/ex Rainbow) handles all keyboards and he makes nice use of a variety of sounds – hammond to orchestral backing, all giving the tracks a nice atmospheric base. The rhythm section is held down by bassist Neil Murray (Whitesnake/Black Sabbath amongst many others) and drums are handled by the aforementioned Johansson and Gerald Kloos. The production of the album is very clear and powerful, the mix is impeccable.

My personal favorites are the heavier darker numbers, “Pay Back Time” has a great chorus that whilst not being radio commercial is catchy enough to have you humming it back to yourself later on.

The second half of the album is where the band really hit their stride with some well worked out classic rock that convey the darker element once again whilst managing to keep an eye on melody. “You” manages to combine the Swedish hard rock pound of bands like Damned Nation. “Perfect Singularity” (cool title) which allows room for Martin’s vocal to breathe to maximum effect and its quite Dio in phrasing before the pre-chorus see the mood lighten a listen which in turn changes again for the commercial chorus.  “Wherever You Go” sees the album really hitting its stride and the elements of the bands sound seem to come together here, the chorus is superb and sounds very original, Munkes throws in some nice dirty guitar work and wah drenched unison bends to create a Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) vibe and its my favourite track of the album.

The only thing that lets this album down are the ballads which are a little sickly and Bon Jovi esque in places. Tony Martin even sounds like Jon Bon in places! These are easily enough skipped past, but hey it may make your girlfriend let you listen to some rock!?

Overall ‘Trading Souls’ is a strong album in the classic rock mold yet with a modern edge and great production.

Hot Spots : Wherever You Go, Perfect Singularity, Pay Back Time
Rating : 74%

 

IRON MASK – HORDES OF THE BRAVE

Out now on Lion Music

Originally released in 2005 and reviewed on the old incarnation of Virtuosity One (posted 23/8/2005), here is a timely reminder now the album has received a limited edition digipack reissue on Lion Music which is available now.

Dushan Petrossi has been extremely prolific over the last few years, first was the debut Iron Mask release ‘Revenge Is My Name’, the 2004 Magic Kingdom release “Metallic Tragedy” was one of the highlights of the year and now Dushan has gone and released another cracker.

The second Iron Mask album entitled “Hordes Of The Brave” sees Mr Petrossi raise the bar once again for his own compositions. The album sees a much more powerful production than the debut, the song writing is better and the overall performances are superb. Strictly speaking this is a classic neo-classical release with hints of power metal and more commercial waters, the mix between lead guitar glory and riffing is excellent, with the emphasis always being “for the track” from Dushan.

Petrossi has brought in a stunning new vocalist in the form of Goetz Mohre who is actually an old friend of guest vocalist Oliver Hartmann (ex At Vance). There is also the appearance of virtuosityone.com favourite Richard Andersson for keyboard solos. Dushan has again utilised the excellent rhythm section of Magic Kingdom (Vassili Moltchanov and Anton Arkhipov).

Opener “Holy War” sets the tone with his neo-classically fused opening riff before turning into more straightforward Painkiller era Judas Priest for the verse, the chorus is classic Power Metal. The track is not the most subtle on the album and by no means the strongest but it does make a solid statement of intent and Petrossi’s soloing really grabs the attention.

“Freedoms Blood – The Patriot” is where the album starts to fire on all cylinders with its superb riff, with nice keyboard orchestration, this leads into a great straight riffing verse and a good pre-chorus before the anthemic chorus has soaring vocals from Goetz Mohre. The solo is simply superb opening with a classical motif from Dushan before the first of Richard Andersson’s solos floors you. Petrossi answers this charge with equal aplomb almost melting his fretboard, but make sure you check out the attention to detail in the backing – for the record this solo duel is a throw back to prime Rising Force trade-offs between Malmsteen and Jens Johansson.

“Time” sees the pace slow and the mood get more melodic for this excellent slice of straight metal. Petrossi shows great depth as a writer here, and the performances from all involved are first class. The transition between verse/pre-chorus/chorus is superb and fans of acts like Masterplan will absolutely love this.

“The Invisible Empire” has another cracking riff yet with the emphasis on melody, not a million miles away from Eclipse-era Malmsteen in this respect. Again the vocal melody is a vital part of the track and the vocal delivery from Oliver Hartmann’s first appearance makes a lasting impression. The guitar solo is another gem seeing Dushan work well with the backing provided beneath. A brief instrumental segment paves way for another solo from Richard Andersson which sees his trademark use of the pitch wheel work to good effect, overall an excellent track.

The breakneck “Demon’s Child” sees the tone enter more into epic metal territories of the likes of Rhapsody before the strong neo-classical middle section leads us into another bout of frantic solo trading between Petrossi and Andersson – great great stuff.

“High In The Sky” is another powerhouse track that the likes of Iron Maiden would kill to own, its simple riff allows Goetz Mohr to really show what he can. This guy has a killer pair of lungs based somewhat between that of Jorn Lande, Bruce Dickinson with a hint of DC Cooper too, this track is likely to be contender for track of the 2005.

“Alexander The Great-Hordes Of The Brave” is an epic a track as the title would suggest with its dark, mystical slow tempo overtones that is testament to the skills Petrossi possesses. The track has everything in it with the slow pre-solo segment really upping the atmosphere before one of Dushan’s best solo’s on the album really cut through…excellent stuff.

Fans of Odyssey era Malmsteen will love “Crystal Tears” beginning with its majestic keyboard refrain before Dushan’s Strat doubles the riff. This could have come straight from Malmsteen’s “Odyssey” such is the quality. Oliver Hartmann’s voice works the vocal melody to its full giving a great delivery. Dushan conjures up a suitably skilled solo which stays true to the melodic nature of the track yet manages to squeeze enough fretboard excess to satisfy the most hardcore of virtuoso guitar fans. The classy chorus sees the track out.

“Iced Winds Of The North” kicks off with some chilling sound effects before a fast intricate riff smacks you in the face. There is a nice neo-classical / power metal vibe here, the lyrics tell tales of yore with Hartmann and Mohr duet-ing on the track. The solo section is again straight from the top drawer, consisting of a Celtic feeling single note motif (not to dissimilar to Malmsteen’s Braveheart).

The energy level and mood drops considerably for the power ballad “My Eternal Flame” which has a great European sound to it reminding me of the some of the great Scandi-metal acts such as Treat or Zeelion. The reduced tempo of the track allows Dushan plenty of space to throw in an emotional solo and he comes up with a gem of a solo, very melodic and classical in nature making nice use of harmonisation which makes the song classier. The great heartfelt chorus takes a modulation up and sees the track out.

Album closer “Troops Of Avalon” is another gem, starting with a riff that is quite Schenker-esque (think Captain Nemo) before it turns into a more metal delivery. As the title might suggest the track tells the tale of brave soldiers on a mission, the triplet led chorus has a nice regal touch. The vocal delivery from Goetz is again top notch showing great gusto and power which helps keep the track moving along at a cracking pace and closes the album in fine style.

‘Hordes Of The Brave’ is simply a superb ride through neo-classical and power metal territories that doesn’t see the quality drop anywhere throughout the 11 track on offer. Dushan Petrossi is now a very serious force top be reckoned within the neo-classical/power metal genre and this album should see the Malmsteen-clone tag ripped up and thrown in the bin as it (along with Metallic Tragedy) clearly apparent that Petrossi has his own sound and vision.

Simply if you want a cracking slice of neo-classical power metal then “Hordes Of The Brave” is an essential purchase.

Hot Spots : Freedom’s Blood, The Invisible Empire, High In The Sky, Crystal Tears
Rating : 95%

VENTURIA – DAWN OF A NEW ERA

Released 21 September 2012 on Lion Music

Album number 3 from Venturia, the melodic prog metal outfit from France who have streamlined their line-up and their sound for “Dawn Of A New Era”. Gone are a number of the progressive elements heard on their debut “The New Kingdom” to be replaced by a more compact commercial punch. Is this a bad thing? Depends on your outlook but the bands key ingredients are all present and correct – big melodies, punchy riffs, tight arrangements and a glistening production.

If you like your metal on the commercial side (think a less miserable Within Temptation fused with the guitars of Nightwish) then this will be an album you should check out.  The dual male/female vocals of Charly Sahona and Lydie Lazulli work well and manage to avoid most rock clichés, Sahona also shines as ever on guitar whilst bassist Thomas James Potrel and new drummer Frederic Marchal form a formidable rhythmic unit.

At only 8 tracks long and with a running length of 40 minutes the album cannot be accused of outstaying its welcome and delivers 8 punchy tracks with a high level of quality in all.

Highlights come pretty much throughout, but in particular  the opener “Devil In Disguise”, the commerciality of “New Dawn Rising” and “What If I” (check out the video for this one) and the formidable “What We’re Here For” where all the bands elements combine nicely in this driving fast paced track. The modern power balladry of “A Spiritual Path” works nicely before the most progressive styled number on offer “Land Of Dreams” sees the album out nicely.

So in summary “Dawn Of A New Era” sees Venturia make the most concise album of their career, but also one that sounds more at ease with itself with a trademark sound definitely now being heard.  This is intelligent commercially minded metal that is easy to get into and very fresh sounding. What’s not to like eh?

Rating – 93%

DOKKEN – BROKEN BONES

Released 21st September 2012 on Frontiers Records

After the excellent “Lightning Strikes Again”, my hopes were high for this follow up album.

With no changes in the line up, except for the bass player, we can actually think of Dokken as a band again. A band that has delivered with gusto, I might add.

Sure, the overall tempo is slower than I’d like; I found myself waiting for another fiery rocker after opening track “Empire” and not getting one until “For The Last Time”. Jon Levin’s excellent guitar playing (we’re hearing more of his own style rather than last albums Lynch cloning) and Don’s vocals make up for a lot though. Yes, Don’s vocals. He’s not straining for notes he simply can’t reach. He’ll probably be able to do these tunes live…

Add in the fine production job (All the budget was obviously spent here judging by the cover art – Editor) and what you get is, apart from the sluggish tempo, quite a good album from Don and the boys. A couple more fast tracks would have added several points to the score though.

Rating – 87%
Review by Sancho The Hunter