FATE – GHOSTS FROM THE PAST

Out now on AOR Heaven

With origins dating back to 1984, Fate are arguably one of Denmark’s longest running outfits who split in 1993, only to resurface in 2006 and are now back after another 3 year hiatus with new guitarist Torben Enevoldsen (Section A / Acacia Avenue) replacing Søren Hoff and a new album in “Ghosts From The Past” and quite a corker it is too.

Melodic Metal would be the best tag for the bands sound, big guitar riffs (with a definite 80’s vibe to them) and big vocal hooks that you can easily hang your winter coat on.

Opener “Children Of The Night” is a corker from start to finish and whilst the overall quality elsewhere never quite lives up to this opener there is luckily little disappointment to be found.

“Seeds Of Terror”, “Fear Of The Stranger”, “Murder” all rock hard whilst more melodic avenues are explored on “At The End Of The Day”, “All That I Want” and power ballad “Follow Your Heart”.

Worst of the bunch? Easily the cheese-fest that is “I Believe In Rock N Roll”. Do we really need tracks like this in 2011?

Musically Fate represent solid musicianship with Enevoldsen being a good fit with his fluid style and blends well with the classy vocals of Dagfinn Joensen. The air of Scandi-rock cool throughout the majority of the album is hard to ignore.

In summary; Fate are back with a strong effort that is a pleasing effort for the most part.  “Ghosts From The Past” along with the latest effort from Grand Illusion mark the best releases of 2011 from AOR Heaven and comes recommended.

Rating – 86% 

BEGGARS & THIEVES – WE ARE THE BROKEN HEARTED

Released 2nd December 2011 on Frontiers Records

I had never given Beggars & Thieves much time before being handed this album to review.May have been a mistake, because I like what I’m hearing.

In order to keep things short and sweet : if you like latter day Journey, you’ll enjoy this.  The melodies, riffs, arrangements… It all owes a debt of gratitude to the godfathers of AOR. But, and this is a but the size of J-Lo’s, B&T aren’t simply copycats. They do manage to inject a healthy dose of identity into the music. Check out “Innocence” or “Beautiful Losers” as an example of what I’m talking about.

A big part of the Journey influence is in the guitar playing. Was guitarist Ronnie Mancuso visited by the Ghost Of Schon Future? Who’s to say…

I was getting burned out on AOR albums, with too much subpar crap and “all star” projects (where the biggest star was probably the kid who empties the dustbin) clamoring for my attention. A well produced, well crafted CD like this restores my faith!

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

WHITE WIDDOW – SERENADE

Released 23rd September 2011 on AOR Heaven

I quite enjoyed White Widdow’s debut album. These Australians managed to capture the mid eighties AOR vibe to perfection. Second album “Serenade” delivers more of the same, I’m glad to report.

Opening track “Cry Wolf” delivers a statement of intent not to be ignored. Wouldn’t be out of place on an early Night Ranger album. It’s very hard to pick a weaker track. Whether it’s “Do You Remember”, “How Far I Run” or “Patiently”, they are all basically flawless. If you like White Sister, Icon or the aforementioned Night Ranger, you can’t go wrong with these guys.

Between the big keyboards and excellent guitar work (and I do mean excellent, Enzo Almanzi is a master of his instrument) it’s easy to overlook the other members. But the simple fact is there isn’t a weak link in this band. Everything just slots right into place.

Here is a band with a clear objective : to make classic AOR, with all the trappings that entails. And they succeed magnificently. Everything, from the keyboard tapestries to the guitar tones to the vocals is spot on. Even the big gated snare drum is present and accounted for.

I’ve said this before, but these tracks wouldn’t be out of place in a random Miami Vice episode. Glossy, glamorous (but far removed from Glam!!) and glorious!

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

AFTER HOURS – AGAINST THE GRAIN

Out now on Metal Heaven

There’s something about the sound of British AOR bands that sets them apart from their transatlantic counterparts. Part of it is a certain style of production; another part is the inevitable inclusion of some prog influences.

Instrumentally, we get decent but unremarkable AOR fare on this comeback album. Songs like “Eleventh Hour” and “ Against The Grain “ illustrate the point I made above about the proggier nature of British AOR. The album is filled with good, if not exceptional songs. The keys are present but not overbearing and there’s plenty of nice guitar playing to liven up the action.

Unfortunately, whatever positive qualities this band possesses, they are overshadowed by the reedy voice of John Francis. Not exactly one of the classic British rock voices… In the lower register, he lacks power. When he goes up the scales he sounds thin and straining (“Angel” being a poignant example). Not to mention he misses the target note with an alarming regularity. I haven’t the vaguest idea what he is trying to prove at the beginning of “I Want Yesterday”…

Production wise, there’s nothing wrong with this album. The mix is balanced and every instrument sounds quite good. Which makes it all the more a shame that the vocals just don’t cut it.

If you don’t mind the singer, you may add at least 10 points to the score.

Rating – 68%
Review by Sancho

GIANT – PROMISE LAND (REVIEW)

Out now on Frontiers Records

Giant should have been big. Gigantic even…

Bad puns aside, debut album “Last Of The Runaways” is a bona fide classic. Unfortunately, the band never managed to capitalize on their masterpiece. Follow-up “Time To Burn” was decidedly lackluster, and the changing times drove the last nail home.

Comeback album “III” has its merits, but failed to capture the hearts of AOR fans.

And now we are presented with “Promise Land”. A Giant album without Dan Huff.

The good news : musically, it’s classic Giant. Winger guitarist John Roth does a great job, and the songs are all quite strong. The spirit of Last Of The Runaways runs proudly through the veins of this album.

The not so good news : Terry Brock isn’t Dan Huff. Make of that what you want. Huff’s voice was a big factor in Giant. Brock sounds more generic, for lack of a better word.  Still, the man is a damn fine singer, and it’s not like he disappoints here.

What you are left with in the end is a bloody good AOR album, which definitely deserves to be released under the Giant banner. I had some preconceptions about a Huff-less Giant, but they melted like snow in the Sahara once I gave the album its first spin.

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho

WHITE WIDDOW – WHITE WIDDOW

Out now on AOR Heaven

This Australian band delivers their debut album through AOR HEAVEN. Their intention is to deliver 80s style hard rock and AOR. Well, mission accomplished!

Keyboard driven melodic hard rock, as evidenced from the go in opening track “Tokyo Rain”, is the order of the day. Think mid 80s West Coast AOR.  Comparisons? Well, Cry Wolf comes to mind, as does Icon. Early Aldo Nova is another reference.

The band keeps the pace up on strong tracks like “Cross To Bare” and “Spirit Of Fire”.  Of course there’s the odd (semi)ballad. “Shadows Of Love” has all the necessary ingredients.  The musicians are competent, the singer solid. The guitar leads are tasty and the keyboards fill the spectrum nicely (see “One More Day” for proof).

The one weak spot has to be the production. It’s on the dry side and, well, it sounds a bit cheap. The thin rhythm guitar sound doesn’t help…

A very enjoyable album that will take most of us back to better days.

Rating – 85%
Review by Sancho

FIRST SIGNAL – FIRST SIGNAL (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Frontiers Records
 
Touted by the label as the successor to Harem Scarem, First Signal is essentially a collaboration between Harry Hess and Dennis Ward.  I never really cared for Harem Scarem, so I was curious to see if this new project could tickle my fancy.

Most of the tunes fall on the heavier side of the AOR fence. I’m not exactly taken by Hess’ voice, but that’s personal taste. The man is a good singer by anybody’s standards.

Overall the album has a decidedly 21st century vibe about it, not in the least because of some of the keyboard arrangements. The songwriting is classy enough not to have to rely on gimmicks though. There’s no misguided attempts at mainstream airplay either.

Michael Klein is an excellent guitarist who adds the necessary flourishes. With Dennis Ward on board, there’s no need to worry about production. Crisp and alive, an excellent job.

Another highly competent melodic rock release.

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

TERRA NOVA – COME ALIVE (ARCHIVE)

Out Now – Frontiers Records
 
Dutch band Terra Nova have released four albums so far, all of which have completely passed beneath my radar. Will this, their second album for Frontiers and fifth overall, put these guys on the map?

Refreshingly, this isn’t an AOR album in the strict sense. Remember the heady days of “pomp rock”? That’s what I’m hearing here. Think Magnum or old Styx, wrapped up in a mildly proggy metallic jacket.

There’s a certain homegrown quality to this album. Is it the slightly ramshackle production? The rather abrupt endings to certain songs? The energetic aura is undeniable though.  Check out “Holy Grail”, “Those Eyes” or “Who Can You Count On” to get an idea of what this band is about.

A nice change from the almost formulaic AOR releases I’ve been reviewing lately.

Rating – 83%
Review by Sancho

SEVENTH WONDER – THE GREAT ESCAPE (REVIEW)

Out Dec 3rd  2010 on Lion Music

One of a true new breed of progressive metallers adding their own sound to the genre are arguably Sweden’s leaders in the genre Seventh Wonder.  “The Great Escape” marks the bands fourth release following up the hugely successful “Mercy Falls” which saw the band play Sweden Rock Festival and Prog Power USA.  Prog forums worldwide are littered with praise for the band and if the amount of exposure the video single “Alley Cat” has received is anything to go by (55k hits in 2 month on YouTube) then the new album looks set to propel the band further, that is presuming its any good!

Luckily as a long-time fan of the band, this is arguably the best release yet from the band, certainly the best in terms of delivering an identifiable sound of their own.  Led by the charismatic vocals of Tommy Karevik, the band perform melodic laden, yet instrumentally rich and exciting music from the opener “Wiseman” with its strident metallic delivery to the bona-fide epic closing 30 minute title track; which despite its intimidating track length delivers on all fronts.  But what sets this album apart from predecessor is that despite all the first class musicianship on offer (from every member no less), it’s the songs that ultimately shine though.  The aforementioned “Alley Cat” has a deliciously swooping chorus refrain,   the AOR inflections in “The Angelmaker” contrast nicely with the darker elements of the track whilst the melodic content again shines on “Move On Through” which has a tremendous groove in the riff department.  Overall there is something to really enjoy on every track.

Production wise this is solid, certainly the best yet from the band, and everything is nicely audible which makes hearing the likes of Andreas Blomqvist’s exquisite bass work in its full glory just another joy of the album.
 
‘Mercy Falls’ saw Seventh Wonder come of age. “The Great Escape” sees them take a strident step towards being a true powerhouse in the prog metal genre and comes highly recommended.

Rating – 95%

ISSA – SIGN OF ANGELS (REVIEW)

Out Now – Frontiers Records
 
Frontiers can’t find enough superlatives for Issa it seems. You’d be forgiven for thinking she’s the best thing to come along since not only sliced bread but warm water as well.

There’s no denying we’re dealing with a young lady who is quite easy on the eyes. One who’s blessed with a decent (if not exceptional) set of pipes, even. But there’s a vibe of Britney-goes-metal about the whole promotion that doesn’t sit well with me.

Frontiers drummed up a solid backing band and got some outside songwriting help. Inspiration can’t be bought however and, much like on the Kiske/Somerville release, we’re left with an album that reeks of day job tedium.

Most of the songs will leave you wondering “where have I heard this before”.
Understandably so. You get the expected mishmash of “female fronted metal” (what a horrible term), contemporary Scandinavian metal and some AOR thrown in for good measure.

Is it bad? Not really. It’s hard to find fault with the performances on offer, even if Issa’s voice gets quite nasal at times. There’s even several quite catchy choruses. But there is no sense of excitement, no thrill. This album really has an unpleasant whiff of pre-packaged product about it. Like the winner of a “Metal Idol” contest… If that doesn’t bother you feel free to add at least ten points to my rating.

Rating – 68%
Review by Sancho