SYMPHORCE – UNRESTRICTED (REVIEW)

Out now on AFM Records

Symphorce for the uninitiated are a German progressive power metal band originally assembled in 1998 by singer Andy B. Franck (also of Brainstorm); a vocalist in the Halford/DC Cooper mould, though not always as pitch perfect as that pair.  12 years later the band has just released album number 7 in “Unrestricted” and it must go down as another solid, if unspectacular album.
 
Opener “The Eternal” is not quite the kicker I’d have liked to be greeted with tending to stay more in mid tempo waters. Fortunately “Until It’s Over” gets things moving nicely, the dual vocal trade-off of the chorus is a nice touch. The down tuned riffery of “Sorrow In Our Hearts” paves way for Franck to deliver a lower toned vocal (albeit with some pitch issues).  “Whatever Hurts” is back to the more melodic waters and acquaints itself well being one of the more commercial numbers on the album. “The Waking Hour” is rather faceless European metal that seems the current trend for numerous acts. “Visions” restores the balance though with another strong riff, though the vocal melodies of the verse don’t sit quite right, the chorus does fair better though.  “The Last Decision” follows a similar route, Franck sounds like he might burst an artery on this one given the ferocity of his vocal delivery, and I have to say I quite like it!  “The Mindless” features live news reels from 9/11 giving us a clue as to its lyrical identity, yet Franck has seen fit to approach it from the side of the Taliban’s mindset, rest assured this is not a song of support for the terror organisation but an interesting take nonetheless and features the only guitar solo on the album that is memorable. “World’s Seem To Collide” sees more erratic vocals yet musically is solid enough.   Final track “Do You Wonder” is sadly a rather faceless way to end the album.

Overall this is an album that is enjoyable enough to listen to when its on, yet I can’t see myself returning to it that often as many of the tracks just seem quite bland.  Granted, Franck’s vocals are an acquired taste and not one I can say I will ever really fall for, yet at least they are not bland as is often the case in this genre.  Musically the band are a tight unit, with an abundance of good riffs, yet nothing else.  The guitar duo of Cedric “Cede” Dupont and Markus Pohl do little to show they have their own style or voice, yet as a rhythmic unit interlace well, next time gives us some memorable solos please!  This pretty much sums up the material and album – serviceable yet not awe-inspiring.  One for fans only I suspect.

Rating – 75%

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

MARTY FRIEDMAN – TOKYO JUKEBOX (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Mascot Records

 When one of the worlds’ best metal lead guitarists decides to release an album in the J-Pop style (that’s Japanese Pop for those not in the know) then you are right to feel a little trepidation.  However, if you look into what makes up J-Pop then you will discover it’s nothing like the pop we know in Europe or the USA.  Manufactured “pop idol” and gangsta rap don’t come into the equation in Japan, but rock does and it appears rock transcends all genre boundaries and fully embraces itself into pop culture – hoorah.   

So former Megadeth fret blisterer Marty Friedman (who is seen as a demi-god in the land of the rising sun) has not only moved to Japan to fully embrace its culture but decided to get himself a piece of J-pop action as it where (arguably the next logical step after moving there) and the results are on his new album “Tokyo Jukebox”, which is instrumental versions of popular Japanese tracks and in all honesty its not half as bad I feared it might be.   The songs were chosen in part by the readers of “Nikkei Entertainment!”, Japan`s all time number one entertainment magazine, which features a popular page on Marty each month for over three years and still going strong.

Essentially this is big guitar melodies over rocking back beats (mostly supplied by  Steve Vai drummer Jeremy Colson), its modern in its approach yet also classic in its melodies and for guitar fiends this is all rather enjoyable, although it does feel a little “novelty” in places thanks to a lot of the programmed backings where it does sound a little karaoke, or should that be guitaroke?  Friedman however sounds more inspired that he did on his last solo album “Loudspeaker”, however whether this will manifest itself into big time spent on my jukebox remains to be seen as although its all good fun when its on I don’t find myself wanting to put it on again, yet when it is on I don’t find myself skipping.

Time will tell but for now this is competent enough and Friedman delivers strong lead work over a different format to what many fans may be used to.  Give it a chance.

Rating – 75%



JON OLIVA’S PAIN INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

About The Interview
Jon Oliva’s Pain should need no introduction to anyone with a passing interest in metal. Led by one of the most talented and charismatic vocalists the band are taking up the reigns left by the legacy of Savatage. Now four albums in the band have delivered the best album of their career in ‘Festival. We caught up with drummer/producer Chris Kinder to discuss the bands’ beginnings, the new album in great detail and much more. Jon Oliva’s Pain – Festival is out now on AFM Records.

Interview conducted 24th February 2010

Chris, many thanks for taking the time to talk to Virtuosity One.
“My pleasure Andy..…! Thanks for having me.”

Your background is in Circle II Circle. Some might see it as a no-brainer then that the personnel from the band would for the basis for Jon Oliva’s Pain, yet can you tell us how you personally got the nod as it were?
“Well, all the Jon Oliva’s Pain band were playing with Zak (Stevens) in C2C actually including me, and Jon asked us to be his back-up band at the ‘Criss Oliva Memorial Show’ first of all….. It really just went from there! Soon after that, we parted ways with Zak and that management and Jon called us the very next day and asked us if we wanted to make a record together? Obviously, that was a very easy decision to make!”

When was this?
“Literally, right after the ‘Criss Oliva Show”.

How did it feel knowing you would be working with Jon?
“Amazing…. And I still appreciate it everyday! You can’t imagine it being any better really! I was going to be working with one of my favourite singer, songwriters and getting the once in a lifetime chance to work with one of the very, very best! What a blessing!”

Here we are 6 years on from the debut JOP album, the new album “Festival” is out on Feb 22nd here in the UK, personally I feel this is fine return to form after the slightly disappointing ‘Global Warming’, how do you as a member of the band feel about the new album?
“I love this record and I feel it is a very big statement from all of us that proves we have come together relaxed and un-afraid to take chances this time. Plus, I feel Jon’s comfort zone with the band and us, with his song writing, allows us to explore and push ourselves musically as far as we can. Songs are like recipes; it takes the right chef and his cooks to put all of those elements together. It takes time, and is not always easy. Look at any great band in history and you will always find a growth period before the stars align and everyone is firing on all cylinders. This is “Festival”!

When did you initial begin working on the new album?
“Typically for us, it took quite a while, possibly as much as a year? First there were the ubiquitous demos in our studio – we’re always doing those. And, this time Jon O. spent a lot of time writing while on tour in 2009 also, which is quite unusual… Then it’s back to our studio, recording more demos and giving the rest of the band a chance to improve the songs…., before we finally sat down at Morrisound and put the whole thing together. It’s a real team effort for sure!”

Jon is famous for still working on an old 4 track machine for his initial ideas, what raw state did you first hear the material in?
“4 track….? No shit! He is still using one of those silly hand-held cassette recorders…. I am not kidding! It’s a real trip trying to put his ideas down into something listenable….. But it’s a very funny and enjoyable process at the same time.”

How does the process work from getting the rough demos to the final product? At what stage of the process do you come in?
“Well, I’m always involved in the process from day one Andy… Being given a rare opportunity to produce Oliva’s music is something that was a real blessing and I work hard to earn his respect every day. In the beginning, Oliva and I try to capture as many of his ideas as we can – we spend hours doing demos and playing with ideas, assembling them into useable demos, then those demo’s go on to the rest of the band for their input…. Matt (LaPorte) is a very important part of the process, he’s amazingly creative in the studio…”

What do you see as your role in the recording process?
“See above… As a producer, I am fully involved in every aspect of formulating Jon’s riffs into cohesive, well-written songs that offer the rest of the band (and his vocals) the chance to breath and take on a life of their own. I am fortunate to be there every step of the way helping Jon and the rest of the band to create the very best music we possibly can. It’s an awesome experience each and every record.”

How do you go about working on your rhythm parts with Kevin Rothney?  Are you guys working constantly on getting and keeping it tight or is all quite natural?
“Well, Kevin and I have been playing together for nearly 20 years, so it is as seamless and as natural a process as you could ever ask for. He is a fantastic bass player with perfect meter and pocket. Nothing can create that without years and years of playing together. It’s almost like having a twin; you’re always in synch no matter what. We’ve gotten to the point now where we don’t even rehearse the records together before we go in, and we cut our tracks at the same time. With all the producing duties I have leading up to the recording, I only have time to work on my own parts and I have to trust that Kevin and I will bring all that together without any problems whatsoever… And we do!”

How long did your drum tracks take to record and is this an average sort of time for you?
“I think it took 4 days or so, which is very common for us. We don’t rush the process and try all kinds of alternate rhythms and fills until we are completely satisfied. There’s no point, when you have your own studio, setting too many goals – leave that until you reach the main, final studio session and nail it then!”

How do you like to prepare for the days when you are recording?
“It’s pretty straightforward these days….. I usually warm up for 30-40 minutes to get the bones moving freely. It’s not always easy to start recording at 10:00 am after you’ve been at the studio the night before ‘til way after midnight, but it’s really quite a smooth operation nowadays, I guess?”

Is Jon present at all recording stages and does he offer you advice as to what he would like the drums to do or do you have relative free reign on this aspect?
“He sure is. He will leave me and the Morris brothers (at Morrisound) alone during tracking and once we are happy, we bring him in to hear the tracks and make adjustments….. It’s a great team. We’ve been to Morrisound quite a few times now, everyone knows us, and it’s about as smooth an operation as you could wish for. Jon is a good drummer actually and always has good ideas. So, I welcome his input.”

What size kit did you use for the sessions?
“Well, this CD gave me the chance to use my new Ddrum ‘Dominion Ash’ kit. That’s Double Bass, 6 toms, and a healthy variety of cymbals and percussion, ha! ha! I like having as many options as possible at my disposal. The new kit is fantastic and I thank Ddrum once again for bringing me into the family and providing me with the drums I really needed for this record.”

When you have finished up your parts is that you done in the studio or do you stay around to hear the album get completed?
“Well, like I said before, as producer, I’m there right the way through, but even if I wasn’t producing, I think I’d be like everyone else. It’s a full time job for 3 or 4 months for everyone, and what a Killer job it is!”

Jon sounds vitalised on the new material – quite angry in fact, which is great to hear as a fan of his voice in full belt.  What are your favourite tracks on the new album?
“You know, He is an angry man…He ! He! And one of the nicest people you could ever meet at the same time. He is really enjoying what JOP is doing these days and he is indeed energized by the music we are creating. His voice is in amazing shape and there is nothing he can’t sing. Favourites for me are “Lies”, “Afterglow” (a real moment of Oliva genius!), “Death Rides A Black Horse” and “The Evil Within”, but in the end, I love the entire record. In our minds, we don’t just write songs…we write records that are meant to be listened to from start to finish. In fact, you need to listen to our albums several times over before you even begin to see all the facets of them, and I love that!”

How do you view “Festival” compared to the previous 3 releases?
“Really, as a more cohesive body of work… The band is really in its prime right now. There were a lot of great songs on all the previous CD’s, it’s seldom Jon ever writes a bad song, and we don’t let those ideas go forward, but this one has an element to it which is just that bit stronger; more close to the grain, really enthused…!”

Any touring plans on the horizon?
“Yes… For sure! A Euro-Festival run and a full on tour in the fall is all booking right now, with the filming of our live JOP DVD at the 013 in Tilburg, Holland on October 15th….. It’s going to awesome! Can’t wait to get started!”

Anything else you’d like to add for our readers.
“Sure… We hope that our hard work and the final product reach your ears with a grand reception. This record is a true festival of music and emotions, something for everybody. See you on the road in 2010 and thanks again for all the support and encouragement!”

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.jonoliva.net
http://www.myspace.com/jonoliva

CRYSTAL VIPER – LEGEND (REVIEW)

After their frankly not so brilliant live album, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reviewing this new offering by Polish band Crystal Viper.

Thankfully, the band fares better in a studio environment. They’re not nearly as ramshackle as the live album would have you believe. This album is an instant flashback to the earliest Noise Records releases. You’ll find yourself thinking of Helloween, Running Wild, Tyran Pace…

Singer Marta manages to hit the right notes most of the time but her voice remains bland and lacking in power. She surprises in the ballad “Sydonia Bork” though with a very good performance. Some of the tunes border on the banal, a case in point would be “Goddess Of Death” with its faux-folk (is that faulk?) guitar harmonies. I know this is a staple in a lot of metal, but it does absolutely nothing for me. Not Marta’s best performance either.

I can only assume most of the guitar solos were handled by Andy Wave, who does a very good job. On the live album one of the guitarists fell way short of the mark, but it isn’t quite as noticeable here.

Production is good overall, the artwork is professional… If you’re into old school metal you might want to check this album out. There’s a couple of serious duffers among the songs, but these are balanced by some decent head banging fare. Check out “A Man Of Stone” for instance.

A pleasant surprise after the dreary live album, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho