TWINSPIRITS – THE FORBIDDEN CITY (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Lion Music

Back with their second album, Twinspirits led by keyboard whiz and general musical genius Daniele Liverani follow up the debut album “The Music That Will Heal The World” with another progressive metal offering in “The Forbidden City”.  With one line up change happening between albums, the band welcome in new vocalist in Swedish powerhouse Göran Nyström, whose vocals are simply superb.  The rest of the line-up is “as you where” with the Italian contingent of the aforementioned Liverani handling all keyboards, guitarist Tommy Ermolli, bassist Alberto Rigoni and drummer Dario Ciccioni.

Our glowing reviews of the bands debut (here) ended by saying it would be interesting to see where the band headed on their second album.  Well in short, Twinspirits have consolidated their own sound which was evident in a number of places on the last album.  New vocalist Göran Nyström plays a big part in this with superb range, yet an original tonality and deserves a lot of praise.  But then you also get the impression Liverani had a clearer idea of where to take the bands sound.  So essentially all is good, the production is superb, a great powerful sound, great separation between the instruments and excellent clarity, arguably one of the years best so far.

Musically the band still plays accessible progressive tinted metal with a strong melodic edge.  Whilst not overloading the album with overly extended instrumental segments like DT, Twinspirits use their instrumentation skills for purely for the song and the flashes of musical brilliance are there to enhance the proceedings.

Opening with the ten minute title track is a bold move, yet the track “The Forbidden City”, is strong enough to maintain your interest throughout.  In initially teasing the listener for close to 3 minutes building the track instrumentally Göran Nyström makes his grand entrance and instantly you feel he is a better match for the band than his predecessor. This is a voice which is rich, powerful and quite original in character, similar in power to Jorn Lande but with a different tonal slant more in tune with say Bruce Dickinson. “Taste The Infinity” brings the tempo down to a soothing dark ballad, lone piano starts and once again Nyström makes his mark on this subtle, yet captivating track.

“Number One” is a fast paced track with intense riffing, vocally the track is interesting due the different voices Nyström uses to add character.  “Everything” is back to the classic prog sound, those that heard Liverani’s last Cosmics album will instantly feel at home here as the musical reminds me a lot of that release. Building nicely, with keyboard working heavily over simple power chords the impact is impressive before working to another dark riff for the verses. The track has a great chorus, powerful and melodic.

Guitarist Tommy Ermolli gets to shine on “One Of Us”, arguably the most commercial number musically speaking on the album, its powered along with a very tasty riff from Ermolli, simple yet melodic with Liverani layering keyboard and organ textures to enhance the sound further.  The pre-chorus is quite unique in character, with an ascending chord progression before the luxurious main riff charges in hard for the chorus.  Ermolli also delivers a glorious solo, yet is painstakingly too short.  A massive track.

The instrumental “BTR” plays around with exotic time signatures and again the mix of guitar and keyboard work incredibly well.  The rock solid bedrock of Dario Ciccioni and Albert Rigoni is highly impressive on this track as well. Ballad number two “Hide This Feeling” is a much more joyful affair than the “Taste The Infinity”, presented in a major key tonality the track features Nyström duet-ing with Irene Ermolli who also possesses a superb voice.  “My Future” presents itself as a nice fusion of metal and modern musical styling, dark and home to a mysterious quality that is quite unique, yet I find it strangely alluring and captivating, and after repeated spins has become a favourite.

The closing duo is started with “Reaction” which comes across in the early stages like modern Deep Purple before the band mold the track into a melodic metal direction.   Again highly melodic and Nyström gets the chance to show us what he can do in more straightforward rock waters, and again he impresses, the commercial is reminiscent of the heavier numbers from Journey i.e. interesting melodic structure.  Tommy Ermolli goes a little Marty Friedman meets Neal Schon in the songs solo, exotic melodies mixed with sustained melodic content – nice.  Another 10 minute epic “I Am Free” closes the album in even more fine style.  One of the heaviest numbers on the album with numerous segments which work well to form a solid cohesive unit finishing with a big finale.

With “The Forbidden City” Twinspirits have passed the often tricky second album with flying colours.  As already mentioned the album builds upon the debut in every department and this album deserves all the praise I can see it getting from the prog metal crowd.  Whether this will translate into mainstream media remains to be seen, yet any metal fan with an open mind will find a great deal to like.  Daniele Liverani has penned a number of great albums over the last few years but this has to be considered his Magnum Opus.  This collection of 10 tracks is pretty much superb from start to finish, with nothing that sounds surplus to requirements.  In short, if you like your metal well played, with strong melodies and delivered in a great sound then Twinspirits have the album for you.
 
Hot Spots : Taste The Infinity, One Of Us, My Future
Rating : 95%

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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%

DANIELE GOTTARDO – FRENZY OF ECSTASY (ARCHIVE)

 

Out Now – Favoured Nations Digital

Long recognized in the underground guitar scene as one of the most heralded of the YouTube generation of uber shredders, Daniele first came to prominence as a voted finalist in the Guitar Idol competitions in both 2008 and 2009. In 2009 he was recognized as Steve Vai’s personal award winner, his prizes included a recording contract for Vai’s Favored Nations label.

Daniele has taken full advantage of this opportunity! Having already seriously honed his craft touring incessantly with some of Italy’s most well known pop acts, Daniele gets right down to business on this scintillating debut release. Daniele ripples off serious run after serious run whether picked staccato, shimmering legato or finely articulated eight finger tapping, Daniele has mastered all of these techniques. Ultimately though, what sets Daniele apart, is the quality of the melody evident in his song writing which enhances the tone and conviction of his performance. Personal favourites include “Cardiology” (2009 Guitar Idol finalist submission) “Marakkesh Market” and the rockier “Apocalypse Ape” (Daniele informs me that Ape means bee in Italian).

Daniele has set the standard very high indeed with impeccable technique, demonstrated with flair and disarming facility. Don’t believe me check out some of his YouTube videos. Serious fans of instrumental guitar should get this CD!

Rating – 90%
Review by Mike Blackburn

BILL BERENDS OF MASTERMIND INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted 13th March 2010

About The Interview
Mastermind were one of the original pioneers of the prog rock renaissance than happened in the 1990’s.  From New York the band were formed by guitarist/vocalist Bill Berends and his brother drummer Rich Berends.  Ten years have passed since the bands last album but February 2010 saw the release of their new opus ‘Insomnia’ released on Lion Music.  We caught up with Bill to discuss the new album, new vocalist Tracy McShane, what makes the band tick and a whole lot more.

Bill Berends, thanks for talking to Virtuosity One.
It’s my pleasure, thanks for your interest in the band and our music.

Please give us an insight into your musical background and how Mastermind got formed and has evolved since those early days.
My background in music goes back to the early days of the 60’s. My first real musical awareness was The Beatles of course, like so many others at that time, then all the things that sprung up around that scene like the Stones, the Animals, etc. I started playing a little guitar, pretending I was George Harrison… he seemed like the most thoughtful Beatle and the lead guitar really appealed to me, but I wasn’t too serious about it at the time being so young. Then the later 60’s came along and I was hooked. Bands like Cream, Hendrix, Spirit, Ten Years After, this stuff blew my mind, the musicianship, the experimentation.. not to mention being a soundtrack to the social revolutions taking place. It really was all new back then and a very exciting time to be alive. I was interested in music other than rock too… I loved church music. I grew up going to a big church that had a huge pipe organ and it always blew my mind. The church service bored me to tears, but the music made a deep impression. Combined with that we have another brother who is a trained classical pianist, so hearing him practice Bach, Chopin, and other classical music around the house all day also had a strong influence. But The Beatles brought rock ‘n’ roll into my world.

The next thing that really got me was The Cream… at the time this was the heaviest thing around and it knocked my socks off with extended guitar solos and jamming which I loved! Gibson guitars through Marshall stacks…

they were the pioneers and that is still THE rock guitar sound as far as I am concerned. From Cream I got deeply into the blues because I really wanted to learn where this music came from, so my love of the blues and extended jams came from there. The next major influence was Emerson, Lake & Palmer because they took the grandeur of the church organ thing I loved so much and ROCKED it!! Not to mention introducing this thing called a Moog synthesizer. That stuff totally blew my mind. There was, and still is, nothing else like ELP in their prime. My next major influence was The Mahavishnu Orchestra… they took what Cream was doing, added jazz, and took it to new levels of instrumental technique which was incredible. Of these three bands I mention, no one has come close to duplicating the originality or power of what they did. My desire with Mastermind initially, and the reason we started doing it, was to try and recreate some of this stuff as best we could at a time when no one else was doing it.

Then there are the years that followed where lots of things influenced me.

So many things I can’t go into them all. People are always asking me what new stuff I like and the answer is “not much”. This isn’t because I am stuck in the past, I am always searching for new & interesting music, but not much comes close to the guys who thought the stuff up in the first place. And, to a large degree, entertainment has surpassed artistic intent and people lost touch with real music. This is sort of why Mastermind is always trying different things. We didn’t start doing this to be “product”, we started doing it as a musical adventure. When we began recording in the mid-80’s there was no one around doing that stuff anymore. Thankfully some younger people have begun to rediscover the origins and there are some slightly more interesting things around now to listen to, but… far too much of it is over-stylized and stuck in a niche while very few artists are actually trying to create something new. One band in the last decade that I thought was interesting was “A Perfect Circle” and listening to them definitely had some influence on the Insomnia recordings.

‘Insomnia’ sees the first full length Mastermind release in a decade. I presume you haven’t been sleeping during this time so just what the hell have the band been up to since 2000’s ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’?
No, I lost a lot of sleep after 2001, it was a difficult time to be an American. Actually, we were very active as a live band during that time, but nobody seemed to care much except the few people who came out to the shows. We got zero support from Inside Out on any level – they didn’t understand the band at all – so we just went at it on our own. Several bass players came and went which was frustrating and impeded our progress, but we kept at it. We were recording as well and released an EP on our own in 2005 to sell at shows, but without a label behind it we didn’t get much attention. Then there were changes in personal lives… my brother moved some distance away from me which made constant collaboration difficult, still does. After the last bass player left the band I had had enough and we just started playing bluesy rock stuff in bars locally. It kept us playing, we had fun and made a few dollars. Despite not being in the public eye as much, we were still making music all along.

Tracy McShane makes her vocal debut on a full length album with ‘Insomnia’, it must be nice to finally be able to unveil her on a wider scale to the world market?
Absolutely. The thing is, I had faith in this record despite the fact we that had difficulty finding a home for it. So in that regard, I felt backed up and unable to move forward until we got it released properly. We did have lots of offers for the album, but nothing I considered any better than releasing it ourselves which I knew I didn’t want to do, so I held out until the right situation came along. I really didn’t expect it to take so long! But I am pleased with Lion Music, they gave us a fair deal and seem to be working at promoting the album. So to answer the question, yes it is nice to finally see the album released properly.

Mastermind began using female vocals on ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’, what led to this quite original fronting for a progressive band?
I thought it was a pretty original idea at the time, but since then it seems dozens of other acts have gone the same route. I suppose the real essence of it was twofold… the first being, after quite a bit of touring in the 90’s I just got tired of being the only vocalist. It wore me out. I never set out in life to be a singer and took some flack for it… tho’ some people still prefer my vocal to the female thing. Personally, I just wanted to concentrate on playing guitar which is my true love, musically speaking. So we made an instrumental album – Excelsior! – our first with Jens, and because we had another player to work with, we leaned more towards an interactive fusion sound which I love. But then we got a lot of flack from the labels for doing that.. “you can’t sell an instrumental album” and so on, so I thought if we need a vocalist I want a good one and Lisa (Bouchelle) was the best one I knew personally. The idea of a female voice appealed to me because it was unique and, I love female vocal in a classical setting. Lisa was into it so we gave it shot.. only to hear back from the labels that “female vocals don’t sell” which I don’t agree with, but we were being marketed as a metal band so I suppose there is some truth to that since metal is so macho. Anyway, after a while it became clear Lisa was more interested in pursuing her solo career so we needed another female voice to be able to carry on playing the “Angels” material. When I met Tracy she seemed like the perfect solution, so here we are.

Mastermind are well known for taking a different slant on each album, where does ‘Insomnia’ fall into the bands progression/catalogue to you?
Actually, our first four albums were all very much in a similar vein, but since we were with Cyclops, a lesser known label, most people aren’t aware of them. For much of the world “Excelsior!” was our first album when in truth it was our 5th album and 11 years into being a band. What happened is after 10 or so years of doing the same basic thing I just really wanted to try some other stuff… more fusion, more guitar oriented, more straightforward rock. So you might say what we are well known for is just not being that well known. How does Insomnia fit into the progression? I think it is a step towards just getting back to the essence of getting the point across without too much embellishment and acknowledging modern elements such as tuned down guitars and seeing how they can fit in to our musical visions.

Over what time frame where the songs written and have they changed somewhat since their original conception?
All of the Insomnia material was written shortly after Tracy joined the band in 2001 with the exception of Night Flier which was recorded in a separate session with Jens. Once I had a fair idea of what we were shooting for, the material didn’t change that much throughout the recording process.   The album was basically finished in 2004, it just took 6 years to get it released. Ideally this album should’ve been released in 2004 but it didn’t work out that way. There was another behind-the-scenes element too… we had an A&R guy at a major label very interested in the band and we went back and forth with them and a big management company for almost a year, so that delayed things as well. I suppose that may have had some bearing on the shape of a few songs. I edited some things down to shorter times and cut back some of the solos at their suggestion, but ultimately that deal fell apart and we were still nowhere, but I liked the modern edge the changes brought about and kept them. Inside Out suggested calling it something other than Mastermind, which I considered, but they weren’t into the female vocal thing anyway so I thought, this is the same people as Mastermind, calling it something different would be silly. It would be like The Beatles changing their name because Sgt. Pepper didn’t sound like Love Me Do… so we soldiered on as Mastermind. In retrospect they may have been correct, who knows. I am better at making music than marketing which is why I prefer being involved with a decent label.

‘Insomnia’ is home to 10 songs, all of which are quite unique in character yet form a cohesive bond within their album framework. How much agonising was done over things like what tracks to include, the running order etc and can you ever be truly happy with these things?
Thanks! I think it is pretty cohesive as a whole and in fact, I think it works best listening as a whole. That was my intention, to create an hour or so of music that was a pleasing listen, period. We didn’t need to show we could play blistering solos or write complex compositions, been there, done that. We have six other albums of that kind of thing, so I wanted to do something a little different. I knew which songs would open and close the album, sorting out the running order felt natural to me after a few shuffles of the cards, so it was decided pretty early on, most of it. I did one tweak after we signed the deal with Lion Music since it had been some time since I was living with this recording. Ultimately I think that made it a stronger album and better listen, but once it goes out to press there’s no sense worrying about it anymore, it’s time to start thinking about the next thing.

How do you/Mastermind go about writing a song and when do you know a song is right?
I am the only writer in the band so I just write and write and when I feel I have a selection of tunes that feels cohesive, I present them to the others and get their feedback. If anyone hates anything in particular I may revisit it, defend it, or just throw it out. In the case of Insomnia there was one track I threw out myself just because I thought it was a little too bouncy in the overall scheme of things. How do I know it’s right? I never know… I just do what I like and hope for the best.

Any favourite tracks/performances on the album and if so why?
“Last Cigarette” is my personal favorite. I like the slow, ponderous groove and I like how it makes me feel. I think the vocal harmonies work nicely and I really like the solo section with the counter-voicing Jens does with the guitar. I also like how it ends the album in an ambient space. The rain, the barking dogs, that was recorded in my own backyard so it is very personal for me and evokes that time period, yet puts it to rest at the same time. It’s also really sombre in one way, yet I think it ends leaving you with a feeling of hope and not hopelessness. I like that sort of thing. If something is just dead sombre it can be too depressing, so even my darkest material tends to leave you feeling hopeful I’d like to think.

Where were the tracks recorded/mixed/produced as there is a wonderfully organic sound to this album?
Thank you! The whole album, just like all Mastermind albums, was recorded and mixed in my home studio. The main difference between Insomnia and the others is, this is the first Mastermind album that was recorded all with computers and not tape. All the other albums were recorded on analog tape. Night Flier was maybe the last thing we ever did on tape, so it took a little work to get that to fit in, but I think it works. That slowed the recording process down a little too, the learning curve of digital recording and how to make it sound not-digital. I’m very pleased to hear you enjoyed the production!

You are listed as producer along with your brother what do you see this role as being and how do you approach it?
Since I am the composer as well, my role as producer is to try and get everything to sound like what I am hearing in my head, to bring the compositions to reality. My brother’s role is more or less as a sounding board if I get too carried away or miss the mark with something. He won’t hesitate to tell me if he thinks something sucks!

I am guessing there is a natural non verbal communication when you and Rich play? Is it noticeable when you play with other drummers/musicians?
With Rich and myself that is definitely the case. We grew up together listening to the same music and developing the same sensibilities, we know when something is going to happen or where things are going instinctively, although we may not always agree on everything. With other musicians it just depends on the person. Working with Jens is very easy, I just tell him what I am envisioning and he usually comes up with something right off that is really close what I am hearing. Once in a while he may miss the mark, but we discuss it a bit then it’s right back on track. If he has an idea or suggestion I am happy to listen to them since I respect his opinion. I have played with a lot of musicians however, that I don’t get that vibe with at all… bass players *cough cough* in particular. A lot of players are just in their own little world and don’t LISTEN to what the other players are doing. In fact I would say that is true with a majority of so called musicians I have known. They just do the thing that they do as if they were in a vacuum or something, it’s very frustrating. Most rock musicians, especially younger ones, tend to learn and create music by brute force memorization, so real time interaction and improvisation is something they don’t get at all. It’s a shame really, that this has become a lost art. Add to that click tracks controlling light shows and non-existent keyboard players and what you end up with is stiff, mechanical, and boring.   No organic feel at all.

Jens Johansson lends his golden fingers to the Mastermind sound once again, how did you initially hook up with Jens?
I met Jens almost 25 years ago in a music store in New Jersey. I wrote a little story about it on our website linked to the Excelsior! page. I had no idea who Yngwie was at the time, or Jens, I just heard him play in the store and thought ‘that was incredible, I gotta know this guy!’ I introduced myself, we got to be friends, and after I heard his Heavy Machinery and Fission albums I knew I wanted to work with him. In my mind’s ear I hear Jens as a modernized sort of Jan Hammer, the original keyboard foil to the guitarist.. to which Jens will say “fuck Jan Hammer!” of course lol… but we both have musical roots that go way back and I think we have certain shared sensibilities, so it works out well I think.

Do you give him guidance on what you are looking for or does he have free reign?
Both. I’ll suggest to him the feeling I hope to evoke and let him go at it.  If it isn’t what I’m hearing I’ll make some suggestions which he has no problem with. There were a few instances where I really wanted to pull him out of his comfort zone and challenge him to do something totally different, like play slow, use a different sound other than the famous Korg sound, stuff like that. He is very willing to try different stuff and when he sees what I’m getting at, usually he’ll jump right in and comes up with something wonderful. On a few occasions he’ll do something I am totally not expecting and we’ll keep it, so it’s give and take.

Those keyboard sounds he gets are so unique, and his playing with his personalised phrasing and tones are wonderful, you must be pleased to have him onboard?
Absolutely. Jens is a brilliant player with a unique outlook on almost everything, and he’s pretty funny too! I wish we were in a situation where he could be available to us all the time because I have other ideas in mind for him, but Stratovarius keeps him pretty busy these days. I guess we’ll see what happens down the road, but we have discussed doing more music together in the future.

What else is in store for 2010?
We hope to be able to get out and do some live shows to support the album.  If you aren’t appearing, you’re disappearing, as the old blues guys say. I have recorded a “Bill Berends” solo album of instrumental guitar music which I finished up just recently. That’s really where my head was going musically when we got an offer from Lion Music which sort of snapped me back into Mastermind mode. Getting back in touch with just the guitar and amp, no frills or effects. No firm release plans for that yet, but it is coming. And, Rich and I have recorded some basic tracks of new music that is potentially the basis for another Mastermind album. To a large degree what we do next depends on how well this album sells and what kind of interest it may generate. I have lots of unheard, unreleased music written, hours of it in fact, it just depends on how I can get it out there.

Any final messages for our readers?
Buy our stuff! Seriously, if you have read this far I thank you for your interest in Mastermind and our music. Thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years and to the people just discovering Mastermind as well. I hope you will take some time to get familiar with our new album because I know for some people it may take a little while to sink in. Mastermind may not be love at first sight for everyone, as one fan put it, but once you acquire a taste for it I think you will like it…. kind of like beer. And we all like beer, don’t we?!

Bill, many thanks for your time.
My pleasure, thank you!

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.mastermindband.com
http://www.myspace.com/mastermindband
http://www.facebook.com/mastermindband

CHARLY SAHONA – NAKED THOUGHTS FROM A SILENT CHAOS (ARCHIVE)

Released Feb 2010 on Lion Music

Dedicated followers of Virtuosity One may well be familiar with the name Charly Sahona from his work in progressive metallers Venturia who have released 2 excellent albums to date.  However, the French guitarist has seen fit to use songs not geared towards the Venturia sound for a debut solo album “Naked Thoughts From A Silent Chaos” which is a much more streamlined album built around heavy riffs with catchy vocals and Sahona’s trademark solos with the press promo sheet describing this is a fusion of Dream Theater, Muse and 30 Seconds To Mars.  Certainly the musicianship and heaviness of DT is here with the melodies taking on the more modernistic feel of Muse.  Fans of either band should be able to latch on this rather easily, yet at the same time it has its own sound going on.

Sonically the album sounds great with a production that puts many big names to shame with the rhythm section of Sahona’s Venturia band mates Diego Rapacchietti (Drums) and Thomas James-Potrel (Bass) powering the whole 8 track album along with exuberant ease and skill.  Sahona’s guitar is as excellent as anyone who has heard Venturia knows yet here where it’s the main focus you really see that Charly’s style is taking metal guitar to new places.

Highlights come in practically every song from opener and debut single “Relieved”, the stomping “Away From Our Sins” which is full of catchy vocal melodies, “Forgotten Past” is closest in style to the sound heard of Venturia’s “Hybrid” album.  “River Of Lies” is the most straight metal tinged track on the album.  “Living In A Dream Is Not Right” is relatively laid back in comparison to other tracks and allows Sahona to show his vocal skill, something which it could be argued is mixed a little low in places, this could maybe be put down to debut vocal release nerves, however, Sahona has a good voice, melodic, clean and likely to win appeal with the modern day listener so next time push the fader up a little Charly!  “It Will Fly Away” has more commercial possibilities and those that like Muse but would like that heavier may just find their perfect match here.    Closer “All That Can Be Said” sees the album out on another strong note.

With “Naked Thoughts From A Silent Chaos” Charly Sahona has delivered a mightily impressive debut album.  If your penchant for metal is to avoid clichés then this could be right up your street.  Essentially with performances this good, a production this strong and song quality excellent from start to finish then you have to ask the question what’s not to like?
 
Hot Spots : Relieved, Away From Our Sins, It Will Fly Away.
Rating : 95%

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN’S RISING FORCE – PERPETUAL FLAME (ARCHIVE)

Out Now – Rising Force Records

Yngwie  Malmsteen is back with his much anticipated new album “Perpetual Flame“.  Coming off the back of 2 return to form albums in the guise of the Doogie White vocalised “Attack” and “Unleash The Fury” offerings, Yngwie has decided to change vocalists once again replacing White with former Judas Priest/ Iced Earth vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens.  A vocalist that tends to fall into the love/hate category Owens can be great (Iced Earth’s The Glorious Burden) or mediocre (Priest’s Jugulator).  To these massive Malmsteen fan ears I personally find Rippers vocals to sit uneasily with the usual brand of Malmsteen metal. 

 Much has been said about the new album artwork, and most people agree that its very poor, sadly this also translates to much of the material and to a slightly lesser extent the production of “Perpetual Flame”.  The guitar tones are good, lead sounds fantastic, drums sound good and bass are clear enough, but Owens vocals for some reason sound as if they are sung down the phone for much of the album, and for some reason tend to be panned all in different places depending on the track.  This really isn’t good enough from a major player such as Malmsteen, and it would seem not a lot has been learnt from the WTEAW debacle.  This is generally an uneasy mix and really does spoil the impact of the album. 

  Sadly much of the song writing also falls into the average category with opener “Death Dealer” hardly setting the album off to a good start.  “Live To Fight (Another Day)” starts out with real promise with its melodic intro and “I Am A Viking” style riff, but sadly is obliterated as soon as Owens opens his mouth making this barely listenable.  “Red Devil” is strong musically with its Hendrix-y main riff, but sadly some of the cheesiest lyrics about Yngwie’s love of Ferrari’s cheapens the end product once again.  “Four Horsemen (of the apocalypse)” sees more production issues, with it sounding like Yngwie forgetting to turn on his noise suppressor for gaps in the opening chord stabs, its a fairy good song in truth but once again let down by Owen’s vocals.  “Priests Of The Unholy” starts out promisingly largely thanks to the keyboard work of Derek Sherninian actually being audible for once, but falls at the final hurdle thanks to another poor vocal melody line.  True enough Owens is a hired hand to sing Malmsteen’s vocal parts, so the blame for the vocal melodies ultimately falls directly at the maestro’s feet, and this is one of Ripper’s better vocal performances but  once again it falls into the mediocre bin.  “Be Careful What You Wish For” is a double bass drum led number that has been heard one too many times before from Yngwie.  Owens sound particularly painful here!  The 8 minutes of “Eleventh Hour” could well have been brilliant, but the vocal performance of Owens once again lessens its impact considerably (believe me I am not enjoying bagging on the guy for the sake of it) largely thanks to vocal production issues but also some pitch issues as well.

  That’s not to say the album is a total loss. “Damnation Game” is Malmsteen in full glory, a fantastic riff that fuses the right blend of melody and heaviness.  “Magic City” at over 7 minutes long starts out well with a nice melodic guitar solo, before heading into a rewrite blending of “Cherokee Warrior” and “Miracle Of Life” but this acceptable enough.  As is becoming a tradition on the last few albums Yngwie sings  lead vocals here and he is improving as a vocalist, in fact his performance is much more preferable to that of much of Owens vocals so there is some form of respite here, plus  its  also has another of the kind of solo you want to hear from Yngwie.  “Capricio Di Diablo” is the sort of “Far Beyond The Sun” 3/4 time instrumental Yngwie excels in whilst another instrumental “Lament” with its slow classical melody stirs some positive emotion and reaction, the same can also be said for album closer “Heavy Heart”.  

  So there you have it.  One of most anticipated albums of the year has turned into one of my most disappointing.  To these ears Tim Owens is clearly not the man for the job going by this performance.  This may well be different had the vocal production been different, but the main problem for me is a lack of variation in his vocals.  His predecessors, Doogie White/Mark Boals/Mats Leven/Goran Edman  etc all managed to make something viable out of Yngwie’s clichéd vocal melodies  ideas yet Owens seems comfortable to do what he’s paid for and nothing more.  To my ears it sounds like there is a lack of feeling, a lack of connection with the material  from Owens; and ultimately from Yngwie’s perspective, he who has worked with some of the best vocalists in the metal genre, you wonder why the vocals on this final product are the way they are – poor. Another issue is the overly frequent double bass drum rhythms, in the live arena Patrik Johansson is as impressive as drummers get. Unfortunately there are also too many retreads of former compositions, there is a point where you have the Malmsteen “sound”, and then a blatant case of rewriting old tracks but adding new vocal melodies and lyrics.  On the positive, Yngwie’s guitar work is mostly A1, and granted most people buy a Malmsteen album for this reason alone.  But where Yngwie goes from here is unknown.  If he keeps delivering albums of this quality he may well find hardcore fans that have accepted the former issues with not so much forgiveness from here on in.  A case of try before you buy but if you are new to Malmsteen’s brand of metal and I recommend you check out “Trilogy”, “Odyssey”, “Fire & Ice”, “Magnum Opus”, “Alchemy” or “Unleash The Fury” first before diving head first into “Perpetual Flame” as it may well put you off exploring the rest (and mostly excellent) of Malmsteen’s back catalogue.
 
Hot Spots : Damnation Game, Capricio Di Diablo, Lament, Magic City
Rating : 50%

MICHAEL HARRIS – TRANZ FUSED (REVIEW)

Out Now on Lion Music

Guitarist extraordinaire Michael Harris returns with “Tranz-Fused”.  Leaving behind the neo-classical orchestrated waters of the excellent “orchestrate” Michael has decided its time to delve into another musical style adding another string to his already chock full bow!  As the title may hint “Tranz-Fused” sees Harris step into the world of fusion, yet this is not your dull, sit back and relax soft fusion, this is full on fusion rock and pretty darn cool it is too.

Joining Michael for the album is a stellar supporting cast of bassists Adam Nitti, David Harbour, James Martin and Bunny Brunel.  Drums come from Mike Haid and Marco Minnemann and Bernard Wright delivers a keyboard solo on “Seizure Salad”. The music has a very live vibe with minimal overdubs and this really helps yield a great moment in time feel to the music.    Melodies have always been high on the Harris radar and the new album is no exception, so whilst Michael can truly blaze when he wants to there is always a strong melodic framework in place to keep the most hardened critic happy. 

Highlights come in the guise of opener “Rocket Surgery”, the aforementioned “Seizure Salad” which has a 70’s Rush feel in places, the smooth character of the delightfully titled “Nitrous Oxide Strut” and the lush melodies of closer “Ocean Blues” with its almost quasi Hendrix/Frank Marino/Uli Jon Roth vibe.

Another fine album from a guitarist who must rank one of the worlds most overlooked by the general public – take a chance and check it out.

Rating – 88%

TOMI JULKUNEN OF THE MILESTONES INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

About The Interview
Helsinki-based band The Milestones specialise in classic hard rock with a southern tinge that put many American bands to shame.  We caught up with guitarist Tomi Julkunen of the band to discuss the bands history and their fantastic new album ‘Devil In Me’.

First of all welcome to Virtuosity One Tomi.
Cheers Andy, glad to be doing this interview. And big thanks for a great review on your site!

The Milestones are a rootsy good time rock band that hail from Finland yet sound as if you should be from the USA. What is a Scandinavian band doing producing rock that shames many an American band?
Wow, that’s a big statement Andy! Probably because American bands have forgotten how to make this type of music… (laughs). Nah, just kidding. Seriously, we’ve all listened to this kind of music since our teens. So, playing classic rock is pretty natural for us.

When we formed The Milestones there wasn’t that many new classic rock bands around at the time. Grunge and boy bands were a big thing and we just wanted to have a band that could bring back that rock and roll sound we all had been missing.

Can you give our readers who may not have heard of you a brief run down of the bands history as it seems you have been at it for quite some time.
The band was formed back in 1994 so we’ve been doing this for a while now. We had two goals in the beginning; to play our first show at the best rock venue in Helsinki and get a record deal within few months. Well, we played at that venue four months after forming the band and got the record deal after that show. The first album Vol 1 was released in 1996.

For the second album Souvenirs (released in 1999) we went to New York just to see if it’s any different making an album abroad. We ended up re-recording half of the songs when we came back to Finland. I’d say we got bit lost with all the experimenting. There were violins and drum loops and all kinds of stuff which totally represented something we are not. I love the album but I’d say it’s not The Milestones sound we’re known for. Oddly enough our biggest radio song is from Souvenirs and some people think it’s better than Vol 1 and Devil In Me. Go figure (laughs).

In 2001 I left the band for few years. Other guys kept on going with other guitarists but didn’t release any new material. I rejoined in 2006 and we started planning the third album pretty much straight away.

Your new album ‘Devil In Me’ has been out for a month or so now… yet its been 10 years since your last album ‘Souvenirs’. What led to the big gap between releases and are we going to have to wait until 2020 for the follow up?
Devil In Me was actually released in Finland in April 2009 but was released in rest of the Europe earlier this year. It’s kind of surprising that the album still seems valid to people considering that albums life span is really short these days. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we’re not trendy music and our music is timeless.

The gap is my fault to be honest. As I said I quit the band in 2001 and moved to Ireland for few years. There was no arguing or bad blood between us, I just wanted to do something else for a while. We all kind of knew that getting the original line-up together was inevitable after I moved back to Finland.

Writing and recording Devil In Me took about two years all in all so if you take away those five years I spend abroad it took only five years to get this album released (laughs). It’s not that long comparing to Axl Rose!

I’m happy to say that the follow up is in pre-production already. We’re entering the studio this summer and new single should be out by September. Most of the songs have already been written. We just need to fine tune them a bit, work on lyrics and melodies and we’re good to go. I’m sure we have a new album out in early 2011. I’ve been listening to rehearsal tapes and have to say, it will be ass kicking full on rock and roll album.

‘Devil In Me’ is my first taste of the bands brand of rock n roll and very impressed I was too. Can you talk us through the making of the album – where the songs were born, recorded etc.
When we started writing new music we had no idea who would release it. Fortunately we knew these guys who had a small label and they were interested in putting out the album. They also have their own studio so we recorder the whole thing in their studio in Helsinki. They also produced. It was actually the first rock album they produced so I’d say they did an excellent job.

It took about two weeks worth of recording to put all the music on tape. We didn’t book studio time for two weeks, we just went in on couple of weekends. So there was no real pressure time wise.

We had all the material pretty well rehearsed beforehand so it didn’t take long in the studio. We always do that before recording, lock up ourselves in the rehearsal room and put together new stuff and rehearse it. We don’t make demos anymore, just rehearsal tapes to hear what should be changed and what needs more work.

How do The Milestones like to write and do you have any specific routines have proven beneficial?
The song writing almost always starts with a guitar riff or bass line. It’s very rare that we build a song around a melody or a specific drum pattern. We all have ideas and we all come up with our own parts so it’s not like there’s only one or two guys who contribute to song writing. Sometimes it might take a while longer to arrange a song as there’s five guys with ideas but on the other hand is a blessing. It makes songs sound like The Milestones and doesn’t put too much pressure on one or two guys.

Are these tracks taken from over the last 10 years or are they recent compositions?
Most of the tracks were written within a year or so before recording. There’s few old songs like Street Soul and Green Valley. Green Valley was an acoustic B-side on our single Deep In Despair from Souvenirs album. We just arranged the older song to make them sound more like the recently written songs. There might be some old riffs but mostly its new stuff.

The album has a great live vibe with a superb production. What were you looking for sonically with the album?
Thanks, that live sound and rawness was just what we were looking for. We wanted it to sound like good old fashioned rock records. Not too many effects and layers of guitars. We wanted it to have dynamics which seem to be lacking from most records these days. It’s not perfectly played but who cares as long as it sounds good and has a great feel to it, a bit like a live album.

The guitar tones received special praise from us, what gear do you guys use to get those awesome tones on the record?
As you can hear our sound is pretty organic, nothing too flashy. We use lots of vintage gear to get that cool sound. We use same gear for live and studio work. I mainly use Gibson guitars and Marshall amps for live shows. My main guitar is Gibson Les Paul Deluxe which is not that common guitar these days. I also have this new Gibson LP Standard which is really good to play and sounds great. I’m not big into using effects, some distortion pedals for solos and that’s about it.

Marko has some really cool guitars. He has Gibson Firebird which I also used in the studio, Fender Telecasters and Guild Nightingale. Marko also has cool amps such as Ampeg V-2 head and old Fender Bassman. His Ampeg is probably the best sounding amp I’ve ever heard.

I suspect the band are built for the road (you sound like it) so have you managed to do much touring outside your homeland?
Unfortunately we haven’t played much outside Finland. We played few shows in New York and in Iceland of all the places. We will play our first gigs in Germany this coming October. I’m sure it will be loads of fun. We’re really looking forward to it.

Influence wise where are the band coming from and what do you feel are the unique qualities the band have absorbed from those influences into your own sound?
We’re influenced by 70’s and 80’s American and English bands such as Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Black Crowes and Thin Lizzy to name a few. Of course we listen to newer bands too but I don’t think we’ve been influenced by them much.

I think we have the same cool two guitar interaction as the bands we listen to. We don’t double each other’s parts and I think that’s one thing we have absorbed.

The Southern Rock scene seems to be making something of a comeback of late with a younger fanbase getting into the genre, along with high profile releases from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Have The Milestones seen evidence of this resurgence in your own fanbase?
Actually, yes we have and it’s great. It seems that youngsters are checking out their parents record collections and having a blast doing it. They’re discovering all the great band who have influenced all these new bands. When we were supporting old legends like Whitesnake and Deep Purple I was totally surprised about the number of young people in the audience. Front row was just people from 15 to 25 years old. It really was something that I didn’t expect. We went down like a storm and got a great response. Those same people come to our shows as well so it’s heart warming to see that. There’s no age racism in classic rock genre at all. It doesn’t matter if the band is old it still gets audience from babies to grannies. It’s all about the music not the image.

What plans are there to promote the new album? It seems like none name bands don’t get much of a look in from live promoters and venues so how are The Milestones coping with this side of being a band?
I agree, it’s really hard to book shows these days. Sometimes it can be really frustrating as we would love to do proper tours. We’ve been lucky enough to get good support slots and I’d say that’s the best way to get good gigs and bigger audiences.

We’re not concentrating on promoting Devil In Me that much as we’re already looking forward to promoting the next album. Hopefully it gets good amount of radio play. It always help to get promoters interested.

What else is in store for 2010 and beyond?
As I told earlier we’re doing pre-production for next record as we speak. Main plan is to get the album done. We will play few shows but mostly concentrate on recording. After the album is in the shops we will definitely play as many shows as possible.

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.themilestonesmusic.com
http://www.myspace.com/themilestonesmusic

HELGE ENGELKE OF FAIR WARNING INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted 10th September 2009

Fair Warning are for many considered one of the true greats of hard rock, possessing an instantly recognisable sound the band have delivered the goods consistently across their career.  New album “Aura” is arguably their best yet having all the bands trademarks, superb vocals, great melodies superb musicianship all topped off with the glorious virtuoso guitar work of Helge Engelke.  We caught up with Helge to discuss the new album’s creation and his approach to guitar and much more.  If you haven’t already check out our review of “Aura” here.  Enjoy the interview.

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. The new Fair Warning album “Aura” has been out for almost a couple of months now, how has the reaction been from fans?
The reaction of fans has been very good so far. We receive a lot of mails from fans telling us how much they like “Aura”. A new album always gets compared with the ones you did before. The funny thing this time is that everybody compares it with a different one. Some say it is like/better Rainmaker, some compare it with ”Go”, others find similarities with “Four” or our first one. Well, thinking twice there is a little weak spot in this way of finding out how fans like “Aura”. Those who don`t like it would not write e-mails, would they? Maybe I should have said: “ We receive a lot of positive mails, none complaining yet”.

I think new album is great, having all the hallmarks of the classic FW sound, yet doing it with a power and enthusiasm that most bands find hard to sustain when they have an extended back catalogue. How do you guys manage to keep fired up for more?
That is down to the chemistry in the band. We all have slightly different tastes, even with our back catalogue we hardly agree on what we like best. Tommy for example really likes the first one. That is not my favourite one, I would pick some songs from each of our records. Then there is this “go new ways” vs. “stick to your guns” discussion, I always liked to experiment with sounds and arrangements, like bringing in new sounds ,what we did since “Rainmaker”, Then sometimes the other guys come and say” What’s this noise”. So it’s a constant, positive, fight and sometimes rather troublesome. B U T in the end, and after all we always managed to find a mixture of all that and I think that is what makes a big part of Fair Warnings identity. There’s one thing we all easily agree on and that is “When we do a record together it should be a good one”. So everybody is fighting for what he thinks best for the record. And nobody is really giving in.

What really struck me is how strong all the band members still are at their respective instruments. Your guitar playing improves year on year, Ule is just a monster on this album and Tommy’s voice has if its possible got more powerful. How do you maintain improving on what many people might already see as perfection?
The nice and annoying thing about Fair Warning is, when looking back we most of the times say, we’ll do better next time.

The album I believed was recorded at a 400 year old manor house, what role did the location play in the sound of the album?
After having recorded our first album, we decided not to waste money in expensive studios anymore, being constantly under time pressure.  Rather bring the equipment in work at your own pace. It worked very well since “Rainmaker”, so we try to be affordable houses with a nice vibe and atmosphere to mainly record, vocals, drums and bass.

Where your guitars recorded there as I was under the impression you recorded all your guitars at home?
Guitar-recordings and the mixing was done in my little studio.

How do Fair Warning generally go about writing a song?
It’s Ule and me writing songs and we both work alone. We make our own home demos singing on them and then play it to each other and to Tommy and CC.  When it comes to arranging we start to work together, even though Ule’s and my demos are quite clear.

What can trigger the creative spark for a song idea?
With me it could be anything, a riff or a line coming while playing the guitar, some words which make a nice line, a vibe, an abstract idea. I always disliked labelling a song a “rocker” or a “ballad”, because sometimes means that we all say ”Ah, not another ballad”. For quite some time I was wishing I could write a song which could be both. That way “As snow white found out” came about. Took some time.

At what point in the process will Tommy come up with vocal melodies and will that dictate where the song ultimately goes?
Both Ule and myself record our demos with our, well, singing. So the melodies are already there.

The opening brace of “Fighting For Your Love” and “Here Comes The Heartache” sure make a statement of intent, how much work do the band put into making sure the running order is right for each album? What do you look for in a running order and who gets the final say on it?
The running order of “Aura” Tommy did and there were no objections.

Your guitar work is a true joy for me, being a big Uli Jon Roth fan I instantly feel at home in your guitar work, yet you are perhaps more straight-ahead rock than Uli. What lead to you developing your style and what do you see your style as?
My limits. When you start playing the guitar most of us have certain heroes. So had I. Unfortunately I never could decide what to be like when I’m grown up. So it’s a mixture of all my influences.  On the other hand, whenever I wanted to sound like somebody else, copying a solo or a riff, it never sounded quite right, it always somehow sounded like me. Took me years to accept that as a blessing rather than a curse. Still I enjoy to hide some “quotes” every now and then in my playing on every record I ever did and see if people find out.

Like Uli you use a custom made guitar with extra frets, I know you own one of Uli old six string Sky guitars so how did you about designing an instrumented suited for you?
I loved Uli’s idea of having the range of a violin on guitar. My guitars I designed together wit a guitar luthier, Thomas Stratmann (it’s his real name, nothing to do with strat), from my hometown Hannover and he built these guitars for me.

The tones on “Aura” sound like you used a whole bunch of gear, can you give us a brief rundown on what you used?
Its all in this video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRDOYQ3Mfks

What will you use live?
Hopefully my rack which consists mainly of a Hafler/Bogner triple giant and a Mesa boogie strategy 500, plus some effects and two Ac30 with a Roland 301 for the crunchy sounds. Recently I sometimes replaced the Ac30’s with Fender supersonic amps. For guitars just my main guitar.

If you could only have 1 guitar and 1 amp what would you choose?
My guitar and a Fender Supersonic, but I would not be a completely happy man with just that.

I believe the band have just completed a Japanese tour and have a bunch of European dates coming up, how is the tour going in comparison to others and what you like and dislike about being on the road?
No,we haven’t played any electric shows yet. I just came back from the rehearsal room when I found your mail. Touring will start in October. Playing is always fun, but I really dislike when I cannot use my equipment and have to sound like crap.

What’s next for Fair Warning?
Touring.

Helge, many thanks for your time.
Thank you Andy.

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.fair-warning-de
http://www.myspace.com/therealfairwarning

TONY HARNELL & THE MERCURY TRAIN – ROUND TRIP (ARCHIVE REVIEW)

Out Now – Frontiers

Not what I expected. That’s the least I can say about Tony Harnell’s latest project.
Harnell has decided to give us unplugged versions of some favourite songs from his 25+ year career. We’re all familiar with the roaring originals, so these subdued versions will probably strike you as a bit odd at first.

Of course Harnell’s voice is instantly recognizable, but the average hard rock fan would be well advised to listen before buying. The songs stand up well in their new guise (some of the new arrangements are actually bloody brilliant) but if you’re anything like me you’ll be left hankering for Ronnie Le Treko’s or Mark Reale’s blistering guitars. I have to say I was particularly curious about “10.000 Lovers” and I’m glad to confirm it’s one of the standout tracks here.

A very hard album to rate. Perfectly suited for a mellow evening with the missus. If you want to rock out there’s always the original versions by the respective bands.
From this point of view it easily rates an 85. It actually puts most bands’ pedestrian attempts at going unplugged to shame. If on the other hand you were hoping for a helping of heavy rock just steer clear…

Rating – 85%
Review by Sancho