LAVALLE – DEAR SANITY

lavalle-dearsanity

Out now on Kivel Records

Lavalle are a new outfit fronted by guitarist Ed Lavalle who is backed up by an impressive cast of vocalist Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz (Domain, Evidence One), drummer Ramy Ali (Evidence One, Iron Mask) and bassist Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse) for the debut album “Dear Sanity”.

Fans of melodic metal ala Dokken, Ratt and Scorpions pay attention now as this may just be the best album of this style you will hear in 2013.

“Dear Sanity” is home to great songs with big hooks and commercial punch (albeit in an 80’s fashion). The production is stellar and Schulz is at the top of his game whether it be belting out verses or adding depth with strong  backing vocal choirs on choruses.
Ed  Lavalle himself comes across as no slouch in a Lynch/DeMartini/Jake E Lee sort of style, a solid player.  Logue and Ali lay down the rhythmic thrust with precision which adds the necessary groove as well.

Highlights are plentiful from opening brace of “Fading Like The Sun” and  “Scared To Love”, these are big rock tunes. “Don’t Cry” reminded me a little of the majestic work on the second Balance album from the early 80’s – no bad thing.  “Cry Of The Wolf” possesses more punch than a heavyweight boxing contest.  Elsewhere “Smoke And Mirrors” reminded me a little of Schulz and Ali’s work in Evidence One, perhaps due to the heavy vocal layering.  Power ballad fans will be well served by “One Day At A Time” and “Break Your Heart”.  “Rock Your World” is the only track I find myself skipping, maybe because the following track and album closer, the melodic “Wait Too Long” is another gem of a song.

Ed Lavalle and co can be very proud of their debut work, a great collection of songs which have a good running order and don’t outstay their welcome.   Lavalle are a name to watch and this comes highly recommended.

Rating – 90%

BOOK OF REFLECTIONS – RELENTLESS FIGHTER

Out now on Lion Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating– 85%

FROZEN RAIN – AHEAD OF TIME

Out now on Avenue Of Allies

“Ahead Of Time” arrives four years after the self titled debut album and marks the second chapter in the history of Frozen Rain. In 2008 the dream of the Belgian song writer & multi-instrumentalist Kurt Vereecke became reality when the first album of his AOR / Melodic Rock project was released. Positive feedback has led to a second album in “Ahead Of Time” and is rather impressive indeed.

Some band line-up changes have happened over the last 4 years with most notably guitarist Rik Priem joining the band and one of German rock’s most distinctive voices handling all lead vocals, namely one Carsten “Lizard” Schulz.  The two additions have paid dividends as this is a very strong slice of AOR/melodic hard rock in the vein of 1987-era Whitesnake, Journey and some hints of mid/late 80’s Bon Jovi.

Essentially this highly melodic fused hard rock, with strong hooks, guitar work that scream’s 80’s and parping keyboards along with a driving rhythm section.  Nothing is breaking new ground but who cares when its written as strongly as this and performed with gusto.  Guitarist Rik Priem comes across as a hybrid of John Sykes and Neal Schon and has the fine line between melody and speed down nicely; albeit with a very fx heavyguitar tone and over-reliance on the tremolo bar for vibrato.  Carsten Schulz sings in lower more smokey timbres than heard on other recent works from him off late, with these being well suited to the material and show his skill at delivering outside his more traditional heavy metal genre.

Highlights to these ears are opener “Believe It Or Not” which is equal parts Blue Murder and East Coast AOR and home to a superb feel and melodies.  The great melodies rear their head again on “Breaking Out” where the keyboards yield pomp style majesty and whilst a throwback to yesteryear it’s done as well as any of the major names still going.  Likewise the power ballad “Too Late” is everything you’d want in such a number with Schulz even going all Jon Bon on us whilst “The Way That You” begs for the Californian highway in a convertible car.

Elsewhere everything is still of a strong standard with good melodies and overall good performances and it all adds up to a very good album indeed.   Sonically there are no issues either with a big sound courtesy of mix by Alessandro Del Vecchio (Eden’s Curse) and mastering by Dennis Ward.

Overall “Ahead Of Time” is a throw back to the glory days of AOR, and one of the best examples of the genre you will hear in 2012.  Check it out.

Rating – 90%

AN INTERVIEW WITH BOGUSLAW BALCERAK OF CRYLORD

Boguslaw Balcerak is the super talented guitarist of newcomers Crylord.  Blessed with not only formidable technique but an ear for writing a winning song, the debut “Blood Of The Prophets” is one of the surprise releases of the year and a contender for debut of the year and a release we heartily recommend.  We caught up with Boguslaw to discuss the album and his history in depth.

Your debut release Crylord – Blood Of The Prophets hit the streets in October.  It’s an exceptional slice of metal. Please tell us how the band came together as you have some other very talented musicians with you.

It was not easy because in Poland it is hard to find good musicians in this genre. As for the rhythm section I asked my musical friends :  Kamil Wyzinski (bass and sound engineering) and Marcin Kwasny on drums. These guys provide a good rhythm section and they have great musical feeling. At the end I met Lukasz  Dybalski who is a keyboardist  and he just played my arrangements for this album.

The album is home to 3 fine vocalists in Carsten Schulz, Mark Boals and Goran Edman. How did you get these 3 vocalists involved and what sort of freedom did they have with the material?

I arranged melodic lines for each song and backing vocals. Of course, singers sometimes get swept away by emotions and sang them more in their own way, but it was so good that I decided not to be exactly as I wanted. Each of them has added something unique and it was good.

Especially Göran sometimes strongly modulate melodies, sometimes even like soul style. He never sings the same way twice, if a fragment is repeated he recorded it again, and always in different way. He made his own and amazing versions of choirs.

I think you did a nice job of picking songs to suit each vocalist’s strengths. Was this intentional or something that just worked out?

Their vocal skills are so high that I’m sure that each of them can sing no matter which song on the album, but obviously I thought about it who is to sing which song and reported to a concrete proposal.

When did you begin writing the music that appears on ‘Blood Of The Prophets’ and over what timescale was the music completed?

Music was written in 2008 and then it was the beginning of recordings.

Changing the recording studio and long mixing was the reasons why the album was ready until spring of 2011.

Can you remember what the first track you wrote was?

The first composition on the album was “Blind Dance” which is an instrumental song. It was the time when I was just dreaming about great vocalist and composing instrumental music.

Whilst there are elements of other bands, there is a very definite original voice within the material as well.  It’s an exciting sounding record, full of energy and vigour; I guess it must be a relief to finally get something out to the public?

I’m glad you think so. It is hard to do something original in neo-classical music, because it seems that everything has already been done by someone else. If the material is fresh is to say that it can appeal to people. It is important to me because for years I wanted to record my own music. I did not think, however, that it would be possible to record an album with such good singers.

Often I meet with the opinion that “Blood of the Prophets” is not revealing. Probably its true but it appears a lot of albums worse than “Blood of the Prophets”  have better reviews, and nobody there, no negative comments that it’s not revealing, though it is.

Your guitar work is exceptional, a superb technique yet with a strong dose of emotion in your play.  Can you tell us who your influences are and what you believe you have taken from their style and added to your own ideas to make your own voice?

I think the emotions are not only in the solo parts but also in the vocal lines and in the whole music.

Of course, Malmsteen as the biggest inspiration for me is still the most important. It’s a beautiful example of emotional music. There is no sense, however, to be another clone of Malmsteen. My playing is contaminated with Malmsteen’s style, but was expanded with a lot of elements such as: string skipping, more arpeggios, tapping, picking with the wide gauge of fingers, chromatic scales etc..

For years however I have been interested in guitar technique not only Malmsteen’s. Since many years I am inspired by albums from Shrapnel Records and Lion Music. Also there are newer virtuosos as George Bellas, Rusty Cooley and Francesco Fareri, from whom I’m still learning techniques, but in conjunction with my own feeling. At these times the level of guitar playing throughout the world is very high, and never can you say that you can play everything.

There are a few various styles on the album and there is a very strong flow to the music.  Do you have any personal tracks or performances and if so why?

It’s hard to say which of the songs I like most. Sometimes it is “The Healing Hands”, sometimes “Grave of Love” or “Bard’s Tale” but also “The Heretic” is very personal for me.

What guitar/amp/effects equipment did you use and is anything modded in any way?

Amp: Marshall 800, Messa Boogie Stiletto,

Guitar: Fender Stratocaster Standard, Ibanez RG2550 Prestige (),

All used without additional effects when recording

What are you looking for in your guitar sound and are you totally happy with the final sound on record?

I’m still looking for strong sound in riffs and crystal Fender sound in the solo parts. Of course I have a few comments about sound on the album but it’s not time here for that;)

Another great guitarist Andy LaRocque mastered the album. How did this come about and what did Andy bring to the sound?

Because of recording instruments at many sessions, and several studios the effect was such that each song had a different sound and different equalization.  Andy LaRocque proved to be invaluable here.

Andy is my guitar idol since the time of my elementary school, even before I heard Yngwie. I’ve watched his production of music for some time now, so finally I ask him for mastering the album. I’m happy that he found time to master the album, despite the flood of work he already had.

People might raise an eyebrow when they hear of a Polish metal band as its not a genre the country is really know for, so is Crylord the only band playing this form of music in your homeland or is there a sizeable scene for metal?

In Poland metal music is limited to very brutal like death, thrash metal or soft pop rock that is played at radio stations. Bands in the centre are missing, that is hard rock, classic metal, etc.. It is regarded as the relic and something funny. I do not know any other neo-classical metal band in Poland except Pathfinder which is truly brilliant power / symphonic band from Poznan .

The promo video for “Warriors Moon” has just been released as well, a nice effort with Carsten Schulz on vocals, how did the video shoot go?

We wondered together with Carsten which track could be the best for promoting this album. After a deep analysis, we decided that “Warrior’s Moon” would be the best choice as it’s a song with a fairly compact form. I also wanted it to be not too long  a song  so that people do not  switch off during playback 😉 What can be interesting is that this song was instrumental in the original. It was Carsten who found the potential for the vocal lines.

Can we expect any live appearances from Crylord in the future?

In fact, it’s hard to say is it possible to play concerts at this time. Certainly Carsten is the vocalist who could be involved. It all depends on how the CD will be accepted. If not at this time it may be the next album we’ll play something together.

Outside of Crylord what do you like to do for fun? Listen to? Etc..

In fact, I do not have much free time now since the birth of my daughter Liliana. Now she is 16 months old and there are many responsibilities associated with it.

Additionally work takes time and effort. I spend my every free time to work on myself as a guitarist and composing new songs and arrangements. If I have a moment for myself I like to read books and meet with friends.

What are your plans for the rest of 2011 and beyond?

This year I intend to finish the composition and arrangement of the material on the second album. In the next 2012 if everything goes fine we will start the hard work with recording.

Boguslaw, may we thank you again for this interview and even more so for the excellent music on ‘Blood Of The Prophets’, we wish you all the best for the future.

I also thank you for the interview, analysis and review of “Blood of the Prophets”

PARADISE INC – TIME

Out now on Avenue Of Allies

Debut offering from a Brazilian band fronted by German vocalist Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz (Evidence One, ex Domain) and its nice to see musicians from outside European or North American lands getting a shot.  Home to 11 tracks clocking in at a reasonable 53 minutes, this is a strong first offering full of enjoyable melodies and strong musicianship in the melodic rock field.

Opener “Time (Live And Learn)” sets a high bar from the off with its strong chorus refrain, before “Close Your Eyes” serves up some scandie rock overtones reminiscent of the now sadly defunct Damned Nation and again has a very worthy chorus – home to some trademark vocal harmonies from Schulz.  Dual guitar team of De Grigo and Marcos Peres combine well on “Who’s Fooling Who” with a commercial edge reminiscent of Bad English. The track written by Eden Curse’s Paul Logue is a heart-warming number with another strong vocal. The power balladry of “I Will Wait” is another winner with a nice modulation into the chorus. The fast paced “Wait And See” is another Paul Logue number and is carried along by a pumping riff.

The piano intro of “No More Mistakes” originally had me thinking its was going turn into Savatage’s ‘Gutter Ballet’ but instead it develops into an east coast AOR infused number, the vocal from Schulz is again commendable working around a low-end smoky Coverdale-ish timbre. The drums samples (one presumes) do get a little overwhelming here but otherwise it’s another highlight.  Likewise “You” begins with humble piano beginnings before developing into a heavier number than its predecessor and again works well.  This heavier timbre is continued with the mid tempo of “Set Me Free” which has another nice refrain to it.

The first of two versions of “Steel Or Stone” sets us on the home run.  The first is geared towards radio although I prefer the bonus acoustic version to the electric one.  Both versions sandwich “Not In Paradise” which sees a guest vocal from Doogie White (ex Rainbow, ex Malmsteen, Cornerstone) although sadly he has the weakest track on the album with it just lacking some of the fire of the music heard elsewhere.

Overall Paradise Inc has served up a strong debut.  Whilst it could be argued there is a lack of a totally original sound, this is something that could be thrown at the majority of the melodic rock scene.  As it stands they are good songwriters, good musicians and possess more than many that command a bigger following and the best band yet to have come from the Avenue Of Allies roster.

One to check out.

Rating – 84%

BOGUSLAW BALCERAK’S CRYLORD – BLOOD OF THE PROPHETS

Released 14th October 2011 on Lion Music

Neo-classical metal has been a bit of a hit and miss effort of late.  Strong releases from Concerto Moon have been counteracted by poor releases from the leading starlet of the genre Yngwie Malmsteen, so it’s with some hope that the debut effort from Polish guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak’s band Crylord can restore the balance for what is a favourite genre of mine.

The initial signs look good with a steady backing band behind guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak of some highly talented musicians from his native country, whilst vocals come from Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz (Evidence One, ex Domain) and former Malmsteen vocalists Mark Boals and Göran Edman.  Impressive names for sure and it’s easy to see how Boguslaw got them onboard as the quality of material is superb.

Whilst some will compare to Malmsteen purely because of the genre and a couple of names involved, the keener ear will hear an original sound.  There are some power and some small progressive elements here and there, but this is mostly about excellent songs with great performances.

After a brief orchestrated instrumental opener “Blood Of The Prophets” kicks into life with the ultra powerful title track.  Big riffs, fleet fingered lead work and a heavy dose of melody make this a great start.  The guitar work is as good as you’d hope for in this genre whilst the vocals of Carsten Schulz are arguably the best stuff I have heard from him yet making great use of layering on the choruses and a nice gritty delivery on the verses. This heavy, driving sound is heard elsewhere on the likes of “Warriors Moon” which has a nice change of tempo and very strong personality, and again within  “Beyond The Walls Of Sadness” which is home to a slower tempo and more epic sound.

The neo-classical sound is really at the fore on “Bard’s Tale” which is a track fans of classic Malmsteen and early Symphony X will warm to immediately.  This track has an absolutely scorching solo that reminded me a little of Balcerak’s label mate James Byrd. Beginning with a nice melodic theme before progressing into a very fluid workout with a great melodic edge and killer vibrato, this is one of the many tracks that you’ll be playing over and over.

Schulz and Boals combine well on the likes of “Face Of Destiny” which its melodic verses and soaring chorus which, again, home to a glorious solo from Balcerak. This guy really does have a great feel and the fast paced instrumental “The Heretic” is a perfect showcase for the mans skills.  But listen beyond the guitar work and you hear excellent keyboard inflections and orchestrations from Łukasz Dybalskand whilst drummer Marcin ‘Kanclerz’ Kwasny hits the skins with as much skill and gusto as many of the big names.

For Göran Edman’s vocals Boguslaw has composed a couple of commercial stompers in ‘Grave Of Love’ and ‘Angel Of Divine’ which are perfectly suited for the melodic commercial sheen of Edman’s voice.  The former is a quite fast paced and Edman pulls out all the stops on the vocal front, the chorus is perfect for his voice.  The latter track is darker, with a more majestic feel to it and again very infectious, a grittier vocal from Göran works well on the verses and you get the impression he is enjoying singing this material.

The 8 minute “Valley Of The Dead” sees the tempo taken down to a doomier Sabbath meter for the most part.  It’s a nice change of pace and you can see an intimidating atmosphere developing in the live arena with this one.  Schulz turns on the darker side of his voice.  The track picks up in tempo in the middle section which paves way to another sublime solo from Boguslaw, one of his best on the album.  The solo on this one is one of the most extended on the album- the opening bend and descending lick which will raise the hairs on anyone’s back and makes the rest of the fretboard skills compulsive listening.

Next up we get some respite in the melodic themed tonality of power ballad “When The Time Has Come” which is a duet between Boals and Edman, a sweet track with an anthemic chorus and heart wrenching solo from Boguslaw.

The album closes with the dark magnificently titled “The Healing Hands Of Destruction”.  Beginning with a wealth of movie score type orchestration before the track moves into a neo-classical charger, this one will blow your head off. Vocals come from all 3 vocalists who combine well yet the power of the delivery is to die for. A fitting closing number.

“Blood Of The Prophets” is in a word awesome and ranks as one of the releases of the year. After the horrible taste in the mouth left by Malmsteen’s dire “Relentless” release, this is a reminder of when done right how strong neo-classical metal is a genre. Although to recommend it to neo-classical fans along would be selling it short as “Blood Of The Prophets” will appeal to a fans of classic/trad metal and power and progressive metal (think early Symphony X) genres as well.

Aided by an excellent production and mix and superb artwork this is in many ways the complete package.

Boguslaw Balcerak’s leaves us in no doubt of his guitar ability with this album, but more importantly he’s leaves the lasting impression of a musician that can pen incredible songs and is a name that I hope you will be hearing a lot more from.

Buy now.

Rating – 95%