W.E.T. – RISE UP

wet_sophomore

Released 22nd February 2013 on Frontiers

The WET debut was a highlight. Rarely do record company sponsored “all star” projects live up to expectations. WET transcended them with a killer album.

Can they maintain the quality on their sophomore effort?

Well… yes and no. Sure, the production and performances are beyond reproach once again. And there’s some killer songs present, like big ballad “Still Believe In Us”. But it also feels less fresh. Less spontaneous? A song like “Still Unbroken” is cliched filler.

Maybe it’s because this time around there’s no surprise. Maybe it’s me being grumpy. In either case, I’m not as bowled over as I was in 2009.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good melodic hard rock/AOR album by anyone’s standards.  But after the debut, I guess I expected more.

Rating – 83%
Review by Sancho

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ECLIPSE – BLEED & SCREAM

Released 24 August 2012 on Frontiers

Eclipse’s debut album “Are You Ready To Rock” was a joyous mix of melody, guitars and fun.

On the follow-up “Bleed And Scream” they seem to have matured a bit. No need for panic, they haven’t gone all Lynch Mob on us and replaced tempo and shreddy guitars with plodding grooves.  No sir! Fast paced tracks with plenty of guitar breaks are still the order of the day. But overall the songs seem a bit more balanced, more polished.

If you like melodic hard rock with a metallic edge, look no further. It’s impossible to designate stand out tracks, as the overall level is consistently high. These guys don’t seem to get a lot of attention (a decent website would probably help), but they are easily one of the best European melodic hard rock bands out there.

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho

BEYOND THE BRIDGE – THE OLD MAN AND THE SPIRIT

Out now on Frontiers Records

Progressive Metal is something of a rarity on Frontiers.  Normally you see them throwing big bucks (perhaps) at established names like Vanden Plas but seldom do you see them giving new prog metal bands a shot.  Beyond The Bridge is the exception to this trend though.  A 7 piece band hailing from Germany, “The Old Man And The Spirit” has been in the works for close to 2008 according to the promo sheet and certainly is well crafted yet is not without its pitfalls.

Musically its hard to avoid Dream Theater in prog metal and Beyond The Bridge share a number of musical traits with the American genre leaders.  However, vocalist Herbie Langhans is far less grating on the ears than LaBrie and possesses a Lande’ esque tonality, his vocals are paired with the female leads of Dilenya Mar, not the most accomplished female vocalist out there but at least she has an original quality rather than aping the likes of Sharon den Adel.

Lead guitarist Peter Degenfeld is not a million miles away from Mr Petrucci with first rate technical ability, yet he also shares Mr Petrucci’s less than exciting guitar tone.

Fabian Maier handles the drums with equal apblomb and knows when to lay off the flash and groove so extra marks here.

Highlights come in the guise of opener “The Call” which is a strong first track, good melodies and nice chord progressions. “The Apparition” follows and is a very enjoyable 8 minute ride, dark with good melodies and nice musical interludes.  “Doorway To Salvation” is a high energy up-tempo number with some 7 string riffery and reminds a little of Adagio at the start before progressing through some different areas.

All is not great though, the poppier textures of “World Of Wonders” is just a little too twee, clichéd and lacking in staying power.  Likewise “The Struggle”  features some quite dreadful vocals, supposedly two sides of a personality in conflict one suspects, but its effect to these ears is somewhat annoying, and “Where The Earth & Sky Meet” is a slushy power ballad, the likes of which Dream Theater gave up on after Another Day.

Indeed it’s the second half of the album is where my interest seriously started to wane, as highlighted by the tracks in previous paragraph.  Its here you feel the band got a little too bogged down in the story telling and, well, went a little too far up their own arses for their own good.  You can see where the albums 3 year creation process went, ultimately the album comes across as overly long, overly intricate (and not in a good way for a prog metal release) and ultimately sees it loose marks.

There is no denying that Beyond The Bridge do have the tools to be able to make a great album, this is halfway towards that, and whilst the weaker moments are a little too frequent when its good, its very good.  Overall, one to watch and hopefully Frontiers will give the band time to grow and not look for an overnight success.

Rating – 75%

BEGGARS & THIEVES – WE ARE THE BROKEN HEARTED

Released 2nd December 2011 on Frontiers Records

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

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

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

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

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

XORIGIN – STATE OF THE ART

Released 26th August 2011 on Frontiers Records

Xorigin are a new signing to Frontiers with ‘State Of The Art’ representing the debut release from this new band based around two musicians with a history dating back to 1999.  Vocalist Johannes Stole (P.O.B.) and guitarist Daniel Palmqvist (solo/ex The Murder Of My Sweet) first met when students at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles where they formed the band Orange Crush. The time over on American shores for these Scandinavians was obviously well spent with the influence of the likes of Toto, Giant and Foreigner etc run high throughout the sound of this 11 track debut.

Stylistically this is right what you’d expect for Frontiers i.e. melodic vocals, big hooks, lots of keyboards and a keen commercial edge with a production by Daniel Flores (The Murder Of My Sweet / Mind’s Eye) who also plays drums on the album.

Opener “Can’t Keep Running” is an infectious track, very eighties in outlook and sound with its synth bass sound and big chorus hook which sees well layered vocal melodies it’s a strong opening number. Yet sadly is the first indicator of a production flaw that runs throughout the album, namely Daniel Palmqvist’s guitar solos being mixed too low for my tastes, a shame as Palmqvist is no slouch on the guitar.

However, back to the music and the album continues along a path of solidly constructed numbers with the mid- tempo waters of “Crying For You”,   “The One For Me” (which I thought was going to break into the ‘1987’ version of Whitesnake’s ‘ Here I Go Again’ at the intro) and “What Love Is All About” being tracks that are easy on the ear with their pleasing melodies and enjoyable instrumentation.

Elsewhere “Gina” (not a Michael Bolton cover) has traces of ‘Big Generator’ era Yes which works well, “This Is It” is a little darker than much of the material for the verses but hits a vibrant stride with its chorus, whilst “Said And Done” offers up a more straight rock feel.

Big power ballad fans are well catered for with “In The Blink Of An Eye” sounding like the perfect companion to the likes of Winger’s ‘Miles Away’ or Damn Yankees ‘High Enough’. Good stuff just 20 years too late but hey nothing wrong with nostalgia when it’s well crafted like this.  The album closes with a slightly more contemporary and modern sounding ballad in “Mend My Heart” and it’s a nice way to see the album out.

At a hair under 48 minutes this is about the perfect length for anyone wanting to revel in some melodic rock that for the most part if high in quality with good performances to boot.  The slight flaw in the mix is a little disappointing but otherwise this is a good release and one that will hopefully pave the way for future works from Palmqvist and Stole.

Recommended.

Rating – 84%

WARRANT – ROCKAHOLIC

Out now on Frontiers Records

2006’s comeback album “Born Again” was a decent enough effort, even if it didn’t really capture the vibe of the original Warrant output. Not light-footed enough, all things considered.  Jaime St James has been replaced by ex Lynch Mob singer Robert Mason, whose voice is a far better fit for the music. On “Rockaholic”, the band have taken a step towards setting the record straight.

“Sex Ain’t Love”, “Innocence Is Gone”, “Show Must Go On”… Warrant aren’t going philosophical on us. This album is a ray of California sunshine, and should provide a nice flashback for those of us who were enjoying hard rock at the time. It’s not all lightweight fare, however, thanks to the inclusion of a couple of darker, heavier tunes like “Dusty’s Revenge” and hard rockers like “Cocaine Freight Train” or “The Last Straw”. No melodic rock album without ballads. “Home” and “Found Forever” fill the prescription very competently.

Like the last Night Ranger, there’s a harder edge to the band these days, that combines very nicely with the melodicism and results in a more balanced product.

The album is very well paced, but with 14 songs adding up to 54 minutes of music it is on the verge of too long…

A great album by a sometimes under-appreciated band. If you always thought they were too fluffy, give this one a listen.

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho 

DEF LEPPARD – MIRRORBALL

Out now on Frontiers Records

Before I start this review I want to go on record and say that Def Leppard were one of the main reasons I got into rock music back in the mid 1980’s. Their first four albums are all top notch despite the stylistic change over the albums.  Decent songs will always be decent songs no matter how they are packaged and I can honestly still enjoy anything from those albums in 2011.

That said aside from a few numbers on “Adrenalize” I haven’t cared for anything the band have done in almost 20 years, where the emphasis on the studio albums seemed more about staying “current” and the bands starting sounding more like anyone as opposed to Def Leppard.  Sales figures suggest the buying public also thought so.  Where the likes of Bon Jovi have gone from strength to strength, Def Leppard have faltered in the publics eyes if the charts and more tellingly singles charts are to be believed.

That said despite diminishing returns on album sales the live shows have still been packing them in worldwide and its perhaps surprising its taken roughly 25 years for their first live album to see the light of day.  To sweeten the deal there is the added incentive (possibly) of three new studio cuts in “Undefeated”, “Its All About Believin” and “Kings Of The World”.

Perhaps not surprisingly the track listing plays it safe with all the big hits as well as the better known tracks that didn’t dent the charts.  All is good on this front and as you would expect but the first thing to hit you is how stale this album sounds.

Joe Elliot has never been the best live vocalist but actually sounds half decent here. The problem is more the digital sounding overly effected guitar work, where the live feeling is really taken out of Def Leppard arena.  The only thing to make you think this isn’t the studio albums with some hall reverb thrown on and a different vocal track from Elliot is Phil Collen’s apparent need to shred sloppily and often out of key whenever he can squeeze a few extra notes into an arrangement.  Vivian Campbell by contrast is mostly faceless to the point of despair. If he still possesses the chops he owned in Dio he can eat Collen for breakfast in the technique department and its only really on the excellent instrumental “Switch 625” do we get to really hear him dig into the strings.  Presumably the pay cheque is enough to make him overlook the fact that he could be pushing the band into new areas.

For the most part there is nothing here to really challenge the studio versions in terms of live excitement.  On a positive side it’s nice to hear “Too Late For Love” in the live arena, and the acoustic rendition of “Bringin On The Heartbreak” is well done but not much else really excites this listener.

Of the 3 new tracks there is not much here to get too excited about.  “Undefeated” is decent enough but you get the feeling it’s being held back on a leash half the time.  The ballad “Kings Of The World” sees the band trying to be Queen but Joe will never be Freddy Mercury. The track comes across more as a tribute to Queen than a bona-fide Leppard tracks, that said its better than anything on the last couple of studio albums. Album closer and final newie “It’s All About Believin” is stock AOR with a chorus key change that never really sits right with the verses.  All the Leppard trademarks are here i.e. arpeggiated chords and BIG harmonised vocals but ultimately its rather bland.

Overall “Mirrorball” is somewhat of a let down.  Sure it will probably appease the bands main fanbase who might well want to hear tracks played as per the albums with little variance, nor indeed will notice Collen’s sloppy guitar work but for those of us that like to hear new things in the live arena its all rather safe, bland and ultimately dull.

I really wanted to like this album. I really want Def Leppard to rediscover their early fire, forget about trying to chart and just rock again but I don’t think the band have that in them anymore and ultimately I am left disappointed in more ways that one.

Rating – 50%

WHITESNAKE – FOREVERMORE

Released 25th March 2011 on Frontiers Records

2008’s “Good To Be Bad” marked the return of Whitesnake as a force to be reckoned with.  Flawed in places, it nevertheless put Whitesnake back on the map as a valid hard rock band.  2011 brings the official follow up. “Forevermore” is the band’s debut for Frontiers Records.

From the opening salvo of “Steal Your Heart Away” the stage is set. There’s hints of older Whitesnake (not in the least because of the slide guitar that can’t help but bring to mind Micky Moody), there’s obvious links to the band’s commercial peak and there’s even references to the Coverdale/Page album.

First single “Love Will Set You Free” would not have been out of place on 1987. Neither would “Dogs In The Street” for that matter. “Tell Me How” adds a modern touch while retaining the classic foundation. The fans of old Whitesnake will be well served by “Love And Treat Me Right”.  The title track closes the album on an epic yet subdued note.

With a running time of an hour, the album borders on too long but they just about get away with it. The guitar tag team of Aldrich/Beach delivers as expected, backed up by the mighty Brian Tichy on drums. It’s no news that Coverdale’s voice has suffered over the years. “Easier Said Than Done” or “Fare Thee Well” are still guaranteed to get the ladies swooning though. He seems to have a better grasp of what his voice can handle compared to “Good To Be Bad”. Production is a lot better than it was on its predecessor even if there’s still a tendency towards artificial heaviness.

Overall a fine return to form.

Rating – 90%
Review by rough an’ ready Sancho.


TEN – STORMWARNING

Released 18th February 2011 on Frontiers Records

UK melodic hard rockers Ten return after an exile from the scene.  Led by vocalist and principle songwriter Gary Hughes, the man back in the day had a knack of penning some good melodic hard rock and some classic Magnum-esque solo albums for Bob Catley.  So now back from the dead Ten are back with a new line up and ten new tracks of which only one clocks in under the 5 minute mark on the new album “Stormwarning”.

Marketed as the perfect amalgamation of ‘Down To Earth’ era Rainbow, ‘1987’ era Whitesnake and ‘Run For Cover’ era Gary Moore is one bold claim, and sadly one that is never lived up to.  Most of the tracks are all likeable enough, but there is nothing that stands out as anything better than acceptable.  The similar tempos of each track suggest Hughes’ metronome has gone on the blink which does make the album drag somewhat as well. Granted the band are giving it all a good go but the album lacks some dazzle, there is an all round lacking of energy, a stiff production also doesn’t help which is surprising for a Dennis Ward effort.  Gary Hughes’ vocals haven’t aged too badly over time, a little of their earlier power has gone and they do seem a little more monotonous than in years gone by but again nothing to really complain about.

The only time the album really get going is for the title track which is the highlight of the album and home to a strong chorus and a little more energy than other tracks.  Elsewhere it’s a case of likeable but ultimately quite faceless material.

Ultimately this is not the return to action that was hoped for, whether this can win over more fans than the band had in their heyday (which was presumably not enough to keep them going?) will remain to be seen but “Stormwarning” is never anything more than a quite average melodic hard rock album.

Rating – 60%

SCHEEPERS – SCHEEPERS

Released 18th February 2011 on Frontiers Records

Ralf Scheepers’ first solo album. We all know Ralf as the slightly Halford inspired singer of the slightly Judas Priest inspired Primal Fear. So, what does Ralf have to offer on his solo debut? Does he branch out? Surprise us with exotic influences and unexpected plot twists?

Well… Not really. From beginning to end the album serves up solid, German heavy metal. With the odd nod to Judas Priest. Not unlike Primal Fear, come to think of it…Why Ralf felt the need to release a solo album that sounds so much like his regular band escapes me. Other than an ego boost, I can see little reason. On the other hand, it’s Ralf doing what he does best. Which is always a good idea.

For the record : this is a killer album. Everything fits perfectly into place. The songs are catchy, at times groovy, the riffs heavy and the solos shred. And of course Ralf is no slouch in the vocal department. His take on Priest’s “Before The Dawn” is eerily close to the original.

“Scheepers” sounds inspired. Like a really good Primal Fear album…

 Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho