WHITE WIDDOW – WHITE WIDDOW

Out now on AOR Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

Rating – 85%
Review by Sancho

Advertisements

HAKEN – AQUARIUS (ARCHIVE)

 

Out now on Sensory Records

Haken are a rarity in that that are a virtuosic progressive rock/ metal band from England, normally us Brits go for stuff much more obvious and trend driven so its nice to be able to assess something from my homeland in one of my favourite genres.  Aquarius is the bands debut release –and as you might expect for a prog band its a 7 track 72 minute, larger than life conceptual sci-fi/fantasy work brought to us by the Sensory label.

Led by the enigmatic vocals of Ross Jennings, the music is heavy coming across as a mix of Vanden Plas and Symphony X in the heavier segments, with the more esoteric instrumental stylings of Transatlantic.  No doubt some critics will want to market the band as a UK Dream Theater but these would be quite wide of the mark to these ears as this features a much more diverse sound, one might say all encompassing with its jazz and fusion leanings in places. 

The opening trio of tracks all clock in over the 10 minute mark each so the band make their prog credententials known right from the off, luckily the music is enjoyable but quite often falls into the ‘where’s the song?’ category.  That said ‘Eternal Rain’ does come close with its more traditional song structure.   A little fine tuning, or perhaps critical appraisal from within the bands ranks of what is really needed in the songs overall would pay dividends if they wish to draw in the more casual listener, but prog fans as a whole should enjoy the barrage of musicality – if not the occasional grunted vocals. ‘Drowning In The Flood’ reminded me somewhat of the music on the Sphere Of Souls debut which is no bad thing either.

Sonically the album is one of the better efforts from the Sensory label of late, being mostly clear and mud free in the mix department – which is essential for maximum enjoyment in this genre.

Overall Haken have come up with a solid debut in ‘Aquarius’ and may just kick start a renaissance of original progressive music in the UK.  A nice start.

Rating -80%

DAY SIX – THE GRAND DESIGN (ARCHIVE)

Out Now on Lion Music

Lion Music continues their recent trend of picking up original sounding new progressive talent in fine style with Day Six. Hailing from the Netherlands, the four piece play a dark brand of prog meets metal and classic rock which is equally at home with its crushing riffs or Pink Floyd-esque moments of tranquil calm.

Lyrically ‘The Grand Design’ is a concept album which focuses on an extraterrestrial spaceship that has been found in Lake Vostok – Antarctica and subsequent government conspiracies. Each track is home to a wealth of musical goodies and Robbie van Stiphout’s melodic vocals allow the band to avoid the usual prog metal vocal clichés and his guitar work shows a man with a dossier at his disposal of crushing riffs.

The sound of the album reminded me a little of a heavier Everon but there are traces here of heavier metal acts such as Dream Theater (in their basic riff form), Porcupine Tree and some of the heaviest riffing wouldn’t be out of place on a Metallica album. The band see fit to create musical landscapes out of synths and riffs as opposed to blazing lead work instrumental sections, and this makes a welcome change. Simply said there is an awful lot to enjoy here.

As debuts go this is very strong indeed. Home to a very powerful production and great performances all round this is a fine debut and worthwhile for all prog fans past to present to check out.

Rating – 90%

DIO – AT DONINGTON UK LIVE 1983 & 1987 (REVIEW)

Out now on Niji Records

More than 20 years after the fact, someone has finally seen fit to release these two performances of Dio at the Monsters Of Rock festivals of 1983 and 1987 respectively. Why this material was never released before is a mystery. The 1987 show especially would have made a far better first Dio live album than the horrid “Inferno : Last In Live”.

For your money, you will receive a nicely packaged double CD. There’s a rather spartan booklet and two backstage pass replicas.

CD 1 features the 1983 gig. Holy Diver had just been released and Dio was out to make a name for himself as a solo artist. The set list consists of tracks from “Holy Diver” coupled with some Sabbath and Rainbow tracks. The band is the classic Dio lineup and delivers a rock solid performance. Ronnie himself  sounds driven. Aggressive, hungry and raw. Vivian Campbell by contrast disappoints. Was it stage fright?  A lot of what he plays is just gibberish. The mix is much in the “Holy Diver” style : unpolished and dry.

CD2 contains the 1987 MOR gig. Craig Goldy in the band, “Dream Evil” on the shelves.  Again a mix of Dio, Sabbath and Rainbow tunes. Ronnie sounds more at ease this time around, probably enjoying the status the band had established by then.  The much maligned Goldy delivers a cracking performance that puts Campbell’s fumbling misadventures to shame. Production is more polished. This really should have been released as a Dio live album back then.

What’s obvious on this release is that we get the unfiltered live performance, warts and all. There’s the odd bum note and off key backing vocal. It just goes to show what a tight live band Dio was at this point (and frankly always remained), and what an amazing singer Ronnie was.

Song selection on the other hand was never Dio’s strong point. He relied on the same couple of Rainbow and Sabbath tracks to fill out the set up until the time of his death. Often mixed up in some sort of contrived medley. Why? Plenty of killer Dio album tracks never got a live airing…

Minor niggles aside, this album comes highly recommended for all fans of Dio and quality metal in general.

Rating – 90%
Review by the always talking to strangers Sancho.

DREYELANDS – ROOMS OF REVELATION (ARCHIVE REVIEW)

Out Now  – Lion Music

Hungary might not be the first destination to spring to mind if you were to take a world cruise of progressive metal hotbeds, but with their debut ‘Rooms Of Revelation’, Dreyelands will instantly make you add the country on your must check out list and also give the genre’s big boys something serious to be worried about.

Freshly signed to Lion Music the band may just have found their ideal home as the band sound ideal for what the label promote – high quality melodic progressive metal.  Couple that with a stunning album cover and overall presentation from the band and this suggests a band that is concerned about all aspects of their presentation.

‘Rooms Of Revelation’ is home to 9 tracks (1 short intro and 8 “rooms”) the album is a concept piece which depicts a journey in a schizophrenic mind.  The rooms signify points in the mind of the main character as we learn about his past as does he.  However, it’s nothing to get bogged down with as the songs stand individually as well as any non concept album.

Musically the songs are powered by heavy guitar riffs and great lead work from András Ádám Horváth (a guitarist of considerable skill) fused with ultra melodic, memorable vocal themes from Nikola Mijic who possesses a superb strong clear voice with no accent to speak of.  To these ears he is like a more gritty Göran Edman and takes the band away from all the Russell Allen / James Labrie clones that litter the genre. Special mention also needs to go out to bassist Gergely Springer and drummer Omar Gassama who are a quite formidable rhythm section.  Keyboards on the album are handled by Zoltán Kas who has since left the band being replaced in a hired capacity by György Nagy (Age of Nemesis).

Sonically ‘Rooms Of Revelation’ is big, modern and natural with the band boasting of no triggers on the drums and live string arrangements  for which extra kudos must be given. 

Each of the main body of songs are highlights in their own right, whether it be the dark ‘Seek For Salvation’, the groove inflected ‘Can’t Hide Away’ (check promo video on side of review), the commercial and impossible catchy ‘Pretending’ with its glorious chorus and melodic hooks, and the firey riffery of ‘Fragments’ which again has enough hooks on to hang the coats section of H&M all make the first half of the album fly by  despite all clocking in over the 5 minute mark- always a good sign of quality

Things get darker hereon in with ‘Way To You’ being quite complex musically yet accessible vocally, the gentle piano led ballad ‘Blossoms Of Decay’ is a nice breather before the numerous facets of ‘Vain’ takes hold (some great riffs are contained within) and the glorious final track ‘Closing Grace’ which again which is sure to find favour with fans of Dream Theater, Seventh Wonder and the like plus I detect a little of the darkness of label mates Tomorrow’s Eve on the chorus.  A fine closer.

With ‘Rooms Of Revelation’ Dreyelands may well have delivered the prog metal album of 2010 and a serious contender for album of the year overall.  Given this is a debut offering suggests the band have a great future ahead and I sincerely hope all prog metal fans take a chance on this unknown band as they will be richly rewarded on all levels – simply awesome.
 
Hot Spots : Everything.
Rating : 98%

www.dreyelands.com


FOGHAT – LAST TRAIN HOME (ARCHIVE REVIEW)

 

Purveyors of some of the finest blues and boogie rock of the 1970’s the band fell on hard times during the 80’s before ceasing to exist until reforming in the early 90’s. Death’s of a brace of founding members in ‘Lonesome’ Dave Peverett and Rod ‘The Bottle’ Price left original drummer Rod Price with a dilemma. The decision was continue and in came lead guitarist Bryan Bassett who was recommended by Peverett prior to his death and new vocalist/rhythm guitarist Charlie Huhn. Since then the band have been giving it a good go almost endlessly on the road (sadly only in the US for us European fans) with on/off bassist Craig Macgregor in addition to having delivered the solid studio album ‘Family Joules’ and the great live album ‘Live II’ both of which have been warmly received by fans and indeed us here at V1.

Now the band have returned to their roots to deliver the first “blues” album of the bands career in “Last Train Home”. Whilst this might be labelled as new, fans of the bands classic output know the blues is the heart of soul of Foghat driving tunes and the material on offer here (covers) is performed flawlessly, authentically and with great enthusiasm, it the aural equivcalent of a comfy pair of well worn jeans, the jeans that still look cool despite the wear and tear. Essentially Foghat have come full circle, and this is sure to please fans of the bands classic 70’s output as well as hopefully introduce some youngsters to the bands brand of rock, the album sounds great too.

After nearly 40 years in the game Foghat sound fresh and revitalised on “Last Train Home” and anyone with a passing penchant for blues rock needs this gem in their collection.

Rating – 90%

CRYSTAL VIPER – LEGEND (REVIEW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho

SPOCK’S BEARD – X (REVIEW)

Out Now – Mascot
 
Shamefully I must confess to this being my first airing of Spock’s Beard. This is a band that has always been on my “check out” list but never made it into a shopping cart. So fortunately or not I am approaching the bands tenth album, the imaginatively titled “X”, with virgin fresh ears. Their label Mascot proclaim this as one of the bands best albums to date and I’ll take their word on it and amongst their admirers is none other than former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy.

First of this looks and smells like prog, classy artwork, inventive band name and the sound backs this up. Yet Spock’s Beard come across as the new breed of melodic prog rock with a few heavier moments this is all rather easily digestible and enjoyable – none of your bloated stodgy 70’s prog-isms here. The musicians sure know their way around their instruments yet don’t ram it down our throats at every opportunity. With just 7 songs and running time of over an hour the epic track length is here on the likes of 10 minute opener “Edge Of The Inbetween”, 17 minute “From The Darkness” and 16 minute closer “Jaws Of Heaven” yet there is also more palatable track lengths elsewhere. That said the epics do not have lag and are lovely compositions full stop with lush vocal melodies, strong guitar work and a nice rhythmic interplay all rounded out by a crisp and clear modern production.

With “X” Spock’s Beard appear to be in a very healthy state and I am eager to check out the back catalogue. Recommended for prog rock fans.

Rating – 87%