BOGUSLAW BALCERAK’S CRYLORD – GATES OF VALHALLA

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Released 20th June 2014 on Power Prog Records

Album #2 for Crylord, the band led by Polish guitar whiz Boguslaw Balcerak.  As with their impressive debut “Blood Of The Prophets” the new album sees an all star cast of vocalists from former Malmsteen screamers Goran Edman and Mark Boals, to Carsten Lizard Schulz (Evidence One, Dead End Heroes), Rick Altzi (At Vance) and newcomer Ricky Wychowaniec.  Once again a backdrop of very competent Polish musicians completes the line-up.

Stylistically the albym also contined where its predecessor ended, extremely well written neo-classical metal infused with a few prog metal touches in a couple of places.  Excellent performances from all involved and if this had Malmsteen’s name on it the world would be sitting up and taking notice as it slays anything “the maestro” has released in almost 20 years.

Great songs, great playing, great performances and good production.

Highly recommended.

Rating – 94%

 

Also reviewed:

ALIEN – ETERNITY

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Out now on AOR Heaven

Didn’t see this one coming.  AOR that actually sounds fresh despite having pedigree that goes back to the mid 80’s! As a genre  AOR seems stuck within 2 camps.  The old school sound where bands are trying to relive the genre’s glory days on diminished recording budgets and lesser song craft, and the new breed which never seem to quite hit the nail on the head despite all the OTT marketing a certain label likes to give its latest “new supergroup” act.

Anyway, back to the music, Alien have reformed their classic debut album line-up and essentially turned the clock back.  This is majestic and bombastic melodic rock with a strong smattering of pomp.  In a way its not a million miles away from Magnum’s “On A Storytellers Night” album such is the magnificence of Tony Borg’s strong guitar hooks married to Jimmy Wandroph’s keyboard orchestration and the big vocal melodies of Jim Jidhed (whose voice has a touch of Bob Catley about it), yet there is also an injection of a American influence too, somewhere around where Bad English plied their trade.  That said, despite these two reference points the sound is pretty original.

The 12 tracks have a good flow to them, from the slowly building opener “In Love We Trust”, to the hook laden “Unbroken” and mid tempo “Love Will Lead Me Home” which has a great chorus to it.  And so the album goes on in pretty much similar fashion throughout.  “WIldheart” does see the sound rocked up an extra notch though.

That said its not great all the way though. The go nowhere fluff of “I Believe” and album closer “In Truth” would not be lost if absent, as indeed would a couple of Jidhed’s “wooo oooo o ooooo o” vocal wailing’s on a number of song intros, but even with that taken on board this is still very good stuff.

Overall a nice surprise from the Swedish rockers,  if you like AOR then this is as essential as the genre gets in 2014, if you’ve been bored stiff by the genre the last few years this shows there is still some gems to be had.  Very nice indeed.

Rating – 90%

THE MILESTONES : HIGHER MOUNTAIN – CLOSER SUN

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Out now on Turenki Records

Finland’s classic rockers The Milestones are back with the fourth album in their 20 year history. Not exactly prolific but quality over quantity is a rare commodity in this age.  Their last effort “Devil In Me” was an excellent slice of what the band are all about. Now just 4 years later they are back with “Higher Mountain – Closer Sun”.

For the most part the album takes off where its predecessor ended, when you have a winning formula why not if the songs are as good, fortunately these are slightly better.

If you like your rock on the classic end of things this band will bring new joy into your world.  A very live feel is heard throughout,  LOUD responsive guitar tones (with a bevy of Telecaster, Firebird and Les Paul usage) and a rhythm section that clearly knows the meaning of the word – groove – throw on top a vocalist who actually seems to be enjoying his music and its hard not to listen to this and smile.

Opener “Walking Trouble” kicks the album off with high energy, a driving riff collide with gritty vocals and rocking harmonica from frontman Olavi Tikka and you’ll be turning this up loud.  “Shalalalovers” continues the theme but throws in a little more commercialism with the chorus hook likely to be in your head days after.

The band prove they have exquisite taste by next serving up a faithful cover of Foghat’s 1976 classic “Drivin Wheel”, high energy and a will to make the song their own is displayed.  Next we can catch our breath a little with the southern rock inflections of “Oh My Soul” before the predominantly acoustic “Grateful” prepares up for the Stonesy crunch of “Sweet Sounds”.

A nice Humble Pie vibe is experienced on “It’s All Right” and this is the first of a couple of corker tracks with the telecaster twang  bedrock and laid back delivery (at least for the verses) of “You” show strong song writing and good maturity from the band.

“Looking Back From Yesterday” sits in mid-tempo waters and does take a few listens to sink in fully before “Damn” ups the tempo with a ridiculously simple yet effective riff drives the song on, its also got a killer chorus as well.

Closing track “Fool Me” seems a little haphazard compared to the majority of the album with riffs that are disjointed and quirky in equal measure, maybe not the killer closing track the album deserves but pleasant enough.

“Higher Mountain – Closer Sun” is another excellent release from The Milestones, How they’ve managed to escape more widespread popularity is beyond me but this album is strong enough to certainly give them a chance of that.  Well crafted songs in a retro spirit with great vintage guitar tones and packed full of strong vocal hooks make this one of the best pure rock releases you are likely to hear in 2014.

Check it out now.

Rating – 92%

THE MILESTONES – DEVIL IN ME

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Originally reviewed in 2010 and back from the archives.

Bold, soulful and groovy are the words to describe The Milestones whose 70’s influences include such greats as Lynyrd Skynrd, Allman Brothers, a touch of Bad Company and healthy dose of the attitude of Bon Scott era AC/DC. You’d swear these guys were coming out of the southern reaches on America but no, they hail from Finland and have produced a quite marvelous album in “Devil In Me”.

If you enjoyed early Black Crowes and the two gems from Cry Of Love or the above mentioned bands you will enjoy this thoroughly. Great songs powered along by clear twin guitar with guitar tones that are on the right side of vintage dirt, a grooving rhythm section and a superb vocalist in Olavi Tikka who is equal parts Chris Robinson/Bon Scott and Paul Rodgers. This is an album made in the finest traditions of when it was the music that mattered – you can smell the earth, the bourbon and the Marlboros and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an album in a similar vein so much in quite some time.

No need for picking out individual tracks for this is an essential purchase from start to finish. If you have a penchant for 70’s rock in its more honest form then check this out now.

Rating – 90%

BALTIMOORE – BACK FOR MORE

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Out now on BLP Music

“Back For More” marks the 12th album from Swedish hard rock merchants Baltimoore and it’s the band heaviest in some time.  As always led by the distinctive voice of Bjorn Lodin the album fuses traditional hard rock textures with a few left turns and interesting musical twists.  In the band are some old faces from the bands past in bassist Weine Johansson and Hammond organist Örjan Fernkvist, who are joined with a couple of new faces in guitarist Mats Attaque and drummer Klas Anderhell.   Bjorn Lodin is still the principle songwriter so the bands trademark sound is still here in spades.

Opener “Cry Out For Innocence” blasts out the speakers with biting intent and Lodin sounds suitably aggressive in his vocal delivery.  With a fast paced riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an MSG record (along with a hint of Uriah Heep’s Easy Livin) this is powerful stuff.  New lead guitarist Mats Attaque makes a great first impression with some soaring lead lines and it all adds up to a great opening track.

“Don’t Say No” keeps the tempo and momentum high but is a more commercial flavoured rocker with a truly infectious chorus. The bottom end is truly thunderous and once again Attaque lays down another blistering performance.

“Until The End Of The Line” slips into mid-tempo waters for a dual faceted track which fuses a restraint verse before building for the bridge and ultimately hitting its stride for the melody rich chorus.  Lodin knows how to craft a song and this is a strong example of how he likes to tease the listener with giving them something traditionalists would appreciate before throwing in a curveball.   A song with good radio potential.

The promo sheet says some tracks were originally written with Lodin’s other oufit HARD in mind.  “Are You Onto Me” may well be one of these numbers as its sounds pretty similar to feel with Lodin’s work on his two efforts with the Hungarian outfit.  A slightly disjointed track which doesn’t possess the immediacy of its predecessors yet finds its feet particularly in the middle instrumental section which has a great folky bounce to it (in a Thin Lizzy like delivery).

“Break Into Something New” is another poppier rock song and could be seen as the cousin of “Until The End Of The Line”.  Lodin throws down his pop vocal for the verse before rising to the rock occasion for the main hooks (the pre-chorus is another charmer) and chorus.  It’s an enjoyable track with a fun nature.

You might think it would be time for a breather but the band keep the rock going for “Means To An End” and it has one of my favourite vocal deliveries on the album from Lodin.  Some really cool harmonised lead guitar fills are here too.

“Gun Of Doom” initially starts out pretty basic but moves into more interesting waters after the monotonous opening and verse riff which do drone on a little, but the bridge and chorus provide some alternative drive, its probably the least accessible track on the album and does take a few listens to reveal its character.

Track 8 brings up the albums lightest moment with a shuffle feel, something  Lodin likes to have on most albums he has done.  You can see why as he knows how to lay a vocal over this feel perfectly, its  a track which has a positive chorus, yet has a dark side elsewhere.  It’s a track that would have also fitted on the bands “X” album well too.

“Say It Like It Is” is a slowish track, with allows Lodin a chance to work the vocal line well.  It’s another track with nice variety, the hanging chords of the bridge work well too.  Punching in and out of Lodin’s vocals are some call and response lines from Attaque.  Its another track that requires few listens to really get into but it’s a slow burner but after several listens of the album has become one of my favourites.

The title track closing the album with a main riffs inspired by traditional Swedish folk rhythms, but given the Baltimoore rock edge.  There is really no-one else out there doing anything like this and its makes for a very original and interesting sound, although the chorus doesn’t always sit easy with the rest of the track.  Once again though good performances all around and that main riff is a delight to the ears.

Overall the twelfth album from Baltimoore is another very strong effort.  Its hard to really say they sound like x and x, the band do have their own sound which is based on influences you may be able to call, but there’s a lot of originality here.

Once again Bjorn Lodin and co have delivered another very good album which may alienate some people due to its lack of conformity in what maybe “expected” in a rock sound, but for those that likes twists and turns in their music this is highly recommended.

Rating – 90%

STRYPER – NO MORE HELL TO PAY

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Out now on Frontiers

Wow. I have to say I didn’t see this coming.

After the sorry excuse for a comeback album that was Reborn, I wouldn’t have given two cents for Stryper’s further career.  But here we are, eight years later, and Stryper have seen fit to bestow the album of the year upon us.

I could go into detail, singing the praises of each individual track, but what’s the point? Suffice it to say there isn’t a stinker among them…

Contrary to some of their contemporaries, the current Stryper isn’t a faded ghost of a formerly great band. They are indeed every bit as strong as they ever were and “No More Hell To Pay” can stand proudly besides their classic 80s output.

All the musicians are at the top of their game and Michael Sweet’s voice doesn’t seem to have lost anything over the years.  Add the best production they’ve ever had to the mix, and it should be clear to even the most foolhardy.

Buy this album.

Rating – 99%
Review by Sancho

DEEP PURPLE – NOW WHAT?!

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Out now on Ear Music

Fifth studio album from the rejuvenated Steve Morse era of the legendary rock outfit and one which find the band still sounding fresh and vibrant.

Continuing the slight progressive tint heard on its predecessor “Rapture Of The Deep”, “Now What?!” is a fresh vibrant release which sees the classic MK.2 purple sound still there in areas but is mostly one which has left the 20th century behind and is setting a new course in the 21st century.  Given than Morse has been in the band longer than Blackmore has will still stop some from failing to give this a chance, more fool them.

Granted, opener “A Simple Song” might not be the strongest opener in the bands history but “Weirdistan” soon sorts that with its marauding groove.  “Out Of Hand” continues the darker tone and it’s  this kind of track that drummer Ian Paice always powers along with precision yet always with a skip in his play whilst the chorus is an infectious bugger.

The fast tempo of “Hell To Pay” fuses both vintage and modern Purple into another strong number, you can tell Gillan is having a blast singing this one, and his often underappreciated lyrics are noteworthy here too, the track also allows Morse to let his fingers fly with Airey playing some nice back up and counterpoints come solo time all making this is one of two definite highlights of the album.

The band go a little funky on us for “Body Line” which leads into the multi-faceted “Above & Beyond” which is home to some great keyboard orchestration from Airey (who over his two albums has slotted into the band perfectly) although its a quite disjointed track that still manages to work as a cohesive unit.

The initial mellow blues of “Blood From A Stone” transcends into a heavier chorus with screaming pinched harmonics from Morse before settling back down for a Fender Rhodes solo from Airey with the mood not a million miles away from The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”.

Another highlight follows in “Uncommon Man”, beginning with gentle guitar swells from Morse before he delivers some highly melodic lead lines over sustained chords from Airey (think Gary Moore’s extended versions of “Empty Rooms”) before the atmosphere darkens and Morse introduces the band main melodic hook over which orchestration grows before a jubilant horn fanfare announces the main riff (a nod to Concerto perhaps?),the whole build up and majestic nature of the main riff makes this track a stunner and this is sure to become a concert favourite.

From here the album is seen out by “Après Vous” which could be seen as standard fare from this incarnation to the retrospective and “All The Time In The World” which is home to some great hooks and could be catchy enough to garner some radio interest.  Album closer “Vincent Price” is as the title suggest dark, a little eerie and amongst one the heaviest tracks the band have done with Morse’s guitar riffs being particularly heavy.  This is backed up with choirs and BIG Hammond parts and closes the album on a high.

“Now What?!” sounds fresh, given this is a band in the fourth decade of their career it clear this is the sound of a band that is not living on former glories, its not looking to rewrite “Smoke On The Water”, “Highway Star” etc over and over, this instead is the sound of a band that sounds happy with each other, inspired by each other and a band that still sees new horizons and fans to conquer up ahead and is making sure it produces strong new music with new elements to try and win them over.

Highly recommended.

Rating – 93%

LARS ERIC MATTSSON – EPICENTRE

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Out now on Lion Music

‘Epicentre’, the23rd album from Lars Eric Mattsson’s career plays out something like a call to arms of all the styles he’s explored over his long career. 18 new tracks is a lot to digest but Lars’ had made the task a little easier thanks to streamlining his compositions over previous epic length excursions.   Another notable change is Mattsson handling all lead vocals himself, his vocal style whilst not amongst the best you will hear is acceptable enough and it does help stamp more personality to the album than having a hired gun.

Musically we have a gamut of styles, from the progressive metal attack of opener “Wait For The Sunrise”, “Freedom Fighters”   , a modern take on blues metal with “A New Devil” (home to a great main riff) and “No Way No Surrender”, almost 60’s psychedelia meets metal for “Land Of Dreams”, “No One Else” has a Queen like pomp to its rock attack and also harks back in some ways to Lars’ more standard rock past, there is also a strong Hendrix-ian influence to many of the tracks to these ears.

Personal favourites are the dark haunting and marauding qualities of “Cinnamon”, a tale of lost love this amalgamation of sitar, dobro guitar and bass in a 5/4 time signature is very different but also rather brilliant. Lars’ vocals also work well here, and the instrumental “Andalucia” which is home to some great melodies.

Overall “Epicentre” is a good album from Lars Eric Mattsson.  Not his best of recent years (Mattsson – Tango get’s that award) but if you like the Mattsson style which really is unlike anything else out there then this is sure to represent value for money.

Rating – 84%

ONSLAUGHT – VI

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Out now on AFM Records

Not much to say on this one.

Onslaught’s new album opens with a blast. “Chaos Is King” could have been on any of the recent Kreator albums.  “Fuel For My Fire” adds a contemporary chorus to the mix.  The oriental influences in “Children Of The Sand” offer a nice counterpoint to the very edgy riffing.  “Slaughterize” and “66Fucking6” are thrash by the numbers, as Onslaught is wont to deliver.  Fortunately “Cruci-Fiction” is more inspired.  “Dead Man Walking” and Enemy Of My Enemy” close the album without any surprises.

Production is very modern. Triggered kick drums, ultra high gain compressed buzzy guitar tones… You know the drill.

Sy Keeler was never my favourite singer in thrash, and he does little here to change my opinion.  His delivery remains bland.

A decent effort but not earth shattering by any means.

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho

BLACKMORE’S NIGHT – DANCER AND THE MOON

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Out now on Frontiers Records

9th album from Blackmore’s Night and to be perfectly honest I lost interest in them after their third release, 2001’s “Fires At Midnight” so with almost 12 years between our worlds meeting again I am slightly dubious about what to expect.

Ritchie Blackmore for me was always one of my favourite players, wonderful touch and expression on the guitar, yet I guess I felt slightly uneasy with his turn into pure medieval music. Yes there were some nice songs on the first 3 albums and indeed some good solos here and there but not enough to warrant my interest continuing with the band.

Yet I find myself enjoying “Dancer And The Moon” quite profusely, Blackmore’s magnificent touch on acoustic and electric guitar (of which Ritchie seems to give more time than on my previous experiences) is still in evident, he still has good hands, something many players loose with age.

Candice Night’s (or Mrs Blackmore if you will) vocals also surprised me. Gone are the somewhat weak, high pitched characterless efforts of yore to be replaced by something earthier, more powerful and more original. This is the sound of a vocalist that has found her voice and grown in confidence – no doubt aided by the constant touring the band have done over the last decade – I sort of hear a cross between Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie mixed with the folk ethics of Sandy Denny (RIP). Candice also now writes strong hooks, often with a pop edge, something we all know Ritchie loves and the opening title track kicks off with this radio friendly edge and some fine electric lead work from Blackers.

There seems a real bond between singer and guitarist on this new material and the whole album sounds far more confident and that of musicians at-ease with their sound.  Safe to say this is Ritchie’s true love, and you do get a sense of much of his work with DP and especially Rainbow being built upon the foundations of the traditional style music we hear here, indeed the cover of Rainbow’s “Temple Of The King” works well in its new format (albeit not a million miles away from the original).

Elsewhere we get the traditional Russian folk inflections of “Troika”, a dark haunting vibe for “Lady In Black” complete with flute and hurdy gurdy and this track builds nicely as it progresses.

The back-to-back duo of “Somewhere Over The Sea (The Moon Is Shining)” and “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over The Sea)” are both delightful pieces, the former delicate and the latter bordering as close as we get to hard rock and to be fair could have been on Rainbow’s “Bent Out Of Shape” album and not sounded out of place, a very enjoyable track with some excellent lead work from Ritchie including his trademark slide work and that wonderful vibrato.

Guitar fans will also enjoy Ritchie’s solo acoustic ditties in “Minstrels In The Hall” and “Galliard” both of which feature some wonderful acoustic tones powering along their melodic motifs.

Granted it still might get a little too twee in a couple of places for my own liking with “The Last Leaf” and “The Ashgrove”. but with 2 skipable tracks out of 13 is by no means a bad return.

To finish off the album we get a touching instrumental tribute to Deep Purple organist Jon Lord in “Carry On… Jon”, a delicate slide guitar melody builds into a fitting tribute to Mr Lord.

In conclusion, “Dancer And The Moon” has pleasantly surprised me and I’ve found myself returning to it again and again finding more to enjoy on each subsequent listen.  Maybe my ears have matured? Maybe this is just better? But out of my previous Blackmore’s Night experiences (the first two bought at then high-import prices) this is easily the best and makes me wonder what I have missed out in the intervening years.

Well done Mr & Mrs Blackmore.

Rating – 89%