VARGTON PROJEKT – PROGXPRIMETAL

Out now on Lion Music

Vargton Projekt are an amalgamation of some of Sweden’s finest musical talent in guitarist Mats Hedberg, drummer Morgan Agren (Frank Zappa)and vocalist Bjorn Jansson (Ride The Sky / Tears Of Anger).

The debut album ‘ProgXpriMetal’ is an eclectic collection of material that was originally based around instrumental only origins, yet the thought to have Jansson’s distinctive vocals came as an afterthought.  As the vocal tracks don’t follow a normal set song structure, but serve up something free of restraint, and more about musical expression, something the album is brimming with.

Pretty much on every track there is something to absorb on repeated spins, and this isn’t a track that will win over the casual listener right away. But, there is an element of discovery that is often more rewarding with each passing listen and fans of progressive music from across the genres many styles will find much to enjoy.

Highlights to these ears come in ‘Jaipur’, the 3 part  ‘Birka Trilogy’ (with part 3 seeing a fast fret melting solo battle between Hedberg and lion label head Lars Eric Mattsson) and the slower tempo ‘Lvorna’ which it shades of fusion and classical prog sound.

Amongst the trio of musicians there are numerous other musicians that make the whole package an earthly experience, yet it’s the core performances of Hedberg and Agren that deserve the plaudits for their work is quite phenomenal.

If you want an album to see you entertained through the coming dark Autumn and Winter months ‘ProgXpriMetal’ may just be the ticket.  Unique and gifted sums up this release – don’t let the rather bland album cover put you off.

Rating – 90%

ELECTRIC BOYS – AND THEM BOYS DONE SWANG

Out now on Escape Music

After a big fanfare at the start of the early 90’s when they were proclaimed as the next big thing in a number of magazines the big time always somehow eluded the Electric Boys outside their native Sweden.  Yes the tracks ‘All Lips And Hips’ got some attention on MTV from their debut ‘Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride’ but they never broke into the big league, a shame as their brand of Aerosmith like retro rock with psychedelic lyrical tendencies and funk influences were one of the better and more original bands of the time.  After 2 more albums, the recommended 92’s ‘Groovus Maximus’ and 94’s ‘Freewheelin’ the band split. Now main man Conny Bloom after a few years spent in Hanoi Rocks has fired up the machine again for another crack.

Electric Boys in 2011 start where they ended in 1994 which means all the bands trademarks are here thankfully.  Good bluesy sleazy rock riffs, vintage guitar tones and gobs of melody done without any of the sickly AOR-ness you might normally associate with the word.  This ladies and gentlemen rocks with no pretence just a bag load of fun.

Conny Bloom still sounds good, the band behind him grooves like a monster on the likes of ‘Reeferlord’, ‘The House Is Rockin’ and closer ‘A Mother Of A Love Story’.  The funk edge is prominent on ‘My Heart’s Not For Sale’ and ‘Rollin Down The Road’. Whilst elsewhere we get a nice mix of the bands styles and its all nicely done.

Whether Electric Boys make a new mark on the musical landscape in 2011 is hard to tell.  That said when other bands less talented than them are making a go of it you have to hope they can and with ‘And Them Boys Done Swang’ they’ve given themselves much more than a fighting chance.

If you like your rock upbeat, rocking and good fun this is a fine slice of rock for your pennies.

Rating – 88%

AN INTERVIEW WITH BJORN LODIN OF HARD

Known for the best of part of 2 decades as the vocalist and leader of Baltimoore, Bjorn Lodin is currently a Swedish ex-pat earning his keep in Hungary with the hard rock outfit HARD. In what is becoming an annual event, Virtuosity One caught up with Bjorn to discuss the new HARD release “Even Keel”.  Promising in advance to be freshly shaven we hope that Bjorn’s conversation is as sharp as his razor.

Bjorn, once again we are discussing another album.  Do you really have nothing better to do?

Hello! Na, not really much else out there to feed my needs… I’ve been at it for so long that this has become my comfort zone – gotta have the pain and frustration as well as the recognition and pleasure. Where else can you start with nothing, make shit up, start believing its true, loving it and hating it..? Making a record the way I do, is for me a total “hanging out with myself” experience. It’s addictive and I’m an addict! A slow but yet sure fix.

Your second album with HARD entitled “Even Keel” was released a few weeks ago, how has the initial reaction been from fans and press?

It’s been mainly positive so far! We’ve picked up some new fans and it seems that people in general like the rougher approach we have on ‘Even Keel’. Media feedback is still coming in and we get picked up on radio playlists all over the world.

It seems you caused quite a stir when you joined the band early last year for “Time Is Waiting For No One” with a lot of exposure on MTV and the like, along with a support slot for Kiss.  Did you anticipate this sort of reaction?

Well, I didn’t know what to expect… To me it was a funky thing joining these guys… I suppose it had some news value and we worked it the best way we knew how. It’s not that common that a Swede joins a Hungarian band, after all. And it got me to shake hands with Gene Simmons – I didn’t see that one coming J Then again, you hardly see anything coming anymore… just gotta go for it.

Since your first album with the band you’ve moved from Sweden to Hungary, how has the change been and how are you adapting in your new country?

It was a major decision but a necessary one. Going back and forth wasn’t an option in the long run. I’m also working with some other artists here doing song writing and production work. I’ve built a studio here so I have all I need to get things done. I’m not planning on staying forever but right now I’m enjoying the former Eastern European way of living… slowly getting the hang of it.

Hungary isn’t a country that would be on many peoples lists of hard rock havens so was their any reticence on your part about joining the band and ultimately moving?

Not at all. This is a natural stop for me. I can’t think of a better opportunity to explore and get inspired. I have no idea of where I’m heading and I make my list as I go.

Bjorn boasts to the audience.

It must be gratifying to be picking up the accolades and praise the band is over there?

It’s nice to get positive feedback anywhere, sort of makes taking all the crap easier. I suppose we stand out a little bit here, due to the English lyrics and the somewhat ‘traditional’ approach in rock music, since most Hungarian ‘traditional’ rock bands sing in Hungarian. This is not an easy barrier to break through but I feel we’re sharing the same fans as they have.

Our review of “Even Keel” was praiseworthy (thanks for the cheque) stating the new album is “more streamlined and straight-ahead hard rock than its predecessor, being all about accessible rock with a healthy dose of deft touches to move it nicely out of derivative”. Is this a fair assessment in your, one of the key songwriters eyes?

Hehe, sure is. (Don’t spend it all at once) Just crank it and your feet will start tapping!

Was this direction intentional or was this a comfortable and natural shift in attention compared to “Time…”?

Yes and yes. These songs pretty much wrote themselves. ‘Time…’ was our first effort together and I was taking on the role as the producer rather than the song writer. The guys had a lot of ideas that we made into songs. Before I joined the band, HARD was a more AOR influenced act. I never could stand too much of that style – predictable major pussy harmonies with ‘angry’ guitars, or whatever… so I tried to get some, as I see it ‘real musical danger’ in there and get a nice mix of them both J. I also produced ‘Even Keel’ and I wanted to let the hair down a bit. I co-wrote all the songs with our guitar player Zsolt Vámos, and we sort of found a common ‘backyard spot’ were we ended up writing and arranging the songs. I can’t wait to get started with the 3rd one!

The album sounds like you are having a ball with this material.  Your voice is oozing attitude and seems very at home in this setting. Vocally, is this the most fun you’ve had in a while?

First of all it’s a new key for me. The whole guitar is tuned down a whole step. This got me to make vocal lines having a much wider range than I’ve sung before. I suppose that combined with the straight forward guitar oriented songs gave it a bit of a new touch. It’s all about being inspired and this was a new thing for me so… I’ll admit it wasn’t easier to sing with lower tuning… took quite some time getting used to.

The reason I ask the last question is in a few interviews for the last couple of Baltimoore albums you stated you’d consider having another vocalist take over, and on the last Baltimoore record (Quick Fix) included all the tracks in instrumental form asking for those brave enough to offer up their own vocal takes.  I wonder if this was a period of your career where you perhaps weren’t over joyed with your voice, whereas on this new album it sounds strident and full of a cock-sure attitude that works really well with the material.

Hmm, well… I love and hate my voice. The voice is the ultimate instrument and a great vocal performance overshadows everything. However, being impotent doesn’t mean you can’t give directions for multiples… 😉

LMAO, How has the writing for the new album gone? Was this material written mostly since your move to Hungary?

We started right after ‘Time…’ was released last spring and recorded in Sweden in July and August. We had plans for an autumn release but things kept pushing the release until March this year. I mixed and mastered here in Budapest.

Who are the principle writers in the band and how did the tracks generally get created?

Zsolt and I wrote all songs this time. Zsolt came on board right after we finished ‘Time…’ and had a lot of material pretty much ready to go. We’ve very different taste and influences, which creates a healthy tension when we sit down to work.

I know you are a very strong rhythm guitarist so how much influence did you have with main guitarist Zsolt Vámos on this new material?

He adjusted to the spanking rather quickly!

The guitar work is excellent with some superb tones once again.  What was the main guitar setup this time around?

Main rhythm guitars were tracked using Les Paul Standard/2002 and Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra. I don’t remember what was used for lead guitar…

What was the lyrical influence stemming from this time round?

I don’t remember that either… I’m sure it was something that made perfectly good sense at the time J. The lyrics are in the booklet – you tell me!

The lyrics are a little saucier in places than I’ve heard previously from you. Are the spicy national dishes of Hungary heating up your blood pressure?

Aha, well I suppose I’m getting to that infamous ‘dirty old man’ stage… There sure is some good spicy food here! I’d be surprised if it didn’t influence me one way or the other.

How do you personally view the new material from an insiders perspective and what is it about being in Hard that excites you?

Well, the new album has added another colour to my pallet, if you like. I haven’t made a record sounding like this before. Now when it’s done it only feels natural to open more doors in this genre. HARD is where I do my thing right now and I’m surrounded by people who every day wants to keep the fire going. That is all one can ask for. HARD is a good band to be in!

The production is powerful yet stripped down sounding rather live, this kind of production is rapidly becoming your trademark, are you getting closer to perfecting it to your ear?

This is a constant battle but I think I’m getting the hang of it. Making a record is about planning ahead and making decisions about all kinds of stuff. Sometimes you make the right decision… Anyway, it’s a learning curve that seems never ending and is very song dependant. It’s great fun though and a big reason to why I do music in the first place. Without the production and creativity part I’d never do the singing and dancing.

What was your personal aim with “Even Keel”?

To finish it J You never know what you’re gonna end up with. I think it turned out very well and it will find its listeners.

Click cover to read V1's review of "Even Keel".

I see you have some festival appearances lined up over the Summer, and have a live video available for “Scream out to be heard”, I know one of the main frustrations you had with Baltimoore was the lack of live activity. Was the chance to play live a lot more with Hard a fundamental reason for you hopping onboard a plane to Hungary?

Certainly! Playing the songs live is the icing on the cake. Yes, we have some concert dates this summer and we’ll continue in the autumn and winter.

Does the challenge of getting in the leather trousers, working and winning over a live audience hold a challenge to you, scare you or excite you?

Right now we are very well rehearsed and can hardly wait for the next gig. We’re all very excited – and I have new tailor made leather pants!

How does that challenge compare to creating an album – which in theory is something will be around forever?

That’s a whole different ball game. Making an album is easy compared to getting the act on the stage, which incorporates other people and other problems. They do need each other, though… in order to be complete. This is why I’m a fan of arranging and producing a record so it will make a smooth transition into the live scene.

Do the band have any other promo events coming up?

We’ll probably make another video…

Bjorn, many thanks for your time. Any parting messages?

Thanks for the questions and be sure to check us out at:

http://www.hardhungary.com

http://www.facebook.com/hardhungary

http://www.myspace.com/hardhungary



HARD – EVEN KEEL

Out now on BLP Music

Swiftly following up last years “Time Is Waiting For No One”, Hungarian hard rockers Hard (with Sweden’s Bjorn Lodin on vocals) have wasted little time on building on the buzz generated in their homeland by the bands first album with Lodin at the mic – which saw appearances on MTV and a support slot to Kiss in Budapest.  More streamlined and straight-ahead hard rock then its predecessor, “Even Keel” is all about accessible rock with a healthy dose of deft touches to move it nicely out of derivative.

Like an amalgamation of AC/DC,  Dokken and Whitesnake in terms of approach the band punch with those heavyweights all powered along by another superb open and full sounding production from Lodin.  Speaking of Lodin, it seems his time spent in Hungary with its love of paprika loaded foods has resulted in an even spicier edge to his raspy voice, not to mention the sauciness of his lyrics!

Opener “Truth Or Dare” sets the scene well with its mid-tempo AC/DC inspired chordal attack.  “Bitten By You” sees Zsolt Vámos’ great guitar tone reminiscent of George Lynch power the track along nicely with its interplay between simple verses, and more edgy pre-choruses, whilst the chorus is designed for the arena pure and simple.  “Pretty Little Liar” is one of the more ordinary tracks on the album and is let down by a chorus which is a little too obvious, that said Lodin could probably do with a rest after the motor mouthed verses!

“Promises” kicks off with a nice “live” drum sound which leads into a stormer of a track with a chorus that really delivers and conjures up positive memories of Lodin’s other squeeze Baltimoore on their ‘Kaleidoscope’ album.  “I Wanna Rock” sees Lodin’s lyrical tongue drinking exclusively from a fur tea cup but its all good fun that’s begs to be played loud (and its an album that excels at max volume).

“Speeding Into Slow” (cool title) is a little more rhythmic with its muted riff allows Lodin to deliver the kind of vocal line that pushes and pulls that he excels at, and is a track that may take a few more listens than the rest to reveal its true colours but is worth the time spent – nice melodic solo too.  Ballad “Somewhere” is likely to receive radio play you’d imagine and shows the other side to Lodin’s voice being tender and full of warmth. This is followed by the varied “Keep Out” which has a lot of different colours to it from the melancholic verses to the rocking chorus, its nice work.

My favourite track is the penultimate number “Scream To Be Heard” with its thunderous bottom end from Gábor Mirkovics which powers the track along at a strong pace and musically actually reminded me a little in places of early Savatage. Lodin again works himself up into a frenzy whilst Zsolt Vámos takes a couple of fluid solos which are the icing on the cake.  Closing number “In Your Arms” sees the band go a little Scorpions on us with this tender orchestrated acoustic ballad but is a nice ending after all the blood and thunder that precedes it.

“Even Keel” is another strong effort from Hard, you get the impression the album is a truer reflection of the bands sound compared to the more varied predecessor; as a result it has a little more focus and identity and would make a welcome addition to most hard rock fans collections.

Check it out.

Rating – 89%


JAYCE LANDBERG – GOOD SLEEPLESS NIGHT (REVIEW)

Out Now on Escape Music

Jayce Landberg is a guitarist hailing from Sweden who released the Yngwie wannabe neo-classical tinted release ‘Break The Spell’ in 2008 which saw former Malmsteen vocalist Goran Edman on vocals. Now the follow up ‘Good Sleepless Night’ has just been released on Escape Music and whilst Jayce has spread beyond the neo-classical sounds of his debut, for the most part this an unfocused album in terms of direction and focus.

Landberg has certainly armed himself with all the right tools in the band personnel department having once again Goran Edman on lead vocals (plus a guest vocal from Mark Boals), and Europe bassist Jon Levin on a few numbers, but the overall direction is purely one of Landberg’s making but as mentioned this unfocused.  

So we get the pseudo Offspring opener ‘My Valentine’ to the decidedly dodgy eurovision-metal of ‘The Devil’s Wine’, although there is a fine bridge buried in the track which makes you wish the song had been built from that.  Jayce has obviously discovered Van Halen recently (and bought himself a EVH MXR Phase 90) for the pseudo VH of ‘Drama Queen’ (complete with Atomic Punk intro rip off) which is pretty bad and the solo spot of ‘Abduction’ (a pseudo Eruption if you will – get the ironic title?).  There are some more successful moments in the likes of the melodic metal of ‘Skyscraper’  and the euro metal of ‘Invasion’ but its diminishing returns elsewhere.

Jayce Landberg is certainly a competent enough player, but his song writing is just not up to scratch.  The amount of variety in style (and quality) also seems to work against the albums identity and you get the impression there are too many cook books in the Landberg kitchen.  There are moments to suggest Landberg could make a decent album but sadly ‘Good Sleepless Night’ isn’t it. Better luck next time.

Rating – 40%

SEVENTH WONDER – THE GREAT ESCAPE (REVIEW)

Out Dec 3rd  2010 on Lion Music

One of a true new breed of progressive metallers adding their own sound to the genre are arguably Sweden’s leaders in the genre Seventh Wonder.  “The Great Escape” marks the bands fourth release following up the hugely successful “Mercy Falls” which saw the band play Sweden Rock Festival and Prog Power USA.  Prog forums worldwide are littered with praise for the band and if the amount of exposure the video single “Alley Cat” has received is anything to go by (55k hits in 2 month on YouTube) then the new album looks set to propel the band further, that is presuming its any good!

Luckily as a long-time fan of the band, this is arguably the best release yet from the band, certainly the best in terms of delivering an identifiable sound of their own.  Led by the charismatic vocals of Tommy Karevik, the band perform melodic laden, yet instrumentally rich and exciting music from the opener “Wiseman” with its strident metallic delivery to the bona-fide epic closing 30 minute title track; which despite its intimidating track length delivers on all fronts.  But what sets this album apart from predecessor is that despite all the first class musicianship on offer (from every member no less), it’s the songs that ultimately shine though.  The aforementioned “Alley Cat” has a deliciously swooping chorus refrain,   the AOR inflections in “The Angelmaker” contrast nicely with the darker elements of the track whilst the melodic content again shines on “Move On Through” which has a tremendous groove in the riff department.  Overall there is something to really enjoy on every track.

Production wise this is solid, certainly the best yet from the band, and everything is nicely audible which makes hearing the likes of Andreas Blomqvist’s exquisite bass work in its full glory just another joy of the album.
 
‘Mercy Falls’ saw Seventh Wonder come of age. “The Great Escape” sees them take a strident step towards being a true powerhouse in the prog metal genre and comes highly recommended.

Rating – 95%