About Me

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Born in the late 60's, Chesy hails from a Welsh mining village with a long name and was pretty glad when he got the Hell out of there. He got into Rock/Metal in about 1980, thanks to a TISWAS related incident (Rainbow video for All Night Long) and thankfully has never looked back. Chesy often sang solo in the school choir, but thanks to a puberty related incident his voice is now completely bolloxed, although in his own head Paul thinks he sounds like a blend of Coverdale and Dio (R.I.P). He was brought up on the classics - Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, Rush, Whitesnake and loved melodic rock and the Hair Bands of the 80's. (Nowadays, he has progressed a little and prefers a more technical and/or progressive metal - Dream Theater, Rush, Symphony X, Porcupine Tree, Pain Of Salvation, Spock's Beard. He hates Black and Death Metal (can't stand the grunting) but for some unknown reason loves the magnificent Opeth! He wont stop this blog until his beloved FM finally play the likes of the NEC as a headlining act!!!

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Top 20 Melodic Rock / AOR Albums of 2015

Well, its fair to say that 2015 has been a strong year for the Melodic Rock community. Frontiers seem to have the majority share of talent, but that doesn't stop other labels and independents from getting in on the act......

Working our way down from 20 to 1, here we go

20. Serpentine - Circle Of Knives
Welsh rockers Serpentine finally kill the ghost of Tony Mills. (I know he isn't dead! Its a metaphor!). Yes its Ten influenced, but that's not a bad thing

19. Impera - Empire Of Sin
Classic rock with a capital 'K', mainly down to the excellent vocals of one Matti Alfonzetti. The bloke should be a household name, well if its any consolation, you are in my household mate!

18. Art Nation - Revolution
The Swedes seem to be leading the way when it comes to rock music and Art Nation are no exception....

17. Find Me - Dark Angel
The Swedes are at it again. This time its Daniel Flores. If you lit WOA, W.E.T. and Eclipse then Find Me is right up your street. Polished AOR

16. Dakota - Long Road Home
After an 11 year hiatus, Dakota returned with some reworked songs and a few new ones. A must for fans of their debut. With this kind of output they make Guns and Roses seem positively prolific!

=14. Hungryheart - Dirty Italian Job
80s AOR carried out with great applomb by these Italians. Another country trying to single-handedly keep melodic rock alive and well

=14. The King Lot - ST
These guys blew me away supporting Dan Reed Network.  Thirty years ago, they would be pretty damn huge. Huge riffs, killer choruses.

=11. Def Leppard - ST
Its been a while since Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, but what a return the Leps made. Its up there with their best work, certainly their best since Hysteria!

=11. Room Experience
More AOR invasion from this lovable bunch of Italians. A project that's taken years to come to fruition by Gianluca Firmo, it proved well worth the wait. If you love your AOR with more than a slice of papry keyboards then look no further than this.

=11. Reach - Reach Out To Rock
Three very young lads (and one young lad) make a highly impressive debut. With nods more to hair metal, I for one cant wait to see what they come up with next

10. Dimino - Old habits Die Hard 
Why it took Frank Dimino sooooo long to record a solo album is beyond me. It was one of the surprises of the year for me. 'never Again' speeds out of the blocks quicker than Usain Bolt wearing a meat unitard being chased by a pack of zombie wolves!

9. Stryper - Fallen
Stryper continue their rich vein of form and their heavier direction thankfully. Mushy ballads have all but disappeared, and in comes power, strength, positivity and most of all, heaviness!

8. Gronholm - Relativity Code For Love
Another surprise for me in 2015. Id never heard of them until this, and boy, is it a cracking album. Lee Smalls has NEVER sounded better than this.

7. Revolution Saints - ST
I know, lets get 3 giants of rock (ok one is a real short arse) to come together for an album, and lets make the not regarded as as a singer the singer! Castronovo IS one hell of a singer. This was the album that the current Journey should be striving to make

6. Newman - The Elegance Machine
I am a late arrival to the Newman party, and I'm ashamed to admit it. The last 2 albums Ive had to review have been an absolute pleasure. Its more on the heavier side of melodic, but who gives a shit. This bloke is one of Britain's finest exponents of melodic rock, long may he continue

=4. Age Sten Nilsen's Ammunition - Shanghaied
Age does a 'Dio', and ditched Wig Wam for a new life. He basically forms Eclipse MKII for one of the BEST melodic rock albums of 2015. Massive choruses, not a dud on the album, it could easily be my No.1. From here on in the results are that close.

=4. FM - Heroes and Villains
I am a tad biased when it comes to my beloved FM, but they wouldn't be in here if it wasn't any good (my proof - the disappointing Overland Ousey album). FM are in a very rich vein of form and this is one of their best pieces of work and sits close behind 'Indiscreet' and 'Tough It Out', its that good!

3. Romeos Daughter - Spin
OK its not exactly an AOR album as such, its a defining album for Romeos Daughter. They could have given up the ghost since reforming , but like their friends FM, they choose to plough through the field and make new music that is probably their most consistent and best work to date. They should be the darlings of Radio 2, but for some reason are overlooked, and that is a huge travesty.

=1. Blood Red Saints - Speedway
Its a contrast to the joint winner of my 2015 list, but BRS are more 'classic' 80s AOR than anyone else on this list and they are a brand new band. Thanks to the dulcet tones of Pete Godfrey, and the superb songs (no fillers here folks) they deserve to be No.1 on their own

=1. Eclipse - Armageddonize
Erik Martensson's Eclipse are at the other end of the melodic rock spectrum to Blood Red Saints. More raw power and edge to their music, they are the 2015 Oxford Dictionary meaning of 'anthemic rock'. Not a shit song on the album, its slayed me from the off. My best album of 2015 despite the aggro it took to get me the album on vinyl. A HUGE album!

Sunday 6 December 2015

Blood Red Saints Gig Review, The Railway Venue Bolton, 4.12.15

Blood Red Saints are one of the many melodic rock bands on Perugino Serafino’s Frontiers Label. It’s where most of the decent melodic rock bands are gathered nowadays. Some are greats, some not so, and there’s also some indifferents, with the odd turkey thrown in! Hey you cant be 100% consistent in your approach.  But, I would like to predict that Blood Red Saints, on the basis of their new album, and this gig, could soon be up there with the ‘greats’.

Although other reviews are available, terms and conditions apply.

It wasn’t exactly a sold out show as it was a ‘free’ ticketed event. I suppose it was a ‘free-out’ show!

I learned three things from last nights gig….
1. The bloke working the controls is a Catholic (I’ve seen less smoke when a Pope is being elected!). At various points, Pete Newdeck disappeared.
2. Pete Godfrey is funny as fuck!
3. Blood Red Saints were on fire, and are definitely going places (OK it should be 4 points)

Anywho, by the time they took the stage, the room, and adjoining rooms were packed to the gills. The Railway is a cracking little set up, but for a short-arse like me, you have 2 options. You can either get great sound near the middle to back and see bugger all, or get down the front and sacrifice some of the sound quality. I went for the latter and chose well.

Immediately you can tell that Godfrey is a good singer and also a funny frontman; engaging, and I imagine he is a top bloke. They have also dragged a keyboard player off the streets of Lancashire - one Invin Parratt (Arabia / Rage of Angels)

BRS kicked off with the opener from ‘Speedway’, in the very powerful ‘Kicking Up Dust‘. Its part Dokken, thanks to Lee Revill’s Lynch-esque guitar playing.

Right from the off, they look as if they are a band that are professional but are not taking life seriously which immediately rubs off on their audience. The songs are tight, with lots of in-between banter. ‘Mercy’ live is what makes BRS stand out from the crowd of AOR wannabees. Led by Godfrey, the other 4 guys all weigh in with a heavy wall of sound. FFS they even have a singer in his own right playing the drums (Pete Newdeck, he of many, many bands).  Its 5 part harmonies on a huge scale. ‘Best Of Me’ is one of the best ballads that you will here this side of Xmas, smooth as velvet, it also has the now patented ‘BRS 5xH’ sound!

A curve-ball is thrown into the mix where they play one of their fave bands songs. That is Signal’s ‘Does It Feel Like Love’ which is setting up their show for later on. Not all the songs from ‘Speedway are played tonight which is a little strange, but the highlight fro me is my fave from the album, and that is the menacing ‘Dangerous’.

More of the BRS influences come to the fore for the last quarter of their blistering set. First, Godfrey called this guy a ‘God’, and he is spot-on, certainly in ref to his or should I say, THE voice, and its FMs ‘Face To Face’. A song that FM have dropped the last couple of years, it makes a surprise and welcome return here. Pete Godfrey does a great job. Barrie Jackson (he of Rob Naylors last outfit, Angels Or Kings)  jumps up, with a certain apprehension to sing Bon Jovi’s ‘Runaway’. Considering both bands have the same approach to their music, both singers couldn’t be further apart. For the finale, BRS also call upon Steve Kenny (AoK) for Whitesnake’s version of the classic ‘Here I Go Again’, the proper Hobo version!

‘Twas all soon over, and everyone in attendance witnessed a band in the ascendency. Those who attend HRH AOR in March will witness one of the bands of the festival, of that I’m very certain

Sunday 15 November 2015

Khymera - 'The Grand Design' Album Review

While the Khymera project started out as an alliance between Italian producer/musician, Daniele Liverani and then Kansas singer Steve Walsh, it actually developed into a regular musical project when Pink Cream 69/Unisonic bassist and producer Dennis Ward came into the picture.

While known as a bassist, Dennis always sings background vocals with his bands, so it was quite interesting for many fans to hear his voice taking the lead on the Khymera albums “A New Promise” and “The Greatest Wonder”. While the project went on hiatus for some time, it was a natural choice for Dennis to grab the reins and take complete control (both on the songwriting and on the production side) of the new album, “The Grand Design”, which comes 7 years after the release of “The Greatest Wonder”.

Musically, the new album very much follows along the logical progression of the musical path that was started a few years ago. Basically if you are a fan of the previous two Khymera/Ward fronted offerings, then the third installment will be no big surprise in what you are expecting, and it showcases the fantastic vocal abilities of Dennis Ward and highlights his great skills as a songwriter and producer.

The keys running through the opener ‘Never Give Up On You’ sees Khymera trying to out-Journey Journey! Think on the lines of ‘Be Good To Yourself’ and you’re not far off the mark with this tune. ‘In ‘Tell Me Something’ its Khymera’s ‘classic Bon Jovi’ era sound being achieved and Ward’s vocals are crisp and clean – no need for a lyric sheet here folks! ‘Say What You Want’ is a song I could imagine being played on the TV show Nashville, think of it as US country rock meets Daughtry. 

Ragno obviously takes his lead from the likes of Cain and Rolie as ‘A Night To Remember’ certainly has more than a passing nod to Journey. It’s by no way a criticism, its hard earned praise. For ‘The Land Of Golden Dreams’ Ward sounds a cross between Gary Hughes and Sambora and makes it one of the best songs on the album.

For a band that practices what it preaches, then a ballad or two wouldn’t be amiss. The boxes are well and truly ticked on the heartwarming ‘Streetlights’ and ‘Where Is The Love’. It’s the former that manages to drag you in and tear you apart as it builds up to a ‘lighter-waving’ crescendo.

Khymera still offers one of the most shining examples of what great European Melodic Rock is all about: crystal clear production, soaring vocals, killer musicianship and songwriting that reminds fans of the heydays of the genre when bands like Giuffria, Icon, and Signal ruled the airwaves.  Khymera is a worthy addition to be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned bands.

If it was 1988 and Khymera were American then they would be absolutely massive. The US tends to stick to what it knows (lots of airplay for the classics such as Foreigner / Journey / Styx etc), if you’re reading this across the pond then you could expand your horizon and listen to a band that knows how to perform AOR at its purest form.

Whilst there’s been a lot of average stuff peddled in 2015, ‘The Grand Design’ proves to be one of the better ones, and it is certainly an album that deserves many repeated listens, as few bands play melodic rock at this quality. There is enough present here to keep the AOR masses very happy indeed. Decent songs, great production, and Ward shows again why we should hear a lot more of him than we currently do. This is exactly they type of band that HRH AOR/Rockingham etc need to get their mitts on.

SCORE – 89/100

Never Give Up On You
Tell Me Something
Say What You Want
I Believe
A Night To Remember
She’s Got The Love
Land Of Golden Dreams
The Grand Design
Who’s Fooling Who
Where Is The Love

Dennis Ward: bass guitar and lead vocals
Felix Bohnke: drums
Michael Klein: guitars
Eric Ragno: keyboards
Jim Rybkost: piano, additional keyboards

Saturday 14 November 2015

Blood Red Saints - 'Speedway' Album Review

Bugger Me! BRS have only gone and probably come up with the best melodic rock album of 2015! More to follow, but first a little intro…..

A long time ago, probably in a pub far, far away, (the North West?), Blood Red Saints was formed around this time last year by Pete Godfrey and Rob Naylor. Pete’s In Faith album took a few by surprise last year and was one of the genres best in 2014. Pete, who is no spring chicken, made his debut on this In Faith album, and boy was it a good way to introduce yourself, but hungry to be in a band rather than a project so to speak, he formed Blood red Saints with Rob from Angels Or King (another nugget from 2014). So, do two nuggets make a diamond? Read on……

The search for a name came and ended with a chance discovery of a semi legendary speedway team, ‘The Blood Red Saints’ who were formed in Brooklyn in the late 1920s. Their leader was Freddie Rendetti who was allegedly a fiery and colorful character who ultimately lived the fast life a little too fast. It builds up a great background story, right?

Enlisted in as honorary mechanics are James Martin (Vega) who was instrumental in getting the band signed to Frontiers and along with his twin Tom, co-wrote 2 songs on the album. Chief mechanic comes in the form of Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) who mastered the album

The band is completed by another former In Faith member, drummer Pete Newdeck, and on guitar, Lee Revill.

Kicking Up Dust offers up a very lively start. Revill goes all George Lynch on us and it’s a more melodic and ‘sing-ier’ version of Dokken. It offers up more kick and punch than a school full of kick boxers. Throw in Godfrey’s melodic vocals and it makes this one of the tracks of the album, and the year.

Mercy is just an extension of ‘KUD’ instantly hummable and with more than enough bite and hooks to keep the melodic rock fan pulling windmills on his air guitar for days. ‘Best Of Me’ takes its lead from the likes of Foreigner and once again, is under your skin in double quick time. The BVs are so simple and so bloody effective. ‘Dangerous’ fades in and out, subtle one moment, then prowling and pulsating the next. ‘Love Set Me Up Again’ Is BRS Ronseal agreement for a power ballad. Godfrey even sounds like Jon Bon, only when JBJ was good! ‘Better Days’ honestly wouldn’t go amiss on the recent Def Leppard album, as the vocals mirror Leppard at their trademarked best. Should we still live in an era where MTV was king, and made bands millions and household names, then ‘The Best Thing’ could have done the same had it been performed 30 years ago. Thankfully songs of this quality are still being written. ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Wrapped Up In These Arms are VERY FM–like, and what’s not to like? For my liking, there’s probably one to many ballads, that’s just a small gripe on my part.

 It’s hard to sound original nowadays as so many have trodden the path before them. BRS will be likened to the likes of Giant, FM, and Dare etc, and rightly so. These are bands that were (still are) masters of their trade, and BRS deserve to be likened with such.

There’s been a fair bit of ‘average’ pushed onto the melodic rock fan on 2015, and ‘Speedway’ is anything but average. It isn’t perfect, (its no Night of The Crime) but there’s not a dodgy song or filler in sight, and that makes it one of the best, if not the best melodic rock albums of 2015.

Bands like Blood Red Saints deserve to be huge, HUGE!

BRS have an album launch on 4th Dec at the Railway, Bolton, then HRH AOR 2016, in which I predict they will level Pwllheli!

Score 95/100

Kicking Up Dust
Best Of Me
Love Set Me Up Again
Better Days
The Best Thing
Wrapped Up In These Arms
Feels A Lot Like Love

Pete Godfrey – Vocals
Lee Revill – Guitars
Rob Naylor – Bass
Pete Newdeck – Drums

Saturday 31 October 2015

Def Leppard - 'Def Leppard' Album review

Def Leppard (album title) is their first album in seven years since the much praised ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’. Seven! In most peoples/ bands timescales, seven years is an eternity. Some bands have formed, disbanded and reformed in seven years. For the Leps though it’s a (Yorkshire) Tea break.

Apparently the band got together with the idea of putting a three track EP out. Before you could say ‘Up The Blades!’ twelve songs had been written. It’s the first time ever that the lads have not had the backing of a record deal in place and because of the freedom in doing something for themselves (and the fans of course) the early word on the streets is that it is a return to form. It’s on release via earMUSIC

The early word on the streets is spot on. Def Leppard is probably their finest release since those heady days of the 80s. Lets face it Leppard don’t need to release a new album. They certainly don’t need the money. It’s a huge testament to them that they wanted to release an album, because anyone that goes to see them in the 21st Century probably isn’t interested on hearing anything after Hysteria. They are sitting on a back catalogue of songs that are massive anthems. I get a sneaky feeling that one or two at least are good enough to break into this ‘classic’ set list they have generated for themselves over their (almost) 40 years together.

There’s a couple of songs on there that could have done with being cut from the album, but there’s a nucleus of songs at the early end of the album that sound as if they belonged to the Pyromania era. In particular, the gorgeous ‘Dangerous’, the funky ‘Man Enough’, and the guitar laden ‘Sea Of Love’ with its Lynyrd-esque backing vocals. Opener ‘Lets Go’ has the hallmarks of ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ flowing through the riff. On the ballad ‘We Belong’ is a cool track as all five get a shot at lead vocals. It’s uncanny as to how close they all sound, which is why the harmonies are always so bloody good! ‘All Time High’ adds some welly back into proceedings; It’s a high energy full on rocker, choc full of Leppard’s layered vocals (pat.pending). ‘Battle Of My Own’ is an interesting mix of Led Zep, Coverdale Page and Chris Cornell’s ‘Seasons’.

Why this hasn’t happened with earlier albums is a mystery. Finally Def Leppard have played firmly to their strengths  -huge harmonies, and even bigger riffs.

The ‘older guard’ of rock music has certainly played their part in the music of 2015. Thunder have given us one of their finest ever albums, Bands such as FM Romeos Daughter and Europe have all made considerable valuable contributions – all of whom are proving that rock certainly aint dead.

Def Leppard have produced an album that few in 2015 would have thought was possible.  Its got Def Leppard running through it like a stick of rock, but is still modern and fresh in its approach

If this is to be their final album, then this is one decent way to go out. Def Leppard will certainly be lapped up by their existing fan base and deservedly so. The live gigs will/should be around for some time yet, in the meantime, get onto the retailer of your choice, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Score 88/100

Lets Go
Man Enough
We Belong
Sea Of Love
All Time High
Battle Of My Own
Broke ‘N’ Brokenhearted
Forever Young
Last Dance
Wings Of An Angel
Blind Faith

Magnus Karlsson's Free Fall - Kingdom Of Rock Review

There’s been a bit of a rebuttal from Serafino Perugino, owner of Frontiers Records very recently in the world of Facebook. He wrote an interesting personal note to the fans who are knocking the Frontiers ‘projects’ that will never see the light of day in a live setting – I strongly suggest you read it, as it’s a passionate plea to fans about his work, and most importantly, he does this because he is a fan.

I admit myself that I have been guilty of stating that some of these projects are a whim, but lets face it, if it were not for Serafino, the melodic rock genre would definitely be a poorer place in which we live. It costs a lot of money to bring people from all over the world to play for us. The recording costs are fairly low, but getting it altogether in a studio or a live setting is probably a logistical nightmare. If one person is capable then its Perugino. Especially as he has his labels own festival that could make it happen?

The melodic rock genre is probably in the best place its been in years, but lets not get carried away here, its still very much a minority spectator sport. When compared to RnB for example, Heavy Metal is a minority. So where the fuck does that place melodic rock /AOR music in the scale of things?

So thank you SP for your sterling work.

The above sets me up as Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall is the exact ‘project/supergroup’ type band that’s been in the news this week. In my eyes, if you’re going to go for it, do it with style, and in this instance the vocalists involved here are some of the communities finest – jus look at the assembled cast – Jorn Lande, Jakob Samuel, Joe Lynn Turner. JLT will turn up for the opening of a crisp packet for the right money, but ITS STILL JOE LYNN TURNER FFS! Also there’s Tony Martin, Tony Harnell, David Readman, Rick Altzi and Harry Hess. That’s quite a stellar cast of singers I’m sure you will agree. Backing up the  accomplished pack is Karlsson himself on 2 songs, and Rebecca De La Motte, so Im sure you will agree, its quite a collection (a ‘warble’ of singers perhaps?)

Consider Karlsson an artist, rather than artiste. He uses singers like an artist would choose colours. The right singer is picked for the right song. Opener and title track Kingdom Of Rock is pure Power Metal, with Norwegian JornLande channeling his inner Dio and is akin to his Allen-Lande music. One of my recent and newly acquired singers (well, new to me!) Jacob Samuel certainly delivers the goods on ‘Out Of The Dark’. Both JLT (No Control) and Hess (A Heart So Cold) get the more relaxed and straight down the middle melodic rock songs to cover. Turners vocals are aging very well I have to say. Tony Martin’s vocal chords get a good ‘ol airing on the epic and huge sounding ‘When The Sky Falls’ and is the standout track on the whole shebang. PC69s David Readman (Angel Of The Night) and Masterplan’s Rick Altzi (Another Life) are responsible for ‘KoRs’  more powerful and pulsating Power Metal songs. Tony Harnell’s voice as hardly changed in over 30 years and add his unmistakable tone to the ultra catchy ‘Never Look Away’.

Props to Karlsson for gathering such a cracking troupe to perform his songs, but the main plaudit must go to Magnus Karlsson himself, as its HIS songs, HIS, production, and HIS playing that knits the whole concert together like the strongest of glues.  It’s a testament that Karlsson holds his own when singing on ‘I Am Coming For You’ and ‘Walk This Road Alone’. That speaks strongly of the guy considering the company he keeps.

If you like your metal enthralling, pulsating, powerful and melodic at the same time then look no further than ‘Kingdom Of Rock’

The last word goes to Karlsson himself….Magnus Karlsson says, “When I made the first Free Fall album I had a wish list of my favorite singers. The list just got longer and longer and I realized that one album just wasn’t enough. I knew that some of the names on the list would be almost impossible to get but hey it’s ok to dream right? I started to work harder than ever before on new songs specially written for each singer. Well sometimes dreams come true and now some of the greatest singers in the world joined the dream team. This is not about having big names on the album, this is simply about making the best music I possibly can for the best singers I know!” Do you know what, he is spot on!

Score 85/100

Kingdom Of Rock (Jorn Lande)
Out Of The Dark (Jacob Samuel)
No Control (Joe Lynn Turner)
When The Sky Falls (Tony Martin)
Angel Of The Night (David Readman)
I Am Coming For You (Magnus Karlsson)
Another Life (Rick Altzi)
Never Look Away (Tony Harnell)
A Heart So Cold (Harry Hess)
The Right Moment (Rebecca De La Motte)
Walki This Road Alone (Magnus Karlsson)

Sunday 25 October 2015

Grönholm– Relativity Code For Love Album Review

Already in the early eighties, Mika Grönholm showed his first deeper interest for the world of music by listening to bands like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Yes and Van Halen (to name a few) ... so inspired, he began to play guitar himself. Over the next decades and with a lot of studio and live experiences, he formed his own band GRÖNHOLM to realize all his musical and lyrical ideas. With drummer Tom Rask and singer Markku Kuikka the right comrades were quickly found and the impressive results of this combination are recorded in the two albums "Eyewitness Of Life" 2010) and "Silent Out Loud" (2011). I have to admit that Grönholm are a new band to me despite my love for a lots of things melodic.

The upcoming third album "Relativity Code For Love" is an appreciation, study and musical journey about love, all told in the language of melodic rock. With British exceptional singer Lee Small, rock fans worldwide best known as the voice of Shy, Tom Galley's Phenomena, Skyscraper and many others, one of the most appropriate artists was taken on board to give this mission the right refinement.

Watching Small live is not one of the best things as his rapport has always been that of devoid of eye contact. But, this isn’t live, and you judge him on his vocals. The very first listen is one of absolute quality. Lee Small has a soulful and bluesy tone. Now if I said that he was a poor mans Glenn Hughes, the praise is still high as Hughes is an absolute ROCK GOD! His voice is one of the smoothest around. If you love the lives of Overland and Ousey then Lee Small should be high on your list.

‘Reasons’ opens the show and its one that instantly grabs your attention. Small shows subtle Glenn Hughes tendencies, but the overall result is one that is of a high calibre and very polished. ‘Home In Our Hearts’ has a bubbling under feel to it, and after a couple of listens its one of the best AOR songs of the year!  It undoubtedly shows the strength of Grönholm’s writing. ‘Like An Angel’ is more direct, a powering riff duelling with Smalls vocals.

Small is the glue that holds Grönholm’s music together. Sure the songs are well written and produced but what are good songs without someone who can add style and substance to them. Small does this in abundance. I’ve heard his work with Shy, Lifeline, and United Nations, and this is undoubtedly his best work to date

The result is a concise and entertaining piece of Hard Rock/Melodic Rock/AOR with fine progressive influences and resounding catchy melodies which will grab the audience with a unique style and higher musical claims. The fresh dynamic mixing and mastering of Janne Tolsa (Nightwish, Tarot, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow ...) has completed the whole release to one of the forthcoming rock highlights this year.

This is an album for any discerning fan of AOR/ Melodic Rock. I urge you strongly to beg, steal or borrow a copy of this cracking album.

Score 88/100

Tracklist ...
01. Reasons
02. Home In Our Hearts
03. Like An Angel
04. Mystery
05. Strangers
06. Once
07. Serenity
08. Gravity

Sunday 4 October 2015

Stryper - 'Fallen' Album Review

Now (the present, if I didn’t make myself clear) is a great time to be a Stryper fan.  They really have come out of the blocks at speed, and come out fighting, if that’s a Christian thing to do. Maybe not, but it’s a good example of their progression since the original foursome got back together.

Where some bands are treading water, Michael Sweet et al are pushing their boundaries further than most. Sure, albums like ‘In God We Trust’, ‘Soldiers Under Command’ and ‘Yellow and Black Attack’ have classic Stryper moments, the sound production wasn’t always at its best. Jump forward 25 years and both ‘No More Hell To Pay, and now ‘Fallen’ have production levels that befit their sound and quality. All of that is down to their leader, Michael Sweet.

I’m a big fan of Stryper, ever since I heard ‘Winter Wonderland’ to be honest, and it grew from there. Back in the 80s, wearing a Stryper tee-shirt was the equivalent of a Hells Angel turning up in a Hello Kitty jump suit. It was something that you hid from your mates. Well, not any more! I’ve always stood up for these guys, no more so than now. Yes, the religious references are there for all to hear, but (and this is a huge but), this album takes Stryper up to new levels of greatness in my eyes.

Sugar sweetness has (mostly) been vacated for the heaviest sound that Stryper have ever achieved. Ok, so its not Pantera/Motorhead levels, but Stryper are massive fans themselves of Heavy Metal, and ‘Fallen’ is a cracking example of modern metal.

‘Yahweh’ is the national God of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and is also a divine warrior who leads the heavenly army against Israel’s enemies (for those of us who are not religious). In this instance its in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. References aside, the song itself is a great opener. Stryper’s harmonies are completely off the ‘StJoSt’ harmony scale! (StJoSt is the industry measurement scale based on the harmonies of Styx, Journey and Stryper) Michael only hits these heady high notes on albums nowadays, but at least he can still do it in small doses. Couple this with the twin thrash guitar attack of Fox and Sweet and it is a match made in Heaven. Parts of ‘Yahweh’ are akin to the ‘Powerslave’ era Iron Maiden.

‘Fallen’ yet again highlights the power of harmonies. Sweet screams his arse off and once again there is great power and muscle in the riff. Again it has religious content, but don’t let that sway your decision. I defy any listener of Metal to tell me that this isn’t heavy and bloody good!! ‘Pride’ is a simpler but still a pulsating number, with Sweet’s rasping vocals taking centre stage in the chorus in particular. ‘Love You Like I Do’ is straight out of the 80s Stryper songbook, with layered vocals and sounds as if it were originally planned for ‘IGWT.’

‘All Over Again’ is Stryper’s only calm moment. It’s a ballad, but not in the Stryper sense. Its more country than the ‘hair-ballad-wedding-dance’ songs they used to do. I can see this being a firm favourite with the 777 faithful out on the road. ‘After Forever’ is a very good cover of Black Sabbath’s Christian song, and was one they probably thought about for ‘The Covering’. Stryper are not afraid to show their influences, and ‘After Forever’ is definitely not a filler. Neither is it controversial. Good music, is good music after all.

Fallen ends strongly with ‘Let There Be Light’ and ‘The Calling’ in particular grabbing the attention with their powerful riffs. A true testament (yes it is blatant) is that some of these songs need to be added to the faithful set list. In doing this, their live shows will be even better than before.

This is the most energetic that Stryper have ever been. Mushy ballads have all but disappeared and in their place comes power, strength and positivity. That is a great recipe for success. Long may they continue!

(Christian references have been intentional)

Stryper – Fallen

Fallen Pride
Big Screen Lies
Love You Like I Do
All Over Again
After Forever
Till I Get What I Need
Let There Be Light
The Calling
King Of Kings

Score 88/100

Saturday 22 August 2015

Amadeus Awad - 'Death Is Only A Feeling' Album Review

Concept albums are ten a penny. Lots of bands have tried to tell a story, and there’s a small number that have succeeded in getting it right…Pink Floyd, Ayreon, Queensryche, and Dream Theater will appear at the top of many a fans list. For me, Amadeus Awad needs adding to this list. For those not in the know Amadeus Awad has already released a few nuggets – “The Book Of Gates” and “Schizanimus” being just two recent ones. A mere nine months after ‘The Book Of Gates’ comes ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’. The guy is releasing albums like it’s the 1970s all over again.

Along for the rise is his longtime collaborator, Elia Monsef (Ostura), just adding vocals to one track (no writing), and transferred in on loan is the exquisite Anneke Van Giersbergen, and the European Master of all things Concept, Prog and genius at pulling in talent from all over the world, Arjen Anthony Lucassen. For once he is the hired hand, and Amadeus Awad has pulled off a master-stroke in getting both AVG and AAL. He has also managed to snare (pun definitely intended) Marco Minnemann (drums on 4 of the 6) and Spocks Beard drummer Jimmy Keegan

‘Death…’ is a personal account, and one that eclipses any of his work to date. I’ve never been anywhere near a hurricane but I can imagine from what I have read, and that listening to ‘DIJAF’ is akin to placing yourself in the eye of the storm. A  calm and stillness is present, yet all around you, ‘DIJAF’ is an all encompassing entity, a whirlwind of music, surrounding your senses; and its got THAT VOICE! It opens up with Arjen Lucassen saying, “Right where it ends”, after which we have a narrator (Dan Harper) basically declaring that “he does not know what love is”. So, ‘Opia’ gently unfolds and draws you into its story. I think of it in a similar way to Dream Theaters ‘Scenes From A Memory’, only this album is two thirds in size. I imagine that Anneke Van Giersbergens vocals are not for everyone. Not for me, as I hang onto every word and phrase. ‘Sleep Paralysis’ is where ‘DIJAF’ really kicks into gear, it’s a dark, brooding piece that you would expect from a title like ‘Sleep Paralysis’. AVG vocals here are almost hypnotic, lulling you into sleep and when coupled with the acoustic, guitar, Hammond, and Marco Minnemann’s sublime drumming, the end result is dramatic and captivating. Such is the level that you are being drawn in, you hardly notice the change in track (‘Monday Morning’), the narrator asking a lot of life questions before an intensely powerful instrumental acoustic passage, that just glides by.

Ostura’s Elia Monsef steps up to the mic for ‘Tomorrow Lies’. The whole piece you can feel is building gradually with each passing song. Monsef adds passion and depth to the sorrowful and searching lyrics. Amadeus Awad knows not to overplay and just throw tons of tones at you, there a nice slide guitar playing subtly underneath the vocals, with a nicely constructed guitar solo played with slabs of emotion. Like I stated earlier, I felt it was all building to a crescendo, and that crescendo comes in the form of AVG and the longest track, ‘Lonesome Clown’. Not only is it the longest, but also the finest track. AVG’s lilting vocals are conveyed with sadness, but beautiful tone...”Death is just a feeling that you’re never coming back”. It’s in this middle section when the instrumental lies that the track really takes off, synth vs guitar combining to make an expansive piece. Its up one moment, down the next, with Minnemann’s playing surrounding Awad’s excellent guitar soloing.

‘DIJAF’ soon gets to its last track, ‘Temporary’. Only there is nothing temporary about it. Arjen Anthony Lucassen makes a rare appearance as a vocalist, and despite his lack of vocals in anything Ayreon, proves that he can hold his own. It’s a departure from everything before, and is more upbeat and positive. The song finishes with a lengthy instrumental piece with Lucassen having the final word…”I want the whole universe to know that The story begins…” and takes you right back to his opening words…”Right where it ends”.

All in all it’s not a long album, at just under 45 mins. To have a great concept album, or any album, doesn’t mean it has to fill up a cd or two. The length is the length, and in this case ‘DIJAF’ takes you on a compelling story in a fleeting moment and it just flies by to the point where you want to take it in all over again. Amadeus Awad has turned out some compelling pieces of work these past few years, but none is quite as good as this. If you want to take a trip to the dark side and come out illuminated, then this is what you’ve been looking for….

Score 95/100

Sleep Paralysis
Monday Morning
Tomorrow Lies
Lonesome Clown

Amadeus Awad – Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards & Orchestration
Anneke Van Giersbergen – Vocals
Arjen Lucassen Vocals
Elia Monsef – Vocals
Marco Minnemen – Drums on tracks 2,3,5 & 6
Jimmy Keegan – Drums on track 4
Nareg Nashanikian – Cello
Rafi Nashanikian – Clarinet
Dan Harper - Narration