Thursday, March 30, 2017

Steve Hackett: ”The Night Siren”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inside Out Music
Review by Martien Koolen

Wolflight, released in 2015, was one of the best Hackett albums ever and I almost thought that he was at the peak of his long musical career. However, now, Steve Hackett brings out his 25th solo album called The Night Siren and it is an absolute, brilliant gem.

It seems as if Steve's guitar playing is getting better and better with every year he grows older, as some of the solos on The Night Siren are utterly marvelous and awesome. For me the guitar solos in the songs Behind The Smoke, El Nino and The Gift are some of the best Hackett has ever played and recorded. Especially the solos in the instrumental tracks The Gift and El Nino give me goosebumps all over, every time I hear them. But there is a lot more to enjoy on The Night Siren, take for example Martian Sea (featuring Hackett on sitar and guitar), Anything But Love (with excellent flamenco guitar picking), Inca Terra (featuring didgeridoo) and In The Skeleton Gallery, which is a very diverse track. The longest track, which clocks just over seven minutes, called Fifty Miles From The North Pole, is perhaps the best song of the entire album, featuring massive guitar solos and melodies, but also featuring Ferenc and Sara Kovacs on trumpet and didgeridoo and Amanda Lehmann on backing vocals, giving the song a typical atmosphere.

The Night Siren shows Steve Hackett at the top of his musical game as the album is so diverse and there are lots of changes of style and tone to discover as a listener. Hackett's ideas, creativity and musicality burn as brightly as never before and it really is a musical treat of the highest order to listen and enjoy The Night Siren over and over again. The Night Siren already belongs to one of the musical progressive highlights of the year 2017 and I am sure that this awesome album will end up in my top 5 list of best albums of this year. Play it loud and as much as you can!!!!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

This interestingly titled band features Trixter (and occasional Def Leppard) guitarist Steve Brown, Danger Danger vocalist Ted Poley and a very seasoned rhythm section of Greg Smith (bass) and Chuck Burgi (drums). After the first spin I was a little bit underwhelmed - the motor fist didn’t knock me out. I didn’t give up on them though, and after a while the songs started to work. The sheer positivity and energy they radiate began to light up my day while listening to them.

I can’t say that TMF has a very unique or distinctive sound, a mix of Danger Danger and Trixter describes it rather accurately. Steve Brown’s Trixterious (a new word!) songwriting style shines through and he might have picked up a few things from Leppard too. Ted’s vocals are unmistakable as always, he does have a distinctive sound of his own.

My favourite songs… hmm, a difficult question. There are no super-hooks that stand out, instead you’ll get an album full of enjoyable melodic rock songs. But let’s see… ”Get You Off My Mind” is a very Def Leppard-like semi-ballad, I like it a lot… ”Put Me To Shame” kicks off with a riff that reminds of vintage Dokken, while the chorus makes me think that Jack Ponti might have a hand in writing this song. The two ballads ”Love” and ”Don’t Let Me Go” are very good too. I do like the rest of the track as well, the summertime rock vibe is uplifting, although the hooks could have been sharper.

All in all a good album, and I can’t wait for summer when I get to blast this in my convertible, with the wind in my hair. All I need is a convertible. And hair.

Monday, March 20, 2017

DIRTY WHITE BOYZ: ”Down And Dirty”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Do you remember early nineties hard rockers Kiss Of The Gypsy? They released one major label album on Atlantic but their success was limited and short lived. Vocalist Tony Mitchell has been in the music business throughout the years, but Dirty White Boyz marks his return to the melodic rock/AOR scene. In the band we find familiar names - Nigel Bailey, Neil Ogden, Paul Hume and Jamie Crees have been in bands like Three Lions, Bailey, Lifeline, Lawless, Demon…

It sounds like there are two bands on ”Down And Dirty”, one of them an exceptional melodic rock band and the other a fairly standard pub rock band. I definitely prefer the first one, with fine AOR songs like ”All She Wrote”, ”Hanging On A Heartache” and ”Rise”. Okay, maybe ”Ride With Angels” sounds a little bit too much like Bon Jovi’s ”Bed Of Roses” but Mitchell’s raspy vocals save it from being just a weak copy. The other ballad "After The Rain" is far more impressive though.

The pub rock band delivers us songs like ”Dynamite”, ”Playin’ Dirty”, ”All In The Name Of Rock’n Roll” and ”Bring It On”, the kind of meat and potato rock songs I’ve heard a million times before. Take ”Dynamite” for example: the title would suggest that it’s an explosive rock track, but despite its’ Def Leppard-vibe and verses that move along nicely, it falls flat thanks to a plodding chorus.

What else… yeah, there are times when Tony Mitchell sounds a lot like Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P. Now, don’t go thinking that it’s a negative comment, W.A.S.P. does have some very melodic songs too and I actually like Blackie’s vocals. Merely an observation.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

SELFMACHINE: "Societal Arcade"

Rating; RRr
Label: Wormholedeath Records
Review by Martien Koolen

The Dutch metal band Selfmachine released their full length debut album called Broadcast Your Identity in 2014 and the reviews were very positive, sometimes even overwhelming. Now, three years later Selfmachine, consisting of: Steven Leijen (vocals), Mark Brekelmans (bass guitar), Michael Hansen (guitars), John Brok (lead guitar) and Ben Schapers (drums), bring out their follow-up album called: Societal Arcade. The album is mixed and mastered by two notorious, legendary producers Waldemar Sorychta and Dennis Koehne, who already produced albums for excellent bands like Moonspell and Grip Inc. Societal Arcade contains 13 tracks of which 9 are not my cup of tea and that is due to the fact that in these 9 songs the band tortures me with grunts. For those of you who do not know this by now: I f... HATE grunting, as for me it has nothing to do with singing whatsoever; sorry guys! So, that leaves 4 songs for me to like and tell someting about. Giddy-up!, nice title by the way, is the first track I really like; it is heavy, sometimes even trashy, it has a catchy chorus and a great guitar solo and only, thank god for that, a very little bit of grunting....No Cliche is an excellent rock ballad with an amazing melodic guitar solo and this song proves that Steven Leijen can really sing! Nothing Worth is also a huge metal track, without grunts, with heavy hooks and riffs and that one actually reminds of Alice In Chains. The album ends with the best song of the entire album called Luminous Beings. It is also the longest track (6:03) and it is rather dark, mysterious and it has a great build up,also featuring two marvellous guitar solos and some great vocal performance. Why not make an album with only songs like the latter or the other three songs without grunts? If the grunting was skipped from the entire album then this would have been a more than excellent metal album and my rating would have been much higher and more positive; but as I stated before: I HATE grunting, and again sorry, guys. Next time, third album without grunts??

ECLIPSE: ”Monumentum”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

With three fine albums released back to back, not to mention vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Erik Mårtensson’s extracurricular activities, there was a little doubt crawling into my mind… can they still deliver? Has the well ran dry? The first single ”Vertigo” was good, but not so good that these doubts would have gone away. But they should have. ”Monumentum”  is monumental, phenomenal and beautiful. The worst thing about it is that it sounds very much like an Eclipse album. And since it IS an Eclipse album, that isn’t a bad thing at all.

If you were hoping that Eclipse would have reinvented themselves with a new sound and style, then you’ll be disappointed. There are some subtle new influences but basically this is a continuation of the previous three albums - energetic, hook-laden melodic hard rock. If you’re familiar with those albums, you’ll know that the emphasis is on HARD ROCK, they like to write guitar-driven uptempo songs with attitude. And that’s what you’ll get here. But you’ll also get superb melodies and razor-sharp hooks.

The band’s guitar hero Magnus Henriksson is on fire, so there’s plenty of first class axemanship for those of you who crave for that. I do enjoy his work, but for me it’s the songs that count, and I don’t think that Eclipse have released a more solid set of songs than this one. Almost every song is worthy of a ”single” status, even the heaviest, hardest-hitting songs of the album are equipped with great melodies and choruses. Interestingly, the aforementioned first single ”Vertigo” is probably the weakest track on the album, a ”standard Eclipse song”… I would have chosen any of the other songs to be the first sample… but it’s still a pretty decent song.

My personal favourites include ”Never Look Back”, ”Killing Me”, ”No Way Back” and damn, I could list most of the songs. Eclipse has done it again, make no mistake about it.

PS. Isn’t it funny that two albums released on the same label at the same time, both have a song called ”Hurt” on them?

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Rating: RRRRR
Label: Spinefarm
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Summer is here! The new Brother Firetribe album is about to be released! Yes, the band that defines the term ”Summertime AOR” has put together a fine batch of songs that ooze sunshine, good times and wild nights. Their previous album ”Diamond In The Firepit” was a somewhat darker effort, but as the title suggests, ”Sunbound” is heading to a happier place and time again.

The first song that was released from this album was the awesome ”Taste Of A Champion”, an insanely catchy tribute to the motivational 80ies soundtrack songs. That song alone proved that BFT was back in a big way. The follow-up single ”Indelible Heroes” was a strangely bland one though, despite its’ poignant lyrics about the rock heroes that we have lost recently. I was fairly confident that it was merely an one-off and I’m happy to say that I was right. It’s possibly the weakest track of the album and to be honest, it’s not that bad anyways.

On their previous albums, the band has chosen some of their less outstanding songs to open their albums, but on ”Sunbound” they finally get it right. The first ”real” song of the album, ”Help Is On The Way” starts the album with a powerful riff, a bit Fortune-like melodies and a strong chorus. It’s followed by the two singles mentioned above and ”Last Forever”, another summer anthem in  the vein of ”I’m On Fire” or ”Wildest Dreams”. Even though one’s plowing through sleet to work or school, this song will make it bearable - trust me, I’ve tried it. ”Give Me Tonight” is a keyboard-driven uptempo pop-rocker that works well as a sequel to ”Last Forever”, even though it’s not quite as brilliant.

The moody, dark ”Shock” is a bit of a departure, a balladic track with layers of keyboards. It’s definitely not a typical AOR ballad, more like an eighties’ synth-pop song with Emppu’s tasteful guitars on top of it. Not one of my biggest favourites but still an interesting and enjoyable track. The heavier ”Strangled” reminds me a bit of the band’s previous album, it’s not a bright and breezy summertime anthem but very good nevertheless. Hard-hitting keyboards, killer hook and frantic guitar work from Mr. Virtanen.

The mid-tempo AOR of ”Heart Of The Matter” has a positive message and a pleasant melody, while ”Restless Heart” is the 80’ies movie song cover of the album. Originally recorded by John Parr for the Schwarzenegger flick ”The Running Man”, this suits the band perfectly. Pekka Heino doesn’t have the rasp of John Parr but he makes this his own by adding his own stamp to it.

One of the album’s top tracks for me is ”Big City Dream”. Fine traditional storytelling in the lyrics and a chorus to die for. It doesn’t get much better than this! The album’s epic closing track has a rather strange title, ”Phantasmagoria”. Wikipedia says that it’s ”a form of horror theatre that used one or more magic lanterns to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, typically using rear projection to keep the lantern out of sight”… Tribe’s ”Phantasmagoria” involves a woman haunting the storyteller. Or something like that, it’s all so mysterious. Musically this song is a distant relative of the other ballad ”Shock”, only even more layered, ambitious and melodic. Phantastic even.

Flawless production, great playing and singing, several of my favourite songs of this year included… I seriously doubt there will be too many albums that will be better than ”Sunbound” this year.

DEAD OF NIGHT - "In Search Of Ancient Magic"


LABEL: Self Release

REVIEW BY: Alan Hollowaty

British would be symphonic rockers Dead of Night return with their second album, challenging the big boys and girls with a low budget but high ambition. I say it's the second album, but the first was recorded and released twice, the second time with current vocalist Briony Featon, so it's actually their third release, and... oh never mind, it's the music that matters.

It's immediately apparent that Dead Of Night have the talent to back up their ambition, as opening track 'One Night Holy' is a rollicking, guitar heavy track with a great melody. I don't know how their original singer sounded, but Briony Felton is a fine replacement either way, with a clear, melodic, powerful voice. The band's symphonic affectations are quite evident, and although there's no orchestra the keyboards provide plenty of atmosphere and classical effect. The title track that follows allows the keyboards to take more of a central role the album pretty much continues in this way, with plenty of nicely paced, catchy tracks laced with very effective keyboards throughout. Fourth track 'Child of Wolves' is the first to go full on Nightwish, with whirlwind pace and drama all over the place. There's two slower tracks, 'Airaeth' and 'the Other Side Of The Rain', placed well in the middle and at the close of the alum respectively. I'm not always keen on slower songs, but these are quite beautiful, that latter never outstaying it's seven minute runtime.

The more I listen to 'In Search Of Ancient Magic' the more I enjoy it. It's much better than most symphonic hopefuls, with a lot of bouncy energy on top of the serious stuff, and there's even a track about scientist Michael Faraday (he discovered the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis, science fans)! It's quirky enough to be fun, and dramatic enough to be deep, and I would urge any fans of female fronted classical themed rock to get a copy.

Official Website

Facebook Page

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Danko JONES: "Wild Cat"

Rating: RRR
Label: AFM
Review by Martien Koolen

Fire Music, the previous Danko Jones release was their most successful album so far and so the hard rock trio from Canada decided to do the same thing on their eighth studio album called Wild Cat. So musically speaking there are no surprises whatsoever, meaning if you liked Fire Music, then you will probably love Wild Cat as well.

The new album contains 11 new songs and they all have a hard rock edge with plenty of aggressive guitar riffs, hooks and melodies that will keep you moving for about 40 minutes, which is of course rather short, but ever so sweet!

Highlights are the Thin :Lizzy tribute You Are My Woman, the rocking title track with an obvious Van Halen guitar vibe, Letís Start Dancing (almost punky so fastÖ) and the last song called Revolution (but then we make love). The latter is my personal favourite being a mid tempo hard rock song with a great solo and lyrics that remind me of the sixties.

Wild Cat is a typical Danko Jones album, raw, fast, no nonsense and lots of tongue in cheek lyrics, like for example Success In Bed.

With his new album Danko Jones presents his prescription for a better world: make war then love, keep on rocking and play Wild Cat at maximum volume!!!

Monday, March 6, 2017


Rating: RRRRr
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

First there was the ”buzz”. People close to the source were saying that something special was on the way. Then there was ”Hurt”, the song that introduced One Desire to the public. I fell for the song instantly but it didn’t hurt at all… The second song ”Whenever I’m Dreaming” took a couple of spins but I fell for it too, and along with the new Brother Firetribe album, this became the most eagerly awaited release of this year for me.

Now that I’ve been able to listen to these songs for a while, I can honestly say that this album doesn’t disappoint. It isn’t flawless but it’s very good. Very, very good. But now the obligatory brief history lesson…

The band was founded by drummer Ossi Sivula a few years ago. Things started to move ahead when Ossi hooked up with producer Jimmy Westerlund. A three-track demo impressed Frontiers Records, and eventually Westerlund became a member of the band as guitarist, along with vocalist André Linman (formely of Sturm und Drang) and bassist Jonas Kuhlberg.

For what it’s worth, this is a rather varied album. The songs range from AOR to Melodic Metal and somewhere between the band explores more modern rock sounds. It may sound like they’re ”all over the place” but in fact somehow they never lose the plot, there’s a common thread keeping these songs together.

The first single ”Hurt” is the first song of the album too, and what a song it is. More melody than you could ever ask for, and an understated, yet highly infectious chorus. This has been my most listened track of the last few years, I kid you not.

Track 2, the third single ”Apologize”  (or ”release”, I don’t know what you call them these days) comes from the prolific Eric Mårtensson (Eclipse, Nordic Union, W.E.T.) but it isn’t one of my favourites. Same goes for ”Love Injection”, it’s good but not one of the album’s highlights. The intense ”Turn Back Time” is brilliant though, as is the contemporary-sounding, balladic ”Falling Apart”. ”Straight Through The Heart” is one of the heavier tracks on the album but it doesn’t work for me. ”Whenever I’m Dreaming” and ”Do You Believe” represent the more AOR’ish side of the album, and they are melodic jewels indeed.

”Buried Alive” is an interesting track, a full-blown melodic metal song that sounds unmistakably like ”Future World”-era Pretty Maids. Andre Linman does a good Ronnie Atkins-impersonation, using a rougher tone for some parts and a cleaner style for others. Pretty good!

The album started with ”Hurt”, yet the last song of the album is called ”This Is Where The Heartbreak Begins” - maybe a sign to go back to the ”Hurt” again? I don’t know, but I do know that ”This Is Where The Heartbreak Begins” is one of the finest ballads I’ve heard lately and if there’s any justice, it’ll be a big hit for the band.

The only reason why I’m nitpicking once again and handing out the fifth ”R” as a small one is the production, or the vocal production to be precise. André Linman is a good singer but some of his vocals are way too heavily doctored. The Autotune or whatever raises its’ ugly head on several songs but ”Straight Through The Heart” is the worst one I guess, Linman sounding dangerously mechanic. I know, it’s 2017 and to a listener of contemporary pop this kind of sound is just fine, but I come from a different era…

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The RAVEN AGE : ”Darkness Will Rise”

Rating: RRRR
Label: BMG
Review by Martien Koolen

I saw/heard The Raven Age last year, as this exciting new metal act from London opened the show for Iron Maiden in Arnhem, The Netherlands. I was really impressed with their short live set and now a couple of months later, The Raven Age release their debut album called Darkness Will Rise. The Raven Age, hailing from all corners of my favourite city, being London of course, consists of: George Harris (guitar, yes and he is the son of Iron Maiden founder Steve harris), Dan Wright (guitar), Matt Cox (bass guitar), Michael Burrough (vocals) and Jai Patel (drums).

Darkness Will Rise contains 13 tracks and none of them is a filler, as this album rocks from the opening track Darkness Will Rise till the last song called Behind The Mask. All tracks feature excellent, addictive, heavy riffs and after a couple of tracks I cannot help myself as to compare these guys with the American rockers from Pop Evil. The Raven Age sound heavy, epic, dynamic, dramatic, but most of all very melodic and really catchy as well.

Highlights are the longer tracks like The Merciful One, Eye Among The Blind, The Dying Embers Of Life and Behind The Mask; especially the diversity in these songs, loud and heavy passages and melodic softer passages add extra dimensions to these blockbusters. Vocalist Burrough really sings his ass off and he especially shines in Winds Of Change, My Revenge and Salem's Fate. The Raven Age also released a video (check it out at: from Salem's Fate and it is of course based on the notorious witches trials in Salem in 1692.

This amazing debut of The Raven Age is an album filled with melodic,powerful metal and it is even heavier than Iron Maiden... The songs are overloaded with great melodies and producer Matt Hyde (Slipknot, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine) did an excellent job, making Darkness Will Rise an excellent blend of really heavy music with powerful melodic vocals. The Raven Age are a band to watch out for in the future; so check them out and play the album at maximum volume!!! Enjoy...

ENBOUND: "The Blackened Heart"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inner Wound Recordings
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The second Enbound album "The Blackened Heart" sees the band finding their own sound and style in the oversaturated melodic metal genre. Now I'm going to revert to comparisons to describe their style, although it really doesn't do justice to the band. Here goes anyway: A bit of Kamelot, some Seventh Wonder, a spoonful of Queen and the vocalist from Work Of Art. Interestingly, Lars "Lee Hunter" Säflund's distinctive vocals do not really make me think of WOA, the music is so different, if not any less melodic.

I especially like the fact that while the arrangements are rich and complex, it's the song that's always in the spotlight. There are no extended solos or unnecessary instrumental passages, yet I'm pretty sure that even hardcore prog rock fans won't find these songs "too easy". What's more, the band's melodic sensibility is outstanding. There are some hauntingly beautiful melodies and hooks in the songs. 

My favourite songs include "Get Ready For", "Falling" and "Make You So Unreal", all with melodies that make you just want to close your eyes and levitate.... So far I've haven't managed the latter but never say never!

The MUTE GODS: ”Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Inside Out Music
Review by Martien Koolen

The second album of The Mute Gods, consisting of Nick Breggs (bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals), Roger King (keyboards, guitars) and Marco Minnemann (drums), is again a real progressive rock gem. The album with the rather weird title Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth, features 11 new songs, of which two (Saltatio Mortis and The Andromeda Strain) are instrumental. Saltatio Mortis (dance of death) opens the album and it is a rather experimental, tricky song with great guitar hooks and excellent drumming; the same accounts for the other instrumental track The Andromeda Strain, which is a bit more obscure and super proggy.

The Dumbing Of The Stupid (again a weird title) is the first absolute prog rock gem of this album; clocking over seven minutes it is filled with great guitar work from King and Breggs. Another highlight is the song The Singing Fish Of Batticaloa which clocks over eight minutes and that one is really experimental and proggy to the bones. Most of the songs on this album are actually more aggressive and really tense and dark (except for the two rather ”mellow” songs Early Warning and Stranger Than Fiction), making this album more difficult to listen to for the first time. However after a couple of spins you will get hooked to the sound of this excellent prog rock trio; they are indeed Gods, musically spoken that is. Play it loud and listen to it on your headphones and then you will even be more amazed.  Tardigrades by the way are also known as water bears or miss piglets, and are in fact micro-animals.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

THUNDER: "Rip It Up"

Rating: RRRRr
Label: EarMusic
Review by Martien Koolen

I have always had a special place in my rock heart for Thunder, as their live shows are always a treat and among the best you ever see and hear. Wonder Days, released in 2015, was a brilliant album and it even was a top 10 success for these classic hard rockers from London. Now, two years later, Thunder release their 11th studio album called Rip It Up and in my humble opinion it is even better than Wonder Days; go figure! Thunder have a very recognisable sound, but fortunately they are not Status Quo and do definitely not slavishly follow the same musical paths over and over again. Just listen to the amazing, rocky opener No One Gets Out Alive and you will know what I mean; it is classic Thunder stuff but also, slightly different and exciting.

Rip It Up contains 11 songs and none is a filler, or a so-called left over track. Musical highlights are without any doubt: Right From The Start (a massive superb ballad, with very emotional vocals and one of the best guitar solos of Morley that I have ever heard), Tumbling Down (magical British rock; check out the intro riff, which sounds like Pinball Wizard) and The Chosen One, which will become another Thunder classic like Backstreet Symphony or Dirty Love. Rip It Up is a great classic hard rock album, almost a throwback to seventies/eighties rock, but then with a very up to date edge and all the songs sound very fresh and extremely good. I truly believe that these guys can go like this for more than 20 years to come; rock on, guys and see you in Weert on 28 April; can't wait to hear the new songs "in the flesh". Needless to say that you have to play this album at maximum volume!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017




REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Here's an unusual offering, found at a comic convention of all places. The reason for this is that Cosmic Rays is made up of people who create comics or are involved in comics. The most well known would be drummer Charlie Adlard who illustrates a little comic called 'The Walking Dead' a couple of times a month. Of course, making good comics does not mean you can make good music, so I was understandably intrigued.

'Cosmic Rays' is rather proggy in it's overall feel, but the sort of prog you can play air guitar to, not the boring stuff. It was made over a period of a few years, so lacks some cohesiveness, but the music is solid and the melodies ever present. Vocalist Shane Chebsey has a pub rock feel to his voice, underlined by a nervous mix that keeps pushing him to the front. Nonetheless, he can hold a tune and suits the music well, which is always a good starting point. Another good starting point is opener 'Electricade', which sets out the stall for the band as an upbeat but interesting prospective. There's a real 70s vibe that crops up often, a space rock feel that is kept under control rather than allowed to make everything too much like a hippy festival. They can rock out when required, and 'Need For Speed' has a wonderful Deep Purple-y feel to it with a neat riff and very nice keyboards. The album finishes with an eight minutes plus track, 'Redemption (2&3)', featuring some jaunty and catchy guitar from artist Phil Winslade along with some proggy bits that should come with flowers to braid in your hair.

'Cosmic Rays' is quite a find, a self financed and produced gem that will slot right into anyone's power prog collection. If you have a few It Bites or Kino albums this will be right up your street. Deep enough to reward repeated listens and instant enough to enjoy on the first spin, this has made me look forward to the band's next EP, due later this year. It's cosmic, man...

Band Facebook Page

D'ERCOLE: "No Place Like Home"


LABEL: Phil Vincent Music

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

It's time to say hi to two old friends, namely guitarist Damian D'ercole and vocalist Phil Vincent. Regular readers will know of Phil Vincent, as he is well known for being a prodigious one man band, releasing many high quality releases. These days he mixes things up with co-conspirators, from the heavy Legion to Tragik, and most recently Cranston. I like to think that when Phil Vincent is involved in a project there's going to be a worthy end result, and the fourth album under the D'ercole banner is no exception.

The difference with D'ercole is that it's most definitely Damian D'ercole's baby, with Vincent acting as vocalist and producer (plus keyboards). D'ercole writes all the songs here and provides all the guitars, so naturally the sound is different to your usual Phil Vincent release. Technically there's seven songs here, but that does include 'Epic Failure', which is really four songs in one, running at 15 minutes. Personally I would rather have had them split into separate tracks for easier listening, but it doesn't take away from the fact they are four great songs. The songs in general are very melodic with some excellently placed guitars, with Vincent's vocals distinct as ever. D'ercole isn't afraid to experiment, and on 'The Walls Are Closing In' he tries interesting rhythms and a bit of funk to produce a track that really grows on you, never outstaying it's welcome in nearly seven minutes. Elsewhere there's more standard melodic fayre, none more so than 'Waiting For Your Love', which itself is part 3 of 'Epic Failure'. Seriously guys, don't do that again, as it's a song Iwould have liked on a playlist with similar ones but I can't do that.

'No Place like Home' is an eclectic and highly enjoyable album, mixing a few different styles but maintaining a coherent whole. The wimpy 'Dreamer' is the only track that had me reaching for the skip button, but even then it's not a bad track, just not really my scene. Another cracking collaboration from D'ercole and Vincent, there's no reason not to check this one out.

 Official Site

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

CREYE: ”Straight To The Top”

Rating: - (EP)
Label: CREYE (Self-released)
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Okay, maybe the band’s name requires instructions to pronounce it accordingly, but damn it, CREYE’s debut EP promises great things for them. The mastermind of the band is guitarist Andreas Gullstrand, who has enlisted some of Sweden’s top musicians to play on these songs. There’s vocalist Alexander Strandell from Art Nation,  guitarist Andrée Thunder from Theander Expression and Linus Abrahamson on bass, to name a few. A bit of a supergroup!

The sound of the band is very much influenced by the eighties, with lots of keyboards and a somewhat electronic drum sound. With the ”retro synth wave” being a trending style, the band sounds rather contemporary. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense that a retro sound makes them contemporary but sometimes the old is the new ”new”…

There’s two original Creye tracks and a fine cover of Robert Tepper’s classic ”No Easy Way Out” on this EP. ”Straight To The Top” is a hard-hitting uptempo AOR track with a big hook while ”Never Too Late” is a slightly more ”moody” track but just as hook-laden and melodic. The Tepper cover stays true to the original and while Strandell doesn’t have the rasp of Temper, he does a great song making the song his own. The retro-modern-synthwave-hardrock-AOR sound works perfectly for this song too.

If there’s a full album in the works and it’s as good as these tracks, I’ve got a lot of ”R’s” reserved for it…

Blackfield: "V"

Rating: RRR
Label: Kscope
Review by Martien Koolen

For those ofyou who do not know Blackfield, it is a cooperation between compposer, guitarist and singer Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen. This is their fifth album and it was recorded over a period of 18 months in England as well as in Israel. V is a concept album which features 13 new songs that form a flowing 45 minutes ocean themed song cycle.

The rather short album starts with A Drop In The Ocean, which is an orchestral intro to the follow up Family Man. That one features lead vocals by Wilson and kind of reminds me of Porcupine Tree. The third track, called How Was Your Ride is a bit melancholic but it is also one of the best songs on the album. Geffen sings the following two tracks which are rather mediocre, just as Lately, which is really nothing more than a utterly simple rock song.

October is a nice ballad,which is followed by The Jackall, which is the second best track, featuring an excellent blues riff. Salt Water is an intrumental track and the album ends with tyhe song From 44 to 48, again with lead vocals by Wilson.

All in all I have to say that I am a bit disappointed about this album as it is a fairly standard rock/pop album with nice songs, some very catchy choruses, but I also think that these guys, especially Wilson can do better than this. Do not get me wrong, V is not a bad album, but I really expect something more from one of my musical heroes, being Wilson of course...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

APOLLO: ”Waterdevils”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Apollo Papathanasio is one of the great travelling vocalists of our era, lending his voice to several bands and projects. Some of the bands he’s sung with include Firewind (4 albums), Majestic, Time Requiem, Meduza, Sandalinas, and Evil Masquerade. Currently he’s fronting Spritual Beggars. Over the last few years he’s been putting together this album, his first solo effort.

”Waterdevils” is a hard rock/heavy metal album that reminds me of classic bands such as Dio and Deep Purple. It’s a varied album with some songs going to a more melodic direction, but it’s all rooted in classic rock and metal. Apollo’s testosterone-filled vocals tend to keep every song rather metal-sounding, even the softer ones. The production seems to vary a lot, some songs sound more muffled than others, but maybe that’s what they’ve been after - a raw, retro 70ies sound.

A few songs that stand out - the melodic ”Crossing The Lines” and ”Through The Fire” are probably my favourites. I can’t say that I’m particularly impressed by Apollo’s cover of Phenomena’s ”Stop” though - a great song for sure but this version doesn’t have the flow of the original and Apollo’s vocals are way too over the top.

If you’re a fan of Apollo’s voice, I guess this album is an essential purchase. Firewind and classic metal fans could check it out too.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Michael BOLTON: "Songs Of Cinema"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The news of Michael Bolton signing with Italian melodic rock label Frontiers was a bit of a surprise. Immediately the fans of his  eighties albums were getting excited over the prospect of a new rock album. No news about that kind of a release have surfaced so far though, but here’s a new Bolton album anyway. An album full of covers. With the most basic album cover I’ve seen in a while.

If you’re a hardcore fan of Bolton’s voice, you’re in for a treat. The years haven’t done much to his voice, he can still belt ’em out. But the songs… there are some extremely strange choices here. I mean, a new version of ”When A Man Loves A Woman”? Why? A ”ballad version” of ”Jack Sparrow” that’s less than two minutes long? Why? A song called ”Cupid” from ”Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special”? Is that a movie?

I’ve always kind of liked the song ”Stand By Me” and Bolton’s version isn’t too bad. ”I Will Always Love You” is a duet with Dolly Parton, but I think it might have been better as an understated Bolton solo track. Bolton’s version of ”Old Time Rock & Roll” is surprisingly powerful, proving that the rocker inside Bolton is still alive. ”Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and ”As Time Goes By” are well-sung elevator music though. As for the ”Jack Sparrow” version, I was getting excited about it, but then it was already over… Ahoy! It surely could have been extended to three minutes just as well, maybe with a new verse and a bridge or something?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

KNIGHT AREA : ”Heaven And Beyond”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Butler Records
Review by Martien Koolen

This Dutch prog rock band was formed in 2004 by keyboard player Gerben Klazinga, later followed guitarist Mark Bogert, bass player Peter Vink, Mark Smit (vocals) and Peter van Hoorn (drums) to complete the current line up. Heaven And Beyond is the sixth studio album of Knight Area and it is their best effort so far. The music on this album is an almost perfect blend of symphonic, progressive and neo-prog elements with extremely melodic guitar and keyboard melodies.

The Reaper, one of the longest tracks on the album, is one of my favourite tracks of Heaven And Beyond, especially the solos and hooks of Bogert are extremely well played and aggressive, but still melodic. The title track, also the longest song on the album, is another showcase for the exceptional guitar skills of Bogert as he really plays his ass off here. Bogert is probably one of the best Dutch guitar players I have heard in a very long time and I would compare him with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani; just listen what this guy can do in the instrumental song Eternal Light. This truly amazing prog rock album ends with a beautiful ballad called Memories, which features a fantastic guitar solo again. Heaven And Beyond is a must for lovers of melodic prog metal and for lovers of great guitar music; Bogert rules!!!

It is about time that this amazing band gets some more attention and appreciation, so buy or die!!!

GOTTHARD: ”Silver”

Rating: RR
Label: PIAS
Review by Martien Koolen

Silver is the new album of Swiss hard rockers Gotthard and it is their third album with the ”new” singer Nic Maeder. Silver contains thirteen new tracks and needless to say that if you liked their two previous albums, then you will love their new release as well.

Silver is a special album for the guys as the 25th anniversary’s importance to the band is already evident in the title of the album. Silver kicks off with Silver River, one of the best songs of the album, being a nice, cool groove rocker that promises a lot for the rest of the album. However, most songs that follow are unfortunately not that good as the opener! The first single Stay With Me, is a rather predictable power ballad, while Reason For This is extremely poppy and Not Fooling Anyone is an utterly boring acoustic song filled with strings. Why is another mediocre, dull semi-acoustic track, while Only Love Is Real is another ballad that not really comes to live. Luckily My Oh My is saves this album a bit as it is a great Gotthard song, filled with excellent riffs and hooks and a marvellous guitar solo. Tequila Symphony Number Five features bits of Beethoven’s notorious fifth symphony and is again a bit of a weird song.

For me, Silver is a true disappointment and I really miss the old Gotthard as I still cherish great albums like Human Zoo (2003) and One Life, One Soul (2002). Silver is, sad but true, nothing more than an average, mediocre, rock album and I think that, seeing the keen competition in the music business, Gotthard will have to come up with other song material to survive.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017



LABEL: inakustik

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

The mad axeman is back, and this time he's brought some of his mates with him. You might know them, three chaps by the name of Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robim McAuley. In an inspired move, Schenker sweet talked them into joining him to play a single concert celebrating their time together, and what we have here is the entire thing on one lovely DVD or two CDs.

The package comes in a nice, solid box, although inside are the three discs in cardboard sleeves and a slim booklet (that doesn't give any credit to the rest of the band or tell you when it was recorded). So whilst it will look nice on the shelf, a chunky booklet with an essay on the band by a decent scribe would have been welcome. Aside from that, it is the music that counts, as they say (especially when 'they' have short changed you on the booklet) and it's hard to imagine this being anything less than a good watch/listen.

Each  singer's section (five songs each for Barden & McAuley, three for Bonnet) is preceded by a Schenker sol piece, namely 'Into the Arena', 'Coast To Coast' and 'Captain Nemo'. The track choices themselves are spot on, and the vocalists acquit themselves admirably, with Bonnet in particular hitting some tricky notes for man his age. Of the three, I have to say I prefer McAuley, who gives a great performance and sounds great to boot. Through it all, Schenker does his job without flair but with his usual massive talent. For final track 'Doctor Doctor' the three singers join forces, much to the delight of the 5000 strong crowd.

Visually, it isn't a big production. Some lights, a backdrop and plenty of Marshall amps is all you get, and it's the music that does the talking. The sound quality is very good, and the multiple cameras capture the energy of the performance well. It's always good to have the CD back up in the same package, rip friendly for those who like to take their Schenker on the move. It's been a while since I heard the likes of 'Attack of The Mad Axeman', Assault Attack', 'Rock Bottom', 'This Is My Heart' and 'Dancer', and the concert brings back plenty of happy memories, as I'm sure it will for anyone who picks it up.

Official Site

SEVEN: ”Shattered”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A little bit of history first: the first SEVEN recordings and tours took place in the late eighties, when the band had major label support. They released a couple of singles and toured with Richard Marx among others back then, but never got around to releasing an album. Until 2014 that is, when Escape Music talked them into putting together their debut, with a little help from Swedish producer Lars Criss.

Now, a couple of years later Seven is back with their second album. Vocalist Mick Devine is the only one remaining from the original line-up, with the other vacancies filled by Swedish musicians such as Fredrik Bergh and Andy Loos. Despite these changes, the sound of the band is still intact. This album sounds like a natural successor to the debut. Devine’s smooth vocals are very recognisable and the songs are blessed with a lot of melody and hooks. With a superb production on top of it all, what we have here is one of the finest AOR albums of 2016.

I pretty much like all of these songs, but of course there are a few standout tracks. ”A Better Life”, ”High Hopes”, ”Pieces Of You” and ”Taking Over” are simply fantastic AOR songs with massive hooks. And that’s just to name a few.

While ”Shattered” doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, it’s still a fresh-sounding AOR album with a contemporary sound. I especially like the fact that most of the songs are uptempo and that the songwriters haven’t tried to re-write the standard mid-paced Journey song once again.

Bryan COLE: ”Sands Of Time”

Rating: RRRR
Label: MelodicRock Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The debut album from Bryan Cole is timeless, classic AOR in the vein of Survivor, Journey, Mitch Malloy and Giant. Well produced but not over-polished, ”Sands Of Time” is sure to please most AOR fans. A few of the songs include familiar names in the credits - Jim Peterik of Survivor and Pride Of Lions is heavily involved, and two songs from the great, late Brett Walker are covered. Bryan Cole himself proves that he’s a decent songwriter with ”We Lost The Fire” and ”I’ll Be There For You”, although the latter owes a lot to ”Price Of Love” by Bad English.

The Brett Walker songs ”Hard To Find An Easy Way” and ”More Than A Memory” are both from his ”Nevertheless” album, and genre classics. Cole’s version of ”Hard To Find…” sounds a little more urgent and hard-edged than the original, and I like it a lot. With ”More Than A Memory” he does the unthinkable and drops the killer opening riff of the song - why oh why? I’ve tried to listen this song as a ”new song” and as such it’s good, but I can’t get help it, something’s missing.

The Peterik songs are sure-fire AOR, with the opening track ”Burning With A Reason” being on the heavier side of his songwriting. Other highlights include ”When Love Breaks” and the big ballad ”Nothing Matters”.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

VOODOO SIOUX: "Grotesque Familiares"




This is a little bit different, as this album is not new. If fact, it's from 2013, so consider this one in a very occasional series of 'How did we miss this when it came out?' reviews. Voodoo Sioux are a Midlands based band who made a small splash back in the 90s when they won a Radio 1 Rock Show competition and released a frankly superb album on the back of it in 1995. That, as it goes, was that, and Voodoo Sioux vanished from my radar until a couple of months ago when YouTube threw up a song called 'Damage' that blew me away and introduced me to their second album, hastily ordered and hungrily digested upon receipt.

And that's where you come in, as I'd like to introduce you to 'Grotesque Familiares', an album that makes you sad at all the albums there could have been in the 18 year gap between it and the debut. Here's the thing, boys and girls - Voodoo Sioux are really, really good. They specialize in upbeat, crunchy tracks with distinct rhythms and a sound that is all their own. Take 'Damage', which I suggest you go and find on YouTube - it's at once a catchy, well produced track that comes over as Def Leppard but more tribal and grass roots. Standout track 'Mozart In Reverse' echoes 'Two Worlds' from the debut, and fuses epic crunch with irrepressible melody and a wee bit of fiddle. The ballad 'Indian Summer' is okay if nothing special, but Voodoo Sioux really come alive when they turn on the pace. Tracks like 'Down' and opener 'Pillow Talk' are irresistible, full of life  and energy, all polished by Nick Flaherty's unique but sweet vocals.

A band like this comes along once in a blue moon, and I thought I'd never again hear the instinctive melodies that graced the debut. 'Grotesque Familiares' is a real kick in the arse, an album that throws guitar, melody and quirkiness at the listener and then does it all over again. You probably haven't ever heard of Voodoo Sioux before, so be the first in your group to uncover one of rock's (unintentionally) bast kept secrets and join me in chasing the voodoo.

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Glenn HUGHES: "Resonate"




It's been eight years since Glenn Hughes brought us the wonderfully titled 'First Underground Nuclear Kitchen', and in the meantime has kept me entertained with his Black Country Communion and California Breed work. The man has a ludicrous back catalogue, some of which I love and some of which I would gladly lock in Room 101 for eternity. Eclectic is a word that certainly covers Hughes, and it's always with trepidation that I sit through the first spin of an album by him.

Straight off the bat, 'Resonate' promises to be the sort of album that will delight fans of Hughes that enjoy it when he belts out a rocker or two. 'Heavy' does just what it says on the tin, coming over not a million miles away from Dio at his solo peak. Pounding drums, squealing guitars and Hughes on vocal overdrive, it certainly made me sit up and get excited for the rest of the album. 'My Town' follows, and doesn't disappoint, another head shaker with great melody and a huge guitar sound, complemented (as are most of the tracks) by some delicious old school keyboard. The album only slows down eight tracks in with the ballad 'When I Fall', which is followed by the more funky 'Landmines'. Both tracks are okay, but it's when the amps are turned up to eleven that 'Resonate' really, um, resonated with me.

Fans of Hughes' BCC work will get a real kick out of 'Resonate', and it goes without saying that long time fans will find plenty to shout about as well. As a fair weather fan of the man I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing, and have had the album on heavy rotation since it was released at the tail end of last year. You can't keep a good man down, it seems, and Glenn Hughes is still happy to give us more songs in the key of rock, bless him.

Official Site

FM: "Indiscreet 30"




I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers buying this way back on it's release, marveling at the sumptuous melodies, the instant hooks and the dodgy haircuts. 'Indiscreet' has long been hailed as an AOR landmark, and it has stood the test of time as well as the likes of 'Slippery When Wet' and '1984'. So why re record it? Seems the band were never happy with the production on the original, (although the Rock Candy re-release certainly improved it), and also they hadn't lived with the songs like they have ever since. Look - they wanted to do it and that's that!

So it goes without saying that this is an amazing album - after all, it's the same tracks in the same order. The production is indeed better, as expected, but what you want to know is should you bother buying 'Indiscreet' again? Well, in a word, yes. Me, I already had the original and the Rock Candy release (and a French version), but I love listening to the tweaked version. In the main, there's really very little difference, with perhaps the most changed song being 'American Girls', simply because it now has a little more urgency about the guitars. Elsewhere there's small flourishes that will only be noticed by the rabid fan (guilty!), and Steve Overland is now allowed to sing in a lower key to suit his more mature voice. Again, this isn't that noticeable unless you are au fait with the original. Speaking of Overland, he sounds superb throughout as expected.

So you have the original album, but as this is FM mark II it wouldn't be a proper release without a ton of bonus tracks. There's re recordings of 'Let Love Be The Leader' and 'Shot In The Dark' tacked on, as well as a smooth new track, 'Running On Empty'. From previous EPs there's 'Love & Hate', 'Bad That's Good In You' and the superb "Rainbow's End', in my eyes one of their best tracks. Finish off with the amazingly good acoustic version of 'That Girl' and you have a pretty solid package.

So yes, this a chance to buy something you already own (if you don't, just stop reading and get it), but if you're a fan I seriously think it's worth the outlay. 30 years in the making, this takes a classic and makes if, well, different if not better, and different can be very good indeed.

Official Site

Saturday, January 14, 2017

ONE OK ROCK: "Ambitions"




The first thing that will strike newcomers to One OK Rock is surely the weird name, which sounds kinda silly if I'm being honest. Thing is, once you know the band are Japanese it becomes a lot more forgivable. "Ambitions" is only their second English language release, with eight Japanese ones under their collective belt, and I can imagine people having a hard time believing this, as One OK Rock sound like any of a dozen American pop punk bands, with no hit of their origin betrayed by the music.

So, yeah, this is ostensibly a pop/punk rock/pop album, meticulously crafted to appeal to the sort of people who still like All Time Low, 30 Seconds To Mars or even Daughtry. In their earlier days One OK Rock had more of an aggressive edge but this has been filed down to allow them to slot seamlessly into the collections of millions of American teenagers and twentysomethings. There's thirteen tracks to play with, plus the usual pointless intro, and whilst it would be easy to dismiss the album as another cut and paste piece, One OK Rock survive a critical pasting simply because they write some very good songs. Opener "Bombs Away" is a bouncy, catchy piece, with vocalist Takahiro Moriuchi showing he can sing this stuff as good as any of the big American stars. It is very easy to imagine this track being a bit hit, and the same goes for several other tracks on the album. When they slow it down the music can get a little middle of the road, but even then there are no duff tracks, which is always a relief.

"Ambitions" certainly achieves what it sets out to do, which is to give One OK Rock the chance of a worldwide hit, and has the songs and clear production that could easily break America and the UK if it gets heard by the masses. A bit too generic for me to go crazy over, this album is a definite success that should be sought out by anyone who likes a healthy dose of pop sensibilities in their rock.

official website