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SHADOWMAN: "Different Angles" 9

Escape Music 2006
Review by Endre 'Bandi' Hübner
7 March 2006

Though the second album of the all-star band of Steve Overland (FM), Steve Morris (Heartland), Chris Childs and Harry James (both Thunder) is titled "Different Angles", there's not much difference to recognize between the first and second album. It's still high quality melodic rock with every ingredient that made the debut one of the best albums of its year. Even the artwork image is from the same photo session. It is to recognize that while the promo material of the first album emphasized mostly Overland and Childs, creating the impression of Shadowman being a two-man project, this time the promo photo features all four members and the Thunder rhythm section also gets their share of highlight.

Musically their contribution is not much more characteristic than on the first album, the first time they show their claws is halfway through the album in the song "In the Shadows" that is one of the highlights of the album with a thick drum-bass groove to drive the entire track. Till then we get exactly what we expected, a mixture of memorable melodies ala FM and straightforward melodic rock ala Heartland. What else would you expect after all from these guys, especially if you heard the debut?!

The opening "Learn to Live Without You" marks no change since the debut and puts things to their places right away, no need to worry: you got value for your money. The band makes no mistakes; the songs are all carved from the same wood, the production is stunningly good, even the acoustic guitars sound thick. I could have done without the techno-sounding noisy keyboard parts in "Cry Wolf", a cool-midtempo track with a bombastic refrain otherwise, other than that I could only find absolutely loveable arrangements. Personal favorites included the highly melodic "When it's Gone it Gone", a track of tasty guitar-playing topped by vocal melodies to stick into your ears right away; "Runaway Girl" with an equally catchy chorus; and the moody "Did It For Love" with an almost-bluesy intro and great fill-in solos. The guys ran a bit out of fuel towards the end of the album and the closing duo of "Satellite" and "Shine On" isn't as fancy as the rest of the album but all in all the second effort will most definitely rank as high as the debut and though it's only March, I guess it is guaranteed that it will be there when it comes to the top 10 albums of this year.

VANDEN PLAS: "Christ O" 9

Inside Out 2006
Review by Martien Koolen,
8 March 2006

This German prog metal band has made a couple of super albums, but unfortunately Vanden Plas never really made the final breakthrough. Maybe this was due to the fact that you either love or hate the vocals of Andy Kuntz, because the music was definitely top notch progressive melodic metal. "Colour Temple"(1995), "The God Thing"(1997) and "Far Off Grace"(1999) were all remarkable albums, however "Beyond Daylight"(2002) was a true disappointment - take for instance the super redundant Kansas cover "Point Of Know Return", and with only 3 excellent songs "End Of All Days", "Phoenix" and the title track.

After a rather long (4 years) quiet period Vanden Plas returns with their best album so far called "Christ O". This is prog metal that I love, as the 9 new songs are filled with heavy guitars, amazing solos, heavenly melodies, orchestral sections and even good singing by Andy. This album also shows Vanden Plas from their heaviest side so far with killer tracks like "Postcard To God" or "Somewhere Alone In The Dark". Especially "Postcard…" is one of my favorites on this album, featuring blazing drums, speedy guitar solos, addictive metal riffs (Stephan Lill rules!!) and a rather catchy chorus, making me bang my head (not against the wall) for almost the entire 6 minutes; a killer track!

Another prog metal highlight is the up tempo song "Wish You Were Here" which is really diverse, stuffed with again enchanting guitar solos and heartfelt vocals. "January Sun" shows the progression the band has made, as that one is a real orchestral, bombastic melodic masterpiece, featuring a 40-piece classical choir. I could go on like this, but you have to experience this fantastic "come-back" album by yourself. I have never been a fan of Andy's voice (too nasal), but on this CD he finally convinces me with his rather held back emotional and passionate singing. Unfortunately there is one song that I could not appreciate that much as the rest of the songs, namely the last one "Lost In Silence". It is a rather simple and even dull piano ballad. Without this track I would have given this album a perfect 10, now it is "only" a 9...

As a bonus track you can listen to the song "Gethsemane", form the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar", originally sung by Ian Gillan in 1970 and I will leave it at that as you know how I feel about covers...I am really looking forward to hearing this new material live on stage!
Release Date: 3 April

BLUE TEARS: "The Innocent Ones" 8

AOR Heaven 2006
Review by Kimmo Toivonen,
6 March 2006

Just like Valentine, Signal, Aviator and several other bands from the late eighties/early nineties, it seemed that Blue Tears might end up on the list of "one-album AOR favourites". Songwriter/singer Gregg Fulkerson did re-appear on the scene a couple of years ago with Attraction 65, a more modern-flavoured rock band, who released one album on Atenzia. However, it appeared that there might be demand for the upbeat sound of Blue Tears, and last year we saw two "archival" compilations being released, consisting of demos that were recorded in the early nineties for the second BT album. They were recieved rather well, so Fulkerson decided to dust off the Blue Tears monicker, and started to work on some new material.

While the line-up of BT2006 only consists of Fulkerson (voc, gt) and bassist Bryan Wolski, this album does sound like a natural successor to the self-titled debut. Some of the lyrics do give away the fact that a few years have passed. Those years have brought a lot of maturity into Fulkerson's songwriting. It also seems that he has picked up a thing or two from one Bruce Springsteen...for example, "Gloryland" is one of the most authentic sounding Springsteen impersonations I've ever heard! The other tracks aren't quite as obvious in their debt to "The Boss", although the small town stories in them do own a little to his way of storytelling. Not that he invented this form of songwriting. Interestingly enough, I bet that anyone who has lived in a small town almost anywhere in the world can relate to these songs. Small towns are somewhat alike everywhere.

BT's first album was constantly compared to Bon Jovi, and there's no getting away from that with this one either. "Drive", "Run For Your Life" and "In Your Dreams" would have fit into "New Jersey" quite nicely, but they are more than just carbon copies of certain tracks. I rate them as some of my favourites here actually, along with the dramatic "Let It Rain", uptempo rockers "Fast Times", "She Wants To Be A Star" and "Silent Scream". Out of the ballads, my vote would go to "Unrequited Love", a stylish piano ballad with a exceptional vocal from Fulkerson. All in all, save for a couple of songs which I'd rate as fillers (the depressive and repetitive ballad "Break My Heart" and "Money To Burn", which sounds somehow forced), the song material is quite impressive. This brings us into the subject of production...

As much as I like the songs, I have to drop my rating a bit because of the production. I'm hardly a hi-fi freak or anything like that, but the sound of this album is disappointing. The overall mix is very bottom-heavy and "hollow", with the bass dominating it. The ballads don't suffer of this that much, but the rockers leave a lot to be desired.

Still, I'm glad that Fulkerson hasn't lost his skills at writing positive, uplifting hard rock songs. I guess he just had to exorcise his demons with the moody and gloomy "Attraction 65" album...

Troels SKOVGAARD: "No Matter How Far I Go" 10

In The House 2006
Review by Endre 'Bandi' Hübner
1 March 2006

The first time I reviewed a Troels Skovgaard album [check it in our archives] I joked about his name. Since then I have learned it pretty well because his self-titled album was one of the highlights of 2003 with a 9 pointer rating. Now he is back with a double CD to top that performance and what the hell, it's a perfect 10 pointer this time [something I do not hand out too often… actually I can't even remember the last time I gave an album such a high rating, I definitely didn't do so in 2005].

The "No Matter How Far I Go" package contains a disc with vocal tracks only and an all-instrumental disc in a very tasty cardboard folder with a booklet of fantastic images. Value for your money for sure! Musically the album picks it up where the solo debut left off: laid-back, high-quality blues-rock with various influences from jazz to funky, from traditional northern melodies to Italian and latin influences. The arrangements are even more vivid than on the debut and the production is simply stunning. Troels' vocals are soulful, crystal clear, and very diverse, his playing is either laid-back jazzy or in-your-face edgy bluesy; the solos are full of emotions, they are essential parts of the songs not just cheap excuses to show off. Countless musicians contributed to the album but Troels handled the production himself again. My personal favorites of the vocal disc included the opening title track, the uptempo "Satellite" with a cool acoustic chording base topped with tasty, bluesy guitar work and thick, melodic vocals; the tradiotional blues "Treat Me Nice", the moody, soulful "The Sun is Still Shining" with a great vocal performance from Troels and a soft-jazzy version of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child".

However the real treat was the instrumental disc that starts out with three tracks of Italian influences (at least Troels says so, I personally didn't hear all that much of Italy in them but anyway) the opening "Opemeo" features beautiful sax melodies by Fabrizio Mandolini (Italian influences there you go!). "Procida" follows in somewhat laid-back fashion with equally stunning flute melodies by Justo Almario and some Santana-like latin- blues solo towards the end by Troels. The Italian titled acoustic third track is probably the most Italian of the three with some more flute to spice things up. Great stuff all of them! The following tracks take us back to the musical world of the debut, some laid-back blues, some slow-blues, some jazzy-blues, and lots of tasty blues. Further favorites: "Song for Leon" with brilliant acoustic soloing and cool sax parts; "Just a Dream Away" with its moody, movie-soundtrack approach; and the closing "Brighter Day" with a rather similar mood. I may be getting old but I began to appreciate this kind of stuff a lot more than classic rock/metal guitar-playing I grew up with. Damn, I hope I won't grow a beer-belly and watch darts tournaments on TV…

EVERGREY: "Monday Morning Apocalypse" 8

Inside Out 2006
Review by Martien Koolen,
1 március 2006

In 2004 the Swedish prog metal band Evergrey totally blew me of my feet with their best effort so far called "The Inner Circle". It was one of the best albums of that year and it was and still is the best Evergrey album ever. I wrote in "The Inner Circle" review that it would become very difficult to top this album and I am sad to say that Evergrey indeed did not top it with their new release "Monday Morning Apocalypse".

It is a good album, but there are no brilliant songs like "A Touch Of Blessing", "Ambassador", "In The Wake Of The Weary" or "When The Walls Go Down" on this album, as this CD is more direct and the songs are even shorter than ever before. Some of the tracks do still have those catchy and infectious hooks, like the title track, "Lost" or "At Loss For Words". The musical highlights are "Still In The Water" (bombastic, emotional and the only song over the 5-minutes mark), "Obedience"(fantastic prog metal), "Lost"(Nevermore-like with a very catchy chorus), and the title track, filled with staccato riffs and stunning vocals.

"Unspeakable" and "The Dark I Walk You Through" both have a Metallica-like intro, before they evolve into melodic prog metal songs with lots of vocals and only short guitar solos. "The Curtain Fall" is a true disappointment as it is a rather tiresome headbanging song with nothing special whatsoever. The "real" missers however are "Till Dagmar"(a piano intermezzo) and "Closure", an uninspired piano ballad. So, unfortunately, "Monday Morning Apocalypse" is not "The Inner Circle 2"; it is a good album, but no more than that, as I truly miss a few captivating songs on this new release. Maybe next time????? Release date: 27 March

THE FLOWER KINGS: "Paradox Hotel" 8

Inside Out 2006
Review by Martien Koolen,
1 március 2006

Since the mid 90's Roine Stolt and his Flower Kings have maintained a prolific output on a regular basis packing as much music as possible onto each album and sometimes expanding onto a double album. After "Stardust We Are"(1997), "Flower Power"(1998) and "Unfold The Future"(2002), "Paradox Hotel" is their 4th double album, giving the listeners more than 2 hours of pure progressive rock music. The previous album "Adam & Eve"(2004) was a return to the "older" sound of the FloKis, meaning: sheer progressive rock music very much influenced by Yes and Transatlantic.

The new album tends to be more spacy, psychedelic and sometimes even less accessible than its predecessor, especially in rather mediocre songs like "Jealousy", "Lucy Had A Dream" or the complete misser "Bavarian Skies". To my surprise there are a lot of songs that do not really meet the normal high Flower Kings standard, as many tracks tend to be acoustic, too folky and rather boring at certain times. Especially the first CD has at least 6 songs that I consider to belong to the dullest FloKis material ever… Tracks like "Check In"(not really a song), "Mommy Leave The Light On"(flute and acoustic guitar) and the earlier mentioned songs are truly disappointing! The epic "Monsters And Men"(over 21 minutes) however is a superb song with lots of twists and turns, amazing guitar solos and lots of heavenly melodies and rhythm changes; this is Roine at his best! But the definite highlight of this first CD is the instrumental "Pioneers Of Aviation", it is jazzy, it is proggy, it is sheer fantastic, especially Roine's guitar work is out of this world, making this a second-to-none track on this album!

The second CD is much better with only one real dull song, namely the piano ballad "The Way The Waters Are Moving". This second CD also features another brilliant song, called "Life Will Kill You", featuring great funky rhythms, astonishing guitar solos (check out the wah-wah solo!!) and a rather catchy chorus. The epic on the second CD "Minor Giant Steps" reminds me of Yes during their "Relayer"-period, symphonic rock at its best with lots of melody, guitar parts and keys solos. The album ends with another highlight called "Blue Planet"; again featuring a heavenly guitar solo of more than 4 minutes, showing that Roine is an amazingly skilled guitar player. All in all I must say that I prefer the second CD of this double album. My score for the first album is a 7 and for the second one a 9, so this ends up in an 8 as overall score for the album.
Release date: 27th March

Curt SHAW: "Curt Shaw" 6

Indie 2006
Review by Endre 'Bandi' Hübner
28 February 2006

Curt Shaw's first instrumental solo album starts out with a track title "Class Sick" and it pretty much sums the first part of the album up both musically and for what the title suggests. It's classic metal guitar shredding with tiring licks lacking the slightest sense of novelty making your ears sick by the end of each track. To Curt's credit: he does it really well, technically he's prepared, fast, his guitar-sound is okay, it's simply the limitations of genre that make the "class sick" title more than appealing to the first part of the album. His song titles seem to be more creative than the music they refer to. The second "I'm not a Viking" (tongue in cheek early Yngwie imitation dare I say) has a part where the main theme is repeated about two dozen times making me check the CD player to see if the disc got stuck or what?! The following "Apollo 13" has a chaotic, ear-damaging intro but turns into a cool mid-tempo tune later on.

"Egyptian Moon" has some cool Eastern influences in the beginning, some stunning drum patterns and some tricky double bass-drum part towards the end by Nick Prysianzy reminding me of Metallica's Lars Ulrich, at least of those days when he could actually play the drums. Except for Nick on the drums, Curt used Wayne Barry's contribution in some songs, other than that he has done everything else on his own, taking care of the production as well. The limited budget and the lack of experience is pretty audible as the sound is heavy in the middle ranges but lacks all highs and lows, the cymbals are almost inaudible, the snare sticks out of the mix, the lead is (obviously) in the front in your face but the rest of the instruments usually disappear in a big mass of sounds. Probably the best part of the CD is the more than 6 minutes long "Joust" a track of diverse approach from slow, clean arpeggios to uptempo speeding and the latin-influenced "Isle Majures" also has some cool moments with a clever use of different guitar sounds. However towards the 7th or 8th track the "sick" feeling attacks the listener and by the chaotic, dissonant "Critical Mass" my ears were bleeding each listening.

Then there's a welcome change in Curt's approach and he fills the album with four stunning acoustic tracks that are far superior to the class-sick-metal stuff of the first part of the album. The first part of "Deny Your Past" is typical classical guitar-playing while the second part has some really beautiful melody parts on top of a cool fingerpicking base. "Grass" has some obvious bluegrass influences but it is entertaining to the core and the closing "The Trail" is just a cool country-ballad-like acoustic piece. Curt managed to capture the great sound of the steel-string acoustic guitar on these tracks making the second part of the album much better than the first. A different running-order would have surely benefited the album (mixing the metal tracks with the acoustic ones leaving some time for ears and brains to recover or simply to take a rest) and an outside-ear (read: an experienced producer or just a few other musicians to help out with the recordings) may be more than useful the next time.

Marcel Coenen: "Colour Journey" 6

Lion Music 2006
Review by the Bailey Brothers
1 March 2006

Colour Journey is the second solo album from Sun Caged guitarist Marcel Coenen who says “ I wanted to make an album that showed my song writing skills more than my guitar playing skills” The album opens up with a power metal style offering titled “WAITING” that features Mike Andersson from Cloudscape on lead vocals. Musically the platform is set for a powerhouse vocal to match the intro but it arrives like an old locomotive running out of steam. On this occasion for me the vocals huff and puff but they ain’t going to blow any body’s house down. Ok we don’t want to be the big bad wolf here but the track has some quality shredding,, a thunderous double kick drum and all the elements for a good opener. It may have been a case of wrong song for Mike ‘cause when you hear the very last line where he sings “Waiting” his vocal is controlled and on the button showing he has the tools for the job. The buck stops with the producer because the vocal performance didn’t match up to the backing track and it should have.

Marcel is hoping to get noticed for his song writing but probably one of the best songs on the album has no vocals and is called “Abstract Impact” The opening riff makes you just want to get up and do a slam dive bomb (even if you do land on the cat). It’s a cracker and if he had a James Hetfield type vocal on it what a metal classic this could have been. Never the less this instrumental is cool as he pulls one right out of the Milan Polak school of rock and lays down some awesome melodic executions over these Metal riffs. I would be interested in hearing his debut solo album “Guitartalk” on the strength of this track alone. Marcel may have tried to be just a bit too diverse on this album but if anything the release shows off how comfortable he is with a variation of styles. A song that grows is “Patron Saint” a Prog Rock ditty in the style of his own band Sun Caged.

The disappointment for me is that the vocal tracks on this CD are far less interesting than the likes of the beautiful “La Bella Mira” an instrumental ballad dedicated to his girlfriend. Ok it's Satriani stomping ground but for once there’s an appreciation for keeping it simple with long bends, great tomes and melodic phrasing. It’s a welcome alternative to the endless arpeggios and sweep picking. Those are just some of the talking points from Colour Journey, Too many songs seem to be composed with the vocals made to fit the guitar playing and therefore they struggle to have the same impact. Trying to be clever with time changes may sound cool to players but none players may find it hard to stay interested. The only true thread running through this album is the great guitar playing from Marcel Coenen. Using several vocalists may have seemed a good idea but it would have been more constructive to have one great singer on this album. The upshot is that Colour Journey could have been a more interesting trip than the brochure describes but Marcel Coenen continues to impress as a musician and in my book that’s progress.

MAIN ATTRACTION: "Keep On Coming Back" 6

MTM Music 2006
Review by Kimmo Toivonen,
20 February 2006

Norwegian AOR act On The Rise was one of the pleasant surprises of 2003, and their debut album found its' way to several "Best of 2003" lists. A while ago we heard that Bennech Lyngboe had left the band, in order to do his own thing or whatever...Main Attraction is his new project, and it clearly follows in the footsteps of On The Rise. It just isn't quite as good...

While Main Attraction sounds quite similar to OTR, there are some differences. The sound is slightly heavier, with guitars more upfront. A couple of the songs have almost metal-like intros, but usually by the time they get to the chorus, we're back in the AOR land again. Unfortunately some of those choruses are almost annoyingly sugary.

Now that I've been playing this album over and over, one thing has really started to bother me - Lyngboe's vocals. He sounds really uncomfortable when reaching for those higher notes. On the OTR album Terje Eide's smoother vocals and Lyngboe's style somehow complimented each other, creating a nice balance. Now it's just painful to listen at times.

It all comes down to songs though, and this set of tunes isn't overwhelmingly impressive. The stand-out track is "Under My Skin", a moody semi-balladic AOR track with a very strong chorus, but none of the others really measure up to it. The opening duo of "Calm Before The Storm" and "Remember" and the title track are all good ones, but the rest of the tracks don't do much for me. A few of them, like the quirky "Up The Wall", are almost irritating actually.

After all I've said, I still have to say that this isn't actually a bad CD, I'm just merely stating some things that bothered me a little. If the songs had been stronger, I'm sure I wouldn't have paid that much attention to the vocals. Bad Habit's Bax Fehling sounds a lot like Lyngboe, but I have still enjoyed most of their material...

UMPHREY'S McGEE: "Safety In Numbers" 6

Inside Out 2006
Review by Martien Koolen
1 március 2006

"Anchor Drops', which was released in 2005, was a true surprise to me, so I was really looking forward to this new album by the American jam band Umphrey's McGee. However after four spinning rounds I was truly disappointed as "Safety In Numbers" only features one extraordinary song, the rest (10 tracks) is merely dreary rock/pop material. It is clear that the focus on this album lies on the songwriting, and not on improvisation, like on its predecessor. So there are definitely less solos and the sound of the band has changed more into country and folk.

Most of the tracks are deeply rooted in American tradition, like for example "Rocker" (which sounds like a version of the modern Eagles to me), "End Of The Road"(a folk lullaby?), "The Weight Around"(an uninspired acoustic track) and "Women, Wine and Song"(a bluesy ballad with harmonica). As I already stated before, there is only one good song on this CD, namely the opening track "Believe The Lie". This is the Umphrey McGee that I liked on "Anchor Drops", as it is filled with excellent rock grooves, hot guitar fills and solos, crazy rhythms, funky parts and lots of interesting melodies.

The rest of the album is rather monotonous and too much of the same. Just listen to "Liquid", "Words", "Nemo" or "Ocean Billy", not really bad songs, but I really miss the inspiration and the musical virtuosity that I loved so much on the "Anchor Drops". "Safety In Numbers" is musically less interesting and therefore it only deserves a 6. Next time better, guys!!
Release date: 3 April

LACUNA COIL: "Our Truth" (single)

Century Media 2006
Review by Kimmo Toivonen,
270 February 2006

Lacuna Coil have been around for some time now, but this single is my introduction to them. I may have seen a video or heard a song on the radio, but those incidents haven't made an impact of any sorts. However, this song doesn't sound too bad at all, with a sound that's somewhere between Evanescence and Within Temptation, yet with a very strong identity. Lacuna Coil may have a female singer and a gothic look like those aforementioned bands, but they are not sound-a-likes. While this song is radio-friendly and catchy, there's some kind of a hidden aggression lurking back there...

JORN: "The Duke" 9

AFM Records 2006
Review by Martien Koolen,
18 February 2006

The ARK album “Burn The Sun”(2001) has always been special to me, but this new solo album by one of the best hard rock singers in the world is even more superb. Two years ago Jorn released “Out to every Nation”, but “The Duke” is far superior to that release as it is a real melodic rock classic album with sheer brilliant vocals and heavenly addictive songs. Jorn’s singing always reminds me of David Coverdale and just listen to the fantastic track “Burning Chains”, and you will probably think that you are listening to a new Whitesnake album... That fabulous track features an acoustic guitar intro accompanied by some real goose bum vocal lines and furthermore some typical Whitesnake lyrics, in short a power ballad of high caliber.

Other highlights of this spectacular CD are ‘After The Dying”(shivers down my spine!!), “We Brought The Angels Down”(a Dio-like melodic song) and “Starfire”(heavy and bombastic with sometimes Black Sabbath-like riffs).

“Stonecrow” has a very catchy chorus, “End Of Time” is a singalong metal hymn and the title track is an up tempo, sometimes bluesy rock song. The only weak song is called “Are You Ready”, which is of course a Thin Lizzy cover, and you all know that I hate covers, so... Conclusion: an amazing album that could be labeled as the first metal/hardrock highlight of 2006 and the title of this album should have been: Jorn: The King or even better Jorn: The Emperor! What a fabulous throat this Norwegian guy has!!!

KILPI: "Kaaoksen Kuningas" 8

MTG-Musiikki 2006
Review by Kimmo Toivonen,
18 February 2006

Heavy Metal is alive and well in Finland, and this album is yet another proof of that. Kilpi are still sticking to their guns and playing uncompromising melodic metal with Finnish lyrics. Their first album (2003)was quite successful, containing a couple of big radio hits. The second album was a slight disappointment for me, and while commercially it did okay I guess, it didn't necessarily raise the band to the next level. That might just change with this album, because this is the strongest Kilpi album yet. Not to mention the fact that the band is getting some extra publicity by appearing in the Finnish final of Eurovision Song Contest!

"Kaaoksen Kuningas" doesn't see the band trying to re-invent themselves, but it does see them paying attention to their strenghts. The first single "Laske Kuolleet Ja Kuole" had me worried, as it was a rather average Iron Maiden-like track with no hook to speak of, but I'm happy to say that it's the weakest track of the album. Most of the other tracks do have memorable melodies and hooks, something that was somewhat missing from their latest effort. I must also mention the production job - the album sounds truly excellent.

The best songs of the album for me are "Ihminen" (the second single and already a radio hit), semi-balladic "Yhtä Ihoa" and "Katharsis", the band's "song for Europe" (the continent, not the band!). I don't know whether this song can make it to the actual Eurovision song contest, but this killer AOR-type of a track will surely be a domestic hit for them, if nothing else. I must also mention that band leader Pete Kilpi has kept his promise and again included one "happy major key" AOR track - this time it's called "Kahdeksas Ihme". It's another single candidate, reminding me a bit of Malmsteen's "Heaven Tonight".

What else? Vocalist Taage Laiho is keeping himself busy, as this is his second release to be reviewed here in a month or so (Altaria's "Fallen Empire" being the other). I must say that he sounds more comfortable singing in Finnish than in English. I might also add that there's an interesting guest on the track "Toinen Minä", the famous Finnish vibrafone player Severi Pyysalo! I don't think that there are too many metal albums with vibrafone solos on them...

To sum it up, the "difficult third album" has proved to be the best one yet for Kilpi. Top notch production, fine artwork, good songs...a very strong "8", maybe just one killer track short of a "9".

SABU: "Heartbreak" 7

MTM Classix 2006
Review by Kimmo Toivonen,
17 February 2006

MTM folks have dug up another golden oldie, and this time it's isn't quite as obscure as some of their other "classics". Paul Sabu may not be a household name, but he is certainly well-known in AOR circles. This is his album from 1985, and it is considered as a real classic by many. Personally I never really got "it" when it comes to Sabu's material. He has written a few really great songs, but none of his albums I've heard have made that much an impact on me.

This album starts with one of those great songs, the bombastic "Angeline". I had this album as a vinyl a long time ago, and this was the only song I could remember. Big vocals, layers of keyboards, great chorus...this song is worth the classic status, but unofortunately none of the others can really match it. Tracks like "Call Of The Wild", "Heartbreak" and "New Girl In Town" are good, but nowhere near the class of "Angeline". In addition, a couple of the others are really average, "Shake, Rattle, Roll" being the worst of them all. It's a shame, since the overall vibe of the album is quite cool and Sabu is an excellent, powerful vocalist.

This re-issue comes with three bonustracks. After listening to the rather "manly" style of Sabu on the main album, the poppy first bonustrack "Cassie" sounds quite out of place. It reminds me of a wimpy version of Giuffria! The basic rock'n roll of "Shake It Up" is even worse, with its' plastic sounding production. The best of the bonustracks is "Street Angel". It's a decent hard rock track, which might have a been a worthy addition to the actual album back then, had it been produced to the same standard as the rest of the tracks.

Since copies of the orginal CD are impossible to find, this is a treat for Sabu's fans and one to consider for others into 80'ies melodic hard rock. Still, when it comes to Sabu's music, I'm more looking forward to the re-issue of Alexa's album, which he co-wrote and produced...that album contains several of his finest songs!

PHENOMENA: "Psycho Fantasy" 6

Escape Music 2006
Review by Martien Koolen,
18 February 2006

After 3 Phenomena albums it became very silent around Tom Galley and his project, until 2 years ago when there were rumors about a possible 4th part and now the fourth Phenomena album will be finally released on 10 February. “Psycho Fantasy” strictly follows the traditions of its 3 predecessors, meaning a concept story and a lot of rock artists performing on this new CD.

However, it needs to be said that this 4th album is definitely the weakest and most commercial, or better said mainstream, album of all the Phenomena releases. Most of the 11 songs are simple pop/rock tracks and sometimes tend to end up in rather commercial rock mediocrity; like for instance “So Near, So Far”, “60 Seconds” and “Crazy Grooves”.

The best songs are without any doubt the tracks that feature the voice of rock Glenn Hughes. Especially “Sunrise” and “Touch My Life” are “filled” with amazing and heavenly vocal parts. Unfortunately what I miss on this album are the instrumental passages, the musical surprises and most of all the unforgettable guitar chords and melodies that I so enjoyed on the other 3 Phenomena albums. So maybe it will be better not to think about a 5th release, at least if it is at the same mediocre level as this one.

DRAGONFORCE: "Inhuman Rampage" 9

Noise/Sanctuary 2006
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
2 February 2006

"Fast, Faster, Dragonfast". Ehem, better make that Dragonforce... not that it really matters in the end, if you're not into speed and bombastic melodies, simply leave this CD alone. They haven't really changed a bit musically since last time around, it's once again pedal to the metal music and "tempo furioso" until the bitter end. Not to mention that you're constantly afraid to miss out on something, you know, if you should happen to pass out for a second or two (due to your massive headbanging neck injury).

I wasn't too impressed with the previous attempt (Sonic Firestorm), however, with "Inhuman Rampage", Dragonforce have managed to find their way back to the excellence of the debut album. You could say they've come of age in a big way, casting off many of their weaknesses during "Sonic Firestorm" to once again produce a interesting album. There's only eight tracks to be found, but it's definitely quality in favor of quantity this time. Everything from opener "Through The Fire And Flames", to the closing track, "Trail Of Broken Hearts", speaks of trustworthy craftmanship and killer melodies. It feels like you've been hit by a sledgehammer to the head as the CD simply pours out all energy, virtality, and stamina.

Sure, it gets a bit too silly with the massive overkill of SPEED melodies at times. However, you simply can't help to sing along to catchy melodies. There's even some good, old, guitar shredding in the style of Running Wild (Death Or Gloy era) to be found here, only twice as fast of course.

LEGS DIAMOND: "Uncut Diamonds" 9

MajesticRock 2005
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
8 February 2006

"Uncut Diamonds" is a real gem of an album, recorded live to two track in November 1979, this was originally meant to be Legs Diamonds fourth studio album release. It's not surprising that such a meeting of classic hardrock minds should throw up a lovely combination such as this. However, it's absolutely shocking to find out that it wasn't even considered "good enough" material to secure a new record deal back in the days (it's been in the vault ever since 1979). Unbelieveble, the responsible A&R person(s) should bow his/her/their heads in shame for all eternity.

The songs are in my opinion top-class 70's stuff with much of the vibe taken from their first two albums, including considerable atmopshere created by the superb vocals of Sanford and Roger Romeo's guitar. The sound quality is surprisingly good as well and the overall material is slightly better and heavier than its predecessor (Firepower - 1978). 14 tracks of pure energy and everything from opener "Winds Of Fortune" to closer "Smother Me" is a homerun in my humble opinion. The strutting rock of "Between The Legs", the Bad Company rock of "House Of Fire", the heaviness of "Symtoms Of Passion", the KISS sounding "Dance Hall Gigolo" (ala' Dynasty's "Dirty Livin"), the ska inspired "Shell Of A Man", and not to forget, the Deep Purple inspired rock of "Card Shark".

Close to essential stuff for the late 70's hardrock fan and definitely "must have" for any Legs Diamond fanatic, simply call me "Urban Desperado" from now on....

BLOODBOUND: "Nosferatu" 8

MetalHeaven 2005
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
10 February 2006

When the devil gets old, etc. This time it's more of a case of the opposite situation as former AOR-pureist Fredrik Bergh (Street Talk) connects with vocalist Urban Breed (Tad Morose) to form a new metal unit in league with Satan. They have a couple of real fist-in-the-air metal songs that reaches out and makes the hair of your neck stand on end. The excellent guitar work by Tomas Olsson follows nicely in the tradition and footsteps of Iron Maiden, and with melodies that folds under the same category as Helloween, Edguy & Nocturnal Rites, "Nosferatu" turns out to be a really nice surprise.

Indeed, Bloodbound are out to make their mark on the metal scene and they certainly achive this with catchy hooks and galloping melodies. Sure, there is much about "Nosferatu" that sounds more than a little familiar to the average 80's heavy metal fan. Not that it matters much as long as they've managed to keep it this simple and good at the same time. The superb vocals by Urban (what a great name) gives that vital edge of intensity and stamina that this kind of music desperately needs. And you simply can't go wrong with tunes such as "Behind The Moon", "Into The Dark", "Nosferatu", "Metal Monster" or "Screams In the Night". The latter opens up with a lovely mix of impressive bass-lines in the style of both Maiden & Helloween, while the sing-a-long chorus kicks like a mule to the head.

Final verdict: Hail & Kill. Simply remove a couple of the tracks (like the dodgy "Midnight Sun") and you're in for a real metal treat. I'm not sure why they're signed to Metal Heaven though?, surely this would have been better off at Sanctuary, Nuclear Blast, or even Century Media.

TOTO: "Falling In Between" 7½

Frontiers 2006
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
9 February 2006

I was interested in hearing Toto again, if only because of the rather big "hype" around the new CD [last minute note: I noticed that the biggest newspaper in Sweden gave it a "zero" rating and proclaimed this to be worse than crap]. Ehem, there isn't much to say about the musicianship really, we all know of each and every band member as a top-class performer. However, I haven't exactly been over-the-moon about the song material of lately. My fave will still have to be the excellent "The Seventh One", the first entire Toto album I ever heard by the way, everything's better when you're just a kid, right? One thing's for sure, "Falling In Between" is a diverse sounding album with many different faces.

The album kicks off with the "aggressive" and at the same time progressive title track, it's actually more prog-rock than fluffy westcoast AOR at times. The refrain has a certain oriental vibe and it's not at all attractive in my ears. Lukather goes through his mid-life crisis here [only kidding, he had'em years ago ;-)] with some truly heavy riffing. I miss however a really catchy chorus part or simply something to hang on to. It's without a question the worst song of the album, not something I'd write down as the first track and opening song of your new CD. Quick skip to track two, "Dying On My Feet", now we're talking, brass-section, several interludes, piano, still rather progressive, but smooth and Toto friendly.

"Bottom Of My Soul" is classic Toto style, a ballad that grows for each spin, it also features some "Africa" percussion in the background. The verse features Lukather on vocals while Joseph Wiliams (ex-Toto) helps out during the chorus part. "King Of The World" is hi-tech stuff in the style of World Trade or Yes (90125 period) with a rather catchy refrain. Lead vocals are shared between David Paich and Bobby Kimball this time. "Hooked" is a plain boring rock tune, I'm not hooked at all by the song, and when guest musician Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) gets his flute thing going, it's thank you and goodbye for me.

What follows next is a sweet little ballad (Simple Life) and a Van Halen uptempo rocker (Taint Your World). Pretty standard Van Halen stuff actually with typical VH gang-vocals and everything. "Let It Go" is a fine Toto number, don't forget to check out the excellent bridge part here (the harmony vocals, wow!). "Spiritual Man" is the gospel, plain and simple Toto gospel, a tribute to the gospel. It all ends with "No End In Sight", not too shabby, but there's no new "Pamela", "Only The Children", "Straight To The Heart", etc, to be found. Solid but hardly groundbreaking and perhaps not "catchy" enough in the end??? Nope, I simply couldn't decided between a 7 or 8 rating, hence the rare 7½ rating.

Eric BURDON: "Soul Of A Man" 7

SPV 2006
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
1 February 2006

The description "living legend" isn't just some thing that you can buy at your local walmart. You'll have to earn it through hard work and devoted musical passion during a vast period of time. Animal's Eric Burdon fits the description as the Newcastle-upon-Tyne born Englishman, recorded all-time classics such as "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", "CC Rider" and "Tobacco Road", already some 40 years ago (give or take a couple of years). Heck, even Diamond Dave spent time in the studio trying to sound just like the legend on his solo debut.

65 years old/young, Burdon's latest solo album, "Soul Of A Man", is a 14-track recording of old blues and gospel classics. Howling Wolf's "44 Blues", John Rabbit Bundrick's "Devil Run", Leadbelly's "Red Cross Store", etc, are only some of all the oldies that gets another injection of life. This is most of all a tribute to New Orlenas and all the great blues singers (dead and alive) who have affected Burdon throughout his life. Check out the powerhouse version of "Kingsize Jones" or the breathtaking "GTO", where Burdon sings as impressive as always.

The smell of sweat, beer and old-time roadhouses, where real blues once was born, lays heavily like a carpet all over the material. There are a few duff tracks on here, but it's overall a darn fine record, if you're into the real deal.

SODOM: "Lords Of Depravity Part 1" 7 [DVD]

SPV 2006
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
1 February 2006

"Sodom - Louder than Venom, heavier than Metallica". They were actually crappier than both acts in the beginning of their career and often regarded as a joke. I can't say that I disagree either as the early Sodom albums (and especially the first mini-album and the following one), are without a question some of the worst hardrock releases to ever come out of Germany. It's not as much the actual music as the really sloppy guitar and drum performances by Angelripper and Witchhunter.

They only got better with time though and this double-disc DVD is the ultimate "must-have" item for the die-hard fan. Tom Angelripper is the main person and storyteller and he'll bring you on a journey that goes back to the very early days and thoughout the entire Sodom career. I have no idea why SPV decided to sign them in the early days and appearently neither did the record manager at first, he talks about them as a really crappy band at times. It's darn fun to hear Angelripper talk about everything there is to know about Sodom though. Disc one covers everything (and I do mean everything) about the band. It's all in German of course, the subtitles in English (thank you very much), are unfortunately rather difficult to read (due to the bleech, white-ish text), but works out ok in the end, I guess.

Disc two leaves a bit to ask for though. Various live clips from here and there and not always the best of sound or vision, gives it a rather cheap impression. I would much rather have seen an entire live show from the late 80's or something. Bottomline: not bad, and probably essential stuff to the die-hard fan of course.

SPEEDY GONZALES: "Electric Stalker" 6

MetalHeaven 2006
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
1 February 2006

"They Call Me Speedy Gonzales" - This was originally a Swedish band project from the year of 1990 with Thomas Vikström (Talk Of The Town, Candlemass), Tommy Denander (Radioactive) and Mats "Dalton" Dahlberg (Treat, Dalton, Power) as the main characters. They hired journalist Anders "I luv Sivert" Tegnér (Okej, Poster, Rocket) as their manager and a demo was soon recorded to shop around for a deal. Indeed, a couple of major labels in the states showed some serious interest in the band, (sixteen years ago), and they were quickly hailed as the new metal act to look out for in Swedish media.

Bad blood came between "some" of the band members on their way to success though (and we're talking about serious stuff here, suicidal girlfriend(s), death threats, serious illness, and much worse, I'm sure), and they never really bounced back for another try. Well, not until now, when vocalist Vikström & guitarist Denander, decided to re-record the old Speedy Gonzales songs, this time with Marcel Jacob (Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen) on the bass and Daniel Flores (Xsaviour, Mind's Eye) behind the drums.

Vikström sang with a Judas Priest coverband back in the days and the spirit of the old Metal Gods lays all over the material. The whole idea with Speedy Gonzales was to record something a bit heavier than they've done in the past. The title track "Electric Stalker" is basically a "Screaming For Vengeance" tune, with some seriously wicked vocal work by Vikström. "Desires Of The Flesh" kicks off with some guitarwork by Denander in the tradition of "Electric Eye" (JP), and "Dominator" continues with the Priest sound 'ala "Freewheel Burning" [not "quite" as good tho' :-)]. There's however two sides to the story of "Speedy", and several tracks comes merely out as a "slightly" heavier than Talk Of The Town. Yep, there's even a rather pointless re-make of TOTT's old hit, "Free Like An Eagle" included here. I would have loved if Denander & Vikstöm could have gone all the way with their Metal attitude and sound (since the both already have several fine Melodic/AOR projects). Vikström has real pipes and lungs made for Metal and I really enjoy it when Denander rips and shreds his old six string. It's still nice to hear the old Speedy demos come alive in 2006. However, next time, could you please go all the way with the Heavy Metal vibe????

Danny PEYRONEL: "Make The Monkey Dance" 5

Target Records 2005
Review by Kimmo Toivonen,
12 February 2006

Credit where credit's due, ex-UFO and current Heavy Metal Kids keyboard player/vocalist Danny Peyronel's solo album is a highly professional product, well performed and produced. Peyronel is a good vocalist (apparently he has sung tenor roles in operas!), but most of the material on this album just doesn't do anything to me. There are a few rather okay classic rock-styled tracks, but a few of the songs fall into the category of adult contemporary pop, reminding me of Chris Rea or Eric Clapton...two artists which are filed under "ZZZ" in my books I'm afraid.

Three of the biggest hits that Peyronel has co-written have been re-recorded for this album. The UFO song "Highway Lady" is one of the album's better tracks, an energetic rocker. "Lie For A Lie" was a hit sung by David Gilmour, and I guess Danny's own version isn't too bad either. Meat Loaf's "Midnight At The Lost And Found" is here a skiffle rock track that doesn't impress me at all, but then again, the original isn't among my favourites either. Apart from "Highway Lady", the "average Joe's anthem" "Never Been Cool" caught my attention, if mostly for the lyrics. The hard rockers "Makin' Room For Noah" and the title track were rather good as well.

All in all, there's no question about Peyronel's talent, but I can't help it that his songs don't just appeal to me. if you're into the Classic Rock sounds and aforementioned artists, do yourself a favour and visit this artist's site and listen to the samples.

SABRE: "Roar To The Core" 5

MajesticRock 2005
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
8 February 2006

Sabre, a rather obscure NWOBHM outfit from South of London/U.K, roamed/walked the earth between the years of 1980-1983. It's basic, meat and potato rock, during an era of noise pollution, Benny Hill, and Maggie Thatcher propaganda. Indeed, "Roar To The Core" is a collection of old demos, a recording session for Neat Records, and some really distorted rehearsal tapes.

Not that much to write home about really? since they never really received any fame or fortune. Yeah right, it's not like you can put those two words together in the same category or even sentence as 'quality'. However, Sabre were kind of sore to the ears at times. Not just because of their raw and darn-right dirty material, but also due to the rather poor sound quality on tracks 4-7. The vocals by Rob "Chad" Brown (Lionheart), clashes with the mix (or rather the lack of it, it's a rehearsal tape for heaven's sake), and it's all very distorted and muddy. I'd say it has more of a historical value and strickly suitable to the mad NWOBHM collector. Tracks 8-10 features John "Wardy" Ward of SHY and very briefly, Madam X, fame on vocals.

They have the 'full throttle' approach of similar (obscure) NWOBHM acts such as Gaskin, Heritage, Witchfynde. But honestly, hands up people if you can still recall those bands as of today. The Sabre bassist was a certain Geoff Gillespie by the way and I'm pretty sure I've heard that name mentioned somewhere before (moshi moshi). Try it if you're into obscure NWOBHM.

PLATITUDE: "Silence Speaks" 5

MetalHeaven 2006
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
11 February 2006

Platitude from Sweden returns with their third CD release, once again produced by Tommy Hansen and with a splendid sound frame indeed. Nontheless, "Silence Speaks" is slightly poppier and melodic hardrock orientied than previous attempts. Perhaps they failed to ignite the crowd with the "ultra" progressive metal of the past and have now moved towards a more mainstream approach.

Anyhow, their previous devotion to lenghty devolvements and arrengements had to move somehow? and the desire to go for a more basic AOR scenario is much easier on the ear, if a little short of substance at times. Platitude are something of a halfway house, or a middle-tabled championship team, not poor enough to be relegated to first division, and never good enough to make it to the premier league. They are all a bunch of talented musicians though, yep, they certainly know-how to use their instruments, however, I'm not too sure about the actual song material.

Nothing really stands out in the long run and merely a couple of tunes such as the marvelous "Fear (It's Over Now) and closing track "You", leaves a lasting impression. The latter is a nice mix of ACT, Saga, and Dream Theater inspired melodies. "Silence Speaks" is overall an album with ups and downs that would probably have fared much better as an EP release. Bottomline: Nice package but no real substance.

LEGS DIAMOND: "Favourites Volume 1"

MajesticRock 2005
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
8 February 2006

I'm not sure if I totally agree with the description, "America's answer to Deep Purple". It could simply be that I'm blind as a bat and death as well (or that I'm too much a product of the 80's hardrock scene). One thing's for sure though, Legs Diamond never really enjoyed the riches and fame their talents so clearly and richly deserved. "Favourites" is a 15-track collection with songs taken from all of their studio albums with the exception of last years "Diamonds Are Forever", which by the way features ex-Wild Horses vocalist John Levesque. It's probably for the best as well, since it's without a question the worst Legs Diamond release in my opinion.

Classic rock anthems such as "Stage Fright", "Rat Race", "Underworld King", AOR numbers like "Fugitive" and "Walkaway" (both taken from the mini-album "Out On Bail"), and material originally intended for the fourth album gets their place in the sun. Check also out the review of the previously unreleased album "Uncut Diamonds" elsewhere on these pages. Linernotes by famed U.K. journalist Dave Reynolds and new recordings of "Loneliness" and "This Time Around" are two more reasons to pick up this fine compilation. Legs Diamond always managed to deliver a nice mix of U.K. and U.S. rock in the past, too bad they're something of a "white elephant" as well. Recommended.

Eric MANTEL: "The Unstruck Melody" 8

Holistic Music 2005
Review by Endre 'Bandi' Hübner
9 February 2006

Eric Mantel's "The Unstruck Melody" is a weird mix of fantastic and awful things both musically and packaging wise. The artwork for instance is one of the ugliest I've ever seen, the inside cover features a Shiva-looking Indian girl sitting with a sitar in two of her hands, a transistor radio and Eric's CD booklet in her other two with a colorful bird and a Fender combo at her feet and imagine all this in the cheesiest colors possible… huh! However musically the album is far better than the artwork suggests.

The title-track is another mixture of ups and downs. Someone walks around whistling and says "wonder what's on the radio", turns one on and scans the channels with interference noises between two. And guess what; all the radio channels play Eric Mantel songs! Now how is that for an ego-trip? To Eric's credit, his music is really diverse, so the different radio channels have different stuff to choose from. Some of the songs are in the vein of Satriani, others are more jazzy influenced, there's fingerpicking bluegrass, as well as a few vocal tracks of different nature. After the radio- stuff the title track finishes with the unstruck melody itself (?) an eastern influenced sitar and guitar based experiment. But good things come to those who wait till the end of it as the following "Tribute" flashes Eric's talent. It's a cool, uptempo instrumental, sounds pretty much how Satch would sound had he grown up in Nashville. The tricks and the attitude are all there, it's just the overall sound that differs; Eric's guitar-sound lacks the cutting edge Satch has in his tone. After the impressive instrumentals Eric stars singing and one can only wish he hadn't because Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon is a roaring lion compared to him. He is crystal clear, precise, the melodies are also really good, he just has no voice but some high-pitched hot air; the vocalist girl doesn't help much either. And that's true for all the vocal tracks but the solos are really good in all of them, especially the fade-out solo of "The Simple Things" that is a bluesy little number reminding me of the finest moments of Stevie Ray Vaughn. The next two instrumentals "The Real You" and "Tai-Chi" are the highlights of the album, both of them really tasty tracks with good guitar- sounds and very memorable melodies. Highly recommended to instrumental fans, even to those who do not care that much for rock but enjoy the likes of Jan Akkerman, "Tai-Chi" reminded me very much of his sound. "Shine On" is one of the okay vocal tracks, a midtempo stomper with good melodies, the instrumental "Under a Different Light" showcases some really good songwriting, while "Merry- Go-Round" is 80s influenced pop-rock with some forgettable vocal performance. "Why So Lonely" is pure crap from both vocalists, pretty awful. One can only wish Eric will stick to instrumentals on his next album and forgets about the vocalist girl he worked with on this one. The instrumental "Exit 10" restores the faith, so does the acoustic, eastern influenced "Intermission".

The album consists of two parts (they are called Acts), the second stars with another vocal track that is not as bad as the previous ones, yet the following instrumentals wipe the floor with it. The acoustic "Affectionately Yours" has a classical guitar-playing approach and a really good engineering brings the beautiful sound of the classical guitar through. Patrick Doody was responsible for the production. "There Are No Words" stays on the acoustic side but with a full-band arrangement, another winner in my book. The remaining tracks all offer some variety and all in all variety is the biggest strength of this album, not to mention its CD maximum 1 hour and 18 minutes total running time. You definitely get value for your money here and I'm sure everybody finds something (but the vocals) to love in this album.


* * * * * REVIEWS OF WEEKS 1-5/06 * * * * REVIEWS OF WEEKS 1-5/06 * * * * *
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