Review: Hartmann – 15 Pearls And Gems

Pride & Joy Music (April 17th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Hartmann are a band formed 15 years ago by Oliver Hartmann, a leading light in the German rock scene. As well as Hartmann, he has been the singer for rock band Avantasia and lead singer for Echoes, a Pink Floyd tribute band.

To celebrate their  15th anniversary, Hartmann , consisting of Oliver himself on vocals and guitar, guitarist Mario Reck, bass player Armin Donderer and drummer Markus Kullmann have released ‘15 Pearls and Gems‘. The first five tracks were written for the album, the next five are cover versions and the final five are live versions of favourite songs from their career.

Can’t Stop this Train‘ opens on a Quo style double guitar riff and draws the listener in immediately. Hartmann’s quality as a rock vocalist is clear immediately, with a deep, powerful voice that sails along on a sea of guitars instead of trying to battle through them. ‘Walking on a Thin Line‘ is a song with more than a hint of the Scorpions in places and a vocal that once again shows the quality of Hartmann’s growling bass and his mastery of a lead vocalist’s job.

How does it Feel?‘ is a simply gorgeous power ballad that will no doubt be accompanied by the lights from thousands of phones at any concert. ‘You Will Make It‘ heads into heavier rock territory with a Def Leppard style driving guitar and percussion that pushes the song along throughout. ‘Glow‘, the final original track, starts with a Bon Jovi style guitar riff that sets up a hair metal chorus that any of the original groups would have been proud of.

The five covers start with ‘When the Rain Begins to Fall‘, an 80’s track that achieved classic status in Germany, that features Ina Morgan from Hartmann’s other group Avantasia. Their duet is fantastic with their voices blending perfectly together and, although it is probably unfamiliar to most non German rock fans, it is clear why this Europe style song became so popular.

Street Café‘ is a song originally performed by Icehouse, and it allows Hartmann to show off their incredibly tight playing style as all four musicians hit their straps at the same time. It is a great track to listen to, and one of my favourites on the album. Next up is ‘I Go to Extremes‘ from Billy Joel’s Storm Front album. I love Billy Joel, I love the track and I love the cover which ramps up the volume and does it justice from the first note. It’s fantastic!

Uninvited‘ is a very unexpected choice for a cover as the original was by Alanis Morissette. In the event Hartmann makes it his own. It’s a very clever choice as it doesn’t invite comparison with the original and the second line ‘I am flattered by your fascination with me’ subtly flags up the approach that this quintet of songs is taking. ‘Fire and Water‘ goes back 50 years, believe it or not, for the final cover with a song originally recorded by Free, most famous in the UK for the song All Right Now. It completes an absolutely superb set of songs that see Hartmann add something to every one they tackle.

Finally, the five live tracks, all recorded at Colossaal Aschaffenburg start with ‘The Sun’s Still Rising‘. It is an 80’s style soft rock track that benefits from great guitar work and demonstrates how good Hartmann’s voice is live. What if I is a really good live track that gives the new listener a clear idea of why they have been so popular for so long. ‘Don’t Give up your Dream‘ is a call to arms for any group especially during the tough times, which musicians all over the world would no doubt echo at the moment. It’s my favourite of the live versions, beautifully written and played with real conviction.

Brothers‘ covers similar territory, lyrically to the similarly titled Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits and has a vocal of real sincerity and power that just makes the song fly. The final track ‘Out in the Cold‘ concludes a really superb album that is, as the title promised, ‘15 Pearls and Gems‘.

I have never come across Hartmann before, but now that I have I just want to find out what I have been missing.

Review: Bonfire – Fistful Of Fire

AFM Records (April 3rd 2020)

Reviewer: Paul Saripo

I enjoyed this album throughout however I didn’t begin to truly absorb the album until I fired up the amps and subs to truly appreciate the composition and production. Don’t hold back on this one, play loud.

The Joker‘ is a short instrumental opening the album with a sense of mystery, anticipation and adventure which almost seamlessly leads on to ‘Gotta Get Away‘ , power rock track that has catchy riffs with heavy delivery.

The Devil Made Me Do It‘ is a classic dual lead guitar showcase with symphonic undertones and high reaching vocals and a sing a long chorus.

Ride The Blade‘ exercises the vocal dexterity of Alexx Stahl delivering operatic highs with husk lows alongside fast melody of guitar work.

When An Old Man Cries‘ changes direction and tone with more than a nod over to a New Jersey sound, this track delivers on a ballad with smoky flames.

Rock’n’Roll Survivors‘ brings everything needed for a Bonfire spectacular that underlines this new albums approach and originality.

Fire And Ice‘ is perhaps the meltwater of the album with franticly fast yet precision guitar work.

Fire Etude‘ is a short and complex instrumental that pumps high velocity Oxygen into a burning inferno.

Breaking Out‘ has energy and precision timing administered by André Hilgers delivered with a crushing beat.

Fistful Of Fire‘ is an anthem and title track of this fresh rock ‘n’ roll album, Hans Ziller remains true to a pedigree and doesn’t compromise, building intrigue with ‘The Surge‘ and ever impressive onslaught of ‘Gloryland‘, reaching up to the heavens and opening up a fuming fire of intense heat.

The album closes with a rather special acoustic version of ‘When An Old Man Cries‘.

If I had to pick some stand out tracks from this album I’d be spoiled for choices, but perhaps ‘Gloryland‘, ‘When An Old Man Cries‘ together with ‘The Devil Made Me Do It‘ are ones that resonate the most.

This is a remarkable album and deserves to be played loud to appreciate the detail and energy.


Review: Shakra – Mad World

AFM Records (March 6th 2020)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

Shakra return with their 15th album ‘Mad World‘, which is available now via AFM Records.

For those of you already familiar with the band, ‘Mad World‘ won’t deliver any surprises, carrying on where ‘Snakes & Ladders‘ left off. Is this a bad thing? Hell no, as a long time fan of the band it means more of that heavier end of hard rock which gets you reaching to nudge the volume knob up a few more notches.

For those of you unfamiliar with the band, I guess a quick analogy would be imagine a heavier version of German rockers Bonfire.

The album itself consists of twelve tracks, no being short changed here, and with no ballad you just get twelve tracks of pounding, foot stomping rock that’ll either piss off your neighbours or entertain them, depending on their musical preferences!

I’m not going to delve into each track using a magnifying glass, I’m just going to tell you to go out and buy it, you won’t be disappointed………trust me!

Review: Snake Oil & Harmony – Hurricane Riders

Zero One Entertainment (Feb 28th 2020)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

This is Snake Oil & Harmony’s debut album. When reviewing debut albums there can be a degree of apprehension as to what you are getting. However, with this debut album, it is more about the intrigue of hearing what two seasoned pros such as Danny Vaughn and Dan Reed will come up with! Being a huge fan of both guys in terms of their individual band and solo efforts, the key question for me was, ‘Will the whole be greater than the sum of the parts?’

From the opening bars of ‘The Lines Are Open‘ and lush acoustic guitar you know what you are getting. With the guys trading lead vocals from verse-to-verse and the lush harmonies, the song has distinctive elements of the solo work of both, while creating something original. We move quickly into ‘Last Man Standing‘ with Danny opening the vocals then joined by Dan on harmonies. And what a glorious hook in the chorus.

The emotive ‘Aberfan‘, which is about the 1966 mining disaster in the village of the same name, is next up. While this song sounds more like a Dan Reed solo song, it actually evokes more of a Crowded House/Neil Finn feel and is a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in that disaster. ‘Dance In The Heart Of The Sun‘ has Latin American undertones to it and could be a great number to dance to! The pace drops a little for ‘Another Reason‘, and it seems to have late sixties vibe to the rhythm and bounces along very nicely indeed. With Dan taking the lead vocals it has a really lush feel to it.

Damned If You Do‘ has an obvious country influence with what sounds like lap steel guitar with Danny taking the vocal duties and Dan providing backing and refrains. In structure and melody it has feel reminiscent of early Eagles and to great effect too. The light country stylings continue with the superb ‘Where The Water Goes‘ which has one of the best choruses I have heard in quite some time. Trading lead vocals across the verses seamlessly and equally so in their backing of each other, this epitomises how comfortable these two appear to be musically with each other.

Canonball‘ takes the country feel to the next level with some superb Americana playing and arrangements and is Eaglesque for me. We stray back into more straight-forward melodic acoustic material with penultimate track ‘Save The Day‘. It is one of the few tracks with electric guitar and reinforces just how versatile both of these guys are in terms of their musicality. It is fitting that we return to the acoustic feel of the opening song and the trading of lead vocal licks on an almost line-by-line basis. ‘Little Hercules‘ wholly epitomises the sheer class of this album and the lush chorus just reinforces this class further. Superb!

I am sure a whole bunch of people must have thought when these guys started singing together it would be but a fleeting moment in time. As I usually explain when working with a band, if the musicians bear in mind the basic equation of singer = Knob, we should be fine! Let’s face it, two very successful band leaders and solo artists and both sing lead vocals – just how long would it be before the egos kicked in and it ended in disaster?

Wrong! What this album demonstrates is musically and possibly personally how comfortable these two hugely talented gentleman are with each other. If you like the band and solo efforts of these gentlemen then this is absolutely essential. If you’re not that familiar with one or both – this is a superb introduction. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts. Sublime! Just absolutely sublime! Thank you gentleman – I look forward to seeing you at the Glasgow gig.

Review: Kings Of Dust – Kings Of Dust

Shock Records / Vanity Music Group (March 13th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Kings of Dust have been put together by bassist Greg Chaisson who teamed up with fellow rock veterans Michael Thomas Beck on vocals, Ryan McKay on guitar and Jimi Taft on drums. It is a similar approach to that taken by British band Cats in Space who have released four albums so far. Kings of Dust have just released their first and the question is whether they can tap into the same blend of experienced musicianship and new band enthusiasm?

First track, ‘Like an Ocean‘, sets out their stall with a Black Sabbath style explosive opening and Michael Thomas Beck’s Bruce Dickinson style vocals completing the NWOBHM picture. It is a driving start to the album that sets out their stall and makes it clear that this is not an album or group to be messed with. Next up is ‘Upon Reflection‘ which starts with great bass and guitar work from Chaisson and McKay. With a Judas Priest style sound this track brings classic heavy rock bang up to date.

What’s the Other‘ is a no-nonsense headbanger that channels Iron Maiden and brings Taft’s drums into focus. The heart of every rock and metal band’s sound is the drummer and Taft powers on his bandmates in every song doing the heavy lifting where required and coming centre stage when asked. ‘The Devil made Me‘ do it is another fantastic showcase for Beck’s vocals which reverberate from your speakers as he combines a growling bass on the lower notes with a satanic scream on the high notes.

My Piece of Mine‘ starts with a more understated musical intro before Beck shows off his ability to deliver a rock ballad with the best of them. ‘Ugly‘ returns to the driving Judas Priest template, combining urgent guitar solos and coruscating drums. This is the type of song that could be extended live to show off the abilities of each group member as they all come to the fore during this track.

Yours not Mine‘ is loud enough to set your ears ringing at the start before settling in to another Black Sabbath style track from their Ian Gillan era. ‘Ya, That’s Me‘ is pure 70s Quo with a start that reminds me of Down Down and is just great fun.

By You‘, an instrumental track, starts off with the gentle chirping of cicadas before moving into a bluegrass style guitar and picking up pace as the song gets into its stride then ends abruptly. After that song which lasts less than 90 seconds, ‘Mama‘ is a multi-layered rock track lasting over seven minutes that builds and builds and will go down a storm when played live. It has a real craft and subtlety of arrangement that make this perhaps the most satisfying track on the album.

Wolves‘ is another no-nonsense rock track that shows Kings of Dust’s mastery of the whole metal and rock genre. The album ends with ‘A Little Bit of Insanity‘, a short track that blasts through the listener’s ears and reminds you that this is a band who can make their instruments speak.

This album is a passion project from a tight knit group of rock veterans who have another chance and are determined to make it count.

Review: Shaft Of Steel Steel – Heartbeat

AOR Heaven (February 28th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Shaft of Steel are a band with an interesting history. They met and formed the first incarnation of the band in 2004 when they were at the Hull University. After the end of their degrees in 2007 they went their separate ways. Four years later they reformed and started playing live, building up a good following. An EP in 2014 was very well received by fans and music press alike. They intended to release an album soon afterwards, but things didn’t go as planned. They stuck to their guns though, and nearly six years later they are finally ready to release their debut album ‘Steel Heartbeat‘.

Touching You Every Day‘ starts off with a great guitar riff before Robert Fenning’s vocals kick in. it is a really smooth AOR track that gets the album off to a good start. ‘I’ve Never Been Alone (With a Girl Like You)‘ has a Genesis vibe to it that really works well. The keyboards of Chris Smurthwaite, guitars of Alex Markham and Chris Carruthers, drums Michael Levy and the bass of Dominic Swords blend perfectly on this track, showing the tightness that comes from years of playing together.

All Because of You‘ is an 80s inflected piece of soft rock that brings to mind Starship with its catchy tune and punch the air chorus. A Mr Mister style guitar intro moves in to heavier territory on ‘Together as One Tonight‘ becomes an anthemic soft rock track that will sound really good live. ‘Vulnerable Man‘ starts with Smurthwaite’s smooth keyboards and picks up pace as the guitars come in. Fenning discovers his inner Joey Tempest on this soft rock ballad which is one of my favourites on the album. ‘Falling Through the Flames‘ is a track that shows a harder edge to Fenning’s voice as the band look back to their original metal roots and demonstrates his range as a rock singer of real flair.

Body and Mind‘ reminds me of a chilled out Whitesnake track and it is quite simply marvellous. It’s my favourite on the album and would make a great single. ‘Lucky Girl‘ is a heavier track that plays to their strengths and sounds like another one that will become a live favourite. ‘You See Smoke When I See Fire‘ is as smooth as silk and confirms Shaft of Steel as melodic rockers of real talent.

The final track is ‘Every Time I Look at You‘ features a gorgeous keyboard intro which is reminiscent of Bruce Hornsby then morphs into a heavier song altogether courtesy of a guitar riff played over the top. Fenning once again shows his vocal chops by moving into the heavier end of his vocal range.

Shaft of Steel’s debut that has been a long time coming but it’s definitely been worth waiting for. It would be great to see the British sextet build on this and go from strength to strength over the next few years. They certainly have the talent and, as the last few years have shown they have the determination to overcome any obstacles in their way. Good luck, guys.


Review: H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II

earMUSIC (21/02/2020)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

H.E.A.T are band that seem to have been around for ages yet still remain a young band and the next big thing to break. For whatever reason, they have just never made that leap into the big league. On their last album release they shook things up an bit and changed the formula they had stuck to previously, and took a little bit of criticism for that. Personally, I thought it was the best thing they had done and looked forward to them developing this direction further. However, judging by the press release it sounds like they have went to their roots, thus the name ‘H.E.A.T II‘.

Rock Your Body‘ opens the album with its pumping opening salvo and a great chop. And as you would expect it has a huge chorus. It pumps along nicely and definitively re-asserts the band’s sound. Next up is ‘Dangerous Ground‘ which lifts the pace and power somewhat and is classic H.E.A.T with some stellar vocals. ‘Come Clean‘ opens with a keyboard-driven riff, breaking down into picking guitar and once again there is a killer chorus. The arrangement cleverly changes a little each time round, keeping it fresh each time round. A more classic rock sound more akin to Rainbow/Deep Purple is next up with ‘Victory‘ and a chanting chorus. For me this is one of the weaker songs on the album. The feel changes with the opening bluesy guitar of ‘We Are Gods‘. This is powerful thundering track conveying the title perfectly, with Eric Gronwall giving it some serious big vocal licks. The pace is picked back up with ‘Adrenaline‘ and if there is such a thing sounds like typical Swedish melodic rock. With a staccato riff behind the chorus the song has another big chorus.

One By One‘ opens in a similar vein to its predecessor but drops into a completely differently melodic feel with keyboards and some choked guitar. The guitar solo is tastefully played over a more laid back break and provides a great contrast. Next up is the obligatory ballad, ‘Nothing To Say‘, and Gronwall shows he can vary his vocal styling. The song is predominantly acoustic guitar and ethereal keyboards but lifts for the chorus as do the vocals. In places, it almost has the feel of a movie soundtrack song.

Heaven Must Have Won An Angel‘ sounds like it should be a ballad from its title, but it’s a classic H.E.A.T mid-paced rocker which rattles along very nicely indeed. The opening of the next song sounds like the Scorpions to me before breaking down into a bluesy riff and then changing again into a rotating drum-pattern driven riff – great variation from the guys. Entitled ‘Under The Gun‘, it wasn’t the balls-out rocker the name suggested – great stuff. The last song on the album is ‘Rise‘ opening with some lilting keyboards before exploding into a huge guitar riff. This closes the album very much as it started with the classic H.E.A.T sound.

So what’s the verdict? Well, the guys wanted to go back to a classic sound after the experimenting of the last album and they have certainly achieved that. It oozes quality in terms of the songs and vocals and will certainly delight H.E.A.T fans. However, will it win them over a drove of new fans? I doubt it! A much as I love this album, I am kind of disappointed they didn’t go the whole way this time with the road they started down with the previous album. Regardless of my disappointment, let me be clear about it – this album seriously rocks. I dearly hope the quality of their recorded works and their kick-arse live shows get them into the big league.  If any melodic rock band that have emerged in the last decade or deserve to, its these guys. Get them album, buy your tickets for the tour – you won’t be disappointed!

Review: Secret Rule – Against

Pride & Joy Music (February 21st 2020)

Reviewer: Paul Saripo

Secret Rule hailing from Italy are set to release a fifth album entitled ‘Against‘ which is a powerful mix of deep metal electronica and riff centric energy.

Spira Mirabilis‘ is the grand prelude to the album which sets the scope and feel perfectly for the narrative.

As I listened to all the tracks on the album I found that I would come back to ‘Spira Mirabilis‘ as this seems to be quite pivotal in the journey of the ‘Against‘ story.

This is no ordinary concept album, I found its hypotheses a combination of human condition and that of the celestial, challenged on an unknown passage as cyber slaves.

The musical composition is the driving energy with a solid balance of synthesisers, low hung and deliciously heavy riffs, fast bass with percussion that beats out like artillery fire with intricate rhythm of Alex Beccati on drums keeping the time. ‘Shades Of Humanity‘ packs some weight with some influences from the electronica of Rammstein along the way. ‘Rise Again‘ is fast and energetic harmony’s.

Going Nowhere‘ has good vocal range and dexterity with convincing depth pitched alongside a massive backline of riffs of Andy Menario.

Digital Revolution‘ one of my favourite tracks from the album, the composition here is a showcase for the journey and opens the door to ‘Endless Promises‘, which is a fantastic track that jumps out and thrashes out rapid heavy riffs with synergy of music moving into ‘Purgatory‘ which by now your immersed with feeling of desperation held firm with bass strings and industrial synth, powerful vocal and growling riff.  Against brings with it a pounding heart beat bass lines of Michele Raspanti and indignant riffs.

Deep Solitude‘ demonstrates perfectly the incredible vocals of Angela Di Vincenzo who has a tremendous range and depth alongside yet more catchy hooks to have you moshing up. ‘Outsiders‘ another standout track from the album, this is a masterpiece of well engineered and executed sounds. The timing here is impeccable. ‘My Last Breath‘ embodies power of the story with musical intensity burning into the last track ‘Don’t Let Me Fade‘ which concludes the album with a build of emotion delivered into your imagination driven with a musical charge.

Review: Gary Moore – Live From London

Provogue/Mascot Label Group (January 31st 2020)

Reviewer: Stephen Brophy

It has been almost 9 years since we lost the legendary guitarist, but that legacy continues to spawn new releases, and the latest on the Mascot label is a live album from a sold out show at London’s Islington Academy back in 2009. This show is from the Bad For You Baby Tour, showcasing the album of the same name, which was to be Gary’s last solo album release.

The set on the night was a mixture of new tracks off the album and a lot of cover tracks. What you can be sure of though is that Moore displayed both his guitar and vocal talents from start to finish. We also get a mix of mostly Blues Rock tracks on this one which is interesting as he was in the process of putting together another Rock album prior to his death, the man could play either without anything sounding out of place.

There have been plenty of Live albums released by Moore over the years, and some unreleased shows that most fans seem to have, so where does this slot into the list. For me this is a good live album, and no doubt avid fans will pick this up anyway, the songs are interesting in selection of the covers, and mix well with his own tracks and as mentioned the guitar playing as you would expect is excellent, but I would much prefer a full set of his own music. I will no doubt pick this one up to add to the collection and it’s definitely worth checking out. One thing I appreciate is the odd bum note, not removed in the mix, makes it feel the way it should live.

Highlights for me aside from the brilliant ‘Still Got The Blues‘ that just brims over with passion, every note and lyric just sinks into you, and of course the closing tones of ‘Parisienne Walkways‘ which is a song I never want to leave my memory, and that held note that still raises the hair on the back of my neck and almost brings a tear to the eye, it’s a beautiful song. Don’t leave out other songs like John Mayall’s ‘Have You Heard‘, which is just spot on as a cover, aided by the keyboard accompaniment or his own ‘Since I Met You Baby‘ that just rocks along, showing just how well his voice was suited to Blues songs. Another album to add to the list and something a little different, Moore was on very good form on the night by the sound of this album, so some more great memories for those that were present in Islington.


Review: Ben Poole Trio /// – Live ‘19

(January 31st 2020)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Ben Poole is one of a wave of young up and coming blues guitarist blazing a new trail for the genre. In the short time he has been kicking about, he has certainly gathered some great accolades for his playing and live performances. Therefore, this interest was of particular interest to me! This live set is a double CD and is basically Ben with bass and drums.

The album opens with the dirty riff of ‘Take It No More‘. It’s a catchy guitar chop with an equally catchy chorus. It also has some great light and shade with Ben acquitting himself well as guitarist and with some decent vocals. Next up is ‘Win You Over‘ which falls into a more blues style rhythm with some tasteful guitar playing. However, for the vocals sounded a little lightweight and a little limited, but good none the less.

Start the Car‘ is next up and has a great groove to it and powers along with another catchy chorus. The album then drops into some slow burning blues with an extended guitar intro with ‘Have You Ever Loved a Women‘. In fact the song is extended full stop lasting over 11 mins of the Freddie King classic. While the song suits both Ben’s guitar and vocal styling perfectly, for me it just goes on a little too long.

The outstanding song for me is next and that is ‘The Question Why‘, which is perfect for Ben’s voice. It is a little more soulful and suits the breathy vocals. For the penultimate track on CD 1 the tone goes a little more funky and harder-edged for ‘Further On Down The Line‘ before the closing track goes back to being a little lighter and soulful again with a great clean guitar part for ‘Don’t Cry For Me‘.

Lying To Me‘ opens the second disc and is back to the grooving guitar riff. There is a great brooding guitar riff for the chorus. However, it only serves to highlight the fact that vocals can’t match that power or intensity of the riff. Next we have a Jeff Healy number in the shape of ‘I Think I Love You too Much‘. This is a great rendition of the song but again for me highlights the limitations of Ben’s vocals. We drop back into a more laid back song called ‘Found Out The Hard Way‘. Doing this type of song suits Ben’s vocals and guitar playing. It also has the benefit of a killer chorus.

Stay At Mine‘ opens with a great drum intro and bounces along nicely on the drum/bass rhythm and picks up the pace just when it needs it. The funk returns with ‘Anytime You Need Me‘ with another great rhythmic, pacey number and chorus. However, for me it’s just a little too self-indulgent coming in at well over 14 minutes with a number of musical interludes. The last song is another slow burner in the form of ‘Time Might Never Come‘. This is another great song but again for me is just too long, lasting over 15 minutes and too much guitar self-indulgence.

Having got to the end of this double CD set, I have mixed feelings. There are some great songs on this album and some great playing. While I get that with a blues trio there is always going to be an element of showboating from the main man, for me in this instance the really long songs just don’t hold my interest enough. I would also rather hear more of Ben’s original material! And finally, my perennial niggle of the singing blues guitarist! There are some fine examples out there of this phenomenon, with the like of the Nimmo brothers and Kris Barras to name a few. However, some of the material in this set only serves to highlight Ben should either select the material to suit his vocals or have someone share the vocals, such as a bass player with a voice that can move up a notch for the harder-edged material. Overall impression is that this is a good album but could easily be an excellent album depending on which way Ben wants to go with vocal options. Existing fans won’t be disappointed, but I don’t see this attracting too many new fans.