Zierler - ESC

Review: Zierler – ESC

Vanity Music Group (2015)

Reviewer – Stephen Brophy

The brainchild of Danish Keyboard player and composer Finn Zierler, his new project Zierler comprises some stunning talent that he has managed to piece together for an excellent Progressive Metal album called ESC. In addition to Zierler we have some very heavy hitters from both sides of the Atlantic, Texans Kelly Sundown Carpenter (Firewind) Vocals and Bobby Jarzombek (Fates Warning, Riot) on Drums and also fellow Scandinavians Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry, Kaipa) on Guitar and Truls Haugen (Insense, Circus Maximus) on Bass and Vocals, in fact the vocals are pretty much shared between Kelly and Truls, what a great lineup of experienced performers.

There are eleven tracks on offer here and at times you might think you are listening to multiple bands, great variety in the tracks, and some wonderful musicianship as you’d expect. As with a lot of the better albums these days no single instrument overpowers the rest, allowing the band to show all of their talents in unison. The album itself clocks in at seventy two minutes which is certainly value for money in this day and age, and there are some epic pieces on it such as the stand out of me ‘Water‘ which is a beautiful piece of work, edges out of it’s shell very much on the Prog side with the intro, but just explodes into a heavier beast before swapping between styles effortlessly, at times I get a little bit of a Queensryche vibe from it, with the layers and vocals, it’s one of those tracks your don’t mind listening to over and over and it just displays different things each time, points of focus and a piece you may have skipped over just seems to stick out on another listen.

Other standouts here are the much more aggressive ‘You Can’t Fix Me No More‘ with it’s pounding riff  and drums, but which also manages to maintain a level between the clear vocal delivery and some screamed frenzy  or ‘Darkness Delight‘ with it’s additional chorus’s and intermittent breaks, there is just a lot of thought that has both gone into this music and that will be applied to the listener. If you are a fan of Progressive Rock/Metal or the Beyond Twilight trilogy of album releases you will definitely be more than interested in this release, but in reality I would point anyone in it’s direction, there are so many good points in this musical journey, everything sounds great and the vocals are always more than just excellently delivered they are interesting, there nothing throwaway here, Mr. Zierler certainly knows what he wants to achieve and his experience sets him almost in the role of a director. The Keyboards shine throughout adding an extra layer to pieces that just enhances everything.

Nothing sounds the same, and most importantly you don’t get the impression that the musicians are adding things for the sake of it, everything is done for the story of the song and that’s just excellent. There is no doubting the quality of the individuals involved and thankfully the end result here is a combining of forces to create a magical release, excellent work all around and a product that has been well crafted and sounds terrific, from chugging riffs, wailing solos to subtle pieces winding around each other on songs like ‘Rainheart‘, this album may have come towards the end of the year, but it’s certainly one of the best Progressive releases, it needs and demands time to listen to and in this day and age that may not always be available to us in one sitting, so take your time with it, don’t bypass it and just enjoy some delightful musical fragments that join together to form what many bands could only dream to achieve. Would be a dream to see this one played in full someday. Go take a listen, I’d be surprised if it didn’t effect you in some way. Zierler, remember the name.

 

 

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Review: Kee Man Hawk – Headin For the Sun

2015

Reviewer: Dan Mann

From the first notes of ‘Black Creek Blues’ you know where this album is heading, and it’s a direction I’m more than happy to follow.

This ladies & gentlemen is a solid slab of southern rock, dripping with hints of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas etc.

What took me by surprise is the band hail from Sala in Sweden. I shouldn’t really be that surprised I guess as the Scandinavians seem to be taking over the music business with so many top class releases!

From the foot stomping ‘Delta DC’, for which the band have recorded an accompanying video, to the delta blues influenced ‘Homage To Mr Water’ there are all the elements of southern rock & blues you’d expect to hear but without sounding dated & clichéd.

With the exception of ‘Keyman Breakdown’, which for some reason I couldn’t get on with, maybe because the vocals sounding slightly strained to my ears, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to the whole album.

Highly recommended, for all southern rock fans.

CWF

Review: Champlin, Williams, Friestedt – CWF
 
AOR Heaven (2015)
 
Reviewer – Stephen Brophy
 
What do you get when you put together two of the most recognisable vocalists in AOR/Rock music ?  Well lets be honest, even if the songs were only half decent with Bill Champlin (Chicago, State Cows) and Joseph Williams (Toto) adding their magic they’d be elevated, but there are some great tracks on this album and that’s making this a very worthwhile listen. The other main protagonist here is Peter Friestedt a Swedish Guitarist/Producer who has worked with Joseph Williams in the past.
 
The sheer warmth in the vocals on this album is just beautiful to feel, you know you are listening to masters of their craft, it’s smooth and there’s definitely a large spoonful of West Coast in there, and it’s not a heavy rock album, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a spin, something for me doesn’t quite work with the flow of the album but that’s a personal thing and a very minor point, but there are some excellent songs on here and that’s enough to bring me back for another listen. The opener ‘Runaway‘ is a great way to begin the album, it’s upbeat, well constructed and rumbles along at a nice pace.
 
There are some great tracks here though like ‘Still Around‘, the beautiful ‘All That I Want‘ and ‘Nightfly‘. The Earth Wind & Fire classic ‘After The Love Has Gone‘, which could probably slot straight into a different time period, manages to sound right here, not only because Bill Champlin co wrote the song but he also sings it perfectly. Everything is solid, everything is pretty well balanced it’s nice to have songs interpreted by different vocalists who stamp their own sound on them but also back each other up in places.
It would be a pleasure to hear these guys playing the new material live, whether that happens or not is a different question, but even if there are only a couple of shows try and get there.
Of course there’s elements of the bands these great singers have worked with in some of the tracks (‘Aria‘ in particular could definitely have slotted into a Toto album), but it’s not to the detriment of the album, nor is it just a collection of Toto and Chicago cover songs.
Listen to this album over and over and different songs will grab you, for example ‘Carry On‘ wasn’t doing much for me until all of a sudden it hit me in the face, and that’s great, adds some longevity to it.
Although I’m sure that this album will not be to everyone’s tastes, Mr. Friestedt has created a really good piece of work here, there’s some different styles mixed in, this is classy AOR. CWF is for more than just fans of Toto, Chicago or their collective styles of music, it’s for fans of well crafted music with passion and class.
 
 

The Black Heart Gospel

Review: The Black Heart Gospel – Wasteland America

Chemikill Burn Records (2016)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

The Black Heart Gospel are a four piece rock band hailing from New Jersey, U.S.A. and are due to release Wasteland America on their own Chemikill Burn Records in January.

The four track EP kicks off with ‘Before My Eyes‘ with a quite distinctive vocal style which initially I didn’t take to, however on repeated plays it has grown on me considerably.

Scary‘ is a pretty solid rock song, which is probably my favorite out of the four tracks. A real grower that’s had quite a few plays.

Growing Unknown‘ is quite frantic in it’s initial approach, but leads into a great toe tapper of a song.

And so to the final track. ‘Wasteland America‘. A political statement, fairly self explanatory from it’s name. It has to be said you really need to listen to the lyrics and you’ll be rewarded with a very mature piece of song writing.

I’ll be very interested to see if the band continue in the same vein with hopefully a full length album.

 

Inglorious

Review: Inglorious – Inglorious

Frontiers Music Srl (2016)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Inglorious is the one of the many new releases from Frontiers, but unlike many of the Frontiers releases these guys are a real band and apparently have signed a long term worldwide deal. Maybe Frontiers has recognised that to have a sustainable rock scene on a major scale requires bands to be developed and given time to develop. If so, then I most certainly applaud them! The band is fronted by singer Nathan James who seems to have been about for ages, despite being a youngster – well at least significantly younger than most of the other old codger singers kicking about. The band is a five piece with two guitarists and wants to bring back British rock, which I also applaud. However, if I am honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the cover of Burn mainly as Mr James opted to spend most of the song at the top end of his stratospheric range. So I approached this with some reservations, expecting more of the same. However, I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised but wasn’t. Instead I was completely and utterly blown away!

Much has been made of the comparison between these guys and Deep Purple and the intro to opening track ‘Until I Die’ reinforces this comparison. But for me the song has more in common with Rainbow, classic MSG in places and possibly Whitesnake because of the bluesier groove. It has a great riff and great verse and bridge breakdowns and a chorus without layers of backing vocals allowing the lead vocals to shine (author puts sunglasses on). ‘Breakaway’ is next and is a pacey rocker and sounds Iron Maidenish in places with Mr James sounding slightly like a young Bruce Bruce a la Samson’s Shock Tactics. The opening riff of ‘High Flying Gypsy’ and the crash as the band comes in really does it for me and I just love the chorus (or is it a bridge with the clever structure?) with some really powerful vocals carrying it along. However, for me the fourth song is really what I wanted to hear this guy do. Mr James has in the past demonstrated his technical excellence, stratospheric range and power but never quite nailed it in terms of the feel for me. He has now and then some! ‘Holy Water’ has a great bluesy riff and a superb groove and the vocals a just totally nail it from the soulful verses and powerful blues chorus – Glenn Hughes should be looking over his shoulder. It has a neat change of pace for the short solo section. Tony Iommi would be proud of the opening riff for ‘Warning’ before it changes tact and pace and turns into another pacey rocker with a stratospheric scream. Cleverly structured and arranged it keeps you interested throughout with Mr James stretching his lungs while still sounding effortless.

Onto the second half of the album and the pace changes with the acoustic opening of slow burner ‘Bleed For You’ and the softer side of Mr James voice is given an airing. Again, another well written and arranged song like all that have gone before it. This continues with ‘Girl With A Gun’ which is another powerful bluesy rocker. With great soft clean vocals during the verse and then getting as hard as a rock for the bridge, it has a great chorus to boot. ‘Your Mine’ is a stomping rocker which breaks to allow Mr James to fill the gap with great lines, building up into the bridge before dropping into a great chorus both musically and vocally. The self-titled title song ‘Inglorious’ opens with a hard edged chorus before dropping down into a great section with some phased (or is that a vocoder?) harmony vocals. This leads into the verse and a real hard-edged chorus and some great musical interludes. This is followed by an acoustic piece entitled ‘Wake’ and for me really gives Holy Water a run for its money as my favourite track. Mr James sings the verses magnificently and almost verges on singing falsetto before the lung-busting chorus. Often these kind of acoustic interludes overstay their welcome, but clocking in at just less than five minutes it is pure gold for me just because of the vocals, especially that note just before the solo section. Mr James I salute you and at the same time think, ‘Git!’ The album closer opens with some gentle piano playing and lulls us into a false sense of security before ‘Unaware’ kicks with great riff driven by a great rhythm. A fitting end to a superb album.

What can I say? Inglorious claim they want to re-establish British rock – check! It does what it says on the tin and then some. A real British rock album, with superb songs, great players and awesome vocals by a British band which clearly shows it influences, without ever really resorting to regurgitating or ripping off those same influences. It just ticks all my boxes. Time to hang my mic up me thinks as many other vocalists may well think when they hear this. Mr James – you have made a happy man feel very old! Think I will stay in the cupboard with the microphone!

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Khymera – The Grand Design

Frontiers Music Srl (Dec 2015)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Khymera is another Frontiers project band that has been kicking about for quite some time. However, I must be honest and say this is the first time I have had the opportunity to listen to any material. This incarnation is led by Dennis Ward, Pink Cream 69 bass player, songwriter and producer. On this album he is also lead vocalist, and if I am honest my first thought was, ‘not another musician who thinks they can sing’. Met a few of those in my time!

The album opens with ‘Never Give Up On You’ which is very Night Ranger indeed – apart from the vocals. Don’t get me wrong the vocals are OK but let the song down which is excellent as is the production/mix.

This is followed by ‘Tell Me Something’ which has a Honeymoon Suite feel to it with an almost walking bass line and builds to a great chorus.

‘Say What You Want’ is next and opens with acoustic guitar picking and vocals which sound good. However, the chorus sounds very familiar and sounds similar to Gotthard’s Feel What I Feel to my ears and in general very Gothard.

‘I Believe’ opens with a great keyboard and guitar intro that Journey would be pleased with. It leads into a pacey melodic rocker, although the chorus is good it doesn’t quite match up to the rest of the song.

Next up is a ‘Night To Remember’ which is another great song if not a little generic in places but has a great chorus with some great backing vocals.

The next song again has very Honeymoon Suite overtones and is a great arrangement with some great contrasting parts. Entitled ‘She’s Got the Love’, it moves brusquely through the various changes in arrangement seamlessly – great stuff!

‘Land of Golden Dreams’ opens the second half of the album with a great guitar riff and atmospheric keys. It builds nicely to the chorus which builds on the intro guitar riff with some huge backing vocals. Another superb song indeed!

The title track ‘The Grand Design’ is next and mostly definitely has a Honeymoon Suite vibe going on. Again it is another pacey melodic rocker which is very well constructed and quirky in places as per the Honeymoon Suite reference!

The obligatory ballad follows called ‘Streetlights’ and if I am honest it doesn’t really do it for me. I am not quite sure why but the song just drags on for me.

However, the mood is lifted by ‘Who’s Fooling Who’ which has another intro Neal Schon and Journey would be proud of. The song is driven along by a great bassline and piano and the guitar kicks in for the chorus which has some great counter backing vocals also.

‘Finally’ picks the mood and pace up further but the vocal melody in the verse is very similar to Billy Squier’s In The Dark from Don’t Say No. However, it is another superb song with another great chorus.

The last song is another ballad called ‘Where Is The Love’. This is very reminiscent of Journey with the Jonathan Cain piano parts in the first verse before the second verse builds into the chorus. However, in places it highlights the limitations of Ward’s vocals although it is still a great ballad.

Well thankfully Dennis Ward isn’t another one of these guys who decides to sing just because he wants to! The album is full of excellent songs and superbly produced and mixed. However, while Ward is a reasonable vocalist, for me these songs are so good they demand a top notch vocalist to really do them justice. This is especially true of the two ballads which could have been so much more with a vocalist with the range and feel to do them justice. Regardless of my opinion on the vocals, if you like your rocking melodic a la Night Ranger and/or Honeymoon Suite, you will definitely find this to your liking.

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Blood Red Saints – Speedway

Frontiers Music Srl (Dec 2015)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Speedway is the debut album from Blood Red Saints and at first sight I thought this was going to be another Frontiers ‘project’ band. However, while these guys have a huge amount of experience, Pete Godfrey (In Faith) states his motivation was to be involved in a real band and not a project – in fact the guys are already lining up gigs including next year’s HRH. The band features Rob Naylor on bass and extreme facial hair (formerly of AOK), Lee Revill on guitar (Gary Hughes) and last and by no means least Pete Newdeck on drums (In Faith, Eden’s Curse and currently the vocalist for Tainted Nation).

With two ex-In Faith members I was wondering if the album would be in a similar vein to that, which I thought had some great highs but as many lows. However, from the opening of ‘Kickin Up Dust’ this notion is firmly dispelled! It is a classic and classy opener which showcases the groove of Godfrey’s voice with some great melodies which remind me of classic Loverboy with a transatlantic twist.

This is quickly followed by ‘Mercy’ which reminds me a little of the melodic side of Eden’s Curse with its thunderous opening before dropping down into a half-time verse and picking up again heading towards the powerful and catchy verse.

A mid-paced rocker is next which could sit comfortably on a classic Foreigner album called ‘Best of Me’. Having said that the chorus is a little reminiscent of prime time Loverboy again, which is no bad combination!

‘Dangerous’ opens with acoustic guitar picking and atmospheric keys with Pete Godfrey crooning over the top before turning into a stomping rocker in the vein of FM.

A ballad is next up called ‘Love Set Me Up Again’ and this builds nicely and highlights the fact that Godfrey can croon with the best of them.

‘Better Days’ opens with a real 80s keyboard intro before kicking off into a pacey rocker. It has all the hallmarks of classic 80s AOR track.

The Best Thing opens with piano and vocals and then bursts into a great chorus carried with some great backing vocal melodies. The chugging second verse changes the dynamics of the song a little and almost sounds a little Magnum-ish. The contrasting rhythms work well together in this song giving it great light and shade.

Godfrey also opens the next song with an acoustic backing for Unbreakable which also reminds me a little of Loverboy and has bluesy feel to it.

This is contrasted by the poppy ‘Wrapped In These Arms’ which has hit single potential written all over it with the right exposure. With some of the backing vocals being almost gospel-like and the variety of feels, it moves along nicely and is finished before you know it.

Next up is a short musical interlude highlighting Revill’s ability and leads into Feels a Lot Like Love. This kicks off with some nice guitar playing too before breaking down into a half-time verse with clean guitar and building through the bridge into the chorus which again brings images of Loverboy to mind.

And already we are onto the last number which is another ballad called ‘Faith’ which revolves around Godfrey’s voice and a simple piano part and a most excellent chorus. The song builds through the introduction of more keys and a key change and is a fitting way to close the album.

While this album evokes thoughts of many bands such as Loverboy, Foreigner and FM, it still manages to carve out a sound of its own and doesn’t become a parody or rip-off of any particular band on any particular song. In the main, for me this is down to Pete Godfrey’s voice which I love. You can’t ask for much more really – great vocals, great songs and great production from a British AOR band! What you waiting for then? Get out and buy this mother and fly the flag!

Lugnet

 

Lugnet – Lugnet

Pride & Joy Music (2016)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

Hailing from Sweden (yes another scandi band) Lugnet are a band who’ve not followed the deluge of Scandi bands and recorded a melodic rock album. Instead your treated to a delicious slice of British inspired 70’s hard rock.

The first track on the album ‘All The Way’ is actually rather reminiscent of Voodoo Circle’s take on Whitesnake, if that makes sense. Vocalist Roger Solander is a delightful mixture of David Coverdale, John Lawton & Ian Gillan. His vocals ticks so many boxes on my ‘musical tastes’ list!

Sails’ is more like that other Gillan (Ray) and Badlands, infusing an underlying current of blues rock into the mix.

Next up is ‘Veins’ with a pounding riff and Solander wailing away, thankfully with plenty of control to his vocals. Large slabs of Dio/Sabbath influence make this very enjoyable.

We head back to Coverdale / early Snake territory with the excellent ‘Tears In The Sky’. Special guest Bruno Erminero on the Hammond Organ, adds to the 70’s feel with great effect.

It Ain’t Easy’ starts off with a reasonably fast tempo, and to my ears comes across as Uriah Heep, and the catchy chorus easily sticks in the old grey matter.

We keep the tempo uplifted with ‘Gypsy Dice’, drummer Fredrik Jansson giving the kit a damn good work out and a fine exempt of the ‘double axe attack’ courtesy of messers Marcus ‘Mackan’ Holten and Danne ‘Bonden’ Jansson.

The penultimate track on the album ‘In The Still Of The Water’ sees the band once again slipping on the Deep Purple shoes and giving it their all.

And so to the last track (wish there were more). Thankfully they leave us with a track that’s nearly ten and a half minutes long. Solander’s vocals on ‘Into The Light’ remind me of Tony Martin era Black Sabbath, once again not a bad thing whatsoever.

To quickly sum up, I can see this album creeping into my Top 20, if not my Top 10 releases of 2016.

Dead Shed Jokers - Dead Shed Jokers

Dead Shed Jokers – Dead Shed Jokers
 
Pity My Brain Records (2015)
 
Reviewer – Stephen Brophy
The self titled sophomore album from Welsh Alt Rockers Dead Shed Jokers is an intriguing one, and not just a run of the mill Rock album by any means. There are elements of numerous styles in here, with vocalist Hywel Davies guiding us through the bands winding road with an ease that also encompasses an air of the theatrical. The album itself is well balanced, different and shows off a lot of talent from a band that are not easily pigeonholed.
Tracks like the excellent opener ‘Dafydd’s Song‘, a rousing rocker with punchy riffs and a little bit of angst in the vocal delivery roll straight into a more indie slide of ‘Delay The Morning‘ where, as in other places on this album, I get reminded of The Enemy frontman Tom Clarke in their more rock like moments, and that’s certainly not a band thing, the ability to seamlessly switch, move and interpret rock standards in a different way is always something a little special, and these guys have that in bucket loads. The base for it all would seem to come out of 70’s Classic Rock, but not anything as simple as copying what’s already be delivered a thousand times before, even a track that has simple beginnings like ‘A Cautionary Tale‘ has the added edge of some haunting guitar work and the real sense that strands of a story are being spun into the microphone.
The stand out tracks here, alongside the opener, are the upbeat, funky and enigmatic ‘Rapture Riddles‘ which runs out in twenty different directions rather than circles, the slightly demented ‘Memoirs of Mr Bryant‘ which ends in a cacophony of madness, but it’s still a very interesting song, also ‘Made in Vietnam‘ with some really nice bass runs and an ebb and flow that lifts you up and dumps your right down again, there’s just some really good work right the way through, but it’s definitely an album that needs and deserves some perseverance and may take a few listens to settle in your mind.
This band are really tight throughout and the production suits the music really well, it’s not over polished and that’s just perfect. Dead Shed Jokers have managed to create a pretty original sounding album and one that’s definitely worth your attention, if you haven’t heard of them before go pick this one up and allow it to sink into your skin, once if soaks through it’s quite difficult not to be affected by it.

Copyright© Peter Scallan
                 Copyright© Peter Scallan

Review: Gun

Sala Arena, Madrid 30 Oct 2015

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

GUN and I go back a long way having known three of the guys for well over 30 years and had the privilege to play the odd gig with Giuliano Gizzi. Consequently I have seen them many times in a number of locations including of course Glasgow Barrowlands which is always something special. I had heard that Spain was partial to a bit of GUN and that Madrid was a favourite city for the band and was looking forward to both the gig and enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of Madrid!

I must admit, with about 30 minutes to gig time I was getting worried that the place was empty with barely 60-70 people in when the local support act finished. However, in the space of about 20 minutes the place filled up and it was rammed. The band hit the stage with the opening song from the latest album Frantic called Let It Shine and what an opening! The place erupted and became even more frantic when they quickly launched into Don’t Say It’s Over which really had the place bouncing and singing. The fever pitch increased even further when Better Days kicked in with the crowd singing the words with Dante Gizzi. Another new song followed in the shape of One Wrong Turn before another GUN classic was rolled out in the form of Seems Like I’m Losing You from the Swagger album. A superb rendition of Something To Believe In followed with the place really bouncing and was dedicated to local boy Luis Diaz who is a diehard GUN fan and was our personal Madrid tour guide for the first couple of days. Next up was single Everyone’s a Winner which was followed by the awesome title track from Frantic, which I just love and is even better live than on the album. The roof nearly came off the venue when the Giuliano opened Money and the crowd was bouncing like it was 1977 and the punk revolution and shouting every word as it was sung. These were quickly followed by a further two songs from Frantic with Hold Your Head Up and then Labour of Love again both sounding raunchy and rocking. Another song from Taking On The World was rolled out in the shape of Inside Out leading to the penultimate song Word Up with the crowd joining in. The guys then closed the set proper with Steal Your Fire which is one of my personal favourite before leaving the stage. However, the place erupted like it was the second coming when the encore started with Taking On The World followed by Welcome To The Real World. And there was one more song which brought to crowd to the boil as no GUN gig would be complete without Shame On You. And so it was ended and GUN seriously rocked Madrid!

Now admittedly it was always unlikely that I was going to be impartial with this gig review given a lifetime of history with some of the guys. However, while the band served up an absolutely awesome set, the real surprise was the Madrid crowd who rocked even harder than the band. I found myself just looking about at people’s reaction to the band and it was fanatical. GUN’s Xmas gig at the Barrowlands has always been special but this year Glasgow you will have to go one helluva way to out rock Madrid. Madrid – you were pure dead gallus and made a happy man feel very old!