Review: Derek Sherinian – The Phoenix

Inside Out Music (September 18th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Derek Sherinian is a keyboardist whose name may not be familiar to the general music public, but those in the business rate him incredibly highly. Alice Cooper, with whom Sherinian has made a number of albums called him ‘The Caligula of keyboards’! He also toured with Kiss, Billy Idol and has his own band Sons of Apollo. His last solo album was ‘Oceana‘ in 2011, so the title ‘The Phoenix‘ suggested to him by a friend on Facebook is entirely appropriate.

The album includes regular contributors Simon Phillips, the drummer who has co-written the album with Sherinian, Tony Franklin, who has appeared on all of Sherinian’s previous albums along with fellow bassists Jimmy Johnson and Billy Sheehan. Guitarists Joe Bonamassa and Zakk Wylde are also regulars on Sherinian’s music. On this album Steve Vai, Armen Ra, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Ernest Tibbs and Kiko Loureiro complete the line-up.

The album starts with title track ‘The Phoenix‘. An unmistakeable prog rock sound starts with the distorted guitar solo before the drums and keyboards pile in. It is an electrifying start to the album that reminds me of Yes in their pomp. The technical virtuosity of the musicians involved in the project is immediately obvious.

Empyrean Sky‘ starts with a more straightforward rock introduction before moving into Sherinian’s Rick Wakeman style keyboard playing. I have always been a fan of Wakeman’s and this definitely stands alongside anything he has done. It then develops into something of a free form jazz style composition before settling back down into more straightforward rock again. It is a dizzying and magnificent piece of music. ‘Clouds of Ganymede‘ is a melodic delight that develops the interplay between guitar and keyboard beautifully. There is a Vangelis style sensibility to it that really works well.

Dragonfly‘ is a fantastic jazz piece with the unmistakeable influence of Vince Guaraldi, the genius behind the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. This track would definitely be at home on that album. It is a delight and probably my favourite on the album. ‘Temple of Helios‘ returns to Prog with a slow building tune that plays with the listener’s expectations. You wonder which way the song will develop after an introduction that could move into any area. What you end up with is a track that sounds like an extended version of a theme tune for an 80s police series! What can I say? It’s great fun.

Them Changes‘ is a much more straightforward rocker with the only vocal performance on the album. It comes from the superb Joe Bonamassa who makes the song take flight with his bluesy style and fantastically powerful singing voice. ‘Octopus Pedigree‘ is the penultimate song on the album, and we are back in Wakeman territory with Sherinian’s virtuoso playing taking the track into the realms of classic rock.

Pesadelo‘, the final track, means nightmare in Portuguese and is appropriately unsettling with a tune that sounds like a fevered dreamscape with each instrument playing its part in creating a truly unsettling effect. It is a fitting end to an album that moves easily between styles, but which creates a superb overall sound. It cements the already high reputation of Derek Sherinian and confirms him as one of the foremost keyboardists of this or any other era.

Review: Stormburst – Highway To Heaven

AOR Heaven (28/08/20)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Stormburst are a group from Sweden who have been together since 2014. They released their first album, ‘Raised on Rock‘, in 2017 and now three years later they have produced the follow-up, ‘Highway to Heaven‘. Their line up consists of bassist Kent Jansson, guitarist Thomas Hansson, vocalist Lars-Ake Nilsson, keyboard player Peter Ostling and drummer Pelle Hinden. Naming their album with a conscious nod to both AC/DC and Led Zeppelin is certainly going to get them noticed as is the album cover with its clear homage to Meatloaf. Let’s see if the music backs up their reference points.

Highway to Heaven‘ is a powerful start to the album with crunching guitar and Hinden’s powerful drumming to the fore which Nilsson complements with his Joey Tempest style vocal. ‘Rock n Roll Soldier‘ is a Judas Priest style rock track with a great guitar solo from Hannson and a chorus that will get the crowds singing along when they perform it live.

Tonight‘ is a pop rock track reminiscent of Europe that shows off Stormburst’s melodic rock to good effect. ‘Going Home‘ sounds like the Scorpions and showcases their tight playing and ear for a chorus.

Closer to Heaven‘ is a song that flies out of the blocks from the start and is definitely my favourite from the first half of the album. ‘Miles Away‘ is the obligatory ballad and once again shows the influence of the Scorpions. It is a good song that makes the most of Nilsson’s voice. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘ is the sound of Stormburst letting rip and really showing what they can do. It is a heavy rock track that cranks up the volume on the album to great effect.

The appropriately named ‘Confidence‘ shows a band that have warmed up and are determined to show their heavy rock credentials. The heavier edge really suits them. ‘Run For The Light‘ returns to the softer melodic rock of fellow Swedes Europe but it works well with Nilsson giving another excellent performance.

Take Me To The Sky‘ has a Deep Purple sound to both Hannson’s guitar and Nilsson’s vocal which is underpinned very well by Ostling’s keyboard work. ‘Lost In The Night‘ benefits from Jannson’s bass which gives the track a really good platform and is a song that has another excellent guitar solo. ‘Riding On The Wind‘ is my favourite track on the album. It has a driving tune reminiscent of Living After Midnight and Nilsson’s best vocal performance. The final track, ‘One Dream‘, in places very similar to Queen’s One Vision is another soft rock tune that is well delivered by this experienced and talented set of musicians.

This is an album which is great to listen to, but I hope that the next album really takes the heavy rock tracks and puts them front and centre because Stormburst are at their best when they really crank up the volume.

Review: Tanna – Storm In Paradise

AOR Heaven (August 28th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Tanna are a band formed in 1985 by Finnish singer Tapani Tikkanen, who are now in their third incarnation. The name of the band comes from his childhood nickname. The first line-up were hugely successful in their native Finland and played over 700 gigs including the ‘Coca Cola Tour’. Since then Tikkanen has written four albums of music for a football club and fronted two other bands, but in 2019 he decided that the time was right for Tanna to return.  The new line up is Tikkanen on lead vocals and guitar, fellow guitarist Jukka Ihme, Jaakko Konttila on bass, Ville Hanhisuanto on drums and keyboardist Mika Pohjola. Also featured on ‘Storm in Paradise‘ are saxophonist Jimi Ahlroos  and vocalist Inge Soder.

The title track is a great start to the album which has a Bruce Springsteen feel to the vocals over a no nonsense rock tune that makes the song soar and sets the standard by which the rest of the album will be judged. The second track is ‘Silhouettes‘, which is more of a traditional AOR track with a mellower vocal that works very well.

Run Like Hell‘ is another Springsteen influenced track that would be very much at home on The River or Born in the USA. If there was a title of a track I never thought I would ever review ‘Like Kim Kardashian‘ would definitely be at the top of that list! This song seems to be about making people sit up and take notice while having very little underneath the surface rather like the subject of the title and is definitely the weakest track on the album.

Hispaniola‘ is much better as it channels 70’s rock very well and tells the story of the ill-fated ship from Treasure Island with a suitably stormy vocal. ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough‘ is a song that builds upon the drums of Hanhisuanto and the guitars of Tikkanen and Ihme. When Soder enters the song, her vocals together with Tikkannen’s replies, channel classic Meatloaf to great effect.

Mysterious‘ is a Europe style tune that builds nicely and turns into a really good workout for all the members of the band with each one being featured to good effect. ‘On the Backstreets‘ starts with a sax solo by Ahlroos that is really classy and the song itself is a Scorpions style ballad that I really enjoyed.

Sharks in the Water‘ is another song that shows the tight playing of the band in support of Tikkanen’s vocals. ‘Lonely Day‘ is definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album, a tough nugget of rock that reflects the 80’s heyday of the original line up.

Old and Grey‘ reminded me of Tom Petty or Bob Dylan and worked extremely well over the heavy tune, sounding a little like Deep Purple in places. ‘The Last Mile‘ is a return to the heavier style of ‘Storm in Paradise‘ and works as well as the title track did by matching the quality of the vocals with a fantastic tune.

The final track, ‘Nights on the Road‘ is a great finish to the album as the reflection on touring life rings true and has an emotional undercurrent that really works. It is a tribute to Markku Kiminki, Tanna’s former roadie and lighting engineer and one which really reflects the affection Tikkanen had for him.

This album shows why Tikkanen has remained popular for over three decades as his voice is just terrific. The songs themselves are good shop windows for the qualities of the group and as long as they steer clear of vapid reality stars on their next album there is no reason why this late career success won’t continue!

Review: Terra Atlantica – Age Of Steam

Pride & Joy Music (August 14th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Terra Atlantica are Tristan Harders on vocals, Nico Hauschildt on drums, bass player Julian Prüfer and lead guitarist Frederik Akkermann. To give depth to the concept album ‘Age of Steam‘ they invited Alex Hunzinger from Aeternitas, Oleg Rudych, the lead singer of Magistarium and Gabriel Tuxen  of Seven Thorns aboard and set sail for uncharted waters. Their new album ‘Age of Steam‘ continues the story of Atlantis from their debut album ‘A City Once Divine‘, as its growing influence concerns the British Empire in the 19th Century and plans are made to eliminate this would be rival for good.

Rebirth 1815‘ is a suitably bombastic start to this concept album as overblown narration competes with a soundtrack to a pirate film of the 1950s. This is followed by ‘Across the Sea of Time‘ which pounds out of the speaker with an Iron Maiden style guitar attack and lyrics that are reminiscent of one of their more fantastical tracks. It is an absolute blast to listen to as it builds to a crescendo with a dazzling guitar solo.

Mermaids Isle‘ is more of a melodic rock ballad in the style of Europe as the album really starts to get into its stride. ‘Age of Steam‘ is pure Rick Wakeman style prog rock with the keyboards being put through their paces and anchoring one of my favourite tracks on the album. ‘The Treachery of Mortheon‘ sounds like an offshoot of Wakeman’s King Arthur album and returns to the guitar and drums of heavy rock to great effect.

Forces of the Ocean Unite‘ once again delves into Prog Rock as it uses a powerful chanted vocal style to presage the battle to come. ‘Quest into the Sky‘ revisits the melodic rock style of ‘Mermaids Isle‘ as the album draws the listener further into the story and continues to capture the imagination, at the same time the sheer musical quality of Terra Atlantica blows you away.

Believe in the Dawn‘ is a gorgeous song, very reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Paradoxically, the restraint of the vocals and the music really gives the song its power and it is my favourite track on the album. ‘Gates of the Netherrealm‘ starts off with a Viking chant before developing into a soft rock track of real quality. ‘Rage of the Atlantic War‘ powers through your defences with its heavy metal guitar and a really fine lead vocal which oozes quality. The return of the Viking chant gives it another layer that tells you that we are reaching the climax of the quest.

Until the Morning Sun Appears‘ is the final track of a marvellous album which starts with a Roy Bittan style piano that sets up a melancholy finale. The wistful vocals at the start remind me of Wind of Change by The Scorpions, but soon the song gets faster and louder and it is fitting that this track gives the chance to all the musicians and vocalists to shine.

Like all really good concept albums, ‘Age of Steam‘ draws you into its world and gives you a clear narrative but never forgets the importance of great music. Terra Atlantica are clearly steeped in the history of the concept album and they have added another classic entry to the genre.

Review: Domination Black – Judgement IV

Pride & Joy (July 17th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Domination Black are a rock band from Finland who have been going since 2003. In that time they have released three critically acclaimed albums and toured throughout Europe. They started preparing for their fourth album in 2018 and now ‘Judgement IV‘ is ready to be unleashed.

First track, ‘The Judgement‘ starts with the double guitar attack of Teppo Haiskanen and Jusso Lateinen. Lead singer Matias Palm powers through the vocals with a swagger as they channel Iron Maiden. It is a great start to the album. ‘Obsession‘ ups the decibels and the quality as they go through the gears with a song that is going to be great live.

Jusso Elminen’s keyboards introduce third track ‘Centre of the Universe‘ as Palm shows a more melodic side to his vocal range and the engine room of Lauri Eerola’s bass and Ville Nissinen’s drums really come into their own on this track, providing a solid base that the rest of the band can build on.

The fourth track is called ‘VAT‘ which, luckily, is not taxing to listen to! The melodic stylings of this track show a band with the confidence born of nearly two decades of honing their sound and is one of my favourites on the album. ‘Though the World Perish‘ keeps up the high standard of the earlier tracks as it starts with a Queen style guitar solo before Palm lets rip with a pure heavy metal scream of a vocal performance as the track gets heavier and heavier.

Beyond the Shadows‘ is a pure heavy rock ballad that sees Palm move from the softer verses to the heavier chorus with ease in a manner that reminds me of Joe Elliott. ‘This Endless Fall‘ takes us back into heavier territory as they show off their tight playing to really good effect.

Master of Deception‘ starts off with another superb keyboard solo from Elminen that really gives a different feel to the track. The guitars take over along with the drums as it gets more frantic and the musical interplay just carries the listener away. It is definitely my favourite track on the album.

Empire of Lunacy‘ starts with a no-nonsense Quo style opening salvo and really keeps up the quality of the previous two tracks as the album gets better and better. The final track ‘In the Abyss‘ is pure Maiden in its approach and execution. It finishes off a really good album on a high and leaves the listener wanting more.

Hopefully the lockdown will have ignited Domination Black’s creativity and we won’t have to wait long for the next album.

Review: Operus – Score Of Nightmares

Pride & Joy Music (June 19th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Operus are a six piece group from Canada who come from a range of backgrounds that encompass classical music, heavy rock and stage musicals. With that range of backgrounds and influences they promised to be a very different group from the ones I usually review. Their second album ‘Score of Nightmares’ is an album that took nearly a year to make.

The first track ‘Overture of Madness’ sounds like the theme for a fantasy film with a swelling military feel to the tune that ends with chanting in a Lord of the Rings style.

Phantasia’ sounds much more like a traditional rock track with a driving guitar, urgent drumming and a tune that just builds and builds. The singing is suitably operatic and the whole effect reminds me of an upper class Iron Maiden! It is like a show tune and a bombastic Queen song rolled into one.

Lost’ starts with a string section, unusually for a heavy rock track, but this gives way to a drum solo followed by a verse that is reminiscent of ‘Be Quick or Be Dead’.

Dance with Fire’ begins with a Roy Bittan style piano solo which is joined by strings and finally a vocal that barely rises above the music. Then it moves into a section that sounds like the ‘Bismillah’ part from Bohemian Rhapsody. By this stage it is clear that Operus will throw everything at the music including the kitchen sink, which is no doubt being played somewhere in the background!

Echoes’ is a classical piano piece that reminds us of the conservatory background of some of their members. ‘Where Falcons Fly’ returns to the heavy rock arena as they move once again into Iron Maiden territory. It is never clear where any of the tunes will go next which is what keeps them interesting. The group have so many styles and so many musical skill sets that they can literally go in any direction.

Nightmares’ has a spoken word intro that is pure Jim Steinmann and a vocal that sounds like a horde of Vikings in Valhalla! ‘Book of Shadows’ starts off sounding like Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain, before moving into a heavy metal tour de force. It then builds into a soundscape of screaming guitars and thundering percussion.

The Mirror’ is a song that would fit nicely into a Rocky Horror style musical. As with everything else on this album the usual rules of good taste go out of the window and the effect is irresistible.

The penultimate track ‘Ruin’ turns the levels of bombast up to 11 as Operus build towards the final crescendo.

Final track ‘La Llorona’ is an epic that starts in the style of Queen before heading to the West End stage as it begins to resemble Europe style hair metal as sung by the cast of Les Miserables before giving way to a frantic guitar solo. Its clash of styles continues with the flamenco style guitar from ‘Innuendo’. The final section fittingly starts with another screaming guitar solo and an operatic vocal that just builds and builds until the record ends with a soft scream!

This is a completely off the wall album that includes all the most theatrical elements of Queen and Meatloaf but combines it with a mix of classical and rock musicians at the top of their game. It is utterly bonkers but just go with it and you’ll be carried along until you finish the album with a grin on your face.

Review: BPMD – American Made

Napalm Records (12 June 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

BPMD are a supergroup made up of Bobby Ellsworth, who takes lead vocal duties, Mike Portnoy on drums, Mark Menghi on bass and lead guitarist Phil Demmel. Many of you will recognise them from their previous groups but make no mistake they are not resting on their former glories.

The album starts with ‘Wang Dang Sweet Pootang‘ with Ellsworth sounding like Noddy Holder in his prime! From the initial screamed spoken intro to the incendiary playing of these four experienced rockers it is a real statement of intent that opens this record with a blast.

Toys in the Attic‘ is a track that starts off with Demmel’s blistering guitar riff and builds from there. The Aerosmith original is great fun but BPMD give the music a much harder edge that really adds a lot to the song.

Evil‘ is three minutes of AC/DC style as the quartet take a Howlin Wolf original, rip it to shreds and turn it in to a heavy rock classic. The drums and bass of Portnoy and Demmel in particular really give a firm bedrock to this amazing version and makes the blues feel of the old version a distant memory.

If you’re going head to head with ZZ Top you need some confidence, but thanks to tight playing this version of ‘Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers‘ really hits the spot.

Saturday Night Special‘ was originally performed by Southern legends Lynyrd Skynyrd and they can surely have no complaints about the way that BPMD give a real punch to the song. There’s a real respect here, but they are not afraid to bring it up to date with attitude and a virtuoso performance from Ellsworth once again.

Tattoo Vampire‘ is a great song originally by Blue Oyster Cult that is given an Iron Maiden style reworking that really brings it to life. ‘D.O.A.‘ once again shows the experience of the quartet as they complement each other’s strengths and show their musical pedigree in no uncertain terms and it is definitely my favourite song on the album. ‘Walk Away‘ keeps up the standard and the volume as they grab the song by the throat and refuse to show it mercy.

Penultimate track ‘Never in my Life‘ is another AC/DC style track that updates the original and improves on it. The final track ‘We’re an American Band‘ is nothing less than a statement of intent from four consummate musicians who are steeped in the traditions, sounds and songs of American rock music.

The album shows that they can rock with the best of them, which we knew already from their previous bands. What it also shows is that they know how to cover songs without slavishly copying them or losing their original elements. By choosing songs that aren’t as well-known they can put their mark on them, and they do so in no uncertain terms. This is probably the best covers album you will hear this or any other year and a supergroup that really deserves the name.

Review: Room Experience – Another Time And Place

Art of Melody Music/Burning Minds Music Group (May 22nd 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

A lot of the recent reviews I have done have been for Scandinavian or German rock bands. For this review I am moving further East to Italy to take a listen to Room Experience.

Room Experience were set up by keyboardist Gianluca Firmo. He is joined by fellow Italians keyboardist Davide ‘Dave Rox’ Barbieri, Steve De Biasi on guitars, Simon Dredo on bass and Pierpaolo ‘Zorro’ Monti on drums. The line-up is completed by the English lead singer David  Readman.  After their well-received debut album in 2015 the follow-up, ‘Another Time and Place‘ has just landed in circumstances no one could have predicted. So, is it going to brighten up your lockdown?

Hear Another Song‘ starts with De Biasi’s driving guitar and  Readman’s growling vocals. The style is reminiscent of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard especially De Biasi’s excellent solo, but Readman’s performance gives it a real edge. It is a promising start to the album.

Wild Heart’ starts with a keyboard intro that sounds like Depeche Mode’s heavier cousin and gives this song a really different sound to the average rock track. ‘Disappointed‘ is a really heavy track that harks back to late 70s era of groups like Rainbow and Judas Priest and really suits Readman’s style.

Strangers in the Night‘ is a rock ballad that starts with a piano that sounds like Roy Bittan’s work from the early Meatloaf ballads, before moving into a Mid 80s style chorus that sounds like it will be really good played live.

The Distance‘ is a song with a mellow tune that could easily be another live favourite and in places sounds almost reminiscent of Kool and the Gang! ‘Shout‘ is back to basics with a driving rock tune that sees Room Experience let loose and create a wall of sound backed by Monti’s drums that keep the momentum going throughout the song.

Another Time and Place‘, the title track is another no nonsense rocker that makes the album sound like it is going through the gears. ‘The Miles That Make A Road‘ has a Europe style vibe and is definitely one of my favourites on the album.

The Night Goes On‘ is a track that once again showcases how well the musicians complement each other, creating the backing for another really good vocal performance by Readman.

A Thousand Lives‘ keeps up the high standard with a fantastic tune and a great chorus. ‘Your Voice Inside‘ is another mellow rock ballad that will get the phones lighting up when they get back out on the road.

The final track ‘The Distance‘ is an anthemic rock song with Gianluca Firmo taking on lead vocals. The song definitely reminds me of The Scorpions, both instrumentally and in terms of Firmo’s vocals and it gives the album a really strong finish with my favourite track of the lot.

Room Experience are a superb rock band with a wealth of experience and a definite ear for a killer tune. In answer to my original question, this is an album that will give your lockdown a real lift, so play it loud and put it on repeat!