Scheepers – s/t (2011)

Scheepers – s/t (2011, Frontiers Records)

  1. Locked In The Dungeon
  2. Remission Of Sin
  3. Cyberfreak
  4. The Fall
  5. Doomsday
  6. Saints Of Rock
  7. Before The Dawn
  8. Back On Track
  9. Dynasty
  10. The Pain Of The Accused
  11. Play With Fire
  12. Compassion

Musicians:
Ralf Scheepers – Lead Vocals
Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens – Vocals on ‘Remission Of Sin’
Mat Sinner – Bass & Keyboards
Snowy Shaw – Drums
Sander Gommans – Guitars
‘Metal’ Mike Chlasciak – Guitars
Magnus Karlsson – Guitars & Keyboards
Alex Beyrodt – Guitars
Victor Smolski – Guitars
Kai Hansen – Guitars

Producers: Mat Sinner & Ralf Scheepers

Country: Germany

Total Time = 52:39

Primal Fear
Ralf Scheepers Facebook
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Frontiers Records

Current Primal Fear lead singer Ralf Scheepers has been talking about making a solo album for a few years now and, with Primal Fear taking some time off, the time has come for him to release his solo debut titled SCHEEPERS. Those that are unfamiliar with Ralf Scheepers outside of Primal Fear should definitely look into his early work fronting Tyran Pace and Gamma Ray and also remember that he was one of the finalists in the auditions to replace Rob Halford in Judas Priest in the mid-’90s. It’s easy to hear that Ralf has one of the most powerful voices in Metal and can easily hold his own against the master Rob Halford and the prodigy Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. Actually, Ralf sounds more like Halford than Ripper does and even than Halford himself does!

So what does a solo album from Ralf Scheepers sound like? Basically, this album is a continuation of Primal Fear…..the songwriting and music sound exactly like Primal Fear. Of course, Ralf is the most identifiable part of the sound, as most singers are, so the instant connection is made between the solo work and the band work.  There is also plenty of involvement from his Primal Fear and former bandmates: Mat Sinner co-writes, produces and plays bass and keyboards, Magnus Karlsson adds in guitars and keyboards and also co-writes, Kai Hansen adds his guitar and current Halford guitarist Metal Mike Chlasciak and former Priest singer Tim Owens also make appearances. So it sounds like Primal Fear, Judas Priest and Halford…..exactly the sound that Ralf has cultivated for years (I still have no idea how he didn’t get the Priest gig!).

Supposedly, this album was written over the last few years that Primal Fear was promoting their last few records but the material didn’t fit the bands current direction. Primal Fear has started to expand their sound over the last few records and SCHEEPERS harkens back to the days of the debut Primal Fear album and JAWS OF DEATH…..there’s a ferocity and bite to most of the songs and the album is a straight forward Power Metal recording that sounds like a hungrier and younger Priest. Songs like ‘Locked In The Dungeon’, ‘Cyber Freak’, ‘Back On Track’ and ‘Play With Fire’ are blistering Power Metal feasts that could easily fit onto an early Primal Fear album while songs like ‘The Fall’, ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Compassion’ have a more contemporary Primal Fear sound as heard on albums like NEW RELIGION (2007) and 16:6 (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD) (2009). There is a lot of Judas Priest worship on SCHEEPERS, no surprise because Ralf is compared to Rob (and Primal Fear to Priest), and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because Judas Priest is an iconic Metal band worth emulating. You can hear the Priest-isms in the guitar tones of the ‘Painkiller’ tinged ‘Locked In The Dungeon’ from Metal Mike Chlasciak (Halford band) and the the vocal duel between Scheepers and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens on ‘Remission of Sin’, one of my favorite tracks that reminds me of the duet between Rob Halford and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on ‘The One You Love To Hate’ from Halford’s RESURRECTION (2000) album. It’s extremely interesting to hear the logical replacement for Rob Halford to my ears (Scheepers) sing a song with the former heir apparent (Owens) that is extremely powerful…..at times I lose track of who is singing because they are so similar but after repeated listens you can hear both doing their best Halford while injecting their own unique vocal abilities.

Another couple of Priest styled offerings are the ultra-catchy ‘Saints Of Rock’, this album’s metal anthem, the epic power ballad ‘The Pain Of The Accused’ that reminds me of ’70s Priest like ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ and ‘Dynasty’, a song that sounds more like Halford solo. Listen for the high pitch vocals on ‘Dynasty’ for a great comparison of Ralf’s dynamic vocal range and I defy anyone not to sing along to ‘Saints Of Rock’ because the chorus just digs deep in and has that big arena rock sound. The title is a little bit cliché and reminds me of something Saxon would have on one of their albums but the songs is really good and I like that “hammer” effect and the thumping bass line from Mat Sinner. My second favorite song on the album is ‘The Pain Of The Accused’, a very moody and emotional track that starts out as an acoustic ballad but moves into a mid-tempo metallic wall of sound. I like the use of both the acoustics and the heaviness because the song could be done fully in either direction and it’s as catchy and melodic as ‘Saints Of Rock’ around the chorus. What’s also striking is Ralf’s range on this song from the lower register to the higher, if there’s any doubt that Scheepers is more than a Halford clone, that doubt is squashed here. I could do without the spoken word part of the song but it’s quick and doesn’t take away too much from the overall presentation. The inclusion of a cover of the Priest classic ‘Before The Dawn’ is an obvious move to kind of keep that infamous connection/influence in our faces. Usually I immeadiately disregard any cover on an album of originals a throwaway track because I’d rather have an original song but I have to admit that Ralf does a great job keeping this as close to the original as possible and the lead guitars from Rage’s Victor Smolski are dead on to that of Priest’s duo of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing.

Bottom Line:
I’ve been playing this album a lot in the last few months and it hasn’t disappointed yet. Power Metal gets a bad rep most times in the Metal community because of it’s subject matter, it’s imagery or it’s bombast but, when it’s done right, it can be some of the best Heavy Metal out there. If you look at the roots of Power Metal it’s basically just Traditional Metal or regular Heavy Metal formed by the legends Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and their contemporaries and Primal Fear is at the forefront of keeping that style alive and their success has given their singer the opportunity to release his forst solo album. SCHEEPERS is more than just a solo album, it’s a continuation…..a continuation of a career rooted in traditional Heavy Metal. Sure, Ralf Scheepers sounds a lot like Rob Halford, and the comparisons will always be there, but he has become one of the top vocal talents in Metal today and he contributes to Primal Fear’s writing. It’s no wonder that his first solo album is going to sound a lot like his main band’s catalog. Personally, I can’t find a weak song on the album and I can’t even consider the cover of ‘Before The Dawn’ a throwaway because it’s done so perfectly. All in all, I’d have to give Ralf and his guest musicians a ton of credit for making one of the best Power Metal albums of 2011.

Favorite Songs:
‘Remission Of Sin’, ‘Cyberfreak’, ‘The Fall’, ‘Saints Of Rock’, ‘The Pain Of The Accused’ and an honorable mention of the cover of Judas Priest’s ‘Before The Dawn’.

Nelson – Lightning Strikes Twice (2011)

Nelson – Lightning Strikes Twice (2011, Frontiers Records)

  1. Call Me
  2. Day By Day
  3. Ready, Willing And Able
  4. How Can I Miss You?
  5. You’re All I Need Tonight
  6. To Get Back To You
  7. When You’re Gone
  8. Take Me There
  9. Come
  10. In It For The Money
  11. Change A Thing
  12. Kickin’ My Heart Around

Musicians:
Gunnar Nelson – Vocals & Guitars
Matthew Nelson – Vocals & Bass
Brian Burwell – Drums
David Morgan – Piano & Background Vocals
Gary Corbett – Piano & Keyboards
Gary Schlecta – String Arrangements on tracks #6 & #8
Steve Lukather – Guitar solo on track #6

Producers: Gunnar Nelson & Matthew Nelson

Country: USA

Total Time = 54:07

Nelson
Nelson MySpace page
Nelson Facebook page
Nelson Twitter page
Frontiers Records

If you listened to FM radio or watched MTV in 1990 & 1991 then there was no way you were going to miss Nelson. Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, twin sons of the legendary Ricky Nelson, debuted with the AOR/Melodic Rock bombshel AFTER THE RAIN (1990), an album that produce the #1 hit ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection’ and three other hit singles while selling 4 million copies. The band was every label’s dream: two good looking twins who had the family musical legacy, crafted slick pop-flavored Rock, and made the girls swoon and the guys quietly sing along. I admit to buying AFTER THE RAIN back in the day and proudly playing alongside my Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica albums but, after too much exposure, the party ended in 1991 and the backlash began. The brothers became the butt of the joke, kind of like Winger did, and the Grunge movement spit in the face of sugar-coated melodies and sweet ballads. By the time 1995 rolled around and Nelson released their follow-up, BECAUSE THEY CAN, mainstream fans had moved on and the album went unnoticed. The Nelsons never left, they just started in a new direction over the last 15 years by releasing a darker edged concept album, IMAGINATOR (1996), going a little Country on another album and covering their father’s songs on 2000′s LIKE FATHER, LIKE SONS. All this and doing it all in house on their own label and continuing to tour. Now 20 years after their successful debut, the Nelsons release what could easily be termed as the natural follow-up to that record with LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN.

***(Before I get into the review, let me explain the album’s release year. Technically, this album was released in late 2010 on Frontiers Records everywhere BUT North America. I wasn’t going to buy an import, especially when postage rates to the U.S. from Europe & Japan are so high, so I decided to wait for the U.S. release. I ended up picking this up in February, shortly after the January U.S. release. So technically it’s a 2010 release but I’m counting it as a 2011 release because of where and when it got proper distribution.)***

Opening the album is the infectious ‘Call Me’, a hit single if I ever heard one, that is complete with melodic guitars and the signature Nelson harmonies that make every song sound huge. ‘Call Me’ has that good time party vibe that gets you singing along right away and immeadiately transports you back to 1990. As if that wasn’t enough to hook a melodic rock fan in, the brothers continue the upbeat retro sound with the Bon Jovi slick ‘Day By Day’ (a song Jon Bon Jovi would kill to have written, maybe it would have saved his last record!) and the harder edged ‘Ready, Willing And Able’ that has a ’70s Classic Rock feel to it with the big harmonies and superb vocals. Both songs follow ‘Call Me’ perfectly and could easily be singles in their own right and they continue that “big hair” sound from the late ’80s/early ’90s that made the Nelsons platinum successes. The album takes a twist with the opening Scorpions style guitar intro that reminds me of ‘Still Loving You’ and hints of a ballad with the opening lines, then the song turns into a dark rocker that moves into a heavier groove until that big harmonized chorus. It’s kind of hard to describe a Nelson song as dark, maybe moody is a better? Maybe harder is better than that? What grabs me here is the guitars…..listen closely and you can hear that Scorpions tone in the licks and it just works. It’s harder but melodic, it’s Nelson but slightly different. The band heads back into the classic AOR sound for the first proper single and video from the record — ‘You’re All I Need Tonight’. This is classic melodic Nelson at it’s finest, easily a hit single if this was 20 years ago and definitely a great song today that should get radio airplay.

Surprisingly, we haven’t had a ballad yet! That changes with ‘To Get Back To You’, a song that Jon and Ritchie would probably kill to have written for that last Bon Jovi album! This is a signature ballad with acoustic guitars, piano, keyboard orchestration and the big vocals from the brothers…..definitely one of those “raise your lighters” moments. Add in a special appearance by guitar maestro Steve Lukather (Toto) for the guitar solos and it all comes together perfectly. More catchy Melodic Rock returns with ‘When You’re Gone’, a song that sounds like Bon Jovi mixed with Damn Yankees on the vocals and melodies with a touch of Tom Scholz guitar (Boston). This is one of my favorite songs on the album, probably because it’s one of the more truer Rock songs but with that catchiness that gets me singing along immeadiately. It’s a feel good song…..actually, the whole album is feel good! Isn’t that what good music is about? Ballad #2 arrives with ‘Take Me There’, another one Jon & Ritchie wish they stole, I mean wrote! ‘Take Me There’ doesn’t feel like a ballad because the guitar really kicks in for extra power (listen for the solo!) and the song builds into the glorious chorus. Another straight ahead rocker comes with ‘Come’, a song that channels Damn Yankees at their commercial best with a vocal that sounds very Tommy Shaw like. ‘Come’ is heavy mid-tempo with some heavier guitar work and more up front drums but I’m a little distracted by the vocal and, among an album of strong songs, I’d have to call this the weakest so far but it’s still pretty good. ‘In It For The Money’ is another catchy song that has an underlying Classic Rock feel to it and it has the one thing you expect from a poppy, melodic, party album…..handclaps! The chorus is extremely catchy too. ‘Change A Thing’ is a moody mid-tempo ballad that becomes the weakest song instead of ‘Come’ because it just sounds out of place on such a happy rock record. It’s not a bad song, just out of place and a level below the rest of the songs on the album. Last tune is ‘Kickin’ My Heart Around’ is another mid-tempo track that has a crunch to it when the guitars kick in for the chorus but goes mellow for the rest. For me, not one of my album favorites but a decent song in it’s own right.

Bottom Line:
I never thought I would honestly say this but Matthew and Gunnar Nelson have made an album that equals, if not surpasses, their multi-million selling debut and I think it’s one of the best Melodic Rock albums of 2011. Twenty years after AFTER THE RAIN, the Nelsons have given us a worthy successor with LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN and, while it’s not going to sell millions, it’s still going to be a success in returning mainstream popular Rock to an audience willing to rejoin the party. Maybe the time away from this kind of music fueled the fire? Maybe the next album the brothers release will be a continuation of this sound that made them famous? Either way, LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN is a great comeback for two musicians that really never went away. I was really surprised by this album right from the opening of ‘Call Me’ and I have listened to this probably more than any other new album this year. I can honestly say I like this record better than AFTER THE RAIN and I’m going to put the latter day Nelson albums on the Want List because I’m sure there’s something I haven’t heard and am missing out on. This is a must for Nelson fans and fans of AOR/Melodic Rock but also for those of us who were kids back in the day that secretly listened to Nelson but made fun of them around our peers. The joke is on us because this is a great record well worth checking out!

Favorite Songs:
‘Call Me’, ‘Day By Day’, ‘Ready, Willing And Able’, ‘You’re All I Need Tonight’, ‘To Get Back To You’, ‘When You’re Gone’

CD Scavenger Hunt (May update)

May was probably the slowest month of my collecting career! I bought only 4 CDs! That’s usually just a quick trip to the record store, not a whole month of purchases but I do have a good excuse…..money. Money is key and, in this economy, I’ve tightened the wallet a lot. So here’s May’s buys…..

Walmart

Journey – Eclipse (2011) – $10: There is nothing I hate more than having to walk into a Wal-Mart but it’s a necessity a couple of times a year now as many bands decide to use the retail giant as an exclusive deale for their new album. After the platinum success of REVELATION through exclusive Wal-Mart sales, Journey decided to partner with the company again for their brand new studio album — ECLIPSE. I reluctantly went to my local store with the plan to enter, get the CD and checkout fast to spend as little time in retail hell as possible and all went well. Can’t beat $10 for a new CD but I was initially disappointed because for $12 or $13 a few years ago I got the REVELATION album package that included the re-done greatest hits and the live DVD. Where’s the extras this time around? It was nice to see the new Journey well-stocked and displayed next to the new Lady Gaga CD…..maybe some Gaga fans will grab a Journey disc too!

Newbury Comics

Anvil – Juggernaut Of Justice (2011) – $10: Riding the wave of success from the publicity, fame and opportunity that arose from their movie documentary, Anvil finally release the follow-up to 2007′s THIS IS THIRTEEN with the long awaited JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE. Anvil was an imprtant and formative band in my Metal youth but their music became lost to me as I became an MTV and FM radio disciple and went more mainstream. THIS IS THIRTEEN and the Anvil movie were excellent and re-established Anvil as a potent metal force. Now the guys may not be on Metallica’s level now but they’ve moved up from obscurity and have people talking. Looks like the guys might have made a couple of bucks on the deal too because, after 5 years of filming, recording and touring, the band has released a solid album. I bought most of the Anvil catalogue since 2007 and I had to have the new record the day it came out. Regular price was $14, got it on sale for $10, saved $4.

The Rods – Vengeance (2011) – $10: This was a must have for two reasons: 1) David ‘Rock’ Feinstein delivered a solid solo album with BITTEN BY THE BEAST (2010) and 2) this album documents one of Ronnie James Dio’s last performances on the track ‘The Code’. For me, the Dio involvement is enough to pick this up but I remember The rods from back in the ’80s and I’ve been trying to track down their albums on CD over the last few months, specifically the High Vaultage reissues from the late ’90s. I happened to get to the local shop on time for once and I saw this album in the new release rack, I grabbed it right away! My rules for CD hunting are simple: always pick up a CD that you might want and make your final decisions later, that way you won’t miss out on something because someone else grabbed it. Also, be at the store in time for the doors to open, that way you are the first one in to grab those new releases that they only get one copy of. These rules are essential and they have been learned the hard way over the years. As soon as I grabbed this CD, another guy walked in and asked for the album at the counter. Unfortunately, his trip to the new release rack came up short and he noticed I had the CD in hand. He must have been a big Rods fan because he offered me a $5 for it but I declined, I’d rather have the disc immeadiately. Regular price was $14, sale was $10, saved $4.

Blackguard – Firefight (2011) – $10: I know nothing about Blackguard but I wanted this album for some reason. I actually wanted it so bad that I had the record store special order it because they were out of stock every Tuesday since the album came out. They brought in a few copies each week but they would sell out before I would make my weekly hunt! That tells me that there’s a buzz out there on Blackguard. That and the fact that they are touring with Amon Amarth right now. No real reasoning behind buying this, more of a luxury purchase, or maybe a risk seeing that I know nothing about the band. Anytime I take a chance on a new band, or a band I’ve never heard any music from, I like to spend as little as possible so I figured that the sale price wouldn’t last more than a month and I was snagging this about four weeks after its release. Regular price was $14, sale price was $10, saved $4.

Total = $40

Total (year) = $320

Average Price (per item) = $10

Total Savings (month) = $12

Total Savings (year) = $239

Total CDs (year) = 30

Total DVDs (year) = 1

Total Box Sets (year) = 0

Total LPs (year) = 1