KISS – 40 (2014) review

KISS 40

KISS – 40 (2014, Universal/Island Def Jam)

CD 1

  1. Nothin’ To Lose
  2. Let Me Go Rock ‘N Roll
  3. C’mon And Love Me
  4. Rock And Roll All Nite (Live) (from Alive!)
  5. God Of Thunder (Demo) (from The KISS Box Set)
  6. Beth
  7. Hard Luck Woman
  8. Reputation (previously unreleased demo)
  9. Christine Sixteen
  10. Shout It Out Loud (Live) (from Alive II)
  11. Strutter ’78
  12. You Matter To Me
  13. Radioactive
  14. New York Groove
  15. Hold Me, Touch Me
  16. I Was Made For Loving’ You (single edit)
  17. Shandi
  18. A World Without Heroes
  19. I Love It Loud
  20. Down On Your Knees
  21. Lick It Up
  22. Heaven’s On Fire

CD 2

  1. Tears Are Falling
  2. Reason To Live
  3. Let’s Put The X In Sex
  4. Forever
  5. God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II
  6. Unholy (Live) (from Alive III)
  7. Do You Love Me (Live) (from MTV Unplugged)
  8. Room Service (Live) (from You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best)
  9. Jungle (radio edit)
  10. Psycho Circus (single edit)
  11. Nothing Can Keep Me From You (from Detroit Rock City soundtrack & The Box Set)
  12. Detroit Rock City (Live) (from Alive IV – Symphony)
  13. Deuce (Live 2004) (previously unreleased)
  14. Firehouse (Live) (from Alive – The Millenium Concert)
  15. Modern Day Delilah
  16. Cold Gin (Live 2009) (previously unreleased)
  17. Crazy Crazy Nights (Live 2010) (previously unreleased)
  18. Hell Or Hallelujah

Another year, another KISS compilation. Let’s not blame the band on this one, Universal Music owns the band’s catalog and can keep pumping them out. So what’s different here this time around? Well, KISS is celebrating their 40th anniversary and this two disc set is the latest and greatest package of the “Hottest Band In The World”. There’s a few things that might make this compilation worth it for both the diehards and the casual KISS fan.

Starting with the booklet…..it’s a smooth high glossy booklet that includes pictures of all eras of the KISS lineup through the last tour, album artwork, iconic photos and it even includes a couple of pictures of Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John in the band. For me, a booklet is a booklet when it comes to a KISS compilation. After being a fan for 37 years, I know the songs, I know the lyrics, I know the KISStory so I don’t really pay much attention except for the initial reading. The high quality glossy pages are great and I wish more booklets were like this and I also like the fact that all lineups and albums were pictured. Basically, it’s for the casual fan to get a quick 18 page visual history of the last 40 years.

The tracklisting is pretty good with a few surprises mixed in. 40 songs for 40 years with each album represented by at least one song, including all the live albums, the Double Platinum greatest hits, the solo albums, the Killers album and even The Box Set. While some fans will debate the tracklisting, it’s a really good representation of the band’s overall catalog. You’ve got the big hits with ‘Beth’, ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’, ‘Shout It Out Loud’ and ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ from the classic makeup era but you also get a single track from each solo album, ‘Shandi’ from Unmasked, ‘A World Without Heroes’ from The Elder and ‘I Love It Loud’ from Creatures Of The Night. The biggest surprise for me was the inclusion of ‘Down On Your Knees’ from Killers because I didn’t think that the album would be represented seeing that it was only released everywhere but North America. I might have replaced the proper single from the Paul Stanley solo album, ‘Hold Me, Touch Me’, with ‘Move On’, the song they played on the 1979 tour but that’s just personal preference. ‘Lick It Up’ and ‘Heaven’s On Fire’ start the non-makeup era and end the first CD. There are two demos on this first disc: ‘God Of Thunder’ and ‘Reputation’. The ‘God Of Thunder’ demo was previously released on the KISS Box Set and has Paul Stanley singing vocals while ‘Reputation’ is a Gene Simmons demo that is previously unreleased. For the casual fan, maybe the album version of ‘God Of Thunder’ would be better, the diehards that bought the box set already have it. ‘Reputation’ is a cool oddity but I believe other versions of this demo have circulated through trading circles, a nice inclusion for those people who don’t collect KISS demos.

The second CD starts off with the big hits from the mid to late ’80s (‘Tears Are Falling’, ‘Reason To Live’, ‘Forever’) and moves into the ’90s with ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II’ and ‘Unholy’. Let me stop right there and say that Revenge was a great album and that it should be represented by the studio version of ‘Unholy’ rather than this live version from Alive III. I also can’t stand ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll…’ but it was a single and…. The Reunion era is represented with ‘Psycho Circus’ from the reunion album of the same name and we get the ‘Jungle’ single from the shelved Carnival Of Souls album that was released in the middle of the Reunion but featured the last non-makeup lineup…..more KISStory there than I want to type! The rest of the CD consists of live tracks, both of the latest singles from the newer albums (‘Modern Day Delilah’ and ‘Hell Or Hallelujah’) from Sonic Boom and Monster. Of the live tracks, ‘Deuce’, ‘Cold Gin’ and ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’ are all previously unreleased and feature the bands current lineup of Gene, Paul, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer from the tours in 2004, 2009 and 2010 respectively. What surprised me here on Disc 2 is the major classics that were represented as live versions and the inclusion of the of both songs from Sonic Boom and Monster, especially ‘Modern Day Delilah’ because Sonic Boom was a Wal-Mart only release and Universal doesn’t own the rights to it so they had to pay for it’s use. I’m allowing myself one more rant…..there is no reason to have ‘Nothing Can Keep Me From You’ on this compilation. I don’t consider it a KISS song, even though technically it is, because only Paul Stanley performs on it and it was a collaboration with songwriter Dianne Warren to try and get a hit with a ballad like Aerosmith did with ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ the previous year. It was a throwaway as the credits rolled for the Detroit Rock City movie and the song never charted. Personally, it’s the worst song in the KISS catalog. Rant over…..

Bottom Line:
I’m a diehard KISS fan with 37 years of service so I buy new releases by the band when they come out but I’m very picky when it comes to these compilations/greatest hits packages. I like this one though and I definitely dropped my $15 at the record store for my copy! The book is great because it shows some care and effort. I haven’t analyzed it for errors but it’s a nice montage of KISStory. 40 songs for 40 years on two CDs, that’s value for $15 and you get a pretty good overview of the band’s career. There’s a few misses in my opinion as far as the tracklist but the powers that be kept it to the hits/singles with a few curveballs thrown in. This was a must buy for me because of the four unreleased songs, especially the live tracks. Ask most KISS diehards and they probably bought this too. Definitely one of the better releases in a long line of KISS hits packages. Here’s to another 40 years!

KISS (complete member history):
Gene Simmons – Bass & Vocals
Paul Stanley – Rhythm Guitar & Vocals
Peter Criss – Drums & Vocals
Ace Frehley – Lead Guitar & Vocals
Eric Carr – Drums
Vinnie Vincent – Lead Guitar
Mark St. John – Lead Guitar
Bruce Kulick – Lead Guitar
Eric Singer – Drums
Tommy Thayer – Lead Guitar

Country: USA

KISSonline

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Linda & The Punch – Obsession (2014) review

Linda & The Punch - Obsession (2014)

Linda & The Punch – Obsession (2014, Escape Music)

  1. What A Shame
  2. Cold Cold World
  3. Welcome To London
  4. Wake Up Dreaming Of You
  5. Nothing Of Anything
  6. Bite
  7. Looking Out For Number One
  8. Kill The Lights
  9. Lost For Words
  10. Love Kills Me
  11. Because The Night

linda-punch-1

Band Lineup:
Linda – vocals
Torsten Asemann – bass & vocals
Tim Edler – keys & vocals
Ralf Heyne – guitars & vocals
Oliver Ross – drums & percussion

Producer: Michael Voss

Country: United Kingdom

Total Time = 39:50

Linda & The Punch on Facebook
Escape Music

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When Obsession, the debut album from Linda & The Punch, crossed my desk I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. I read the press release and it described Linda’s singing as a cross between current Pop superstar Pink and Rock icon Pat Benetar…..reading that made me unsure if this hardened Metal heart would enjoy that type of combination. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Just a quick rundown of some of the major players here: Linda is a fresh faced 21 year old that has a serious voice, the kind of Rock singing that you wished was on today’s radio, she is definitely the focal point. The rest of the band, The Punch, provide a solid musical foundation that blends early ’80s Rock, Pop, Melodic Rock and a slight Punk edge. I definitely hear that early ’80s Rock sound from having grown up listening to the radio back then so I can understand the Pat Benetar comparison. The producer here is Michael Voss, who you can hear on Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock album, and he also adds in his writing skills along with ex-Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell, Tommy Denander, and the talents of songwriters Jeff Franzel and Steve McEwan. That’s a pretty solid team.

As I mentioned, this is straight up melodic Hard Rock with a Power Pop and Punk feel to it. I can hear contemporaries like the Hard Rock band Halestorm, Pink, Kelly Clarkson and some of the other Pop princesses out there but Linda has a Rock ‘n’ Roll grit and power to her voice that channels Pat Benatar  or even Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders. The band plays a great contemporary style of guitar driven Rock and the melodies and grooves just stay stuck in your head! The opening track ‘What A Shame’ has that Pop-Punk sound to it with an infectious chorus that reminds me of a musically superior alternative to The Donnas crossed with Pink. My favorite tracks are the melodic ‘Welcome To London’ and ‘Looking Out For Number One’, two songs that had that instant sing-a-long quality to them and I really haven’t been able to stop repeating those songs on my iPod. I just like that melodic ’80s Rock sound both tracks have but they are complete rockers. I also really like the ballad ‘Wake Up Dreaming Of You’, a song that could easily be a hit on any Billboard chart, a real showcase for Linda’s vocals. I’m not really sure I like the addition of a cover song at the end, especially Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’, a song that everyone seems to do. Everytime I hear the original song, the Natalie Merchant version, this version, any version…..all I think about is Keel doing a cover, and a video, for this track. At least the song was left to the end so it can be skipped but I will say that the band does a slower powerful version that’s not too bad.

Bottom Line:
Linda & The Punch are definitely a new band that will be on the rise. Out of the ten original songs on the album, I really like eight of them and would pull them up in my daily music playlist for months to come. Strong band musically, solid beautiful vocals and catchy well written songs…..what’s not to like? This album is definitely one of the biggest surprises of 2014 for me!

Favorite Songs:
‘Welcome To London’, ‘Looking Out For Number One’, ‘What A Shame’, ‘Wake Up Dreaming Of You’, ‘Nothing Of Anything’

 

Lover Under Cover - Into The Night (2014)

Lover Under Cover – Into The Night (2014) review

Lover Under Cover - Into The Night (2014)

Lover Under Cover – Into The Night (2014, Escape Music)

  1. A Fight
  2. Into The Shadows
  3. Miracle
  4. Toy Soldier
  5. Crushing Stones
  6. Life Is Easy
  7. Playboy No 7
  8. The Game Is On
  9. Fantasy Man
  10. Closer To The Truth
  11. No Place Like Home

Band Lineup:
Mikael Carlsson – (Rain) Bass, Guitars, Keyboards and Backing Vocals
Mikael Erlandsson (Last Autumn’s Dream/Salute) – Vocals, Keyboards
Martin Kronlund (Gypsy Rose, Phenomena, Salute) – Guitars
Perra Johnsson (Coldspell) – Drums

Producer: Martin Kronlund

Country: Sweden

Total Time = 45:20

One of the things I love most about running this website for the last 8 years is that I get to discover new bands and new music on a daily basis. Sometimes an album crosses my desk and it completely takes hold of me and captures my complete attention…..Into The Night from Sweden’s Lover Under Cover is one of those albums. Lover Under Cover is a name I’ve heard before but never really investigated. The band is a Swedish melodic rock “supergroup” of sorts with all the members being in well known bands like Coldspell, Last Autumn’s Dream, Salute and more but the music put to record is not a bunch of guns for hire playing their respective parts but an actual band rocking it hard and playing flawlessly.

Opening track ‘A Fight’ kicks the album off in high gear with a quick keyboard intro that rolls straight into some blazing guitar work. Mikael Erlandsson’s voice immeadiately commands your attention and he kind of reminds me a bit of Tony Harnell (TNT/Westworld), very melodic sounding and forceful when needed. ‘A Fight’ is infectious with it’s big harmonies on the chorus and I found myself singing along right away. ‘Into The Shadows’ continues the initial assault with another infectious chorus and plenty of harmonies, the song takes me right back to the ’80s when I was growing up when Rock music was an art of perfectly blended musicianship. And the melodic assault doesn’t stop because ‘Miracle’ is high energy powerhouse that reminds me of a combination of Westworld, Treat and Bon Jovi and it’s definitely my favorite song on the record. Martin Kronlund has some great solos on this track but the main riff, combined with the keyboards complimenting, really drives the song.

Time to slow it down a little with the album’s first ballad, ‘Toy Soldiers’. Now I’m listening to the album in the car when I first heard this song and I knew most of the words…..what? Turns out this is a cover of ‘Toy Soldiers’ by Martika from 1988 and, as a high school teenager glued to MTV back then, I remember that song well. Actually, my wife loves the Martika song. So I’m thrown off a bit by the Martika cover but it’s done really well so I can’t really fault the band for recording it. I’m not a fan of cover songs on studio albums but this is a really good one. ‘Crushing Stones’ goes back to the solid melodic rock of the first three songs and I especially like the keyboard line that holds it all together but it all comes down to the guitar for me and I’m really enjoying another great performance that brings a bit of an edge to the track. ‘Life Is Easy’ is a Bon Jovi sounding song but absolutely better than anything Bon Jovi has released in a decade (Jon take notice!). It’s just another great tune, an album favorite for me, another catchy song that immeadiately grabs you but it’s a bit more mellow, more  mid-tempo, and I like the way the band has mixed it up. ‘Playboy No. 7′ is another uptempo Hard Rock song and it’s good but it sounds a little repetitive of what’s played before it.

A second song with a bit of a crunchy edge is ‘The Game Is On’ and ‘Fantasy Man’ follows ‘Life Is Easy’ a little as far as that easy melodic tempo goes. Both are really great songs but ‘Fantasy Man’ joins ‘Miracle’ and ‘Life Is Easy’ as my stand out tracks. Add ‘Closer To The Truth’ to that list as well because that’s another effortless melodic rocker that has me singing along and doing my air-drums. This is another example of an great old school ’80s sounding song done perfectly. Ending the record is a cool mid-tempo/ballad style track, ‘No Place Like Home’, that Jon Bon Jovi wishes he could write (steal!) and, even though it ends Into The Night on a softer note, it’s a great song.

Bottom Line:
If your a fan of good melodic Hard Rock with a lot of ’80s influences, great vocals, great guitars and sing-a-long lyrics, then Into The Night is definitely for you. The entire sound of the album is excellent, great production by Martin Kronlund, and it sounds like what I remember from my younger days…..an album from a bygone era maybe? This is my first proper album review for 2014 but I’ve listened to a lot of albums so far this year and Lover Under Cover has captured my listening time more with this new album than other new albums I’ve acquired so far. It’s really that good and, like I mentioned earlier, I love it when an album crosses my desk and surprises me by hooking me in immeadiately. I highly recommend people picking this album up.

Favorite Songs:
‘Miracle’, ‘Life Is Easy’, ‘Fantasy Man’, ‘Closer To The Truth’

Lover Under Cover
Escape Music

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Adrenaline Mob – Coverta (2013) review

Adrenaline Mob - Coverta (2013)

Adrenaline Mob – Coverta (2013, EMI/Elm City Music)

  1. High Wire (Badlands cover)
  2. Stand Up And Shout (Dio cover)
  3. Break On Through (The Doors cover)
  4. Romeo Delight (Van Halen cover)
  5. Barracuda (Heart cover)
  6. Kill The King (Rainbow cover)
  7. The Lemon Song (Led Zeppelin cover)
  8. The Mob Rules (Black Sabbath cover

Adrenaline Mob 2013

Band Lineup:
Russell Allen – Vocals
John Moyer – Bass
Mike Orlando – Guitars & Bass on ‘The Mob Rules’
Mike Portnoy – Drums

Produced by: Russell Allen, Mike Orlando & Mike Portnoy

Country: USA

Total Time = 34:30

Adrenaline Mob
Adrenaline Mob Facebook

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Here’s another easy album review to do because it’s another covers album! Just like Anthrax, Adrenaline Mob has released an E.P. of cover songs as well titled Coverta. Just like Anthrax, Adrenaline Mob released and awesome album with 2012’s Omertà and then they quickly released this covers collection. Adrenaline Mob is a solid band, a supergroup if you will, that includes Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Right there, you know you’re going to get quality music because the reputations of these two men in the Metal world is legendary. Omertà was one of the best albums of 2012 so it stands to reason that Coverta should really good despite it not being original material. Now if you’ve read the website for any length of time, you know my feelings about cover songs. For those who don’t know, I’m not a fan of covers on a proper album (even if they are good) because I would like more original material. However, I do like covers albums and/or tribute albums because the cover songs are made for the context of that specific kind of record…..let’s see what Adrenaline Mob has in store for us.

What I like about Omertà is that the song selection is pretty good, with a couple of curveballs thrown in, and the performances are pretty straight up renditions of the proper songs but heavier in some cases. Let’s get a couple of the “safer” songs put of the way, the Classic Rock radio staples, because I’m just tired of hearing them. At any point of the day, in some city in the U.S., there’s a radio station playing The Doors’ ‘Break On Through’, Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ and Zeppelin’s ‘The Lemon Song’ (this one is a deeper cut but it’s played all the time here in Rhode Island)…..the inclusion of these songs bore me already. The band does a solid job covering these three classics with the standout track being ‘Barracuda’, a Metalized version if I ever heard one! If local radio would substitute the Adrenaline Mob version instead of the classic Heart original then I wouldn’t mind the song as much. Good song Wilson sisters, just overplayed.

Obviously the guys in Adrenaline Mob love them some Ronnie James Dio because they covered three songs by the master, one from each major band: Dio, Rainbow & Black Sabbath. Can you really go wrong with any era of Ronnie’s career? Picking ‘Stand Up And Shout’ was a good crowd pumping choice with it’s uptempo Metal style, same with ‘Kill The King’, one of the fastest Dio era Rainbow songs. My favorite is Sabbath’s ‘The Mob Rules’ because I’m a huge post-Ozzy Sabbath freak, the Ronnie led lineup being my favorite, and I really love that album. All the performances of the Dio tracks are dead on and heavy but listen to Allen’s voice on these songs, there are certain lines he sings that you swear it’s actually Ronnie singing…..Russell Allen has that tone, that sound, that mystique during those songs and he sounds very similar at times. Including Badlands’ ‘High Wire’ from their 1989 debut was an awesome choice! Seriously, who remembers Badlands? I do……Jake E. Lee on guitar, Eric Singer on drums, Greg Chiasson on bass and the late Ray Gillen on vocals…..another “supergroup” of sorts. That debut self-titled album is one of my favorites of the late ’80s and Adrenaline Mob could have picked any song off it to cover on Coverta. I like how they stayed away from the proper single ‘Dreams In The Dark’ and just went with ‘High Wire’ (the album opener). Same thing with ‘Romeo Delight’, good on the band for picking an early Roth era track from Van Halen’s 1980 seminal classic Women And Children First. ‘Romeo Delight’ is a tune I NEVER hear on my local rock stations and it’s such a great song, Adrenaline Mob do another solid job remaking a classic.

Bottom Line:
Just like Anthrax’s Anthems, Adrenaline Mob’s Coverta is a solid E.P. of cover songs. And like Anthems, the problem will be that I won’t reach for it that often, I’d prefer to listen to the studio album Omertà instead. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t check Coverta out, there’s some great songs on here and the performances are top notch. I recommend buying Omertà
for the true Adrenaline Mob experience and use Coverta as a nice compliment.

Anthrax – Anthems (2013) review

Anthrax - Anthems E.P. (2013)

Anthrax – Anthems (2013, Megaforce Records)

  1. Anthem (Rush cover)
  2. T.N.T. (AC/DC cover)
  3. Smokin’ (Boston cover)
  4. Keep On Runnin’ (Journey cover)
  5. Big Eyes (Cheap Trick cover)
  6. Jailbreak (Thin Lizzy cover)
  7. Crawl
  8. Crawl (remix)

Band Lineup:
Scott Ian – Guitars
Charlie Benante – Drums & Guitars
Joey Belladonna – Vocals
Frank Bello – Bass
Rob Caggiano – Lead Guitar

Produced by: Anthrax & Jay Ruston

Country: USA

Total Time = 33:45

Anthrax
Anthrax Facebook
Megaforce Records

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This is going to be an easy review to do because Anthems is your typical covers record, the only caveat is that it’s an Anthrax covers album and Anthrax always does great covers. Now if you’ve read the website for any length of time, you know my feelings about cover songs. For those who don’t know, I’m not a fan of covers on a proper album (even if they are good) because I would like more original material. However, I do like covers albums and/or tribute albums because the cover songs are made for the context of that specific kind of album. Confusing? I know, I’m contradicting myself a little bit but it’s just how I feel. Now Anthrax has a long history in adding covers into their proper records (‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘Antisocial’, ‘Got The Time’) and they always add a cover here and there for E.P.s, greatest hits packages and singles. The thing about Anthrax covers is that they are always really good, especially their KISS covers! So it really is no surprise to get an Anthrax covers album in 2013.

Anthems is a pretty solid album, more an E.P. actually, with solid remakes of Rush, AC/DC, Boston, Journey, Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy songs along with ‘Crawl’ from 2011’s awesome Worship Music reunion album and a remixed version of ‘Crawl’. All the cover songs are really solid performances that stay true to the original versions but, for me, played a little safe as far as the song selections. I have no problem with the performances at all but half of the covers are really safe choices: ‘T.N.T.’, ‘Smokin’ and ‘Jailbreak’ are virtual Classic Rock radio staples that you can hear almost on the hour, so why do I want to hear them again? Granted, solid performances but maybe we could go a little deeper into those bands’ catalogues? I get the point that if you don’t put some recognizable songs on the CD then people outside the diehards might not pick the album up so I can’t fault them too much. My favorite covers here are Rush’s ‘Anthem’, Journey’s ‘Keep On Runnin’ and Cheap Trick’s ‘Big Eyes’. When do you hear these songs on the radio? Never…..good on Anthrax from pulling out some deeper cuts.

As far as the inclusion of ‘Crawl’ twice…..well, I get that you want to put some additional promotion behind Worship Music seeing that it came out in Fall 2011, no problem there. I also don’t care about an alternate remix of the song, something different. ‘Crawl’ is a solid song from an awesome album so add it in and give fans that didn’t buy Worship Music a taste.

Bottom Line:
Anthems is a good album for what it is…..a covers album and, like I said, Anthrax does great covers so I knew this was going to be a solid release. The only problem for me is that I won’t reach for it that often, I’d prefer to listen to a studio album instead. That shouldn’t deter Anthrax and Heavy Metal fans from buying Anthems, it’s a nice diversion, it’s something different and done well. If you’re going to buy this album, definitely pick up the last studio album, Worship Music, too so you can get a true idea of where Anthrax is musically after almost 30 years.

Nightwish – Imaginaerum (2012) review

Nightwish – Imaginaerum (2012, Roadrunner Records)

  1. Taikatalvi
  2. Storytime
  3. Ghost River
  4. Slow, Love, Slow
  5. I Want My Tears Back
  6. Scaretale
  7. Arabesque (instrumental)
  8. Turn Loose The Mermaids
  9. Rest Calm
  10. The Crow, The Owl And The Dove
  11. Last Ride Of The Day
  12. Song Of Myself
        1 – From A Dusty Bookshelf
        2 – All That Great Heart Lying Still
        3 – Piano Black
        4 – Love
  13. Imaginaerum (instrumental)

Band Lineup (The Imagineers):
Anette Olzon – vocals
Tuomas Holopainen – keyboards, piano
Emppu Vuorinen – guitars
Marco Hietala – bass, vocals (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 )
Jukka Nevalainen – drums, percussion

Guest Musicians (Fellow Imagineers):
Troy Donockley – uilleann pipes (on track 5 & 13), tin whistle (on track 1, 8 & 10), vocals (on track 10 & 12), bodhran, bouzouki
Dermot Crehan – hardanger fiddle
Dirk Campbell – sorna
Guy Barker – solo trumpet
Paul Clarvis and Stephen Henderson – ethnic percussion
Pekka Kuusisto – violin
“The loved ones & the fellowship” are credited for reciting the stanzas in track 12.

Orchestra & Choir:
The Metro Voices (led by choir mistress Jenny O’Grady)
The London Philharmonic Orchestra, called “The Looking Glass Orchestra” (led by Thomas Bowes and conducted by James Shearman)
Pip Williams – director of orchestra & choir arrangements

Producer: Tuomas Holopainen

Country: Finland

Total Time = 1:14:50

Nightwish
Nightwish Facebook page
Roadrunner Records

(NOTE — This album was released worldwide in late 2011 but January 2012 for the U.S.)

Nightwish is a band that I never really got into until recently…..and by recently I mean since 2007’s DARK PASSION PLAY, the debut of Anette Olzon (formerly of Alyson Avenue) as frontwoman. Up until 2007, I only knew of Nightwish from the press the band received and the reviews I read online and, even though I enjoy female-fronted Metal of all kinds, I was completely unsure of former vocalist Tarja Turunen’s operatic style. The only Nightwish album I own from the Tarja era is WISHMASTER (2000) and I think I only bought it because I found it cheap in a used bin somewhere. DARK PASSION PLAY and Anette opened my ears to the excellent Symphonic Metal that Nightwish creates so I was pretty excited to hear that the band was releasing a new album, IMAGINAERUM, internationally in late 2011 and the U.S. in early January. Unfortunately, that excitement was slightly cancelled when I read that the new record would be a concept album with a movie based around the album.

Now I’m all for concept albums, if they are done right. Too many albums released today are deemed “concept albums” just because they have a running theme throughout. Nightwish, mainly composer/keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, have taken it to another extreme by developing a film of the same name and each member having minor roles as themselves in the film itself. That makes IMAGINAERUM the soundtrack to the film that is being made…..sounds a lot like the idea behind KISS’ concept album (MUSIC FROM) THE ELDER (1981). At least Nightwish are making the movie, KISS never got that far! So what is the concept? Holopainen’s story revolves around a dying composer who is reminiscing about memories from his youth while his adult memories slowly fade. Interesting but it sounds very Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The first song on the album is ‘Taikatalvi’, a song sung primarily in the band’s native Finnish by Marco Hietala and translated as “magic winter” in English. The song is very basic with minimal music accompaniment from Holopainen’s piano giving the song a children’s lullabye feel to it and it’s basically an intro to the actual album. I consider the track a throwaway and I skip it everytime I listen to the CD. The real opening song is ‘Storytime’ and it is everything that Nightwish is: bombastic and powerful full of orchestration and plenty of crunching guitars to go along with Anette’s vocals. This is the song that sets the album up for me and dashes any doubts as to the quality of the rest of the songs. Once I heard the huge symphonic sound of ‘Storytime’, I felt a little better about the whole concept, the film project and the rest of the record. Judge for yourself, here’s the video…..

‘Ghost River’ continues the bombastic Metal style but with a little more edge to it when Marco’s harsh vocals come in for the chorus. What I like here is that it’s not as “clean” a track as ‘Storytime’, there’s some added aggression in the vocals and guitar and it gives the band another dimension. There’s still plenty of orchestration and a children’s choir but there’s something haunting about this song and it gives off a sinister vibe at times. Just when I think that I know what the album is going to sound like, Nightwish throws in a curveball with the ballad ‘Slow, Love, Slow’ that sounds like it’s straight out of a Vegas lounge piano bar, it’s jazz vaudeville style reminds me of something Bette Midler might sing. The focus here is Anette’s voice and she is without a doubt one of the best singers in the genre…..the song segues right into ‘I Want My Tears Back’, a tried and true Power Metal feast that has a Celtic feel to it with bagpipes throughout. The guitar riff that opens ‘I Want My Tears Back’ is solid and the bagpipes kick in immeadiately on the main riff. There’s a beauty to Anette’s voice that has me in a trance at this point…..I could listen to her sing the telephone book to me (do they actually make those?). The only way I could describe the sound is like pure Power Metal meets the Renaissance sound of Blackmore’s Night…..Folk Metal maybe? It’s a great song and has plenty of power and the album has shown a lot of diversity so far and that’s obvious by the various styles on the uptempo metal nightmare that is ‘Scaretale’. The song is a nightmare scenario in the overall concept and it goes from all out Power Metal to an animated movie feel in the middle…..maybe something from my kids’ favorite A Nightmare Before Christmas? It’s a very diverse song and both Anette and Marco deliver very different vocal performances, Anette does a shrieky, scary vocal while Marco does a ring announcer/carnival barker vocal in the “animated movie” sequence. It’s an interesting track and keeps the listener guessing as to what they will hear next.

‘Scaretale’ moves directly into the instrumental ‘Arabesque’ which also has a movie soundtrack sound to it, I actually think of the old Conan movies when I hear it. Instrumentals don’t really grab me as they did back when I was younger so ‘Arabesque’ is more of a throwaway to me but it does tie the songs together and acts like a bridge to the ballad ‘Turn Loose The Mermaids’. If you want to hear what Blackmore’s Night sounds like, then this is the song! Anette does her best Candice Night impression and the band sounds just like Blackmore’s Night again with that Renaissance music sound. It’s actually a pretty good song and really focuses on Anette’s vocals, and let’s face it, she is the selling point of the band as Tarja was before.The band continues in the dramatic mid-tempo direction with ‘Rest Calm’ that has a solid main riff and good trade-off vocals from Marco & Anette while the song does from heavy to soft once the chorus kicks in. Reminds me of a Balance Of Power song from one of their records but with female vocals…..again, the beauty of the track is in the angelic voice of Anette Olzen. ‘The Crow, The Owl And The Dove’ is another slow ballad that builds dramatically while maintaining it’s calm pace with acoustic guitars, piano and subdued drums to go along with the vocals while ‘Last Ride Of The Day’ builds up immeadiately with choral vocals into a soft Anette purr as she builds up with the song, it kind of reminds me of ‘Storytime’ with it’s fast tempo and grand sound.

Nightwish is a band that thrives on their grandiose style and their bombastic approach, the band uses different orchestrations, choruses, tempo changes and arrangements to build their overall sound. This is extremely evident on the 13+ minute ‘Song Of Myself’, which is technically broken up into four sub-songs. The problem with this song is that thew first half is a proper song that runs into the same vein as other uptempo numbers on the album but the second half is mostly spoken word narration. This is where the overall concept gets in the way, who cares about the movie, just make a good record! If you edit the spoken word narration and cut ‘Song Of Myself’ in half, then you’ve got a solid album track. I understand the point that this is a concept record and the spoken word part follows that direction but there’s a point where it goes to far and it becomes pointless. The title track is the last song and it’s another instrumental of parts of every song on the album. It’s a nice way to roll the crdits on the upcoming film but nothing to really get excited about as an album track.

Just on a side note…..IMAGINAERUM was released as a single CD or a special limited edition double disc that included a bonus CD of just the instrumental version of the album. I decided against buying the limited edition version because I already knew that I would never listen to just the instrumental version. Only the absolute diehard Nightwish fans will enjoy that, I’m a fan of the entire package and especially Anette Olzen, so I found it unnecessary.

Bottom Line:
I’ve been honestly listening to this album since it’s early January release in the U.S. and I have really enjoyed it. I listen to the record and I hear new sounds all the time so it’s an album that is very complex and epic. The musicianship is above top notch and the vocals of both singers are awesome, Nightwish continues to get better with every album. My only complaint is that the album follows the movie concept on some songs more than others and that hurts the overall flow of the album. The good news is that Nightwish are so talented as musicians that they are able to evolve further with every release. At this point, the band is hitting it’s creative stride and they are poised to become one of those bands we talk about 20 years down the line. IMAGINAERUM is a solid album and one that I recommend, it’s surely in my end of the year top albums list.

Favorite Songs:
‘Storytime’, ‘Ghost River’, ‘I Want My Tears Back’, ‘Scaretale’, ‘Turn Loose The Mermaids’

Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)

Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011, Universal Music)

  1. I Am Made Of You
  2. Caffeine
  3. The Nightmare Returns
  4. A Runaway Train
  5. Last Man On Earth
  6. The Congregation
  7. I’ll Bite Your Face Off
  8. Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever
  9. Ghouls Gone Wild
  10. Something To Remember Me By
  11. When Hell Comes Home
  12. What Baby Wants
  13. I Gotta Get Outta Here
  14. The Underture
  15. Under The Bed*
  16. Poison (Live At Download Festival 2011)*

(* bonus tracks for Classic Rock Magazine limited edition fan pack)

Starring:
Alice Cooper – Lead Vocals & Harmonica

Musicians:
Tommy Henriksen – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals, Programming
Michael Bruce – Guitars, keyboards, backing vocals on “A Runaway Train”, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” & “When Hell Comes Home”
Dennis Dunaway – Bass, backing vocals on “A Runaway Train”, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” & “When Hell Comes Home”
Neal Smith – Drums, percussion, backing vocals on “A Runaway Train”, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” & “When Hell Comes Home”
Steve Hunter – guitars on “Something To Remember Me By”, “When Hell Comes Home” & “What Baby Wants”
Keith Nelson – Guitars & backing vocals on “Caffeine”
Dick Wagner – Lead guitar on “The Underture”
Tommy Denander – Guitars on “I Am Made of You”
Vince Gill – Lead guitar on “A Runaway Train” & “Gotta Get Outta Here”
Ke$ha – Guest vocals on “What Baby Wants”
Rob Zombie – Backing vocals on “The Congregation”
John 5 – Guitar on “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever”
Chuck Garric – Bass
Piggy D – Bass on “Last Man On Earth”
David Spreng – Drums on “Last Man On Earth”
Kip Winger – Backing vocals on “Ghouls Gone Wild” & “The Congregation”
Patterson Hood – Guitar on “Gotta Get Outta Here”
Jimmy DeGrasso – Drums on “I Gotta Get Outta Here”
Pat Buchanan – Guitars
Vicki Hampton – Backing vocals
Wendy Moten – Backing vocals
Scott Williamson – Drums
Jimmie Lee Sloas – Bass

Producer: Bob Ezrin

Country: USA

Total Time (including bonus tracks) = 1:02:21

Alice Cooper
Nights With Alice Cooper Radio Show
Sick Things UK

It’s been 36 years since Alice Cooper went solo and released what is possibly his most successful album, the classic and iconic WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE (1975). In that time, Alice has released 17 other studio albums and each one incorporates the horror themes, tongue-in-cheek humor and all out craziness that has become the trademark of his music and image…..but they all owe their conception to the Nightmare. Alice has been on a roll for the last decade releasing albums that have that old school, classic ’70s Alice Cooper Band sound with THE EYES OF ALICE COOPER (2003) and DIRTY DIAMONDS (2005), and the horror film/serial killer epic ALONG CAME A SPIDER (2008), so what does he do? He enlists famed producer (and unofficial sixth member of the Alice Cooper Band) Bob Ezrin, his former bandmates (Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith, Michael Bruce, Dick Wagner & Steve Hunter), and a varied list of guest musicians (Rob Zombie, Ke$ha, Vince Gill & more) to create an album that many people are calling a sequel but, in Alice’s world, it’s a continuation…..WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE (2011). 

After close to four decades after Alice’s original nightmare, his new nightmare is a bit updated but it also gives a nod to the first one. The opening song ‘I Am Made Of You’ starts with a chilling piano that recalls Alice’s classic track ‘Steven’ (the main character and inspiration for the original Nightmare). It’s a very basic song and builds as it moves forward to a bigger sound but with that piano under it all keeping it creepy. Alice puts in a solid vocal and uses some studio effects on parts of his vocal (some may confuse it with Auto-Tune) to add to that creepiness. The guitars and orchestration are added fora grand effect and the song takes on this preview quality of what’s to come. The opening guitar to ‘Caffeine’ sets the manic tone that reflects Alice’s fear of falling asleep…..he’ll do whatever it takes to stay awake so the Nightmare doesn’t begin. “Caffeine, caffeine, amphetamine, a little speed is all I need….“, I think that says it all, he has to stay awake at any cost and you can feel the panic. Alice can’t hold out forever and ‘The Nightmare Returns’ is just that…..Alice starts to fall asleep and it’s almost like he’s singing a creepy lullaby over that chilling piano. For a quick 1:15, the song sets the tone…..Alice is asleep and the Nightmare begins…..

‘A Runaway Train’ is Alice’s reunion with his old Alice Cooper Band bandmates Bruce, Dunaway & Smith along with guitar work from Steve Hunter and a mean guitar solo from country superstar Vince Gill. Alice finds himself stuck on this runaway train heading toward his nightmare at full speed and he’s waiting for the eventual crash. If you listen to the lyrics, Alice is talking to the other passengers on this train to nightmares and he realizes that his fame and fortune will get him nowhere because everyone is equal on this train…..the Nightmare is coming and nothing can stop it and he can’t wake. The song itself sounds like a classic country barnyard hoedown mixed with straight ’70s Hard Rock that eventually ends with the crash. ‘The Last Man On Earth’ has that vaudeville sound mixed with jazz, almost like a marching band…..I could see Alice walking down some deserted street with a ghostly band behind him singing this song at the top of his lungs! Basically, this is Alice immersed in the dream but he’s alone and he realizes he can do whatever he wants…..but is that a good thing? He can’t tell because he knows he’s in his own nightmare. Continuing to ‘The Congregation’, this is classic Beatles if I ever heard it and Rob Zombie is Alice’s guide through the dream. Back on the 1975 record, Vincent Price did the spoken word narrations and now Alice’s good friend Mr. Zombie takes over and he fits in perfectly. I heard someone on a radio show recently say that this song sounded like Cheap Trick but they were Beatles influenced also so it all comes down to the originators and Alice showing off what influenced his musical direction. Alice shows another influence, this time The Rolling Stones (who I prefer to The Beatles), with another reunion song with his old bandmates titled ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’. The guitar is pure Keith Richards, the tempo is classic Wyman/Watts and you could almost hear Mick singing the song but the lyrics are so not the Stones. Even the piano break in the middle of the song sounds Stonsey, a bit of Ian Stewart (the sixth member of the Stones) from Bob Ezrin (the sixth member of Alice Cooper). Obviously, Alice has met a girl in his dream and she may look nice but she has a dark side.

From The Beatles and The Stones we move into disco…..disco? ‘Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever’ is one of my favorite songs on the album, it has a touch of Rap mixed with a disco dance beat but it moves to straight out Metal towards the end. John 5 guests on guitar on this track and he’s one of the best modern guitarists on the scene. The concept here is that Disco is the antithesis of everything Alice stands for and he can’t make the music, or the people, stop. No matter how many he kills, more show up and keep going, so it turns into a bloodbath…..”Bodies here, bodies there, piles of bodies everywhere…..“. Another favorite of mine is the surf rock sound of ‘Ghouls Gone Wild’…..I love that word play on the title “ghouls” replacing “girls” from that highly successful babefest video series Girls Gone Wild. In Alice’s nightmare, the chicks are there dancing on the beach but they’re all dead and he falls for one of course! It sounds like a B-movie horror film concept and I can only describe it as a “zombie beach a go-go” with that Beach Boys sound from the early ’60s. Great guitar work here from Tommy Henriksen and Steve Hunter, they capture that ’60s surf vibe perfectly, and the background vocals ( especially the oooh-aaahs) from Mark Volman (The Turtles), Ezrin and Kip Winger add that extra detail. Comparing both the original NIGHTMARE and NIGHTMARE 2, you need the seminal ballad. On the first album, it was the classic ‘Only Women Bleed’, a song that became one of Alice’s biggest hits…..on the new record, it’s ‘Something To Remember Me By’. It’s got that same sound, that same style vocal from Alice that was so unexpected 36 years ago, it sounds sweet but you realize Alice is singing to this ghoul from the beach party! Classic Alice! One of the things I like to do with these kind of concept albums is follow along with the lyric sheet and, as I write this review, I’m referring to it to follow the storyline because this nightmare is really a story.

Alice’s nightmare continues to themes of domestic violence in ‘When Hell Comes Home’…..kind of like ‘Only Women Bleed’ from the first NIGHTMARE. ‘When Hell Comes Home’ is creepier, more sinister and definitely one of the heavier songs on the album. This part of the dream/story is from a child’s perspective (a young Alice maybe?) about how his Daddy comes home drunk and likes to take his aggressions on the family…..of course Alice turns the tables on Daddy in the end! The are a ton of guest stars on this album and one of the most talked about is pop diva Ke$ha and her performance on ‘What Baby Wants’. I’ll be honest, upon hearing the news of her involvement I was not a happy metalhead because I felt Alice was pandering to get extra fans from the musically uneducated masses. I know all about Ke$ha because I have two daughters and a wife that love Pop and Dance music and I have no tolerance for it. Does anyone expect anything great from an Alice/Ke$ha pairing? I didn’t but I was proven wrong because ‘What Baby Wants’ is a pretty good catchy tune and Ke$ha sounds more Rock than she does Pop. I thought the concept that she is the Devil in Alice’s dream was kind of funny because I such preconceptions of the duet but it works disguising the Devil as a young good-looking woman, she wants his soul and….”what baby wants, baby gets!”. Another classic track is “I Gotta Get Outta Here’ where Alice basically realizes he has to wake up because this nightmare is out of control but he doesn’t realize that he’s already dead! The choir section and Alice’s lines to them at the end is classic. Now that the Nightmare is over for Alice, we receive ‘The Underture’, the grand instrumental finale that uses instrumentation from songs on both NIGHTMARE records to end it all and forever link the two albums.

Now if you’re a big Alice fan like myself then you like to collect everything Alice records and the Classic Rock Magazine special issue for WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE is a really cool deal. I have the original release CD but I also dropped the import price for the special magazine that includes the album with two bonus tracks, poster, Alice make-up, an Alice mask, a School’s Out pin and an issue of Classic rock specially devoted to Alice Cooper. I seem to be buying these up lately, I have this one, the Whitesnake one and I just ordered the Motorhead issue…..they are great collector’s pieces! The bonus tracks include a studio song titled ‘Under The Bed’ and a live version of Alice’s huge hit ‘Poison’ from the 2011 Download Festival. ‘Under The Bed’ is a solid song that is another slow creepy sounding song with that Ezrin piano that gives that scary feel…..it’s all about Alice not wanting to fall asleep because he knows that he’ll have a nightmare and that there are things under the bed that will torment him. It’s a good song and it would probably fit either before or after ‘Caffeine’ in the album sequence. The live ‘Poison’ from Download is a solid performance and, being a veteran of many an Alice concert, the song is a highlight every show. If you were a teen like me in 1989 when TRASH came out, then you know all about the song, the comeback, and the success so the man has to play it and it always fits the theatrical part of his show. It’s a solid recording and performance and I’m hoping that it gets properly released as a live album and DVD and the fact that two more live songs appear on the Canadian deluxe pressing of the album (‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ & ‘The Black Widow’) means that it’s a possibility. Just another quick collector’s note outside the proper album, there are a bunch of different album versions with bonus tracks: the Classic Rock  Magazine fan pack and the Canadian deluxe pressing I mentioned, there’s a deluxe digipak and Japanese pressing that include the other two live tracks but replaces ‘Under The Bed’ with the studio song ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’, the vinyl that has the studio track ‘Flatline’ instead of ‘Under The Bed’ and the iTunes bonus song ‘A Bad Situation’. I haven’t heard any of these other bonus tracks so I can’t review them…..but I will be seeking them out.

Bottom Line:
It’s hard to top one of the most iconic albums in Hard Rock & Heavy Metal but Alice Cooper and his cast of musicians and collaborators have come extremely close. I grew up listening to classic Alice albums and WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE (1975) is so good, so famous, so groundbreaking that topping it is next to impossible and I think Alice knows that so why not just continue the Nightmare? That’s exactly what this record does: it continues to dive into the demented world that is Alice’s dreams only that this time around there is no escape! The entire concept of the album serves as the perfect bridge between to eras of Alice’s career but the latest NIGHTMARE can easily stand alone as it’s own entity, if there never was an original NIGHTMARE album, then this new record would stand alone just as strong. I like the fact that Alice is able to keep his current music fresh and exciting but always giving that nod towards his classic ’70s sound. The music, lyrics and production on the album are top shelf but that’s to be expected when you pair up Alice Cooper with Bob Ezrin and the host of guests that either write or perform on the album. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best Alice record of the new millenium era (2000 to present) and there is some stiff competition for that title with the last three albums (mentioned above) and BRUTAL PLANET (2000) and DRAGONTOWN (2001). WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE is definitely one of the top releases of 2011 for me and I can easily say that it’s currently battling at the top of my list for the #1 album of 2011.

Favorite Songs:
When you have a concept album with such great songs it can be hard to pick out a few songs as favorites because the songs really blend into each other to tell the story. I’ll be honest, I can’t find a bad song on this album and I really do like them all but, if I have to choose four stand-out tracks they would be ‘Caffeine’, ‘Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever, ‘Ghouls Gone Wild’ and ‘When Hell Comes Home’. The songs all either have the Alice humor, the horror or the freakiness that are all his trademarks. I’m also going to give a quick mention here to the Ke$ha collaboration on ‘What Baby Wants’…..way better than I expected.

Night Ranger – Somewhere In California (2011)

Night Ranger – Somewhere In California (2011, Frontiers Records)

  1. Growin’ Up In California
  2. Lay It On Me
  3. Bye Bye Baby (Not Tonight)
  4. Follow Your Heart
  5. Time Of Our Lives
  6. No Time To Lose
  7. Live For Today
  8. It’s Not Over
  9. End Of The Day
  10. Rock N’ Roll Tonite
  11. Say It With Love

Band Lineup:
Jack Blades – Lead Vocals & Bass
Brad Gillis – Guitars 
Kelly Keagy – Lead Vocals & Drums
Joel Hoekstra – Guitars
Eric Levy – Keyboards & Piano

Additional Musicians:
Will Evankovich – Guitars on ‘Growin’ Up In California’

Producers: Night Ranger
Executive Producer: James Blades

Country: USA

Total Time = 54:24

Night Ranger
Frontiers Records

Night Ranger is back again with their new studio album, SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA, and it’s another album that follows the traditional Night Ranger melodic rock sound. If you go back and listen to the band’s back catalogue then you know that Night Ranger just isn’t a ballad band as they have been pigeon-holed as since the multi-platinum success that followed their biggest hit, ‘Sister Christian’, back in 1983. What Night Ranger have always been at their core is a twin guitar Rock band and they have always written solid uptempo Rock songs that highlight the guitars. On a lot of their past records, some of my favorite songs and some of their best songs are ones that weren’t singles…..Night Ranger has always been about the whole album and they always create albums of high quality songs.

The opening track ‘Growin’ Up In California’ is a pure Hard Rock song with a great trade-off between guitarists Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra that reminds me of classic songs like ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’ and ‘When You Close Your Eyes’ from back in the day. What a great way to start a record! Uptempo Hard Rock that’s so easy to sing to with it’s infectious hooks, the solos are blistering and the lyrics give a nod back to the late ’70s and ’80s when these guys were up and coming. ‘Lay It On Me’ continues the guitar driven Rock sound with a song that sounds very Damn Yankees (is there really that much different between either band with Jack Blades as the main guy?) crossed with a little Bon Jovi maybe. Big gang choruses with heavy drums and big guitars, including another guitar solo that reminds you Mr. Brad Gillis was once in Ozzy’s band! Definitely a great heavy track. Asking for three in a row would be truly great because you know that a ballad is coming eventually and ‘Bye Bye Baby (Not Tonight)’ continues the uptempo Rock with even more guitar! What I like about ‘Bye Bye Baby’ the most is the vocal harmonies…..Kelly Keagy and Jack Blades have always been a solid team trading off vocals and you can hear their harmonies brilliantly. That’s another great Night Ranger trademark…..two solid lead singers. The opening of ‘Follow Your Heart’ has this cool ’70s feel to it and, if you listen closely, you can detect a similarity in parts of the guitar and drums after the bass and keyboard intro that have a touch of Judas Priest’s ‘The Sentinel’. It’s very slight but listen for it. ‘Follow Your Heart’ is another heavy track with a very basic riff and modern sound and it would easily fit on more modern HOLE IN THE SUN but the classic ’80s Night Ranger sound filters in and out with the vocal trade-offs and harmonies around the chorus. I really like that swirling twin guitar riff that runs through the song, you can tell that the Gillis/Hoekstra guitar tandem is just as solid as the classic team of Gillis and former guitarist Jeff Watson.

No Night Ranger album is complete without ballads and ‘Time Of Our Lives’ is another great Night Ranger ballad and it could become one of their signature songs live. Kelly Keagy did lead vocals on ‘Sister Christian’ and ‘Goodbye’ back in the ’80s and he’s still a phenomenal singer bringing passion to the ballads and it’s no exception here. Of course, the harmonies with Kelly and Jack are present throughout the song and the chorus is absolutely huge but the piano work is really great, Eric Levy filling the sound out with a superb performance giving it that touch of beauty. No time to rest after a great ballad because ‘No Time To Lose’ cranks the guitars again throughout this anthemic sounding rocker that has one of the catchiest chrouses on the album. Everytime I hear this song, the foot starts tapping, the fist starts pumping a little and I’m singing right along. Most of the songs on this album are exactly like that, they get you right away and the melodies and harmonies are hard to get out of your brain! Another great set of duelling guitar harmonies that give the song such a big sound. Things slow down slightly with ‘Live For Today’, more mid-tempo but still very melodic. Definitely a song that fits more along the modern style off the previous album HOLE IN THE SUN but it also has this slight trace of ’60s psychedelia. Actually, ‘Live For Today’ reminds me of the SEVEN album from 1998 and that would easily fit with songs like ‘Panic In Jane’, ‘Sea Of Love’ and ‘Peace Sign’. ‘It’s Not Over’ is another melodic rocker with Kelly Keagy on vocals and follows the formula of the rest of the uptempo rocker on the album. This is that one song where I feel like there’s something missing or that it’s all a bit too much of the same thing. This isn’t a bad song, I just feel like I’ve already heard it a couple times already.

The opening to ‘End Of The Day’ casts away that “sameness” from other songs on the album, it has a touch of acoustic country-fried twang to it but it leads into a definite modern riff with a bit of feedback and it moves into more modern territory. It’s sounds a little more edgy compared to the rest of the album, maybe it’s Kelly Keagy’s vocal because he’s got that great gritty delivery. When I first heard ‘End Of The Day’, I pulled Kelly’s two solo albums and compared, this could easily fit on either. I like the tone of the guitars, not completely clean but still expertly played. This is a great song and it definitely stands out. The band gives us a rock anthem with ‘Rock N’ Roll Tonite’ and it needs to be immeadiately added to their live set. I like the underlying Hammond organ under the guitars and the ’70s sounding guitars…..Night Ranger always have fun as a band live and they play some covers and medleys during their shows and I think that ‘Rock N’ Roll Tonite’ is a product of that, this would be a great set opener. Last song on the album is another solid uptempo Hard Rock song, ‘Say It With Love’, that capitalizes on those trademark harmonies the band is known for. I almost could compare this with the opening song ‘Grownin’ Up In California’ in some parts and it really ends the album on a high note.

Bottom Line:
Leading up to the release of SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA, one of the press releases I read said that Night Ranger was going to return to their classic Melodic Rock sound. I’ve been a fan of the band since 1982, has Night Ranger ever deviated from the sound that made them popular? I’ll admit that 2008’s HOLE IN THE SUN is a little more modern and experimental compared to the classic MIDNIGHT MADNESS (1983) or 7 WISHES (1985) from their platinum era but Night Ranger has been creating the same brand of Melodic Rock all along….take a listen to their late ’90s albums NEVERLAND (1997) and SEVEN (1998) and you will here classic ’80s Night Ranger. SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA is another successful album with a bunch of catchy Rock songs that are well-written, have excellent vocals and great guitars. I’ll bet a lot of people forget that Night Ranger at it’s core is a twin lead guitar band and the highlight on SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA is the attention paid to getting the guitars of Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra in your face! SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA is one of the better Night Ranger albums since the ’80s and it would have been the natural follow-up to SEVEN (1998). There have only been two new studio albums since the ’90s and I hope that the energy and quality of this album keeps the band in that creative mindset for years to come…..Night Ranger makes great records, bottom line. This album is highly recommended.

Favorite Songs:
‘Grownin’ Up In California’, ‘Bye Bye Baby (Not Tonight)’, ‘Time Of Our Lives’, ‘No Time To Lose’, ‘End Of The Day’

Def Leppard – Mirrorball: Live & More (2011)

Def Leppard – Mirror Ball: Live & More (2011, Mailboat Records)

Disc 1

  1. Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
  2. Rocket
  3. Animal
  4. C’Mon C’Mon
  5. Make Love Like A Man
  6. Too Late For Love
  7. Foolin’
  8. Nine Lives
  9. Love Bites
  10. Rock On

Disc 2

  1. Two Steps Behind
  2. Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
  3. Switch 625
  4. Hysteria
  5. Armageddon It
  6. Photograph
  7. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  8. Rock Of Ages
  9. Let’s Get Rocked
  10. Action *
  11. Bad Actress *
  12. Undefeated **
  13. Kings Of The World **
  14. It’s All About Believin’ **

* bonus live track
** new studio track

Disc 3 – DVD

– Behind the Scenes on the Sparkle Lounge Tour 2008-2009
– Live Performances: Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop), Armageddon It, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Hysteria
– Music Videos: Nine Lives, C’Mon C’Mon

Band Lineup:
Joe Elliott – Lead Vocals & Acoustic Guitar
Phil Collen – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Vivian Campbell – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Rick Savage – Bass & Backing Vocals
Rick Allen – Drums & Backing Vocals

Producers: Def Leppard & Ronan McHugh

Country: United Kingdom

Total Time (CD) = 2 hours
Total Time (DVD) = approx. 45 mins

Def Leppard

It’s hard to believe that Def Leppard has never released an official live album until now with MIRRORBALL, a full 31 years since the band’s 1980 debut ON THROUGH THE NIGHT. You would have figured that the band would have put out a live set between studio albums somewhere in their ’80s heyday or at least in the late ’90s/early 2000s because they have been a touring juggernaut since the band first burst on the NWOBHM scene. I’ve been lucky enough to catch the band a couple of times back in the ’80s and on various tours since the 1999 tour for EUPHORIA but the concert I saw in 2006 on the YEAH! Tour, the concert I saw in 2007 promoting YEAH! , and the show in 2009 for SONGS FROM THE SPARKLE LOUNGE (2008), are all represented on this live collection. If you take a look inside the nice booklet that is inside the old school multi-CD jewel case, you’ll notice that no specific cities or dates for the recordings are list, just the quote: “Recorded at various points around the world, in the not too distant past.” While I would have liked to know the specific tour dates, it’s a small ommission that can be overlooked because of the quality of the live album.

The Leps have followed the business model that Journey, KISS, Foreigner and AC/DC have forged by releasing MIRRORBALL exclusively in the U.S. through retail giant Wal-Mart…..that means a low price and more than a few extras. First, the actual set is 19 songs long on the CDs with two bonus live tracks added in with ‘Action’ and ‘Bad Actress’. In the last three times I’ve seen Def Leppard live since 2006 they’ve played 15, 16 and 17 songs respectively and the live show on this album is a perfect representation of what’s been played on the last few tours. I missed this summer’s tour for MIRRORBALL but the 16 song set they played at the Comcast Center in Massachusetts is pretty much the greatest hits pack you have here along with the David Essex cover ‘Rock On’ and opening with the new song ‘Undefeated’. Back to this album though…..it’s good to hear ‘C’Mon C’Mon’, ‘Nine Lives’ and ‘Bad Actress’ live as I was only given ‘Nine Lives’ in concert the times I’ve seen the band live. The rest is a hits collection culled mainly from the three blockbusters PYROMANIA (1983), HYSTERIA (1987) and ADRENALIZE (1992) with a couple tracks from HIGH ‘N DRY (1981) thrown in with the instrumental ‘Switch 625′ coming right after the obligatory power ballad ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’. Would be nice to get another cut from HIGH “N DRY or maybe from the first record but I’m not complaining because Def Leppard has had huge success and there’s just so many songs you can fit into a concert. Personally, I would have cut out ‘Rock On’ and the bonus live track ‘Action’ (a cover orginally done by The Sweet) for a couple more Lep originals but that’s just me. As far as the sound goes, it’s perfect but did you expect anything less from Def Leppard? These guys have sounded great in concert everytime I’ve seen them since the ’80s and their studio album always have top quality production so MIRRORBALL has the same BIG sound that’s crystal clear. Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen are a seasoned guitar tandem and are as good as the classic team of Collen and Steve Clark and Rick Savage always keeps the rhythm in line on bass while Rick Allen continues to impress on drums. The wild card has always been Joe Elliot’s voice and he’s had some concerts I’ve witnessed where he wasn’t that great and some that he sounded like he was still in his 20s. On MIRRORBALL, Joe sounds pretty good although you can tell that age has become a factor and he doesn’t reach the high notes he used to, a surprisingly good vocal performance though.

There are three new studio songs added to this package which I always think is a good idea for the longtime fans but there has to be quality. The current tour opener is ‘Undefeated’ and it’s a heavy guitar track with a great drum intro that reminds me a little of the opening to Bon Jovi’s ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’. The song sounds like your current day Def Leppard song that could easily have fit on SPARKLE LOUNGE with it’s heavy sound and big harmonies, the only difference is that Joe’s voice sounds a little raspier and deeper. Like I said before, Joe Elliot is not 20 years old anymore and he knows what he’s able to accomplish as he gets older. Not a bad vocal though just slightly different and a little lower register than the usual. Good track though and the best one to play on the current tour. ‘Kings Of The World’ is Def Leps ode to Queen with it’s bombast, piano, harmonies and Brian May guitar tone. Rick Savage wrote this song and he had to be going through his Queen records but, then again, the band has always cited Queen as an influence and they are friends. ‘Kings Of The World’ is good but it’s not really what you would expect from Def Leppard. ‘It’s All About Believin’ sounds like a track from the EUPHORIA sessions, very upbeat and HYSTERIA sounding and it actually has some parts that sound like ‘Animal’. Of the three, I’d rate this as my favorite because this is the Lep sound and I was a huge EUPHORIA fan, I wouldn’t mind hearing this live either.

As far as the bonus DVD goes, it’s a nice extra but really only a one time view for me. Some of the footage I’ve seen before and some I haven’t, the backstage footage is always fun to see. It’s nice to get the ‘Nine Lives’ and ‘C’Mon C’Mon’ videos and I enjoyed the live songs but I would have enjoyed more full live performances instead of just four. If you compare this package to KISS’ or Foreigner’s the difference is full concerts on those bands’ Wal-Mart releases, same thing with Whitesnake’s LIVE AT DONNINGTON 1990 on Frontiers Records (a double disc live with DVD). It’s a small criticism because I have hope that the band will release an official live DVD but they really didn’t have to add this in to the live album so it’s a good bonus to have.

Bottom Line:
A solid live set from Def Leppard full of hits and sounding great, a lot better than I expected. The production is great and the band sounds as tight as they were when I saw them in concert over the last few years. The surprise is how well Joe Elliot sounds, I expected that he’d sound a little rougher on a live recording but he sounds pretty good, maybe a little studio overdub? Hopefully not, I hate knowing a live album is studio enhanced but I can say that Joe sounds much like he did over the last few tours. Adding three new original songs is always a good deal and they are all good, the DVD is run of the mill for me but a cool bonus nonetheless. For the $10 price, this is a nice album to pick up.

Best Songs:
The live songs are all great sounding but I have to pick ‘Animal’, ‘Foolin’, ‘Make Love Like A Man’ and ‘Nine Lives’ as my favorites. Of the three new tracks, I’d rate ‘It’s All About Believin’ as my favorite, ‘Undefeated’ second and the Queen tribute,’Kings Of The World’, last.

Journey – Eclipse (2011)

Journey – Eclipse (2011, independent release)

  1. City Of Hope
  2. Edge Of The Moment
  3. Chain Of Love
  4. Tantra
  5. Anything Is Possible
  6. Resonate
  7. She’s A Mystery
  8. Human Feel
  9. Ritual
  10. To Whom It May Concern
  11. Someone
  12. Venus

Band Lineup:
Arnel Pineda – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – All Guitars & Backing Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass & Backing Vocals
Deen Castronovo – Drums, Percussion & Vocals

Producers: Kevin Shirley, Neal Schon & Jonathan Cain

Country: USA

Total Time = 1:06:26

Journey official website
Journey MySpace page

Journey marked their third comeback with a new singer in Arnel Pineda, and a great album with REVELATION, in 2008 and achieved both critical and commercial success that had been missing since TRIAL BY FIRE (1996). Credit the critical acclaim to the band getting down to business and writing well written, catchy, melodic songs and Arnel dazzling everyone with his superb Steve Perry styled vocals on record and on tour. The commercial success came through a great business deal with retail giant Wal-Mart to exclusively release REVELATION (including a DVD and re-recorded hits package) and get the band their first platinum record in over a decade. Band leaders Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain are superb musicians, as well as knowledgeable businessmen, so it’s no surprise that they hit big with the REVELATION album and tour. That was then and this is 2011 and Journey, and specifically Pineda, have to prove that this REVELATION wasn’t a fluke and that Journey has the talent and drive to continue well into the future. That proof comes with their new album, and another Wal-Mart exclusive, ECLIPSE.

As I do with many reviews I write, I have to tell you that I’ve been a fan of Journey for a long time, at least since 1981’s ESCAPE, so I’ve grown up with the band and heard all the big hits and all the albums countless times. REVELATION was one of my favorite albums of 2008 so I was really psyched up for the new record’s release especially when I read all the press that this was going to be a heavier album, a true Rock record. Neal Schon has always been one of my favorite guitarists and I’ve always thought that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves because Journey is sometimes seen as a Pop band or a ballad band, take a listen to his solo material (ELECTRIC WORLD from 1997 is awesome!), his work with HSAS, Bad English, Hardline or Soul Sirkus and you’ll hear some great riffs and solos along with more melodic, blues and jazz elements. A Journey album with more guitar? Sign me up! I drove to Wal-Mart the day of release to buy it and I don’t shop at Wal-Mart on principle! At first glance, ECLIPSE doesn’t give off the “Wow!” factor in terms of packaging especially when compared to the deluxe, three disc, brightly colored digibook that was REVELATION, ECLPISE is a darker album cover and the packaging is a simple slim digipak with a four page booklet. So they value factor isn’t there as far as bonuses (no extra discs) but the price was definitely low ($10) and the music is the whole point of an album.

Starting off ECLIPSE is the melodic and upbeat ‘City Of Hope’ that sounds like a typical Journey rocker and could have easily come off ARRIVAL (2001) and the guitar driven ‘Edge Of The Moment’ that sounds like late ’70s/early ’80s Journey from EVOLUTION (1979) or DEPARTURE (1980). Right away you notice that both songs are guitar oriented with thick riffs and heavier solos compared to the usual Journey fare but the underlying detail is that Jonathan Cain’s keyboards are not as up front in the mix. One of the reasons that Journey sometimes gets a reputation for being too “lite” is because the keyboards so up front in the overall sound, immeadiately you hear the guitar driving the songs and the keys a compliment. The other thing I hear right away is that Arnel Pineda is adding his own flair to the vocals rather than straight up copy the classic Steve Perry sound. Back on REVELATION it was obvious that Pineda could do a solid Perry imitation, listen to that second disc of re-recordings and it’s pretty spot on, but on these first two songs you can hear an edge. Of course, I write those words and there’s a keyboard intro to ‘Chain Of Love’ and Pineda’s voice soars and sounds just like Perry’s on the album’s first ballad ‘Tantra’. ‘Chain Of Love’ is a heavy mid-tempo track that gives off a dark moody feeling that is the direct opposite of typical Journey, a song full of chunky riffs that sound so thick that it may throw some people off. ‘Tantra’ is your typical Journey ballad that starts out slow with Cain’s piano leading the way and Pineda crooning like Perry but then Schon kicks the guitar in and the entire band comes together to deliver one of the most powerful songs on the album. Say what you want about straight up Rock songs, sometimes a power ballad can be as heavy, as rocking, and as powerful, that’s ‘Chain Of Love’. The first four songs on this new album are great with plenty of sonic changes and a focus on Schon’s guitar…..if the rest of the record is as good then Journey has another winner on it’s hands.

‘Anything Is Possible’ is a mid-tempo AOR number that easily recalls Steve Perry/RAISED ON RADIO era Journey and it’s definitely one of my favorite tracks on the record, very catchy and clean as far as the sound goes. I like Cain’s underlying piano and the guitar solos are a pleasure to hear but it’s Arnel’s showcase and he sounds like a seasoned veteran of the AOR ranks. ‘Resonate’ is a darker song that takes time to build and it follows a similar pattern to ‘Anything Is Possible’ as it builds to the chorus. Again, another guitar driven track that really gives off this dark tone but the contrast to the beauty of the singing is what makes it, and the entire record, work well. I like the acoustic intro to ‘She’s A Mystery’ and it just builds into one of the best songs on the album! About halfway through, the band dismisses the acoustic balladry and goes for it with a powerful full band electric swagger…..that’s a pretty good way to describe ECLIPSE: “balladry with an electric swagger”. ‘Human Feel’ has this tribal drum intro from Deen Castronovo and a cool Hammond Organ from Jonathan Cain to compliment another heavy handed riff from Schon. It kind of reminds me of ‘Ball Of Confusion’ from The Temptations in some parts with a bit of that Motown swing underneath but once Arnel sings, it sounds like straight Rock. The guitar solo is powerful but so effortless…..the hallmark of a guitar great! The rocking tempo continues with ‘Ritual’ and it’s the kind of upbeat song that was a staple of previous records post-Perry, it could use some bigger background harmonies to give it that extra punch but it’s solid.

‘To Whom It May Concern’ is another proper ballad that adds a little more Jonathan Cain in the way of piano, keyboard and orchestration. While it’s not a bad song at all, I feel a bit of a disconnect. Maybe that’s because the power of ECLIPSE is in Neal’s guitar? Arnel is the star of the show here with another great vocal but I could go for a little more harmony to make the song sound bigger. More uptempo AOR with ‘Someone’ and it’s sounds like a traditional Journey rocker and could have easily been a hold over from REVELATION. It’s got that sing-a-long hook that makes it worth the wait but I wish they had placed it more up front in the tracklisting. It’s a “happy” kind of classic Journey track and contrasts well with the darker parts of the record. Ending the album is the instrumental ‘Venus’ that uses parts of ‘To Whom It May Concern’ and is a band showcase minus Mr. Pineda…..it’s cool but not my thing from Journey.

Bottom Line:
Journey is Journey so you know what you’re going to get when you spin a Journey record: uptempo/upbeat AOR and Melodic Rock with a few ballads and top musicianship. For most fans, that’s enough but Journey music is such a part of American culture that fans always expect the best. For my money, the REVELATION album from a few years ago fit that bill easily and ECLIPSE falls a little short of my expectations when comparing the two. I’m not saying that ECLIPSE is a bad record, quite the contrary, I think it’s one of the best of the year but the darker tone/feel of the album has thrown me a little. That’s a good thing though because it shows a vibrant and creative band not willing to compromise and to continue to grow. The more I play ECLIPSE, the more I like it and the more I enjoy it. What I like most is that this is a guitar record. There are many times when the name Journey makes you think of keyboard heavy rockers and piano ballads but ECLIPSE is a Neal Schon showcase with some of the coolest riffs and solos I’ve heard on a melodic rock record. The rest of the band is as solid as ever and Arnel Pineda has turned in another outstanding vocal performance. The songs are well written and the sound is crystal clear thatnks to producer Kevin Shirley. Definitely a recommended album…..just give it a few spins so you can really get into it.

Best Songs:
‘City Of Hope’, ‘Edge Of The Moment’, ‘Chain Of Love’, ‘She’s A Mystery’, ‘Someone’

Anvil – Juggernaut Of Justice (2011)

Anvil – Juggernaut Of Justice (2011, The End Records)

  1. Juggernaut Of Justice
  2. When Hell Breaks Loose
  3. New Orleans Voodoo
  4. On Fire
  5. Fuken Eh!
  6. Turn It Up
  7. This Ride
  8. Not Afraid
  9. Conspiracy
  10. Running
  11. Paranormal
  12. Swing Thing

Band Lineup:
Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow – Lead Vocals & Lead Guitars
Robb ‘Robbo’ Reiner – Drums
Glenn 5 – Bass & Vocals

Additional Musicians:
Lisa Joy Pimentel – Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Clarinet and Saxophone

Producer: Bob Marlette

Country: Canada

Total Time = 45:02

Anvil
Anvil Metal
Anvil MySpace page
Anvil Facebook page
The End Records

It’s taken Anvil four years to follow-up their last studio album, the doom laden THIS IS THIRTEEN (2007), but you can’t fault the guys because they’ve been pretty busy the last five years. While filming the critically acclaimed documentary ANVIL!: THE STORY OF ANVIL, they recorded THIS IS THIRTEEN. Then you’ve got the constant promotion, the touring, more promotion, more touring and then, years later, enter the studio to record JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE. It’s interesting because the band announced the title years ago while doing promotion for the documentary and then they just got so busy they had to put off recording it! Robb Reiner stated on That Metal Show last season that JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE was the METAL ON METAL (1982) of this era…..big words because METAL ON METAL is considered a classic.

Anvil is Anvil and they are always going to make the same ’80s Thrash-pioneering, classic Heavy Metal album they’ve always made but the key is good songwriting and production. The band channelled their collective energies to create THIS IS THIRTEEN with the guiding hand of super producer Chris Tsangarides and they’ve done so again this time around with the production duties being handled by Bob Marlette (Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Airbourne). A point Tsangarides discussed in the documentary was that if the songs are subpar, no amount of production is going to make the album good, and, if the production is bad, good songs will be wasted. First of all, the Marlette production on JUGGERNAUT is excellent, the album sounds crystal clear and it has that BIG sound. I can’t really identify any production “tricks”, it just sounds like the guys plugged in and started playing! As far as the songwriting, the band has channelled the positive experiences of the last five years and created a solid collection of tunes. The opening title track is a retro Metal feast that gets the album off to a chugging start and ‘When Hell Breaks Loose’ is the band at their thrashy best. Listen to Robbo on this song, that guy is one of the greatest Metal drummers out there! What’s always a plus is if there’s a hook to the song, doesn’t matter if it’s Hard Rock, Black Metal, or Pop, if there’s a hook then people are going to remember the song. Both ‘Juggernaut Of Justice’ and ‘When Hell Breaks Loose’ has that kind of hook that makes the chorus stick in your head and gets you singing along, maybe it’s because the songs are so straightforward and good. ‘New Orleans Voodoo’ is a doom laden Black Sabbath style track that would have easily fit on THIS IS THIRTEEN and is one of my favorites on the album  and ‘On Fire’ is another speed track that sounds very familiar but I can’t place it.

 Most Anvil records have that simple humorous song that seems so juvenile and this album’s is ‘Fuken Eh!’, probably the weakest song on the album because the lyrics aren’t as good as the others on the record but it does have that simple chorus that sticks. Of course, ‘Fuken Eh!’ is really a song about the band it self surviving and persevering and doing it their way…..fuken eh! There’s more guitar frenzy from Lips with ‘Turn It Up’ and ‘Not Afraid’ and the themes are pretty much reflect the experiences of the last few years but the jewel in between these two burners is the Glenn 5 sung ‘This Ride’. I wasn’t really expecting Glenn 5 to get a lead vocal, especially since Lips’ vocals are as much a signature of the Anvil sound as Robbo’s drumming is, but Glenn does a solid job with a growl that sounds like a more aggressive Lips and that just makes the song sound heavier. ‘Conspiracy’ is another slower mid-tempo chug that is reminiscent of classic Accept and could have easily fit onto THIS IS THIRTEEN, listen for the guitar solo in the middle of the track, another excellent one on an album full of them, Lips sounds like he’s been rejuvenated by the recent success. ‘Running’ is another retro Thrash sounding track that’s simple in it’s writing and delivery, guitars and bass sounding like buzzsaws with Robb pounding that kit away but the crown jewel is seven minute doom epic ‘Paranormal’. It’s a heavily Sabbath influenced song that takes Anvil into new territory and is more experimental for them compared to their trademark sound. Sounds like a cross between ‘Black Sabbath’ and the quieter moments of Spinal Tap’s ‘Stonehenge’. I’m not saying that to bust the band’s chops, it’s what came to mind right away! I like ‘Paranormal’ a lot, it’s different and unexpected on a record like this. The same goes for ‘Swing Thing’, a jazz influenced speed instrumental complete with horns, trombones, sax and trumpet! That’s a different kind of sound and not easily identifiable with the trademark Anvil sound but, if you take those extra instruments out, it’s a straight ahead thrash song…..definitely something creative and different.

(Just a quick note here, it seems that there are two versions of the album: the standard release that I have here and a limited edition through the retail chain FYE that contains two exclusive bonus tracks – ‘The Station’ and ‘Tonight Is Coming’. I totally forgot about the limited edition when I bought this record the day of release so I will add these two songs into the review when I acquire the limited pressing.)

Bottom Line:
Success is always a good thing and it can bring an energy, vitality and creativity to a band instantly. Anvil has had a busy five years with plenty of product released and gigs played, hopefully the reaped a financial reward because they deserve it. Anvil has been a band that I grew up with back in the ’80s but lost track of as the years went on, it’s good to see them attain a level of success that has eluded them since the early ’80s. That said, you can immeadiately tell by listening to JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE that the last few years have been more then kind to the band…..the energy is there, the songwriting is great and the performances are excellent. I like the fact that the band stuck close to their classic sound but decided to experiment with a few songs to add some variety. Lips plays a blistering guitar and Glenn 5 matches him riff for riff on the bass while Robb Reiner continues his legend by pounding that drum kit with a controlled recklessness…..this is what Heavy Metal is all about: good songs played with an excellence and passion by a band that has been an influence to more successful Metal bands. Anvil doesn’t compromise, they give you what you expect, with JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE I expected a great record and they delivered. One of my favorite albums of 2011!

Favorite Songs:
‘Juggernaut Of Justice’, ‘New Orleans Voodoo’, ‘This Ride’, ‘Paranormal’, ‘Swing Thing’

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
Ralf Scheepers MySpace
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’.