Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ARION - Last Of Us [Japanese Edition +4] (2014)

ARION - Last Of Us [Japanese Edition +4] (2014) full


Coming out of nowhere (in fact from Finland) ARION consists of 5 young (really young) fellows who have released one of the best, refreshing debuts of the year; "Last Of Us".
The talented quintet blends traditional hard rock and quality prog metal with commercial, catchy modern melodious rock for the masses. You’ve probably heard it all before, but I have to say that the actual outcome is exceptional.

Arion took shape two years ago, and in 2013 the group took part in the Finnish UMK contest and they also released an EP. Now the guys are releasing their debut album to the world… and what a debut I must say.
I can’t believe these guys are barely out of high-school. They sound like seasoned veterans, with the weight and wisdom that comes from a lifetime of experiences.
Vocalist Viljami Holopainen is very atypical for this genre. He is able to scream with the best with a great range and technique, but he maintains a Hard Rock soul, singing from the heart about profound subjects. Avoiding all the castles, swords, vikings, wizards and space goofiness, Arion's lyrics are interesting and varied.
In addition to Holopainen there’s guitar virtuoso Iivo Kaipainen, melody maestro keyboardist Arttu Vauhkonen, with phenomenal, tight rhythms from Gege Velinov on bass and Topias Kupiainen on drums.

The guys are talented – no doubt about it. They record, write and produce music like they are some kind of experienced veterans and have years and years of music on their backs.
What surprises the most is the musical maturity of those guys.
A maturity that’s hard to be found even at seasoned bands of our time. The songwriting, the melodies, the hooklines, the guitars, the song arrangements are all amazingly mature and complete. They have a great sense of melody and all the performances are stupendous too.
The production is also full and powerful.

ARION - Last Of Us [Japanese Edition +4] (2014) cd photo

After a stirring instrumental intro we storm into the power of “Out of the Ashes”, rapidly followed by the melodic “Seven” , a killer progressive Hard Rock track full of swirling keys, guitar virtuosity, soaring vocals and delicate haunting melodies.
Fully prog metal emerges on “Shadows” fueled by a pounding rhythm, heavy guitars, and aggressive full-range vocals. The light sympho touches of “I Am the Storm” incorporates bleeding fast double bass drumming, with great guitar and bass work fighting among the vocals.
One of my favorites is the soulful piano ballad “You’re My Melody”. An album highlight with a stripped-bare Holopainen and more killer guitar.

The grandiose “Burn Your Ship” has some Ten / Gary Hughes on it, while “Lost” and the more progressive “Last of Us” are full band, passionate Melodic Hard metallic songs.
Epic closer “Watching You Fall” overpowers with potent riffing and dynamic rhythm. It's modern Prog Metal complete with a quirky, volatile mid-section break.
The Japanese edition includes four bonus tracks: the regal power of “New Dawn”, an edited (and more catchy) version of “Shadows”, and beautiful acoustic versions of “Lost” and “Last of Us”. Really worth the scratch if you can afford it.

ARION - Last Of Us [Japanese Edition +4] (2014) back scan

“Last Of Us” is a more than an impressive debut. It's powerful and catchy at the same time, plenty of wonderful melodies, tight instrumentation and heavenly vocal arrangements.
Often this kind of 'grandiose soundig' albums wear thin with lots of blur and song-bleed. Amazingly, I didn’t notice any of that with this expertly produced record. Each song is distinct and potent while the diversity keeps things fresh.
Arion has the potential to make it big in every aspect. It takes nothing more than a dose of inspiration and imagination so as to come up with such result. Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a long and successful career.
Kick-ass and Highly Recommended.

01 - The Passage
02 - Out Of The Ashes
03 - Seven
04 - Shadows
05 - You're My Melody
06 - I Am The Storm
07 - Burn Your Ship
08 - Lost
09 - Last Of Us
10 - Watching You Fall
11 - New Dawn (Japanese Bonus Track)
12 - Shadows [Edit Version] (Japanese Bonus Track)
13 - Lost [Acoustic Version] (Japanese Bonus Track)
14 - Last Of Us [Acoustic Version] (Japanese Bonus Track)

Viljami Holopainen - Vocals
Iivo Kaipainen - Guitars, Backing Vocals
Arttu Vauhkonen, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Gege Velinov - Bass, Backing Vocals
Topias Kupiainen - Drums



LANGHOFF - Safe Distance (2014)

LANGHOFF - Safe Distance (2014) full


With skilled songwriting and cool '80s references, "Safe Distance" is the debut Cd from Danish singer Bjarne LANGHOFF.
On "Safe Distance", you will hear Langhoff's fondness for the classic L.A. Westcoast AOR sounds but also funk, classic rock and smooth pop, in areally well produced record.

The material is varied in style, arranged in detail and delivering impressive performances from the featured session musicians - not to mention Bjarne Langhoff's powerful yet clear singing voice.
Langhoff's mentioned influences go from Bill Champlin, Nik Kershaw, Seal, Richard Page and even Toto, including all the cream from the L.A. scene, but this album it is still very much a universe of his own creation, one where his signature voice transport the listener through beautifully arranged tunes characterized by its unique and dynamic sound.

In 2009 Langhoff entered the big stage of the Westcoast music world when he was featured as a solo performer on the Tribute To David Foster collection, a record to honour one of the finest songwriters in the world.
Langhoff's solid performance later resulted in an invitation to contribute to the album Highlights And Rarities with his version of the top hit She's A Beauty, originally performed by The Tubes.
Langhoff first performed his way into Danish viewers hearts in 2012 during the premier season of the television program The Voice. But he didn't want to rush his debut CD and instead continued his work on "Safe Distance", already a long time in the making.

If you’re looking for some 'new' music and artist to dig into, here’s another Scandinavian guy that surely delivers.
Langhoff possesses an amazing voice with lots of integrity and he delivers these 10 original songs with passion, power and soul. Together with great production and amazing musicianship, you can hear the dedication to every detail.
To reach the depth and dynamism that matches Langhoff's ideal sound, he allied himself with a team of experienced musicians (Jonas Krag, Lars Daugaard, Allan Nagel and others) and put the mixing and the mastering in the hands of renowned Finnish sound engineer Mikko Raita and mastering legend Jan Eliasson.
Very recommended to Westcoast AOR / soft rock aficionados.

01 - We Made Our Mistakes
02 - Jesus Through The Light
03 - Lullaby
04 - New Mexico
05 - Silence
06 - All Day Funny
07 - Hollow Soul
08 - Safe Distance
09 - Hollywood
10 - We Made Our Mistakes (Radio Edit)



THOR - Thunderstryke II (2014)

THOR - Thunderstryke II (2014) full


Now this is fun. With the commercial might of Disney behind an already iconic brand, the name of Thor is pretty much household this decade already, the sight of a blonde, muscle-bound God fronting a series of Marvel movies while clutching a fuck-off hammer inspiring young boys to fight the good fight.
For boys of a certain age, however, the name THOR stings the mind with thoughts of a different kind of God: a Rock God, a blond, muscle-bound God fronting a series of Metal musicians while clutching a fucked-up hot water bottle and letting the blood run red...

So if you were a cool boy in the '80s and used to enjoy hard rock and related music, you should have listened or heard about Canadian heavy metaller and muscle rocker Jon Mikl aka THOR.
If you witnessed Jon Mikl Thor wrapping a micstand around the neck of a portly milkman at the culmination of a shredding 'Thunder On The Tundra' on a Saturday morning in the mid-eighties then, surely, you realised that your weekend television viewing and, ultimately, your taste in music would never be the same again...

Jon Mikl Thor was the first Canadian bodybuilder to win both the Mr. Canada and Mr. USA titles. Combining body strength feats with searing rock music, Jon formed a band, originally named Mikl Body Rock, then Thor and the Imps, before settling on the simplistic yet standout, THOR.
The debut album, 'Keep The Dogs Away', appeared in 1977, and THOR would continue to thrill audiences for the next decade until, in 1987, he decided to retire from live performances to concentrate on a promising movie / TV career.
The promise delivered. Movies such as 'Zombie Nightmare' and 'Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare', once seen, were never forgotten. That was a cheesy, B-movie, B-music feast.

THOR, though, never forgot the lust for live metal, returning after a decade out in 1997, continuing to release albums, including a 30th anniversary reissue of the debut and a re-release of 1985's 'Live In Detroit', albeit with a slightly lesser profile.
That profile deserves to be raised somewhat in 2014, however, with the release of "Thunderstryke II".

THOR - Thunderstryke II (2014) cd photo

Rock Saviour Records (via Iron Pegasus Records) are doing a fine job in resurrecting the legend of THOR, following up the release of Part 1 of 'Thunderstryke' in 2012 with the 'Energy' EP, a 7" vinyl three-tracker featuring the title track, taken from 'Thunderstryke II', and a pair of non-album tracks.
Limited to 555 copies, this extended player primed ears nicely for what was to follow, the fourteen-track album that features both new and old, yet previously unreleased, songs rearranged and reworked from the '70s and '80s.

With the promise that old school and long term fans of THOR will rejoice in the album's wares, "Thunderstryke II" opens with the suitably bombastic 'Coming Of Thor', a frenzied fusion of spoken word, air raid sirens and chugging riffage.
What follows, though, will astound: haunting '80s synths introducing 'Megaton Man Returns', a heady mix of electro muscle rock, scuzzed-up crazy guitar and humungous chorus. This, my friends, is classic THOR.
And we're only on track two. There are a dozen more winners to contend with.
'Rock N Roll Dream' and 'Metal Mya' sound like the polished '80s metal standards that they ultimately are, 'We Live To Rock Again' a clarion call to hard rockers everywhere, massive of riff and hook. 'New York City' is a throwback to pop-infused rock times - muscle pop? - while 'Thor Rock Warrior' sounds exactly as the title suggests.

'Graveyard' slows things down, for around twenty seconds, before unfurling into a moody love letter to The Doors. I actually own a DVD copy of a 2003 Canadian movie of the same name centred around a pair of bookstore clerks and starring none other than... Jon Mikl Thor!
'Thunder' is another typically crazed slower paced hard rock pot boiler, 'Back For Blood' an anthemic raging tornado of a tune. 'Energy' is a timeless '80s rock classic, keys tickled by skeletal fingers, gang vocals shouted out by a legion of boom, while 'Accept The Challenge' checks every box on the vintage metal requirements application form.
The listener is almost spent 'When The Hammer Falls', chugging guitar going for the throat, before 'Mirror Man Power' brings a sense of déjà vu to the record, being a re-worded working out of 'Megaton Man Returns'.

THOR - Thunderstryke II (2014) back cover

If every vintage rock star and heavy metal hero is on the comeback trail in one sense or another then Jon Mikl Thor is more than deserving of a second stint in the spotlights. This is, remember, a man who once battled the Devil himself...
No, seriously, this is a lot of fun. Cheesy lyrics, epic riffs, clichés everywhere... but funny as hell.

01 - Coming Of Thor
02 - Megaton Man Returns
03 - Rock 'n' Roll Dream
04 - Metal Mya
05 - We Live To Rock Again
06 - New York City
07 - Thor (Rock Warrior)
08 - Graveyard
09 - Thunder
10 - Back For Blood
11 - Energy
12 - Accept The Challenge Again
13 - When The Hammer Falls
14 - Mirror Man Power



SARIS - Until We Have Faces (2014)

SARIS - Until We Have Faces (2014) full


SARIS is one of the Neo Prog / Melodic Rock bands from Germany who gone under the radar even their career lasting for more then 30 years. There was some ups and down since the beginning and the first album saw the light in 1993 but they disbanded in 2000.
In 2009 they presented a second record and now the combo are back with "Until We Have Faces", to be released next October 30.

Commanded by Derk Akkermann (guitars, keyboards) the music of Saris combine proggy elements with elaborated melodic rock (sometimes bordering hard) and AOR harmonies. As you can note in the lineup, 4 of the 6 members provide backing vocals.
One of them is British Henrik Wager known throughout Europe for musical theaters and various music projects as singer, songwriter and producer. He delivers excellent lead vocal parts on many of the songs here, while other are sung by female Anja Günther.

SARIS - Until We Have Faces (2014) inside

What we have here is an interesting mixture of genres, always focused in melody.
Saris states as influences the likes of Kansas, Saga, Magnum, early Journey, and more contemporary acts like Dutch progsters Knight Area or Germans Invertigo.
That very much sums up what "Until We Have Faces" is all about. The music is elaborated with stylized instrumental sections featuring with some very memorable keyboards passages and dynamic rhythm section.

There's commercial, almost catchy rockers in short (song format) cuts like "From Nowhere", the very Saga-like "Come Undone", the groovy "Time To Catch the Train", the melodic rocker "Hold On" and the poppy "Run Away Now".
On the other hand, Saris has a light prog / neo prog spirit on longer compositions as the dreamy midtempo "Rain" featuring very nice female leads, the urgent "It's Up To You" (with some pompy rocking sections) and closer "Endless Dream".

Title track "Until We Have Faces" floats in between, blending melodic hard rock nuances with proggy metalized riffs, but never too heavy.

Saris is a very interesting act that definitely worth checking out. If you like your melodic rock with an extra craft blended with progressive instrumental sections and some AOR harmonies, "Until We Have Faces" is for you.
For me, a great surprise from Germany, really enjoyable.

01 - Until We Have Faces
02 - Come Undone
03 - Time To Catch the Train
04 - Run Away Now
05 - It's Up To You
06 - From Nowhere
07 - Another Dead End Street
08 - Rain
09 - Hold On
10 - Endless Dream

Derk Akkermann - Guitars, Keyboards, Programming
Henrik Wager - Lead and Backing vocals
Anja Günther - Lead and Backing vocals
Lutz Günther - Bass, Backing vocals
Jens Beckmann - Drums, Percussions
Thomas Hackmann - Backing vocals



Monday, October 20, 2014

DENNIS DeYOUNG - …And The Music Of Styx Live in Los Angeles (2014)

DENNIS DeYOUNG - …And The Music Of Styx Live in Los Angeles (2014) 2 CD full


Last March 18th DENNIS DeYOUNG, the legendary front man of Styx and author of key songs that define that band's career, returned to Los Angeles for the first time during his solo career to play a sold out show at the El Rey Theater. Recorded live for AXS-TV and captured in pristine high quality, the performance has been slated for release via Frontiers Records tomorrow, on CD / DVD & BluRay as "…And The Music Of Styx Live in Los Angeles".

Dennis DeYoung is 'the' voice of Styx. And for the younger ones of you, Styx is the legendary rock band from Chicago which has been very famous especially in the '70s and the '80s.
After DeYoung left Styx he focussed on his solo career. But "…And The Music Of Styx Live in Los Angeles" brought the singer back to L.A. for this special concert. And he went back in time and performed many highlights of Styx.
The show covers all the important milestones of the legendary Prog / Melodic Rock / AOR band.
It is a great selection that includes earlier hits like "Lady" as well as "Come sail Away". Of course DeYoung also performed Styx's mega hit "Mr. Roboto".

The setlist of the concert was completed by solo material from the extraordinary singer and keyboarder. "Desert Moon" for example is from his first solo release and fits perfect into the framework of the show.
DeYoung's version of "Don't Let It End" alone worth the purchase of this double CD. It's fantastic.

DENNIS DeYOUNG - …And The Music Of Styx Live in Los Angeles (2014) back cover

The concert was quite unique and one of the nicest things with this release is a combination of great songs and a modern production. This let the tracks shine even more.
"…And The Music Of Styx Live in Los Angeles" is not just another 'live album'. It's more like a 'live in the studio' record, with a crystal clear production and excellent performances (the band is great).
Very Recommended to all, specially if you're not that familiar with Styx. You'll love this.

CD 1:
01 - The Grand Illusion
02 - Lady (Live)
03 - Lorelei (Live)
04 - Blue Collar Man
05 - Show Me the Way (Live)
06 - Mr. Roboto
07 - Crystal Ball
08 - Don't Let It End
09 - Too Much Time on My Hands

CD 2:
01 - Rockin' the Paradise
02 - Desert Moon
03 - Babe
04 - Fooling Yourself
05 - Suite Madame Blue
06 - The Best of Times
07 - Renegade
08 - Come Sail Away

Dennis De Young: lead vocals, keyboards
John Blasucci: keyboards and backing vocals
Craig Carter: bass and backing vocals
Jimmy Leahey: guitars and backing vocals
Tom Sharpe: drums and percussion
August Zadra: guitars and lead vocals
Suzanne De Young: backing vocals



BOSTON - Life, Love & Hope [SHM-CD Special Tour Edition] (2014)

BOSTON - Life, Love & Hope [SHM-CD Special Tour Edition] (2014) full bonus


Iconic American Classic Rock giants BOSTON returned with the first studio album in over a decade; "Life, Love & Hope", released at the end of last year. On occasion of the recent Japan tour, Avalon / Marquee Records has put out a "Special Tour Version" including various bonus tracks, a Backstage Pass replica and pressed on a high quality SHM-CD format.

"Life, Love & Hope" is not your father's Boston, particularly their seminal self-titled debut that astonished the Classic Rock world. No, this is the older, wiser and more mellow Tom Scholz evolving Boston into a more AOR / Melodic Rock beast according to modern times.

BOSTON - Life, Love & Hope [SHM-CD Special Tour Edition] (2014) booklet

Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. Still, the trademark Boston sound is there; you can hear the classic guitar riffs and solos, that touch of piano and organ and the meticulous and lush Scholz production.

Many reviewers have given to "Life, Love & Hope" a poor score. I disagree.
It's a solid AOR / Melodic Rock record with all Boston's trademarks intact, and with a breath of a modern touch in songwriting, production and sound. Tom Scholz is cutting his own path, still creating and evolving Boston.

BOSTON - Life, Love & Hope [SHM-CD Special Tour Edition] (2014) cd photo

There's enough quality on offer to buy with a degree of confidence and I think it's as good as can be expected from the Boston brand in this new century.
Very Recommended.

Marquee Inc. Japan / Avalon ~ MICP-30057

01 - Heaven On Earth
02 - Didn't Mean To Fall In Love
03 - Last Day Of School
04 - Sail Away
05 - Life, Love & Hope
06 - If You Were In Love
07 - Someday
08 - Love Got Away
09 - Someone (2.0)
10 - You Gave Up On Love (2.0)
11 - The Way You Look Tonight

Bonus Tracks:
12 - Someday (Tom Scholz Vocal Version)
13 - Te Quiero Mia
14 - O Canada
15 - God Rest Ye Metal Gentleman

Tom Scholz - all instruments, lead vocals (Tracks: 7, 8, 9, 10), harmony vox
David Victor - lead vocals (Track 1), harmony vox
Brad Delp - lead vocals (Tracks: 2, 4, 9), harmony vox
Tommy DeCarlo - lead vocals (Tracks: 5, 7, 10, 11)
Gary Pihl - lead guitar (Track 5), harmony vox (Track 8)
Curly Smith - harmonica (Track 7)
Jeff Neal - harmony vox (Track 5)
Beth Cohen - harmony vox (Track 8)
Kimberley Dahme - lead vocals (Tracks: 4, 6, 10), harmony vox, flute (Track 10)



VEGA - What The Hell! [Frontiers reissue +1] (2014)

VEGA - What The Hell! [Frontiers reissue +1] (2014) full


Together with the awesome Melodic Rock heaven of the new VEGA album, Frontiers Recods has reissued the band's acclaimed previous album "WHAT THE HELL!" released originally only in Finland and the UK in 2012.
This new version includes one previously unreleased original bonus track; the AOR, keyboard driven "Skin Deep".

On "What The Hell!" Vega continues wearing their love for '80s melodic rock music injected with modern sounds.
Every song from the first track to the final cut features powerful vocals, catchy choruses, rhythmic keyboards and driving guitars, complete with impressive guitar solos pulling the songs higher.
The likes of “She Walks Alone”, “White Knuckle Ride”, “You Can't Run” and the anthemic title track are superb tunes that should see Workman and the Martin twins finally get some plaudits of there own, and rightly so.
Vega also has developed even more their sonically modern delivery as heard in “Not There For You” or the commercial and radio friendly “Bless My Soul”, but don't be afraid, all are firmly planted in classic melodic rock.
A prove that they didn't sold their souls to mainstream is the absence of ballads, all tracks are uptempo foot-tapping rockers. Only on “Fade Into The Flames” they slows down a little, a midtempo with a typical British flavor.

VEGA - What The Hell! [Frontiers reissue +1] (2014) back cover

With "What The Hell!" Vega meet all the hype and expectations put on after their great debut.
It shows the band expandeding their melodic rock sound, even much bigger than before, and certainly they are a breath of fresh air for the genre.
The Martin brothers really know how to write a good, catchy song. What The Hell ... this is really good.
Highly Recommended.

01 - Audeat Somniare
02 - White Knuckle Ride
03 - What The Hell
04 - Not There For You
05 - Cry
06 - Raise Ya Game
07 - Fade Into The Flames
08 - You Can't Run
09 - Bless My Soul
10 - She Walks Alone
11 - Turn It On
12 - Saviour
13 - It's Gonna Be Alright
14 - Hand In The Air
15 - Skin Deep (2014 Bonus Track)

Nick Workman (vocals)
Dan Chantrey (drums)
Tom Martin (bass)
James Martin (keyboards)
Marcus Thurston (guitar)



ENCHANT - The Great Divide (2014)

ENCHANT - The Great Divide (2014) full


If there was triumvirate of seminal American melodic progressive rock bands at the turn of this Century, it was likely Spock's Beard, Dream Theater and, the band we consider today, ENCHANT. From the San Francisco bay area, Enchant has been of the radar for the best of a decade.
"The Great Divide" marks their return and their first studio album in eleven years.

While the lapse has been long, largely due to engulfing personal matters of band members, this new album is a return to form for Enchant. Actually, in the very best sense, the music sounds like a page from the past or, perhaps better, another chapter in a book that has never closed.
"The Great Divide" is the strongest group of songs since 1996’s 'Wounded' and finds the band rejuvenated with a refreshed Enchant-Prog sound. The production is tight and Ted Leonard ’s vocals sound more mature and in control than never before.
Enchant's familiar themes of melodic, lightly complex compositions, strong doses of guitar and keyboards, and straightforward harmonious vocal arrangements are once more self-evident.

ENCHANT - The Great Divide (2014) booklet

One of the characteristics that has always impressed about Enchant is their ability to dovetail the sharpness and heaviness common to progressive metal with this inherent gentleness.
It's an odd relationship to explain, but easily found within "The Great Divide", "Here and Now" and, possibly more so, with bonus track "Prognosticator". That song has some strong riffs and a deep bass line, pushing the band more towards the heaviness that Dream Theater can pursue, but not nearly as 'metal' as, say, Symphony X.
The album kicks off with the upbeat rocker, "Circles", which incorporates some layered vocal harmonies over Bill Jenkins’ synth sounds. The band have always shined in the instrumental sections and that is no different here. Doug Ott’s guitar is as recognizable as ever and his solo here is a sign of more great things to come throughout the album.

One of the highlights of the record is the second track "Within an Inch" delicious offering flexible arrangements. The chorus, with its harmonies over the lead guitar part, is unrelenting in its catchiness. This part gives way to a wonderful double hi-hat keyboard solo section.
Sometimes a song can sound like a merger between Prog and AOR / Melodic Rock like "Life In A Shadow", thanks to the smooth vocal arrangement and more than subtle rock groove.
"All Mixed Up" picks up on that groove somewhat but is more a curiosity. It's heavy, with this marching tempo starting the song and introducing the chorus, only to move into a lighter movement. This, in turn, builds to the bring back the heavy refrain. Besides the lyrical concept, maybe the music has something to say about the title.

ENCHANT - The Great Divide (2014) back

Enchant's return to the scene is a real success. "The Great Divide" contains over an hour's of rather interesting and entertaining Melodic Progressive Rock, a bit edgy at times which provides even more nuances to their stylized sound.
Tons of layers, guitar and keyboard solos, elaborated arrangements, great chorus melodies; you will find no shortage of those here. And you will be pleased with the result.
Strongly Recommended.

01 - Circles
02 - Within An Inch
03 - The Great Divide
04 - All Mixed Up
05 - Transparent Man
06 - Life In A Shadow
07 - Deserve To Feel
08 - Here and Now
09 - Prognosticator (bonus track)

Ted Leonard – vocals, guitar
Doug Ott – guitars
Ed Platt – bass
Sean Flanegan – drums
Bill Jenkins – keyboards



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