Tuesday, February 21, 2017




REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Here's an unusual offering, found at a comic convention of all places. The reason for this is that Cosmic Rays is made up of people who create comics or are involved in comics. The most well known would be drummer Charlie Adlard who illustrates a little comic called 'The Walking Dead' a couple of times a month. Of course, making good comics does not mean you can make good music, so I was understandably intrigued.

'Cosmic Rays' is rather proggy in it's overall feel, but the sort of prog you can play air guitar to, not the boring stuff. It was made over a period of a few years, so lacks some cohesiveness, but the music is solid and the melodies ever present. Vocalist Shane Chebsey has a pub rock feel to his voice, underlined by a nervous mix that keeps pushing him to the front. Nonetheless, he can hold a tune and suits the music well, which is always a good starting point. Another good starting point is opener 'Electricade', which sets out the stall for the band as an upbeat but interesting prospective. There's a real 70s vibe that crops up often, a space rock feel that is kept under control rather than allowed to make everything too much like a hippy festival. They can rock out when required, and 'Need For Speed' has a wonderful Deep Purple-y feel to it with a neat riff and very nice keyboards. The album finishes with an eight minutes plus track, 'Redemption (2&3)', featuring some jaunty and catchy guitar from artist Phil Winslade along with some proggy bits that should come with flowers to braid in your hair.

'Cosmic Rays' is quite a find, a self financed and produced gem that will slot right into anyone's power prog collection. If you have a few It Bites or Kino albums this will be right up your street. Deep enough to reward repeated listens and instant enough to enjoy on the first spin, this has made me look forward to the band's next EP, due later this year. It's cosmic, man...

Band Facebook Page



LABEL: Phil Vincent Music

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

It's time to say hi to two old friends, namely guitarist Damian D'ercole and vocalist Phil Vincent. Regular readers will know of Phil Vincent, as he is well known for being a prodigious one man band, releasing many high quality releases. These days he mixes things up with co-conspirators, from the heavy Legion to Tragik, and most recently Cranston. I like to think that when Phil Vincent is involved in a project there's going to be a worthy end result, and the fourth album under the D'ercole banner is no exception.

The difference with D'ercole is that it's most definitely Damian D'ercole's baby, with Vincent acting as vocalist and producer (plus keyboards). D'ercole writes all the songs here and provides all the guitars, so naturally the sound is different to your usual Phil Vincent release. Technically there's seven songs here, but that does include 'Epic Failure', which is really four songs in one, running at 15 minutes. Personally I would rather have had them split into separate tracks for easier listening, but it doesn't take away from the fact they are four great songs. The songs in general are very melodic with some excellently placed guitars, with Vincent's vocals distinct as ever. D'ercole isn't afraid to experiment, and on 'The Walls Are Closing In' he tries interesting rhythms and a bit of funk to produce a track that really grows on you, never outstaying it's welcome in nearly seven minutes. Elsewhere there's more standard melodic fayre, none more so than 'Waiting For Your Love', which itself is part 3 of 'Epic Failure'. Seriously guys, don't do that again, as it's a song Iwould have liked on a playlist with similar ones but I can't do that.

'No Place like Home' is an eclectic and highly enjoyable album, mixing a few different styles but maintaining a coherent whole. The wimpy 'Dreamer' is the only track that had me reaching for the skip button, but even then it's not a bad track, just not really my scene. Another cracking collaboration from D'ercole and Vincent, there's no reason not to check this one out.

 Official Site

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

CREYE: ”Straight To The Top”

Rating: - (EP)
Label: CREYE (Self-released)
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Okay, maybe the band’s name requires instructions to pronounce it accordingly, but damn it, CREYE’s debut EP promises great things for them. The mastermind of the band is guitarist Andreas Gullstrand, who has enlisted some of Sweden’s top musicians to play on these songs. There’s vocalist Alexander Strandell from Art Nation,  guitarist Andrée Thunder from Theander Expression and Linus Abrahamson on bass, to name a few. A bit of a supergroup!

The sound of the band is very much influenced by the eighties, with lots of keyboards and a somewhat electronic drum sound. With the ”retro synth wave” being a trending style, the band sounds rather contemporary. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense that a retro sound makes them contemporary but sometimes the old is the new ”new”…

There’s two original Creye tracks and a fine cover of Robert Tepper’s classic ”No Easy Way Out” on this EP. ”Straight To The Top” is a hard-hitting uptempo AOR track with a big hook while ”Never Too Late” is a slightly more ”moody” track but just as hook-laden and melodic. The Tepper cover stays true to the original and while Strandell doesn’t have the rasp of Temper, he does a great song making the song his own. The retro-modern-synthwave-hardrock-AOR sound works perfectly for this song too.

If there’s a full album in the works and it’s as good as these tracks, I’ve got a lot of ”R’s” reserved for it…


Blackfield: "V"

Rating: RRR
Label: Kscope
Review by Martien Koolen

For those ofyou who do not know Blackfield, it is a cooperation between compposer, guitarist and singer Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen. This is their fifth album and it was recorded over a period of 18 months in England as well as in Israel. V is a concept album which features 13 new songs that form a flowing 45 minutes ocean themed song cycle.

The rather short album starts with A Drop In The Ocean, which is an orchestral intro to the follow up Family Man. That one features lead vocals by Wilson and kind of reminds me of Porcupine Tree. The third track, called How Was Your Ride is a bit melancholic but it is also one of the best songs on the album. Geffen sings the following two tracks which are rather mediocre, just as Lately, which is really nothing more than a utterly simple rock song.

October is a nice ballad,which is followed by The Jackall, which is the second best track, featuring an excellent blues riff. Salt Water is an intrumental track and the album ends with tyhe song From 44 to 48, again with lead vocals by Wilson.

All in all I have to say that I am a bit disappointed about this album as it is a fairly standard rock/pop album with nice songs, some very catchy choruses, but I also think that these guys, especially Wilson can do better than this. Do not get me wrong, V is not a bad album, but I really expect something more from one of my musical heroes, being Wilson of course...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

APOLLO: ”Waterdevils”

Rating: RRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Apollo Papathanasio is one of the great travelling vocalists of our era, lending his voice to several bands and projects. Some of the bands he’s sung with include Firewind (4 albums), Majestic, Time Requiem, Meduza, Sandalinas, and Evil Masquerade. Currently he’s fronting Spritual Beggars. Over the last few years he’s been putting together this album, his first solo effort.

”Waterdevils” is a hard rock/heavy metal album that reminds me of classic bands such as Dio and Deep Purple. It’s a varied album with some songs going to a more melodic direction, but it’s all rooted in classic rock and metal. Apollo’s testosterone-filled vocals tend to keep every song rather metal-sounding, even the softer ones. The production seems to vary a lot, some songs sound more muffled than others, but maybe that’s what they’ve been after - a raw, retro 70ies sound.

A few songs that stand out - the melodic ”Crossing The Lines” and ”Through The Fire” are probably my favourites. I can’t say that I’m particularly impressed by Apollo’s cover of Phenomena’s ”Stop” though - a great song for sure but this version doesn’t have the flow of the original and Apollo’s vocals are way too over the top.

If you’re a fan of Apollo’s voice, I guess this album is an essential purchase. Firewind and classic metal fans could check it out too.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Michael BOLTON: "Songs Of Cinema"

Rating: RR
Label: Frontiers
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The news of Michael Bolton signing with Italian melodic rock label Frontiers was a bit of a surprise. Immediately the fans of his  eighties albums were getting excited over the prospect of a new rock album. No news about that kind of a release have surfaced so far though, but here’s a new Bolton album anyway. An album full of covers. With the most basic album cover I’ve seen in a while.

If you’re a hardcore fan of Bolton’s voice, you’re in for a treat. The years haven’t done much to his voice, he can still belt ’em out. But the songs… there are some extremely strange choices here. I mean, a new version of ”When A Man Loves A Woman”? Why? A ”ballad version” of ”Jack Sparrow” that’s less than two minutes long? Why? A song called ”Cupid” from ”Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special”? Is that a movie?

I’ve always kind of liked the song ”Stand By Me” and Bolton’s version isn’t too bad. ”I Will Always Love You” is a duet with Dolly Parton, but I think it might have been better as an understated Bolton solo track. Bolton’s version of ”Old Time Rock & Roll” is surprisingly powerful, proving that the rocker inside Bolton is still alive. ”Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and ”As Time Goes By” are well-sung elevator music though. As for the ”Jack Sparrow” version, I was getting excited about it, but then it was already over… Ahoy! It surely could have been extended to three minutes just as well, maybe with a new verse and a bridge or something?


Sunday, February 5, 2017

KNIGHT AREA : ”Heaven And Beyond”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Butler Records
Review by Martien Koolen

This Dutch prog rock band was formed in 2004 by keyboard player Gerben Klazinga, later followed guitarist Mark Bogert, bass player Peter Vink, Mark Smit (vocals) and Peter van Hoorn (drums) to complete the current line up. Heaven And Beyond is the sixth studio album of Knight Area and it is their best effort so far. The music on this album is an almost perfect blend of symphonic, progressive and neo-prog elements with extremely melodic guitar and keyboard melodies.

The Reaper, one of the longest tracks on the album, is one of my favourite tracks of Heaven And Beyond, especially the solos and hooks of Bogert are extremely well played and aggressive, but still melodic. The title track, also the longest song on the album, is another showcase for the exceptional guitar skills of Bogert as he really plays his ass off here. Bogert is probably one of the best Dutch guitar players I have heard in a very long time and I would compare him with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani; just listen what this guy can do in the instrumental song Eternal Light. This truly amazing prog rock album ends with a beautiful ballad called Memories, which features a fantastic guitar solo again. Heaven And Beyond is a must for lovers of melodic prog metal and for lovers of great guitar music; Bogert rules!!!

It is about time that this amazing band gets some more attention and appreciation, so buy or die!!!


GOTTHARD: ”Silver”

Rating: RR
Label: PIAS
Review by Martien Koolen

Silver is the new album of Swiss hard rockers Gotthard and it is their third album with the ”new” singer Nic Maeder. Silver contains thirteen new tracks and needless to say that if you liked their two previous albums, then you will love their new release as well.

Silver is a special album for the guys as the 25th anniversary’s importance to the band is already evident in the title of the album. Silver kicks off with Silver River, one of the best songs of the album, being a nice, cool groove rocker that promises a lot for the rest of the album. However, most songs that follow are unfortunately not that good as the opener! The first single Stay With Me, is a rather predictable power ballad, while Reason For This is extremely poppy and Not Fooling Anyone is an utterly boring acoustic song filled with strings. Why is another mediocre, dull semi-acoustic track, while Only Love Is Real is another ballad that not really comes to live. Luckily My Oh My is saves this album a bit as it is a great Gotthard song, filled with excellent riffs and hooks and a marvellous guitar solo. Tequila Symphony Number Five features bits of Beethoven’s notorious fifth symphony and is again a bit of a weird song.

For me, Silver is a true disappointment and I really miss the old Gotthard as I still cherish great albums like Human Zoo (2003) and One Life, One Soul (2002). Silver is, sad but true, nothing more than an average, mediocre, rock album and I think that, seeing the keen competition in the music business, Gotthard will have to come up with other song material to survive.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017



LABEL: inakustik

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

The mad axeman is back, and this time he's brought some of his mates with him. You might know them, three chaps by the name of Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robim McAuley. In an inspired move, Schenker sweet talked them into joining him to play a single concert celebrating their time together, and what we have here is the entire thing on one lovely DVD or two CDs.

The package comes in a nice, solid box, although inside are the three discs in cardboard sleeves and a slim booklet (that doesn't give any credit to the rest of the band or tell you when it was recorded). So whilst it will look nice on the shelf, a chunky booklet with an essay on the band by a decent scribe would have been welcome. Aside from that, it is the music that counts, as they say (especially when 'they' have short changed you on the booklet) and it's hard to imagine this being anything less than a good watch/listen.

Each  singer's section (five songs each for Barden & McAuley, three for Bonnet) is preceded by a Schenker sol piece, namely 'Into the Arena', 'Coast To Coast' and 'Captain Nemo'. The track choices themselves are spot on, and the vocalists acquit themselves admirably, with Bonnet in particular hitting some tricky notes for man his age. Of the three, I have to say I prefer McAuley, who gives a great performance and sounds great to boot. Through it all, Schenker does his job without flair but with his usual massive talent. For final track 'Doctor Doctor' the three singers join forces, much to the delight of the 5000 strong crowd.

Visually, it isn't a big production. Some lights, a backdrop and plenty of Marshall amps is all you get, and it's the music that does the talking. The sound quality is very good, and the multiple cameras capture the energy of the performance well. It's always good to have the CD back up in the same package, rip friendly for those who like to take their Schenker on the move. It's been a while since I heard the likes of 'Attack of The Mad Axeman', Assault Attack', 'Rock Bottom', 'This Is My Heart' and 'Dancer', and the concert brings back plenty of happy memories, as I'm sure it will for anyone who picks it up.

Official Site

SEVEN: ”Shattered”

Rating: RRRRR
Label: Escape Music
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

A little bit of history first: the first SEVEN recordings and tours took place in the late eighties, when the band had major label support. They released a couple of singles and toured with Richard Marx among others back then, but never got around to releasing an album. Until 2014 that is, when Escape Music talked them into putting together their debut, with a little help from Swedish producer Lars Criss.

Now, a couple of years later Seven is back with their second album. Vocalist Mick Devine is the only one remaining from the original line-up, with the other vacancies filled by Swedish musicians such as Fredrik Bergh and Andy Loos. Despite these changes, the sound of the band is still intact. This album sounds like a natural successor to the debut. Devine’s smooth vocals are very recognisable and the songs are blessed with a lot of melody and hooks. With a superb production on top of it all, what we have here is one of the finest AOR albums of 2016.

I pretty much like all of these songs, but of course there are a few standout tracks. ”A Better Life”, ”High Hopes”, ”Pieces Of You” and ”Taking Over” are simply fantastic AOR songs with massive hooks. And that’s just to name a few.

While ”Shattered” doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, it’s still a fresh-sounding AOR album with a contemporary sound. I especially like the fact that most of the songs are uptempo and that the songwriters haven’t tried to re-write the standard mid-paced Journey song once again.


Bryan COLE: ”Sands Of Time”

Rating: RRRR
Label: MelodicRock Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

The debut album from Bryan Cole is timeless, classic AOR in the vein of Survivor, Journey, Mitch Malloy and Giant. Well produced but not over-polished, ”Sands Of Time” is sure to please most AOR fans. A few of the songs include familiar names in the credits - Jim Peterik of Survivor and Pride Of Lions is heavily involved, and two songs from the great, late Brett Walker are covered. Bryan Cole himself proves that he’s a decent songwriter with ”We Lost The Fire” and ”I’ll Be There For You”, although the latter owes a lot to ”Price Of Love” by Bad English.

The Brett Walker songs ”Hard To Find An Easy Way” and ”More Than A Memory” are both from his ”Nevertheless” album, and genre classics. Cole’s version of ”Hard To Find…” sounds a little more urgent and hard-edged than the original, and I like it a lot. With ”More Than A Memory” he does the unthinkable and drops the killer opening riff of the song - why oh why? I’ve tried to listen this song as a ”new song” and as such it’s good, but I can’t get help it, something’s missing.

The Peterik songs are sure-fire AOR, with the opening track ”Burning With A Reason” being on the heavier side of his songwriting. Other highlights include ”When Love Breaks” and the big ballad ”Nothing Matters”.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

VOODOO SIOUX: "Grotesque Familiares"




This is a little bit different, as this album is not new. If fact, it's from 2013, so consider this one in a very occasional series of 'How did we miss this when it came out?' reviews. Voodoo Sioux are a Midlands based band who made a small splash back in the 90s when they won a Radio 1 Rock Show competition and released a frankly superb album on the back of it in 1995. That, as it goes, was that, and Voodoo Sioux vanished from my radar until a couple of months ago when YouTube threw up a song called 'Damage' that blew me away and introduced me to their second album, hastily ordered and hungrily digested upon receipt.

And that's where you come in, as I'd like to introduce you to 'Grotesque Familiares', an album that makes you sad at all the albums there could have been in the 18 year gap between it and the debut. Here's the thing, boys and girls - Voodoo Sioux are really, really good. They specialize in upbeat, crunchy tracks with distinct rhythms and a sound that is all their own. Take 'Damage', which I suggest you go and find on YouTube - it's at once a catchy, well produced track that comes over as Def Leppard but more tribal and grass roots. Standout track 'Mozart In Reverse' echoes 'Two Worlds' from the debut, and fuses epic crunch with irrepressible melody and a wee bit of fiddle. The ballad 'Indian Summer' is okay if nothing special, but Voodoo Sioux really come alive when they turn on the pace. Tracks like 'Down' and opener 'Pillow Talk' are irresistible, full of life  and energy, all polished by Nick Flaherty's unique but sweet vocals.

A band like this comes along once in a blue moon, and I thought I'd never again hear the instinctive melodies that graced the debut. 'Grotesque Familiares' is a real kick in the arse, an album that throws guitar, melody and quirkiness at the listener and then does it all over again. You probably haven't ever heard of Voodoo Sioux before, so be the first in your group to uncover one of rock's (unintentionally) bast kept secrets and join me in chasing the voodoo.

Facebook Page

Glenn HUGHES: "Resonate"




It's been eight years since Glenn Hughes brought us the wonderfully titled 'First Underground Nuclear Kitchen', and in the meantime has kept me entertained with his Black Country Communion and California Breed work. The man has a ludicrous back catalogue, some of which I love and some of which I would gladly lock in Room 101 for eternity. Eclectic is a word that certainly covers Hughes, and it's always with trepidation that I sit through the first spin of an album by him.

Straight off the bat, 'Resonate' promises to be the sort of album that will delight fans of Hughes that enjoy it when he belts out a rocker or two. 'Heavy' does just what it says on the tin, coming over not a million miles away from Dio at his solo peak. Pounding drums, squealing guitars and Hughes on vocal overdrive, it certainly made me sit up and get excited for the rest of the album. 'My Town' follows, and doesn't disappoint, another head shaker with great melody and a huge guitar sound, complemented (as are most of the tracks) by some delicious old school keyboard. The album only slows down eight tracks in with the ballad 'When I Fall', which is followed by the more funky 'Landmines'. Both tracks are okay, but it's when the amps are turned up to eleven that 'Resonate' really, um, resonated with me.

Fans of Hughes' BCC work will get a real kick out of 'Resonate', and it goes without saying that long time fans will find plenty to shout about as well. As a fair weather fan of the man I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing, and have had the album on heavy rotation since it was released at the tail end of last year. You can't keep a good man down, it seems, and Glenn Hughes is still happy to give us more songs in the key of rock, bless him.

Official Site

FM: "Indiscreet 30"




I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers buying this way back on it's release, marveling at the sumptuous melodies, the instant hooks and the dodgy haircuts. 'Indiscreet' has long been hailed as an AOR landmark, and it has stood the test of time as well as the likes of 'Slippery When Wet' and '1984'. So why re record it? Seems the band were never happy with the production on the original, (although the Rock Candy re-release certainly improved it), and also they hadn't lived with the songs like they have ever since. Look - they wanted to do it and that's that!

So it goes without saying that this is an amazing album - after all, it's the same tracks in the same order. The production is indeed better, as expected, but what you want to know is should you bother buying 'Indiscreet' again? Well, in a word, yes. Me, I already had the original and the Rock Candy release (and a French version), but I love listening to the tweaked version. In the main, there's really very little difference, with perhaps the most changed song being 'American Girls', simply because it now has a little more urgency about the guitars. Elsewhere there's small flourishes that will only be noticed by the rabid fan (guilty!), and Steve Overland is now allowed to sing in a lower key to suit his more mature voice. Again, this isn't that noticeable unless you are au fait with the original. Speaking of Overland, he sounds superb throughout as expected.

So you have the original album, but as this is FM mark II it wouldn't be a proper release without a ton of bonus tracks. There's re recordings of 'Let Love Be The Leader' and 'Shot In The Dark' tacked on, as well as a smooth new track, 'Running On Empty'. From previous EPs there's 'Love & Hate', 'Bad That's Good In You' and the superb "Rainbow's End', in my eyes one of their best tracks. Finish off with the amazingly good acoustic version of 'That Girl' and you have a pretty solid package.

So yes, this a chance to buy something you already own (if you don't, just stop reading and get it), but if you're a fan I seriously think it's worth the outlay. 30 years in the making, this takes a classic and makes if, well, different if not better, and different can be very good indeed.

Official Site

Saturday, January 14, 2017

ONE OK ROCK: "Ambitions"




The first thing that will strike newcomers to One OK Rock is surely the weird name, which sounds kinda silly if I'm being honest. Thing is, once you know the band are Japanese it becomes a lot more forgivable. "Ambitions" is only their second English language release, with eight Japanese ones under their collective belt, and I can imagine people having a hard time believing this, as One OK Rock sound like any of a dozen American pop punk bands, with no hit of their origin betrayed by the music.

So, yeah, this is ostensibly a pop/punk rock/pop album, meticulously crafted to appeal to the sort of people who still like All Time Low, 30 Seconds To Mars or even Daughtry. In their earlier days One OK Rock had more of an aggressive edge but this has been filed down to allow them to slot seamlessly into the collections of millions of American teenagers and twentysomethings. There's thirteen tracks to play with, plus the usual pointless intro, and whilst it would be easy to dismiss the album as another cut and paste piece, One OK Rock survive a critical pasting simply because they write some very good songs. Opener "Bombs Away" is a bouncy, catchy piece, with vocalist Takahiro Moriuchi showing he can sing this stuff as good as any of the big American stars. It is very easy to imagine this track being a bit hit, and the same goes for several other tracks on the album. When they slow it down the music can get a little middle of the road, but even then there are no duff tracks, which is always a relief.

"Ambitions" certainly achieves what it sets out to do, which is to give One OK Rock the chance of a worldwide hit, and has the songs and clear production that could easily break America and the UK if it gets heard by the masses. A bit too generic for me to go crazy over, this album is a definite success that should be sought out by anyone who likes a healthy dose of pop sensibilities in their rock.

official website

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



LABEL: Self Release

REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

Well I must say this has been along time coming, as it seems Hand Of Dimes have been around for ages with just an EP to their name. the brainchild of Ex Kooga bandmates Nev MacDonald (also of Skin fame) and Neil Garland, Hand Of Dimes look to be the band to give Wales a fresh new pin in the hard rock World map.

Fans of Skin will certainly hold vocalist Nev in high regard, as the man has the proverbial set of golden tonsils that make any song he sings that much better. Before Skin, however, was Kooga, and those in the know remember them with fondness. Keyboard player Neil Garland was (and is) always a strong onstage presence, and it’s great to see the two of them back together. Hand of Dimes head down a bluesier route then the other two bands mentioned, and in doing so manage to make Nev work his socks off, his throaty power literally mesmerising on some songs.

By ‘Blues’ I mean powerful blues, so we’re talking big riffs and in your face vocals, more Thunder than Jeff Healey but with nods to both. The big riffs come courtesy of Colin Edwards, who also provides some sweet solo work throughout. So this isn’t a full on heavy rock album, as it’s balanced with slower, more thoughtful tracks, from the laid back duo of ‘Angels & Demons’ and ‘Sail On’ to the ever catchy but sweetly soulful ‘Stranger In My Hometown’. Every song here benefits hugely from Nev’s vocals, as good now as he ever was, standing eye to eye with the likes of Paul Rodgers and not backing down.

All in all, this is a first class album, and my only criticism is that it could have been pared down from thirteen tracks to maybe eleven, tightening the running order a little. Fans of Skin will certainly enjoy it, and anyone who likes good old British hard blues rock will be delighted to discover a new voice in the genre. This maybe only a handful of dimes, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

Official Website

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

THEOCRACY: ”Ghost Ship”

Rating: RRRRr
Label: Ulterior Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

As much as I liked the previous Theocracy album ”As The World Bleeds”, I must say that I’m even more blown away by ”Ghost Ship”. Matt Smith has written a truly brilliant collection of songs, ranging from full blasts of melodic metal to melancholic rock. There are no weak tracks, and the best ones… we’re talking about future classics of the power metal genre.

There’s enough virtuosity and complexity to satisfy those with prog tendencies, but most importantly, at least for me, ”Ghost Ship” offers us grand melodies and hooks. ”Paper Tiger”, the title track, ”Wishing Well”, the atmospheric, melodic ”Around The World And Back” and the ”fight song” ”A Call To Arms” are all blessed with the kind of melodies that go straight to your heart and make you want to shout along right away. The band has a Christian message in their songs but that doesn’t overpower these songs, it’s hardly ”Bible-bashing”.

In short, this is one of the finest albums released this year, and highly recommended. You can listen to it on Spotify but really, buy a physical copy and go to a Theocracy concert if there’s one near you!


Monday, November 7, 2016


Rating: RRRRR
Label: earMusic
Review by Martien Koolen

Being a fan from the very beginning, after listening to Marillion's first epic song called Grendel (1982) I was addicted. it never seizes to amaze me that this band, after 38 years in the music business, can still produce such a wonderful new album. Of course the band has its up and downs, but I still cherish and listen to classic Marillion albums like Misplaced Childhood, Clutching At Straws, Brave and Sounds That Can't Be Made.

F.E.A.R., Fuck Everyone And Run, a superb title by the way, is Marillion's 18th studio album and it is a master piece in the classical sense of the word; it is also my absolute favourite album of this year; go figure! The more I listened to F.E.A.R. the more I liked, appreciated and understood it and after trillions (not really) of spins I can say that I am slightly addicted to F.E.A.R. This new album "only" consists of five tracks, being El Dorado, Living In F.E.A.R., The Leavers, White Paper and The New Kings. Let me start with the latter, as that song was the first track that I heard from F.E.A.R. The New Kings is an epic Marillion masterpiece that runs to almost 20 minutes and does not contain one boring minute at all. This is Marillion at its best, meaning: luscious, progressive melodic rock with breathtaking keyboard melodies, heavenly guitar melodies and stunning vocals by H. The lyrics are extremely critical and up to date, dealing with the new power of rich people and the widening gap between the rich and the poor of this world ("We are the new kings; we do as we please, while you do as you are told").

The new album kicks off with a song called El Dorado, which is also a very long track, clocking over 16 minutes and this song brings back memories of the excellent track Gaza from Marillion's previous album Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012). El Dorado is split into five parts and it contains beautiful musical passages that give me goosebumps every time I listen to it. The lyrics, just as on Gaza, are rather dark and melancholic, dealing with some very disturbing changes in our society, think of the problems with migration, financial crisis and ecological crisis. ("the thunder approaches, the heavy sighing of the monster").

Living In F.E.A.R. is the shortest track of the album, featuring a very nice, almost singalong chorus and the other "short" track of the album is called White Paper. This song again contains lots of dazzling melodies. I know I am repeating myself here, but it is what it is and lyrically White Paper deals with the fact that everyone is getting old (er) and how you to deal with this fact of life. Hogarth sings: "I used to be the centre stage; time I should act my age" and I think that says it all, actually.

Last but not least you can enjoy a song called The Leavers, which is my favorite song of the album. Again a very long track, the longest of the album, with some extremely melodic, heavenly guitar solos by Rothery, proving that he is still one of the best guitar pickers on this planet.  The Leavers is probably one of the best songs that Marillion have released for a very long time. Lyrically the song deals with the life of a musician, which can be very hard and tiresome: "We are the leavers and the road rolls beneath us, we sleep as we're driven, we arrive before dawn, we wait in grey truck stops, for the night to release us. Then slip in from ring-roads and our work starts again."

Conclusion: F.E.A.R. is a new jewel in the Marillion collection, the best progressive rock album of 2016 and a must for all lovers of great melodic rock music with a message!! Since 2004 my Marillion top 3 albums were: Misplaced Childhood, Brave and Clutching At Straws, but now 12 years later F.E.A.R. will definitely enter this top 3, making it : F.E.A.R. at pole position, Misplaced Childhood as second best and Brave as third.  I never thought that this was going to happen, but it goes to show that Marillion is always in for a spectacular surprise!! Buy or die is my last advice!!


Wednesday, November 2, 2016




REVIEW BY: Alan Holloway

And the award for worst album title ever goes to... well, I suppose it's not as bad as REO Speedwagon's 'You Can't Tune A Piano But You Can Tune A Fish', but AC Angry's follow up to their 2013 debut 'Black Denim' will surely live on in lists of shit album titles. The positive side of that is at least it's something it will be remembered for, as it's unlikely the music will linger long in the memory.

The thing is, I quite enjoyed the debut and even went so far as to write that it was "an album of full speed ahead no nonsense rock". I'm even quoted in the bleedin' press release so it's a little embarrassing to sit here listening to 'Appetite...' and not having much fun at all. opener 'I Hate AC Angry' kicks things off with a fast beat and pretty poor lyrics but is at least punchy. Childish lyrics are a bit of a theme throughout the album, such as '4TW' suggesting 'Lick my sac', and it all gets a bit embarrassing after a while. It's a shame because these two opening tracks are otherwise energetic and rock live proverbial hurricanes. The band suffer when they slow down, as vocalist Costa sounds pretty awful if he's not rocking. 'No Way To Go But Down', 'Son Of A Motherfucker' and 'Cry Idiot Cry' both suck due to this and the fact that they aren't good songs anyway.

Fans of the first album will certainly fins stuff to enjoy here, with tracks like "Testosterone" and "I Wanna Hurt Somebody" giving a good account of themselves. There's some more middling stuff, such as the title track or 'the Balls Are Back In Town', that are a bit take it or leave it, not forgetting the awful slower songs, and when you take the album as a whole it's just not good enough. 'Black Denim' pisses all over this in terms of power, passion and sheer tuneful aggression, and I can't help but be disappointed in this follow up. I've suddenly lost my appetite for AC Angry...

Official Site

The Neal MORSE Band: "The Similitude Of A Dream"

Rating: RRR
Label: Metal Blade Records/Radiant Records
Review by: Martien Koolen

Thirteen years ago, Neal Morse left Spockís Beard and released his firs "real" solo album Testimony, as he already made a solo album in 1999 called Neal Morse. I still consider Testimony to be Morse's best album ever, as all of the follow up albums are merely not more than nice attempts to reach that excellent musical level of Testimony. I mean, how often can you repeat your musical ideas and not bore your listeners to death with it??

As I listened to The Similitude Of A Dream for the first time I immediately had that deja vu feeling that I had with all Morse albums after Testimony; the same melodies, the same keyboard solos and most of all the rather, same annoying preaching lyrics that really get on my nerves while listening to this new album. Of course this album is made by the Neal Morse Band, consisting of Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer, but it definitely is a Morse album and also, again (yawn), a concept album. The Similitude Of A Dream is based on a book called The Pilgrim's Progress From This World To The That Which Is To Come; Delivered Under The Similitude Of A Dream written by John Bunyan, way back in 1678; need I say more?? The music on this album sounds, as I stated before, very familiar; in my opinion too familiar, but you know what you can expect from Morse.

Luckily there are also a couple of great songs on this album which goes to show that the Neal Morse Band is of course a great progressive rock band with brilliant musicians. Especially the guitar solos of Gillette are sometimes out of this world on this album and Portnoy is still the best rock drummer on this planet, but he definitely has to return to Dream Theater..

Musical highlights on this bombastic and sometimes too dramatic album are the instrumental Overture with amazing hooks, riffs, solos and melodies, City Of Destruction, a classic Morse prog rock song with a catchy chorus, The Slough, being another instrumental song, So Far Gone, The Man In The Iron Cage with breathtaking guitar work, the third instrumental called The Battle and the last, also the longest track, called Broken Sky; a dramatic ballad-like song with two of the best guitar solos on the entire album. However the rest of the songs are not really to my liking and sound as I have heard them before a couple of times already on other albums. Take for example songs like Shortcut To Salvation (hymn-like), Sloth (too dramatic and dull), Freedom Song (a blue grass-like, utterly boring acoustic track), Makes No Sense (sounds too familiar) or the last song of CD 1 called Breath Of Angels, which is an emotional hymn-like ballad with typical, annoying religious Morse lyrics.

Mike Portnoy quoted that The Similitude Of A Dream is the absolute creative pinnacle of his cooperation with Morse and he is so bald as to say that we can compare this new Morse Band album with classic concept albums like Tommy or The Wall. With all due respect to Portnoy, but what was he thinking when saying that, as that is a little bit (watch the irony here) over the top.. Furthermore you will find a sticker on the CD with the following rather pretentious text: "This is it!, the juggernaut flagship masterwork from the Neal Morse Band." I can only say, I beg to differ, for me this is just a new Neal Morse album with some good musical stuff played by excellent musicians, but most of all it is again a repetition of his earlier work. I know that I will get a lot of "nice" reactions on my rather, maybe sometimes too critical, review, but that is all right as there is no account for taste and it is just my humble but sincere opinion.

The Answer: "Solas"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Napalm Records
Review by Martien Koolen

Solas, the Gaelic word for light, is the title of the new album by Northern Irish rockers The Answer and I can tell you rightaway that Solas is my favourite Answer album so far... For fans who liked the previous albums of The Answer this new one will probably take some time to get "used" to, as Solas is not your typical The Answer classic rock album. On this new album the four piece band from Northern Ireland have made excellent musical progression, which resulted in a modern, up date rock album with lots of Irish influences, meaning lots of folky influences, cultural Irish instrumentation and even choruses in Gaelic and Latin.

This fabulous album opens with the title track, which is in fact a pure rock anthem as The Answer has never played or composed before; a new born live classic track for sure. Follow up Beautiful World has lots of atmosphere and melancholy and singer Neeson delivers one of his best performances here; an extraordinary track which gets better with every spin. The third song of Solas called Battle Cry is the absolute highlight. It is an epic song, clocking over six minutes and this track really represents the new sound of The Answer. Mahon's guitar riff is very catchy and the chorus is even sung in Gaelic: "Seo An La A Thainig Mo Ghra", meaning: "This is the day my love arrives". The last part of this song, which really gets under your skin, being an up tempo guitar melody, wonderfully played by Mahon kind of reminds me of U2 and maybe that is not a coinidence... For old The Answer fans there are also songs that really rock, such as the bluesy Demon Driven Man with a lovely guitar melody/solo by Mohan, the up tempo Left Me Standing and the rocky Real Life Dreamers, which also features a duet between Neeson and the Irish vocalist Fiona O Kane.

The album ends with the emotioal ballad Tunnel, which features a breathtaking guitar solo and some really emotional vocals by Neeson, ending this amazing album in a great way. Solas is a very welcome surprise in 2016, as it shows The Answer at it best (second to none), the sound is rather different than on other albums, but Solas also proves that these guy still know how to rock. Solas is a brave, honest and wonderful album that will certainly end up in my top 10 of 2016 and it will not leave my CD player for the rest of this year. Play it loud and spread the word that Solas is one of the best rock albums of this year. "What the light don't fill, the darkness kills."

Hammerfall: "Built To Last"

Rating: RRRr
Label: Napalm Records
Review by Martien Koolen

The tenth album, called Built To Last, by the Swedish metal band Hammerfall, is defintely a "return" to their good "old" metal sound on albums like Glory To The Brave (1997) and Renegade (2000). It is Hammerfall's first album via Napalm Records and that may be the reason that this album sounds so higly melodic, aggressive and is overloaded with catchy choruses.

Opening track Bring It reveals the sound of the entire album; powerful, great riffs and a pumped up chorus that sticks in your head for a very long time. The following two songs Sacred Vow and Hammer High were previously released as lyric videos, and especially the latter is a metal anthem par excellence. Dethrone And Defy is probably the fastest track of the album and it is followed by the obligatory power ballad Twilight Princess; a classic Hammerfall ballad with excellent melodic guitar solos. However, the best tracks on this powerful album can be heard in the end as, the two final songs of Built To Last, being: New Breed and Second To None are the brilliant highlights. New Breed is a heavy, speedy, almost "trashy" metal track in the veins of Accept and that song will become a new live Hammerfall anthem killer for sure. Second To None, the longest song on the album, is indeed as the title says second to none! It is an epic-kind of track, slowly built up from a ballad-like melody into a rather dark song with amazing guitar passages and  "heavy" keyboard arrangements. On Second To None vocalist Joacim delivers his best performance of the entire album, making it a classic Hammerfall song, which will stand the test of time for years to come. Built To Last is a must for addicts of true, melodic, aggresive power metal and it is a return to Hammerfall's classic sound. I am really looking forward to see/hear them in Utrecht (The Netherlands) on 16 January next year.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Blind Ego: "Liquid"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Gentle Art Of Music
Review by Martien Koolen

Liquid is the third album of the German prog rock band Blind Ego, better known as the solo project of RPWL guitar picker par excellence Kalle Wallner.His previous album called Numb was released seven years ago and that one was a great album with some amazing and stunning guitar work by Wallner. The new album Liquid is again filled with breathtaking guitar riffs, hooks and solos but it is also a more diverse and versatile album than Numb. Liquid contains nine brand new tracks and they are a mix of prog rock, hard rock, metal,symphonic rock and pop rock with highlights Not Going Away and Never Escape The Storm, the two longest tracks of the album.

Wallner has called in the help of a couple of extraordinary musicians like: Ralf Schwager (bass guitar), Michael Schwager (drums) and three singers. On three songs you can hear Arno Menses (Subsignal), on one track you can hear Aaron Brooks (Simeone Soul Charger) and on four songs you can enjoy the voice of Erik Blomkvist (Seven Thorns and ex-Platitude). One of my favourites is also the instrumental track Quiet Anger, featuring heavy riffs, hooks, tempo changes and some excellent solos by Wallner. Not Going Away, as mentioned one of the highlights on Liquid, kicks off with melodic guitars and pounding drums; Dutch vocalist Menses delivers his best performance here, but it is the sheer brliliant guitar playing of Wallner that makes this song great. Never Escape The Storm is the longest song of the album and clocks just over eight minutes. It begins with semi-acoustic guitar picking before it eveolves into a melodic masterpiece with howling high guitar melodies and solos that will take your breath away. Blomkvist does a great vocal job here abd the melodies and the atmosphere of the song is sheer magic; play it as loud as you can!! Liquid is a wonderful album, better than Numb, and a must for RPWL fans, but also for fans of great melodic progressive rock music  with the guitar as the centerpoint of the music.Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Joe BONAMASSA: "Live At The Greek Theatre"

Rating: RRRR
Label: Provogue/Mascot
Review by Martien Koolen

Again a live DVD/CD/Blue Ray from the workaholic Joe Bonamassa? Yes, again and it is a fantastic album once more. This time the show is built around covers from the three Kings, Freddie, Albert and BB. Bonamassa's excellent big band also features horns and spectacular back ground singers and the set list is breathtaking. Take for example excellent blues tracks like Some Other Day, Some OtherTime, Lonesome Whistle Blues, Noboby Leaves Me But My Mother or Born Under A Bad Sign and you just want to hear and see more of Bonamassa as his guitar solos and vocal performance are almost out of this world.

There are too many highlights on this excellent release but I have to mention Going Down (Freddie King), Let The Good Times Roll (Albert King) and of course the BB King classic The Thrill Is Gone. The sound of this album is more than outstanding and the band is superb, but most of all you will enjoy Bonamassa's love for the blues through his magical guitar playing. Play it loud and often!!!

ELYSIAN GATES: "Crossroads"

Rating: RRR
Label: Independent Release
Review by Martien Koolen

Crossroads is the second album of the Luxemburg female fronted prog metal band Elysian Gates and it features the "new" vocalist Noemie leer (ex-Rude Revelation). Leer is defintely a vast improvement for Elysian Gates, as her voice sounds crystal clear in the - maybe a bit too sweet/cheesy ballad - called Mary Ann, but she also sounds rough and raw and she even grunts (sad but true...) a little bit, for example in the song Far From Home. Crossroads opens with the instrumental title track, which sounds rather familiar and not really spectacular or surprising, but this decent opener is followed by one of the highlights of this album, namely the epic Far From Home, which clocks over 10 minutes and leaves you almost breathless after listening to it!

Other musical "milestones" are: Broken Inside, HUman Infection, featuring a very catchy chorus, and the last track of this album called Open Gate. The sound of Elysian Gates can be best described as an excellent blend of musical characteristics from bands like Delain, Leaves Eyes and Tristania; meaning: up tempo, bombastic songs with lots of keyboard "walls" and melodies, great guitar solos and hooks, excellent vocals and a great variety in melodies. Crossroads is a great symphonic prog metal album which you should listen to more than once and then you might get hooked on Elysian Gates; be sure to check them out on stage in Eindhoven on 19 November!!

EDENSONG: "Years In The Garden Of Years”

Rating: RRR
Label: The Laser's Edge
Review by Martien Koolen

In 2008 the American based Edensong released their debut album called The Fruit Fallen and that album got a couple of great reviews. Edensong, formed eight years ago, uses musical elements from early prog "gods" like Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull and this means that the music of Edensong consists of rather complex song compositions and structures and they also add lots of orchestral instruments like the flute, the violin and the cello. In my humble opinion Edensong uses the flute too often, as therefore their sound tends to become too folky for me. It took almost eight years to finish this conceptalbum wiith the rather obscure, weird title Years In The Garden Of Years and the songs on this new album are a bit more progressive than on their debut.

If I would have to name the highlights of this album then I would pick the opener Cold City, Down The Hours and Yawn Of A Blink. The two instrumental songs on the album called End Times In Retrospect and Chronos are also worth mentioning, but again I have to say - I know I repeat myself - too much flute.... Edensong's music is without any doubt overloaded with emotion, melody and harmony, but it all sounds a bit too quiet, folky and "obscure" for me... However if you liked Edensong's debut The Fruit Fallen, then Years In The Garden Of Years is defintely your cup of tea. Check it out and listen to the album with earphones on, then you might enjoy it even better.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Joanne SHAW TAYLOR: "Wild"

Rating: RRR
Review by Martien Koolen

Taylor's The Dirty Truth, released two years ago, was a great blues rock album, produced by Jim Gaines, recorded in Memphis.

Taylor's new album called Wild, was recorded in Nashville and produced by no one less than Kevin Shirley. Wild contains 9 brand new tracks and 2 covers, being Wild Is The Wind, originally by David Bowie, and Summertime, originally by Ella Fitzgerald. Wild IS The Wind is the longest track on the album and clocks over 7 minutes and features two excellent emotional guitar solos and great vocals by Taylor. This Bowie track was also covered by Nina Simone, Randy Crawford and George Michael, but Taylor's version, altough I am not really a fan of covers, is without any doubt my favourite.

The other cover on Wild is the last track Summertime, which is also covered by Louis Arnmstrong; Taylor's version is a jazz-like piano ballad with a nice mellow guitar solo in the middle of the song.The rest of the song material on Wild is a mix of blues, blues rock, pop and sometimes even singer/song writing material. Ready To Roll is a nice funky blues-like mid tempo track with a very catchy chorus and nice guitar work.Wanna Be My Lover is a kind of Meilssa Etheridge-like song with organ passages and again some great guitar work.In fact the only "misser" on this excellent album is the song I Wish I could Wish You Back which is a rather mediocre acoustic ballad. Conlusion: Wild is a great blues rock/pop album and shows again that Taylor is a thrilling guitarist, but also a strong vocalist. Wild grows on you and proves that also women can play a mean and nasty guitar!! Looking forward to see and hear Taylor in The Netherlands during her autumn tour with Wilko Johnson.


Rating: RRRR+
Label: Limb Music 2016
Review by Satu Reunanen
Astralion return with their second album Outlaw after two years of absence. While working on their new material the band has done some gigging in Finland and this October they will be playing the Heavy Metal Heart Festival in Helsinki with Battle Beast, Amoth, Profane Omen, Scar Symmetry, Medicated and others. Astralions persistence about pushing on is finally paying off, as the bands power metal has started to gain praises around the world and they've found their audience in Finland.  
Astralion continues where they left off with their debut. If you loved that, you'll also love Outlaw. The album is again full of tight, compact and fast songs to headbang to and the catchy melodies are familiar from the debut. The line-up has stayed the same; Ian E. Highhill (vocals), Hank J. Newman (guitar), Arnold Hackman (drums), Thomas Henry (keyboards) and Dr. K. Lundell (bass). The band influences are also still the same; Helloween, Blind Guardian, Edguy and the cheerier upbeat bands like Stratovarius. 
Outlaw is hardly a radio friendly album and not the easiest bite for the listener, unless you've trained your musical ear earlier with some epic material. The songs run close to five minutes in length and the longest one The Great Palace of the Sea runs at ten minutes! But it's not only the long songs that make this a more challenging listen, it's also the countless twists that make power metal. At the surface the genre might seem like an easily flowing powerful river, but when done well it's what lies below that makes the music a deeper experience. Astralion not only uses the power metal tricks well to add to this experience, but also draws influence from many musical genres and that's their twist. You can still hear the 80's heavy metal and neoclassical influences throughout the album too. 
I won't go into each song seperately, but will mention that Wastelands of Ice is the albums only mid-tempo track and the epic album closer The Great Palace of the Sea actually flows fluently through its ten minutes. The album rocks through the roof and everything is as massive as it should be in power metal. Astralion is like a well oiled machine, they've found their thing and Outlaw is a powerful follower to their debut. It's "ASTRongAsaLION", if you get my worldplay. 


Rating: RRRR
Label: Melodic Rock Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

Soothing. That was my initial impression of Mecca’s third album. It’s possibly the best-sounding album I have heard in years, easily comparable to the classic AOR albums of the golden years. There’s warmth and space in these songs that’s often missing in the turbo-charged contemporary melodic rock.

Musically we’re talking about soft rock with a slightly progressive vibe. This isn’t an album of instant hits or party songs and it certainly doesn’t suit every occasion, but when the mood is right, ”III” is pretty flawless.

Main songwriter and singer Joe Vana has again surrounded himself with superb musicians, including bassist David Hungate (of Toto fame), Tim Akers, Shannon Forest and David Browning. It’s Joe himself who impresses me the most though, his vocals are outstanding and very emotionally charged.

The album features only eight tracks but it’s a case of quality over quantity. Even though I said that this is not an album of instant hits, there are a couple of songs with enormous chorus hooks, namely ”Let It Go” (no, not that Frozen song!) and the opener ”Take My Hand”. The latter has the kind of a ”surprise chorus” that I love, it  just jumps at you without a warning. "Unknown" does have another massive chorus too, so make that three. Some of the other songs do have some fine melodies but maybe delivered in a bit more understated way.

Highly recommended to fans of Mr. Mister and Toto, but worth exploring to those who enjoy the softer side of rock in general. Perfect for the moments when you want the music to soothe your soul.


Monday, September 26, 2016

KING COMPANY: ”One For The Road”

Rating: RRRR
Label: Frontiers Records
Review by Kimmo Toivonen

King Company is a new band and this is their first album, but the Kings behind the Company aren’t young princes. Vocalist Pasi Rantanen and drummer Mirka Rantanen have both played in Thunderstone, keyboard player Jari Pailamo is a former Twilight Guardian, bassist Time Schleifer has played in Jone’s Bros and guitarist Antti Wirman  has played in Warmen and Children Of Bodom. A couple of them have even been Heavy Metal dinosaurs, bringing the joyful message of Metal to the younger children.

”One For The Road” is an album of traditional melodic heavy rock in the vein of Whitesnake, Rainbow and Europe. Some of the songs have a bit of a seventies’ vibe, while others harken back to the hairy days of the eighties. My personal favorites include ”In Wheels Of No Return”, ”Wings Of Love” and ”Holding On”, all more 80’ies styled songs I guess… Big choruses and atmospheric keyboards galore!

As mentioned before, everyone in the band is a seasoned pro so they obviously deliver great performances. I’m especially impressed by Antti Wirman’s guitar work which is at times really fast and furious yet it never sounds like he’s showing off. I also enjoy the colourful keyboard work by Jari Pailamo.

Extra points for the artwork - this doesn't look like every other modern day melodic rock album...