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HOT NEW REVIEWS
 UPDATED ON MARCH 1 - 2013

RAGE OF ANGELS ‘DREAMWORLD’ (ESCAPE MUSIC)

I actually thought we were dealing with the legendary Christian Hardrockband RAGE OF ANGELS when I opened the package of ESCAPE MUSIC’s latest release, but in this case it concerns a complete new band or project founded by the original TEN keyboardplayer GED RYLANDS. He plays guitars and keys on the first album ‘Dreamworld’ and he is lucky to have some great singers on board, because none-other than MATT ALFONZETTI (JAGGED EDGE), HARRY HESS (HAREM SCAREM), DANNY VAUGHN (TYKETTO), RALF SCHEEPERS (PRIMAL FEAR), ROBERT HART (BAD COMPANY) and several others make their appearance on the album. The result is a damn fine album that will be loved by all fans of high class Melodic Hardrock, because this is reaching the prime-time league of classic acts like TYKETTO, FIREHOUSE, DANGER DANGER, HAREM SCAREM… OK, there’s nothing new or original here, because it is the typical catchy tongue-in-cheek Melodic Hardrock affair, but who cares if it is done as well as on this very disc. A song like “See you walking by” is pure early HAREM SCAREM bliss, with a top-notch HARRY HESS vocal delivery and basically, this is the perfect example of hot summer good-time rockmusic for the outdoors! And it goes on and on this way, featuring a non-stop catchy melodic hardrock attack in the classic tradition of mentioned bands, with as other highlights “Over and over” (with the amazing DANNY VAUGHN on vocals, perhaps his finest recording since the first TYKETTO classic, reminding a bit of JOURNEY actually, including a truly lovely guitar solo!), the beautiful ballad “With the beating of your heart” (with a great unknown lead singer called DAVID REED WATSON) and the instrumental “Requiem for the forgotten soldier” (with guitar genius RALPH SANTOLLA on additional guitar). No compromises, no fillers and no modern influences can be heard on this disc, because this RAGE OF ANGELS album is pure Classic American Melodic Hardrock/AOR all the way and somehow I feel that nodbody will mind at all, because it will put a smile on the face of every fan of the genre, no matter how cliché tingled some of the tracks may sound. Also the production is top-notch and so we can only conclude that ESCAPE MUSIC delivers a high class masterpiece with this album, which is a must-have for any fan of the genre! Forget all the wanna-bee bands, because this is the real thing, featuring superb musicianship and excellent vocalwork from some of the genre’s finest vocalist and it is all blessed with a terrific production, so this is really the way Melodic Rock should sound! More at: http://www.facebook.com/RageOfAngelsUK

(Points: 8.9 out of 10)

DENNY SOMACH ‘GET THE LED OUT – HOW LED ZEPPELIN BECAME THE BIGGEST BAND IN THE WORLD’ BOOK’ (STERLING PUBLISHING/USA IMPORT)

And here we have a really fascinating book on LED ZEPPELIN, which unlike the countless other books on this legendary Classic Rockband is a very well-constructed day by day diary that sums up pretty much everything chronologically from the day the members started the band in June 1968 until the split of the band on December the 4th in 1980. Although there have been similar books, also on most other major bands, this is by far the finest and probably the most detailed you will ever find on any band! Not as nicely packaged as the new MARTIN POPOFF album covers book, which is also released through STERLING PUBLISHING, the content of this new Zep book is for any fan of LED ZEPPELIN likewise more than just a must-have read, because you are able to read basically everything that ever happened to the bandmembers during their LED ZEPPELIN days. What is of course always the most interesting part in a story on a certain band or artist are either a classic quote by the musicians themselves or a really funny story. For that last part, you have to do interviews with other people than with the members of the band. In this case the author of this book was smart enough to look further than the LED ZEPPELIN members, because he interviewed a dozen other people whom were once involved with LED ZEPPELIN and they had some really interesting stories to tell. In my career as music writer, I got to hear the real interesting stories on a musician when doing an interview with especially the producer(s). Those are the guys that worked so close with a band during a certain period, they really learn all the ins and out of the bandmembers and also get a certain feeling when they are working with those musicians on material that might one day be qualified as classic stuff one day. RON NEVISON is one of those featured producers here and he has some pretty interesting stories to tell, while also ALICE COOPER, JASON BONHAM and the members of AEROSMITH, HEART and YES and many more people (even film director CAMERON CROWE) all share their stories about the 2nd (after THE BEATLES of course!) most influential band of all times. Anyway, the first part of the book is the diary of the 12 years the band existed, while the second part is concentrated on all those lengthy interviews with those familiar names from the music industry. The final part is an extensive discography disc-by-disc review, including the recent O2 London reunion show. The book itself is filled with pictures as well of course, including a lot of pictures of tickets, concert/tour announcements, concert ads and other memorabilia of the classic LED ZEPPELIN days. The title of the book is a reference to the classic American radio show presented by CAROL MILLER, who also does the foreword in this book. Her show and countless interviews with the bandmembers were an important source for author DENNY SOMACH to finish the finest book ever written on LED ZEPPELIN. Definitely a highly recommended book to any LED ZEPPELIN fan, as you get to learn basically everything about one of the greatest rockbands of all times! More info at: http://www.amazon.com/Get-Led-Out-Zeppelin-Biggest/dp/1402789416

(Points: 8.9 out of 10)  

MARTIN POPOFF  ‘FADE TO BLACK – HARD ROCK COVER ART OF THE VINYL AGE BOOK’ (STERLING PUBLISHING/USA IMPORT)

Now this is what I would call a real teaser for every book fanatic, because the look, size, weight and especially the rubber-bound hard cover is making it feel very comfortable when you have it in your hands. If there is one reason why you still want to own a real book instead of some digital E-Book file, then this is the perfect example. It concerns here a new book by Hardrock/Metal editor/writer/collector MARTIN POPOFF, of whom we reviewed a lot of books in the past. The book is titled ‘Fade To Black: Hard Rock Cover Art Of The Vinyl Age’ and of course we have had many books in the recent period that are based around the artwork of album covers, so it is definitely not an original idea. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Hardrock/Metal or a regular vinyl collector of all kinds of music, one thing’s for sure, the frontcover artwork of each album you like is just as important as the included music, so another mega sized book about this subject is always more than welcome. 

Nothing is more exciting than the so-called “crate-digging” for the vinyl collector and in the modern age, when listening to the music, the internet will always be that extra needed medium to check and see what the frontcover looks like of the album you’re listening to. That is something which will never change, not now and not in the next 100 years. Music without an image is almost like living without a soul and especially during the glorious 1970s and 1980s, the artwork was sometimes crucial if a record would become a success or not. The 1990s saw the downward trend of the importance of a frontcover, although especially within the (European) Power Metal community, it actually never went away (RHAPSODY, LABYRINTH, EDGUY, STRATOVARIUS, ICED EARTH…) and likewise, those bands had their albums also printed on vinyl throughout that decade. 

Thankfully, in recent times it seems like everyone is ‘back on black’ again and therefore the artwork is becoming more and more important once again. Due to Martin’s huge collection and wide network of contacts within the Hardrock/Metal world, it was only a matter of time before a book about the said subject of artwork would be released and now such a book is indeed available via STERLING PUBLISHING. As already mentioned, the feeling you get when holding the actual book in your hands is something only book fanatics will understand. Anyway, now on to the book itself, because it is of course the content that makes or breaks a book in the end. It’s of course hard to go into the wrong direction when you create a book about the frontcovers of albums and if there’s one music genre which is best known for having controversial artwork it is of course Hardrock/Metal. While looking at Martin’s picks in his new book, it is clear that the artwork of certain Hardrock and Metal albums played a major part in the contribution of the particular record to become a multimillion seller eventually. Either loved or hated, some of them kept the world busy in the 1970s and 1980s and paved the way to make the records become classics, especially in the case of let’s say FOREIGNER’s ‘Head games’ and almost any record by MEGADETH, THE SCORPIONS or W.A.S.P.. 

Each album is briefly reviewed by Martin, giving you a more detailed look inside the artwork and with the help of artist/designer Ioannis, who also designed some of the legendary album covers, he was able to interview the original designers, photographers, illustrators, and here and there the artists themselves to discuss the artwork and also the negative or positive effects it had after the release. Not only this is making it a stand-out book between the dozens of other books related to cover artwork, but also the fact that besides the cliché tingled (in terms of used in other albumcover related books) albumcovers of KISS, ALICE COOPER, QUEEN, IRON MAIDEN, MOTLEY CRUE, RUSH…, we can also learn more about a lot of obscure record covers of bands like QUARTZ, LEGS DIAMOND, ANGEL, GAMMA, AXE, RUSS BALLARD, FATES WARNING, THE BOYZZ, BLUE OYSTER CULT and STARZ, of which most of these are then again Martin’s favorite bands from the beloved Classic 1970s Hardrock. The rubber package makes it a definite must-have book, because this makes it a real eye-catcher and in a few years probably a collectable piece. In case you want to order the book directly from Martin, e-mail him at: martinp@inforamp.net and see www.martinpopoff.com for more info.

(Points: 8.8 out of 10)  

MASQUERAGE ‘BACKSTABBER’ (57 RECORDS/FINLAND IMPORT)

The Finnish band MASQUERAGE has been active for 15 years now and before ‘Backstabber’, they have released 2 more full-length records. The new album ‘Backstabber’ is released through 57 RECORDS and is musically typical European (read: German style) Melodic Heavy Rock that fits somewhere between EDGUY and HELLOWEEN. The production is very good and the band clearly knows how to play quality music. Somehow I feel that the band is at best when they go for a more calmer approach, so when they slow things down, which happens during the almost AOR/Melodic Rock ish “Another sleepless night” that even recalls memories of classic MAGNUM and URIAH HEEP. However, the band is clearly influenced by the likes of IRON MAIDEN and EDGUY, so they are clearly a Melodic Heavy Rock/Melodic Metalband with some very nice tunes and fans of these bands will therefore definitely find something of interest in here. Nice job and more info at: http://www.masquerage.net

(Points: 7.9 out of 10)  

GUITAR MIKEY AND THE REAL THING ‘OUT OF THE BOX’ (EARWIG MUSIC COMPANY/USA IMPORT)

Although the CD of multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter GUITAR MIKEY from the Mississippi Delta Blues region of Clarksdale is starting with an almost late 1970s Pomprock kinda tune titled “Back to you” (a la HEAD EAST and even a bit of STYX), the rest of the CD is definitely closer to Classic Bluesrock and clearly draws inspiration from BB KING. Also vocally Guitar Mikey is reminding a lot of BB KING, so actually he is much closer to classic Mississippi Blues than for example JOE BONAMASSA. Also the additional Hammond Organ is making things sound quite authentic. Must-have for fans of slow classic Bluesrock like only Americans are able to make… more at: http://www.guitarmikey.com

(Points: 7.7 out of 10)  

THE BLACK LEAVES ‘THE SPIRIT OF LIFE’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS/DENMARK IMPORT)

The album of the Danish band THE BLACK LEAVES was recorded in a bunker from the second World War, located in their hometown of Aarhus. Musically it is an interesting mixture, because with very raw vocals that remind one of VAN MORRISON in his THEM days, the music itself is closer to slightly experimental 1970s Rock/Progmusic with a sorta Glamrock approach that recalls the classic days of MOTT THE HOOPLE. It takes a while before getting into this band, but once you accepted their unusual mix of various 70s rockstyles and the somewhat strange vocalwork, there is an interesting band to discover here. Nevertheless, I do feel that some work needs to happen overall, because none of the included songs really grab you. Check them out at: www.theblackleaves.dk

(Points: 6.7 out of 10)  

AVENTYR ‘DRIVEN’ (MIGHTY MUSIC/TARGET/NORWAY IMPORT)

When you have a legend such as BEAU HILL co-producing, mixing and mastering your official debut album, then there must be something more than meets the eye. AVENTYR is a Norwegian band formed in the early 2000s, but put down to rest for a while during the mid 2000s. However, since 2008 they have been quite active, signing deals, playing gigs and likewise eventually getting in touch with people from the American Music Business Industry. The result is this co-produced BEAU HILL (WARRANT, WINGER, RATT, ALICE COOPER, EUROPE…) debut record, which musically is all about Classic 1980s American Hardrock and Roll, sounding just a bit dirtier and grittier than some of the well-known bands from the past, but comparisons to a LA GUNS, BILLIONAIRES BOYS CLUB and ALICE COOPER are still very clear here, although perhaps it is better to compare them with other Scandi Rock and Rollbands like BACKYARD BABIES, HELLACOPTERS, TURBONEGRO… Anyway, despite nothing new is brought here, the final result is still a very listenable pure Rock and Roll record that should easily find it’s way to the fans of the genre. Check ‘em out at: http://www.facebook.com/aventyrband

(Points: 8.2 out of 10)  

KING KOHN ‘WHAT THE FOLK’ (DIE! DIE! RECORDS/INDEPENDENT/USA IMPORT)

KING KOHN is a singer/songwriter from Texas and his CD ‘What the Folk’ is quite a bizarre adventure, but nevertheless an interesting one, because musically speaking we have here a mixture between Folk, Prog and Punk, something like JELLO BIAFRA of DEAD KENNEDYS fronting JETHRO TULL. I have no idea if this sounds like a good description for KING KOHN, but it is pretty close I guess. The vocalwork is really in the extravaganza direction, while musically it is actually pure Folk, with a sorta Rock approach. I have to admit it sounds quite original, yet very experimental and musicfans with an open mind will definitely be interested in hearing this one. We have seen other rather original acts like this becoming massive in recent years (SEASICK STEVENS, GOTYE…), so who knows in 2013 this KING KOHN might have the big break! Check for yourself at: www.KingKohn.com

(Points: 7.5 out of 10)  

TKG ‘PATTERN PARTNER’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS/GREECE IMPORT)

Quality stuff from Greece in the shape of TKG, which is a band mixing Neo-Classical Progressive Metal with a Jazzy Fusion touch in the shape of a real trumpetist. Comparisons to PLANET X and LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT are very clear here, yet with an exceptional vocal track and the jazzy trumpet giving it a slightly different approach. Theodore Kalantzakos is the leader of the band and he is definitely proving to be an excellent guitarist. Guest spots are filled by THEODORE ZIRAS and BOB KATSIONIS (FIRWWIND, OUTLOUD) and without a doubt, this is one of those great instrumental releases you just have to listen to, with like already mentioned a new approach to the typical instrumental neo-classical metal style of most other releases. Hear for yourself at: www.tkgofficial.com

(Points: 8.1 out of 10)  

SWAMP TRAIN ‘PREMIUM SELECTION’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS/SWISS IMPORT)

Out of Switzerland comes SWAMP TRAIN, a band which is heavily influenced by the Delta Mississippi Bluessound, with a slight Southern Rock flavor and even a tiny bit of ROLLING STONES. Imagine ROBERT JOHNSON doing a mix of covers of LYNYRD SKYNYRD and ROLLING STONES classics, but then playing them in the Swiss mountains. That is the closes thing to what SWAMP TRAIN is doing and believe me, they are doing this very well and anyone who is hearing their new record ‘Premium selection’ would honestly think this is really band out of one of the mid-west/southern states of the USA. Hear for yourself at: www.swamptrain.com

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

SILVER CAST ‘CHAOS ENGINES’ (INDEPENDENT/RUSSIA IMPORT)

I am always a little sceptic when it comes down to Russian bands, but for this SILVER CAST I gladly make an exception, because their first full-length CD ‘Chaos engines’ sounds pretty good actually. The Saint Petersburg based band was formed in 2007 and after playing support to SONATA ARCTICA in 2010, recording a first EP the same year, it is now time to present to the world a full-length album. The band is blessed with a terrific female singer called Veronica «Alternica» Moguilev-Volskaya, who is making SILVER CAST sound just a little better than the massive amount of similar bands in the female fronted Melodic Prog/Power Metal genre in which they are active. Of course the high level of NIGHTWISH, EPICA, AFTER FOREVER is a tough challenge, but I have to say that for a newcomer band, SILVER CAST will definitely appeal to fans of such bands. Their songs are partly sung in Russian and partly in English. Of course the Russian sung songs are impossible to understand, but nevertheless a song like “Labyrinth” is still quite enjoyable to listen to. One of the absolute highlights is the truly superb “The name of chaos” with it’s beautiful catchy melodic chorus and nicely played keyboard and guitarsolo’s, reminding somewhat of KAMELOT. The band has got a great guitarplayer in their line-up as well (Sergey Valeryanov) and thanks to the mastering at Finnvox Studios in Helsinki, their album ‘Chaos engines’ should be a surprising top 10 record in the female fronted metal releases of 2012! Check them out at: http://en.silvercast.ru/

(Points: 8.5 out of 10)  

PERTNESS ‘FROZEN TIME’ (PURE LEGEND RECORDS/SWISS IMPORT)

Melodic Thrashy Power Metal is the name of the game on the new CD of the Swiss band PERTNESS. I believe we reviewed some of their earlier records, which musically speaking will probably in the same vein as their 4th album ‘Frozen time’, which has been released on PURE LEGEND RECORDS. The music is not far removed from a slightly rawer BLIND GUARDIAN, ICED EARTH and SEVENTH AVENUE. The guitarwork is of an incredible high level, with many twin-guitarparts and lovely melodies can be heard throughout the solo’s, while the vocals are somewhat rawer and in typical German Teutonic style, but when the chorus kicks in, the band goes for that typical sing-a-long European Melodic Power Metal direction that made BLIND GUARDIAN so popular in Germany! Anyway, thankfully the sound and production is really good, with a strong focus on clever arrangements that make the melodies really work well. This is definitely a recommended Metalalbum that can easily be listened to if you’re into any of the mentioned bands. This PERTNESS is doing their stuff at a high level and so every Metalhead needs to hear their new album before making up a best of 2012 list! More at: www.pertness.ch

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

HIDDEN LANDS ‘IN OUR NATURE’ (PROGRESS RECORDS/SWEDEN IMPORT)

HIDDEN LANDS is a new Swedish band with a nice first CD release on PROGRESS RECORDS. The music is likewise Neo-Progressive Rock in the style of most other bands on their Swedish label. The keyboardwork during the 6 lengthy tunes are definitely the best thing about HIDDEN LANDS, because this truly reflects their 1970s symphonic influences. Vocally it is a little less stronger, which makes it therefore HIDDEN LANDS not the finest album in Neo-Prog this year. Nevertheless, this is quite an enjoyable release if you happen to be a fan of IQ, PENDRAGON, GALAHAD, SYLVAN, etc. Best song on the album is without a doubt the 11 minutes counting epic “Incurable” that offers all the elements to be called a to-be-prog-classic in the near future. More info on HIDDEN LANDS can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/HiddenLands

(Points: 8.2 out of 10)  

BELLYLOVE ‘CIRCLES AND DARKNESS’ (INDEPENDENT/USA IMPORT)

Actually one should first go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDThkEkT9Gc to understand that BELLYLOVE is a very interesting new band featuring 2 beautiful and very talented female musicians, guitarist LISA BLACK and vocalist/bassist TONI VALENTA, with male drummer called ADAM STEINBERG completing the line-up. Anyway, the band has a long history going back to the mid 1990s, but bandleader Lisa even started during the glorious Hair Metal days of the 1980s in the legendary band THE PANDORAS and later on she also had a band called HARDLY DANGEROUS. Sadly that band never passed the demo circuit and so during the 1990s a new baby was born in the shape of BELLYLOVE, whom had more success, even made it onto one of my favorite TV series ever (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER). Anyway, they have already released a couple of albums and now there is ‘Circles and darkness’. This CD contains 13 songs, of which some are medleys, others covers and it is of course the original songs that are most interesting to check out. The music of BELLYLOVE is sorta Classic American traditional groovy Hardrock with a strong 1970s vibe, mixing elements of LED ZEPPELIN, AEROSMITH, 70s HEART, MONTROSE and BLACK SABBATH. The lead vocals of Toni are very impressive and so is Lisa’s guitarwork. If only they could drop all the covers and medleys, then they could easily record one of the strongest female rockalbums of the year! Somehow they remind me of cross between 90s PHANTOM BLUE and EXTREME songwise, with LED ZEPPELINish guitarwork meets ZAPPA groovy experimental rhythms. Quite original actually and also very interesting for sure. I would love to hear more of their originals. More at: http://www.bellylove.com/

(Points: 8.2 out of 10)  

A COURSE OF ACTION ‘DARK BEFORE THE DAWN’ (INDEPENDENT/USA IMPORT)

It’s almost impossible, but the first CD of the North Carolina based band A COURSE OF ACTION sounds like a major label release. The mixing and production is quite incredible and more important, the included material on the album is of a superb high level. OK, we already have bands like CREED, ALTER BRIDGE, SHINEDOWN and CHEVELLE ruling the Rock Airwaves in the USA, but A COURSE OF ACTION is definitely a nice welcome. The band does add a few influences from Classic Melodic Hardrock and Progressive Metal to the overall typical modern day American Rocksound. Especially the last 2 tracks add something extra, which sets them apart from the rest of the major label signed rockbands in America. “Dark before the dawn” has a massive Progressive Metal twist and closing track “Screaming” is excellent Melodic Hardrock like HAREM SCAREM circa ‘Mood swings’, 90s TALISMAN, a little TYKETTO and TEER during their independent debut album. However, most of the time it is pure modern American Rock with big fat groovy guitar riffs and melodic clean vocal choruses, with as one of the highlights the rather excellent opener “Tell me why”. Not only is the sound and production of this CD really terrific, the band is also capable of writing and recording sensational songs only here, while the lead vocals of singer John Culberson are amazing (somehow reminding of HARRY HESS of HAREM SCAREM). The band’s guitarist is the actual founding member of A COURSE OF ACTION and he happens to be Jonathan Byrd, who played and recorded with major label act COPPERHEAD 20 years ago. With A COURSE OF ACTION however, Jonathan founded a band with a bright future, because their first record is an instant killer release. Definitely a band to watch out for in the future, as they could become the next big thing. Hear more at: http://acourseofaction.com/

(Points: 8.9 out of 10)  

MERCURY UNDERGROUND ‘MERCURY UNDERGROUND EP’ (ANCHORAGE RECORDS/TSM PROMOTIONS/SCOTLAND IMPORT)

Out of Glasgow, Scotland comes an interesting band by the name of MERCURY UNDERGROUND. Sadly only 3 songs can be found on their same titled EP, but they already show we have to watch out for this promising band in the near future. The first thing to notice here is the big fat groovy guitarsound and also the good vocalwork is impressive, while the songs are following a nicely traditional Hardrock direction. There’s a LYNCH MOB/WHITESNAKE vibe going on, but the real highlight is the final song “The great escape”, which features a rather catchy chorus that (can I mention this?) reminds me a bit of classic 1980s SCORPIONS. Anyway, good start and introduction to a new Scottish band, of whom we will hopefully review a full-length CD in 2013. More at: www.reverbnation.com/mercuryunderground

(Points: 8.2 out of 10)  

HAPPENSTANCE ‘HAPPENSTANCE/RAIN’ (INDEPENDENT/CANADA IMPORT)

Now here we have quite a sensational band from Quebec, Canada. They are called HAPPENSTANCE and the minute I put on their music, I was impressed immediately. Despite being independent releases, their full-length same titled debut from 2011 and their new EP ‘Rain’ are blessed with a great sound/production and more importantly, musically speaking this HAPPENSTANCE is doing some interesting things. They combine clever clean melodies out of the AOR/Pop genre with arrangements out of the big book of Country, Americana and Folk, yet add enough Rock injection to keep it interesting for the rockers among us. Although we should not call HAPPENSTANCE a rockband, they are nevertheless making beautiful melodic music that should appeal to not only the fans of New-Country/Folk, but also regular AOR/Poprockfans will love this band, due to the fantastic crystal clear vocals of their female singer EMILY LAMARCHE. They do remind me a bit of SUGARLAND and also here and there we can hear some similarities to classic FLEETWOOD MAC and even a Nashville touch is notable, while vocally it is really not far removed from a band like MOSTLY AUTUMN. Anyway, the band’s 2 CDs can easily be played from start to finish, with nothing but quality music. Absolute highlight is the semi-ballad/rocker “Jackie woke up” (a la JAIME KYLE/70s HEART), which features truly amazing vocalwork that should easily give you the chill-factor and another HEARTish rocker can be found in “The angry song”! This is the kinda music North America loves so much, just plain good old melodic music with a singer who can actually sing melodies very well and give each line in every song an own identity and a true meaning. Call it stripped-down AOR, call it New Country or even new-Folk/Singer-Songwriter, but one thing is clear and that is the fact that this HAPPENSTANCE is a highly recommended band playing superb melodic laid-back music. More info at: http://www.happenstancemusic.com

(Points: 8.5 out of 10)  

AXEL BOMAN ‘WAKE UP’ (BACKUP RECORDS/FRANCE IMPORT)

Out of France comes a sensational new guitarist by the name of AXEL BOMAN. Helped by the drummer of HEAVENLY and the bassist of KAKTUS PROJECT, Axel is able to fully concentrate on creating the most beautiful melodies with his guitar. This is one of the great instrumental guitar based releases at the moment. There are similarities to NEAL SCHON, JOE SATRIANI, JEFF BECK and th Dutch JOOST VERGOOSSEN and especially the opener “Teenage idol” is a terrific uptempo AOR/Melodic Rocker. The guitar is creating the missing vocal melodies here and when that happens, you have got yourself a great instrumental album that is highly recommended to fans of the genre! More at: http://www.fandalism.com/axelboman

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

SATURN RETURNS ‘MARCHING TO VALHALLA’ (TRS RECORDS/TSM PROMOTIONS/UK IMPORT)

The origins of this band go back to the year 1982 when father STEVE COLES started as a South African guitarist a band in London called SHUTTLE SERVICE. Many moons later the bandname had changed to SATURN RETURNS and together with his 2 sons (Brandon on vocals and Greg on drums),  a CD was released in 2009. The album is called ‘Marching to Valhalla’ and it is clear that the influence of his 2 sons turned this album into a more Metalized affair. Vocally it is not so strong and also the production could have been better, but nevertheless we have here a nice Euro Prog/Power Metal affair that especially instrumental is of a very high level (check the Mozart’s 40th symphony” song), with some great ‘University’ guitarwork. MALMSTEEN is a clear comparison we can draw here, although the finest song is definitely the excellent classic 80s AOR/Melodic Rockish “Touch your heart again”. This song sounds very interesting, reminding of a mix between classic 80s JOSHUA and PHANTOM’S OPERA. If more songs in this style would follow on a future album, then this could grow into something beautiful, but they really have to work on the production as well. In the meantime, this album has already been out for 3 years now, so here’s hoping the father and his 2 sons are now working on that follow-up for a release in 2013. More at: http://saturnreturns.wordpress.com/  

(Points: 7.8 out of 10)  

MORPH ‘SINTRINITY’ (PROGRESS RECORDS/SWEDEN IMPORT)

Always interesting to see new sensational bands coming our way, because the Swedish duo MORPH might have released at the very end of 2012 one of the finest Progrockalbums of the year actually. Always hard to tell of course, but what multi-instrumentalist ATTILA BOKOR (vocals, bass, guitars, keys) and drummer RICHARD SANDSTROM started back in 2005 as a couple of youngsters, it has now turned into a dream for every musician, because together they have released an amazing progrockalbum in the shape of ‘Sintrinity’ under the moniker of MORPH. This is Progrock from another planet. Anyone into for example PORCUPINE TREE, MUSE, DREAM THEATER, PINK FLOYD, TAME IMPALE, KING CRIMSON or even the last OPETH classic, they all should check out this little new band called MORPH and their superb debut album on PROGRESS RECORDS. This is one of those must-have progrockalbums for sure! Attila is blessed with a great voice, the sound/production is picture-perfect and MORPH is able to create a great balance between instrumental bravery and classic melodies that do recall a bit the FLYING COLORS project from 2011. “Reaching for you”, “Feels like the end” and “Wake up” are examples of that lovely sound that combines so many beautiful melodies, both vocally and instrumentally speaking. A real surprise this CD and definitely one you don’t want to miss. NEAL MORSE fans will fall in love with a song like “The final bow” by the way, but I guess any progfan will get the picture by now… so go for more to: www.facebook.com/morphtheband

(Points: 8.8 out of 10)  

IRONBIRD ‘HUMBUCKER’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS/AUSTRALIA IMPORT)

Out of Australia comes IRONBIRD, a new band whom are preparing a full-length CD in 2013, but this EP ‘Humbucker’ is already a nice sneak-preview. They play typical Aussie Rock and Roll, do it well and all 4 songs are reaching a decent level. Not really original, but like mentioned, it is done well and fans of AIRBOURNE will most likely appreciate this lot. 2013 will tell us more I think… More at: www.facebook.com/ironbird.official

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

MORTAL PORTAL ‘ALONEMAN’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS/CANADA IMPORT)

Out of Edmonton, Canada comes the band MORTAL PORTAL, whom are formed around the talented musicians M. DEAN LAWRENCE (vocals, guitars, percussion and composer) and GORDON FILIPCHUCK (keyboards, guitars and composer). Together they already recorded and played on several projects, but with MORTAL PORTAL they founded an interesting new band. The first CD release ‘Aloneman’ also features contributions of several other musicians, including co-producer TERRY BRADSTOCK, who sadly passed away recently. The included music on the album is calmer Progressive Rock, with a sorta New Age kinda twist. Vocally it is here and there almost into a spoken-word direction, so you got to have an open-mind when you check this release, but take it from me, this is one of those CDs that need to grow on you, because there is most definitely something of interest to hear. Hear for yourself at: www.mortalportal.ca

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

MAGADOR ‘ABSINTHE TALES OF ROMANTIC VISIONS’ (MENTALCHEMY RECORDS/ITALY IMPORT/TSM PROMOTIONS)

MAGADOR is a band from Italy, formed by British drummer RICHARD GEORGE ALLEN and the Italian musicians LUCA BRICCOLA (guitar, keys, bass, flute) and MARCO TERZAGHI (vocals, guitar). Formed in 2007 in Como, Italy, the band released their debut album in 2009, followed it up just one year later with ‘All I am is of my own MaKing’ and now there’s album number 3 in the shape of ‘Absinthe tales of romantic visions’. The music of the band is clearly Progressive Rock orientated, with some unexpected twists here and there, taking elements of YES and JETHRO TULL and mix it up with quite original ideas and structures. The band sounds very professional, with a well-produced new album and they are definitely one of those bands which will be praised by the Progrock community and I do feel that everyone will agree that MAGADOR is a very interesting band to check. Highlight on the album is without a doubt the 10 minutes counting “Hardships”, which has got some challenging instrumental progrock breaks that leave you confused and impressed at the same time. The replay button is required several times throughout this album and that is of course a good sign. The band is already working on their 4th album and so they might become the Italian version of GLASS HAMMER, a band that is playing more or less a similar style to MAGADOR and coincidence or not, the GLASS HAMMER singer JON DAVISON makes a guest appearance here. More info at: www.mogadormusic.com 

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

LIFE TRAGIC ‘DESTINY, HOW ARE YOU?’ (TRICK DAISY MUSIC/USA IMPORT)

Out of the Minneapolis are of the US state of Minnesota comes a rather interesting Melodic Hard/Heavy Rock band called LIFE TRAGIC. They combine the catchy melodies of the classic late 80s American Melodic Hardrocksound of bands like STRYPER and FIREHOUSE with some pretty heavy guitar riffs out of the big PANTERA Metalbook. The result is an exciting CD and like most other American bands, LIFE TRAGIC sounds very professional and right from the start we can enjoy their strong ambition to become the next big thing. That first song “Easy enough” is quite a terrific uptempo Melodic Hardrock piece with a catchy chorus and fans of MILLENIUM, TEER, TALON, KNOW ILLUSION and EMERALD RAIN are definitely going to love this. Also a recommended track is the superb “Stay” that combines an excellent melodic hook and a deadly catchy chorus with a really massive guitarsound and this song could actually be labeled as a Melodic Metal Ballad. “Complications” is also a very good uptempo rockin’ piece and so are all 12 rockin’ tracks on their debut CD ‘Destiny, how are you?’. “Undertow” is a dead ringer for fans of FIREHOUSE and also do not miss out the excellent guitarwork all throughout the album, while the great raw vocals of singer/bassist JOHN HOWALT are breathing pure Hardrock/Metal. LIFE TRAGIC shows that they are a band with a bright future in recording their own compositions, but the band is like so many other independent American bands actually focused on playing covers. This is such a pity, because this original CD they released already back in 2010 is definitely a must-have to check out if you’re into high quality guitar orientated Melodic Hardrock. Let’s just hope we will hear much more original music of this LIFE TRAGIC, because they truly deserve to be heard wordwide! More info on the band can be found at: http://www.lifetragic.com

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

CAPTAIN ZORX ‘MAPS OF THE ANCIENT SEA KINGS’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS)

Germany and experimental music have always been the best of friends. KRAFTWERK, NINA HAGEN and RAMMSTEIN are just a few examples and with the Berlin based CAPTAIN ZORX they are once again pushing it to the limit. This band is playing an Art/Comic kinda experimental Disco-Metal style that is something you either love or hate. Impossible to compare, because the band goes from Acapella pieces to almost Theatrical Music to a sorta STEEL PANTHER meets MANOWAR meets THE DARKNESS kinda Parody Rockact and in between throw in influences of DAVID BOWIE and countless other experimental moves. A song like the titletrack of their 3rd album is quite outrageous, because it starts as a pretty good Melodic Progmetal song that shows the band really at a high level (QUEENSRYCHEish), but then here and there during the same song they switch to a very fast experimental Black Metal speed and start screaming like dogs (!), while it ends with a sorta RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS type of freakiness. You can not get any more experimental than this bizarre act CAPTAIN ZORX. Not saying it is bad, because it is all done at a certain level, but it takes more than one listen to understand what they are trying to do. If you’re familiar with NINA HAGEN and THE DARKNESS, mix that up with FRANK ZAPPA and also add a bunch of Metal riffs, along with every other possible musicgenre, then this might well be up your alley! More at: www.captainzorx.com

(Points: 6.5 out of 10)  

RED SUN REVIVAL ‘RUNNING FROM THE DAWN’ (INDEPENDENT/UK IMPORT/TSM PROMOTIONS)

Now here we have a very interesting band from London, England and their debut CD ‘Running from the dawn’ was produced by STEVE CAREY of THE EDEN HOUSE. Although the Gothic Rock displayed on the album has been done a zillion times in the past, this new band RED SUN REVIVAL is doing it at a very high level. They sound like a nice mix between the old 80s Gothic of SISTERS OF MERCY, THE MISSION, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL, KILLING JOKE, JOY DIVISION, ETC. and the new breed of let’s say THE EDEN HOUSE, HIM, POISON BLACK, TO/DIE/FOR, LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE, THE 69 EYES… What they are doing here is at the same high level as all the mentioned bands, so Gothic Rockfans will absolutely dig this band a lot. Most of the 9 included tracks are uptempo rockers with the typical dark vocalwork, but also memorable melodic choruses, while instrumental it is a mix of dark ‘Horror’ like synths with a subtle 1980s laid-back Alternative Rock guitarsound. Fans of INTERPOL and THE EDITORS can also check out this band and despite they are not very original, somehow RED SUN REVIVAL is actually creating an own identity already on this first album, so who knows what will follow in the future! In the Goth community, they will probably become the next big thing and that is not really strange if you hear the incredible high level of this first album. More at: www.redsunrevival.com

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

MICHAEL V. DOANE ‘LITTLE KID’ (MVD MUSIC/BULLET MUSIC/USA IMPORT/TSM PROMOTIONS)

Out of New York City comes singer/songwriter MICHAEL V. DOANE and he delivers his debut album with ‘Little kid’. Musically almost no rock related stuff here, because Michael is mostly going into a poppy Soul/Pop/R&B/Light Westcoast direction, which nevertheless sounds very impressive and reminds me a bit of GREG GUIDRY and GINO VANELLI comes to mind here and there as well. The beginning is very poppy and also quite R&B orientated, but later on the album, there are some Funk and also Rock influences, such as can be heard during the strong uptempo rocker “You better run” and another interesting song is the laid-back “Betty Louise”, with a sorta TOTO/STEVE LUKATHERish touch (especially in the guitarwork). Michael is a very talented guy and he’s blessed with a great soulful voice. I would personally prefer more rock orientated songs, although some more acoustic tingled material, such as the beautiful “Little kid” are also a nice welcome. The only complaint I can make is the somewhat programmed R&Bish direction of several tunes, which spoil things a bit, because Michael is a gifted musician that should be able to do without that overproduced type of stuff. Nevertheless, Michael has the potential to become huge and with ‘Little kid’ he starts his journey to a bright future in music. More at: www.michaelvdoane.com

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

DC CARDWELL ‘SOME HOPE’ (MADCAR RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

Out of Australia comes singer/songwriter DC CARDWELL, who also plays guitars, bass, drums, piano, synth, percussion and even some ukulele and glockenspiel. He basically did almost everything on his own on his CD ‘Some hope’, because only his son Samuel played drums on a couple of tracks. He wrote all the tracks himself and produced the album too, so I guess DC is one of those multi-talented multi-instrumentalists. The music is a nice mix of 70s singer/songwriter music in the BOB DYLAN/NEIL YOUNG style and some more polished radiofriendly melodic pop/folksongs in the style of the recently hyped JAKE BUGG. His vocals are however not that strong I’m afraid, although if you’re a BOB DYLAN fan you probably wouldn’t mind at all, because DC sings in the same rough style as Bob and let’s not forget to mention THE KINKS’ RAY DAVIES here, as that guy also sings in this unpolished rough tone. So, that will not affect the chance of becoming succesfull. Most of the 16 included tracks are quite laid-back, but here and there things are rocked up, such as during “Peace and love” and “Tom is everybody’s friend”, which has a slight TOM PETTY/NEIL YOUNG/BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN touch. Most of the time however it is going into the BOB DYLAN direction, with a slightly depressing vibe. More info at: http://dccardwell.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 7.3 out of 10)  

JIMMY ROBINSON ‘GUITARWORKS’ (WOODENHEAD MUSIC/HEMIFRAN)

Although ‘Guitarworks’ is the first solo album of JIMMY ROBINSON, a singer/songwriter from New Orleans/Memphis, he actually started way back in the 1960s/1970s in a Progressive Rockband called WOODENHEAD. Now in 2012 he released his debut record with ‘Guitarworks’, a semi-acoustic Alternative Country meets Singer/Songwriter type album that is mostly situated around Jimmy’s voice and his guitar. It is all done quite nicely, this collection of original songs and a few covers, with musically a typical trip through the Nashville – Memphis – New Orleans area of America. Jimmy has got a good voice and his guitarplaying is quite interesting, as he seems to be a virtuose, which can be heard quite clearly during a song like “Lynne Louise”. He sounds at best when he is accompanied by a female singer and that happens during 4 songs, where he is singing duets with female singers BETH PATTERSON and SUSAN COWSILL. The diversity of the songs is making this an interesting album for the fans of Americana/traditional Singer/Songwriter music. More info at: http://www.jimmyrobinsonmusic.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

MARJORIE CARDWELL ‘IN ANOTHER WORLD’ (MADCAR RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

The wife of DC CARDWELL is called MARJORIE CARDWALL and she has also released a CD on the MADCAR RECORDS, which is in fact the own label of both musicians. Husband DC helped Marjorie of course, although musically Marjorie is slightly different, sounding a bit more folksy and singer/songwriter than her husband DC. It is clear the late 1960s had a major impact on Marjorie, with even a THE BYRDS riff during a song like “Killing me loudly”. Judge for yourself at: http://dccardwell.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 7.1 out of 10)  

MARCI GELLER ‘OPEN BOOK’ (SONIC UNDERGROUND/HEMIFRAN)

MARCI GELLER is a New York based singer/songwriter who is making her debut with the pleasantly sounding album ‘Open book’. The material is very laid-back orientated, with a 70s Pop approach, so it is sounding quite smooth, melodic and memorable. Actually sometimes it reminds me a bit of classic LINDA RONDSTADT with some slight THE CARPENTERS similarities (listen to “Little light” to reach that feeling at it’s best), although Marci throws in some light Country and Folk influences as well, so in the end the album sounds diverse enough to appeal to fans of female fronted singer/songwriter music. Marci has go a strong voice that has an own identity and with a song like “Driving in Manhattan” she pays a beautiful homage to her hometown of New York City. Interesting female singer/songwriter to pay attention for in the future. Must-have for fans of the more polished 1970s female fronted singer/songwriter popstyle. More info at: http://www.marcigeller.com and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.2 out of 10)  

BOB CHEEVERS ‘SMOKE MIRRORS’ (BACK 9 RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

Not 1, but 2 full-length CDs are delivered in this package deal of BOB CHEEVERS, who is a singer/songwriter from Austin, although he grew up in Memphis. Anyway, he has been playing music for 50 (!) years, but the pity is that this is the first I am exposed to his name. It’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that Bob sounds so close to WILLIE NELSON and also musically the Country Music of Bob is similar in style to that Godfather of Country. He also reminds me a bit of that other Country hero, JOHNNY CASH, so it will be pretty easy to guess for whom Bob’s music is destined to be heard. 1 CD is electric full-band based (‘Smoke’), while the other album (‘Mirrors’) is an acoustic affair. More info at: www.bobcheevers.com and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 7.3 out of 10)  

AJ DOWNING ‘GOOD DAY’ (CHARKANSAS RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

Americana at it’s very best is a way to describe the 3rd album of AJ DOWNING. His music is so typical American orientated, with the elements of Folk, Country and Rock all mixed into AJ’s own little world. During the more rockier songs there is the obvious BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN comparison (“What you lookin for”), while STEVE EARLE similarities can also be heard quite a lot. He is able to sing in a very miserable kinda way during the depressing song “Misery”, while he sounds more optimistic during the catchy uptempo folk/country tune “Aimless sea”, which also closes the CD. It’s all been done very well and if you’re one of those Americana junkies, then you will love this singer/songwriter from Austin, Texas. More info at: www.ajdowning.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

ROBERT MORGAN FISHER ‘NOTES FOR A NOVEL’ (IMPERATIVE RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

‘Notes for a novel’ is the 3rd album of singer/songwriter ROBERT MORGAN FISHER. He lived in LA and Austin throughout his life and started his music career in the mid 1990s with a first solo-album ‘Follow a hunch’, which was followed by ‘Built myself a greenhouse’ another 10 years later and now 8 years later his 3rd solo-record is released in the shape of ‘Notes for a novel’. In between he recorded 4 albums with fellow singer/songwriter DARRYL PURPOSE, but now he’s back solo. The included music is typical American singer/songwriter in the style of NEIL YOUNG. The songs are all based around a story, which handle about typical American topics, such as the highway, the ownership of a land, the flag, the western days, the war and of course some political subjects like “Kissinger”.  Check for yourself at: http://www.robertmorganfisher.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 7.6 out of 10)  

PATRICK CROWSON ‘PAST THE DEAD END’ (INDEPENDENT/HEMIFRAN)

Although PATRICK CROWSON from Brooklyn, New York has already released 2 albums, his new album ‘A mile past the dead end’ is my first introduction to his music. Although everywhere JAKE BUGG is being held as the new BOB DYLAN, Patrick seems to be even more into BOB DYLAN than wonderboy Jake. The difference is that Jake is rocking out here and there quite nicely to keep the diversity alive and well, while Patrick chooses for a very depressing direction, with a voice that sounds like BOB DYLAN late at night in a dark alley, with only an acoustic guitar and harmonica as supporting instrument. A few songs in this style are ok, but including 11 similar slow songs is way too much. Therefore not of interest for the JAKE BUGG fans, but nevertheless for people who want to hear something really similar to the old 1960s BOB DYLAN, so without any Rocksongs, just the plain acoustic guitar and Patrick’s voice, well then you will love this record! More info at: www.patrickcrowson.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 6.7 out of 10)  

FOREST SUN ‘JUST BEGUN’ (PAINTED SUN RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

Out of Arizona, USA comes FOREST SUN, a singer/songwriter with already a large back catalogue, although ‘Just begun’ might suggest something different. The album is filled with a modern-day Country-Folk style that sounds quite pleasant, partly thanks to the strong vocalwork of Forest. He is assisted by a bunch of other Texas based musicians, including CALEXIO member JACOB VALENZUELA and also musicians whom worked with EMMYLOU HARRIS, BOB DYLAN, LENNY KRAVITZ and IRON AND WINE. The songs feel very natural and are quite relaxing, mostly backed up with a lap steel guitar, some smooth female backing vocals by INGRID SERBAN and a jazzy drum rhythm that makes it all sound quite breezy. Highlights are the catchy titletrack, “The sky is smiling”, “Take that wander” and the light Southern Rocker “Like water in the desert” that sounds like VAN ZANT meets CALEXIO, including a nice Cello vs Mexican Trumpet (CALEXICO) solo. Well done for sure and therefore highly recommended! More info at: http://www.forestsun.com and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

ROBERT HILL ‘WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR’ (INDEPENDENT/HEMIFRAN)

The past few years new BOB DYLAN wannabees pop up everywhere you go and DOUWE BOB and JAKE BUGG are the most successful ones we have seen here in Holland. Out of Sweden comes ROBERT HILL, who might one day become the next big thing. Although he does a fine job on his first album ‘What are we waiting for’, he still has a long way to go, because his voice is sounding as youthful as his looks. Nevertheless, he is young and his voice will eventually sound stronger in the future. Robert also adds Blues influences in his singer-songwriter music and BOB DYLAN might already check out his album at: http://www.facebook.com/roberthillsongs and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 7.3 out of 10) 

JOEY + RORY ‘HIS AND HERS’ (SUGAR HILL RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

JOEY + RORY is definitely one of the strongest male/female duos at the moment and their 3rd CD ‘His and hers’ might as well be the strongest New Country album of the year 2012. There’s a nice share of semi-uptempo Folk-Country type of tunes mostly sung by Joey Martin Freek that remind a bit of MUMFORD AND SUNS during the opener “Josephine”, but further remind of a less polished RASCAL FLATTS and the ZAC BROWN BAND, while Rory Lee Feek has got the Classic female Country Ballad style songs most of the time, although the uptempo “Let’s pretend we never met” and “Love your man” are songs that TAYLOR SWIFT should have recorded if she would go for a real Country direction. The mixture of old and new country with some folksy parts, a share of female and male vocals, along with the harmonies of them together. That all combined is making this a really excellent album to listen to from start to finish. The production is picture-perfect, while Joey and Rory are backed up by a whole string of musicians and producer GARY PACZOSA (ALISON KRAUSS, DOLLY PARTON) created the best out of every involved musician. Probably one of the finest pure Country releases of 2012 and compared to most major label country music releases in America, on this JOEY + RORY record no concessions are made for the Pop/Mainstream Radiomarket, so therefore a must-have for every fan of pure Country music. More info at: http://www.joeyandrory.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.5 out of 10)  

MAZE OF TIME ‘MASQUERADE SHOW’ (ART PERFORMANCE PRODUCTION)

The Swedish band MAZE OF TIME returns with their 3rd album ‘Masquerade show’, which took them 4 years to finish. Their previous 2 albums were also reviewed by us, although I can not remember the actual review, as it has been quite some time ago. Anyway, their new album sounds good and is settled nicely between the typical British Neoprogressive Rock and the more Progmetal side of life. The band is based in the lovely city of Stockholm and they clearly did a good job on this new album, which contains 10 tracks in total. They remind a bit of a heavier version of SYLVAN, TWELFTH NIGHT and EVERON here and there, but most of the time MAZE OF TIME has created an own style that features some rather remarkable vocalwork, because lead vocalist JESPER LANDEN has got a high-pitched voice that doesn’t sound 100% natural and in some parts actually sounds a bit forced. I think it’s just a matter of time before you get used to the tone in his voice. The songs are proggy, yet with a symphonic approach and not based on endless instrumental parts, because the melodies and lyrics are quite important, which of course is a good thing. Although they might not receive the award for progalbum of the year, the fans of the genre will definitely be interested in checking out this new album of MAZE OF TIME. More at: http://www.mazeoftime.com

(Points: 8.0 out of 10)  

GRAND 60 ’PRECIOUS’ (ART PERFORMANCE PRODUCTION)

GRAND 60 is another Swedish band on the Dutch label ART PERFORMANCE PRODUCTION. They were formed in 2008 and are now presenting us their debut record ‘Precious’. The band is less prog orientated than label mates MAZE OF TIME and are actually closer to 80s Melodic Hardrock/Heavy Rock, with just a few prog touches. The band’s sound is quite pompy actually, with typical 80s synths/keys and flashy guitarwork, yet the guitar riffs of bandleader PETER LUNDH also reveal classic RAINBOW and very early EUROPE/UFO influences. All together they have a typical Scandi Melodic Heavy Rocksound, which reminds me a little bit of 220 VOLT, very early ROYAL HUNT and most of all, the records by LARS ERIC MATTSSON. There is some great stuff on the band’s first record and especially the guitarwork is quite strong and at times sensational in a MALMSTEEN fashion, but the main issue we are dealing with are the vocals of singer JOHAN ENGSTROM, which do not sound very good I’m afraid. He is clearly struggling here and there and overall does not contribute that additional needed touch, which is so important when making this kind of Scandi melodic heavy rock. Not saying this is a record you must avoid, because instrumental it is of a very high level, but due to the somewhat weaker vocals, it is not possible to call this a sensational record. A pity, because the band is able to deliver some pretty good material overall, but simply miss the strength of a singer who can deliver the kinda classic vibrato performance with the voice like other Swedish singers such as GORAN EDMAN, JOEY TEMPEST, THOMAS VIKSTROM and the NATION singer did on countless records in the past. Check the band out for yourself at: www.tucanamusic.com

(Points: 7.1 out of 10)  

TUCANA ‘TUCANA’ (ART PERFORMANCE PRODUCTION)

TUCANA is yet another Swedish band on the Dutch label ART PERFORMANCE PRODUCTION. Formed way back in the late 1980s, they are now many years later presenting their same titled debut. The music of TUCANA is Symphonic/Progressive orientated Melodic Heavy Rock with a theatrical and bombastic approach, reminding me of German bands like SUPERIOR, THOUGHT SPHERE, VANDENPLAS, with a high-pitched singer (NIKLAS BIRGERSSON) in the IAN PARRY meets AXXIS singer direction. Actually, the Classical Music influences and the Rock opera ish vocalwork make it sound very close to CONSORTIUM PROJECT, so people familiar with that project of IAN PARRY will absolutely love this record. I have to say that the vocals are not as strong as Ian and also the overall mix/production of the album is not really big. Nevertheless, it is a nice album to listen to from start to finish, as the band has definitely some interesting material to offer on their debut album Check out more at: www.tucanamusic.com

(Points: 8.1 out of 10)  

TRICK OR TREAT ‘RABBITS’ HILL PART 1’ (VALERY RECORDS/FLYING DOLPHIN)

Although TRICK OR TREAT started as a sort of joke (HELLOWEEN parody act) more than 10 years ago, it has now grown in a full-time professional band, with their strongest album so far, namely the 3rd record ‘Rabbits’ hill part 1’. A lot of things have changed since their last album ‘Tin soldiers’ from 2009, because their fantastic lead singer ALESSANDRO CONTI became the singer of LUCA TURILLI’s RHAPSODY recently and released a sensational album titled ’Ascending to infinity’, but thankfully he is also still part of TRICK OR TREAT. The previous album featured guest singers like MICHAEL KISKE and MICHELE LUPPI and this time we can welcome ANDRE MATOS and a few other lesser known singers. The music is still typical classic European Melodic Power Metal in the style of RHAPSODY, VISION DIVINE, LABYRINTH and HELLOWEEN, with some tongue-in-cheek lyrics of the EDGUY kind. The performance (vocals and guitars are really excellent) as well as the production is quite superb, while most of the songs are very strong and despite all the cliché tingled movements and tricks we hear throughout the album, TRICK OR TREAT deliver a top-notch Power Metal record that every fan of the genre will surely dig a lot! HELLOWEEN will probably be jealous, because TRICK OR TREAT has a great MICHAEL KISKE type of singer and are also able to pull-out high class Melodic Power Metal songs in the classic 80s HELLOWEEN spirit (listen to “Wrong turn” and “Rabbits’ hill”) like HELLOWEEN themselves are unable to do nowadays. 12 tracks are included and not a single one is a filler (although the ART GARFUNKEL cover “Bright eyes” might be a bit too much over-the-top for some of you, but the guitarsolo sounds really nice actually!), so in the end, this is definitely a highly recommended album! More at: http://www.hipband.net/TrickOrTreat/

(Points: 8.5 out of 10)  

HANS VAN LIER AND THE SIDEKICKS ‘BLUES AND MORE THAN BLUES’ (INDEPENDENT/SUBURBAN)

Guitarist HANS VAN LIER has a long music career already behind him, which even brought him to Austin, Texas, where he recorded an album with the band DOUBLE TROUBLE, whom once were the backing band for the legendary guitarist STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN (RIP) and that record from 2003 also featured ex-ROLLING STONES guitarist MICK TAYLOR. Anyway, despite his time in America and also in the mid 80s, he stayed in the Dutch city of Groningen, where he recorded an album with THE SIDEKICKS as back-up band (including singer TEO DE HAAN) and MICHIEL HOOGENBOEZEM (who worked with almost every major Dutch act in The Netherlands) as producer. The result is like the title already predicts, a Blues record, yet with also songs that offer more than Blues alone, such as can be heard during the beginning, because after the pure slow Blues opening cut “One more drink”, next track “Looking for love” is a really great song that melts all the Classic American music styles, such as Jazz, Westcoast, Midwestern/Southern Rock and heavy Bluesrock, reminding me a lot of DIESEL actually. When the following songs kick in, we get to hear even more diversity, because “No man’s land” is close to Heartland Rock and even shows a slight GOLDEN EARRING comparison, but it is “Ain’t no blues around” that really is taking things into a complete different direction, as this is an almost pure 1930s jazzy shuffle song you don’t hear anywhere else nowadays. Also a song like “Just a little” has got that same vibe, while “Fading away” is then an uptempo rocking song. It goes on and on this way all throughout the CD, with 14 tracks of musical diversity that flirt with Jazz, Blues and Rock and everything in-between, while we always can enjoy the excellent guitarwork of HANS VAN LIER. Check it out for yourself at: www.hansvanlier.nl/

(Points: 8.2 out of 10)  

ATKINS MAY PROJECT ‘VALLEY OF SHADOWS’ (GONZO MULTIMEDIA/UK IMPORT)

The original lead singer of JUDAS PRIEST, AL ATKINS returns with a new album he recorded with guitarist PAUL MAY. Sadly his raspy vocalwork is sounding very average, so no matter how good the guitarsound of Paul is, the fact that Al is singing here makes it barely listenable I’m afraid. This could already be noticed on the previous album ‘Serpent’s kiss’, the two musicians recorded together a few years ago and on the 6 (!) solo-albums Al recorded before that. I really have no idea if anyone would be impressed by this release, but if you’re still interested in checking out something new by the original PRIEST shouter, then go to: www.atkinsmayproject.com

(Points: 6.1 out of 10)  

PETER FAHEY ‘UNDER THE SUN’ (LOTUSDWELLER RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

I believe ‘Under the sun’ of American singer/songwriter PETER FAHEY is his 4th record. I haven’t heard his earlier albums, but this new album sounds really interesting, so I might need to check out the previous records as well. Anyway, ‘Under the sun’ is a nice laid-back singer/songwriter album that sounds like a typical sunshine day in the summer. Most of the songs are uplifting and rather cheerful, really making you feel happy and almost inviting one to sing-a-long, especially during “Blue sky” that has got all the ingredients to become a radio hit. Peter has got a good clean voice and the songs are dancing somewhere between the breezy sounds of the 1970s Californian desert of STEELY DAN and typical modern day singer-songwriter as we know from JAKE BUGG and RUFUS WAINWRIGHT. The “la-la-la” part during the song “Sing my song” is a bit over-the-top and we could really have lived without that, but thankfully following song “Finnegan” is turning things in a good direction, as that is by far the best song, a real uptempo rocking tune like NEIL YOUNG meets JAKE BUGG. If he is lucky, Peter might one day become the next big thing and who knows that might happen on his next record, which perhaps will see the light of day during 2013, as this ‘Under the sun’ already dates back to 2011. In the meantime, check him out at: www.peterfahey.org and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.1 out of 10)  

THE COAL PORTERS ‘FIND THE ONE’ (PRIMA RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

I think you can’t get any more Bluegrass than what THE COAL PORTERS are doing. This band was formed way back in 1989 in L.A. by vocalist/mandoline player SID GRIFFIN, who gathered 4 British musicians around him when he moved to London during the early 1990s. Now many moons later, the band has already released 8 albums and ‘Find the one’ is the latest one. The music is Classic Bluegrass with typical Irish/British Folk arrangements. The vocal department also features violin player CARLY FREY on additional vocals quite a few times and some harmonyvocals perfectionize the sound of the band. They do have a lot in common with FAIRGROUND CONVENTION, which is not that strange if you are aware of the fact that their producer is none other than JOHN WOOD (who produced FAIRPORT CONVENTION and also PINK FLOYD, BETH ORTON, NICK DRAKE, SQUEEZE…) and even the legendary RICHARD THOMPSON (guitarist of FAIRPORT CONVENTION) is making a guest appearance. All together the involved musicians is pretty impressive, the production is top-notch and the material is of the highest level possible in the Bluegrass/Folk-Rock genre. One of the highlights is the simple but effective “Ask me again”, but also “Brand new home” is a damn catchy uptempo Folk-Rocker. Songs like these should also be appreciated by fans of MUMFORD AND SONS and DROPKICK MURPHYS, as those bands do more or less the same. Everything seems to sound perfect here and therefore I see no reason why not check out this band at: http://www.sidgriffin.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

TIM LANGFORD ‘BROKEN HALO’ (UNDERWORLD RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

TIM LANGFORD is one of those talented multi-instrumentalists, because on his latest solo-CD ‘Broken halo’ he is playing acoustic guitars, bass, dobro, ukulele, harmonica and programmed drums, but he also sings. Tim is best known as the guitarist/vocalist of the band TOO SLIM AND TAILDRAGGERS, withom he already released 11 studio-album since their formation in the mid 1980s in Washington. Anyway, solo he is less rocking, as he is focused on bringing acoustic material that musically speaking taps out of the typical Singer-Songwriter, Blues and Folk books. A little BOB DYLAN, some LEONARD COHEN, then again a JOHNNY CASH moment and all injected with classic Mississippi Delta Blues of the BB KING/MUDDY WATERS kind. Done very well, this is interesting for the fans of mentioned artists. Check out more at: http://www.tooslim.org/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 7.7 out of 10)  

MIKAEL PERSSON ‘MAN WITH HOUND’ (PARAPLY RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

The Swedish singer/songwriter MIKAEL PERSSON has already played in rockbands for many years and released his first solo-CD in 2007, so he is not a new name in the music business. However, it is the first time I get to hear his music and sadly only 4 tracks can be found on this EP-CD ‘Man with hound’. The music is uplifting singer/songwriter pop/rock with a folk touch, with as highlight the opening titletrack. The music sounds quite melodic and makes one look forward to a future CD, because now only 4 tracks can be heard. More info at: http://www.myspace.com/mickepersson and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 7.8 out of 10)  

GRANT LANGSTON ‘WORKING UNTIL I DIE‘’ (MSG RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

46-year old singer/songwriter GRANT LANGSTON was born in Alabama, but has lived in L.A. since 1988, where at first he started playing in local rockbands, but later started a solo career, which brought us so far 4 full-length CDs. The new CD is titled ‘Working until I die’ and musically we are diving into quite a rockin’ adventure. The music is electrified Country-Rock, with Southern Rock influences, kinda like a softer DOC HOLIDAY meets POCO meets the typical New Countrysound of America. The result is quite impressive, with many catchy uptempo tunes that feature some nice hooks and memorable choruses, while the sound is rockier than the standard Country musician. In fact, it is touching the working class heartland rock of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and BON JOVI also here and there, especially during the fantastic melodic rocker “Try me”. Many songs are uptempo, rocking and sounding very positive and instead of honky-tonk country, Grant chooses for the more rocking side of Country and therefore the earlier mentioned DOC HOLIDAY is a real good comparison, although vocally Grant sings with that typical Southern accent. Even the ballad “Everyone loves me when I am drunk”, with it’s fun title, this is a pretty good constructed and catchy tune that seems to rock as well. Great job and making me eager to check out his earlier albums. More info at: http://grantlangston.com and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

BUFORD POPE ‘MATCHING NUMBERS’ (UNCHAINED RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

‘Matching numbers’ is the 4th full-length CD of the Swedish singer/songwriter BUFORD POPE. His music is very melodic and a little melancholic, balancing somewhere between the 1970s Westcoast of JACKSON BROWNE and AMERICA and the more singer-songwriter Heartland/Working Class based Midwestern-Rock of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MICHAEL STANLEY and NEIL YOUNG. The result is very impressive and should put BUFORD POPE at least on the map in the singer/songwriter world, because his ROD STEWART meets BRYAN ADAMSish harsh vocals are clearly the unique selling point here and an important additional touch in his music, because not many singers are able to sing this way. Thanks to those raspy, raucous but clean melodic vocals, the man has created an own sound that sets him apart from the rest. Some of the uptempo songs (such as “Weary”) remind me also of what BRYAN ADAMS did in the later 90s/early 00s, which was more laid-back, but still rocking. I have never heard Buford’s earlier work, but thanks to this great new album I think I should check out the previous albums of this very talented Swedish musician. More at: http://www.bufordpope.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.4 out of 10)  

DALE BOYLE ‘THROWBACK’ (FACTOR CANADA/HEMIFRAN)

The Canadian singer/songwriter DALE BOYLE made his debut in 2004 and now releases his 3rd CD ‘Throwback’. He opens the album with a very catchy little tune called “All gone now”, which is without a doubt one of those songs that stick in your memory and will not get out quickly. The song itself is an acoustic uptempo folksy rocker that is sounding like a cross between BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and JAKE BUGG. The following track “You might come around” is a very calm tune, also featuring excellent female vocals of ANNABELLE CHVOSTEK. And it goes on this way throughout the rest of the album, with uptempo tunes and slower ballad orientated material, musically balancing between Folk and Rock and thanks to Dale’s superb vocals a must-have to check out for any fan of singer/songwriter music. Besides 8 original tunes, also 2 covers are included, namely the TOM PETTY classic “I won’t back down” and the THEM song “Baby please don’t go”. Dale is another artist who needs to get much more attention, because he shows on this new album ‘Throwback’ he is an excellent performer. Must-have for fans of mentioned artists! More info at: http://www.daleboyle.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.3 out of 10)  

BLACK PRAIRIE ‘A TEAR IN THE EYE IS A WOUND IN THE HEART’ (SUGAR HILL RECORDS/HEMIFRAN)

‘A tear in the eye is a wound in the heart’ is the 2nd album of the American band BLACK PRAIRIE. They were formed by 2 members of the popular band THE DECEMBERISTS in 2007, as they wanted to create a sort of side-project, which musically would take things into a complete different direction. As soon as they found 3 other musicians, including the fantastic female singer/violinplayer Annalisa Tornfelt (BEARFOOT and THE WOOLWINES) it was clear that BLACK PRAIRIE would be the start of a long and hopefully lasting band. Now there is the new album and I am more or less overwhelmed by the fact that the included songs are of a very high level. The first thing you notice is the huge contrast in the offered material, because there is a mixture of pure Northern European Indie/Dream-Pop, such as the sensational songs “Nowhere Massachusetts“, “What you gave me” and “How do you ruin me”, while on the other hand a song like “Dirty river stomp” is pure Balkan music actually. So this is something you need to keep in mind, because when Annalisa is singing, we are listening to music that reminds us of all those Northern European female fronted acts (BETH ORTON, FIRST AID KIT, ANE BRUN, LAVENDER DIAMOND…), but when she picks up the violin and starts jamming with the band for an instrumental delight, things head into that Balkan/Gypsy/Eastern European direction. Nevertheless, this is making it a very attractive CD to listen to, because they switch between vocal driven melodic indie pop to instrumental outta-control Balkan/Gypsy and that is something you don’t hear very often. The combination of the 2 styles is somehow only really hearable during the jazzy shuffle of “Little songbird”, but for more please go to: http://www.blackprairie.com/ and http://www.hemifran.com/

(Points: 8.4 out of 10)  

MEHRAN ‘SUBTERRANEA‘ (INDEPENDENT/GLASS ONYON PR)

Now here we have a really excellent instrumental album that is quite different than all other releases in the instrumental music subgenre. MEHRAN is the name of the guitarist, who was born in Iran, but moved to Chicago at a young age. There he discovered Rock and Roll and Progressive Rockmusic, joined Rockbands (including Hair Metalband NO ROMEO), but it was the Flamenco Guitar that grabbed him. He studied the instrument for 10 years in Spain and after his return in Chicago, he recorded his debut album in 2009. I am not familiar with that first album, but the new record ‘Subterranea’ is a magnificent piece of art, playing instrumental Progressive Rockmusic with not only the electric guitar, but most of the time using that beautiful Flamenco Guitar as main instrument. It makes me think of the days that YNGWIE MALMSTEEN played this wonderful instrument and now here is a guitarist playing it an incredible high level in a Progressive Rockband format. It sounds superb from the very start until the last note. Without a doubt, this album should gain the attention of not only progrockfans, but also the World Music press and who knows we’ll see Mehran someday soon here in Europe, where they will absolutely love this. Check out more at: http://mehranguitar.com/  

(Points: 8.6 out of 10)

JETBONE ‘JETBONE’ (KILLED BY RECORDS/SWEDEN IMPORT/RECORD HEAVEN/TSM PROMOTIONS)

AC/DC / KROKUS kinda traditional Hardrock is very popular nowadays. AIRBOURNE is one of the new hopes for the future and of course many underground bands are trying to become the next big thing. Here is JETBONE from Sweden with their same titled debut. The production and performance are both in shape, while the 10 included songs are pretty standard, although not bad at all. The slight problem here is the vocalwork, which just isn’t strong enough and makes me think of the VANDERBUYST and GO BACK TO THE ZOO vocalists. Still here and there we can hear a nice catchy little tune, such as the 1970s STARZ/KISSish Melodic Party Rocker “Time by time”. Nevertheless, I think this band needs to develop a little more in the future to make an impact. Check them out at: www.facebook.com/jetbonemusic

(Points: 7.3 out of 10)  

CONVERGENCE OF SHADOWS ‘THE HIEROPHANT’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS)

Out of Houston, Texas comes the trio CONVERGENCE OF SHADOWS, a band formed around guitarist Pete Musarra, keyboardplayer (and leader of the band) Steve Alaniz and drummer Russ Nolen. Together they released a very impressive debut EP titled ‘The hierophant’. The included music is challenging Progressive Rock/Progmetal, with a focus on constant tempo changes and complicated guitar riffs. For example opener “Tiamat” that has so many changeable rhythm sections, it is pretty fascinating that the drummer, guitarist and keyboardplayer are able to keep up. Of course not sure how this will go down live on stage, when there is probably even more room to jam along, but for all fans of the instrumental parts of RUSH and DREAM THEATER, which I have witnessed live many times, here’s another interesting band creating the sound in the studio with the release of this EP, which is available through: www.convergenceofshadows.com/

(Points: 8.2 out of 10)  

MYTHODEA ‘MYTHODEA’ (INDEPENDENT/TSM PROMOTIONS)

It’s quite unbelievable that this project by Greek guitarist CHRISTOS NIKOLAOU is still unsigned, because the incredible high level reached on the same titled debut album of MYTHODEA should easily gain attention from every single Metal label out there. For everything there is a reason and in this case Christos is besides an excellent guitarist also someone with a vision and a powerful network, because in his project/band we can find 3 other well-known musicians, namely JOHN WEST (ROYAL HUNT, ARTENSION) on vocals, CHARLIE ZELENY (JOE LYNN TURNER, JORDAN RUDESS) on drums and STEVE DIGIORGIO of DEATH/ICED EARTH on bass. With guest appearances by VITAILIJ KUPRIJ and MISTHERIA for the keyboards, rest assured that you simply can not go wrong on this album. This is a master class in Neo-Classical Symphonic Melodic Prog/Power Metal in the best ARTENSION, MALMSTEEN, ROYAL HUNT style. Any song on this album is reaching the level of aforementioned acts and thankfully the production is also in shape, so this is one of those must-have releases! Make sure not to miss this superb release that features not only the brilliant guitarwork of Christos, but is also lifted up way above the rest thanks to the amazing singer JOHN WEST, who shows he is still one of the best. This is the album YNGWIE MALMSTEEN should have recorded, but why bother him anymore if you now have this MYTHODEA, which brings us such sensational songs like “Hope” and “In my soul”. More at: www.MythodeaBand.com

(Points: 8.6 out of 10)

(All reviews by Gabor Kleinbloesem except where noted) 

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