Stryper – The Final Battle

The Final Battle Album Cover Art

Stryper – The Final Battle

Frontiers Music srl

Release Date: 12/10/22

Running Time: 46:23 

Review by: Chris Galea 

8.5/10

Dubious record label policies affected the tardiness of this review’s publication but nevertheless I felt the album merited a few words on these virtual pages. I remember, back in the late 1980s, being engrossed by this band’s music… A music that’s come to be inseparable from the religiously-themed lyrics of the songs. Almost 40 years later, not only hasn’t “The Final Battle” lost any of that early exuberance but this is quite possibly one of Stryper’s strongest albums.

It kicks off with all guns blazing – ‘Transgressor’ is heavy as hell without forgoing Stryper’s characteristic choir vocals and strong melodies. This song is also an accurate representation of the whole album, which is heavy, melodic and has Michael Sweet’s lead vocals in tip-top shape. This is not to say that each song is indistinguishable from the next. To give a few examples: ‘The Way, The Truth, The Life’ has a slower but pulsating tempo while ‘Heart & Soul’ is characterised by crunching riffs, tempo changes and inspired guitar solos from Oz Fox.

The album is also very well produced and the sound picks up on all the subtle nuances of the songs’ melodies. I get the impression that this time Stryper has devoted significant attention not only to the quality of the individual songs but also to the album as a holistic product.

In a recent interview Michael Sweet lamented how the band still remains underacknowledged after all these years and after 13 studio albums. But the band’s confidence certainly doesn’t seem dented. One hopes that this album title is not a dig at a finality of Stryper’s recording output and that we’ll hear from this band for more years to come.

‘Same Old Story’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Transgressor
02. See No Evil, Hear No Evil
03. Same Old Story
04. Heart & Soul
05. Near
06. Out, Up & In
07. Rise To The Call
08. The Way, The Truth, The Life
09. No Rest For Wicked
10. Till Death Do Us Part
11. Ashes To Ashes

LINE-UP:
Michael Sweet – Lead Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitar
Oz Fox – Lead and Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Perry Richardson – Bass, Vocals
Robert Sweet – Drums & Percussion

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Chris Galea and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities. 

House Of Lords – Saints And Sinners

Saints And Sinners Album Cover Art

House Of Lords – Saints And Sinners
Frontiers Records s.r.l.
Release Date: 16/09/2022
Running Time: 51:24
Review by: Chris Galea 
8/10

In this new House Of Lords album, only vocalist James Christian remains from the original line-up and it wasn’t even Christian who conceived the band. Nevertheless, the band’s sound is more or less intact. And Christian’s voice is more than intact… in fact it’s really in top shape.

There’s a discernable fine quality in these songs, all within the niche of catchy Hard Rock with a nod to classic Whitesnake. Great vocal harmonies, more than competent musicianship, groove, ballads… all this and more bursts forth from the get go.

Sometimes the band almost runs out of steam, but before that actually happens along comes another great song to save the day. For my money “Saints And Sinners” is one of the band’s best album for years.

‘House Of The Lord’ Official Video 

TRACKLISTING:
01. Saints And Sinners
02. House Of The Lord
03. Take It All
04. Road Warrior
05. Mistress Of The Dark
06. Avalanche
07. Roll Like Thunder
08. Razzle Dazzle
09. Dreamin’ It All
10. Takin My Heart Back
11. Angels Fallen

LINE-UP:
James Christian – Vocals, Guitars
Jimi Bell – Guitars
Mark Mangold – Keyboards
Johan Koleberg – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Chris Galea and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Allen Olzon – Army Of Dreamers

Army Of Dreamers Album Cover Art

Allen Olzon – Army Of Dreamers
Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 09/09/22
Running Time: 53:08
Review by Simon Black
5/10

Another day, another Frontiers Supergroup project… This one sees Symphony X’s Russell Allen reunited with former Nightwish singer Anette Olzon with the musical side of things being led by Primal Fear’s Magnus Karlsson, but to be honest all three are old hands at these Frontiers collaborations and this time the line-up is completed by session drummer Anders Köllerfors. 

Now although Allen remains one of my favourite powerhouse vocalists, because his range of delivery styles is so broad, my personal preference is when he’s either gruffly belting it out on the later offerings from Symphony X, or doubled up and scaling the heights more cleanly with the gruffer but equally forceful Jørn Lande. Or indeed during those moments when both the aggression and the scales counterbalance both perfectly in his delivery (such as the fantastic Symphony X opus “Underworld”). Allen’s also as loud as all the demonic legions of hell without any amplification, so with the more delicate tones of Olzen in contrast in this instance his delivery approach is much softer and subtle than I expected. 

Olzon for me is a slightly different kettle of fish. I was never convinced that she was the right choice during her brief tenure in Nightwish, as she’s a far more subtle and delicate vocalist than is the norm amongst female Metal vocalists, but I have been pleasantly surprised with her performance here, as she more than holds her own against Allen – even if he’s pulling some of his punches. I guess the intention is not to drown her out and he’s more than capable of showing a softer and more subtle approach, but equally a more direct contrast can be highly effective, but in some of the songs here it’s actually Olzen who’s delivering the suckerpunch.

Where I struggle with the album in general is that despite some lovely vocal delivery, the unexpected counter-switching in styles from the two leads and some great guitar work from the ever-reliable Karlsson, the album is let down somewhat by the song-writing. This happens a lot on Frontiers projects from the Italian studio end of things in particular, due to the sheer volume flowing through the studio and the relatively small group of session producer and musicians collaborating with multiple projects in parallel, but with this project having more Swedish roots, Swedish production and given the pedigree of its contributors, I expected better, or at least more consistently better. 

It has its moments, ‘Out of Nowhere’ is a strong piece of work and the anthemic ‘All Alone’ works really well, but we’re over halfway through before the latter emerges, and the attention deficit generation of today will have moved on by then. To be fair there’s more minor gems tucked away in this latter half – ‘Look At Me’, is enjoyable, if a little obvious; the Symphonic lighter-waver ‘I Am Gone’ works with the two singers bouncing verse lines off each other, to a catchy Melo-Metal chorus and the lengthier and meatier closer ‘Never To Late’ unfortunately proves that it is, despite being one of the more well-crafted pieces here. I like the unexpected role-switching of the two vocalists, but they need stronger songs to springboard off of them, and sadly there was only an EP’s worth of those here, not a full album. 

‘So Quiet Here’ Official Audio

TRACKLISTING:
01. Army Of Dreamers
02. So Quiet Here
03. Out Of Nowhere
04. A Million Skies
05. Carved Into Stone
06. All Alone
07. Look At Me
08. Until It’s Over
09. I Am Gone
10. Are We Really Strangers
11. Never Too Late

LINE-UP:
Vocals – Russell Allen, Anette Olzon
Guitars, Bass & Keyboards – Magnus Karlsson
Drums – Anders Köllerfors

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Nordic Union – Animalistic

Animalistic Album Cover Art

Nordic Union – Animalistic
Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 12/08/22
Running Time: 39:27
Review by Simon Black
10/10

Nordic Union is probably the best example of why there are many, many supergroup projects that Italian label Frontiers Music s.r.l. assemble. The idea is simple – take a couple of famous names, pop them together in a studio with any gaps filled by house session players, and crank the handle, riding the tail wind of the established brands. This can be a bit hit and miss sometimes, but there are some projects that stick head and shoulders above that madding crowd, and this is definitely one of them.

Nordic Union is a vehicle for Ronnie Atkins and Erik Martensson to pool their not inconsiderable talents, and employ the same tactics as Frontiers deploy in their Italian studio at Martensson’s one, with musical support more locally for the rest of the slots. That’s one of the things that makes this more distinctive than many of the labels’ outputs, as they churn so many projects out with the same studio players and production team that one can blur into another, but this sounds and feels distinctly different.

For a start, Atkins is on fire right now. Since the news broke near the start of the Covid crisis that his cancer prognosis had turned terminal and that he was living on borrowed time, he has thrown his remaining energies into as many projects as he has time for. His “One Shot” solo album was tinged with sadness and felt like a goodbye, but at the same time was one of the best things he has ever delivered and that energy led to a second solo release more recently. I’m not sure what his current medical status is, but he’s still hanging on in there and long may that continue, because this third Nordic Union release knocks both of those solo releases out of the ballpark in terms of quality, energy and sheer power.

Then there’s Martensson’s contribution. Which is pretty much everything instrumental apart from the drums, and with both of them sharing the songwriting duties. Martensson injects an incredible level of buzz and energy into his playing, and knows how to capture his sound in the studio, creating a rich and punchy feel which simultaneously gives each instrument a clear voice whilst sounding like a cohesive band at the top of their game. Highlights for me include the belting opener ‘On This Day I Fight’, ‘Animalistic’ and the incredibly anthemic and catchy closer ‘King For A Day’, which whilst short, is incredibly sweet. To be fair, this record doesn’t drop any fillers in, and plays well end to end, which is just as well, as I think I’m going to be giving this one a lot more airplay. Catchy, anthemic, lavishly crafted and thoroughly well-rounded, this is Melodic Metal at its absolute best.

‘In Every Waking Hour’ Official video

TRACKLISTING:
01. On This Day I Fight
02. In Every Waking Hour
03. If I Could Fly
04. Riot
05. This Means War
06. Scream
07. Animalistic
08. Wildfire
09. Shot In The Dark
10. Last Man Alive
11. King For A Day

LINE-UP:
Ronnie Atkins – Lead & Backing Vocals
Erik Martensson – Lead & Rhythm Guitar, Bass, Keyboards and Backing Vocals
Fredrik Folkare – Lead Guitar
Henrik Eriksson – Drums
Thomas Larsson – Lead Guitar on “Scream”, “Riot”, & “Last Man Alive”

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Cleanbreak – Coming Home

Coming Home Album Cover Art

Cleanbreak – Coming Home
Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 07/08/22
Running Time: 45:22
Review by Simon Black
8/10

James Durbin is one of Frontiers Music’s better finds in recent years. The young Californian singer first became known for his unexpected turn on America’s Got Talent back in 2011, because let’s face it that kind of popular TV pap rarely gives anything vaguely Metal any airtime, never mind a chap with a voice that would make a number of Metal’s biggest screamers look over their shoulders. Think of a slightly cleaner version of Ripper Owens channelling his best Rob Halford, and you are not far away from the piercing and powerful timbre of his voice. Having got airplay, Durbin spent a coupe of years fronting what’s left of Quiet Riot, but the Italian Metal factory that is Frontiers has been giving him the opportunity to front his own bands for a while now. I reviewed his self-monikered “The Beast Awakens” on these pages just over a year ago and was impressed with his range and performance. That has not changed one bit with this new branded act.

Musically the last record was running the gamut of traditional Metal styles as Durbin found his feet, but this disk is more stylistically static, but not in a negative way. Now I’m often cautious when Alessandro Del Vecchio and the house musos are involved, because they work on so many of these projects that things can get repetitious and unfortunately there are elements of this here. Whereas the previous record had a wider and more eclectic mix of contributors, and styles as well as Durbin picking up some of the guitar work, this one he is very much vocals only and although it’s not clear where the writing credit’s lie, this has the distinctive Del Vecchio Melodic Metal feel on the song-writing.

Where this stands above many of the more repetitive Frontiers music by numbers releases is that Durbin has such a distinctive voice and presence. I suspect that because he’s not had so many bites of the recording cherry as older hands, it means also he’s still got the hunger and fire of youth on his side and that determination to do the best job he can shines (and screams) through loud and proud. That alone pulls this release up by the bootstraps and more than makes up for the fairly non-descript Melo-Metal song structures. 

The title track, ‘We Are Warriors’ and ‘The Pain of Goodbye’ stand out as the stronger moments, and although I prefer it when Durbin is going full out NWOBHM style screaming, this more mellow and subtle piece gives him the chance to show a little more range and emotion than was evident last time round. He’s a phenomenal talent, and if Frontiers can match him up with a distinctive writing partner from that sub-genre, this chap could be a bone fide hit.

‘Coming Home’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01.  Coming Home
02. Before The Fall
03. Dying Breed
04. We Are The Warriors
05. Dream Forever
06. Man Of Older Soul
07. Still Fighting
08. The Pain Of Goodbye
09. Cleanbreak
10. Find My Way
11. No Other Heart

LINE-UP:
James Durbin – Vocals
Mike Flyntz – Guitar
Perry Richardson – Bass
Robert Sweet – Drums
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Keyboards, Background Vocals

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Jorn – Over The Horizon Radar

Over The Horizon Radar Album Cover Art

Jorn – Over The Horizon Radar
Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 17/06/22

Running Time: 58:28
Review by Simon Black
6/10

Norway’s Jorn Lande is one of the most hardworking vocalists on the Hard Rock circuit – not to mention one of the most well-respected. I first came across him in Avantasia, where he is a vocal keystone having performed on most of their expansive rock opera studio projects, but more crucially has been a part of their touring backbone from the get-go. His rough, powerful and charismatic delivery brings a wonderfully soulful counterpoint to the more clean and operatic delivery of Tobi Sammet and live he is an unstoppable force of nature, so I grabbed the chance to listen to his latest solo effort with open arms. I’ve waffled about Avantasia for a reason and that’s because Sammet is a master at bringing the best performance possible out of his guest vocalists, capturing their essence and letting it flourish. 

Now, the challenge I have is this solo piece isn’t what I expected and does not achieve that.

OK, musically this is by the numbers Hard / Melodic Rock, but the problem I have with it is that it’s lacking the song-writing and performance edge that I have come to expect from Lande’s usual projects. I suspect that this is because as with so many Frontiers efforts of late, there’s a bunch of session house musicians involved, who are doing these projects on an almost daily basis (at least judging by the number of disks that cross my desk that have the same Italian names on them). It’s all very well running a music factory, but the means you don’t always get the drive when everyone is equally invested in the project in the way a band that’s fought for its existence from the ground up. Now don’t get me wrong, Frontiers have done well by Lande in the past, as the Allen Lande project testifies, particularly the later ones where former Stratovarius maestro Timo Tolki wrote, produced and performed, because that guy is an absolute perfectionist and like Sammet, brought the absolute best out of both Lande and Symphony X front man Russel Allen and in general I’m a supporter of the label, because they get it very right, very often. Just not always…

And there’s the rub, because throughout the majority of this album I’m struggling to find much that scales the heights I expect of projects with Lande’s name on them. For the most part the songs are formulaic and Lande’s heart does not seem to be into the performance either. Well … almost. Tucked in at the end is a song that bucks that trend and sees the man firing on all cylinders. ‘Faith Bloody Faith’ is Lande at his best – roaring delivery, great charisma and melodic soaring and a damn fine and catchy song-structure. But then there’s a reason for this one being stand out, and that is it was not part of this studio session and was originally written for the 2021 Melodi Grand Prix, which is the Norwegian Eurovision pre-selection national heat show. When the best thing on an album is effectively an extended extra of something written for another purpose, you know you are in trouble….

Sadly the rest of the album is just OK. But with Lande, I have come to expect excellence, because that’s what he’s delivered on each and every other project I have heard him on. I guess you can’t win every day…

‘Faith Bloody Faith’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Over The Horizon Radar
02. Dead London
03. My Rock And Roll
04. One Man War
05. Black Phoenix
06. Special Edition
07. Ode To The Black Nightshade
08. Winds Of Home
09. In The Dirt
10. Believer
11. Faith Bloody Faith (Extended Album Version)

LINE-UP:
Jorn Lande – Vocals
Tore Moren – Guitars
Adrian SB – Guitars
Nik Mazzucconi – Bass
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Keyboards
Francesco Jovino – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Graham Bonnet Band – Day Out In Nowhere

Day Out In Nowhere Album Cover Art

Graham Bonnet Band – Day Out In Nowhere
Frontiers Music s.r.l
Release Date: 13.05.22
Running Time: 47:14
Review by Dark Juan
9/10

Well, it’s been a funny few weeks. Remember when I told you all that I was quitting wrangling recalcitrant young gentlemen in favour of being in charge of people wrangling recalcitrant young ladies?

Turns out I fucking hated it. So I quit. And then went crawling cravenly back to my old manager and asked for my old job back. Surprisingly, considering Dark Juan (even in his professional capacities) is not known for mincing his words and had uttered a home truth or two on his way out of the door, my old manager was very receptive to my coming back to work for her, which means on May 27th I return to wrangling the same young gentlemen I wrangled before. That should be interesting, especially considering I have only got my old job back on the understand I fucking apply myself to the academic aspect of the job this time and become a senior wrangler like what I said I would when I blagged my way into the job for the second time. So, I’m actually going to have to do some work instead of drag the lads off to Alton Towers and to Manchester Storm ice hockey games in Sheffield, where Dark Juan would gleefully embarrass the fuck out of the plastic gangster teen with him by being incredibly noisy and chanting and generally being a total arsehole because I really REALLY like ice hockey.

None of which has absolutely anything to do with the fact that I am listening to the new release from one of the greatest rock and metal vocal gymnasts who has ever lived, the incomparable Mr. Graham Bonnet, wearer of metal’s sharpest suits, most impenetrable sunglasses and proud owner of metal’s most incongruent coiffure, being as his barnet has always looked like it belonged on an accountant from Bognor Regis, rather than a howling rock colossus who has bestrode world stages with Rainbow, MSG, Alcatrazz and Impellitteri as well as his own band – the band that contains the fragrant and divine Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass. Dark Juan had a bit of a telling off from Mrs. Dark Juan about his adoration of Beth-Ami Heavenstone when I reviewed Graham’s last release, so I will merely content myself with stating she is a superb bass player. 

And that’s all I’m saying this time because I don’t want I don’t want my balls sawn off with a blunt tin lid. Which was one of the more minor threats to my person. Corkscrews, bits of four-by-two in an anal interface and tearing my arms off and beating me to death with the wet ends were mentioned in passing.

“Day Out In Nowhere” opens with the quite stupendous “Imposter”, a song about Graham (why the fuck has this man not been made a Knight of the Realm for his services to music? He even had to overcome coming from Skegness, for fuck’s sake!) understanding that age is slowly catching up with him and how it affects him and his life and performance, which has a pathos that’s almost touching, however, his vocal channels the anger against ageing (believe me, as I approach my fifties, I feel the man deeply) and what could have been a bit moany turns into a massive battle cry for us greying hordes to pull our fucking socks up. The chorus is sublime – “Who are you, pretender? Now I can see, the man that’s reflected, that man is me…” sums up everything us gentlemen and I daresay a few ladies and other genders feel every time we drag ourselves out of our beds of pain and stare blankly at the tired and no longer flawless faces gawping back at us in the bathroom mirror. 

How the hell this man manages to consistently write such monolithic choruses is beyond me. “Uncle John” is a stand out here, with its story of a possible paedophile, with a short intro reminiscent of a musical box before some absolutely incendiary riffing from Conrado Pesinato kicks you in your lazy-ass pants and shocks you into attention. Graham’s voice soars effortlessly over it all – the man just can do no wrong. He is another one of my pantheon of musical gods – Graham Bonnet and Andrew Eldritch being top tier gods, anyway. “Uncle John” is one of the more aggressive songs and one of the most metal – The Graham Bonnet Band have always angled to the more melodic side of heavy metal, but this is a spitting firebrand of a track. “David’s Mom” is a song about a lady the  young Graham had a bit of a thing for, with yet another massive chorus in a paean to young mothers taunting gauche and tumescent teenage lads, touching an almost sleaze metal vibe before going to a middle eight with what can only be described as the most trad metal solo I have ever heard in modern music. This isn’t a criticism, it reminds me of good times, as does the keyboard solo by Alessandro Bertoni.

I’m lost. I can’t criticise this record. The man can do no wrong. Dammit, Graham Bonnet. Why do you have to be so amazing? I adore the man’s voice and have done so ever since I heard “Since You Been Gone” for the first time when I was 10 years old. I gently tease him about his haircut but he has always dared to be different, and as he gets older his voice, although rougher around the edges, still grabs me by the throat and shakes until I’m a gibbering mess. 40 fucking years he’s done that to me, the Skeggy git. The musicianship is top fucking notch, the production absolutely perfect for the music (who’s responsible for it? Conrado Pesinato and the superb bass player Beth-Ami Heavenstone. Hopefully I’m off the hook, now…) with every instrument easily discernible and Graham’s voice exactly where it needs to be, forward in the mix but not overpowering the music. The musicians sound hungry and like they are enjoying themselves and the record is notable for some fucking big names guesting on it – Mike and John Tempesta of Powerman 5000 and White Zombie respectively, Jeff Loomis of Nevermore and Arch Enemy and Roy Z of Bruce Dickinson’s solo band and Halford to name them…

Also, DON FUCKING AIREY is playing on this album. Keyboard legend, mate…

“Jester” is another heavier song referencing climate change and ecological damage and the soloing of Jeff Loomis on this song is so tasty Dark Juan is salivating. No, not over Beth-Ami. Stop that, you’ll get me in trouble. I’m already on thin ice…

The Patented Dark Juan Blood Splat Rating System awards the Graham Bonnet Band 9/10 for yet another stonking album. I have deducted one mark for “Suzy”, but that is because I FUCKING HATE BALLADS! I don’t care whether it’s Graham Bonnet or anyone doing a ballad. You do a ballad, The Patented Dark Juan Blood Splat Rating System is deducting a mark, end of. That’s the law. I don’t care how overarchingly splendid and epic it is, what with the full orchestra and all. Ballads suck. Ballads are the musical equivalent of a butcher doing a vegan fucking chorizo sausage. Or American Football versus proper football. They should be forbidden and the perpetrators shot, with only Graham Bonnet, the Wilson sisters of Heart, and Andrew Eldritch excepted. But that’s only because I like those musicians that much. Then again, however, if the superb bass player Beth-Ami wrote “Suzy” then it is the best tune ever and she should be applauded… 

Oh, boy, this time I’m fucked!

TRACKLISTING:
01. Imposter
02. Twelve Steps To Heaven
03. Brave New World (ft. Roy Z)
04. Uncle John
05. Day Out In Nowhere
06. The Sky Is Alive
07. David’s Mom
08. When We’re Asleep (ft. Mike Tempesta, John Tempesta)
09. It’s Just A Frickin’ Song (ft. Don Airey)
10. Jester (ft. Jeff Loomis)
11. Suzy (Orchestra)

LINE-UP:
The man, the legend, the improbable haircut – Mr. Graham Bonnet – Vocals
The fleet fingered king of the fretboard, Conrado Pesinato – Guitars
The superb bass player, Beth-Ami Heavenstone – Bass

Guest musicians:
Don Airey – Keyboards
Alessandro Bertoni – Keyboards
Levi Dokus – Drums
Shane Gaalaas – Drums
Jeff Loomis – Guitars
Takanori Ozaki – Acoustic Guitar
John Tempesta – Drums 
Mike Tempesta – Guitars     
Roy Z – Guitars

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of ‘Dark Juan’ and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

The Big Deal – First Bite

First Bite Album Cover Art

The Big Deal – First Bite
Frontiers Records s.r.l.
Release Date: 13/05/22
Running Time: 40:03
Review by Simon Black
8/10

A new day, and a new country to review (at least for me). If you wonder what I’m talking about, then don’t forget that the vast majority of European Metal that hits my desk hails from German, the UK the Nordics and the Mediterranean countries, with far too little coming from more Eastern shores. Enter The Big Deal, who hail from Serbia and pump out very Radio Friendly Melodic Rock with a Progressive Metal tinge. Whilst most of Frontiers Records output is re-platforming stars of old – either by packaging a well-known name with the house studio and session player team filling the slots, or creating Super Groups or what I call The Blues Brothers records (putting the band back together). Tucked in amongst this sometimes repetitive fodder are some genuinely strong new bands that make ploughing through all the cookie cutter material thoroughly worthwhile. 

This is one such example.

This label produces a lot of Melo-Metal, but what makes this one distinctive is it’s clearly a cohesive band project with their own sound and identity, rather than something that Serafino Perugino has assembled as a project. The band are a five piece and are built around husband and wife team Srdjan Brankovic (guitars, song-writing and production) and Nevena Brankovic (vocals and keyboards). Vocal duties are shared with Ana Nikolic, creating a wonderfully richly layered set of harmonics – predominantly clean, but with a little bit of edge when needed, which makes the band sound a lot fuller than many a debut record. The only Frontiers house stamp is the addition of label stalwart Alessandro Del Vecchio on bass, although he can play practically anything in any style (and indeed has given how many of the label’s releases he’s contributed to).

Musically, what gives it an interesting edge is the subtle but incredibly skilful Progressive touches that turn up on the two Brankovic’s guitar and keyboard instrumental parts. It has the kind of fluidity, skill and flourish that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dream Theater or Nightwish (circa Olzen) album on the occasions when they manage a genuine radio friendly hit – so the virtuosity is subtle and restrained, not screaming in your face. Add this to some catchy melodies, well-layered harmonies (actually way more musically complex than they sound on the surface) and you have music that works across the aisles – like Danger, Danger but with infinitely better players. I’m normally less bothered by the obvious attempt at a hit material, but even the very commercial single ‘Sensational’ works well because of this restrained technical virtuosity and the sheer power of the dual vocal delivery.

I do wonder if Frontiers played safe here, because I get the feeling that this is a band with the potential to really punch high, as although restraint works when you’re trying to pull in the radio-friendly Rock rather than Metal crowd I do feel that a little more of that technical skill can still go a hell of a long way without breaking the commercial appeal. A damn fine start nonetheless.

‘Never Say Never’ Official Music Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Never Say Never
02. I Need You Here Tonight
03. Sensational
04. Top Heaven
05. Wake The Fire
06. In The Dead Of The Night
07. Rebel Lady
08. Power On
09. Bad Times, Good Times
10. Fallen
11. Lady Of The Night

LINE-UP:
Srdjan Brankovic – Guitars
Nevena Brankovic – Vocals And Keyboards
Ana Nikolic – Vocals
Marko Milojevic – Drums
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Bass

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

L.A. Guns – Checkered Past

Checkered Past Album Cover Art

L.A. Guns – Checkered Past
Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 12/11/21
Running Time: 44:48
Review by Simon Black
8/10

L.A. Guns have no small place in Rock ’n’ Roll history, with Tracii Guns leaving his name behind in one half of the biggest band the 80’s L.A. scene ever produced, before going on to found an act that would prove to be the seminal Sleaze Metal sound, which many skinny sallow kids are still trying to look and sound like thirty years later, even if they never achieved anything like the success they should have. They have definitely proven to be one of the most influential acts of the period.

L.A. Guns though have become the classic example of why going legal when band mates fall out is a really, really stupid idea, because some old Republican-voting circuit judge is not going to see what is wrong with allowing two versions of the band to compete in the same marketplace. This is why every time I see the name come up on a new recording I have to check whether it’s the Steve Riley version or the Tracii Guns & Phil Lewis version. I mean for Pete’s sake, they both use the same logo, so how’s a fan supposed to tell the difference?

Having reviewed examples of both in the last eighteen months I have to say that so far the one that actually has Mr Guns and his original debut album’s singer is winning hands down so far. Riley’s version released ‘Renegades’ last year and quite frankly annoyed the socks off of me in the process. Not only did it not really bear any relation to the L.A. Guns sound I remembered, but it was also a flat, lacklustre and limp affair. ‘Checkered Past’, however, is doing the complete opposite and ticking an awful lot of boxes.

First off, it absolutely sounds like an older and wiser version of the band that cut seminal tracks like ‘Sex Action’, ‘One More Reason’, or ‘Electric Gypsy’ back in 1988. Opener ‘Cannonball’ would feel right at home on that first record, as it bubbles with energy, down and dirty mood, and that old L.A Guns ‘tude. The bluesy ‘Bad Luck Charm’ keeps the foot-tapping mood going nicely and the energy stays there until the first of several slower pieces. The moody, semi-acoustic ‘Get Along’ is clearly an attempt at something a little more mainstream, without losing the essential feel of the band through Guns simple but effectively haunting lead break.

The slower songs are peppered throughout to be honest. ‘If It’s Over Now’ takes a moodier and darker tone, with Lewis’s vocal melody making this one of the highlights of the record, although ‘Let You Down’ isn’t far behind it. The album bounces back and forwards between the lively and the slower effortlessly and manages to pretty much hold your attention throughout. For me it feels like a much overdue and very welcome return to form for an act that really have deserved better at history’s hands over the decades. Now all they need to do is get the sole use of the name back…

‘Cannonball’ – Official Music Video:

TRACKLISTING:
01. Cannonball
02. Bad Luck Charm
03. Living Right Now
04. Get Along
05. If It’s Over Now
06. Better Than You
07. Knock Me Down
08. Dog
09. Let You Down
10. That Ain’t Why
11. Physical Itch

LINE-UP:
Tracii Guns – Lead Guitar
Phil Lewis – Vocals
Johnny Martin – Bass
Ace Von Johnson – Rhythm Guitar
Scot Coogan – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Between Worlds (Featuring Ronny Munroe) – Between Worlds

Between Worlds Album Cover Art

Between Worlds (Featuring Ronny Munroe) – Between Worlds
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 09/10/21
Running Time: 52:14
Review by Simon Black
6/10

It does seem a few months since I last tackled any of the output of the crazily prolific Frontiers label. For those not aware of them, this is an Italian label that specialises in supergroup projects (usually featuring a key figure from either a defunct much bigger act, or an act they are now no longer a part of), assembles a mostly Italian musical and Production team, and cranks the handle. A lot… It can be a bit hit and miss – sometimes careers are spectacularly revived, and decades old rusty hatchets are well and truly buried, even if Frontiers don’t always directly benefit from that (although to be fair they also break a few new faces that deserve a wider audience, more often than not from South America). And sometimes not…

I’m generally a hugely positive supporter of the approach, but can be quite critical of the sometimes repetitive nature of the almost factory-like part of their process, relying as it does on a large, but shared group of in-house session players, and producers, working back to back on projects to keep up with the insane releases schedule. All of which means that unless the guest artist at the centre doesn’t take an active role here, and put their own stamp firmly on it, a lot of the material can sound a bit samey. And that is precisely my frustration with this one.

Perhaps this is a side effect of the lock down influenced recording process, but the piece despite being very workmanlike, and full of robust performances, does not quite have the song writing welly that a vocalist of Munroe’s calibre deserves. That said, his performance is full on, energetic, and displays a range worthy of his reputation as a front man. I was expecting, nay hoping, that this project would be in the Progressive / Power mould of the material from his time in Metal Church or Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but song wise the material is much more in the Melodic Hard Rock vein (although there are nice flourishes in that more challenging direction from time to time). This is despite the presence of two of TSO’s musical team in the mix, and is no doubt down to the size twelve boot print of Producer Alessandro Del Vecchio, but fortunately this is saved from banality, because you can feel the tension between the mixing chair and Jack Frost’s guitar work and Munroe’s vocal lines.

I am hoping this leads to more work, but musically a slightly less Melo-Metal direction, and a bit more drive and variety on the song style would have made this a more diverse, and therefore interesting piece. But enjoyable nonetheless.

TRACKLISTING:
01. Between Worlds
02. These Walls
03. Life Enough For Me
04. Times Of Change
05. No Escare
06. Soul Chaser
07. Scent Of An Angel
08. Beautiful Disaster
09. Flip The Script
10. Beneath The Surface
11. Calm Before The Storm

LINE-UP:
Ronny Munroe – Vocals
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Pete Alpenborg – Rhythm Guitars
Jack Frost – Lead Guitars
Alex Jansen – Bass
Michele Sanna – Drums
John Lee Middleton –  Bass On “No Escape”
Joel Hoekstra – Lead Guitar On “Soul Chaser”
Chris Caffery – Lead Guitars On “Angel” And “No Escape”

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.