Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Deep Purple's 'Infinite' - Album Review

While some older bands in the rock and metal worlds and content to become nostalgia acts and tour on the oldies circuit playing the same old setlist of 30-plus year old hits year after year, other seasoned bands still have the drive to write and record new material. Deep Purple fall into the latter category and, despite releasing their first studio album in 1968, the hard rock pioneers still clearly have plenty left to say. There are fewer bands that are more important to the development of the hard rock and heavy metal genres that we know and love today, and while drummer Ian Paice is the only member left in the band who played on the debut album Shades of Deep Purple the current line-up is the longest-lasting in the band's history having been around now since 2002. Despite Paice being the only founding member of the band left now both singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, who joined in 1969, were part of the famed 'Mk. II' line-up of Deep Purple that released three legendary studio albums (plus one that time seems to have forgotten) and the game-changing live release Made in Japan between 1970 and 1973. While Deep Purple have famously had many different line-ups over the years, it is the 'Mk. II' line-up that most people think of when they think of Deep Purple. Most of the band's most well-known songs are products of that era, and are some of the most important hard rock and heavy metal songs of all time. We are now on 'Mk. VIII' of Deep Purple and, as previously stated, this particular incarnation has been around since 2002. Gillan, Glover, and Paice are joined by guitarist Steve Morse (who has now been in Deep Purple for well over twenty years) and keyboardist Don Airey who have created a tight rock outfit that can more than do justice to the band's classic tracks, while still staying fresh by writing new material. Earlier this month the band released their twentieth studio album Infinite. A new Deep Purple album is always an event in the rock community, but I feel Infinite was a bigger deal that usual as it was the first album the band had released since 2013's Now What?! (which I reviewed here). Now What?! was the band's first album in eight years, and I do not think that many people expected it to be quite as good as it was! The band's previous couple of albums had not been that well received, and I think many had given up on hearing another great Deep Purple album. Now What?! was, and still is, a fantastic modern Deep Purple album however and is probably their best for quite some time. As a result, Infinite has received quite a bit more initial publicity and exposure than it probably would have done if it was not for the success of Now What?!. While Now What?! was quite an immediate rock album with lots of the classic Deep Purple tropes wheeled out, Infinite definitely has a different vibe. It is certainly a more laid back effort, incorporating more of the progressive influences that were introduced somewhat on Now What?! which means that it is more of a grower than many might have expected. Initial reviews were somewhat mixed, but this is an album that needs to be heard a few times to really appreciate. There are certainly a few songs that have classic the Deep Purple sound, but there are some new ideas here too and that is what makes Infinite and enjoyable and interesting listen.

After an atypical droning keyboard intro with a ominous effects-heavy spoken word section, Time for Bedlam kicks the album off with a strong mid-paced chug led by Glover's bassline and Airey's pulsing Hammond organ chords. Unlike the riff-driven nature of many of the band's songs, this takes on a different feel, with Morse's tortured guitar leads soaring behind Gillan's vocals in the verses and plenty of neo-classical instrumental breaks which sees Morse and Airey playing in unison. The chorus sections are more like what you would expect from Deep Purple, with hefty keyboard stabs and a catchy vocal refrain from Gillan. Gillan puts in a strong performance throughout this album, and this song is no different. While he struggles to hit the notes he did at his peak, he has found a way to sing convincingly and comfortably with his current range and this is probably his best recorded vocal performance for a while. The song's lazy, but infectious, groove is the great way to get this album underway and that mood carries on through many of the track here. Hip Boots has more of the traditional Deep Purple hard rock sound, but Paice's trademark drumming helps to ensure that groove continues on here. Airey plays his heart out on this song, with his Hammond continually dominating the sound as he doubles up with Morse's guitar but manages to out-muscle him almost constantly. There is something about the sound of the Hammond organ that just epitomises 1970s hard rock, and Deep Purple's continual heavy use of the instrument is something that helps link all the various incarnations of the band together. The sultry strut of this song is so pleasing, and I can see this one becoming a favourite of many fans over the next few months. All I Got is You is a much more chilled out affair, driven by a melodic bassline and Paice's instantly recognisable jazz-influenced drumming. Morse's guitar mostly adds colour, but occasionally breaks out into one of those classic Deep Purple riffs with Airey's backing . The opening couple of numbers here are instantly memorable, but this is one of those songs that needs a little more attention to really open up. There is a creaking keyboard solo from Airey part-way through that is pretty lengthy and really allows him to show off his skills. This transitions into probably the first bona fide guitar solo on the album. It seems strange to have waited to long for one, but this is not one of those explosive virtuosic albums, but instead one that is far more than the sum of it's parts. Normality is restored on One Night in Vegas with a shuffling drum beat, electric piano melodies, and a playful vocal melody from Gillan. Morse's guitar riffs throughout definitely have that classic Deep Purple hallmark as they grind away, and he gets further opportunity to show off with a short, but extremely tasteful, guitar solo that has a smooth tone and a great economy of notes. Get Me Outta Here opens with Paice's booming drums before a Hammond-drenched opening riff kicks with typical Deep Purple power. The song is quite funky here however, with prominent and technical bass playing from Glover and a slightly off-kilter drum beat throughout that emphasise the off beat in the way that reggae music does. This works well for the band however, and provides a good backing for a surprisingly tough vocal performance and a lengthy Hammond solo.

The album's second half opens with the strange The Surprising, a song which sounds quite different from anything Deep Purple have done previously. A keyboard drone heralds it's arrival, before a clean guitar pattern and Gillan's mournful vocals come in to dominate the opening section. Harder rock sections fit well with the more downbeat overall feel of the song, and Airey once again proves his worth with some excellent Eastern-influenced keyboard melodies that work in a great call and response fashion with a Paice drum roll. This song definitely emphasises the progressive side of the band's songwriting and moves through quite a few different sections and relies heavily on the instrumental prowess of the members. Morse has a fairly lengthy solo mid-way through the track, before an almost-classical influenced piano section takes over to change the song's mood totally. Johnny's Band returns to the simpler, hard rock feel of the opening few numbers. A short piano intro soon gives way to a bluesy guitar riff and some of Gillan's excellent storytelling lyrics which are sung with conviction and passion. This is probably the song on the album that is closest to the band's classic sound, and that is probably why it is my favourite song here. The chorus is extremely catchy, and the Hammond-driven hard rock sound that the band helped to pioneer in the early 1970s shines here. A jaunty guitar solo from Morse is the icing on the cake, before another run through of that laid back, but extremely catchy chorus really makes the song a keeper. Another great song comes next in the form of On Top of the World which features another great mid-paced riff with bluesy overtones that just struts along at that jazzy pace the album generally sticks to. Morse's plentiful bursts of lead guitar really help the song to come alive with a cheeky, lustful vibe that fits in with Gillan's lyrics perfectly. The song takes a sharp turn towards the end and descends into a strange spoken word section that takes on an-almost mythological feel. It is ridiculous, but it does actually work quite well without ever becoming embarrassing. A lesser band would not have been able to pull this off, but Gillan's voice manages to take on a hypnotic quality, before the band bursts back in with a short, but explosive, outro focused around Morse's soaring guitar leads. The album's penultimate number Birds of Prey is probably the album's least-interesting number. I cannot quite put my finger on why this is, but for whatever reason it just fails to really stick in my brain at all. The rest of the songs here all have something that sticks out, be it a catchy riff, a strong chorus, or just a great overall vibe; but this song never really seems to get going. While Deep Purple performed quite a few covers in their early days, they have not recorded a new one for an album for quite some time. Their version of The Doors' Roadhouse Blues, which closes this album, is pretty good however and fits in well with the rest of the songs here. I must say I am not that familiar with The Doors, but I am familiar with Status Quo's version of the song, and Deep Purple's take on it is fairly similar, but obviously with more keyboard work! It is a classic twelve bar blues tune, and it gives all the members of the band chance to shine once more, particularly Morse who plays an excellent solo part-way through. Overall, Infinite is a great modern Dee Purple album and a good companion piece to Now What?!. I think Now What?! was a better album overall, but repeated listens here are extremely rewarding and it shows that Deep Purple are still capable of writing quality rock songs.

The album was released on 7th April 2017 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for All I Got is You.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Night Ranger's 'Don't Let Up' - Album Review

The 24th March 2017 shall for ever now be known as AOR Day, as no fewer than four great new melodic rock albums were released! AOR fans like me were like a kid at Christmas with new albums from Eclipse, One Desire, and Brother Firetribe to pick up and enjoy. Not wanting to let all the new younger bands have all the fun, genuine legends of the genre Night Ranger also released a new album on that day in the form of Don't Let Up, their twelfth studio album. Originally forming as Ranger in 1982, Night Ranger have enjoyed continued success throughout their career and are still a popular draw on the live circuit. They have always been a band on the rockier end of the AOR spectrum, and it was on the twin-lead guitar pairing of Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson that the band built their sound. Keyboards have always been a feature of Night Ranger's music, but they have never been as prominent and overbearing as those used by many of their peers. This gave Night Ranger a sound closer to traditional classic rock than many of their peers, and this is something they have continued with throughout their career. Their 1982 debut album Dawn Patrol (they had changed their name to Night Ranger by the time it was released) perfectly displays their signature hard rock sound, but it was 1983's Midnight Madness that saw the band break into the big time with a couple of big-selling singles and a slightly more polished overall sound. More success followed and, despite a hiatus in the early 1990s and a few line-up changes of the years, Night Ranger have remained busy and maintain popular around the world. Unlike many of their AOR peers, Night Ranger also still seem to have the drive to write new material and Don't Let Up seems to be the third in a trilogy of new albums the band have put out since 2011. 2011's Somewhere in California and 2014's High Road are similar albums and both emphasise the hard rock roots of the band perfectly. Both are very enjoyable listens, and both have a somewhat tougher sound than the band were known for in the past but still are packed full of plenty of melodic rock songs. Don't Let Up follows on from those two albums perfectly and continues on that hard rock trend. Gillis is joined by a new guitar partner on this album in the form of veteran player Keri Kelli (Pretty Boy Floyd; Slash's Snakepit; L.A. Guns; Adler's Appetite; Alice Cooper) who became a permanent member of Night Ranger when his predecessor Joel Hoekstra left in 2014 to join Whitesnake. The band's signature dual-lead vocal approach from bassist Jack Blades and drummer Kelly Keagy is present here as always, and the songwriting triumvirate of Blades, Keagy, and Gillis has created another album packed full of memorable riffs and choruses. Kelli is no songwriting slouch either, and has jumped right into the band's creative process co-writing a handful of the album's songs with the three founding band members. Keyboardist Eric Levy, who has been part of Night Ranger since 2011, rounds out the line-up.

The album opens without any real fanfare, as Somehow Someway kicks off with a driving hard rock rhythm that instantly shows off the chemistry of the band's two guitarists with subtle leads and interweaving rhythms. For whatever reason I have always struggled to distinguish between Blades' and Keagy's vocals when listening to Night Ranger, but I believe Blades tackles the lead vocals here with grit that the rocking nature of the song needs. Despite this tougher edge, the song still possess a strong chorus with tasteful melodies and enough backing vocal harmonies to create that 1980s AOR sound but not enough to smother the harder edge of the song. A riffy instrumental ending adds to the heavier sound of the song, and the subtle leads from the intro return to see the song to a close. Running Out of Time opens with another strident riff, perfectly backed up by Blades' bassline, and the song continues in that muscular fashion throughout. Despite the strong guitar riffs, it is actually the bass that stands out here with some really melodic playing that provides the main rhythms of the song while the guitars add colour with clean melodies and effects-heavy chords. Another strong chorus sees both Blades and Keagy take centre stage vocally with some lovely harmonies which helps to enhance to simple, but strong, vocal melodies to create a catchy refrain. A fairly lengthy guitar solo section is another highlight, and it sounds as if both Gillis and Kelli get a chance to show off as the section ends in a shredded climax. Truth is a bit more of a downbeat song, but it retains the strong melodies that filled the opening two numbers. Going by the slightly smoother vocal delivery here, I would guess that Keagy takes the lead here vocally, and that would suit the band's established form of him singing the majority of the ballads. While this song does not quite reach 'ballad' level, it is certainly more laid back and not as in-your-face as the previous two numbers. Levy's keyboards are a little more prominent here and his gentle synths provide the song with a constant, warm glow; while the two guitarists shine elsewhere with lots of subtle dual-guitar leads too add extra melody. Day and Night is a song that will be familiar to anyone who has heard the band's most recent live album, as the song was debuted at the show in Chicago that was recorded for that release. It is another hard-hitting rocker with vocals from both Blades and Keagy who trade sections with ease above the heavy guitar riffs. The song does not really have the AOR sheen that the opening three numbers of this album have, and instead goes for a full-frontal hard rock attack with Keagy's hard-hitting drumming and tough riffs. Levy's retro organ sounds help this hard rock feel, and an impressive guitar solo section is the icing on the cake. The title track returns to the slightly more polished AOR of the opening couple of numbers and rocks a little less harder than Day and Night, but delivers in other ways with probably the album's best chorus and lots of excellent twin-lead guitar riffs that ooze out of the speakers in an almost Thin Lizzy-esque way. Again the keyboards provide warmth throughout without ever dominating the sound, but that does help to provide depth. Don't Let Up is one of the most instantly catchy songs on the album, and is certainly one of the best recent efforts.

(Won't Be Your) Fool Again takes the album off into a more bluesy territory with barroom piano, a raw guitar sound, and even the odd burst of slide guitar. Blades' southern twang helps the vocals to fit in perfectly with the music, and the overall rawness of the song makes it stand out on what is otherwise a fairly polished album. Levy really stands out here, and his piano playing really is the backbone of the song. He does not get many chances to really shine on this album, with his role mainly being a supporting one, but his greater role here allows him to show off his skills a little more with an impressive display of honky piano. Keeping up the energy established on the previous number, Say What You Want comes roaring out of the speakers with a tight opening guitar lead and a driving drum beat that keeps the song steaming along throughout. The song is similar in style to Somehow Someway and has that polished, upbeat hard rock vibe that opened this album in such style. The piano from the previous song remains, although in a much lesser role, and the chorus is another strong one with lots of harmony vocals. There are lots of bursts of lead guitar throughout, and some of them almost take on a neo-classical vibe which is something different for Night Ranger. We Can Work it Out is the first real ballad on the album, and sees both Blades and Keagy taking the vocal lines together with some nice harmonies that sit well atop Levy's subtle piano playing. The song mostly stays in the relatively gentle groove that it opens with, but some well-chosen drum lines help to give the song a bit of an edge despite the low-key mood. Acoustic guitar chords and soaring synths help to add depth, especially during the Eagles-esque chorus. A gorgeous acoustic guitar solo is another highlight, and the almost-classical playing style really suits the song and again shows something different from the norm. Despite opening with what seems like it will be a heavy riff, Comfort Me is another polished rocker but one that maintains a driving rhythm throughout with some muted power chord chugs. It is not one of the most stand out songs on the album, but it is still enjoyable. The chorus especially is a good moment, with some high energy almost-gang vocal sections which I am sure will go down well live if the band choose to ever play it. The melodic bridge section before the guitar solo, which I am sure Keagy sings, is another good moment too; and there are some 1980s-style synth runs during the guitar solos which again is not something that is heard often in the band's recent output. Jamie is a tougher song, with some really screaming guitar leads intro which really epitomises the modern Night Ranger sound. Blades and Keagy again sing many of the vocal lines in perfect harmony and this is an approach that works well here. This is one of the high energy songs on this album, and plenty of shredding guitar sections help to emphasise this. Both Gillis and Kelli shine here as they trade off riffs and solos with each other throughout. The chorus is another good one with soaring harmonies and melodies. The album's final song, Nothing Left of Yesterday, has somewhat of an epic feel and mixes acoustic-driven verses with heavier choruses. This approach works well and it acts as a great crescendo for the album. Unlike many of the songs on the album, the song actually has quite a modern rock feel which also helps it to become a strong closing number. There are lots of excellent bursts of lead guitar throughout too, and this is a song that I am sure would work really well live. Overall, Don't Let Up is another solid entry into the Night Ranger canon and is an album that shows the band still have plenty left to say and still feel fresh in the 21st century.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Day and Night.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Brother Firetribe's 'Sunbound' - Album Review

It seems March 2017 was a month of AOR! I have already reviewed the new albums by Eclipse and One Desire, and US veterans Night Ranger will be featured here over the next couple of weeks or so. Today however is the turn of Finland's resident AOR heroes Brother Firetribe who are back on the scene with their fourth album Sunbound. Despite forming in 2002 (according to Wikipedia, so that must be true), Brother Firetribe have never been the most active of bands, with their schedule often being dictated by guitarists Emppu Vuorinen's busy life as a member of symphonic metal giants Nightwish. Nightwish are legitimately one of the biggest metal bands in the world now, and are very much in demand all over the world. The conclusion of the lengthy world tour supporting their Endless Forms Most Beautiful album means that Nightwish will now enter one of their patented post-world tour long slumbers, and this is the perfect opportunity for Brother Firetribe to spring into action once again! In fairness, it has only been three years since the band released their third album. 2014's Diamond in the Firepit was an album that, for whatever reason, just never really grabbed me when it was released. I was never motivated enough to review it at the time of it's May released, but by the end of the year it had grown on me and I included a mini-review of it in my round up of the year (which can be seen here). While still following the AOR trend of 2006's False Metal (later reissued as Break Out) and 2008's Heart Full of Fire, Diamond in the Firepit is less immediate and less in-your-face than those gloriously overblown first couple of releases. While the soaring choruses, smooth vocals, and pompous keyboard leads were still present on Diamond in the Firepit it was presented in a much more subtle and, on reflection, classy way. In a strange twist of fate, it is now the Brother Firetribe album that I reach for the most as I feel the songwriting is stronger than on the first two. Sunbound definitely carries on that somewhat maturer sound established on Diamond in the Firepit, but does also include a few songs which are definitely a bit more in-your-face and more akin to their earlier material. In that respects, you could say that Sunbound is the best of both worlds of Brother Firetribe so far, and it certainly feels like their most complete piece of work yet. Vuorinen is joined as always by frontman Pekka Ansio Heino (who is the star of the band with his amazing voice), keyboardist Tomppa Nikulainen (who also produced the album), and bassist Jason Flinck. Drummer Hannes Pirilä makes his debut in the studio with Brother Firetribe on Sunbound, but he is no stranger to the band as he has been playing live with them since 2014 when he replaced original drummer Kalle Torniainen to tour Diamond in the Firepit.

After the brief instrumental title track which helps to set the scene with a building piano melody and the odd soaring guitar lead, the album gets truly underway with Help is on the Way. A slightly crunchy opening soon gives way to a joyous keyboard riff which will not fail to put a smile on your face, before a slightly restrained verse, driven by Flinck's bass, introduces Heino for the first time on the album. His voice is perfect for this type of music, with a tone that just oozes quality but also carries the hooks perfectly. While the chorus is not as big as you might expect from an opening song, after a few listens it really grows on you with it's huge choral backing and subtle keyboard leads. Indelible Heroes is the band's tribute to all of the great musicians that we have lost in recent years, with acts like Motörhead, the Eagles, and Prince referenced in the lyrics. The keyboards dominate the song, and provide a synthy sheen throughout which shimmers with a perfectly poppy feel. The chorus this time is much more obvious, and is made up of all of the aforementioned tributes. Vuorinen's solo is a little strange here, and seems to be more about creating a noise with a raft of effects than to do something more traditional. It seems to work, but it does stand out as being a bit of a strange choice. Despite being released as a single last year, Taste of a Champion finds a permanent home here and it is easily one of the album's real highlights. I have often seen Brother Firetribe compared to American AOR legends Survivor in the past and had not really agreed with the comparison, but Taste of a Champion really does sound like a classic Survivor anthem. I am surprised it was not included in the latest Rocky movie! Nikulainen's driving piano chords really prove to be the song's backbone, and Vuorinen provides plenty of subtle guitar leads throughout too, as well as a more traditional solo this time around which really takes off with some excellent melodic runs. The chorus is the album's best too, and has a real uplifting vibe that is sure to temporarily banish any bad moods! Despite opening with a bit of a sombre keyboard riff, Last Forever soon picks up the pace with a pomp-driven riff and a soaring guitar lead showcase. The verses are quite low key, with the odd thrash of an acoustic guitar which penetrates the wall of keyboards to back Heino's vocals. The sombre keyboard riff returns in the chorus, but with the context of the rest of the band now takes on a more uplifting feel with a strong pomp backing and plenty of smooth vocal harmonies. Give me Tonight is another real favourite of mine, and is another song that could be an old Survivor classic. It is an uptempo rock song with crunchy power chords driving the verses as Heino's sultry vocals hook you in. This is a song that would have seriously troubled the charts if it was released in the mid-1980s and it is a song that you only have to hear once before you can nearly sing all of the words! Unsurprisingly the chorus is an absolute winner, with a really cheesy keyboard melody, and a vocal line that is purely irresistible. Vuorinen's solo is one of his best too. He will never be listed among the world's greatest guitarists but his rudimentary shredded really fits the vibe of the song perfectly.

After a string of more upbeat numbers, Shock slows thing down a little with a smooth groovy feel which is helped by a very deliberate drum pattern from Pirilä and a snaking bassline. I have never felt that this type of song suits Brother Firetribe as well as their more traditional upbeat pomp, but this song manages to create a pretty addictive vibe with the somewhat prominent rhythms and the use of lots of different keyboard sounds to create layers of atmosphere and melody. While not a classic, it helps to break the album up somewhat and add a little variety to proceedings. Strangled is more upbeat, but still a little more on the downside than much of what has come before. The verses are quite bass-heavy once again, with lots of synth loops and programming to help create extra little rhythms and textures. The chorus is another big one however, with some real 1980s keyboard sounds pulsing away and a perfect choir of harmony vocals. The smooth guitar solo is great too, and helps to enhance the catchy but restrained mood that the song seems to portray. Heart of the Matter raises the mood slightly once again as the song moves along at a solid mid-pace with a spiky bassline and floaty keyboards. Vuorinen's playing is surprisingly bluesy throughout, with quite a few little interlude leads that show off his tasteful skills. The chorus is a little more restrained than one might expect, but it still becomes well-entrenched in the memory after a couple of listens. Heino seems to have a way of making anything he sings become memorable and that is true of most of this album! Following on from the tradition established on Heart Full of Fire, Brother Firetribe have covered another obscure 1980s action film song, and this time they have tackled John Parr's Restless Heart which was featured in the film The Running Man. It is not a song I was familiar with before, but it certainly fits well on this album and the version the band have cooked up is very much in tune with their signature sound. Bouncy guitar riffs mix well with playful keyboard melodies, before a killer chorus kicks in which just oozes pure class with another heroic vocal display and keyboard arrangement. Big City Dream sees the return of the upbeat pomp of the album's opening few numbers and is a song that definitely has a lot in common with the band's first couple of albums. Huge driving keyboard melodies are prevalent here (think Journey's Ask the Lonely) and the lyrics deal with the age-old search for the perfect life and having big dreams. This was a topic that was used heavily by the 1980s AOR bands, but this is more than a simple pastiche. The key change in the final chorus is classic too, and this is another of my favourites from this album. The closing song Phantasmagoria is another slower number and definitely has a big of ballad vibe while still maintaining a bit of a rock crunch. The chorus is a little haunting, and is a bit different from what you would usually expect from Brother Firetribe, but it works well and the song presents a real atmospheric face. This somewhat epic feel makes the song work well as a album closer. Overall, Sunbound is an album that sees Brother Firetribe finding a perfect balance between the overblown pomp of their first couple of albums and the more mature sound forged on Diamond in the Firepit. They have written many of their best songs yet for this album and, with a quite a few live shows booked throughout the year, it looks be a big success for the Finnish AOR band.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Indelible Heroes.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

One Desire's 'One Desire' - Album Review

I find it hard to comprehend just how many of the great new bands in the rock and metal worlds come from Scandinavia. From some of the heaviest extreme metal out there on the market at the moment, to some of the cheesiest 1980s-inspired AOR, Scandinavia (Finland and Sweden in particular) seem to have the market of rock and metal cornered. One Desire, from Finland, are just the latest band from this part of the world to be unveiled and their debut self-titled album was released last month via the Italian label Frontiers Records, the masters of promoting modern melodic rock. Despite One Desire only just reaching the public conscious, the seeds for the band were sewn in 2012 when drummer Ossi Sivula started demoing new material with the aim of creating a new AOR band. Guitarist Jimmy Westerlund was initially recruited by Sivula to oversee production but he eventually joined the band permanently and has become the main songwriter for the ground. André Linman (Sturm und Drang) was recruited as the band's frontman, as he had been a friend of Westerlund's for many years, and the final piece of the puzzle was bassist Jonas Kuhlberg (Paul Di'Anno; Cain's Offering). Westerlund has still retained his original role as producer too, and has been assisted by Linman and Frontiers Records stalwart Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse; W.E.T.) on various songs. Given the nature of One Desire's music, it is unsurprising to see that Mårtensson has been involved behind the scenes with them and anyone familiar with his work will recognise many of the same musical hallmarks here. Luckily however, One Desire is a real band effort with the songwriting mostly being handled by either Linman and Westerlund with a few friends helping out with co-writes. Some Frontiers Releases can be vehicles for some the label's in-house writers to use up some unused songs, so it is great to see that this is not the case here. That being said Mårtensson has given the band one song, which unsurprisingly sounds a lot like Eclipse, and has co-written another with Linman, but overall this a wholly original effort by a new band who are also strong songwriters. Soundwise, One Desire are very much an AOR band, but their sound sounds very modern in places. Keyboards are used extensively, but in more of an atmospheric way than many of their 1980s counterparts which gives the album a classy and full sound. Comparisons can be drawn in places to Def Leppard, with the soaring vocal harmonies and the melodic guitar arpeggios, but most of all One Desire is an album that is just full of strong, modern-sounding melodic rock songs. This is not a particularly heavy album, despite a few big riffs throughout, but the material is strong and very memorable.

The album starts off very strongly with Hurt, which really sees the band setting out their stall and establishing their sound early. A rather simple guitar pattern backed up by dramatic and cinematic keyboard stabs captures the attention early on, before a bass-heavy verse introduces Linman's smooth and easily-likeable vocals for the first time. He may not have the greatest range, but his smooth tone suits this type of music perfectly. He shines during the chorus, which makes use of the dramatic intro riffs, with a really catchy and emotionally-charged delivery. The song has quite a bit in common with the John Payne era of Asia to my ears, and that is certainly no bad thing. Apologize is the song that was given to One Desire by Mårtensson so comparisons with his band Eclipse can easily be drawn here. It is a more laid-back song, with a lovely clean guitar opening, and a smooth feel throughout. While it is not really a ballad, it is not an in-your-face rocker either. A simple, but large, chorus is the centrepiece of the song, which is unsurprising as that is one of Mårtensson's signature songwriting moves, and it comes roaring out of the speakers with plenty of harmony vocals and soaring melodies. Linman's short guitar solo is different from the norm, and it echoes the clean guitar intro, but it works very well in the context of the song. Linman's Love Injection is up next, and is full of pop sensibilities. Sivula's drums have a lot of reverb on them which gives them the feel of an old 1980s drum machine, and the layers of keyboards along with Linman's simple vocal delivery enhances that poppy vibe. If it was not for the guitar riffs, this could probably be quite a big chart hit! The chorus is another winner, and it has quite a modern feel with melodies that would not be out of place in any modern pop classic. It works well though, and it shows that pop and rock music really are not so far away after all. Turn Back Time opens with clean guitar melodies, but it slowly builds up to a surprisingly pacey rocker with Sivula's, who co-wrote the song, driving ride-heavy drumming and Westerlund's riffs. Big stabs of distorted guitar help to give the song a bit of grit. The guitar solos help this too, and both Westerlund and Linman get a chance to show off. The former is more shred-heavy, before the latter takes a more measured and melodic approach. The combination works well, and really adds a lot to this catchy tune. Falling Apart is the first proper ballad on the album, and shows Linman's most diverse vocal display so far with him reaching a surprising amount of high notes. Again, the poppy feel is quite prevalent here, but the soaring chorus is so catchy that it makes no odds. I really like Sivula's drumming during the song too, as it has this slightly offbeat feel that gives the song a rhythm that you would not usually associate with ballads. It just makes the song stand out a little and make it somewhat different from the norm.

Straight Through the Heart has quite a similar vibe to Hurt and kicks off the album's second half with a driving hard rock rhythm, a tasty guitar lead, and some prominent keyboard melodies. Kuhlberg's bass really helps to give the verses some weight, and keeps the slightly heavier feel of the song going. Despite the more overtly 'rock' feel of the song, it is still one of the catchiest numbers here. The chorus is another one that knocks it out of the park, and even some rather blatant autotuning on the lead vocals does not ruin the mood. I think that tricks like that can actually be used to enhance a song, and it works well here to give the heavier song a great pop sheen. Both Linman and Westerlund get a chance to solo again, and both impress again with a great mix of styles. Those who really love their cheesy AOR will love Whenever I'm Dreaming with it's infectious chorus and poppy overtones. It is the only song on the album that is written by both Linman and Westerlund, which definitely shows that the two could form a great writing partnership and bodes well for any future One Desire albums. Linman takes the solo here, and shows he is just as good on the guitar as Westerlund. In fact, he just owns this song with a stunning vocal performance along with his short, but sweet, solo. The keyboard playing is excellent too, and really helps to add that authentic 1980s sound over the top of the modern poppy vocals. Sivula's Do You Believe is a strident, anthemic rock tune that opens with a strong guitar riff which helps set the tone for the song. I do feel that the chorus is a little poppy for a song with a riff such as this, but it still manages to be enjoyable and shows that Sivula can write songs along with Linman and Westerlund. One Desire is blessed with talented songwriters and I am interested what the band come up with in the future when the songs are all being written together with the intention to create a cohesive album. I do get the impression that this album was made up of songs the individuals had without much collaboration so I look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration in the future. Buried Alive, which is a collaboration between Linman and Mårtensson, is a great piece of heavy rock that almost steps over the boundary into metal occasionally with some big riffs and some great heavy drumming. The heavier sound suits One Desire really well, and I hope this is something that they explore more in the future. Westerlund's big guitar riff dominates, and Linman's vocals actually have quite a big of grit to them which suits the heavier feel. There is lengthy guitar solo section, again featuring both guitarists and it is notably faster which is in keeping with the heavier riffs. This is Where the Heartbreak Begins is the album's closing number, and it is another big ballad. From the simple acoustic opening, all the way through to the soaring chorus, this is contains everything that a great ballad needs. There are even little flourishes of melodic piano which really add depth and additional melodies to the song. It works really well to close out the album, and is a great contrast to the heavier song that precedes it. Overall, One Desire is a really strong debut from this new band and is full of classy songs that are well-written and well-performed. The album definitely has it's own sound that is different from many of the rest of the new melodic rocks out there and I am excited to see what they come up with next.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hurt.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Eclipse's 'Monumentum' - Album Review

Despite being around in some form or another since 1999, Sweden's Eclipse have always gone under my radar somewhat. As a follower of Italian record label Frontiers Records, it can sometimes be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, with many gems getting lost in the sheer amount of releases that the label is involved with. Erik Mårtensson, Eclipse's singer, rhythm guitarist, and principle songwriter, is a name synonymous with Frontiers Records however and I would notice his name cropping up a lot. He has contributed songs to many of the label's studio-based fantasy projects (which the label really does over-indulge in at times!) and has also worked behind the scenes with many of the label's bands, so it is fair to say he has had a big hand in many of the new melodic rock music that is being released by Frontiers. He is also a big part of the AOR supergroup W.E.T. so Mårtensson is a big name in modern day melodic hard rock. Eclipse has always been his main band however, and the band has been around longer than his association with Frontiers Records. The first album of Eclipse's I heard was 2012's Bleed & Scream, which I probably bought not long after it's release after stumbling on one of their songs on Youtube. It has only been recently that I have really began listening to Eclipse regularly however, despite buying 2015's Armageddonize when it was new and enjoying it at the time. There is always so much new music being released that it is hard to keep up, and great music can often fall through the cracks. It is hard to believe that Eclipse's new album, Monumentum, which was released last month is the band's sixth studio effort. In fairness, the band's early releases are hard to get hold of, and it has really been only since 2008's Are You Ready to Rock that the band started to get more attention with a bigger record distribution deal. Those familiar with Eclipse, or any of Mårtensson's other endeavours, will know exactly what to expect with Monumentum, and that is well-crafted and hugely memorable modern AOR songs with a real hard rock edge. Eclipse have never been a band to pack their albums with sugary ballads, and you will find plenty of razor-sharp guitar riffs here which are the perfect foil for Mårtensson's strong vocals. Joining Mårtensson, who handles the vocals, rhythm guitars, and keyboards, on Monumentum are founding lead guitarist Magnus Henriksson, bassist Magnus Ulfstedt, and, for the first time on an Eclipse album, drummer Philip Crusner. Former keyboardist Johan Berlin, who still contributes to the band's albums in the studio, handles much of the album's keyboard duties along with Mårtensson. For fans of good quality hard rock and AOR, with strong modern production values, then Eclipse are a band should be investigated. While admittedly there is nothing here that has not been heard before, the songwriting is so strong that that does not matter.

The Swedes kick things off in style here with the hard rock of Vertigo and Henriksson's first big riff of the album. The song is a strong mid-paced slab of hard rock, but the AOR edge that permeates the band's sound is ever-present with a subtle use of keyboards and excellent vocal harmonies. Mårtensson's voice has always very strong, but his performance throughout this album seems even more urgent and dynamic than usual. The verses of this song are a perfect example of this with some impressive high notes early on that showcase his range. While the chorus is not as anthemic as it could be, the song still proves to be a memorable one and sets out Eclipse's familiar stall on this new album. Never Look Back takes things to another level however with wordless vocals to back up the simple simple, and Mårtensson's opening 'Come on!' rallying call which sets this stadium-sized song off. Crusner's explosive drumming is a big part of the tough verses, and his playing really seems to have given the band a bit of a kick in the behind to rock even harder! The song's chorus is a real winner with a big keyboard backing and a winning vocal display that really hooks you in with the strong melodies. This song is perfect example of Eclipse's sound, and would be an excellent introduction to the band. Killing Me is a bit more laid back, although the hard rocking intro riff (which sounds a bit like Kamelot's My Confession...) still rocks hard with a big keyboard melody that sits over the groovy guitars. The verses are quieter, which gives prominence to Ulfstedt's precise bass playing, and allows Mårtensson to show off a different side of his voice. The song ramps up again during the choruses however, and it is another strong moment with a surprisingly emotional vocal delivery and plenty of excellent harmonies. The album's first two songs did not overly feature Henriksson's soloing ability, but he gets to let rip here with a good-length section to himself. The Downfall of Eden is a strong mid-paced piece of rock, but the sound used here is quite different from the band's usual one. This works well however, and Mårtensson's verse vocals are sung in a much lower register than he usually does. The bass once again dominates the verses, with subtle acoustic guitar strums sitting behind to add colour. The chorus sections are more what you would expect from the band, but the melodies are less overt to fit with the more driving hard rock sound that takes over. The Thin Lizzy-inspired instrumental break is great too, and is probably the highlight of the song. Hurt is the first real slower song here, and opens with a sombre guitar melody and some vocals from Mårtensson which actually sound like they could have been lifted from a modern pop song (until he unleashes a rather big scream that is...) but it works well. As mentioned before, Eclipse have never been a band to fill their albums with lots of ballads, and it is at the hard rocking material that they excel at, but Hurt is a strong song that helps to add some diversity to the album. AOR albums always need a ballad too, so this works perfectly to tick that box. Henriksson's emotional guitar solo is great too! After the downbeat Hurt, Jaded comes along with more of an upbeat vibe to inject some energy back into proceedings. Keyboards dominate here, with lots of retro-sounding synth sounds to back up the guitar riffs. That being said, it is one of the more less-memorable songs on the album and fails to hit the spot that those that have come previously did.

Born to Lead really helps to raise the bar again, with a big John Sykes-esque riff that shows off the talents of Henriksson and really takes the listener back to the heyday of 1980s metal. It is one of my favourite songs on the album, as it just packs so much of a punch with the excellent riff and Mårtensson's stunning vocal performance. The chorus in particular is a real winner melodies that just fill the speakers and really take hold. Henriksson is the star of the song however with his fantastic guitar playing. His solo is a real shred-fest and is the perfect companion for his main riff. Crusner's double bass drumming toward the end, mixed with the Henriksson's guitar playing, really makes this song sound like an outtake from Whitesnake's 1987 album! For Better or for Worse carries on this heavier vibe and builds on the energy of the previous song. While not quite as good as Born to Lead, this song still impresses and uses dynamics wisely to pack a lot into a short space of time. I love the little pre-chorses where everything drops out apart from the vocals and the keyboards, before the rest of the band explode into the chorus which is one of the album's most melodic. The guitar solo is lengthy too and Henriksson once again impresses with plenty of fluid runs. No Way Back is another song that just slips below the standard set by most of the songs here. Much like with Jaded, there is nothing that is particularly wrong with it, it just does not take off and soar like the rest of the material on this album. I think it is just because the melodies are not quite as good and do not stick in your head as easily as they probably should. Following two such excellent songs definitely hurts this song's chances too, and it just comes off as one of the album's weaker moments. Night Comes Crawling is much better and takes the band off in a slightly heavier direction. The murky intro really helps to set the tone, before Crusner's heavy-handed drumming kicks in which fits perfectly with the muscular riff and rumbling bassline that the rest of the band have come up with. The slightly heavier feel suits Eclipse well, but the big melodies that the band are known for are still present. The chorus is another very good one and has a lighter overall tone than the rest of the song with plenty of synths to add depth. This contrast works really well and the song is real winner with a great mix of attitude and melody. Monumentum comes to a close with Black Rain, a song which seems like it will be a ballad with a gentle intro before the main riff kicks in an it is clear that the album is going to end on a high with a deliberately-paced piece of hard rock. It is not an urgent rocker like much else of what is on display here, but instead one that is packed full of grooves and snaking riffs that have a somewhat ominous tone - especially when paired with the synths that have been employed here. Henriksson gets one more chance to show off with a great neo-classical solo towards the end that goes on for a good length and builds up towards a stunning climax with a flurry of shredded notes. Overall, Monumentum is another excellent album from Eclipse that cements their place as one of the best modern melodic hard rock bands. This album probably rocks harder than any of their previous releases, and it is great to see the band continue to push forward and gain more energy as they move through their career.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Never Look Back.