Payne’s Gray – Infinity (1991)

PaynesGray_Infinity2.5 out of 5 Stars!

This German act came and went in the 90s, with only a single album and several EPs. And it’s no wonder they disappeared.

The music? It hovers somewhere between a 3.5 and 4.5 rating range. Progressive metal in the same vein as the usual bands such as Dream Theater and Dreamscape.

The vocals?  They hover somewhere in the 1.5 and 2.5 rating range. Indeed, were the band to have a singer who could actually hit the right notes instead of warbling in mid-range or going for high-pitched screams he can’t even dare to hit in the correct key (and making everything discordant due to his laughable attempts) this band might have real potential. He sounds like a dismal King Diamond clone attempting to become Geoff Tate with no true hope of ever achieving his goals. And King Diamond ain’t no great shakes himself with his weird falsetto.

Anyway, for those who don’t care about vocals, this may be worth checking out for the music. For those who actually care about whether a band sounds out of tune because of a singer who hasn’t a bloody clue, then stay away.

Oxygen – Final Warning (2012)

Oxygen_FinalWarning4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although I find that there’s nothing at all unique on this collection of tracks from Sweden’s Oxygen, what is included on Final Warning is some of the finest AOR material to come out in the past decade.

The music is everything you’d come to expect from an above-average “Stadium Rock” act, with powerful, memorable riffs and lush arrangements, soaring lead vocals by Tony Niva that somewhat remind me of Fergie Frederickson (Toto/Trillion/Mecca) or Tony Mills (Shy/Siam) when it comes to range and tone, a handful of pretty ballads, and loads of catchy, sing-along choruses with big and layered harmonies.

The one thing I found occasionally lacking, however, is the strong presence of keyboards on several tracks (they’re there, but mostly relegated to the distant background), so if you’re looking for another band with a keyboardist such as Gregg Giuffria, Mark Stanway, or Jonathan Cain to drive the proceedings, forget it.

Basically speaking, this album is a vocalist’s showcase, since Niva’s melodies and forceful performances are bright in the mix and dominate each track. Considering his range is stunning and his timbre is perfect for the genre, though, this isn’t a bad thing. Therefore, with rocking tracks such as “Anything For You,” “I Wanna Know For Sure,” “Bring Back the Joy,” “Janitor of Love,” and “When Tomorrow Never Comes,” plus gorgeous, piano-driven ballads like “You” and “I Remember,” Final Warning is recommended for anyone who craves AOR in the same vein as groups such as Journey, Work of Art, Shy, Blanc Faces, Perfect View, Brother Firetribe, or Place Vendome—in other words, any AOR release where the vocalist has a terrific range and often steals the show.

Final note: Although this one release from 2012 was issued under the band name Oxygen, the group released additional albums (one each in 1994 and 2011, then four albums from 2013 through 2016) under the name Niva. Final Warning is basically a re-release of Niva’s 2011 release, Gold From the Future. Why the group elected to release the very same collection of tracks (albeit with one extra song included) with a different cover, title, and using an alternate band name only a year later is anyone’s guess—although it may have had something to do with a change in record labels—it confused some Niva fans, including myself. Thankfully, the band returned to the Niva moniker for its 2013 release.


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