Quiet Riot – QR (1988)

QuietRiot_QR4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Despite this band releasing a cover version of the Slade classic “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” I admit to never being “crazee” about Quiet Riot myself. I originally thought of them as simply the former group of guitar legend Randy Rhodes (R.I.P.). Then, years later, once they snagged a new guitarist (Carlos Cavazo) and released their best-selling Metal Health album, I (like many people, I’m sure) barely suffered through their horrible overexposure (thanks—NOT—to MTV, where the band’s videos aired continuously, or so it seemed). Needless to say, I quickly grew sick of Quiet Riot and (especially) the obnoxious antics of lead vocalist Kevin DeBrow. I wrote off the group as being one of the most annoying “hair bands” and never gave them too much thought afterward.


In 1988, I learned that Kevin DeBrow left the group, to be replaced by the mighty Paul Shortino (he of Spinal Tap movie fame and formerly of the band Rough Cutt). Please know, I was a fan of Rough Cutt’s, and was saddened when that band broke up after only two albums. To me, Paul Shortino was a special, under-appreciated vocalist, like a merging of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes in one set of pipes, so I was quite eager to hear any album on which he appeared, even if it was a new album by Quiet Riot. Then I learned that the talented keyboardist Jimmy Waldo (New England/Alcatrazz) was also included on this platter as an “unofficial” member, which only added to my curiosity. Would Quiet Riot alter its sound and style with the new members, or will it be the same annoying “hair band” playing mindless metal?

Thankfully, the former proved accurate; the band did indeed alter its style for this release (although some could argue that the “mindless” word still applied, but that’s another fun issue). Anyway, gone were the Slade-like and often repetitive party anthems of the past, and instead, this revamped version of Quiet Riot (with Shortino’s powerful and magnificent pipes and Waldo’s organ tones) sounded almost like an Americanized Deep Purple or Whitesnake. Although many long-time Quiet Riot fans (or Kevin DuBrow lovers) deemed this album a complete failure, I loved it. Shortino shows off his spectacular vocal gymnastics, belting out each track like a seasoned pro. The gruffness of his voice, the way he easily dances through his wide range to offer up appropriate growls, the occasional ear-piercing scream, and just about everything “blues-related” in between—the style he delivered in Rough Cutt—is here on full display.

The album’s opening track, “Stay With Me Tonight,” starts with a Jon Lord-like Hammond organ, which obviously brings Deep Purple to mind. And Shortino uses his full range here, ending the track with his best “David Coverdale sounding both seductive and lecherous while singing about ‘satin sheets and a satin dress'” impersonation. Silly “crotch-rock,” certainly, but on this track Shortino’s style, range, and performance immediately proves just how much better he was in the lead-singer role than his predecessor. Carlos Cavazo shows his full talent with some great guitar licks, while the rhythm section of longtime drummer Frankie Banali and new bassist Sean McNabb prove themselves a solid force.

Hard-rocking tracks such as “Callin’ the Shots,” “Coppin’ a Feel,” “Empty Promises,” and “King of the Hill” (many of them in the Deep Purple/Whitesnake mode) seem perfectly balanced among several ballads (“Run to You” and “Don’t Wanna Be Your Fool”—both pure Whitesnake) or the more melodic “I’m Fallin’.” Another band, Legs Diamond, also springs to mind during the driving rocker “In a Rush” and during a few of the other songs. I find this entire collection of tracks quite enjoyable overall and still listen to this album on a regular basis.

So despite what some other critics may claim, this is far from being a bad record. Indeed, it’s (in my eyes) the best platter Quiet Riot ever produced (although I’m not sure if that says a whole lot). Anyway, I would have loved for this version of the band to have lasted much longer to issue additional material. Instead, Quiet Riot fell apart after this album and eventually reappeared half a decade later with Kevin DuBrow once again at the helm (at which time I promptly lost all interest again). So to me, this single album with Paul Shortino is Quiet Riot’s forgotten gem. Fans of Deep Purple, Legs Diamond, Whitesnake, and Rough Cutt will likely discover much to enjoy here.

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Susan – Falling in Love Again (1979)

Susan_FallingLoveAgain4 out of 5 Stars!

There is something to be said for music being one of the most successful triggers for “mental time-travel.” Often, just the mere snippet of a certain song can momentarily flood your head with memories and whisk you back to another period in your life, either good or bad, so that just closing your eyes while the song is playing can almost place you back in another previous era, however briefly. Well, let me tell you, this sole album by an obscure band called Susan (from—presumably, by their overall sound—the Midwest or the East-Coast section of the USA…sorry, I can discover little of this band’s basic history) will forever be a huge trigger for me.

What often seems like a zillion years ago, way back in 1979, I was working for a brick & mortar record store (remember those?) and I remember unpacking a particular shipment of albums, their covers all embossed with the huge “PROMOTION” stamp. Among them was Shiek Yerbouti by Frank Zappa, I distinctly recall. Anyway, as expected, these were the records we played continuously in the store (apart from Zappa’s new release, due to his “sinfully naughty lyrics”—my prudish manager’s exact words, I swear!) for several weeks to induce customers to make that all-important purchase. From that one particular shipment, I discovered two real gems (apart from Zappa’s aforementioned double-album “naughty” set), and oddly enough, neither of these albums (or bands) saw any true success. I bought both albums (with my employee discount, of course) and recommended them to numerous friends, who also purchased them. Too bad my “meager though sincere” efforts didn’t make a damned difference in boosting these albums to best-seller status (which they both deserved). Regardless, in my mind, these obscure platters forever hold a special place in my heart, and even now, just hearing any songs from either disc instantly yanks me back to those fun days in 1979.

The culprits for this “mental time-travel” phenomena are One Night Stands by the forgotten band Teaze and (obviously, since I’m writing this review) Falling in Love Again by the even more-forgotten band named Susan.

Therefore, my rambling story is basically a roundabout disclaimer that my usually unbiased review/rating system might actually be quite biased in this case, thanks to personal nostalgia. With that in mind, I rated the album down a half-star hoping to negate some of that bias.

So, with that trip down memory lane disclosed, what do we have here? Some terrific, straightforward, and wildly catchy Power Pop/Hard Rock, with a healthy injection of AOR. Just about every single track is so damned memorable. Indeed, just glimpsing the title of each song instantly (for me) has the chorus ringing through my memory, which I think says a whole lot for the band’s commendable songwriting capabilities. From the wonderful foot-stomping opening track “Takin’ It Over,” to the harder-edged “Power” and “Too Bad,” to the hummable tribute to legendary actress Marlene Dietrich on “Marlene” (which opens with a snippet from the actress’s own recording of “Falling in Love Again,” hence the album’s title), there’s never a dull, non-catchy moment. “I Was Wrong,” “A Little Time,” “Don’t Let Me Go,” or the sax-tinged “Really Gonna Show” (despite the word “bullshit” slinky into the lyrics) should have all been radio hits. As the final chorus to “Tonight You’re Mine” slowly fades into oblivion to close out the album, I always itch to repeat this ten-track album just one more time, and typically I do just that.

Overall, Susan reminds me of a cross between melodic Power-Pop bands such as Badfinger and Off Broadway mixed with the harder-rocking “attitude” from Cheap Trick and Starz. Each track is ultra-singable, with delightfully melodic guitar fills and solos, driving rhythms, and spot-on harmonies.

Oh yes, for me, 1979 was a very good year. And thanks to Susan for helping me to always remember it, no matter how fleetingly…

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Unifaun – Unifaun (2008)

Unifaun_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Here’s another single-album band that, sadly, didn’t last long. Or rather, it was a two-man project made up of Nad Sylvan and Bonamici (aka Christian Thordin) from Sweden that released only one collection of tracks that somehow, magically, captured the spirit of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis almost to a perfect “T.” Perhaps not as clone-like as the group The Watch, but close enough for a Genesis fan like me.

This album of twelve tracks is full of Prog-Rock gems. Some of the highlights include…

“Birth of a Biggie,” the opening cut, immediately whisks the listener back forty-some years to the Genesis glory days of Selling England by the Pound. Indeed, the song could almost have been an outtake from the album, that’s how similar Unifaun sounds like Genesis. The keyboards are completely Tony Banks, the guitar tones and playing style are straight Steve Hackett, and the lead vocals are a fairly decent replica of Peter Gabriel.

“Mr. Marmaduke and the Minister” not only eerily replicates the Genesis sound, but also incorporates its quirky humor when it comes to the whimsical storytelling lyrics and the vocal performance, not to mention the instrumentation, of a track such as Genesis’s “The Battle of Epping Forest.” Quite excellent, and one of my favorite tracks on offer here.

“ReHacksis” is a beautiful instrumental that could easily have popped up on an album such as Wind & Wuthering. And the track’s title suggests, the guitar sound is a tribute to Steve Hackett himself.

A mellow ballad entitled “A Way Out” brings to mind “Carpet Crawlers” from Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album, even nearly duplicating the background keyboard run.

A different sort of track called “Welcome to the Farm” brings to mind a more single-oriented version of Genesis (such as “I Know What I Like” or “Follow You, Follow Me”) that is quite upbeat and bouncy, almost poppy, yet still retains the classic Genesis feel. This could have easily been a hit single since the chorus is so damned catchy it will have you humming it for days.

Somewhat surprising to me, however, is that the nearly fourteen minute “Quest for the Last Virtue” is not as much “Genesis-like” as I had originally expected, considering it’s the album’s longest track and the biggest opportunity for Unifaun to get its Genesis “ya-yas” out. Oh sure, plenty of the Genesis tones, styles, instrumentation, etc. are here in abundance, but Unifaun actually seems more determined to explore and develop its personal style on this track. Even the vocals seem less chained to Peter Gabriel’s usual inflections and enunciation and quirks that are so prevalent on the majority of other tracks. Be that as it may, it’s quite appealing nonetheless, showing the two-man team is more than simply a clone of the band they so obviously worship.

So overall, this album contains a load of excellent and fun material. And if you’re a fan of Genesis, and have not heard this album already, I strongly suggest you immediately hunt down a copy, sit back with headphones firmly in place, and revel. It’s truly unfortunate Unifaun didn’t last longer than a single release since I would have eagerly welcomed more material.

Ending note: Thankfully, one member of the team (Nad Sylvan, who handled the lead vocals, the guitars and keyboards, etc.) went on the year following this release to join Agents Of Mercy (with Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings) as its lead vocalist, and that band produced a trio of high-quality albums between 2009 and 2011. Yet none of those releases were as “Genesis-inspired” as the single Unifaun album. Nad also has a handful of solo releases, but I’ve yet to hear any of them. (I hope to remedy that situation soon enough.) I can only hope they also have a Genesis-inspired vibe to them. Stands to reason they probably will, considering the sound, style, and mood of Unifaun’s sole album and how Nad’s vocals, guitar, and keyboard tones (from organ to Mellotron to synths) are about as close to the classic Genesis sound as one can get. Moreover, Nad’s now also working with the great Steve Hackett himself, so that’s an added bonus for all Prog-lovers.


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Toxic Smile – Farewell (2015)

ToxicSmile_Farewell5 out of 5 Stars!

When I saw that the new album by this seasoned Progressive-Rock band contained only a single song—an epic track with no breaks—the first word that popped into my mind was, “Seriously”?

But why that word? Well, through the decades, the number of bands that could tackle such an arduous task was one thing, but the number of bands that could do so without also allowing the “dreary factor” from taking control was quite another. Therefore, I was more than a little skeptical (generally pessimistic), even though I had rated the two previous albums by this band 4.5 Stars.

But when listening to this newest release from Toxic Smile, I couldn’t help but experience similar (and thrilling) feelings to the ones I had when listening several years ago to Echolyn’s Mei album (another album comprised of only a single track)—that music lovers today are so damned lucky. Why? Because musicians of the modern era have more freedom than ever before. Many artists no longer have the mighty record company executives forever demanding their bands “adhere to the rules.” Artists no longer have the constant threat to produce that all-important 45 RPM single “hit” of yesteryear forever dangling over their heads like the sword of Damocles lest the record label dump them in the blink of an eye. Artists no longer have to face a constant stifling of their creativity because of vinyl’s length limitations of separate A-Sides and B-Sides. In the modern era, in the days of computerized recording techniques, in the days of CDs and, more importantly, digital downloads, the limitations of the last century are now completely passé. If an artist has an adventurous spirit, if a band possesses the drive and the capabilities and the creativity to extend a song idea into a magnum opus of jaw-dropping length, they are free to do so, the dinosaur days of total record company control and the limitations of the old recording processes and formats be damned for eternity.

Therefore, it’s always refreshing for me to discover a band that is willing to embrace its modern freedom and actually attempt an album such as Toxic Smile’s latest release, made up of a single track of more than forty-two minutes. Certainly some bands of my youth managed to work around the old limitations, and had some free-thinking record company “suits” willing to give them leeway. Who can forget Iron Butterfly shocking the industry by issuing the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album, with its “B” Side being a single song of the same name? Soon thereafter, bands such as Yes delivered “Close To The Edge” (from the album of the same name) and “The Gates of Delirium” (from Relayer) and did so seemingly with ease—and let’s not forget the four separate songs that took up one side each of the Tales From Topographic Oceans album. In the same period, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (with the mammoth “Karn Evil 9”) had a track that split sides of the Brain Salad Surgery album since its length needed to be divided into three movements. Pink Floyd produced “Echoes” (on Meddle), and Rush created both “2112” (from the album of the same name) and “Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres” (from Hemispheres). Yet even with today’s freedom, single-song albums are a rarity. And of those that appear on the scene, only a fraction are a total success as far as the material itself, the overall musicianship, the production quality, etc.

Therefore, I am pleased (no, make that joyful) to announce that Toxic Smile has indeed created one of those rare recordings—a single-song album that completely works on all levels!

Not only does the track have engaging melodies in each of its various sections, but it comes across as exquisitely arranged and orchestrated, with each musician playing what seems the perfect notes or rhythms in the most appropriate tones and paces. Nothing stands out as jarring like it doesn’t quite fit the entire “sound picture.” Indeed, the song flows from start to finish as a single entity instead of a collection of unrelated tracks that have been cobbled together. Prog-Rock lovers will undoubtedly savor the fact that—apart from the normal guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums—the band incorporates extra percussion instruments, some sax, and a host of both acoustic and electric instruments and sounds. Plus, many moods abound, with a flawless balance of heavy and light moments, and with every guitar and keyboard fill or solo elegantly performed. For fans of Big Big Train, Ageness, Transatlantic, Also Eden, The Flower Kings, and a plethora of similar acts, you’re certain to fall in love with this release as much as I did.

Additionally, one important fact must be mentioned. What struck me during my initial listening of this album is that the one track seems to go by so damned fast. Indeed, even during the second, third, and fourth hearings, I found it difficult to believe the track ended as quickly as it did, even though the clock told me differently. And that fact is commendable in and of itself. It means the lengthy piece is truly engaging, that no segments of the track drag on too long or the song in full doesn’t overstay its welcome. How many times I’ve sat through songs by different artists that came in at only half the length as “Farewell” and yearned that someone with authority had suggested some radical editing, I can’t even begin to count. So for a band to achieve the “seems so short” phenomena for such a lengthy track deserves a hearty round of applause.

Therefore, bravo to Toxic Smile, a band that reminded me why I so fiercely love this genre of music. It typically falls to Prog-Rock bands (groups who, by their very nature, thrive on expanding single ideas into lengthy epics) to attempt something of this immense scope, and better still, to end up with a masterpiece.

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Ironica – Vivere (2009)

Ironica_Vivere2.5 out of 5 Stars!

Here is yet another band from Finland that plays Power Metal and Symphonic Rock with smatterings of Progressive Metal elements, and with a female lead vocalist to boot. Therefore, comparisons to Nightwish are inevitable.

But unlike their country-mates, Ironica’s music is less Symphonic overall, and instead, more entrenched in Power Metal territory (or perhaps even pure Heavy Metal, were it not for the keyboards). Plus, the singer, Elina Iron, has more of a Hard Rock/Heavy Metal approach when it comes to her powerful, wide-ranging voice and style, using plenty of high notes, but no operatic falsetto whatsoever.

Still, there are huge similarities between the bands, especially when one considers the abundance of highly orchestrated keyboard backgrounds. And probably enough similarities to at least put a smile on the faces of many Nightwish fans, I’m sure.

The opening two tracks, “Dive” and “Stop Me,” fully display these similarities—Elina’s generally impressive vocals over the thundering Power Metal beat, with the grand and thriving keyboards atop the full and chunky guitars. Not a horrible sound overall—far from it, actually—and the band does it quite well.

Yet it turns out that nearly all seven additional tracks sound almost identical, and that’s where my chief criticism lies (and the main reason I gave this album a slightly lower-than-average score).

Unfortunately, just about every track sounds the same, has similar driving beats, along with comparable instrumentation as well as the nearly identical “Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Guitar Solo / Chorus” pattern. A little variety in arrangements and rhythms would have gone a long way in helping to differentiate each song from the other. This is where Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica, or a slew of other bands playing in this genre, have the “leg-up” on Ironica. Those bands typically toss in a ballad or a mid-tempo track between some of the “galloping-a-mile-a-minute” songs, have some lighter instrumentation instead of every segment containing the same fullness whether it be verses or choruses, or feature a keyboard solo as opposed to a guitar solo from time to time. The track “Suffer Me” (the seventh track of nine) does offer a slight “morsel of difference” (the opening of the guitar solo has a way-too-brief break when it comes to the constant “full orchestration” sound, which finally gives some “air” into the album’s overall sound). But unfortunately, that’s about the only section of the album that shocked me out of the “sameness zone.”

My second criticism (and this is a personal gripe of mine, so take it for what it’s worth) is the inclusion of the occasional “growl” male vocals. They rear their ugly head on “Little Princess,” for example, and on the bridge of “Reflections,” which do absolutely nothing to enhance the songs, and do absolutely nothing for me personally except inducing me to turn down the volume to avoid the horrific noise. But “The Beast” (however appropriate the inclusion, considering the song’s title) has verses and a bridge loaded with these demonic grumps and grumbles and growls, and the track is completely unlistenable because of them. Thankfully there aren’t many tracks that suffer from this nonsense or I would have never made it through the entire album. I suppose there are enough of these “beast vocals” to satisfy fans who are into that sort of thing, but as far as I’m concerned, they could have been easily eliminated. Again, they do nothing but annoy.

Regardless, Ironica is a generally decent band overall, with a lot going for it, including having a powerful lead vocalist and a talent for performing material in the Power Metal/Symphonic Metal genres. I just wish there had been some noticeable variety in the material, some major changes in instrumentation and arrangements that would have given each track its own distinct personality. Fans of these particular hard-driving genres may not mind, but I sure do.

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Methodica – The Silence Of Wisdom (2015)

Methodica_SilenceWisdom4 out of 5 Stars!

I heard about this Prog-Metal band from Italy just recently. From what I understand, Methodica has released only two albums thus far, although they’ve supposedly been in existence since the late 1990s. Therefore, for a band that’s been together for so many years, would the band’s true level of experience show? The answer—it does indeed!

A mellow intro named “Ukiyo-E: Intro” offers a light synth riff with additional symphonic keys, which leads into the track “The Angel Lies Dying.” Here, the keyboard opening reminds me of some of Greg Giuffria’s brief intros on various House Of Lords albums. Quickly, the full band slams forth with a bouncy metal riff. Immediately noticeable is the intricate instrumentation throughout the track—the various guitar and keyboard bits that subtly pop up in the verses and choruses, the off-time rhythms and time changes that do not allow a listener to get too complacent—the reason I’m so fond of Progressive Music. In other words, I love surprises in my music, and Methodica offers them up readily. You can tell that the band has indeed been together for quite some time; the instrumental interplay is professional and seasoned, showing complete teamwork. To put it bluntly, they are tighter than a dress on a hooker!

For the next track, simply entitled “J,” the instrumentation is once again quite diverse, with numerous keyboards supporting monster guitar riffs, with the band delivering both driving rhythms interspersed with several lighter segments or countless rhythm shifts, and the vocalist adding his often-intricate melody lines over the top. The synth or guitar solos, when they appear, are typically short and sweet forays into Metal-land that don’t overstay their welcome. Even some sound effects pop up on occasion, adding extra sound-pictures.

The piano-driven ballad “Only Blue” is both ethereal and spacey, providing some breathing room for the listener and allowing the vocalist a chance to showcase the true depth of his range as he delivers a beautiful melody throughout. The track is quite hypnotic, with the band slowly building to a wailing guitar solo that abruptly ends for a dramatic keyboard closing. A terrific track!

“Caged,” at nearly fourteen minutes, is the longest track on offer here, and allows Methodica a chance to really spread its wings and experiment. There are so many keyboard sounds, so many slamming rhythms and time shifts, so many high-voltage guitar riffs in the opening three minutes alone that one has to wonder if they’re on a trek into Prog-Metal heaven. The mellow mid-section eventually leads into a terrific guitar solo before the keyboardist takes over in an intricate Symphonic-Prog segment that occasionally brings to mind Rhapsody of Fire’s grandest moments. Bravo to the band!

Probably my favorite track, “The Lord of Empty Spaces” follows, gifting the listener with another ten-plus minutes of Prog-Metal at its finest. The complex arrangement and melody line somehow reminds me of the bands Threshold and Dream Theater, although other acts such as Shadow Gallery, Adagio, and Andromeda (among others) sporadically sprang to mind during the song’s various parts. Here, the vocalist is once again given the opportunity to shine in the opening ballad section. Just before the song’s halfway point, however, a sudden shift in mood thrusts the listener back into the exciting metal universe, with more breaks and atmospheric changes adding to the song’s enjoyment before the luscious melody and instrumentation from the opening segment returns. The skill of each musician is quite commendable, and the varied track never gets boring.

“Destruction of Idols” is another fun adventure into well-performed Prog-Metal, whereas “Ukiyo-E” is another magnificent ballad-like track that features more engaging vocals, thick Jon Lord organ, and probably the finest guitar solo on the album in the song’s center segment. From that point on, the rhythm picks up and the keyboards begin to dominate, at first offering some intriguing “orchestral stabs” before a synth solo further engages the listener. A gentle ending, with some bass guitar riffs backed by light organ bring the song down to a slow fade.

Now, the oddest track available here is a remake of the Genesis classic “Firth of Fifth.” But don’t expect anything in the way of the same Genesis sound. Indeed, were I not highly familiar with the lyrics of the original track, as well as the melody of the song’s original guitar and keyboard solos, I would not have recognized it at all. The arrangement of the song, the heavy instrumentation, even the chord patterns during the verses, are so completely at odds with Genesis that it sounds like a totally different song. A highly original rendition to be certain, although, granted, a bit jarring for someone like me who is a Genesis fan.

Be that as it may, this band has talent galore and (especially when it comes to the arrangements, with “Firth of Fifth” being a prime example) receives high marks for its creativity. The musicians are obviously skilled at their instruments, and Methodica has a better-than-average vocalist who possesses only a slight accent when singing the English lyrics, although during the album’s heavier parts, I wish the vocals were a tad louder, a criticism I seem to offer a bit too often these days when reviewing Prog-Metal albums. Regardless, despite that one criticism, I’m sure many Prog-Metal lovers will be thrilled by Methodica’s newest collection of tracks.

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Gwyllion – The Edge Of All I Know (2009)

Gwyllion_TheEdge4 out of 5 Stars!

What initially drew me to Belgium’s Gwyllion was the singer’s voice. Annelore Vantomme sounds similar to the mighty Floor Jansen (After Forever/ReVamp/Nightwish) in style, range, delivery, and tonal quality. And the band plays a similar style of music to those aforementioned acts, and does so quite well. These similarities are in abundance immediately, with the track “In Silence Enclosed” (a two-and-a-half minute highly orchestrated “grand opening”) lead-in to the song “Entwined.” Here, Annelore blasts forward with her vocals, riding the galloping mile-a-minute beat in queenly fashion. The band is as powerful as a sledgehammer, with the guitarist shredding out the licks and the keyboardist appropriately adorning the background and rhythmic punches with a full range of lush sounds. This two-part opening could have come straight off the final After Forever album or the latest Nightwish release.

“Void” comes next, blasting through the speakers like a charging horse. A momentary break from the frantic pace, however, occurs when a short middle segment—featuring soft grand piano and a melodic vocal bridge section—surprising appears before the song kicks back into high gear. I like how the band shows its diversity on this track when it comes to the arrangement and instrumentation, and thankfully it won’t be the last time either.

“Rage” is another out-and-out slammer in the “Power Metal meets Symphonic Metal” mold, but once again the band provides a momentarily change to catch one’s breath by adding a soft (and again, quite brief) section in the middle before kicking ass directly afterward. This track is one ride through metal mayhem.

A welcome softer pace arrives next in the form of “Beyond Goodbye,” a semi-ballad with diverse instrumentation that really allows Annelore to display the full width of her vocal range and the sheer power of her pipes. It’s an epic-sounding track, to be certain, and one of the album’s high points!

“The Night Awakes” and “Closure” follow, two driving numbers sure to bring smiles to the faces of most Power Metal fans. Both songs also contain a wide range of orchestration and, especially on the latter track, a change in mood in the ending segment that once again showcases Annelore’s awesome voice.

“A Thousand Words” is a track that emphasizes the talent of the band’s rhythm section with some intricate staccato “power beats” that help to drive the song forward, while, at nearly eight minutes, the album’s longest track, “Roots Of Reality,” contains the album’s only real operatic-like vocals, used rather sparingly yet effectively. Needless to say, Nightwish comparisons spring to mind, especially during the magnificently violin-heavy ending section.

Finally, the gentle ballad “Angelheart” closes out the album, featuring nothing but a passionate piano and Annelore’s emotional vocals, again triumphantly shining a musical spotlight on her talent.

Once I finished hearing the album, I couldn’t help thinking that had Nightwish not recently snatched up Floor Jansen as its new vocalist, the band might have considered Annelore for the job. I’m sure she would have fit in just as perfectly.

Be that as it may, this is only Gwyllion’s second album, yet since it was released back in 2009, I certainly hope it won’t be the last we hear from this promising band. Fans of female-led Power Metal/Symphonic Metal/Progressive Metal would do themselves a favor by investigating The Edge Of All I Know. Definitely above average!


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The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – An Overview

SAHBAlbums In My Collection

– The Joker Is Wild (released as “Alex Harvey”)
– Framed
– Next…
– The Impossible Dream
– Tomorrow Belongs to Me
– Live
– The Penthouse Tapes
– SAHB Stories
– British Tour ’76
– Fourplay (released as “SAHB Without Alex”)
– Rock Drill

An Overview

It’s a rare occasion when a band pops onto the music scene that so thoroughly defies description, is so unexpectedly different in more ways than one, that no future band ever comes close to fitting the same mold no matter how hard it tries. It all comes down to a trio of necessary traits that I like to refer to as SSI—Sound, Style, and Image. Many bands excel at one or two of the “S’s” but perhaps lack innovation when it comes to the “I.” On the flip side, other bands may successfully create their own unique “I” but either one or both of their “S’s” is nothing new.

Certainly some bands introduced a truly innovative sound (like Jethro Tull or Gentle Giant or Led Zeppelin), some bands developed a unique style of playing instruments or arranging songs as to influence scores of future musicians (such as Van Halen or Dream Theater or Rush), while other bands possessed an off-the-wall image that provided a shocking treat for the eyes (like Alice Cooper or Kiss or New York Dolls). Yet it’s a beautiful rarity when a band is simultaneously innovative in all three SSI areas. The Beatles, Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, and Genesis immediately spring to mind, and all three bands were originally considered “out there” by both music industry insiders and the listening audience when they started generating a buzz. Some, like the aforementioned bands, eventually became household names, while others, however, continue to remain nothing more than “cult status acts” with their names seemingly destined to slowly disappear into the annals of time.

One such talented band falls—unfortunately and unfairly—into the latter category…

During my youth, never had a band been so “out there” as to leave an immediate and an enduring impression on me than The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The band’s name alone (dripping with arrogance and presumption) was enough to make it a bit different and arouse my curiosity. And better still, the band certainly fit the same mold as The Beatles, The Mothers Of Invention, and Genesis, being innovative in all three SSI areas as mentioned above…

1) SAHB’s sound was certainly “out there,” with the band successfully merging so many genres into its albums—from Hard Rock to Progressive Rock, from Blues Rock to Cabaret, from Glam Rock to Vaudeville, etc. etc. etc.—that the listener never knew quite what to expect with each subsequent release. And…

2) SAHB’s style of playing with certainly “out there” when it came to its off-the-wall instrumentation, often bizarre arrangements, and a highly dramatic singer with a thick Scottish brogue and sandpaper gruffness to his tone. SAHB were also prone to add wailing saxes or harmonicas or brass sections or bagpipes as aural surprises on several tracks. The lyrics were typically creative, humorous and highly sardonic, usually spitting on the fine line between naughtiness and political correctness. To sum up, the phrase “stunningly campy” accurately describes SAHB’s overall style. And finally…

3) SAHB’s image was definitely “out there” when it came to a theatrical aspect—I mean, what other band boasted an auburn-haired guitarist always adorned in photos and on stage in clown makeup who could easily twist his face into cartoonish expressions, not to mention a lead vocalist who happily donned various costumes or used props on stage to dramatize the stories within the often-silly lyrics?

Yes, SAHB possessed a healthy dose of SSI for certain, and was nothing if not unique.

Now, to be perfectly honest, Alex Harvey was not exactly the most talented crooner. As a “straight” singer, his tone and accuracy left a lot to be desired, so his appeal had its limitations. But what he did possess was a wicked sense of humor and an enviable sense of the dramatics. So with a talented group of musicians behind him, individuals who had a wide range of influences in their arsenal and readily embraced the theatrical side of music, Alex’s vocal style fit in quite nicely and seemed somehow appropriate. And of course, like most bands, it took SAHB several albums before its sound and image fully developed and gelled.

The band’s debut platter, The Joker is Wild, appeared back in 1972. Because the album was released under the name “Alex Harvey,” though, it’s typically not recognized as an official release by the band, even though the five individuals (Alex, along with Zal Cleminson on guitar, Hugh McKenna on keyboards, Chris Glen on bass guitar, and Ted McKenna on drums) all performed on it. On this disc, the band plays predominantly Hard Rock and Blues Rock. Although with the band including quite a few cover songs on this album (as it would often do in the future…re-imagining songs from other artists and making them sound like SAHB creations), you have a hint of what would eventually become SAHB during its heyday. Therefore, The Joker is Wild is an “okay” album, nothing great to be certain, but there are a few whimsical moments and, overall, solid musicianship on display.

Framed was released the following year, becoming the first “official” SAHB album. The band’s growth is immediately noticeable. Although some of the tracks are still heavily steeped in Blues Rock (the title track, for one, along with “Buffs Bar Blues” and a cover of the classic Muddy Water’s track “I Just Want To Make Love To You”), other songs flaunt additional musical genres. The track “Isobel Goudie” is heavily dramatic (almost Prog-Rock in its arrangement with Alex singing/speaking the words “Coitus Interruptus,” of all things), the song “Hole In Her Stocking” is a rollicking Boogie-Woogie tune, “Midnight Moses” and “St. Anthony” are a mixture of Hard Rock and Glam Rock, and “There’s No Lights on the Christmas Tree Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight” is a song with almost a cabaret flair. The humor pours through on just about every track, and this wit would continue throughout the remainder of the band’s releases.

Later that same year, Next… appeared, and by this time, SAHB had fully developed its unique and bizarre style of camp-rock. “The Faith Healer” is one of the album’s highlights, another semi-progressive theatrical excursion that would remain part of the band’s live set for many years to come. The title track (a remake of Jacques Brel’s cabaret ditty) is admittedly a strange choice for inclusion on a Rock album. “Swampsnake” and “Gang Bang” are a mix of Hard Rock and Blues Rock with a “glam” aura. “Giddy Up A Ding Dong” is a cover of a Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys’ track with a 1950’s feel. Several additional tracks add extra strangeness and styles.

The Impossible Dream came in 1974 and remains one of my favorite SAHB albums. Now, fully embracing their campy style, the band slammed forward into full-fledged Rock ‘N’ Roll shenanigans. “The Hot City Symphony” kicks off the album in grand fashion, with “Part 1 – Vambo” being a heavy “glammish” rocker (and another live favorite) and leading into “Part 2 – Man In The Jar,” another stunning example of Theatrical Rock/Glam Rock, with Alex playing a Sam Spade-like detective investigating “the man with no face.” Silly, fun, and highly entertaining with a killer guitar solo, a jazzy and driving rhythm section, along with a full brass section added for extra dimension. Also included on this album was “Tomahawk Kid” (another more theatrical song that also remained a part of their live set), several glam rockers (“Long Haired Music,” “Weights Made of Lead,” and “River of Love”), a quirky 1920’s “flapper” song called “Sergeant Fury,” and the Celtic-sounding “epic” entitled “Anthem.” And also let’s not forget the title track, which is, believe it or not, a brief rocking rendition of the famous song from the musical Man of La Manchia. Holy Crap, talk about a highly diverse collection of tracks!

Striking while the creative fire was hot, Tomorrow Belongs to Me arrived in record stores in 1975 and, like the previous two albums, it featured wonderfully eclectic tracks in various styles. This was the first SAHB album I ever purchased, and it also remains one of my favorites due to a handful of stand-out songs—”Give My Compliments to the Chef,” another Glam-Rock gem with a hint of Prog-Rock, “Shark’s Teeth,” including a frantic opening guitar riff, some jazzy keyboard leads, some rhythm changes and an odd ’30s/’40s sounding middle section (along with an unexpected mention of actor Richard Widmark), and the album’s epic “The Tale of the Giant Stoneater.” This latter track, probably the most ambitious the band ever attempted with all its different segments and orchestration, has to be heard to be believed. Some glam rockers (“Action Strasse,” “Ribs and Balls,” “Shake That Thing,” and “Snake Bite”) fit nicely alongside a Blues-Rock track “Soul In Chains” and the title track, an old German folk song, featuring an accordion, brass section, and gang vocals near the end, sounding as if it’s being performed inside some Bavarian pub. Too weird.

In the latter half of 1975, the band released their “official” Live album (sadly, only a single album when a double or triple album would have been much better). On it, you can hear the way Alex interacts with the crowd and has them eating out of his hand. He was nothing if not a superstar of the stage. Simply fascinating. Besides the terrific performances by every band member, the album also features a version of the Tom Jones’ classic “Delilah.” Worth hearing!

The band soon went back into the studio for the 1976 release The Penthouse Tapes. This time, the band included only three of its own tracks, and for the rest of the album, it recorded renditions of cover songs, including “Crazy Horses” (The Osmonds), “Love Story” (Jethro Tull), and “School’s Out” (Alice Cooper). Of course, as only SAHB could do, the band also chose some unlikely songs to record, namely Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene,” and Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek.” As always, SAHB put its own trademarked “twists and craziness” on each song.

Next, in 1976, came SAHB Stories, an album of nearly all original songs and probably my favorite of all SAHB albums. There are so many great tracks in the Hard Rock/Glam Rock genres, including “Dance to Your Daddy,” “Sultan’s Choice,” and “$25 For a Massage,” along with one of SAHB’s theatrical-esque songs, “Dogs of War.” But the finest track (oddly, the only non-SAHB original) is “Amos Moses” (made famous by Jerry Reed). SAHB turned this country track into a kick-ass rocker, featuring perhaps Zal Cleminson’s finest guitar solo ever put to tape. Killer!

Something odd (even odd by SAHB’s standards) happened next…in 1977, while Alex was busy on a side project, the band recorded and released the album Fourplay without him. Indeed, the album was even released under the name “SAHB (Without Alex)” and showed only the four musicians on the front cover (and Zal without the usual clown makeup). But, in only SAHB’s “wink-wink/nudge-nudge” fashion, the back cover shows a bound and gagged Alex Harvey kneeling beside a trunk in which he was presumably held captive while his band recorded the album without him. Hilarious! Anyway, although Fourplay has some decent tracks, and the band plays as wonderfully as ever, the album doesn’t do much for me. The “normal” (or “abnormal”) SAHB style is obviously lacking without Alex, so it’s more a “novelty” album for me, a pleasant listen, at best.

A year later, an important change occurred in SAHB with the exit of long-time keyboardist Hugh McKenna, to be replaced by Tommy Eyre for the Rock Drill album. It wasn’t a truly noticeable change when it came to SAHB’s overall sound/style, but it was an omen, and unfortunately this would end up being the band’s last album. Here again, SAHB includes some outstanding rockers (“Rock And Rool” and “Nightmare City”), loads of naughty humor (as in “Who Murdered Sex?”), a few more epic-laden tracks with Prog-Rock leanings (“Rock Drill,” “The Dolphins,” and “King Kong”), and some strangeness (“Water Beastie” and “Booids”). Despite the change in keyboardists, the quality holds up. And even though it’s a shame the band fell apart after this album’s release, at least it went out on a high note.

After SAHB disbanded, Alex formed another group (Alex Harvey – The New Band) with only Tommy Eyre coming with him and new musicians hired to replace the others. This band released an “average” album (The Mafia Stole My Guitar) in 1979. Several years later, at the time of his untimely death in 1982, Alex had just recorded his last album, The Soldier on the Wall, with a whole new set of musicians. The album was released posthumously the following year. (Note: To me, neither album matched the grandeur of the original SAHB, but are both worth investigating anyway.)

I, for one, miss Alex dreadfully. And the sensational band just as dreadfully.

Alex Harvey will always remain a legend, and like most legends, he left behind a legacy of awe-inspiring material by which any musician would be proud. Meanwhile, SAHB remains one of Hard Rock’s most exciting acts to have “ever been,” and a band that sadly is also one of the most-forgotten acts to have emerged from the 1970s. Instead, the band deserves to be honored and revered for its creativity, wackiness, and overall uniqueness. The SSI factor in full, dynamic force.

Oh, and one final thing…Vambo Rules!!!

(Fans of SAHB will know what I mean.)


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Regal Worm – An Overview

RegalWormAlbums In My Collection

– Use and Ornament
– Neither use nor ornament (A small collection of big suites)

An Overview

At first, I was preparing to write a review of only one of the albums by Regal Worm. But then I got so caught up in the music and soon came to the conclusion that both the debut release, Use and Ornament (2013), and its follow up Neither use nor ornament (A small collection of big suites) (2014), are so damned similar in style, tone, production, and quality that writing a review of either album could actually apply to both since it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between the two. Therefore, I decided to write a general Band Overview instead.

Well, let me tell you, no matter which album is playing, it’s instantly apparent that Regal Worm is truly bizarre and generally off-the-wall. Talk about eclectic Prog-Rock!

To me, these albums sound as if a musician so outrageously brilliant and twisted such as Frank Zappa had joined forces with the group Gong or another of the more experimental Canterbury Scene or Psychedelic Rock Prog bands, which then merged with Frogg Café, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Jumbo, then asked Brian Eno or Robert Fripp for production assistance, who then gathered together a bunch of Burt Bacharach “bah bah da ba day” type of background singers from the 1960s to perform some sort of demented, maniacal, and wacky Broadway show or movie soundtrack.

Each Regal Worm release includes so many styles, so many instruments, so many segments within every song, with some spoken parts, some vocals parts, and tons of musical eras merged into one, that it’s hard to keep track of all the various influences, the shifting rhythms, the number of odd time signatures, and all the strange sounds tossed into each track. With musical moods, themes, and atmospheres changing seemingly at 1000 miles per minute, you will certainly find zero time to relax during the proceedings.

The result is nothing short of interesting, often jaw-dropping, sometimes highly enjoyable, but mostly just a bit—no, not just a bit, but REALLY strange. I mean, seriously, how many bands today (or even in history) can boast of including not only the usual guitars, bass, drums, and just about every type of keyboard imaginable (including Mellotron) on an album, but also just about everything else imaginable from sax, flute, clarinet, and trumpet, to harp, vibes, violin, even whistles? Not many, I’m sure. One definitely has to wonder if even the kitchen sink is also being used somewhere in the background. Perhaps one of the many unusual percussion instruments to appear? We may never know the answer to that, but you certainly have to give the band credit for its originality and diversity.

Regardless, when you see song titles such as “Cherish That Rubber Rodent” and “6:17 PM The Aunt Turns Into An Ant,” or “Confession From a Deep and Warm Hibernaculum” and (the zaniest, and my favorite) “Odilon Escapes From the Charcoal Oblivion but Endeavours to Return and Rescue the Cactus Men,” you know you’re in for one wild and goofy ride. It’s like a musical version of the Marx Brothers on crystal meth. So if you’re adventurous enough to listen to either of Regal Worm’s albums, be sure to hang on to your seat belts or you might find yourself with a nasty case of whiplash.

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Moonrise – Stopover-Life (2012)

Moonrise_StopoverLife4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I discovered this Polish band back in 2008, thanks to Internet radio. And since that day, Moonrise has never once failed to enthrall me. From the moment I heard the band’s full debut album, The Lights of a Distant Bay, I fell madly in love with the polished style, a cross between Neo-Progressive Rock and AOR and, on occasion, even some lighter Jazz. Everything sounded so damned luscious, so polished, so mellow and grand with a pitch-perfect lead vocalist (Lukasz Gall) who could have easily fit into the singer role in any number of AOR bands. Then the following year, Soul’s Inner Pendulum appeared, once again offering up more of the same marvelous sound.

But nothing new came from Moonrise for years afterward, and I feared that perhaps the band had disintegrated. Thankfully in 2012, Stop-over Life was finally released.

The title track, “Stopover-Life,” leads off the album. It’s a (mainly) instrumental piece with smooth guitar chords, lush keyboards, and an outrageously mellow sax solo that briefly brings to mind Wayne Shorter (Weather Report), while some dreamy, wordless vocals in the background give a hint as to just how wonderfully atmospheric the following album would be. And sure enough, this gentle, almost new-age piece leads fittingly into “Surrender to Win,” another grand affair of light AOR/Prog material. Marcin Jajkiewicz takes over vocal duties and delivers the melodic verses in the same winning, expressive style used on the band’s previous two releases. By this time, despite the change in vocalists, I realized that the years between albums did nothing to mar the band’s sound that had me so enamored the first two times around.

When further describing the band’s sound, I would liken Moonrise to a cross between bands such as Jadis or Marillion (the Season’s End-era), or perhaps Italy’s Doracor and another terrific Polish act Millenium, especially when it comes to the guitar tones and keyboard washes. And with the inclusion of the sax, the AOR style of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” (remember that hit with the catchy sax riff?) instantly springs to mind. This latter comparison is extremely apt on the track “Start Up Song.” I defy anyone to listen to the short sax solo near the middle and not think “Baker Street.” Go ahead, I dare you. And speaking of sax, “Guardian Angel” also features the instrument in all its full glory, which is breathtakingly beautiful.

On “Flying in Empty Lands,” the sound gets a tad heavier, especially the guitar tones and the rhythms, with both a synth solo in the song’s mid-section, then near the end, a guitar solo, which altogether fully displays not only the enormous talent of each musician, but also the band’s Neo-Prog influences.

I also must mention the final track, “Mr. Strange,” which is one of my favorites. Here the band offers up additional “beefier” instrumentation to give the album more of an equal balance. Moonrise also includes a few Symphonic Prog-Rock elements when it comes to instrumentation. The sax also makes a welcome return near the middle of the track before a Neo-Prog backdrop acts as foundation to a wonderful guitar solo with keyboard counterparts, once again bringing to mind some of the most tasty guitar/synth interplay from Marillion’s mid-career period. An upbeat closer to a moody, often-ethereal album.

For those of you who enjoy Prog-Rock of a less-demanding nature, a relaxing cross between Neo-Prog and AOR with (despite the occasional moodiness) an uplifting aura, then Moonrise might just be a band to interest you. Any one of its three albums, all so similar in scope, class, and polish, would do just fine.

And now it’s been yet another handful of years since this album appeared, so I can only hope Moonrise is about ready to release new material, and more importantly, that its found itself lucky once again and has captured the same “lightning in a bottle” when it comes to the overall sound. There’s no other band quite like this one, where each musician (every ingredient from vocals to guitar and keyboard tones to the absolutely flawless production) gels so damned well together.


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