Seventh Wave – Things to Come (1974)

SeventhWave_ThingsToCome4 out of 5 Stars!

Things to Come was the first of only two albums from Britain’s Seventh Wave, a synth-heavy Prog-Rock duo from the mid-’70s.

On this debut, the keyboards are front and center, layers upon layers of them, and highly symphonic in nature (almost soundtrack-worthy). Additionally, the album features no lead or rhythm guitars, and no bass guitar, just an array of keyboards supplied by Ken Elliott and drums from Kieran O’Connor, and a host of percussion instruments rarely heard on Prog-Rock albums (sleigh bells, glockenspiel, chimes, xylophone, etc.) played by both band members.

Yet despite the lack of guitars, the album sounds amazingly full and rich, while the music is typically upbeat and complex, and also borders on Art Rock and Space Rock during several tracks.

The one slight drawback on this album is Elliott’s vocal contributions—his voice is less than desirable in tone, range, and accurate pitch, but thankfully the lead and background harmonies are at least passable and rather unique in sound, style, and substance.

Regardless, this and the duo’s second album, 1975’s Psi-Fi, are still enjoyable overall, occasionally weird and creative, and often stunning.

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Zen Carnival – Lucid Dreamer (2015)

ZenCarnival_LucidDreamer3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Lucid Dreamer, the third and latest album from Zen Carnival, contains touches of various Prog-Rock sub-categories such as Avant-Prog and Jazz-Fusion along with Neo-Prog and Symphonic Prog, yet with also a healthy dose of straight-up AOR and Pop Rock when it comes to several vocal melody lines, such as the catchy closing track, “Love is the New Way.”

Overall, the music on Lucid Dreamer, which incorporates a pleasant variety of keyboards (including Mellotron), both aggressive/mellow and electric/acoustic guitars, plus mostly upbeat and often-punchy rhythms, occasionally reminds me of the more poppier side of groups such as Camel and Caravan with some quirkier instrumentation (as on “Medieval Suite,” for example) that would seem right at home on albums by Gentle Giant or Spock’s Beard.

A fun album from a promising group!

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Wrabit – Wrough & Wready (1981)

Wrabit_Wrough4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1981, I heard the debut album by Canadian band Wrabit and found myself catapulted into AOR heaven.

Featuring Lou Nadeau, whose excellent, crystal clear, wide-ranging voice is perfect for the genre, along with underrated guitarist John Albani, who would eventually go on to work with Lee “Metal Queen” Aaron, the album Wrough & Wready offered up ten tracks of ultra-catchy, hook-laden material.

Heavy guitar riffs and Pomp Rock keyboards, along with a tight rhythm section, lay a sturdy foundation on tunes such as “Pushin’ On,” “How Does She Do It,” “Just Go Away,” “Here I’ll Stay,” Anyway, Anytime,” and “Don’t Say Goodnite to Rock and Roll,” while Nadeau’s voice soars over the top and the grand, layered background vocals bring to mind the greatness of other “stadium rock” bands of the era such as Boston, Styx, Loverboy, and Journey.

This band should have been HUGE, but alas, fate had other ideas, and after the following two albums (1982’s Tracks and 1983’s West Side Kid) each slightly lower in songwriting quality than the debut) failed to gain attention, Wrabit disappeared.

Regardless, Wrough & Wready is a gem!

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Zero Hour – The Towers of Avarice (2001)

ZeroHour_Avarice4 out of 5 Stars!

2001’s The Towers of Avarice, the second album from Zero Hour, was actually my formal introduction to the California group, and after picking up my jaw from the floor, I became a fan.

Wickedly sinister in atmosphere, the music itself is technically awesome, extremely inventive and progressive, and as heavy as all hell. Each of the proficient musicians kicks up a mighty storm, while the powerful vocalist (apart from when singing the two ballads appearing on this six-track release) belts out the lyrics like a tortured maniac on acid—alternately snarling, whispering, shrieking, and gasping the lyrics, yet making it all work like a blockbuster cinematic experience.

The majority of other “Tech Prog-Metal” and “Djent” bands typically leave me cold, but not so with Zero Hour, and The Towers of Avarice ranks high on my list of favorites in the genre.

The talented brother team (Jasun Tipton on guitar/keys and Troy Tipton on bass) along with drummer Mike Guy and singer Erik Rosvold truly captured lightning in a bottle with this release!

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Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

Candlemass_Epicus4 out of 5 Stars!

For me, Black Sabbath will always remain the epitome of the term “Heavy Metal,” so when another band appears on the scene that clearly attempts to replicate the Sabbath sound/style, I typically sit up and take notice.

Sweden’s Candlemass is one of those groups that caught my interest back in the ’80s, and I’ve enjoyed many of the band’s releases through the decades. The debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, the only collection to feature the band’s original vocalist, is an album I still play periodically due to the dark and gloomy “Sabbathy” atmosphere, the “Iommi-esque” guitar tones and ominous riffs, and the powerful rhythm section.

And while this particular vocalist doesn’t replicate any of the long string of singers to have fronted Black Sabbath through the years, his voice is nevertheless appropriate for the genre and Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, by and large, with tracks such as “Demon’s Gate,” “A Sorcerer’s Pledge,” “Black Stone Wielder,” and “Solitude” included, comes eerily close to duplicating the style of early Sabbath.

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Phantom Blue – Built to Perform (1993)

PhantomBlue_BuiltPerform4 out of 5 Stars!

I’ve always had a special fondness for Phantom Blue. This all-girl group popped onto the scene barely a split second after Vixen made its splash, and promptly got lost in the rock ‘n’ roll ether, completely ignored by the masses and the MTV Headbanger’s Ball crowd without an ounce of the same recognition.

What set Phantom Blue apart for me was the lack of polish displayed on its self-titled debut (unlike the high production values displayed on Vixen’s initial release). This wasn’t a bad thing, mind you, since Phantom Blue played a harder-edged Rock/Metal than their counterparts, more of an Americanized version of Britain’s Girlschool or Rock Goddess, and kicked major ass.

The band continued to improve, with Built to Perform (the second album) being equally as strong as the debut regarding energy and songwriting, but with the guitars even brighter (more scorching) in the mix. And on pounding tracks such as “Loved Ya to Pieces,” “Little Man,” “Nothing Good,” “Anti Love Crunch,” “Little Evil,” “Better Off Dead,” and “Lied To Me,” the band sounded more than a tad hungrier (angrier perhaps since the debut album didn’t get the same recognition as Vixen did from the mighty “Powers That Be” at MTV’s corporate offices?) than ever before. With a killer cover version of Thin Lizzy’s “Bad Reputation” tossed in for the fun of it, Phantom Blue seemed poised to take on stardom, which alas, sadly never occurred…a damned shame!

 

 

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Nazareth – No Mean City (1979)

Nazareth_NoMeanCity4 out of 5 Stars!

No Mean City is one of my favorite Nazareth albums—the band’s tenth studio release, if memory serves me correctly. This is also the first Nazareth album to include Zal Cleminson, the guitar hero of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who injected a boost of energy into the band, not only contributing his songwriting chops, but adding his distinctive guitar tones to the proceedings and finally giving Nazareth that dual-guitar punch I felt it needed.

Unlike most (if not all) previous Nazareth albums, no outside songwriters were used for No Mean City—the group reworked no “cover tunes”—and includes not only some sterling kick-ass rockers such as the opener “Just to Get Into It,” but also “Simple Solution (Parts 1 & 2),” “Claim to Fame,” “What’s in It for Me,” and the brutal “No Mean City (Parts 1 & 2),” but also the track “Star,” probably the finest ballad Nazareth ever recorded.

Moreover, the album features my best-loved Nazareth cover art of all time, thanks to artist Rodney Matthews, which clearly gives a hint as to the killer material on offer.

Though perhaps not as perfect as previous Nazareth collections such as Hair of the Dog or (my favorite) Razamanaz, the power and consistency of material on No Mean City easily matches that of other top-tier albums such as the previous Loud ‘n’ Proud, Play ‘n’ The Game, and Expect No Mercy, making this one another gem in the band’s vast catalogue.

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The Watch – Vacuum (2004)

Watch_Vacuum5 out of 5 Stars!

From Italy, The Watch creates a nearly perfect replica of the classic Genesis (Peter Gabriel-era) sound on each of its albums. No other band in the world, in the galaxy, in the entire universe, comes as close. Indeed, with vocalist Simone Rosetti eerily replicating Gabriel in timbre and delivery (apart from a slight Italian accent), and the musicians duplicating the same playing styles and tones as Banks, Rutherford, Hackett, and Collins, it’s as if the classic Genesis line-up had hibernated since 1974 and, reanimated and energized, reappeared in the new century completely intact to continue where they left off, only with modern studio production techniques to aid them.

To me, Vacuum, The Watch’s second collection of tunes (and basically an extension of the band’s 2001 debut Ghost) is far better than anything Genesis ever released during the post-Gabriel years, and devotees of albums such as Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme, and Selling England by the Pound will certainly enjoy The Watch, especially after hearing this album—which I played repeatedly for weeks and weeks after purchasing it a decade ago, and still yearn to hear on a regular basis.

With compositions such as “Damage Mode,” “Shining Bald Heads,” “Out of the Land,” “Wonderland,” and the fantastic “The Vacuum,” this album is nothing short of a 5-Star masterpiece, with all of the band’s other releases (including the lone album from a “prequel band” featuring Rosetti called The Night Watch) nearly as inventive and stunning.

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Jesse Strange – Jesse Strange (1992)

JesseStrange_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the city renowned for its wild and rocking spring break parties—Fort Lauderdale, Florida—came Jesse Strange, a band that released only two albums in the ’90s before disappearing.

The group’s brand of no-frills, guitar-driven, melodic Hard Rock/Hair Metal often reminded me of other acts from the same era, such as Tesla, Babylon A.D., Tora Tora, Great White, and Trixter.

Although Jesse Strange offered nothing revolutionary or overly special in the world of “party rock,” the band did have an ear for writing some catchy, sing-along choruses such as those found on “Love on the Telephone,” “Dancing for Strangers,” “Make a Wish,” “Weekend Tonight,” “Living Without Your Love,” and “The Last Goodbye,” and in general, had a decent singer and better-than-average musicianship compared to many of its contemporaries, thereby making this collection fun for the occasional listen.

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Khan – Space Shanty (1972)

Khan_SpaceShanty4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Space Shanty is a terrific one-off album from Khan, a short-lived “supergroup” from the U.K. that included lauded and legendary guitarist Steve Hillage (Gong/Arzachel), bassist Nick Greenwood (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown), and keyboardist David L. Stewart (Egg/National Health/Hatfield and the North).

The album is nothing less than a giant caldron bubbling with Canterbury-Prog magic, with only six tracks in total, including “Mixed Up Man of the Mountains,” “Hollow Stone (inc. Escape of the Space Pilots),” “Driving to Amsterdam,” and the wonderful opening title track, officially known as “Space Shanty (inc. The Cobalt Sequence and the March of the Sine Squadrons).” But each tune is crammed with megatons of creativity, haunting melodies, both heavy and lighter passages, some Space Rock atmospheres, and inspired instrumentation. For those who may be unfamiliar with the often-jazzy and occasionally quirky “Canterbury Scene” Progressive Rock sub-genre, then Space Shanty is an album that will more than likely get you hooked.

I can’t help but wonder what Khan might have achieved had it stayed together longer, but thankfully, it left behind at least one enduring masterpiece.

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