Hypnos 69 – Legacy (2010)

Hypnos69_Legacy4 out of 5 Stars!

Belgium’s Hypnos 69 released five studio albums between 2002 and 2010, with Legacy being the last. As on all the band’s albums, the music here is a bit Progressive, a bit Psychedelic, a bit Jazzy, a bit Spacey, a bit Stoner, and a whole lot “Retro” mayhem.

Generally speaking, Hypnos 69 is a ton of fun, with the musicians using both modern production techniques and classic instruments (including Mellotron, flutes and saxes, etc.) to create material in the style of ’70s-era Prog-Rock, most notably groups such as Van Der Graaf Generator, Focus, Nektar, Barclay James Harvest, and early King Crimson, with even a touch of Yes, Eloy, and Zappa mixed in.

The album also includes a nice balance of shorter tracks in the five to seven minute range, as well as a handful of epics, two of them clocking in at around eighteen minutes.

Anyway, fans of other modern-day groups that share a similar “Retro” approach such as Presto Ballet, Bigelf, D’Accord, and Black Bonzo will certainly appreciate Hypnos 69, and since discovering this excellent group, I’ve been reveling in the richness of its back catalogue. Now I’m praying that, since it’s been seven years since the release of this album, the band is actually still together and planning to create more enjoyable material.

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HB – Frozen Inside (2008)

HB_FrozenInside3 out of 5 Stars!

Hailing from Finland, HB is basically a Christian version of groups such as Nightwish, Within Temptation, and After Forever…the same style of Symphonic Metal/Power Metal only with “God/Jesus Is Love Love Love” lyrics in every song. Generally speaking, not exactly my thing.

Still, despite my initial revulsion to the preachy lyrical content, I must admit to enjoying the music itself, and the terrific female vocalist Johanna Aaltonen, quite a bit. The musicianship is top-notch and the intricate arrangements on many of the songs are right up there with other leading bands of the Symphonic Metal genre.

Therefore, if you’re a fan of Nightwish, etc., and can stomach song titles such as “God Has All Glory” and “The Jesus Metal Explosion” and the never-ending Bible-study lessons within the lyrics, then perhaps this is the band for you.

Although I’m unfamiliar with HB’s other releases (there are seven studio albums in total), Frozen Inside, the band’s third collection of tracks, is worthy of at least one listen if for nothing else than to enjoy Johanna’s better-than-average vocal performance.

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Heart – Dog & Butterfly (1978)

Heart_DogButterfly4 out of 5 Stars!

I clearly recall the controversy from many fans and critics when Dog & Butterfly came out in ’78, with numerous people considering it too mellow for Heart. Yet I found Dog & Butterfly to be the band’s most accomplished release up to that point, well-produced and often mesmerizing, with a seemingly perfect balance of electric and acoustic tracks, and some of the most beautiful melodies the band ever recorded.

The live “Cook With Fire” leads off the “Dog” side of the album with a mighty wallop, while the catchy “High Time,” the slinky “Hijinx,” and the memorable “Straight On” (the second single released from the album) are as good as anything the band released on its previous records, and in my opinion, any of them could have been released as singles.

From the softer “Butterfly” side, the chorus to the title track (the initial single off the album) is simply and utterly haunting, ringing in my mind for days and days after first hearing it, and it still remains one of my favorite Heart tunes of all time, while “Mistral Wind” is probably one of the finest tracks in the band’s entire catalogue, being a mixture of acoustic Folk Rock and electric Hard Rock, and almost Progressive Rock with its gripping, dramatic fade-out section and Ann Wilson’s siren-like vocals.

Now, I’ll admit, after all these many years, I still feel rather blasé about the middle two tracks on the “Butterfly” side (“Lighter Touch” and “Nada One”)—not that there’s anything wrong with either song, mind you, it’s just that there’s no special “magic” about them either, or at least nothing that “hit” me as magical, nothing too memorable, just fairly basic tunes with decent melodies, decent arrangements, and decent performances.

But regardless of the two “so-so” tunes, Dog & Butterfly still remains one of my favorite Heart releases, and typically when I crave hearing the band, this is the album toward which I most often gravitate. Beautiful work!

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Steve Hillage – L (1976)

SteveHillage_L4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The legendary guitarist Steve Hillage (Gong/Khan/Arzachel) backed by the band Utopia (Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton, and Jon Wilcox)—with Todd Rundgren producing—created this often underappreciated album simply entitled L, which is Hillage’s second solo album overall.

His first solo effort, Fish Rising, is typically rated higher on most music-related websites, and I can easily see why. But for some reason, L is the album that really hit home for me.

I vividly recall hearing Hillage’s cover of Donovon’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” on an “underground” Chicago radio station when the album came out, which introduced me to this exceptional guitarist, and it became the reason I hunted down the album several days later. Therefore, since L was the first music I owned by Hillage, I’ll admit that nostalgic prejudice taints my overall rating.

Nevertheless, with additional tracks such as “Hurdy Gurdy Glissando,” “Electrick Gypsies,” and the lengthy “Lunar Music Suite” all capturing my attention and leaving a lasting impression on me, I slowly collected Hillage’s back catalogue of releases from his days with Gong, Khan, etc. and became a lifelong fan.

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Roger Hodgson – In the Eye of the Storm (1984)

RogerHodgson_EyeStorm4 out of 5 Stars!

Like many fans of Supertramp, learning of Roger Hodgson’s departure from the band to begin a solo career in 1983 came as a shock. I sensed the group would never be quite the same without the stylistic “give and take” between Hodgson and Rick Davies, each with their own unique musical approach, songwriting skills, and ears for melody, and I was right…the band just wasn’t the same afterward. And to be perfectly truthful, I had always preferred Roger Hodgson’s quirkier and more Prog-oriented vocal style over Rick Davies’s grittier and less-precise delivery, therefore subsequent Supertramp albums just didn’t have the same “magical balance.”

Anyway, when Hodgson released his 1984 solo debut In the Eye of the Storm that included the instant Progressive-Pop hit “Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy),” I immediately snatched it up, and frankly, with other equally impressive songs such as “In Jeopardy,” “Only Because of You,” “Hooked on a Problem,” “I’m Not Afraid,” and “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” also on tap, the seven-track collection sounded more like a Supertramp album than the band’s own Brother Where You Bound platter that dropped a year later.

With Hodgson performing all the instruments himself—a true “solo” effort—and also producing the entire shebang, it clearly showed just how much he had previously contributed to the classic Supertramp sound, making me appreciate his talents even more.

Unfortunately, after this album, Hodgson released only one more album before disappearing for more than a decade and finally issuing his last studio platter in 2000, just a few years before his former band also fell apart (at least when it came to creating new studio material).

Regardless, fans of Supertramp’s music from the “glory period” (Crime of the Century through Breakfast in America) who don’t already own this album should definitely consider adding it to their collections.

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Homunculus Res – Come si diventa ciò che si era (2015)

HomunculusRes_ComeSi3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Homunculus Res is a newer group from Italy that has thus far released two enjoyable albums where the music—heavily jazz-influenced Prog Rock—strongly harkens back to the 1970’s Canterbury music scene in England (or, for that matter, Italy’s more eclectic Picchio dal Pozzo from the late ’70s).

Indeed, were it not for the Italian vocals that occasionally pop up here, one might think they had stumbled upon some forgotten tracks by a British group such as Caravan, National Health, Egg, or Hatfield and the North, especially when Homunculus Res uses vintage keyboards to help forge its sound—what seems like everything from Arps to Moogs to Farfisas to Wurlitzers—and has a full-time sax/woodwinds player and some additional brass “guest instrumentalists” to add to the creative, bright, vibrant, and periodic wackiness of the material.

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Hydra – Hydra (1974)

Hydra_14 out of 5 Stars!

I love this sinfully obscure and melodic Hard Rock band from Atlanta, Georgia, which added strong Southern Rock influences and also a touch of Funk/Soul to its overall sound on each of its three studio albums.

Regarding the band’s style, Hydra often seemed to me like an Americanized version of Trapeze, even going so far as to feature a vocalist named Wayne Bruce, who possessed a similar tone, vibrato, and manner of delivery as the mighty Glenn Hughes, although without the ultra-high vocal range.

Also, on this debut album as well as the follow-up release Land of Money, the band included Orville Davis on bass guitar, who would eventually go on to join Starz, another one of my favorite—and underappreciated—Hard Rock bands from the ’70s.

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Hellfield – Hellfield (1978)

Hellfield_Hellfield4 out of 5 Stars!

From Toronto came Hellfield, an obscure group led by vocalist Mitch Hellfield (with a surname like that, how could the man NOT form a rock ‘n’ roll band, right?).

Anyway, when this album first came out in ’78, I purchased it immediately based on the cover art (and band name), unsure of the type of music being delivered. Turns out the album was chock-full of both kick-ass rockers and strong Pomp Rock laced with grand harmonies and some AOR melodies. In many respects, the band had a Midwestern sound, often reminding me of groups from this area of the USA such as Roadmaster, Trillion, and Styx, with touches of Angel, thanks to the Pomp keyboards.

The album opens with a magnificent track entitled “The Pact,” which leads into “Magic Mistress,” another standout tune, both with catchy choruses, rich harmony vocals, and tons of blazing guitar and keyboards, acting as a one-two punch to the jaw that hooked me on the album during my initial hearing. Side B also opens with “Tell Me Are You Listening,” another killer track with some Supertramp-ish influences and further solidified my fondness for this release.

Before eventually disbanding, Hellfield dropped a second album (Night Music) the following year, but the band just couldn’t seem to gain any foothold in the U.S., probably due to CBS Records doing zero promotion. Indeed, were it not for me engaging in my “weekly browse” at my neighborhood record store, I would likely have never discovered the band myself.

Anyway, I’m glad I did since this debut album still has a special place in my heart even after all these many decades.

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Hellfield_Hellfield

Hanoi Rocks – Back to Mystery City (1983)

HanoiRocks_MysteryCity4 out of 5 Stars!

Hanoi Rocks’s fourth studio album finally earned the Finnish band some much needed worldwide recognition, thanks to not only a collection of powerful and memorable tracks, but also the production magic from the team of Mott The Hoople alumni Overend Watts and Dale “Buffin” Griffin, who aided the band in perfecting its rather unique mix of glammy, trashy, and punky styles.

Moreover, the album even included Hoople’s Morgan Fisher as guest keyboardist, his piano tinkling away in the background on several tracks, which lent an almost Mott party atmosphere to the band’s New York Dolls form of sassy rebelliousness, so things were looking and sounding quite impressive, a giant step forward from the band’s previous albums where the production had often lacked and the tinsel had been missing.

As to the material, the songwriting had also taken a major uphill leap, with the band recording one of its most consistent sets and the musicians (vocalist Mike Monroe, guitarists Andy McCoy and Jan “Nasty Suicide” Stenfors, bassist Sam Yaffa, and drummer Razzle) performing their rockin’ and rollin’ hearts out. Indeed, Back to Mystery City includes some of the group’s catchiest material (and some future concert favorites), including “Malibu Beach Nightmare,” “Mental Beat,” “Sailing Down the Tears,” “Ice Cream Summer,” “Tooting Bec Wreck,” “Until I Get You,” and the fantastic title track that closes out the collection.

Now, with the blueprint for world domination being set into motion with this splendid platter, it was only the group’s following release, Two Steps From The Move, that would surpass the impact of this album and bring Hanoi Rocks to the very brink of hard-fought success and…

Damn it, senseless tragedy struck in the form of Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil, who completely destroyed the band’s escalating momentum with his fatal drunk driving escapades.

So to those unfamiliar with this team of Finnish punky glamsters, Back to Mystery City would make a great starting point when delving into the band’s catalogue of material.

And to drummer Razzle…RIP.

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Heaven & Earth – Dig (2013)

HeavenEarth_Dig4 out of 5 Stars!

To me, the U.K. band Heaven & Earth is about the closet thing one can get to the classic sound/style of Rainbow. Certainly, the overall production qualities and instrumentation are modern-sounding, yet there are enough similarities in song structure and skillful musicianship to the Rising or Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll albums for fans of Rainbow (and certainly even Deep Purple) to enjoy. Or perhaps Rainbow’s last album, Stranger in Us All, or Purple’s Perfect Strangers, are more apt similarities.

Regardless, you get the idea—Rainbow/Deep Purple fans (as well as those who favor vocalists in the style of Ronnie James Dio/Doogie White/David Coverdale) will likely find much to savor on Dig, Heaven & Earth’s release from 2013, which includes some fiery tracks with guitar and Hammond interplay such as “Back in Anger,” “Victorious,” “Man & Machine,” “No Money, No Love,” and “Rock & Roll Does” along with several beautiful ballads such as “I Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Live As One” adding variety to the collection.

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