Icon – Night of the Crime (1985)

Icon_NightCrime4.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the city of Phoenix, Arizona, Icon was a band that (for a brief moment in time during its relatively short existence) should have been huge…or at least world-renowned in the Hard Rock/AOR and Stadium Rock arena (pun intended).

Although I had purchased the band’s debut album back in 1984, I’d ended up designating it not much more than a collection of fairly decent Hard Rock tunes bordering on Metal, but nothing truly spectacular—a band somewhat better than average, but still too similar to other “hair bands” that seemed a dime a dozen during the era, with nothing to set it apart from the masses. Nevertheless, considering the obvious talent the boys displayed on several of the tracks, especially enjoying the lead vocals and dual guitars, I held out hope for further development and considered Icon one of the more promising new acts on the Hard Rock scene…basically, a band to watch.

And thankfully, my vigilance paid off in spades when the band’s sophomore album, Night of the Crime, dropped the following year. Not only did I immediately “up” my overall estimation of the group’s talent and general status on the music scene, but considered the new album one of the finest, most catchy and consistent Hard Rock/AOR releases of the year…indeed, in the entire history of the genre.

On Night of the Crime, with killer tunes such as “Out for Blood,” “Naked Eyes,” “Raise the Hammer,” “Rock My Radio,” “Missing,” and “Frozen Tears,” Icon had successfully expanded its occasionally pedestrian “hair band” sound. In readjusting its focus by adding even more melodic elements, a touch of keyboards, and dramatic dynamics to the style of its debut platter, the band ended up delivering a set of ten stellar tracks that seemed almost a precursor to other exciting AOR bands such as FM, King Kobra, and Shy, which would all come to my attention within the year. Only Night of the Crime, with its twin guitarists, still possessed a heavier sound, and although the album still sits quite comfortably on my “AOR/Melodic Rock” playlist next to albums from those aforementioned bands, it also fits in well beside releases from beefier, harder-edged AOR groups such as Unruly Child, Overland, Autograph, and Giant, plus today’s Change of Heart, H.E.A.T., Brother Firetribe, Grand Illusion, and Newman.

Regardless, although Night of the Crime ended up being an album that should have firmly placed Icon on the road to superstardom, the fickle finger of fate had other ideas. Shortly after this release, the band replaced its forceful and distinguishable lead vocalist, and the subsequent album Right Between the Eyes (not released until 1989) offered a more generic “hair band” sound once again, obviously cloning Whitesnake in many respects and targeted toward the audience of MTV’s Headbangers Ball, with the songwriting less memorable, and the melodic passion and creativity displayed on Night of the Crime sadly diminished. It wasn’t a horrible effort, mind you, just not even close to being a suitable and worthy follow-up to this unforgettable, near-perfect AOR collection.

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Ibis – Ibis (1975)

Ibis_Ibis19753.5 out of 5 Stars!

Ibis, a short-lived group from Italy formed by ex-members of New Trolls and Atomic Rooster, released three albums between 1973-1975, with this self-titled collection being its final offering, and probably also its weakest effort.

But even though the album might not match the overall superiority of the two preceding albums—thanks to two below-average songs where the band sings in English and pretty much abandons its normal Symphonic Prog style to venture into unexpected Hard Rock/Blues Rock territory—enough impressive moments still exist to satisfy the Prog-Rock cravings, especially with the dual guitarists working together exceptionally well, trading scorching solos and acting almost as a Prog version of Thin Lizzy on several tracks.

Plus, some of the more adventurous songs bring to mind groups such as Yes, especially when the beautiful vocal harmonies are allowed to blaze forth, such as on the fantastically diverse “Strada” or on the wonderfully acoustic “Passa Il Tempo.”

So overall, although the Ibis swansong is not the band’s most consistent work, it does include enough magical moments to bring a smile to my Prog-loving face.

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Ilúvatar – Ilúvatar (1993)

Iluvatar_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

I’ve always had a fondness for Ilúvatar, a Baltimore-based group I discovered almost immediately after getting online for the first time back in the ’90s. Yes, the Internet proved a godsend for music lovers like myself who no longer needed to rely on local record stores to stock interesting new music (especially in the Prog-Rock genre); now I could spend my entire paycheck ordering music directly from record label websites without having to leave the comforts of home.

Therefore, Ilúvatar’s debut album was one of the first purchases I made online, thus the initial source of my fondness for the band. And not only did Ilúvatar create an album of melodic Prog-Rock with a touch of Genesis and Yes influences, but the band also had its own sound/style, thanks mainly to the singer (Glenn McLaughlin) who possessed a unique and recognizable voice instead of simply attempting to clone Peter Gabriel or Jon Anderson.

Thanks to haunting tracks such as “Exodus,” “Wait for the Call,” “Marionette,” “Eagle,” and “Emperor’s New Clothes,” I played this album continuously upon purchase and still listen to it on a regular basis all these many years later. To me, this one is a classic, one of those “must have on a desert island” albums, and Ilúvatar remains one of my favorite Prog bands from the ’90s (and into this decade, due to the band releasing a new album in 2014 after a fifteen-year absence).

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Imperia – Queen of Light (2007)

Imperia_QueenLight3.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the city of Amsterdam, Imperia is—what a shock!—another band that falls into the Nightwish/Within Temptation/After Forever category. Thankfully, although Imperia is indeed another one of the zillions of groups that jumped on the “Symphonic Metal With Female Singers” bandwagon in the early 2000s, the band at least has a vocalist who can actually sing flawlessly on key.

Helena Iren Michaelsen has quite the beautiful voice, whether she’s hitting the rafters with her operatic overtures or singing “normally” during the quieter sections, so there’s nothing horrible here, unlike many lesser-known acts in this genre that feature female vocalists who couldn’t find the right key without the aid of a tuner and a compass.

Although occasionally some of Imperia’s songs seem a bit dense—overloaded with thick instrumentation, arrangements far busier than needed, heavy production quality and reverb—the general impression I nevertheless received when hearing Queen of Light (Imperia’s second release) is of a highly competent band with an ear for intricate melody, so that’s not at all shabby.

And the other BIG plus is that this album does NOT include those horrific guttural/growling “beast” male vocals that destroy so many songs by so many other bands in this genre. So for that fact alone, Imperia is far more advanced than the norm and I enjoyed this album nearly as much as the music I own by Nightwish, Within Temptation, and After Forever.

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Imminent Sonic Destruction – Recurring Themes (2012)

ImminentSonicDestruction_Recurring4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Several years ago in Chicago, I attended a Pain of Salvation concert (primarily to see my buddy’s band Mindwarp Chamber, one of the opening acts). Also on the bill, however, was Imminent Sonic Destruction, a newer band from Michigan that was completely foreign to me. Being impressed by this band’s live performance and its general sound/style, I purchased the debut album, Recurring Themes, the following day.

Thankfully, I was equally impressed by the release—the beautiful melodies and various complexities of the arrangements, not to mention the skillful musicianship and high production values on tracks such as “Here, It’s Over,” “Monster,” and “Temple,” as well as on the lengthier epics “Driving Home,” “Breaking Through” and the magnificent sixteen-minute “Raven”—and am now a true-blue fan of this promising Prog-Metal group.

Late in 2016, I also acquired the band’s newest release (Triumphia), which is also quite impressive, so I hope Imminent Sonic Destruction stays around for a long, long while.

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Ian Gillan Band – Scarabus (1977)

Gillan_Scarabus4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although the Ian Gillan Band produced two fairly enjoyable albums prior to Scarabus that leaned heavily toward Jazz-Rock, the band’s third album was a more straightforward endeavor, offering Hard Rock tracks with only some AOR and Jazz-Rock touches, and ended up being my favorite of the three studio releases.

On Scarabus, Gillan’s trademarked, bone-chilling, reach-for-the-rafters screams on songs such as “Poor Boy Hero,” “Fool’s Mate,” and the title track are simply fantastic, and the musicians involved—Ray Fenwick (guitar), John Gustafson (bass), Mark Nauseef (drums), and Colin Towns (one of my favorite keyboardists of all time)—play their damned hearts out.

From “Twin Exhausted” to “Mercury High” to “Mad Elaine” to “Slags to Bitches,” the album offers up one upbeat track after another, with Gillan’s instantly identifiable vocals and the band’s outstanding tightness and talent making me wish this horribly underrated line-up had hung together longer to create another few albums of such high caliber.

Ian Gillan—a true Vocal God!!!

(And RIP to the gifted Johnny Gustafson.)

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Ice Age – The Great Divide (1999)

IceAge_GreatDivide4.5 out of 5 Stars!

New York’s Ice Age was a superb, highly evolved band that (after producing two first-class albums) eventually altered its name (to Soulfractured) and its musical style, abandoning Prog-Rock/Prog-Metal in favor of more straightforward Hard Rock, then making a single album before quickly disappearing.

Too bad the musicians didn’t trust their original gut instincts and stay together as Ice Age to create more albums of such high caliber as The Great Divide or they might have become HUGE in Prog-Rock circles.

Ice Age certainly deserved praise, since the musicians were damned gifted, playing outstanding and well-constructed Prog-Rock with a touch of Metal and AOR, and featuring a fantastic singer with an almost Michael Sadler (Saga), Dennis DeYoung (Styx), or Michael Sweet (Stryper) tone and style.

The debut album, The Great Divide, with outstanding tracks such as “Because of You,” “Perpetual Child,” “Miles to Go,” “Sleepwalker,” the epics “Ice Age” and “To Say Goodbye, Parts 1 & 2,” and the blazing instrumental “Spare Chicken Parts,” showcases the band’s enormous ability to include catchy and intriguing melodies within classy and intricate Prog-Rock arrangements.

The follow-up release from 2001, Liberation, proved just as impressive and grand, and even after purchasing the two albums way more than a decade ago, I still listen to them regularly.

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Ian Hunter – Overnight Angels (1977)

ianhunter_overnightangels4 out of 5 Stars!

Although often maligned for reasons I don’t quite comprehend, Ian Hunter’s third solo release is probably one of my favorites from the ex-Mott The Hoople frontman. Indeed, I find this album one of his most “Hooplesque” when it comes to the songwriting and the song arrangements. Additionally, the sound of the instruments are pure Mott, with the tinkling pianos and the stinging guitars.

The tracks here are a fine mixture of rather bombastic Glam Rock (the opening “Golden Opportunities”—in many ways similar in sound and style to Mott The Hoople’s “Marionette”—along with the more experimental title track, the rollicking “Wild ‘n’ Free” and the silly, tongue-in-cheek “Justice of the Peace”) and piano-driven ballads, of which Ian often excels (“Shallow Crystals,” “Miss Silver Dime,” “The Ballad of Little Star,” and “Broadway,” which rivals my favorite Mott The Hoople ballad, “Rose”). Only the album’s closing track, “To Love a Woman,” stands out among the rest due to its more contemporary style, and therefore, seems quite out of place with the rest of the album’s overall “Mottness.”

Generally speaking, much of this collection brings to mind memories of The Hoople album. And the musicians hired for this release, especially guitarist Earl Slick, also have such a “Mott-feel” when it comes to their performances that it’s a wonder why Slick wasn’t hired in Mott The Hoople instead of Mick Ronson to replace the departing Ariel Bender after The Hoople album. Anyway, it’s a shame Hunter didn’t keep this group of musicians together for at least another album or two.

The only true negative aspect of this album for me is the “over production” from Roy Thomas Baker, but I can easily overlook that flaw since the songs are all quite enjoyable and, through Ian Hunter, the undying spirit of Mott The Hoople once again reared its glorious head.

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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson – Thick as a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock? (2012)

JethroTull_ThickBrick24.5 out of 5 Stars!

How can a band/musician follow up a masterpiece of an album? And would a band/musician even dare to attempt such a chore? Well, many have indeed tried, and sadly, a large majority have failed.

But as for this “sequel” to Thick as a Brick, well, it’s not a failure in the least. Indeed, it’s quite excellent overall, and Ian Anderson (main-man of Jethro Tull) was not only courageous in his attempt, but should be enthusiastically commended for his efforts.

Now, the big question…is the sequel as wonderful as the original?

No, unfortunately not, no 5-Star release. How could one reasonably expect this sequel to be as fantastic? Nevertheless, this collection of tracks is certainly a well-above-average release in the world of Prog-Rock, at least a 4.5 Star album, and even though the rest of the Jethro Tull band (especially Martin Barre) is not included on this release, Ian comes damned close in duplicating the “original band sound,” nearly replicating the style/tones and even the production of the masterpiece album in question.

It’s been too damned long for a new Tull album, especially one reminiscent of the sound/style of the band during its “classic period,” so this Ian Anderson solo release was a welcome addition to my collection of “Tull albums,” despite the different name credited on the cover, and it could very well fit into the band’s back catalogue.


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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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