Lords of Black – II (2016)

LordsOfBlack_24 out of 5 Stars!

Lords of Black’s second release is basically a continuation of the same type of music from the debut album—dense and punchy, solid and kick-ass Power Metal (with a slight Progressive and Neoclassical bent) in a style similar to groups such as Masterplan, Thunderstone, Ride The Sky, Astral Doors, Kamelot, and Beyond Twilight.

The band’s robust singer, Ronnie Romero, has a voice from the same “school of rock” as Jorn Lande, Ronnie James Dio, Nils Patrik Johansson, and Bjorn Jansson, so it came as no great surprise to learn that Romero had been hired to front the newest line-up of Rainbow.

Now I’m only praying Romero’s role in Rainbow doesn’t screw with Lords of Black’s plans since I would love to see a third album from this group in the not too distant future.

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Loudness – Disillusion (1984)

Loudness_Disillusion4 out of 5 Stars!

Prior to Japan’s Loudness (marginally) making a name for itself in America, the band released four albums in its homeland, each subsequent album better than the last. And while the first three albums featured non-English lyrics, Disillusion, however, became the first sign that Loudness was preparing an American onslaught with vocalist Minoru Niihara singing in English.

Here, also, the rest of the band truly began honing its musical dexterity. Bassist Masayoshi Yamashita and drummer Munetaka Higuchi proved they had the “slamming power” to make a formidable rhythm section, which would help to transform Loudness into an entity that could storm these shores the following year. Meanwhile, axe-wielder Akira Takasaki, whose feverish riffs, tasty fills, and lightning-quick solos on tracks such as “Esper,” “Milky Way,” “Crazy Doctor,” “Ares Lament,” and “Butterfly,” seemed destined to make him the next mega “guitar god” in the Metal genre. Indeed, his work on this album (as well as the subsequent Thunder in the East, Lightning Strikes, and Hurricane Eyes albums) had me sitting up to take notice, and he quickly shot to the top tier of my “Favorite Metal Guitarists” list, easily giving stellar artists such as Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Sykes, George Lynch, etc. a run for the money.

Therefore, Disillusion is my favorite album from the band’s “early period” since it foreshadowed even greater things to come on the next string of aforementioned releases when the band finally broke in America.

 

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Legs Diamond – Legs Diamond (1977)

LegsDiamond_LegsDiamond4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This is one band I followed since its debut album and still cannot figure out how it remains so damned obscure—only a fierce “cult following” to this day.

San Francisco’s Legs Diamond had a unique sound, with singer Rick Sanford’s immediately recognizable voice, Roger Romeo’s wicked guitars, Michael Prince’s sterling keyboards, and the tight rhythm section of bassist Michael “Diamond” Gargano and drummer Jeff Poole delivering well-above-average material.

Be that as it may, those unfamiliar with Legs Diamond should certainly investigate this 1977 debut, which includes some electrifying tunes such as “It’s Not the Music,” “Deadly Dancer,” “Satin Peacock,” “Rat Race,” and “Stage Fright.” Each of the album’s seven tracks is a winner, quite memorable and often breathtaking, and I guarantee that most listeners, after hearing this release, will crave to savor even more from the group’s back catalogue.

The bottom line is that Legs Diamond should have been GIGANTIC, and in a perfect world, fate would have made it happen. Indeed, the band’s first two releases were simply outstanding. Granted, the third album Fire Power, although containing some extraordinary tracks, did fall a bit short overall, and Legs Diamond splintered soon after recording an unreleased fourth album (that finally appeared on the market as Uncut Diamond in 1999, a raw bundle of energy that nearly matched the sheer songwriting power of the band’s first two albums). Anyway, Legs Diamond thankfully reformed in the mid-’80s, bursting back with revitalized energy and several new band members.

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Leaf Hound – Unleashed (2007)

LeafHound_Unleashed3.5 out of 5 Stars!

London’s Leaf Hound released a single album full of Heavy Psych Rock back in 1971 that, through the years, gained a large cult following. Then more than thirty years later, in 2007, the band returned (the original singer Peter French with a new line-up of musicians) to release a second album, Unleashed, a wild trip into Retro Hard Rock territory.

Certainly the production quality of Unleashed far surpasses the band’s debut album, as I expected. But what I didn’t expect was for the newest version of the band to sound just as youthful and energetic as the original on tracks such as “Barricades,” “Deception,” “Overtime,” “Nickels and Dimes,” and “One Hundred and Five Degrees.”

For those looking for some driving Hard Rock with a strong 1970’s feel, Unleashed is an album you may want to investigate.

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Lillian Axe – Psychoschizophrenia (1993)

LillianAxe_Psychoschizophrenia4 out of 5 Stars!

I always felt Louisiana’s Lillian Axe one of the better melodic “hair bands” to have emerged during the late ’80s, but believed the group didn’t truly hit its stride, didn’t locate its true musical path or reach its full potential, until its loud-and-driving fourth album came along.

On Psychoschizophrenia, Lillian Axe tosses aside the hairspray and the “just want to have a party” attitude and gives its sound/style a major revamp, creating a darker, “less immediate” album, one more progressive, free of the “hair-metal” genre’s worst clichés, and displaying some welcome maturity.

Yes, here I felt the band became a truly “serious outfit,” yet unfortunately, this album also ended up being the band’s last truly successful release. A shame, since I yearned for more of this particular style from them.

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Legend – Fröm the Fjörds (1979)

Legend_FromFjords4 out of 5 Stars!

Fröm the Fjörds is the lone album by Connecticut-based group Legend that, in retrospect, seems almost a precursor to the “Heavy Metal bordering on Progressive Metal” style of bands such as Queensryche or Diamond Head from the early ’80s, but with Captain Beyond-ish instrumentation and atmospherics, Budgie-inspired creativity, and Rush-like complexity via the Caress of Steel album.

Although not perfect—the vocals are rather average, the production quality is a bit weak in places, and one or two songs could have used judicious pruning…no need to place a lengthy drum solo on the otherwise impressive track “The Iron Horse,” for instance—the riffs, however, are often brutal and memorable (as on “The Confrontation,” “The Destroyer,” and “R.A.R.Z.”), the guitar solos and bass runs are highly impressive (look no further than the aforementioned tunes as well as “The Wizard’s Vengeance,” “The Golden Bell,” or the title track), and the general creativity of the musicians and songwriters makes it frustrating that the band didn’t last longer to further develop its style and generate more albums.

Therefore, both Legend and its sole collection are true legends indeed!

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Lucifer’s Friend – Banquet (1974)

LucifersFriend_Banquet4.5 out of 5 Stars!

In 1974, Germany’s Lucifer’s Friend made the biggest, most jarring change in style yet. The Banquet album is a full-out foray into Jazz-Rock territory with the use of a brass section throughout. Hell, it’s basically Lucifer’s Friend meets Blood, Sweat & Tears.

To be perfectly honest, I hated the album at the time I purchased it, about a year after its release. The cover was so misleading, showing the band members, all dressed in black with their hook-handed mascot nearby, sitting at a banquet table in a gloomy Dracula-like castle, so I fully expected a return to the Heavy Metal sound of the cherished debut album, of which I was still so enamored.

Therefore, this foray into Jazz-Rock was a total shock to the system (and to my record needle) and everything just rubbed me the wrong way. Indeed, it took me three decades of letting the album sit on the shelf before I once again dared to give it another listen.

And what do you think happened? I’ll be damned, but I actually loved it.

Indeed, Banquet is now one of my favorite albums by the band, mostly due to two specific tracks, both masterpieces: “Spanish Galleon” and “Sorrow,” both of the songs surpassing the eleven-minute mark and being absolutely the best vocal performances John Lawton ever delivered on vinyl. The high-octane performances by the rest of the band (guitarist Peter Hesslein, keyboardist Peter Hecht, bassist Dieter Horns, and drummer Herbert Bornhold) shine through also, with the energetic instrumentation, complex arrangements, and wickedly wild horn section just adding to the treat.

So savor the Banquet provided by Lucifer’s Friend, one of the most amazing and diverse bands to have ever existed…

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Leslie West – Mountain (1969)

LeslieWest_Mountain4 out of 5 Stars!

Although Leslie West’s solo debut platter wasn’t released as an actual Mountain album (apart from its title), it could easily have been since it fits snugly into the band’s official catalogue of releases. Only when drummer Corky Laing and keyboardist Steve Knight joined up with Leslie West and bassist/keyboardist Felix Pappalardi (also performing on this album) did Mountain “officially” begin.

Regardless, the music here (especially tracks such as “Long Red,” “Dreams of Milk & Honey,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “Blind Man,” “Southbound Train,” and “Storyteller Man,”) should appeal to most Mountain fans. But unlike Mountain (the band), the album is more blues-oriented overall—more akin to Cream, for example—yet features West’s often-stunning fretwork and gruff, soulful voice, Pappalardi’s muscular and melodic bass lines, along with enough attitude and swagger to make it one of my favorites among West’s numerous solo releases.

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Last Crack – Burning Time (1991)

lastcrack_burningtime5 out of 5 Stars!

This has to be one of the most bizarre yet innovative bands I’ve ever encountered in the Heavy Metal genre. Both haunting and sinister, progressive and diverse, at times funky or driving while at other times mellow yet manic, the album Burning Time contains so many tracks that actually defy “normal” classification. Indeed, if the term “Psychotic Metal” was an actual musical genre, then this album would fit perfectly.

The unpredictable melodies, along with the ambitious instrumentation, song arrangements, and bizarre lyrics, are nothing short of a pure work of art, while the band’s singer on this album (a gifted guy simply named Buddo) is wholly unique when it comes to his style and delivery. And to know that this beautifully strange music came from the agricultural heartlands (Madison, Wisconsin, of all places) makes this release even more freakish and mind-bending…unless, of course, a high percentage of lunatic asylums frequently pop up in the middle of Wisconsin cornfields.

Regardless, this is a 5-Star masterpiece of gripping and memorable Metal for those craving adventurous musical territory…or perhaps those who savor taking a Tilt-A-Whirl ride in the mind of a madman.

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Leap Day – From the Days of Deucalion Chapter 2 (2015)

LeapDay_FromTheDays24.5 out of 5 Stars!

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Leap Day, a band from the Netherlands that consistently delivers above-average material in the Neo-Prog genre. To me, Leap Day falls into the “Genesis-inspired” category of bands, although it isn’t in any way a direct copy, but has its own sound, creating a nice mixture between bands such as Genesis, Spock’s Beard, Arena, and IQ, wonderfully symphonic with generally attractive melodies and varied, often-moving instrumentation.

Yet, when I realized their entertaining third album, From the Days of Deucalion, was also labeled as “Chapter 1,” I sort of cringed inside. I’m always a bit skeptical when bands plan multi-part collections, since a band can only occasionally pull it off successfully—Big Big Train succeeded with both parts of the recent English Electric albums being equally enjoyable—whereas other times the dual-album release is a huge flop—Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime II came nowhere near the greatness of the original masterpiece.

Therefore, could Leap Day create an absorbing, melodic, and engaging album to equal its 2013 predecessor? It wouldn’t be easy to do, especially when, from the “Chapter 1” collection, I came to believe the melodies and instrumentation on the track “Haemus” were pure excellence, with Leap Day firing perfectly on all cylinders. So on its newest release, could the band offer more tracks like “Haemus” where everything gelled in a similar fashion?

The answer, thankfully, is a resounding “Yes.” And indeed, I feel the band even surpassed all expectations.

The album opens with the instrumental “Pseudo Science,” a grand, three-minute affair where both guitar and keyboard leads and dramatic orchestrations rule the day. This somewhat spacey/somewhat pomp track might seem right at home on an album by groups such as Spock’s Beard or Transatlantic. This intro leads into “Amathia (Homo Ignoramus),” a vocal track that begins with beautiful piano and vocals, along with a gentle organ in the background, quite reminiscent of Procol Harem. And as always, Jos Harteveld’s tone and often-fun delivery, thanks to the quirky hook in his voice ala Frances Dunnery (It Bites)—which seems a bit more pronounced than usual, adding more of a recognizable flair to Jos’s voice—croons a melody that is both dramatic and memorable. I especially enjoyed the lyrics of this song, with lines such as “All we’ve ever taught, all we’ve ever written down, is nothing but a fart in the windstorm reeling…” Wonderfully droll.

The seven-and-a-half minute “Taurus Appearance” starts off as a bouncy Spock’s Beard-inspired instrumental with some great bass riffs and solid drums, some organ and synth fills, and a terrific chord pattern that soon adds a touch of Yes to the overall feel. About halfway through the track, a more laid-back section pops in to take the song into a different direction, with more leads, by both synth and guitar, until yet another passage, this one wonderfully gentle, brings the track to a close. The whole arrangement is Neo-Prog at its finest, a delightful merging of various styles that Leap Day always delivers with gusto. But the experience is not over yet, since this track basically acts as an intro to another seven-and-a-half minute tune, “Phaeton,” this one a vocal song, and a foray into Neo-Prog magic, both memorable and wickedly diverse when it comes to moods and instrumentation. The inspirations here are numerous and again varied, with IQ, Citizen Cain, and early-Marillion styles seemingly the most predominant. In general, these two connected tracks are fifteen minutes of greatness, and a definite highlight of the collection.

“Ya Who” begins with a momentary dip into strangeness, with Asian instruments popping into the spacey intro behind a female speaking in Chinese, I’m assuming, based on the lyrics that follow once the intro morphs into an actual song. The 3/4 waltz time signature proves an interesting change of pace, with the light instrumentation and keyboard washes, and extra instruments (including what sounds like an accordion) in the outro, being particularly unique to the band’s overall arsenal of musical tools.

The next track, “God Of Wars,” seems to be a mixture of IQ and It Bites, thanks again to Jos Harteveld’s vocal quirks, some of the zany synth patches going on during the verses, as well as the general musical arrangement by the band as a whole. This is another track I find myself repeating quite often; definitely another highlight for me.

At nearly eleven minutes, “Deucalion” is the longest individual track, and is once again a musical adventure into all the best traits of Neo-Prog. Along with Leap Day’s brand of offbeat instrumentation, the band also incorporates a bit of Gentle Giant/Spock’s Beard here, along with perhaps some touches from The Flower Kings. And along with all this, the song has one of the catchiest melody lines the band has ever recorded. Most fans of the genre will likely fall in love with this track, which is also favorite of mine.

“In the Shadow of Death” is another lengthy number, and is more of the same from this talented band…a song rich in synth and guitar interplay, some lively soloing, with countless changes in rhythms and atmospheres, and yet another great melody to go along with it.

Finally, the album closes with “Ancient Times,” actually a reprise of the short acoustic-guitar instrumental intro from the “Chapter 1” album. This time, however, the band gives the memorable melody line the full treatment it so richly deserves, with lyrics this time, and the entire band creating a rather mellow, somewhat spacey arrangement to the haunting melody. The perfect bookend to this two-part album collection.

So yes, with From the Days of Deucalion Chapter 2, Leap Day has not only pulled off its two-album collection in spades, but has gone above and beyond all expectations by creating, what I wholeheartedly believe, is a near masterpiece. I can’t wait to see what this band does next!

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