No Sweat – No Sweat (1990)

NoSweat_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1990, a band called No Sweat burst out of Ireland with its sole album, a terrific collection of catchy AOR/Hard Rock material in the same vein as the group FM.

In truth, not only does the band have the same sound and style as FM displayed on its excellent Indiscreet and Tough It Out albums (which both popped up just prior to No Sweat’s debut), but No Sweat also had a singer (Paul Quinn) of the same high caliber as FM’s Steve Overland, although perhaps not quite as instantly recognizable when it came to his timbre and tone. Nevertheless, Quinn sings with strength, quality, and authority while the band of equally talented musicians drive through some memorable and polished tracks with a professionalism not often seen on debut albums.

The opener “Heart and Soul,” as well as numerous other upbeat and energetic rockers such as “Generation,” “On the Edge,” “Mover,” “Tear Down the Walls,” “Shake,” and “Lean on Me,” are all highly memorable, possessing the sort of melodies that stick in your head long throughout the day. Additionally, several other songs such as the acoustic-guitar enhanced “Waters Flow” and “Stay” seem almost a mixture of FM with Thunder or Little Angels, two other U.K. groups that popped up during the same era with their driving and engaging styles.

Therefore, No Sweat was one short-loved band that deserved at least some recognition, if not worldwide fame, but the band’s timing was (for some reason) ill-fated. Still, it’s a damned shame No Sweat didn’t release more material, especially since the group (based on this sole album) was obviously capable of creating impressive and unforgettable choruses. Instead, No Sweat disbanded shortly after the release of this ten-track collection of tunes, which ended up becoming one of my favorite AOR/Hard Rock releases from the early ’90s.

 

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North Star – Power (1992)

NorthStar_Power2.5 out of 5 Stars!

I wanted to love this one…I really did.  Unfortunately, the overall production is horrific (tinny sounding and badly mixed) and ruins the entire release.

The musicianship sounds fairly solid, and the vocalist (although he tries WAY TOOOOO HARD to mimic Fish from Marillion instead of singing naturally) isn’t all that bad, but the songs also lack originality.

Whereas Marillion’s first few albums were crammed with songs (and vocal performances) that displayed true depth and heartfelt emotion, were darkly atmospheric in their instrumentation, the songs here offer little of that. At best, this is an early-Marillion clone without the stellar early-Marillion material…ie. there’s absolutely no passion here.  Generic prog-rock, sadly. Not universally horrible, mind you, just lower quality with embarrassing and shitty production.

A shame, really, since the band shows some potential.

Nightwing – My Kingdom Come (1984)

Nightwing_MyKingdomCome4 out of 5 Stars!

On My Kingdom Come, probably one of Nightwing’s finest, the band falls somewhere in the cloudy “gray area” between commercial (or AOR) Hard Rock and Progressive Rock. (For some reason Nightwing was always mislabeled with a “Heavy Metal” moniker—probably due to the era when the band emerged on the rock scene and started being featured in magazines such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer.) Actually, Nightwing reminded me of a cross between the sadly overlooked Grand Prix (the Samurai album springs to mind) and the always-brilliant Magnum (circa the On a Storyteller’s Night masterpiece). The keyboards, supplied by a talented chap named Kenny Newton, dominate the proceedings only when needed, depending on the overall mood of the track, which is where a lot of the “gray area” of “commercial vs. progressive” appears. Since I’m a fan of both types of music, however, I found this merging of styles more than appealing.

Much of Nightwing’s commercial sound on this album is due to the lead vocals, supplied here by the excellent and shamefully ignored Max Bacon (formerly of another overlooked British band called Bronz, and who would leave Nightwing about a year later to front Steve Howe/Steve Hackett’s more renowned band GTR).

Standout tracks on this album include the trio of openers “Back On The Streets,” “Fingers In The Fire,” and the single “Night Of Mystery” (produced by Steve Hackett himself). The band have a harder edge on the B-side, where “The Devil Walks Behind You” and “Living Behind The Eight Ball” feature more guitar and allow Max Bacon to really belt. But the final two tracks, “Men Of War” and “My Kingdom Come,” are where Nightwing really shines, showing exactly what the band could achieve given the right mindset. The title track, especially, is where the wedding of commercial and progressive styles is at its most successful.

With the right promotion and radio airplay (especially in the States, where this band was generally “unheard-of”) Nightwing might have achieved some level of success outside of England and/or Europe in general. In this respect, the band also reminds me of Magnum (or all the aforementioned bands, if the truth be said, apart from perhaps GTR), who also failed—unfortunately—to “take America.”

My Kingdom Come is definitely worth a listen, especially if you can locate a cheap copy in a used record bin somewhere (which I did, even though it was labeled as “Export.”) It was well worth the five bucks I spent for it! It’s also a definite “must have” if you’re a fan of Max Bacon, which I am.

 

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Nightqueen – For Queen and Metal (2012)

Nightqueen_ForQueenMetal3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Despite this Belgium band having a name way too similar to Nightwish, and including a female singer to boot, Nightqueen’s parallel’s to Finland’s Nightwish are limited to only a few areas. Although some of the songs (such the two-part opener “Into the Night/Nightfall”) and the overall orchestrations when it comes to the often bombastic and symphonic keyboards could have come right out of the Nightwish catalogue, the singer (Laura Asikainen) is completely different and the band’s style is more straightforward. There’s not a shred of operatic vocals, but Asikainen has a deeper, somewhat gruff (yet melodic) approach and vocal range, similar to the singers of Benedictum, Virus IV, or Beautiful Sin. Additionally, there are (thankfully) no over-the-top “Beauty & The Beast” pretty female/growling male vocals to spoil things like most female-led bands with related styles. Unlike what one reviewer at a music-review website once said, I noticed no out-of-key vocals. Sure, Asikainen doesn’t have the most beautiful voice–as I mentioned, she sings in a lower register and has a dirtier/grittier sound, a more “Metal” approach–but she certainly does sing on key.

As far as the music itself, tracks such as “Majesty,” “Screaming for Mercy,” “Mystical Night,” “Rebel to Rebel,” and “Dark Fairy” lean toward Power Metal with a hint of Progressive Metal. Not bad overall. On a few songs, I felt the melodies could have used some extra work, but generally the band is solid enough, and the instrumentation is above average compared to many bands playing this form of music, with fierce riffs, shred guitar, and a solid rhythm section throughout. I do have one quibble, however, regarding the overall mix—yes, the sound is full and grandiose, as I expected from a band of this nature, yet occasionally it tends to be a bit too dense, where it’s difficult to actually distinguish the rhythm section through the musical fog of guitars and multi-layered keyboards.

Anyway, when it comes to Nightqueen, the potential is evident, and hopefully the band will continue to develop its sound and style. Although I recently picked up a copy of the group’s sophomore effort (2014’s rEvolution), I have yet to find a chance to actually sit down with it to see whether there’s any noticeable growth. Regardless, it’s too bad about the band’s name, since it will likely pigeonhole Nightqueen, with many fans of the genre assuming the band to be nothing more than a direct Nightwish clone, which is certainly not the case.

 

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Nightwish – An Overview

Nightwish

Albums In My Collection

– Angels Fall First
– Century Child
– Dark Passion Play
– End Of The Era
– Endless Forms Most Beautiful
– Imaginaerum
– Oceanborn
– Once
– Wishmaster

An Overview

One of the best female-fronted bands, not only in this genre/style, but of all time…although these days the females seem to change quite often. Nevertheless, each of the gals who has fronted this band has better than average talent and is each, in her own right, unique and instantly identifiable.

Tarja Turunen, the first and the longest reigning (thus far) of the three vocalists, is perhaps–at least to me–the singer who best “fits” the overall Nightwish sound and “image.” Not only did she contribute her unique style to the band’s output for the first ten years of their existence, but she is probably the singer who most inspired the “ultimate sound” that so many other bands adopting a similar style have most attempted to duplicate through the years. The band undoubtedly hit their most successful period with Tarja fronting, and will most likely (should they ever break up) be the singer most “known” within the band.

Tarja’s replacement for two albums (one damned good–Dark Passion Play–and the other release, considered way below average–Imaginaerum) was Anette Olson. Thankfully or horribly (depending on which Nightwish fan you ask) she did not attempt to duplicate Tarja’s style, but contributed her own brand of vocals that, for better or worse, placed another “identifiable stamp” on the band. In my opinion, Anette’s contribution to Nighwish was generally successful, and I liked much of what she did. Certainly the girl has talent galore, but the question remains as to whether she was actually “appropriate” for a band of this style since her vocals might have been better suited for a band with a more “pop” direction. Nevertheless, Anette did her job, and probably faced one of the biggest fan-backlashes in music history because some Tarja fans can get quite venomous. Be that as it may, Anette recently decided to leave the band (or was she pushed out?…we may never know the full truth). I wish her luck, and she deserves success in her own right.

And now, another singer has stepped in to the fill the front-girl shoes, albeit temporarily…Floor Jansen, formerly of After Forever (an excellent act!) and currently with ReVamp (another excellent act!). Anyway, Floor is one of my FAVORITE female vocalists, her style unique and her spot-on, robust delivery nothing short of spine-tingling. I must say, I’m seriously torn between the idea of Floor becoming the permanent replacement for Anette. Initially, when I learned that Tarja had left the band back in 2006, I immediately wished for Floor to become her replacement. Her voice is stellar yet different, but not too different from Tarja’s that the change in singers would be too jarring for longtime fans of the band. She was (to me) the OBVIOUS replacement, and for all I know, she might have been offered the opportunity. But the timing of Tarja’s departure from Nightwish (at their high-water mark) and Floor’s non-availability proved wretchedly bad, with After Forever still kicking ass (also producing their high-water mark album) and not breaking up until just after Nighwish had already selected Anette. And now, with ReVamp still an active band (from whom I’ve been patiently awaiting another album, damn it) I’m not sure how I feel about Floor joining Nightwish on a permanent basis. She definitely “fits” the style of the music, and I can picture her successfully contributing to some more powerful albums, but what would happen to ReVamp should this occur? Who knows, which is the reason for my floundering.

Regardless, Floor is a terrific (temporary) addition to the band, and should Nightwish eventually ask her to join them, I will (more likely than not) welcome her with open and enthusiastic arms. (An update to my original overview, which was written several years ago: Nightwish has indeed roped Floor into joining them as their new vocalist and have released their first album with her at the helm, Endless Forms Most Beautiful.)

The bottom line, though, whether you’re a fan of Tarja’s, Anette’s, or Floor’s, is that Nightwish has set a high standard for Female-Fronted Symphonic Metal, has inspired hundreds if not thousands of “wannabe” bands, and has generated album after album of high-quality material. If you haven’t checked them out in the past, do so now…before they change singers yet again…

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