The Throbs – The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds (1991)

Throbs_LanguageThieves3.5 out of 5 Stars!

I still vaguely recall all the silly and preposterous hoopla surrounding The Throbs when the New York band first appeared on the scene in the early ’90s. The PR department at Geffen Records worked endlessly to make people believe how this band was destined for the big time, how The Throbs were the next Guns N’ Roses and would thoroughly and masterfully take over all of planet Earth with a debut album loaded with such infectious and rapturous music that even die-hard fans of Jazz, Soul, Rap, Country and even Classical, Opera, and every other genre imaginable would instantly switch allegiance to The Throbs, and only The Throbs, for the rest of eternity. Yes, the over-the-top hype pushed the notion that it would soon become the world of The Throbs, like it or not, with people of all races, all religions, all ages, and even America’s Republicans and Democrats, all banding together to honor the magnificence of this act, and (ultimately) praise Geffen Records for discovering such a life-altering musical treasure.

Well, needless to say, this grand and glorious destiny did not occur, not even close, even despite the fact the album was co-produced by the heavy-hitting team of Bob Ezrin and Richard “Dick” Wagner, or that it even included a guest appearance by Little Richard himself. I can’t help but wonder whether Geffen Records fired the head of its PR department for not making “instant worldwide fame” happen, or perhaps canned someone in the art department for approving an almost unreadable band logo to grace the way-too-cluttered album cover, or maybe even dumped someone higher up for not foreseeing the sudden advent of a monster genre called Grunge. Well, whatever the various fates of those record company “suits,” the band itself—fronted by a dude with the way-too-cutesy name of Ronnie Sweetheart—did seem to try its level best to leave a mark on the industry.

The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds, the group’s sole album, contained some fun music, mostly foot-tappin’ and sleazy rock ‘n’ roll loaded with hooks that (somewhat) had a Guns N’ Roses style and swagger. But to me, the rocking tracks such as “Sweet Addition,” “Come Down Sister,” “Rip It Up,” “It’s Not the End of the World,” “Underground,” and the Little Richard-enhanced “Ecstasy” sounded more like The Cult (Sonic Temple-era) with a touch of Hanoi Rocks, The Quireboys, and The Dogs D’Amour, whereas the two ballads included in this collection—”Honey Child” and “Dreamin'”—seemed to take on a similar vibe to The Rolling Stones, L.A. Guns, The Black Crowes, and other straightforward groups unafraid to include acoustic guitar into the mix.

So, even though The Throbs offered nothing at all innovative when it came to its music or its “hairsprayed and eyelinered” image, The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds did deliver some fairly decent tracks and a whole lot of attitude, thanks mostly to Sweetheart’s snarling lead vocals. But then again, so did countless other albums of the era by countless other equally talented bands. Unfortunately, after that “instant worldwide fame” thing didn’t happen for The Throbs, Geffen (no shock) dropped the group within the better part of a year and certainly went on to hype the “next big thing” that likely never occurred. Oh, well, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, right?

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Time Requiem – The Inner Circle of Reality (2004)

TimeRequiem_Reality4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Led by keyboardist extraordinaire Richard Andersson (Space Odyssey/Adagio/Majestic), Sweden’s Time Requiem never got the recognition it so richly deserved, in my opinion. Between 2002 and 2006, the band delivered a trio of dynamic and dramatic near-perfect studio albums, with The Inner Circle of Reality (the second release) also featuring the brutally powerful Apollo Papathanasio (Majestic/Firewind/Evil Masquerade) on vocals, unheralded guitarist Magnus Nordh, and the always-stellar rhythm section (from The Flower Kings/Karmakanic) of bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Zoltan Csorsz, both playing outside their “normal realm of Prog” in hard-hitting fashion.

As with each of the band’s releases, The Inner Circle of Reality presents complex yet highly melodic Prog-Metal/Prog-Rock of the Neoclassical variety. Compositions such as “Hidden Memories,” “Reflections,” “Dreams of Tomorrow,” “Definition of Insanity,” and the nearly twelve-minute title track contain outstanding, often breathtaking musicianship throughout, especially when it comes to Nordh’s sizzling guitar leads and Andersson’s delicious keyboard fills and wickedly speedy solos. Any fans of artists such as Symphony X, Harmony, Yngwie Malmsteen, Artension, Stratovarius, and Royal Hunt will certainly savor the jaw-dropping proficiency on display here and, probably like me, wish the album contained more than just seven tracks (not counting the eighth tune, “Bach Prelude Variation,” the horribly brief album closer that would’ve likely had Johann Sebastian Bach himself smiling proudly and begging to hear more).

Although Time Requiem, after suffering major lineup changes—most noticeably with the gifted Goran Edman replacing Papathanasio on vocals—released its somewhat more commercial third album (Optical Illusion) in 2006 and seemed on the brink of gaining wider recognition, the band suddenly vanished without a trace. Even worse, founder/mastermind Richard Andersson, apart from popping up as a “guest keyboardist” on several albums through the subsequent years, has kept a sinfully low profile, while all the while I’d prayed he’d once again put together another band to showcase his enormous songwriting and performing talents.

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Tank – War Nation (2012)

Tank_WarNation4 out of 5 Stars!

Part of the U.K.’s “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal Movement,” the wild and raucous Tank enjoyed some marginal success until disappearing in the late ’80s after its fifth studio release. Thankfully, however, the band reappeared in the new century with several lineup changes, the most important one (for me, anyway) being the addition of the superb vocalist Doogie White (Rainbow/Cornerstone/La Paz/etc.), who appeared on the previous War Machine album in 2010 as well as this collection.

With this particular change in lineup and the band’s rather straightforward and driving Metal style—different than the group’s more Motorhead-like approach from the early days of its existence—Tank had noticeably altered its sound. Here, on spirited and barreling tracks such as “Don’t Dream in the Dark,” “Song of the Dead,” “Justice For All,” “State of the Union,” “Hammer and Nails,” “Wings of Heaven,” and the more laid-back “Dreamer,” the group came across almost like a blending of Rainbow and Accept—two of my favorite acts of all time. And while White’s vocal melodies shine through on both the verses and memorable choruses, the band still sounded heavy as all freaking hell, thanks to the thundering rhythm section of bassist Chris Dale and drummer Steve Hopgood, and the blazing riff-laden guitars of Mick Tucker and Cliff Evans.

Therefore, with the band delivering a collection of tracks in the style of more traditional Heavy Metal outfits such as Saxon, Hammerfall, Dio, and Judas Priest, War Nation is one of my favorite Tank albums. And to those who want to savor the sheer sonic power in all its glory, my advice is to PLAY IT LOUD!

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Traumhaus – Traumhaus (2001)

Traumhaus_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Traumhaus is one of my favorite new “recently discovered” outfits. In my estimation, the band comes across almost as a German-language version of Symphonic Prog/Neo-Prog groups such as IQ, Galahad, Magellan, Pendragon, Also Eden, Leap Day, and Transatlantic, with (sadly) only three releases to its credit.

The band’s self-titled debut album, like its subsequent two collections, features terrific keyboard-rich material with a few heavier elements tossed in, thanks mostly to forceful guitar sprinkled throughout and the occasionally powerful rhythms amidst the pompish synths. Additionally, although most tracks on this debut fall between the five and nine minute mark, relatively short by Prog-Rock standards, another composition, “Ausgeliefert,” is a nearly eighteen-minute grand and glorious epic, acting as the album’s unrivaled centerpiece. But regardless of the various song lengths, many of the tunes, including “Zu Spat,” “Wandler,” “Am Abgrund,” plus the two instrumentals “Peter und Der Wolf” and “Navanita,” contain complex orchestration, sweeping keyboard backgrounds and nimble synth solos, tempo variations, numerous moods, and melodies galore.

One note of warning: the vocals, sung in the band’s native language as mentioned above, do sound a tad harsh, almost intrusive at times, and may not appeal to some listeners. Thankfully, on many tracks, the vocals are not the main focus, taking a backseat to the often-stunning instrumentation.

Nevertheless, Traumhaus is one band I’m praying will release another album in the near future since the most recent one (Das Geheimnis) came out back in 2013 (and included a twenty-seven minute epic, certainly the band’s most audacious accomplishment). Perhaps the delay between each album’s release is due to the band’s various lineup changes through the years, aside from keyboardist/vocalist Alexander Weyland, who I assume is the founding member/leader. But whatever the reason for the lengthy gaps in the band’s output, a new album is warranted, especially since the music is so entertaining, creative, and often spectacular, which means that for all fans of the Prog-Rock genre, Traumhaus is worthy of discovery.

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Thieves’ Kitchen – Argot (2001)

ThievesKitchen_Argot4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Fans of Prog-Rock may be familiar with Thieves’ Kitchen from its more recent releases with the talented Amy Darby as its lead vocalist. But prior to her arrival in 2002, the U.K. band released two enjoyable albums with a male lead vocalist, which is when I originally discovered the group.

What instantly drew me to the band on its 2000 debut album, Head, was the strong Gentle Giant influences I immediately detected in not only the instrumentation and labyrinthine musical arrangements, but also since the male singer (Simon Boys) sounded eerily similar to Gentle Giant’s Derek Shulman. This further enhanced the illusion that I was listening to a modern version of Gentle Giant itself, albeit a tad heavier in places and with extra Neo-Prog influences tossed in.

For me, Argot, the band’s sophomore release, is equally as impressive as the debut album and often similar in style and scope. This time, the band elected to compose four ambitious and elaborate tracks—the twenty-minute “John Doe Number One,” the seventeen-minute “Call to Whoever,” and the “shorter pieces” (by Prog-Rock standards, at least) “Escape” and “Proximity,” both clocking in around the thirteen-minute mark.

On each of the tracks, the Gentle Giant influences are once again displayed in abundance, especially when it comes to the various eclectic tempos and rhythmic idiosyncrasies, the intricate and quirky vocal melody lines, as well as many of tones used for the guitars and the standard Prog-Rock keyboard arsenal—organ, piano, synths, and the mighty Mellotron. But also like the band’s debut, the music is in no way a perfect copy of Gentle Giant’s style. The talented musicians merely use that style as a starting template on which to construct its own brand of Prog-Rock magic—trimming out much of Gentle Giant’s abundant avant-garde ingredients and medieval inspirations, employing (albeit with the exception of an oboe) only traditional Prog-Rock instruments (ie. no saxes, no violins, no recorders, etc.), and incorporating more Symphonic and Jazz elements into its sound than Gentle Giant ever included on its own albums.

Nevertheless, the band’s influences during this early period in its history are crystal clear, so for any fans of Gentle Giant or groups with comparable styles—Advent, Echolyn, Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings, or Beardfish, to name but a few—Argot (and the band’s debut) is certainly a “must-have” album.

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Triumvirat – Illusions on a Double Dimple (1974)

Triumvirat_Dimple4 out of 5 Stars!

To many Prog-Rock fans, Triumvirat was nothing more than an Emerson, Lake & Palmer clone, but in my eyes, the German band also possessed a style all its own. Granted, the vocals did not have that “instantly recognizable” factor that only Greg Lake of ELP could produce (and which helped make ELP internationally famous), Triumvirat nevertheless displayed impressive musicianship during its relatively short career, as clearly shown on Illusions on a Double Dimple, the band’s second (and easily one of its finest) releases.

After the group’s fairly decent but less-than-spectacular debut album, 1972’s Mediterranean Tales (Across the Waters), the long-time and often-underappreciated team of keyboardist Jürgen Fritz and drummer Hans Bathelt recruited Helmut Koellen, a bassist/guitarist/vocalist to replace Hans Pape, who departed during the creation of this album. For inclusion on Illusions on a Double Dimple, the new trio expanded on the positive aspects of the debut album to record only two new songs.

Both ambitious compositions were divided into six parts/movements, with the twenty-three minute “Illusions on a Double Dimple” encompassing all of Side A, and the twenty-one minute “Mister Ten Percent” occupying the entirety of the flip side. On both lengthy pieces, flashy Hammond, piano, and Moog interplay abounds, with Fritz, like before, giving Keith Emerson a run for his money. Bathelt’s percussion is once again impressive and occasionally jazzy, while “new guy” Koellen delivers a solid performance, his guitar and bass contributions typically melodic and tight, while his singing voice being a noticeable improvement from the more-pedestrian vocals that appeared on the band’s debut. To further enrich the grand and intricate compositions—and, more than likely, to further set Triumvirat apart from ELP—the band elected to add a brass section, an opera house orchestra, and female backing vocals to the proceedings, which, for the most part, worked quite well.

The final result is that Illusions on a Double Dimple is a highly commendable effort, a generally adventurous and well-written foray into Symphonic Prog-Rock territory that, apart from a few weak sections, became a borderline masterpiece. Unfortunately, despite its best efforts with the diverse and well-crafted material and orchestrations on this album, Triumvirat could never fully shake free of that “ELP clone” designation—the label would unfairly follow the band during its entire existence—but Illusions on a Double Dimple shows the group branching out, striving to develop a style all its own amid the inescapable similarities to the other group, and remains perhaps my favorite in the band’s catalogue. Most lovers of the epic, pompous, keyboard-drenched material so abundant in early ’70s Prog-Rock will likely enjoy this platter as much as I do.

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The Twenty Committee – A Lifeblood Psalm (2013)

TwentyCommittee_LifebloodPsalm4 out of 5 Stars!

From New Jersey, The Twenty Committee’s debut (and thus far, only) album is a collection of highly melodic and well-produced tracks of diverse modern Prog-Rock.

Some songs (or sections of tunes) such as the track “How Wonderful,” are delightfully smooth and laid-back, yet quite jazzy at times, especially when the grand or electric pianos take the center stage and allow singer Geoffrey Langley’s mellow voice to dominate. Indeed, during these segments—which somehow remind me of Bruce Hornsby’s most beautiful piano-rich material—it would also hardly seem out of place to have Gerry Rafferty “Baker Street-like” sax making an appearance.

On the lengthier, more complex tracks, however, such as “Her Voice” and the five-part “The Knowledge Enterprise,” Neo-Prog and Symphonic Prog styles really burst to the fore, not dissimilar to groups such as Unitopia, Transatlantic, or United Progressive Fraternity.

So, as I mentioned, this collection of songs is wonderfully diverse and a seemingly perfect mixture of light and heavy moments, of both jazzy and poppy dreaminess liberally interspersed with a treasure trove of Prog-Rock madness. Impressive! After experiencing A Lifeblood Psalm, I certainly hope this won’t be the last we see of this talented group.


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Toby Hitchcock – Mercury’s Down (2011)

TobyHitchcock_MercurysDown4.5 out of 5 Stars!

As far as musicians go, Chicago’s Jim Peterik easily falls into the “legend” category for me. As I’ve stated countless times in the past, I’ve been a longtime fan of the man’s talents, not only because he’s a “local son” of my area, but also since his past groups, The Ides of March and Survivor, always appealed to me. Plus, having not only been a member of various groups that opened for Survivor, and also having been part of Peterik’s “Pictionary Team” at a local party we both attended many years ago—when we kicked major ass against the competition that night, I might add, thank you very much!—I have a tendency to follow his career with a keen eye and no small degree of anticipation for any new project in which he’s involved. 🙂

Seriously, however, as many people may not realize, one of Peterik’s unlauded talents that I learned to respect long ago is the ability to (like Deep Purple’s/Rainbow’s Ritchie Blackmore) select the best vocalists who can successfully perform his hit-single-destined material, and for his latest band, Pride of Lions, Peterik once again delivered in spades by “discovering” and presenting to the world a chap from nearby Indiana by the name of Toby Hitchcock. And on each Pride of Lions’s album from 2003 to the present day, Hitchcock belts his ever-lovin’ heart out, with his style, range, and timbre occasionally reminiscent of Survivor’s Jimi Jamison, but unique enough to often stun and amaze. Not too damned shabby, to say the least.

Therefore, in 2011, when I learned that Hitchcock had released a solo album, it was a “no-brainer” to immediately snatch up a copy. And what Hitchcock delivered (and no great surprise) was a classy collection of Melodic Hard Rock and AOR bordering on Pomp Rock, sort of a cross between the material delivered by acts such as Magnum, Bob Catley, Rage of Angels, Serpentine, Perfect View, Brother Firetribe, Drive She Said, Sunstorm, and (of course) Pride of Lions.

But unlike his “anchor” band, Hitchcock elected to create this particular collection with a different set of musicians and songwriters, specifically the team of (mainly) Erik Martensson and Miqael Persson, who worked and/or performed with artists such as Eclipse (Sweden), W.E.T., Giant, and the aforementioned Jimi Jamison, etc. In fact, Martensson not only produced the collection, but also performed everything from rhythm guitar and keyboards, to bass and drums and the kitchen sink, with several additional musicians from his band Eclipse lending a hand.

And of course, on this twelve-track collection, Hitchcock handles all the lead vocals, spectacularly so. Indeed, the man was apparently born to sing in this genre, and on glorious tracks such as “Summer Nights in Cabo,” “This is the Moment,” “I Should Have Said,” “Tear Down the Barricades,” “Strong Enough,” and the emotional ballad “One Day I’ll Stop Loving You,” he displays raw vocal talent that leaves me practically drooling and oh-so-damned envious. Indeed, Toby Hitchcock is a gifted vocalist not yet lauded worldwide for his striking set of pipes and his ear for melody and emotional delivery. How can he not be famous already? Where is the justice? Were he to have appeared on one of those brainless, banal, and commercially driven reality “talent shows” that crop up like zombie cockroaches across the TV screen, he would have effortlessly blown away all of those “supposed” competitor-singers within not even a full chorus, but a single line. So again, I ask, where is the justice?

Anyway, yes, as you can no-doubt decipher, I have become an avid fan of this talented gent, the same as I’ve been a longtime fan of Peterik’s. And despite the latter not performing on or contributing to this particular album as he would on any Pride of Lions album, I still rank Mercury’s Down highly on my rating scale, now being happily content that Hitchcock can deliver the goods even outside his “anchor” group. And, of course, I once again thank my former “Pictionary teammate” Jim Peterik for having repeatedly used his unheralded talents by introducing to the world yet another Hard Rock/AOR vocalist that has the ability to utterly captivate.

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Thin Lizzy – Johnny the Fox (1976)

ThinLizzy_JohnnyFox4 out of 5 Stars!

Although perhaps not as memorable as Jailbreak, the band’s breakthrough—from jail or otherwise—album released earlier the same year, Johnny the Fox also contained a cohesive feel, with enough enjoyable tracks and tasty riffs to make it a worthy follow-up collection, thus solidifying the band’s growing reputation as being a consistent and creative Hard Rock act.

And let’s face it, other than Phil Lynott’s often-intriguing songwriting, when it comes to a Thin Lizzy album, it’s truly all about the band’s twin guitar sound that makes or breaks each release, correct? Indeed, the lightning-quick guitar interplay between Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, the melodic and memorable riffs, the sheer and impressive teamwork shown on ballsy tracks such as “Massacre,” “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed,” “Boogie Woogie Dance,” “Johnny,” and the exquisite classic “Don’t Believe a Word,” along with the lighter moments on several of Lynott’s finest ballads and mid-tempo tunes “Sweet Marie,” “Borderline,” and “Old Flame,” are the highlights of this album, thus guaranteeing its replay value.

In general, although lacking that guaranteed knockout musical punch of containing multiple hit singles in a single collection like the Jailbreak album, Johnny the Fox still proved a solid effort, a diverse selection of well-written and well-performed songs from a band finally achieving deserved and long-desired recognition in America.

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Time Horizon – Transitions (2015)

TimeHoizon_Transitions4 out of 5 Stars!

Like this talented California band’s debut album Living Water, Transitions is another engaging foray into Progressive Rock territory with Pomp-Rock keyboards and a strong AOR influence, especially when it comes to the beautiful melodies and some of the song arrangements included.

And singer Bruce Gaetke has a highly emotive voice for such an often-difficult task of cohesively linking the various genre styles. Indeed, Time Horizon’s material isn’t too far afield from the more commercial Steve Walsh-era Kansas tracks (those primarily found on albums such as Monolith, Audio-Visions, Power, etc.). And like Asia and its offshoot group GPS, bands I sometimes consider more Pomp-Rock than Prog-Rock thanks to the rich, layered keyboards and the more straightforward song arrangements, Time Horizon attempts the same balancing act between genres and does so with practiced ease on songs such as “You’re All I Need,” “Prisoner, and “Only Today,” to name but a few.

Therefore, this album should most certainly appeal to many fans of the aforementioned bands, as well as groups such as Magnum, Saga, Kerry Livgren/AD, Prophet, White Heart, Hybrid Ice, Styx, and Nightwing, acts that often included healthy portions of both Prog-Rock and Pomp-Rock into the occasionally AOR-styled material.

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