Edge of Forever – Let the Demon Rock ‘n’ Roll (2005)

EdgeForever_LetDemon4 out of 5 Stars!

From Italy, the group Edge of Forever released a trio of powerful yet melodic albums in the new century, mainly Hard Rock bordering on Progressive Metal and Pomp Rock yet touched with AOR.

When it comes to Let the Demon Rock ‘n’ Roll, the band’s second album, catchy tunes such as “Crime of Passion,” “Mouth of Madness,” “One Last September,” “Feel Like Burning,” “The Machine,” and the title track barrel from the speakers with the force of a hurricane, while dramatic and hard-hitting ballads (“A Deep Emotion” and “Edge of Forever”) add variety. With his range, tone, and style of delivery, vocalist Bob Harris often reminds me of singers such as Glenn Hughes or Göran Edman. Meanwhile, bassist Christian Grillo and drummer Francesco Jovino construct a powerful sonic foundation, and the grand and rip-roaring instrumentation includes a perfect balance between Matteo Carnio’s blazing guitars and Alessandro Del Vecchio’s impressive “pompish” backgrounds and Prog-Metal-esque keyboard leads, which would seem almost right at home on albums by Time Requiem, Adagio, Space Odyssey, or basically any other group featuring Richard Andersson on keyboards.

And speaking of comparisons, the band’s overall musical style has much more in common with heavy yet occasionally commercial artists such as Rainbow, Heaven & Earth, Sunstorm, and Eden’s Curse as opposed to lighter and “pure” AOR groups such as Journey, FM, Babys, or Shy. So don’t let the AOR genre designation fool you—Edge of Forever has a mighty edge indeed, one that’s loaded with scads of hummable melodies.

Please also note, Let the Demon Rock ‘n’ Roll was produced by Bobby Barth, long-time vocalist and guitarist of the hard-rockin’ and melodic Florida band Axe, who may have aided Edge of Forever in keeping its style on this particular musical path.

Regardless, even through it’s been many years since the band’s lineup changed (leaving keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio as its vocalist) and its last album (2010’s Another Paradise) saw the light of day, Edge of Forever has subsequently signed a multi-album deal with Italy’s renowned Frontiers label and is supposedly working on new material for a comeback platter. Therefore, I’m thrilled to know the band has not fallen into oblivion, thus leaving my previous fears of possible dissolution in the dust.

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New England – New England (1979)

NewEngland_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the late ’70s while working at a record store, one of the most memorable “PROMO” albums that arrived was the self-titled debut by an act called New England. I distinctly recall hearing it for the first time…it was a long, dreary night with no customers, due to a torrential rainstorm. My co-worker and I, bored out of our skulls and unpacking shipments, tugged this album from the box, saw the lightning-decorated cover art, and decided that on such a stormy evening it would be highly appropriate to crank it up on the store’s sound system. We actually didn’t realize how appropriate until after hearing the lyrics to “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.”

Anyway, just as Side A faded out, then after lifting our jaws from the floor, we simultaneously sprinted to the turntable. I wanted to flip the platter to Side B since I couldn’t wait to hear more, while my co-worker begged to repeat the first five tracks, especially that “catchy song about losing someone during a storm.” She eventually won the argument only since I wanted to once again absorb all the layered vocals and lush keyboard instrumentation (never had I heard an album outside of Prog-Rock that actually featured the Mellotron so liberally). Well, I got to hear Side B soon enough, fell in love myself with the song “Nothing To Fear,” and she and I ended up repeating those five songs before replaying the album in its entirety. And before we realized it, the “quitting hour” had arrived and the thunderstorm outside had also miraculously vanished.

Needless to say, over the course of the following week, she and I “promoed” this album as often as possible and we both purchased it when our next paychecks arrived (with our employee discount, of course). And since those days, I have savored the album more often than I can count and have never grown tired of it. From the rockier tunes such as “P.U.N.K. (Puny Undernourished Kid)” and “Shoot,” to the aforementioned AOR masterpieces “Nothing To Fear” and “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” to the Poppy, Art-Rockish, and Pomp-tastic “Hello, Hello, Hello,” “Turn out the Light,” “Encore,” “Shall I Run Away,” and (another favorite) “The Last Show,” the musicians had created a grand and majestic style all their own.

Although the band hailed from the Boston area, that musical style, however, did seem so damned British, almost as if the groups 10cc and Mott The Hoople had joined forces with Queen and Badfinger, then added perhaps Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz to play Mellotron. Indeed, when he’s not adding full power chords or blazing solos, guitarist/vocalist John Fannon sings with almost a British accent at times, and on piano-featured tracks such as “Turn out the Light,” and the highly theatrical “The Last Show” and “Encore,” Fannon’s voice could almost pass for Ian Hunter’s (only somehow tamed) while various musical passages and chord patterns often remind me of material from Mott the Hoople’s final days, only mixed with those other groups I mentioned…and the abundant Mellotron. And speaking of which, when it came to New England, no one ever had to ask the question “Where’s Waldo?” since keyboardist Jimmy Waldo was always front and center, adding his symphonic flourishes to create some of the most extravagant Pomp Rock on the planet. Meanwhile, bassist Gary Shea and drummer/vocalist Hirsh Gardner set a high standard, their rhythms always tight, punchy, and easily fluid while they shift from one tempo to the next. And adding to the magnificence of it all, Kiss’s Paul Stanley produced the collection along with Mike Stone (of Queen/Journey fame), who also engineered the project.

But after such an impressive release, the question remained—could New England follow it up successfully? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “yes,” with 1980’s Explorer Suite easily matching the same catchy high quality, although with (sorry to say) less Mellotron overall. Oh, well, you can’t have everything, right? Anyway, after releasing a third album in 1981, the group sadly disbanded for reasons unknown to me. I did, however, happily find myself in a situation some years later when one of my own bands opened several shows for Alcatrazz, a group that included both Waldo and Shea, and I got to hang out one evening with these “idols” of mine, so had New England not broken up, that evening certainly would have never happened. (Yes, I know, I’m selfish.)

But one final and happy note: it’s a thrill to know that New England is once again together and touring, so I’m praying for the guys to release new material in the near future. I will never forget that stormy-night-turned-special at the record store when I discovered the band, so New England remains special to me for that reason alone and I can never get enough from this wildly talented team of musicians. So come on, boys, you can do it…you’ve got “noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, nothing to fear.”

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Spys – Spys (1982)

Spys_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1980, after the “leaders” of the band Foreigner dumped its more creative and adventurous founding members to further commercialize its already commercial sound, I stopped listening. Without these members (especially keyboardist Al Greenwood), the group became way too bland for my tastes, and no amount of wimpier fare such as “Waiting for a Girl Like You” or “I Want to Know What Love Is” could lure me back into the fan base.

Anyway, in 1981, when I learned a new group was being formed in New York featuring both Greenwood and original Foreigner bassist Ed Gagliardi, I couldn’t wait to hear the end results. Thankfully, that came soon afterward when the debut from Spys appeared, and after hearing the platter just one time, I realized the band that had incorrectly spelled its name (like the Babys) had correctly executed its music.

The album’s opening track (and first single) “Don’t Run My Life,” along with other tunes such as “She Can’t Wait,” “No Harm Done,” “Danger,” “Hold On (When You Feel You’re Falling),” and “Don’t Say Goodbye,” delivered solid and energetic AOR/Pomp Rock, highly melodic with grand and layered vocal harmonies, often complex instrumentation, and inventive song arrangements. Better still, I found that Greenwood’s contributions—generally front and center in the mix and more dynamic and creative then they had ever been with Foreigner—added intriguing chills and thrills to songs such as “Ice Age,” “Desirée,” and “Into The Night,” making sections of these tracks almost Prog-oriented in their keyboard complexity. Moreover, Gagliardi is also given the occasional spotlight on many tracks, his melodic bass lines popping through crisp and clean thanks to Neil Kernon’s stellar production magic.

As far as the other “non-famous” band members, John DiGuardio performs tasty guitar leads throughout, giving the songs a powerful punch, while Billy Milne proved himself a formidable drummer, his work with Gagliardi extremely tight, especially when including unexpected breaks and twists in the tempos. Meanwhile, vocalist John Blanco belts out the lyrics with the self-assurance of a pro, his tone, range, and delivery enjoyable and fairly distinctive.

Overall, the album impressed the hell out of me upon initial hearing, and even today stands out as something special in the AOR/Pomp Rock genre, a forgotten masterpiece. With the music being an interesting mixture of groups such as Foreigner and Toto with more than a touch of Asia, Styx, and Angel, thanks primarily to Greenwood’s bombastic keyboards, I can think of no other band from this era that had quite the same spark or zest or promise.

That’s why it was woefully unfortunate that the group’s sophomore effort (1983’s Behind Enemy Lines) paled in comparison, with a noticeable dip in songwriting quality and a slight change in direction. With the band’s fortunes swiftly diminishing, it truly came as no great surprise when Spys broke up shortly thereafter. And although Greenwood immediately went on to work with legendary Rainbow/Deep Purple vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, the other talented guys basically vanished off the scene. A sad twist of fate, especially for a band that could create such a stunning debut, one I still regularly enjoy all these decades later.

(RIP Edward John Gagliardi—February 13, 1952 – May 11, 2014)

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Asia – Arena (1996)

Asia_Arena4 out of 5 Stars!

Since its debut release, Asia has been a band bordering on the edge of both Pomp Rock and AOR as well as the Progressive Rock genre, and on no other album within the band’s catalogue is this merging of genres more evident than on Arena, the group’s sixth studio collection (and the third with vocalist/bassist John Payne).

Including memorable tracks such as “Two Sides of the Moon,” “U Bring Me Down,” “Never,” “Arena,” “Words,” and the exceptional nine-minute “The Day Before the War,” the longest song Asia ever recorded, Arena is probably the most adventurous album in the band’s overall catalogue. When it comes to song arrangements and instrumentation, and with the inclusion of various percussion instruments (provided by guest Luis Jardim) that lend extra zing to several tracks, this is also the Asia album that contains the strongest Progressive-Rock influences, a development I eagerly welcomed with open arms. The Pomp-Rock keyboards of Geoff Downes are generally outstanding, while guitarists Aziz Ibrahim and Elliott Randall, along with drummer Mike Sturgis, display mastery of their own instruments.

Moreover, this is also the collection where I truly came to fully appreciate John Payne’s identifiable vocals, finally recognizing the fact that his contributions to Asia’s overall sound were not only the most enjoyable to me, but generally left me yearning to hear more. Once savoring this album, I no longer viewed Payne as just the “new kid on the block” or “Wetton’s replacement,” but as an extremely powerful and expressive vocalist in his own right, and a highly influential, full-fledged member of the group.

Therefore, due to the band’s more Progressive leanings on this collection of tracks, along with the strong performances by all the musicians involved, Arena became the Asia album I found myself playing most often through the years, followed closely by 2004’s Silent Nation.

Oh yeah, and the Rodney Matthews’s cover art (also featuring the Roger Dean-designed band logo) is pretty darned cool as well.

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Khymera – Khymera (2003)

Khymera_14 out of 5 Stars!

Through the years, when not lending his enormous talents to Progressive rockers Kansas, vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh has been involved in several projects. Probably the least known is his appearance as lead vocalist for Italian band Khymera on the group’s debut album.

In many ways, Khymera’s style is comparable to Streets, the band Walsh formed in the ’80s, only with more than a touch of Pomp Rock added to the Hard Rock/AOR sound, and a mixture of both upbeat and mid-paced tempos as well as a few “stadium rock” ballads. Tunes such as “Strike Like Lightning,” “Living With a Memory,” “Shadows,” “Tears on the Pages,” and “Written in the Wind” present catchy melodies and vigorous instrumentation with a full and rich studio production, reminding me of groups such as Shy, Asia, Drive She Said, Last Autumn’s Dream, Takara, and Journey.

And, as always, Walsh’s instantly recognizable voice and powerful, emotional performances are nothing short of awesome. Also present on this album is keyboardist Daniele Liverani and drummer Dario Ciccioni (both from the technically proficient bands Empty Tremor and Twinspirits), so what we have here are creative and skillful musicians highly accomplished in the Prog-Rock world attempting more commercial material with, I believe, a fairly high degree of success.

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City Boy – The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1979)

CityBoy_EarthCaughtFire4.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the U.K., City Boy always reminded me of Kayak, with its similar style of Progressive/Art Rock mixed with Pop and a healthy dose of Pomp Rock, while the band’s great, wide-ranging harmony vocals would have seemed right at home on an album by Sweet or Queen.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire, the band’s fifth album, is probably the most Progressive of them all, even more so than 1977’s Dinner at the Ritz album. Not only does the collection open with the bombastic and magnificent title track, but also concludes with the ambitious, multi-part, twelve-minute epic “Ambition” (appropriately titled indeed).

With Pomp-Rock grandeur, other catchy tunes such as “It’s Only the End of the World,” “Up in the Eighties,” “Interrupted Melody,” “Modern Love Affair,” and “New York Times” simply leap out of the record’s grooves. The album’s wealth of quirky melodies and glorious background vocals floating atop the deceptively intricate instrumentation are not only loaded with charm and whimsy, but are addictively replayable. Even the synth-enhanced vocals and zany orchestration of “Machines” fully displays the band’s high level of ingenuity and pop sensibilities.

For each of the above-stated reasons, The Day the Earth Caught Fire firmly remains my favorite of all the band’s releases, and has firmly established itself in my heart as one of those “must have on a deserted island” albums.

Unfortunately, also like Kayak, City Boy remains one of the most shamefully underappreciated and overlooked groups in rock history. And for “out of the norm” music lovers still unfamiliar with this group, The Day the Earth Caught Fire is definitely the place to start your investigation.

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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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White Heart – Tales of Wonder (1992)

WhiteHeart_Tales4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although being an atheist, I’m not a fan of Christian lyrics, yet the band White Heart grabbed my attention back in the late ’80s when it came to the often-stunning AOR/Hard Rock material on the album Freedom.

And thankfully, unlike several other groups of this nature, White Heart never attempted to cram the “worshipful lyrics” down the throats of the average listener, therefore allowing the beautiful melodies, the creative musicianship, and the absolutely awesome vocal harmonies to really shine through without distraction.

Tales of Wonder, the band’s eighth studio album, is one of my favorites. The album includes some fantastic material, with rollicking and catchy tunes such as “His Heart Was Always in It,” “Vendetta,” “Raging of the Moon,” and “Where the Thunder Roars” each having choruses that repeat in your head.

But as good as those tracks are, the true “stars” of the show are the mid-tempo AOR/Pomp Rock tunes and ballads. These are where the band really showcases its strengths in melody and instrumentation, especially when it comes to the keyboards, intriguing guitars and rhythms, and the glorious background vocals, with song arrangements also including some Prog-Rock influences. “Unchained,” “Say the Word,” “Silhouette,” “Who Owns You,” “Gabriela,” and especially the slow-building and stunning “Light a Candle” are top-quality tunes, easily matching the power and grandeur of any material delivered by groups such as Toto, Journey, Styx, LRB, and Strangeways.

Although the band disappeared before the new century, it left behind a score of fantastic music, and the well-produced Tales of Wonder is part of a string of above-average collections White Heart delivered in the early ’90s, each of them highly recommended.

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Styx – Man of Miracles (1974)

Styx_Miracles4 out of 5 Stars!

One of the seemingly forgotten Styx albums from the early days of the band’s career, Man of Miracles showed the group steadily heading in the direction that would eventually bring it fame and fortune.

The straightforward hard-rocking tunes (most featuring James Young on lead vocals) and the more melodic AOR and Pomp Rock tunes mixed with a generous amount of Prog Rock influences (usually with Dennis DeYoung on lead vocals), are rather evenly distributed. Some standout tracks include the heavier “Rock & Roll Feeling,” “Havin’ A Ball,” and “Southern Woman,” while the better AOR/Pomp Rock songs include “Christopher, Mr. Christopher,” “Evil Eyes,” and “Golden Lark.” Yet to me, the best tunes included here are, undoubtedly, the most Prog-oriented ones, “A Song for Suzanne” and the glorious title track. And despite the numerous styles on Man of Miracles (or, for that matter, the majority of early Styx albums, up until around 1978’s Pieces of Eight), the group nevertheless sounds cohesive, with the “juggling of musical styles” quite balanced, which proved a band hallmark.

Although Man of Miracles didn’t include any “hits,” I found much of the material easily digestible and ended up playing the album rather often through the years, more so than many of the group’s later “hit-oriented” collections.

Although the next album, Equinox, would become the first to truly catapult the band to loftier heights, Man of Miracles proved itself a worthy and solid launching pad.

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Wrabit – Wrough & Wready (1981)

Wrabit_Wrough4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1981, I heard the debut album by Canadian band Wrabit and found myself catapulted into AOR heaven.

Featuring Lou Nadeau, whose excellent, crystal clear, wide-ranging voice is perfect for the genre, along with underrated guitarist John Albani, who would eventually go on to work with Lee “Metal Queen” Aaron, the album Wrough & Wready offered up ten tracks of ultra-catchy, hook-laden material.

Heavy guitar riffs and Pomp Rock keyboards, along with a tight rhythm section, lay a sturdy foundation on tunes such as “Pushin’ On,” “How Does She Do It,” “Just Go Away,” “Here I’ll Stay,” Anyway, Anytime,” and “Don’t Say Goodnite to Rock and Roll,” while Nadeau’s voice soars over the top and the grand, layered background vocals bring to mind the greatness of other “stadium rock” bands of the era such as Boston, Styx, Loverboy, and Journey.

This band should have been HUGE, but alas, fate had other ideas, and after the following two albums (1982’s Tracks and 1983’s West Side Kid) each slightly lower in songwriting quality than the debut) failed to gain attention, Wrabit disappeared.

Regardless, Wrough & Wready is a gem!

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