Hardline – Heart, Mind And Soul

Heart, Mind And Soul Album Cover Art

Hardline – Heart, Mind And Soul
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 09/07/2021
Running Time: 49:40
Review by Simon Black
9/10

Hardline have been at this game a while. Launching in L.A. with a juicy major label deal, no doubt, facilitated by Bad English/Journey guitarist Neal Schon’s presence in the project just before Grunge wiped out the whole scene. Actually, Schon quitting is what took the major’s out of the picture as they promptly ditched anything with a Melodic Hard Rock sound like a hot brick, but Hardline hung in through that period and their anthemic ‘Hot Cherie’ still managed a palpable global hit over the long term even though it was a slow burner on release. After flogging the dead horse uphill for too long, like many in the late 90’s they took an extended hiatus until the world was ready for them again and to be fair have been producing strong and consistent albums since stabilising with what’s become known as ’The Italian Line Up’ properly in 2011. Definitely one of Frontiers relaunch success stories, this line-up is now on its fourth album under that label’s wings and frankly I can’t see it slowing down.

Musically Hardline have stuck to their guns and if you’ve missed the intervening years then this album is a great opportunity to renew the acquaintance. Johnny Gioeli’s voice sounds exactly like it always did and his emphatic and charismatic delivery stands him out as one of the strongest contenders in the sub-genre. You always know you’ve got a cracker on your hands when after two listens you are struggling to find your stand out tracks. Now sometimes that’s a very negative problem, but the song consistency is so tip top here that it’s difficult to pick a winner easily. If I have to, I’m going to go with ‘Like That’, as it’s the closest to an anthemic floor-filler of the ‘Hot Cherie’ variety. Starting gently with a well-paced back beat, this song delivers one of the catchiest chorus lines I’ve heard in a while – the sort of chorus that has a memorable melody line and then goes up a level halfway through it’s catchy, memorable and a master class in how to write a Hard Rock hit.

Song wise ‘Heart, Mind And Soul’ is mainly mid-tempo rockers, but being Melodic Hard Rock/AOR there are the three obligatory power ballads, of which album closer ‘We Belong’, with its slow, careful acoustic build up feels of this moment, as well as the period that birthed this band. Given that Producer, keyboardist and bass player Alessandro Del Vecchio is a rather busy chap, since he’s playing the same backbone roles for a vast swathe of Frontiers roster (at least two of which I have reviewed in the last month or so alone), he manages to pull a blinding job when it comes to the song-writing here. Perhaps it’s that he’s been involved with this project a while, but I get the sense that the Hardline sound is a comfortable one to step into. Either way this album is Hardline on fire and achieves what everyone trying to emulate them can only hope for.

TRACKLISTING:
01. Fuel To The Fire
02. Surrender
03. If I Could I Would
04. Like That
05. Heavenly
06. Waiting For Your Fall
07. The Curse
08. Heartless
09. Searching For Grace
10. ‘80s Moment
11. We Belong

LINE-UP:
Johnny Gioeli – Lead Vocals
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Mario Percudani – Guitars
Anna Portalupi – Bass
Marco Di Salvia – Drums

LINKS:

Hardline Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Chalice Of Sin – Chalice Of Sin

Chalice Of Sin Album Cover Art

Chalice Of Sin – Chalice Of Sin
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 18/06/2021
Running Time: 48:38
Review by Simon Black
7/10

Now I’m quite fond of Italian label Frontiers Music. They have a habit of assembling some quite fascinating projects and rebooting careers, so I watch their output with interest. This particular Frontiers project is a new vehicle for Wade Black (no relation) – a man who has cut his quite significant vocal chops with the likes of the rebooted Crimson Glory, Seven Witches and Leatherwolf over the years. As ever with recent Frontiers projects, this one has been assembled remotely with Black presumably cutting his tracks in the States and the rest of the band in Europe.

There’s very much a house style creeping in with a great many of these projects though, as the pandemic forces this remote way of working on musicians, but the risk with this is the that they can become potentially a little too formulaic. This isn’t helped when so many of the recent ones crossing my desk have all been produced by Frontiers in-house producer Alessandro Del Vecchio (who also takes on bass and keyboard duties here). Now don’t get me wrong – he’s a bloody good producer and gets a consistently rich production quality out of his artists, but when so many of them blend Classic, Melodic and Power Metal sounds and styles as a matter of course, it’s often difficult to tell where one project ends and another begins. He might be feeling the same way, given how many of these projects get thrown at him by the label boss Serafino Perugino who is nothing if not persistent and prolific in the projects he encourages from his artists.

Fortunately, Wade Black has such a distinctive voice and range that this project is saved from some of the pain recent label contemporaries have suffered from. That said, although the vocals are firing on all cylinders, the backing band feels like just that – rather than this being a cohesive band in and of itself. The beauty of remote delivery is that it doesn’t stop you working (and this project had its inception in 2019 before COVID hit), but the challenge is it sometimes robs you of the spark of Promethean fire that can turn a good set of musicians and songs into a truly great album. It’s a case of great ingredients, but a cake that doesn’t quite bake to its full potential in this instance – a potential that might have happened quite naturally had the players had the opportunity to work in the same room for a little longer and build their natural chemistry a teensy bit more.

The song structures are all pretty robust and well crafted, with dazzling moments of technical flourish in the arrangements that keep the attention nicely (as Del Vecchio’s proves to be quite nifty and progressive on the keyboards), but the music side does feel a bit too ‘by the numbers’ in general. What this album does demonstrate brilliantly is Wade Black’s quite exceptional voice. If you’ve not come across him before he has a high and wide range, but plenty of guts and gravel to go with it – think Jørn Lande with an extra two octave range and you will quickly get a sense of what he can do. It’s powerful, gutsy, loud and completely holds your attention. Take a proper band and keep the Producer in that role alone, and this might have sounded a whole lot more distinct. Either way, Wade has now been added to my list of cracking vocalists to watch, and for that reason alone this is worth a spin.

‘Sacred Shrine’ (Official Audio)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Chalice Of Sin
02. Great Escape
03. Whisky
04. Miracle
05. Sacred Shrine
06. Ashes Of The Black Rose
07. Through The Eyes Of A Child
08. I Stand
09. The Show
10. The Fight
11. Nightmare

LINE-UP:
Wade Black – Vocals
Martin Jepsen Andersen – Guitars
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Bass, Keyboards
Mirkko De Maio – Drums

LINKS:

Chalice Of Sin Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Timo Tolkki’s Avalon – The Enigma Birth

The Enigma Birth Album Cover Art

Timo Tolkki’s Avalon – The Enigma Birth
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 18/06/2021
Running Time: 58:49
Review by Simon Black
9/10

The Avalon project is now onto its fourth album, once again produced and co-written by Aldo Lonobile, and showing no sign of running out of steam. Both these guys seem like regular riders in the Frontiers stable these days, but this time Tolkki has outdone himself when it comes to the vocal guest contributions. These releases have always taken a leaf or two from the Avantasia Metal Opera for Dummies handbook, but in this case the guest list is quite the eye opener. In fact, albums like this require a special turn of phrase that I don’t use too often, so pardon me while I dust down “Holy cow, what a line up!” for your delectation and delight…

Let’s face it, there aren’t many records where you are going to get James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Jake E. (Amaranthe/Cyhra), Marina La Torraca (Phantom Elite/Exit Eden), Brittney Hayes (Unleash The Archers), Raphael Mendes (Icon Of Sin), Fabio Lione (Rhapsody/Angra/Eternal Idol) and Caterina Nix (Chaos Magic) on the same record and even Tobias Sammet normally only indulges in about four guests per release, making this something of a smorgasbord of Operatic tonsil tickling indulgence.

Opener ‘Enigma Birth’ is a dose of full on Symphonic Power energy, this time featuring Norwegian YouTuber Pellek on the microphone. I had not come across the man before, but here alone he demonstrates a quite spectacular range of octaves in his delivery. Catarina Nix takes ‘I Just Collapse’, which is a solid, moderately paced, rocker that would not have sounded out of place on Stratovarius’s “Destiny” album. In fact the production of this disk echoes that album’s rich fat sound rather a lot. That is no bad thing…

‘Memories’ gives us a Duet along with Unleash The Archers Britney Slayes, which given the presence of both voices is actually quite a restrained power ballad. Brazil’s Rafael Mendes delivers a strong Maidenesque performance on both ‘Master Of Hell’ and ‘Beauty Of War’ and as with his recent Brother Against Brother release from Frontiers, works best when he’s not in a duet, as he is on the former track, which allows him to release his safety locks and go for broke. Things go more Progressive for ‘Beautiful Lie’ to make James LaBrie feel a little more at home, as Tolkki demonstrates, although we know him best for his contributions to the Power and Symphonic genres, he is more than capable of pushing the boundaries into other genres and remains one of the most technically gifted song-writers around.

It’s easy to get distracted by the vocals, but the instrumental performances are pretty stellar as well, let’s face it we are talking about the man who carved Stratovarius’ reputation for melodic delivery and full on shredding when required and Tolkki has definitely still got his mojo in that regard.

I could go on and on about the individual songs, but in all honesty, I cannot find one duff or mediocre song on this near hour long slab of technical and vocal virtuosity. This has the added bonus of being one of those albums where the complexity subtly increases the further into it you get. Had they take the fuller, technical approach from the outset, it might have turned some listeners off, but Tolkki wisely opts for most catchy openers with stellar vocal delivery to reel you in, building to the more subtly crafted elements over time, and before you know it an hour has flow right by.

‘Beautiful Lie’ feat. James LaBrie (Official Lyric Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. The Enigma Birth (feat. Pellek)
02. I Just Collapse (feat. Caterina Nix)
03. Memories (feat. Caterina Nix & Brittney Slayes)
04. Master Of Hell (feat. Raphael Mendes)
05. Beautiful Lie (feat. James LaBrie)
06. Truth (feat. Jake E.)
07. Another Day (feat. Marina La Torraca)
08. Beauty And War (feat. Raphael Mendes)
09. Dreaming (feat. Fabio Lione)
10. The Fire And The Sinner (feat. Jake E. & Brittney Slayes)
11. Time (feat. Marina La Torraca)
12. Without Fear (feat. Fabio Lione)

LINE-UP:
Timo Tolkki – Guitars
Andrea Arcangeli – Bass
Marco Lazzarini – Drums
Antonio Agate – Keys & Orchestra

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Brother Against Brother – Brother Against Brother

Brother Against Brother Album Cover Art

Brother Against Brother – Brother Against Brother
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 11/06/2021
Running Time: 48:33
Review by Simon Black
7/10

Brother Against Brother is another of Frontier’s potpourri projects, centering around two Brazilian vocalists you may not have heard of – Renan Zonta (Electric Mob) and Nando Fernandes (Sinistra) with a backing band. This is a fairly quality consistent slab of Melodic Metal, very much in the same spirit as the Allen/Lande releases. I would go one stage further and say it is almost a complete clone of that approach, with songs of a style that could have been used interchangeably on one of those projects.

The key difference between, say Allen/Lande and Brother Against Brother though, is that with the former you have two very clear and distinct singing voices. Although Russell Allen’s broad range means he can cover pretty much any style, he stays clean for A/L releases in order to complement Jørn Lande’s gutsy and gruff screamer delivery – meaning the contrast between the two is clear and distinct. Fernandes and Zonta, whilst both really great singers, have a very similar range and tone, so there is unfortunately very little to differentiate between them, stripping the record of any variety or balance. If you are going to do multi-singer songs that variety is absolutely key and most projects in this vein, get that. The reborn Helloween for example, understands that completely – using the three very distinct voices from its history together intermittently and only sometimes all together to create the shades of tonal light and dark where needed. Even Avantasia, the undisputed master of this operatic ensemble approach, knows that when you have two singers who sound very tonally similar, then putting one against the other means a loss of structure and direction.

Although both lungsmen here can actually provide that range, on most tracks they instead choose to mirror each other’s style. If one had taken a gruff role and the other a high clean tone, even if they alternated that approach on different songs, then this would have sounded much more interesting and diverse. The songs themselves are actually incredibly well-crafted, if a little by the numbers and the record does achieve what it set out to do, which is to showcase two quite exceptionally good singers to a potentially wider audience. The two front men are loud and clear in the front of the mix, perhaps at the expense of the instruments. Overall ‘frustration’ is the key word with this album. The song-writing, production and playing are all absolutely fine, but that lack of variation vocally places a limit on the point of this sort of project. Perhaps ‘Twin Against Twin’ would perhaps have been a more appropriate title…That said I cannot, and will not fault the actual performances delivered by Fernandes and Zonta. These boys really have fantastic voices, great delivery and completely hold your attention. I hope this project does move them forward, as with the confidence to play about with the style a little more, this could be a double act of potentially epic proportions.

‘Deadly Sins’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Two Brothers
02. What If
03. City Of Gold
04. Heaven Sent
05. Haunted Heart
06. Deadly Sins
07. In The Name Of Life
08. Demons In My Head
09. Whispers In Darkness
10. Valley Of The Kings
11. Lost Son

LINE-UP:
Renan Zonta – Vocals
Nando Fernandes – Vocals
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Bass, Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Jonas Hornqvist – Guitars
Michele Sanna – Drums

LINKS:

Brother Against Brother Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Icon Of Sin – Icon Of Sin

Icon Of Sin Album Cover Art

Icon Of Sin – Icon Of Sin
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 16/04/2021
Running Time: 01:05:03
Review by Simon Black
7/10

Frontiers, bless their socks, do come up with some interesting projects. This one centres around Brazilian singer Raphael Mendes, who if you have not heard of him, has made his name as a YouTuber who tries to answer the question of what other bands music would have sounded like if they sang like Bruce Dickinson, for whom he is an eerie dead ringer for. And I mean spot on, to the point where I thought I was listening to one of the Maiden man’s solo albums. His range, his intonation and his delivery all sound very much like a slightly younger Dickinson in the days where his chords had a bit more resilience in them, but then Mendes is much, much younger and hasn’t had a tumour removed from his mouth. A quick look online reveals many Maiden covers, plus some interesting experiments with him doing a Brucie for Dream Theater, Dio, G’n’R, Megadeth and many others. The aim of this project then, is to push beyond that envelope, but I’m not sure it quite succeeds.

The title of the band, album and lead song clearly suggest someone who also used to play Doom II back in the day, as this was the name of one of the boss monsters and makes a, just about, right side of trademark appearance on the cover, in case you missed the reference in the title. It’s a lively enough Metal belter and sets the tone of what’s to come nicely, which is good up-tempo Traditional Metal with a healthy dollop of Speed. ‘Road Rage’ is no exception, being typically Metal driving fodder. Most of the songs follow this template of fast and furious harmonised delivery, although the inevitable slower tracks like ‘Night Breed’ break the pace up a little. Mid-way through we also get the longer and more epic Batman inspired ‘Clouds Over Gotham’, whose gentle introduction doesn’t stay at that pace for long, returning to the more frenetic tempo we hear throughout but slows, builds and takes us to an epic crescendo, like the best of Steve Harris’s conceptual opuses. To be fair the longer duration gives a welcome break from the more formulaic structure elsewhere and it’s by far the best written song on the record.

The sound is crisp and clear, with Mendes loud, front and centre and some more than competent twin harmonised guitar delivery, but it really does sound like it’s a Maiden-esque vehicle for him, rather than a band per se. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining and robust introduction to Mendes’s talents, although I would be interested to hear what happens when he finds the confidence to write and sing as himself, rather than as Bruce.

‘Night Breed’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Icon Of Sin
02. Road Rage
03. Shadow Dancer
04. Unholy Battleground
05. Night Breed
06. Virtual Empire
07. Pandemic Euphoria
08. Clouds Over Gotham
09. Arcade Generation
10. Hagakure (Intro)
11. The Last Samurai
12. The Howling
13. Survival Instinct

LINE-UP:
Raphael Mendes – Vocals
Caio Vidal – Bass
Sol Perez – Guitar
Mateus Cantaleãno – Guitar
CJ Dubiella – Drums

LINKS:

Icon Of Sin Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Robin McAuley – Standing On The Edge

Standing On The Edge Album Cover Art

Robin McAuley – Standing On The Edge
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 07/05/2021
Running Time: 44:39
Review by Simon Black
8/10

I have to confess that my engagement with Robin McAuley is fairly limited, despite my predilection for the more Melodic end of the Hard Rock world. Somewhere in my vinyl collection is a battered copy of “Perfect Timing” – the original collaboration with Michael Schenker, which at the time I was slightly disappointed in, as it felt that the great axeman was very much in the background. Look at the cover if you don’t believe me, he literally is standing in McAuley’s shadow – or at least the shadow of his rather spectacular mid-80’s bouffant. The fact that during this period the MSG band acronym was physically branded as the McAuley Schenker Group, rather than the Michael Schenker Group probably tells us all we need to know about who was in the driving seat during this period and at the time it felt like a misfire and somewhat passed me by. Time, however, is great at pointing out that actions based on knee jerk teenage reactions are not always the right ones…Although music was about to do a complete body swerve not long after its release and this sort of Melodic Hard Rock rapidly fall out of favour with the major labels, over time it has proven to be a stone cold classic, if not a classic Schenker album. Clearly there were other MSG releases with this line-up, but when you are fighting against, or being pushed to follow the rise of Grunge and everything that followed it, these did not make an impact in the same way.

This is a slightly different direction than McAuley’s Black Swan project and as ever when Serafino Perugino at Frontiers assembles a project, there’s a particular era, ethos and feel that he is trying to capture in amber with an added modern take and “Standing On The Edge” is very much picking up where “Perfect Timing” left off – with deliberate precision. The opening track ‘Thy Will Be Done’, feels like it could have been a B-Side from those 80’s sessions, right down to the dated keyboard arrangements, but what saves it from being a retro footnote is the fact that McAuley’s voice is absolutely on top form and the song-writing beautifully crafted. The rest of the album has a slightly more modern sound to it, so I am taking this opening track for what it was probably intended to be – a message to the listener that this is where the album is starting from, but it’s not where it will finish.

To prove the point, the title track kicks things up a notch significantly with a catchy riff, solid mid-tempo beat and then steps back to let the man show how good a shape his vocal chords are actually in. Generally, there’s some really robust song-writing on here and the eleven tracks stand up quite well, with a bit of a slowdown in the middle as ‘Chosen Few’ feels a bit like a filler, but the power ballad ‘Run Away’, whilst pure Melo-Ballad in tone, is more Gary Hughes than USA 80’s in style, so does not feel dated. The record works because it varies the pace to demonstrate McAuley’s range, rather than going for the tried and tested formula of a record of belters plus a lone ballad or two (the fast and slow share equal billing here), but also because a lot of care has clearly gone into crafting a recording that has its back foot in the 80’s but its front foot forward a few decades. As always with these Frontiers releases the production melds the retro sound as we remember it in our heads with modern recording standards and values. I would be interested to see if this incarnation takes a live turn, or is just a studio project, but either way it works just fine.

‘Standing On The Edge’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Thy Will Be Done
02. Standing On The Edge
03. Late December
04. Do You Remember
05. Say Goodbye
06. Chosen Few
07. Run Away
08. Supposed To Do Now
09. Wanna Take A Ride
10. Like A Ghost
11. Running Out Of Time

LINE-UP:
Robin McAuley – Vocals
Andrea Seveso – Guitars
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Bass, Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Nicholas Papapicco – Drums
Howard Leese – Guitars on ‘Supposed To Do Now’

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

ScreaMachine – ScreaMachine

ScreaMachine Album Cover Art

ScreaMachine – ScreaMachine
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Running Time: 45:25
Review by Simon Black
7.5/10

Most of the material I get sent to review that hails from the shores of that wonderful nation Italy tends to fall into either the Power, Progressive, Symphonic or Operatic sub-genres and I had started to wonder if these were the only styles of Metal that had a market over there. Of course, I am wrong (and it’s all the editor’s fault as he chooses what I listen to), so when I received this delightfully fresh slab of good old-fashioned Rock’n’Roll influenced Heavy Metal today I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s rough, it’s raw, it’s gutsy and it’s refreshingly good, with twin harmonised guitars coming out of every bar, galloping rhythm lines aplenty, plus some blistering lead work and a soulful, no frills, powered vocal delivery. The Metal is definitely of the traditionally influenced NWOBHM and German ends of the spectrum, but it’s not sounding dated or derivative and has the freshness of a band who know what they liked in their parents record collections, but know what works for a modern audience. Not that these are fresh faced newbies either – this may be a debut album, but the musicians involved are all experienced hands with a good history of delivery in acts such as Stormlord, Kaledon, and Lunarsea dating back to the 1990’s. That experience shows well, as there is a maturity in the song-writing and sound that has the fresh energy of a project that they all clearly dig…A lot! They’ve also dragged in an impressive roster of guests as well, with guitar turns from Steve Di Giorgio and a whole bunch of Italian shredders, plus a vocal turn from Avantasia and Firewind singer Herbie Langhans, but frankly the core five-piece at the heart of this are more than capable of delivering the goods on their own.

Vocalist Valerio Caricchio has a powerful presence in this act, with a solid rough round the edges delivery and a hint at a little top end screamage where it’s needed, creating the impression that he could take the wallpaper off if he chose to, but it’s not what they wanted in this instance. The album flies by quite quickly and if it has a down side it is that most tracks are very much of a similar tempo, and a little more variety in tone might have offered a broader appeal, but as far as straight ahead riff based Metal goes, it can’t be faulted.

‘The Metal Monster’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Demondome
02. The Metal Monster
03. The Human God
04. Darksteel
05. Mistress Of Disaster
06. 52Hz
07. Wisdom Of The Ages (Feat. Steve Di Giorgio and Herbie Langhans)
08. Silver Fever
09. Dancing With Shadows
10. Scream Machine

LINE-UP:
Valerio “The Brave” Caricchio – Lead Vocals
Francesco Bucci – Bass
Alex Mele – Guitars
Paolo Campitelli – Guitars
Alfonso “Fo” Corace – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Sweet Oblivion (Featuring Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Relentless Album Cover Art

Sweet Oblivion (Featuring Geoff Tate) – Relentless
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Running Time: 42:44
Review by Simon Black
8/10

Since about 1995 I’ve had an increasing sense of trepidation whenever I have seen Geoff Tate’s name attached to a recording. The man was an absolute vocal hero of mine when I discovered “Operation: Mindcrime” at the end of the 80’s – an album I must have spun a thousand times and which still sounds fresh and wonderful over thirty years later. Pretty much the same can be said about the two ‘Rÿche albums that followed it – the Progressive Metal text book that is “Empire” and the terrifyingly dark story of Tate’s own mental breakdown and recovery that is “The Promised Land”. I still remember his absolutely captivating performance on that latter album’s tour at Nottingham’s Royal Centre which is still one of my top five live gig memories ever. They seemed unstoppable and Tate’s iconic voice and showmanship unmatchable…

…Until the wheels came off of that particular tour bus with the departure of Chris DeGarmo and a series of increasingly disappointing albums trickled out. Eventually Tate split somewhat acrimoniously from Queensrÿche, who promptly recruited a younger version with almost exactly the same timbre of voice and spent the next ten years shitting on his legacy and fan base. The next time I came across Tate was a few years ago at a low key gig in the Welsh valleys, as he toured his greatest hits under the Mindcrime band moniker. Although fantastic to see him in such a small and intimate setting it seemed like a long way down from the lofty heights of yore, as a much physically larger and slightly immobile Tate struggled to hit the notes having become his own tribute act. I felt like crying.

But then Tobias Sammet worked his magic.

Having plumbed the lower depths in the last decade, Tate got on board the Avantasia train – contributing a track to 2016’s “Ghostlights”, then again for “Moonglow” and this time as part of the world tour. If you’ve not come across this man’s Avantasia project, then you may not be aware that Sammet has an absolute gift for persuading rock’s heroes to contribute a track to his increasingly successful Metal Opera projects and frequently reboots their careers. He has the knack of penning a track that totally encapsulates the essence in the fans’ minds of the greatest achievements the guest artist was known for and capturing a performance on record to go with it. If he’s really lucky, the response is so positive that he can persuade the guest to join the Avantasia road crew, where the artists will get to sing a whole bunch of songs with ten other singers in a gruelling three hour but totally sold out live show which normally includes a headline slot at Wacken, get their mojo back and get to feel like it’s the 1980’s again.

Having been suitably refocussed, enter the Sweet Oblivion project – which is one of a long line of projects initiated by Italian label Frontiers Music. It is a Geoff Tate solo album in all but name and one assumes that the moniker and branding has something to do with the complex legal minefield left in the wake of his split from Queensrÿche. I had not come across the debut in 2019 but this incarnation sees Tate bringing in musicians from his Mindcrime touring project and for the first time in a long time I hear the voice and musical tone which has been missing from his delivery for far too long. Musically this is pure “Mindcrime” / “Empire” era Tate and main collaborator Aldo Lonobile has clearly been annotating the DeGarmo / Wilton song-writing tropes to create music that is more classic Queensrÿche than the current incarnation of the band themselves (a trick he also pulled recently with Savatage). The songs have the progressive complexity of that period, but are commercially accessible as well and Tate’s performance feels right out of that wonderful three album glory period benchmark. Gone are the instrument down-tunings to support his older vocal chords and you can hear him moving through the keys in a manner lacking in recent years. Gone too are the lazy intonations and enunciations of those downward years. This latter element drove me to distraction whenever I saw anything he did live this century and it made me question whether he still had all his own teeth, but a quick check on some of the live Avantasia clips shows a Tate pulling out all the stops when he finds himself on the same stage and with equal billing with the likes of Sammet, Michael Kiske, Eric Martin, Ronnie Atkins, Jorn Lande and others who are at the top of their game. He’s had to pull his socks up, with that work ethic clearly carried forward into this project and not before time too. The highlights include ‘Let It Be’, ‘Strong Pressure’, ‘Fly Angel Fly’ and the quite wonderful ‘Aria’, complete with Tate singing lyrics in Italian.

So yes, he’s well and truly back. Let’s hope he can stay there.

‘Another Change’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. One Again One Sin
02. Strong Pressure
03. Let It Be
04. Another Change
05. Wake Up Call
06. Remember Me
07. Anybody Out There
08. Aria
09. I’ll Be The One
10. Fly Angel Fly

LINE-UP:
Geoff Tate – Vocals
Aldo Lonobile – Guitars
Luigi Andreone – Bass
Antonio Agate – Keys
Michele Sanna – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

FM – Tough It Out Live

Tough It Out Live Album Cover Art

FM – Tough It Out Live
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Running Time: 113:00
Review by Simon Black
8/10

You know, I am lucky enough to get to review a lot of albums from new bands that missed out on the 80’s but try not to let it show. I spend a lot of time making comparisons to what came out at the time, whilst forgetting how different it was on the ears back then. A rich production sound was a dream for most bands, so consequently live recordings really had a lot of power, as the band frequently got to make their true intentions audible and clear in a way that couldn’t be done in the studio without the support of a major label. FM were amongst the lucky ones back then and often had a rich and lustrous polish in their mix that many other bands envied, thanks to the support of label Epic. None more so than 1989’s ‘Tough It Out’, which is probably the album and song the band are most well-known for, fortunately firmly establishing them in the Melodic Hard Rock market before Grunge came along and upset the apple cart.

So, this release is interesting for a number of reasons – firstly in that this is in fact the first time the band have played the full album in its entirety but mostly because they’ve done a superb job in recapturing the original studio sound on this live recording. Recorded over a couple of UK and German shows in 2019, this is a double disk set with the full studio running order retained for the first disk, plus a full second disk of classics and rarities. At the time I was not so fond of AOR, and let’s face it, they don’t come much more ‘classic’ AOR than FM – whether you like those tinkling insipid 80’s keyboard melodies from the likes of ‘Everytime I Think Of You’ or not. Despite the fact that a fair few of these tracks were firmly in the ‘filler’ category back in the day, they come off surprisingly well live, mainly due to the fact that the band’s delivery is tight, focussed and absolutely held up to the rafters by the support of a crowd who are clearly loving every minute of it – and tracks like ‘Burning My Heart Down’ in particular sound spectacular with the interaction of the audience.

The second disk is more eclectic, with quite a few tracks I am not familiar with, but clearly with a hard core following in the audience this is not slowing them down in the slightest. And I defy anyone not to boogie along to the cracking rendition of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine‘ Steve Overland’s voice sounds remarkably good after all these years and although the recording skips much of the banter with the audience, you still get a sense of the immediacy of his contact with the crowd. For fans of the original album, this is probably a must, but for anyone looking for a good introduction to a band that can still deliver the goods after very long time then you can do much worse than this.

‘Tough It Out’ Live (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:

CD1
01. Intro
02. Tough It Out
03. Don’t Stop
04. Bad Luck
05. Someday (You’ll Come Running)
06. Everytime I Think Of You
07. Burning My Heart Down
08. The Dream That Died
09. Obsession
10. Can You Hear Me Calling?
11. Does It Feel Like Love
12. Feels So Good

CD2
01. Digging Up The Dirt
02. Tough Love
03. Hollow
04. Dangerous
05. Hard Day In Hell
06. Wildside
07. Breathe Fire
08. Only The Strong Survive
09. Blood And Gasoline
10. I Ain’t The One
11. I Heard It Through The Grapevine

LINE-UP:
Steve Overland – Vocals & Guitar
Merv Goldsworthy – Bass
Pete Jupp – Drums
Jem Davis – Keyboards
Jim Kirkpatrick – Guitar

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

The End Machine – Phase2

Phase2 Album Cover Art

The End Machine – Phase2
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Running Time: 55:08
Review by Simon Black
8/10

You gotta love the gall of the guys over at Frontiers. You want to sign your rock heroes, but can’t because the brand names they are famous for are locked up in legal rights hell over at a major label somewhere. The solution – create a new ‘Power Group’ act built around said hero (providing that they and their great-grandchildren are not locked into some kind of exclusivity deal), add a bunch of associated musicians, with the brief to recreate the sound and sensibilities of the glory years and thereby bypass the legal landmines. The End Machine basically does this with George Lynch, so you end up with an act that has an uncanny resemblance to a hybrid of Dokken and Lynch Mob without having to spend more money in legal fees than on studio time and session musicians, in a day and age where, more than ever, making money is about high volumes and wafer thin low margins for labels.

This really has a very strong classic Dokken feel to it, but the Lynch Mob ethos predominates, with lots of blues tinged Hard Rock vibes to it – and this is not surprising when the musical backbone is Dokken stalwarts George Lynch and Jeff Pilson, with Lynch Mob singer Robert Mason and Steve Brown, the brother of retired classic Dokken drummer Mick Brown, on the sticks and skins. The classic Dokken / Lynch Mob tropes are all there, with the added benefit of Lynch really allowing his love of the Blues to free flow, with some extended and soulful guitar solo work that positively ripples from the speakers. OK, we’re always going to miss that lovely vibrato of old Don, but he’s got the brand locked away tight and having Mason on board works really well regardless.

What I was not aware of was that this is the second time around for this outfit, which has the maturity and stylistic ease of a group of musicians who are all comfortable with working together. This is really solid, well-crafted Melodic Rock, where no one member of the band is allowed to hog the lime light. It’s got that really cohesive feel to it that and I cannot point a finger at one track on here with the accusation of “filler”. So consistent in fact, that it’s a struggle to point you to a stand out track, although ‘Prison Or Paradise’ and the harmony-laden ‘Plastic Heroes’ come pretty close, which is pure anthemic Hard Rock heaven. As always from this genre we get the odd syrupy ballad (stand up ‘Scars’) but this is saved from any hint of mediocrity from that soulful gutsy voice and Lynch’s anthemic guitar lines.

So, loving or loathing these Supergroup records is a matter of personal tastes and faux ethical pride. To be honest I’m all for these projects where we know nothing is ever going to get the originals back in a studio together in this lifetime and if the quality can be kept this consistent who the hell really cares?

‘Blood And Money’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. The Rising
02. Blood And Money
03. We Walk Alone
04. Dark Divide
05. Crack The Sky
06. Prison Or Paradise
07. Plastic Heroes
08. Scars
09. Shine Your Light
10. Devils Playground
11. Born Of Fire
12. Destiny

LINE-UP:
George Lynch – Guitar
Jeff Pilson – Bass, Keyboards & Background Vocals
Steve Brown – Drums & Background Vocals
Robert Mason – Lead & Background Vocals

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.