This first in an occasional series for albums that you may have missed but are well worth tracking down.
Singer / songwriter / guitarist Oliver Hartmann was, up until the release of the CD, best known for his time in AT VANCE a German power metal act that he fronted for four albums. In 2005 he embarked on a solo career which would produce one of the best AOR / Melodic Rock albums of that year.
Out In The Cold is a really superb slab of melodic rock which manages to tread the fine line of adding a few more modern production touches to a traditional classic rock sound. The basic template finds a wall of solid guitars, huge backing vocals and clever use of string arrangements alongside excellent instrumentation. You really do get the feeling that time and thought went into each track. The production, courtesy of Hartmann and Sascha Path has a nice solid meaty feel which allows room for Hartmann to shine. He is a terrific singer who also handles all the guitars and some keys.
There are highlights aplenty here from the strident hard rock of opener Alive Again and the title track to the inspired choice of power ballad Brazen, originally recorded by Skunk Anansie. Brazen really is quite stunning with the passion in the vocal delivery an ideal match for the harsh lyric. Elsewhere What If I, a high tempo feel good track, with deceptively clever use of the backing vocals to drive a very catchy chorus. If you want ballads look no further than the sumptuous I Will Carry On and the epic Into The Light. While The Journey is another winner; the song has a very nice gentle cadence that compliments some of the other offerings here. In truth I could have highlighted any of the tracks here as the quality is so high.
If you can track down the Japanese release of the album it has the bonus track Rescue In My Arms an acoustic ballad that would have seemed out of place on the album but is a worthy addition.
Hartmann has continued to go from strength to strength since the release of this CD with his solo career and as a member of AVANTASIA and the all-star ROCK MEETS CLASSIC alongside Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Jimi Jamison (Survivor) and Steve Lukather (Toto).
I’ve had an extended break from reviewing hard rock, although as a genre it remains my first love. There is a cynicism that comes with age and I simply struggle to get excited about most new releases. I find myself shaking my head (like the old man I am) and coming to the predictable but inevitable conclusion that they just don’t make rock records like they used to. I suspect that a similar sentiment was the starting point for Animal Drive’s new covers EP Back to the Roots.
The Cats In Space story is one of perseverance, refusing to give up in the face of adversity and sticking with what you know. The members of Cats In Space have been around, they’ve done the hard yards, put in the miles and it’s refreshing to see the acclaim that has been heaped on the band since they released their debut album ‘Too Many Gods’ in 2015. For their third studio album, the guys are refusing to rest on their laurels and seem intent on pushing the envelope. The result is ‘Daytrip To Narnia’ a record that should please longstanding Cats fans but might also leave a few scratching their heads.
Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell might be a new name to some but the guitarist has played with plenty of notable names in a career that dates back to the 80’s. Colwell’s credits include being one of three guitarists in ASAP with Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden fame, key involvement as a songwriter/guitarist in the reformed Humble Pie on the 2002 ‘Back On Track’ album plus stints in many other acts including Samson, Urchin and The Entire Population Of Hackney.
Laurie Mansworth had already seen action with NWOBHM act More when in 1982 he decided on a more transatlantic musical approach for his next musical venture. The result was Airrace and a deal was quickly inked with Atco/Atlantic records for their debut album ‘Shaft Of Light’ produced by Beau Hill (Ratt, Streets, Kix). The 1984 release of the album was well received by press and fans alike, although the majority of the reviews did focus on teenage drummer Jason Bonham (Foreigner, Black Country Communion) for obvious reasons. This did the band a disservice as ‘Shaft Of Light’ had some fine tunes, a terrific singer in Keith Murrell (Mama’s Boys, Cliff Richard), Toby Sadler’s (GTS, Samson) tasteful keys and Mansworth’s punchy guitar contributions. The band toured with heavyweight acts such as Queen, Meat Loaf and AC/DC but by 1985 Airrace was over and the band members went their separate ways. In 2011 Mansworth, Murrell and bassist Jim Reid reformed as Airrace and signed a deal with Frontiers which resulted in ‘Back To The Start’ and a busy touring schedule before things again went a little quiet. Fast forward to 2018 and Airrace are back again with ‘Untold Stories’ as classy a piece of 70’s influenced AOR as you’ll hear this year.
It’s not easy being a heritage act like FM. Your fans want a nostalgia hit but they also want new releases. You’re trapped. You may want to move on, but you don’t dare go too far. Despite lacking the international successes of Def Leppard or - to a lesser degree - Thunder, FM remain one of the UK’s best-loved melodic hard rock bands and their new record is an impressive balancing act between that rock and that hard place. They might just be the one band on the scene that can manage to please nearly all of the people… nearly all of the time.
Every melodic rock fan with half a brain knows that there is no such thing as the perfect AOR album. From the late ‘70s through to the early ‘90s we were awash with perfect moments but, for the past two and a half decades, bands have matched the gems of that period with only very limited success. These days, making records is cheaper and faster; sonically sub-standard AOR albums arrive at an alarming rate and are all accompanied by unhelpful amounts of hype, so it’s no wonder that fans have become cynical about new releases. How refreshing it is, then, to come across an artist whose press makes no claim whatsoever and who has made an album that doesn’t sound as if it was cobbled together in a hurry. One-man freaky genius (he plays, sings, produces and mixes everything) Tom Satin quietly released his debut in 2014 and now the follow-up, It’s About Time, has arrived seemingly out of thin air. While it’s not perfect, I’d say it’s about as close as anyone has got in a very long time.
Melodic hard rock has had its time. There’s no denying that it still lives and, to some degree, thrives but its glory days are long, long gone. Its current state isn’t helped by fast-buck-making labels and a certain sort of purist fan that simply won’t allow any of these artists to move away from a hackneyed, formulaic sound. So, new releases from bands that have been plying their trade for thirty years more often fill me with a sense of sorrow than a sense of joy. Not so with the latest Riverdogs album, California. This is a record that might just be too good for the classic rock fraternity to properly deserve.
Tokyo Motor Fist is a melodic hard rock project fronted by the dream-team of vocalist Ted Poley and guitarist Steve Brown. Bass and drums come in the form of veterans Greg Smith (Rainbow) and Chuck Burgi (Red Dawn) respectively. I would normally be very wary of this sort of career vehicle but the blistering riff and infectious singalong chorus of the opening track are enough to make me think that this time, maybe - just maybe - I might be on to a bit of a winner.
Unruly Child released their debut in 1992 and, although not a commercial success at the time, it has since been held up as a melodic rock masterpiece. An inspired coupling of ex-World Trade members and vocalist Mark Free (formerly of AOR legends Signal), Unruly Child retained the loosely-held prog leanings of the former band but added the hit-worthy rock bombast of the latter. Free’s muscular vocal delivery in particular helped the band have greater appeal across the rock sub-genres and the debut has subsequently aged far better than many of its contemporaries. The album wasn’t without its faults but it remains one of the more interesting and inventive records under the hair-rock umbrella: it had big guitars, hooks, lashings of keyboards and stacked vocals but - more important than all that - it was chock full of unusual ideas and musical ambition. None of this sounded geeky, meandering or noodly, it just sounded, - to me at least - like top class hard rock… from the future.
Indiscreet was originally released in 1986 and is one of the finest AOR albums you’ll find from a British band of the period. Unsurprisingly then, it has come to be something of a sacred classic among fans of the genre, making it extremely risky business for FM to decide to release a full re-recorded version to celebrate its thirtieth birthday.
Sixteen years since their last studio album is an awfully long time but for Kansas, who can chart their history back to 1970 and released their debut album in 1974, it just feels like a small part of the overall plan. With a quite staggering 30,000,000+ album sales worldwide Kansas are one of the biggest acts of the classic rock era but for all such acts, Journey instantly spring to mind, longevity is a double edged sword as the sands of time can catch up with a band, members leave for a variety of reasons and the musical landscape is forever changing. Kansas have kept themselves busy as they still play around a hundred shows a year and recent releases have included a feature length documentary ‘Miracles Out Of Nowhere’ that charts their long career. Founder members Richard Williams (guitar) and drummer Phil Ehart don’t look to be retiring anytime soon and on the strength of ‘The Prelude Implicit’ it looks like the band are about to embark on an impressive new chapter in their illustrious career.
I consider myself reasonably well-versed in the biggest of the big-hair hard rock acts but Treat are a band that have simply passed me by, in spite of their thirty-year pedigree as well-respected Swedish melodic rockers. A career that has seen them constantly in the shadow of the success of Europe might go some way to explaining how it happened, but Ghost of Graceland makes me think I may have seriously missed out.