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).
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.
The Defiants are Bruno Ravel: Danger Danger’s bassist, songwriter and co-founding father; Rob Marcello: longtime Danger Danger guitarist and Paul Laine: onetime lead vocalist for a band called... Danger Danger. So it's no surprise that this looks, smells and tastes a lot like a Danger Danger album. Recent shows in the US confirm that Danger Danger fronted by Ted Poley is still very much a going concern, hence the new moniker for this side project.
This is the second release from Find Me, a project headed up by vocalist Robbie LaBlanc (of Blanc Faces) and Swedish drummer/producer Daniel Flores. The press release boasts that Find Me is ‘another AOR behemoth’ and that Dark Angel is a ‘delightful and massive melodic rock album chock full of mighty AOR anthems’. My heart sinks at the prospect of yet another mechanical album-by-numbers. A cursory listen to the bombastic debut ‘Wings Of Love’ does nothing but add to my fears. I yearn for just a bit of invention, a curveball, something a bit daring from the scene, but I already know that this will be AOR played dead straight. But because I’m such a fabulously even-handed chap and a firm believer in second chances, I do my best not to pre-judge and vow to give Dark Angel the fair hearing it deserves.
Back in the 90s, Trixter were very much the babies of the American hair metal scene. The bandmates came together in their teens and were signed to MCA well before their average age hit twenty. Their 1990 debut was hit-filled, smooth, radio-friendly hard rock and the 1992 follow-up Hear! maintained that sound, albeit with a dirtier edge. Stylistically, Human Era is more of the latter but fans will be pleased to know that it is a much more focussed effort than the somewhat scrappy New Audio Machine, their big comeback album from 2012.
In 1990 Nelson released their debut album After The Rain. They were an international MTV sensation, scoring the number one hit ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love & Affection’ and a string of other worthy singles. For many rock fans (though few would admit it) the melodic lead guitar work, slick arrangements and trademark harmony lead vocals were completely irresistible. For a lot of others, Nelson symbolised everything that was wrong with the crowded hair metal scene. Pointy guitars, white teeth and dry ice-filled music videos had all had their day and the tide was to turn quickly against anyone even half as groomed as a band like Nelson.
Canadian band Harem Scarem released their major label debut way back in 1991, an innocuous yet superbly crafted melodic rock record which was quietly well-received. They then went on to produce, to my mind, two of the very finest albums in the history of the genre: the seminal Mood Swings from 1993 (which was harder and took more chances than the debut) and 1995’s Voice of Reason, a record that was so forward-thinking many AOR buffs just couldn’t take it. Both were exquisite releases for different reasons: Mood Swings was genre-defining; Voice of Reason was genre-busting. When you’ve achieved this much with your first few releases, it’s fairly impossible to keep blowing people’s minds. As a result, Harem Scarem have found their early fanbase hard to please ever since. I have to confess that, as Harem Scarem’s career continued with a prolific stream of strong, if much safer, releases, I lost interest. In fact, I stopped paying attention somewhere around 2002’s Weight of The World, and barely even noticed that the band officially ceased to be in 2008. That said, I very much enjoyed the anniversary edition of a re-recorded Mood Swings, released last year, and its three new studio tracks revealed a band that had really benefitted from the five years off.