Few bands have been forced to take as much crap as Swedish metal heads Hammerfall. I might not be their biggest fan ever, but the criticism towards the band is sometimes so harsh and mean that you feel sorry for the guys. Because love them or hate them, you have to give them tribute for never backing down, no matter what any mob might have to say about them. Make no mistake, these guys released their debut album Glory To The Brave in 1997, when grunge was fading out and nu-metal started to rear its ugly head and the title of that album was very suitable as coming out as a heavy metal band in 1997 was a very brave and bold move. And the glory? Well, let’s say that Hammerfall created a huge fan base with that album – and its follow-ups Legacy Of Kings (1998), Renegade (2000) and Crimson Thunder (2002). But, I can might as well admit that I was never that impressed with the band. Quite the contrary, I though that Hammerfall was nothing but an ordinary metal band in the second division, but their big fan-base said otherwise. No matter what, Hammerfall will always have my respect, see, this band brought metal back, more or less all by themselves – at least in Sweden and Scandinavia. They kept their long hair, leather pants and devil horns in a time when you either wore flannel and a goatee and looked like you had been living on a diet of heroin your whole adult life and played the music that was the soundtrack to that – depressing stuff – or turned your hat backwards, sampled music and talked to a drum machine while you acted really angry. For shitloads of young people, metal was introduced by Hammerfall – they were to teenagers in the mid 90’s what Iron Maiden and Judas Priest was for me and my friends in the early 80’s.
The talk of a Helloween reunion with singer Michael Kiske and guitarist Kai Hansen has been going on for many years now, but nothing has ever come out of it. But no matter how many times any of the parties has denied that it would ever happen, the talk has never silenced and it seems like the Helloween fans will never give up on it. When both Kiske and Hansen were touring with Avantasia a few years, the rumours came to life again. Especially since Michael Kiske has on several occasions spoke of his loathing for heavy metal and his solo releases has been pop and ballads and his recent project, the Frontiers Records driven Place Vendome, consisted of AOR and melodic rock. But with his involvement in Avantasia, Kiske was all of a sudden back on doing heavy metal and with Hansen’s involvement, well, lesser things has started rumours before. When Unisonic first saw the light of day in 2009, it was Kiske that teamed up with Pink Cream ’69 members Dennis Ward (bass) and Kosta Zafiriou (drums) and guitar player Mandy Meyer (Krokus, Asia, Gotthard) that were the core of the band, of course Ward was heavily involved with Place Vendome and he snatched Kiske from there. But it was when Kai Hansen joined the group in 2011 when all hell broke loose. Now, Hansen had been trying to recruit Kiske as the lead singer for his own band Gamma Ray for ages with Kiske declining every time, so when Hansen took the opportunity to work with Kiske in Unisonic instead, it was the closest to a Helloween reunion ever and of course the fans picked up on that. The fact that to many, Hansen and Kiske were Helloween’s top song writers back in the day so of course expectations on the debut, self titled 2011 Unisonic album were astronomical, to put things mildly.
Expect the unexpected. That’s an old cliché that almost every band out there says when they’re asked to describe their new album or their music in general. But there are just a few bands that you can apply that on. One of those bands is Opeth. One writer once described them as Pink Floyd meets death metal and even though there might have been some truth in that, there is so much more to Opeth than that. When they started out back in the early 90’s they were more or less a pure death metal albeit with some progressive elements. But with each album, singer/ guitarist / main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt let the growling be replaced with clean singing and their progressive sides has taken over more and more until they lost all the growling on their last album Heritage (2011), an album that was all progressive and with almost no metal left at all. Things like that doesn’t go unnoticed in the metal camps and this change in style has been under debate since the album was released. Was the change for better or for worse? That’s in the ear of the beholder, I guess and I can only state that for me it was neither – it was just different and the very Opeth way to go. The development to a more progressive act without growl couldn’t have come as a surprise to any fan that have followed the band from the beginning. Damnation from 2003 was a mellow and soft album that sowed the first seed to growl-less Opeth and it was the first time they had released an album without any metal or growl and it was an appreciated album, but I guess that many fans saw that album as an intermission and not a “real” Opeth album. Still, the band’s magnum opus and finest effort to date, 2008’s Watershed went in a more progressive direction than any other album, even though it contained both grown and metal. I thought that Heritage was a brilliant album that without a doubt still had Opeth recognizable sound. It might have been a little harder to get into for many, when the album finally stuck, it was yours to love for life.
The first time I ever heard about Canadian rockers The Trews was back in 2005 when I received a five track (I think…) album with an issue of British rock mag Classic Rock (of which I subscribe to). Now, I have this tick that tells me to listen all free records I get with my magazines, no matter what. So I thought The Trews was a really lousy name (still do), but I gave it a spin and boy was I glad I did. The free CD was outtakes from their – what I thought – was their debut album Den Of Thieves (turns out they hade recorded a previous album back in 2003 called House Of Ill Fame, which I still haven’t heard…) and that free five track CD was enough for make me purchase the actual album, which I did. I loved the album and I still listen to it a lot. It was produced by Jack Douglas of Aerosmith fame. But it was the follow up No Time For Later (2008) that I consider their magnum opus. The album is full of brilliant melodic rockers that sometimes goes total hard rock, sometimes almost AOR, but most of the time it’s somewhere in between. Now, it turns out that their name is short for trousers, if I’m not misinformed which kinda explains a thing or two, as they were known as One I’d Trouser when they started back in 1997. All of a sudden, The Trews didn’t look like such a bad name.
I must admit that when I first heard that German metal veterans Accept would start over again without original singer Udo Dirkschneider, I was sceptical to say the least. I remember how their whole career was smashed to pieces the last time they tried that. The album, Eat The Heat (1989) was a failure, both musically and commercially and their singer, American David Reece was a really good singer, but didn’t fit the band at all. In my mind, Wolf Hoffmann (guitars) and Peter Baltes (bass) hadn’t learned anything from that experience, it seemed. Udo Dirkschneider was far too important for both Accept’s sound and look and he could never be replaced. It didn’t make things better that his replacement was Mark Tornillo, the lead singer of T.T. Quick, a melodic hard rock band that was obscure, to put it mildly and was only known to a few rockers because of their cover version of Dave Clarke Five’s 50’s hit “Glad All Over”. Boy, was I wrong. When Accept finally released their come back album Blood Of The Nations (2010), they didn’t only floor me, but almost every old Accept fan would agree that Accept had made one of their best albums of their career and that it sounded like a true Accept record. Mark Tornillo also won everybody over and today he is 100% accepted as the lead singer of Accept. The fact that Udo isn’t missed at all is an astonishing achievement. I mean, Udo Dirkschneider is a metal icon, for chrissake! The 2012 follow up Stalingrad didn’t match its predecessor, but it was still a very good album, albeit a bit rushed. But it did strengthen their position as a first class act and live they still drew a big crowd on the tour that followed.
To start this review with an introduction is total overkill and if you have no knowledge of Ace Frehley, you don’t deserve one because Kiss should count as common knowledge these days, no matter if you’re a fan or not. Old Space Ace has had a roller coaster of a career and almost every downfall has been due to his own fuck-ups, because if there’s one word that sums Ace’s life up, it’s fuck-up. Alcoholism, drug abuse, car crashes, internal band fighting, bad business decisions that has almost lead to bankruptcy – Ace has been there and done that. Musically, his career has been on the edge many times and the quality of his records hasn’t always been top-notch – in fact, on too many occasions, his music has been total crap. While in Kiss, Ace wrote many brilliant tunes and I don’t think Kiss ever recorded one bad Ace Frehley song. Think about it – “Cold Gin”, “Parasite”, “Strange Ways”, “Getaway”, “Shock Me”, “Rocket Ride”, “Save Your Love”, “Hard Times”, “Talk To Me”, “Two Sides Of The Coin”, “Torpedo Girl”, “Dark Light”, “Escape From The Island” and “Into The Void” were all his and they are still brilliant. He also took The Rolling Stones’ “2000 Man” and made it his own on Dynasty (1979). Fact is, there’s a lot of people out there that actually believes that it is an Ace tune. His solo album from 1978 is considered by many to be the best of the Kiss members solo efforts and it is today hailed as a true classic. But things turned sour when he tried to get a solo career going. Marked by drugs and alcohol, he had big problems getting a deal and when he did he used poor judgement when it came to picking material for the albums. His self titled debut album by his band Frehley’s Comet in 1987 was a long-awaited album and all of us who hade all those brilliant Kiss tunes and his solo album mind, expected greatness. Well, what we got was an uneven album of brilliant songs mixed with fillers and pure crap (“Something Moved”). If that wasn’t enough, the follow up Second Sighting (1988) was rushed by his record company and thereupon the album was a big pile of crap. That was the end of Frehley’s Comet. Frehley’s first album, under his own name came out in 1989 and was called Trouble Walkin’, was a big step up from the last debacle, however he had recorded a version of Kiss’ “Hide Your Heart” (also covered by Bonnie Tyler, Robin Beck and Molly Hatchet) that was completely redundant.
In the history of rock there has always been those bands that never made it, but damn well should have. I have a bunch of bands like that in my record collection, but one band that really are the text-book example of that is Kix. Why on earth this band never made it huge in the late 80’s is beyond me. It seems to beyond everyone I know that has heard the band as well. Kix’ brand of music – bluesy, groovy rock and roll with a swing that could make a paralyzed person get up and dance and those melodies that could make people like Desmond Child and Diane Warren green with envy, kinda like a AC/DC with a nice dose of pop thrown in – was made for both charts and stages. Kix was formed back in 1977 by lead singer Steve Whitman, guitarist Ronnie Younkins and bassist and main song writer Donnie Purnell as The Shooze, but they changed their name to first The Generators and then to Kix back in 1980 and by then drummer Jimmy Chalfant and guitarist Brian Forsythe had joined the band. Kix’ first three albums, Kix (1981), Cool Kids (1983) and Midnite Dynamite (1985) were some uneven stories, but they still managed to get some recognition. Their biggest success by far is 1988’s Blow My Fuse, their best album, in my opinion, that shipped platinum overseas (1 000 000 records), much to the fact that they managed to get a hit with their anti-suicide ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. But the release of the follow up, the brilliant and oh so underrated Hot Wire (1991), failed to match the sales of its predecessor, it only sold some 250 000 copies.
I have never liked E.P.’s. I remember when I was a kid and some band had decided on releasing an E.P. instead of a long player, it would piss me off big time. I mean, why would you want to buy a record with five songs on it when you could have the double amount? To this day, I hate E.P.’s. When I read that some band will release an E.P. to raise the interest for their real product, I couldn’t care less. Many are the E.P.’s out there that I have missed because I turn quite obstinate when I have an idea planted in my head. Today, some bands has gotten it in their minds that E.P.’s are the way to release music if you want to release an actual piece and not only mp3 files (which are even worse!). Because, they say, people can’t handle more songs than, like, five, anyway, these days. What a load of a crap! Sure, people can, but ok, many kids are just downloading songs – not albums – when they want their music digitally, but if that’s the case then it doesn’t matter if you release 10 songs or five. Anyway, Skid Row are one of those bands, but even if the format itself pisses me off, the only way to get hold of any of their new music is to get hold of their damned E.P.’s, so it’s either that or no Skid row music at all. When it comes to the first two Johnny Solinger fronted Skid Row albums Thickskin (2003) and Revolutions Per Minute (2006) – knowing what I know now – I would actually had been better off not listening to them at all, because quite frankly, they both blow dog! But things changed last year when they released the very underrated United World Rebellion : Chapter One, a five track album that took Skid Row back to their roots.
For every middle-aged hard rock fan from Sweden, Helix means one thing for the most part: “Rock You”! Back in 1984 we only had one TV show that played rock videos and that show – Bagen – broke Twisted Sister in Sweden alone by pumping their videos. It also made Canadian rockers Helix superstars for a couple of years in our country. I knew about Helix before that because they supported Kiss on their 1983 Lick It Up tour – a concert I missed – but musically I knew little about them. I had heard “Heavy Metal Love” from their second debut album (Helix had two independently released albums out, Breaking Loose (1979) and White Lace & Black Leather (1981)) No Rest For The Wicked (1983), their first album on a major label, Capitol, before and I thought the song was ok, but apparently not good enough to check out their album. But that night in front of my TV changed all that with a simple “Gimme a R!”. After that, the song was all over radio and in everyone’s Sony Walkman and even the people who wasn’t into hard rock and metal dug it. Of course, that made their album Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge (1984) sell shitloads of quantities. The follow up single “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” also became a hit, but not as big as “Rock You”! Me, I bought both that album and No Rest For Wicked the day after “Rock You” had premiered and I cursed myself for not picking up on the band before that. I mean, I was the one who spread the gospel of Twisted Sister at my school before no one – and I mean literary no one – knew who they were. Now they became superstars and I could say I was first – well one the first, anyway – Twisted Sister fans in Sweden (well, at least around where I lived…), but with Helix, I was simply one of those who found out about the band by the video that made them big. A follower. Oh, the shame! But the love affair between Sweden and Helix ended after the follow up, Long Way To Heaven (1985), a much stronger album than its predecessor, in my opinion and a successful tour.
Sometimes writing reviews is a really good thing. A while ago I got an e-mail from one Rob Town, who thanked me for my review on Winger’s latest album Better Days Comin’ (an album every rock fan should own) and posted a link to an album with another one of his bands – apparently he works with Winger – and would I check them out and write a review on their new album? Being a guy that likes to check out new bands, I gladly accepted and got the album. The band in question is BlackWolf, a five piece from Bristol, England, that has just released their debut album The Hunt (they released an EP, Taking Root in 2012). The band, formed in 2010 and likes their rock raunchy and rocking with a great deal of attitude. They have opened up to bands such as Voodoo Six, Electric Eel Shock and Voodoo Johnson, if you know them, but their biggest achievement to date must be that they attended the biggest biker festival in the world, the Bulldog Bash, in 2011 that drew some 40 000 people.