Many are the songs that have travelled from guitarist/song writer Magnus Karlsson’s pen – sometimes his work has been very good, sometimes it has been underwhelming. Karlsson’s day-job, Primal Fear, has had their ups and downs with some really good records but also some – like their latest effort Apocalypse (2018) – that was a bit disappointing. The debut from Russell Allen & Jorn Lande, The Battle (2005) is one example of a project that came out brilliantly. Earlier this year, Karlsson released the third Starbreaker (featuring Tony Harnell) album, an uneven record and just a couple months later, the second album by The Ferrymen – Karlsson’s project with singer Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, CoreLeoni) and drummer Mike Terranna (Yngwie, Axel Rudi Pell, Beau Nasty and a million other projects) – shows up. The debut from 2017 was a good enough record without being spectacular so my expectations are of the medium kind. I hope I’m positively surprised, though.
It had been a long time comin’ when ex – Little Angels singer Toby Jepson made his, for me, long-awaited come back to the scene with his new band, Wayward Sons. I have been a big fan of Little Angels since their 1990 debut Don’t Prey For Me and I always loved Jepson’s voice. Jepson has had a few projects since Little Angels’ split in 1994 – Toby And The Whole Truth, the singer spot in both Gun and Fastway – but none of them sported any longevity and to be fair, I had almost forgotten about Jepson had it not been for the short-lived Little Angels reunion a few years back.
Erik Mårtensson is a machine. The guy’s ability to come up with new killer songs seems to be endless. If he’s not active with his main-band Eclipse, there are albums out with other projects like Nordic Union, W.E.T., Ammunition or providing some Frontiers Records’ project with music – and the quality is always remarkably high. Remarkably because who can put out record after record after record without failing at least some? I can’t honestly remember when I last heard an album with songs that comes from Mårtensson’s pen that contained at least a few songs that I think sucked. I admit that I’m not overly impressed by Eclipse’s first three albums and the debut W.E.T. record to me came across as a lukewarm Journey rip-off – albeit not bad per se – but everything he has released since 2012 – we’re talking nine albums – has been nothing short of brilliant.
Michael Sweet is probably one of the hardest working musicians in the business right now. If there’s not a new album out by his main priority band Stryper, you can rest assured that there is or will be one out by either Sweet & Lynch or a solo album. What’s even more impressive is that he’s the main song-writer on all of those projects – and the quality is always amazingly high. The guy is a song writing machine – the song production from Michael seems to be without limits, there have been lo less than eleven records coming out from Sweet the last ten years, including the new solo album. Impressive to say the least, in a time when three, four years between albums is the norm. Since the music from Sweet’s different constellations have been so strong, I do expect a whole lot from him when a new album is due for release. His new record also sports some very interesting – and in some cases surprising – guests which makes the album even more intriguing.
When Flying Colors released their self-titled debut album back in 2012, I thought they would be just another one-off project. The members – Casey McPherson (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steve Morse (lead guitar), Dave LaRue (bass), Mike Portnoy (drums) and Neal Morse (keyboards, lead vocals) – are dudes with tight schedules in bands such as Deep Purple, Neal Morse Band, solo careers and studio jobs and in Portnoy’s case, a gazillion other bands such as The Winery Dogs and today Sons Of Apollo. That record totally knocked me for six and I was hoping for a continuation – which I got in 2014 with the equally brilliant Second Nature. They even played live at some occasions and now when their third record has hit the shelves, I think it’s time to start seeing them as a real band. Fact is, I wouldn’t mind if the guys started seeing Flying Colors as their main priority. Of course, when you have two magnificent releases in the back-water, there are some major expectations when new stuff is released.
It’s been a long time coming! The word that singer Mats Levén has been working on his own project has been around for years now, but no news has surfaced – until now. Since Levén left Swedish Erotica in the early 90’s he have been the go-to-guy whenever an artist or a band was in need of quality singing, be it as a guest on a project or a replacement in a band – but we haven’t exactly been showered with albums from the man himself. There has been no use in complaining as whenever Levén put his vocal-cords over something, the project in question has always been bettered by it – and there has been a whole lot of different things for his CV during the years. Treat, Abstrakt Algebra, Yngwie Malmsteen, Therion, Krux, At Vance and Candlemass only to mention a few – and I need to state that I’m happy for it. Vocally, Treat, Yngwie and Therion never sounded better and in the case of Candlemass, Levén was the guy that made them interesting at all since I’ve never been much of a fan of that band.
I have loved Swedish Classic rock band Diamond Dogs since I saw them live for the first time some time in the 90’s. Their brand of swinging 70’s Rock with a slight glam-touch with clear influences from 70’s Rolling Stones and The Faces but also reminiscent of “newer” bands such as The Quireboys and Black Crowes really hit home with me. Live, their swing and groove was out of this world. But I had almost given up on them when it came to new music. Ever since Black River Road (2004) the quality had gone down and the attitude and grit had been transformed into safe sounds and songs more reminiscent to Swedish oldies dance-band music than Rock ‘n Roll. New hope was given with 2012’s Set Fire To It All and their last album Quitters And Complainers (2015) showed a band that had found their old spark again. A rocking album with a whole bunch of great tunes gave me hope for the future.
I first thought that Age Of Reflection were a Power Metal band. The album cover-art and the name suggested that. Then it struck me that the acronym for Age Of Reflection is AOR. And they’re from Sweden. Hmmm. Reading the press-release for this album, this is a band working in those territories. Now, when it comes to Scandinavian – and especially Swedish – AOR acts, inflation has struck. For a while, new bands kept popping up from everywhere and even though none of them were bad per se, they were all sporting the same soundscapes. For a while I had four new AOR records, all hailing from Sweden, on my phone and when I played songs randomly it was actually hard to tell them apart – sound, arrangement, production. And they all sound extremely slick and polished with keyboards taking over and with little to no crunch, grit or edge whatsoever. So my first thought was, “ok, another Swedish AOR act…”
I admit, I fully embraced Steel Panther’s juvenile and pubertal piss-take on 80’s glam-metal – which also included a big passion and love for the genre – from go. Their debut album Feel The Steel (2009) still puts a moronic grin on my face when I hear it. But, Steel Panther weren’t only a joke-band, the guys could – and still can – play like the best of them and they sure know their way around a big hook and a catchy chorus. When I saw the band live the first time it was part rock-concert and part Heavy Metal stand-up comedy. I laughed myself silly and I wasn’t the only one. But I also wondered just how far Steel Panther could take their brand before it got old. Too bad for Steel Panther, it didn’t last all that long. I liked their second album Balls Out (2011) as well and another brain-dead in the name of fun gig at Sweden Rock brought on a good time for me. But after that, I found it hard to go further with the band.
I still don’t get the reason behind this side-project. That artists of today start side-projects isn’t strange at all, it happens all the time. But what I don’t get is why Gotthard guitarist Leo Leoni – together with drumming bandmate Hena Habegger, bassist Mila Merker, second guitarist Jgor Gianola and singer Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, The Ferrymen) – instead of writing new music has decided on re-recording old Gotthard-songs. I mean, I get that he wants to give those oldies new life to get the recognition he think they deserve, but why not do it with Gotthard and give singer Nic Maeder a shot at making those song his? To be honest, this project sends out some pretty mixed signals. Isn’t Leoni content with the band without Steve Lee? I’m not saying that this isn’t a qualitative project, I just don’t get the reason behind it.