I don’t hate Pearl Jam anymore. What a way to start a review, huh? Well, when Grunge slaughtered every other Rock genre in their way in the 90’s with bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam, I gave all of them bands a fair shot but I couldn’t find anything to embrace within those bands. Dark, gloomy, depressive – and they all looked like they had been living in someone’s basement for years. There were some good songs, of course, but not that many – and growing up in the 70’s and being a teenager in the 80’s, I so missed music that was fun and great musicianship was important. With Pearl Jam, I listened to their debut album Ten (1991) several times to no avail. Only a couple of songs were to my liking so I guess Grunge was never for me. After that I album I didn’t bother with Pearl Jam anymore. Until that one day.
My relationship with Gotthard’s music hasn’t been the same since their very talented singer Steve Lee bit the dust back in 2010. Fact is, I was never much a fan of the band from the beginning. Sure, I saw some of their videos on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball back in the day but I never found them that interesting. It would take up until 2005 and the amazing Lipservice album, an album that still gets me fired up on all cylinders when I hear it. The two follow-up’s, the almost as brilliant Domino Effect (2007) and Need To Believe (2009) turned me into a real fan and I decided to give their older albums a shot again. My judgment to pretty much all of them is still that they’re good but they couldn’t hold a candle to three mentioned records. When Steve Lee passed away, Gotthard was very close to finally get their long-awaited major break-through but instead they now had to focus on whether they would stay together or not and if they would, who would be the singer?
“Damn I hope that Gathering Of Kings will turn into a real band in the future!” That’s how I ended my review of GoK’s brilliant debut album First Mission last year. Apparently the God of Rock answer prayers because that is exactly what this Swedish version of Phenomena has turned into. Fantastic news. My guess is that they turned into a band more or less right after the success they had at Sweden Rock Festival last summer. A killer gig, it was. Only a little more than a year after the release of the debut, GoK is about to release their second outing – this time with a slight change of personnel. Chris Laney (guitar – Pretty Maids), Björn Strid (Night Flight Orchestra, Soilwork – vocals), Jens Westin (Corroded – vocals) and Richard Larsson (keyboards – Night Flight Orchestra) has all bid their farewells. New on the singer spot is instead Jonny Lindqvist (Nocturnal Rites). But just like on the debut, it’s Saffire’s Victor Olsson who provides the music – with a helping lyrical hand from Helldog singer Alexander Frisborg – which indeed bodes well.
As soon as the link for this album hit my mailbox, I reacted to the name. Semblant. I knew I had heard about this lot before. In fact, I was sure I had listened to them at some point. A quick search through my iTunes library told me that yes, I had an album by the band. Don’t ask me how it landed there because I just can’t recall. Neither can I recall what they sounded like or if I dug it or not. Well, the record obviously didn’t make much of an impression with me and when I googled the band I knew why. Melodic, gothic Heavy/Death Metal. Death Metal is one of the Hard Rock sub-genres I still can’t wrap my head around and Goth? Well, it’s very rare that I take an interest in that. But since quitting is for quitters, I’d be damned if I didn’t give the band a fighting chance, so I took on the album with an open mind.
Frontiers keeps on trying to develop their musical directions – a great move, I think even though I’m not a huge fan of everything they release. From being a label that put focus on AOR, Melodic Rock and reunited 80’s Hard Rock acts, they now include plenty of genres which branches out from the Hard Rock tree. The label has released stuff by progressive hard-rockers before but there are not a whole lot of those coming from their stables. A new signing in that genre comes with new, upcoming British rockers Novena consisting of members from bands such as Haken, Slice The Cake, Bleeding Oath, Ravenface and The HAARP Machine, to mention but a few. Since I’m not overly conversant in the prog-genre, I’m not even gonna pretend that I have ever heard of any of those bands. To be honest, Prog isn’t my first choice when it comes to Rock and there are only a few bands that I truly love.
It’s been five years since the last record – The Grand Design – hit the shelves and the project has been on hiatus since then. Since Ward had been involved in different projects during this time such as Sunstorm, Place Vendome and Magnum’s Bob Catley’s s solo career added to the list above, there just hasn’t been enough time to get another Khymera record off the ground – until now that is. Since both Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske returning to Helloween, leaving Unisonic at hiatus and Ward himself jumping ship from Pink Cream 69 to focus on playing bass in Magnum, there now was time for him to get the band together and to write and record a new record – Ward is also the producer – and the result is out now as we speak. As this is my first encounter with the band, I found it really interesting to find out what I had missed out on – if I had missed out on anything at all.
Magnus Karlsson is back for another ride of melodic Metal. We all know the guy from Free Fall, Starbreaker, The Ferrymen and his day-job in Primal Fear, to mention but a few. We also know him from Allen/Lande where he (and Frontiers Records, to be honest) gathered singers Jorn Lande (Masterplan, Millenium, Ayreon, Avantasia) and Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, Star One, Avantasia, Ayreon) for a collaboration. The first album The Battle (2005) was brilliant and is today looked upon as a more or less a classic. The second, The Revenge (2007) was a big let-down but he/they took their revenge (sic!) with the third outing The Showdown (2010), not as good as the debut but still a damn good record. The fourth album The Great Divide (2014) was also good but that one was written by Timo Tolkki (Startovarious) and Lande (lyrics only).
Back in 2014, Canadian Melodic Rock band Harem Scarem surprised me big time with a damn good album called Thirteen (the most used album-title ever?) after a strain of mediocre albums throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. They even split up for a short while in 2008 and Thirteen was their reunion record – and what a reunion record that was! But not even that album could prepare me for what was about to come. Of course, I had some high hopes for the follow-up, 2017’s United but that said album would be one of the best records of that year was something I wouldn’t have guessed. I gave it a 9/10 but three years later I think it’s damn close for the full monty. When Harem Scarem now follows that album up, my expectations is really, really high. Would they release yet another monster – the third time in a row?
I’m gonna start this review with a question that usually ends my reviews – and I think I have ended a couple of Dynazty reviews with it. Why isn’t Dynazty a headlining act yet? Why aren’t they headlining festivals and arenas around the world? I can’t get it through my skull. After six albums, none of them worse than good, most of them brilliant, it feels like the band just doesn’t get much bigger compared to the last album no matter how awesome the records are. Sure, they went on an up when they changed their sound from more traditional Hard Rock to Metal with a modern twist, but still, with reviews from both media and audience getting better and better, the big break is still lurking around the corner. Lord knows they deserve to be a big, headlining act by now.
That fact that this is a band, a melodic Hard Rock band, that has been together for some 25 years and I had just recently – in 2017 to be more exact – discovered them, is a bit embarrassing to be honest. What’s more embarrassing is that when I was about to review their last album, the great Snakes & Ladders – the album that made me discover them – I also found a couple of old CDs that someone once had burned for me, in one of many many CD-cases. Power Ride (2001) and Rising (2003). I had two Shakra records that I must have listened to at some point and I had forgotten about them…