I have to admit – I still have a hard time seeing House Of Lords as House Of Lords the band even though this line-up with singer James Christian, Guitarist Jimi Bell and drummer B.J. Zampa has been playing together since 2005, longer than any other line-up in the band’s history. Only the bass spot – which now is being held by Chris Tristram – has been unstable throughout the years. For some reason, all the records since Christian got the blessing from the band’s founder Gregg Giuffria to keep the name and released the come back album World Upside Down in 2006, brings the feeling of a James Christian solo project more than an actual band. I could be wrong here – and I probably am – but House Of Lords just don’t feel like a band to me. Maybe it’s because Christian’s solo records sounds too similar to House Of Lords’ albums or maybe it’s because the rest of the members seem to hold a bit of a back ground position opposed to the original line-up back in the 80’s where all members were more or less at the front. But that doesn’t mean that I think the other guys are bad by any means or that their music isn’t good enough – no, quite the contrary. The quality of their records hasn’t always been spot-on but except for the horrible The Power And The Myth (2004), no bad record have ever been released under the House Of Lords moniker.
Despite being aware of this Swedish melodic hard rock sensation for many, many years, it took me all up until 2015 and their last record Armageddonize to surrender and discover just how great this band is. The fact that I have dug lead singer and main song writer Erik Mårtensson’s other projects such as W.E.T. and Ammunition makes it even weirder that I haven’t tried to pick up any Eclipse releases before. But after just a few spins, Armageddonize made me go back and check out Eclipse’s back catalogue and what I found there was a little bit of this and that. Albums such as Bleed And Scream (2012) and Are You Ready To Rock MMXIV (2014) (a re-recording of said 2008 album) were both great records whereas the two first albums The Truth And A Little More (2001) and Second To None (2004) were very underwhelming and sounded like a band that hadn’t really come top terms with their sound and was still learning as song writers. So I must admit that Armageddonize took me somewhat by surprise by its extremely high quality and that album made me a fan right away. The high quality of that album also – and on the other projects Mårtensson had been involved with, such as last year’s magnificent Nordic Union album added to the list – has of course put some pressure on the guys to come up with an effort at least as good as the rest of their stuff and to me, the expectations has shot like rockets into the atmosphere!
The fact that Californian melodic rockers Night Ranger never made it huge back in the 80’s is one of (many) mysteries in hard rock. The band’s sound was a perfect fit for that decade and the fact that the band wrote shitloads of high quality songs with all the hooks in the world, that they were all brilliant musicians and singers and that they had an identity and sound of their own didn’t make matters worse. The band came close when their ballad “Sister Christian” (Midnight Madness, 1983) became a huge hit (#5 in the US charts) and shipped said album platinum (1 000 000 000 sold albums in the US), something both its predecessor Dawn Patrol (1982) and the follow-up Seven Wishes (1985) also did. 1987’s underrated killer album Big Life only shipped gold (500 000 copies) and when the, also extremely underrated, but rougher sounding Man In Motion (1988) only managed to reach #88 on the Billboard chart, the ride was over and Night Ranger split. Sure, Night Ranger did have some pretty big success at home but outside of the US, they were a small band and never sold any large quantities of records. Which is weird when you consider the huge success of similar bands such as Bon Jovi and Def Leppard around that time – Night Ranger should have played in the same league in a fair world.
Italy + Sweden = AOR. That’s the truth – at least when it comes to Lionville. The band started out as a project by brothers Stefano and Alessandro Lionetti in Geneva, Italy back in 2009. After playing the local club circuit of Genova for a couple of years, Stefano started Lionville for real with the help of Pierpaolo “Zorro” Monti (Shining Line) and Alessandro Del Vecchio (Edge Of Forever, Eden’s Curse, Hardline). With the involvement of singer Lars Säfsund (Work Of Art), they brought in their influences from acts such as Survivor, Toto, Richard Marx, Giant and Bad English and Lionville quickly began to take shape and by 2011 they had signed a record deal and also recorded and released their debut, self-titled album to lots of critical acclaim. The year after, the band released the follow-up, the very imaginatively titled (hmmm) II, a record that also got some very good reviews and the band stepped up a step or two on the ladder of success. After a few (that’s five, to be precise) years in hiatus, the boys – now including Lionetti on guitars and keyboards, singer Säfsund, guitarist Michele Cusato, bassist Giulio Dagnino and drummer Martino Malacrida – gained interest from Frontiers records and went to work again.
Out of all the projects that Frontiers records have been responsible for, Place Vendome is probably one of the most popular. The self titled debut was originally meant to be a one-off, but it turned out so good – plus it sold well enough and got lots of critical acclaim from both reviewers and fans that a continuation was inevitable. Ex- Helloween singer Michael Kiske was hired for the job as a singer – I never thought I was going to see the day that Kiske sang AOR – while Kiske’s band buddy (today in Unisonic that is, not in 2005) Dennis Ward (Pink Cream ’69) was responsible for song writing, bass playing and production duties, but for the brilliant follow-up Streets Of Fire (2009) – the best Place Vendome album to date, in my opinion – a whole bunch of other song writers were brought in – still with Ward as a producer and bassist. That’s why it came as happy news to me when it was decided that a third release would take place in 2013, The album was to be called Thunder In The Distance and they worked with this one like they did on the last one, Ward as producer and bass player and lots of song writers were hired.
I was thinking about this thing with musicians being in multiple bands recently. Back in the 70’s/80’s/90’s, that was more or less unthinkable – back then you played in one band and you gave that your all and maybe, just maybe you could go out and make a solo album if you had too much music inside of you that didn’t fit your day job. Today the situation is different – way different. Today it’s rare to do only one band and it’s very easy to understand why. Ever since file-sharing, YouTube and later Spotify came into people’s lives, making a living on selling records has become more or less impossible and therefore musicians are more or less forced to put out as music anyway they can. While it’s great that we’re being served with all this new music, it also runs the risk of being a bit overmuch because there are so many different projects out in later years that it is hard to keep up with everything and when things go overkill, people lose interest. It’s hard to eat when your stomach is full no matter how tasty the food is. Frontiers Records is a record company that is known for putting out melodic rock / AOR projects in a real fast pace and sometimes it works splendidly and sometimes it doesn’t. My only objection to some of them is that I miss the heart and soul, some feels more like the musicians involved are only the for the pay check and then wam bam thank you ma’am, gone – and I’m pretty sure that is case sometimes. I’m a band dude and I like it best when I get a band feel, where the guys involved writes the songs together and comes forward as a real band.
Unruly Child are a band whose destiny should have treated them lots better than it did. Back in 1992, when lead singer Marcie Free was still named Mark (ex- King Kobra, Signal) had teamed up with former Stone Fury guitarist Bruce Gowdy, drummer Jay Schellen (ex- Hurricane, Stone Fury), keyboarder Guy Allison (ex- Doobie Brothers, Air Supply) and bassist Larry Antonio and released their Beau Hill (Ratt, Winger, Warrant, Twisted Sister, Europe) produced debut album, they should have become mega stars. The album was full of brilliantly written rockers, all somewhere between melodic hard rock and AOR and the musicians in the band were all nothing short of awesome. The fact that Free has always been an amazing vocalist isn’t exactly news. But the fact is, the band was at least one year too late when they released the record. 1991 was the last year that this kind of music was commercially viable and in 1992, grunge had been taking over more and more and Unruly Child’s album sunk like a rock in the water and the band fell apart. Gowdy, Allison and Schellen tried to start the band over in 1998 with the underwhelming album Waiting For The Sun, now with Schellen’s old buddy from his Hurricane days, Kelly Hansen (now in Foreigner) at the mike and bass player Ricky Phillips (The Babys, Bad English), but not much happened with that one either. An album full of demos of unreleased material and stuff from the debut called The Basement Demos was released in 2002 but it wasn’t a real band effort at all. A last attempt to keep the band alive was done in 2003 when Gowdy and Allison brought in singer Philip Bardowell for the record UCIII, but nothing came out of that either – and that was that for Unruly Child.
Since I used to be something of a band-name snob a while back, there are bands that I have missed out on which is, to be frank, pretty stupid. But as I grew older I had left such stupidity behind me – or so I thought. When I first heard of Finish metal band Battle Beast, I more or less refused to even give them a chance – because of the name. Telling myself that I will never again judge a band by its name, I kind of made an exception for Battle Beast. I thought that with a name like that you a) have to be a power metal band – and power metal is a genre I have little interest in, to use a mild explanation – and b) nothing good can ever come out of a band that chooses a name such as Battle Beast. So I just turned my back on them. Later on I did watch snippets of some videos on YouTube and since I didn’t like what I heard that much – not that I tried too hard to give them a fair break – I made up my mind – Battle Beast were a crap band! Fast forward a couple of years and Battle Beast, now with new lead singer Noora Louihimo instead of the original vocalist Nitte Valo, had just released their third album Unholy Savior (2015) and I got to hear from both here and there just how good it was but since I had no love for first single “Touch In The Night” – in my mind it sounded like something Michael Cretu could have released back in 1986 – I stubbornly kept on being the obstinate me and refused the band. Until one day when I thought, screw it, maybe I should just check it out once and for all just to tell people exactly how crap this band really is. You know the expression “tail between the legs”? Well, that was me after I listened to the album. I loved the damned thing and bought it right away and since then I have never judged a band by its name and I will never do so again.
Back in 1989 I was convinced that British rockers Thunder would become the next British rock band after Def Leppard to make it huge and conquer the world – and so were pretty much everyone I knew back then. Formed by singer Danny Bowes, guitarist Luke Morley and drummer Gary ‘Harry’ James of the ashes of the trio’s former act Terraplane – a band I wasn’t too impressed with – with incoming members, guitarist Ben Matthews and bassist Mark ‘Snake’ Luckhurst, the band released their debut album Back Street Symphony in 1990 and had several hits in Europe and the album made quite a fuzz over here, especially in their native Great Britain and when John Kalodner (he was working for Geffen records in the U.S. back then and had a hand in platinum selling acts such as Guns N Roses, Whitesnake and Aerosmith) picked them up to make them a world-wide affair I thought that the last piece of puzzle had been found. But things didn’t quite work out that way and the big victory did not occur. In 1992, when they released their follow-up Laughing On Judgement Day, the musical climate had started to change and even though the album was really good, it wasn’t as strong as the debut which didn’t help matters further. Thunder’s rootsy, melodic, 70’s based hard rock didn’t really fit the times any more and even though they kept playing and releasing records up until 1999, the band’s popularity had sunk and to be honest, the records weren’t even close to the first two, quality wise.
If you live outside of Sweden – even in our neighbor countries such as Norway, Denmark and Finland – there’s a pretty large chance that you don’t have a clue who Jim Jidhed is. My guess is that you must have a really great interest in melodic rock and AOR to know who this guy is. In Sweden, on the other hand, I think that more than the usual rocker knows at least something about him. Jim Jidhed became famous in the late 80’s as the frontman and lead singer in Swedish AOR rockers Alien. In 1988 the had a really big hit with a cover of the old Marbles track “Only One Woman”. The song was written by Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb and the Marbles – a duo featuring future Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz vocalist Graham Bonnet – and was their only hit, something that would also apply on Alien. Jidhed left the band after their self titled debut album was released in 1988 and while Alien carried on, Jidhed released several solo albums, with both Swedish and English lyrics and he also participated in the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest in 1991, where he came at third place with a song called “Kommer Du Ihåg Mig” (Do You Remember Me). In 2005, Jidhed reunited with Alien and released the album Dark Eyes, but the only original members on the record were Jidhed and guitarist Tony Borg. But in 2010, the original Alien line-up reunited and in 2014 came the second album featuring the original band, called Eternity.