So, here it is, the third and final chapter of ex- Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate’s dystopian rock opera. And according to Tate, it’s the final album by the project called Operation: Mindcrime. I write project because Operation: Mindcrime were always a project and never a real band. There have always been lots of different musicians helping Tate out to create this overblown and big story and after this, Tate will go further down the road to new projects, whatever those might be. I must admit that when I first heard of his new project I really wasn’t expecting much. See, the way Queensrÿche were heading after the formidable Promised Land (1994) was more and more downhill by each album and Tate’s solo stuff has been everything but satisfying. Also, after seeing Tate live – and listening to his records – it has been pretty clear that his once so amazing voice is today is a mere shadow of what it once was.
Back in 2015 I got this e-mail from one of the members, asking if I’d like to review their latest album. I had heard about the band then but never heard their music so to review an album by them would give me a chance to get to know their music, I thought. He sent me a reviewer’s copy of the album – yes a CD and not a streaming or download link – and I only needed one listen to be completely floored. I e-mailed back and said that I loved the record and that a review was on its way and like a week later a copy of the predecessor Requiem (2013) – and that album floored me just as much (I still haven’t gotten around to find the self-titled debut from 2006, I can admit with shame…) – was found in my mailbox. Those two albums has been safe and sound in my phone since then and I just can’t seem to grow tired of them – to me this is two masterpieces and to give them any number below a 10 just isn’t possible. So now that their brand new album is in stores, it comes with expectations ridiculously high which in turn means that an 8/10 would look like a failure despite an 8 is very good. But how many bands can put out three 10’s in a row, right?
There is something with AOR, rock and pop bands naming themselves after cities / continents. Think about it – Boston, Chicago, Kansas, Texas, Asia, Europe, Japan, Alaska, Berlin – and there are probably more of them if you bother to google a bit. Well, Swedish AOR duo Hank Erix and Freddie Allen looked at some of the mentioned bands, the more AOR oriented ones such as Boston, Kansas and Chicago and realized Houston wasn’t taken. Said and done – Houston it was and when they released their self titled debut album in 2010, they were hailed as the great new hope of AOR with raving reviews everywhere. The second album, Relaunch (2011) was an album of covers – a bit of an appetizer for the next album, if you will. Their third album was called II, it came out in 2013 and the rave reviews kept coming. Album #4 was made of more covers and called Relaunch II and it saw the light of day in 2014.
My first thought when I saw the reviewer’s download link to this album was: “Dante Fox. Dante Fox. Where have I heard that name before?”. See, I’m not familiar at all with this British AOR / melodic rock band. Then the lights went on. Didn’t Great White used to be called Dante Fox before they became Great White? That’s where I must have heard the name a million years ago. However, this Dante Fox is a totally different beast than the American classic rock band. This Dante Fox was formed way back in 1989 by lead singer Sue Willets and guitarist Tim Manford but it would take them another seven years to make the band complete and release their debut album Under Suspicion and a follow-up, The Fire Within to follow three years later. If the grunge and nu-metal owning the 90’s had anything to do with the fact that Dante Fox didn’t do much until 2007, when they released their third album Under The Seven Skies is anyone’s guess but it would also take them an additional five years to release album # 4, Lost Man’s Ground in 2012.
Shakra was formed back in 1994 by guitarists Thom Blunier and Thomas Muster, singer Pete Wiedmer, bassist Roger Badertscher and drummer Roger Tanner but a few line-up changes has been made since then. Wiedner left in 2002 and was replaced by Mark Fox who was in the band up until 2009 and was replaced by John Prakesh who in his turn was the band’s singer until 2015 when he left and Fox returned. Badertscher left in 2000, was replaced by Oli Linder who left in 2008 and was replaced by Dominik Pfister and that is the band we have today. The band released their self-titled debut back in 1998 and have since made another ten studio albums, including the new one. The band has also made two live records to add to their pretty large discography, so there are quite a few albums for this guy to check out if their latest effort makes any impact on me.
So what have we here? Empire? Ok, I know I have heard the name somewhere. Yes, I know it’s a Queensrÿche album and I know there’s a record company called that but that there is a band named Empire do ring a bell somewhere in the back of my mind as well. As you might have guessed, this a band / project I’m not familiar with at all. Empire were formed in 2000 by German guitarist and drummer Rolf Munkes and Gerald Kloos and British singer Lance King and The King Of Bass, Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Gary Moore, Black Sabbath). In 2003 King left and was replaced by former Sabbath singer Tony Martin who left in 2007 and was replaced by Doogie White (Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tank, Michael Schenker). Drummer Kloos left in 2006 and was replaced by André Hilgers. The band also included Deep Purple keyboardsman Don Airey (ex- Gary Moore, Whitesnake, Rainbow, Ozzy) from 2003 – 2007.
Back in the 90’s, AOR had pretty much ran its course for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the old bands but not many new ones made any impact on me. Sweden had some record companies, like MTM and Empire, that put out loads of AOR/melodic rock bands throughout the 90’s but I had trouble finding anything interesting out of all those releases. It’s not like I succumbed to grunge or nu-metal like so many others, I still loved the classic hard rock, metal and arena rock bands that struggled, but in AOR too much were underwhelming, badly produced and sounded like the same old same old. But something happened in the mid 2000’s. A new generation of musicians appeared, young men and women that had looked through their parents’ record collections and found their albums from the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, liked what they heard and saw and picked up instruments and formed bands. New blood. New passion for old music and decided to take those songs and that sound, update it and make it their own – and it worked. And yours truly found his way back to genre again. And then some!
Adrian Vandenberg. It’s impossible to not mention Whitesnake when his name pops up. To me, the “real” Whitesnake existed between 1978-1984, after that Whitesnake felt more like David Coverdale’s solo project and the music changed so much that it didn’t feel like the same band anymore. I really like Whitesnake from 1987 and onwards but the 78-84 versions are superior, in my book. I know that Whitesnake have always had the best of musicians but the amazing groove, the feel, the rootsy rock of the old band just aren’t there anymore. What I’m getting to is that I think that Adrian Vandenberg is the only musician (guitarist) in Whitesnake after 1987 that could have taken a place in the “old” Whitesnake without going arena rock on their rhythm & blues based classic rock that was their brand back then. I also have a feeling that Whitesnake’s Slip of The Tongue would have sounded a lot different had Vandenberg been the major player on that record. To me, Vandenberg is the player that got away – Coverdale should have made sure he stayed put.
My favorite Nightwish era is the one that put out Dark Passion Play (2007) and Imaginaerum (2011), the one that was fronted by former Alyson Avenue singer Anette Olzon. The truth is, I was never that fond of Nightwish before that and I always found Tarja Turunen’s voice quite annoying in her higher register – and I thought the songs were underwhelming for the most with that line-up. I do like their latest Floor Jansen fronted record, though. But enough of Nightwish, they’re not the one’s under the magnifying glass here. But their ex- lead singer Anette Olzon is. After she departed from Nightwish it was quiet for some two years before a solo album unexpectedly (for me, at least) showed up out of the blue. The album was called Shine and was a quite motley story, full of ballads and AOR-laden rock but with a darker and symphonic and gothic vibe and elements that even bordered to metal. I gave that album 7/10 but since I haven’t listened to it for years and I can’t remember a note from it, I guess I might have a bit too kind with the score there.
To be honest, I have never cared much for Pink Cream 69. Not that I think that they suck, it’s just that their music has never stuck with me at all. My first introduction with the band was when a friend of mine brought their second album One Size Fits All (1992) over to my place and said that I just had to check this band out. So I did. And even though I found songs like “Livin’ My Life For You” and “Talk To The Moon” pretty great songs, I really couldn’t hear the greatness my friend heard and consequently I never started to follow the band even though I have listened through that album multiple times since I first heard it. A good album by a good band that didn’t stood out properly for me. I almost saw them live when they opened for White Lion in the late 80’s (I think) but I decided White Lion weren’t great enough for me buying a ticket and I never went. I wonder if I would have looked different on Pink Cream 69 if I had gone to that concert…