It wasn’t that long ago since Judas Priest went out in the press and told us that they would call it a day. Judas Priest and singer Rob Halford had made an acclaimed reunion after some years apart and a couple of disastrous records on both parts and neither part were getting any response from the bigger – and especially Priest’s own – audience. They released the very good and classic Priest sounding album Angel Of Retribution (2005) and everything seemed to be hunky dory in the Priest camp. The same could be said of the mastodon project of the double album Nostradamus that followed in 2008 even though it did split the Priest camp in two. But when original guitarist K.K. Downing decided to leave the band in the middle of the Epitaph World Tour that started in 2010 it was clear that all wasn’t well in the Priest camp. In 2011, Richie Faulkner (ex Lauren Harris) was hired to complete the tour but by then it looked like the Priest saga was over.
From UFO to Scorpions to Michael Schenker Group to McAuley Schenker Group to Temple Of Rock to Michael Schenker Fest. And in between there has been some solo efforts that made few people happy plus short-lived reunions with both UFO and Scorpions that both ended on a disastrous note. Michael Schenker’s career has therefore been a somewhat bumpy road with its ups and downs. Fact is, Schenker lived pretty much in the shadows for a long time due to confused musical efforts and a fights with alcohol and drug demons but in 2011 things started to look bright again when he released his very underrated Temple Of Rock album. Two more records under the Temple Of Rock moniker – Bridge The Gap (2013) and Spirit On A Mission (2015) – with new singer Doogie White (Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tank) following Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, Leif Sundin and Kelly Keeling to mention a few singers that Schenker had worked with in the past.
A solo album from Phil Lanzon!!? That was unexpected, to say the least. I’m not sure how big a name Phil Lanzon is but I suspect that there are many rock fans out there who aren’t really aware of who he is and therefore I also suspect that this record won’t ship itself platinum anytime soon. I first heard of Lanzon when I read the back cover of Irish/British AOR rockers Grand Prix’s awesome record Samurai (1983), a band in which singer Robin McAuley (MSG, Survivor) was featured. Lanzon wasn’t featured that much as a song writer – he’s a keyboard player – on said album but he did write the album’s best and most progressive tune, the title track. Grand Prix released two albums prior to that – the self titled debut in 1980 and There For None To See (1982) – none of which I have heard a note of.
This is the first time I review an album by a band from Zagreb, Croatia. In fact, Animal Drive is the first Croatian band I have ever heard or even known about. At least, I think so. That alone made me interested to check this album out. The press release also gave some hints that this band just might be something to write home about. The band was introduced to the Frontiers label by none other than Jeff Scott Soto (Sons Of Apollo, Talisman, WET, Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey) who got to know the band’s lead singer Dino Jelusic when they sang together in Trans Siberian Orchestra and as we all know, Paul O’Neill would never let any singer in if he couldn’t deliver the goods. That meant that I could look forward to a singer who knew his bits and also, the band lists their influences as Slave To The Grind (1991) era Skid Row, Whitesnake at their heaviest but also some more progressive acts such as Dream Theater and to me, that sounded like a real treat.
Back in 2016, Finnish arena rockers Shiraz Lane released their debut album For Crying Out Loud. The band got some pretty good and interesting reviews of that record and since I’m a fan of the brand of music they play, I had to check it out. But to me, the album was underwhelming and to be frank, pretty dull. That album got me thinking of all the Melodic Rock / Arena Rock bands that jumped on that band wagon a couple of years too late, around 1992 – 1993, when the genre had killed itself with too many copy cats like Roxy Blue, Southgang, Tainted Angel and such, bands that didn’t brought anything worthwhile to the table and therefore never made it out of the clubs – or even into them. I found the album mainstream and without both attitude or identity. Needless to say, I haven’t exactly listened myself to death to that record. That also meant that when the guys – vocalist Hannes Kett, guitarists Jani Laine and Miki Kalske, bassist Joel Alex and drummer Ana Willman – now releases the follow-up, I can’t say that my expectations were shooting through the roof.
First it was called Architect Of Time. Then, we got the name Americana handed to us. What was called that, one might ask. Well, when bass player and lead vocalist John Payne ended his stint as a member of Asia, a position he had when he replaced John Wetton in 1991 until the original Asia line-up reunited in 2006, he was permitted by drummer Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoff Downs and Wetton that he could still continue as Asia Featuring John Payne with his new band. I waited for that album. I longed for it to show up. As an Asia fan, I dug both the Wetton fronted band and the Payne fronted version and I couldn’t wait for that album the show up already. It never showed. After a while I lost interest in waiting and for the last few years I have been totally clueless of Payne’s whereabouts, but it have come to my knowledge that he’s been touring quite frequently with his Asia featuring John Payne band.
Back in 2015, when Reach – guitarist Ludvig Turner, drummer Marcus Johansson, bassist David Jones and singer Alex Waghorn – released their debut album Reach Out To Rock, I gave it a pretty raving review. I remember it as if it was yesterday because I really liked what I heard. Sure, there were minor setbacks to the album. Alex Waghorn didn’t hold the strongest of voices and the band sounded a bit rusty and rookie-like but the production and the songs really shook me. This was an AOR band that should go really far, I thought. Fast forward to 2018 and the times I have been listening to Reach’s debut album since it came out can probably be counted on one hand. Fact is, the last time I listened to it, like a year or so ago, it hadn’t aged that well on me. Not that I thought it had turned from gold to a turd but when I read back my own review I can’t really grasp all the superlatives that I threw around back then. I still think it’s a decent album but the 8/10 I gave it is two or three points too many, at least that’s my opinion today.
Swiss Classic Rock band Gotthard’s career has been a bumpy ride for me. When they first showed up in the early 90’s, they did nothing for me at all even though I never thought they were crap. Until Lipservice showed up in 2005. That album and its follow-ups Domino Effect (2007) and Need To Believe (2009) made me a Gotthard fan. Then disaster struck. Lead singer and co-founder of the band Steve Lee was killed in a traffic accident in 2010 and nothing would be the same again. The band found a replacement in the very talented Nic Maeder but none of the albums Gotthard have made with him has been up to par with said trilogy. However, the band’s latest effort Silver (2017) was a real step-up and I began to see some hope again. But when it comes to the pre-Lipservice albums, they have still failed to make any impact on me, despite some very solid attempts to change my own mind about them. I don’t hate them but I just don’t get them.
“New music, old friends”. That sentence and a picture of Anders Wikström (Treat, ex- Mental Hippie Blood) and Mats Levén (Candlemass, Trans Siberian Orchestra, ex- Yngwie Malmsteen, Treat, Swedish Erotica, Krux, Abstrakt Algebra) was posted on Facebook by Wikström about a year ago. That alone was enough to get my pulse up a notch or ten. See, I have always been a huge fan of the 1992, self-titled Treat album that featured Levén as the singer of that band and I was saddened when the guys decided to put that band to rest after just one album together. Add to the fact that I hold Levén as one of my all time favorite singers and I also hold Wikström as one of the most underrated guitarists in hard rock – ever. Wikström has also proven that he still is a song writer of the highest calibre on the latest two Treat albums. So the fact that these two gentlemen has decided to work again was great news for me even though, at the time, no one knew exactly what that meant in reality.
After three great albums – Legacy Of Life (2012), Pieces Of Eden (2013) and Empire Of Sin (2014) – with the line-up that featured singer Matti Alfonzetti (Bam Bam Boys, Jagged Edge, Skintrade), guitarist Tommy Denander and bass player Mats Vassfjord (Laney’s Legion, 220 Volt, Grand Design) it was time for a new chapter for drummer and founder J.K. Impera (aka Johan Kihlberg). Impera were a band that hardly played live and could easily be viewed as just a side project for the members of the group. But it was a brilliant band with all brilliant musicians and when Alfonzetti and Denander took their talents elsewhere, it wasn’t an easy task for Kihlberg to find replacements that were in the same league. At first it was said that guitarist Rob Marcello (Danger Danger, Laney’s Legion, The Defiants) would join but that one fell apart. It was also rumored that Kihlberg would turn his drum stool over to another drummer and only do rhythm guitar, keyboards, song writing and production. The vocal job was also a bit of a mystery and at one point I even heard John Corabi’s name mentioned.