If it wasn’t for Tom Galley’s Phenomena, I would probably never have had heard of Rob Moratti. One of the later Phenomena albums, Blind Faith (2010), contained a huge power ballad called “House Of Love”, a song Moratti sang the living daylight out of and I had to know more about this guy. Sure, he replaced Michael Sadler in Saga for a short while in 2008 until Sadler decided to come back but I was never a Saga fan so that mattered little and his own pre-Saga bands Moratti and Final Frontier I had never heard of until I finally checked out the singer in question. I decided to check out his debut album Victory (2011) and I must admit I quite enjoyed the record even though it’s not on high rotation at my home. That said, I totally missed out on his follow-ups, A Tribute To Journey (2015) and Transcendent (2016), the latter an album I more or less stumbled over years later. It was also a good album.
Chaos Magic? Caterina Nix? As a huge music fan who loves to search out for new acts, am I supposed to heave heard of either? I’m wondering because before I got these review links, I hadn’t. The name of the band tells me that Chaos Magic are a project that, this time, features Nix as the vocalist but apparently, this is a band, not a project, a band that when it got started in 2015, contained former Stratovarius guitarist Timo Tolkki. Nix, born in Santiago, Chile, was discovered by Tolkki on one of his South American tours and with his help, Chaos Magic was put together. Nix has since then been one of the singers on Tolkki’s Avalon albums where their latest effort Return To Eden was the first time I heard her sing, when I was reviewing that record.
When it comes to progressive Metal and Hard Rock, both my knowledge and interest is somewhat limited. Within that genre, there are only a few acts that I really find interesting and good enough to listen to regularly. That’s why I’m not overly familiar with singer Neal Morse. He used to be the singer for Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic, two bands I have heard very little of. He’s also a member of the band Flying Colors which also features Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Sons Of Apollo, ex- Dream Theater and a million other projects and Ex Kansas and Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse, now in Deep Purple. I totally adore Flying Colors. He’s also a solo artist within his Neal Morse band, a project I have heard literally nothing of. I’m not writing this to diss Morse, just to let you know I don’t have that much to compare this record to. That Morse is an amazing vocalist isn’t even under discussion.
Metal-operas and Power Metal seem to go hand in hand. There are quite a few of them out there, most of them fantasy based but truth be told, I can hardly remember what most of them are called, let alone any songs or members – I’m really not that interested in either Power Metal or Metal-opera. That said, contradictory enough, I’m a massive fan of both Avantasia and Ayreon. However, I don’t see those projects as Power Metal at all, to me, Avantasia are melodic Metal with Hard Rock, Melodic Rock and even AOR elements stuck in there. But sure, there are Power Metal waved in as well. Ayreon is way too progressive to be called Power Metal. They are Metal-operas, though but the way I see it, I love those projects because of the music, not the themes. In fact, I don’t even know what the Avantasia story is about. Another Metal-opera that has been talked about quite a lot in the last years is Avalon, created by former Stratovarious guitarist and song writer Timo Tolkki.
Hands up everyone who has more or less given up the idea of getting a solid, classic prog-metal album from former Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate. Mine is raised. Since getting the boot from Queensrÿche, Tate have been showering us with half-hearted and even really bad albums, his own Queensrÿche album Frequency Unknown (2013) being the lowest point. But the truth is, even Queensrÿche were an underwhelming band during the last 10+ years Tate was with them – and what’s worse, I noticed a clear reducing of his voice as far back as Sweden Rock 2003. But I must state that it could might as well been a bad day on the job. When he got the boot from Queensrÿche and a court decision made the other guys the owners of the name, Tate changed his band’s name to Operation: Mindcrime and released three albums with them with up and down qualities. I have always been a fan of Tate’s voice and I think it’s really a shame that he hasn’t made a killer record on his own. Yet.
Jeff Scott Soto is an amazing singer. That’s a fact and really cannot be discussed. You can say his voice isn’t to your liking but no one can claim that he can’t sing. But just like any other musician – your skills as a musician do not have to mean that you’re a great songwriter. Vocalist wise, Jorn Lande comes to mind. When he works with seasoned and highly skilled song writers, he’s awesome but when he writes songs himself, it often falls flat. The same thing, more or less, applies to Jeff Scott Soto. Many are the projects that Jeff’s voice has bettered but his solo albums has always been somewhat uneven, albeit never bad. It became even worse when he in 2015 unveiled a Metal band under his own last name. I fully understand that a guy like JSS wants to do different things, his 2017 prog-metal project Sons Of Apollo that featured Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Derek Sherinian and Bumblefoot was an example of such a successful union.
Once upon a time (1988), a bunch of young Swedish dudes led by bassist Anders “LA” Rönnblom and keyboardist Thomas Widmark decided that forming a melodic Hard Rock band was a good idea. Back then melodic Hard Rock with lots of keyboards and a good dose of Pop ruled the airwaves and bands such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Van Halen were big business and in Sweden bands such as Europe (by now a world-famous act), Treat, Dalton and Alien were all over both TV and music magazines – and AOR/Melodic Rock bands were popping up everywhere in an almost insane pace. So why not strike while the iron is hot? Back in ’88, smooth melodies, lots of keyboards and cute hard rock guys writing love songs with a romantic shimmer over the lyrics was more or less the norm, so why not go all in? Said and done, Rönnblom and Widmark did just that and called their band Romance.
I love it when a label like Frontiers decides on signing new, young and upcoming bands because let’s face it, it doesn’t happen that very often. Frontiers as a label is mostly known for signing old bands reuniting, band members going solo or all-star projects and while there’s nothing wrong with that, many of those are actually very good, it feels refreshing with new acts. What’s more, new acts are much needed in Rock today. One such signing is British melodic Hard Rock band The Brink. The band cites acts such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses as influences but also Avenged Sevenfold and Black Stone Cherry and it takes only one look at the members’ names – Tom Quick (vocals), Lexi Laine and Izzy Trixx (guitars), Gaz Connor (bass) and Davide Drake Bocci (drums) – to figure where they are musically. This smells like Sleaze or Glam Rock a long way. Let’s find out where this band is quality wise – and if they are doing their own thing or just another bunch of carbon copies.
Spanish Metal act Lords Of Black is, if one should be really honest, mostly known for their former singer, Chile born Ronnie Romero. With three albums under their belt – their self-titled debut from 2014, II (2016) and Icons Of The New Day (2018) – the band is hardly a world-wide known act and most of the talk has been about Romero being a very well respected and a singer who’s used for lots of different projects, such as The Ferrymen, CoreLeoni and mostly as the latest singer in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Romero recently left Lords Of Black for reasons unknown to me and was replaced by Argentinian big voice Diego Valdez, most recently in the underwhelming Dio-wannabe band Dream Child. With all that happening, Lords guitarist Tony Hernando decided it was time for him to make a name for himself and used the break to form a side project – this one – a side project that really is a solo album under a band name.
I know that lots of those Frontiers Records’ projects are looked upon with skepticism – and at times, rightfully so. But here and there, those projects really delivers the goods on all accounts. First Signal, featuring Harem Scarem singer Harry Hess, is one of those. Ever since I set my ears on the self-titled debut album, this project has been a love of mine. It would take six years to finally release a follow-up, the almost as good One Step Over The Line. With that record, Swedish drummer, keyboardist, producer and song-writer Daniel Flores (Find Me, The Murder Of My Sweet) had taken over song-writing and drumming duties with guitar and bass help from Michael Palace (Palace, Kryptonite) which made this project crawl a bit closer to feeling like a band of sorts. With the new album, Hess, Flores and Palace called in bassist Johan Niemann (Evergrey, Therion,) with a bunch of different song writers where Hess actually participated in as well. With two killer records released, this comes with a great deal of expectations. Would all involved be able to reach those expectations a third time?