So, our calendars says it is February once again and besides below degrees, dark skies and the occasional snow, February also means that we most likely will be getting a new release from Sweden’s AOR masters Last Autumn’s Dream. These guys don’t tour which means that they can deliver new music fast and since drummer Jamie Borger (Treat, Secret Service, Talisman) and singer Mikael Erlandsson (Secret Service) are the main song writers and they write separately, it’s not a problem getting eleven songs ready each year, especially when a cover often is thrown in as well. The title of this records lets on just how many records this outfit have recorded since the start in 2003 which tells us just how fast these guys work. What I find really impressing, though, is that it very seldom effects the quality of the music. Sure, at times the songs has a tendency to sound a bit samey at times and yes, the production on some records has been a bit to light weight, but for the most, AOR fans know that they’re in for almost an hour of really good music by really good musicians.
What do you do when you have a new project going and a need a name for it and really can’t find one that satisfies. You take the first letter from each member’s last name of course. PAL is a Swedish musical collaboration between guitarist Roger Ljunggren, Peter Andersson (bass) and Peo Pettersson (vocals). Roger and Peter, longtime friends, started writing and play music together way back. They first got to know each other in the early eighties. Growing up in Skara, a small town in the south-west of Sweden sharing a passion for music and especially for song-writing. They sweat out together in a small rehearsal studio together with some other local musicians. The group started in 1987 when a demo was recorded in Peo’s studio Vanäs for a band called Escape which at that moment was short of a singer and Peo helped out. Now, thirty years later the three musicians are making music together again.
First: I recently got the information that Raintime are an Italian death metal band. That’s not the band I’m reviewing here – hence the s after Raintime. I just needed to point that out to avoid any misunderstandings. The band in question here is so far from death metal possible, this band is right on the other side of hard rock. This band is an AOR band. But they are Italian, at least most of the band are. Out of six members, at least three are Italian – drummer Pierpaolo Monti, keyboardist Davide Barbieri and bass player Andrea Gipponi. I’m unsure of the whereabouts of guitarists Iván González (Mexican maybe?) and Sven Larsson (probably Swedish). Lead singer Michael Shotton (Von Groove), however, is Canadian. Monti and Barbieri hails from bands such as Charming Grace, Shining Line and Wheels Of Fire, bands at least I never heard of and Monti says that the main inspiration for this album was the band The Storm, a band with two albums under their belt that features Journey knowns Gregg Rolie, Ross Valory, Steve Smith and Kevin Chalfant.
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.
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!
Confession time. When I was a kid in my early twenties I had a huge – as in HUGE – crush on Robin Beck. I loved (and still do) her debut AOR album Trouble Or Nothin’ (1989) and I thought she was the most gorgeous woman on earth. I must have seen the video for “Tears In The Rain” a million times back then and I thought that if she ever plays in Sweden, not even a restraining order would keep me from stalking her. I wasn’t serious about that, of course – I wouldn’t even have dared to approach her to say hi back then – but man, what a teenage crush that was. Not only was she a beauty, she also had a fantastic voice and brilliant songs. In 2017, everything I wrote still stands. The teenage crush, however, is gone since many, many years. I even had the pleasure to talk to her after a gig not long ago so now I can add ‘extremely nice and humble’ to the list. No restraining order was needed. So it’s very hard to not be a fan of Robin Beck.
The first time I ever heard anything by – and of – Stan Bush, it wasn’t even him playing. I had bought House Of Lords’ brilliant self-titled debut album from 1988 and it contained the ballad “Love Don’t Lie”, a phenomenal tune and for quite some time I wondered who this S.Bush was, the guy who wrote the song. Even when I found out that S stood for Stan, I was more or less clueless of who he was. Stan Bush released his debut solo album – self-titled – in 1983, but it would take him four years for his next release, another self-titled record under the Stan Bush & Barrage banner. A friend of mine had bought that album and taped it for me. “Love Don’t Lie” was on that album and it was when I heard said album it came to me that this was the S.Bush who wrote that House Of Lords track. Since then, Bush have released one more Barrage album and no less than nine solo albums, out of which one is a compilation album, this one included.
Back in 2015 I got a download link for a new band called Cats In Space. Cats In Space, I thought. What a weird name. Who on earth names their band Cats In Space? I instantly thought that it was a pretty lousy name for a band and had I not gotten said download link, it’s doubtful that I had ever checked the band out. But I’m glad I did because the album in question, Too Many Gods, was brilliant. The press release said that they sported influences from bands such as The Sweet, Queen, Styx and Cheap Trick and the mention of those bands was enough for me to look forward to give the album a few spins and afterwards, the bands mentioned were all in there. Cats In Space plays melodic hard rock full of both pomp rock and AOR influences and the guys sure knew how to write addictive hooks. For me, the record pretty much showed up right out of the blue and I had never heard of the band before so the whole “supergroup” tag the band got – a bunch of musicians from different bands gets together in a new band – made me wonder if that album was a one-off and that if Cats In Space might have been just a project. Luckily enough, it wasn’t because right out of the blue once more, the band throws the follow-up on us and this time I was very keen to hear it.
You know those bands that have been around that seems like forever, you read about them and you read the reviews of their albums but they still seem to pass you by without leaving a simple scar, you just don’t have the interest to check them out? Ten are such a band for me. I didn’t even bother to check them out when I found that former Dare guitarist Vinny Burns was their guitarist – and I love Dare, especially the two first records. The band was formed by lead vocalist Gary Hughes back in 1994 and their debut album X came out in 1996 and they have now released 13 studio albums including the new one so it’s pretty strange that I haven’t checked them out before (my first Ten album was their previous one) as they do play in a genre that I’m a big fan of – melodic hard rock with big AOR tendencies. It’s also somewhat ironic that when I finally gave them a shot – I got their last album Isla De Muerta (2015) in the mail – Vinny Burns had left the band a long time ago. His last album with the band was their 6th one, Far Beyond The World in 2001. Now, I liked their last album enough even though it wasn’t without flaws and when I got the new one in my Haulix, I was keen to hear what had happened with the band since then.