Age Of Reflection – A New Dawn

Age of Reflection

I first thought that Age Of Reflection were a Power Metal band. The album cover-art and the name suggested that. Then it struck me that the acronym for Age Of Reflection is AOR. And they’re from Sweden. Hmmm. Reading the press-release for this album, this is a band working in those territories. Now, when it comes to Scandinavian – and especially Swedish – AOR acts, inflation has struck. For a while, new bands kept popping up from everywhere and even though none of them were bad per se, they were all sporting the same soundscapes. For a while I had four new AOR records, all hailing from Sweden, on my phone and when I played songs randomly it was actually hard to tell them apart – sound, arrangement, production. And they all sound extremely slick and polished with keyboards taking over and with little to no crunch, grit or edge whatsoever. So my first thought was, “ok, another Swedish AOR act…”

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The Defiants – Zokusho

When The Defiants – Paul Laine (vocals), Rob Marcello (guitars), Bruno Ravel (bass) – released their self-titled debut back in 2016, I really had no expectations at all. Since The Defiants are more or less a Danger Danger spin-off – Ravel’s a founding D2 member, Marcello is their current guitarist and Laine replaced Ted Poley in D2 back in 1993 but when D2 reunited in 2004, they went with Poley again – and I was never a fan of the band, I thought I’d might find a couple of good songs on it but not more. Much to my surprise, that album grew to be one of the best AOR/Melodic Rock releases of 2016. Not that the band did something revolutionary – I never cared much about those things – but what they did provided us with was, for the most, brilliant poppy rockers with catchier than catchy melodies and spot-on choruses from start to finish and a clean and slick production that still rocked. That’s how you make my clock tick!

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Jimi Anderson Group – I Belong

Jimi who? Not to come across as an asshole but I have never ever heard of this guy. Apparently, Jimi formed this band back in 2015 with guitarist/bassist/programmer/producer/engineer Sandy Jones and together with guitarist Greame Duffin, they released their debut album Longtime Comin’ back in 2017. Born in Scotland, Anderson sang in his first band – a cover band – back in 1978, doing stuff by Deep Purple, Rush and others and as influences he cites Paul Rodgers, David Coverdale and Ronnie James Dio. Fronting the band Sahara, playing clubs, they were picked up by Wet Wet Wet’s manager Elliott Davis when the name had changed to The Hardline, who offered them a managing contract after hearing their demo. But except for a tour opening for Wet Wet Wet (a very underrated band, btw) nothing really came out of that deal, which meant no records from The Hardline.

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Soleil Moon – Warrior

When I read the press releases that comes with the reviewer’s download/streaming links of bands that are completely new to me, I sometimes feel like I have been living under a rock for my entire life. There you can read about the bands’ previous releases, how much and with whom they have toured, what a big fan-base they have and how inspirational they have been for other bands in the same genre. They’re all exaggerated, of course, but for a dude who has been told more than once by more than one human being that I’m a music-geek, I can’t help to wonder why on Earth I didn’t know about this and that band. I mean, I should have at least heard about them. Read about them somewhere. Their name really should ring a, at least, small bell. Why I’m writing this in this review is of course because Soleil Moon is such a band.

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Unruly Child – Big Blue World

“What if”. Sometimes I wonder if the members of Unruly Child have asked that question throughout the years. What if their debut was released back in 1989 instead of 1991. Even if Grunge hadn’t taken a hold of the Rock scene just yet by then, it was there and on its way up and also, Unruly Child’s kind of AOR was not the big thing anymore. In 1991, even Melodic Rock and everything that branched out from that had gone harder, rowdier and grittier due to the success of bands like Skid Row and Guns N’Roses which meant that Unruly Child’s brilliant debut was released at least a couple of years too late. Maybe in 1989, that album had sold shitloads of copies and maybe sported a few hit singles. So the album bombed and the band more or less split up even though they released a couple of records in the late 90’s and early 2000’s with first Kelly Hansen (now in Foreigner) and then Philip Bardowell instead of Marcie – then Mark – Free at the mike.

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Rob Moratti – Renaissance

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.

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X-Romance – Voices from the Past

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.

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Michael Thompson Band – Love & Beyond

Remember when the CD came around? I mean, when it totally threw vinyl into the garbage bin? All of a sudden, you as an artist didn’t have to think about if there was room enough for another couple of songs. The days of 8-10 songs an album were gone. All of a sudden 12-14 songs was more or less the norm and many bands and artists were giving that all they were worth. Every last song written did suddenly appear on albums and 15 – 18 tracks weren’t unusual at all. Which also meant filler-time deluxe. At first I loved it but it quickly wore me out. All that music was a bit too much to digest at one time. Luckily enough, that seem to have changed back now and we’re back to 10-11 tracks per album. Why I bring this up is because I saw the tracklist for this album and went “Oh no. 18 songs!!”. A closer look told me that seven of the tracks were interludes which is basically intros. Still, 11 tracks plus seven intros is a bit of an overkill.

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Jim Peterik & World Stage – Winds of Change

Jim Peterik is one dude that shouldn’t need a closer introduction when you think of what he has accomplished during his years as a professional musician that started with The Ides Of March back in 1970, a band he still belongs to and has made five albums with, the last one released in 2010 . But it is, of course, as the guitarist/keyboardist/song writer for Survivor this 68-year old AOR icon is mostly known for. His days as a member of Survivor are gone since 1996 and even if Survivor have continued without him, he’ll always be remembered as one of the writers behind mega-hits like “Eye Of The Tiger” and “Burning Heart”. Besides that he already got three solo albums to his name, two with the group Chase, two with the Henry Paul Band, three with Jim Peterik’s Lifeforce, eight with Pride Of Lions plus he’s on records with Jimi Jamison, Kelly Keagy and Marc Sherer. Not a guy who likes sitting idle, in other words.

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Fortune – II

Once upon a time, two brothers – let’s call them the Fortune brothers for simplicity’s sake – decided that it was about time they formed a band. Said and done, brother Mick decided that drums was his thing and brother Richard figured he could might as well be a cool guitar hero. Kind of. The brothers brought in some other dudes and signed a deal with Warner Bros and released a self-titled record in 1978. But members were in and out and in 1982, Fortune didn’t look the same as four years earlier. With new keyboard player Roger Scott Craig, singer Larry Greene and bassist Bob Birch, Fortune released another self-titled record in 1985, an album that today is looked upon as a true classic in AOR circles. But back then, no one really gave a rat, something that’s not that unusual in the music biz. No matter how a brilliant record you release, people sometimes don’t give a damn anyway.

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