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.
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.
To say that Europe after their reunion is a watershed among their fans is the understatement of the year. Some fans simply adore their more seventies retro inspired hard rock with clear influences by bands such as Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, UFO and Led Zeppelin while others hate it and only want their more AOR laden melodic rock of the eighties. And of course, there are those who think just the opposite. Me, I am a huge fan of both – I think that Out Of This World (1988) is easily one of the best albums they have ever made, despite the horrible production, but I also think that the trilogy of Last Look At Eden (2009), Bag Of Bones (2012) and War Of Kings (2015) are just as strong. Fact is, I gave their two latest albums the full monty here so I guess I favor their latest style. But with Europe, it’s the best of both worlds, I think. They’re a different beast today but no matter what era you prefer, everything they do comes out sounding only like Europe, which is quite impressive if you ask me.
For fans of Inglorious, RavenEye, Rival Sons, The Treatment and Tyketto, said the press release. I’m a huge fan of two of those bands and two of them I really dig, so they kinda had me there. The band hails from Wigan, England and was formed in 2014. With two successful E.P.’s under the belt – one self-titled and one called Stone Soldiers in 2015 – the guys made an impression on Frontiers records who signed them for the their first full length album. As influences, the band – singer Anthony Ellis, guitarists Sam Millar and Mick McCullagh, bassist Matt Avery and drummer Tom Aspinall – cites everything from The Eagles to Pantera which, on paper, looks pretty cool, especially if you add the bands mentioned above to that list. Since I have never heard of these guys before, I have no clue of how popular they are, but apparently they have gained a reputation as a great live act after lots of touring and playing lots of festivals like Bloodstock, Hard Rock Hell and Hair Metal Heaven. Since I love to check out new music, especially music that holds a connection style wise to bands I already love, I was pretty keen to sink my teeth into this record – and I must say, after one spin, it sounded really promising. But more spins were needed before the final judgement could fall. So let’s get around to business, shall we?
I remember how excited I got when I first heard the news that Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple, Phenomena, Gary Moore, Black Sabbath) had formed a new supergroup with drummer Jason Bonham (Bonham), keyboard player Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater) and guitarist Joe Bonamassa. I mean, with players like that, what could possibly go wrong? Well, they didn’t – at least not at first. But that said, the band’s self titled debut album from 2010 was something of a disappointment for yours truly. Not that I think it’s a bad album – it’s pretty damn far from bad. It’s just that I had expected more. More of what, one might ask? Well, I just can’t put my finger on it because the album sounded pretty much like I had expected it to so what it comes down to is that I just don’t think the songs were strong enough. There are some really great stuff on it but I think the album is a bit uneven. Already after a year the band had completed and released the follow up Black Country Communion II and with that album, the band was on the right track. The album sounded just like a sequel to the debut, fact is it sounded just like the two albums had been recorded at the same time. The difference between the records to me is that the second album is more even than the debut.
In my last “Frontiers review”, I talked about the label’s (former) predictable and narrow thinking when it comes to signing bands. AOR and melodic rock were what the label was all about and that was that. Well, with the album in question, Wayward Sons’ Ghosts Of Yet To Come, it sure looked like the label was rethinking that way of thinking. Progressive metal and power metal had been slipping through the AOR filter at the label’s HQ and with the Wayward Sons, classic, raunchy and attitude driven hard rock was getting its way into the labels stable of bands, something I think feels refreshing. So, if Wayward Sons were a ‘thinking outside of the box’ band, it’s nothing compared to what British rockers Dirty Thrills are. With this band, Frontiers have gone one step further and signed a retro act, a band that apparently have been oblivious to that hard rock albums have been released after 1978 and if my memory serves me right – please notice that I could be very wrong here – it’s the first time a stripped and raw hard rock band with its feet in the early to mid seventies like this have been signed to Frontiers.
After Slash left Guns N’ Roses, his career has been a somewhat bouncy road. His Slash’s Snakepit didn’t work out even though they released two good records – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995) and Ain’t Life Grand (2000) and neither did Velvet Revolver, despite two really good records. Velvet Revolver was the second time Slash, Duff and Matt Sorum had to go through crap with a lead singer, but for different reasons. So what to do? A solo record, of course. And as always with Slash, we could expect the unexpected. So, instead of forming a new solo band he decided to use different singers on each track, letting the singers, for the most part, write their own lyrics and melodies while he took a step back himself and play the guitar and writing the basics of the songs. A pretty smart thing to do. This way the album never gets boring or predictable. On the other hand, it sometimes gives you the feeling of a compilation record if the songs sounds too close the singers’ original bands. But if the music is this good, then who cares? Also, we always get a good treat of Slash’s guitar playing – which is never a bad thing.
When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s, I loved only two bands – Kiss and Sweet. I had no older siblings that could steer me in any musical direction and at school, Sweet and Kiss were the only rock bands my friends talked about so I pretty much missed out on anything else. In Sweden we had had a magazine called Poster which had some articles in it but were mostly made so that us kids could spray our walls with big color posters of our favorite bands and both Sweet and Kiss were heavily featured there. But I also remembered that Alice Cooper were featured quite a lot. I also remember thinking that this guy with all the snakes and shit was a freak – and why the Hell would any dude be calling himself Alice? A girl’s name! Well, I had never heard a note from Alice and none of my friends either apparently – so I didn’t give a crap. It would take me all the way to 1986 when Alice made his come back with the album Constrictor for me to give him a go. Well, I loved that album and around the release of that album, an old friend from school came back into my life and well, he was an Alice Cooper fan so one day I went over to his house and got some tapes of Alice’s 70’s and I became a Alice Cooper fan right there and then – and I cursed myself for not having checked his stuff out as a kid.
Let’s say a word or two about ‘hair metal’. What is hair metal? And which bands plays hair metal? Well, the answer is, of course, that there’s no musical style called ‘hair metal’. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, no one, that I can think of, at least, used that phrase. The moniker hair metal or poodle rock came later, when melodic rock bands were a dying breed and was invented by pretentious music journalists who wanted to mock that 80’s hard rock scene because they only loved their crappy indie rock bands that couldn’t tune their guitars or sing in key if their lives depended on it. And they put every band that was big in those days into that category. Skid Row, Winger, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Warrant, Europe, Slaughter and even Kiss and Yngwie Malmsteen. And Great White. So, in order for all those bands to play ‘hair metal’, they had to sound the same and play the same kind of music. If you say that they do then either you haven’t listened to those bands at all or you’re tone-deaf.
Since I have already written two Night Flight Orchestra reviews, an introduction of that band is really unnecessary here, but what I can say is that supergroups has a tendency to last not very long. Egos and musical differences usually rears their ugly heads after a while and even if they do last, dips in quality aren’t that uncommon. When Night Flight Orchestra released their debut album Internal Affairs in 2012, the outcome – style wise – was probably a big surprise to many. All the members of the band’s day jobs are in the heavier and more aggressive side of hard rock and as we all know now, NFO are a band that have its roots in 70’s pop, rock and even disco and funk. But no one knew if this project would be only a one album affair or if it would turn into a proper band. The album – I only gave it 9/10 in my review but it is one of the most obvious 10/10’s I have ever run into – rocked my world since day one so when the news got out that they would come back for a second round, it made me a very happy camper. The second album – Skyline Whispers – wasn’t as direct as the debut but since I couldn’t find even one second on that album that wasn’t great, anything else than a 10/10 was impossible.