In the early to late 90’s, Norway was mostly known for black metal bands, many of them consisted of members that had more in common with juvenile delinquents and hard-edged criminals than musicians. Murder, arson and threats were a few of the criminally activities that those bands liked to participate in. But the fact is, black metal was a big musical export for Norway, much bigger than actual AOR bands such as Return and Stage Dolls were. Today, Jorn and glamsters Wig Wam are probably the most talked about Norwegian melodic rock bands even though none of them managed to reach out to a broader audience. Wig Wam even split up a few years ago. But Norway also have a pretty big prog scene, a scene that has been around for years, but it is in recent years that bands like Pagan’s Mind and Circus Maximus have broken out for real. In the back waters of those bands, a new Norwegian progressive metal band have decided to come out and play – enter: Withem.
I really like that name – Voodoo Vegas. I don’t know why, I just think it has a nice ring to it. But the name pretty much gives away what kind of music the band play. I mean, can you see a black metal band being called Voodoo Vegas? Nope, me neither. AOR? Pop? Soul or R&B? Thought so. When you’re called Voodoo Vegas, your music will be rootsy, raunchy, ballsy hard rock with a lot of sleaze in it. That’s what that name says to me.
The fact that this E.P. (damn those E.P.s, I want albums. Albums, I said!) only contains three tracks, but is 24 minutes long might give you a hint what kind of music we are being served here. Yes, my friends, this heavy metal with a big chunk of progressive and on top of that, catchy melodies that sometimes even borders to pop. Sounds intriguing? Well, I think so too, so let’s get a bit deeper into what this lot have to offer.
When I first got a hold of Casablanca’s 2012 debut album, the Chris Laney produced Apocalyptic Youth (reviewed here), I was completely blown away by their power pop with both hard rock and sleaze influences. The album is a real gem and I still hold it very dearly. The fact that this supergroup – singer Anders Ljung (Space Age Baby Jane), guitarists Ryan Roxie (Alice Cooper, Roxie 77, Electric Angels) and Erik Stenemo (Melody Club), bass player Mats Rubarth (formerly a football – ok, soccer if you’re American – player for the wonderful team AIK) and one of this planet’s coolest drummers, ex- Sahara Hotnights, Josephine Forsman – didn’t set the world alight and became huge with that record is a mystery. See, they should have had this world been a fair place. In 2014 they released the follow-up, the darker and not as direct, but still brilliant Riding A Black Swan (reviewed here), but they didn’t manage to take the world by storm with that one either. But again, they should have.
When I was growing up to be a metal head / hard rocker, the word “radio rock” meant pop-metal. You know, bands like Bon Jovi, Europe, Def Leppard and also stuff like Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and Toto. Not only were they radio rock, they were also commercial – the most ugly, dirty and shameful word in the history of rock. If you were commercial, you were a sell-out, not true and a big fake. At least that was what the TRUE metal heads said. Well, that damn word has stuck with that kind of music for ages now. Even in the 90’s and 2000’s, a band like Toto and Europe were looked upon as commercial even though they couldn’t even sell records to their friends around then. So let’s just get rid of that word as a description for a certain kind of music. Music is commercial when it sells a lot, no matter what it sounds like.
I can be really stubborn when it comes to band names – really obstinate, to be honest with you. I have put bands on the way-side just because I didn’t like their name before and knowing myself, I will probably do that again. If I hadn’t got an e-mail from Quor’s A&R guy, I would probably not have bothered with this band either. That said, the name of this band isn’t actually that bad, but I thought so the first time I saw it in writing – who in their right mind name their band Quor?
June is my favourite month of the whole year. Why? Well, because that is the month when we – 33 000 of us – leave the everyday boredom behind us and start to live in a “Groundhog Day” bubble for four days. No work, no bills, no real life at all, just fun, friends, music, beer and, hopefully, sun. Since we started to fly down to Sölvesborg from Stockholm, instead og going by car, things have become way easier as well. Instead of sitting in van for seven hours or so, we sit in a plane for 45 minutes instead. That makes the trip home a lot easier, anyway. After renting a nice little picturesque summer-house for the last ten years, the place has become our home away from home. Just a 10 minute walk from the festival area and close enough to hear and smell the camping, it’s easy to get a festival vibe while still getting all the comforts – a real bed, a shower, a stove, oven, microwave, fridge – I need to be comfortable in a festival environment. Tent? Yeah, right. Not in this lifetime. To enjoy a festival properly, the weather is an important issue. Late March have been disastrous for us Swedes, so it was just to keep our fingers crossed – so hard they turned white – that the weather Gods would be with us this year. The day we arrived, Wednesday 3:rd, didn’t look good at all. It was raining a bit now and again during the first half of the day, but it was ok, I really wasn’t interested in many the bands that were booked that day anyway, except for The Quireboys and Evergrey and when the Quireboys went on stage it had stopped raining hours ago and the sun was bidding us welcome. It was a good start but as the night came creeping up on us, it got cold pretty fast. D.A.D. was the first day’s headliner – the first day is always a “half day” and not the whole area is being used and the headliner plays on one of the smaller stages, Sweden Stage – but since I have never been much of a fan of that band, I couldn’t be arsed to stick around for their gig. Besides, a huge part of their show is their two stringed bass player Stig Pedersen and he had broken his arm the week before and was replaced with someone else. It wasn’t a hard choice to head on home for a quick beer before bed.
To play a whole album in its entirety is not a new thing, it’s been done by almost every somewhat big band on earth by now. Hell, Dream Theater even played other band’s albums in their entirety (The Number Of The Beast, Master Of Puppets). But the thing is, I have never been to such a show ever. The reason is mostly because the opportunity has never risen for me, but also because I think that the idea to do so is pretty overrated. I mean, one thing I like about live shows is the moment of surprise, that you don’t know exactly which songs the artist will play and in which order. To play your whole album back to back takes away that moment. Also, there are usually good reasons for some songs to never be played live. On the other hand, bands like Kiss and Mötley Crüe plays it safe tour after tour, playing the same old set list again and again, when they have so much cool stuff to choose from, also knowing that their hardcore fan base would die to hear some of their more obscure stuff live. Plain laziness, is what I call that. But when it comes to the Electric Boys and their debut album Funk-o-Metal Carpet Ride (1989), a whole different story appeared in my mind. I became a Electric Boys fan when I first heard their debut single “All Lips n’ Hips” back in 1988, when they still were just a duo, consisting of only lead guitarist and vocalist Conny Bloom (then Blomqvist) and bass player Andy Christell. The version of Funk-o-Metal Carpet Ride played this night is the European version and not the international one where Bob Rock produced five new tracks. Which suits me just fine. Nothing wrong with the second version at all, quite the contrary, but the first one has a more sentimental value to me and besides, there are quite a few songs on that album that they never play live anymore and my guess is that this night will be the only time they do so. Anyways, to go and see Electric Boys live is a real no-brainer as there are few bands who can kick butt when it comes to get a hot groove live and any Electric Boys gig should not be missed by any rocker out there.
I’m not a radio guy. Never was one and probably never will. But when I’m in the car with my son or anyone else that makes hard listening impossible, some rock radio station will do as background noise. One rare occasion when the radio – for some weird reason – was one while I was by myself in the car, I heard this damn catchy tune playing. The song was already in the chorus when I turned the key and started the car and I instantly reached for my phone and tried to Shazam the tune, but of course, Shazam decided not to work and the damned DJ didn’t bother to let us know the name of the band and the song. I hate it when that happens! Fast forward a few days and a friend of mine posted a song by his “new favourite band” on Facebook and lo and behold, wasn’t it said song that teased me over the radio a few days back. So why didn’t I just keep on listening to the radio until I found the track, then? Well, as I said, I don’t do radio. I do my own records. The song in question was “Down The Line” (more on that later) and the band was Grand Theft Culture. Check-out time!
I might have pointed this out in another review, but it really has to be said anyway. I was never a huge H.E.A.T. fan – in fact, I was never a fan of this band at all. There was a pretty big buzz when this lot released their self titled debut back in 2008 and when it came to AOR and melodic, H.E.A.T. were the talk of the town for a while. Sure, their debut is a well made AOR album with a slick, smooth and professional production and a bunch of musicians of the finest kind. I know that there will be many that will beg to differ about this, but to me there was something missing. What was missing were the songs that knocked me of my rocker. Not that the songs were bad, nope, but they just were and nothing else and I can’t for my life remember even one melody to this day. The follow up, Freedom Rock (2010) was rockier and in my opinion a better album. I know that their second album is looked upon as their worst, but I disagree. But just when H.E.A.T. had become a household name, at least in Sweden, with their Eurovision Song Contest hit single “1000 Miles”, lead singer and frontman Kenny Leckremo decided to jump the ship and Bang! – there was the band, on the verge of their big break but without their so important lead singer. What to do then? Well, no biggie, folks, let’s just hire the winner of Swedish Idol, Erik Grönwall. How’s that for credibility, peeps? A smart move as Erik had become really popular and beloved by the people of Sweden.