So here we go with just another one of those all-star projects from Frontiers, right? Well, usually when Frontiers releases an all-star project it’s within the AOR or/and Melodic Rock genre but here’s a bonafide Heavy Metal project. Who are the dudes that has rounded up for this thing then? Well, we have Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen) on vocals, Chris Caffery (Savatage, Dr Butcher, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) on guitar, Steve Di Giorgio (Testament, Death, Sebastian Bach, Obituary) on bass and drummer Mark Zonder (Fates Warning, Warlord) with Roy Z (Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach) producing. Sounds interesting? Well, it does to me. What also differs this project is that it’s made solely by the members involved and of course Roy Z which means no involvement from the usual suspects that holds both song writing and producing duties at Frontiers normally. That aside, I think it’s time I get a good dose of Metal again – it was a long time since I found a new Metal act that could kick my ass right into next week!
Back in 2008, when Swedish rockers H.E.A.T. released their self-titled debut album, they were the new hot-shots and looked upon as the new hope for AOR and the band that would be the next big Swedish export. The album was – and is to this day – seen as something of a small masterpiece in the AOR genre. But I must admit that personally, I wasn’t all that impressed. Sure, it’s a good record but it failed to grab me by large. But H.E.A.T. quickly gained a reputation as a great live act and even though the follow-up, 2010’s Freedom Rock got some mixed reviews from both fans and media (I belong to those who prefer that album over the debut), the band got bigger and bigger and after they participated in Melodifestivalen (the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest) with a song called “1000 Miles”, with which they got to the finals and the song became a huge hit, H.EA.T. had become more or less a household name in Sweden – the big break was close.
Back in 2011, Lee Aaron made her come back as a Rock artist after years in the shade. A career as a jazz artist and motherhood put her o of the business for many, many years. It took the now 55-year-old, Ontario, Canada born, a few more years to get her shit together and finally release a new album – her first since 2004 – and when she did it wasn’t all ta half covers/half original one.hat great. Now it’s time for a follow-up, a follow-up that’s a half covers / half original one.
I’m gonna start this review with a little confession: I have never been a particular big Bonfire fan. Throughout their 32 year-long career that have spawned no less than 15 studio albums including this one, only two of the albums are records that I really, really dig – Fireworks (1987) and Knock Out (1991). Not that everything else is bad, records like Don’t Touch The Light (1986), Point Blank (1989) and Fuel To The Flames (1999) are records I think are good but with a few steps to go to reach great. The rest of their discography goes from ok to bland and mediocre. When the band – read guitarist Hans Ziller – announced in 2015 that singer Claus Lessmann, the only member of the band who is on every single Bonfire record, had been given his walking papers I thought the band would be over. I mean, the guy had been Bonfire’s heart and soul since the beginning when they released their debut album in 1981 under the Cacumen moniker. How would they manage to make anything out of this band without him?
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?