To me, it feels like singer Jeff Scott Soto have been around forever, you know like Deep Purple or Kiss. Maybe it’s because he’s been doing so many different things during his long career because let’s face it, the guy is hardly a newie in the business. But he haven’t been around THAT long. When I first heard his voice, on Yngwie Malmsteen’s almost instrumental debut solo album from 1984, I didn’t have a clue who he was. I didn’t even know what the guy looked like. But what I heard made me melt – what a voice! And when he one year later sang on Yngwie’s Rising Force album Marching Out, I thought his voice was just as important to the songs as Yngwie’s guitar playing. But Jeff was gone already by the release of the album, a real shame as I hold Jeff and Mats Levén (Candlemass, Treat) as Yngwie’s top two vocalists, and it got very quiet around Jeff for many years. It would take five years for Jeff’s voice to pop up once again – and it did so twice.
It’s pretty much impossible to write a Phantom V review without mentioning Bonfire. Phantom V started out as Supremacy back in 2015 when lead singer Claus Lessmann had been fired from Bonfire. I’m not gonna go into that story again – it’s in the review of their last album to read about. Formed by Lessmann and guitarist Michael Voss (ex Casanova, Mad Max, Bonfire. Michael Schenker) but they changed their name to Phantom V close to the release of their self-titled debut album last year. Said album was surprisingly good and fact is, it sounds more like Bonfire than Bonfire do today. Lots of it has to do with Lessmann’s voice, of course, but Phantom V’s sound is also very close to that classic Bonfire sound and since Lessmann was the guy who kept Bonfire going for all those years, that’s hardly eye-brow rising. Bonfire, on the other hand, has had a hard time with lead singers since the firing of Lessmann, but that’s another review. With a solid debut album in their back pocket this album did come with some expectations – especially since it was only a year since the debut came out. Now, Phantom V are more of a project than a real band – which is a shame – and since they haven’t been doing any touring yet so I guess they spent their time writing songs and recording.
When Revolution Saints released their debut album in 2015, they were just another Frontiers project. The record company managed to put bassist Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees), guitarist Doug Aldrich (The Dead Daisies, Whitesnake, Dio, Bad Moon Rising, Lion) and drummer / lead vocalist Deen Castronovo (Journey, Hardline, Bad English, Ozzy Osbourne) together in a “band” and while that sounded really cool, the album was written mostly by keyboardsman Alessandro Del Vecchio, who also produced the whole thing. Del Vecchio, as we all know, works for Frontiers records, so it was pretty clear that this was just another project from the label. However, the album turned out to be a real AOR killer and it became such a hit that for them not to release a follow-up in the future wasn’t even a possibility. While Frontiers’ projects come thirteen a dozen and most of them are pretty uninteresting, I found Revolution Saints a very successful one when it came to the all over quality and I instantly hoped that this project would turn into a real band. If it is a real band remains to be seen, but we sure enough got a follow-up – a follow-up I couldn’t wait to get my hands on.
I was a 16-year-old pimpled faced kid back in 1984 and Def Leppard and Bon Jovi had just shown me that there were other sides to hard rock than Iron Maiden, Accept and Judas Priest. Not that I had begun to dislike heavy metal but I the new melodic rock / AOR laden hard rock had taken me by storm and I was on the hunt for anything with lots of keyboards, hooks from Hell and choruses bigger than Mount Everest. So I was in this record store and all of a sudden this big keyboard combined guitar riff came gushing over us customers. A brilliant hook and a sticky melody followed – the song in question was “Send Her To Me” – and when I asked the clerk who this was, she told me it was this new band called Autograph. I bought the album called Sign In Please right then and there and I listened to that LP constantly. When the follow-up That’s The Stuff came out in 1985, I was convinced that Autograph would be the next big thing after Bon Jovi – this band would be huge, I thought. But that never happened. Fact is, it was over already by 1987 when they released the disappointing Loud And Clear. The sales were down, their label RCA lost interest and the band left the label and when keyboardsman Steven Isham left the band in 1988, it was over and out and the band split up.
This is a band that needs no further introduction, so I’ll skip that. I won’t go into the whole Kenny vs. Erik thing either. What I will say, though, is that I love H.E.A.T. I love them on record and I love them as a live band. I thought their two first records were good, but not more, so it was with the brilliant Address The Nation (2012) that I became the fan I am today. The album is a superb AOR record where all the songs sounds like a hit but it wasn’t all smooth, pink and fluffy, no, the guys brought a lot of attitude and cockiness into the mix which made the album stand out from a lot of records in that genre. Much to my surprise, the follow-up Tearing Down The Walls (2014) was even better – and there I was wondering how they would be able to top its predecessor. On that record, I love every song and the fact that the band had toughened their sound into more melodic rock than actual AOR was something I embraced. It was rougher, heavier and more kick-ass, something I think the band benefited from. They also managed to do something that not many bands manages these days – to make a live album (Live In London, 2015) that actually sounded live and not just like a greatest hits record with applied crowd noise.
When singer Martina Edoff released her last album, Unity back in 2015, it was without a doubt one of that year’s biggest surprises. Her self-titled debut album that came out in 2014 was ok, but lacked direction and it was cowardly produced and Edoff came across like a Jill Johnson (a Swedish mainstream pop singer gone Shania Twain country light) on steroids. The songs were good but drowned in a plethora of mainstream and crumbled a bit because of that. So when Unity arrived, I didn’t know if Martina had done yet another one of those albums or corrected the mistakes of the debut album. With pretty much all of H.E.A.T. as a backing band and co-writes from Jona Tee (H.E.A.T.), Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse, W.E.T., Nordic Union, Ammunition), Age-Sten Nilsen (Ammunition, Wig Wam) and Matti Alfonzetti (Impera, Skintrade), it was clear that Edoff would try her best to make amends with the new album. And boy, did she make amends! Firstly, the album was heavier and a bit rougher, the way melodic rock and AOR albums are rough. Secondly, the songs were fabulous – almost every one of them. And even though Martina sang great on the debut – she always does – on Unity she sang like her life depended on it – with passion, fire, heart, soul and enough attitude to sell.
When Europe split back in 1992, all members of the band went out on other musical journeys and they were, at least for us Swedes, in the limelight except for one guy – the brilliantly talented guitarist Kee Marcello. Yes, he recorded one very underrated album with his new band Red Fun back in 1993, but that project was short-lived. He also released a laid-back (and very good) solo album called Shine On in 1995, but after that – quietness, apart from the one-off Europe reunion on New Year’s Eve 1999/2000. Sure, he was involved in different projects, mostly as a song writer, producer or guesting on other artists records, but nothing that made any headlines and us Marcello fans wondered when – or if – he would return to the scene. It would take him all the way to 2004 and his band Kee Marcello’s K2 who released the brilliant album Melon Demon Divine and they played some gigs before things turned quiet once again. The next time we heard from Kee was when he released his Redux: Europe album in 2010, a pretty pointless record that consisted mostly of his own versions of old Europe songs. But since then, Marcello has been one productive dude.
So, here’s another case of a band that has been floating around in my periphery for years without me taking any notice. Swedish melodic rockers Degreed released their debut album Life, Love, Loss back in 2010 and the follow-up We Don’t Belong in 2013 and I knew of their existance right from go. Why I never took any further notice of the band back then, I guess I will never know but better late than never, right? So, when I first heard the single “Better Safe Than Sorry” and later the whole of their last record Dead But Not Forgotten (2015), I knew that it was a mistake that I never checked the band out before. Why I still haven’t gotten around to listen to their two first albums is some thing I can’t explain, but I will get around to it a.s.a.p. The album in question was a real melodic hard rock killer and the band – Robin Ericsson (bass, lead vocals), Daniel Johansson (guitars), Mats Ericsson (drums) and Micke Jansson (keyboards) – turned out to be at the top of the game as musicians. That line-up is still the same to this day.
Sometimes it’s really refreshing when you get a hold of a record that is nothing at all what you have expected. Frontiers Records is a record company that specializes in AOR, melodic rock and at times straight forward hard rock, but every now and then, albums pops up with bands in different genres – I have gotten links with both heavy metal and power metal bands. And sometimes prog rock bands shows up as well. But usually, AOR and melodic rock is what I find in my Haulix – and that’s the kind of music I often expect when I get an album by a band I know very little – or nothing at all – about. So, when I saw the link for the new World Trade album and saw who was in the band, I was pretty sure that this was another AOR / melodic rock band / project. See, World Trade is a band I had never either heard or heard of before and some of the members has a really strong AOR connection. But boy was I wrong about that – World Trade are not another project put together by the label but a band/project that have existed – albeit sporadically – for a very long time. And they’re a prog rock outfit.
Finland. Oh man. When I was in my twenties in the late eighties, Sweden was one of the leading countries in Scandinavia when it came to producing melodic hard rock / AOR /arena rock bands – they were everywhere and for the most, the quality was very high. Sweden produced a lot of other kinds of hard rock music as well but it was with melodic hard rock that Sweden had the biggest birth of bands. Norway had a few – TNT is the most well-known act from that time – and so did Denmark with Pretty Maids at the top. Finland was a country no one even looked at by then. Sure, Hanoi Rocks were from Finland but I really can’t think of any other band. Since then Finland has come up with a lot of bands, we all know about Nightwish of course but mostly, Finish bands were dark, mellow and depressive metal acts, melodic hard rock not very much. But things have changed in later years, Finland have given us a whole bunch of really good melodic rock bands – King Company, One Desire and Brother Firetribe to name a few. And now it’s time for yet another one – The Nights. The band took form when singer Sami Hyde, who has been involved in the Tony Mills (Shy, TNT) Band and guitarist Ikka Wirtanen, who has produced and co-written for acts like Reckless Love, put their heads together to form a new band. To complete the line-up, Sami and Ikka brought in bassist Harri Kokkonen and drummer Jan-Erik Livari. And now it’s time for the guys to show the world that yet another melodic rock band from Finland have something to bring to the table.