Here’s a band that with their last album Who We Are (2016) went from a shrug of my shoulders to a “can’t wait to hear their new album”. Not because I thought that Vega sucked before that album, it was because I had never heard them before even though I had read about them many, many times. Why I sometimes just can’t be bothered with certain bands is something I’m still not clear about but I guess there are just too many records released each month within different genres that you need that little extra something that tells you to go for it – in Vega’s case it took a reviewer’s link to make me aware of what I had missed. Vega’s music is hardly original – it’s Melodic Rock and AOR – but Vega have put an effort in updating those genres, making their music relevant for the 2000’s which in turn has given them a sound of their own, even though influences aren’t that hard to spot. But most importantly, that album contained good songs – damn good songs – which over-shadows the importance of originality by miles. So let’s see if Vega could convince once more, then.
For some reason, in the year of 2018, a time when people have been saying that the record format is dead, that people just don’t buy music anymore and that there’s no money what so ever to be made in making music, it seems like there’s an endless stream of new albums coming out. And it’s not only by old dawgs that don’t know how to do anything else, no, there are shitloads of albums by new bands coming out – both by young musicians that wants to give it a go and older men and women that haven’t been active in ages. I like that. No, I love that. The fact that the quality is sky-high on many of those album makes it only better. One band that have just released their debut album is Perfect Plan, a five-piece that hails from northern Sweden – a bunch of dudes that couldn’t be called youngsters even if you wanted to. Originally, 4/5 of Perfect Plan were in Europe tribute band called 7 Doors Hotel but the guys weren’t content with only doing that so they decided it was time to record some original material as well.
This is a reunion I didn’t see coming. I doubt that any one outside of Sweden have a single clue who Universe were and truth be told, they never made that big a fuss over here either. Universe were formed in Upplands-Väsby, a suburb outside of Stockholm and the home of Europe and H.E.A.T., in 1982 so even though they played the same style of music as Europe, they never tried to copy them as they got started around the same time. As a matter of fact, Europe keyboardsman Mic Michaeli was a member of Universe when Europe stole him away from them in 1985. The band’s self titled debut album, released in 1985, didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it came out but today it’s looked upon as a cult-classic in Melodic Hard Rock circles. That album has been given a rerelease at the same time as they put out their reunion album. And as a reunion, this really is a reunion. The band have managed to recruit 5/6 of the original line-up, which is more than most “reunited” bands can brag with.
Here’s a band that pretty much pulled the rug from under my feet when they released their “comeback” album Rockville back in 2013. The brilliance of that album came as a surprise to me as I had never been much of a FM fan before. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they were a bad band at all, it’s just that I could never subscribe to the accolades of their debut album Indiscreet from 1986. Sure, it’s a good album but I still don’t think it’s that special. I do love the follow-up Tough It Out (1989) but that’s the only FM record I hold as great. Until the arrival of Rockville, that is. On that album – and on its follow-up Rockville II (2013) – FM took a dive into Classic Rock waters without leaving all of their AOR and Melodic Rock roots behind, something that was completed on the equally brilliant Heroes And Villains (2015). It was a change that I believe suited FM like a charm but it wasn’t only the addition of Classic Rock that made those albums great – that was mostly down to the high song-quality.
How much music can one body contain? I don’t mean to just puke out mediocre and half-assed tunes, I mean real, quality music. In Sweden in the 70’s there was a TV series called “The Boy With The Golden Pants” about a kid who had a couple of pants where he just had to reach down in his pocket and pull up bills, one after another, never-ending and the values became larger and larger the more money he picked up. I’m starting to wonder if Erik Mårtensson is The Boy With The Music Pants. The guy’s ability to write high quality songs seems endless and album after album with his main project Eclipse, his Nordic Union with Pretty Maids singer Ronnie Atkins and the band Ammunition that he started with ex Wig Wam singer Åge-Sten Nilsen are all made of brilliantly written, arranged and performed Melodic Hard Rock. Yes, I know that Mårtensson have co-writers that helps him out but that doesn’t take away anything from this highly productive song writer/singer/guitarist.
A solo album from Phil Lanzon!!? That was unexpected, to say the least. I’m not sure how big a name Phil Lanzon is but I suspect that there are many rock fans out there who aren’t really aware of who he is and therefore I also suspect that this record won’t ship itself platinum anytime soon. I first heard of Lanzon when I read the back cover of Irish/British AOR rockers Grand Prix’s awesome record Samurai (1983), a band in which singer Robin McAuley (MSG, Survivor) was featured. Lanzon wasn’t featured that much as a song writer – he’s a keyboard player – on said album but he did write the album’s best and most progressive tune, the title track. Grand Prix released two albums prior to that – the self titled debut in 1980 and There For None To See (1982) – none of which I have heard a note of.
Back in 2016, Finnish arena rockers Shiraz Lane released their debut album For Crying Out Loud. The band got some pretty good and interesting reviews of that record and since I’m a fan of the brand of music they play, I had to check it out. But to me, the album was underwhelming and to be frank, pretty dull. That album got me thinking of all the Melodic Rock / Arena Rock bands that jumped on that band wagon a couple of years too late, around 1992 – 1993, when the genre had killed itself with too many copy cats like Roxy Blue, Southgang, Tainted Angel and such, bands that didn’t brought anything worthwhile to the table and therefore never made it out of the clubs – or even into them. I found the album mainstream and without both attitude or identity. Needless to say, I haven’t exactly listened myself to death to that record. That also meant that when the guys – vocalist Hannes Kett, guitarists Jani Laine and Miki Kalske, bassist Joel Alex and drummer Ana Willman – now releases the follow-up, I can’t say that my expectations were shooting through the roof.
First it was called Architect Of Time. Then, we got the name Americana handed to us. What was called that, one might ask. Well, when bass player and lead vocalist John Payne ended his stint as a member of Asia, a position he had when he replaced John Wetton in 1991 until the original Asia line-up reunited in 2006, he was permitted by drummer Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoff Downs and Wetton that he could still continue as Asia Featuring John Payne with his new band. I waited for that album. I longed for it to show up. As an Asia fan, I dug both the Wetton fronted band and the Payne fronted version and I couldn’t wait for that album the show up already. It never showed. After a while I lost interest in waiting and for the last few years I have been totally clueless of Payne’s whereabouts, but it have come to my knowledge that he’s been touring quite frequently with his Asia featuring John Payne band.
Back in 2015, when Reach – guitarist Ludvig Turner, drummer Marcus Johansson, bassist David Jones and singer Alex Waghorn – released their debut album Reach Out To Rock, I gave it a pretty raving review. I remember it as if it was yesterday because I really liked what I heard. Sure, there were minor setbacks to the album. Alex Waghorn didn’t hold the strongest of voices and the band sounded a bit rusty and rookie-like but the production and the songs really shook me. This was an AOR band that should go really far, I thought. Fast forward to 2018 and the times I have been listening to Reach’s debut album since it came out can probably be counted on one hand. Fact is, the last time I listened to it, like a year or so ago, it hadn’t aged that well on me. Not that I thought it had turned from gold to a turd but when I read back my own review I can’t really grasp all the superlatives that I threw around back then. I still think it’s a decent album but the 8/10 I gave it is two or three points too many, at least that’s my opinion today.
After three great albums – Legacy Of Life (2012), Pieces Of Eden (2013) and Empire Of Sin (2014) – with the line-up that featured singer Matti Alfonzetti (Bam Bam Boys, Jagged Edge, Skintrade), guitarist Tommy Denander and bass player Mats Vassfjord (Laney’s Legion, 220 Volt, Grand Design) it was time for a new chapter for drummer and founder J.K. Impera (aka Johan Kihlberg). Impera were a band that hardly played live and could easily be viewed as just a side project for the members of the group. But it was a brilliant band with all brilliant musicians and when Alfonzetti and Denander took their talents elsewhere, it wasn’t an easy task for Kihlberg to find replacements that were in the same league. At first it was said that guitarist Rob Marcello (Danger Danger, Laney’s Legion, The Defiants) would join but that one fell apart. It was also rumored that Kihlberg would turn his drum stool over to another drummer and only do rhythm guitar, keyboards, song writing and production. The vocal job was also a bit of a mystery and at one point I even heard John Corabi’s name mentioned.