RESTLESS SPIRITS – Restless Spirits

Spanish Metal act Lords Of Black is, if one should be really honest, mostly known for their former singer, Chile born Ronnie Romero. With three albums under their belt – their self-titled debut from 2014, II (2016) and Icons Of The New Day (2018) – the band is hardly a world-wide known act and most of the talk has been about Romero being a very well respected and a singer who’s used for lots of different projects, such as The Ferrymen, CoreLeoni and mostly as the latest singer in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Romero recently left Lords Of Black for reasons unknown to me and was replaced by Argentinian big voice Diego Valdez, most recently in the underwhelming Dio-wannabe band Dream Child. With all that happening, Lords guitarist Tony Hernando decided it was time for him to make a name for himself and used the break to form a side project – this one – a side project that really is a solo album under a band name.

Handling all guitar and bass duties himself, it’s quite an impressive bunch of musicians Hernando has managed to get together for this album. Drums and lead vocals on some songs are handled by Deen Castronovo (The Dead Daisies, ex- Hardline, Bad English, Journey) and the rest of the vocals is handled by Johnny Gioeli (Hardline – that guy’s everywhere right now…), Kent Hilli (Perfect Plan  – a nice surprise), Dino Jelusic (Animal Drive, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Alessandro Del Vecchio and Hernando’s new band buddy Diego Valdez with piano and keyboard duties are played by Victor Diez and Leif Elhin. However, Hernando’s former singer Romero is nowhere to be found on this album – if that means anything is open for speculation. I can honestly say that I have never been overly impressed by Lords Of Black’s albums even though I don’t hate them, so I can’t say that expectations rose sky-high for this record. But an open mind is an open mind is an open mind…

Not being at all familiar with Hernando’s earlier solo outings – the guy has released no less than five solo albums since 2000 – opening track and latest single “Stop Livin’ To Live Online” takes me off guard. This is not Heavy Metal at all. It starts with a dark and slow piano intro only to turn into an upbeat Melodic Hard Rock where only twists of his Metal roots are coming up for air. But by no means do signs of cheese show up – this is a punchy and quite tough belter with really striking main melody. Johnny Giolei sings the living daylight out of it, of course, but when the verses are catchier than the actual refrain, the song falters some. It’s still a pretty good tune, though. Deen Castronovo takes hold of the mike on the following “Unbreakable”, an upbeat AOR-rocker with a clear Journey influenced main melody. It’s a smooth, slick and poppy tune but not the least mawkish – and it holds a good punch and a killer keyboard arrangement. On top we get a spot-on refrain with lots of hit-potential. Very good.

Kent Hilli might be the most unknown singer on the album but he does one helluva job on the album’s leading single, the upbeat and straight forward Melodic Rock tune “I Remember Your Name”. We get a lot of poppy hooks here but Hernando’s Metal roots also decides to come up for air which gives the tune a heavier and darker edge. The refrain is catchy as hell, the rhythm is groovy and Hilli is a killer vocalist – it’s time that the world wakes up to Hilli and his band Perfect Plan now. World class – and so is the tune. Great! Dino Jelusic takes the vocals for the uptempo Hard Rock meets Melodic Rock track “Cause I Know You’re The One”. The tune brings on a slight Metal vibe as well and there are traces of Lords Of Black here and there. It’s a straight-forward, riff-happy and ballsy rocker but also hook-laden with a highly memorable refrain – and Jelusic shows just how great a singer he is – very good.

The ballad “Nothing I Could Give To You” brings Gioeli back to the microphone. But we’re not talking cheesy sugar-ballad here, no this one’s pretty tough and ballsy on heavy ground – and with a darker edge. The tune do hold a huge refrain but not in a power ballad way, it’s more a powerful ballad than anything else. A very good track where Gioeli shines. Castronovo is back for “Calling You”, a song that starts out with piano and guitar but soon brings on a quite heavy rhythm section in a mid pace. It holds a groove but is quite stripped in the verses. When the in-your-face refrain comes along with big melodies and a catchiness it toughens and fattens up which works well for the dynamics. Good one. Castronovo stays on for “Live To Win”, a heavy and rough melodic Metal track with some classic Metal riffing. 1987 era Whitesnake comes to mind here but there’s also an Iron Maiden vibe in the opening guitar riffs. It sports a pretty good refrain but otherwise it’s only an ok track.

Alessandro Del Vecchio takes the vocals for the next two tracks. The first, “You And I”, is an upbeat and groovy melodic Hard rock tune with a meaty and beefy rhythm section. It’s a straight out rocker where the pre-chorus holds some very memorable melodies which are actually stronger than the AOR-laden chorus. That said, it’s a very catchy and very good tune. The next, “When It Comes To You” is a ballad that starts out slow with darker, blues-rock twists, earthy and plain but the chorus takes on a full-blown power ballad mode with shitloads of hooks and catchiness deluxe. Del Vecchio really is an underrated singer. Very good. “Lost Time (Not To Be Found Again)” welcomes Jelusic back. The tune starts with a piano intro but gets heavy and bumpy with a Metal edge. It’s kicking and punchy and brings on a big chunk of Lords Of Black. A decent tune.

“In The Realm Of The Black Rose” – featuring Diego Valdez on vocals – has a title clearly ripped off from Thin Lizzy but has otherwise nothing in common with Lynott & co – not even a slight Celtic twist. It comes in a mid pace, upbeat with a straight-forward groove and a gorgeous piano arrangement. A melodic and beautiful guitar solo comes along before a piano solo shows up. The tempo then rises for some more guitars that takes the song – and album – to its finishing line. It’s not a bad song at all but on the other hand, it really do not go all the way for me. And I really can’t shake the Lizzy title theft – a bit too close to comfort. Valdez however, is awesome. On the Dream Child album he came across pretty much as a Dio clone but here he’s more his own man even though the Dio influence lingers still. I think he will fit Lords Of Black like a glove, though.

As I wrote above, I’m not a huge fan of Lords Of Black even though I don’t think they’re bad – and that’s why this album is a nice surprise for me, it’s a lot better than I thought it would be. That Hernando has looked towards Melodic Rock and Hard Rock instead of pure Metal is something that fits him very well and it’s something that he might consider to be imprinted in Lords Of Black’s music for diversity’s sake – because one thing that I think is Lords Of Black’s issue is that they’re too one-sided, a bit samey if you will. Also, despite the fact that there are six different vocalists on this album, Hernando has managed to create a band-feel here. The songs are mostly well-written, diverse enough to make it interesting all the way but also with Hernando’s identity all over them to avoid making this record a split personality. So yes, I do prefer this over LOB and that’s why I hope that Restless Spirits might turn into a real band in the future. Well done.

7/10

Tracklist:

1. Stop Livin’ To Live Online (Johnny Gioeli on Vocals)
2. Unbreakable (Deen Castronovo on Vocals)
3. I Remember Your Name (Kent Hilli on Vocals)
4. Cause I Know You’re The One (Dino Jelusic on Vocals)
5. Nothing I Could Give To You (Johnny Gioeli on Vocals)
6. Calling You (Deen Castronovo on Vocals)
7. Live To Win (Deen Castronovo on Vocals)
8. You And I (Alessandro Del Vecchio on Vocals)
9. When It Comes To You (Alessandro Del Vecchio on Vocals)
10. Lost Time (Not To Be Found Again) (Dino Jelusic on Vocals)
11. In The Realm Of The Black Rose (Diego Valdez on Vocals)

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