So here we are again – another one of those supergroups from Frontiers, right? We all know how the story goes – Frontiers’ song-writing team comes up with a bunch of songs, hires a group or an artist to sing and perform them and then sit around to see if anything happens. And I know lots of people has gotten jaded with all of that – me included – even though some of them has been really damn good. Well, when I heard about this thingy, I hoped that that wouldn’t be the case. When I heard the news about this formation, I got very intrigued right away. This is the band where singer Robin McAuley (Grand Prix, Far Corporation, MSG, Survivor), guitarist Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake, Dokken), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Foreigner) and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr Big) were put together and since I’m a huge fan of all of them, I hoped that this would turn out to be a real band.
Yes, it was Frontiers that set the ball rolling. The label asked Jeff to see if he could put together a band. Since he had known McAuley since 1992 when they played on the very underrated self-titled McAuley-Schenker Group album, he went with him. Jeff had also known Reb Beach since 1999 when Beach held the guitar duties on Dokken’s Erase The Slate, so there was the guitarist, with drummer Matt Starr being the last guy in. At first, Pilson was only there as a producer but since him, Beach and McAuley had written all the songs at his place and a bass player was needed, he was finally persuaded to take that spot. Which means that this album was written and recorded by Black Swan alone, without any input from the label. If I wasn’t aroused enough to begin with, I sure was now. McAuley, Beach, Pilson, Starr. Damn. With all that amazing talent, this just can’t go wrong. At least I hoped so.
I usually never listen to pre-album released videos and official audios when it comes to new records I’m really interested in – I want to hear the full album for the first time in its entirety but when the first single, which turned out to be the album’s opening song and title-track, was released I just couldn’t hold myself. I had to hear it. And I’m glad I did because the song was exactly as good as I had hoped it would be. To be honest, it’s a bit heavier than I thought considering the members’ past. The tune opens with a gritty metal riff from Beach and continues with a hard-hitting beat with a whole bunch of intense heaviness. In fact, the early 80’s Dio comes to mind and considering how Winger has sounded since the majestic Pull (1993), the heaviness maybe isn’t that surprising after all. With a brilliant main melody and a distinct chorus that breaks down walls, the song is more a statement than a search for a hit. Fan-bloody-tastic!
Second track and second single “Big Disaster” is even better. It’s a stompy, upbeat, melodic hard-rocker not a far cry from McAuley’s MSG days. The crunchy groove and punchy rhythms brings on a straight-forward beat and the big, catchy yet completely sugarless chorus takes no prisoners. It goes in for the kill and you’re helpless. This is just so amazingly good. “Johnny Came Marching” is a mid-paced, groovy rocker, early 90’s Melodic Rock/Arena Rock style with a damn strong verse-melody and another in-your-face refrain, but the pre-chorus is actually catchier. Still it’s a heavy track with a darker atmosphere – and wasn’t that a slight borrowing from Dio’s “Last In Line” I picked up in there? Ah well, it’s a damn good song again. Three songs in and I’m thinking we might have a billion-dollar album on our hands.
“Immortal Souls” has a title that made me think we were about to get a heavy, gloomy and slow rocker but instead we get a raunchy, straight-forward and upbeat Melodic Rock stomper with big pop-vibes all over. Still, it’s a crispy rocker on a beefy beat and with some jammy parts inserted and even though the chorus is massive and catchy as can be with a slight nod towards Bon Jovi when they were a great band, it never gets cheesy or mawkish. Brilliant! On a bluesy, late 80’s Whitesnake “Is this Love” ish vibe, latest single “Make It There” is the ballad-hit that probably will never be but really should. The song holds a flowing rhythm and a slight Bad English twist in the main melody so you don’t have to be a quantum physicist to figure out just how catchy and hit-friendly this is. A phenomenal ballad.
“She’s On To Us” is an uptempo, fat-grooved melodic hard-rocker that brings on some grit-laden guitars and chugging riffs, quite edgy with big melodies that holds all the hooks in the world and melodies to die for. It’s not revolutionary by any means but the whole song is just damn addictive and the chorus is a total KO. Must be another single! The first dip comes with “The Rock That Rolled Away”, a pretty standard melodic Hard Rock tune on a punchy rhythm. Sure, there are hooks and a distinct refrain but without being bad, it’s really nothing that makes me tick. Reb’s time in Whitesnake shines through on the fast-tracked and heavy rocker “Long Road To Nowhere”, a song reminiscent to Whitesnake’s Slip Of The Tongue (1989). He wasn’t in Whitesnake back then but something has obviously rubbed off on him. He was also in Dokken and the “Kiss Of Death” like riffage makes for a interesting combination. On top, a distinct and in-your-face chorus brings the song home. Great stuff.
“Sacred Place” takes a more melodic approach, going for a pop-rock vibe softer in sound but never cheesy. It opens with Beach taking on a bluesy lead with a slight Gary Moore ish touch and even though the song rests on a bluesy ground all the way through, the song transforms into a more Melodic Rock laden half-ballad with an über-catchy chorus that sends us back to MSG’s Perfect Timing (1987) days. A brilliant song with an enormous single-potential. “Unless We Change” starts out on a softer note with Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” esque strings only for it to burst out into an uptempo rocker, rough and heavy with verses that goes in your face and on your case. The chorus slows things down into a Melodic Rock frenzy with melodies so infectious they’re incurable yet still on crunchier note which makes it never ever cheesy at all. Gotta love it.
Closing track “Divided United” starts out as a slow, melancholic and emotional ballad, very moving and touching only for it to take on a heavier turn with a crispy groove but with a very melodic feel all over. The chorus holds a gorgeous arrangement and a slight Queen meets Beatles touch on the melodies. Towards the end, the tune slows down some and brings on a darker vibe. The fact that the song changes in direction gives the feel of three songs within the song – it doesn’t sound sound like “Bohemian Rhapsody” at all but it must have been an inspiration – makes for some stellar dynamics here. A fantastic closer and and a monster of a song.
Yes, folks, this album is exactly as good as I hoped it would be. It’s not like these guys has invented the wheel musically again but what they have done is to make music without thinking about what’s hip or what the record company wants them to. Sure, there are traces of all the bands they have previously been in but the all-over sound here is of Black Swan and no one else. Sound wise, you can feel the passion of four guys doing things the old way – writing together, recording together (at Pilson’s house) which makes for a solid and organic experience where all parts come together in the best of symbioses. Individually we all know how damn good these guys are but this album shows a team – much like a hockey team where the “us” is more important than the “I”. If you dig heavy, raunchy yet melodic American sounding Hard Rock it would be a huge mistake to miss out on this one.
1. Shake The World
2. Big Disaster
3. Johnny Came Marching
4. Immortal Souls
5. Make It There
6. She’s On To Us
7. The Rock That Rolled Away
8. Long Road To Nowhere
9. Sacred Place
10. Unless We Change
11. Divided United