Jeff Scott Soto is an amazing singer. That’s a fact and really cannot be discussed. You can say his voice isn’t to your liking but no one can claim that he can’t sing. But just like any other musician – your skills as a musician do not have to mean that you’re a great songwriter. Vocalist wise, Jorn Lande comes to mind. When he works with seasoned and highly skilled song writers, he’s awesome but when he writes songs himself, it often falls flat. The same thing, more or less, applies to Jeff Scott Soto. Many are the projects that Jeff’s voice has bettered but his solo albums has always been somewhat uneven, albeit never bad. It became even worse when he in 2015 unveiled a Metal band under his own last name. I fully understand that a guy like JSS wants to do different things, his 2017 prog-metal project Sons Of Apollo that featured Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Derek Sherinian and Bumblefoot was an example of such a successful union.
Going back to my previous Soto reviews, I note that I gave their debut album Inside The Vertigo a good 8/10 – and I’m sure I really meant it at the time – but truth be told, I haven’t given it one good listen since I went back to it for the review to the follow-up Divak and that 8/10 felt extremely far away then. Today, I don’t think either Soto albums were bad but I can honestly say I can’t remember one single song off those albums. Pretty good while listening but not memorable enough – and the desire to pick either up again is really non-existing. Shall we say they’re both worth 5/10? With all that in mind, I can’t say I was aroused by the news of a new Soto album but on the other hand, as a fan of Jeff the singer, it’s always interesting to hear what he has come up with – and if the Sons Of Apollo project might have rubbed off on him for the new album.
The album opens with latest single “HyperMania”. It starts on an electronic note yet with a heavy groove. But fear not, the tune brings on some beefy guitars and a steady rhythm and the verses bring some darkness over the tune. However, still heavy, the refrain inserts some Pop elements which makes the tune catchy and that it’s released as a single becomes a clear no-brainer. Jeff is, of course, singing great and the big melodies are really in the vein of what we’re used to when it comes to JSS. A good tune that bodes well. The title-track and second single comes along next and this is Metal for sure – heavy, punchy, aggressive and even ominous sounding. It’s kicking and rough and its slight touches of progressive rock has me immediately thinking this song could have been written for Sons Of Apollo and even more so on the memorable melodies and the in-your-face and effective refrain. Good one.
Leading single “BeLie” takes a slower pace but is still heavy and dark with an evil and black atmosphere where the song’s foundation is punchy and the rhythm holds a fat and tough beat. The song itself, however, makes “ok” at best and doesn’t stick one bit. Underwhelming. The heaviness continues with “World Gone Colder” where the dark verses brings on some gritty guitar work from Jorge Salan, very Metal indeed. The refrain, however, shows some diversity by being almost pure Melodic Rock. It’s a catchy enough refrain but I find it only ok – a song that do not linger long in my mind. “Detonate” is slow, heavy and robust but also upbeat and slightly progressive, melodic yet rough. It’s a decent song with a sparse chorus that fails to stick and I can’t remember a second of the song when it’s done – a good thing I’m taking notes while I’m listening. It’s ballad time when “Torn” comes along but it’s a heavy and dark Metal ballad, both smooth and punchy. The big, poignant refrain draws things towards power-balladry but with no extra added syrup at all. A brilliant track.
The fat-riffed “Dance With The Devil” is hard, tough and with tiny twists of industrial. It’s bouncy and punchy and Metal groovy with thunderous drums and a pumping bass where the gritty guitars scratches and bites with a roar. On top lies a striking memorable main-melody and a chorus that’s catchy and actually holds a slight hit-feel. This is very good stuff. “AfterGlow” takes a rather sharp turn as it’s more in the vein of Classic Rock complete with a horn section, a swinging and even danceable groove, very rhythmic and a big-ass refrain that takes no prisoners. There’s a twist of Metal in there but it lurks in the background. A killer tune that should be a future single. “Vanity Lane” is also outside the album’s box. Melodic Rock with some Hard Rock and Metal inserted here and there is what we get, with classic JSS vocal melodies and a brilliantly catchy refrain. Very good.
The album closes with “Give In To Me”, a Michael Jackson cover. A brave move in a time when MJ’s pedophile accusations has rose to bigger heights than ever. It’s a very good cover, heavier and darker than the original albeit slow to mid-paced with ballad tendencies but with a good groove. I dig it but I would like it more if it didn’t leave such sour taste in my mouth. For the deluxe edition we are provided with an additional bonus track, of course. “KMAG” is a ballsy and tough rocker with a kicking and heavy rhythm and some massive Metal riffing, groovy and fat with a good enough refrain. That said, it’s a typical bonus track, ok at its best and nothing I got worked up over.
On the positive side, this album is more diverse than the two first where Jeff’s Melodic Rock past shines through here and there and there are a few songs here that I suspect could last even after a few spins but the biggest problem is that again, most of the songs probably won’t. Just as on the previous two albums, it feels like Jeff and his guys has put the most focus on making it as heavy, attitude-laden and aggressive as possible, apart from a few songs, and not enough on making solid, memorable tunes – and the filler quote is a bit too high which makes this record a somewhat forgettable affair. That said, I can’t find any songs on here that are flat-out bad so in that sense, it’s an even album. Soto is a band of great musicians and Jeff is and has always been a marvelous singer but that means little when the songs fails to leave a mark on me in a bigger way. It’s a good album – while listening – but it could and should have been better.
More Soto reviews
4. World Gone Colder
7. Dance With The Devil
9. Vanity Lane
10. Give In To Me
11. KMAG (deluxe edition bonus track)