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RHAPSODY –
Dawn Of Victory
Limb Music 2000
It’s ambitious – and great, the greatest thing in power metal to the date. There we witness the rare occasion when use of classic music is clever and never dull, and the closest reference point should not be Malmsteen but Wakeman. Guitarist Luca Turilli and keyboard player Alex Staropoli, who stand behind all songs, were determined not to be confined in the group’s inability to fulfil the big conception and arranged an array of guests, including two choirs, which start the album with magnificient chorale “Lux Triumphans”. The album is a third chapter in a fantasy saga that the lyrics tell and artwork shows, yet it’s not necessary to follow the storyline, the music’s enough. While Staropoli’s machinery works as an orchestra, even MAIDEN-like rumble numbers
come in guitars attacks augmented by a violin – they solo along in instrumental “Dance Of The Trolls” – with the emphasis on choruses where choir supports Fabio Lione’s vocals. The singer has maybe not so disctinctive but a strong voice, demonstrated the best in almost operatic “The Bloody Rage Of The Titans”. The arrangements are perfect yet lively – the band admit to be paying homage to the Hollywood soundtracks.

Renaissance motifs appear interwoven with folk dances, as a Russian tune in a title track or jig of “Triumph For My Magic Steel”, which, moreoever, holds a nod to Paganini – these Italian guys are traditionalists in the best sense of the word. “The Village Of Dwarves” with its recorders, though, proves more Celtic. Even without all the decoration, smashes of “Holy Thunderforce” kind feel lush and easygoing at the same time – and don’t forget, RHAPSODY are heavy. All elements of the band’s puzzle fit together gloriously and reach the apogee in “The Mighty Ride Of The Firelord”. Hail the dawn.

*****
 

AFTER CRYING –
Struggle For Life
Periferic Records 2000
This live document is a whole treatise on what progressive rock has in store, the unique mix of many influcences with, maybe, just one overt, CRIMSO. Nothing, really, to be ashamed of, so it’s forgivable self-indulgence – to include into the ’99 recordings one from 1997, which is “Starless” with original voice and bass. The result’s amazing and should be equally beneficial for John Wetton, who for the first time since 1974 did the song in its original glory. That concerns AFTER CRYING instrumentarium that gives them an opportunity to re-produce their studio sound on-stage, if they only care. But they don’t and focus on improvisation flying around tight-structured pieces.

Recording on their home turf, in Hungary, the combo felt free and this oozes out from freefall cuts that storm immediately after the smashing intro of “Vladuct” and rarely trundle along single melody. Rich textures span tango (“Stalker”), ragtime (“Burlesque”), country (“Intermezzo”) and whatsoever and then give way to “Sonata for Violoncello and Piano” or pastoral serenity as of “Suburban Night” – all in a mad method. Hungarians pay homage of such a method to its master Zappa, in “European Things” atht feels like a re-write of “Let’s Make The Water Turn Black”. This is the only essential vocal part plus that in “Judas” (“Red” riff revisited) and “Conclusion” opening, as voice doesn’t play a big role in the band’s idiom, lead singer notwithstanding. Dedications make for excuse to chart the battlefields of yore, that route leads to the “Conclusion” suite, decicated to Emerson, a new “Tarcus”. Classical motifs are aplenty (Mendelsohn’s quotes in “Goblin Dance”) yet violin has its own way around in masks of Ponty, Cross or Jobson, all deliberately recognizable – and here a fun lurks. Where? Look at the band’s name!

*****
 

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM –
My God
Metal Blade 2001
One of the thrash scene originators, F&J still rage relentlesly. “Dig Me Up To Bury Me” welcomes a listener onto a roundabout, a ringing wirl so beautiful that it’s hard to believe in a possibility to remain as fresh after fifteen years since the band’s debut. Shadows of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” abound, on opener sets the course for the collection of songs charged equally with melodies and energy let out in measured portions, the method on display in “Keep Breathing”, heavy flow homes acoustic passages almost in a medieval way. These two sides of the band’s appear divided when full-fledged “Trash” mirrors itself in folky ZEPPELIN-esque version to be found at the end of the album. But the past is not where F&J abide, their modernism is no way artificial, no self-indulgence applied to the songs like “Nothing To Say”, very simple and in the same time quite sophisticated. For traditionalist the quintet served a rumbling dish of “Camera Eye” and lyrics having a go at all the old diseases – political, religious, social – that have one thing in common, and the thing is intolerance.

“My God is the only one”, there’s an alienating line drawn in the centerpiece, which drone comes prefaced by nervous instrumental “Praise”. And if it’s a cry too far out for you, there’s a memorable “Learn To Dance” pulsating to convince, and it does – resolving in a “Frustrate” waltz tempo. After it – and the ferocius rap of “Killing Time” – a calamity begs to be turned into a calm, and “I.A.M.H” does bring a hope in its Spanish guitar lace and a violin ivy. Let it be this way, let metal bear life, not death.

*****
 

CHANGES – Changes
Jazzis Records 1993
Don’t expect a perpetual change, no matter what the title says. It’s a dessert for jazz afficionados, a meeting point of that liquid improvisation and new age. The Israeli trio lead by the keyboardist Gia Ionesco came up with a fantasy (spot the Roger Dean-styled logo by Ionesco) collection with the only piece seemingly strange. No, it’s not Bartok’s elegiac “Dawn”, reportedly the first recording of newly unearthed gem, but “Summertime”. Gershwin’s classic appears in a form of seven variations on the theme yet the initial choice of sound ruins an impression, which gets recovered along the way. Synthesizers are the primary force here, sometimes it irks, so when “Gate For Speedway” introduces a piano surrounded by Asaf Sirkis drums playing an interesting time signature, it has a refreshing effect.

Well, “Changes” altogether is a light watercolor ode to joy of life, the mood set by the “Sunrise Beyond” synth waves ebbing on the bass groove and drum rolls. Every musicians recives his own spot here, and Gabriel Meir’s bass sways solo on “Norm Nation” while keyboards make a wind instruments impression. Hardly a consistent melody here anywhere yet feeling has it all. And more, when the real clarinet and saxes burst in for “Dawn” and “Homage H” with a clear 40’s taste. Completely differently builds “Tibetan Love”, from the drums avalanche to the synth/bass snowballs and then into the void, it just must make some documentary being on par with Kitaro’s aural paintings.

Xylophone rain is a best characteristic for elegant simplicity of “Albert’s Tape”, but it’s only a trampoline before epic-sized “A.H.Groove”. Groove that is, a bit Monk-like in the piano lines yet driving as a spring unwinding. Get cut and get kicks out of it!

****
 

FIREFLY –
After The Fire
Escape Music 2000
They think they’re big, these guys, they didn’t even bother to write as to who’s who in the band. The truth is, nobody really cares who plays guitar or sings, so why try? The six-piece ensemble rock with confidence, there’s no denying, yet we’ve heard all this before. From the opening chords of “Shadow Of A Doubt” it’s easy to pinpoint this AEROSMITH influence, which comes forth in “Stuck In The Middle” – exactly the same old song and dance that brought BON JOVI and Brian Adams in the Eighties. That means, music is charts-friendly and “Find A Way” all but deserves a high mark. There wouldn’t be a surprise, in the end of the day, if a guitar player will be cajoled out to a major band because it’s him who keeps the interest up, when let free and not confined to a maudlin balladry, which the title track is an example of. Think of Slash’s former occupation and notice a similar imagination in tracks like “Sad Goodnight”.

But – unlike ‘SMITH – FIREFLY lack the bluesy edge they try to deliver with “Blue Flame” or “Fight”, an effect could be achieved by simple exhanging guitar for harmonica, and often it’s a patience stretching with an occasional gem glistening as Eastern harmonies-filled “The Garden”. Quality musicianship throughout and even an orchestra impression here and there, very apt in “You’re Not The One”, give a hope the band will find their identity sooner or later. If later, though, the momentum may be missed forever.

****
 

HALLOWEEN –
Lr Festin
Musea Records 2001
Dissonant yet somehow compelling music, roots of which lie in the French chanson, very melancholic. This autumn feel penetrates the opening “L’Autre”, where piquancy is a result of a female unpretentious vocals and violin combination that break down to give way to a sonic anxiety. “Neurotic” goes even further with its piano-driven drift, claustrophobic to a frightening limit. It’s a sort of masochism, to enjoy one’s depression but ain’t that a common thing? Depths of a tormented sould seem to be the subject of the album, and “Coma” appears the most heavy of the set – especially when HALLOWEEN pull in the mad dance in the tradition of a “Red”-era CRIMSON.

Fortunately, these mind-boggling scales are interspersed with less charged pieces. When violin, a primary instrument in the band’s palette, comes along with a guitar the sound may resemble UK method although it’s hardly a permanent reference point and “Le Retour Du Boffo” exists on the border of avant-garde and space rock as if it was touched by Zappa. The Maroccan melodic theme starting here gets developed in “Sheherazade” with its sitar-like textures that make a long intro to a song sounding as a world music-cum-alternative. “Araignee” has a little different color, alternative-tinged as well, but more airy and sporting a light guitar solo in a DEAD CAN DANCE gloom.

Every piece could easily fit some soundtrack, and “Le Festin” is a champion, telling of cannibalism and taking on several melodies stitched together by hypnotyzing groove, which culminates in a planned cacophonia. Quite a dark and dazzling look on life – yet relevant for many. And here’s jazzy “Carnage” to make the skies a bit bluer, that’s a way out, a blissful one.

****
 

RAGE –
Welcome To The Other Side
GUN Records 2001
Again reduced to a trio, RAGE play their childish game of dumb songtitles and photoshoots at the cemetaries. Thankfully, music is better, with a huge infuse of fresh songwriting from Victor Smolski. The guitarist’s classical training spices the dish but underlines a divide between American and Teutonic tendencies in the band. If they’re still Teutonic with only one German guy and Russian romance “After The End” in the repertoire. US-type ballad is “Deep In The Night”, banal so that it’s just good when Smolski runs his scales combining them with riffery – sometimes, like in infectious rock’n’rolling of “Paint The Devil On The Wall”, the effect is of Eighties melodic metal, that’s close to Yngwie’s output. The balance is imperfect, “Mirror In Your Eyes” comes syropy in deceptive heaviness and – great! – guitar soloing in a jazzy way. Original? Could be, if not for the title track marred by too Hatfield-ish intoning from Peter Wagner. Use of sitar in “Leave It All Behind” appears a novice though.

New to the band’s idiom appears a four-part suite “Tribute To Dischonour”, penned by Smolski and featuring his piano and versatile axe handling. The result is very uneven, with soft pieces, “R.I.P.” and “Requiem”, feeling more deep when compared to sounding suspiciously familiar smashes “One More Time” and “I’m Crucified”, though heavy ones are kind of orchestrated – all better than the guitarist’s "Heretic". This deja vu seems hard to shake off, and that spoils otherwise good music: “No Lies” surely exists on such a basis and, thus, isn’t as jaunty as “Riders On The Moonlight”. “Straight To Hell”, unusual too, looks like SAXON gone alternative. We see RAGE at the point of anger peeling off. Welcome to the other side.

***
 

HERONIMUS FIN –
Riding The Great Fantastic
Garden Records 1998
Is Canterbury scene back? No yet it’s hard not to smile when one glance at the cover betrays semblance to CARAVAN’s “If I Could Do It All Over Again” and there’s even a track called “A Canterbury Tale”, a part of folky “A Song For The Sad…”. If you look for some concept here, have it in the last 5 tracks that are “The Crabtree Road Suite Pt. 2” and include among all “The Tree Song”, “John Barleycorn” electrified, very English, as jolly “Secret Places” that Ray Davice might come up with. FIN definitely belong to brit pop but they take on melodic side of the Sixties ride. The band explore psychedelic anew, starting from the point where it turned to art rock, and here the seed of multi-part pieces is sown. The first, “Riding The Great Fantastic”, invites us to the band’s mystery tour with driving “Ride With Us”, sprinkled with raga feel that pops up in Bolan-boogie “The Great Fantastic” and resolve in pseudo-tragic “I Want To Get Off”. What sells is the innocence in the songs, like a child not wanting to grow old and get upset – minimalistic ballad “(I Don’t Want To) Sculpture You” sums it up perfectly.

It’s sincere look at life, however it treats us, and “Purple Pictures’ is a wonderful ditty, sounding as if it came from 1966 with catchy melody, fuzz effect on vocals, sharp guitar hooks and swaying bass. They’re mods, these guys, rowdy “Steelball Wind” could equally fit in THE SMALL FACES and THE JAM canon. But there is more to the band than it seems: exquisite guitar work in “I Lost The Way” shows their mastership, in the songwriting too – words are more eloquent than in “Wish You Were Here” while desolation’s the same; and here’s another influence peeps, URIAH HEEP’s. That’s how we have to deal with reality, riding the great fantastic – and back, down the “Lounge Road”, a rousing song of hope. As for the band – a major deal will lead them to the very top.

*****
 

HADES – DamNation
Metal Blade 2001
Some things never change, and why change if the path, once chosen, is right? Heavier than before, HADES still play uncompromising metal they presented in mid-Eighties. For them nonconformism isn’t a game, they know not managers, lawyers and sacred cows in delivering the truth and having a go at their homeland – in very tongue-in-cheek way. USA politics and lifestyle are something to laugh about – and HADES do laugh. Start with sarcastic boogie of “California Song”. Will you recognize these combo? Yes, HADES respect traditions, and “Out The Window” riffs seem to originate from RAINBOW, which means it’s melodic – as is every song here. No “obligatory” freak-outs – Alan Tecchio’s vocals appear well-tuned, while Dan Lorenzo’s and Ed Furmahn’s guitars work for rock’n’roll.

The band run a battle-tank with no time for reflection – because music is the reflection from the initial attack of “Bloast” on to “Bad Vibrations” drama. Vibes are bad only as a contrast to those from BEACH BOYS. Serenity’s gone for stresses receiving their due in “Stressfest”, life’s harder now. And music too: “Biocaust” a relentless anger, a kind of metal rap – urbanity kills.

Some would say, “Force Quit” smells of METALLICA. But no! – both groups have their own ways, yet in the same field and these guys look more sincere. “This I Know” pounds along bluesy, back to SABBATH – that’s an arresting ploy. “Absorbed” comes as a catchy cry of desperation – and sticks, no equivokes here, the truth naked. “Momentary Clarity”, as they call it, even asks for orchestration with Grieg’s “Mountain King” lurking deep. HADES are deep – the band’s name obliges.

*****
 

ROYAL HUNT – Fear
Rondel Records 1999
A work of high standards, “Fear” exists on the verge of classical music and metal – the usual brainchild of the keyboard wiz Andre Andersen. The title track has an opera snippet attached before John West breaks into choir-like intro and the band weave a wonderful tapestry of sharp riffs and synth-orchestrated layers – there are even piccolos and violas involved while organ’s strangely absent. Maybe, a bit bombastic yet it grows on you, especially when vocals (beginning with some figure similar to HEEP’s “Wise Man”) come across acoustic guitars. The mix is perfect to let the players relax. Thus, “Follow Me” could be a posh metal ballad – it is – if not for the voice, flying freely as the song demands, taking no mannerism to strut.

Funny is a lead to “Faces Of War” – too synthetic – and then the song unfurls in mighty hurricane of sound. If MAGNUM ever needed successors in the pomp-rock field – here they are. Jakob Kjaer’s solos, though elaborate, aren’t as tedious as Yngwie’s, and his affinity for acoustic, together with West’s intonations, balances all too plastic combination of keyboards and over-precise rhythm section. That’s more obvious in poppish “Cold City Lights”, very curly-wurly Eighties, which gets enlivened by guitar rock’n’roll, leading straight into “Lies”, driving to a single note. Mozart strings and harpsichord textures appear interspersed by rifferry and bluesy soloing and a soulful vocal delivery – in places John sings exactly like John Sloman – underpinned by bass, all to culminate in superb chorus. Deeper into the Renaissance, the band enshroud “Voices” in a moody pavane, giving a song another rhythmic pattern while harmonically it joins the circle. Unfortunately the circle breaks when “Sea Of Time” exposes an ear to an end so banal that there’s a real fear – will ROYAL HUNT sail the sea 20 years back?

*****
 

BRAINSTORM TWO –
Earth Zero
self-released 2000
An interesting mixture of styles gathered by love for good melody, the album sounds extremely modern. Maybe, it’s for this combination that the band decided on sci-fi conception – and “Earth Zero” is a concept issue in musical terms. The theme, beginning with “Freeway”, which comes from the Sixties, a driving song with a rebel attitude, is continued in anxious “Vandal’s Hymn”, more heavy and eerie in its acoustic pathos. An important role in the band’s idiom belongs to organ, it complements guitars strummed in THE SHADOWS way. Perfect solos betray the players’ prowess, well-hidden in deceptive simplicity. They know their business, and “No-one Knows” combines punky rock’n’roll and Eighties’ smoothness like only BLONDIE could. Symplified instrumentation lead “Anarchy” and RAMONES-like “Tyranny” – the stronger the effect of cumulate angst.

Influences aren’t obvious, although cold ballads “Triplanetary” and “Stasis” hold shadows of early Bowie or FLOYD, the same light psychedelic drift of intertwined guitars and piano lines, that turn to R&amp’B with “Slow Train Of The Lie” – check “That’s All Right (Mama)” quote inserted into solo that dissolves a gloomy atmosphere and in comes gentle flute to give “Back Home On Terra” a romantic feel, similar to that of “Scarborough Fair” but garage-colored. Nothing’s strange in this soup, indeed. It’s all very moody, so “The Last Long Summer” has a nostalgic feel that touches the soul strings but “Armageddon”, a six-part epic, homes all themes and draws a “total” line under “Earth Zero”, a space rock masterpiece. Almost. Highly recommended anyway; although a dose of fun would be welcomed.

****

 

LINDISFARNE –
Dealer’s Choice
NMC Music 1998
The end of 1973 had the second chapter of LINDISFARNE’s career opened with a new line-up gathered around Alan Hull. The initial glamour might seem bleak in the studio but live, as these BBC recordings suggest, the ensemble remained where they belong, giving their all to the performance. The December 1973 gig starts with an introduction stating that ‘FARNE appeared there instead of THE OSMONDS – not a bad change. They kick in with boogie of “Steppenwolf” laden with electric piano and scrupulous guitar licks but then too EAGLES-like seems “No Time To Lose”, a good country rock piece boasting of strong guitar work – previously wah-wah, played by Charlie Harcourt, wasn’t natural to the group’s sound. An important gain for Hull was Tommy Duffy, a prominent bassist and composer of the leader’s sort; his “North Country Boy”, together with Alan’s “Taking Care of Business”, being a good example of Geordie sound. Another author appeared in pianist Kenny Craddock who came up with bluesy ballad “Roll On River”, in its harmonica excellence almost equally catchy as “Lady Eleanor” that, of course, is present here. But not the same, now the band were more electric and straightforward, Paul Nichols’ drum rolls inferior to Ray Laidlaw’s; the song still retained its haunting feel though, not very confident delivery notwithstanding.

“Moonshine” clearly signals of new material’s relative weakness and even with due musicians work there’s not much fun in it. But it is in Craddock-penned hoedown “Toe The Line”, a rousing folk dance, which is easily to follow with “When The War Is Over” to close the show, in togetherness Alan even changed lyrics for “when a bar is open”. The other four songs coming from August 1974 show LINDISFARNE slide further into regular rock – and “Dealer’s Choice” does rock when the rest are not so good. Like them or not – that’s the dealer’s choice.

***3/4
 

WARMEN –
Unknown Soldier
Spinefarm 2000
Well, not so unknown this soldier is – Janne Warman plays in CHILDREN OF BODOM but now he tries his might solo. And there’s again a question of how humour belongs to neoclassic. You may be classically trained, technically perfect and cram as much notes per minute, yet it’s hollow. WARMEN know it well and, “Introduction” past, they say it openly – so judge not!

Hardly a keyboardist’s album, it’s rather a band effort, as guitars are many there, handled by Antti Warman, Sami Virtanen and others. Sure, they love Bach and take on him in “The Evil That Warmen Do”, adding, fortunately, a touch of rock’n’roll, and Janne’s solos sound more relaxed and remind of Don Airey. Classic scales get explored every here and there with no direct quotes, however one of the pieces is “Warcry Of Salieri”, which doesn’t look like Italian at all. This can be interesting yet a tad insipid, “Hopeless Optimism” seems an apt title for a specific track. So there’s SINERGY’s Kimberly Goss to enliven “Devil’s Mistress” and “Fire Within” with her voice, the result comes close to some Wakeman’s albums.

Great, when Janne runs in harpsichord and Moog modes, rare now, “Unknown Soldier” betrays a UK influence, taking jazzy harmonies in – Jobson and Holdsworth found a good pupil in Warman. All better than Malmsteen, whose shadow hangs over here – especially in speedy “Into The Oblivion”. The more savoured after all these turbo tunes appears “Piano Intro To”. Gentle piano is so poignant, leaning towards Jewish melodies, punctuated in its uneven yet deep approach. And then “Treasure Withing” picks it up electrically with a May-esque guitar sound while “Soldiers Of Fortune” bears more harmony guitar applied to “Kashmir”-like rhythm and space atmosphere. Mercenary’s a good service – but it’s the album that one unlikely will return to for one more spin.

****
 

TO/DIE/FOR – Epilogue
Nuclear Blast 2001
Little to die for here but something to die of. You can’t say they didn’t warn you – the album’s title a hint – yet it takes some ten minutes to realize that the repetitive riff of the hidden track is endless, indeed, a loop. “Epilogue” comes as a timewarp, taking a listener to the mid-Eighties, when DEPECHE MODE ruled the charts, and combining this synth-pop with metal. The marriage appears attractive, at the first glance, “Crimson Twins” is hard to resist, repleted with riff-stitched keyboard and guitars layers. The downside comes in coldness, two synthetic styles don’t make it hot, you feel it already in the second song, “Veil Of Tears” – hard to sympathize, really. The band seem to feel it, “veil” is a key, popping up again in “Veiled”. While every other piece is good, together they oppress.

Techno freaks should enjoy “Hollow Heart”, bass-laden and electronic-filled. With metal lovers the issue must be more complicated as energy accumulated doesn’t get released, “The Unknown” is an example of how to sound even, with no nerve touched. “Frail Without You” holds more feeling but feels too artificial. So, despite all the heaviness of “In Solitude”, that’s hard to bear if you’re not set on this particular type of music. Call it Gothic, that’s more clear in “Chains”, which involves female vocal and strained growl – to a foolish effect – yet with an impressive guitar solo. From musical point of view, everything’s rather perfect, thick textures, like those of “Immortal Love”, in abundance, if only this wasn’t too tiresome where songs are all the same. At the point of closing “Garden Of Stones” you’re happy it’s over – and here’s the aforementioned secret track starts to kill. Amen.

***
 

ERIK NORLANDER –
Into the Sunset
Transmission 2000
A bit uneven yet overall powerful work from one of the best progmetal keyboard wizards. First of all, there’s a mighty bunch playing with guitar duties executed by Arjen Lucassen and the tempo kept by tight coupling of Greg Ellis’ drums and Tony Franklin‘s fretless bass groove. All that and an array of singers notwithstanding, it’s Erik’s passages that impress the most, having combined Wakeman’s easiness with RUSH’s heaviness. A perfect result’s on the display from the “Sunset Prelude”, one of instrumentals interpsersing songs. “Prelude” has some of HEEP’s bombastic presentation but altogether is a tapestry of Norlander’s influences stitched together seamlessly. It’s hard to grasp on the first listening, melodies grow on you though. The title track opens the door into the sunset with mini-opera “On The Wings Of Ghosts” in its centre, sung by Robert Soeterboek and Edward Reekers. Not silly – especially when a humorous bit peeps in in form of a piano-delivered quote from SUPERTRAMP, which is more of a surprise than Hammond and Moog dances. A title “Fanfare For The Dragon Isle” looks funny, too – with no hint of ELP.

Less interesting is Soeterboek’s David Coverdale-esque appearance in “Lines In The Sand” resembling melodically ASIA’s “Wildest Dreams”. In “Rome Is Burning” – Glenn Hughes does his work excellent as usual and it’s a good chance to hear him rock, yet this is another RAINBOW-cross-“Seventh Star” piece – hardly original though pleasant. What’s original is a digression to a mellow part – what a collection of solos Erik put in, even Arjen’s licks seem bleak here. Guitar riffs lead “Fly”, making up a whole intro before Reekes and Erik’s lady Lana Lane cut in for quite flat melody rescued by piano that drives a wonderful, Prokofiev-type “Dreamcurrents” adorned by cello. Solemnity culminates in short gospel “Hymn” with Lana going a capella – mission’s completed and rounded by “Into The Sunset” reprise and “Sunset Postlude” (‘TRAMP bit revisited).

Aftertaste is great and saturation comes in encore, “Neurosaur”, interpolating Bach fugue and sax-plus-piano blues. Really atomic.

****1/3
 

BUDGIE –
Heavier Than Air
NMC Music 1998
The subtitle reads, “Rarest Eggs”. Such these recordings are, one of the John Peel’s sessions among them, aired in February 1972, that was wiped off and survived, only taped on home recorder by the ardent fan. Blame it on Plant’s mane and Shelley’s specs that BUDGIE had less appeal to the audience than ZEP, playing the same heavy blues yet with no sign of the Delta inheritance, Tommy Bourge melodically winning over Page with Burke’s bass soloing along, as in “Hot As A Docker’s Armpit”, completely out of LED canon. Call “The Author” a “Communication Breakdown” rip-off but they ran along and drank from the same source, even on the improvisional level when Shelley sings and plays in “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” in unison with guitar.

BUDGIE were maturing steadily – from the innocent “The Author” off the first album to “Young Is A World” off the second. Progress is obvious even between two 1972 sessions, the latter from October. Towards the mid-Seventies, though, the mighty parrot became slick, having succumbed to glam like “Sky High Percentage” shows, live yet rather lifeless, still instrumetally perfect – spot tango in “Tyrefitter’s Hand”, dating back to 1973, here in 1976′ version. All started to wane in 1974, when even “Breadfan” sounded thin side by side with smash that “Powdered Milk” is. In the early years BUDGIE’s engine wasn’t that of piledriver. Before, they were more fragile in approach if compared to their early Eighties output, here’s three tracks off 1981’s “Nightflight”, filling the gap between 1980 and 1982 concerts covered on "We Came. We Saw...", maybe strong but hardly distinguishable from NWOBHM bands, with “Superstar” being a dumb post-punk rock’n’roll. Magic expired.

On the other hand, all this could be down to the radio sessions restrictions – the whole LA’s 1978 show placed on the second CD worth accolades.

****
 

EIDOLON –
Hallowed Apparition
Metal Blade 2001
There’s a recipe for you how to spoil a good band. Take three players who do know how to brew burning metal and a singer, not bad yet not so good, and give them into the hands of drummer who reigns in songwriting but surely is neither Don Henley nor Phil Collins. So what? It all results in very insipid music from the melodic point of view. “De-evolution” dumb lyrics show we deal with another anti-utopian futuristic-ridden formation and is all but a kick-starter. If there’s a way to put a voice down on your player, instrumental passages could be interesting, the guitarist doing his best to color the bleak picture of, say, “Lord Of Desecration” (grrrr! this title) to no success in absence of proper vocal line. Thus, the album makes one very long and dull piece, with no real changes from start to finish, even in an effort to get close to MAIDEN canon like in “Forever Be Free” or “War Pigs”-like viscous “Feed The Machine”. At that point the musical and thematical decision leans towards taking out a copy of SABBATH’s “Dehumanizer”, that explored the same subject.

Frightening is that EIDOLON take themselves extremely serious – the guitarist Glen Drover’s service for King Diamond didn’t do good. “Forgotten City” feels better with more impassioned singing but the mark’s not reached yet. “Prelude Into Fear” begins – it’s easy to fear this prelude has no end, because you’re sick to death and saved only by the guitar solo. “Mind Alterations” improves things a bit, according to the title, and has even a slow part inserted yet “You Will Burn” just frightens: not more left to burn after all! An acoustic guitar piece in “Hallowed Apparition” then looks like evil joke. So, “Atomic Rage” is a listener’s feeling, not the band’s.

**
 

JOE LYNN TURNER –
Holy Man
MTM Music 2000
Mr.Turner struggled on his own for long to deliver the goods and finally he’s done it, the most strong album of his solo career. Listening to Joe’s albums one by one, one will define his signatures, so liken it to RAINBOW, if you will – there are jokingly familiar riffs, as in “Midnight In Tokyo” or mighty “Babylon” – but Joe was quite as equal part of the band as Ritchie. And “No Salvation” is a kicker of higher octane than “Death Alley Driver” it’s a continuation of. The race is on, as man himself once put it, with solid support on most of the tracks from keyboardist Paul Morris and bassist Greg Smith, the two Blackmore took off Turner’s band in 1995, and drummer Kenny Kramme. Akira Kajiyama proves an excellent guitar player and his soloing’s really good, though not very deep. That somehow adds to the edgy production, heavy soulful “Holy Man” and funky “Something New” the best examples of, female backing here isn’t as akward as on RAINBOW’s “Power” – this touch of gospel being one of Turner’s said signatures, so obvious in “Freedom’s Wings”. Singer has his stamp even on “Love Is Blind”, the only song he wasn’t involved in writing.

Contrary to his previous offerings, Joe manages to keep you up until the end, singing with confidence and ease, still vulnerable in ballads like “Anything” after all these years, yet pouring a blues in for exquisite “Angel”. Blues always felt something Joe had a spot for and in Joe Bonamassa he found a suitable guitarist to switch to darker mode with “Wolves At The Door” and “Honest Crime” – but Turner seems “Too Blue To Sing The Blues” to end it all with “Closer”, which would be a too banal AOR finale. Joe gives his all in the last shot, back to FANDANGO groovy rock’n’roll, a hollering holy man – is there anything better?

*****
 

LANE-MARRIOTT –
Majik Mijits
MMC Music 2000
Some showbiz tycoons are too narrow-minded sometimes to ditch a gem they hold in their greasy palms. MAJIK MIJITS was the name of the band, two former SMALL FACES – the smallest ones – Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane created in 1981. The sad time as MS already began taking its toll on Lane and he couldn’t play yet worked out the bass lines with Jim Leverton. Obviously, in such a state touring seemed unlikely, but why shelve it if the music’s great?

Ronnie and Steve appeared in that Lennon-McCartney situation, where Marriott’s raspy approach became mellower, while Lane’s performance gained edge, although the two wasn’t writing together and submitted six tracks each. The result is exquisite and hard to resist from the opening “Lonely No More”, that has Steve sliding with light groove on the organ and sax waves. Hard to beat it may feel, yet Ronnie goes even further jauntily delivering “Chicken (If The Cap Fits)”, an arresting rocky piece his fella picks up in folky ditty “Toe Rag”. Songs sequence is of importance here because album is a beautiful music chain. Cocky “Bombers Moon” and poignant “Son Of Stanley Lane” conjure up mod days, so far from Eighties, gone for ever and “Birthday Girl”, innocent as it is, betrays seasoned soulmakers. And sure, “Last Tango in NATO” is a surprise – Lane, trying to be serious, does real tango, framed by Mick Green’s pirate guitar!

In places friends could easily swap their songs and soulful “How Does It Feel”, wouldn’t be strange to Ronnie. On the other hand, swaggering “That’s The Way It Goes” is pure SLIM CHANCE and James Brown-ish “You Spent It” belongs strictly to Steve, very natural in this surrounding to muse “Be The One”, which could end the collection but the role was given up to soothing “Ruby Jack” from Ronnie, both so painful sincere.

Two Mijits were Majik, indeed – it hurts to think they’re no longer with us, but snippet of an old anthem “All Or Nothing”, recorded live, gives a hope for a whole show to be released.

*****
 

STEEL PROPHET –
Book Of The Dead
Nuclear Blast 2001
Once Ozzy did the song called “Led Clones” about the bands working in the wake of ZEPPELIN – now it’s time to change “led” for “iron”, all metal. It’s not that obvious in the beginning and “When Six Was Nine” is much pleasant with quite catchy melody and thick instrumental strain but “Tragic Flaws” signals significant turn and you have to look permanently at the cover and pinch yourself to keep convinced the CD’s right: twin guitars and even vocals startingly become MAIDEN-ish. This could be irritating, had music been not so melodic. Bass may be of less imagination than Steve Harris’ yet it provides a solid ground, sometimes slightly leading the band into time changes, as in “Escaped” and speedy headlong “Phobia” where band, a good-oiled machine, struggle through with a blistering performance. So the more unexpectedly appear short but exquisite classical guitar pieces “Soleares”, “The Chamber” and “Ruby Dreams”, all preceding very heavy-textured songs, and it’s surprising why PROPHET don’t incorporate such lace into these standard tracks like “Locked Out” to give them another dimension.

And there is a kind of effort, when a beautiful ballad-like section comes infused into “Anger Seething”, a SABBATH-like rock’n’roll rumble, even with a devilish laughter. The real ballad is “Burning Into Blackness”, which is a typical metal ballad – i.e. slower than the rest – that one more time underlines the band’s lyrical leanings, even riffing and scorching solos go along. Just don’t take it too serious – if you do, follow down to the closing “Oleander”, a funny ditto in a QUEEN manner. Then return to start and re-listen in a new state of mind. Steel’s not rusty, is it?

***3/4
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