REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC

There’s a veritable feast of classy rock and metal ready to blast those Bank Holiday blues this week and we’ve handpicked the very best of the new releases.

We review and rate the latest offerings from Arch Enemy (pictured), Black Stone Cherry, Journey, The Trews, Elevener, Williams Friestedt, Tyr, Karma To Burn and Arkona.

And don’t forget this is where you’ll find the verdict on the very best in new rock and metal every week! 

Journey – Eclipse (Frontiers)

When Arnel Pineda was plucked from obscurity to front one of the biggest AOR bands on the planet expectations were, understandably, low. In fact the majority of Journey fans simply hoped the likeable Filipino could get by – belting out the old hits to a reasonable standard and providing a final shot in the arm to Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain and co..

Eclipse is the definitive proof that Pineda has done all that and then some. A classic Journey album with a modern rock edge, it offers the singer the perfect platform to finally stamp his own identity on this enduring global phenomenon. Having long since shed the label of tribute band troubadour, Pineda is reborn as a confident singer and consummate professional – fronting a concept album which breathes new life into a band constantly overshadowed by its ubiquitous back catalogue.

But let’s face it – Journey and Pineda could comfortably ride into the sunset playing all of the old favourites, pandering to their new Glee-ful devotees and refusing steadfastly to reinvent the melodic rock wheel. Nobody would complain. In fact millions of rock fans the world over would be more than satisfied to hear Don’t Stop Believin’ for the umpteenth time.

But Pineda, in particular, was never going to settle for the easy life. Having fought his way from the streets of Manila to front a legendary act it’s no surprise that the comfort zone is anathema to this ambitious and amiable character. With Schon and Cain preferring to expand their artistic boundaries rather than cultivate a lucrative heritage band the scene has long since been set for Eclipse.

Opener City Of Hope sees Pineda in pin-sharp form but it’s Schon’s sizzling fretwork which demands appraisal. It’s almost as if he’s spent the past year listening to Slash’s solo debut and emerged determined to better the ultimate guitar hero. As Eclipse unravels it’s clear Schon might have done just that.

Cain comes to the fore by the time Chain Of Love kicks in with a trademark piano riff – as subtle as it is effective. An Eastern-influenced intro cedes to Schon in power chord heaven and it’s right about here that Eclipse emerges as something special.

Tantra features another classic Cain stamp while Pineda apes Joe Lynn Turner circa [Yngwie Malmsteen’s] Odyssey with the kind of perfect vocal which causes hairs to stand on end.

But it’s on Anything Is Possible where Journey and their fast-improving frontman reach some kind of glorious AOR peak. And as Pineda sings ‘It’s better to reach for something than to never have tried’ the passion and credibility is clear. He reached high: this album in the heady result. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Return Journey

 

Black Stone Cherry – Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (Roadrunner)

They share a label with Kiss, Nickelback and Lynyrd Skynyrd and these days Black Stone Cherry have a familiar sound in common with all three. It’s a modern rock style all of their own and yet it’s clear Chris Robertson and his band will readily mine the best moments’ of their veteran peers’ bulging back catalogues in a bid to create musical perfection.

And for fans of quality guitar-driven, hook-laden, heavy duty Southern rock that’s exactly what Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea is. Perfect in almost every respect and poised to take BSC to the next level a decade after the Kentucky crew first came together.

In 2001 it would have taken a brave soul to predict anything but a career mired in obscurity for a small-town band playing music so removed from the angular metal of the moment that they risked ridicule from day one.

Yet 10 years on and BSC are heading for a second Download main stage slot in three years and the band remains on course for fresh critical acclaim in the wake of their third studio album in five years.

Opener White Trash Millionaire has already gained a stranglehold over the rock radio airwaves with its chugging riff and chanted chorus. It’s an addictive slice of Cherry pie perfect for whetting the appetite ahead of the main course. And that main course is a veritable feast.

Killing Floor may be a strange choice for second song up as it’s by far the weakest of the fare on offer. But it’s no bad tune and simply an ill-advised blip before In My Blood ups the ante again. Such A Shame is BSC’s brilliantly atmospheric take on Richard Marx’s classic Hazard and Can’t You See is one of the coolest tracks this band has penned.

If Robertson comes across as a little awkward belting out the cheesy Blame It On The Boom Boom (more like blame it on Kiss or long-time tour buddies and fellow Downloaders Def Leppard) then the versatile frontman just about pulls it off. No surprise there then.

What this album does prove is that while BSC have a knack for penning cracking tunes, the band doesn’t always do itself just lyrically – the lame line in Won’t Let Go, when Robertson sings ‘I wonder where we’ll be when we’re 33’, is the kind of toe-curling couplet you’d expect to hear from a primary school kid. There’s room for improvement but let’s not labour the point.

Overall this is an essential addition to any self-respecting classic rock fan’s collection. The life and soul of the party, Black Stone Cherry have been waiting in the wings as the next big thing for too long. This could, and should, be their year. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Stone Cold Classic

 

Karma To Burn – V (Napalm)

Stoner rock may not be to everyone’s tastes with its post-grunge emphasis on the curiously sublime but Karma To Burn are a little bit special. Instrumentalists of the highest order they continue to redefine alternative music and, with the addition of erstwhile vocalist Daniel Davies on a number of tracks here, V offers a typically vibrant twist to the KTB tale.

There are still the trademark sprawling compositions which transport the listener to another world – a place populated by wonder, confusion and the inevitable consumption of mind-altering drugs. But by KTB’s standards there are times when this album comes across as almost refined.

Jump to the end and you’ll be faced with an absolutely phenomenal version of Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die. It’s a cute choice. Had KTB existed in any other era it would surely have been the late 70s – this cracking cover emphasizes that belief and it’s fair to say the old school metal apologists have rarely sounded better.

Stick a Dave Grohl vocal over the top of the modern metal-influenced Forty-Eight and what you get is the very best Foo Fighters tune that never was. Indeed so much of KTB’s best work would benefit from the right frontman and there’s a strong case for finding a permanent replacement for Davies.

If you’re frustrated with the same old stuff played at the same old speed and designed for the same old fans then this band could change your life. Forward-thinking and fantastically talented to boot they really do take some beating. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 V For Victory

 

Williams Friestedt – Williams Friestedt (AOR Heaven)

Fortunately Mr Williams and Mr Friestedt like the sound of AOR more than that of their own names which, given the context of this album title, means fans of Journey, Toto, Boston et al are in for a real treat.

Indeed if Journey’s latest addition is just a little too rocky for your poppier tastes then this glorious throwback to the early 80s will more than compensate for Neal Schon’s bid to become the next great guitar shredder.

Singer Joseph Williams fronted Toto on the Fahrenheit and The Seventh One records and, coupled with his experience as a backing singer with Chicago, it’s clear he boasts the credentials to craft what could be the ultimate AOR blueprint.

Time and time again multi-talented guitarist, songwriter and producer Peter Friestedt sets up Wlliams for a fresh shot at glory. And time after time the silver-tongued vocalist delivers – often in spectacular style.

Tame opener Swear Your Love does the duo no favours whatsoever but once that dud’s out of the way a procession of perfectly crafted pop rock follows. Say Goodbye and Going Home are the pick but closer Letter To God is richest in lush, retro quality.

Williams will go back on the road with Toto this summer and on this evidence the band will be better for it. This might drift under the mainstream rock radar but it’s too good to disappear without a trace. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 AOR Heavy

 

Elevener – Symmetry In Motion (AOR Heaven)

Unlike label mates Williams Friestedt, the Swedes of Elevener are some way off persuading the doubters that they can ever make a big noise on the saturated AOR scene.

If 2008 debut When Kaleidoscopes Collide caused more than a ripple among the melodic rock community then any potential identified on that record remains far from fulfilled right here.

Ultimately the weak as dishwater production may be the biggest problem facing Elevener moving forward. Martin Kronlund might have a number of impressive collaborations under his belt but the JM Studios staff must have been perpetually hungover when putting the finishing touches to this patchy affair.

Tracks like Written In Your Eyes and Cage Of Broken Dreams offer pleasing enough sentiments but the song construction is flawed. Pierre Wensberg could well possess a set of AOR pipes to die for but the singer is never allowed a platform to showcase his full range.

There’s no escaping the irony of penultimate track You Got What It Takes: Elevener haven’t. Second album syndrome appears to have struck this quintet to the core and it’s difficult to see how they can come back from here. SR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Motion Sickness

 

Tyr – The Lay Of Thrym (Napalm)

Viking metal remains a very broad church and Faroe Islanders Tyr are at the melodic end of a genre which continues to enjoy a long overdue popularity surge. Imagine System Of A Down jamming with Dragonforce against a backdrop of Norse mythology and the scene is set.

If Shadow Of The Swastika sounds more like a death metal march than a slice of Norse symbolism then don’t let the brutal title fool you. Cleverly fusing historical eras which clearly mean so much to the members of Tyr, the combination of a folk/pirate metal riff and some superbly cynical lyrics it’s an early highlight on a truly uplifting album.

Take Your Tyrant is classic Tyr and once again it’s the refreshing fusion of styles which brings this brilliantly simple yet incredibly effective tune to life. Beneath the booming Turisas-esque vocal there’s an almost hair metal quality to the music – it’s like Dokken on a longboat. Inspired stuff!

Frontman Heri Joensen has all the tools to be a main stage festival pleaser for years to come and in a year which has seen both Turisas and Amon Amarth release Viking metal monsters, The Lay Of Thrym is the equal of both.

In fact, let’s not beat about the bush. This is better than both Surtur Rising and Stand Up And Fight. Evening Star might share its name with your favourite local newspaper but it’s a killer among no fillers. Start here and the rest will follow. SR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Thrymply Superb

 

Arch Enemy – Khaos Legions (Century Media)

Angela Gossow must be every male metal kid’s dream. A leather-clad pin-up and uber-powerful vocalist to boot, what’s not to like about the Arch Enemy singer? On Khaos Legions Gossow growls and grizzles like never before to celebrate a decade fronting the Swedish titans in terrific style.

And while it’s often hard to look beyond Arch Enemy’s blonde bombshell when settling down to immerse yourself in some of the sleekest noise you’ll hear this side of the North Sea there’s another aspect of this band which demands attention.

On Khaos Legions Christopher and Michael Amott come to the fore like never before – their mastery of the axe worth investing in this record alone. On previous Arch Enemy releases the fret-burning duo have always delivered nothing less than full-on passionate licks and soaring solos to die for. Here they emerge as musicians at the very top of their game.

Yesterday Is Dead And Gone – the album’s second song and first to feature Gossow – is where the Amott’s serve notice of their intentions. There’s a Malmsteenish quality to the impeccable guitar work and the fact that their best work dovetails perfectly with the gruffer side of Gossow is a miracle to behold.

Khaos Legions might not be the best metal record we’ve heard this year but it’s got the best intentions. Brutal yet subtle, angry yet accessible it ticks all of the boxes most of the time. And you can’t say fairer than that. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Measured Khaos

 

The Trews – Hope And Ruin (Bumstead Productions)

There are high hopes in The Trews’ camp that this could be the record which finally breaks the band outside of their native Canada. A massive Mike Fraser production job and some very addictive alt-rock anthems would certainly seem to boast broader appeal but will it happen?

Now Canadians might worship at the altar or Bryan Adams and Nickelback but that’s not to say they can’t spot a good band. And even if Messrs Adams and Kroeger aren’t your cup of tea one thing’s beyond doubt – both have sold a shitload of records over the years.

The Trews could easily do the same. The title track from this polished effort has already secured heavy airplay across North America but it’s got more in common with Springsteen and The Gaslight Anthem than the heavy rock sheen favoured by their aforementioned fellow countrymen.

And this could be the way to go for Colin MacDonald and his merry men. It’s uplifting, energising and benefits from a defiantly credible feel. The remainder of the record never quite reaches the same, soaring heights but there are other tracks well worth exploring.

The piano intro of If You Wanna Start Again offers little to the imagination and if this ballad-by-numbers doesn’t boast the originality of Hope And Ruin it’s commercial gold. You could find it sitting comfortably on any teen vampire soundtrack and surely that’s the way to go in 2011?

The Trews are talented, tight and within touching distance of lighting the blue torch paper. If only they could get past being Canadian… SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Trewmendous

 

Arkona – Stenna Na Stenku EP (Napalm)

With their last crack of the whip Russia’s Arkona set a certain standard with their own ‘pagan’ metal sound.  Now, with the high expectations we’ve accumulated since 2009’s impressive but a tad lengthy Goi Rode Goi – we await something special.

Even with this EP, the quintet don six-songs, off-loading three new songs (one with a guest appearance from Freki of Varg fame), an acoustic version of their previous record’s title track and two covers.

Opener Stenka Na Stenku has an impressive accordion intro and sounds promising but soon develops into a narrow, repetitious chorus (loy, loy, loy).  It’s second track Valenki that raises the bar a little with instrumental folk breakdowns of mandolin and accordion adjusting the poise for an odd blastbeat, thrashy structure or epic choir.

Arkona nail a solid variety of tempos here and prove that their extensive wielding of folk instruments isn’t just a gimmick.

The covers include Duren – a song from fellow Russian band Svarga, before closing the EP with a decent bagpipe-riddled Noviy Mir interpretation – originally a song from Jonne Jarvela’s now-disbanded Shaman (Finnish band not to be confused with Brazilian band of the same name).

For those unsure, think of a more folk orientated, female fronted Korpiklaani chock with succinct, serene melodies with a potential to burst into a frenzied, hoarse guttural assault. CR

rushonrock rated: 6/10

I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.

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