We reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK and bring you the best of the rest.
This week’s glut of new music includes the latest album from perennial performers UFO (pictured), Iron Maiden guitar hero Adrian Smith’s new Primal Rock Rebellion project, grindcore legends Napalm Death and no fewer than four releases from the Frontiers label.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: Hard Rock
Any new UFO album will inevitably be compared to Strangers In The Night and fall well short. But the comparison is unfair for two reasons.
Firstly, SITN is a live recording and, secondly, it also happens to be one of the greatest rock releases of all-time.
Seven Deadly is no Strangers but it is a mighty fine record – arguably their best since the 70s and certainly their most consistent since Vinnie Moore took over lead guitar duties.
Those who prefer the softer, more melodic side of UFO may be disappointed with the two openers. Fight Night and Wonderland are out-and-out riff-laden rockers which loudly demonstrate that, even after 40 years in the business, this band still delivers bone-crunching music.
Surprisingly, considering Paul Raymond is a co-writer on several tracks, there is more guitar than keyboards from the multi-instrumentalist but with Moore producing his best work since replacing Michael Schenker, the album is none the worse for it.
As ever Mogg’s Springsteen-esque lyrics are in danger of giving hard rock a good name in this department but let’s just hope we don’t have to take Waving Goodbye too literally.
If, indeed, this is UFO’s last studio album then they have gone out on a high. Ian Murtagh
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8.5/10 Seven Up
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Extreme metal/Grindcore
To call Napalm Death – now three decades old – an ‘institution’ would be doing the band a disservice. For it can imply something staid, boring even: Utilitarian, their 15th opus, proves once again that they’re anything but.
Yes, it’s ‘typically’ Napalm. Present are the neck-snapping riffs, blastbeats, deft turns of pace and 80s hardcore influences that create such a caustic aural assault. The quartet still take aim at the world’s ills, with tracks focusing on the arms trade and the environment.
But there are a few surprises too: guitarist Mitch Harris’s aggressive rasp gets a substantial airing on The Wolf I Feed, Barney Greenway shows a more melodic side to his vocals during Fall On Their Swords... hell, even avant-garde multi-tasker John Zorn adds some sax to the chaotic Everyday Pox. Imaginative, ferocious and compelling, Utilitarian is a fine example of what makes Napalm Death so special. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Fired-up
Genre: Black Metal/Thrash Metal
Fusing the aggression of Destruction and Kreator with the primitive bludgeon of Venom, plus a coating of Scandinavian frost, blackened thrash is rearing its ugly head at present.
German four-piece Desaster have more ‘old school’ credentials than many bands in the scene, having formed in 1988, and aren’t going to let upstarts like Norway’s Nekromantheon hog all of the limelight.
The Arts of Destruction, their seventh album, is a raw, unholy racket that shakes its spiky-gloved fist at any notion of progression. Original it isn’t, but there’s plenty of variety on show.
The title track dips your head straight into a Nordic blast furnace, while Possessed And Defiled tips its hat to Viking-era Bathory. And the standout Troops Of Heathens, Graves Of Saints evokes the spirit of early Slayer. There’s too much filler to make The Arts of Destruction essential, but it’s damn good fun nonetheless. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 (Old) School Lesson
Genre: Death Metal
German death metal quintet Lay Down Rotten’s sixth album gets off to a stodgy, generic start with opener Death-Chain.
That’s a shame, as four songs in they step up several gears to deliver a fast-paced, catchy slice of melodic DM in the form of the stunning title track.
There are shades of Bolt Thrower and Amon Amarth (minus the Vikings) in Lay Down Rotten’s sound – never a bad thing – and guitarists Nils Förster and new boy Daniel Seifert deliver notable performances, fusing heads-down bludgeon with a melodic sensibility.
While Mask Of Malice doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the likes of …And Out Come The Wolves, The Devil Grins, Hades Resurrected and The Loss will have old school death metallers windmilling away with great abandon. Not an essential album, but far from rotten. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Malicious
Genre: Classic Rock
If ever a band was born to deliver the archetypal unplugged show it is surely the brilliant Mr Big. After all, their signature tune To Be With You has always relied on Paul Gilbert’s joyously understated plucking of the acoustic guitar and here his work is typically fantastic.
Yet the surprise of this criminally short 10-song set is just how well Billy Sheehan’s bass comes across in an unfamiliar setting. Any self-respecting rock fan has long since realised that the charismatic rhythm king is a class apart but it takes a special musician to make his mark in such challenging circumstances.
Leaning heavily on their impressive comeback album What If… – and why not – the classic Mr Big line-up has rarely sounded better coaxing an intimate Japanese studio audience with a well-planned mix of old and new.
Proving they can rock with the best of them during 2011’s UK dates this is Mr Big stripping it right back down again. In either guise these guys rule. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Big Fun
The title track to this accomplished and expertly produced slice of AOR heaven offers more than a hint of late 80s-era Magnum and Larry King does a brilliant Bob Catley impression throughout.
The theme is revisited on Gypsy Road but the striking difference between MTB and their most obvious British point of reference is that Michael Thompson’s technically flawless guitar work never quite matches Tony Clarkin’s emotive tone.
Perhaps it’s too long spent in the studio backing the likes of Michael Bolton, Michael Jackson, Madonna and the late Whitney Houston – or maybe it’s just a burning desire to his commercial paydirt – but Thompson’s second solo album still sounds like the session musician’s guide to pop rock.
As such it’s beyond criticism. But rock n roll has always been about music hewn from the heart. Future Past is, by contrast, meticulously mined from the back of a cerebral artist’s measured mind. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Past Masters
As a combination it doesn’t bode well: the uninventive sleeve, the myriad of session musicians, the background in jazz and the self-titled album repeating a band name that must have taken all of two minutes to dream up.
It would be nice to think Alexander Kronbrink, the brains behind Sonic Station, could overcome all of those obstacles and confound the critics by creating a must-hear AOR classic. He doesn’t.
The Swede is, quite clearly, a trier. But endeavour alone is not enough to compete for top billing within the Frontiers stable, let alone the wider melodic rock world. You Have To Let Me Go, featuring the excellent Tove Lo on vocals, is like a lazy mash-up of Robin Beck and Roxette that never provides the hoped-for spark. The lack of inspiration is a recurring theme.
A decade ago an album like this might have raised eyebrows and won the odd nod of approval. But with the AOR revival in full swing Sonic Station – the band and the album – must do better to make an impression. Much, much better. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 4/10 Station-ary
Those searching for a genuine class act in a crazy world where melodic rock mediocrity reigns should look no further than the enduring Joe Lynn Turner. Back with Sunstorm and back to his best the old stager reinforces the old adage that nothing beats experience: Emotional Fire does what it says on the tin.
It takes a special talent to deliver songs like Follow Your Heart with such heartfelt passion but Turner has never shirked his duty when it comes to adding the necessary gloss to tunes that might otherwise be labelled pure rock cheese.
The groove-laden title track is an instant AOR classic but You Wouldn’t Know Love is where Sunstorm’s frontman truly comes into his own. A song that wouldn’t sound out of place on either of the most recent Whitesnake records, it should be a standard bearer for the New Wave Of Melodic Rock.
Turner could have been one of AOR’s biggest names. Instead he’s one of the genre’s best-loved and most respected exponents of a rediscovered art. This is no more and no less than a bona fide reputation enhancer. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Turner Prize
Genre: Heavy Metal
It’s highly unlikely that Adrian Smith would ever put his name to anything less than pure metal gold and this stunning exercise in sonic bullying is exactly that.
Roping in ex-SikTh frontman Mikee Goodman looks more like an absolute masterstroke than a calculated gamble with every fresh listen of Awoken Broken. And Iron Maiden axe grinder Smith has only gone and conjured up one of the first true classics of 2012.
No Place Like Home is a raucous anthem ready made for festival stages the world over and the sensational I See Lights is like Led Zeppelin covering Black Sabbath circa 1976.
Goodman has always deserved a bigger stage and perhaps his partnership with Smith will grant him that opportunity. There’s been a buzz about this initially surprising collaboration for some time: Awoken Broken explains why. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Broken Hymns