Another week and another raft of rock and metal releases have landed on the rushonrock reviews desk. We rate the latest records by Unruly Child (pictured), Asia, Strangeways, The Maine, Voodoo Six, All Ends, Rhapsody Of Fire, Symphorce, Gnaw Their Tongues and The Contortionist.

The Maine – Black & White (Sire)

Out on the road in the UK with fellow Americans Mayday Parade during October, this made-for-radio bunch of pop rockers are fast becoming everyone’s new guilty secret.

Thanks to a typically pin sharp Chris Lord-Alge mix, Black & White is more polished than the Queen’s best cutlery and any of the 10 tracks here would fit nicely into your favourite mp3 mix.

There’s nothing remotely edgy about The Maine’s best work but then these poster boys were made to adorn the walls of trendy teens looking to dip their toes into something approaching rock n roll.

Tunes like Listen T0 Your Heart (thankfully not a cover of the Roxette ‘classic’) and Growing Up are tailor made for music’s fastest growing market. And while they may be too cool for Kerrang! it’s a fair bet most mainstream mags will want a piece of The Maine sooner, rather than later. So will you. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Maine Men

Unruly Child – Worlds Collide (Frontiers)

It’s 16 years since Unruly Child disbanded but the world is a better place when this band’s unique brand of melodic rock is allowed to blossom. Worlds Collide is a consummate slice of AOR heaven with founder member and vocalist Marcie (formerly Mark) Free back to her brilliant best.

A strangely slow start – skip the first two tracks if you want to get straight into the meat of this superb release – gives way to wave after wave of retro hair metal glory. When We Were Young and Love Is Blind are a modern day snapshot of Unruly Child’s celebrated past while the title track sees Free finally fulfilling the potential so evident on 1992’s Beau Hill-produced debut.

The cool confidence evident throughout Worlds Collide hints at a band in better shape to make good on the promise of its early years. And if Free can both maintain this level of vocal delivery and the goodwill of his band mates then it’s entirely possible that Unruly Child’s best years are still to come. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Child’s Play

Rhapsody Of Fire – The Cold Embrace Of Fear: A Dark Romantic Symphony (Nuclear Blast)

Rhapsody Of Fire may have produced one album already this year but that hasn’t stopped them from producing another. That is, if you can classify this as an album.

Where The Frozen Tears Of Angels focused more on the neo-classical guitar work of Luca Turilli, The Cold Embrace Of Fear: A Dark Romantic Symphony is essentially a symphony of 35-minutes in seven acts that has to be listened to in one epic sitting.

There are plenty of ridiculously over-the-top theatrical sound samples, melodramatic servings of cheese and numerous narrations from Christopher Lee.  But are you really surprised?

ACT I – The Pass Of Nair-Kaan begins with a scene acted out in preposterous enthusiasm.

It takes three tracks before we can hear some vocals from Fabio Lione in ACT III – The Ancient Fires Of Har-Kuun.  Taking a big lump of the album, (nearly 15 minutes) it’s a shame that it simply induces frustration, lacking the propulsion to lock the listener into the story.  The riffs are bland, and don’t come close to the true potential that Rhapsody Of Fire managed to unleash on their previous release.

If you get to VII – The Angels’ Dark Revelation you do realise how scrambled an effort it is, with the same orchestrations used in the song before it.

Even as a huge fan, it is hard to maintain a great zest for this record.  ROF’s comeback earlier in the year was marked in true style but it seems they just couldn’t help themselves.  A case of cabin fever after the aggravating court battles with MGM has meant that Rhapsody Of Fire have, in trademark fashion, gone over the top, on this occasion by overcompensating for lost time.  This record certainly won’t have the lasting legacy of its predecessor. CR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Fire Extinguished?

Gnaw Their Tongues – L’arrive De La Terne Mort Triomphante (Candlelight)

There aren’t many bands on the planet that will push the boundaries of the listening threshold in the way that Gnaw Their Tongues do. Describing this as an apocalyptic nightmare coming true probably doesn’t quite cut it.

Unlike any nightmare, L’arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante feels eternal, somehow embodying a static purgatory that almost escapes the conventional realms of existence –  with no means of return.

The human mind can only imagine what kind of a world this music builds and that’s the beautiful thing about this album.  If there were a hundred people lying in the dark listening to this record every one of them would take a different experience from it when pictures flash across the mind in poignant display.

It won’t be the cheeriest of listens.  Les Anges Frémissent Devant la Mort has a continual drone of church organ backed by the trembling of electronic noise and wavering eerie violin.  For me the atmosphere is an incarnation of bleak and abominable misery, perpetually spinning as a swirling entity, unaware of its own repugnant nature.

In Le Chant De La Mort it feels as if a more traditional song structure is trying to break out of the enveloping mirage of symphonic interference, desperately attempting to surface amid the mire of nothingness.  But it can’t – and neither can the agitated beastly screams that have the disturbing rage of a tortured wild animal struggling to writhe free from its cage.

To really get this album, you’ve got to find some time alone and allow it to pierce down to the bare bone in order get your own satisfaction from it.  You may find yourself enlightened, corrupted or confused. CR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Mort-ifying

The Contortionist – Exoplanet (Good Fight Music)

Every so often even the most cynical of music reviewers sit up and take notice. This is a truly mesmerising case in point.

Settle into the opening burst of lead track Primal Directive and it seems everything’s in place for a thoughtless growlathon but this is far from simple fare. Prog metal might be the best term to describe the soundscape underpinning Exoplanet but even that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Any band which mixes elements of hardcore with Rush-like breaks and layers of polarised vocals deserves some kind of recognition and if The Contortionist try too hard, too often then you simply can’t fault the US heavyweights for their confidence and enthusiasm.

The urgent intro to Flourish is uncannily apt and the proggy flow to Contact simply reinforces the view that experimentation is central to everything good about Exoplanet. There’s no time for pre-judging and pigeon-holing here: open your mind and open up a Pandora’s box of thrilling rock themes. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Exo Planet Rock

Strangeways – Perfect World (Frontiers)

2010 is turning out to be quite a year for Mr Terry Brock – no sooner has the uber crooner unleashed one of the records of the year in the shape of his fantastic 10/10 rushonrock rated Diamond Blue than he’s back with the band which made his name.

Of course the biggest problem facing Strangeways is how to match Brock’s solo offering and, of course, they don’t. That’s not to say Perfect World isn’t a good, solid AOR effort because it most definitely is. Unfortunately it’s up against one of our serious contenders for album of the year.

The Petty-esque soft rock of Borderlines is what we’ve come to expect from the band responsible for the era-defining Native Sons and the bluesy, almost Santana-fied Liberty may well trump anything that made the final cut on Strangeways’ 1987 classic.

Bushfire is a quite brilliant slice of retro AOR magic and it’s doubtful label mates Whitesnake will come close to releasing anything quite so epic and entertaining on their forthcoming Frontiers debut. But these are the standout tracks and overall Perfect World falls just short of being the perfect record – blame Brock for raising the bar to sensational new heights this summer. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Strange Mix

Asia – Spirit Of The Night: Live In Cambridge 2009 (Frontiers)

There’s no doubt that the original line-up of melodic rock masters Asia can still cut it when it comes to delivering studio masterpieces rich in AOR sensibility: 2008’s Phoenix and this year’s follow-up Omega are on a par with the best of the supergroup’s celebrated back catalogue.

But can they still hack it live almost three decades after pooling their prog rock talents to create the ultimate melodic quartet? The answer, according to Live In Cambridge, is an unequivocal yes.

This hand-picked set fuses the best of the aforementioned Phoenix with a slew of FM radio favourites. And that’s why this record is really worth hearing. It proves, beyond doubt, that for all of their advancing years Messrs. Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer are making new music like they made old music. And that must be a good thing.

Live In Cambridge might conjure up images of students and arable farmers gathering in an old country pub with no more than a few combine harvesters and a first class honours degree for company but it’s actually the setting for one of the best live records you’ll hear all year. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Spirited Effort

Voodoo Six – Fluke? (Powerage)

Let’s get this out of the way straight off – Voodoo Six have only gone and bettered their brilliant debut with the most fantastic follow-up in the history of follow-ups. So there. But if you need more convincing please read on…

Whether or not you worry that bands like this simply ape everything that you loved about the 70s and 80s British classic rock heyday it’s impossible to deny these likeable Londoners have every trick in the book nailed. Opener Take The Blame sets out the stall and has you begging for more. At a time when tracklisters frequently miss the chance to make an instant impression this is a case of grabbing the listener by the short and curlies and vehemently refusing to release a vice-like grip.

Amazingly it gets better. Start thinking Black Stone Cherry meets The Cult and you start to sense Fluke?‘s juicy flavour. But then Killer comes along and it’s like listening to Gene Simmons on Kiss’s superb comeback Sonic Boom all over again. Talk about wearing their hearts on their sleeves – Voodoo Six probably have every classic rock standard ever released tattooed on their torsos acting as a constant measure of quality control.

You see that’s what this belter of an album is. Pure quality. Underneath My Skin fuses bluesy Whitesnake with On Through The Night-era Leppard (check out the Def-tastic NWOBHM riff) and emerges as the best song we’ve heard in months. Maybe years.

Right now Voodoo Six’s upcoming UK headline tour has to be the hottest ticket around. Period. SR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Six Appeal

Symphorce – Unrestricted (AFM)

There’s a genuine joy listening to progressive German metal. It’s polished, ambitious and, beneath all the trimmings, as passionate as Lothar Matthaus in a penalty shoot-out.

Unrestricted is no different. At its best it’s on a par with Zakk Wylde era Ozzy Osbourne – if the Prince Of Darkness had fully embraced the tools available to modern metal bands. At its worst (and the low points are few and far between) it could be argued Symphorce’s latest effort betrays a band which has stuck to the tried and tested rules of a saturated genre. But then that would be picking fault for the sake of it.

Sorrow In Our Hearts is the place to start if you want an instant snapshot of Andy B Franck and the boys 11 years after their raw and riotous Truth To Promises debut. But once you’ve started you’ll just have to finish. This is every metal addict’s dream and deserves repeated play. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Symph-ly The Best

This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.