With the January release schedule not due to kick in until next week we unearth a few hidden gems which missed the cut at the back end of 2010.

AOR throwbacks Houston (pictured) jostle for position with Kooznetz, Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, Revengine and Alcest.

Kooznetz – Kooznetz (Self Released)

In opposition to the traditional devil-horned hand gestures that hover in hordes at many a metal concert, fresh faced Vancouver based setup Kooznetz promote the closed fist hammer as their sign of choice.

If they thought that a rejuvenating hand gesture (which still reminds me of Manowar’s Sign Of The Hammer) would isolate them from the mire of metal cliche, then they were wrong.  Although their ideology might seek to pay homage to classic metal favourites like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, that doesn’t mean by any means that they’re simply pale, uninteresting imitators.

With respect to predecessors, Kooznetz also sparsely dash their record with neo-classical guitar influence and include backing keyboards to compliment the existence of their more epic natured sections.

Their name may not be the most inspired – Kooznetz meaning ‘blacksmith’ in Russian, and chosen because it sounds metal, but don’t let that be a deterrent.  This is, after all, a refreshing record with some killer songs.  Hit The Metal may have the title of the average metal track, but get past that and there’s a pleasurable four-minute listen of gruff vocals, rampant riffs alongside the intricate double pedals on percussion.

There may be a light topping of power metal cheese, but that’s completely fine, especially after hearing the heroic effort Stalingrad which mixes eloquent Malmsteem-esque lead and outrageously mean rhythm.  Pair that with a cover of Rasputin and the beautiful Spirit Of The Highway, delivered in Russian with gutsy finesse, representing the eastern European roots of three of the band members.

The fact that most members of Kooznetz are in their early 20’s or younger is very promising for anyone wanting to hear the spine of NWOBHM ripped out and re-installed in a freshly incarnated, new environment.  It might be like putting your slippers in the fridge, but nevertheless we can’t wait to see this one grow up. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10  Back Of the Netz!

Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio – Songs 4 Hate And Devotion

Atmospheric and shady, Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio describe themselves as apocalyptic pop, a term that provides an accurate label to a certain extent.  Truth is, there’s a healthy mixture of styles in this one. Songs 4 Hate And Devotion will undoubtedly divide those already accustomed to the band’s previous work.

Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio is headed by Tomas Pettersson and partner Rose-Marie Larsen who contributes with luscious backing vocals, to give a subtle, chilling yet beautiful effect.

Taking a martial industrial structure in Do Angels Never Cry And Heaven Never Fall?, Pettersson has the ability to morph the military feel into a wholly spiritual entity.  The track may have been released earlier in the year on a self-titled EP, but nevertheless settles mid-album as a delectable standout.

If you feel complacent at this point, somehow with the opinion that it can’t get any better than this, then you would have to re-evaluate your mentality. Lucifer In Love has all the credentials to smash the aforementioned mindset.  With acoustic neo-folk guitar, cold touches of piano and casually honest and effective lyrics performed to give a more refined and darker PJ Harvey/Nick Cave, it’s the song of the record.

Upon first listening to S4HAD, Pettersson’s low voice might seem samey throughout, but with more devoted listening to ORE, it’s easy to be accustomed to it’s gothic pop charm.  Get to the end and the symphonic and melancholic A Song For Hate And Devotion will confirm whether your tastes can be won by the Swede.

Ironically fitting to the title, this album will challenge fans in a way that will push them to two polars – hate or devotion. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Ordo The Right Thing

Revengine – Plan Your Escape EP

This Finnish groovy rock/metal crossbreed are as bland as their song titles. If you wanted a general scale then take Die For You, Fear Me and Treason as classic examples of rottenly over-done and shamefully simple song titling.

Let’s take no time with plastic introductions. For the majority of this debut EP, Revengine are too easily bogged by lyrical cliches and, while there may be some musical sections that jump from the CD on the rare occasion, it simply isn’t enough. One of those sparse sections is in first track Given It All, which has the chorus strength full of harmony, but not the extra push in the rest of the opener.  As for those lyrics, they wouldn’t be half as bad if they had a more bolshy backing.

Die For You might be the best example of straight-forward lines in a song, but it almost pulls it off. It does sound like a modern James Bond film hit attempt that just didn’t quite make it when it came to the final cuts, but in fairness, is probably the most interesting track on an EP which isn’t overtly interesting in the first place.

Is this an embryo trying to hatch from an egg shell with a yolk of potential, or is this the bare bones? Perhaps it’s too early to decide on either, so we’ll wait till next time round and hope for something to disprove the latter. CR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Plan The Future

Alcest – Escailles De Lune

For most of it’s existence Alcest has been a one man project leaded by Frenchman Neige. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, it has always been lumped in with the black metal crowd, despite having as much shoegaze and post-metal influences in his work. Beginning in 2000 and originally intending to be a project of pure black metal, Alcest has come a long way since.

When prompted by the press who questioned whether his music was ‘cold’ and ‘sinister’, Neige reiterated that his work in Alcest is based on a fantasy land created in his imagination as a child. With the music giving the spiritual backdrop to this imaginary place, Neige has succeeded in weaving together lush melodies to create an intricate world of escapism with Escailles De Lune.

Whether you’re heavily involved amongst a slowed down section of beautiful guitar and echoing harmonies, or occupied by a paced BM structure with hypnotically divine riffs, you’ll find yourself a part of the imaginary world that Neige has created.

Escailles De Lune (Part I) has an entrancing start and goes on to burst with some magical work, all the time illustrating this out-of-worldly feel. Abysses treads over a brief patch of ambience to constitute as a mid-break before the sumptuous, unbreakable vocals on Solar Song.

Joined by Winterhalter (former drummer for Les Discrets and Amesoeurs), Neige now has a full time member behind the kit.  He does a stellar job on Escailles De Lune, allowing the founder himself to concentrate on melodic strength.

Previous full length Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde was a spectacular piece, and outshining the debut would have taken an extremely fine effort.  I’m still unsure whether it’s possible. I’d prefer to see Escailles De Lune as a continuation of Neige’s amazing work, essentially being as good as Alcest ever have, which is certainly not a negative criticism. CR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Alcestuous

Houston – Houston

Late bloomers towards the end of 2010 and lauded by Classic Rock magazine as the AOR band of the year, the silky smooth Houston stay true to the FM friendly sounds of Foreigner, Boston and Styx to create a moorish take on a vintage sound.

Opener Pride only hints at the luscious soundscape to come as a series of over-indulgent (in a good way) melodic rock masterpieces conjure images of clear blue skies, bronzed skin and California dreaming.

The only surprise here is that Houston weren’t forged on the other side of the Atlantic and are, in fact, a Swedish duo who clearly know their delicious choruses from their fret-melting solos. Hours of research must have gone into creating the ultimate AOR sound and all that hard work has paid off. In spades.

Give Me Back My Heart and She’s A Mystery are the obvious hits-in-waiting and hot on the heels of Nelson’s magnificent return to form this is further evidence that pretty boys really can rock – albeit softly. This is only the start of a what should be a memorable journey (or should that be Journey) and we’re stoked to be along for the ride.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Houston Calling