Nestling neatly in between a raft of classic rock releases, the neo-metal of Architects takes centre stage this week.

We review and rate the Brighton band’s latest album and deliver the rushonrock verdict on Mr Big, John Waite, Hurtsmile, TNTSirenia and Hour Of 13.

Architects – The Here And Now (Century Media)

Expectation can weigh heavily on a young band carrying the hopes of a nation and yet, with the magnificent The Here And Now, Architects prove they only thrive under pressure.

For some time now the Brighton rockers have been lauded as the standard bearers for cutting edge, challenging and increasingly progressive metal. Thankfully, this coming-of-age opus showcases a band oozing confidence and primed to conquer the world in 2011.

Vocalist Sam Carter has never been afraid to toy with polar opposite tones and stretch his pipes to the limit but this is a career highlight for a singer feted by the great and good of the British rock scene.

On the made-for-arenas Heartburn the Architects’ frontman talks of losing your inhibitions and it’s a mantra he holds dear across The Here And Now. That melodic, brooding tune is at odds with so much of a record forged in classic metalcore but this is a band which refuses to adhere to traditional boundaries: playing safe isn’t playing fair where this five-piece is concerned.

Carter coasts his way through the first great rock record of the year but not to the extent that he rests on his hard-earned laurels. Bulldozing his way through the pounding Lostprophets-heavy Learn To Live – underpinned by an intoxicating military beat – the frontman is on fire.

And yet the mellow vibe of An Open Letter To Myself hints at an emotive, almost introspective soul preferring to hide behind the overblown screams and growls which colour Architects’ heavier moments.

Where so many British metal bands have succumbed to the lure of ‘everything true must go’ commercialism, Architects fuse credibility with a clever approach to winning mainstream acclaim.

On the back of this record there is only one band to watch in 2011 and they just happen to be from Brighton. Architects have been busily building the foundations for the last seven years – now prepare to explore this sprawling musical structure with added aural stature. SR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 The Here And Now Is Their Time

TNT – A Farewell To Arms (Metal Heaven)

Norwegian hard rockers TNT return with a breakneck effort that acts as a signal of intent and a consequence of hard work. Previous efforts Atlantis and The New Territory raised eyebrows for all the wrong reasons, but just as fans seemed to have lost faith Tony Mills and co. knock one out of the park.

For the majority of the tracks the band seem hell-bent on performing non-stop waves of noise, but a closer listen reveals a smooth melodic sound aching to reach the surface. Some tracks are overly busy, such as Refugee, but thankfully they are few and far between. The second half seems to tail off into more of a ballad laden release with Someone Else and God Natt, Marie both slowing proceedings and hitting the spot.

Lead singer Mills blends his Joey Tempest-esque vocals masterfully with Le Tekro’s impressive fret work that ranges from the maniacal Ship In The Night to the acoustic instrumental A Signature On A Demon’s Self-Potrait.

There’s a live version of previous release Harley-Davidson to round of proceedings, but with some of the best hard rock/metal bands due to do the rounds at festivals again this summer it’s difficult to see whether TNT are still relevant. Albums like A Farewell To Arms won’t exactly harm their cause but it doesn’t overly enhance their reputation either. If only Barracuda was what I hoped it was… AS

rushonrock rated: 6/10 TNTeaser

Hour Of 13 – The Ritualist (Earache)

Hark back to the days of 70’s Black Sabbath, when the amoral witchery of their newly spawned sound breathed a heathen atmosphere to send shock waves across the musical world.

More than 40 years down the line we’re still experiencing the tremors created by the diverse explosion that ensued after their self-titled album. But many worshippers have flirted dangerously on the borders of imitation when laying their tracks to rest, making their zest for the metal Zion all too obvious.

Thankfully, for Hour Of 13, there’s a respectful homage to Sabbath that no one can deny, but in their blend of traditional doom there’s a dark and energetic blend that will strike a chord in many NWOBHM heads.

In the studio Hour Of 13 consist of Phil Swanson, who stirs some fleeting vocals to match the intensity of the sacrilegious force and Chad Davis who whacks out the mighty riffs on guitar, bass and also performs drums.

It seems like an unlikely track to begin the album but The Gathering, with it’s hazy fog of slow-struck, whomping power-chords catches you off guard to reel you into what becomes a pleasurable listen.

Self-titled The Ritualist continues the theme of unexpectedness for the listener, when a set of beautiful echoing harmonies beseech the disgruntled, edgy and sinister riffs.  Get further into the album and you’ll soon realise that it’s the consistency of Davis’ heavy-laden guitar playing that is the most enjoyable aspect of the album, especially with the tenacity of the Priest-esque Demons All Around Me.

It isn’t the most groundbreaking record you’ll hear, but don’t let that take anything away from an effort that Chad Davis and Phil Swanson should be proud of. CR

rushonrock rated: 7.5/10 Lucky 13

Mr Big – What If… (Frontiers)

A new album by the classic Mr Big line-up must count as one of the rock events of the year and the wonderful What If… fully justifies the hype. Blending the band’s trademark early 90s gloss with a bluesy 70s sound which suits them to a tee, this is the record that should have followed the legendary Lean Into It.

Eric Martin and Billy Sheehan might have buried the hatchet but they’ve unearthed a rich seam of melodic rock brilliance in the process. Opener Undertow sparkles with Van Halen-esque riffs as the uber-talented Paul Gilbert lets his dextrous fingers do the talking and follow-up American Beauty oozes Burn-era Purple passion.

The lush Kevin Shirley production lends itself well to Mr Big’s natural talent for marrying blues-soaked hooks with classic rock power and on Nobody Takes The Blame the reformed quartet truly benefit from some expert knob twiddling. Standing alongside the band’s trademark classics it ushers in a brave new era for Martin, Sheehan, Gilbert and Pat Torpey. Imagine Glenn Hughes singing over a Joe Satriani score and you have a sense of Mr Big 2011-style.

Once Upon A Time continues to pay homage to British blues rock with its heavy Whitesnake refrain and it seems the pressures of an MTV dominated hair metal world robbed rock fans of the real Mr Big 20 years ago. Two decades on there’s a sense that this is the real deal – a band back together for all of the right reasons and delivering the tunes they always dreamed of.

It’s good to be with you again, Mr Big. It’s really been too long.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Big Sound

Hurtsmile – Hurtsmile (Frontiers)

The biggest single barrier to this Gary Cherone-fronted project winning the critical and commercial claim it surely covets is a cover designed in the dark ages and destined for ridicule. We’re here to judge the music but getting past the artwork is the first barrier facing potential converts to Hurtsmile.

Once you do dig beneath the service it’s immediately obvious this is no Extreme album clone. In fact it’s not a patch on 2008’s Saudades de Rock but then it’s probably not meant to be – this is a project underpinned by Gary and brother Mark and the former is clearly keen to move in a slightly different direction under the Hurtsmile banner while the latter gets his big chance to shine.

The bombastic Love Thy Neighbour could have been plucked from Kiss comeback Sonic Boom and that’s the level we’re talking here: solid modern rock made for impact. The cheesy Tolerance Song is impossibly ‘holier than thou’ but if anyone can pull off a toe-curling vocal it’s Cherone and he does…just about.

Jesus Would You Meet Me is a countryfied acoustic effort which proves, once again, the versatility and talent Hurtsmile’s frontman has always possessed in spades and it’s an unexpected highlight on a record of frustrating inconsistencies. Beyond The Garden is just as brilliant with Cherone and his band pulling off a passable impression of Steve Hogarth-era Marillion as they cruise towards the record’s closing tracks.

There are thrilling highs and inexplicable lows scattered right across Hurtsmile’s self-titled debut but the good bits are great. Worth a gamble.

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Smile’s Away

Sirenia – Enigma Of Life (Nuclear Blast)

Two albums into her Sirenia career and it seems singer Ailyn, who shot to fame on Spain’s X Factor, has finally got her feet under the table. Struggling to make her mark on 2009’s The 13th Floor, the melodic foil to Morten Veland’s shoutier moments truly means business on her second record for the Norwegian metallers.

In a market saturated by Nightwish clones, Sirenia face a familiar battle in their bid to plough a truly individual furrow and their death metal leanings do the job – to an extent. But by giving Ailyn a higher profile in 2011 the band has moved closer towards female fronted metal’s more commercial acts and further from their gloomier roots.

Opening up with the forceful and foreboding The End Of It All, the heady mix of clean, operatic hooks, feisty growls and Malmsteen-esque riffage has an addictive quality. Once you’re hooked it’s hard to escape the allure of the Ailyn/Veland combo and if they rarely deviate from a tried and tested formula then it’s a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

The Twilight In Your Eyes features a superior guitar solo and has to be the standout tune on an accomplished effort. The standard drops steadily thereafter but Sirenia have made yet another solid record almost a decade into their career. Whether there’s another 10 years in Veland’s technically challenging project remains to be seen but this could yet be a watershed album for the long-time next big thing. SR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Enigmatic

John Waite – Rough & Tumble (Frontiers)

If last year’s live album was barely worth the Waite then we can happily report the voice behind The Babys and Bad English is back with a bang. Right from the off the man behind Missing You is in raucous form as he belts out the self-titled opener against the backdrop of a brilliantly bluesy riff. It’s a great start and things only get better.

Waite will turn 60 next year but like Paul Rodgers and Glenn Hughes (we’ll reserve judgement on Mr Coverdale until this summer’s Whitesnake tour) he’s is the form of his life – proving that while form may be temporary class is permanent where a golden generation of British rockers is concerned.

There’s a decidedly 80s AOR feel to a record delivered by the man who does that genre best but with the hunger for all things retro reaching a fascinating peak right now this could be the right album at the right time for one of music’s great survivors. It would be great to see Waite follow up this belting return to form with a full UK tour and, for the sake of argument, a High Voltage main stage slot but perhaps you can get too much of a good thing. And that’s just what Rough & Tumble turns out to be.

If You Ever Get Lonely is classic, heart tugging Waite and Train are just one of the many bands who would kill for a song of this quality and emotional power. Always at ease delivering the lighter-waving standards, the man who brought us Bad English classic When I See Yo Smile still has the knack for bringing a tear to middle-aged man’s eye.

This is a timely reminder of a truly remarkable vocal talent. Waite is a national treasure and this album will go down as one of the jewels in his sparkling crown. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Waite Not Over

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