Whitesnake are back and back with a bang as this week’s Classic Rock fan pack, featuring new album Forevermore, is readied for release. We review and rate the record.

A big week for blues rock gets even bigger with Joe Bonamassa‘s latest assessed by Self Made Man.

And we check out the new records by The Haunted, Protest The Hero, Bloodbound and TesseracT

Whitesnake – Forevermore (Frontiers)

When David Coverdale croons ‘I’m going back to the place I was born’ on the opening track to Whitesnake’s latest record it’s tempting to believe he’s referring to his musical birthplace and the very cradle of British blues rock.

The emotive chords, achingly sincere vocals and even a touch of harmonica on Steal Your Heart Away will have fans of the band’s late 70s heyday steadily losing control (in an understated over-40s fashion) and harking back to the glory days.

And the fact that follow-up All Out Of Luck is soaked in retro blues, boasting one of the greatest classic rock grooves you’ll hear all year, only reinforces the initial view that this is King Cov going back to the future.

But if you’re a hair metal kid with images of Tawny Kitaen on a car bonnet lodged deep inside your head then don’t despair. Forevermore cleverly bridges the generations and delivers something for everyone – the repetitive riff on Love Will Set You Free wouldn’t sound out of place on 1987 or its super-slick successor Slip Of The Tongue.

That Coverdale doesn’t go quite far enough in revisiting his late 80s roots is a little disappointing and, given the revival of AOR from that era of splendid excess, a strange decision indeed. The master of the big production and even bigger chorus can’t quite bring himself to go the whole hog but then that’s just another nod to his original and traditionally most critical fanbase.

Once Easier Said Than Done, the first ballad on Forevermore, is rolled out four tracks in it’s clear that Coverdale remains confident he can hold a tune. How Can I Win Your Love suggests the exact opposite and this frankly second rate song doesn’t belong on this Whitesnake record or any other.

Thankfully it’s the one dud amongst a slew of diamonds and no tune sparkles brighter than the title track. Rich in Zeppelin-esque intent and given the space to breathe it’s one of the best Whitesnake songs we’ve heard in 25 years. The ‘give me all your love’ reference even seeks to bring the band’s soft rock followers back on board as it namechecks one of 1987’s most memorable offerings.

As usual this is a Whitesnake album underpinned by a killer production and the virtuoso guitar work of long-term partners Reb Beach and Doug Aldrich with Coverdale, as usual, in control. But for those keen to know whether the band really is relevant in 2011 the proof will be in the live pudding – and those of us left sorely disappointed by the main man’s performance at Download in 2009 will be reserving judgement for just a little longer. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Snake Charm

Joe Bonamassa – Dust Bowl (Provogue Records)

If familiarity really does breed contempt, then Joe Bonamassa should have a problem. A big problem.

For workaholic Joe has a music output which would put even those artists who worked in the slavish 70s to shame – a decade when demanding record companies insisted on a studio album being released on an annual basis to be followed by a world tour which lasted months.

Dust Bowl is JB’s third solo album in as many years and he’s rarely been off the road over the same period. And, just for good measure, his side project Black Country Communion just happened to release one of the stand-out records of 2010 and are performing a series of live gigs this summer.

Twelve months ago when reviewing the mildly disappointing Black Rock, I questioned Bonamassa’s hectic schedule, suggesting he was perhaps getting the balance between quantity and quality slightly wrong.

So initially, I listened to Dust Bowl with some trepidation. I needn’t have worried, however.

Dust Bowl, recorded in Greece, Malibu and Los Angeles, is arguably his finest recording yet and even those who claim he’ll never release a finer album than 2007’s Sloe Gin will discover much in this music which they loved in that.

Some of Bonamassa’s most impressive works lately have been cover versions and once again he excels in his adaptations of the blues but on Dust Bowl, his own songwriting is more finely honed and richer than on Black Rock and there’s a consistency in the 12 tracks which even surpasses The Ballad of John Henry.

For those who buy a JB album just to marvel at the guitar wizardry of the man – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – there is plenty to salivate at, not least on the self-penned and splendidly-titled The Last Matador of Bayonne and the Free song  Heartbreaker, on which his BCC bandmate Glenn Hughes co-stars.

Opening track Slow Train and the funky title song vindicate Bonamassa’s own belief that his voice has matured in recent years while Bobby Troup’s The Meaning Of the Blues, made famous by jazz legend Miles Davis demonstrates his ability to stamp his own authority on a classic song.

Talking about his new album, Bonamassa said: “On Dust Bowl, my mission statement was to re-establish myself as a solo artist. I wanted to make a rootsy blues record and remind people that I’m not from England or Greece, which some fans may think.

“Getting some earthy grit on the tracks was important, but at the same time, I wanted to make a blues album that was different. Basically, I didn’t want to compete with myself.

“If you listen to my last few albums, you hear a progression. But I didn’t want to repeat what I had already done solo-wise. So I had to look for new places creatively…mentally, spiritually. It was challenging.”

Joe my son, you won that challenge! IM

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Dust Bowled Over

Protest The Hero – Scurrilous (Spinefarm)

Canada’s Protest The Hero have quite a following in their native land. Debut record Kezia received rave reviews in 2005, shocking prog circles with it’s showy yet deceiving musicianship – exceeding expectations for a band that had an average age of just 19. Second album Fortress carried on this technical tradition, with another batch of divergent progressive metal.

Now, the five-piece introduce Scurrilous – a record brimming with variety but quite frankly lacking something.

With post-hardcore and even power metal moments, Protest The Hero seek to change structures maybe a little too eagerly.  While the chaos ensues, they stuff Scurrilous with constant, nitpicked proggy guitar – an inherent trait that breeds monotony and thus, boredom.  There isn’t a real standout track or at least a one that you’ll remember as your favourite, unless you’re a massive – and I mean massive – prog head or PTH fan.

Vocally, PTH have almost completely left any screamed sections in the past, now fully embracing clean pipes that are reminiscent of The Mars Volta at times.  But despite this, the instrumentation alongside it (no matter how talented) shouldn’t be in the same audio vicinity.  There’s simply too much going on externally to actually find out if there’s a soul underneath the flashy, over-polished guitar work.  This is an effort that is aimless, forced, jerky and overly mechanical to create anything memorable. CR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Protest Too Much

TesseracT – One (Century Media)

It’s impossible to escape the djent movement right now and Britain’s standard bearers for a genre in vogue deliver a remarkably accomplished debut album rich in progressive twists and aggressive turns. This is a record which much be savoured, dissected, revisited and reassessed – having done all that you’ll appreciate that One is both exciting and expansive.

At the heart of the record is the six-part Concealing Fate epic and, clocking in at around 30 minutes, this could easily be a mini album in its own right. In the true tradition of progressive behemoths each of the six sections stand alone as tunes worthy of note and yet every one is interlinked with a maturity hardly expected of this relatively inexperienced five-piece.

Four years into their career as recording artists the various members of TesseracT exude the kind of confidence which will have Century Media bosses licking their lips in anticipation of much more to come. Don’t expect Dan Tompkins and co. to be the most prolific band in the music business but on this evidence whatever they turn their hand to next will be well worth the wait.

So what of Tompkins? A mere two years into his TesseracT journey, the standard of his vocals right across One is worthy of the highest acclaim. Capable of twisting his cords to complement the most testing of James Monteith riffs, the multi-talented Tompkins rarely misses the target.

As a glimpse of the future of British progressive rock this makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. The biggest problem facing TesseracT at this point is how to surpass a truly promising debut. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 One To Watch

The Haunted – Unseen (Century Media)

When Metallica completed their brilliant transition from pure thrash beasts to modern metal behemoths with the release of the Black album eyebrows were briefly raised before deserved praise was heaped upon James Hetfield and company. It was a career-defining move by a band never afraid to innovate and this is The Haunted’s Black moment.

Variously reinvented as an extreme metal, thrash metal and even progressive metal band throughout their time together, this forward-thinking Swedish mob have unleashed a record which is none of the above. This is metal – pure and simple – without the need for a pigeon-holing sub-genre. And it sounds incredible.

If Motionless is bizarrely average it’s the only song here which fails to grab the attention. The bombastic opener Never Better bristles with intent and Catch 22 is classic metal delivered with a modern twist. There’s even a nod to nu-metal (why, we ‘re not entirely sure) on the Linkin Park-esque title track – an over-produced and multi-layered track which really works within the context of this classy album.

Vocalist Peter Dolving is in fine form as he switches seamlessly from melody to growling angst and back again. Sounding like a singer previously shackled, he even carries the acoustic-led folksy intro to The Skull and does so with aplomb before bursting into more familiar territory with a series of gutteral, hardcore blasts.

This is a record full of surprises and full of promise. The Haunted have hit paydirt with Unseen and it may be some time before we hear a more moving metal record. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Haunted By The Future

Bloodbound – Unholy Cross (AFM)

When the brilliant buffoonery of Bloodbound grabs you by the balls it’s impossible to be negative about these Bollnas boys. As they roll out the classic line ‘Bang your head to Hell and back’, on athemic opener Moria,  suppressing a smile is incredibly difficult indeed. But trad metal was never meant to be taken that seriously. Was it?

Fusing Maiden, Priest, Helloween and Accept in a glorious amalgamation of heavy metal’s finest traditions, this is one of the funniest and most addictive albums we’ve been fortunate to experience all year. Hopefully the humour isn’t lost on Patrick Johansson and his buddies because it would be a tragedy if Bloodbound were for real – it’s far easier to like, and even love, this lot if you imagine them joking about the outlandish Dragonforce-esque riffs and laughable lyrics.

The Ones We Left Behind might well refer to an age when Bloodbound saw themselves as earnest songwriters on a mission to be deep and meaningful. Its chugging rhythm and Johansson’s Dickinson-inspired vocal delivery suggest many hours spent listening to Maiden’s late 80s output and this is just one of the many tunes on offer which would sit quite comfortably on Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.

That, of course, is no bad thing. This might be metal with tongue planted firmly in cheek but it’s magnificent stuff nonetheless. This lot should be opening up every summer festival of the season such is there ability to pen a crowd-pleasing tune and follow it through to fruition with the obligatory singalong chorus and ear-piercing solo.

Reflections Of Evil is yet another glorious case in point and we love it. Every last second. Blood-y brilliant. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Bloodbound For Greatness