And today we review and rate Linkin Park‘s latest opus as the band’s dance rock evolution gathers pace.
We check out new albums from Frontiers Records’ artists Asia, Million $ Reload and Wigelius. And we cast a critical eye over US metal mob Power Theory (pictured).
There’s new music from Merrimack, Sleepwalkers and a fabulous tribute to Townes Van Zandt.
Every Sunday we name the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we wrap up the BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: AOR/Prog Rock
Thirty years since their self-titled debut album set new standards for progressive AOR, the original Asia line-up is reunited and reinvigorated on the aptly titled XXX.
If Asia’s XXX might sound more like a Far Eastern internet porn hub then it’s actually the sound of three decades of intense creativity and rich melodic quality.
John Wetton is in fantastic form, belting out nine new AOR standards with all the vim and vigour of singers half his age – Bury Me In Willow is a vocal tour de force and a wonderful addition to the band’s still-vibrant back catalogue.
That Yes man Steve Howe still finds time to experiment with his well worn fret board is a revelation and Geoff Downes has never lost that innate ability to add AOR polish to Asia’s rockier compositions.
No Religion sees the band pick up the pace but the canny juxtaposition with the equally quasi-religious yet softer Faithful works remarkably well.
After 30 years Asia are still blazing a trail for all things melodic and XXX is a magnificent return to form. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 XXX-Rated
BEST OF THE REST
Hailing from one of the nation’s great seats of learning, listening to Sleepwalkers is an education in itself.
What the Oxford band lacks in originality they more than make up for in terms of a deafening youthful exuberance.
With added experience and a tighter focus it’s quite possible Sleepwalkers could graduate from cocksure wannabes to genuine metal prospects.
For now the greatest challenge facing a band screaming potential is to set their sound apart from the myriad metalcore units bursting forth from a congested UK scene.
The frenzied title track boasts vicious vocals and some piercing riffs but it’s all been done before. Sleepwalkers need to wake up. And wake up fast. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 No Love Lost
Genre: Heavy Metal
Heavy metal was never meant to be much more than rallying-cry lyrics welded together with chugging power chords and a thumping rhythm section plucked straight from the nearest demolition job.
Power Theory stay true to those age-old conventions as they mix classic WASP with the best of the NWOBHM movement to deliver an album oozing retro cool and swagger.
There’s never any suggestion that a new genre will be born out of An Axe To Grind but innovation would be an unwelcome surprise on a record committed to celebrating the past.
Pure Steel and A Fist In The Face Of God pay homage to Saxon, Maiden and the rest without ever reaching the heights of those titanic trailblazers. Perhaps that would be asking too much: An Axe To Grind glories in its simplicity. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Full Power
Less of a career-changing jolt than the head-turning A Thousand Suns, it’s now clear where Linkin Park feel their future lies.
If the band’s previous album began to extinguish the dying embers of a nu-metal past, this record completely razes Hybrid Theory’s angsty foundations. Living Things represents the rebuilding process and as an exercise in electro rock it’s faultless.
Those who witnessed the A Thousand Suns tour will be well aware that Chester Bennington and his buddies have seized the opportunity to fill U2’s stadium void and maintain their march on the global charts.
From the off Living Things sets out its stall with opener Lost In The Echo mixing electronic beats with a bass heavy rhythm. Lies Greed Misery completes the evolution from nu-metal pioneers to Pendulum-esque dance rock divas and the stripped down Roads Untravaled could give Coldplay a run for their money.
Life’s not like it used to be on planet Linkin Park but the band remains on course to become the world’s biggest rock draw. With or without metal guitars. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Park In Bloom
Genre: Black metal
France has proved fertile ground for black metal in recent years, with Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord, among others, sprouting up and pushing the genre into more experimental territory.
Merrimack, however, plough a more traditional furrow than many of their countrymen and The Acausal Mass, the band’s fourth opus, is a menacing demonstration of the black arts which often creeps along at slow to mid-pace.
At times this approach can be ponderous, but on Hypophanie and Arousing Wombs of Nine Angles Pleroma particularly, it’s very effective, allowing the eerie guitar work space to breathe.
And there’s still room for searing, blastbeat-driven rage too, with Worms In The Divine Intestine lighting up the second half of the album.
OK, so The Acausal Mass isn’t going to threaten Scandinavian scene royalty like Watain or Marduk, but it does add another deep, dark stain to the tricolour – and is further proof of France’s position as a BM stronghold. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6.5/10 Massif attack
Genre: Folk Rock
It’s 15 years since one of America’s most groundbreaking singer songwriters and lyricists passed away but this emotive collection keeps the memory alive.
During his lifetime John Townes Van Zandt might not have gained the critical acclaim his myriad projects deserved but these days there’s a definite buzz about the multi-talented Texan.
Kelly, Von Till and Wino team up to put a considered gloss on some hidden classics – managing to pay due deference to the material covered and at the same time stamping their own understated mark on some fabulous songs.
If Rake sounds uncannily like a serious version of every song on the new Tenacious D album then that’s a compliment to Jack Black rather than a criticism of this cracking record. Snake Song is chillingly atmospheric and St John, The Gambler boasts a jaw-dropping folk rock groove.
As additions to the Van Zandt legacy go this is most welcome and suitably wistful. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Zandtisocial
Genre: Hard Rock
One glance at the spangly cover of A Sinner’s Saint and you’d be forgiven for believing the music beneath the artwork belonged to the Hollywood hills or a Stockholm strip bar.
Neither a retro Sunset Strip hair band nor a modern Scandinavian sleaze rock troupe, the magnificent Million $ Reload are a proud Irish collective dealing in anthemic 80s-style rock n roll with bite – and you’d better believe it.
Think The Answer with an edge or Lizzy with Axl Rose on lead vocals and you’re starting to get a taste for one of the most exciting new acts around. One blast of A Sinner’s Saint and it’s little wonder Frontiers snapped up M$R without a second thought.
The bombastic Bullets In The Sky is the first hint that this is a rather special record and Can’t Tie Me Down’s mix of Skid Row-esque swagger and Ulster steel is a sure-fire winning formula.
It’s possible M$R had been listening to too much Black Stone Cherry and Shinedown when they penned the made-for-radio power ballad Broken but that’s no bad thing. This is an album that wears its influences loud and proud.
Looking for the next blues-fired British rock n roll band to blow you away? You’ve found them. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Sin It To Win It
The latest ‘rock star’ to roll off the reality television conveyor belt, the sweet-toned Swede Anders Wigelius has been billed as the Richard Marx for a new generation. In many respects he delivers.
His name may be even more ridiculous than the level of his talent (is anyone ever going to be seen dead in a T-shirt with Wigelius plastered across the front?) but there’s no doubt this kid knows his AOR from his melodic rock and his hair metal.
Talking About Love uses a Leppard riff with a Marx-inspired vocal and Next To Me appears to have been plucked from a 1987 FM radio playlist. Everything about Reinventions is incredibly slick – so much so that it will make metal fans sick.
But Wigelius isn’t in the market to open up for Machine Head or jump on the back of Metallica. He’s in the music business to meet girls, make money and – as a male Robin Beck – shoot sugary-sweet made-for-Coke videos. How he failed to land the lead role in Rock Of Ages remains a mystery. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 AORtistic Merit