And to say we’ve come across a bumper crop of modern classics would be a crazy understatement.
There are the latest slew of releases from melodic rock specialist Frontiers with the hotly anticipated return of W.E.T., a Great White live record, Player and Diamond Dawn doing the Italian label proud.
Coma and Circle II Circle bring the metal and we’re not sure what Barbe-Q-Barbies (pictured) bring. But they can bring it anyway.
NWOBHM legends Saxon unleash their latest metal beast and shock rocker Wednesday 13 returns with more singalong horror pop.
Retro rockers FreeFall revisit the 70s and Stratovarius revisit just about everything they’ve ever done before.
And if you want something even heavier try Vreid, Altaar and Centurian for size.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we review and rate the BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: Heavy Metal
NWOBHM peers Def Leppard and Iron Maiden might have morphed into metal’s arena behemoths but Saxon have more than matched their fellow early 80s trailblazers where creative longevity is concerned.
And it’s no exaggeration to suggest Sacrifice is the best British metal album of the last decade with its monster riffs and the irrepressible Biff.
Biff Byford might be old enough to know better but the Barnsley heavyweight has only gone and inspired Saxon’s finest record since 1980’s classic Wheels Of Steel.
Drawing inspiration from American metal’s prime movers – there’s plenty here to excite fans of Trivium, Black Label Society and Machine Head – Sacrifice stays true to its British roots with a series of rabble rousing, fist-pumping anthems piercing the pin-sharp production.
Made In Belfast is a mighty affair while Walking The Steel and Wheels Of Terror neatly reference Saxon’s majestic past. If metal is your drug of choice then this is addictive stuff. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Sacrificing On The Cake
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Melodic Rock
Boasting the best backing vocals since Def Leppard’s Hysteria (hugely important in the context of this stylistic genre), perfectly formed choruses that trip off the tongue (another staple of success where melodic rock is concerned) and beautiful guitar solos that evoke memories of blonde swimwear models hanging on your every word (an optional extra) this is a quite remarkable record.
Rise Up is a ridiculously shiny piece of pop metal quite capable of propelling W.E.T. into the mainstream big leagues. And it’s an album built to last. It’s been a long time coming but the follow-up to 2009’s self-titled debut is a sensational response to the groundswell of interest in all things AOR.
Jeff Scott Soto may have been busying himself with solo projects and guest spots but this must be where the former Journey man’s future lies. His vocal performance on Rise Up is flawless – to the point where questions will be asked about whether any of this can actually be real!
The answer, of course, lies in the live arena and that’s where W.E.T.’s biggest challenge lies. This is a band that needs to tour extensively, forge a reputation as a serious gigging band and build up the loyal following of fans required to hit that next level. The unthinkable alternative is a sad story of what might have been. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 W.E.T. Dream
Genre: Hard Rock
Circle II Circle kick off their fifth studio album Seasons Will Fall at a blistering pace and from there on it feels like it never really slows down. Former Savatage lead singer Zak Stevens matches his vocals with the heavy metal tone of Circle II Circle in an almost perfect way.
The band manages to throw a few curveballs into the mix – particularly when the first 30 seconds of Seasons Will Fall comes on. The slow tempo, smooth vocals and nice lyrics get torn to pieces by heavy rock riffs and beating drums.
Quite predictably the only power ballad of the album comes right at the end with Only Yesterday and even though this CD has some great potential it doesn’t quite break out of its chains to become a brilliant album.
But the mixture of Heavy Rock and Heavy Metal still makes it one of the best new albums around. Nik Jacobsson
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Colourful Seasons
Genre: Death metal
Reactivated by songwriter/guitarist Rob Oorthuis following a lengthy hiatus, Centurian have returned to the fray with nine quick fire bursts of searing death metal.
This Dutch quartet certainly don’t mess about: every track on Contra Rationem blasts its way out of your speakers, does its job and makes an exit without overstaying its welcome. Technically superb Centurian may be, but pointless time changes and overblown lead work aren’t the order of the day here – it’s more the single-minded, taught playing that impresses on the likes of Thou Shalt Bleed For The Lord Thy God and Feast Of The Cross.
There’s a strong hint of Morbid Angel to this album, which is laden with venomous riffs and dripping with diabolical spirit (no bad thing in our book). And although Centurian’s hooks aren’t quite as sharp as those of the Floridian legends, Contra Rationem still cuts deep. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6.5/10 Dutch courage
Genre: Black Metal
Norwegians Vreid have carved out their own niche since they rose from the ashes of Windir in 2004. The quartet’s brand of mid-paced, blackened metal is accessible without being commercial, with the band wearing both Immortal and Iron Maiden patches on their sleeves.
Welcome Farewell is a perfect distillation of Vreid’s sound and maintains the momentum built up by 2011’s V; it’s mature, focused and confident, a sign of a band comfortable in their own skin, rather than desperately to be seen as ‘cool’… or indeed ‘kvlt’.
The four-piece have a welcome knack of keeping things simple and direct when needed (Black Waves is a good example), are happy to just rock out (The Devil’s Hand) but can be ambitious too – the lengthy Sights Of Old starting furiously and moving into atmospheric, introspective territory towards its conclusion.
Though being outside the more extreme Norwegian scene probably hasn’t helped Vreid, they’re a damn good metal band and proud of it, as Welcome Farewell proves. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Welcome Return
Altaar’s debut album may only boast two tracks, but at over 35 minutes long in total, you still get plenty of bong for your buck… and a work of such incredible depth it leaves you hungry for more.
This self-titled opus is, at times, absolutely crushing in its sheer, soul dragging weight, and its ability to tap into the very essence of ‘heavy’.
But, like cult US act Earth, the Norwegian quintet know the value of giving their music space to breathe too.
The near 20-minute first ‘movement’, Tidi Kjem Aldri Att, for instance, begins with a hypnotic crawl before revealing a mountainous Sabbathian riff, with every drop of primal energy rung from it; Dei Absolutte Krav Og Den Absolutte Nåde, the album’s second half, is no less powerful, a storm which builds from an ambient interlude and crashes over the listener, before subsiding again.
Doom, in all its forms, may be on the rise, but it’s the new blood of bands like Altaar that keep the genre relevant, and in this case, truly compelling. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8.5/10 Altaared State
Genre: Hard Rock
Polish hard rockers Coma have entered 2013 with a new record and a collection of Fryderk Awards (Polish Brit Awards) behind them – including Best Album and Best Band. However Don’t Set Your Dogs On Me is unlikely to repeat this award-winning success abroad.
While the musicianship is undoubtedly good, the lyrics really do sound like a band whose first language isn’t English. Coming across with a slightly confused message in Queen Of Your Life and a clumsy attempt at romanticism with Furious Fate – the first half of the song feels like a pre-pubescent boy’s first attempt at a kiss – it seems obvious that the band need to invest in their English songwriting skills.
There are moments of serious potential from Coma: Moscow shows off the band’s ability with the guitar, while it, along with Better Man, are the most lyrically strong on the album. Song 4 Boys is the catchiest track on the record, and is a song with a chorus that has real singalong potential.
There is something there for fans of the heavier stuff, who won’t be disappointed with the second half of Furious Fate, the riffs in Queen Of Your Life or Rainy Song.
Don’t Set Your Dogs On Me is an album of contrast – it is one that shows glimpses of greatness – but then is frustratingly let down by a few instances of sloppy songwriting. Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Coma Chameleon
Genre: Shock Rock
It seems there’s no danger of Wednesday 13 emptying the well of horror pop anytime soon and while his best work might lack depth this latest album is awash with more of the same blood-soaked, singalong schmaltz.
The king of the rhyming couplet – ‘bloodsucker/motherfucker’ surely the finest example here – Wednesday is the William Shakespeare of shock rock. Or at least he would be if it wasn’t for that darned Alice Cooper.
It’s impossible to review Mr 13 without referencing the Coop (we’ve tried – many times, ed) and it’s equally impossible for the former to emerge from the latter’s shadow.
When Wednesday embarked on a mission to celebrate all things shock rock he must have anticipated his idol’s imminent retirement. In fact Cooper remains in rude health and shows no signing of handing over the baton of bloody nightmares anytime soon.
Consequently records like The Dixie Dead always come across as less convincing versions of Killers or Welcome To My Nightmare. This is good. But those albums are great. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Dixie Land
Genre: Classic Rock
First off there’s no danger of Free Fall’s cacophony of retro-pumped classic rock falling foul of the Trade Descriptions acts. Power And Volume is the prevalent theme here as yet another Swedish band emerges from the wilderness to wow the world with its mix of vim, vigour and vintage swagger.
In retrospect, of course, there was never any chance that Free Fall would fail. The brainchild of Mattias Barjed, formerly of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, this is a band created to lead from the front where the mew wave of classic rock is concerned.
Frontman Kim Fransson was born to pay homage to Zeppelin, The Who, AC/DC and UFO: Power And Volume is a respectful and rousing tribute to all four – and more – of the bands that brought 70s rock alive.
Fellow coutrymen Graveyard might have cornered the market for back-to-the-future Scando rock in recent years but label mates Free Fall have arrived to give the bearded quartet a real run for their money. Let battle commence! SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Fall In Line
Genre: Soft Rock
Incredibly it’s 35 years since Baby Come Back, from Player’s self-titled debut album, became a melodic rock staple and a global hit. But founding member Peter Beckett doesn’t let the passing of time stand between his band and a comeback rooted in radio-friendly, chorus-driven songwriting.
Last year’s My Addiction EP hinted that there would be very little messing with a tried and tested formula and so it’s proved.
Precious is about as punchy as it gets but a Player record shouldn’t be about anything overly aggressive or feisty: Beckett and co. are smooth movers and even smoother groovers.
You’re My Addiction mixes Beatles and Tom Petty and the title track is a tour de force in precision soft rock craftsmanship. A couple of years ago it didn’t seem there were Too Many Reasons for Player to return to the fray – this album proves the polar opposite. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Reasons To Rock
Genre: Blues Rock/Hair Metal
It may be 30 years since Great White emerged as serious players on the US pop metal scene but, perhaps more significantly, it’s a decade since the death of guitarist Ty Longley in the infamous Rhode Island club disaster.
With that heartbreaking moment in Great White’s history in mind (100 fans also lost their lives) Live From The Sunset Strip offers further evidence of a band that continues to triumph in the face of significant adversity.
Only two years ago the band’s long-serving singer Jack Russell quit to launch his own version of the multi-million selling Californian outfit. But still Great White bounced back and with bluesy frontman Terry Ilous behind the mic theirs is a story still worth following.
If Russell’s rasp is synonymous with the band’s biggest hits then Ilous has actually emerged as a better fit. Great White were never entirely comfortable as MTV-influenced hair metal pretty boys and this latest live offering portrays them as genuinely ballsy blues rockers with their new singer leading from the front. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 White Hot
Genre: Melodic Rock
As if H.E.A.T.’s emergence as the natural heirs to fellow countrymen Europe doesn’t offer hair metal fans enough cause for optimism then the delectable Diamond Dawn serve up yet more classy Swedish rock in the vein of late 80s Sunset Strip pop rock.
That this Gothenburg troupe only got together in 2011 is frightening enough – the fact they’ve successfully crafted a genuine contender for melodic rock record of the year is, quite frankly, staggering.
Back in the day it took the cream of the US West Coast scene three or four records to truly hit their stride. Yet tunes like the super-cool California Rush and the Whitesnake 1987-era The Hunter ooze brilliance way beyond this band’s tender years.
The only question here is where now for Diamond Dawn? Peaking too early is just one of the potential pitfalls facing a band that may well be too accomplished for their own good! SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Diamond Cuts
Genre: Sleaze Rock
If Finland occasionally feels as if it’s getting left behind by Sweden in the race for Scando rock glory then Helsinki’s improbably named Barbe-Q-Barbies are setting a blistering pace all of their own.
Cooking up a feast of singalong sleaze with Breaking All The Rules, this is a tasty enough platter of back-to-basics garage rock glory.
But don’t be fooled by the faux rebellion pouring forth from the album sleeve: there’s very little rule breaking here. This is a blueprint for all things AC/DC, Hanoi Rocks and Wildhearts and the Barbies don’t ever deviate.
Sticking to the tried and tested conventions of shouty choruses and bar room riffs welcome to the female equivalent of Airbourne. It’s party rock par excellence and the title track might even have Lita Ford looking over her shoulder…SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Barbies Ken Do No Wrong
Genre: Power Metal
Lead single/EP Unbreakable, from the album Nemesis, suggested Stratovarius may well be stuck in a rut. There’s nothing here to suggest otherwise.
What the flying Finns do well is fuse electronic and symphonic twists with traditional metal and this is as technically proficient an album as it’s possible to produce. Nemesis is so clean you could wipe your face with it.
But with those sweeping arrangements, soaring vocals and a glossy production comes a feeling of numbing discontent. There’s no desire to redefine boundaries, break the mould or evolve: this is Stratovarius strutting their stuff with efficient ease and dulling professionalism.
Ultimately it’s clear why Unbreakable was chosen to kick things off where the Nemesis cycle is concerned. It’s no classic and yet it’s clearly at the sharper end of an album blunted by benign mediocrity.
Fast approaching their 30th anniversary, the pride of Helsinki have to do better. Much, much better. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Nemes-is That It?