And with Christmas just around the corner there are some heavy hitters bidding to make your stocking this season.
Rejuvenated guitar here Michael Schenker (pictured) returns with his latest Temple Of Rock offering.
There’s a live set courtesy of AOR legends REO Speedwagon and latest melodic rock sensation Angelica takes her Frontiers Records bow.
US metallers Benedictum and Danish prog metal combo Royal Hunt both release new albums this week.
And AFM deliver new music from Human Fortress and Black Messiah. The original AOR, featuring Frederic Slama and a host of special guests, is back.
Plus we feature new music from Dog Face and Dutch proggers Sky Architect.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we reveal the very BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Incredibly REO Speedwagon’s journey has spanned SIX decades but anyone in any doubt as to why these AOR titans still demand top billing only needs to sit back and enjoy the magnificent Live At Moondance Jam in all of its spine-tingling glory.
Pour a cool beer, dim the lights and imagine yourself immersed in the Minnesota crowd gathered to pay tribute to one of rock’s all-time greats. Hit after glorious hit is greeted with wild enthusiasm and the Speedwagon has never sounded so slick.
Frontman Kevin Cronin is in imperious form – rarely missing a note on the classics Keep On Loving You, Take It On The Run and Can’t Fight This Feeling. In all honesty a band this old shouldn’t sound so good but then REO Speedwagon are no ordinary band.
Live records are coming thick and fast at a time when the studio album is on its knees and quality is being diminished due to sheer quantity. Live At Moondance Jam is a welcome exception with its celebratory mood, evocative setlist and joyous delivery. A true treat. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Wagon Keeps On Rolling
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Progressive Rock
Dutch prog rockers Sky Architect release their third album, a sci-fi themed concept with influences from and tributes to 50s and 60s sci-fi. The overriding theme is notable from the outset as the band introduce a theremin on opening track The Curious One. I found myself being somewhere between curious and unsure.
The strange and disjointed sounds may be a touch off-putting and awkward at first but the track builds up into a nice atmosphere reflective of the feeling of loneliness in outer space. It’s a sense that remains consistent throughout.
For the most part, the album leaves me with mixed feelings. And while I find it an interesting listen there are experimentations that are, maybe, just too peculiar.
I feel like some of the more technical parts of the instrumentals fail. However, the complexities of the free, jazz-style time signatures make A Billion Years Of Solitude an intriguing listen at best. Stuart Wharton
RUSHONROCK RATED: 5/10 Sky’s Limited
There really is no secret to the success of Frederic Slama’s cult act AOR – a focus on melodic rock’s creative heartbeat and the fusion of the genre’s very best exponents guarantees a creative triumph.
Drafting in Fergie Frederiksen, Jeff Scott Soto, Goran Edman and Mikael Erlandsson all but ensures The Secrets Of LA is one long pomp fest – albeit with a slightly harder edge than previous AOR offerings.
But inviting Robin Beck to add her iconic vocal tone to The Name Of The Game is the genuine masterstroke here. The outstanding track on an album bursting with AOR gems allows an artist enjoying an Indian summer to express herself in an environment tailor made for an inspirational female lead.
Slama will be heading to the UK (alongside Beck) in 2014 for Hard Rock Hell AOR. Must-see doesn’t come close. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 LA Star
Genre: Epic Melodic Metal
Hanover heroes Human Fortress haven’t had the easiest of rides during the last decade but Raided Land is the sound of a band laying down new foundations and tackling the future with a feisty determination.
New vocalist Gus Monsanto makes his mark early doors – ripping through the tempestuous title track and the equally powerful Child Of War. This is an album with melodic metal at its heart but the frequent touches of folk and medieval strings add compelling shades.
Gladiator Of Rome Pt2 may come across as a shameless ode to classic Dragonforce but there’s no doubt Human Fortress are a different beast when they harness the power metal within.
Monsanto manages to cut across conventional styles and genres to underpin a record rich in quality and perfect for the modern metal masses. For Human Fortress this is a majestic return to form and a welcome one at that. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Human Touch
Genre: Melodic Rock
Harking back to Heart’s mid-80s hit factory, Robin Beck’s tilt at MTV glory and the lighter side of Lita Ford, this sparkling solo debut from The Murder Of My Sweet singer Angelica Rylin pushes all of the right buttons.
Sweden can justifiably lay claim to holding a monopoly on all things melodic these days and Thrive simply tightens that stranglehold. It is, in truth, a deeply contrived and generic piece of work but Rylin was born to belt out tunes like this – and the Frontiers songwriting team serve them up for fun.
Packed with the kind of classy power ballads that would have been all over FM radio 25 years ago, this is a record rooted in the 80s but benefitting from a polished 21st century production.
Can’t Stop Love sees the formula diluted to perfection: two parts Wilson and one part Beck it’s an AOR tour de force. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Thriving
Genre: Hard Rock
The decision to recruit Tony Martin as guest vocalist on Cry was a masterstroke where US metallers Benedictum are concerned. The seasoned veteran adds a menacing edge to a track that fuses Rush and Queensryche to quite brilliant effect and emerges with all of the plaudits from an otherwise moderate album.
Patronised by Dio guitarist Craig Goldy and Dokken’s Jeff Pilson (who produced 2005 debut Uncreation) there’s much to admire in this fervent act’s furious attention to trad metal detail.
But Benedictum’s best efforts to mirror classic Rainbow and definitive Savatage ultimately fall short – too often their retro sound lacks the 2013 reboot necessary to compete with the best of the rest.
Thornz revisits the Rush theme and perhaps the proggier side of hard rock is where Veronica Freeman and Pete Wells should concentrate their efforts in the future. Otherwise obscurity looms. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Benedictum, Er, Whatever
Genre: Progressive Metal
Label mates Benedictum (see above) could do a lot worse than follow the lead of Danish masters Royal Hunt when planning their follow-up to the distinctly average Obey.
This is the 12th long player from the Scandinavian legends and sees the iconic DC Cooper deliver another peerless vocal masterclass. As concept albums go this is a sheer delight with a full choir and classical orchestra complementing a magical mix.
Andre Andersen’s trademark keys cut through the complicated arrangements with glorious confidence to confirm the classic Royal Hunt sound has well and truly returned.
Packaged alongside a bonus DVD featuring backstage interviews and must-see live footage, A Life To Die For could become a career-defining release for the veteran Danes. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Royal Flush
Genre: Hard Rock
A guest appearance from Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson created quite a buzz around Dogface’s critically acclaimed 2000 debut Unleashed but Back On The Streets is a pale imitation of that underground classic.
The toe-curling introduction to The Fall is reminiscent of a below-par show tune and Can’t Face Tomorrow says it all – it’s difficult to do just that after being locked in a room for any length of time with Dogface’s latest stab at hard rock glory.
The rousing title track is a rare highlight with its anthemic vibe and rousing chorus but there are too few examples of equally memorable tunes across a disappointingly average record.
Even the addition of David Reece’s backing vocals can’t save a dismal piece of work. In fact Reece’s new album Compromise is a much better bet. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 4/10 Dog Days
Genre: Hard Rock
Building on the momentum gained from the Temple Of Rock’s self-titled 2011 debut, former Scorpions and UFO star Michael Schenker repeats the trick on another retro-fuelled blast of the past.
Harnessing the power of legendary Scorps’ rhythm section Francis Bucholz and Herman Rarebell to lay the foundation for another thumping release, the only criticism is that Schenker isn’t always centre stage.
Sure the flying solos, crunching riffs, bluesy twists and trademark techniques remain writ large across Bridge The Gap. But Schenker – whether purposefully or inadvertently – never quite steals the show.
This is a band effort. And maybe that’s how it was always meant to be. Doogie White does a decent impression of vintage Dio – with a pinch of Glenn Hughes for good measure – and as a result this album often sounds like the Rainbow record that never was.
Fans of late 70s/early 80s hard rock will truly believe this bridges the gap between those classic years and 2013’s modern twist on former glories. But can it genuinely be classed as classic Schenker? SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Filling The Gap
Genre: Viking/Pagan Metal
Black Messiah’s two-decade story began with the Germans paying tribute to their Black Metal heroes and while Heimweh – the first of the band’s records to feature a title penned in their native tongue – is still a dark affair it represents a remarkable evolution in sound and style.
Soaring soundscapes, folk metal twists, unrelenting rhythms and vocals to start earthquakes to make for an eclectic and bizarrely appealing mix. Where Black Messiah’s early music was a barrier to mainstream success Heimweh will appeal to fans of Turisas, Satyricon, Opeth and more.
In The Name Of Ancient Gods is epic stuff and the oppressive title track could be the band’s most impressive work to date.
This is atmospheric, ambitious and oblivious to trends, industry pressure or expectation. As such it’s testimony to Black Messiah’s bold progression. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Black And Right