A bumper batch of top releases includes the return of blues stars Joe Bonamassa and Joanne Shaw Taylor.
And there’s new music from Mr Big, Work Of Art and Crucified Barbara (pictured).
At the heavier end of the scale we deliver our verdict on Fallach, Xerath and Dioramic.
Plus we check out new music from Earthship and Antropomorphia.
German upstarts Rebellious Spirit are back with their second album and there’s live music courtesy of Stryper and Asia.
Plus we run the rule over In Search Of Sun and Ocasan.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we round up the very BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: Classic Rock
In 2011 Mr Big released their first studio album in a decade and the band’s original line-up sounded reinvigorated, rebooted and raring to go.
…The Stories We Could Tell builds on the excitement surrounding What If… and proves why Messrs Martin, Gilbert, Sheehan and Torpy still command respect as a compelling creative force.
Lyrically this might be Mr Big’s best record yet. The Light Of Day is a dazzling composition with Alex Dickson joining Gilbert and Martin to set a new songwriting benchmark for this outstanding band.
Unsurprisingly Sheehan’s bass playing is a genuine highlight even for those prone to scoff at the part rhythm plays is rock. Gilbert remains as graceful as ever as he floats across the fretboard like a stone skimming the surface of a sea of memorable melodies. It’s gripping stuff.
You Gotta Love The Ride insists Martin on the album’s bullish opener and you will. Mr Big, like Europe, deserve a rapid reappraisal as bluesmen with an ear for perfect pop rock. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Big Statement
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Hard Rock
Last year’s gutsy debut Gamble Shot announced Rebellious Spirit as a retro-fuelled quartet with bags of potential but this hastily produced follow-up isn’t entirely a case of more of the same.
There’s a harder edge to their most raucous rock with the title track and Lost relying on chunky riffs, heavy bass lines and, by Rebellious Spirit’s standards, some relatively aggressive vocals.
Elsewhere there are still the nods to Poison and the sleaze metal by numbers. Interestingly Summer Moved On sounds more like a pop punk singalong than an 80s hair metal anthem – it’s good but is it really Rebellious Spirit?
Frontman Janick Fischer’s vocal amalgam of Brett Michaels, Geddy Lee and Billy Joe Armstrong takes some getting used to but that versatility allows his band to traverse genres with ease.
Twelve months ago Rebellious Spirit looked like the heirs to Crue, Ratt and Skid Row. A year on and their future’s not quite so clear. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Sweet Obsession
Live concert recordings are nothing new in the music industry. An outlet allowing bands to cash in on avid fans eager to recall that ‘I was there’ moment or simply hear their favourite band stripped back from the studio.
Asia’s newest release, High Voltage Live, bucks the trend of an easy pay day, coming more than four years after it was recorded. The result appears to be a labour of love and a there’s a clear sense of pride surrounding the group’s performance that day.
The live set was culled from the band’s performance at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London, where they performed their self-titled and debut album Asia. Incidentally the original line-up is present and recapture their 80s heyday. The band now finds themselves as a rock reference but on this performance alone they deserve to be remembered as one of the best British AOR rock bands of all time.
John Wetton’s now growling vocals sound as impressive as ever alongside rousing guitar intros and soaring keyboards. The band, at times, sounds like a carbon copy of household American names such as Journey and Boston but evident throughout this live recording is a grounded British sensibility and gentle humour to keep their nostalgic fans interested.
Slotted in amongst the Asia album’s full track listing is An Extraordinary Life and I Believe – both songs are surprising highlights, considering they were recorded when the band re-united in 2006.
Of course the band ends with what is undoubtedly their biggest hit throughout their career. Europe have Final Countdown, Journey, Don’t Stop Believing and here Asia are more than willing to throw themselves into The Heat Of The Moment with aplomb. To hear the entire audience chanting along to the climax of a concert is surely the most fitting way to end any live album. This one is certainly no different. Andy Spoors
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Asia Live On
Genre: Blues Rock
And about time, Joe!
It’s been more than two years since Bonamassa released a new studio album – a ridiculously long gap for a musician recognised as one of the most hard-working in the business.
Of course, JB has hardly been inactive during this period. Far from it, in fact, with new DVDs and live albums, not to mention a relentless tour schedule occupying his time.
But the hiatus between studio albums has created a sense of anticipation amongst the blues’ guitarist’s followers and fans will not be disappointed with Different Shades Of Blue – the first album entirely written by the New Yorker himself.
All of us know Bonamassa is one of the world’s most talented blues guitarists and as his career has evolved he’s earned plaudits as much for his voice as his fretwork.
But songwriting is as much a part of JB’s make-up and if there is nothing here which quite matches the majesty of the title track of previous album Driving Towards The Daylight, some tracks come pretty close.
Oh Beautiful, which Bonamassa has recently included in his live set, is perhaps the standout song, showcasing his triumvirate of talents while Never Give All Your Heart is another destined to become a crowd favourite.
The complex arrangement on some tracks may have a few long-standing fans harking back to a time when JB played no-frills blues but his versatility and fleeting flirtation with rival genres make this his most interesting, if not his best album yet. Ian Murtagh
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8.5/10 Joe Bluenomassa
Genre: Blues Rock
Brummie Joanne enhances her reputation as arguably this country’s finest female blues artist with this, her fourth album.
The Dirty Truth, however, is unlikely to win her too many new followers.
Taylor is a talented songwriter and an often gifted lyricist. Her guitar playing is beyond question.
But the voice is uncompromising, the message intense.
Listening to tracks like Mud Honey or Wicked Soul, it’s clear why JST is at the forefront of the blues revival.
Within the genre, this album is another triumph even if it sets parameters which won’t appeal to the casual listener. IM
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Dirty Rock
It’s taken three years, a name change and stage time with the likes of Sacred Mother Tongue, Stormbringer, The More I See and Skreamer but In Search Of Sun have finally released their debut album The World Is Yours.
Formally known as Driven, the quintet have largely departed from their metalcore roots to create an album that is more old school in sound than you may expect.
Following up on their EP – A Breakdown of Character – The World Is Yours blends soaring guitar, aggressive drumming and vocals that will make you want to bring your old leather jacket out of retirement.
Just like fellow stage mates Stormbringer, who brought out their debut album in 2013, In Search Of Sun are here to bring the old school ethos of rock into the new world – and with songs like The World Is Yours and Give In, they might have found it a whole new audience. Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 World Beaters?
Genre: Pop Rock
Ocasan have tended to concentrate more on touring the globe and playing shows than actually producing music, and their track record of one album in nearly 10 years shows where their heart really lies.
But with their EP Confessions, the third and last in their series of releases that makes up second album Elixir, you are left wondering what took them so long to get their second album off the ground.
Confessions is firmly in the rock half of their pop rock sound, and brings in bigger riffs and a darker side to their music. Dark Cloud seems to be a song about making a deal with the Devil, while Invincible happily spits out the line ‘you think you’re invincible, let me tell you you’re not.’
Confessions may only be a four song long instalment in a three-part album, but there is plenty of offer to suggest that it might not have been a bad thing if Ocasan had expended it out to be the whole thing. Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Ocasan-sational
Genre: Atmospheric Metal
Falloch’s first album, Where Distant Spirits Remain, was one of the best debuts of 2010, a stirring, emotional journey rooted in the landscapes of the band’s Scottish homeland. But the post-black metal waters which the then duo dipped their toes into have now receded, and This Island, Our Funeral, is drowned in melancholy and lacks the spirit of its predecessor.
It’s not a bad record. The vocals have improved thanks to new singer/guitarist Tony Dunn (though they’re still not at the level to carry songs like For Life). Torradh is a fine opener, imbued with at least some of the passion so abundant on Where Distant Spirits Remain.
But Falloch promised so much more than what they’re now offering on the dreary For Uir, or the listless Sanctuary, and could have made a much bigger statement with their sophomore opus. Disappointing. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 5.5/10 Funereal
Genre: Progressive/Symphonic Metal
Have Xerath overextended themselves on their third full length? It’s a tough one to call. The Basingstoke quartet’s 2011 album, II, was a dazzling blend of tech-metal and widescreen, symphonic arrangements. This opus is too. And the likes of Bleed This Body Clean and 2053 are absolutely immense – you’ll feel like blasting off to the outer edge of the universe on first listen.
However, while II felt tight and focused, III can, at times, meander too much for its own good – and at 14 tracks, is a lengthy opus to get your teeth into.
That said, there are few bands in the UK capable of producing music as dramatic, as genuinely epic, as Xerath, and although III would have worked better as a more concise offering, it’s nevertheless a fine body of work… and one with a sense of groove which the band’s previous albums lacked.
Xerath, then, are still plotting a course to the heart of the sun… even if III might be a slight detour. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 3D
Genre: Progressive Metal
Imaginative, bold, colourful… Dioramic’s third opus is a maze of twists and turns. Thanks to its soaring, hair-raising moments of drama, it could potentially appeal to fans of Muse as much as Between The Buried And Me… although the Germans clearly love their extreme metal, as the likes of Big Pump illustrate.
Dioramic’s music always surprises though and every track on Supra is like a jack-in-the-box, springing a beautiful melody on you just as you thought you were heading down a metal tunnel, or unleashing the distortion pedal when you were enjoying its lighter, lulling passages.
The Calm Before and The Storm are two immensely powerful tracks, blending all that’s special about Dioramic into around 10 glorious minutes, but there are plenty of gems on Supra… and it’s well worth taking the time to digest this opus.
Progressive in the truest sense of the word, Dioramic need to be heard – whatever your musical leanings. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Supra-powered
Genre: Sludge Metal
The phrase ‘for fans of Mastodon’ adorns the promo stickers of many an album these days, and it should certainly be plastered on Withered’s cover.
The Berliners third opus is highly reminiscent of Mastodon’s Remission album – from the crushing, tonne-weight riffs and off-kilter leads, to Jan Ogberg’s roaring vocal style. There’s even a bit of ‘death and roll’ Entombed to get your teeth into, with Veil Of Gloom bringing to mind the Swedes’ classic, Wolverine Blues.
As with a lot of sludge-caked records, Withered can feel like it’s relying on recycled riffs to make it through. However, there are some truly inventive moments within the murk – Lament Of Torment springs to mind – and when Earthship focus on the lighter aspects of their songwriting, they’re a formidable proposition: Throne Of Bones, with its alt-rock touches, is a real highlight.
Will Withered see Earthship reach Mastodonic heights? Unlikely. But for the generously bearded plaid-shirt wearers among us, it has plenty to offer. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6.5/10 Scorched Earth
Genre: Death Metal
Since reactivating in 2009, Dutch outfit Antropomorphia have set about making up for lost time, releasing the scorching Evangelivm Nekromantia in 2012, and bringing their old school death metal to a new audience, thanks to Metal Blade.
Rites Ov Perversion is arguably an even stronger effort than its predecessor, combining the band’s sinister, creepy vibe with meaty, chunky riffs which will have fans of Bolt Thrower and Asphyx in raptures…
Yes, it’s a little samey – this end of DM doesn’t lend itself well to variety – but you won’t be complaining when Carved To Pieces unleashes seven shades of hell in your direction, or Morbid Rites crashes through your speakers.
There’s even a cover of Death’s Open Casket to round things off, with Ferry Damen and Jos van den Brand’s searing guitar tones giving the golden oldie a new lease of life.
Death metal needs bands like Antropomorphia in its ranks – it’s as simple as that. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 The Rite Stuff
Genre: Hard Rock
Swedes Crucified Barbara celebrate a decade of making music in 2015 and remain one of the most compelling live acts in Europe. Their biggest challenge is complementing a high energy rock and roll show with studio albums that capture the band’s enthusiasm, passion and raw talent.
And try as she might, frontwoman Mia Coldheart just can’t do her band justice on the infuriatingly average In The Red. Opener I Sell My Kids For Rock N Roll should be the brazen statement of intent CB need to kick off the follow-up to 2012’s The Midnight Chase but like so much of their recorded material this raucous anthem falls short.
Singles To Kill A Man and Electric Sky will be brilliant live. No doubt about it. But even In The Red’s standout songs suffer from a production job that offers a pitiful reflection of a powerhouse quartet. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Red Alert
Genre: Hard Rock/Hair Metal
God rockers Stryper have experienced a glorious resurrection since regrouping for 2005’s Reborn and it was little surprise that last year’s No More Hell To Pay peaked at 35 on the US Billboard chart.
Michael Sweet and co. have successfully discarded their tag as religion-obsessed oddities and a band at the peak of its powers is finally being judged on the quality of its music alone.
So where better to celebrate their critically acclaimed second coming than at the Sunset Strip’s famous Whisky A Go Go club? The venue that spawned so many of Stryper’s glam-tinged, hair metal brethren in the mid 80s is still going strong (or at least still going) and provided the perfect platform for a cracking party.
Mixing the big hits with the pick of their recent output, Stryper blaze through a super-charged setlist with all of the energy and enthusiasm of a band 30 years their junior. It might be Christian rock but it’s great rock. And that’s all that matters. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Toast The Whisky
Genre: Melodic Rock/AOR
Three albums in and Work Of Art continue to set the standard for modern melodic rock. It’s to the credit of Journey, Foreigner, Asia and even Boston that all of AOR’s Big Four refuse to rest on their laurels and still make new music. But none of it comes close to Framework.
Lars Safsund has a voice capable of melting the hardest of hearts and this album is bursting with emotive blockbusters. Can’t Let Go and Over The Line are typical of the classy material on offer here but there’s so much more to admire.
Robert Sall works his magic as a multi-instrumentalist, crafting the kind of melodies once lost in the rush to write off AOR as the genre time forgot. Whether he’s introducing opener Time To Let Go with sweeping keys or adding a soaring solo to hazy Bad English-esque ballad Hold On To Love it’s obvious that Sall is the ace in the WOA pack.
Framework is a fantastic piece of work from a band that can do no wrong. Buy it. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Work Of Genius