Today we welcome the return of Thin Lizzy offshoot Black Star Riders as Scott Gorham and co. unleash their second long player.
There are new albums from supergroup Revolution Saints (pictured) melodic rockers Eclipse and blonde bombshell Issa.
We review and rate new music from UFO and Mahalia Barnes. Plus there’s a live treat courtesy of H.E.A.T..
And at the heavier end of the scale we deliver our verdict on new music from The Agonist, Ensiferum and Dr. Living Dead.
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: Meldoc Rock /AOR
If Whitesnake fans are still lamenting the departure of Doug Aldrich then the guitar hero’s new project goes a very long way to convincing the doubters that it was time he moved on.
Teaming up with drummer/vocalist Deen Castronovo and Night Ranger’s Jack Blades, the Burning Rain axeman unleashes delicious lick after delicious lick on what can only be described as the best album Journey never made.
True, it boasts a harder edge when this power trio really let rip (skip to the pounding How To Mend A Broken Heart). But tunes like the piano-led ballad Don’t Walk Away recall a golden era when Damn Yankees and Bad English swarmed all over the Billboard Hot 100 (it’s no surprise various Saints featured in both bands).
Current Journey man Arnel Pineda lends a vocal turn to You’re Not Alone and Castronovo’s vocals dazzle on Turn Back Time and Way To The Sun – the latter featuring a trademark solo from guest fret burner Neal Schon.
Aldrich might have ditched the blues that so perfectly complemented David Coverdale’s legendary crooning but deadly Doug has always had a penchant for the crisper lead guitar style that’s allowed to sparkle thanks to Alessandro Del Vecchio’s crystal clear production.
If you thought the era of the classic AOR-inspired melodic rock record was over think again. The glory days are back. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Saints And Sinners
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Classic Rock
When Black Star Riders dropped 2013’s debut is warranted no more than a 7/10 rating from this very website. It wasn’t a bad album by any means and yet neither was it the barnstorming return to Scott Gorham’s glory days that so many Thin Lizzy fans longed for.
Incredibly, the band of rock n roll brothers risen from the ashes of Lizzy’s final farewell played it safe. It was, in fact, a sensible decision borne out the need to ensure a smooth transition and convince the critics that the brand might have been retired but the band lives on.
By contrast The Killer Instinct is the sound of the Black Star Riders comfortable in their own skin and moving far beyond their mission of bolstering the Lizzy legacy. This is the album that ushers in a brave new era and provides a thrilling alternative to its chief protagonist’s glittering past.
Gorham, Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson are three of the most pleasant men you could possibly meet but there’s nothing nice about The Killer Instinct. It’s gritty, snarling, down and dirty, heavy blues rock with the brilliant Bullet Blues a darkly affecting case in point.
Title track and lead single Killer Instinct might have been played to death in recent months – even on Radio Two – but it still sounds fresh, feisty and full of potential.
‘This could be our Finest Hour’, growls the imperious Warwick three songs in. It really could be. Unless, of course, BSR trump it with album number three! SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 All Killer No Filler
Genre: Hard Rock/Melodic Rock
Choosing a Def Leppard mash-up of an album title and casually chucking in a song called Love Bites could be seen as an attempt to try just a little too hard in the pursuit of hero worship.
But Eclipse are no Leppard clones/apologists, having established their own polished identity with 2012’s brilliant Bleed And Scream. In fact the only thing Love Bites has in common with Sheffield’s finest are the layered vocals on the pre-chorus chants of ‘oh yeah/oh no’.
Or perhaps that’s not quite true. There’s more common ground when it comes to Erik Martensson’s super confident production – even Mutt Lange will be impressed once he immerses himself in Armageddonize’s rich sound.
Live Like I’m Dying showcases the band’s melodic rock roots with sweeping keys, a pumping chorus and soft rhythm. But Martensen has been at pains to point out that Eclipse are heading in a heavier direction and there’s hard rock aplenty on a beefy return to form.
Diversity is one of Armageddonize’s biggest draws – the slide guitar on the Southern Rock flavoured, Bon Jovi Wanted Dead Or Alive-era Breakdown works remarkably well. And Love Bites’ late 80s West Coast pop metal sound suits Eclipse to a tee. Miss them at Hard Rock Hell AOR next month and miss out! SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Rivals Eclipsed
Genre: Hair Metal/Pop Rock
Nobody needs to tell the RUSHONROCK team that super Swedes H.E.A.T. must be seen to be believed and this dynamic live set is the perfect introduction to a band that’s destined for a breakout year in 2015.
Already booked for Hard Rock Hell AOR and Download’s second stage (on the same bill as Thunder and Black Stone Cherry) there’s no doubt word’s getting around that this is where live party rock is at right now.
With a hat-trick of killer albums under their belts – latest long player Tearing Down The Walls boasts a terrific burst of modern pop metal – it’s about time the quartet laid their live reputations on the line.
And this career-encompassing set – predominantly culled from H.E.A.T.’s 2014 London Garage gig – offers up 15 reasons to make a date with the best thing out of Stockholm’s Upplands Väsby suburb since Europe.
1,000 Miles, Inferno and set closer Living On The Run all ooze adrenaline-fuelled fist-pumping fun and anyone who lived through the 80s will love it. Guaranteed. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 H.E.A.T. Waves
Genre: Melodic Rock
If 2012 covers album Can’t Stop afforded Issa some much needed authenticity – her sterling job reviving a series of AOR standards impressed – then Crossfire represents the Norwegian’s most assured record to date.
Once again teaming up with the Martin brothers (from label mates Vega) to craft a collection of squeaky-clean pop metal, this is the album that announces the blonde bombshell as a serious player on the melodic rock scene.
The canny decision to duet with FM’s Steve Overland on standout ballad Raintown works an absolute treat: imagine Richard Marx meets Robin Beck and then some. It really is that good.
But Issa can hack it on her own and Crossfire boasts a myriad of styles and approaches designed to showcase one of the most exciting prospects in modern rock. James Martin’s keyboards are all over a luscious production but they provide the perfect platform for a fast maturing set of pipes. Issa never allows the mix to overwhelm her and hits the heights when it really matters – check out set closer Only You, the title track and sensational Heartbeat. Now for that full UK headline tour…SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Caught In The Crossfire
Genre: Blues Rock
Phil Mogg’s still got the blues – big-time. And we should all be grateful for that.
UFO’s lead singer, the only member of the band to feature on all 22 studio albums, possesses one of rock music’s most recognisable voices.
But just as peers like Robert Plant have adapted their delivery with the advancement of years, Mogg – who is three years off his 70th birthday – doesn’t try to pretend he’s the same frontman he was when UFO were one of the biggest hard rock bands on the planet.
And he’s no worse for it.
UFO’s music has evolved into a hard-edged, bluesy sound and for those who enjoyed 2012’s Seven Deadly, its successor will tick every box.
Guitarist Vinnie Moore, now very much part of the UFO furniture, is clearly relishing his role as chief songwriter while Mogg with his Springsteen-esque tales of brooding street life, once again reminds us he is one of music’s most underrated lyricists.
A Conspiracy Of Stars kicks off with the quite magnificent A Killing Kind featuring crunchy riffs, a pounding bass drum and the driving tempo which is a UFO hallmark.
If every track scaled such heights, then this would be right up there with classic albums such as Lights Out and Obsession. With the possible exception of One And Only, they don’t but running right through the 10 tracks (11 if you buy the digipack), there’s always that melodic undercurrent which separates this band from so many.
Keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond pens two songs including the organ-heavy Precious Cargo but if there is a minor criticism of the album, it’s the lack of a piano-driven song in the mould of Out In the Street or even the keyboard intro to Doctor Doctor.
Fans of recent UFO releases will loves this. Those who haven’t listened to the band since the days of Michael Schenker or Paul Chapman could do a lot worse with reacquainting themselves with UF0 2015 style. Ian Murtagh
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8.5/10 Stars Quality
Genre: Metal/Melodic Death Metal
The departure of Angela Gossow from Arch Enemy – and her replacement by The Agonist vocalist Alissa White-Gluz – was one of the biggest stories in metal last year. And there’s no doubt that White-Gluz’s move to the Swedish titans left a huge hole in The Agonist’s ranks.
But with new frontwoman Vicky Psarakis now leading the charge, the Canadians have come back with a point to prove. On Eye Of Providence, Psarakis handles both harsh and clean vocals with ease – though it’s her more aggressive delivery which impresses the most, especially on quick-fire, thrashing ragers like Disconnect Me.
And the band have certainly sharpened their writing skills too, with songs such as the exhilarating, punchy Necessary Evil and Faceless Messenger destined to be future live anthems. The Agonist, however, are at their best when they get their foot on the gas and the overblown, mellower strains of closer As Above So Below do them few favours.
All in all though, this is a strong fourth effort from the quintet – and proof that there is life after Alissa. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Looking to the future
Genre: Folk Metal
As soon as the sweeping, dramatic intro of March Of War subsides and Axe of Judgement blasts your speakers apart, you know you’re in for a treat with One Man Army.
Ok, Ensiferum can border on the cheesy at times – and they even throw in a hilarious cover of Rawhide as a bonus track – but if you fully embrace the Finns’ fist-pumping, anthemic folk metal, there’ll be a huge grin on your face by the end of their sixth album… and a burning to desire to clad yourself in chainmail and charge headlong into battle.
Quite simply, the Helsinki heathens are masters at their craft and if any passion for heavy metal flows through your veins, you’ll get goose pimples when hearing the likes of Warrior Without A War and the stunning title track for the first time.
Few bands meld folk melodies with full force extreme metal as well as Ensiferum and One Man Army could be their best album yet. A heroic effort. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Military Might
Genre: Thrash Metal
80s-style skate thrash is alive, well and apparently living in Sweden these days – if Dr. Living Dead’s third album is anything to go by.
Anyone with a teenage penchant for Suicidal Tendencies will surely be dusting off their baseball cap or bandana on hearing Crush The Sublime Gods, with the legendary California act’s influence making its presence felt throughout. Dr. Mania’s clean signing bears more than a passing resemblance to ST frontman Mike Muir’s vocals, while Dr. Toxic (there’s a theme here) is clearly an avid fan of Rocky George’s fretwork. Chuck in plenty of gang vocals and some meaty, old school thrash riffs and you have a whole lot of fun… if you can get over the quartet’s rather narrow musical vision.
The likes of Force Fed, Scanners and No Way Out aren’t classics by any means, but they’re perfectly enjoyable crossover ditties which will have you partying like it’s 1985… and that’s no bad thing. Now go off and practice your ollies…RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Crush Injury
If the Betty Davis Songbook doesn’t immediately appeal to the rockers out there then the opportunity to hear Joe Bonamassa complement the brilliant Mahalia Barnes is a chance not to be missed.
Not surprisingly, given the Bonamassa link, über-producer Kevin Shirley is at the heart of this reinterpreted collection of late 60s and 70s soul/funk standards and the vibe is addictive.
Barnes – daughter of Aussie tyro Jimmy – boasts a sensational set of pipes and even the fact that she ‘starred’ on Australia’s version of The Voice in 2012 doesn’t count against her. This is stirring stuff from start to finish – an edgy set kicking off with the feisty If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up and closing with the iconic Shoo-B-Doop And Cop Him.
Barnes can do sassy, soulful, serious and light-hearted all in one and 69-year-old Davis’s legacy is surely in safe hands. Whether Bonamassa has the time in is schedule – or the desire to get funkier in his old age – remains to be seen but as a live package this would be something else. Even the studio takes bristle with emotion. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Barnes Storming