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Friday, 21 December 2018

Writers Choice Top 5 Albums of 2018


We are a small band of people here are Needle In The groove towers. Small in number but big in loving music, particularly melodic rock. Only Sty is the out and out Thrash lover, the rest of like our music more pink and fluffy. I myself do step into a nice bit of Prog when I fancy a paradiddle or three

First up, the South Wales Don of Melodic Rock Dean Buckley, aka Larry Lamb

5. Black Tiger - Black Tiger

Melodic Hard Rock / AOR from the Czech Republic you say I'll give it a go I say and boy am I glad I did , performing in Euro wide festivals with the likes of Pretty Maids, Mike Tramp, Little Caesar .

Black Tiger infuse strong melodies with big choruses, rich guitars and a clear & powerful sound. Only the slightest of accent is visible in Jan Trbusek vocals which at times remind me of Ed Kowalczyk from Live. 

The album contains ten original songs with guest appearances from  Dan Reed & Mario Percudani from Hungryheart who also handles production . Check out ‘Against the Grain’ or opener ‘Don’t Leave Me’ …..and prepare to be mauled by the Black Tiger

7/10 .

4.  Airrace – Untold Stories

Wow just wow after falling in love with the mighty Airrace back in the golden 80's with the release of Shaft of Light

I was fortunate enough to catch them live at Firefest with the original singer Keith Murrell who then left . ‘That's it’, I thought. ‘Is it hell’ Airrace said, and in stepped the mighty tonsils of fellow Welsh man Adam Payne.  To my mind Adam is what makes ‘Untold Stories’ so special , as without Adam's vocals  the album would be simply solid rather than spectacular.

Don't get me wrong here, Airrace 2018 are far from a one man band with hints of Kansas , Styx , Night Ranger - founder member  guitarist Laurie Mansworth and his band of rockin’ gypsyies have hit the mother load .

Check out the first track, ‘Running out of Time’ with it's piano lead intro akin to some 80's balladry but then slams you in the best Foreigner /Styx style bliss .

Has Airrace reinvented the wheel? No, but did they need to? NO. Not when songs are this good ..Magnifique

8/10

=2.  Blood Red Saints -Love Hate Conspiracies

Following on from the acclaimed independent debut release "Speedway", the Saints drop ‘LHC’ in our laps and WOW have they upped their game, a  somewhat harder and more focused direction, two new members in the crunching guitars of the more metal tinged  Neil Hibbs and Andy Chemney ex AOK on drums bringing the groove .

The big melodic choruses are still present but toughened up tenfold . Song wise the guys have been aided by Paul Laine who also duets with the excellent Pete Godfrey on the monster track ‘Is It Over’ and ‘Turn On The Night’, written by Steve Brown (Trixter).

Blood Red Saints stride from strength to strength carrying not only the flame for UK Melodic Rock but the new wave of Pink Tinged , fluff filled loveliness everywhere .

I have nothing but Love for this stupendous release , no Hate and as for Conspiracies I could tell you a few stories about this amazing band of reprobates but that's for next time .      

All Killer no Filler

9/10


=2. Perfect Plan - All Rise

Hailing from Örnsköldsvik, Sweden and Formed in 2014, perfect plan came to the attention of Italian melodic label Frontiers and one listen to the opener you see why ‘Bad City Woman’ washes over you with  upbeat, energetic flourishes, harmony-driven choruses, lush  keyboards, and a guitar solo right out of the iSpy air guitar shape throwers hand book. A blending of old and modern influences and this is just track 1. An AORA wet dream. Think the best of Scandinavian Melodic rock, say Work of Art, and add a splash of the classics i.e. Giant and you literally have the Perfect Plan.

And in extraordinary new singer Kent Hilli, we might just have the next vocal God . Slam ‘All Rise’ in your player, wallop it up to 11 and let the thrill of tracks like ‘Stone Cold Lover’ transport you back to a better time .

9/10 

1.  White Widdow - Victory

Five albums isn’t a bad return for any band these days let alone an AOR band from Australia; but that is what White Widow have supplied to us, who are starved of the glory days of Lush harmonies , sweeping keyboard flurries and soul tearing guitar solos .

White Widdow have not strayed far from the musical territory covered by their previous four releases just improved on it. A vast splash of AOR akin to say The Storm with a huge dollop of prime time Pomp, and songs that connect with the heart, and soothe your soul.

Check out the fantastic ‘Fight For Love’ with its soaring chorus and stabbing solo from the vastly impressive Enzo Almanzi or the quiet magnificent ‘Second Hand Heart’ with a killer vocal from Jules Millis .


White Widdow have in ‘Victory’ delivered classic era AOR bang up to date for 2108 , so get yourself a punch bowl, pour in The Storm, add a little Giuffria, stir in a hefty dose of Foreigner and Survivor and you have got yourself a humongous ‘Victory’ cocktail. I bloody loves it, trust me you will too.

10/10


Next up, its our Northern Correspondant Lawrie Willcox 

 
Due to my laziness (or more likely the lack of faith in my ability to count to 10 by Chesy) I have limited my choices of best albums in 2018 to 5 absolute belters.

Forget all this politically correctness of “everyone is entitled to an opinion” malarkey, this is the definitive list. Oh OK I’ve stuck with melodic rock because that happens to be my particular “thing” and I have to thank Chesy and Gary Levermore from Frontiers for giving me the opportunity to listen to some belting albums throughout the year and trusting me to write reviews.

I must also doff my cap to Dean Buckley, Welsh Mafia Godfather for keeping the AOR/Melodic rock flame burning brightly, being a great friend and festival companion (but bloody hell the lad can snore!)

I’ve added a personal opinion on the selections so please bear with me because I believe music is exactly that, personal and that is what makes memories.


5. Decade II by Newman

This gem may have included previously released tracks but this is 34 tracks of superb melodic rock with changing styles that never leaves the boundaries of melodic rock but pushes them nicely. In these times of austerity this is a bargain.

“Feel Her Again” and “Stay With Me” were stand out tracks for me. It has me desperate to see them play again and this time be stage front. I promise I won’t throw a pair of soiled pants on stage, nope, not doing that again….


=3. All Rise – Perfect Plan

This beauty was my surprise album of the year. A band that look like they could look after themselves in a Glasgow back alley but then produce a sublime album of quality melodic rock. 

The album was on my playlist to run to, it has a superb vibe, great musicianship and some of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in a long time. I still play it regularly and for me my view was backed up by my stepsons partner. He’s into musicals and all that kind of stuff but when he heard “In and Out of Love” he was blown away by the track. So much so that he asked for it to played at a mad Scottish family party so the family could hear what he described as a “quality tune”.

I can’t wait to see them live. And thankfully for me the lads actually read my review and didn’t want to kill me. That is always a bonus.


=3. One Voice – Johnny Gioeli

The fact I’m a Hardline fan meant that I heard “One Voice” with some trepidation. I had seen them play a few times (the last time 3 weeks ago) and I wondered if the JG solo album would move away from what I loved and go off in a weird direction.

More fool me for doubting. This is a stunning piece of melodic rock and the Gioeli voice obviously dominates but not to the detriment of the quality musicians who provide the base for JG to showcase his talent.

I was genuinely stunned by the quality of the album and boy does JG belt out some great ballads. In my review I mentioned that there was a Bon Jovi feel to some of the songs. I stand by that except I would reiterate that these songs are ones that JBJ would be envious of. It is seriously that good.

The fact that Mr Gioeli thanked me on Facebook for the review made this old rocker bounce into his boring Civil Service work on Cloud 9. Great album, great guy, can’t wait to see him either with Hardline or a solo gig next year.


2. Love Hate Conspiracies – Blood Red Saints

One of the nicest, most personable and friendly bunch of guys that I can loosely describe as friends. OK they probably think of me as a knob but f*ck it, they produced a magnificent piece of quality melodic rock and I love it.

One of my highlights of 2018 was seeing them play the album in a small valley town in Wales with great friends. They also played HRH AOR where they attracted a well-deserved great crowd for an early slot.

The album is deserving of a wider audience, it has stunningly good tracks ranging from full on rock to moving ballads. It has influences of Def Leppard and such like but with their own distinctive sound.

The stand out track for me is “Arms Wide Open” not only because it’s a fantastic balled but the fact lead singer Pete Godfrey jumped off the stage in Wales and sang part of it on one knee to my mortified wife. Those kind of memories are never forgotten.

Bloody nice guys, a great album and live they are both professional but also side achingly funny as the interaction and banter is worthy of a much bigger stage and audience.


1. Earthrage - W.E.T
 I suppose that a “super group” consisting of 3 top melodic rock musicians should be pretty decent but normally these “super groups” tend to be a let-down and an ego trip for the participants. W.E.T for me are the opposite, they are simply immense.

I’ve seen Jeff Scott Soto play his own stuff and also with Sons of Apollo but for me he’s at his best in this line up. Yes it’s very influenced by Eric Martensson but that’s no bad thing. W.E.T to me are an extension of Eclipse (who I saw twice this year and were superb both times) but with 2 superb vocalists and the keyboards of Sall this is a winner.

The fact I heard it early in the year set the bar high and I still feel it’s the best album due to the professionalism of those involved. The quality of the band, the songs, the production, the whole vibe is just bloody marvellous. WOW  doesn’t cover it.

Sadly despite seeing Eric and JSS at various times this year I never saw them tour this album or play together. I know they’re busy but I’m being selfish, I want to see W.E.T play a tour or at least a few melodic rock festivals. Come on lads, get it sorted, I’m not getting any younger.

Conclusion

2018 has been a superb year for melodic rock albums and gigs to see both old farts (Blood Red Saints) do their bit but also younger bands make their mark. Freye were one band close to being included. They will go places.

Yes as melodic rock fans we love seeing the “old” bands tour but Rockingham and HRH does allow the new younger bands to have a shot. And do you know what, why should we give up seeing the old bands re-live their glory days? They’ve earned the right and the fact they still play for me is something to be treasured.

I will finish by saying that one of the best gigs I saw in 2018 was Kim Wilde doing her “Here Comes the Aliens” tour. That girl is a rocker and she showed the youngsters how to grow old disgracefully and still have dignity.

Roll on 2019. Thank you if you got to the end of this without sleeping.


 Now its our resident Thrash expert Steve (STY). He has graced the stage with his band Soundstate, and he reviews all the stuff I cand stand!

 
5. Billy Bio – Feed The Fire 
 
Relentless tracks with diversity such as rap, hip hop, thrash. This really is a great debut album by Billy. Great speed changes and a must for the lover of Biohazard.


4. Flotsam & Jetsam – The End Of Chaos 

I can honestly say not one song disappoints on this album. It’s a must have for all Flotsam fans and metal fans alike. The riffs are just superb and speeds are just constant throughout.

3. Pound – Self-Titled 

This album is just unbelievable!! For what I’m sure will be noise to a lot of people, to me, this is just pure aggressive, pin point thrash played in such a way I have never heard before. If you’re not going to appreciate the music, you HAVE to appreciate the playing style here. It’s tight, accurate, nasty, deep, mean. There are no vocals so how do these guys remember everything at such speed?!?!? Phenomenal stuff!!!

2. Ross The Boss – By Blood Sworn 

For lovers of Manowar. Ross Friedman has shown that there is still plenty of life in him yet by producing this superb album of brand new songs which are up there if not eclipsing the Manowar era.

1. Sumo Cyco – Lost In Cyco City 

Independent band Sumo Cyco have been a breathe of fresh air for me and this debut album from them is a massive statement of where this band want to go. On the same style as Skindred, they have totally excelled themselves here in what is a truly remarkable album.








And now its my turn. Paul Chesworth


     
5. Judas Priest – Firepower   
      Despite the difficulties surrounding the release of this album, with Tipton being diagnosed with Parkinsons, 'Firepower' had both the Fire and Power in its belly and is up there as one of their best releases. They piled into the DeLorean and produced an 80s sounding classic. Who says old geezers cant make defining career albums. The title track sits proudly alongside any of their classic songs. Long may they continue.






4. Halestorm – Vicious
 
       Lzzy Hale and the boys have been getting better with each and every album, and ‘Vicious’ is just chock full of monsters. Who’d have thought it would have taken them 20 years to get this far. Its well and truly deserved. Hale doesn’t scream as much as she has in the past and it shows what a great voice she has without the need to melt your eardrums. Check out the gorgeous ‘Nobody’ for proof. It could have come from Kelly Clarkson.


 
    
3. Airrace – Untold Stories

     I waited 30-odd years to see Airrace this year, and even though it was as support to The Treatment, it was worth it, and so was 'Untold Stories' – A vehicle in which Laurie Mansworth gives Adam Payne the room to sing his bollox off for the performance of his life (so far).  You’d think that Mr Mercury had written ‘Running Out Of Time’, ‘Summer Sun’ is as close to anything that should have been a hit on Radio 2, and ‘Eyes Like Ice’ should be on the next Spiderman soundtrack! All crefir must go to Laurie Mansworth - guitar slinger, writer, producer and a thoroughly nice bloke. Without doubt the best melodic rock album of 2018 by far.



2.    Ghost – Prequelle
 
     This was the album that could make Ghost a household name. Onto vocalist NO 27, Tobias Forge nailed it with 'Prequelle'. Hell, even having 2 instrumentals didn’t weaken the album. From the infectious ‘Rats’, the pop-tastic ‘Danse Macabre’, and the instrumental brilliance of ‘Helvetesfonster’, Ghost powered through at least 7 different genres-  pop, rock, disco, prog, metal, classical,  and space rock. An absolute blast from start to finish. The next generation of Festival headliners is here.




1.    Ostura – The Room
 
     Apart from me and my good friend Terry (Pictures, Noise and Words) I doubt this will appear on many a hit list come the end of 2018. The sad thing is, I doubt many people got to hear this stunning piece of work. It rightly deserves a place on anyone’s CD shelf or hard drive. Why? It’s got everything – cinematic sound, orchestral awesomeness, melodic rock, prog, metal and everything in-between. Its three singers combine for the performance of the year in - ‘the girl’ Youmna Jreissati who out-Nightwishes Nightwish; Erosion (Elia Monsef) who provides the guttural, industrial and roughness  and some of the shade to Youmna’s light; and the out and out metal of Utopia (Michael Mills) who just sings his arse off. If you want three singers, then look no further than this, as it pisses over The Three Tremors. Its not about the vocals, its musical Nirvana, and full credit goes to its master Danny Bou-Maroun. I rarely give top marks, but this one is a current and future classic. I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS ALBUM ENOUGH. Once I heard it in February, I knew they nothing would beat this, and only no 2 came anywhere near close…



Thursday, 20 December 2018

Top 10 Melodic Rock / AOR albums of 2018

Onto my fave genre of music, Melodic Rock/AOR. Its been a pretty cracking year with some strong albums for the older statesmen, and some older statesmen (but new to the scene)!








10. FM - Atomic Generation
You know exactly what you are gonna get from Britains premire Ronseal Rock Band, FM - style, class, substance, and oh those vocals. 'Killed By Love' would have been a massive hit for for any of the current grown up boy bands. The best pop-rock song in 2018 by a mile


9. No Hot Ashes - ST
35 years in the making this debut was well worth the wait. Nancarrow has the voice of a teenage rocker, but the body and face of his dad! A mix of 80s and more recent numbers that you cant tell apart. Check out the vocals on 'I'm Back' and the excellent cover of Rick Springfields "Souls'


8. Johnny Gioeli - One Voice
And what a voice! Gioeli goes off on a tangent to record his debut solo album, and it is chock full of cracking songs. in face he actually out Jovi's Bon Jovi on a few of them. Positive, enjoyable, AND proceeds of the album help out a fan in need. A top bloke

7.  Groundbreaker - ST
Work Of Art's Robert Sall and FM's Steve Overland come together for a little gem of an album. Yes, its what you think it would sound like. "Something Worth Fighting For' is the ballad of the year, and is the best 2635 seconds you'll hear all year 


6. Blood Red Saints - Love Hate Conspiracies
Reviewed in Dec last year, I expect many a listener forgot this came out way back in Jan. I shift in heaviness from the original and I loved it for that reason. 'Another Freak' errs on the side of Shinedown, and 'Something In Your Kiss' dot does Leppard for being Def Leppard.


5. Vega - Only Human
These guys should now have the following of thousands when they gig, rather than a few hundred. Melodic Rock Luke and Matt Goss write some of the best tunes this side of 1985. In Nick Workamn they have a vocalist who can interpret these lyrics and take then up an extra level. Should be on the current Leppard tour.

4. W.E.T. - Earthrage
It has all the hallmarks of an Eclipse album, only with a smidge of WOA and the more menacing vocals of JSS. From the beatiful (Heart Is On The Line) to the powerful (Watch The Fire/Calling Out Your Name) it has this and everything inbetween.  


3. Perfect Plan - All Rise
No it isn't the boy band Blue, but an outfit from a place sooo metal it has two umlauts in its name. They aintexactly young, but with age comes class, and class is permanent. 'In And Out Of Love' is one of the best songs of the year, and in any other year that ends in 1985, would have been huge. 


2. Kissing Dynamite - Ecstasy
This album was an 'out of the blue' purchase, like what I used to back in the 80s and bought solely on what the album cover looked like. Fuck me, was I in for a treat. Every song is an anthem, chock full of riffs, huges choruses and sing-a-long-a-metal.  Where have they been all my life? Germany.

1. Airrace - Untold Stories
 
I waited 30-odd years to see Airrace this year, and even though it was as support to The Treatment, it was worth it, and so was Untold Stories – Adam Payne sings his bollox off for the performance of his life (so far).  You’d think that Mercury had written ‘Running Out Of Time’, ‘Summer Sun’ is as close to anything that should have been a hit on Radio 2, and ‘Eyes Like Ice’ should be on the next Spiderman soundtrack! All credit to Laurie Mansworth for keeping this band alive, its his playing, songs and production that put this firmly at the top of the tree for me.Without doubt the best melodic rock album of 2018 by far.



Top 10 Albums of 2018

Top 10 end of year lists are pretty subjective. After all, in this case its only one persons opinion. Lets face it, the famous saying is, 'opinions are like arseholes....everybody has got one!' Whilst I haven't got the widest listening range of much bigger sites, anything that appears on my list has been up for review, or has been a personal purchase.

Here we go....



     10. Perfect Plan -  All Rise
      Hailing from a place in Sweden so metal it has two umlauts in its name, the guys from PP are no spring chickens, but proved that with age comes class. And class is permanent. 'In And Out Of Love' is one of the melodic rock songs of the year, and had it been 1985, PP would now be household names. 




      
      9.    Kissing Dynamite - Ecstasy
     This album was an 'out of the blue' purchase from my local independent record store. Purchased on a whim, like the good 'ol days when album covers mattered, 'Ecstasy' just blew me away. All the songs are instantly hummable and go for the jugular. There are times when I had to check if KD had brought in Myles Kennedy (Somebody's Gotta Do It). Where have they been all my life? Germany, thats where!




      8.    Myles Kennedy – The Year Of The Tiger
      This solo album was a long time coming. In fact an album of sorts was in the pipeline 8 years ago. What came was an album chock full of emotion as it was a collective of songs inspired by the death of his father. Despite the nature of the songs, there a lot of positivety also. 'Year Of The Tiger' and 'Haunted By Design'  are worth the price alone.






      7.    The Temperance Movement – A Deeper Cut
      Third time is the charm as ‘they’ say, whoever ‘they’ are. I was floored by the debut, and have seen them on every tour since and they just get better and better. Vocalist Phil Campbell sings with raw emotion and their performance was deserving of a Top 10 finish in the UK Album Charts.







      6.    Greta Van Fleet – Anthem Of The Peaceful Army                  
      I had wrongly dismissed them as Led Zep clones. Lets just settle it by saying it was partly their fault. The unbelievable thing is that they are so damn young. God only knows what they will be like in the many years to come. Check out 'Age Of Man' and 'When The Curtain Falls'







     5.    Judas Priest – Firepower   
      Despite the difficulties surrounding the release of this album, with Tipton being diagnosed with Parkinsons, 'Firepower' had both the Fire and Power in its belly and is up there as one of their best releases. They piled into the DeLorean and produced an 80s sounding classic. Who says old geezers cant make defining career albums. The title track sits proudly alongside any of their classic songs. Long may they continue.





     4.    Halestorm – Vicious
     Lzzy Hale and the boys have been getting better with each and every album, and ‘Vicious’ is just chock full of monsters. Who’d have thought it would have taken them 20 years to get this far. Its well and truly deserved. Hale doesn’t scream as much as she has in the past and it shows what a great voice she has without the need to melt your eardrums. Check out the gorgeous ‘Nobody’ for proof. It could have come from Kelly Clarkson.




     3.    Airrace – Untold Stories
     I waited 30-odd years to see Airrace this year, and even though it was as support to The Treatment, it was worth it, and so was 'Untold Stories' – A vehicle in which Laurie Mansworth gives Adam Payne the room to sing his bollox off for the performance of his life (so far).  You’d think that Mr Mercury had written ‘Running Out Of Time’, ‘Summer Sun’ is as close to anything that should have been a hit on Radio 2, and ‘Eyes Like Ice’ should be on the next Spiderman soundtrack! All credit to Laurie Mansworth for keeping this band alive, its his playing, songs and production that put this firmly at the sharp end for me.Without doubt the best melodic rock album of 2018 by far.




     2.    Ghost – Prequelle
     This was the album that could make Ghost a household name. Onto vocalist NO 27, Tobias Forge nailed it with 'Prequelle'. Hell, even having 2 instrumentals didn’t weaken the album. From the infectious ‘Rats’, the pop-tastic ‘Danse Macabre’, and the instrumental brilliance of ‘Helvetesfonster’, Ghost powered through at least 7 different genres-  pop, rock, disco, prog, metal, classical,  and space rock. An absolute blast from start to finish. The next generation of Festival headliners is here.





     1.    Ostura – The Room
     Apart from me and my good friend Terry (Pictures, Noise and Words) I doubt this will appear on many a hit list come the end of 2018. The sad thing is, I doubt many people got to hear this stunning piece of work. It rightly deserves a place on anyone’s CD shelf or hard drive. Why? It’s got everything – cinematic sound, orchestral awesomeness, melodic rock, prog, metal and everything in-between. Its three singers combine for the performance of the year in - ‘the girl’ Youmna Jreissati who out-Nightwishes Nightwish; Erosion (Elia Monsef) who provides the guttural, industrial and roughness  and some of the shade to Youmna’s light; and the out and out metal of Utopia (Michael Mills) who just sings his arse off. If you want three singers, then look no further than this, as it pisses over The Three Tremors. Its not about the vocals, its musical Nirvana, and full credit goes to its master Danny Bou-Maroun. I rarely give top marks, but this one is a current and future classic. I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS ALBUM ENOUGH. Once I heard it in February, I knew they nothing would beat this, and only no 2 came anywhere near close…



Worth a listen and just missing the cut – Palace Of The King,  Blackberry Smoke, W.E.T., Orange Goblin, Massive Wagons, Steve Perry, Saxon.