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


=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


=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 .


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.


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.


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…

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