HOUSE OF LORDS – Precious Metal

House of LordsHouse of Lords’ self-titled debut from 1989 is somewhat of a melodic rock cult classic.  The combination of Chuck Wright’s meaty bass work, Lanny Cordolla’s nifty-yet-melodic guitar shredding, Greg Giuffria’s bombastic keyboards and James Christian’s commanding vocals pull together excellently – like listening to a melodic rock supergroup, even though the original project was never conceived as such.   Line-up changes for each of their subsequent recordings (1990’s ‘Sahara’ and 1992’s overlooked ‘Demons Down’) meant that the magic was never quite captured in the same way again, but these, nevertheless are enjoyable offerings.

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PINK CREAM 69 – Ceremonial

ceremonialWhen Pink Cream 69 first appeared in the 80s, their brand of Germanic hard rock found an instant audience in Europe.  Over the years, working through various line-up changes, the band have soldiered on, intermittently issuing albums in the melodic rock/melodic metal vein, but in the UK and US, never really gained more than a cult audience or that necessary shift from seeming like a second division band.

Returning after a six year hiatus, 2013’s ‘Ceremonial’ – unbelievably, their eleventh studio outing – is said to celebrate the rock sounds the band grew up with.  Obviously, this means a dozen more slabs of rock in a melodic rock/melodic metal style with which PC69’s fans have become accustomed… and for the band’s many supporters, that will not be considered a bad thing at all.

From a hard rock perspective, ‘Big Machine’ has a suitably meaty riff – a funky swagger dished up with a dirty edge – which paves the way for a harmonious chorus.  Making his ninth appearance with PC69, sometime Voodoo Circle vocalist David Readman’s voice appears a little ragged but has more than enough charm as he powers through the number, which, despite not bringing anything new to the genre, is fine enough.  A tad easier on the ear, the enjoyable ‘King For a Day’ brings things down to a mid pace via use of the “Don’t Walk Away” riff (AOR fans’ joke), as the twin guitars take more of a back seat.  A tune with plenty of old-school rock potential, the slightly bluesy leads are a high point, as is a melodic chorus with pleasing backing harmonies.  Some may find Readman’s bombastic delivery a little full-on for this kind of material, but overall it pushes all the right buttons within the tried and tested framework of the genre’s style.  Despite being crafted from individually enjoyable parts – cool staccato guitars, strong chorus and quirky hi-hat accompaniment in places – there’s something about ‘Wasted Years’ that doesn’t always seem to sit right.  It’s just a little too busy overall, which combined with Readman’s huge voice, makes it potentially quite tiring.  There’s no doubting that it’s destined to become a fan favourite, however.

With a slightly bluesier mood, ‘Superman’ almost pays homage to the early 80s Whitesnake, a style which suits Readman much better all round, as he reigns in his voice a little in places.  Something about the cocky mood even makes the louder elements of his voice seem more palatable in comparison to a few of the other numbers.  The guitar work ranges from slightly overdriven rhythm parts to tough crying leads – with Alfred Koffler and Uwe Reitenauer proving equally adept at both – but it is bassist Dennis Ward who really shines.  At first it sounds like he’s anchoring the piece with a solid rhythm (as any rock bassist worth their salt should), but occasionally he throws in the more complex flourish which has a knock on effect of really lifting the number.  More impressively, he manages to do this without anything jarring.  From a huge rock perspective, ‘Land of Confusion’ is also worth checking out with its powerhouse riff – showing a huge Dio influence – before featuring an equally bombastic chorus.  Pink Cream may appear to take this all in their stride and do a bang-up job, but in the hands of Jorn Lande, this is a tune which, potentially, could be twice as good!

Rather unfortunate, ‘I Came To Rock’ is spoiled by bouts of over-singing combined with horribly clichéd song writing.  This is a great pity since – looking beyond the claims of “nobody gonna tell me what to do” and “I came to rock / I won’t ever stop” etc – the musical arrangement is halfway decent.  The guitar solos squeal with the necessary amounts of gusto and Ward’s bass playing appears unshakable.  If you like brainless songs or have been in a coma since 1989 you might still like this, but honestly, PC69 are capable of far better, as shown by the best track among these dozen offerings: ‘Find Your Soul’ marks a shift from the band’s usual bombast and is all the better for it. By adding a slightly trippy air of Beatles-meets-hard rock, PC69 prove they can be more interesting than mere rock stompers. This tune is very much driven by the slightly phased sounding guitars and occasional harmony vocals that hint at psychedelia, but it’s coolest element comes courtesy of Chris Schmidt’s drum part, a performance that brings a slight tribal mood to an otherwise beefy hard rock performance.  This is far more interesting than PC69’s usual by-numbers sounds, almost sounding like the excellent King’s X.  They can’t resist taking a more melodic metal approach on the chorus though, with Readman’s crying voice reverting to their truest musical roots.

‘I Came To Rock’ may be embarrassing in the extreme, but aside from that, ‘Ceremonial’ largely presents a bunch solidly played Euro-rock tunes.  That said, there is absolutely nothing here that’s remotely likely to entice new listeners to the band.  They may be totally preaching to the converted with this set of largely predictable offerings…but they’re probably happy enough with that.

January 2013

BLACKWOLF – Taking Root EP

d8ace71ace19924c4abb45d0a3becd12ee172dc2Although still a relatively new band by the end of 2012, BlackWolf had already been busy on the live circuit, having played the Bulldog Bash biker’s festival (twice) and trodden the boards with many other rock bands, including Jettblack (a band who seemed to tour endlessly).  With an old-school rock sound that’s tailor made for live performance (possibly complimented with a fine ale), this EP may not always show off the Bristol band’s energy as well as a live setting – something true of most bands – but definitely shows them to be very accomplished musicians and reasonable songwriters.

Opening with a classic sounding rock riff, ‘Stairway Ticket’ wrong-foots the listener by quickly and seemlessly morphing into something a little funkier than expected.  Multi-tracked guitars handle some great chops throughout – and it’s soon obvious these guys are working to a very professional standard.  It’s vocalist Scott Sharp who carries this particular piece, with his voice moving between rock-blues cries to higher register banshee wails throughout.  A strong start, certainly…and if this grabs you, you’ll enjoy the rest even more. ‘Finding Fables’ has a basis that sounds like a harder rock Black Crowes, the riffs bolstered by a really hard drum line.  A couple of Sharp’s more 80s wails occasionally seem at odds with the definite 70s leanings of the tune but, once again, everyone puts in maximum effort.

With tapped notes during its intro and an impassioned vocal cry to kick things off, ‘Wayward One’ gently tips the hat to AC/DC before adopting a similar mood to the previous couple of numbers.  While there may not be a great variation from anything that’s gone before, John Greenhill shows off an ability to work a solid riff – and a couple of well-honed solos – while the rhythm section lay down some good work.  Leaving the strongest track for last, ‘Seeds’ is a cocksure workout which, during the verses, has a spikier basis than Blackwolf’s other tunes.  Despite this, it manages not to be any more aggressive, as this spiky quality is counterbalanced by a groove-laden riff which sounds a little Zeppelin-ish in places, but also with a southern tinge not unlike the excellent Black Stone Cherry.  Once again, the bones of this tune may not be far removed from those you’ve heard previously, but all the same, there’s a sense of the band upping their game just a touch… In a couple of places, Sharp reigns his voice in a little, while bassist Ben Webb gets opportunity to tear into a bass solo – and he’s a very gifted player.

Although BlackWolf’s sound borrows heavily from many classic rock influences – a touch of Zep here, a dose of Crowes there, with a sound hinting at a lighter equivalent of Black Stone Cherry lurking throughout –  thankfully, no influences are flaunted too heavily.  Even during the most obvious hat-tipping, Blackwolf’s nods to others seem nowhere near as blatant as with other bands [for example, The Temperance Movement’s subtle-as-a-brick Black Crowes-isms]. While it would have been wise for the band to have included one slow number (if nothing else, to show a fuller range of their talents), this EP provides a great taster.  If you like meaty, tuneful hard rock, this is a British band worthy of your support.

December 2012

GENE THE WEREWOLF – Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal

When a press release uses a phrase like “[we] play music that’s as ridiculous as it is awesome”, it’s enough to strike dread in the heart of the potential listener.  After all, if it’s not awesome, then it’s just ridiculous…and if it’s just ridiculous, it’s then bordering on being a novelty – and novelty is not for everyone.  Luckily, on this international debut release, aside from a truly terrible choice of name, there’s nothing novelty about Pittsburgh band Gene The Werewolf.  While not really awesome either, the five man band does a great job pulling various elements from classic rock’s past, yielding an album which is surprising enjoyable.  Actually, despite all the things they think they are, most of the time on this release, what they actually sound like is a KISS tribute band, specialising in tunes from the ‘Dressed To Kill’ era.  With that in mind, if you hate KISS, there’s (almost) nothing for you here.  If you’re a KISS fan but hate people who spend half their time desperately wanna be KISS, there’s (almost) nothing for you here.

Never were the KISS influences more obvious than on parts ‘I’ve Got The Love’ when frontman Drew Donegan really channels his inner Paul Stanley, so much so, he could probably pull off being in a tribute band (assuming he’s not already tried that for a career prior to forming GTW).  The falsetto ‘oohs’ set the dials for fun, while the hard rock drumming and glammy guitar chords rock out like it’s the mid 70s all over again.  It’s not until the chorus hits that this tune offers anything truly brilliant, however…and for that chorus GTW impersonate their heroes as best as they can muster.  The hook may be trashy, but it’s fairly instant; although this is good enough, it’s the emergence of  Drew’s near-perfect Paul Stanley impersonation which leaves the biggest overall impression.  There are similar Stanley-esque leanings during parts of the feel-good ‘Superhero’, although any obvious KISS influences get offset by some rather lovely new wave keyboards set high in the mix.  Here, a few hair metal edges meet with an almost Cheap Trick level of confidence that, once again, shows this band off as great musicians in the “classic rock” sense.

When the KISS obsession is at its lowest ebb, there are gentle nods to late 70s AC/DC – though any potential influence never comes with the sledgehammer intent of Aussie rockers Airborne.  ‘I Only Wanna Rock N Roll’ mixes three chords worthy of Angus Young with a simple hook that the fledgling Poison may have killed for.  It’s totally old school – right down to relying on enormous whoahs for half of its impact – but often, the simpler the better.  By the track’s end, when things beef up a little and the gang vocals really hit home, it’s not quite so AC/DC influenced anymore, but rather more in the glam rock field – which is clearly where these guys feel most musically at home.  Perhaps better, ‘Rock N Roll Animal’ follows a similar tack, only with a guitar riff that is in danger of lapsing into AC/DC’s own ‘It’s a Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll)’.  It may be largely borrowed, but that really doesn’t stop the professionalism of GTW’s own musicianship shining through – the guitar leads which busily fill the last few bars of this particular homage to classic rock are first rate.

As for the best of the rest, ‘Light My Fire’ features yet another great chorus, some Def Leppard-esque harmonies and the obligatory nod to KISS, while ‘Heart of Steel’ sounds like classic power pop in places, but is pushed back into the classic rock sphere thanks to a full compliment of 80s glam metal guitars.  Perhaps better still, ‘Ruffneck Woman’ takes another obvious KISS influence, mixes it with a couple of other key notes from classic rock’s glory years and comes up with yet another predictable yet enjoyable winner.  Despite adding nothing new to the Gene The Werewolf repertoire (or indeed, absolutely anything previously unheard within the much-loved glam rock, hair metal or classic rock subgenres) one thing is guaranteed: like everything else on ‘Rock N Roll Animal’, GTW play this with the kind of huge self-belief their music demands of them.

The KISS-isms may be far too obvious at times – right down to the name Gene in the name, a choice that is certainly no coincidence – but at least with Gene The Werewolf, you don’t have to live with the threat of Mr. Simmons delivering thinly veiled references to his penis.  Although Gene The Werewolf are short on original sounding thrills, purely and simply, their various homages result in a decent record.  Overall, it’s more enjoyable – and far less crass – than the stupidly over-rated Steel Panther, while retaining a similar vibe of good-time trashiness. Though this album is no contender for “genre classic” status (due its being little more than systematic pillaging from actual genre classics), the band’s claim of wanting to offer music of a “ridiculous” nature could have turned out far, far worse.

November 2012

LOVER UNDER COVER – Set The Night On Fire

Lover Under Cover is a Swedish hard rock project formed around vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Mikael Carlsson.  This debut album – released on Escape Music – has a distinct Scandinavian slant, the songs sticking rigidly to the confines of some very European sounding hard rock.  To help bring his band to life, he has enlisted the help of a few faces that’ll be familiar to fans of the genre: Coldspell’s Perra Johnsson guests on drums, Last Autumn’s Dream’s Mikael Erlandsson handles keyboards and vocals, while Escape Music regular Martin Kronlund contributes various guitar parts and handles production duties.

In all honesty, this sounds exactly how you’d expect from something Swedish with Kronlund in the producer’s chair.  If run of the mill Scandinavian hard rock is your bag, Lover Under Cover may appeal, but be warned, you’ll have heard it all before…and almost countless times.  Perhaps more importantly, you’ll have heard this kind of thing performed far, far better by others. There are two big problems here: the first being the rather weak songwriting; the second, Erlandsson’s voice: while he’s sounded great in the past with Last Autumn’s Dream, he’s obviously having an off-day here. At his best he sounds like an unpolished Euro hard rock vocalist – certainly not of the calibre of Matti Alfonzetti, Goran Edman or Coldspell’s Niclas Swedentorp, for example.  At his worst, as is the case on ‘Angels Will Cry’, his raspy voice sounds like the work of a songwriter laying down a demo track for someone else to sing later.

The album’s best tune ‘Through The Storm’ is a reasonable mid-paced rocker with the kind of pompy chorus Gary Hughes (of Ten fame) would have turned into something epic sounding.  Erlandsson’s old fashioned organ lends a little more of a classic rock vibe, while the Celtic leanings of the twin guitars hint at sounds once heard from Gary Moore’s ‘Wild Frontier’ album.  Each element had the potential to make this a great track, but despite everyone – bar the lead vocal – turning in good performances, there’s still very much a sense that these musicians are capable of better.

The upbeat hard rock of ‘Flash In The Night’ features a reasonable bassline and piano accompaniment, but any initial promise is soon swept aside by a thin drum sound and a particularly uninspiring one-line chorus.  The aforementioned ‘Angels Will Cry’ – aside from being musically uninteresting – finds Erlandsson desperately trying to pull emotion from a very limited vocal range and sounding like a man with a slightly bad throat in the process.  A little better,  ‘Standing In Line’ kicks off with best foot forward with a twin lead guitar, before settling in for some safe, clichéd rock – again with a particularly half-arsed chorus and equally weak vocal performance.  The twin lead makes a welcome return, but Kronlund’s best efforts aren’t enough to salvage this tune…or indeed many of the others that make up this album’s eleven almost equally uninspiring numbers.

There’s very little else to be said about Lover Under Cover which doesn’t trot out variations on the various negative remarks already applied to the few songs covered in this review.  Even from a second division perspective, there’s almost nothing here to get excited about.

November 2012