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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DE LA CRUZ – Street Level

DE LA CRUZ sl COVERThere have been some great bands exported from Australisia over the decades.  Crowded House have blessed us with near-perfect and often very thoughtful pop; Cold Chisel raised the bar for no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll; Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil proved – perhaps more than any of their American counterparts – that hard rock and politics can go hand in hand and still shift millions of units.  Something UK and US audiences rarely associated with the southern hemispheres is sleaze/glam rock.  Frontiers signings De La Cruz are here to help fly that flag.

This debut full-length release shows off some potentially talented musicians.  Throughout the record, De La Cruz emulate their 80s heroes with gusto, with more than a hearty appreciation for 1987-89 era Mötley Crüe, with Casey Jones and Rory Joy in particular in the driving seat with some hard-edged guitar licks.  Tempering the Crüe trashiness comes a world of filtered Def Leppard-esque vocals – vocals that, at least some of the time, add a greater sense of melody.

Kicking off at their toughest, ‘Street Level’ features a reverbed drum, a hard-hitting riff and slightly squawky vocals, all of which tips the hat to Zan Clan and many glam bands of the late 80s.  From this more than solid base, both guitarists work magic, eventually delivering shredding solos that appear too sharp edged even for De La Cruz’s retro-sleaze.  Musically, if glam is your bag, this is fine.  But what’s that?  Do the band really think that repeating the words ‘street level’ several times actually passes as a chorus?  Even the dumbest, coked-up rock stars of glam’s heyday always managed more than that…at their most half-arsed.   Likewise, in principle, ‘Girls Go Wild’ and ‘Turn It Up’ should’ve been okay in a Mötley style, but they’re also killed by one line choruses.

For ‘Legions of Love’, the focus shifts from Mötley-wannabes to blatent Def Leppard-isms.  With the slight musical shift, there’s always a glimmer of hope that the song writing will improve, but both ‘Legions of Love’ and ‘Gimme Love’ suffer at the hand of (near) one-line dumbness.  Again, this is a great pity, since the musicians turn in decent performances throughout.   This band should have hired a lyricist.  At almost every turn, they manage to kill any good vibes with lazy song writing.  Yes, glam and sleaze is never meant to intellectual, but surely even the most undemanding rock fan deserves more than one line choruses.  With such a trashy approach,  you might get away with one or two of these, but to pretty much fill the first half of this record with them is bordering on taking the piss.

Thanks to various attempts at stretching choruses to at least two different lines and more exposure given to the band’s much-loved Def Leppard-esque vocals, the second half of this debut shows a marked improvement.  ‘Dreaming’ utilizes some unashamed AOR keyboards, which combined with a tough guitar calls to mind Heaven’s Edge before the vocal brings things more into a radio-friendly hair-metal territory.  It’s a shame that Roxxi Catalano’s voice had to be so heavily filtered, but even that doesn’t mar the enjoyment too much.  The verses pack a driving punch, while the chorus comes across like an early Warrant tune re-imagined by Def Leppard.  As before, the guitarists are on hand to fill the instrumental break with well-executed sweeping, all proving De La Cruz have great potential.  Why they waited until halfway through the album to unleash that full potential is anyone’s guess.  After all, the less patient have already long stopped listening by this point.

‘Invincible’ also brings enjoyable moments in its intro thanks to some clean-toned guitar work, but just as you’re expecting things to take a Def Leppard ‘Love Bites’ route, things toughen up considerably.  With a solid back beat and riff to match, De La Cruz embark on a number which fuses the best elements of Dokken and the Leps.  Against the odds, they manage to pull the best from a not especially memorable hook thanks to some multi-tracked voices.  Those voices eventually go some way towards rescuing this number, since Catalano doesn’t sound especially strong in his role of lead vocalist here.  Joining ‘Dreaming’ as the album’s only other genuinely great tune, ‘Set The Night’ brings the band’s best elements to the fore: the lead vocal is scratchy but has a sense of sleaze-rock charm, while the music strikes a fine balance between power and melody; as before, it’s the shameless Leppard backing vocals which are the real clincher.

To finish, semi-acoustic ballad ‘Shine’ includes far softer vocals and melodies all round – so much so it sounds like the work of a completely different band.  Although the tune is okay and the vocals are well suited to this more restrained approach, it doesn’t sound heartfelt or genuine.  It’s as if the band have finished recording their album and then remembered how Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ and Warrant’s ‘Heaven’ have survived the decades and, perhaps, De La Cruz need a ballad too.  Placing it at the end of the album just makes it feel even more like an afterthought.

Since De La Cruz showcases two gifted shredders in the guitar department and a vocalist who possesses a reasonable amount of edge (if not always actual tune), it’s a shame that aside from ‘Dreaming’ and ‘Set The Night’, no songs really show off the band’s fullest potential.  Fewer one-line choruses would have been a big help, but it still wouldn’t stop even the best parts of this record feeling like a mere imitation of great glam records of the 1980s.  Despite initial potential, this disc is only for the easily pleased.

March 2013

FAHRAN – Fahran

cover (1)Fahran was born from the ashes of Toxic Federation, a band whom already had a couple of DIY releases under their collective belts, despite having an average age of under twenty years old.  Following the departure of Toxic’s vocalist and guitarist, a name change also bought the arrival of new band members, including vocalist Nick Whitcroft.

…And listening to this Fahran debut, what a voice he has.  He tackles each of these songs with a gritty hard rock maturity, occasionally pushing his voice a little, but mostly making the delivery of his rock-edged vocals appear easy, like a man with years of experience.  The greatness of Fahran as a band is quickly clear; following a brief instrumental piece, the upbeat ‘Silver Scene’ kicks in with intent.  Driven by a slightly muddy riff recalls the heavies moments of Skid Row’s classic ‘Slave To The Grind’, it also brings a lighter, slightly more melodic chorus could fit the style of bands like Black Stone Cherry.  Fahran don’t have the same southern drawl or bottom end groove of that particular band, but even so, their approach to a riff and heavy melodies could be seen as similar at times.  Pulling things to a close, a twin lead riff is used excellently, and overall, this track shows off most of the band’s best skills, thus making a good first impression.  ‘Cynics and Dreamers’ carries itself with a hefty stomp, as the twin guitars of Chris Byrne and Jake Graham lay down some serious chops.  This tune brings the best elements of 80s hard rock and a slightly meatier 90s sound together seamlessly, as another chugging riff is topped by some effortless, old fashioned ringing lead guitar soloing.

During ‘The Vagrant’, Alex Stroud gets to lead the way, pounding out a bass line which would befit many an eighties melodic metal classic, while another powerful vocal fills spaces over a very disjointed riff.  Between verses, those spaces are filled effectively with dirtier guitar parts, delivered with plenty of wah-wah and a little down-tuning.  As with ‘Silver Scene’ those heavier moments are joined by a very melodic chorus.  That careful balance between slightly bottom-heavy riffs and well-contructed melodic chorus proves to be Fahran’s strongest – and most consistent – calling card throughout this record.  The lead which kicks off ‘Bittersweet History’ comes as a slight surprise with it’s really eighties sound and general clarity.  Its absolutely classic tones would suggest someone within Fahran’s ranks is rather fond of many bands from the glory days of melodic rock/AOR, with the riff being particularly reminiscent of Nelson’s ‘After The Rain’.  This nod to a radio-friendly rock past isn’t just restricted to the intro either: the whole song works around that great riff, while the rest of the band sound more than confident in their roles as they approximate a recording which could have appeared on any number of classic rock discs.  While fans of classic rock should find tunes to enjoy scattered throughout this release, melodic rock aficionados would be advised to seek out this track specifically.

Following an atmospheric drum-fuelled intro, ‘Crude Design’ slips into something surprisingly off-kilter.  Yes, the kind of riffs you’ll have already come to associate with the band are still very much in the driving seat, but the time signatures shift unexepectly, allowing JR Windsor to drop in various double bass pedal moments and other unexpected fills not always present elsewhere.  While not as instantly likeable as, say, ‘The Vagrant’, a few plays in and this begins to click, thanks once again to that all important chorus – on which, Whitcroft sounds as assured as ever.  Faring a little less well, ‘Stay Alive’ sounds at first as if it’s going to be as strong as the other arrangements.   It pulls elements from each of Fahran’s strengths and the careful balance between grit and melody is very much evident, but despite a swaggering riff and big bass line, this track doesn’t seem quite as consistent. The fact that it doesn’t make quite such a lasting impression is, perhaps, testament to the powerful nature of the rest of the material. Balancing out the old school rock and occasional forays into AOR, the band go hell for leather on ‘We See Right Through You’ a full-speed rocker with the drums firmly in the driving seat.  Again, Fahran never under estimate the importance of melody, and here, they balance out the nearing speed-metal riffing of the verses with a big, mid-paced chorus modelled on classic eighties hard rock, while some near faultless twin lead guitar work filling an all too brief instrumental break.

The most important thing you need to know about Fahran, is that overall, this self-released disc is better than most of the records released by some of the labels specialising in classic/melodic rock.  It really deserves to put the band on the map.  It’s an album which should be heard by all fans of the slightly heavier end of classic hard rock.

January 2013

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