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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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

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