MAGDALLAN – Big Bang

Although he’d been previously known for his work with Joshua and Shout in the late 80s, I was a little late in discovering Ken Tamplin, first hearing a track by him on a record company CD sampler in the early part of 1994. After hearing that track (‘Dancing on a Volcano’, from the ‘Tamplin’ LP), I knew I had to hear more of his stuff. Later that same year, a friend lent me a copy of this Magdallan album.He originally lent it to me thinking I’d like it, since he thought the first track was a bit prog-metal influenced.  He hadn’t remembered Ken Tamplin was the band’s vocalist!

Of course I liked it – but not for the “prog metal” reasons my friend thought I would [aside from its general speed and a slightly edgy, metallic guitar riff, I’m not even sure why he thought it was prog metal. It’s likely he confused them with Magellan].In fact, my liking of this album had nothing to do with that first track; I found its full-on bombast a bit of a turn off. I was, however, more than impressed by the band for various other reasons.  Firstly there was that Ken Tamplin connection (this album gave me a proper introduction to his work and I continued to buy his albums for a good few years afterwards), but also I liked the other band members: I’d been familiar with Lanny Cordola and Ken Mary previously, as they’d been members of House of Lords, a band whose first couple of albums I’d rather liked.  So, since Magdallan featured a few musicians I was potentially interested in, I’m not sure how this album had managed to slip under my radar for a couple of years…

If I’m honest, I still don’t like that opening track, ‘End of the Ages’, much at all. While Ken Tamplin’s voice is strong, the band spends the best part of the track trying to outplay each other at full pelt.While the level of musicianship should be respected, the approach taken seems to be at the expense of the song.While some of Lanny Cordola’s guitar solos here are very good, when they’re combined with the fast rhythm section, it becomes very tiring.As a track, it’s far too demanding on the listener.Hats off to Brian Bromberg, though, for a jaw-dropping bassline.

With that out the way, the rest of ‘Big Bang’ is fantastic.  If you’re looking for huge melodic rock: look no further!‘Radio Bikini’ (not sure why they chose that name) is the stuff that late 80s rock radio was made of.  It couples a huge chorus with a mid-paced rock riff, topped off with the kind of huge harmony vocals which would make Mutt Lange proud.  ‘Shake’ opts for a funkier edge, led by bass player Brian Bromberg, whose work here is inspired, since it has a huge presence and manages to firmly stay within the hard rock parameters despite showing a strong funk influence, rather like the work of Marcel Jacob (sadly missed).

‘Wounded Hearts’, a big Whitesnake style ballad, feels much simpler again.  It features another top vocal performance from Tamplin.Also less demanding is ‘Love To The Rescue’, a pumping hard rock workout; once again, Cordola grabs an opportunity to really show some chops in the guitar solo department, although unlike most of ‘The End of the Ages’, he’s a bit more restrained. The title cut has a confident swagger and, once again, the multi layered vocals are used to fantastic effect.  Bromberg’s bass work goes for a funky edge again here and Lanny turns in an off-kilter guitar solo which raises a smile.  This would have been the ultimate attention grabber before the horns were laid on!  The Led Zeppelin inspired, acoustic blues stomp of ‘Old Hard Line’ captures the whole band on top form.Tamplin’s blues rock vocal style is faultless, Ken Mary settles into an understated drum groove, Bromberg’s bass playing has warmth, but it’s Lanny who stands out the most: his acoustic work is second to none – really stylish.  A few bluesy vibes carry over to ‘Dome of the Rock’, but, this time, the band return to full-on rock mode.  Bromberg’s contribution is superb, his busy bass runs lying behind a decent riff laid down by Lanny.Multi-layer vocals are the icing on the cake – somewhere between Queen circa 1974 and early Journey, they turn a decent rock tune into a pomp fan’s dream.  Choirs of vocals swamp ‘House of Dreams’, the album’s ultimate lighters-in-the-air big hair rock moment.As with ‘Wounded Hearts’, the slower pace allows Ken Tamplin’s vocal to really shine.

Dozens of sampled voices played through a keyboard (a la ‘Leave It’ by Yes) kick off ‘Cry Just a Little’ before things settle into a standard rock groove.Again, the backing vocals are huge and is in good company with the rest of the album.  Lanny throws in a really metallic guitar solo – and not to be outdone, Bromberg’s bass playing is really complex throught.  Musically, this is quite demanding on the listener, but by this point of the album it shouldn’t be a mystery why these musicians are so well respected by melodic rock fans.

If you’ve never heard ‘Big Bang’ you’ll probably have half an idea what an album featuring Ken Tamplin backed by most of House of Lords could sound like.If you like your melodic rock to be larger than life and well produced (allegedly this cost about a quarter of a million dollars to make), then you’ll love this.

March 2010

 

GLENN HUGHES – Addiction


When ‘Addiction’ was originally released in 1996, I wasn’t in much of a position to call myself a Glenn Hughes fan. As far as I was concerned, the Phenomena project felt like an all-chums-in-the-studio-waste of plastic and at that point his solo albums passed me by completely. However, I loved the Hughes/Thrall album and still do. Also, I’d always loved his work with Deep Purple between 1974-1976, so there was always hope for me liking more of his solo output.

Having heard his previous solo works, ‘From Now On…’ and ‘Feel’, I had a pre-conceived idea of what to expect when I first put ‘Addiction’ into the CD player. Those pre-conceptions were quickly blown away. The funky influence present throughout ‘Feel’ had gone and the melodic rock edges of ‘From Then On…’ had been toughened up considerably.

‘Addiction’ is heavy at the outset, with classic rock riffs. Some tracks are downtuned in a mid-nineties fashion; this partly helped Glenn’s sound to become slightly more contemporary, which, at the time, wasn’t to everyone’s liking. Personally, I loved these moments. They went a long way towards my finding ‘Addiction’ to be Glenn’s best work in a long while. Other more traditional melodic rock listeners said the heavier tracks were too downtuned, too grunge. I could never see the problem and was always confused as to why some of those people hated grunge so much, especially since about half of ’em loved early Black Sabbath.

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Fast forward to many years later, ‘Addiction’ still sounds punchy and it’s far less grunge than some of those people claimed. ‘The Death of Me’ is solid 90s hard rock, starting things off in high-gear, with “The Voice” in good form; later in the album, ‘Madelaine’ also demonstrates some top-notch punchiness.

Slower tracks ‘Cover Me’ (almost like a really heavy Whitesnake number, but far enough removed from the bluesy edges of Hughes’s Purple work to avoid obvious comparison) and ‘Blue Jade’ allow Hughes to stretch out a little further. Every one of his vocal performances here are winners, even if the material doesn’t always work perfectly. The hard rock, blues edged ‘Justified Man’ and the soulful ‘Talk About It’ are both classic Hughes and likely to be tracks that his more unadventurous fans enjoy the most.

It’s with the title track and ‘Down’ though, things get rather heavier. Both feature solid riffs that lean toward the then-alternative rock sound. ‘Down’ in particular, sounds like some of the stuff from the Temple of The Dog album. In fact, there’s a few tracks here I’d like to hear Chris Cornell have a stab at.
‘Not Your Slave’ is a little lighter. With its solid slightly funky bassline, it could’ve easily been on Glenn’s previous albums. Closing the album, ‘I Don’t Want To Live That Way Again’ is a haunting, slow piece dealing with Glenn’s past and subsequent rehab. While a fitting end here, it’s never matched the hard rock moments for me.

Glenn deserves praise for releasing such a tough sounding album; it sounds as sharp as it did when it first came out. It was never going to win him any new fans though, despite the heavier approach. A great pity, since this and Dio’s similarly heavy ‘Angry Machines’ album (released at a similar time) could have been a surprise to those who’d assumed that such artistes had become an irrelevance in the 90s.

January 2010 (Some material originally written for Fastlane Magazine, late 1996)

THUNDER – Behind Closed Doors

Back in 1990, I knew people who were really excited by Thunder’s debut album, ‘Backstreet Symphony’. While it sounded like a decent British rock album, aside from a couple of standout tracks, it didn’t match their live performances. Their second album ‘Laughing On Judgement Day’ was a great improvement over the debut (if a little long), but there was still a niggle: while Danny Bowes’s voice was amazing, it owed a great debt to Paul Rodgers – and as such, as much as I liked Thunder by that point and knew they were a superb band – I always ended up feeling that time spent listening to them could be time better spent listening to Free’s ‘Highway’ LP.

When I first heard ‘Behind Closed Doors’ upon its release in 1995, it literally blew me away and it still remains my favourite Thunder disc.  Of course, the end result is still heavily influenced by 70s rock bands, but the songwriting is largely more varied than before, resulting in a few new tricks to be heard.

The album’s opening number is one of the heaviest tracks in the Thunder catalogue. It has a strong Zeppelin influence, both in the pounding drum style and the way keyboards are used to give things a slightly Eastern flavour. Danny’s voice still holds strong, even with the slightly harder approach and Luke Morley’s guitar riffs are simple but effective. ‘Fly On The Wall’ and ‘Too Scared To Live’ have strong funk/blues influences: the former makes excellent use of a horn section and soulful backing vocals while the latter has a slightly bluesy vibe during its brief chorus sections, but the verses show a far funkier style than Thunder have previously attempted. Mikael Höglund’s bass work is the main driving force and, again, Bowes is in decent voice. The track’s bluesiest vibes come courtesy of a couple of really smart guitar solos.

There’s plenty of other stuff from ‘Behind Closed Doors’ that’s instantly familiar. It’s lighters in the air time for ‘Castles In The Sand’, a big stadium number, very similar to ‘Love Walked In’ (from ‘Backstreet Symphony’). While very much a tried-and-tested formula, it represents one of the things Thunder were always best at. The slower blues-rock of ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ and ‘Preaching From a Chair’ feature Bowes’s strongest vocal performances (again tapping into his inner Paul Rodgers); ‘Preaching…’ is a particular stand-out thanks to some great reflective lyrics, where Danny sings about his “flannel shirt and an old tattoo”, before claiming that “clothes don’t make the man”, and musing “maybe [he] should grow a beard”. Great stuff…

‘Ball and Chain’, ‘River of Pain’ and ‘Stand Up’ are full-on punchy rockers, while ‘Till The Rivers Run Dry’ features a more acoustic, laid back band.‘Future Train’ begins with a slightly Zeppelin-y acoustic flourish, before developing into one of the album’s best hard rock workouts. It makes use of a swaggering guitar riff, which works excellently when coupled with fantastic harmony vocals on the chorus.  Danny Bowes’s vocal, with its blues-rock feel is superb throughout.

In February 2010, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was reissued as a deluxe 2CD set.If you like ‘Behind Closed Doors’, the bonus material (sixteen tracks in all) is worthy of investigation.If you’re a Thunder fan, you’ll already have lots of these extras on your dusty old CD singles, but it’s always good to get things rounded up and released in one package.The best of the bonus materials, live acoustic renditions of ‘River of Pain’, ‘Stand Up’ and ‘Castles In The Sand’ really highlight the strength in Thunder’s songwriting when they’re on form, not to mention the effortlessness behind Danny Bowes’ vocal delivery.

With or without the bonus material, this album is first rate, even though it’s still often derivative of many of Thunder’s influences.For me, it represents a band which has honed all their previous styles to perfection and has then become confident enough to expand their sounds.The record buying public at large obviously wasn’t as enthusiastic; ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was the first Thunder album not to achieve gold-selling status, marking the beginning of a downturn in the band’s album sales.It really needs to be as fondly remembered as Thunder’s two preceding albums.’Behind Closed Doors’ may not have yielded the hits, but it represents a band at their absolute strongest.

February 2010


THE TRUTH – Believe

This 5 track EP from Florida based band The Truth was self-produced and sounds like it was put together on a budget of $3.75. The production is extremely flat; the guitars are way too loud and the drums sound hollow and lifeless. Maybe bringing in an outside producer might’ve helped, guys…

Add to this a screaming, gobshite vocalist who’s about as tuneful as fingernails on a blackboard and you’ve got The Truth. As a band, they definitely aren’t shy in showing their influences – they are desperate to be Queensrÿche and so far, they’ve made a worse job of it than Fates Warning and let’s face it, Fates Warning were always a bit shite. They say imitation is the best form of flattery, but if I were Queensrÿche, I’d go to Florida and give this lot a good kicking.

Those of you who feel I’m being a little unfair as ‘the band have put this together themselves’ should keep schtum and check out the self-financed CD ‘Dogs’ by Bone Machine and see how well melodic rock can be done without the aid of a label and only a small budget.

Avoid The Truth at all costs. By thinking they could have a career with this old toss, they’re living a lie.

Originally written for Fastlane magazine, Summer 1995.