When Hell In The Club released their debut album back in 2011, it was almost impossible not to be impressed by their retro sound. The Italian rock band truly went back to basics, borrowing riffs from early Skid Row and Motley Crue. By coupling those with anthemic choruses inspired by early Danger Danger, they obviously realised that a job well done would trump any originality at every turn. The result was an album with hooks so massive, it couldn’t fail to win over fans of glammy hard rock with a party attitude. The band worked the same formula for another three albums over the next six years, and although this never resulted in any huge sales, the routine appearance of their records was to the delight of their fan base. Despite changing musical fashions in the rock world, there was still clearly an audience ready to embrace the sounds of their youth…and with open arms.
For many melodic rock fans, guitarist Josh Ramos is a man who’ll need no introduction. In the 90s, he was a member of The Storm, a fine AOR band that featured ex-Journey men Gregg Rolie and Ross Valory. He later achieved success as driving force behind Frontiers Records signings Two Fires, an act much-loved by genre fans the world over. At other times, he’s been a member of Hardline, a melodic rock outfit who’ve battled on against changing fashions and changing line ups, but could often be relied upon for a decent end product. Yup, Josh has always kept himself busy, and while his approach to things might make him seem like a “man for hire” rather than a genuine star in his own right, he’s often made some smart career choices.
Vocalist John Payne will be familiar to most as having been the singer with Asia between 1991 and 2006. For a lot of people, he’s often that bloke who “isn’t John Wetton”. A somewhat unfair tag, maybe, but prog and AOR fans aren’t exactly known for being open to change, especially where a favourite vocalist is concerned. Despite Payne being treated by some as an “also ran” or some kind of stand in until Wetton returned (which he eventually did), it doesn’t change the fact that Asia’s 1992 album, ‘Aqua’ is their best work (‘Little Rich Boy’ and ‘Who Will Stop The Rain?’ are amazing songs) and in many ways, 2006’s ‘Arena’ remains one of the band’s most musically rich works, with a few tracks veering away from their pomp style and drawing influence from the smoother sounds of Toto. Unless you’re completely ignorant (like those people who have somehow written off over thirty years of a Fish-free Marillion after hearing three songs in 1989), John Payne’s contribution to Asia cannot and should not be undervalued.
When Enuff Z’Nuff are at the top of their game, they’re a fantastic band. Their first three albums (‘Enuff Z’Nuff’, ‘Strength’ and ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’ rank among the best melodic rock and power pop discs ever. From that point on, you’ll find good songs scattered throughout their next half a dozen releases, but the cut and paste nature of these can be a little frustrating. From 1999’s ‘Paraphernalia’ onwards, the band seemed to settle into a pattern of bulking out “new” releases with bits and pieces from their extensive vaults. Their 2000 release ’10’ is a blatant example of this, having been pieced together from recordings made over the previous half a decade. Just one listen to ‘There Goes My Heart’ might even be enough to convince some listeners that the song had been kicking around even longer, such is its quality (being comparable to the best bits of the 1985 demos and the EZ’N debut album). Their 2004 release ‘?’ was even more scattershot, featuring new songs alongside a bunch of material dating back to the ‘Animals…’ sessions in 1992. Frankly, if the songs weren’t good enough in the 90s, they certainly felt like third division off cuts over a decade later.
A prolific musician, Magnus Karlsson has worked with many legends from the hard rock and melodic metal scene. You’ll find his name attached to works by Magnum’s Bob Catley, TNT’s Tony Harnell, Russell Allen, Bobby Kimball and Phenomena. He’s also been a member of Euro metallers Primal Fear. Perhaps most importantly, the Swedish multi-instrumentalist has received great press for his own project Free Fall, designed to showcase his melodic metal prowess behind an impressive roll call of guest vocalists. An enjoyable self-titled release set a high musical benchmark in 2013 with a collection of very European sounding bangers. A follow up, 2015’s ‘Kingdom of Rock‘ (not to be confused with an identically titled project from the legendary Michael Schenker), sometimes showed a lighter side with contributions from Joe Lynn Turner and Harem Scarem man Harry Hess and although a more hit and miss disc, it still provided a decent collection filler for anyone enamoured with the style.