GIANT – Shifting Time

There’s no debating the fact that the first two Giant albums are genre classics. 1989’s ‘Last of The Runaways’ set out the band’s stall with some massive choruses and equally massive guitar parts, and it’s lesser appreciated follow up – 1992’s ‘Time To Burn’ – showed how truly great melodic rock could stand firm against a shifting musical tide. Tracks like ‘Stay’ and ‘Save Me Tonight’ cemented Giant’s contribution to the AOR cause, and Dann Huff’s guitar work, as always, sounded terrific. An unexpected comeback in 2001 resulted in the ‘Giant III’ album, which was an enjoyable affair, but not on the same level as the band’s original work. In many ways, that’s where the Giant story should have ended. However, the name was revived in the late noughties, and an album release (‘Promised Land’, featuring Strangeways vocalist Terry Brock), appeared in 2010. On the surface, there were some enjoyable tunes, but in truth, it suggested that there’s no real Giant without Dann’s distinctive guitar tone and vocal presence taking the lead.

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PRAYING MANTIS – Katharsis

In terms of classic old school melodic metal, Praying Mantis need no introduction. Chris and Tino Troy have been part of the British rock and metal scene since the early days of the NWOBHM and their band has remained one those hard working acts that can often be relied upon for a decent listen, even if their albums aren’t perfect. By picking up any Praying Mantis LP, you’re guaranteed to hear at least a half dozen riff based belters and at least one more AOR-centric number which, quite often, marks its place as a genuine highlight on any given release. Parts of their 2015 long player ‘Legacy’ – their third for Frontiers Records – presented the Troy brothers in a slightly heavier frame of mind than their 80s selves, and new vocalist Jaycee Cuijpers showed a tendency for over-singing at times, but in terms of song writing it was a more than solid offering. If nothing else, it more than showed there to be plenty of life left in the veteran rockers. 2018’s ‘Gravity’ wasn’t quite on the same level, but offered enough in the way of sizeable riffs and retro hooks to appeal to long-time fans and newer listeners alike.

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THE MURDER OF MY SWEET – A Gentleman’s Legacy

Swedish rock band The Murder of My Sweet have never thought small. Over the years, their sound has straddled symphonic rock, pomp, metal and AOR in a way that has often seemed very self indulgent. When the focus is on hooks and songs, this shows off a musical collective that has great promise. When they become obsessed with pure theatrics (as per their ‘Beth Out of Hell’ concept album from 2015), they can be really hard to take. This, of course, can lead to a frustrating and inconsistent listening experience, especially if strong melodies get swamped by too much unnecessary bombast.

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LAND OF GYPSIES – Land Of Gypsies

Best known as the singer with melodic hard rockers XYZ, Terry Ilous is blessed with a fantastic set of vocal pipes. His recorded output mightn’t be as extensive as many of his peers, but you can usually rely on him for a great album. The Bridger release from 2012 is the only possible exception to this rule, and even then, that was no fault of Terry’s; he often did his best with the largely unremarkable material, even if he sometimes sounded understated compared to his former self.

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GROUNDBREAKER – Soul To Soul

FM frontman Steve Overland has always seemed to keep himself busy, but the release of the Overland album ‘Epic’ in 2014 kicked off an especially prolific period for the British rock vocalist. The new, eponymously named band didn’t necessarily offer anything radically different from his “day job”, but in guitarist Christian Wolff and drummer Jay Schellen, he found new collaborators that worked very well with his still great voice. Between making three excellent studio albums with FM between 2015 and 2018, Steve also found time to record a fifth album with Shadowman (his on/off project with Thunder members Chris Childs and Harry James), a second Overland album, and even join a new band, Groundbreaker.

The new band mined a further seam of classic AOR sounds, and their debut album – as with so many Overland related projects – was a great vehicle for his voice. In addition, it allowed Work of Art’s Robert Sall to work with some slightly tougher sounds on occasion, and it was clear from the start that this new musical union had a strong heart. Unafraid to recycle a lot of genre tropes and lyrical clichés in songs like ‘The Days of Our Life’, ‘Eighteen Till I Die’ (nowhere near as embarrassing as the Bryan Adams tune of the same name), and ‘Standing Up For Love’, the band’s moniker was certainly chosen for its tongue in cheek qualities, but the album gave genre fans a great deal to enjoy.

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