House 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.
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.