By the end of 2019, Jeff Scott Soto had celebrated thirty five years in the music business. One of melodic rock’s most gifted vocalists, in that time he’s released six solo albums and over thirty more as a full-time frontman with a band. Obviously, you’d expect such an extensive career to take in a live album or two already, but by the spring of 2020, Jeff had no fewer than seven live albums to his credit (three with Talisman and four solo), so in that regard, fans have been more than well served. With three of those already covering his output for Frontiers Records admirably, there’s initially a feeling that 2020’s ‘Loud & Live In Milan’ might just be surplus to requirements…
When FM released their ninth studio album ‘Heroes & Villains’ in 2015, it kicked off a second golden age for the band. An album loaded with great songs, it showed Steve Overland and friends in their best shape since the late 80s. A re-recorded version of their classic ‘Indiscreet’ released the following year presented a really muscular sound and proved that re-recording old work does occasionally work out for the best and 2018’s ‘Atomic Generation’ – although sticking somewhat to a well-established formula – suggested their knack for a catchy chorus was as sharp as ever. In addition, vocalist Steve Overland found time to record an enjoyable solo album in 2016 and an absolute cracker of a disc with his side project Lonerider in 2019. At a time when so many of the older “legacy” AOR acts either sounded long past their best or were going through the motions, FM seemed to spend a half-decade going from strength to strength.
‘Master of Illusions’ comes five years after Khymera’s previous studio album ‘The Grand Design’, making the wait for new material almost as long as the band’s seven year hiatus following 2008’s ‘The Greatest Wonder’. It’s not like band leader Dennis Ward has been resting, of course: he’s continued to be one of the busiest men in the melodic rock scene, working with his other band Pink Cream 69 and moonlighting with Place Vendome (both of whom released albums in 2017), making an album with Gus G in 2018 and even stepping in for bass duties on Magnum’s 2020 opus ‘The Serpent Rings’. You have to wonder if he ever sleeps.
The all round quality of Khymera’s ‘Master of Illusions’ doesn’t suggest that Ward has spread himself too thinly, either. The album has more than enough top drawer material to make it stand up with the band’s earlier works. In ‘Follow The Sun’ and ‘After All This Time’, there are a couple of career bests, which is reason enough to check out this long player.
Two years after the release of the soul tinged ‘Feel’, Glenn Hughes returned with ‘Addiction’ – an album that couldn’t be any more different from its predecessor if it tried. With Hughes in the middle of a work frenzy, ‘Addiction’ found him not only returning to hard rock in a big way, but delivering his heaviest solo album to date.
‘Addiction’ is an album that has weathered all kinds of musical storms and from both a performance and production value still sounds absolutely terrific. Not that it was well received by everyone upon release back in 1996. Some older listeners felt that Hughes had adopted “grunge sympathies”, a lazy, somewhat ignorant claim that seemed to miss the fact that the album is also varied in style. Decades on, such claims seem even sillier, as with the passing of time, Soundgarden – and sadly missed vocalist Chris Cornell – have very much joined the pantheon of classic rock acts and Cornell’s approach to vocals never seemed that far removed from the likes of Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale anyway. [If you’re still blinkered enough to not believe this, the proof is there in tracks like Temple of The Dog’s ‘Call Me A Dog’ and ‘All Night Thing’.]
TNT are one of those bands that are absolutely beloved by some melodic rock fans. Even into the 90s and against changing musical fashions, their late 80s albums ‘Tell No Tales’ (1987) and ‘Intuition’ (1989) continued to have some very vocal supporters. In lots of ways, it’s easy to see why since guitarist Ronnie Le Tekro always played in a very inventive way and in melodic metal terms, those albums carry a frightening amount of energy. None of that really matters if you were one of those people who didn’t really like Tony Harnell’s vocal style, of course. Much like the younger Geoff Tate, Harnell had a tendency to tackle everything at full pelt and with a huge banshee wail.