RONNIE ROMERO – Raised On Heavy Radio

For his first solo album, Chilean vocalist Ronnie Romero took the easy route and put together a covers album. To be fair, it’s not like he had anything to prove; in the year before its recording, he’d already recorded well-received albums with both Lords of Black and The Ferrymen. He wasn’t about to spend much time coasting along recycling other peoples’ classic rock works either, since he then released an album with his other band Sunstorm, which hit the shelves barely four months later.

Ronnie’s first release for 2023 returns to the world of cover tunes, and as a companion to the melodic rock/classic rock sounds of ‘Raised On Radio’, he turns to his metal heroes for a harder edged sequel. As you might expect, given his grounding with prog metal band Lords of Black and melodic metal act The Ferrymen, Romero is able to tackle most metal oriented tunes with a genuine aplomb, but as good as most of this album is, it also shows he isn’t completely invincible.

For openers, Ronnie and his band launch into a pleasingly robust rendition of Deep Purple’s ‘Battle Rages On’. The main riff takes a darker turn when guitarist Jose Rubio adds an extra layer of metal during the intro, but it isn’t too long before the recording’s classic rock heart begins to beat with intent, and Romero’s strong vocal goes a really long way to giving it back its beefy but melodic edge. His voice isn’t much like Ian Gillan’s, but has proven time and again previously, he has the kind of big, malleable tones that are more than up to the job, and here, his broad melodic strokes carry a huge tune to glory. Not that he completely outshines his assembled band: Rubio’s guitar work continues to lend a great arrangement some extra crunch, and his featured solo – despite being of a standard metal persuasion, as opposed to trying to invoke the ghosts of Blackmore’s past – is great, and Andy C.’s drum sound punches through the groove almost as if Roy Montoya has stepped in. Given the vocalist’s previous associations with Ritchie Blackmore, a Purple or Rainbow tune is a given, but it’s nice to hear him giving his all on a lesser appreciated track, rather than trudging through a bigger crowd pleaser like ‘Burn’ or ‘Fireball’, which would’ve been an easier option.

A similarly left field choice, Judas Priest’s ‘Turbo Lover’ features a slightly gruff vocal on top of some very commercial metal sounds and, in comparison to the original, this recording benefits from a harder edge and less of an 80s sheen. With a deeper vocal and slightly heavier guitar sound, it comes straight from a world of melodic metal tailor made for Romero and you can hear how much he actually loves the song. He doesn’t love it enough to do anything particularly inventive with it, but his accented delivery and a fine multi-tracked guitar part leading into a very bendy solo (courtesy of Nozomu Wakai) go a long way to making it very enjoyable. Maligned by Priest fans at the time of release, since it clearly found Rob and the lads chasing the MTV dollar as opposed to doing what came naturally, this cover demonstrates how ‘Turbo Lover’ is actually a solid rocker at heart, and Romero’s chosen vocal on the last verse actually brings out more of the Halford-isms in the meter, suggesting that there was once something here that had more in common with ‘The Sentinel’.

Even more within the Romero comfort zone, Masterplan’s ‘Kind Hearted Light’ comes as a metal tour de force, with a thundering drum part set against a blanket of pompy keys. As with the original, it’s a good example of melodic power metal, but if anything, this has a better vocal. Romero pulls out his inner Dio and fuses that with a very European lilt, and although it could seem a little wearing in the long term, there’s a superb sense of energy here. To give it an extra kick, Masterplan’s Roland Grapow steps in for a guest solo, and a world of sweeping notes contrasts the thunderous metal with a fine melodic element that really serves the bombastic sounds played out elsewhere. As with a lot of these covers, it’s played pretty straight, but it’s a superb vehicle for the band, and for Ron, who handles everything as if it were one of his own numbers with The Ferrymen. Similarly “made for Romero” is Accept’s ‘Fast As A Shark’, a much-loved 80s slice of Euro metal where speed is of the essence, and a genuine force fuses traces of melodic thrash with a proto-power metal sound. A real highlight of this set, the band absolutely thunder through this old chestnut, and predictably, Ron hits full wail, sounding like a cross between UDO, the young Klaus Meine and, naturally, the more aggressive elements of his own past. It’s superb – a perfect tribute to no nonsense 80s metal, and reason enough for this album to exist.

If only his take on Ozzy’s ‘No More Tears’ were as good. The weak link in the chain here, Javia Garcia’s bass tone is far too thin, and the chugging guitars lack a certain something. It’s likely that the “certain something” in this instance would be Zakk Wylde, but as they are, the riffs have no real character. There’s nothing especially wrong with the vocal once you tune in; Ronnie gives his all – as is often the case – and gives the melody a powerful edge throughout, but all things considered, the bulk of this cover just doesn’t sit right. It has a lot to do with the original cut being so perfect – it’s easily Double O’s finest six minutes outside of Sabbath – but leaving that to one side, there’s a feeling that it’s all just a little bit too advanced for these musicians. Luckily, the missteps within this collection of covers are few, and before long, Ron picks up the mantle with another solid slab of metal, and all is (almost) forgiven.

Iron Maiden’s ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ isn’t much more than phoned in, yet at the same time, Romero’s performance conveys that of a classic metal singer and the guitars do a great job of tapping into the original recording. Drummer Andy C has very little of Clive Burr’s old flair, but it’s a minor point when Ronnie’s voice is so good, and likewise, Rainbow’s ‘A Light In The Black’ is played verbatim – except for a few chunkier guitars – but it needed no extra flair, since the mix of Rubio working some classic proto-metal riffs and Romero doing his best Dio approximation more than makes the full-throttle rocker really fly. Another tune played straight, Malmsteen’s ‘You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget’ now sounds like classic Romero with its solid blend of huge keys and chugging metal groove. Despite the lack of imagination here, this is better than the original cut, purely by virtue of Romero having a better voice than Mark Boals, and thanks to Rubio absolutely nailing Yngwie’s overblown solo. Elsewhere, you’ll even find Metallica’s ‘The Four Horsemen’ given a kick up the arse with some better drums and a solo that isn’t just a collection of random notes (although, in fairness, the original ‘Four Horsemen’ solo is much better than the sloppy idiocy of ‘Phantom Lord’). Despite some technical improvements, it lacks the original’s teenage bluster, but that’s more than made up for with a strong vocal and an approach to the mid section that has a huge set of balls. Early Metallica songs don’t always translate well in the hands of others (presumably due to their lack of technical ability in the early 80s), but this is brilliant.

There are two ways of approaching a covers album: the artist can either rebuild the material from the ground up and represent the material in their own image, or record everything as faithfully as possible, not challenging the audience, but hoping that everyone will consider the results a fun listen. As before, Ronnie has chosen the second option here, which means fans of classic metal will welcome the chance the one-time Rainbow frontman curl his voice around a selection of classics, and find most of this record appealing. The cover of ‘No More Tears’ is an absolute travesty, and one or two other tracks are, perhaps, a little too ordinary, but this is a solid addition to the Romero catalogue. It’s more than worth checking out for the Accept, Malmsteen, Metallica, Rainbow and Purple tracks, and definitely a welcome reminder that Masterplan occasionally have some good tunes. If nothing else, it’s also another reminder of how Ronnie Romero is capable of singing (almost) anything comfortably and how his broad tastes within the rock and metal world have more than helped to shape his unquestionable talent. Is this an essential disc? Of course not. Is it the kind of album you’ll spin often and really enjoy? Without a doubt.

Buy the album here: RONNIE ROMERO – Raised On Heavy Radio

January 2023