Gotus? In terms of band names, that’s pretty ugly. It certainly isn’t terrible – that would be reserved for the likes of Smoking Gives You Big Tits, Dohny Jepp, and Fuck Yeah Dinosaurs, all of which not only have the misfortune to exist, but also the distinction of somehow being better than anything else those bands could come up with – but it certainly doesn’t inspire. It was chosen with solid reasoning, however: it’s a portmanteau designed to advertise the fact that this European supergroup features members of Gotthard and Krokus. That should be enough alone to secure the melodic rockers a decent audience, but in many ways, the biggest draw here is their choice of vocalist.
Step forward, Ronnie Romero. From an outsider’s point of view, Romero is a lad whom appears to be working out some kind of slave contract. Over the few years into the lead up to this release, he’s become the golden boy of the Frontiers Records stable, seemingly guaranteed to appear on at least one album per quarter. He also happens to be hugely talented. He’s got one of those strong but malleable voices that seems to breathe life into everything with a relative ease, and that continues to prove very true here.
The album’s opening track – and lead single – ‘Take Me To The Mountain’ provides the perfect introduction by kicking off with an uncompromising blast of drums and a meaty slide guitar, before easing itself into a thundering rock tune that sounds like Gotthard channelling one of Deep Purple’s high octane rockers circa ‘Slaves & Masters’. The entire band gets to prove themselves in under four minutes: as you’d expect, Romero taps into one of his full throttle performances that combines the energy of Joe Lynn Turner era Rainbow with a hefty Euro slant; Krokus bassist Tony Castell punches through everything with a hefty lower register, bringing as much muscle as an old Pete Way recording; Alain Guy unleashes his inner Don Airey, absolutely hammering his organ with intent, and drummer Pat Aeby smashes his kit into oblivion. It’s clear that this is very much a collaborative affair rather than just the Mandy Meyer Show, but Mandy, too, isn’t slouching in any way. He fills the four minutes with an aggressive riff that sounds like a cross between latter day Rainbow and ‘Slip of The Tongue’ era Whitesnake on steroids, ensuring that a broad cross-section of classic rock and melodic metal fans will prick up their ears and be keen to immerse themselves in the rest of a great disc. With the marriage of strong, rocking music and a big hook, this is almost perfect melodic hard rock.
The equally enjoyable ‘Beware of The Fire’ slows things a little, allowing more space for Meyer to work a chunky riff, but isn’t especially any lighter. The verses are powered by a chunky bass riff that’s defiantly Krokus-esque, but with the addition of a fat twin lead guitar taking a huge presence during the bridge sections, it’s hard not to be reminded of Myke Gray’s old band Jagged Edge, to the point where, had Romero not been available, Matti Alfonzetti probably would have done a great turn as the voice of Gotus. Throughout the heart of the number, the voice and guitar sets up a perfect melodic hard rock union, and dropping his volume a little to allow for some strong chorus harmonies, Romero shows great style. It’s fair to say this is the kind of melodic hard rocker you’ll have heard a thousand times – from everyone from Snakecharmer to XYZ – but it sounds absolutely superb. In a similar vein, ‘Undercover’ shares another fine melodic metal riff against a huge vocal, where Ron occasionally sounds like he’s trying to keep his inner Dio under wraps, and Mandy shifts between high octane chugging and broader metallic strokes, almost pretending like it’s 1996 all over again. Shamelessly old fashioned this may be, but by the time Meyer launches into a solo that drops a couple of Blackmore-ish notes into a busy melodic metal workout, and the big chorus rolls around a final time, it’s impossible not to love it.
Opting for something a little more melodic, ‘Love Will Find Its Way’, opens with a more atmospheric intro, exploring a few darker guitar tones which are joined by Ron exploring a moodier vocal. The balladry then moves into a chunky chorus where a melodic metal riff is the perfect companion for the huge vocal, and a harmonic guitar lays down a fine counter melody. It’s really gratifying to hear something in the “slow tune” mould that doesn’t just revert to “AOR ballads 101”, and for lovers of Romero’s style, it’s definitely a number that’ll hit the mark, and with a full on 80s rock riff dominating the coda, it eventually becomes the kind of track that explores most of Gotus’ musical palate. ‘What Comes Around Goes Around’, meanwhile, shifts the focus to the bluesy, and makes the band sound like a really chunky version of Tangier with its swaggering riffs and swampy slide guitar work. Beneath the grittier aspects, you’ll find more melodic rock, of course, and a huge chorus driven by a sharp vocal calls straight back to the short period during 1991 where bands like The Scream gave melodic rock a tougher stance. It’s a great track, and the same can be said for ‘Weekend Warriors’ with its concession to a slightly more grandiose style, sharing huge twin lead riffs and a stomping verse, before dropping into a fist clenching chorus straight out of the Scandinavian melodic metal copybook. It’s perhaps the closest Gotus come to delivering something by numbers, but the overall pitch is perfect, and the way Aeby’s drums punch through almost every moment gives the band a solid sound throughout.
Joining some great and original material, this album also finds time to rework a couple of older numbers from Meyer’s catalogue. ‘When The Rain Comes’ – originally recorded by the short-lived Katmandu in 1991 – is a great fit for the band, and especially for Romero. The original cut’s slow and heavy blues vibe remains, but Meyer’s guitar sound is much fuller, thanks to a much fatter sounding production job, and that really brings out the edge of his riffs. He appears to be having a great time dropping a few horsey squeals between the moody grooves, and keys man Alain Guy adds some relatively subtle textures throughout; he’s never showy, but you’d certainly miss him if he were not there. Romero takes the big sound in his stride, first delivering quieter melodic passages that make him sound a little like Eric Martin, before rising through huge melodic rock curls, and eventually reaching a few classic rock screams that come so naturally. It’s great to hear Meyer indulging in some moody slide work, and drummer Aeby really adds a great rhythmic weight throughout. You’d never think this tune had roots dating back over thirty years. Here, it just sounds like a perfect Gotus jam, and the same goes for Gotthard’s ‘Reason To Live’. The band have taken the Whitesnake-esque ballad, stoked up the bass and keys, and given Romero a solid backdrop to share a huge, melodic performance. The mid tempo is perfect for his voice, and even with a slight accent, he sells the piece as if it were a deep cut from Davy TrouserSnake’s archive, and when Mandy offers a perfect counter melody via some bluesy leads, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the Gotus commitment to old sounding AOR. On the basis of this, it’d be great to hear Ron putting his mark on similar sounding fare from Gotthard’s massive back catalogue, or perhaps their Krokus-esque ‘Movin’ On’, or even the much chunkier ‘Fist In Your Face’. In terms of scope for the band, their past works offer a world of possibilities.
With no obvious filler among the eleven songs, this is a very solid debut. But then, given the Gotus pedigree, that’s unsurprising. The material never tries to bring a new angle to a classic style, but fans would neither want or expect it to. It’s a recording that shows off musicians who clearly work well together, and certainly a great addition to the world of AOR and melodic rock. Fans of Romero will have a blast, and those who’ve followed Gotthard over the decades are also pretty much guaranteed to find a big love for this release, making it an all-round winner.