When Hell In The Club released their debut album back in 2011, it was almost impossible not to be impressed by their retro sound. The Italian rock band truly went back to basics, borrowing riffs from early Skid Row and Motley Crue. By coupling those with anthemic choruses inspired by early Danger Danger, they obviously realised that a job well done would trump any originality at every turn. The result was an album with hooks so massive, it couldn’t fail to win over fans of glammy hard rock with a party attitude. The band worked the same formula for another three albums over the next six years, and although this never resulted in any huge sales, the routine appearance of their records was to the delight of their fan base. Despite changing musical fashions in the rock world, there was still clearly an audience ready to embrace the sounds of their youth…and with open arms.
For many melodic rock fans, guitarist Josh Ramos is a man who’ll need no introduction. In the 90s, he was a member of The Storm, a fine AOR band that featured ex-Journey men Gregg Rolie and Ross Valory. He later achieved success as driving force behind Frontiers Records signings Two Fires, an act much-loved by genre fans the world over. At other times, he’s been a member of Hardline, a melodic rock outfit who’ve battled on against changing fashions and changing line ups, but could often be relied upon for a decent end product. Yup, Josh has always kept himself busy, and while his approach to things might make him seem like a “man for hire” rather than a genuine star in his own right, he’s often made some smart career choices.
Vocalist John Payne will be familiar to most as having been the singer with Asia between 1991 and 2006. For a lot of people, he’s often that bloke who “isn’t John Wetton”. A somewhat unfair tag, maybe, but prog and AOR fans aren’t exactly known for being open to change, especially where a favourite vocalist is concerned. Despite Payne being treated by some as an “also ran” or some kind of stand in until Wetton returned (which he eventually did), it doesn’t change the fact that Asia’s 1992 album, ‘Aqua’ is their best work (‘Little Rich Boy’ and ‘Who Will Stop The Rain?’ are amazing songs) and in many ways, 2006’s ‘Arena’ remains one of the band’s most musically rich works, with a few tracks veering away from their pomp style and drawing influence from the smoother sounds of Toto. Unless you’re completely ignorant (like those people who have somehow written off over thirty years of a Fish-free Marillion after hearing three songs in 1989), John Payne’s contribution to Asia cannot and should not be undervalued.
The fashion for bands playing “complete album” live shows presents a double edged sword. On the negative side, this robs fans of the excitement and mystery of what the night’s setlist might bring. On the plus side, such a practice means that long neglected gems are given a live airing. In the case of Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘45th Anniversary: Live In London’ the latter definitely applies. Not only is their debut record is a stone cold classic, but it features several tunes that aren’t necessarily regular fixtures in their live sets, which lends this recording an instant vitality.
Neal Smith will always be best remembered for his time spent as the drummer in the original Alice Cooper group between 1968 and 1974. Once seen, the image of that band becomes indelible. Not just for a body-stocking wearing, snake-wielding frontman, either. At their 1973 peak, Smith’s presence was like witnessing a blonde octopus attacking a drum kit. He allegedly always made sure his kit was one drum bigger than Keith Moon’s. There’s no denying that this man was a rhythmic god.