A new deal with signed with Frontiers Records in the summer of 2019 quickly brought a bounty of archive treats for Blue Öyster Cult’s legion of followers. In January 2020, a welcome reissue of the very hard to find ‘Cult Classic’ disc of re-recordings made its way into the world, along with ‘Hard Rock Live – Cleveland 2016’, a double live gonzo that was well received by fans and press alike. Barely six weeks later, the equally elusive ‘Heaven Forbid’ album (originally released on the CMC label back in 1998) was given a timely reissue and the vaults were raided for yet another live set, this time focusing on their career defining ‘Agents of Fortune’ album.
‘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.
The third album from Michael Thompson Band, 2019’s ‘Love & Beyond’ was a bit of a disappointment. The material showed that Thompson was still a fine guitarist and in AOR terms it featured a few strong songs, but it just didn’t flow too well. An over-reliance on short instrumental links proved distracting and each one of those sounded like a half finished musical idea thrown onto the record in order to bulk it out. It wasn’t a patch on 1989’s ‘How Long’, but then, it was never going to be as good as that. In AOR terms, that record is a very hard act to follow.
Jorn Lande is no stranger to cover versions. In 2006, he released an album’s worth of covers in tribute to the legendary Ronnie James Dio. Ten years on, he released ‘Heavy Rock Radio’, a tribute to some of his other favourites and influences. Unfortunately, ‘Heavy Rock Radio‘ wasn’t very good at all. A couple of tunes might’ve just about passed muster in terms of hard rock reworkings and – predictably – the obligatory Dio-related song fared quite well, but overall, it was a bit of a turkey. Making things heavier doesn’t necessarily make things better (unless you ask a particularly unadventurous metalhead) and in a rocked up cover of ‘Hotel California’, Lande truly hit rock bottom by giving the world a reggae metal hybrid that no-one with ears deserved to hear.
Jorn obviously had fun making that record – terrible as most of it might have been – and he enters his fifth decade as a recording artist with a second volume of reworked favourites. ‘Heavy Rock Radio II: Executing The Classics’ is an improvement on its predecessor, but then, in many respecrs, it would have struggled to have been worse. It’s actually about fifty percent better, but still makes for an incredibly patchy record.
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.