ISSA – Another World

Ever since her breakthrough on the melodic rock scene in 2010 with ‘Sign of Angels’, Scandinavian vocalist Issa Oversveen has been one of Frontiers’ Records most bankable – and prolific – artists. Delivering the equivalent of a new album pretty much every two years, she’s kept herself in the spotlight, gained a lot of positive press from online sources, and become something of a fan favourite. Even 2023’s ‘Lights of Japan’ – her weakest album to date, due to a rather hard production sound – was home to a few great AOR tracks, and over the years, her voice has clearly held up very well.

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PRAYING MANTIS – Defiance

With a run of enjoyable albums that began with 2015’s ‘Legacy’, Praying Mantis seemed to go from strength to strength over the following decade. Granted, a few of the tracks on that album and its successors (2018’s ‘Gravity’ and 2022’s ‘Katharsis’) were a little heavier sounding, but Chris and Tino Troy’s gifts for a strong melody continued to set the band apart from so many of the second tier acts associated with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and when dropping into numbers boasting more of an AOR/melodic rock hook, the band sounded as good as ever.

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VANDEN PLAS – The Empyrean Equation of Long Lost Things

When it comes to prog metal, there are few bands as consistent as Vanden Plas. Like many of their peers, the band are able to deliver the expected heaviness and complexity, but marking them out from others on the scene, these German musicians often display a strong sense of melody. That doesn’t necessarily make their work entirely accessible or commercial – prog metal is always a marginal subgenre on that front – but an on form VP feels so much more streamlined than most. Even when approaching massive concept works like ‘Chronicles of The Immortals’ or the excellent ‘Ghost Xperiment’, their decision to split these epic works into separate volumes made their bombastic traits far more digestible. The likes of the ego driven Dream Theater would’ve likely released each one as a double CD and added more material to create one of their preferred full three hour borefests each time.

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CRUZH – The Jungle Revolution

Few bands have managed to take such a giant leap in terms of quality between their first and second records as Swedish rockers Cruzh. Their 2016 album showed promise in terms of its (admittedly unfashionable) AOR-centric songs, but on that record, they sounded like an entire product of the studio. The guitars were smooth and the vocals subjected to so much post-production, they barely sounded human. In short, the material had no real bite. Their second record ‘Tropical Thunder’ – issued by Frontiers Records five years later – was a great improvement. The songs, still indebted to the Danger Danger debut and equally 80s-tastic material by Alien, came with a big heart, but more importantly, seemed to breathe far more naturally. Despite still being overproduced, the 2021 Cruzh had seemingly learnt the value of a more rock derived vocal, and some of the material shared great guitar work, suggesting that this band actually had the potential to become a decent melodic rock act. Granted, they’d still have to go a fair way to beat fellow Swedes Lionville and Streetlight in terms of sheer quality, but ‘Tropical Thunder’ was certainly a huge step in the right direction…

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TURBULENCE – Binary Dream

Turbulence’s second album – 2021’s ‘Frontal’ – was a challenging but impressive showcase for some pin-sharp musicianship. The Lebanese prog metal band managed to create a very cerebral sound that took the typical heaviness associated with the genre, and contrast that with some rather grand melodic passages. Experiencing the tuneful guitar parts cutting through parts of ‘Ignite’, or the AOR tinged vocal melodies at the heart of ‘Faceless Man’ helped to give the material a very welcome sense of balance. Although unlikely to appeal to anyone not already well versed in progressive metal, the album offered a window into a work that would just as likely cite Arena and Lalu alongside the more obvious influences from Dream Theater (yawn) and Symphony X (rarrrgh).

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