Guitarist Tony Hernando will be familiar to some melodic rock fans through his associations with powerhouse vocalist Ronnie Romero, and their work together as members of Spanish metal band Lords of Black. Although that band’s huge riffs helped to put Hernando in the spotlight across Europe, its with his side project, Restless Spirits, the musician really shines. When working under that moniker, Hernando’s work takes a far more tuneful approach as he tackles a broad variety of melodic rock styles. In addition, the band’s role call of guest vocalists on their debut from 2019 – including Hardline men Deen Castronovo and Johnny Gioeli, and the brilliant Dino Jelusic – helped to bring Tony’s work to an even broader audience.
Artists with long careers will inevitably find themselves with their best days behind them. With the passing of time and fading inspiration to contend with, this is only natural. It’s not something that seems to have affected Jeff Scott Soto. In 2020, thirty six years after his breakthrough with Yngwie Malmsteen, he released ‘Wide Awake (In My Dreamland’), one of his finest works to date. He could often be relied upon for a decent record – whether tackling pure melodic rock (2002’s ‘Prism’), unleashing his funky side and inner Prince (1995’s ‘Love Parade’) or fronting something heavier (some great metal albums with Sons of Apollo) – but ‘…Dreamland’ was a cut above.
Given how great that record was, it was a travesty that a global pandemic stopped Jeff taking the songs on the road, but despite the world slowing down, he didn’t stop working. He refocused his attentions and decided to bring the past into the present by re-recording selected tracks from his vast back catalogue with a clutch of the present’s other melodic rock talents. Sometimes reworking the past is a bad idea, especially if the artist isn’t particularly open about allowing other creative souls any real input (Kate Bush, we’re looking at you), but fans need not worry about Jeff tarnishing his already great legacy here. His choice of material is good; his roll-call of friends adds a variety of voices that are complimentary to his own and, regarding a couple of the older songs on the table, there might even be an improvement.
After returning from a four year break, Hardline managed to hit upon a rich vein of melodic hard rock with their 2016 album ‘Human Nature’. Although the band’s sound had toughened up a little since their early days, in Johnny Gioeli – at this point the only original member – they still possessed a first rate vocalist – and the record demonstrated a very consistent approach to song writing. 2018’s follow-up ‘Life’ offered more of the same – even a little tougher in places – and was well received by the fans, and even though it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as its predecessor – or Gioeli’s side project with Deen Castronovo – there was plenty to suggest more musical mileage in Hardline yet.
2018 was a very busy year for Johnny Gioeli. He released two well received discs in both his solo album and a collaboration with Deen Castronovo, but also found time to work on a new Hardline record. At a time where the respected rock singer appeared to be in strong voice, he was perhaps wise to take advantage of this burst of creativity, but has releasing three albums in a little under a year spread those talents a little too thinly?
Take two two key members of the original Hardline, the guitarist from Italian melodic rock band Hungryheart and a bunch of strong chorus driven songs and you have a more than reasonable recipe for AOR success. Johnny Gioeli’s delivery can sometimes err on the side of being too bombastic, but in comparison to some of his peers, he still possesses a voice that holds up and when teamed with Hardline/Journey drummer Deen Castronovo, he sounds better than ever. It’s that sense of drive that gives this release most of its strength. After just one full listen, it’s obvious ‘Set The World On Fire’ has no real filler material; it’s dozen rockers so often play like a greatest hits of the best bits from the Frontiers Records catalogue from 2011-2016 and for that alone, so many AOR buffs will consider it an essential addition to their ever growing collections. It’s unlikely to be at all far reaching beyond those whom already consider themselves fans of the musicians involved, but in many ways, to expect more would be kind of beside the point. For what it does – at least in terms of songwriting and performance – this is a great record.