After releasing two solid melodic rock albums, First Signal delivered a genuine masterpiece with their third disc ‘Line of Fire’. On that recording, the union between vocalist Harry Hess and versatile guitarist-for-hire Michael Palace was truly inspired, and the resultant set of songs rivalled the early Harem Scarem output. In many ways, setting such a high benchmark meant that any follow up would likely feel a little inferior, but there’s still plenty about First Signal’s 2022 release ‘Closer To The Edge’ that comes to the gold standard of melodic rock, at least in terms of both composition and musicianship.
Swedish rock band The Murder of My Sweet have never thought small. Over the years, their sound has straddled symphonic rock, pomp, metal and AOR in a way that has often seemed very self indulgent. When the focus is on hooks and songs, this shows off a musical collective that has great promise. When they become obsessed with pure theatrics (as per their ‘Beth Out of Hell’ concept album from 2015), they can be really hard to take. This, of course, can lead to a frustrating and inconsistent listening experience, especially if strong melodies get swamped by too much unnecessary bombast.
Between the release of First Signal’s 2016 album ‘One Step Over The Line’ and 2019’s ‘Line of Fire’, the band’s core members kept themselves very busy. Vocalist Harry Hess recorded another album with his “day job” band, Harem Scarem (2017’s ‘United’); guitarist Michael Palace released his second band album with Palace – the appropriately named ‘Binary’ – and Daniel Flores returned to The Murder of My Sweet, releasing ‘Echoes of the Aftermath’ on Frontiers Records in 2017. In addition during those intervening three years, Flores and Palace scored themselves jobs as invaluable members of the Frontiers “house band”, lending their talents to releases by Toby Hitchcock, Find Me and Code Red. There’s almost been no time for them to sleep.
Combining the talents of Blanc Faces vocalist Robbie LaBlanc and Chilean multi-instrumentalist Daniel Flores, Find Me are a band that recycle classic 80s rock sounds with love. The musicians were brought together by Frontiers Records’ President Serifino Perugino in 2013 to try and fulfil his dream of creating “the perfect AOR record”. Their debut album ‘Wings of Love’ was an excellent example of the genre, though measured against many of the 80s classics, to call it “perfect” would, perhaps, be a little overzealous. The odd thing is that Perugino had something close to his dream under his nose the whole time with Work of Art’s 2008 debut ‘Artwork’, but nevertheless, he wanted more. The fans loved it, of course; the reviews were almost all positive and Find Me eventually recorded a second album at the end of 2015.
As the next couple of years ticked by, with Flores reconvening The Murder of My Sweet in 2017 and working with Palace in 2018 and no word from LeBlanc, a third Find Me record seemed increasingly unlikely. …And then, at the beginning of 2019, the band announced their big return…much to the delight of most who’d followed them previously.
Toby Hitchcock first came to prominence in the early 2000s as frontman with Pride of Lions, a melodic rock band masterminded by Survivor legend Jim Peterik. With a combination of big performances and old style AOR hooks, the band found an instant fan base within the AOR community, despite treading a very familiar musical path. Outside of that band, Hitchcock has also achieved cult success with an on/off solo career and, if anything, his 2011 solo debut ‘Mercury’s Down’ featured performances that were even more bombastic.
His second solo album – 2019’s ‘Reckoning’ – offers fans exactly what they want, in that its eleven tracks couple some huge melodic rock sounds with an even bigger vocal. For those who love Toby, the album is probably everything they could ever wish for…and more. For the many who find his approach too big, it might be another album that fails to convince at first, but it’s worth persevering with since most of the material knocks spots off 2011’s ‘Mercury’s Down’.