album reviews

Cloven Hoof – ‘The Definitive Part One and Two’

posted 9 Apr 2018, 11:32 by Paul Woodward

(Metal Nation)

Review by Woody

The Black Country’s Cloven Hoof are a cult NWOBHM band who built up a small but dependable fanbase in the Eighties. When Hoof’s principal songwriter Lee Payne resurrected the band in the mid-Noughties he decided to re-record cuts from the band’s four hey-day albums not only as an introduction to new fans but also to freshen up the songs with modern production. Most NWOBHM from back in the day’s productions was quite weak and many genre classics I find hard to listen to as they haven’t aged well, So Payne’s decision to re-record is not surprising. That album was only sold at gigs and was never officially released until now and even though it’s ten years old that better production Payne gave the songs still holds up. ‘The Definitive part one’ is that album and it’s very British and very old school NWOBHM obviously. It surprises me the band never attained more success as these songs highlight what a quality act they were, soaring vocals, fast paced guitars, pumping bass, dramatic lyrics and its overall pompous and overblown metal that would definitely tick all the prerequisite boxes of the average NWOBHM fan demands. Even if you own the original albums this album should still be picked up as it’s an exemplary example of the genre’s heyday!

‘The Definitive part two’ is a collection of material recorded by the band since Payne reformed the Hoof, none of it officially released, so essential for Hoof fans to get their hands on. It shows an evolution in Payne’s song writing, as there is a much more modern vibe to these newer songs but it is still very NWOBHM and easily identifiable as Payne compositions. It features various vocalists as the band have struggled to keep a singer onboard for various reasons, so there is a mix of vocal styles which makes for an intriguing listen. For me the highlight of this album are the four songs which they recorded with Lee Small. Now I’ve heard Small sing many styles but never NWOBHM and he does a fantastic job here and he stands out over the other vocalists to me. Now the songs on this album may not be as good as the older material but they are still enjoyable top quality old school metal.

If you’re a fan of NWOBHM you’d you be doing yourself a disservice not checking out the Hoof!

Album Rating: 8/10

Woody’s Essential Track: Age Of Steel

Wild Rose – ‘Half Past Midnight’

posted 9 Apr 2018, 11:23 by Paul Woodward

(Lions Pride)

Review By Woody

I loved ‘Half Past Midnight’ when it was originally released by Greek melodic rockers Wild Rose back in 2011, I still do, if you didn’t manage to buy it first time round now is your opportunity to buy an amazing traditional melodic rock album. What you waiting for? Go buy! Crank it up and enjoy!

This was the debut album from Wild Rose and is arguably their overall strongest to date, although the band have changed singers a few times their original frontman George Bitzios who features on ‘Half Past Midnight’ is back on lead vocals in the here and now. The album isn’t that old and it still has the impact it did and it still excites me now.

Wild Rose weren’t pushing the envelope with their song writing, they crafted a wonderful bunch of traditional melodic rock, which while on one hand may have been more suited to the eighties it still excited those of us craving old school melodic rock. The band still continue to do that to this day.

‘Half Past Midnight’ is chock full of melodic rock anthems and addictive sing along rockers. The hook filled melodic guitar riffs, infectious keyboard licks and powerful vocals make these songs stand out and are sure to make the average melodic rocker sit up, take notice and wipe the drool from their lip.

‘It’s All About Love’ is without doubt one of my favourite songs ever, it’s chorus is simply sublime and it’s not alone, so many songs have an instant impact and get stuck in your head like lead track ‘That Girl’. For every track I mention though a killer track gets missed out, this is an album which really befits the ‘All Killer No Filler’ tag, that gets dolled out far too frequently. ‘Fire in The Night’ was a staple of my listening habits back in 2011, but I played the album as whole frequently too, and it wasn’t unusual for me to have repeat listens of songs like ‘Hold Me’, ballad ‘Goodbye’ and the unforgettable sing along ‘Want You Back’.

‘Half Past Midnight’ is an essential purchase for fans of traditional melodic rock. Any genre fan who doesn’t own this is missing out on some killer anthems and sing along beauties! If you are craving something the emulates all the great things about eighties rock in a traditional sound than you need this album in your life!

Track Listing: 00:30 / That Girl / Hold Me / Too Late / Goodbye / Come Back / Fire In The Night / Want You Back / Another Shot / It’s All About Love / Edge Of Your Dreams

Album Rating: 9/10

Woody’s Essential Track: It’s All About Love

KB36 – ‘Fake’

posted 9 Apr 2018, 11:11 by Paul Woodward


Review By Woody

‘Fake’ by Russian’s KB36 is quite possibly one the quirkiest offbeat albums I’ve heard in a long time. Usually albums with an unusual tone to them will divide opinions but with KB36 there’s just something undeniably likeable about them that makes this album accessible and enjoyable to all. They are very hard to pigeonhole, not just because of their quirky song writing but because there is a real mix of rock styles in the song writing mixing bowl. Essentially buried at it’s hard rock core is a classic rock base, but on top of that we have some modern rock crunching guitar riffs, alt-rock guitar licks, very melodic sections and some punk attitude as well. It’s a really bizarre album which lyrically centres around the theme of ‘Fake’ and with me talking about the album been a real mash up of styles and delivered in a really offbeat manner this may put some people off. Which would be a shame if that happens because this unique album is really likeable even though some terms I’m using to describe it may be off putting especially to casual rock fans.

Also, unlike many experimental or unusual albums this album is instantly enjoyable it’s not one of those albums you have to live with or work on to ‘get’, you either like it or you don’t. There’s a really strong production so the songs come across really well sonically and given the off the wall style of KB36 this was essential to helping their songs come across with as much impact as they do.

The songs are full of energy, explosively so occasionally like on the chorus of ‘Mashrooms’. That energy helps draw you in, but it’s some of the alt rock guitar licks which really appeal to me with their catchy hooks. Tengiz the vocalist’s vocals are a bit quirky, but that’s down to the delivery on many of the songs as opposed to poor vocals, he has a really strong voice which is displayed frequently – it’s just that quirky delivery fits in with the flow and style of certain songs. It’s certainly an unforgettable bunch of hard rock songs albeit a bit oddball and goofy at times.

If you’re looking for a Hard Rock album with something a little bit different about it I’d highly recommend ‘Fake’ and I’m sure just like me you’ll find yourself finding the quirky KB36 uniquely enjoyable.

Track Listing: Fake / Who Cares / Slow Motion / Walk & Glow / Mushrooms / On The Floor / Rock The Boat / Seven Rules / Going Through Hell / Give Me More / Get Out Of Here

Album Rating: 7/10

Woody’s Essential Track: Who Cares

Michael Kratz – ‘Live Your Life’

posted 9 Apr 2018, 10:29 by Paul Woodward

(Art Of Melody)

Review By Woody

Denmark’s Michael Kratz has a wealth of music industry experience and this shows in his compositions and performances on ‘Live Your Life’, which are of an extremely high calibre. Kratz creates and performs in various musical styles and genre’s but here on ‘Live Your Life’ he delivers an old school West Coast album which showcases various aspects of this sub-genre, frequently emulating the sound of Toto the undisputed king of west coast AOR.

Full of atmospheric songs taking elements of pop and indeed prog into the mix creating a really enchanting and beautiful opus. There’s lots of variation in the songs, laid back ballads, meandering atmospheric numbers and straight ahead upbeat commercial fixes like ‘Game Of Love (Over and Over)’.

It’s the perfect album to pop on and relax too, it sweeps over you and is very easy to listen to and get wrapped up in. It may not be an energetic album or excessively commercial but it is unbelievably beautiful and is a perfect chill out album.

Kratz has an obvious love of West Coast and that comes across plainly in his song writing and fans of the genre will revel in Kratz’s loving addition to this quite inoffensive and often overlooked melodic rock sub-genre. If you like Toto, you should definitely check this album out as it’s highly likely ‘Live Your Life’ will appeal to your musical tastes.

Kratz’s vocals actually puts me in mind of Dan Reed and some of his latter solo works are not a million miles away from West Coast – so that ethereal atmospheric tone that Reed has I also hear in Kratz's vocals.

Kratz has worked with some well-known musicians on this album and given the amount of songs with obvious Toto inspirations it’s no surprise Steve Lukather pops up on ‘This Town Is Lost Without You’ so keep an ear out for his guitar skills on that track! Kratz is a multi-instrumentalist and he plays a good chunk of what you’ll hear and he does so to a really impressive standard.

You don’t hear new West Coast albums very often these days, so when you do you hope for something really good and Michael Kratz has definitely delivered a high-quality West Coast album. If you enjoy the genre you are going to fall head over heels in love with ‘Live Your Life’ which is full of exemplary musicianship and beautiful songs.

Track Listing: We All Live In This Nation / Live Your Life / This Town Is Lost Without You / What Did I? / Never Take Us Alive / Game Of Love (Over and Over) / Lying / Paradise Lost / Shade / Bye Bye / Dying Young / In Between

Album Rating: 8/10

Woody’s Essential Track: Game Of Love (Over and Over)

Ammouri – ‘Dare To Be Happy’

posted 9 Apr 2018, 09:57 by Paul Woodward

(Pride and Joy)

Review by Woody

It’s obvious from the onset of this album that Sweden’s Ammouri will be compared to Doro and the ‘Sweden’s Doro’ tag is not a vain marketing ploy to drum up interest and hype. There is a genuine similarity to their voices and more noticeably style of singing. Personally, I think Doro is a better singer and Ammouri is not as versatile as the German vocal legend. Regardless If you love Doro's voice you will without doubt love Ammouri's voice.

I do feel that her vocals will divide opinion, much like Doro's does and that gritty gruff vocal is on display throughout ‘Dare To be Happy’ and that will not be for everyone. I was a little unsure after my first playthrough as I was expecting something very Doro-like and that’s not quite where this album is at, vocally there is obvious similarities, but Ammouri is not trying to imitate Doro’s music. It is a solid album of hard rock and I do really like Ammouri’s performances but I’m not blown away by the songs. Perhaps it’s a little one dimensional and maybe would have benefited from a more diverse song selection. A more varied vocal display may have shown off Ammouri’s talents better too, again this is down to the song writing. Her voice is divisive as it is and I fear the lack of versatility displayed may alienate other people’s opinions even more so.

‘Dare To Be Happy’ is one of those albums that sits in the middle ground of like and dislike, I’d happily recommend it to fans of Doro and hard rock in general but I’d also state ‘don’t expect anything life changing – just enjoy some solid hard rock’.

One of the songs that stuck out to me was ‘Manipulation’ which is bar far the most commercial track on the entire album but it’s not really representative of the album overall. For that you need to check out the single ‘Monster of your Own Creation’ if you dig that track it’s highly likely you’ll enjoy the album, but if you don’t you probably won’t enjoy it in the slightest.

The chunky guitar riffs and pounding back beat match her voice which is an undeniably powerful rock vocal and snarl, the sort of thing Doro has based a lifetime of music on. I think going forward if Ammouri follow’s Doro’s footsteps and diversifies her sound over time she should become a very popular rock vocalist.

Track Listing: Fill Your Heart With Love / Monster of Your Own Creation / Starlight / Dare To Be Happy / Bad Illusion / Manipulation / Not Anymore / More Than Anything / He Knows Everything About Me

Album Rating: 6/10

Woody’s Essential Track: Manipulation

Issa – ‘Run With The Pack’

posted 2 Apr 2018, 13:04 by Paul Woodward

(Frontiers Records)

Review By Woody

‘Run With The Pack’ lacks the immediacy of Issa’s last album ‘Crossfire’ but don’t worry it only takes a couple of spins for it to get it’s hooks into you extremely deeply. Following up the immense ‘Crossfire’ was never going to be an easy task, but with ‘Run With The Pack’ Issa has come back full force and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s a lot harder edged than its predecessor and much more guitar heavy but thankfully Issa has stuck with a straight ahead melodic rock sound which I personally prefer, rather than returning to the more metallic tones of her early albums. That warmth and emotive power she has in her voice comes across in abundance throughout this album and some of the songs at times make me think of Robin Beck and purely on a vocal level Celine Dion, especially on the ballads.

This time around Issa embraces a mix of songwriters who have created a diverse selection of songs which is less linear than the Martin brothers penned ‘Crossfire’ but betwixt the producer and the musicians the songs flow naturally and it feels like a solid cohesive album. It’s heavier with more crunching guitars and soaring solo’s and a harder musical punch, whether that’s a good thing or bad is purely down to individual tastes, it’s just great to hear another fantastic performance form Issa singing songs which aren’t stuck in a rut or are over familiar.

Issa sounds fantastic and unleashes her wonderful range frequently and delivers some truly memorable emotive vocal melodies and her style that conveys emotional connection with ease always hits home with me.

It is perhaps a little ballad heavy but with a powerful voice like Issa’s it’s no surprise that there are so many as she can really belt out a killer power balled. They all have their own feel and varying tempo’s so it’s not overkill to my ears and the anthemic ‘Run With The Pack’ and infectious ‘Come Back Again’ remind you that Issa still knows how to Rock! The title track actually comes across like a female fronted Fate!

‘Run With The Pack’ is an amazing overall album with stunning vocals which will definitely stand tall as one of the best melodic rock releases of the year. Issa is definitely one of the unsung vocal heroes of this genre and here’s hoping more people sing her praises after hearing this album.

Track Listing: Am I Losing You / Run With The Pack / Sacrifice Me / How Long / The Sound Of Yesterday / Come Back Again / Talk To Your Heart / Bittersweet / Closer To You / Irreplaceable / Everything To Me

Album Rating: 9/10

Woody’s Essential Track: Come Back Again

Raintimes - 'S/T'

posted 9 Jan 2018, 08:38 by Paul Woodward

(Frontiers Records)

Review by Woody

WOW! Raintimes is simply an outstanding slice of pure AOR, it really doesn’t get much better than this, if you love AOR and don’t love this, you’re lying! I was struck immediately by this sumptuous and joyous collection of melodic rock and fell instantly in love with it. It’s a wonderfully uplifting, positive and inspiring bunch of perfectly crafted and delivered AOR. It’s a delight to listen to these beautiful musical soundscapes, it’s instantly enjoyable, extremely catchy and memorable! Trust me these songs will get stuck in your head and you’ll find yourself getting swept away by more delicious melodies than you thought humanly possible on one album!

Raintimes masterminds Pierpaolo Monti and Dave Barbieri managed to draft in genre legend Michael Shotton (Von Groove) on vocals and his performance is nothing short of legendary, I’d go as far to say this is probably my favourite ever album performance from Shotton and that’s coming from a massive Von Groove fan! The style of this album is not stereotypical of what we’ve heard from him before but his performance is jaw dropping, I was really blown away by just how perfect his voice is for this style of music.

I’m a big fan of the Monti/Barbieri song writing team, their love of this genre of music is always ever-present and they are always faithful to its core ingredients. With Raintimes I know they wanted to create an album which emulated the genre classics and well-loved albums by The Storm but I think it evolved beyond that and took on a life of its own during the recording of the album. Those Storm inspirations are there, enough so that if you like The Storm you’re going to like this too. The song writing is simply astonishing, easy to connect with lyrically while been deep and thoughtful but never neglecting commercial touches and hooks to make sure these songs imbed themselves in your consciousness.

The melodic guitar lick hooks, the infectious keyboard licks, the soaring harmonies and unforgettable choruses are dished out in abundance making this a sheer delight to listen to!

Easily one of if not the best pure AOR release of the year. If you’re a genre stalwart who yearns for music which captures the past but delivers something new then Raintimes will make you smile and then some! A truly beautiful album and a modern day pure AOR masterpiece.

Track Listing: Forever Gone / Make My Day / Don’t Ever Give Up / Swan / I Need Tonight / Raintimes / Just A Little Bit More / Empty Days / Together As Friends / Missing Piece / I See The Light

Album Rating: 10/10

Woody’s Essential Track: I Need Tonight

Airbound - 'S/T'

posted 9 Jan 2018, 08:29 by Paul Woodward

(Art Of Melody)

Review by Woody

Airbound is the first release on new Italian melodic rock / AOR label Art of Melody and this release draws us back into the current burgeoning Italian melodic rock scene. There seems to be a glut of Italian bands and musicians within the current MR scene putting out high quality genre releases and Airbound are no exception with their self-titled debut album which is an extremely pleasurable listening experience.

Airbound create pure AOR with slight modern nods keeping the songs fresh and up to date. Journey are a really obvious comparison but their sound is inspired more generally by many other golden era bands. Airbound are inspired by the past unashamedly but have interpreted their take on the classic sound with a more current slant so it doesn’t feel dated or retro.

In an age of progressive trends within the MR scene Airbound stay true to the core vitals of AOR and in the process, have produced a wonderful traditional flavoured album, it will definitely delight hardcore genre fans.

An album chock full of memorable songs with an overall uplifting and heart-warming tone and sweeping melodious landscapes with a polished lush production. The band know the genre inside out and create songs full of smooth vocals, delightful harmonies, melodic guitar licks and intricate hook filled keyboards which will have AOR lovers dancing the night away.

A solid album with no filler makes it a joy to listen to as a whole and every song is a radio friendly hit in the waiting. It’s such an easy album to enjoy and I got hooked really quickly leading to repeat plays of the album in its entirety.

I’m a big fan of Alessandro Broggi’s keyboard’s who creates some killer keyboard licks and is also very diverse in his performances and style throughout making for a very varied bunch of songs. If you like old school AOR songs like ‘She’s A Girl’, ‘You Live and Learn’ and ‘The Sun Tomorrow’ will quickly become stalwarts of your listening choices.

People talk about AOR like it’s on its last legs but after listening to Airbound, it makes me wonder, is it really? A stellar collection of sumptuous and beautiful songs that every AOR fan desperately needs amongst their collection! Airbound may be an unknown entity at the moment but with an album of this calibre surely not for long!

Track Listing: Have A Good Time / The Sun Tomorrow / Till The End / You Live and You Learn / Don’t Fade Away / Zhaneta / Runaway / Wasted World / She’s A Girl / Seven Seas

Album Rating: 9/10

Woody’s Essential Track: She’s A Girl

Dante Fox – ‘Six String Revolver’

posted 7 Jan 2018, 13:06 by Paul Woodward

(AOR Heaven)

Review by Woody

Dante Fox are notorious for having long gaps between albums so it was a shock when ‘Six String Revolver’ was announced hot on the heels of the amazing ‘Breathless’ opus, but as a long-time fan of The Fox I was obviously delighted. This album is a collection of re-recorded and re-worked songs from their first two albums and it contains five songs from 1996’s ‘Under Suspicion’ and five from 1999’s ‘The Fire Within’.

I tend to be very sceptical about re-recorded releases sometimes they feel unneeded and in many cases, turn out to be pointless. On occasion though they are beneficial and noticeably changed or improved like Newman’s re-recorded debut album, thankfully ‘Six String Revolver’ falls into the latter category alongside Newman.

These songs have been dusted off and polished up to give them a brighter more current production and style. The uninitiated would see this album as a natural successor to ‘Breathless’ as the Fox have updated these songs to blend even more seamlessly with the band’s current sound and delivery. The most instant and obvious change is the vastly superior production but it is also clear from the get go these songs have been worked on again from the bare bones with some songs featuring minor subtle changes and others featuring dramatically reworked guitar riffs or other instrumentation. The Keyboards for example are far more intricate than previously, less fluffy perhaps but with a few more hooks than previously recorded. My long-time love affair with the original version’s does make me sometimes yearn for the rawer version but there is no denying that these new versions are vastly superior in every way – sentimentality can be a bit of backwards drag!

Sue Willett’s vocals as always are warm, satisfying, comforting and powerfully emotive. Sue is without doubt one of the most emotive singers I know and she gives these songs an added emotional punch that many other singers could only ever dream of emulating.

If you own these songs already you still need to purchase ‘Six String Revolver’ as it’s amazing what Sue and Tim have done revisiting these songs. Keeping them familiar and sticking to each songs core essence but also improving on them and every alteration intend to give the song a greater impact. If you’re new to The Fox – then only a fool wouldn’t purchase this classic collection of cult British AOR – now with added panache!

Track Listing: Firing My Heart / Lonely / Under The City Lights / A Matter Of Time / Still Remember Love / Lost and Lonely Heart / Remember My Name / All That I Need / I Can’t Sleep / How Do We Learn About Love

Album Rating: 9/10

Woody’s Essential Track: How Do We Learn About Love

Tragik – ‘Tainted’

posted 7 Jan 2018, 12:51 by Paul Woodward

(Rock Company)

Review by Woody

This is the seventh album from Phil Vincent’s Tragik which also features the guitar slinging talents of Damien D’Ercole. I didn’t realise the band had released so many albums and it’s been a few years since it’s enjoyable predecessor ‘Come and Get It’. ‘Tainted’ continues Vincent’s trend of producing solid and enjoyable melodic rock albums and if you’re a fan of Vincent or any of his projects then this will be another welcome addition to your collection.

I don’t know how a song writer as busy and prolific as Vincent does it but he is very good at maintaining solid musical output, if you’re an established fan you won’t be disappointed, Vincent’s distinctive vocals and approach are ever present. I think a lot has to do with Vincent’s diverse song writing which really helps prevent his music becoming stale or repetitive. Vincent has never been afraid to mix it up within his song writing which helps keep it fresh whilst keeping his songs within the melodic rock genre. He can be quite experimental and while I’m sure this may not appeal to everyone’s taste it does stretch and diversify Vincent’s songs. One of the most notable things Vincent plays about with on this album is electronic sounds and samples which add a touch of trance (as bizarre as that sounds) and mild Industrial flavours to certain songs, he manages to contain these elements within a melodic rock flow and structure so it’s not as scary or left field as you may surmise before hearing it, he makes it work very effectively.

The songs on this album are very diverse and showcase various styles and flows, from prog to pop to punk and blues based hard rock. Vincent’s lyric’s touch on a diverse range of subjects that are always though provoking too.

‘Not Over You’ is a progressive tinged atmospheric rocker which has a killer chorus and exudes an early AOR tone. The title track is a punk twisted bouncy rocker with a fist pumping chorus, ‘Regrets’ has a pop style chorus counterbalancing its swaggering rock edge and ‘Face of Sorrow’ is dark, with a driven guitar riff and a sweeping chorus.

Overall ‘Tainted’ is a great melodic rock record with its own distinctive flavour that will appeal to those with traditional tastes as well as those bored of formulaic AOR by the numbers, cause that sure as hell isn’t what Vincent creates!

Track Listing: Welcome Back / Not Over You / Can’t Take It Back / Into The Great Unknown / Face Of Sorrow / Out Of Nowhere / ‘Til I See You Again / Nobody’s There / Regrets / Tainted / Heaven / Harsh Reality

Album Rating: 8/10

Woody’s Essential Track: Not Over You

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