FIRST SIGNAL – FIRST SIGNAL (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Frontiers Records
 
Touted by the label as the successor to Harem Scarem, First Signal is essentially a collaboration between Harry Hess and Dennis Ward.  I never really cared for Harem Scarem, so I was curious to see if this new project could tickle my fancy.

Most of the tunes fall on the heavier side of the AOR fence. I’m not exactly taken by Hess’ voice, but that’s personal taste. The man is a good singer by anybody’s standards.

Overall the album has a decidedly 21st century vibe about it, not in the least because of some of the keyboard arrangements. The songwriting is classy enough not to have to rely on gimmicks though. There’s no misguided attempts at mainstream airplay either.

Michael Klein is an excellent guitarist who adds the necessary flourishes. With Dennis Ward on board, there’s no need to worry about production. Crisp and alive, an excellent job.

Another highly competent melodic rock release.

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

TERRA NOVA – COME ALIVE (ARCHIVE)

Out Now – Frontiers Records
 
Dutch band Terra Nova have released four albums so far, all of which have completely passed beneath my radar. Will this, their second album for Frontiers and fifth overall, put these guys on the map?

Refreshingly, this isn’t an AOR album in the strict sense. Remember the heady days of “pomp rock”? That’s what I’m hearing here. Think Magnum or old Styx, wrapped up in a mildly proggy metallic jacket.

There’s a certain homegrown quality to this album. Is it the slightly ramshackle production? The rather abrupt endings to certain songs? The energetic aura is undeniable though.  Check out “Holy Grail”, “Those Eyes” or “Who Can You Count On” to get an idea of what this band is about.

A nice change from the almost formulaic AOR releases I’ve been reviewing lately.

Rating – 83%
Review by Sancho

TOBY KNAPP – THE CAMPAIGN (ARCHIVE)

Out Now – Shredguy Records
 
Toby Knapp is another contender to make a name for himself in the guitar virtuoso stakes. Freshly signed to Shredguy Records Toby is joined by other relative unknowns in vocalist Attila Csihar, Jeff Gruslin, Tom Cline and Dean Sternberg to sing on various tracks on this 9 track mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks. Home to a neo-classical meets early thrash and straight metal sound the album has a very rudimentary production where the programmed drums cheapens the end product somewhat. As a result some of the impact is lost with the dullish backing tracks. That said Toby’s guitar work is strong.

The instrumentals fare best on the album with opener ‘The Campaign’ setting things off nicely whilst ‘Towards Power Unimagined’ is first rate in anyones book. ‘Telekninesis’ is home to the aforementioned early thrash feel with some of flair of the likes of Exoudus shown. That said ‘Plutonium Race’ I suspect is from a different recording period as the sound quality is worse than the other very average sounding tracks. Sadly the momentum of the instrumentals is lost with the vocal tracks. ‘Conspire’ just sounds dated largely thanks to the weak vocal melodies and strained vocals of Dean Sternberg, a shame as there is potential in the music. ‘We Are Legions’ with its cookie monster vocals of Jeff Gruslin does however awaken the Carcass and Morbid Angel fan in me and is a nice slice of brutal metal. This is contrasted by the overly quasi musically accomplished post grunge of ‘Wicked’ with its Stone Temple Pilots feel! Dodgy vocals again come into play on ‘Reanimation’ thanks to the delightfully named Atilla Csihar and make the track almost unlistenable whilst we are ‘treated’ to Dean Sternberg’s vocals again on closer ‘Lack Of Inspiration’.

Despite the obvious skill Knapp has on the guitar, it’s a shame this quality control isn’t followed up in other areas i.e. production, mix, choice of vocalist etc. So despite my best intentions to focus on the positives the limitations of the weak areas are just too overpowering in places to ignore and a result the album comes out with a very average score. Hopefully Knapp can address the issues mentioned here next time as he has the 6 string goods to deliver going by his guitar work and musical compositions here.

Rating – 60%

DANIELE GOTTARDO – FRENZY OF ECSTASY (ARCHIVE)

 

Out Now – Favoured Nations Digital

Long recognized in the underground guitar scene as one of the most heralded of the YouTube generation of uber shredders, Daniele first came to prominence as a voted finalist in the Guitar Idol competitions in both 2008 and 2009. In 2009 he was recognized as Steve Vai’s personal award winner, his prizes included a recording contract for Vai’s Favored Nations label.

Daniele has taken full advantage of this opportunity! Having already seriously honed his craft touring incessantly with some of Italy’s most well known pop acts, Daniele gets right down to business on this scintillating debut release. Daniele ripples off serious run after serious run whether picked staccato, shimmering legato or finely articulated eight finger tapping, Daniele has mastered all of these techniques. Ultimately though, what sets Daniele apart, is the quality of the melody evident in his song writing which enhances the tone and conviction of his performance. Personal favourites include “Cardiology” (2009 Guitar Idol finalist submission) “Marakkesh Market” and the rockier “Apocalypse Ape” (Daniele informs me that Ape means bee in Italian).

Daniele has set the standard very high indeed with impeccable technique, demonstrated with flair and disarming facility. Don’t believe me check out some of his YouTube videos. Serious fans of instrumental guitar should get this CD!

Rating – 90%
Review by Mike Blackburn

DAY SIX – THE GRAND DESIGN (ARCHIVE)

Out Now on Lion Music

Lion Music continues their recent trend of picking up original sounding new progressive talent in fine style with Day Six. Hailing from the Netherlands, the four piece play a dark brand of prog meets metal and classic rock which is equally at home with its crushing riffs or Pink Floyd-esque moments of tranquil calm.

Lyrically ‘The Grand Design’ is a concept album which focuses on an extraterrestrial spaceship that has been found in Lake Vostok – Antarctica and subsequent government conspiracies. Each track is home to a wealth of musical goodies and Robbie van Stiphout’s melodic vocals allow the band to avoid the usual prog metal vocal clichés and his guitar work shows a man with a dossier at his disposal of crushing riffs.

The sound of the album reminded me a little of a heavier Everon but there are traces here of heavier metal acts such as Dream Theater (in their basic riff form), Porcupine Tree and some of the heaviest riffing wouldn’t be out of place on a Metallica album. The band see fit to create musical landscapes out of synths and riffs as opposed to blazing lead work instrumental sections, and this makes a welcome change. Simply said there is an awful lot to enjoy here.

As debuts go this is very strong indeed. Home to a very powerful production and great performances all round this is a fine debut and worthwhile for all prog fans past to present to check out.

Rating – 90%

MARTY FRIEDMAN – TOKYO JUKEBOX (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Mascot Records

 When one of the worlds’ best metal lead guitarists decides to release an album in the J-Pop style (that’s Japanese Pop for those not in the know) then you are right to feel a little trepidation.  However, if you look into what makes up J-Pop then you will discover it’s nothing like the pop we know in Europe or the USA.  Manufactured “pop idol” and gangsta rap don’t come into the equation in Japan, but rock does and it appears rock transcends all genre boundaries and fully embraces itself into pop culture – hoorah.   

So former Megadeth fret blisterer Marty Friedman (who is seen as a demi-god in the land of the rising sun) has not only moved to Japan to fully embrace its culture but decided to get himself a piece of J-pop action as it where (arguably the next logical step after moving there) and the results are on his new album “Tokyo Jukebox”, which is instrumental versions of popular Japanese tracks and in all honesty its not half as bad I feared it might be.   The songs were chosen in part by the readers of “Nikkei Entertainment!”, Japan`s all time number one entertainment magazine, which features a popular page on Marty each month for over three years and still going strong.

Essentially this is big guitar melodies over rocking back beats (mostly supplied by  Steve Vai drummer Jeremy Colson), its modern in its approach yet also classic in its melodies and for guitar fiends this is all rather enjoyable, although it does feel a little “novelty” in places thanks to a lot of the programmed backings where it does sound a little karaoke, or should that be guitaroke?  Friedman however sounds more inspired that he did on his last solo album “Loudspeaker”, however whether this will manifest itself into big time spent on my jukebox remains to be seen as although its all good fun when its on I don’t find myself wanting to put it on again, yet when it is on I don’t find myself skipping.

Time will tell but for now this is competent enough and Friedman delivers strong lead work over a different format to what many fans may be used to.  Give it a chance.

Rating – 75%



STEVE MORSE – OUT STANDING IN THEIR FIELD (ARCHIVE)

Out Now / Eagle Rock
 
Steve Morse should need no introduction to readers here at Virtuosity One.  If you do suffice to say the guy came to prominence with Dixie Dreggs, won all major guitar magazine accolades in the 80’s, is the main influence for John Petrucci, joined Deep Purple as Blackmore’s replacement in 1996 and since increased his profile considerably.  Out Standing In Their Field is Morse’s first new solo album in 5 years and rocks harder than previous efforts.

On this entirely instrumental album, Morse joins forces with long time SM band bassist Dave LaRue and drummer Van Romaine to pound out un-tethered creativity.  This is enjoyable stuff from start to finish and is in my opinion the best Morse solo album to date from the grooving Purple-ish riffs of opening brace of Name Dropping and Brink Of The Edge to the more mellow timbres of Here and Now and Then right up to the superb Flight Of The Osprey and the closing classical piece of Baroque N Dreams  this is a fine collection of Morse’s wide ranging pallet. All exceptionally well played and more to the point than offerings on previous albums Morse has delivered a compact album that is about write in length with a good flow throughout.

Opinions are divided on whether Morse is right for Deep Purple, but there is no debate as to whether Morse is a true guitar legend.

Rating – 85%

ANGELS OF BABYLON – KINGDOM OF EVIL (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Metal Heaven

Angels Of Babylon are a new band consisting of drummer Rhino (ex Manowar), bassist Dave Ellefson (ex Megadeth), vocalist David Fefolt (who sang on the Masi album Downtown Dreamers back in the late 80’s) and guitarist Ethan Brosh (who released an instrumental offering last year). A promising line-up in terms of personnel who have come up with 10 tracks on their debut “Kingdom Of Evil”.

Unfortunately the album never really gets out of mediocre in the song department with a collection of classic metal inspired tracks that don’t really say anything to me. The performances are generally good throughout, although Fefolt’s vocals are gruffer than I remember and do grate a little after a while. Brosh delivers some good lead work but never does it show anything other than competence with little personality. Rhino and Ellefson do little more than keep things solid and there is an overall lack of flair in the material here making this heavy going for the most part with only the middle trio of heavy metal ballad of “Tear Out My Heart”, the driving “Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen” and the grooving “Tarot” pulling themselves out of the department marked mediocre.

Whether there is enough quality here to sustain a career is in serious question, on paper everything looks good but this debut is filled with too many plodders, one dimensional performances and an overall lack of excitement – not helped by a dark production which does little to add excitement to the proceedings. Be sure to check out some clips on the bands myspace before shelling out your pennies.

Rating -50%

ANTHRIEL INTERVIEW

Interview conducted 16th November 2010
Interview with Timo Niemistö, Simo Silvan and Antti Hakulinen

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. When did the band form and have you been through many changes to arrive at the present day incarnation?
Timo: We have played together with Jari (drummer) and Antti (keyboards) since we were kids. Along many projects and cover bands, we have made music of our own from the start. We have gone through many line up changes through the years, we just couldn’t find the right guy for the bass and vocals. Gladly we found Klasu for bass in 2006 from open stage jam session at a local music bar. He was jamming some Jaco Pastorius staff with a band and I knew immediately he was the guy we were looking for. Couple of years ago Antti and Simo (vocals) shared the same day job and Antti played some old demos to Simo who liked our music and joined the band at late 2008.

What was the common goal with the band members for the band and have these always been the same?
Timo: We have always wanted to keep the ball in our own hands as much as possible, which is why we recorded our debut ourselves in our rehearsal garage/studio. We don’t use external lyricist, songwriters, producer etc. What comes to the Anthriel I have always been a workaholic and I personally like to dive into the discomfort zone to do things or solve problems, I believe it bears fruit at some point. There is plenty of time to rest in a coffin ;)

Your debut album “The Pathway” has recently seen release on Lion Music. When did work commence on the album?
Timo: After drum recording session at late 2007, we noticed we could manage the rest of the recordings and mixing with our equipment so we did some cover gigs to cover the expenses of a new computer, recording software, pre-amps and such stuff. The studying to use of the new equipment was more time-consuming than the recording itself so our progression was slow and frustrating. The vocalist change in 2008 did hasten up things a bit as most of the lyrics had to be re-written. We got vocal tracks done in spring 2009 and after a mixing and mastering “The Pathway” waited for release for some time, about the year.

How did you hook up with Lion?
Timo: We had a lot of interested offers along the way. We wanted to have label that was specialized on our type of music, had the experience and had strong distribution. We knew about Lion for long time and we also know personally some artists signed to them so we heard positive feedback. We knew the fact that Lion Music had announced to not sign any new bands at the time but they contacted us and made an offer we couldn’t refuse.

The album got a very positive review here at V1, for a debut this a very clear picture of what the band is all about. What was the hardest and easiest aspect of making the album?
Timo: Yeah, thanks for good review. The easiest part was the actual playing, of course we had to practice a lot individually and as a band. The hardest part for me was the learning to use a new equipment, recording software and recording techniques during the recording. Crashing computers didn’t help at all. I curse all computers, they have to be one of Satan’s creations. However, the making of record from scratch can be really frustrating but very rewarding at the end.

I believe the album is concept based. Can you give us an overview of the story line?
Timo: The Pathway is the story of a man who finds himself grown against his former principles and philosophy of life. He decides to leave his past behind and begin a journey to find his own personal promised land and balance. As the path gets rough good and evil starts to battle in his mind where the reality and fantasy gets mixed. He puts the blame to the Gods for playing with his life and turns his adversities to the divine entertainment with consequences that ultimately lead to the discovery of perfect harmony from within his own soul.

The concept is based on a series of events in our lives, individually and as a band. Told as a timeless adult fairytale. You could say it is a kind of biography of the rough road the band has gone through. Naturally “The Pathway” was the perfect title for the album. There is a pretty clear highlights in music and lyrics, for example some years ago I found myself stuck in to lousy day job that totally killed the energy and inspiration 24/7. Still every morning I just automatically dragged myself there to pay the rent and food, knowing that me and my musical ambition were wondering their separate ways. That is simply the story behind “Devil’s Lullaby”. After a five frustrated years I was experiencing the most beautiful sunrise and ”awakened” by that I gathered my courage and quit my job to try my wings as a musician. That is the story behind “Light Divine”. We don’t want to chew it up too much on behalf of a listener or tell what kind of emotion an audience should get out of each song. I prefer to let the audience be an artist who paints the fantasy world around our music and dives into it.

What did you decide to make a concept album?
Timo: I don’t want to accentuate too much “The Pathway” as a concept album, because we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. But I have always been a fan of concept albums as they force the listener to see a series of songs as a whole. Concept also gives the listener the joy of discovery from the relations between of a songs, melodies and lyrics.

What has worked in the bands favour is that these tracks also stand on their own, i.e. they don’t need to be heard as part of the album to be understood. How vital was this aspect of songcraft for the band?
Timo: First of all I try to make strong solid songs. Secondary I think the album should include as many versatile songs as possible because I feel it very exhausting to listen to, for example,  power metal songs for sixty minutes. Like I said, we have made music together for pretty long time now so we got material from which we can choose, of course we want to use also new material as possible to capture the freshest sound of the band. After all every song has its own feeling so we don’t want to combine lyrics and music by force to fit it in a concept. For example we have recorded a couple of most beautiful love ballads but we think our traveler from “The Pathway” concept isn’t right there yet on our second album;) Mp3 shopping has gone and gets more common nowadays but there is always a risk that someone preconceives an opinion on a sound from a randomly picked mp3 example of some web shop. For example the instrumental song “Glance of Dawn” is a short classical orchestra piece so we can only hope that if someone downloads it randomly, he likes short classical pieces ;)

Timo, your guitar work is stunning. Who were your influences growing up and today in 2010? What gear did you use on the album?
Timo: Thanks, I must say that I am not so interested of shredding. I try to develop myself as a composer and a guitar for me is just a tool among the other instruments to express my emotions into the music. I have had my moments and it is overwhelming if someone feels my playing interesting. My very first instrument as a child was the keyboards, inspired by Uriah Heep and Deep Purple along my father’s music hobby.  I also played drums in a couple of bands, later on I earned my living as a cover band bassist. So I am not in any way directed solely guitar as a musician, I have had an opportunity to study other instruments among the guitar and that has helped me a lot as a composer to built rhythmic patterns, odd time signatures and such.

Back to your other questions, as a guitarist I have been most influenced by Tony MacAlpine, David Gilmour, Eric Johnson and Michael Romeo to name a few.
The recording gear that was used on “The Pathway” was: guitars-Customized Ibanez Prestige 1527, Ibanez J-Custom, ESP M-II Custom,Customized LTD Viper, Landola Classical guitar, Takamine acoustics and Fender Lab steel. Amp system was: Mesa Boogie Triaxis->DBX 166 compressor/gate->DBX 231 EQ->Mesa Boogie 2.90 power amp-> Marshall cabinet.

How did you go about mic’ing your amps? Any specific mic locations you found worked well?
Timo: I used Shure SM57 and Sennheiser MD421U together close at a same speaker in 45 degree angles. On acoustics I used Rode NT1A mixed with piezo-microphone signal.

Is there anything you’d do different on the second album guitar wise?
Timo: Of course, making an album and especially listening to it afterwards is very educational.  I learned a lot and I can’t wait to begin the recordings of our next album.

Simo, your vocals are up there with the metal elite. Who are your influences and what were you looking to express on the album?
Simo: Well thank you for giving me such overwhelmingly kind words about my singing! If I were to name some singers who have influenced me the most I’d say first and foremost Mr. James Labrie of Dream Theater. He is just so incredibly talented singer with a huge package of nuances that when I first heard James sing I was totally blown away by his voice. Then to name a few singers more there’s always these guys whose voices have influenced me as a singer: Geoff Tate, Ronnie James Dio, Marco Hietala, David Coverdale and Roy Khan. Well as you’ve heard by now, our music on The Pathway album is very versatile. That also means that there were a huge amount our various feeling that I was to bring out with my singing. So I hope that these various feelings and moods can be sensed from my singing during the whole album.

How do go about bringing a lyric to life?
Simo: Bringing a lyric to life in the sense how I do it is simple. First I must make up my mind about the topic of the song. Then the words just come to my head as I listen to the instrumental tracks I supposed to sing on. Of course much of our lyrics bind together so we often share ideas, Timo and I, where we wish to go with the story and how it relates to the things that have already happened and so on..

Do the band have any particular favourite moments on the album, or perhaps a song that you feel is definitive Anthriel?
Antti: Haven of grace is good example of definitive Anthriel and it’s my personal favorite.
It has softer and heavier parts while maintaining melodic and partly epic feeling in the piece throughout the song. Almost every part has a piano in the song so that I love very much; also I think the name of the song is brilliant.

When will work commence on album #2 and do you have any ideas in mind for the direction?
Timo: We have demoed plenty of songs for the next album and I believe we start record new material in the beginning of a next year. Again, there is going to be a lot of different kind of songs; fast, slow, short and long. And again our traveler from “The Pathway” acts a main role.

Any plans to play live outside of your native Finland in support of the album?
Timo: Finland only for now. Bringing Anthriel to the live stage wasn’t easy, we rehearsed a lot because we wanted to minimize any need of backing tracks. Of course it wasn’t our plan to play everything exactly as in record so we added some extra live parts. When it comes to touring, we’ll go anywhere we’re booked and wanted. We’re working for possibilities regarding different festival appearances in 2011.

Any final messages for our readers?
Thanks for your interest and time.  Prog on and stay tuned for Anthriel!!!

Official Websites
www.anthriel.com
www.myspace.com/anthrielmusic

DIO – AT DONINGTON UK LIVE 1983 & 1987 (REVIEW)

Out now on Niji Records

More than 20 years after the fact, someone has finally seen fit to release these two performances of Dio at the Monsters Of Rock festivals of 1983 and 1987 respectively. Why this material was never released before is a mystery. The 1987 show especially would have made a far better first Dio live album than the horrid “Inferno : Last In Live”.

For your money, you will receive a nicely packaged double CD. There’s a rather spartan booklet and two backstage pass replicas.

CD 1 features the 1983 gig. Holy Diver had just been released and Dio was out to make a name for himself as a solo artist. The set list consists of tracks from “Holy Diver” coupled with some Sabbath and Rainbow tracks. The band is the classic Dio lineup and delivers a rock solid performance. Ronnie himself  sounds driven. Aggressive, hungry and raw. Vivian Campbell by contrast disappoints. Was it stage fright?  A lot of what he plays is just gibberish. The mix is much in the “Holy Diver” style : unpolished and dry.

CD2 contains the 1987 MOR gig. Craig Goldy in the band, “Dream Evil” on the shelves.  Again a mix of Dio, Sabbath and Rainbow tunes. Ronnie sounds more at ease this time around, probably enjoying the status the band had established by then.  The much maligned Goldy delivers a cracking performance that puts Campbell’s fumbling misadventures to shame. Production is more polished. This really should have been released as a Dio live album back then.

What’s obvious on this release is that we get the unfiltered live performance, warts and all. There’s the odd bum note and off key backing vocal. It just goes to show what a tight live band Dio was at this point (and frankly always remained), and what an amazing singer Ronnie was.

Song selection on the other hand was never Dio’s strong point. He relied on the same couple of Rainbow and Sabbath tracks to fill out the set up until the time of his death. Often mixed up in some sort of contrived medley. Why? Plenty of killer Dio album tracks never got a live airing…

Minor niggles aside, this album comes highly recommended for all fans of Dio and quality metal in general.

Rating – 90%
Review by the always talking to strangers Sancho.