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March 2007

Dreamland: Eye For An Eye

Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Hailing from Sweden, Dreamland offers their new work, 'Eye For An Eye.' This is quintessential heavy/power metal of the European/Scandinavian flavor. It is typical of this proven genre: melodic and symphonic at the same time, strong and clear vocals, searing guitar solos, and harmonious, catchy choruses. Of particular interest is Jake E's strong and steady vocals. They remind me of Joakim Olsson of Supreme Majesty, another Swedish metal band. But Jake E's vocals have greater clarity and annunciation when it comes to English lyrics.

In the end, there is nothing new going on here. Actually, Dreamland is a flashback (and a good one) to the great melodic hard rock and metal acts of bygone days. In this case, they have a sense of history and so create, in their own unique style, a metal album worthy of their forbears. 'Eye For An Eye' breaks no new ground and will probably be easily forgotten amongst the works in this genre to come this year. Nevertheless, if this is what you like (and I do), this is solid material and worth your consideration.

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Machinae Supremacy: Redemeer

Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

I move in this review from Machine Men to Machinae Supremacy, a interesting power metal act from Sweden. Admittedly, I had my doubts when I listened to samples on their MySpace site. As always, every band attempts to put their best songs forward to gain the most attention. Machinae Supremacy is no exception. It was on the strength of 'Through The Looking Glass' that I decided to give MS a go.

Unfortunately, upon first listening, my suspicions returned. I was not impressed by 'Elite,' as an example, because of its heavy and quirky keyboard work. I thought I was listening to some form of disco/prog/power metal. Then, after one spin, I found myself unimpressed by Robert Stjarnstrom's vocals: to call them predictable and monotonous is high praise. Rather then giving me a metal sensation, I found myself believing he was mix between punk and emo. And the quirky keyboard work crept up again on 'Oki Kuma's Adventure.' In the end, all I could do is ask myself two questions: what is this? and where is it all going?

If Machine Men claimed to bring a modern sense to metal and failed (which I think they did), then Machinae Supremacy has succeeded on the strength of the keyboard arrangements and Mr. Stjarnstrom's vocals. There are some very appealing metal elements to 'Redeemer.' The first is the keyboard arrangement, when not quirky and verging on dance beats, they are sweeping and grand adding much to the flavor of the MS sound. The second metal element is the many exciting and soaring guitar solos, enough to make this guitar solo freak happy.

Conclusion: as difficult as it was to make sense of this work by Machinae Supremacy, I like it. There is something compelling about it that draws me in and creates a desire to listen again and again. And I probably will.

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Machine Men: Circus Of Fools

Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

The first thing you notice about the new Machine Men release, 'Circus of Fools,' is the sterling production value. This release far exceeds previous materials in brilliance and clarity. My second impression is the quality of Antony's vocals; they are both strong and versatile. He reminds me of a blend between Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Tobias Sammet (Edguy).

Essentially, 'Circus' is a heavy metal album wrapped up in traditional power metal. On their website, MM describes their metal as having roots in tradition with a modern touch. I'm not sure what they mean by 'modern.' But there are definitely enough quirks to suggest an experimental or progressive slant to their traditional sound. The song 'The Shadow Gallery' is a perfect example of this; it is one of the best songs on the album.

But generally speaking, they have the common euro-power metal elements: a powerful and pounding rhythm section, substantial guitar solos, and harmonic melodies throughout the songs and choruses. Nevertheless, before you cast this album off as the same old, same old, you need to listen to it in full. Where I thought the monotony of euro-metal was surfacing, I was challenged by 'Circus of Fools,' the aforementioned 'The Shadow Gallery, and 'Where I Stand.' There is more than meets the eye here.

You may have to suffer through the ordinary like 'Border of the Real World' and 'Dying Without A Name.' Both are uninspired and mundane metal songs, (although 'Dying' has a killer guitar solo). After listening to these songs, I wondered where the 'modern' disappeared to. Yet you will be rewarded later with what follows: MM redeems themselves on the final cut, 'The Cardinal Point,' a song that recalls the progressive and experimental metal qualities I mentioned above.

My cardinal point: this is a good album from Machine Men. It is necessary for fans and a good introduction for novices. Listen before you buy.

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Norther: No Way Out

Extreme Metal (Finland)
Rating: 4.0/5.0

As loyal readers know, I'm not a big fan of metal with 'dirty' vocals, nor black metal or death metal for that matter. However, I do make exceptions (see the About link) for some 'extreme' metal (so-called) from the likes of Norther and their kin, Children of Bodom. Why? Because it's fast, heavy and powerful and many times very melodic with killer guitar work. Frankly, I'm old school: I want the vocals to be in clarity with the rest of the music. It took me a long time to get over the harshness of 'dirty' vocals. I still don't like them, but I put up with them.

Norther's new EP release, No Way Out, is a perfect example of my conundrum. The album begins with great song, 'Frozen Angel.' It's powerful and melodic with a catchy chorus. It reminds me, conversely, of Nightwish's 'If I Had Angel.' On that piece, the centerpiece is the clean vocals accompanied by very gruff, but not dirty, vocals. On 'Frozen Angel' you have the reverse and it makes for a compelling and interesting song.

The next song, 'C.U.S.,' returns us to the commanding thrash of extreme/death metal. The vocals are purely dirt. It takes until the last song, 'Close Your Eyes,' before you have a reprieve. The vocals are not so dirty. Actually, they border on clarity. Something I hope is a promise for the future. Dirty vocals aren't necessary anymore; they've become convenient and even trite for these purveyors of extreme metal to the point of being somewhere between redundant and ridiculous. However, the songs on 'No Way Out' are very good. I guess I'll just have to live with what I dislike and enjoy the music anyway.

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Neal Morse: Sola Scriptura

Progressive Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Neal Morse (Spock's Beard and Transatlantic) continues his adventures into his Christian faith with an epic album about the great German reformer of the Christian church, Martin Luther. Without doubt this is Mr. Morse's best solo work to date. Musicians (or others of great talent or celebrity, for that matter) who come to faith in Christ often have to deal with great expectations. They are expected to immediately 'share their faith' by entering the public's eye with their talent. So often this leads to mediocre products enveloped in a vaporous lather of Jesus. Their talent (given by God in the first place) suffers horribly and Christ is again trivialized into nothing but a moral man, crutch, or worse, a temporary fad. This is not the case with Neal Morse.

Neal Morse is obviously a thoughtful and well-discipled convert to the Christian faith. This is evident on 'Testimony' and 'One,' and '?' all superior works of faith and composition. 'Sola Scriptura is no different. From the first movement to the last, 'Sola' excels in faith and musicianship. Production and arrangement value are at a premium on this release. Add to this the phenomenal guitar work of Paul Gilbert and you have a winning combination.

Everything you would expect from Mr. Morse is here: thoughtful and provocative lyrics, sterling arrangements, exceptional musicianship, and, above all, a commitment to personal musical integrity and spiritual faith. This is a great work for the Church and for progressive metal. Hard and heavy at times (consider the beginning and course of 'The Conflict') and sophisticated and intricate throughout (notably 'The Door'), this a superior work of prog metal. All fans of progressive metal should take note and purchase this album whether Christian or not.

Postscript: I make no apologies for this glowing review. I am a Christian, too. Thanks Neal for your life and work. Sola Deo Gloria.

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Gaia Epicus: Victory

Power/Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Gaia Epicus is a Norwegian band with a complicated and convoluted past. Between style changes (punk to thrash to progressive metal) and personnel changes (musicians joining, leaving (or dying) and rejoining), you wonder how they ever survived. Their first two releases, 'Satrap' and 'Symphony of Glory,' were interesting, but relatively mundane euro-metal offerings. With 'Victory' a measure of success is accomplished. 'Victory' may indeed be a victory for this unsettled band. I found the album compelling and interesting. I think you will too.

Gaia Epicus seems to have found their niche, if not, at least, their 'sound' identity. This is definitely a power metal album, but there are great overtures into the progressive metal field. I would even say, at times, they sound like straight ahead rock and roll. I got this feeling from the song 'Iron Curtain.' Moreover, there is enough diversity in each song to keep your attention; this is where the progressive metal style becomes evident.

I think the bottom line for me is the production value. 'Victory' is far above previous releases in this area.. There is a definite clarity in this work than in previous works. Combine this with skilled musicianship and solid arrangements and you have a solid album. Expect more from Gaia Epicus in the future. Enjoy!

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Tarot: Crows Fly Black

Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Never heard of Tarot? Neither did I, even though 'Crows Fly Black' is their ninth album and they've been around since the early 1980's. How would you know them if you did? Of the two Hietala brothers, who form the core of the band, only one has been a member of Nightwish since 2002, Marco Hietala. With the international success of Nightwish, new interest surrounds Tarot. It is well-deserved.

'Crows Fly Black' is a wonderful release filled with strong songs characterized by strong, often harsh, vocals (but never dirty), a driving, sometimes foreboding, rhythm section, thriving melodies and choruses, and, of course, some blistering guitar work by sibling Zachary Hietala. And there is some great shredding (for lack of a better word) on this album.

To be perfectly honest, when I listened to the title track, I was suspicious. Running over six minutes, I got seriously bored with the constant repetition of 'only crows fly black.' It reminded me of Jesus' words about the prayers of the pagans: they think they will be heard because of their many repetitious words. Nevertheless, this is a good start to a great many excellent songs that will follow. 'Ashes to the Stars,' 'Before the Skies Come Down,' and 'You' are standouts on this album. There are some great mellow undertones within these powerful songs as well. Take note of 'Howl!' and 'Tides' for acoustic guitar on the former and piano on the latter.

On their website, Tarot claims that this is their darkest and gloomiest album ever. I disagree. The lyric may be such. But power and heaviness does not make gloom. I found the music listenable, enjoyable, and even epic in scope of style and technique. I hope they might agree. This release is worth your interest.

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Wizard: Goochan

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Germany's Wizard has been a heroic stalwart of 'true' metal for many years, more than a decade. Wizard does not fail to deliver on this year's release, 'Goochan.' 'Goochan' is a concept album about a witch who must defend Mother Earth from a devious alien bent on devouring our resources and bringing us to extinction.This is traditional heavy metal with elements of power metal and some hints of extreme metal. Comparisons have been made to Hammerfall and even Manowar. However, though as melodic as these bands, 'Goochan' is much heavier and fiercer than either.

Epic in scope and powerful throughout, Wizard delivers classic metal. This is another example of a band that knows their craft and performs it well.

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Pink Cream 69: In10sity

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Pink Cream 69, the German melodic rock band with the suggestive name, returns with their tenth and best album, 'In10sity.' I was captured by the depth, creativity and versatility of 2005's Thunderdome. 'In10sity' demonstrates once again PC69's excellence in musicianship and song craftsmanship.

You will not be bored when listening to this release. Each song is unique and powerful; there is no monotony here. Where there is subtlety in a brief song like 'Desert Land,' there is also some true boisterous rock that verges on metal in such songs as 'A New Religion' and 'Stop This Madness.' Then again, this complexity is combined on 'Out of This World,' one of the best tracks on the album. And 'Wanna Hear You Rock, is it hard rock or metal or both? Irregardless of definition, it kicks ass and proves to be my favorite cut.

Pink Cream 69 prove to be masters of their art on 'In10sity.' It is album of intrigue; one that will have you listening to over and over again to discover its vast treasures and charm.

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Hellhound: Tokyo Flying V Massacre

Heavy Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

It took my several months to track down and purchase this album after reading about it at another metal review website. But it was worth the time and effort!

The Japanese have a fond affection for heavy metal and historical old school metal is not lost with them. Hellhound's 'Tokyo Flying V Massacre' is classic old school metal ala the heavy/thrash metal of the 1980's. Moreover, these boys know there genre better them some modern reincarnations of metal whether from Europe or the States.

This album is pure metal fun! It almost borders on parody. It is more over-the-top than a Manowar release and twice as amusing. Six out of ten songs have 'metal' in the title; and one song is simply called, 'Rock Like Hell' (one of the best songs on the album). Each song is a rush of high-pitched vocals accompanied by gratuitous amounts of shouts, a thundering rhythm section, and, of course, screaming guitar solos.

You may choose to describe 'Massacre' as 'cheesy,' or 'formulaic,' or 'redundant and ridiculous,' but it remains, simply, pure and unadulterated heavy metal. As I write this review, I'm listening to Hellhound: it makes me smile and drift back to bygone days. I'm having fun. Are you?

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Threshold: Dead Reckoning

Progressive Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Thresholdsurpasses their previous recordings with the new release 'Dead Reckoning.' Everything you would expect from progressive metal is here. This work is refreshing and alive. If you have found recent progressive metal works redundant or derivative of Dream Theater, then I encourage you to listen to 'Dead Reckoning.' You will be pleased.

'Slipstream' kicks off the album with strong melodies and quick time changes. It tells you that there is great work to follow. Moving ahead to 'Pilot In The Sky of Dreams,' you find yourself similarly impressed with the stunning vocals, delicate keyboards, and dynamic guitar work. Just when you think you hit the peak, 'Fighting For Breath,' grabs you by the throat and mind. It seems like a simple rocker at first, then the prog kicks in by combining power metal with anthem qualities. And the album keeps getting better. Every song is of exceptional creativity and quality.

I have no doubt that is will be a seminal album for Threshold and also for modern progressive metal. Fans and students take note: this is progressive metal for the new century!

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Thy Majestie: Jeanne d 'Arc

Power/Prog/Symphonic Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Once again, on 'Jeanne d'Arc,' Thy Majestie proves that history can be fun and entertaining. With their proven and glorious power and symphonic metal, TM brings the French heroine to life; it's a story already laced with mythology and irony.

This is classic Thy Majestie. There is nothing new or innovative here. Nevertheless, all things are done well in this genre that is so well suited for telling an epic story. 'The Chosen' is the singular song that displays the breadth of Thy Majestie's style. It begins symphonic, then immediately turns to simple rock 'n' roll; then it goes on to a generous portion of power metal. I think it's the best song on the album. But this is unfair to the concept: you must take Jeanne d'Arc as a whole. When you do so you will not be disappointed. As I said before, this is classic Thy Majestie and classic symphonic power metal. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Simply stated: if this is your favorite genre, then buy this record!

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U2: U2 18 Singles

Alternative/AOR/Melodic Rock
Rating: 4.5/5.0

You may find it unusual, considering the content of this site, that I would review something as mainstream and popular as the latest U2 release. But take a moment and read my words.

I've never been a fan of 'best of' albums simply because they often neglect the seminal albums of the artist. However, with U2, one of my favorite artists since their first album 'Boy,' I can make an exception. Frankly, with U2 there are many pivotal records to point to as significant and monumental. I speak personally of 'War,' The Unforgettable Fire,' and 'The Joshua Tree.' These were masterful albums full of vision and beauty. 'Rattle and Hum' on record and DVD are are at once a quintessential live album and a biopic. Though I had difficulty with the following works, I've always given U2 the benefit of the doubt and now have fond affection for such works as 'Achtung Baby' and 'Pop.'

The benefit of 'U218 Singles' is that it gives you a great overview of the diversity of U2 work. The downside is that this release does not delve enough into their earlier work such as 'Boy' and 'October.' Why? Because this is a 'singles best of,' and there were no significant singles on the first two albums. Irregardless, it hits the mark: these are the best singles and this is classic U2.

As for the new tracks: 'The Saints Are Coming' with Green Day is clever and enjoyable. But Green Day will never be a U2. Are they punk or not? What does it matter? Green Day has gone from original and revolutionary to fashionable and MTV chic. In other words, they pretty much suck. This makes them insignificant in my view. The second new song, 'Windows In The Skies' is simply modern U2 without the power and anger of early U2. Frankly, it's lyrically empty and musically mundane.

Bottom line: grab this album if you want the 'hits' all one CD. Otherwise, you would do better to build your U2 collection one by one starting with 'Boy' and at least proceeding through 'Rattle and Hum.'

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Thunder: Robert Johnson's Tombstone

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Thunder breathed life into the English melodic hard scene and their own career with their 2005 release, 'The Magnificent Seventh.' It was a fine album worthy of respect. With the exception of some sub-par songs (Monkey See, Monkey Do, for example), 'Seventh' was a nearly flawless project. With 'Robert Johnson's Tombstone,' Thunder returns with an exceptional record even better than the last.

The characteristic melodic hard rock is plainly evident and superb. What I dig the most, however, is the great blues, boogie rock style that permeates many songs. As for blues, the title track captures you immediately; it's not merely a song, but a great tale with a beautiful blues rock reel. But this also evident in such songs such as 'Andy Warhol Said' and 'Don't Want to Talk About Love.' I found shades of a boogie rock (ala AC/DC) in 'Dirty Dreams' and 'The Devil Made Me Do It.' Yet, there is no plagiarism here: Thunder invests in the roots of rock 'n' roll and creates it's own work.

This is an exceptional album, worthy of my highest score; and it do not give this without careful consideration. This is Thunder's best recording to date, plain and simple.

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Manowar: Gods Of War

Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 3.5/5.0

Hail and kill! The gods of battle and power metal have returned! And the will take no prisoners. Instead they will make you submit to their glorious and outrageous anthems of battle, heroism and victory.

I'll freely admit that Manowar is a guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, they're brand of metal is predictable: grandiose mythologies of war and warriors, fast and thundering drums, stinging guitar solos, and of course, catchy, irresistible choruses. But this is what makes them so cliche and loveable. They do what they do so very well: 'Gods of War' is no exception. This release will not disappoint any fan of Manowar metal. Some may be disturbed by the overly long narration at the outset and intermittently through the songs. But again, Manowar is telling a story in their music. However, the loudest band in the world delivers the goods on every song with pompous and bombastic Manowar style.

So ... 'Death to false metal!' Pick up the 'gods of war and metal' latest album.

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Twisted Tower Dire: Netherworlds

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

An American band that plays traditional heavy metal? You've got to be kidding? Twisted Tower Dire rebuked the grunge laden rock of the 1990's by resurrecting classic heavy metal ala Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with honorable results. They knew better and so produced some seminal metal in an old school vein for those of us who love this kind of metal. 'Netherworlds,' a new full length album, validates their goals of bringing true metal to the world. Every song proves this emphatically!

And TTD does it with style and precision: this is classic heavy metal: make no mistake! Every cut displays the elements of traditional metal: soaring and screaming vocals (new throat Johnny Aune), a thundering rhythm section (Marc Stauffer, drums and Jim Hunter, bass, kick ass!), and blistering and bombastic guitar work.

If you think metal is dead in America (and for the most part, it's on life support), then get this release by Twisted Tower Dire and know that there still is 'Metal for America' (shameless plug for this website!). This is a great record!

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Dark Moor: Tarot

Symphonic/Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

This is an incredibly listenable album. I can describe it as easy listening metal (could this be a new genre?): symphonic and melodic throughout, heavy and fast at times and almost erotic in certain moments.

Our Spanish friends, Dark Moor bring us songs based on various tarot cards: death, lovers, the magician, etc. Every cut is founded upon and wrapped up in a symphonic atmosphere particularly evident in 'The Moon' which borrows richly from classical influences. Another unique element is the periodic creative vocal arrangements: take note of the Queen-like vocals on 'Devil In The Tower.' Additionally, to remind that this is still metal, there is some gruff vocals, fiery guitar work and a heavy, pulsating rhythm in each song.

I'm a fan of Dark Moor and I found this work very satisfying even though it breaks no new ground. Some will still bemoan the departure of Elisa Martin, but it is no longer necessary. Dark Moor can stand on there on with 'Tarot.'

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Burning Point: Burned Down The Enemy

Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 3.5/5.0

I want to say I'm impressed with Burning Point's latest release, but honestly, I'm not sure. I like it; I really do. If you can sense the reservation in my words than you will understand that I had great difficulty coming to some conclusions.

I've always believed that a band puts their 'best foot forward' by putting (what they think to be) their best song at the beginning of the album. Yes, the first cut, 'Parasite' is an aggressive number, but 'Heart of Gold' is much stronger in terms of the classic metal sound. It could have been a single in the European market. From here things improve to the point of wanting to listen to the end.

However, as much as l like this work, there is nothing new here. I could be easily bored after a third or fourth listening. Yet something compels me to keep listening. Maybe it's the fiery guitar work? Possibly it's Mr. Ahonen's vocals: he is original: he truly exemplifies metal without sounding like someone else. Check out 'From the Beginning of it All' to see what I mean.

Conclusion! If you like classic power/heavy metal, buy this album. If you are a Burning Point fan, get this album. Otherwise, leave it alone. Is that ambivalent enough?

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Silent Force: Walk The Earth

Power/Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I was introduced to Silent Force with their fantastic album 'Worlds Apart.' This is another work that reinforced my love for metal in the new century. What was lost was found: great power metal with touches of prog encased in stunning arrangements with thrilling guitar work and the monumental vocals of the legendary D.C. Cooper. I've waited patiently (sometimes impatiently) for Silent Force's next release. With 'Walk The Earth,' I have no disappointed.

My first impressions of 'Walk' were that it was harder and more aggressive than 'Worlds.' This may be so because when Silent Force rocks they rock! This is evident on the first two cuts alone. Yet there is enough subtlety in the arrangements to prove that this is a band that has matured and progressed in their development. This is not your ordinary European power metal. Cooper and company are pushing the envelope of creativity if only their own creativity. With 'Walk The Earth' they create a new standard of measure: the same old stuff will not stand: you must improve and venture into new ground to be viable. I believe Silent Force has raised the bar if only a notch or two.

My only reason for not giving this work the full 5.0 is simply this: I think Mr. Cooper's vocals were muddled in production. On 'Worlds' his voice had greater clarity and power. Please do not misunderstand me; he is in true form on 'Walk:' this is classic D.C. Yet, to my ears, the rest of the band has been put forward in all aspects. In comparison, check out Mr. Cooper's work on the new Steel Seal album reviewed above.

Bottom line: Silent Force fans must buy this album, plain and simple. Those who love metal should also buy this album: Silent Force is an excellent representative of the European power and progressive metal. American bands take note!

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Wig Wam: Wig Wamania

Melodic Hard/Glam Rock
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I'm late to Wig Wamania but I'm so glad I got on board now. Wig Wam offers straight ahead rock 'n' roll ala 80's glam rock and metal. They are one of the many Scandi bands reviving the melodic rock of the 80's glam rock and metal era. Their songs have sharp hooks and hot licks. Mania starts ('Rock My Ride') and ends ('Breaking All The Rules') loud and proud with great hard rocking numbers with memorable melodies and choruses. In between we're favored with smooth and catchy ballads.

They are outstanding musicians who now how to craft a song and perform it in true style. Vocalist Glam screams and preens with magic and clarity. Teeny, on guitar, knows how to rip it up: note 'Rock My Ride' and 'The Riddle,' a very cool instrumental. The rhythm crew of Sporty (drums) and Flash (bass) add power and control to every song. Moreover, these Norwegians know their roots: if 'Gonna Get You Some Day' sounds a little too close to a certain hair metal band from New Jersey, then you're probably right. They also have the 'sleaze' part right when you listen to 'Can't Get Her Out Of My Bed' and a little Crue-like number, 'Breaking All The Rules.'

Frankly, every song on 'Mania' is great. I've been hard pressed to keep it out of my player whether in the office, kitchen, or car: yes, it's that good and fun. Even my wife digs it! And that's saying a lot! Get this album; you will not regret it.

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