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December 2006

The Poodles: Metal Will Stand Tall

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 5.0/5.0

We begin a new month with an excellent album from Sweden's The Poodles. However, the moniker for this work 'Metal Will Stand Tall' is somewhat deceiving. This is not a metal album. Specifically, it is not metal in the sense of classic heavy metal or any other subcategory of metal. It would be best described as melodic hard rock akin to sleaze or glam rock. This great style is being heavily revived in Sweden. Bless you my Swedish friends!

On to the review: if you like kick-ass rock with great melody, fun and innovative lyrics and crafty, catchy choruses, then The Poodles are for you. Throw in a strong rhythm section and elegant, but succinct guitar work, you have the makings of great melodic hard rock. The album has great rockers like the title track as well as the ballad that surges and verges upon hard rock such as 'Night Of Passion.'

Another stand out is 'Song For You.' When I heard the opening vocals, I almost said, 'What is this: yodeling?' Yet after listening to the whole song, everything about it is so very cool: a song centered around brilliant vocals, incredible harmony, and a soaring solo over the very same. Wow!

Honestly, this is incredibly enjoyable music. This is party music or 'put the top down and stomp on the throttle' music. You will want to play it over and over again.


Planet Alliance: Self-Titled

Melodic Hard Rock/Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I was drawn to this album because of one person, Magnus Karlsson, the extremely talented guitarist. I loved his work on the Allen/Lande and Starbreaker projects. Noted producer Anders “Theo” Theander called upon Mr. Karlsson to add his exceptional songwriting skills to this project. Additionally, handling the vocals is the versatile Mike Andersson (Cloudscape). Mr. Theander also enlisted a number of notable Scandinavian musicians to compliment the project, many adding to the songwriting. This is truly an alliance of phenomenal proportions.

Planet Alliance is a great work by this contingent of outstanding musicians. Points of distinction include intelligent lyrics, thrilling guitar work (by Mr. Karlsson and three others), catchy choruses, and strong melodies wrapped in a hard and heavy texture. Mr. Andersson's strong and steady vocals are prominent, never to be drowned in the music: the production is excellent.

Every song is a pleasure to listen to. Personal favorites include the first cut 'The Real You,' 'It's Your Cross To Bear,' and 'Digging Your Own Grave.'

The only reason I did not give this offering the full 5.0 is because it seems reminiscent of the aforementioned Allen/Lande project 'The Battle.' This is not because I consider that project superior. Rather, it appears Mr. Karlsson maybe reproducing many of the same conventions on this work. This could merely be his style, his fingerprints on the composition sheets. Hopefully, it does not mean he's destined to become stuck in a rut producing the same material over and over again.

Overall, this is a worthy and wonderful effort and worth your attention.


Axel Rudi Pell: Mystica

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4./5.0

One word describes an new offering from Axel Rudi Peel: consistency. Everything you would expect from Mr. Pell, a true and legendary guitar virtuoso, is clearly evident. His fret work, as always, is competent and clear. When he combines his musicianship with a strong rhythm section and hardy vocals, Mr. Pell only becomes better. Such is the case with 'Mystica.'

What I find interesting is this: the songs seem harder. I think this is because (again) of the rhythm section and especially, Johnny Gioelli's forceful, yet versatile vocals.

I can't pinpoint any specific song as a highlight. All the songs are typical of a Pell release. That is not to say that they are monotonous. No, they are very enjoyable. If you are a fan of Mr. Pell you should run to this album. If you are new to his work, this is an exceptional example of his work and the genre of melodic heavy metal.


Iron Maiden: A Matter Of Life And Death

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Iron Maiden needs no introduction to fans of heavy metal. If you know your history and love this genre, then Iron Maiden are the standard by which other purveyors of metal are judged. On 'A Matter of Life and Death' Maiden proves once again that they are the quintessential melodic metal band.

One thing we fans of Maiden enjoy is that, well, they're Iron Maiden: they deliver fantastic melodic heavy metal. Therefore, when I say that they break no new ground on this album, it is not a negative comment. Rather, in 'A Matter ...' you have the beauty and consistency of Iron Maiden.

In this offering you have everything you want from Iron Maiden: intelligent lyrics, both complex and melodic arrangements, and superb musicianship which includes exceptional guitar work and, of course, Mr. Dickinson's natural and time-tested vocals. And there are great moments of symphonic rock as found on 'For the Greater Good of God.'

Iron Maiden is at the top of their game on this work For me, there are two distinctive features. First, unafraid to be controversial, you will find some great social and political commentary in the lyrics, consider 'These Colours Don't Run,' and especially 'For the Greater Good of God.' Secondly, the production is wonderful. There is a clarity that one rarely finds in a metal work. Every musician's contribution is evident especially in the bass lines.

Essentially, this is a 'must have' Maiden album if you are a fan. In reality, you probably already on it; in that case 'I'm preaching to the choir' as I write this review. If for some reason you live on another planet or have succumbed to the whims of the marketing executives of American music, then you need to revolt and return to the heart of true metal and buy 'A Matter of Life and Death.' Iron Maiden is true melodic heavy metal!


Whitesnake: Live: In The Shadow Of The Blues

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Let's get to the good stuff right away: there are four new studio tracks on this new Whitesnake album. And they are awesome. I'll give you one critical piece of advice: turn up the volume and listen to them loud! These songs kick in the classic Whitesnake style of melodic blues driven rock. Mr. Coverdale and his current crew prove that experience and professionalism trump the arrogance of youth most every time. This is the Whitesnake we all know and love. I look forward to a new studio project.

O yeah, so what about the live portion of this release? It has all the power and glory of 'Live in the Still of the Night' DVD. Even better, the track list is longer. The current Whitesnake lineup is tight and precise, even flawless, in their performance. (Mr. Tommy Aldridge's drumming is freakin' amazing.) Whitesnake delivers what few live albums in recent history only attempt to do: the true presence of 'live'. It's vibrant and exciting; you feel like you are there.

So don't hesitate: run, don't walk, and get this album!


Hamka: Unearth

Power Metal
Rating: 3.5/5.0

I can't remember how I stumbled upon this metal band from France. I do remember traveling to their website and listening to several tracks from their demo EP 'Exodus.' I was impressed. I honestly looked forward to the 'Unearth' release because I heard promise in this band. Now their website is extinct, but, thankfully, I have their latest release. Hamka features some impressive personnel namely, Willdric Lievin (ex-Fairyland) and Elisa C. Martín (Dreamaker, ex-Dark Moor, ex-Fairyland). Ms. Martín's vocals are the primary face of the band.

If you noted some apprehension in my appraisal in the previous paragraph, you are correct. This is not quite what I expected. To be honest, I believe this falls in the power, even progressive metal, genre. There is the power and fury of power metal; and there is the complexity of prog metal with the obvious influences of world music. However, what confuses the mix is the near dirty vocals found on several songs. Admittedly, I have an aversion to dirty vocals, so this threw me. The dirty vocals appear in the first several songs and seem only to be narration. Frankly, I don't see the need.

But I recovered quickly after several spins. I can live with the dirty vocals because of the sophistication of the arrangements, the versatile vocals of Ms. Martín, and the superb production. Do not be discouraged by my rating (go to the About link): this is an excellent offering with some serious potential. I believe Hamka can distinguish themselves in the future.


Circle II Circle: Burden Of Truth

Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

This is by far the finest Circle II Circle album yet. Honestly, I struggled with their first two offerings 'Waiting In Silence' and 'The Middle of Nowhere.' They were good beginnings. However, it seemed that Mr. Zachary Stevens was battling to get out of his Savatage history. On 'Burden,' Mr. Stevens and company establish themselves on several levels: the strength of his voice, the power of the song composition, and the clarity of the production. This is a fine album worthy of your consideration.

This work is a concept album based upon Da Vinci Code type speculations about Mary Magdalene and the descendants of Christ. But don't let this put you off! Every song is strong and stands on its own unique variables and quality. I was very impressed by the keyboard elements particularly on the first cut, 'Who Am I To Be.' Additionally the fret work of Paul Stewart and Andrew Lee are versatile and often explosive; take note of 'The Black.' There is a heaviness to this work also as found on 'Evermore.' Nevertheless, the hard is expertly mixed with softness and subtlety as in the following song, 'The Black.'

There is much to enjoy on this album. I believe, if you add this to your collection, you will enjoy it over and over again. Pick it up!


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