Phantom`s Opera-"Act IV"-2003

"Act IV" is the fourth CD from New Jersey`s very own prog/pomp melodic hard rockers Phantom's Opera. The band recently replaced lead singer Colie Brice with Terry Brock (The Sign, Strangeways, solo artist), who joins mainman/keyboard player Jack Young, Eric Walz (bass), Bob Nelson (drums) and Bob Gilmartin (guitars). Phantom's Opera has their own style as they mix influences from the best AOR, pomprock, progressive rock and melodic hard rock. Throw in a little Uriah Heep, Rainbow and a LOT of Queen, and what we have here folks is America`s answer Magnum, pure `n` simple! And while the 9 tracks here are rather long [up to 9 minutes!], there`s never a dull moment here! Opener "Etched in Stone" kicks everything off with a blast, followed by "By Reason of Insanity" and the memorable "Shadows on the Wall". Other highlights on an album loaded with highlights include "Christine" (shades of "Pieces Of Eight"-era Styx], one of my favorite cuts,"Lost" as well as the beautiful closing track "God Save the King". Really, I could go on and on [I usually do, right?], but I`ll restrain myself this time. All I can say is that "Act IV" is without a doubt one [if not THE] the most original, highest quality Melodic Rock releases to come outta the US in many a moon, and if there were any justice, this album would be STORMIN` up the Billboard charts! You can help make this a reality by going to the band`s website and purchasing this GREAT album, as I did. Then, find some poor sap who thinks Creed is "Melodic Rock", place the headphones on him/her and crank to 11!!!

Phantom`s Opera

Blaze-"As Live As It Gets"-2003

This new double live CD from the former Maiden/Wolfsbane frontman lives up to it`s name and THEN some! Consisting of 18 live tracks of solid Metal mayhem, this album is a cross section of various concerts from the band`s most recent European trek and spans Blaze`s career. From his recent Blaze material ["Stare at the Sun," "Identity," "Virus," "Kill and Destroy," and "Silicon Messiah", among others.] to his Maiden days ["Two Worlds Collide", "Futureal" and "Sign Of The Cross", probably my favorite Blaze/Maiden tune.] as well the sole track from his Wolfsbane days "Steel" [I also would liked to have heard "Protect And Survive" and "Kathy Wilson", but hey, I`m not complainin`..] are just a few of the highlights here! There`s even a thunderous cover of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused"; not as good as Dario Mollo/Tony Martin`s recent version, but a KILLER just the same! And just as the live Wolfsbane album "Massive Noise Injection" showed, Blaze Bayley LIVES for the stage; this guy is one of THE great Metal frontmen, hands down! And the band ain`t no slackers, either! Huge riffs, soaring solos, and a tight-as-a-duck`s ass rhythm section give Blaze the platform to rid himself of the "Bruce`s replacement" tag he unfortunately got slapped with. If you`re just getting into Blaze [the man AND the band], THIS album is a good place to begin your education; straight up Metal and nuthin` BUT!!! Highest possible reccomendation!

Planet Blaze


Ok for starters; DO NOT judge this album by the horrible cover art! Yes, it looks like it was drawn by an 8 year old Conan The Barbarian fan, but the band has said it was the record label`s choice, NOT their`s! [thanks for mentioning this, Yvonne!:)] Like the old saying goes, "You can`t judge a book by it`s cover", and Snakegod's "Invitation" definitely one of the highest quality Melodic Metal albums to be unleashed in a long time! This Finnish 5-piece features the rock-solid rhythm section of ex-Hanoi Rocks drummer Kari Lahtinen [who did not play drums on the album; the drummer on the album was Heikki Malmberg. In another record lable screw-up, there are 2 drummers listed on the cover, but only Heikki actually played drums. Lahtinen joined Snakegod AFTER the album was recorded, even though his picture is in the booklet. Confused? Me too! Thanks again for the info, Yvonne!:)] and bassist Petri Repo, guitarist extrordinaire Marko Ruokonen, keyboard wizard Jani HöIIi and the powerhouse vocals of Jari Tiura. It`s difficult to point out stand-out tracks on an album which has nothing BUT stand-out tracks, but here goes! "Time And Again", "Defender", "Behind The Storm", "Snakebite", "Evil Woman" or "Lost In Time", the whole damn thing is a perfect blend of melody AND heaviness, a tribute to the band`s superior songwriting and instrumental skills, all the more remarkable considering that this their debut! Tiura particulary impresses; his vocals have a certain Dio/Dickinson quality that help give the tracks that melodic edge without being overbearing. A winner from start to finish. This is definitely one "Invitation" you won`t pass up!


Dream Evil-"Evilized"-2003

Here we have the second studio album from Heavy Metal all-stars Dream Evil [Fredrik Nordstrom - Guitars & Keyboards, Gus G. - Guitars, Niklas Isfeldt - Vocals, Peter Stalfors - Bass, Snowy Shaw - Drums] and while not QUITE the powerhouse the "Dragonslayer" was, it`s still maintains the fire `n` flash which made that album such a joy! Naturally, the band`s performance is nearly faultless [but what would you expect from musicians of THIS calibre?] and the album features a technically flawless, highly polished and heavy production. "Evilized" really doesn`t differ much from it`s predecessor; crunchy, `eighties-era Scorpions style riffage coupled with soaring choruses and melodies. Most of the tracks are heavy as hell, but there ARE a few slower numbers this time ("Forevermore", "The End") as well as the mid-tempo title track, so this is definitely a well balanced Metal album! For my money though, the winning track is definitely "Children Of The Night"; in addition to having the BEST opening riff in years, this tune has a catchy-as-all-hell chorus that you`ll be singing in your sleep, I swear! And like the last album, The band gives us a rather humorous "tribute" to Metal appropriately titled "Made Of Metal", delivered with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Looking to cure those Nu Metal blahs? Get "Evilized"!

Dream Evil

Empire-"Trading Souls"-2003

"Trading Souls" is the latest release by Empire, the group/project of guitarist Rolf Munkes. Rolf tends to work with the cream of Hard Rock royality, and "Trading Souls" is no exception! Check out THIS line-up; Rolf Munkes-Guitar, Neil Murray-Bass, Don Airey-Keyboards, Anders Johansson/Gerald Kloos-Drums [Johansson plays drums on two tracks, "Teenage Deadhead" and "Wherever You Go"; all other drum tracks are done by Kloos.], and the Hardest Working Vocalist In Metal these days, Tony Martin-Vocals! The album may come as a slight letdown for Martin fanatics who expected Cage/Guintini heaviness; much of the material is similar to that found on Martin`s 1992 solo album "Back Where I Belong", but it`s no less Rockin`! I won`t even bother to point out that the band is tight as hell and "spot on with the song", `cause if you`re even the slightest bit familiar with any/all of the above musicians, this would be a total waste of time! "Trading Souls" manages to strike a delicate balance between soulful, melodic AOR-stylings and anthemic Hard Rock, with great success. From the opener mid-tempo rocker "One In a Million" to the chugging riffage of "Pay Back Time", it`s obvious that songwriting and melody took precedence over all-out ass kicking, although there`s plenty of THAT, as well. "Big World Little Man" has arena anthem written all over it, while the bluesy, laid back "Teenage Deadhead" features some of Martin`s best vocal work, in addition to some sweet guitar licks by Munkes. This album may take a couple of listens to get into, but it`s WORTH it, believe me! I`d like to think of this as what Hard Rock SHOULD`VE evolved into, had it not been for the early `90`s Seattle scene, and the Nu Metal infestation that followed. Maybe there`s hope yet! The following are some lyrics from the closing track "Back To The Light"; reprinted here `cause, well, I like `em!! "Here in my world, feels like it's turned inside out/ downloader choosing/Play me the sound/ that I love best/music that rocks the world right through/ I just need some Rock'n Roll/ Don't need crap to stir my soul/ LL Cooler leaves me cold/ Back in the light/Back in the light/ Back in the spotlight/ Where the music rocks my soul/ Where the music rocks my soul" [They just don`t make `em like THAT anymore!;)]



STRANGLEHOLD [yes, named after the Ted Nugent song!] are a Belgian five piece featuring vocalist Rik Wullaert, guitarist Lorenzo Augusti, Andre Kassinger on bass, and Corina Stokmans on drums. This 6-track demo shows a band who, while steeped in the traditional Metal structure, definitely have their own sound! The tunes here have an early Maiden/NWOBHM [esp. on "Sands Of Time" and the instrumental "Antarica"] feel, as well as certain elements of mid-eighties US Metal. Yet STRANGLEHOLD has taken creative liberties with an old style and added their own personality to an often immitated but rarely innovated genre. Thick, crunching riffs weave in and out of often times complex arrangements to great effect, as can be heard in my favorte track "Like A Ghost" or the aptly titled "Monster"! And even though this is only a demo, each track cuts through loud `n` clear, a testament to the band`s songwriting and instrumental skills! Can`t WAIT to see what this crew does on a full length release! For more information, go to their homepage below. [A thousand thanks to Lorenzo for sending me the demo!! Next time I`m in Europe, I`ll try to make it to Belgium; first beer`s on me...]

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