Album of the Week 12-2015: Kenn Nardi – Dancing With The Past


Anacrusis was one of the most unique bands ever to have graced the Metal scene. Want proof? Name one band that sounds like them. See? Their one of a kind blend of Thrash Metal, Progmetal and hints of New Wave and even some suspenseful film score music made 1993’s ‘Screams And Whispers’ the progressive masterpiece that it is. The band never had a chance to outdo that album, since like many Thrash related bands, the nineties ultimately proved fatal to them. There was a glimmer of hope for a sequel when the band reunited for a few gigs, but the band quit again. However, in ‘Dancing With The Past’, singer and guitarist Kenn Nardi has released a spiritual successor to ‘Screams And Whispers’.

Nardi had intended this material to be on Anacrusis’ fifth studio album. When the band split up again, he turned it into a massive work spanning two CD’s and over two and a half hours. Commercially, making two studio albums – or even three – would be a more attractive option to release the album, but I’m not sure if selling records was the motive behind this release. There’s no need to draw new people in here and those who loved Anacrusis are accustomed to this kind of inaccessibility. In fact, this is more than just a release to fans of the band: it’s a treat.

The sound of the album is very much reminiscent of nineties Anacrusis, but it isn’t a blatant ‘Manic Impressions’ rewrite. The progressive approach and fearless experimentalism was always a strong feat of Nardi’s compositions and ‘Dancing With The Past’ is no different. It finds Nardi exploring all corners of his influences and often the ones that stray from what one may have come to expect are the most pleasant surprises; ‘Submerged’, for instance, is a dark Rocker with a prominent New Wave flavor, but stands out considerably as such.

Generally, the album has four distinct chapters with only a few deviations. The first cd starts with relatively simple, atmospheric midtempo stompers – only broken by the Thrash monster ‘Fragile’ – before moving into a bleak and doomy second act, highlighted by the first disc’s desparate, pitch black closer ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and the almost ballad-like ‘The Dark And The Light’. Familiarity will arrive during the first half of the second disc, which sounds closest to Anacrusis’ dark and complex Thrash sound, before moving toward a somewhat more melodic final act. Of course there are a few exceptions, but that seems to be the general grid.

While Nardi wrote almost all of Anacrusis’ material, his brilliance has never shone through as much as it did here. He plays all the instruments himself and wrings everything that he has out of his voice, screams and whispers in deed. Anacrusis bassist John Emery contributes to a few tracks and according to the liner notes, drummer Mike Owen had a significant role in arranging some of the drum computer parts. I wouldn’t be surprised if the drum sounds were samples from his kit. Regardless, ‘Dancing With The Past’ is a work of art that shows how versatile Metal can be. Recommended even to those unaware of Anacrusis.

Recommended tracks: ‘Submerged’, ‘Creve Coeur’, ‘The Scarlet Letter’, ‘The Dark And The Light’, ‘The Runt’

Album of the Week 11-2015: Gunbridge – Privilege Of Ten Thousands


Galneryus fans are split quite evenly into two camps. One prefers original singer Yama-B, while the other goes for current singer Masatoshi Ono. While I am firmly within the Ono camp, Yama-B’s more dramatic delivery isn’t without its merits. During his Galneryus days, his voice already proved better on the material he had written himself (the awesome ‘Raid Again’ comes to mind immediately) and now that he’s got his own bands and projects to mind, he seems to make sure that his powerful, clean voice gets all the room it needs to shine. And not unlike Galneryus, the result is absolutely stellar Power Metal.

‘Privilege Of Ten Thousands’ is the first Gunbridge album that actually features an entire band; while guitarist Issy and drummer Hideki were around before, the band has been a solo outlet for Yama-B since the late nineties. And he’s still the one who wrote all the material and recorded and produced the whole thing, but ‘Privilege Of Ten Thousands’ most definitely profits from the band interaction here, which is also what justifies the many re-recordings on the album. The instrumentation sounds a lot more together, alive and energetic this way.

Technically, there’s really only two new songs on the album – not counting the intro – and they’re bookending the album. It was one of those songs that drove me to buying the album though. For a while, I have been almost dangerously addicted to the goosebumps-inducing, triumphant slab of Power Metal that is ‘Ten Thousands Cry’. Heroic lead guitar melodies, fantastic lead vocal lines, a driving rhythm and that chorus… Oh my god, that chorus! Guaranteed to get your fists pumping and stuck in the back of your head for days. Issy and Hayato prove themselves more than worthy lead guitarists here and Hideki’s drumming may be a tad predictable, but it’s also incredibly tight and solid.

Of a completely different nature is the other new song, closer ‘Trailblazer’. Prior to hearing it, I would have considered Yama-B’s voice too powerful for a ballad with only acoustic guitar and vocals, but this song turned me around. The voice is a perfect fit and the desolate atmosphere comes across really, really well. The remaining six songs are all strong, uptempo Power Metal highlighted by the amazing verse riff in ‘Baptism Of Steel’, the borderline Thrash scorcher that is ‘Dispel’ and the somewhat darker ‘Means To Live’. I think the highest scream in ‘Try To Win’ was a bit too much, but the song is very good otherwise.

So here we have the ultimate proof of why it was a good thing that Yama-B has left Galneryus. Where his vocals sometimes used to clash with Syu’s guitar histrionics, Gunbridge leaves all the room his powerful, dramatic voice needs. His vocals never become the overpowering factor though; being a good songwriter, Yama-B obviously realizes a good song dominates any separate element. And from a simple quantitative viewpoint: there are even more mindblowing Power Metal albums this way!

Recommended tracks: ‘Ten Thousands Cry’, ‘Means To Live’, ‘Dispel’, ‘Trailblazer’

Album of the Week 10-2015: Europe – War Of Kings


With the days of ‘The Final Countdown’ far behind them, Europe these days focuses on surprisingly strong contemporary Classic Rock. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s exactly what they do. Their sound is closer to their original influences of Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, UFO and especially Led Zeppelin than anything released in their glossy keyboard laden Hard Rock heyday in the eighties, but always with a production and heaviness that is very much now. And although I am a fan of eighties Europe, ‘War Of Kings’ is more evidence that post-reunion Europe is more consistently strong than their fine earlier output.

Three years after its original release, I still don’t know if I quite like the stripped-down, almost bluesy approach of previous record ‘Bag Of Bones’, despite the presence of a couple of a few fantastic songs. ‘War Of Kings’ has a similarly dark tone, but keyboard player Mic Michaeli’s stronger presence adds some melancholic flourishes that contribute strongly to the album’s character. That doesn’t mean the album doesn’t rock – it does, quite explicitely – but it’s a more subdued type of Rock than those who only know the band’s exuberant classics may come to expect.

Prior to the release, only the title track that opens the album had been published. While the Prog-meets-Doom sound of that song does provide an adequate image of what the record sounds like in terms of atmosphere, it may suggest a more Black Sabbath-ish vibe than the album actually has. Compositions do follow the song’s formula: the basics of the songs are laid down by drummer Ian Haugland, bassist John Levén – whose role as a songwriter seems to be growing over the last few years – and guitarist extraordinaire John Norum. Michaeli often gives the songs their distinct color and Joey Tempest’s voice is slowly aging, but used effectively.

Halfway through the we reach the back-to-back highlights. Sure, the first couple of songs are strong without exception, especially the atmospheric ‘The Second Day’. However, the album hits full steam with the dark and desparate ‘California 405′, which doesn’t exactly sound like anything Europe has ever done before. ‘Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is more familiar due to the obvious Ritchie Blackmore-isms in its neoclassical Bluesrock sound and as such is one of the album’s highlights. The mystical ‘Children Of The Mind’ is another pleasantly surprising midtempo stomper and ‘Angels (With Broken Hearts)’ comes closest to a classic Europe ballad, but has too much of an awesomely gloomy Blues vibe to be compared to the kitschy likes of ‘Carrie’.

In a way, Europe’s music is maturing along with its members. I’m not quite sure where in the midlife crisis cycle ‘War Of Kings’ fits due to my limited age, but Joey Tempest and his men seem to be very comfortable with it. Fans of John Norum may be a little disappointed by the relatively small number of solos on here, but he does get his moments to display why he is one of the world’s greatest Rock guitarists. Especially near the end; ‘Light It Up’ and – if you get the limited edition – the instrumental ‘Vasastan’ will serve die-hard Norum fans. And as a band effort, ‘War Of Kings’ may even be Europe’s strongest album yet.

Recommended tracks: ‘Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘California 405′, ‘Children Of The Mind’, ‘The Second Day’

Loads of Kevy Metal photography and articles in Gitarist!

If I told you I wasn’t proud of this month’s issue of Gitarist – in stores today – I would be lying to you. Besides the reviews on the new albums of Hard Rock trio Gingerpig, the heavy Progrock of Deanmoore and the Jazzrock collaboration of Gov’t Mule and John Scofield, I contributed three interviews. Guitar slingers Alfred van Luttikhuizen and Christoffer van Teijlingen of Hardcore ‘n’ Rollers John Coffey talk us through the year between their last live shows and now and the recordings of ‘The Great News’, Tank86‘s guitar duo of Joost Kruiswijk and Harold Aling talk the remarkable equipment that their incredibly heavy new album ‘Obey’ has been recorded with and Arnold Smits gives us all the details of the recording of the long awaited comeback album of Dutch Funk legends Gotcha!.

However, the photography of this issue is what lends just a little extra to this issue for me personally. The photo impression of the Eurosonic Noorderslag festival contains only photos and texts from my hand. I have never had a photo spread of mine published and having it done makes me feel extremely proud. The John Coffey interview has also been decorated with photos I took of Alfred and Christoffer as well. To give you an impression of what you can expect in terms of photographic evidence of my presence at Eurosonic Noorderslag, I’ll share some extra photos that aren’t in Gitarist, but are on the website with you.

The Common Linnets were slightly frowned upon by the section of music experts that take themselves too seriously. In all honesty, I went to check them out because after two days of photographing ugly men, I felt the need to have Ilse DeLange in front of my lens. And really, the show was a pleasant surprise. You can ridicule them any way you want for their Eurovision Song Contest success, but in fact, DeLange and De Dijk guitarist JB Meijers are part of a really strong Americana band. Sure, actually having Americans in the band helps, but new song ‘We Don’t Make The Wind Blow’ sent shivers down my spine. Great vocal interaction. Though I’m not a fan of the genre, it’s all been executed very well. An unexpected highlight that in my opinion has rightfully been rewarded with the Popprijs.

Navarone. What can I say about them that I haven’t said already? They are simply the best Rock band in all of Holland and possibly the entire world at the moment. The only complaint I would have about their fantastic set at Eurosonic 2015 would be its limited length, something they can’t help of course. The huge Zeppelin-esque seventies riffs and the nineties Hardrock unconventionality combined with a Queens Of The Stone Age-like experimentalism and an eclecticism similar to The Black Crowes resulted in the most exciting set of Rock songs in the shape of ‘Vim And Vigor’ last year. And if that doesn’t convince you, Merijn van Haaren’s impossibly amazing with its Robert Plant range and Steven Tyler edge will. On a more boring note, I love this photo of guitarist Roman Huijbreghs.

Jett Rebel is an artist I felt the need to photograph based on his immense popularity rather than my appreciation for his music. Surprisingly, there were some aspects of his Eurosonic Air performance that I actually really liked. His band is fantastic. Especially drummer Rick van Wort amazed me – he even started the show with a short drum solo – but Jett Rebel himself is a more than capable guitarist himself as well. His Prince-like Rock song ‘Do You Love Me At All?’ got stuck in my head for days. On the other hand, at some points he seemed more interested in making contact with the – admittedly beautiful – young ladies in the front row than actually serving them with a great concert. His attempts at audience participation really disrupted the flow of the show. Ironically, his performance at Norderslag reportedly contained virtually no audience participation. I’ll have to admit that his band and especially Jett himself are very photogenic.

Album of the Week 09-2015: Soto – Inside The Vertigo


Some singers could sing the phone book over a busy tone and still move me. Jeff Scott Soto is one of those singers. His powerful voice possesses a rich dose of melody, but also an almost soulful raw edge that makes him a perfect fit for the AOR records he is best known for. It was the Heavy Metal scene however – via Yngwie Malmsteen’s only worthwhile albums – that gained him his initial notoriety. I guess he wanted the edge back, because ‘Inside The Vertigo’ contains some of the heaviest guitar work he’s been involved with for quite some time.

With this being Jeff Scott Soto though, there’s still a lot of room for his amazing vocals and his trademark huge and catchy choruses. As a result, the album is most definitely heavy, but in the end comes across more as a modern Hard Rock album – or surprisingly heavy AOR, if you will – than the Heavy Metal the premise may suggest. Most of the riffs aren’t distinctive enough to stick to your mind; it’ll be the choruses you’ll remember. The most remarkable riff work is courtesy of Gus G on ‘Wrath’. Ironically, their collaboration on G’s solo album ‘I Am The Fire’ – a beautiful power ballad called ‘Summer Days’ – sounded more Soto than this.

The only problem with this album lies within the approach Jeff Scott Soto employs on most of his solo output. Equipping different songwriters and musicians on every song is almost a guarantee for inconsistency. He tackles part of the problem by going for the same direction in terms of production for the entire album and having his touring drummer Edu Caminato playing on the majority of the material, but one songwriter’s approach will always please the listener more than the other’s.

Most of the album consists of strong songs though. Both appearances by Soto’s touring guitarist Jorge Salán, the heavy stomper ‘Trance’ and the looser rocking closer ‘Fall To Pieces’, are incredibly good and the same goes for powerful, catchy Hard Rock songs as ‘The Fall’, ‘Jealousy’, ‘Break’ and opening track ‘Final Say’. ‘End Of Days’ grows from a dark ballad into an epic Heavy Metal tune. I just haven’t decided on the childrens’ choir yet, given that I hate childrens’ voices. Though less than usual, Soto of course also gets a chance to show what an expert he is at power ballads: ‘When I’m Older’ is a heartfelt, but sincere power ballad featuring Savatage guitar slinger Al Pitrelli.

‘Inside The Vertigo’ is another highly enjoyable album by one of the best singers the Rock scene has to offer these days – top 3, dare I say. In the end, I’d say I prefer the album’s predecessor ‘Damage Control’, but only by a hair. The best scenario would be a combination of both approaches in the future; a little heavy guitars here, a little keyboard laden gloss there. Jeff Scott Soto has proven time and time again that he is perfectly capable of both approaches. In fact, he’s not just capable of them, he’s an expert.

Recommended tracks: ‘Trance’, ‘The Fall’, ‘End Of Days’

Album of the Week 08-2015: Thunder – Wonder Days


Shortly after the release of Thunder’s second farewell record ‘Bang’, yours truly interviewed drummer Gary ‘Harry’ James for the now defunct Fury! webzine. At the time, James assured me that this time, their split would be definitive. Fast forward to 2015, when I’m holding ‘Wonder Days’ in my hands. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the band’s earlier reformation after only two years and the fact that they’ve been playing live for a while, but I was. Even more surprising is that guitarist Luke Morley has written the most inspired set of songs since ‘Behind Closed Doors’, possibly even since their classic debut ‘Backstreet Symphony’.

Don’t expect some artistic detour; on ‘Wonder Days’, Thunder is still the Bluesy, yet intensely melodic Hard Rock unit you’ll expect them to be. All the elements that Thunder fans have come to love are firmly in place. Danny Bowes’ voice hasn’t lost even the slightest bit of his power and range, the riffs courtesy of Morley and Ben Matthews still give the music a slight Pop Metal edge, the vocal harmonies are spot, but the slickness of many Hard Rock bands with similar memorability is nowhere to be found in favor of strong songwriting and a healthy dose of variation.

Nothing that surprising so far, but the consistency of their style, combined with the exceptional quality of the songs and the unbelievably spirited performances of everyone involved are a cause for goosebumps and – simultaneously – delight that the Brits are back. After the somewhat underwhelming ‘Bang’, I had assumed that the fire had burnt out, but it only took the powerful, Stonesy Bluesrock groove of ‘The Thing I Want’ to draw a wide smile on my face and realize that this is what Rock music is about. Before release, the huge Zeppelin-esque riff, catchy chorus and uncharacteristically busy middle section of the opening title track already confirmed my faith in the album.

Lyrically, nostalgia seems to be a leitmotif on the album. The title track – if not the title itself! – and the nicely rocking ‘When The Music Played’ recall the days when the band members were younger and do that with a distinct flair. Don’t be mislead though; the album doesn’t just have nostalgic value. The strong compositions and performances make the album. Even when the band branches out a little, like on the surprisingly folky ‘The Rain’, the borderline Heavy Metal of ‘The Prophet’ and the swampy Blues shuffle of ‘Serpentine’, they sound every bit as convincing as when they are in more familiar territory, let’s say the awesome ‘Black Water’.

In the end, the only thing we can say after hearing ‘Wonder Days’ is “welcome back Thunder!”. The record is amazing, easily top 3 work for the British quintet. All of the band’s melodic Hard Rock and Bluesrock glory has been restored to an extent that I – as a fan – wouldn’t even have dared to dream it would. Needless to say, fans of the genre simply can’t go wrong here. For me personally, the record consolidates my endless respect for Luke Morley as a songwriter and Thunder as a band. A masterpiece. No, I’m not exaggerating.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Thing I Need’, ‘When The Music Played’, ‘Serpentine’

Album of the Week 07-2015: Secret Sphere – Portrait Of A Dying Heart


Italian progressive Power Metallers Secret Sphere were always a band I had appreciated, but for some reason, I never truly got into them. They had the melodic sensibilities and the slightly more interesting compositions than most of the other bands that followed their fellow countrymen of Labÿrinth and Rhapsody to impress me, but somehow never held my interest for a prolonged period. Enter Michele Luppi. The former singer of Vision Divine, with his impossibly beautiful voice and wide range he moves through with enviable smoothness. The band’s seventh album proves that an amazing singer was the missing piece in Secret Sphere’s formula.

Luppi’s presence is felt immediately. Not only do his voice and his trademark layered harmonies mark much of the album’s character, ‘Portrait Of A Dying Heart’ is also Secret Sphere’s most overt Power Metal album thus far. The progressive tendencies – mainly early Fates Warning-isms – are still there, but the record is more song-oriented and a tad less complex than what their fan base may be used to. In fact, Vision Divine’s work is a pretty adequate reference what the album sounds like. Band leader Aldo Lonobile did keep an eye on the fact that Secret Sphere kept its identity though.

With the six minute instrumental opening track and the following ‘X’, Secret Sphere wisely chose to open their album in the most progressive fashion possible. ‘X’ is speedy and intense, but does deviate from the standard Power Metal formula enough to speak of a surprise. The rest of the album contains blazing headbangers with killer riffs and fantastic choruses such as ‘Wish & Steadiness’ and the amazing ‘Secrets Fear’, proggy stompers like ‘Healing’ and ‘The Fall’ and passionate power ballads – they’re Italian after all – of which ‘Lie To Me’ is the most impressive. I’m not sure if closing the album with two ballads was the wisest idea, but at least they’re well written.

Not just the music, also the mixing job is clearly in favor of Michele Luppi. It’s not hard to understand why; the man is simply one of the best – if not the best – singers in the contemporary Power Metal scene. I can imagine it may irritate fans of Secret Sphere’s instrumental prowess, but I find it a very pleasant listen. Not in the last place because the guitars courtesy of Lonobile and Marco Pastorino have a very nice tone here. Nowhere near as shrill as on most contemporary Metal records and as a result, their chords have a warm body to them. Frederico Pennazzato’s drums sound surprisingly natural and – therefore – powerful as well.

And so it happened that Secret Sphere needed Michele Luppi to push me over the edge. It’s not just Luppi’s fault that ‘Portrait Of A Broken Heart’ is so good though. There is so much awesome riff work and rhythmical intensity to enjoy here that every fan of slightly more adventurous Power Metal – let’s say Angra – should find something of their liking here. You just have to be able to digest something more vocal and song driven than may be usual in the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Secrets Fear’, ‘Wish & Steadiness’, ‘X’

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