Friday, 24 December 2021

Wayward Sons - Even Up the Score (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 8 Oct 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter

Not to be confused with the '80s tribute band in LA featuring Hugh Jass on vocals and Lou Bido on guitar and keyboards, this Wayward Sons are a New Wave of Classic Rock outfit from the UK which was set up after an offer from the ever prolific Frontiers label to help Toby Jepson, of Little Angels fame, "get back on the horse". The band he put together in response includes old and new names, Nic Wastell the bass player for Chrome Molly and Dave Kemp an old Little Angels bandmate, so of quite the heritage, but drummer Phil Martini known for Joe Elliot's Down and Outz and guitarist Sam Wood from Treason Kings. This is their third album and they're a mainstay in NWoCR circles.

Unlike many of their notable peers, I haven't heard them yet. I wasn't paying attention when they put out Ghosts of Yet to Come in 2017 and somehow I let 2019's The Truth Ain't What It Used to Be slip past me, so I wanted to make sure I didn't let the same thing happen with this one. It really is good stuff and I can happily say that, for a change, you can believe all the hype. It's as urgent as a consistent cover art approach that pitches these albums like comic books might suggest, with the sound harder and more up tempo than I remember the excellent Little Angels being but closer to what I remember from Chrome Molly.

I liked the album from the outset, because Even Up the Score starts out with a riff reminiscent of Tank, then moves into a neat hook. It remains rock instead of metal, but it's vibrant and up tempo stuff that emphatically wants us to move. I found that my toes were tapping even before the first chorus and I was almost singing along on my first time through, without knowing the words. Most of the songs as the album runs on fit those comments too but, for a while, they do the same thing in much the same way, so I wondered if the downside would be variety.

It would likely be the only downside, because these are good riffs and good hooks and the entire band feels energetic and driven, however old some of these musicians must be now. I was buying Little Angels and Chrome Molly albums in the mid eighties, so Jepson and Wastell have to carry a few more years than me and I'm in my second half century now. And hey, consistency can't be that much of a bad thing, right? Maybe they'll mix it up later and they do a little with Bloody Typical, a song that pares the heaviness back quite a bit without losing energy and vibrancy. Don't worry, it comes back on Faith in Fools.

But it's fair to say that I was losing faith as the first half wrapped up with Fake, a sub-three minute song with a riff that initially sounds like Smoke on the Water played by an eight year old after two lessons on the guitar. But the second half grabbed me and grabbed me hard. Downfall starts with a bass line right out of Thin Lizzy and Jepson's voice is even more acerbic than usual, spitting out a host of neat rhymes. It builds to a strong chorus and there's an excellent solo from Sam Wood too. He's no slouch at all on this album, even if he doesn't have the experience of Jepson and Wastell.

If Downfall remains my favourite song here, Tip of My Tongue and the toe tapping Looking for a Reason aren't too far behind it and they're the next two on the album, underlining how strong side two is. Even with less to work with on Land of the Blind, they make it work anyway and there's yet another excellent bass line on They Know. And that leads us to This Party's Over, the closer, which is something again for Wayward Sons.

While the vibrancy of these songs might suggest that the band are all about emphasis and power, with lyrical content much further down their priority list, I ought to shoot that thought down now. Sure, some of the ideas are more routine than others, but Jepson has a good turn of phrase and it finds itself put to its best use on This Party's Over, almost a story song that certainly has the most poetry, the most substance and the most resonance. It, like the album as a whole, entertains first and foremost but also leaves us thinking a little about what Jepson is singing about.

I thought a lot about whether I should give this an 8/10 rather than just 7/10 and I'm still not sure I picked the right one. Every time I listen through, quite a few songs leap out as highlights, but I'm not convinced by everything here, especially Fake. In the end, I felt that there were just too many highlights to warrant staying at 7/10. Clearly, this is a good band, not just one featuring invigorated musicians after decades of waiting for this moment but a good one in 2022 regardless. Carry on!

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Trivium - In the Court of the Dragon (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Metalcore
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 8 Oct 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It's only been a year and a half since the ninth Trivium studio album, What the Dead Men Say, and yet they're back already with their tenth, In the Court of the Dragon. Given that they've gradually shifted over the years from a metalcore sound to a more traditional heavy metal sound, I'm eager to see how much further down that road they've got this time out, now that they're closing in on a quarter of a century as a band. Yeah, it's been 23 years since they formed! We're getting old.

After a brief intro, simply called X, the title track kicks in just like we're back in 1999, Matt Heafy's vocals shouty and his and Corey Beaulieu's guitars distinctly djenty. However, as the song grows, it finds its way out of that. The tempo increases until we realise that we've got to progressive, even symphonic metal territory and the vocals shift into clean mode. It's not done quite like that, as it's a back and forth thing, but the difference in extremes is notable. There are points where this is an angry song, pure and simple, and points where it gets back to doing interesting things musically.

Like a Sword Over Damocles does something similar, but spends far more of its time on the heavy metal side of that pivot and, even when Heafy's screaming in the verses, the guitars are playing a more complex game than the inherently limited palm muting approach. There's still that nineties alternative metal sound, if you're looking for it, but far more of the song leaves it behind, finding anger more effectively through fast, vicious riffs instead of a simple vocal affectation. The chorus has a pretty decent melodic hook to it, but the instrumental sections just rip.

As the album runs on, it moves more and more towards traditional heavy metal, albeit often at a faster and more furious tempo than would have happened back in the day. When it looks back to a former era, it does so using the toolbox of modern metal, both mainstream or exteme. There are metalcore components, melodic death metal components, thrash metal components, progressive metal components and others.

What I found was that the longer songs are the ones that do it for me the most and that means a trio that exceed seven minutes. I noticed this on repeat listens, because, once we get past the two openers, Feast of Fire and A Crisis of Revelation are just there. There's nothing wrong with them, but I kept getting distracted away from them by the smallest nothings, only for my attention to be grabbed back by the intricate intro to The Shadow of the Abattoir.

The sub-four minute No Way Back Just Through is an excellent song by comparison to the two I can never quite notice, but Fall into Your Hands spirits it into oblivion because it's acutely interesting and agreeably complex. It kicks off with unusual rhythms, proceeds with odd but effective stylistic choices—at one point becoming pure thrash—and ends entirely orchestrally. Similarly, From Dawn to Decadence is strong but it finds itself vanished by the closer, The Phalanx. Maybe if I heard these shorter songs in isolation, I could appreciate them more, but they're all consistently overshadowed by the longer ones, each of which establishes itself effectively.

And all that makes this an interesting album. I'm not going to rate it higher than its predecessor, because I'm not convinced it's a better album, but I certainly enjoyed it more, and all the more as it ran on. I realise that what I'm liking most of all is their progression away from their trendy roots as an early 21st century band doing something interesting with metalcore. I'm liking that they're gradually moving away from the more limiting angles to their sound, without quite ditching them entirely, and adding in more traditional elements without ever going backwards. They're still on a forward road, just with a better tricked out vehicle. I like that.

Counterline - One (2021)

Country: Colombia
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 22 Dec 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram

Counterline may hail from Bogotá, Colombia, but they sound a lot more like they ought to be from Denmark, where their label, Lions Pride, is based. This is very European sounding melodic rock, an approach that surely reflects where their primary influences come from. When they're good, and they're good quickly here with opener If You're Clear with Your Words and single The One, they're up there with some of the better Scandinavian melodic rock I've heard this year, if not at the level of Ronnie Atkins or W.E.T.

The bad news is that they can't maintain that level of quality across the entire running time. This is a debut album, I believe, and, even if it isn't, it sounds like one, even if the band members aren't new to the industry. Harold Waller, for instance, who handles the lead vocals, keyboards and bass, as well as chipping in on guitar, used to be in a band called Supremacy that released an album and played some major gigs. Drummer GG Andreas also played for Supremacy and while pianist Rubio Res didn't, he did play for Waller's solo project, Fandiño. None of them are new.

The good news is that there isn't anything that's obviously broken and so needs to be fixed before the band can move forward. I see this album as a beginning, a promising one but still a beginning, with a lot of the right steps taken already but a lot more still to come. They need to figure out the identity they want Counterline to have and maybe settle on a line-up, because the guitarist guest list is a long one. I'm guessing that neither Waller nor Andreas think of themselves primarily as a guitarist and the band doesn't have one otherwise, so that job's split up between the two of them and no fewer than seven other musicians, who play on one, two, three or even four songs each.

Don't get me wrong, there's some cool guitarwork here. I felt that Spell of Love stood out on that front, though I don't know if it's because of Paul Alfery's contribution or not. It probably is, as he's not on anything else, but I can't tell which guitar section is played by whom. There are certainly a lot of different guitar styles and tones on offer, though they all fall somewhere into the hard and heavy melodic rock spectrum, all melodic but some a bit more emphatic than others. And that's a bad thing here because I couldn't figure out what the Counterline sound was, given that it kept on shifting from song to song, sometimes even within a song.

Researching the band, I saw people calling out Waller's vocals as a weak point and I don't buy that except at odd points, like on Angel, which makes him feel clumsy. He has a decent voice, a soft and melodic one that's perfect for this sort of material. Does he have limits? Absolutely. He can't soar so far that it shocks us into amazement but, to give him credit, he doesn't try to do that here. He's always within his range and he doesn't remotely have the most limited range I've heard. My main complaint about his voice is that it can get too saccharine if the song lets it and there are quite a few ballads here that do exactly that.

That's partly why the first half of this album is so much stronger than the second. Both standouts arrive in the first three and they both rock, with strong riffs, excellent hooks and decent keyboard flourishes. Maybe they're not as polished as they could be, but they sound damn good to me. Spell of Love is surely next on the list and that wraps up a strong first half that doesn't have a bad song on it, just some that are better than others. The second half, however, is primarily made up of the ballads and some filler tracks that sound fair enough but don't stay in the mind past the gap until the next one starts.

I wish Counterline all the best and hope that they find a permanent guitarist to help flesh out the identity they so sorely need. I'd love to hear a second album. I have every expectation that it'll be this but better and, with a solid line-up, more consistent too.

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Hypocrisy - Worship (2021)

Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Nov 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I've been reviewing so many albums lately by established bands who broke up every time the wind changed that it seems almost surprising to find one that's never called it quits, though I believe it came close for Hypocrisy in 1997. They were formed back in 1991 and guitarist Peter Tägtgren (and soon vocalis) and bassist Mikael Hedlund have held their spots in the line-up ever since. Drummer Reidar Horghagen, who joined in 2004, is only the band's second and Tomas Elofsson is the fourth guitarist to play alongside Tägtgren. He's been there since 2010, meaning that he's played on two of their thirteen studio albums.

I remember Hypocrisy starting out as brutal death metal, due apparently to Tägtgren's residence in Florida for three years during the eighties. However, I also remembering them shifting towards the Gothenburg style more favoured in their native Sweden, though they're from a long way away in Ludvika, and this feels like a strong mix of the two styles, with the melodic side front and center but some brutality left in Tägtgren's vocals and the somewhat downtuned back end. This is a little lower and a little slower than melodeath tends to be, though there are faster sections too. I much prefer melodic to brutal but I like this mix too.

Worship kicks the album off well, with an intro reminiscent of Cyclone Temple and plenty of faster sections with incessant double bass drumming. It's a good song, but Chemical Whore is better and Greedy Bastards isn't bad at all and Hypocrisy aren't resting on their laurels after all these years, that's for sure, even though it's been eight years since their previous album, End of Disclosure. If they felt like they needed a break, they've benefitted from it, because this feels like they have all the energy and drive that they had back in the nineties.

If there's a downside early on, it's that the lyrics are utterly routine cynicism. They revolve around social issues but are always told from a very simplistic us vs. them mindset, whether they're about religion or drugs or climate change or the economy or whatever. There are occasional moments of lyrical style, such as when Children of the Gray begins with "What a beautiful day to die", but they mostly remind of rebellious teenage poetry and that's unfortunate, given that Tägtgren's vocals are so easy to understand, even though he stays harsh throughout.

There are eleven tracks on offer and they're agreeably varied without ever drifting too far from a central Hypocrisy sound. Dead World is a bit more brutal, complete with a bleak scream to open it up, though it also wanders into groove metal. We're the Walking Dead is a solid slow chugger, not my favourite approach for melodeath but done well here. What's totally up my alley is the thrashy Another Day and the oddly infectious Children of the Gray, my favourite song here after Chemical Whore. In fact, the whole second half is a strong, consistent ride, all the way to a peach of a closer in Gods of the Underground.

I'm impressed by how much this one is growing on me. I've always liked Hypocrisy but they're one of those bands who I can listen to and enjoy, then move right onto something else. They aren't one of those bands who I replay frequently or even seek out. Maybe it's just been too long since I gave one of their albums a listen, though, because this feels stronger than I remember them being. It's not the greatest melodic death metal album ever recorded, but neither is it something to dismiss either. It sounds good on a first listen and then grows each time through, especially the deceptive second half.

Hypocrisy have been away for a while. I'm a little surprised by how happy I am to hear them back.

Martians - You are Here (2021)

Country: Czech Republic
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Nov 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

I'm reviewing an increasing number of submissions from the Czech Republic, but that's mostly due to a couple of musicians being both versatile and prolific. This band, which could be called Martins as much as Martians, given that both its members are named Martin, is a project set up by a pair of musicians who were major players in other bands I've reviewed. Martin Schuster, who sings and plays guitars and bass, along with undetermined virtual instruments, is a key player in Mindwork, whose Cortex EP got an 8/10 from me in January; and Martin Spacosh Peřina, on guitars and more of those virtual instruments, is the man behind Beween the Planets, whose third album, Parallel World, also featured a guest appearance by Schuster.

What's telling is that neither of those bands sound much like Martians. Mindwork play prog metal and Between the Planets is a post-rock project with some djent and post-metal. This, on the other hand, isn't metal at all. The closest genre to lump it into is alternative rock, with Radiohead much closer to mind than, say, Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails. There are pop melodies here, but it's always rock music at heart; it's very accessible, sometimes soothing and never abrasive; and accessibility makes it seem a lot simpler than it is. There's a lot going on here.

"We're here to tear down some musical barriers", they say on their Bandcamp page and I can see that from the very opener. A Soul of New Days is a soft song, very melodic, with one guitar taking a folky line and another (if it isn't a keyboard) adopting more of a percussion role. There's gentle, dreampop progression to it but it drops away two thirds of the way through into an instrumental post-rock piece that makes us ponder on what the song is telling us. It's much deeper than it may initially seem.

Many of these songs do the same thing. They're constructed very carefully so as to seem like they haven't been constructed very carefully. They set a mood that's dreamy or haunting or playful or whatever and they immerse us in that, so that whenever the traditional song, with riffs and hooks and verses and the like, gives way to something else entirely, we can't help but assume that it's a very deliberate act to tell us something and we sit back and examine what it's doing to figure that out. Radiohead do this a lot too, especially on their more experimental albums, and their ability to work on two layers—accessible music that just sounds good and thoughtful music that rewards an inquisitive listener—always impressed me. Martians have that down too.

It's not all Radiohead or other prog-infused alternative rock bands. Much of this, like Abusing the Muse, took me further back to the eighties, mostly to British indie bands like the Cocteau Twins or Shriekback, but Worm Nest shakes up that completely because it feels German. It kicks off as new wave with whispered vocals and an electronic beat, and moves firmly into post-punk and rock, with a neatly jagged riff. I'm no expert on that era, especially when we hop over to the continent, but I love how this one shifts so emphatically from electronica to guitar and back again, ending with piano. It's quite the journey and it's all seamlessly done.

While Worm Nest is my favourite song here, with Abusing the Muse up there too, I also dig Deceiver a lot, because its infectious melodies got under my skin, and Story of the End, with its glitchy beats and minimalist instrumentation. Most of the latter is vocals, clean and manipulated in duet, and it has a timeless feel to it. Not everything stands out like these songs so I'm going to give You are Here a 7/10 for now, but this is an album I can imagine coming back to over and over, so I may well find myself upping that to an 8/10 later.

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Yes - The Quest (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 1 Oct 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Yes were a busy band indeed half a century ago. In 1971, while I was being born, they were releasing both The Yes Album and Fragile. They'd put out two albums in the two years prior and would add a trio in the three years after. They're not so busy nowadays, but they're still going and still doing it well and in their very own unmistakable style. This is their twenty-second studio album, even if it's also only their fourth this millennium. They get around to things when they're ready.

I say they, but I should explain who's in the ever-changing Yes line-up nowadays. Steve Howe is the focal point now, I think, on a wild variety of guitars, but Alan White has actually more years with Yes, having taken over the drumkit from Bill Bruford as long ago as 1972. Howe was already there then but he's had gaps since. Billy Sherwood joined on bass in 2015, though he'd contributed in an array of ways previously, whether vocals, guitars or keyboards. Geoff Downes is on his second stint behind the keyboards, as he's been since 2011, following a brief stint in 1980. And, on vocals, is Jon Davison, formerly of Glass Hammer, who's almost racked up a decade with Yes at this point.

The Quest starts off wonderfully with The Ice Bridge, a song that's exactly what I expect from Yes, a complex but melodic prog rock track that rolls along nicely through multiple movements. It does rather a lot, especially given that it wraps up just shy of the seven minute mark. It's very strong in every way, including the production by Howe, which is crystal clear, and the keyboards, which are a constant joy. Had the album maintained this level of quality, it would be a modern day Yes classic. Looking back from the other end, which is an hour later if we count the three bonus tracks on the second CD, nothing comes close to it.

Dare to Know starts out well, but it gets all orchestral in the midsection, something that does add to the sound but not in a way I really wanted. It feels light to me. Part of that may be because Jon Davison sounds a little smooth to me generally and especially on smoother songs like this one. He has all the range he needs to sing in a band that everyone knows with Jon Anderson, but he seems to be missing something that's hard to define. It's like a difference in the resolution that becomes noticeable when you upgrade to BluRay but have to go back to a DVD. Anderson is the BluRay and Davison is the DVD.

A caveat to that paragraph is that A Living Island is surely the smoothest thing here but I loved it anyway and primarily because of what Davison contributes to it. Trust me, I'm not knocking any of his talent, and he's exactly where he needs to be.

Another song that stands out but not in ways I appreciated is Leave Well Alone, which is a hundred things at once. It starts out with Howe on koto, I believe, but then things get down and funky. The vocals are unusual and told in duet between Davison and Howe, the latter not remotely as strong vocally but able to bring a warmth to proceedings. All that's fine, but it changes. Again and again. I ended up imagining that the band were playing live on a a late night talk show but shifting styles every thirty seconds when the host pressed a button on his electronic style generator. What is it? It's world. It's funk. It's folk. It's disco. It's rock. It's jazz. It's prog. It's the history of music. I have no idea what it is but it's too much.

Enough with the negative. For me, the highlights after The Ice Bridge are the constant flourishes by Steve Howe that decorate every song here. They could also have become too much but they are always appropriate to my ears. I like the vocals on Future Memories, which are partly Davison in a still high but lower voice than his norm for this album, and partly Billy Sherwood. The catchiest of the eight songs proper is Music to My Ears, very well titled as arguably the only song with honest to goodness hooks. Certainly nothing else here is going to become an earworm. And then there's A Living Island, which is a bit of a departure from the Yes norm but a very welcome one by me. It's more like a prog take on the Eagles's serious closer from Hotel California, The Last Resort.

So, this is a mixed bag. Nothing is bad, but quite a few songs struggle to find their identity and so end up getting lost amidst the really good stuff. Sure, the bonus tracks fit that bill and could have been safely left off the package titled The Quest, but there are earlier songs that fit it too. Some songs are notable but simply didn't work for me. Maybe they'll work for you instead. A few songs work well enough to be net positives, but The Ice Bridge is the only one to stand out as a highlight for me. And so this is a welcome album but one to which I think I have to give only a 6/10.

Modder - Modder (2021)

Country: Belgium
Style: Sludge Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 Dec 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

Here's a submission from Belgium that satisfies a wish of mine that's often manifested this year. I really like the heaviness generated by sludge metal bands but I tend to dislike the raucous shouty vocal style that such bands often employ. The obvious solution is Modder, an instrumental sludge metal outfit who play long, heavy songs without a single attempt to vocalise anything. Everything revolves around the riffs, which have always been my favourite aspect of sludge.

I was hooked by a the opener, the nine and a half minute Mount Frequency, and the band kept me paying attention throughout. This one is built off a riff that's simple in nature and told simply, but it's a good one and it's the bedrock under what I would call atmosphere if that word didn't have a different meaning in genre names. Modder have a knack of setting a scene with their songs and it doesn't come from the riff at all, though that's slow and heavy and hypnotic. It comes in part from a melodic line that's doomy but often ethnic, almost middle eastern, and in part from electronic overlays that are like ambient industrial.

The latter is there even more on Wax Rituals, which is slowed and downtuned further anyway but benefits immensely from these overlays. Both these songs could fairly be read as improvisations on themes by latter day Celtic Frost, whether it's dark rhythmic chords or upbeats on the drums. However, this one adds even more of a gothic industrial ambience that's drenched in horror. I can easily imagine people using Wax Rituals as haunt music, even taking the slowing and downtuning even further to include subsonics to affect mood.

That industrial edge is omnipresent, adding those layers of texture, but industrial is inherently an artificial sound, whether it's the heartbeat of pulsing machinery or their by products like hails of sparks or escaping steam. Spasm has that industrial edge too, but there's something fundamentally organic in it too, as if its earliest overlays are the tortured catgut strings of cellos rather than steelcutters in a factory, and its punctuating sounds like giant ocean bubbles.

Spasm also differs from the others by dropping the riffs away completely just before the halfway mark. Sure, it allows a shift in mood for the second half of the song but it's like an entire complex shut down for the night and we suddenly see animal life emerging from the quietened shadows. I love this, even though it's brief, because it really helps to make this visual. You're probably going to see something else entirely to what I saw, but you're going to see something. There's post-rock here, or post-metal. Is post-sludge metal a thing? Maybe it is now.

My least favourite song here is the last one, When Your Bones Weren't Meant to Be, for no better reason than everything before it feels unusual and this one merely feels like a jam around a set of riffs that the band happen to like. Sure, those are decent riffs and I didn't dislike the piece at all, but it feels somehow less substantial and more unoriginal after three more evocative tracks.

It's great to hear something this unusual and especially when it's submitted for review. It's been a very interesting week, listening to subgenre that I hadn't heard before, like Mothflesh's technical groove and now Modder's ambient industrial and post-sludge. Now, what's slated for tomorrow's playlist? Thanks, folks!

Monday, 20 December 2021

Alcatrazz - V (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Oct 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Alcatrazz have never been the most prolific of American heavy metal bands, but they're beginning to realise that in their fourth go around. They were initially around from 1983 to 1987, issuing two albums, including the well received No Parole from Rock 'n' Roll in their debut year, with Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet at the mike and a young Yngwie Malmsteen shredding on lead guitar, his replacement for the follow-up being no less a guitar wizard than Steve Vai. Talk about a couple of heavyweight guitarists to kick off a band's career! Well, when 1986's Dangerous Games wasn't at all well received, that one with Danny Johnson on guitar, they vanished for a couple of decades.

A new band built around Bonnet, Howie Simon and Tim Luce released nada from 2006 to 2014 and a third attempt from 2017 only existed for a one off concert, producing a live album to show for it. It's the fourth Alcatrazz that got together in 2019 that's finally proving to be productive. They put out album four, Born Innocent, in 2020, though I somehow missed it here at Apocalypse Later, and album five follows only a year later, albeit with a major line-up change: founder member Graham Bonnet replaced by Doogie White, a former vocalist for Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen, among many others, making him an obvious choice.

Both those influences are equally as obvious as the album gets moving with its stormer of an opener, Guardian Angel, with guitarist Joe Stump happily adopting the role of classically-influenced shredder and White walking quite clearly in Bonnet's footsteps, just as he did in Rainbow. I can imagine people taking bets on whether Ronnie Romero will take over in one, two or three albums time. Guardian Angel is a good opener, doing everything expected of it, and it's up to the album to maintain that momentum for an ambitious further hour. It mostly does.

Nightwatch adds an overt Judas Priest influence into the Rainbow feel for a fascinating hybrid of Screaming for Vengeance and Gates of Babylon, though White does resist any urge to soar in Rob Halford style, something the song continually invited him to do. Turn of the Wheel sounds like one of those kickass openers that Dio featured on early albums, like We Rock and Stand Up and Shout, and the picture is close to complete. Blackheart does veer more into European power metal, even adding some overt prompts for the participation of the audience at gigs, but the template is set and it's a good one, only really avoided on Dark Day for My Soul, the power ballad that closes the album.

And so this is various eras of Rainbow infused, from Dio era on songs like Return to Nevermore to Bonnet era on Guardian Angel and sometimes both at once, like on Target, with White playing up his Dio-esque intonation in the verses but shifting to Bonnet or his own era for the choruses. Some of the guitarwork emulates Ritchie Blackmore but it shreds far more than he ever did. And, just to highlight that this is very much heavy metal rather than hard rock, it's often heavied up with that Priest element too.

I like this, but then I'm a sucker for anything resembling that old Rainbow style. The three albums with Ronnie James Dio are all absolute killers with solid claims to be listed among the very best of the hard rock genre, and I'm a huge fan of the underrated Down to Earth album with Bonnet too. I was always going to like this. No, nothing quite matches those old albums and a few late tracks are arguably unworthy inclusions, not filler so much as songs better used as B sides to whatever gets a single release. The band do give it a good go though and I'm quite prepared to like this a bit more as the years go by.