Wednesday 8 February 2023

Ronnie Romero - Raised on Heavy Radio (2023)

Country: Chile
Style: Hard and Heavy
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Jan 2023
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I didn't review last year's Raised on Radio, a covers album by surely the busiest Chilean vocalist in rock music, Ronnie Romero. I heard some tracks from it and they sounded good, as well as deeper cuts from expected bands, like Bad Company, Kansas and Foreigner, but it came out while I was on my research trip to the UK and I never caught up with it. Well, I didn't want to miss out on this new covers album, which does the same job but with heavier music. Ronnie himself is as excellent as he ought to be, my biggest complaint being how there isn't much in the way of interpretation here. If you don't care about that, add another point to my rating.

I'd also suggest that the opener is a very strange choice. It's a Deep Purple song, which isn't at all surprising, but it's The Battle Rages On, from the 1993 album of the same name, the final release from the formed Mark II line-up. It's not a bad song and this isn't a bad version, but it's hardly as emphatic as the song after it, a take on Manowar's Metal Daze, from their 1982 debut. It's not my favourite Manowar song by a long shot, but it's absolutely emphatic and Romero seriously gets his teeth into the vocal. I can't see any reason why it wasn't chosen as the opener.

Romero seems to remember 1982 well, because that's only one of three songs from that year that made the cut, the other two being highlights for me. The first is Iron Maiden's epic Hallowed Be Thy Name, not just a well-known and much loved classic but one with massive opportunity for the right vocalist to showcase his chops. You know, like this one. His sustain is fantastic and he knows exactly how to soar. Sure, I've never him sound more accented than he does on this track, which is weird, but it's great to hear him sing on something this heavy.

The other 1982 track immediately follows it and that's Accept's Fast as a Shark, which turns out to be a great choice, even though Romero's voice is further away from Udo Dirkschneider's than any of the other original vocalists on any of these songs. No More Tears feels rather out of place after those two, as a keyboard-heavy ballad but Romero is excellent on it, as is Gus G as guest guitarist, suitably flash for a song by the great discoverer of flash guitarists. It's decent but unnecessary.

I've skipped over Turbo Lover, which might seem an unusual choice for a Judas Priest cover, given how poorly those guitar synths were received at the time, but it's a great pick for Romero. It's an underrated song and it gives him plenty of opportunity to shine, given how it starts so low and has a lot of patience in how it builds. There's a nice solo here from Nozomu Wakai of Destinia too. The guest guitarists generally do a great job, the other obvious one being Chris Caffery from Savatage who lends his talents to a take on The Shining, a Black Sabbath deep cut from The Eternal Idol, one of their most underrated albums. Romero fits the Tony Martin style well and Caffery does a good job stepping into Tony Iommi's shoes.

I'm not sure that we can call A Light in the Black a cover version, given that Romero has been the vocalist in Rainbow since 2015. I don't know if he sings this one live, but it's the easiest mindset for him to fall into here and he's seamless. There's no guest guitarist on this one, so that's Jose Rubio shining in an excellent, albeit very close take on the original, perhaps understandably in this one instance if nowhere else on the album. That's the oldest song here and Romero jumps from that to the newest, one reason why Kind Hearted Light is the first song that I didn't know. It's from the Masterplan debut that came out in 2003, which I haven't heard. Romero didn't sing for them but it sounds like he could have done. Roland Grapow, also known for Helloween, did play for them and he provides all the guitars here, so I presume it's highly authentic.

After another song I didn't remember,rather ironically given that it's called You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget—an Yngwie J. Malmsteen song, in case you don't either—Romero wraps up with a really surprising choice, The Four Horsemen, from Metallica's debut album, Kill 'em All. That's not the obvious choice, even from that album, and it's fascinating to hear someone known for lighter material tackle it. He does a good job, even if his band needed more crunch to do it justice, and it works well as a closer.

Maybe I should go back and check out Raised on Radio, even if it's far too late for me to review it a year on, because this mostly worked for me. It's hardly essential, but it's thoroughly enjoyable. It also highlights why Ronnie Romero somehow sings for a dozen bands at once with guest slots on a further dozen every year. There's a big difference between quality and the ability to sing different styles well in a generally consistent manner. Romero has both.

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