Thursday 4 April 2024

Neon Rider - Destination Unknown (2024)

Country: Argentina
Style: Melodic/Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Mar 2024
Sites: Facebook

Neon Rider was founded by a couple of guitarists and that's apparent from the title track, which is the intro that opens up the album, a sub-minute long piece told entirely on guitar. We can feel the eagerness in that intro and also as the first track proper, named for the band, kicks in. Sure, Bruno Sangari delivers a strong clean vocal and guitarists Hernan Cattaneo and Marcos Nieva Green add precisely the riffs the song requires, but it's the eagerness that drives it all and I couldn't wait for the solos, because it feels like the performers can't wait for them too. It's a moment of release, as if the musicians have been restrained for a while and can finally just let rip.

Much of the joy here is in that release, because the constant battle in the majority of these songs is between the urge to go wild and jam for an hour and the need to exercise restraint to flesh out this music with verses and choruses and hooks and all that nitty gritty stuff that makes songs. On every song there's restraint but we can feel the energy gradually building until the moment they can simply let loose, mostly through another guitar solo. I can't remember the last studio album I've heard that feels as joyously alive as this one does, especially during its first half. That sort of energy is usually reserved for live albums.

The style is hard rock but with strong roots in melodic rock. Neon Rider and Feel the Magic adopt the latter a bit more than Unleash Your Fire and I Lay My Life in Rock and Roll, because the album builds throughout its first half. Those are the first four tracks and each of them is a touch heavier than the one before it, albeit never losing focus on the melodic rock at the core of them all, even though Cattaneo and Green like to bulk it up with the guitars.

While this is hard rock that will play very well to melodic rock fans, I'm not shocked in the slightest to discover that both Cattaneo and Green also play in a power metal band called Amma, while the former is also in a second power metal band, Edenlord. There's a distinctively metal approach to what they do and, at their heaviest, the result sometimes feels like a hard rock take on Japanese heavy metal bands like Loudness or Bow Wow/Vow Wow. Of course, Neon Rider are nowhere near Tokyo, instead hailing from a different capital, Buenos Aires in Argentina, and it's an interesting approach to music that otherwise owes a lot to the heavier end of Journey.

Those heavier songs are mostly on the first half, with Unleash Your Fire being my favourite in that vein, but there's a return to power at the end of the album because Riders of the Night wraps the show up with some major emphasis. The bulk of the second half, after the edgy guitars of Compass Rose but before that emphatic closer, holds things back more, hearkening back to the openers but taking it a step further. Surreal and Standing by the Edge are a little softer and One and Only is an outright ballad. What's important is that, while the the urgency drops a little, it's still there and I particularly like the guitar solos in Standing by the Edge with their lovely liquid tone.

I'm not a huge fan of ballads, but I have to underline that those liquid guitars elevate this one and a ramp up a minute and a half in doesn't hurt either. It moves from ballad to power ballad, but it's a good one. Other touches that I liked here include the riffs in I Lay My Life in Rock and Roll, which reminded me of Randy Rhoads on early Ozzy albums, and on Riders of the Night, which are vicious by comparison, reminding more of Iron Maiden's Back to the Village. This closer ends up as one of my standout tracks, not merely because of the guitarwork but because of the interesting use of a children's choir, which includes some of the band member's children.

I don't see a lot online about Neon Rider, who only seem to have a Facebook page that's still new enough to not have a friendly url, but I'm guessing that'll change as they establish themselves. It was good to hear them on Chris Franklin's essential melodic rock radio show Raised on Rock and I expect that they'll travel a lot further than that too, with a sound that's rock but nods to metal, a sound that's also polished but also retains an edge, a sound that's clearly well produced but still bursts out of the speakers with sheer energy. I'm presuming this is their debut album and it does a solid job of pointing the way to the next one. Their destination may be unknown but they seem to know where they're going.

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