Stark Music Reviews

Ronnie Atkins – “One Shot” (CD/LP)

Stark Music Reviews - Thu, 03/25/2021 - 21:07


It has, on all levels, been an eventful time for Pretty Maids’ singer Ronnie Atkins, this past year. He received a fateful judgement called lung cancer, and us fans wondered if we would ever hear him sing again. Pretty Maids ended up in a winterlike dormancy and it all looked pretty dark. Then, out of nowhere, came a glimmer of light when the soundtrack project At The Movies, featuring three formed Pretty maids members, presented a new song featuring Ronnie on vocals. And, he sounded just like he should! Ronnie has always written music, but all has ended up under the Pretty Maids umbrella, but now it was time to unleash the music under his own flag. Unfortunately, the Corona pandemic had the world in its grasp and to put together a band, rehearse and record, like in the “old” days, was just not possible. Plus, he also had the degree of uncertainty of not knowing if he would be well enough to finish recording, or even to see it released. A feeling I simply can’t fathom. But, with the aid of Pretty Maids colleague Chris Laney and the members of At The Movies the songs were realized. Besides Chris, who has also produced and arranged the album, Ronnie’s former colleagues; drummer Allan Sørensen and keyboard player Morten Sadager also play on the album. The mixing was also handled by a familiar name: Jacob Hansen. The production is first class with a big and dynamic sound. Even though you shouldn’t expect a new Pretty Maids album, this is not that far from Ronnie’s old domain. The de-tuned riffs and heavy songs may not be here, but you feel right at home in the melodic rock areas. Having in mind what Ronnie has gone through, and IS going through, this could have been a very dark and gloomy album. I’ve always loved Ronnie’s quite mostly intricate and meaningful lyrics. On this album there are no meaningless and empty rock ‘n roll and party lyrics. Every song on “One Shot” has some type of meaning, some more clear than others. The betrayal he has felt from people close to him shines through in songs like “Scorpio” and “Subjugate”, the unruly world around us is portrayed in “Picture Yourself”, while songs like “Real”, “I Prohesize” and “One By One” are various part of a type of declaration of life, his life as it is and what he has been going through. The title track declares that this is just what we have in life – “One Shot”. Then there are the declarations of love for his wife, in “Miles Away” and “Frequency Of Love”. What sometimes strikes me as a big paradox, is the way Ronnie takes a happy and hummable chorus and puts some really dark lyrics on it. A prime example would be “Subjugated”, where the happy go lucky melodies carry lyrics about not wanting to be oppressed and subjugated. Brilliant! “Real”, “I Prophesize” and “One By One” are more like different parts of Ronnie’s views on life and “One Shot” says just what it is – we have one shot on the life we lead. Then there are the pure and simple love declarations “Miles Away” and “Frequency Of Love”. The fact that Ronnie is every day fighting his lung cancer cannot be heard in a single phrase or note. His voice is stronger and clearer than ever and the power oozes out of the speakers. Although I said it may not musically be as heavy as in Pretty Maids, it doesn’t mean that this is a pop record. Far from it. In songs like ”Before The Rise Of An Empire”, ”One By One”, ”I Prophesize” and “Scorpio” there are definitely no compromises when it comes to heavy guitars. This is of course blended with the strong melodies. There are also the more lightweight, catchy and almost poppy songs “Picture Yourself”, and not least the opening track “Real” and “Frequency Of Love”. There’s also the powerful semi-ballad with the bombastic chorus, in this case, the title track itself. It may seem impossible to compete against the classic Pretty Maids albums, but after a few spins of “One Shot” I have to admit that it definitely gives the later days Pretty Maids albums a fair run for their money. It also proves, Ronnie has the power and ability to stand on his own legs, and we hope it will be for a foreseeable future. Strong song material, first class production, outstanding vocals and great musicians. 

Janne Stark

Year: 2021

Label: Frontiers


PS: I do have to complain about one thing, though, and this is not on Ronnie, but whoever did and/or approved the layout for the vinyl should be reprimanded for the sloppy work. You can’t just take the text frames from the CD artwork and paste them in without doing a proper layout. While it looks great on the CD, here it looks sloppy, nothing matches, hard to read and follow and simply – cheap, which is not what you expect when you pay big bucks for a vinyl edition. The vinyl master is also an area I need to address. The mastering is slightly muddy and very low in level. I however can’t say if that’s the mastering or just a bad pressing. The vinyl itself was very wobbly and the hole in the middle too small, so it may be a case of bad quality vinyl pressing. Sorry, but this had to be addressed. 


Astraal – Astraal (CD/LP)

Stark Music Reviews - Thu, 03/25/2021 - 21:02

Ozium Records has undoubtably a certain knack for finding first rate retro/stoner bands, just like their colleagues at Transubstans. It something of an open grey area between stoner and retro, where the bridge between is often quite wide and you can also find some nuances of doom and sludge and even a drop of classic heavy metal here and there, which shows in the solo section of the opening track “The Watcher” by Swedish debutants Astraal. Astraal is a four-piece consisting of Joel Edvardsson (guitar), Joel Jansson (drums), Emil Haraldsson (vocals/guitar) and Jonathan Holmström (bass). Apart from an annoyingly loud and sharp kick drum and relatively quiet toms, the sound is fat and good! “Man of Nothing” gave me immediate Tony Iommi vibes, even if the song itself wasn’t Black Sabbath material. “Yesterday’s Dream” steamrolls on in the same vein, at times it actually reminds me a bit of Saint Vitus, especially in the way the singer sometimes follows the guitar riffs. Too bad about that annoying kick drum, though. What I like about the songs is that there’s stuff happening. A lot of bands in this genre, find a cool riff and then they just keep sticking to that same riff, with a slight variation here and there, but generally just mowing on. Astraal ad a lot of nice dynamics and they’re not afraid of adding other parts or tempos to mix it up a bit. “Chasing The Sun” takes the tempo down again, into the doom areans. Heavy, slow and with cool Geezer Butler:ish bass playing, but still keeping a good pace. F***ing kick drum!! Really cool and playful chorus! ”Walls Of Whisper” starts off with drums (not sure if I pointed this out before, but those drums don’t sound good at all!), reinforced with a pleasantly distorted bass, and then the guitars barge in! Another doom-oriented track. The album ends with “The River That Runs”, another kinda drony number, however, not doom at all, but more modern sort of ambient metal, a bit like Poison Black meets Paradise Lost. What I do like about it is that they don’t go all goth on it, but the vocals actually lift up the track. A nice debut indeed!

Janne Stark

Year: 2021

Label: Ozium

Void Commander – River (CD/LP)

Stark Music Reviews - Thu, 03/25/2021 - 21:01

Not sure why, but Sweden is more or less spitting out high quality retro/stoner rock bands! Sometimes the vocals are the weak link (for me at least), but most bands are damn good and they have a different approach than many of the foreign colleagues. So, add the name Void Commander to that list. The band is a power trio consisting of Linus Olsson on bass and vocals, Bobby Karlsson on guitar, vocals and harmonica and Jimmy Jönsson on drums. The riffs hit you like a brick and the sound is pleasantly analogue sounding with a lot of space and air. The vocals are first rate, both the voice itself and there’s also quite a lot of harmony vocals (which is not that common in this genre). The title track “River Lord” rips the album open with a killer mangling riff, which is suddenly thrown aside by a very odd jazz section which really makes you raise your eyebrows. Next up is “Stoner Eyes”, which is almost more of a doom style song with its slow and heavy driving riffs. Bringing back the early Ozzy vibe of combining doomy guitars with a harmonica solo, too, which is cool! Short but sweet. ”Worship Midnight” enters into a more bluesy vein, which also applies to “AGN”, while “Fucked Up” takes us back to the slower doom/stoner domains with a hi-hat that would have been considered a cymbal had it been opened just a tad bit more. Nice and messy, but they still manage to make it sound tight and organized. Unfortunately, the vocals are bit too shouty at the end, but otherwise fine! “I’m Drowning” starts out a bit carefully in a sort of bluesy southern rock vein, and after an unabashed count-in, the steamroller breaks loose! The dynamic verse does return, so it’s not total mayhem. Great shit! ”Shroom Bloody Shroom” finsihes the album in a classic slow and heavy stoner manner. I almost had some Sabbath vibes here (even without the title). A great album that will spin many times in the Stark residence!

Janne Stark

Label: Ozium

Year: 2021

A.C.T – Heatwave (MCD)

Stark Music Reviews - Thu, 03/25/2021 - 20:59

One of my favorite Swedish bands, the minions of prog, A.C.T, have instead of releasing a new album, divided it into Eps. In 2019 we got five new songs on the outstanding “Rebirth” EP, and now, a bit into 2021, they give us six more songs as the EP “Heatwave”. After a short intro, they break the door down with the battering ram entitled “Checked Out” which sounds as much A.C.T as A.C.T can sound. Playful, melodic and proggy. Heavy guitar riffs are mixed with strutty rhythms and Herman’s vocal tale telling. It feels like this song kinda explains the essence of what this band is about. A killer track, indeed! “Brother” continues with more of the same. Pompous, playful, melodic and irresistible. Fantastic! Now the expectations is at a sky high level for some sort of crescendo. But, I’m sorry to say, the next track “Dark Clouds” is a bit of a disappointment in that area. It’s by no means bad (A.C.T. don’t do bad), but it feels very ordinary and almost a bit sleepy in comparison with the first two crushers. Well, the title track “Heatwave” brings it back to normal again. Poppy, playful and fantastic, are the words of honor. These guys eat tempo changes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The only band I know that can drop in a waltz and make it sound just natural. This is stellar! The last track, “The Breakup” just adds to the positive vibes, another killer track in the long line of A.C.T killer tracks!   

Janne Stark

Year: 2021

Label: Actworld

Bad Radiator - "BR V" (CD/LP)

Stark Music Reviews - Thu, 03/25/2021 - 20:57

 




I don’t know how, but I’ve managed to successfully avoid even hearing about melodic Swedish rockers Bad Radiator, and I discovered them just a few months ago by coincidence. This was with their 2014 album “Shanghai”. A nice discovery I should say. The band has now released their fifth album “BR V”. There was however something familiar about the band’s sound or possibly the name, and after a little bit of research I found out they used to be called Grace and had a mega hit with a song called “Inga kan älska som vi”, theme song for a movie of the same name. The guy who sang that song back then, Krister “Chris Lancelot” Linder is however not in the band now, and the vocals are handled by keyboard player Mikael Lundgren. The other members are Klas Bergvall on guitar, Jan Persson on bass and Roger Hansson on drums. Bad Radiator are nowhere near the poppy Police meets U2 sound of Grace. Bad Radiator has a nice bite to the guitars, classic keyboards and real drums. Only the vocals are a bit reminiscent of the more mainstream vein. The album opens with “Long Way From Home”, a cool semi-heavy thing in the vein of latter days Deep Purple, with the subsequent “Heart Attack” pulling up the tempo a bit adding a bit of AC/DC style guitars, against the very mild vocals. “Coming Home” places itself in the center lane of AOR, while “Came Without A Warning” starts off almost in an 80s synth style, but a distorted guitar enters the room and saves the situation. Another AOR number with a shuffle beat! Klas is a really tasteful lead guitarist who puts some nice icing on the cake where it fits. The title of the song “Rock ‘N Roll” is maybe a bit misleading, since it’s more of a softer AOR/westcoast type song, while “Fake” is more rock ‘n roll – or actually boogie! Sometimes I wish Mikael would just give up a little roar, and maybe a bit more … well, balls, for lack of a better word. If you tell someone to “go to hell”, they should know you actually mean it. Then, on the other hand it’s sort of cool that he keeps it very soft and mild in relation to the heavier music. In “King Of The Lonely” they again enter the aforementioned Deep Purple:esque landscape. In the opening of “Tell Me Why I’m On The Run” you think you’re I for an uptempo rocker, but then Roger drags it down to half tempo and it’s transformed into a cool groovy tune. “I Can’t Take It Anymore” belongs to the same genre as bands like Toto, while the album closer, “the ballad “Falling Leaves”, is probably the closest we get to the old days of Grace, but without the horrible 80s sounds. All in all, a very enjoyable album that should attract fans of classic melodic rock as well as the AOR fans of today.
Janne Stark

Year: 2020
Label: Crazy Feelgood

GUDARS SKYMNING - "Olycksfågel" (CD/LP)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 19:41



Band: Gudars Skymning

Title: Olycksfågel

Year: 2020

Label: Transubstans


Gudars Skymning (”Dawning of the Gods” or more like ”Holy Shit!!”) is one of the many high quality Swedish retro rock bands. On their seventh album they have however taken a slightly different path. It’s still retro, still fat riffs and still in Swedish, but “Olycksfågel” (a person with bad luck) is a concept album. The songs, at least some of them, are woven together with spoken words. Some tracks are quite theatrical in their approach and the album is highly dynamic. I really like it, I must say. It’s kinda hard to just pop in a listen to ONE song here and there, even if tracks like “Orions Schakaler” stands up for itself, but there’s a flow through the album that gets lost if you just pick bits and pieces. The production is first class with a clear analogue tough, but without sounding lo-fi or artificial 70s. I really like the guitar sound with its quite modest but very effective distortion. Several of the songs also build up in a really nice way, such as “Monoliten vid rikets gränd”, which seamlessly transcends into “Torn av glas” with its heavy and slow riffs. 

Janne Stark



Top 20 of 2020

Stark Music Reviews - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 15:08

 So, after much going back and forth I've come up with a top 20 list of 2020. 



Here it goes:

1. Thin Lizzy – "Rock Legends"

- An outstanding compilation featuring well preserved and nicely restored demos and live recordings packed in a beautiful way. FANTASTIC!!!

2. Mephistofeles – "Satan Sex Ceremonies"

- These Argentinian retro porn rockers came in with fists held high and totally knocked me out!

3. Raven – "Metal City"

- Classic UK band Raven is back with a vengeance (not that they have ever vanished). "Metal City" is prbably my favorite Raven album since the debut!

4. Blue Öyster Cult – "The Symbol Remains"

- I must admit I wasn't expecting this AT ALL!! The last time I saw the Cult live, they were actually a little bit tired. This album is anything but "tired". Awesome!!

5. Kansas – "The Absence of Precense"

- Another band with only a few original members, where my expectations weren't sky high, even though I've thoroughly enjoyed their latest releases. This was better than expected! A killer album!

6. Raging Slab – "Sister Slab And The Boogie Coalition – Vol 1"

- Here's a band I've really missed for so long. The reason for this album may be a sad one (these were the last songs Elyse recorded before she passed away of cancer), but the album is a great one!

7. Lucifer – "III"

- Sweden based retro rockers Lucifer does a "third time lucky". Well, they have actually been "lucky" all three times! 

8. Prins Svart – "Under Jord"

- Being a huge fans of their first two albums, at first I was a bit hesitant about the concept of a band like this using different singers. But after a few spins it fits like a glöve! 

9. Dizzy Mizz Lizzy – "Alter Echo"

- This Danish trio totally knocked me off my feet with their debut, and they still do!

10. Wishbone Ash – "Coat of Arms"

- Another "oldie" that still deliver full on! 

11. Shaggy – "Scarecrow"

- An outstanding Swedish/English band that released their first album in the 70s, disappeared and reappeared with a vengeance!

12. Wolftooth – "Valhalla"

- A new acquaintance for me. Outstanding retro rockers!!

13. Baleful Creed – "The Lowdown"

- And the UK delivers! Another "new" band for me. Ordered all their albums and wasn't disappointed - at all!

14. Perfect Plan – "Time For A Miracle"

- Perfect Plan proves Sweden delivers 100 % when it comes to melodic rock!

15. Clutch – "Weathermaker Vault Series Volume 1"

- Well, not a new album per se, but the songs haven't been properly released, it's Clutch and it's great!

16. Tragik – "Faith Healer"

- Ok, so maybe this shouldn't be in here since I play a guest solo. F**k that, this is a great album by the most prolific singer in hard edged melodic rock, Phil Vincent!

17. Future Elephants? – "Humans Passin’ Through"

- These Swedish proggy rockers continue to deliver! Another killer release!

18. Gudars Skymning – "Olycksfågel"

- Swedish retro rockers Gudars Skymning keep on keeping on! 

19. Accept - "Too Mean To Die"

- Yepp, Accept, what's more to say! Jawohl!

20. Bonehawk - "Iron Mountain"

- This outstanding album just squeezed in on last place, because I received it in the last minute. Great album!




Kansas - The Absence Of Precense (CD/LP)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:49



I’ve been a fan of Kansas since the early seventies and I’ve followed the bands through their ups and downs, from the progressive and orchestral early Steve Walsh period, via the more easy accessible melodic John Elefante era, the Stere Morse-era, back to the slightly uneven second Steve Walsh period. After Steve Walsh decided to leave the band a second time, he eas replaced by singer Ronnie Platt who made his debut on the 2016 album “The Prelude Implicit”. Ronnie sounds quite a lot like bass player Billy Greer, who sounds a lot like Steve Walsh. Another new guy on the previous album was guitarist Zak Rizvi, while original members, drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams are still in the band. Here’s also Billy Greer and David Ragsdale, who have been with the band for many years now, while Tom Brislin, on keyboards and vocals is a new face on this album. ”The Abscence Of Presence” opens up with the title track, which sounds as much classic Kansas as it possibly can. A more that eight minute long journey, going from melodic rock through orchestral passages. An excellent number. ”Throwing Mountains” kicks off with a surprisingly heavy guitar riff, to proceed into a slightly softer verse, but still sounding like Kansas in splendid shape. “Jets Overhead” continues in the same vein and I now have to say that, this far, this is the best I’ve heard from Kansas since their heydays! ”Propulsion 1” is a short instrumental piece that brings to mind the Steve Morse era of the band. A proggy, and very nice intermission. ”Memories Down The Line” takes it down to a soft piano ballad level. Even if the song may be a bit cheesy in the verse, the nice pompy mid-section takes it up a few notches and makes up for it, where also the following verse has been enhanced with a nice orchestral backdrop. In its context a really nice song. ”Circus of Illusion” starts with the classic violin solo, continues into a proggy section and a nicemeodsic verse. I have to say that this, still, is a damn fine album! ”Animals On The Roof” continues in the same vein with a nice musical rollercoaster where melodic parts go into odd rhythms and proggy solos. “Never”, again takes it down to a soft piano ballad level, but here it gradually evolves, but without being all prog rock. The album finishes with “The Song The River Sang” which opens with some pretty intricate rhythms and riffs. The verse however shows a slightly different side of the band, and it’s positive, and thene the classic Kansas moves come back in! A really nice and at times pretty intense thing that keeps the listener’s interest up. A highly surprising and abrupt ending though! Can we hope for a sequel, maybe? This is a really outstanding album with all the ingredients I could’ve wished for from a top-notch Kansas album. Despite several of the original members missing, I can’t really say I miss them when listening to the album. Sure, I wouldn’t say no to a couple of licks from Kerry Livgren, and some Steve Walsh vocals (from back in the day when his voice was in top shape), or maybe a violin solo from Robbie Steinhardt, but no, I can’t say I really miss it when listening to the album. The new members, and the old ones of course, do an outstanding work and the album sounds just like a kick ass Kansas album should sound. What more could I wish for?   
Janne Stark
Country: USA
Year: 2020
Label: InsideOut

Shaggy – Scarecrow (LP/CDr)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:48



Classic Swedish hard rockers Shaggy released an outstanding album already back in 1975 and then fell off the earth, to return in 2012 with the equally outstanding album “Destination Nowhere”. This album was then followed by Fighting Angels And Demons”, which was actually a double album, divided into two releases. The first one was stellar, so now that part 2, entitled “Scarecrow”, has been released, my expectations are quite high. The album kicks off with the highly hit-oriented “Hero”. We’re not talking buttery, wimpy pop-hit, but more the type of hits delivered by bands like Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, hits with dignity and backbone. Next up is “Boogie Man”, which continues in the same vein and it’s not often I get to label a track “progressive boogie”, but that’s just what this is! Great Hammond playing from original member Tom Ryan and fat guitars from his original colleague Fidde Rognås and his son Hannes. ”Gorgeous Children” continues in the vein of classic Uriah Heep with a nice proggy touch, but without getting complicated. Singer Ulrich Carlsson from M.ILL.ION has sung with the band since the reunion and his vocals fit the band perfectly. The remaining two newcomers (since the reunion, that is) are bass player Robert Ottosson and drummer Stafan Husar who both perform their musical duties to perfection. Shaggy truly feels like a tightly knit unity. To return to the album – “Laughing Boy Crying” has a cool, almost folkish touch and made me think of Irish rockers Horslips, which is great in my book. The title track continues in the same folk-influenced vein, while next track “Mystery Man” is in a slightly softer vein. I really like the variety. ”Thunder And Lightning”takes us back to the fields of classic Uriah Heep, but with guitar harmonies which is something you never hear with Heep (since Mick Box is the bands only guitarist, so no wonder). I do however have to say I think this is even better than the stuff Uriah Heep have produced lately, and I really love Heep!! The CDr version (only released in 100 copies) has two bonus tracks, starting with “Rainbow’s End Pt 1” (it’s actually also featured on the vinyl as a bonus track). Stylewise if fits well with the rest of the material. A quite melodik straight ahead number. The final bonus track, “Hello Goodbye” (on the CDr only) is a more mainstream, slightly poppy thing, ironically with a touch of Cheap Trick and The Beatles. All in all a really great record from a band that has never disappointed me. Highly recommended! The CDr and LP are only released in 100 hand-numbered copies! Get it while you can!
Janne Stark
Year: 2020
Label: Self-released
Country: Sweden


Sapphire Eyes - Magic Moments (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:47



Sapphire Eyes, based in the south of Sweden, now release their third album. The idea of this project started already after keyboard player Niclas Olsson had put his old band Alyson Avenue on the shelf, and 2011 it became a reality. The year after, the debut album saw the light of day. In 2018 the follow up “Breath of Ages” saw the light of day and now it’s third time lucky. Niclas is again flanked by Leverage singer Kimmo Blom, guitarists Patrik Svärd (Cloudscape, Alyson Avenue) and Emil Knabe (Acacia), basist Christer Engholm (Alyson Avenue, Acacia) and drummer Fredrik Eriksson (Alyson Avenue, Dawn Of Oblivion. Former Alyson Avenue (and Nightwish) singer Anette Olzon also guests on the album. Sapphire Eyes holds a firm position in the classic AOR lane. Easily accessible choruses, nice harmonies, outstanding musicians, a world class singer and great production. Not much to complain about for any AOR fan. “Don’t Walk Away” made me think about the colleagues in Bad Habit, and I’d say they could be used as a pretty good reference for most part of the album. No wonder Swedish AOR has a great reputation all over the world!
Janne Stark
Country: Sweden
Year: 2020
Label: Pride & Joy


Mr Quinn - Walking Through Fire (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:46



Mr Quinn is a Swedish hard rock band from the Västerbotten region (up north). ”Walking Through Fire” is the band’s third album and just like on the predecessors the band has its feet firmly tucked down in the classic hard rock soil. It’s quite obvious that the band members grew up with bands like Rainbow, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. But, there are also some more elements here, like in “My Recall” with its almost theatrical touch of pomp rock and a pinch of AOR. Also “Nothing Last Forever” has a theatrical touch, and a really nice chorus. The band has a new drummer since last time. Former Moon Safari man Tobias Lundgren proggy drum playing fits perfectly. Mr. Quinn are quite close to the musical vein of today’s Europe, but they have actually managed to find a slightly more melodically accessible vein. However, sometimes they are even a bit too poppy, like in the slightly bland AOR song “No Tomorrow”, and where ballad “My Love” is also passes by quite unnoticed. Unfortunately album closer “Don’t Hold Back” is a slight anti-climax, after the highly pleasant “It’s Up To You”. For the most part a really nice album, which despite a couple low points is recommendable.
Janne Stark
Country: Sweden
Year: 2019
Label: Self-released

A.C.T – Rebirth (MCD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sat, 08/10/2019 - 17:52



My favorite Swedish melodic progsters are back!!! YES!! The band’s new EP (hopefully just a taste of what’s to come) is a 5-track release in a nice digipack. Opener “Ruler Of The World” throws us straight back to A.C.T in their prime. Poppy, proggy, melodic, rocking, the perfect mix! “Running Out Of Luck” continues in the same vein. This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for! Rebirth? Hell yeah!! “Digital Affair” starts off in a humanoid, futuristic vein, with a touch of early Saga (can’t remember the track right now), continues in the classic half-tempo, heavy yet melodic A.C.T manner. A different, but really cool track! Love it! “Meet The Past” is a poppy, up-tempo number, with the true happy-rock A.C.T vibe to it. Ooops, there was a bit of reggae, then comes an ABBA-esque part, going into City Boy territory. That’s what I love about this band, how they seamlessly go from style to style without missing a beat or making it feel strange. Closing track “A Broken Trust” brings out the heavy artillery! Powerful guitars, heavy rhythms and chugging guitars, but still so melodic. This is melodic prog in its finest form. Ola’s guitar solo is just genius! One of my favorite tracks! Quite honestly, A.C.T have always sounded great, but now they sound better than ever!! Now my appetite for a full album has really been awoken (so… what was that little teaser at the end of the last track?)!! Damn, this band is great!!
Janne Stark

Label: Self-released
Year: 2019
Country: Sweden


Coldharbour – Subject & Symmetry (MCD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sat, 08/10/2019 - 17:51



UK three-piece Coldharbour has just released their debut EP and it’s a pretty nice installment, I must say. Stylewise, they are a bit hard to pinpoint (which I like). There’s a bit of metal, a bit of prog, a bit of post-grunge, a bit of metalcore, a slice of nu-metal and various other bits and pieces thrown into the mix. To be honest opening track “Blackest Days” didn’t grab me that hard and I wasn’t entirely impressed, fearing the worst. However, already in the second track “Hour Of The Wolf” it picks up and some cool and powerful guitar riffs grab my attention. It’s almost a stoner vibe to this one, which I really like. Fat riffs, me like! I also like the clean, but quite powerful vocals. Third track, “Dorje’s Wish” is a powerful, proggy heavy rocker with a hint of Twelve Foot Ninja. Another great number! “Somewhere To Call Your Own” starts off as a slow and ballady number, but soon the guitar power chords come crashing in. A bit too nu-metal for my taste, though, and not really my cup of tea, I must admit. “Battlestar Spectacular” brings back in some hard and heavy staccato riffing, almost with a touch of Pantera to it, while the verse goes off in a totally different direction which is cool. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks! A powerful stomper, but still with lots of musical twists and turns that makes it an interesting listen. The closer “Fall Away” is another crusher, but with a cool dynamic verse that takes it down, builds it up and the throws in the power gear, but still with a lot of melody. All in all, a really good effort and a new band to keep a look-out for. The production is good but could do well with a bit more bottom and power in the sound, which would bring this up yet another a notch. Great vocals, great band (lacking guitar solos, though) and the song material is well above average.
Janne Stark

Country: UK
Year: 2019
Label: Self-released


Cirkus Prütz – White Jazz – Black Magic (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sat, 08/10/2019 - 17:50




This combo features quite a few years of Swedish music history. Prütz himself, is bass player Jerry Prütz, formerly of the bluesy hard rock band W.E.T (not the recent melodic rockers) who released a bunch of singles and albums between 1987-2002. Guitarist Franco Santunione has played with bands like Glory Bells, Glory Bell’s Band and Electric Boys, while singer/guitarist is most known for his guitar magic in The Quill. He turns out to be a great singer as well, with a cool low down and half-dirty blues voice. The drums are handled by Per Kohlus. Cirkus Prütz plays classic bluesy hard boogie rock with a southern rock swagger. Shotgun Wedding Blues takes us to southern shuffle country, while Aim To Please has a classic Steve Ray Vaughan swagger to it. The Gary Mooreish bluesy “Blues For Fallen Heroes” is a very nice tribute to two of the band’s former guitarists, who sadly passed away: Mikael Fässberg and Robert “Strängen” Dahlquist. “Hell To Pay” is a kick-ass groovy, riff rocker that really hits home! One of my favorite tracks! “Friends” and “Hats And Strats”, both remind me a bit of early Molly Hatchet and Christian actually has a bit of Danny Joe Brown in his voice, come to think of it. A really nice footstompin’ classic southern style blues rock album!
Janne Stark

Label: Metalville
Year: 2019
Country: Sweden

Shaggy – Fighting Angels And Demons (LP/digital)

Stark Music Reviews - Tue, 04/09/2019 - 19:37



If you have read my review of Swedish hard rockers Shaggy’s pompy/proggy return album “Destination Nowhere”, you noticed I said I was expecting a hard/heavy rock album, but instead they went proggy/pompy. Well, THIS album is actually what I would have expected. Opening track “Black Hearted Angel” kicks off in a full-throttle Heep/Purple vein with power and conviction. It has some cool twists and turns in the solo section which really makes it stand out. “Bouldless Love” brings me back to Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers” but with a touch of Black Sabbath! Damn, this is REALLY great stuff!! Fat and heavy mix, killer vocals by Ulrich Carlsson (ex-M.ill.ion). The line-up again features original members Fidde Rognås on guitar and Tom Ryan on keyboards, introducing Stefan Husar on drums, Robert Ottosson on bass and, I presume, Fidde’s son Hannes Rognås on guitar. “No Soldier Of God” continues in the heavy vein, with a touch of prog. “A Thousand Miles” started with a quirkt loop-thing and continues in a vein more akin to the previous album, until the bridge kicks in with a ton of bricks weighing it down. A really cool and quirky song, indeed! “Dark Symphony” starts off with some really dark and heavy Sabbathy semi-tones and could have been something from “Seventh Star”. Heavy and dark, but not completely doomy. Love it! “Runner In The Dark” really reminds me of Uriah Heep, like a mix of “Salisbury” era Heep and the latter day albums. The album finishes with “Self Destruction” kicking off with a mean and brutal guitar riff, distorted Hammond organ and a kick-ass drive! One of the best tracks on an album filled with killer stuff! This rocks, big time!!

Janne Stark
Year: 2019
Label: GMR Music
Country: Sweden

Rockicks – Keep On Rockin’ (A Retrospective Anthology)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 17:05


FINALLY!!!! G’daaaam! I’ve been waiting for this 70s classic to be released on CD since Moses was running around in shorts. Rockicks classic album “Inside” was released on RSO Records back in 1976 and I bought the LP back then. The band delivers a big chunk of southern influenced hard rock with dual guitars all over the place. There are heavy rockers like “Consideration”, rockers like “Rock N’ Roll Band”, powerful hard rockers like “Sweet Wealth” and “Keep On Rockin”. What was a huge surprise was that besides the 8 tracks from the original album there’s a SHITLOAD of previously unreleased bonus tracks here!! 7 tracks on the CD containing the album AND an extra CD with another 14 (!!) tracks!!! There’s a whole lot of killer stuff here! Damn, I wish they would have been given the opportunity to record a follow-up. Not that these tracks are badly recorded, but they could have been even better! 16 of the bonus tracks are from 1977! Damn! That’s even two albums (ok, there are a few alternate versions). There are also three really great tracks from 1991-1992. The quality of these tracks makes me wonder why there wasn’t another album there and then! The quality, both musically and soundwise is killer! The final track is a 2005 alternate version of “Consideration”, a sort of lounge version. Not bad at all, but I do prefer the heavy version. Unfortunately, two of the original members have passed, Rick Altschuler in 2004 and Brian Naughton in 2012, so I guess a Rockicks re-union is out of the question. Well, this double shot will at least give you the bands outstanding music in digital shape and form. A must!!

Janne Stark
Label: Grooveyard Records
Year: 2018

Country: USA

Vindicata – Beneath The Surface (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 17:02

This was not really what I expected to hear from the Grooveyard, I must admit! Vindicata, fronted by the raspy and fiery power pack Mary Magill leans more towards modern detuned riff-oriented hard rock (think Sevendust, Alter Bridge etc.) than the 70s influenced bluesy stuff we’re used to hearing from the guitar label of guitar labels. However, I must say I do not mind at all. This is some heavy shit! The band was previously called Half The World and released two CDs, now really rare and hard to find. The band changed their name to Vindicata and “Beneath The Surface” is a compilation of these two albums. Even though the albums were a few years apart and they were released some years ago, this does feel like a very homogenous and fresh album! You definitely can’t tell it’s a not a new album (I was actually halfway through the album before I was like – Where the hell have I heard this before??). Guess the band was a bit ahead of its time. Great band! Looking forward to hearing some new material!

Janne Stark
Label: Grooveyard Records
Year: 2018
Country: USA
Link: www.facebook.com/vindicataband


Revolution Highway – Revolution Highway (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 17:00

Man, when this album kicked off I was immediately thrown back to when I first heard the debut album by Montrose back in 1973. Earthy, analogue hard rock with phat riffs, pounding drums and a singer that rips! David Fefolt is his name and he’s previously been heard in bands like FireWölf, Hawk and Masi). Nothing wrong with his past ventures, but this one kicks them top the curb! So, who’s delivering the guitar riffs if not the hardest working man in Greece, Mr Stavros Papadopolous of Universal Hippies, Freerock Saints and Super Vintage. He’s really proved to be a riff force to be reckoned with on his other releases, and here he really sums it up, blending his bluesy licks and his powerful riffing capabilities. Two songs in and I’m in hook, line, singer and rod! This is without doubt one of the best albums of 2018! If you’re into bands like Montrose, (the sadly underrated) Manic Eden or Badlands with a touch of heavier 80s hard rock (think Whitesnake “1980”) this one’s for you. As usual it’s got flawless, powerful production from Stavros. When I hear an intro and a riff like in “All The Way Down” a big smile just floats out all over my face. This ROCKS (yes, capital letters required)! There’s honestly not a single weak track on the album! My biggest problem will be, getting it out of my CD-player, as it will probably get stuck from melting of excessive playing. A killer album indeed (if you haven’t gathered that by now)!

Janne Stark
Country: Greece/USA
Year: 2018

Label: Grooveyard Records

Shaggy – Destination Nowhere (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 16:59

Anybody remember the Swedish 70s band Shaggy? They were formed in in 1972 and released one LP in 1976 entitled “Lesson For Beginners”, one hell of a record it was. Classic Uriah Heep style hard rock. It’s now a rare item and it has never been officially re-issued on CD. But, suddenly, out of nowhere, a new album appeared in 2015! According to the liner notes it was a result of six years of recording. The songs were written in the late 70s and the album is also a tribute to original bass player Jan Destner, who passed away the year before the release. The line-up features original members Fidde Rognås on guitar and Thomas Ryan on keyboard. The vocals are handled by former M.ill.ion singer Ulrich Carlsson. Listening to the album, it doesn’t sound dated at all. Opener “All Around” is a mid-league melodic hard rocker, while the title track is a really good slightly heavier installment. “Magic Horses” continues on the heavy path, but with a more semi-soft progressive touch, which made me think of German band Anyone’s Daughter. “Lady Of The Hill” continues on the same path and I must say I really like this! It’s definitely a bit different from the debut album, why it’s a bit surprising that the songs were written in the same era. Thing is, different can be good, and it IS good for this album. It’s a really nice development into a slightly more eclectic vein with a more progressive and pomp-oriented genre. Just listen to a masterpiece like “Poem”. Heavy, proggy and melodic with killer vocals and playing. The rest of the album continues on the same path and I must say I was positively surprised! I was expecting… well, I’m not really sure what I expected, but I thought it would be more hard/heavy rock. Highly recommended!

Janne Stark
Year: 2015
Label: Self-released
Country: Sweden

Sakis Dovolis Trio – Cross The Line (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 16:57



Man, it seems the blues has really hit Greece! They have produced the fantastic talent of Stavros Papadopolous (who has also co-produced this album), with his Universal Hippies, Freerock Saints and Super Vintage. Here, his fellow country man Sakis proves he too can deliver the goods! It does say “trio”, so of course he’s got two fellows taking care of the bass (Fotis Dovolis) and drums (Nick Kalivas), and they do it with power, groove and assertiveness indeed! The album kicks off with the riff rockin’ “All Over You” in same same territory as Robin Trower, Craig Erickson, Philip Sayce. Lance Lopez and with a touch of Stevie Ray in his leads. Sakis is a phenomenal guitarist and also a great singer! If someone had played it to me without saying the band name, I would have said 100 % American. Well, Sakis also knows how to deliver crunchy and groovy riffs. “Everything” is as groovy as they come with Sakis letting that Strat rip the air a new one! Damn, this guy does rip!! He also manages to keep the momentum up delivering one number after another. There’s some heavy, detuned riffing going on in the title track giving it a different vibe, some more mellow, funky and almost jazzy playing in “Show Me Your Love” and he does it a really cool version of ZZ Top’s “Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings”. The album closes with Sakis’ tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a fine one it is. A cool, bluesy ballad with outstanding guitar playing. A killer of an album, indeed!
Janne Stark
Year: 2018
Label: Grooveyard Records
Country: Greece

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