Thursday, 25 March 2021

Ronnie Atkins – “One Shot” (CD/LP)



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)


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)


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)


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)

 




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

Monday, 25 January 2021



Band: Bluestone

Title: Deliverance At The Crossroads

Year: 2019

Label: Grooveyard Records

After luring us in with a soft intro, Blindstone kicks the door in with a fat boot in the form of the best heavy riff of the day! Hell yeah!! Guitarist and singer Martin J. Andersen is a true master of heavy, fat and groovy riffs, who never disappoints! There’s an aura of Frank Marino hanging over his style and playing, but firmly anchored with a led sinker. It’s so heavy, groovy and funky you can’t help yourself from getting lost in the swing. Outstandingly great! At times, like in “One Beautiful Tribe” it’s heavy as a steamroller, while tracks like “Groove Nation” leans on a funky groove. A bit of Hendrix meets Marino, with a super fat production. Serious goosebumps! This also applies to Martin’s guitar playing in the bluesy ballad which gives the album its title. “Shouting From The Rooftops” is among the grooviest heavy funk rocker I’ve heard in years! Damn, what a track!! A song that sticks out a bit and brings Martin’s solo album to mind, is the instrumental track “Olympus”, a five minute orgy of brutal guitar riffs and solos. The semi-ballad “Another Day” is also a bit different in its approach. Beatlesque guitars and a surprisingly “modern” chorus. Also the finishing track, “Dove”, breaks new ground. A fantastic acoustic ballad, which is electrified halfway through and makes for a nice finish. Blindstone has never disappointed and if someone would ask which album I would recommend, I’d say – ALL!

Janne Stark




Artist: Stavros Papadopoulos

Title: Spirits On The Rise 

Year: 2020

Label: Grooveyard Records


Greek singer/guitarist/producer/mastering engineer Stavros Papadopoulos is one of the most active persons I know! He releases a never-ending stream of albums by bands like Universal Hippies, King Mountain, Freerock Saints, Super Vintage, Shadowplay Project and now also as solo artist. The common thread for all of Stavros’ bands and projects is the 70s. The riffs, the sound and the style bear clear marks of this glorious decade. So also his new solo album. If you’re into vintage Bad Company with a touch of southern rock, don’t waste any time – check out “Spirits On The Rise”. It’s bluesy, riff oriented with one helluva swagger. On this album, he’s accompanied by bass player John Christopoulos and drummer Chris Lagios, a super tight and steady dou who forms a steady ground for Stavros to strut his riffs on. Even if Stavros is a solid singer, he has added an outstanding instrumental track to the collection. His band Universal Hippes is all instrumental so this tracks lands quite close to those domains. He’s a really skillful guitarist with a technical yet bluesy and emotional style of playing, and even if his vocals may not reach to the same level (then he would be a reincarnation of Ray Gillen), he’s a highly capable singer. A very solid album, indeed!

Janne Stark