Reviews roundup – Evanescence vs. The Dark Element vs. Alan Simon vs. Popa Chubby vs. Red Raven
This is probably the album that Amy Lee (who is Evanescence) was always meant to make. I mean I liked her goth rock lite offerings over the paltry three albums that’s she released but I always got the feeling that the rock part was a necessary bolt on. Well no more. Because this album revisits her songs of yore but removes the rock.
And it works really well. She’s gone all soundtracky and symphonic with large dashes of electronica and the new settings really suit the songs. It’s dramatic, bombastic and over the top but without being heavy. In a metal sense. For sure there are a couple of moments (including ‘Your Star’) where she seems to be hoping for some kind of 21st century pop hit but the misses are few and the hits are big.
Tunes like ‘My Immortal’ soar in the new settings and the two new tracks show a direction I’ll be keen to hear more of.
THE DARK ELEMENT
The Dark Element
The two best Nightwish albums are the two that Anette Olzon sang on. Now I’m a huge Tarja fan but musically those ones were never bettered. Now, after a long lay off post solo album she’s back in the world of symphonic rock in the company of Jani Liimatainen (ex Sonata Arctica). And it’s a good one.
It’s actually one of those never ending Frontiers Records project things whereby Jani Liimatainen took a batch of songs to Italy and the company then set about framing a record around them, hence why all the instruments and vocals were recorded in different studios (and indeed more than one copy). The main duo are augmented by Jonas Kuhlberg – Bass and Jani “Hurtsi” Hurula – Drums and, unusually, you’d never guess they weren’t a real group. Yup, it actually works.
The songs are uniformly excellent and well suited for the melodic voice of Anette Olzon. It’s not as BIG as the sound that Nightwish captured but if you’re looking for a tremendous batch of dark symphonic rock tunes then this is one of the best collections to be released this year. Numbers like ‘Last Good Day’, ‘I Cannot Raise The Dead’ and the ballads ‘Someone You Used To Know’ are just magnificent and well deserving of a wide audience. Here’s hoping it avoids the curse of the project and turns into something real and long lasting.
Yes, he does look as though he’s released an album of Phil Collins cover versions but hark at this.
“The 40 songs on the compilation are all personal selections from my rock operas and concept albums: ‘Excalibur (the quadrilogy)’, ‘Gaia’, ‘Anne de Bretagne’, ‘Tristan & Yseult’, ‘Captain Kid’ and various soundtracks…Some of these tracks fans may know already and other tracks offer a deeper insight into my work! ‘Songwriter’ a sentimental and personal collection which also includes a comic strip of my journey.” – Alan Simon
Sounds good, eh? And let’s not forget that over the years he’s got the likes of Alan Parsons, Jon Anderson, Moya Brennan, John Wetton, Justin Hayward, Martin Barre, Les Holroyd, Mick Fleetwood and countless others to put in appearances on his records and it shows the quality of his music and the regard that he’s held in. Even better, the songs are capable of standing by themselves, something that conceptually linked tracks often fall down on so you don’t miss the setting. No, you’re too busy enjoying the music and wondering how you managed to miss out on it over the years. Highlights are a plenty but I’m still reeling from the pleasures of ‘Celtic Ring’ with Alan Parsons, ‘Beltaine’ with Fairport Convention, the Roger Hodgson enhanced ‘The Elements’ and ‘Saman’ with both Les Holroyd & Mick Fleetwood.
An absolute delight, prog and classic rock fans should grab this immediately.
Where I’m fae, twa dugs means two bottles of Newcastle Brown, landlord. I’m sure of two things about this record. i) Popa Chubby doesn’t know that and ii) he’d heartily approve.
Because his music is meant to be blasted out in a sweaty, basement bar in front of a crowd of sweaty, beered up fans. This is the follow up to the live “Big, Bad And Beautiful” and sees him laying down eleven new tunes that sound exactly like you would want a new Popa Chubby album to sound. He takes care of bass, guitar and percussion, along with Sam Bryant on drums, Andy Paladino on bass, Dave Keyes on keyboards, his daughter Tipitina Horowitz on trumpet and Andrew Garrison on saxophone. And it’s a blast from beginning to end. From ‘It’s Alright’ onwards he sets about rocking your blues with verve and energy (as well as a healthy dose of self deprecating humour).
Highlights. Well, there are plenty. But I’m still laying it down to ‘Preexisting Conditions’, ‘Sam Lay’s Pistol’ and ‘Shakedown’. But it rocks wherever you land. It ends with two live bonus tracks. A run through ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and then a visit to my least favourite song ever. ‘Hallelujah’. Good job I know where the skip button is!
Chapter Two: Digithell
To Germania! And a world of power metal. Of course. Oddly enough, Red Raven is the band that Frank Beck was in before he was tapped to join Gamma Ray. Now he hasn’t actually made a record with Gamma Ray yet but he has made a second album with the band he was in before them. Still with me?
Yup, this is the follow-up to “Chapter One: The Principles” which came out in 2014. That didn’t make many waves but with their singer having a bigger profile maybe this is the time for them. And it’s pretty good. Granted it’s pretty bog standard melodic power metal but that makes a fine noise when it’s written and performed well. And Red Raven certainly do that. The first “real” track is also one of the highlights. ‘Collapse’ is a great song and drags you kicking and screaming into their world. Before you know it they’re rocking like bastards on ‘Dance With A Freak’. They rarely let up as good song after good song comes your way.
There is a wee bit of a sag towards the end that stops this being an out and out classic but power metal fans should certainly be cocking their ears this way. Of course Kai Hansen might not like it or he could end up short of a singer if this takes off like it should.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton