by Ron Higgins
– Columnist —
There have been many great bands named after their founding members. Van Halen, Dokken, Vandenberg, and Vain, come immediately to mind. Now you can add another one to the list — Palace. Michael Palace is the founder, lead singer, guitarist, and co-producer (along with Frontiers favorite, Daniel Flores). Other members include bassist Soufian Ma’Aoui, drummer Marcus Johansson and another guitarist, Rick Digorio.
Palace is a new Melodic Hard Rock band from Sweden and if their debut release is any indication, they’re going to be around for a long time. Other bands toy around with the 1980’s sound, but this release sounds like a time warp straight back to the late ‘80s. And that is definitely meant as a compliment. There are many ways to describe this release. Utterly fantastic would be one of them and it would be most appropriate.
Michael Palace began working with Frontiers as a songwriter and guitar player for Harem Scarem vocalist Harry Hess’s project, First Signal, as well as Cry of Dawn with Goran Edman, Kryptonite, and Toby Hitchcock. Thanks to these great collaborations Frontiers Records offered him a record deal and this is the impressive result.
The album kicks off with the spectacular title track “Master of the Universe”. There’s a heavy keyboard intro so it’s not immediately clear if it’s headed for harder Journey/Europe territory or straight up New Wave but it’s definitely situated in the “Me” decade. Once the guitars kick in, it’s clear that this is going to be the ’80s inspired Hard Rock. The only thing that could tank it at this point are the vocals, but once Michael starts to sing everything clicks into place. The chorus is very memorable and you’ll catch yourself singing “Master of the Universe” at unexpected times throughout the day. If someone overhears you, just smile at them and proudly proclaim that you are, in fact, the Master of the Universe. If nothing else they’ll leave you alone to continue listening to this great album.
The next song, “Cool Running’” is another keyboard-heavy rocker with strong backing vocals. It’s a little slower tempo but has another great, catchy chorus. The third song, “Man Behind the Gun” makes it three-for-three with respect to memorable choruses. This one features a nice guitar solo and harkens back to classic Lou Gramm era Foreigner. The fourth track, “Part of Me”, is a ballad but, wouldn’t you know it, has yet another great sing-along chorus! The rhythm guitar is a little more upfront in the mix than the keyboards this time and it’s a really nice love song with another great guitar solo.
After four straight impressive songs, it’s becoming apparent that there simply might not be any “highlights” per se. As it turns out, that’s exactly right. There’s no single highlight because, basically, the entire album is a highlight. Just when you think you’ve heard the best song on the album, you hear the next song and like it just as much, if not more. The songwriting is top-notch, as is the production.
“No Exit” and “Matter in Hand” both have great choruses. “Path to Light” has beautiful backing vocals and an impressive guitar solo“. Rules of the Game” is a beautiful acoustic guitar ballad. “She Said It’s Over” is a song about lost love that channels The Outfield and Loverboy with a Neal Schon inspired solo. And “Stranger’s Eyes” is a lighter rock offering that would be right at home on any Little River Band, Steely Dan or Doobie Brothers record.
The album wraps up in fine fashion with what’s sure to be a concert staple ala the KISS classic “Rock and Roll All Night.” The song “Young/Wild/Free” is a classic summer road trip song. If you cruise down the road with the top down while cranking up this song you will no doubt be singing along, “It’s time to be young, wild, free. Just a little dangerous. Young, wild, free. A bit spontaneous!” It actually sounds like it could’ve been included on Mecca’s incredible debut album. It’s definitely a top-notch coda to this fine album.
Overall, this is a spectacular debut release. Other bands have done the ‘80s thing well too, but this release is superb from the opening title track all the way through until the final note of the impressive closer. This album must be listened to in its entirety without skipping past a single track. If this release is any indication, we’re going to be hearing from Palace for a long time to come. And that is a very good thing. The melodic rock world eagerly awaits their follow-up.
Michael Palace – Vocals, guitar
Rick Digorio – Guitar
Marcus Johansson – Drums
Soufian Ma’Aoui –Bass
1. Master of the Universe
2. Cool Runnin’
3. Man Behind the Gun
4. Part of Me
5. No Exit
6. Matter in Hand
7. Path to Light
8. Rules of the Game
9. She Said It’s Over
10. Stranger’s Eyes
11. Young / Wild / Free
Label: Frontiers Records
Hardrock Haven rating: (9.5 / 10)