by Joe Mis
- Senior Columnist –
Wow! Amazing! Awesome! There is not much more that can be said about Free Fall, the solo debut of Primal Fear / Last Tribe guitarist Magnus Karlsson. The Swede proves himself to be a complete musician – playing everything but drums, and singing lead on three tracks. He is so much more than an ordinary guitarist. Magnus has gathered a vocal line up that is second to none, and the well written songs and strong performances on this release make Free Fall a must have for any fan of modern metal.
Karlsson’s relationship with Frontiers Records goes back to 2000 when his band Last Tribe signed with the Italian label. In 2008 he joined Germany’s Primal Fear and hasn’t looked back. Magnus has also written for and produced a number of well-known artists and musicians, and his collaboration with these artists has led to Free Fall. Tailoring each song to the chosen singer, Magnus and drummer Daniel Flores have put out a refreshing album by a well-known guitarist that is NOT just about the guitars – although there are enough six-string fireworks to satisfy the most hard core guitar fan. This release is all about the music.
Massive guitar and keyboard histrionics open “Free Fall,” but it becomes a powerful metal anthem filled with great guitar hooks and an insane lead break, and features Russell Allen’s superb voice channeling a bit of Ronnie James Dio. Drummer Flores proves his mettle by keeping up with Karlsson’s manic guitar and bass work. “Higher” is a pure power metal track with great guitars, but Ralf Scheepers gives perhaps the best vocal performance on the album – a fine example of the song written for the singer. Karlsson himself steps in front of the microphone for the uplifting modern rocker “Heading Out,” and he also demonstrates his keyboard prowess – once again performing as the “total package” with only Daniel Flores backing him on the drums. Tony Harnell’s silky voice highlights the soaring power ballad “Stronger,” and Magnus shows that he has a “soft and sensitive” side by conveying a good deal of emotion throughout the track.
Intricate keyboard riffs quickly morph into a crunchy guitar-driven rhythm line on the slightly darker and very heavy “Not My Saviour” – a track that highlight’s Karlsson’s bass chops and the raw ability of Daniel Flores. Once again, Karlsson has written a track uncannily suited to Rick Altzi’s gritty voice and gutsy delivery. David Readman’s smooth vocals and Karlsson’s slick guitars make “Us Against The World” a radio-friendly arena rock anthem with a great bridge, massive solo, and flowing undercurrent of keyboards. Mark Boals does a staggering job voicing the razor sharp “Our Time Has Come,” a track filled with stinging riffs, squealing harmonics, and massive drums. Karlsson once again sings on the dynamic and upbeat “Ready Or Not” – easily his strongest vocal performance. Surprisingly, Magnus lets his vocals drive the song, with his superb guitar work only stepping to the fore during the bridge and solo.
“Last Tribe” has a symphonic-power-metal feel to it, once again perfectly suited to the singer (Rickard Bengtsson in this case). The chorus is epic. “Fighting” also has a somewhat symphonic opening, but is a real arena rocker through and through – an upbeat sing-along modern rock track with an infectious beat. “Dreamers & Hunters” is a progressive metal-tinged song with more prominent keyboards. Mike Andersson does a great job with the lead, and his voice floats nicely over the keys during the verse and manages to punch solidly through the guitars in the chorus. No guitarist’s album would be complete without some acoustic guitars, and the opening of “On Fire” fills that niche. Magnus sings again with feeling and passion, a fitting finale to the CD.
No matter how you slice it, Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall is one of the strongest albums of 2013 to date, and a superb solo effort in every sense. This is not a guitarist’s vanity release, but a sincere effort by a multi-talented musician / songwriter to create something special. Thanks to the support of his friends to back up his own vast talents, Karlsson succeeds admirably. This is an amazing release filled with great songs, excellent performances, varied styles and tempos – and is totally free of cliché! In short, it ROCKS!
Genre: Melodic Metal
Magnus Karlsson – Lead Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Keyboards
Daniel Flores – Drums
Guest Vocalists: Russell Allen (Symphony X / Adrenaline Mob), Ralf Scheepers (Gamma Ray / Primal Fear), Tony Harnell (TNT / Westworld / Starbreaker), Rick Altzi (Masterplan / Thunderstone / Herman Frank), David Readman (Pink Cream 69 / Voodoo Circle / Missa Mercuria), Mark Boals (YJM’s Rising Force / Uli Jon Roth / Royal Hunt), Rickard Bengtsson (Last Tribe / Armageddon), Herman Saming (A.C.T. / Locomotive Breath), Mike Andersson (Cloudscape / Silent Memorial)
1. Free Fall (vocals by Russell Allen)
2. Higher (vocals by Ralf Scheepers)
3. Heading Out (vocals by Magnus Karlsson)
4. Stronger (vocals by Tony Harnell)
5. Not My Saviour (vocals by Rick Altzi)
6. Us Against The World (vocals by David Readman)
7. Our Time Has Come (vocals by Mark Boals)
8. Ready or Not (vocals by Magnus Karlsson)
9. Last Tribe (vocals by Rickard Bengtsson)
10. Fighting (vocals by Herman Saming)
11. Dreamers & Hunters (vocals by Mike Andersson)
12. On Fire (vocals by Magnus Karlsson)
Label: Frontiers Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 9.5 / 10
by Justin Gaines
- News Editor / Senior Journalist –
German melodic hard rock/metal band Voodoo Circle is back with their third album, titled More Than One Way Home. Voodoo Circle is, of course, the side project of former Silent Force (and current Primal Fear) guitarist Alex Beyrodt, who is joined by vocalist David Readman (Pink Cream 69), bassist Mat Sinner (Primal Fear, Sinner), drummer Markus Kullmann (Dezperadoz) and keyboardist Jimmy Kresic (Kiske/Somerville).
If you picked up one (or both) of the two previous Voodoo Circle albums, you probably have a good idea what to expect from More Than One Way Home. Well, you at least may think you do. Sure, the trademarks of Voodoo Circle’s sound are still in place here. This is a blues-influenced, very melodic album that straddles the line between hard rock and heavy metal, and it features Alex Beyrodt’s dazzling guitar work and David Readman’s electrifying vocals. The twist with this album is that More Than One Way Home is essentially a Whitesnake album. Not just that it sounds a lot like Whitesnake. This album sounds so much like a lost Whitesnake album it’s downright eerie.
To put it in the right context, More Than One Way Home could be a long lost Whitesnake album recorded between 1987 and Slip of the Tongue. It’s got that total blues rock base, but it’s ultra melodic and polished, and even the song titles and lyrics are pure Whitesnake worship. “Tears in the Rain” is a dead ringer for “Cryin’ in the Rain,” and “Heart of Babylon,” “The Saint and the Sinner” and “Victim of Love” are all shout-outs to classic ‘Snake tunes. Beyrodt performs brilliantly here, serving up irresistible melodies and wicked, soulful solos, and his bandmates match him with flawless rhythms and dynamic keyboards (that often replicate the old Hammond sound). It’s Readman though who really seals the deal. If you were wondering why he sounded so subdued on Pink Cream 69’s latest (Ceremonial), it may be because he gave 110% to this album. There are times when he brings the kind of power and energy we know best from PC69 albums like Electrified and Sonic Dynamite, but for the most part he’s in full-on David Coverdale mode. From his low, soulful croon to a full-throated scream, he does so well that somewhere in Norway Jorn Lande is listening to this and thinking, “Damn, this guy sounds like Coverdale!”
More Than One Way Home is easily the best thing Voodoo Circle has released so far, and it slides straight to the top of this year’s Top Ten list (sure it’s early, but still). Sure, it’s not the most original sounding album, but when it’s presented this brilliantly that’s a very minor complaint. If you’re into hard-hitting melodic metal that’s both bluesy and soulful, this is a must-have album. And if you’re a Whitesnake fan, prepare for sheer bliss!
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock, Melodic Metal
Alex Beyrodt (g)
David Readman (v)
Mat Sinner (b)
Markus Kullmann (d)
Jimmy Kresic (k)
1. Graveyard City
2. Tears in the Rain
3. Heart of Babylon
4. Cry For Love
6. The Ghost in Your Heart
7. Bane of My Existence
8. More Than One Way Home
9. The Killer in You
10. The Saint and the Sinner
11. Victim of Love
12. Open Your Eyes
Hardrock Haven rating: 9/10
by Mark Allen
- Senior Columnist –
Pink Cream 69 is an undisputed member of the elite class of melodic hard rock, the kind of band that rarely disappoints. Yes, some releases are better than others, but that is to be expected over the course of eleven studio albums and the fact is that all of them are worth your time and attention. Between the rock-solid vocals of David Readman and the immaculate production of Dennis Ward, expecting a PC69 album to fail is almost as foolish as expecting the Pope to announce his conversion to Satanism at the next Easter Mass.
So how does Ceremonial stack up within the PC69 pantheon? Pretty damn good, actually. Not quite as good as Electrified or Sonic Dynamite, but slightly better than In10sity and Thunderdome. By now you know what to expect when you pick up a PC69 album and that’s exactly what the band delivers. There’s more diversity to their sound this time, the band doing a nice job of mixing things up between high-octane rockers, melodic mid-tempo anthems, and the occasional burst of metal heaviness, all of which ensure the songs don’t blur into one another. PC69 know what fans want and serve it up in fine fashion with minimal deviation from ingrained expectations.
Of course, rock music is entirely subjective and how well you rank Ceremonial will depend entirely upon your personal proclivities, but there is simply no denying that this release features stellar musicianship, powering engineering, and some truly great hooks. The choruses really take off while the tight harmonies and sizzling guitar work together in tandem to make this one of the highlights of 2013.
Ceremonial is a less aggressive beast than many of the releases that came before, zeroing in on the melodic section of the hard rock bleachers, a minor adjustment that serves the band well; the overall vibe is just a little looser and more fun that some of their previous output. That’s not to say PC69 have turned into a bunch of featherweights; “Big Machine” alone proves the band can still bring the heaviness, laying down a punishing groove that leads into a hard-fisted chorus that Readman delivers with an extra dose of attitude. But for the most part the band is content to focus on the melodic rather than the metal. That’s neither a pro nor a con, simply a statement of fact. Do with it what thou will.
If the metallic tracks are scanter than venison in a vegan’s freezer, the catchy melodic rock tunes are in abundance. “Wasted Years” is a blissful mid-tempo number delivered in that inimitable way that only an experienced band like P69 can pull off. Next up is the urgently hard rocking “Special” and it gets the job done…assuming that job is to get your body moving. “Right From Wrong” is a jaw-dropping demonstration of how to do melodic rock right, featuring an insanely catchy hook and a bouncy sing-along chorus that really sticks in your brain. If you are asked what the best track on this album is and you don’t answer, “Right From Wrong,” then you are… well, wrong.
PC69 could have just whipped together a few solid songs, had Readman phone in some professional but heart-lacking vocals, used Ward’s glossy production to hide a multitude of sonic sins, and fans would have gobbled it up like a starving wolf chowing down on a crippled chicken. But being the consummate professionals they are, they refused to take the easy road. Instead, they actually crafted some damn fine melodic hard rock songs, coaxed a great vocal performance out of Readman, and used Ward’s crunchy production as icing on the cake rather than a crutch. The result is another top-notch offering from Pink Cream 69 that most melodic hard rockers will enjoy as much as oral connoisseurs enjoy the position from which the band takes its name.
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock
David Readman (vocals)
Alfred Koffler (guitars)
Uwe Reitenauer (guitars)
Dennis Ward (bass)
Chris Schmidt (drums)
1. Land of Confusion
2. Wasted Years
4. Find Your Soul
5. The Tide
6. Big Machine
7. Let the Thunder Roll
8. Right From Wrong
9. Passage of Time
10. I Came To Rock
11. King For One Day
Label: Frontiers Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 9/10
by Franco Cerchiari
Voodoo Circle, the project of guitar virtuoso Alex Beyrodt (Sinner, Silent Force), shows what it is that he does best on their sophomore release, Broken Heart Syndrome. Bringing together the best musicians within the hard rock genre, Voodoo Circle can, in no way, go wrong because mixed into the blend is the mastery of Beyrodt, the phenomenal bass guitar of Primal Fear’s Mat Sinner, Kiske/Somerville keyboardist Jimmy Kresic and drummer Mel Gaynor, whose work goes back as far as 1982 when he was a member of Simple Minds (“Don’t You) Forget About Me,”) and has drummed for Meat Loaf, Gary Moore, Samson and scores of others. Pool this kind of talent with the vocal god David Readman, and the result is what one would think – unadulterated, driving, perfect, melodic hard rock with, time and again, the feel of blues rock.
There is not a note out of place, not a vocal passage sung out of tune, nor is there ever a time when the sound is nothing short of spectacular. Touches of blues can be heard (“No Solution Blues,” “Blind Man,” and the fabulous “Devil‘s Daughter,”) and, of course, solo after solo of some of the finest guitar work around is present on each and every track. But blues in and of itself is of little worth unless the “soul” of blues is felt with mournful, thought-provoking and tugging at emotions that perhaps no other genre can bring to the surface. While true, even death metal can bring about a feel, but blues – real blues – is a feel all it’s own. And here on the blues tracks, the feel is staggering. As one gets into the lay of the track, the nodding of the head starts to happen, the eyes close, and the listener gets lost in the moment. That is blues. And it is incredible when it is done correctly. And by all accounts, it is done more than correctly on the blues tracks of Broken Heart Syndrome.
But of course comes the sounds of Pink Cream 69, with the melodic hard-rocking (excellent) ‘This Could Be Paradise,” “When Destiny Calls,” the nasty, hard hitting drums of “Heal My Pain,” and the beautiful, eerie organ of “The Heavens Are Burning,” that breaks wide open after it’s short intro into a fist-pumping rocker. More blues, but this time with more in the way of hard rock comes in the way of “Don’t Take My Heart,” and “I’m in Heaven,” which, in moments, had the same feel as “Street of Dreams,” from Rainbow’s 1983 release, Bent Out Of Shape.
Beyrodt’s talents come full circle on “Wings of Fury,” which fools the listener into thinking that during its opening bars that will be a mid-temp rocker, but within moments, the “fury” spoken of in the song title becomes evident. A listen to the lyrics of “Wings of Fury,” must be made, with “we‘re out on a journey, a one we called life, so now we face the jury, we look in their eyes, nothing has changed, we are left with wings of fury, the prophets have spoken, they‘ve filled us with lies, I feel the end drawing near.” Good stuff, indeed. Closing the CD is the bonus track, “Strangers Lost In Time,” a backwoods, melodic hard rocker.
Broken Heart Syndrome is steeped in the classic sounds of the 1970s, in which the blues hard rock of Zeppelin and Rainbow reigned, coupled with the driving almost neo-classical guitar frenzy of the 1990s, all brought together with the excellent technology that today’s studio can offer. The bottom line is that Broken Heart Syndrome is nearly flawless. Readman’s telltale voice is unmistakable, and there is a reason why he is one of rock’s best. Few vocalists possess the control Readman has. He never goes out of his comfort zone, and his multi-octave voice can reach the high notes with ease, which is suited just as well in the lower end of the scale. The CD’s sound is perfect; not a scratch of the guitar is heard. The passionate feel of CD is tangible, and it can be felt that the band did, indeed, want to offer all its talents, and, for that reason alone, Broken Heart Syndrome is without question a CD that music lovers should include in their collection. What a fantastic collection of tracks.
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock
No Solution Blues
King Of Your Dreams
This Could Be Paradise
Broken Heart Syndrome
When Destiny Calls
Hear My Pain
The Heavens Are Burning
Don’t Take My Heart
I’m In Heaven
Wings of Fury
Strangers Lost In Time
David Readman – vocals
Alex Beyrodt – guitars
Mat Sinnner – bass
Mel Gaynor – drums
Jimmy Kresic – keyboards
Label: AFM Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 9.5/10