Borealis: Purgatory (AFM)
Purgatory is a good name Canadian melo-power metallers Borealis as it seems the band have been languishing there since their second album Fall From Grace in 2011. Now Fall From Grace has to be near the top of my 'most played' list with numerous enjoyable playthroughs since 2011, this left me with both anticipation and hesitation for this release, so as I pressed play it was time to see whether or not their new release will get the same high number of plays as it's predecessor; Past The Veil starts things off and it's business as usual with Michael Briguglio and Matt Marinelli's killer guitars sparring with each other and Sean Werlick's keys and yet again what sets Borealis apart are Matt's impressive vocals, he has an amazing set of pipes that echo Russell Allen at his most aggressive yet he can croon in the bands trademark huge choruses; see The Chosen One, that bring to mind both Symphony X and masters of melodic power metal Evergrey a band Borealis owe a huge debt to. Marinelli's voice duets beautifully with Sarah Dee on From The Ashes and croons mightily on Destiny which has chunky rhythms driven by Sean Dowell's amazing drumming and Jamie Smith's technically precise bass that gives this track it's djent like rhythms.
Considering these few songs begin the album they make an immediate impact showing all that makes Borealis great, it's then we get Darkest Sin which slows everything down with the acoustic guitars, orchestral/choral backing and Marinelli's superb vocals (I'll stop talking about his vocals soon I promise). This even isn't the biggest ballad on the album with Rest My Child getting that honour due to it's plaintive first half that explodes into a solo of epic proportions and the passionate finale. Borealis bring a modern metal edge to the power metal genre here giving it a mature legitimacy with emotive lyrics and heavy post-millennial guitar work as well as adding the power metal mainstays of guitar solos galore, huge over blown keys and rampaging songs with lots of light and shade on tracks like Place Of Darkness and classical Kamelot-style influences abound on Welcome To Eternity which has elements of modern day Stratovarius. Looking back on it I shouldn't have worried, Purgatory is equally as brilliant as Fall From Grace if not better, Borealis have always been very high on my must-see list and with this album they get higher again; this is an album of top drawer, sophisticated, grown up melodic power metal for fans of Evergrey, Symphony X and Kamelot, with some amazing playing and yes THAT voice!! One of my albums of the year!! 10/10
Whiskey Hell: Bullets N Burritos (Self Released)
Germany have a strange love of Southern Rock, they love a good song about drinking, pick up trucks, and partying while wearing a Stetson and spurs. Olly Wallenberg's Whiskey Hell hail from Hamburg and they play good ol' Suverrn rock n roll with a fist full of whiskey and a hell of a lot of attitude. However Whiskey Hell are not your traditional style Southern rockers they have the same kind of 80's style melodic southern rock that .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, Black Oak Arkansas did so well, tracks like Weed N Whiskey and the Bullet's N Burritos kick that kind of party rock off with aplomb having a rocky boogie style driven by Wallenberg's searing guitar work and on Weed N Whiskey enough cowbell to suit any taste. However he also dabbles in the more metallic styles of Priest on Blood, Sweat And Wrenches (which is probably the most patriotic song not written by an American) simplistic four chord hard rock of Rose Tattoo and AC/DC as witnessed by their cover of The Aussie band's classic Kicked In The Teeth. As they dabble in the blues on Time Flies and even some KISS-like stomping on Mr Rock N Roll you see that the band can play very well as a the this three piece pack a punch with Lars Linder's drums and Carsten Meyer's bass giving the songs a rhythmic thump allowing Wallenberg to indulge in hearty riffs and searing solos while he sings with a voice that is part Gene Simmons, part Johnny Van Zant. All the songs on this album are good especially 2013 which details Wallenberg's struggle and eventual abstinence of alcohol and drugs in a heartfelt and confessional way, however it doesn't really break any ground for the most part and with two covers (the other being Mountain's Misssippi Queen) it may not do it for anyone but if you like polished American sounding Southern rock then Whiskey Hell will get you grooving in your seat. 7/10
Jackaman: No Halo (Self Released)
Lynne Jackaman is the founding front woman of Brit blues rockers Saint Jude, after releasing one album to critical praise and being pushed as the next big thing the band seemed to take a back seat and went on hiatus. The band's ace was always Jackaman's expressive rock n soul voice so it was great to see that she has been working on her own songs that she says "Didn't fit with the band". Right she is too as the songs on this four track EP are far more at home in the soul, funk and blues sphere than they are in a rock band, what immediately hits you about this EP is the production equally modern and old school giving the funky synths and bass real pop (Stevie Wonder would be proud) while showing off Lynne's amazing vocals, she has the lungs of a true soul diva with Roberta Flack, Etta James and even a bit of Amy Winehouse all audible in Ms Jackaman's vocals. She belts out every song on this record with gusto and having the kind of vocal that just quivers at the top end of her vibrato as she passionately sings of what she wants from a lover on the title track. She has assembled some cracking musicians who send things along with funk guitars Nile Rogers would be proud of, some hip shaking drums and lashings of synths, the first two tracks are upbeat numbers letting Jackaman go a bit wild however on Honesty (Can Be So Cruel) things slow down with a modern soul feel before the final track brings the mood up again. Now when the new Saint Jude album will come I don't know, but it's front woman could be at the start of a whole new career with this slick and stylish EP; moving away from the rock genre to indulge in her passion for soul and R&B she has the talent to break into the mainstream. 8/10