The Winery Dogs: Hot Streak (earMusic)
With ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy now settled on two 'main' bands one being the more progressive Flying Colours and the other being this hard rock trio The Winery Dogs, it means that both bands now have two albums under their belt with The Winery Dogs newest being Hot Streak. This is pure power trio territory with three virtuoso musicians challenging other bands to be as technically proficient and catchy as they are. The band as you probably know features guitarist/vocalist Ritchie Kotzen, bassist Billy Sheenan and the aforementioned Portnoy and as such the playing is without comparison Oblivion has Sheenan doing his trademark 'lead base' thing keeping up note for not with Kotzen's guitar giving the track the feeling of Sheenan's other band Mr Big. For all the virtuosity, which is a given, The Winery Dogs focus on song writing above all else, they are drawing from all elements of hard rock from the AC/DC-like swagger of Captain Love that moves into a Bad Company-vibe at it's climax, through the percussive title track, into the bluesy, euphoric Empire and beyond. All their songs are delivered with real skill and talent, the star of the show is Kotzen who is still possibly the 'least' famous (despite being in Poison and having a long standing solo career) but my god can he play, Empire shows his fleet fingered guitar playing at it's most thrilling.
Vocally too he is superb part Glenn Hughes, Part Chris Cornell his gritty but sharp voice adds a warmth to the ballads like the beautiful Fire which sounds like it could have come off Cornell's most recent album Higher Truth but also delivers fury on the rockers such as Devil You Know and Think It's Over which has a nod to Stevie Wonder with Kotzen handling the Hammond organs and guitar on the soulful track. Whereas Kotzen takes the lead, in full rock star mode his fellow band members are still great although Portnoy has an understated role, in comparison to his previous works, but still plays like thunder from the outset working in tandem with Sheenan efficiently on the funky The Bridge which is led by the rollicking baseline and some deft soloing from Kotzen. The Winery Dogs struck gold on their first album doing the late 80's hard rock thing as good if not better than some of the originals of that time while updating it for a modern audience. Well on Hot Streak they have done it yet again with 13 tracks of hard rock gold, no wheel reinvention but a strong collection of hard rock. 8/10
Tesseract: Polaris (Kscope)
Tesseract are now 3 albums and 2 EP's into their career and they have had three different vocalists, in that period, since their last album Ashe O'Hara left the group and they have once again recruited original vocalist Dan Tompkins, who left to concentrate on Skyharbour, but who has come back to apply his excellent vocals to the bands cleaner more melodic approach that has always been present separating them from the rest of the djent pack, however this was much more pronounced on their previous album where they sculpted more luscious soundscapes over the thumping down tuned rhythm section. As I've said this continues on Polaris especially on second track Hexes which is very bass heavy as Amos Williams does his thing, Polaris does seem to be the album Tesseract have been working towards, it doesn't do anything radically different but what it does do is tighten and enhance everything that has come previously with huge swathes of melody on tracks like the heart rendering Phoenix which is Tompkins' masterpiece showing off his impressive vocals brilliantly, it's tracks like this that shows why Tompkins is really the only vocalist for Tesseract as they seem more at home than they ever have been. In addition to this they still have the massive technical riffs underpinned by an airy clean guitar on Messenger but also the same kind of ambient space rock that Anathema have as their stock on trade on songs such as the propulsive, building Tourniquet. I've said they sound more whole than they ever have letting their creative juices flow a little on the electronic backed jazz-style playing of Cages that once again moves into the soaring anthem Seven Names that ends the album by tying everything the band do well together in one song. The band have always been near the top in their genre but they have been plagued by line up changes meaning that they have had a bit of trouble defining their sound properly. Thankfully with everything now seemingly stable the band can build on this excellently delivered, played and produced album that may lead to them releasing their first album to have the same vocalist on two consecutive records. 8/10
Gloryhammer: Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards (Napalm Records)
The second project of Alestorm keyboardist/frontman Christopher Bowes is back for another album of Scottish themed fantasy metal. Unlike his day job Gloryhammer is a more symphonic affair dealing with the ongoing concept of Angus McFife, Crown Prince of Dundee, Heir to the Kingdom of Fife (played by vocalist Thomas Winkler). The band members take up all the roles of the characters, the first album told the tale of McFife's battle against the Dark Sorcerer of Auchtermuchty called Zargothrax (Christopher Bowes), with help from Ser Proletius, Grand Master of the Templar Knights of Crail (guitarist Paul Templing), the Hootsman: Barbarian Warrior of Unst (bassist James Cartwright) and Ralathor, the Mysterious Hermit of Cowdenbeath (drummer Ben Turk). Now on this second album all the characters return travelling forward to an alternative year of 1992 when the titular chaos wizard returns to once again destroy the Kingdom of Dundee. So yes this is all a bit nuts to think about at the beginning of the album but putting the concept to the side the album is full of some cracking power metal songs but with a bigger more cinematic feel than the previous record, Bowes ramps up the symphonic elements throughout fusing the Hammerfall sound of the debut with synth filled force of Sonata Arctica or Stratovarius, as featured on Questlords Of Inverness and the pounding EDM of Universe On Fire. This slight change in sound maybe because of the more modern and futuristic setting of the album, with nods to Californian metal on the The Hollywood Hootsman and once again a great epic track to end that sets up for the final battle on the third album. Gloryhammer. Yet another trip into the power metal world of Gloryhammer and once again it will have it's detractors, but they can snub if they want to, this is a glorious, silly and great album. 8/10