Dark Moor: Project X (Scarlet Records)
It never ceases to amaze me how many bands churn out album after album with little if no mainstream recognition. Such is the way the metal media is dominated by those with the big cheque books and high profiles, many bands just don’t stand a chance. So, with a big salute to the dogged determination, let me introduce Dark Moor, possibly Madrid’s finest (only?) neoclassical metal outfit, who have been kicking around in various shapes and forms for 22 years. Yes kids, these guys have been plying their trade longer than some of you have been alive. And to be honest that is quite amazing because Project X is one of the weirdest, brilliant and yet awful albums I've ever heard. Symphonic power metal merge to provide swirling synths, soaring guitars, galloping drums and absolutely bewildering songs. If this band were the Spanish entry for Eurovision 2016 I would not be at all surprised. Beyond The Stars is about as Eurovision as it gets; I've never heard anything quite so stomach curling in my life.
The emotive and ‘unique’ vocals of Alfred Romero are quite something whilst the big band sound that permeates some of the tracks is just bizarre; Bon Voyage has shades of Devin Townsend with choral backing, I Want To Believe makes me want to throw up whilst Existence includes just about everything apart from the kitchen sink. I have no idea what to make of this release, which is the band’s tenth. Imperial Earth has some lovely fast riffing courtesy of Enrik Garcia and builds dramatically but I have no clue as to what the band are intending. The riffs give way to some tinkling ivories before crashing back headlong on the charge. It’s all a bit dramatic with laser sound effects and some robotic narrative. Some of it is just rubbish; Gabriel for example is full of pomp and poppy overtures, samples from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and is cheesier than the Bernabeu filled with Manchego. This is just bat shit crazy: don’t get to the finale, There’s Something In The Skies – it is so triumphant, combing Barry Manilow, Queen and Blind Guardian. I shit you not. It sounds like a horrible rock opera. I bet they are loved in Spain and Germany. They aren’t going to dent the UK shores one iota. I can’t rate it. It lurches violently from 1/10 to 10/10.
Eldritch: Underlying Issues (Scarlet)
So after Madrid’s finest, we also had the opportunity to have a listen to Eldritch, a progressive power metal outfit from Italy who have been plying their trade since 1991. A combination of power and thrash metal, Underlying Issues kicks off in fine style with a rampaging opener, Changing Blood. Powerful drumming, technical guitar work and heavy riffs combined with the accessible vocals of Terence Holler. Danger Zone moves the band more towards the heavier side of Dream Theater, with some understated keyboards adding to the mix and the dual guitar work of Eugene Simone (Lead guitars and Rudj Ginanneschi. The band are anchored and steadied by the steady rhythm section of Raffahell Dridge (Drums) and Alessio Consani (Bass). Underlying Issues is technically consistent throughout; unfortunately it starts to merge into one track, with songs such as The Face I Wear and Bringer Of Hate merging into very similar songs. Holler’s vocals are a little bit marmite, with a little bit of Chester Benington in the mix along with the pomp of James LaBrie and at times it becomes a little too similar. Album closer Slowmotion K Us is a very thrashy number with some excellent playing but overall, the album is just a little repetitive with nothing that really stands out above the whole host of other bands plying their trade. 6/10
Joel Hoekstra’s 13: Dying To Live (Frontiers)
Current Whitesnake and former Night Ranger guitar man Joel Hoekstra’s latest solo album is a mighty slab of melodic rock features the impressive vocal power of Russell Allen (Symphony X) and the well-travelled Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey). Opener Say Goodbye To The Sun has Allen delivering his best RJD vocals in an up tempo gallop which sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly. A huge spoon of sugar for many of the tracks, delivered in the best saccharine coated way which you’d expect given the numerous luminaries that Hoekstra has rubbed shoulders with over the years. Scream is absolutely perfect, high pitched harmonies on the chorus, a break down stacked with promise followed by the keyboard vs guitar interplay so beloved of bands like Rainbow. It’s cheese of the highest quality. Dying To Live has more balls, some crunching riffs and even the odd swear word whilst album closer What We Believe is an anthemic if slightly sickly vocal duet which goes on about a minute too long. Overall a high quality Melodic rock album which will undoubtedly go down well with those who like the genre. Not my cup of tea but a decent album nonetheless. 8/10