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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Reviews: House Of Lords, The Raven Age, Blacktop Mojo (Reviews By Paul)

House Of Lords: Saint Of The Lost Souls (Frontiers Records)

Polished hard rock with an AOR edge? Then you’ll be familiar with House Of Lords, the Connecticut/New Jersey/Florida outfit who rose to prominence in the late 1980s before splitting in 1993. The band reformed in 2000, and has continued to produce decent AOR ever since. Saint Of The Lost Souls is album number 11 and it is another very solid affair. The line-up has been reasonably stable since 2005, with original vocalist (plus guitar and keyboards) James Christian joined by lead guitarist Jimi Bell and drummer BJ Zaupa.

New addition to this album is Chris Tristram who joined on bass in 2016. Over 50 minutes of glossy pomp rock in the 12 tracks here, with opener Harlequin kicking off the album in style. The Deep Purple Perfect Strangers keyboard riff leading into a decent rocking song. Hit The Wall slows the pace to the kind of stomach churning AOR that makes many feel a little queasy, the close harmonies and slower pace turning the song into mush.

Keyboards play a big part on Saint Of The Lost Souls, evident on every track and in the main they do what they need to do. Christian’s voice is clean, strong and perfectly suited to the lighter side of rock. The band do lose their shit occasionally, the stomp of the title track cutting a slightly harder edge. However, you are not going to get huge riffs and blast beats here. House Of Lords are masters of their sound and this album is perfect if you like this genre. Worth a listen if this floats your boat. 8/10

The Raven Age: Darkness Will Rise (BMG)

I first saw The Raven Age supporting Tremonti at the 02 Academy in Bristol in 2015. They didn’t do much for me although it would be fair to say that they got a solid reception from the crowd. Having supported Iron Maiden on much of their Book Of Souls tour and obtained decent reviews from their stint with Anthrax in the UK recently, exposure hasn’t been a huge problem. With Steve Harris’ son George on guitar helps, but if your songs are shite then you can only get so far. Darkness Will Rise is a tight slab of English metalcore.

At over 74 minutes it is far too long and songs do blend into each other after a while. If you are looking for comparisons, then Bullet For My Valentine and The Crusade era Trivium come to mind. Michael Burrough has a powerful voice, supported by a decent production. Dan Wright and George Harris’s duel guitar work is impressive whilst the rhythm section of Matt Cox and Jai Patel compact and firm. There are changes in pace, with Age Of The Raven an anthemic highlight. It is crushingly heavy at times, and the band can mix it with the best.

The Merciful One has an addictive chug and My Revenge haunts with its atmospheric intro before erupting into a metalcore explosion quicker than Mount Etna. There is melody aplenty, the songs are stable and well delivered. A decent debut, just too many songs. 7/10

Blacktop Mojo: Burn The Ships (Cuhmon Records)

Feel good southern rock with a clean edge. Welcome to Blacktop Mojo, from Palestine, Texas. Burn The Ships is their second release, following debut I Am. It’s a no-nonsense radio friendly release, very much in the vein of Black Stone Cherry, Nickelback, Shinedown and their ilk. I’m not convinced by their Soundgarden meets Skynyrd comparison but there is sufficient in this album to give it a try.

Lead vocalist Matt James has a voice totally suited to the hard-edged rock that the band play, clean but with a little bit of dirt. Guitarists Ryan Kiefer and Kenneth Irwin duel neatly throughout. Blacktop Mojo can mix it up, the title track smoulders whilst the openers Where The Wind Blows and End Of Days charge full steam ahead. It’s not all heads down boogie with the emotion charged Shadows On The Wall echoing Nickelback’s darker moments.

Burn The Ships is not a bad album. Competent and expertly crafted, it certainly doesn’t offend. In a genre with so much competition it takes something a bit special to really catch the attention and this release runs out of steam too early. Blacktop Mojo aren’t there yet. 6/10

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