Riverdogs: California (Frontiers)
The Riverdogs were originally formed in in Los Angeles at the end of the 80's the band are notable in that they managed to tap the then Dio, ex-Sweet Savage, ex-Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell to produce their EP, going one better he joined the group only leaving when he became a part of Def Leppard in 1992 replacing Steve Clark. The band split up in 1993 but reformed in 2011 with three of the founder members; Campbell, bassist Nick Brophy and vocalist/guitarist Rob Lamonthe joined by the bands second drummer Marc Danzeisen, this is the line up that has continued through to this their fifth album coming six years after their previous effort. Obviously the gap is due to other commitments of Campbell but it has made the band rediscover their roots tapping into the sunny blue-driven hard rock heard on their debut.
The songs on this record shimmer with a blues rock base that moves into melodic rocking, in fact with the intricate leads Campbell lets loose on American Dream and The Revolution Starts Tonight paired with Lamonthe's soulful vocals means they will appeal to fans of their label mates Mr Big as it's the sort of virtuoso-yet-radio friendly music they have always delivered. The blues is plainly the major influence to tracks such as Something Inside and Welcome To The New Disaster while Golden Glow is the de-rigueur ballad.
The Heart Is A Mindless Bird starts out slowly and ramps up in the end into a guitar solo masterclass that continues into the hard rocking Searching For A Signal. California is brilliant album from a band who many may have thought had put their glory days behind them, I hope the busy schedule of their lead guitarist doesn't get in the way of another album or some live shows as Riverdogs are a band right up my street. 9/10
Scardust: Sands Of Time (Self Released)
Israeli progressive metal act Scardust used to be known as Somina but after their formation they discovered a band had trademarked that name they changed it to Scardust (which I think is better) but anyway enough about the history lets get down to the record itself. Scardust are female fronted with Noa Gruman having classically trained vocals that are very strong and have a wide range moving between soprano highs and guttural roars, her vocals are a revelation, better than many of her higher profile contemporaries. She is complimented by a choir and orchestrations and the band themselves play highly technical progressive metal with odd time signatures, frequent changes, a thundering rhythm section (with a drum solo), complex guitar and bass riffs (and solos) and melodic keys.
Their music is busy and incredibly well performed, the album opens with a five part title track concept which like all of the songs on this record were written by Noa along with the bands 'ghost writer/composer' Orr Didi and they have really captured the cinematic nature of Epica and Devin Townsend. The concept starts things as they mean to go on, from the Overture that sets the scene right up to the final epic part Sands Of Time it's an exercise in the bands obvious talent, outside of the concept Out Of The Strong Came Sweetness is a tough but operatic duet, Arrowhead more straight ahead prog metal (with a bass solo) and Queen Of Insanity takes things back to the symphonic heaviness of Epica. You can hear that Sands Of Time is a good album from the first few bars however only after numerous listens can really hear how good it is you pick up every nuance, every time signature change and you are continually astounded by Noa's insane vocals. Israel has great pedigree with prog metal and Scardust are the latest act to enter the fray bringing a superb debut full length with them. 9/10
Next To None: Phases (InsideOut)
"Watch this space" that's how I ended my review of Next To None's debut album in 2015, the young band had oodles of talent and also name recognition due to drummer Max Portnoy but their album only showed glimpses, they were a little rough around the edges but everything was in place for them to both improve and explode as a new name in modern day progressive metal. So album number 2 is finally here and have the band done this? Well the first tick in the box is that they have maintained the same line up with Portnoy Jr behind the kit again with Derrick Schneider on guitar, Kris Rank on bass and Thomas Cuce on keyboards and lead vocals, this time they have drawn on their touring experience and time as band to craft an album that has given them a definitive sound rather than just a result of their influences, which was one of the things that let them down on their debut.
Here they take their own path, 13 opens the record with a haunting solitary piano piece before the downtuned heavy riffs kick in, it builds and builds getting faster as the piano runs increase, then it explodes into a percussive palm muted riff Slipknot would proud of. So ok their influences are still there in droves but I hoped they were being used to add familiarity rather than complacency. The Apple starts with a drum break from Portnoy before bringing in more palm-muted guitars and even some scratching which I thought went out of fashion in 2001 and once again it's Slipknot, by Beg their seems to be a theme developing and the nine man wrecking machine may have to launch an investigation into copyright infringement. Alone takes us away from Iowa and into the realm of Tool with a moody nine minute piece punctuated by screaming parts that ruin it for me.
The virtuosity is still here, the four of them a incredible musicians there is nothing that can diminish that but this album just sounds like Slipknot there is very little variation, Thomas' vocals have changed but not for the better now he screams well but his cleans are of the angsty pop-punk style which really annoys me. Phases for me doesn't see Next To None improve for me, the musical performances are of a high quality but the songwriting grew stale in 2008. Next To None? In Taylors shadow more like! 6/10