Power Quest: Sixth Dimension (Inner Wound Recordings)
Perhaps a band that should have more recognition than they get Power Quest were one of the bands that spearheaded the UK power metal revival in 2000, starting out as a member of Dragonheart (the band that became guitar hero madmen Dragonforce) the erstwhile Steve Williams still leads the band to this day 16 years after forming it in that time they have released five albums their last being Blood Alliance in 2011 which featured former Firewind singer Chitral "Chity" Somapala (who replaced long term vocalist Alessio Garavello) and also saw the rest of the original band also being replaced.
Well since that album the same thing has happened again with Williams recruiting a new batch of names to his long running institution. The guys that play on this record are probably a bit more well known as drummer Rich Smith and guitarist Andrew Kopczyk both come from I AM I (in weird link the band formed by ex-Dragonforce singer ZP Threat), while bassist Paul Finnie remains as the replacement for Steve Scott as he was on the previous outing. On the other six string is Triaxis axe-wizard Glyn Williams and behind the mic Dendera's Ashley Edison whose vocal prowess I have raved about a few times in these pages.
Now I've been following the band since their start and I can honestly say that this is up there as one of their strongest records, it''s far better than their slightly disappointing previous record and clearly the new members have gelled together because this record sounds vibrant and vital, it's the most varied selection of songs the band have put out, the title track is a expansive progger (co written by Steve Williams and Threshold's Richard West) and features guest vocals from Annette Olzon, while they really ramp up the speed for Kings And Glory which has all the majesty of Stratovarius due to keyboards and galloping rhythms, they also add hard rock touches to the AOR gilded Pray For The Day and No More Heroes and bring speed metal riffs to the glorious Coming Home. It's everything you could want from Power Quest and more, a definitive record from the UK power metal act that shows exactly why they are held in such high regard elsewhere. I can't wait to see them supporting Dragonforce and on their own headline tour in October, I hope I'll see you down the front. 9/10
Simo: Rise & Shine (Provogue/Mascot)
In 1991 Extreme said "If you don't like what you see here, get the funk out" well it looks like Simo have taken those words to heart as their follow up to Let Love Show The Way is by far a shift towards a more well rounded, mature sound that will see this Nashville threepiece transcend the blues-rock tag into something more natural and organic in construction. Most of the writing of this album happened while the band traveled the world playing over 215 gigs in 2016 and with all the hubbub going on in the outside world the band became closer sharing a much more unanimous world view adopting a karmic stance against the fear and loathing that has become standard, this is reflected none more so than in the colossal desert rock of the final track I Pray which has singer/guitarist JD Simo reciting a spoken word piece praying for everyone to get what they deserve or change their attitude, it's reminiscent of George Harrison's Bangladesh period.
Elsewhere as I've said Simo have embraced the sounds of STAX on Mediation which has the wakka wakka guitar sound of Sly And The Family Stone or Funkadelic, they've also brought in some soul on People Say which to me sounds a bit like Lenny Kravitz or Gary Clarke Jr and they have more than a bit of Marvin Gaye coming through on I Want Love which brings me to the other overriding influence on this record, Simo have wholeheartedly embraced the modern blues revival with nods to Alabama Shakes, The Black Keys (Don't Waste Time) meaning that they can move from vibing instrumentals, The Climb, into ragged rocking of Light The Candle or the beautifully understated The Light which is one man, one guitar and a bit of echo for added drama. On the back of this record Simo could become something very special indeed Rise & Shine is the natural evolution of this band, wake up and smell the coffee Simo are the heirs to any throne they choose. 9/10
Subterranean Masquerade: Vagabond (ViciSolum Productions)
Well this is amazing, I could stop there but due to to journalistic duty I'll have to backup my claim with empirical evidence. The band are from Israel by way of Norway and America, they play astonishingly good progressive metal, richly textured and incredibly proficient the soundscapes on this record pick up where their previous record The Grand Bazaar left off, with the protagonist character of the titular vagabond on a journey, a journey that allows the listener to come along for the ride with the multicoloured record really immersing you as the Middle Eastern influences come through on every track but are at their most vibrant on As You Are, The Hymn Of The Vagabond and Kippur.
The band are an eight piece and they need to be such is the complexity of the music contained on this record, obviously the guitars of Tomer and Or are important as are the rhythms of Golan and Matan (especially with the World Music influences coming through strongly) but major appreciation has to go to Shai's overwhelming keys and the addition of Ilan's brass and wind instruments that really set them apart from the many other bands out there. Obviously there are similarities with Orphaned Land (even shared membership) but Subterranean Masquerade have hung onto their progressive roots a bit better adding 70's psych on Nomad and the sprawling opener Place For Fairytales which is probably the ideal way to kick off an album like this, having all the elements the band display throughout the album in one song.
The dual death and clean vocals of Kjetil and Eliran mean they have the balance between rock and metal with crooning and chanting offset by the growls. Weirdly the heaviest track on the record is their interesting cover of Space Oddity by David Bowie which actually chugs. Vagabond is step up stylistically from The Grand Bazaar and as good as that record was this is better, possibly the album of the year for me, as I said at the beginning amazing. 10/10