Ten: Illuminati (Frontiers Records)
When I see I have an album to listen to by a melodic hard rock band on Frontiers Records I do usually let out a little sigh as generally these bands have a very similar and generic sound which is very much stuck in the 1980’s. I had the same reaction when I did a little reading about Ten but my misgivings were dispelled when I actually hit play on the album and was presented with a very mature and different melodic hard rock sound. Ten are a band that have been going since 1994 with Illuminati being the 14th album by the band and it’s a cracker. It’s far less cheesy than most melodic hard rock with an almost progressive and symphonic sound with some fantastic musicianship and equally strong songwriting. Frontman Gary Hughes has a lower register voice but it’s very clean and rich without ever becoming overbearing.
There are some fantastic riffs and solos provided by the three guitarists in the band and the keyboards whilst very present and up front mix well with the guitars with neither drowning each other out and actually being a nice compliment to each other. As previously mentioned the songwriting is incredibly strong throughout Illuminati with songs being catchy, memorable and even epic with highlights being the magnificent title track, the catchy Shield Wall and Jericho and the melodic and anthemic Rosetta Stone. Illuminati definitely caught me off guard with just how enjoyable I found it and if on their 14th album Ten are sounding as strong as this then I might have to go and discover their back catalogue. An epic and anthemic piece of melodic hard rock with plenty of unique character which definitely makes it stand out. 8/10
Striker: Play To Win (Record Breaking Records)
Canadian heavy metal heroes Striker are back with their sixth album Play To Lose which is another instalment of old school styled anthemic heavy metal. I’m a massive fan of their previously self titled album (which I gave a glowing review) and whilst this album doesn’t quite reach the stratospheric heights of that album it is still an absolutely brilliant collection of songs. Striker have a sound which incorporates traditional 80’s style heavy metal with elements of power metal and hair metal. On the previous album the sound started leaning a little bit more towards the hair metal and traditional heavy metal influences and Play To Win continues with a further lean in this direction with a bit of an 80’s AOR influence as well. The album is chock full of absolute earworms from the get go with the opening triple punch of Heart Of Lies, Position Of Power and the title track all demanding fists are pumped in the air. This momentum keeps going throughout the majority of the album though it does start spluttering a bit towards the end with the rather flat Summoner.
Things pick up again with the pumping Heavy Is The Heart before things go completely flat with the closing cheesy power ballad Hands Of Time. The huge melodies and hooks that are abundant throughout the album are carried by the magnificent vocals of frontman Dan Cleary who puts in a career best performance throughout. The band play like a well oiled machine throughout with some fantastic 80’s metal riffs and some extremely tasteful shredding by lead guitarist Chris Segger. There’s even some session drumming by Canadian drummer extraordinaire Randy Black of Annihilator fame. Whilst Play To Win does splutter a bit towards the end there’s no denying that this is a brilliant album and whilst not meeting the heights met by the self titled album this is still an essential listen for any heavy metal fan who appreciates the fun in their music. 8/10
Mallen: Polarity (Self Released)
Polarity is the debut album by Birmingham hard rockers Mallen. Mallen play a very contemporary style of hard rock with definite influences from bands such as Alter Bridge and Shinedown but Mallen aren’t a copycat band and definitely stand out from the crowd with their dark edged pop rock style. For a debut album Polarity is very professional in it sound and in the maturity of the songwriting. The songs are all catchy and melodic with very strong hooks and sung very well by the talented Kelly-Jane whose vocal range and control is very impressive indeed. Whilst this is not a style of rock I would listen to out of choice it’s clear that this is a very strong album with a lot of hard work put in with both the songwriting and the sound. Not my cup of tea but I’m sure Mallen have great things ahead of them. 7/10
Heaven’s Trail: Lethal Mind (Escape Music)
Heaven’s Trail are a new hard rock/heavy metal band from Germany featuring members and ex-members of Masterplan and Jaded Heart with Lethal Mind being their debut album. Heaven’s Trail play melodic hard rock and heavy metal which is very riff driven with no keyboards in sight. Vocals are handled by Masterplan’s Rick Altzi whose coarse yet melodic vocals are unmistakable whilst the songwriting is mainly handled by guitarist Barish Kepic. With the wealth of experience in their other bands the music and performances on Lethal Mind sound very crisp and professional but the songwriting is fairly pedestrian. I mean it all sounds very pleasant but there’s just something lacking which prevents these songs from making much of an impression. A small handful of songs stood out more than the others such as On The Rise, The Flame and the title track but the album was pretty much forgotten by the time it had come to an end. Good background music but not much else. 6/10