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Monday 26 August 2019

Reviews: Soleil Moon, Throbbe Englund, Vokonis, Vermis (Matt & Manus)

Soleil Moon: Warrior (Frontiers Music)

I've never heard Soleil Moon before but it seems that Warrior is their third album. So what style of music do they play? Well very slick AOR/soft rock in the vein of Toto, Styx, Michael Bolton and the non-Steinman Meat Loaf with some really soulful vocals from band founder and multi talented singer/songwriter Larry King (who isn't the talk show host). Now normally that would make for a sarcastic, acerbic review from a metal blog but there is a special kind of magic on this album that made me grin and smile all the way through and by the second playthrough I was singing along heartily, even on throwaway numbers like 420.

King has a brilliantly rough vocal for the powerful ballads such as Just So You Know but also gives tracks like 72' Camaro a blue collar rock sound while also being able to handle funkier numbers such as You And I. He's managed to bring together a really tight band made up of band co-founder John Blasucci (keys), Khari Parker (drums), Alan Berliant (bass) and Chris Siebold (guitars) but in the studio he has prolific session guitarist Michael Thompson adding the soaring six strings rather than Siebold. The band turn their hand to several styles on the album, but mainly it's soft melodic rock with a level of virtuosity that is unmatched even by some progressive rock bands, the music is boosted by the sterling production job which lets everything shine brightly and clearly.

Yes it's a bit ballad heavy but much like those glory days of Bolton and co a massive power ballad such as Nothing Matters is enhanced by a singer with the talent and power of King. Despite this being their third album, they are a band comprised of experienced musicians (their debut was in 1999) with numerous credits under their belts and Warrior is an excellent showcase of their collective talents. A rock album that could easily climb the charts even today, let's hope it does as even though I have lambasted albums similar to this in the past, for being overblown or saccharine in their sweetness, there is something about Warrior I really, really adored, put prejudice aside and just enjoy it.  8/10   

Thobbe Englund: Hail To The Priest (Metalville Records) [Manus Hopkins]

The first thing to appreciate about this tribute to the Metal Gods is the song selection—it’s no obvious greatest hits collection. While many metal bands are in serious debt to Judas Priest, and thus their songs have been covered by many acts, former Sabaton guitarist Thobbe Englund has chosen songs that aren’t overdone or overplayed for this piece of homage. The covers are all very faithful to the original songs. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It sounds like an impressive tribute band, and there are many reasons to go see a good tribute band live.

Maybe the real band isn’t around or as good anymore, or maybe they don’t perform any deeper cuts. None of these are the case with Priest, but a tribute band might be a good thing for someone who just doesn’t have the opportunity to catch Judas Priest live. Now what’s bad with Englund’s tribute is that there’s no real point to it. Fans might listen out of curiosity, but these covers are played just the way Judas Priest play them, but without the magic of the chemistry between the guitarists or Halford’s unique vocals. It’s not bad, but this record might not get an awful lot of second listens. 6/10

Vokosis: Grasping Time (The Sign Records) [Matt Bladen]

Swedes Vokonis say their influences range from Baroness and Pink Floyd to Elder and from the off you can hear that they are at the heavier end of the progressive spectrum as their jazzy, space rock sounds are underpinned but sludge metal riffs and dual vocals that pairs wild shouting with Akerfeldt-style crooning on the psychedelic Sunless Hymnal. It's a bit like Mastodon playing Hawkwind with songs that shift dynamically between light and shade, cuts like Antler Queen are driving distorted metal numbers that betray that this band are a three piece, despite their lack of numbers they make a very forceful racket, dragging their musical experimentation over 42 minutes and 8 songs. 

On this third album it seems they have pushed the boat out the band themselves saying they wanted to create their own Crack The Skye thus the dual vocal assault was born and they have expanded their musical scope adding a huge heaving drop of psych on their doom metal power as when Jonte is singing Simon is able to play more complex riffs, thickening this albums sound massively as you wonder where things are going next, the trippy I Hear The Siren builds into the explosive, propulsive Exiled a short instrumental jam session that morphs into the groovy instrumental Ashes before the shimmering start of Embers brings things back to the elongated riff monsters featured early in the record. A knockout record with a ballsy sound made bigger by the contrasting vocal and the elaborate but organic musical base. They maybe Grasping Time but this album gets a very firm grip! 8/10

Vermis: Misnomer (Independent) [Manus Hopkins]

Vermis’ Misnomer is an interesting mixed bag of metal styles. It’s thrash at heart, but it’s also infused with 90s styles—from grunge (see Only One) to nu-metal (see Throw Me Back). It sounds weird, but there is enough cohesiveness in the writing to keep the blending of genres from being disastrous, and actually, it’s pretty good. Not every song will strike every thrasher’s fancy, but fans of a wide variety of styles will most likely find something to appreciate on this record. 

The use of electronics on the album is also not typical of thrash but fits more with the 90s styles that shape the songs. They’re used just the right amount, never taking away from the guitar work. The songs are still very much riff-based, which is a good way to be. Vermis still has some growing to do as a band to develop their own sound, but this is a solid sophomore release. 7/10

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