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Friday 24 September 2021

Reviews: Paradox, Mandoki Soulmates, Robledo, Robin Red, (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Paradox - Heresy II – End Of A Legend (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Take a journey back to 1981 and you’ll find the roots of Paradox. The band found their name in 1986 and released Product Of Imagination the following year. Their concept album Heresy made them internationally renowned, and over 30 years later, the band have served up a mammoth 75 minute long eighth album that once more combines their thrash and power metal style. 

It’s a special line-up with frontman Charly Steinhauer pulling together guitar wizard Christian Münzner, long time bass player Olly Keller and drummer and Paradox co-founder Alex Blaha. The result is an album that ebbs and flows, with the lengthy Escape From The Burning kicking things off in frenetic style. There’s a majestic feel to Mountains And Caves, which captures the band’s huge sound. Ample thrashing riffs will appeal to those who still like tight jeans and hi-tops, whilst the melodic vocals should resonate with those whose tastes sits with the power metal genre. 

The production is one of the highlights here, for the vocal harmonies on choruses and the powerfully driven music demand enough quality for all parts to be heard in balance. There’s some fine shredding on the solos, which hook the listener. And then there is a massive nine-minute epic that sits centrally.   A meeting of Minds straddles part metal ballad and part metal anthem and whilst it certainly has the power metal majesty, it’s a little strained at times, although there are some neat guitar breaks mid-section. 

Priestly Vows brings us back to the thrashier elements of the band, although the atmospheric mid-track tempo change doesn’t help; this band are better when levelling the place and when they accelerate once more things hot up again. This leads to the Man Of Sorrow segment, which begins with A Man Of Sorrow Prologue, a short instrumental piece that segues into the punchy Conspiracy, a thick riffed heavy metal track, all powerful drumming and searing riffs. A Man Of Sorrow maintains the heavy assault, and this is another semi-thrash track that sits in the Metal Church style. There’s a huge conclusion to the album with another lengthy track, the nine-minute plus rager The Great Denial

One of the heaviest tracks on the album, it’s also one of the most enjoyable with an all-out power metal vibe and upbeat tempo. Whilst the copy I had to review didn’t include the cover of Metal Church’s Merciless Onslaught, it was long enough without it! Overall, an enjoyable listen without really getting me over excited at any point. 7/10

Mandoki Soulmates – Utopia For Realists: Hungarian Pictures (InsideOut Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ll cut to the chase. This was possibly the most challenging review I’ve written this year. Mandoki Soulmates? Never heard of ‘em mate. And yet they’ve got a track record dating back over 30 years to their first release Out Of the Key … With The Time back in 1991. Since then, the musical collective because that’s what they are, have produced several recordings. A mere glance at the musicians involved should cause a sharp intake of breath. Alongside Leslie Mandoki, we have Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Nick van Eede (Cutting Crew), Till Brönner, Szakcsi, Jane Xie, Steve Bailey, Al Di Meola, Peter Maffay, Jesse Siebenberg (Supertramp), Cory Henry, Deobrat Mishra, Mike Stern, Margarita, Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, Sirreal, Richard Bona, Moto Fukushima, Tony Carey, and Julia Mandoki. 

Wading my way through the extensive biog that accompanied the digital recording, I establish that Utopia For Realists comprises the original studio recordings of the ProgRock suite alongside a BluRay recording of the concert film of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I’ve not seen that so cannot comment but I’ll focus on the music that was received. This isn’t something that will appeal to fans of grinding riffage and thrashing metal. There’s barely anything that resembles our usual fare here. Over an hour of jazz, progressive and rock music exquisitely delivered. It’s an ensemble who have earned worldwide praise over the years. Is it any good though? 

Well, with two tracks that last 26:38 and 15:28 respectively, the jury is out. The former, Transylvanian Dances is a meandering and at times confusing combination of classical guitar, strings, emotive lyrics and uplifting cinematic soundscapes that switch tempo, style, and slowly build through soaring highs and swooping lows. There is flute, bouzouki and many more instruments beside. It’s something to listen to with a glass of wine, whilst sitting back and allowing the composition to wash over you. The higher tempo parts are dramatic, uplifting, and substantial. At times you could dance along, with the occasional searing piece of lead guitar emerging from the pack in explosive fashion. And it all comes wrapped in a cultural kaleidoscope of influences which unsurprisingly refer to Mandoki’s life, his fleeing as an asylum seeker from a communist state to a serious artist who has crafted complex and intense music which crosses borders and boundaries. 

"We musicians often think with our hearts and right now, with our direct emotional connection to the audience, we must not rest, we have to be louder than ever!" states bandleader Mandoki. "The global challenges facing humanity in the coming years - pandemic, financial and economic crises, migration and integration, climate change - we only will handle successfully by overcoming divisions across all borders." Bookended by some shorter, more contemporary tracks that remain of high quality, it’s certainly an album that provides food for thought. I think you can sink deep within it, or have it on as background music, such is the easy listening style. Dig deep and you’ll hear musical expressionism that one rarely hears in our world. There’s plenty of background to explore with Mandoki’s Soulmates. It may be the perfect opportunity to now explore as the nights start to draw in. Whatever your choice, this is an album that is worth a listen. 7/10

Robledo - Wanted Man (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

It was only really a matter of time before Chilean vocalist James Robledo got to record a solo album under the Frontiers Music banner. Despite being in numerous bands, many who have read this blog or keep up with the Frontiers releases, will know it was as a part of Sinner's Blood that Robledo made his mark outside of South America. That has led to this solo record, written/produced by the veritable Alessandro Del Vecchio (bass/keys) the songs have been written especially to suit James' gravelly Jorn Lande-like voice, meaning that musically there's a lot of Jorn Lande or Jeff Scott Soto's solo projects in these songs which range from galloping melodic metal on the title track and Quicksand, a few ballads such as Dreams Deceive and Alone Again and also hard rockers like The Good Will Rise. It's a strong collection of songs, which you expect from Del Vecchio's writing, the performances of André Hilgers (Rage, Silent Force, Bonfire) on drums and Francesco Marras (Tygers Of Pan Tang) on guitar all slick and experienced. But the record rightly is about James Robledo as a vocalist and he shows his class throughout. Expect big things from James' on the back of this solo record, he certainly has the ability to reach the same heights as Ronnie Romero, who has a similar musical background. 7/10

Robin Red - Robin Red (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Having spent many years as the singer of Swedish band Degreed. In the pandemic year Robin Red decided to branch out on his own, sending his demos to Frontiers they snapped it up and set about making this idea a reality. Robin says that his major influences on this solo record were Jimmy Barnes and Bryan Adams, with that in mind, you can certainly hear elements of the Antipodean and Canadian radio rock legends all the way through this debut. Co-written with Dave Dalone from H.E.A.T who also plays guitar and produces this is radio friendly rock songs that will have you humming along, Robin's soulful vocals delivering filth on the sleazy (I'm A) Bad Habit as he moves into the realms of Def Leppard on Freedom before Reason To Survive reminds me of Rick Springfield or Del Amitri with the scrubbed acoustics. This solo record doesn't do anything new but it's full of slick, radio rock songs that would sound good out an open top sports car on a long car ride, just listen to the party blast that is Nitelife and try to argue! A good melodic rock album from a veteran of the scene. 7/10

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