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Friday 18 February 2022

Reviews: Star One, Absolva, Degreed, Girish And The Chronicles (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Star One - Revel In Time (InsideOut)

Out of all of the Arjen Anthony Lucassen's projects my favourite is Star One. This is because I'm a huge sci-fi fan so having a set of albums that feature the same high level of guest performances he has on all of his projects, but with songs that are all based around sci-fi movies and TV shows. What Star One has always done as well is concentrated on the guest vocalists, all of whom are picked to tell the stories properly, the musical backing full of 70's prog influences and also lots of metallic toughness too making it more streamlined and heavier than the previous grandiose Ayreon record. 

Taken from a Blade Runner quote, this album does not feature the four core singers featured on the first two albums (though they all appear here), are now expanded to 11 singers, a different one on each track, although this goes to an additional 9 singers on disc 2 which features the same songs but with the 'guide' singers. The core line of musicians is Lucassen on guitars/bass/keys/vocals, Ed Warby on drums, Erik Van Ittersum on Solina Strings with Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen taking backing vocals. There's guests in the instrumental realms too as Michael Romeo, Steve Vai, Bumblefoot and others all give guitar solos as names like Jens Johansson bring keyboard solos. 

So again a lot of music, each track having a new singer and a different instrumental player to give the story a new edge, once again the singer picked for the track, and while I miss the four-way interplay between Floor Jansen, Russell Allen, Dan Swanö and Damien Wilson, the 11 songs here are all worthy inclusion in the Star One canon. The pulsing Fate Of Man (Terminator) gets us going with Unleash The Archers' Brittany Slayes on vocals, it's a big ballsy start to this time travel themed opus. Next is 28 Days (Till The End Of Time) (Donnie Darko), a much progger with Russell Allen on vocals. From here there's a track based on Primer, with Ross Jennings behind the mic. 

While Back From The Past has the incredible Jeff Scott Soto giving it that feeling of 1985, Revel In Time has the Crobot frontman regaling us with the tale of those Wyld Stallyns first Excellent Adventure, Dan Swanö provides the quirkiness on Today Is Yesterday (Groundhog Day), while Roy Khan gives his distinct timbre to the epic Lost Children Of The Universe (Interstellar). Again Star One proves itself to be the jewel in Arjen Lucassen's musical crown, unlike any of the other projects but with a lot of those distinct elements that makes anything he creates unique. Revel In Time is another brilliant addition to the Star One project, they're still my favorite Lucassen records and this one could be the best of the bunch. 9/10 

Absolva – Fire In The Sky (Rocksector Records)

So the sixth album from Absolva, (their third as a four piece), see them retaining everything that is good about the band, without really pushing too far for innovation. Though this isn't a negative. From the post Fury UK days as a trio, then through the return of frontman/guitarist Chris Appleton’s brother Luke on rhythm guitar, Absolva have been a band you can always bet on to bring some tough, melodic classic metal. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews you’ll know that they also double as Blaze Bayley’s band so of course there are a lot of nods to Maiden (though few to Wolfsbane). 

Fire In The Sky, begins with Demon Tormentor, a track that you could just hear Blaze giving it to the beans to, this is no slight to Chris as a singer, in fact he possess quite a unique voice that has always drawn me to Absolva as a band, but what I mean it, there’s that dramatic, shouting repeat chorus that Blaze has always been so good at. A credit then to the bands song writing skill in both bands. It sets a tone as we get brought into Burn Inside which is a bit more percussive and galloping Martin McNee’s drums and Kyle Schramm’s bass work giving it propulsion into yet another huge chorus. As normal Chris’ guitar solos are sublime but the harmonising with his brother brings depth. 

Addiction has a hard rock swagger, though it’s a bit throwaway, while What Does God Know is a standard metal ballad. Absolva are at their best when playing big riffs so things get back on track with the chunky Stand Your Ground and the explosive title track which has a touch of 80’s sleaze metal to it. Looking at what I said at the beginning of this review, I've sort of landed myself in it a little as on their sixth record Absolva do push things within the metal genre a little, but what makes Absolva great is their consistency as a traditional metal machine. Turn it up and throw the horns! 8/10 
Degreed - Are You Ready (Frontiers Music Srl)

Swedish band degreed are now on their sixth album and if you've heard any of their previous five albums, then Are You Ready won't surprise you at all. Now there is something comforting about a band who always take the same route that they always have. Iron Maiden for example, on the other hand if you’ve listened to any other degreed, album why you should listen to this one? It's melodic rock as they've always done but I suppose this record is probably a bit more focussed than before, trying to recapture the sound of their early albums while also forging ahead towards their 20th year. 

Are You Ready features pumping rhythms, tinkling ivories/waves of synths and clean guitar lines, giving you exactly what you want from Swedish melodic rock topped with Robin Eriksson's soulful vocals. I will say that Are You Ready is really modern sounding, something degreed have always strived for, Radio showing this perfectly feeling like a cast iron Eurovision hit, part-Bon Jovi, part-Europe, the opener too Into The Fire, could have easily come off a symphonic metal act like Dynazty. 

It's followed by Burned which has that definitive 80's feel, featuring lots of sexy lead guitars. Higher though goes full Def Leppard, Falling Down feels poppy while Lost In Paradise has driving riff and lots of synth work. Are You Ready sees degreed bringing yet more modern influences to their melodic, slightly progressive sound and being all the better for it. Yeah we’ve been here before but it’s a destination that is always fun to revisit. 7/10

Girish And The Chronicles – Hail To The Heroes (Frontiers Music Srl)

India has rapidly become one of the most fertile breeding grounds for rock and heavy metal, now I will say much of that comes from the more extreme end of the spectrum but Girish Pradhan (vocals/rhythm guitar) and his brother Yogesh (bass/keys/producer) together with Suraj Tikhatri (lead guitars) and Nagen Mongrati (drums), are firmly rooted in the hard rock sound. With one or two NWOBHM flourishes thrown in, I’m Not The Devil, a case in point. Mostly though Girish And The Chronicles play Sunset Strip hard rock that reminds me of bands like Skid Row and Winger, punchy riffs, big choruses, whiskey soaked vocals and a tonne of attitude. 

No wonder then that they have been picked up by Frontiers on their third album as, there is an entire fan base outside their native country that will lap this record up. The members of the band all have a glut of experience playing with some big names, so they are certainly no amateurs, having already released two records, but Hail To Heroes is clearly the band taking their song writing to a much wider audience and as such they have really stepped things up. There’s a swagger to Love’s Damnation, some saccharine to Lover’s Train, a rawness to Rock N Roll Jack and the title track is a big arena anthem. It’s all very well done, never straying too far into pastiche. A big, ballsy rock album from India that will appeal to fans of Reckless Love, Crazy Lixx, Skid Row & Ratt. 8/10

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