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Wednesday 18 May 2022

Reviews: Jeff Scott Soto, Jani Liimatainen, Black Eye, Starchaser (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Jeff Scott Soto - Complicated (Frontiers Music Srl)

For my money one of the best and most versatile singers on the planet Jeff Scott Soto has been playing in bands since 1982. In that time he’s fronted Journey, Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman, Axel Rudi Pell, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Sons Of Apollo and W.E.T along with multiple guest appearances. He has also kept himself busy with his solo band S.O.T.O and this his main solo project named after himself, of which Complicated is his ninth full length. So with such a wealth of material behind him it’s pretty much a given that Complicated is going to be a talented display of slick, melodic rock, with Soto’s vocals at the forefront. 

Teaming up again with Alessandro Del Vecchio, who is probably the only man with bigger discography than JSS , they create another album of melodic rock that is based in the style of Soto’s bands Talismen/W.E.T and Del Vecchio’s acts Hardline/Revolution Saints. What this means is that the Journey influence looms large on the title track, the sultry guitar playing of Fabrizio Sgattoni having that Neal Schon smoothness as Del Vecchio gives the pulsing bass and synth walls, the beat provided by Edu Cominato. Don’t Look Back to feels like the San Franciscan AOR legends too, but then I guess you could say that these tracks also feel like JSS too as he has been performing music like this for years. 

His expressive, soulful vocal style is brilliant throughout, he never misses a beat, adapt at many styles, of which there are few on the Complicated, New Horizon and Back To The Beginning the two most obvious changes. With propulsive rockers and the saccharine ballads, Complicated is exactly what fans of JSS will want from this album. Bright melodic rock rhythms played with skill by a talented band, as Soto gives us another vocal masterclass. No new ground is covered here but Jeff Scott Soto again cements his place as one of rocks best singers, while I personally prefer his heavier works, there's plenty to enjoy here. 7/10

Jani Liimatainen – My Father’s Son (Frontiers Music Srl)

I have to say hearing Tony Kakko once again collaborating with Jani Liimatainen on All Dreams Are Born To Die, did bring me a little bit of chill as it’s been a long time since the Sonata Arctica founders have worked together but that magic is most definitely still there. Liimatainen has knack of imbuing even the most frantic guitar riff with an emotional edge, he is also an excellent judge of which vocalists work with the music he writes, on his solo projects The Dark Element and Cain’s Offering he has two of the best around, so with My Father’s Son, he has managed to recruit a who’s who of melodic metal/hard rock voices due to Frontier’s extensive connections. 

Both Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius/Cain’s Offering and Anette Olzon (The Dark Element/Ex Nightwish) lend their talents to his writing again Kotipelto appearing twice along with, Renan Zonta (Electric Mob). Musically this is very much in Jani’s wheelhouse, epic, melodic compositions with enough prog to add variation. From the anthemic Breathing Divinity which features Björn “Speed” Strid (The Night Flight Orchestra/Soilwork) to the 11 minute title track which has Antti Railio (Celesty, Diecell) delivering the best vocal of the record, My Father’s Son is a testament to the songwriting ability of Liimatainen. His guitar playing as ever is excellent, joined by bassist Jonas Kuhlberg (One Desire), drummer Rolf Pilve (Stratovarius, Smackbound), and pianist Jarkko Lahti, these songs brim with experience as Jens Johansson (Stratovarius, Rainbow) and Janne Huttunen add key and sax solos. 

With a country feel to Renan Zonta’s first track What Do You Want, some dark elements (naturally) to the Anette Olzon sung I Could Stop Now, bouncy AOR with Side By Side, that of course has Pekka Henio of Brother Firetribe behind the mic and a big ballad in the shape of Who Are We, sung by Timo Kotipelto, though Into The Fray is much more Stratovarius/Cain’s Offering. Liimatainen himself also has a vocal turn on Haunted House. My Father’s Son is a solo album that has the entire career of Jani Liimatainen across it, from big ballads to galloping melodic metal it’s a delight for any fans of his playing or the singers involved. 8/10

Black Eye - Black Eye (Frontiers Music Srl)

Anyone who knows their melodic metal/rock will know the name David Readman, the vocalist of both Pink Cream 69, Adagio, Almanac, Voodoo Circle and his own solo band. So it’s only natural that Frontiers would have an idea for him, so pairing him up with producer/guitarist Aldo Lonobile (Secret Sphere, Archon Angel Sweet Oblivion) is a great choice as he is a stunning guitar player, deft handed producer and knows how to get the best out of vocalists such as Zak Stevens and Geoff Tate. Lonobile can write tracks that suit the often wide ranging voice of these singers and once again has done this for the bluesy, powerful throat of Readman on the Black Eye project. 

The band consists of Readman, Lonobile with guitarist Luca Princiotta (DORO), drummer David Folchitto (ex- Fleshgod Apocalypse, Stormlord), and bassist Andrea Arcangeli (DGM) as Antonio Agate and Mattia Gosetti (Agarthic providing the keys and orchestral arrangements. So as with anything Lonobile does, there’s a huge sound on this record, which stays in the melodic metal style of bands such as Edguy, Freedom Call and Masterplan, the touches of hard rock and prog also audible, but mainly Black Eye is about dual guitar flourishes, galloping rhythms and showcasing Redman’s vocal prowess. 

Break The Chains bring a bit of grit as Redman gets to give a growl, Darkest Night is driven by the orchestral flourishes and down tuned riff, Under Enemy’s Fire is a classic metal rager while The Landing is brimming with AOR synths. Black Eye is a record that isn’t quite as impressive as Archon Angel or Sweet Oblivion, but still has some strong performances on it, if you want Redman at his best though I’d check out Voodoo Circle. 7/10

Starchaser - Starchaser (Frontiers Music Srl)

Another collaborative effort from the Frontiers team, this time it's Tad Morose axeman Kenneth Jonsson's latest project. Initially slated as a solo project, there was a few phone calls, maybe some emails, the songs started to be written, with contributions from singer Ulrich Carlsson (Shaggy, ex-M.ILL.ION), bassist Örjan Josefsson (Cibola Junction), drummer Johan Koleberg (Wolf, Therion, Hammerfall, etc.), and keyboardist Kay Backlund (Lions Share, Nils Patrik Johansson, Impera, etc.) As things progressed in the studio, the collaboration became more pronounced so the solo project gave way to a band. Jonsson wanted to make an album that had enough of his signatures that people would know it's him but also expand out of his comfort zone citing numerous polyphonic composers as inspiration for Starchaser, this was mainly because this record was written on a piano so relies as much on the synths, orchestrations and keys as it does riffy guitars. 

From the opening title track, we're brought into what I think is a conceptual record, that features lots of twitching synths, a big ballsy rhythm section on heavy rockers such as Bringer Of Evil, as Dead Man Walking is the most symphonic styled song on the record. The interplay between Jonsson and Backlund is very good across the 13 songs on this record (though that includes and intro and outro) and in Ulrich Carlsson they have a A-Class vocalist who delivers even when the pace drops a bit on I'll Find Away and gives snarling performance on Day Of Judgement. Starchaser is a record that will sufficiently quench your melodic/symphonic thirst, it won't change the world but it shows a more varied side to  Kenneth Jonsson's songwriting. 7/10

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