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Monday 15 August 2022

Reviews: Nordic Union, Sunstorm, Restless Spirits, Hydra (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Nordic Union – Animalistic (Frontiers Music Srl)

You’ve got to give it up for Ronnie Atkins, could have stopped doing what he does so well, i.e sing, due to his stage four cancer diagnosis but no, with Frontiers behind him he’s cranking out albums at pace. From collabs to solo records, he’s releasing a new album every couple of months, the latest being this third Nordic Union with Erik Martensson (Eclipse/W.E.T). The Nordic Union albums have always been at the heavier end of the spectrum of what both men are involved with, although rich in melodies. The previous two records were both a great mix of both men’s other bands and some riffy hard rock that often veered into metal. Animalistic also goes heavy, both from a musical perspective with the galloping Wildfire and the stomping title track. 

It’s heavier too on the darker lyrical content with a lot of triumphant, defiance from Atkins on On This Day I Fight and If I Could Fly, but with some vulnerability too on Riot, these last two providing you with evidence of why I always look forward to a Nordic Union album. Martensson’s guitar playing across the album is brilliant, from the chugging riffs of This Means War to the bouncy AOR of Scream though to the stirring Last Man Alive, but he also provides bass and keys, helped by Fredrik Folkare and Thomas Larsson on lead guitars/solos and Henrik Eriksson on drums for the great heavy rock tracks featured on Animalistic

Atkins voice too is still as strong as ever, having that rock n roll rawness to it carrying these songs very well. I could go on about the album but really if you liked the previous records or Pretty Maids you’ll enjoy Animalistic. 8/10

Sunstorm – Brothers In Arms (Frontiers Music Srl)

Not a melodic rock rehash of the seminal Dire Straits record, Brothers In Arms is the second Sunstorm album to feature the vocal talent of everyone’s favourites set of travelling pipes Ronnie Romero, with music and production from everyone’s favourite producer/writer/keyboardist Alesaandro Del Vecchio. While the original Sunstorm featured Joe Lynn Turner, it was Del Vecchio that started to bring in the heavy Rainbow influences that can be heard here. A bonus then that like JLT, Romero has also been the frontman of Rainbow. Rounded out by the returning bassist Nik Mazzucconi, drummer Michele Sanna, and new guitarist Luca Princiotta (Doro, Blaze). 

This second album with Romero behind the mic has Rainbow influences across the album from the excellent balladry of Back My Dreams, while on 2021’s Afterlife, Del Vecchio wanted to go back to Sunstorm’s AOR roots, here the hard rock Rainbow/Deep Purple sound comes back in conjunction with AOR, much to the delight of those that love bands like Jorn, whom Ronnie’s vocals can be compared to. Games We Play should be on Down To Earth, I Will Remember is choppy melodic rocking that’s full AOR, Taste Of Heaven is built around big organs as Lost In The Shadows Of Love is Whitesnake-esque roller. 

Brothers In Arms is a welcome return for Sunstorm, few ballads, lots of great influences and one of the best creative teams on the Frontiers roster. Nothing ground breaking but quality from the beginning to end. 7/10

Restless Spirits – Second To None (Frontiers Music Srl)

From one Lords Of Black member (Ronnie Romero) to another in guitarist Tony Hernando, this time returning with his AOR band Restless Spirits. Used as a way for Hernando to write songs on the lighter side of rock music, the record brimming with bright sunny anthems from the Sunset Strip to the bays of Miami. Grab that Hawaiian shirt and those Wayfarers and let’s dive in. 

What you’ll hear with Second To None is that Hernando is using it to work with some of the best up and coming melodic rock voices around, Kent Hilli of Perfect Plan gets two tracks to show off on the first and last, there’s three from Chez Kane in a row, Hey You, Dreams Of The Wild and Until The End Of Time which stick to her glammy Vixen-meets-Heart style. Electric Mobs Renan Zonta probably has the widest set of styles beneath him from the jazzy A Dream To Be Lost to the pumping And Yet It Breaks while No Time Wasters is a strutting rocker. All three of the younger talents here get to show what they are about, as the music Hernando writes echoes their individual styles. 

Those who know the melodic genre will recognise the voice that appears on the trio of Too Many, Nothin' Dirty Here and Always A Pretender as Hardline’s Johnny Gioeli. A legend in the game he is given ample opportunity to show why with the three best tracks on the album. With drums from Deen Castronovo, Second To None is another chance for Hernando to step away from the heavier day job and give some exposure to some new singers and of course one veteran. A project that could run and run with different voices each time these Restless Spirits don’t need an exorcism. 7/10

Hydra – Point Break (Frontiers Music Srl)

Another month another album that comes from mastermind drummer Daniel Flores (First Signal, Find Me, The Murder Of My Sweet), this time it’s from the band Hydra which is a creative partnership with Swedish musician/songwriter Henrik Hedström who plays keys/acoustic/clean guitars on this album and co-writes the music with Flores who of course plays drums and produces. The two have been friends for years with Henrik being a pop music writer for Warner Music, finding that it wasn’t what he wanted to do, he stepped away from music until Flores got in contact for some songs for both First Signal and Angelica. 

Point Break though is the first partnership between the two on a band which is Hydra (no to be confused with the stoner doom band of the same name). Point Break deals in absolute bubblegum AOR, massively melodic with plenty of keys, percussion and quirky songwriting with lots of Toto influences especially on No Lullaby and Stay A While both of which are pure Toto, much lighter than alot of AOR, there’s a big pop sound to most of this record. 

The influence of the world’s best session band is aided by Henrik and Daniel both being very talented musicians so fill the band out with equally talented players, Jonny Trobro’s bass and his fretless bass in particular very good for those great grooves, while Andi Kravljaca not only is great guitar player but also has great voice which anyone who has heard him in Seventh Wonder or Aeon Zen can attest to. 

If you enjoy Toto (they sound a LOT like Toto), or Chicago or anything that borders on the softer, poppier side of radio rock then Hydra will get your mouth watering, though those looking for thrash riffs need not apply. 7/10

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