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Monday 14 November 2022

Reviews: Ring Of Fire, Mantric Momentum, About Us (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Ring Of Fire – Gravity (Frontiers Music Srl)

Neoclassical metal orginators Ring Of Fire return with their fifth studio album of virtuoso melodic, powerprog. Still led by founder member Mark Boals (Shining Black/ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), they released three albums between 2001 and 2004 returning in 2014 with founding guitarist Tony MacAlpine and keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij for their fourth album. 

On this fifth album only Boals and Kuprij remain as the creative force but they are joined by guitarist/producer/Frontiers go to Aldo Lonobile (Secret Sphere/Edge Of Forever/Countless Others) with bassist Stefano Scola, and drummer Alfonso Mocerino rounding out the 2022 edition of Ring Of Fire. They don’t shy away from their neoclassical roots on this record opening with 7 minute organ drenched, progressive guitar workout that will get the fretboard fanciers very excited as Lonobile and Kuprij duel throughout, Boals’ soaring vocals perhaps not as strong as they once were but still reaching highs only dogs will hear. 

The Beginning is a muscular opener setting a tone form nearly an hour of music as half of the songs are over the 6 minute mark. Giving the keys and guitars mainly the room to show off, though that rhythm engine don’t make things easy, even on a track such as Storm Of The Pawns, which starts and re-starts moving from a piano recital to a big riff monster, though it’s Melanchonia where Lonobile melts faces. Due to the progressive nature of the band there’s lots of elements on every song, so it does need a few listens but any neoclassical metal aficionado will be picking out every bit of sweep picking, every keyboard run, every arpeggio from hell, even when they slow down for Sky Blue and Another Night (which for me are the weakest tracks), there’s a laundry list of technical things going on that I’m too much of a novice to recognise. 

Lonobile here does what he does on every album he’s part of and plays with restraint, unleashing when he’s needed but mostly he allows Boals and Kuprij to take their place as the band founders, getting the attention. I’ll say I have always preferred when Ring Of Fire go full on like they do on Run For Your Life but variety is the spice of life and Gravity is another neoclassical lesson from the masters. 7/10

Mantric Momentum – Trial By Fire (Frontiers Music Srl) 

Another month another Frontiers collab. This time the debut from Mantric Momentum, not Tantric Momentum which is what powers Sting and David Icke I think? Anyway Mantric Momentum is a melodic metal band that features Terje Harøy, singer of Pyramaze and multi-instrumentalist Christer Harøy (Divided Multitude, Crossnail). 

The idea for this band has been around since 2011, with some one-off singles released feature guest vocalists, the slow pace due to Harøy’s commitments in other bands.With the songs written a full time singer was sought and keeping it in the family Christer got his cousin Terje to be the vocalist he wanted, luckly for Harøy, Terje is the voice of Pyramaze a band that counts Matt Barlow as a former singer so he has to be good. 

Thankfully on the back of first two tracks, the heavyweight Course Of Fate and the more melodic In The Heart Of The Broken he doubles down on his cousins choice of singer, with a wide vocals range that can suit any style. Harøy plays guitars, bass and drums here with some additional appearances by drummers Frank Nordeng Røe (Maraton/Big City), Lawrence Dinamarca (Loch Vostok) and Truls Haugen (Circus Maximus), while the some of the guitar solos come from Jimmy Hedlund (Falconer) as Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear/Freefall) orchestrated the intro Tabla Rasa. 

Still the core are Christer and Terje, with Christer’s writing evoking some excellent melodic metal, the kind that Frontiers are so closely associated with (In The Eye Of The Hurricane), with nods to Pyramaze and Symphony X on Final Warning and New Horizon, although without the progressive metal, though Diamond is 8 minutes and brings some Kamelot and classical guitars. Terje belts out tracks such as Fighter and the chunky Trial By Fire like Jorn Lande, his voice adaptable, so much so that it often sounds like two singers on Final Warning.

On the final track (I’ll Never Be) Maria Magdalena the vocals of Tina Gunnarsson join in the symphonic touches brought by keys player Ketil A Jensen. A very strong debut that I’m sure will bring a follow up, let’s see if they go further down the melodic route or the heavy progressive one. 8/10

About Us – About Us (Frontiers Music Srl)

There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about rock and metal music coming from India, with the heavier end of things covered by bands such as Bloodywood and Demonic Resurrection, it’s time for bands who are very much on the ‘rock’ side to showcase what they can do. As usual Frontiers has the answer re-releasing the debut album of About Us. They hail from an area of Nagaland called Wokha (‘Land of Plenty’), but could sound like they are from the sun kissed streets of L.A or the neon nightlife of Stockholm. 

Yep it’s melodic rock/AOR that the Yanks and the Scandis do well, nods to bands such as H.E.A.T come on Our Fairyland, while Loaded Love is a bit Mr Big, Rock On Top is in the sleazier sounds of Reckless Love. The driving riffs and high vocals (I mean sky scrapingly high) used throughout to really give you an idea what About Us can do, you’d be hard pressed to know that they were not a European or American band. 

Drawn from various backgrounds and bands when they formed in 2019, they combined all their passions in to About Us, meaning for all these styles can be heard wrapped up in a melodic rock blanket (doesn’t that sound cosy?), Rise and Golden Troops for example are both a bit heavier, the first late 90’s Winge, the second thrash. More familiarity comes on Gimme Gimme which chugs and has a big chorus making it the ideal single, Open Your Heart is the ballad but isn’t as saccharine as some melodic rock bands, feeling a bit Beatlesesque. 

A fresh contender in the melodic rock arena I’m sure we’ll know all about them soon enough. 8/10

Enuff Z’Nuff – Finer Than Sin (Frontiers Music Srl)

“Enough is enough and it’s time for a change!” the famous catchphrase from much missed wrestling superstar Owen Hart, was taken on by 80’s rockers Enuff Z’Nuff as founding bass player Chip Z’Nuff took over lead vocals three albums ago, in that time they have released a Beatles covers album and also their own material, the latest of which is Finer Than Sin

However there hasn’t been a change in their sound since those halcyon days of the Viper Room, they still merge late 80’s hard rock with some Beatles-like sounds, take for example Catastrophe which sounds exactly like Def Leppard, a band I’ve compared them too many times before. Chip is joined by his long term band Tory Stoffregen (guitars), Tony Fennell (guitars), and Daniel Benjamin Hill (drums) and they are still digging that well-worn trench which has seen them move ever closer to the Sheffield rockers, especially with Chip upfront. 

From the woozy Intoxicated, to the swirling Hurricane and with rockers like Lost And Out Of Control as well as Trampoline. This album seems to have live vibe to it, book ended by instrumental intro Soundcheck and the outro Reprise, the songs contained are paced like a live show would be, they even throw in a Sex Pistols cover as the final song. 

This speaks volumes to Enuff Z’Nuff’s blatant Anglophilia, never have a Chicago band wanted to sound more British, but hey if it works for them and their fan base, who am I to judge. Based on the music though I still think sin has the edge in finery. 6/10

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