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Wednesday 21 June 2023

Reviews: Pride Of Lions, Vypera, Stardust, Gardner/James (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Pride Of Lions - Dream Higher (Frontiers Music Srl)
The seventh album from Jim Peterik (Survivor) and Tony Hitchcock (various Frontiers projects), Dream Higher, is not radically different from the previous six and I could have stopped the review there but I’ll carry on to explaining bit more if you’ve not heard the previous six albums. Peterik famously co-wrote Eye Of The Tiger and Burning Heart and plenty of other Survivor favourites along with tracks by 38. Special (Hold On Loosely) and Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

He has knack for writing for big voices so with Hitchcock he has a perfect foil. Hitchcock’s voice is a soulful tenor and brimming with power meaning he’s perfect for the AOR anthems featured on this record. Blind To Reason, his lead taking the reigns while the backing vocals harmonise with the choppy guitar and synth walls. Unfortunately the album suffers from ballad bloat Dream Higher, My Destiny, Another Life, Everything To Live For are all ballads, which is nearly half the album! Everything To Live For could be featured in a broadway musical and for me is the best one here. 

The other half of the album I wouldn’t call rockers but they are a bit pacier than the ballads, Renegade Heart has that Survivor gallop to it, while Through It All has the funky lead bass rhythm of both Survivor and Toto. Dream Higher gives you what you’d expect, but for me they have always been a little light, I tend to like my melodic rock with a bit more rock. Still there’s nothing offensive. 6/10

Vypera – Race Of Time (Frontiers Music Srl)
Another trad/speed metal band from Sweden? You bet your mirrored aviators! Race Of Time is Vypera’s second album and like fellow Swedes such as Enforcer or Ambush, they are heavily influenced by British and North American scene of the 1980’s. In what is called the NWOTHM, Vypera are relative newcomers but you can hear why they were picked up by Frontiers Music as their songs come from that period where the glam metal bands were starting to come in a bit more, Riding On The Wind, the second track makes me think of Dokken or Bon Jovi pre-Slippery When Wet, a big hooky chorus, some nifty firework guitar playing and the sort of style that would have got you constant MTV replay. 

Even the album cover features a plane(?), a long haired dude in aviators smoking while he leans out of the window, it's immature but also perfectly sums up what Vypera are all about. Race Of Time is a record that is probably a bit more towards the glam/sleaze than NWOBHM but that's not a detriment to the music, it gleams like chrome as the songs like Speedin' and Daytona conjure images of roaring up the strip in an open top car while Slave To Love is a cliché but at least it's a good one. Grab your leather jacket and whip out the Eddie Munson hair because Race Of Time throws back to simpler times 7/10

Stardust – Kingdom Of Illusion (Frontiers Music Srl) 

Hungarian melodic rockers Stardust showcased their talent with an EP which got them signed to Frontiers. They released their debut album Highway To Heartbreak in 2020 and now they have dropped their follow up Kingdom Of Illusion. Having already showed their melodic/AOR credentials Kingdom Of Illusion is a chance for them to display a harder sound. First song War, doing that with the big drumbeats, brooding atmosphere and crunchy guitars, moving more towards metal than rock it’s a little starling if you’re looking for radio friendly AOR, luckily they haven’t gone all serious on us as The Fire is full of keys and hooky choruses, while Losing Me glistens like a Def Leppard track, the vocals helping with this comparison, as Sacrifice picks up the pace and injects some backing choir harmonies on the solo for added slickness. 

Framing their approach in the 80’s, there’s a few call backs to other bands on this records but it never becomes a pastiche just a loving homage to that whole era of rock music. The speedy Love Sells, becomes the epic power metal-like Heroes easily and of course there’s an obligatory ballad in the shape of Make Me Feel Your Love, which goes a bit JBJ. Kingdom Of Illusion is Startdust staking their claim to their position on the Frontiers roster, they’re still early in their career but they’ve already got bags of potential. 7/10

Gardner/James – No Strings (Frontiers Music Srl/Pavement Entertainment) 

Calling them an ‘iconic duo’ in the press release is probably a bit of stretch. Unless you’re acutely familiar with American rock music, you’d be forgiven for not knowing who Janet Gardner or Justin James are. Let me enlighten you as Gardner is the vocalist for long established all-female rockers Vixen, while James has worked with Tyketto, Collective Soul and even…Staind. 

Basically it’s two musicians coming together for a new project in true Frontiers style. Having already released one album before this, 2020’s Synergy, No Strings is the follow up that continues where the debut left off, Southern styled opening on I’m Living Free, before they get harder with Turn The Page the melodies of the 80’s coming on 85. Gardner’s husky voice still seems strong and James is a good melodic rock songwriter, using the blues a lot as his base which I always think makes things better. 

The use of acoustics on Don’t Turn Me Away brings touches of Heart, while Set Me Free is glam rock and the finale of Drink is a party track for sure. This ‘iconic duo’ definitely know how to write a song, stylistically using a lot of different rock elements, but they are all pretty standard, the product of a bygone age. To survive in this game you have to meld the classic with the modern and No Strings feels a little too much towards the classic side. Still an ok listen if you like Vixen or Tyketto. 6/10

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