Find us on Facebook!

To keep updated like our page at:

Or on Twitter:

Or E-mail us at:

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Reviews: Stray Gods, Wonders, Joel Hoekstra’s 13, Fireborn (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Stray Gods - Olympus (Rock Of Angels Records)

As The Iron's themselves play their The Future Past tour which draws from both their most recent album Senjutsu and some un-played (until now) classics from Somewhere In Time including Alexander The Great, Bob Katsionis' classic Iron Maiden homage gears up to release the second album of tracks that are now more Maiden than current Maiden. Katsionis is not shy in his love of the British metal institution, especially the 1984-1992 period where the Air Raid Siren up front saw them reach their commercial peak, on their run of classic albums (including Somewhere In Time). 

Katsionis turned what was supposed to be a studio only project, into a fully-fledged band back after releasing their debut album Storm The Walls, so a follow up was sort of inevitable. Olympus goes further than the debut did with more of the progressive Maiden touches from Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son or Somewhere In Time, the title track of this album akin to those epics such as Alexander The Great or Caught Somewhere In Time. On Olympus the songwriting has more depth, a broader range, Katsionis realising that the band had more longevity than the one album especially when they took to the stage at Up The Hammers Festival, so this record feels like a statement that they can do much more in the confines of this project than many would have thought after the debut. 

The music though still exists within the Maiden sphere, from the opening acoustic throes on Out Of Nowhere, we ride again on the galloping steed, Katsionis brings guitars and keys, the second part of the patented twin axe attack being John McRis in glorious union. That classic gallop comes from drummer Thanos Pappas and bassist Gus Macricostas. Ghosts From The Future featuring the synths that started to appear on SIT/SSOASS, the record gets slower and shows the influence of Maiden on the power metal sound. Up front vocalist Artur Almeida gives more than just his uncanny Dickinson delivery, he’s a dead ringer but he can adapt to the worn tones of the Brave New World days and beyond, The Other Side Of The Mirror taking the style of post-millennial Maiden, as does The Sign before Abel & Cain returns to the classic gallop, with a bit of keyboards from 1987. 

The acoustics return for Fortune Favours The Bold, Almeida’s vocals at their histrionic as it settles into a stomp, heading towards the penultimate track Angels Of The Light, which has those huge “woah” refrains from Fear Of The Dark. The album rightly closes with the 8 minute title track and as I said earlier in the review that it’s a monster, the ideal way to finish off this second record. I said in the debut that if you miss the 80’s Maiden then Stray Gods is more than just nostalgia, it’s songs written in the style of one of the best heavy metal bands on the planet, treated with love and respect to make sure it could rightly fit in with discography of Iron Maiden. Olympus continues with this care and attention to detail, full of easter eggs and metal anthems, hopefully more shows are coming too. Until then play Olympus nice and loud. Up The Stray Gods! 9/10

Wonders – Beyond The Mirage (Limb Music)

I had feared that Fragments Of Wonder may have been a been a one off, but Pietro Paolo Lunesu returns with his band mates from Even Flow and Bob Katsionis for another Wonders record. Now if you’ve heard Even Flow you’ll know that Wonders is a bit more straightforward than the Italian prog/power band leaning more on the melodic power metal side, with Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and Serenity all similar in terms of style. The line up stays the same with the rhythm section of Even Flow; Luca Negro (also Temperance) on bass, Giorgio Lunesu on drums, Bob Katsionis on keys and co-production with Pietro, as the singer of every Italian (and some not Italian) power/prog metal band ever Marco Pastorino takes up the mic again. 

Beyond The Mirage doesn’t try to do anything to radical from the debut record. Rampaging drumbeats come on Here I Go Again and the triumphant Coming Home, both of which which slips into a huge chorus hook. Breaking The Chains has the Tolkki/Johansson guitar/key duels of old, as In & Out Of Time captures a little of the Queen magic, especially in the harmonised lead break. With a back room that seemingly plays fast for fun, the pace is breakneck, the keyboard and guitar runs both virtuoso as the vocals vary when needed. 

For power metal nerds like myself, I can’t help but smile when I listen to this record as while the names I’ve mentioned have gone off to be more progressive versions of their sound, much like Katsionis’ Stray Gods project, Pietro uses Wonders to capture that 90’s European melodic power metal sound perfectly. Hold Me, Save Me has a flair for the dramatic using a piano in the quieter moments, while Once Upon A Time could have come off Reckoning Night. Even obligatory ballad All My Dreams is very good, followed by the proggy Into The Light. As the throwaway lyrics of the last track fade, again Wonders capture the attention of any lifelong power metal fan with music that helped build the genre, performed by virtuoso musicians. 9/10

Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – Crash Of Life (Frontiers Music Srl)

Joel Hoekstra is the guitar slinger for Whitesnake, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Revolution Saints and has appeared on many more albums and shows. He’s got that rock n roll style to his playing, louche and relaxed, cranking out hard rock rifs with ease but then playing an incendiary solo so you know he’s serious. 

His solo project 13 has met with critical acclaim, each album featuring different vocalists but they all have a raspy delivery in common, previously he’s had Russell Allen, Jeff Scott Soto but now he has Girish Pradhan from Girish And The Chronicles behind the mic as JSS helps out with the backing harmonies as he did on the last album. 13 is basically a supergroup playing Sunset Strip ready hard rock, the band still comprised of bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, The Firm), drummer Vinny Appice (Last In Line, ex-Dio, Black Sabbath), and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Sons Of Apollo, Black Country Communion), this all star foursome allowing Girish to ascend to a level of frontman he hasn’t reached with his own band. 

There he’s a great performer playing the music he has written here is trying to inhabit the mould of not only his predecessors in this band but also vocalists such as David Coverdale, Paul Rodgers and even on tracks such as Damaged Goods, Dio. He does all of them proud, on Damaged Goods he’s especially wild and frenzied, having co-written the songs here with Hoekstra, there’s some balladry on Torn Into Lies, but a lot of the record is classic guitar driven hard rocking with tracks such as the punchy Not Tonight, the filthy Don’t Have Words and the swaggering Find A Way, while I Would Cry For Love and Through The Night go down the AOR route. 

It’s classic American hard rock from a load of veterans and a young gun, Crash Of Life is a fun rock record that will have you throwing your fist in the air and is best played in the sunshine. 8/10

Fireborn – Reflections (Pavement Entertainment/Cargo Records UK)

Produced Schmier of Destruction, Reflections is the first full length album from German rock band Fireborn. Named after their powerhouse singer/songwriter Jenny Fireborn, the band have a leaning towards the American heavy rock of another band named after their frontwoman (and drummer), Halestorm. 

Jenny has that gritty vocal style of Lzzy, and their songwriting uses the same sort of style. Even on ballads such as Angel In Need, she gives an emotional performance with the same classic rock passion as Ms Hale. First single You Seem So Far points at the more melodic side of the band, a track about losing a good friend it’s pure radio gold. 

At the heavier end they can really rock out when needed on tracks such as Pack Of Wolves or Young Heart DiesProud And Ashmed even getting some growled vocals but across the 14(!) songs on this album there are a few ballads that kill the mood such as Guide You Home, but what lets the record down is the quantity of songs. 14 is way too many, trim it by say four, (release them as an EP or bonus tracks) but there needs to be some quality control done on the next album. 

Especially if you’re a European band playing this type of American styled hard rock, there are bands who have been doing it for much longer so you need to stand out, the first step being to be punchy, leave people wanting more. Still if you’re sick of waiting for a new Halestorm record then Fireborn should tide you over until then. 7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment