Classic Rock’s New Release Round-Up
This week we’ve got newies from State Of Rock, Delain, Touchstone, Panic Room, La Fleur Fatale and Votum, plus re-releases from Sonja Kristina and Stray Dog.
Words: Geoff Barton
First out of the bag this week is State Of Rock’s A Point Of Destiny (Metal Heaven). From the opening lyrical gambit on Black And Blue – ‘You wind me up like a sweet-talking cheetah’ – you know you’re on to a winner. In State Of Rock’s world it’s still 1987 (Whitesnake style); why, if Cov heard their ballad Don’t Make Me Cry he might just have to give Tawny a tinkle for old times’ sake. Oh – and Tony Mills (he of Shy fame) has never sung so well.
As Holland’s Within Temptation become ever more overblown, there’s room for a less preposterous take on the symphonic rock genre. Step forward fellow countrymen (and woman) Delain with their latest album April Rain (Roadrunner). The band are in fact the brainchild of keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, brother of WT’s guitarist Robert. The tracks are short, sharp and to the point but it’s hard to pick a standout as most get bogged down in a blur of bombast. The exception is On The Other Side, which wafts rather than wallops.
Touchstone haven’t looked back since Classic Rock ran a feature on them in issue 125. Two excellent albums (Discordant Dreams and Wintercoast) and a generous pile of critical acclaim helped secure them a slot on the Prog Stage at our High Voltage festival this coming July. To capitalise on their burgeoning profile, the band have revived an EP they put out in 2006, adding bonus tracks from their forthcoming live album. Mad Hatters Enhanced (www.touchstonemusic.co.uk) was recorded with a slightly different line-up (drummer Simon Cook and singer Liz Clayden have since left) and in many ways it’s the sound of a band finding their feet – although the sparring between Rob Cottingham (pomp-packed keyboards) and Adam Hodgson (monster guitar sounds) is very much intact, particularly on opening track Misguided Fool.
If you’re familiar with Panic Room‘s somewhat eclectic previous album, Visionary Position, you’ll be surprised by their new direction on Satellite (www.panicroom.org.uk). Here they more or less invent a genre called ‘prog pop-rock’ – or AOR with knobs on. The quirky I Am A Cat notwithstanding, there’s some glorious stuff on offer here, culminating with the sprawling power balladry of the title track.
If you like Sweden’s The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, you’re bound to love fellow countrymen La Fleur Fatale’s Silent Revolution (Killer Cobra). The twist being that instead of the hulking presence of TSOOL’s Ebbot Lundberg on vocals, they’ve got The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Honest, it sounds exactly like that. Psyched-out surf-prog from Scandinavia – who would’ve thought it?
Poland’s Votum describe themselves as ‘prog-atmospheric wizards’. Sounding like the missing link between Opeth and Porcupine Tree, Metafiction (Mystic Production) is a dark, brooding, emotion-charged concept album that, we hear, ‘systematically posts questions about the relationship between fiction and reality’. Intrigued? Then there’s a dedicated website: www.metafiction.pl
Now on to some re-releases, starting with Harmonics Of Love by Cloud 10 Featuring Sonja Kristina (Market Square) This 1994 album finds the Curved Air heroine venturing into ‘astro folk’ territory. With sounds sampled from the Amazon rain forest and Glastonbury (is that the squelch of mud we hear?) this is trippy, experimental and ever so good. A batty version of Motörhead’s Don’t Believe A Word turns up as a bonus track.
We’ve saved the best until last – Stray Dog, whose self-titled debut and follow-up While You’re Down There have been reissued via the Manticore label. Stray Dog (which originally came out in 1973) begins with the warning: “Fasten your seat belts!” It’s a wise precaution because what follows is akin to driving a Toyota with the accelerator pedal struck firmly to the floor. There’s a brief pause at a Give Way sign for the plaintive A Letter but then all hell breaks loose again, culminating in the eight-and-a-half-minute epic Rocky Mountain Suite (Bad Road). For inexplicable reasons the album flopped and While You’re Down There is a strangely muted successor. Still, both records are jam-packed full of bonus tracks, including live and previously unreleased recordings – making even the lucklustre WYDT nigh-on essential. Post Stray Dog, guitarist Snuffy Walden deputised for Free’s ailing Paul Kossoff (that’s him you can hear on parts of their Heartbreaker album) before making his name scoring the themes to TV shows, The West Wing and The Wonder Years among them.